'Power Yoga' for the body and the mind

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Thompson - posted Tue., Aug. 9, 2011
Alicja Czerwinska leads a 'Power Yoga' class for the Thompson Recreation Department. Photos by D. Coffey.
Alicja Czerwinska leads a 'Power Yoga' class for the Thompson Recreation Department. Photos by D. Coffey.

Alicja Czerwinska used to be a dancer. “That was long ago,” said the petite yoga instructor who instructs the “Power Yoga” classes for the Thompson Recreation Department. She always liked physical activity, but was never one for competitive sports. When she discovered yoga, things clicked for her.

“I am a psychologist by training,” she said, “so the beautiful thing about yoga is that it combines exercise and wellness for the body and the mind.”

She has heard plenty of accolades from people about how practicing yoga makes them feel great. It's also good for stress reduction and emotional healing, she said. “How many sports can claim that? They all train the body, but yoga is a system that combines all the good qualities about physical activity and stress reduction and wellness for the whole person.”

Ten people brought their yoga mats to one of her recent weekly 90-minute classes. Czerwinska adapts her class to all skill levels. She doesn't push people into poses, doesn't straighten legs or arms that don't measure up to perfection. “The hardest thing for people to learn about yoga is that it's a process,” she said. “There is no goal in yoga. Just getting into the pose doesn't mean the pose has to be perfect. It has to be right for the body. So you listen, you observe your own body being conscious of what's happening in your body and in your mind. That is hard to learn.”

The class began with what Czerwinska called a grounding exercise. Students sat cross-legged on their mats with their eyes closed. Soft music played. It was quiet, except for Czerwinska's coaching.

“Become aware of the placement of your body,” she said, “the support of the floor, the touch of your clothing on your skin. Notice the sounds. Notice the temperature of the air.”

Czerwinska is originally from Poland. Some of her phrases are clipped. Her voice is soft, her attitude kind. “Now becoming more aware of your breath,” she says. "Sometimes it's more shallow. Be aware of [its] quality, without trying to control it. Pause between inhale and exhale, becoming curious about one's breath.”

Czerwinska takes her cues from the Stress Reduction Program run out of the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Founded in 1979, it is one of the oldest medical center-based stress reduction programs in the country. “Current science is very interested in mind-body medicine,” Czerwinska said. “Alternative medicine, lifestyle medicine, these are all newer branches of medicine that are a little different from the ‘fix something that is broken’ kind of medicine. It is kind of preventative, but it can also cure a lot of things, like low back pain.”

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