For Alyson Greenberg, who suffers from scoliosis, a lateral curvature of the spine, yoga isn’t just a form of exercise, it’s become an alternative to surgery.
“I had lower back pain and wanted to do something about it besides medicine. Somebody said, ‘Why don’t you try yoga?’” Greenberg said.
After her first class, it wasn’t long before she was hooked; that was in 2011. Several years later, she has more than 200 hours logged as a registered instructor and no longer suffers from back pain.
The practice of yoga, which originated from India, can play different roles in a person’s life depending on one’s situation. For Greenberg, it was a medicinal purpose, for Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen, at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, it’s just a part of staying healthy.
“I’m not a sports person, [and] I was looking for something that I could do that was physical and healthy but not competitive and sports-oriented,” said Sachs-Kohen, who has practiced yoga for 10 years.
Sachs-Kohen was most interested in the focus on breathing. When her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer eight years ago, she helped organize a yoga marathon for Free to Breathe, a nonprofit organization of lung cancer survivors, advocates, researchers, health care professionals and industry leaders who host a variety of fundraisers to help find a cure.
“I love the concentration on breath that is a part of yoga practice,” Sachs-Kohen said. “I think we live in a loud and chaotic world, and it can be very helpful for me.”
You can be a beginner or an advanced practitioner. As long as you come with an open mind and willingness to try something new, it can be scaled to your level.” — Alyson Greenberg, instructor at M. Power Yoga
While the physical benefits of yoga range from activating one’s metabolism, assisting digestion and increasing flexibility, some practitioners, such as Edith Raphael Brotman, embrace it for its spirituality.
“One of the benefits of yoga is that it allows you to access parts of your life through the body that you don’t normally have access to,” said Brotman, author of “Mussar Yoga: Blending an Ancient Jewish Spiritual Practice with Yoga to Transform Body and Soul.”
For Brotman, who practices at Yoga Works in Pikesville and Towson, yoga has become a way to stay more mindful of her own behavior and actions. She said yoga in general can help one be more aware, but with Mussar yoga, “you’re turning that microscope to a particular [action]. What specifically do I want to be alert to?”
She compared the moments of rest at the end of a yoga class to the concept of Shabbat.
“One of the projects [that I’m] developing is a Shabbat program for people who are not Orthodox or don’t observe Shabbat in a traditional way,” Brotman said. “We’re trying to create our own coven-antal experience of Shabbat.”
Brotman added that while yoga can be spiritual, it’s not a religion of its own. She cited a founder of modern yoga, Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar, more commonly known as B.K.S. Iyengar, who said yoga is a philosophy and encouraged students to use it to study their own religion more profoundly.
Greenberg, who teaches yoga at M. Power Yoga in Baltimore, hears people claim they can’t do yoga because they lack flexibility, but they are perfect candidates to try it. She said yoga is a practice, and people shouldn’t be put off by pictures seen on social media.
“You can be a beginner or an advanced practitioner,” said Greenberg. “As long as you come with an open mind and willingness to try something new, it can be scaled to your level.”