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Yoga helps men, women shed stress from their bodies
Longest-living people have routines to downshift from their daily lives
Flip Your Dog yoga studio owner and instructor Merrie Benham. In the Blue Zone approach to living, the fifth power approach is downshift to reduce stress and how doing so lengthens longevity, such as with yoga. National Geographic fellow Dan Buettner developed these tips from the world’s five “Blue Zones,” or the five places on Earth people live longest.

Flip Your Dog
Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily
Address: 250 Dawsonville Highway, Gainesville
Phone number: 678-983-7717

Yoga with Emilie
Hours: Varying hours daily
Address: 118 Main St. SW, Gainesville
Phone number: 678-617-0313

J.A. Walters YMCA
Hours: 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday; 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 1-7 p.m. Sunday
Address: 2455 Howard Road, Gainesville
Phone number: 770-297-9622

EDITOR’S NOTE: National Geographic fellow Dan Buettner visited Gainesville in April to share his nine “Blue Zone Power Approaches” to living a longer life. This series is dedicated to those approaches and how they can be implemented in Hall County. The fifth power approach, “Downshift,” states stress leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease. The world’s longest-living people have routines to shed that stress.

Whether it’s a busy work week or the regular demands of taking care of a family, the average person today is likely to deal with stress.

But according to National Geographic fellow Dan Buettner, the world’s longest-living people have routines to shed stress.

One possible stress-shedding practice is yoga. Luckily, several places in Gainesville are tailored to the ancient routine.

At Flip Your Dog Yoga, at 250 Dawsonville Highway in Gainesville, certified instructor Merri Benham said yoga helps her clients shed stress.

“The first and most immediate way it helps is the breath,” the 43-year-old Gainesville woman said. “Breath control with movement actually calms your hypothalamus, which is the part of your brain responsible for your cortisol.”

Emilie Cook, owner of Find Your Center-Yoga in Main Street Market on the downtown Gainesville square, agreed.

Cook explained cortisol is commonly known as the “stress hormone.” When the brain releases it, people feel relief from stress.

“As Americans and as humans, we have this sort of constant, low level of stress,” the 42-year-old Gainesville woman said. “Not like we did when we were cavemen and women fighting wooly mammoths, but we have this constant stress. And with adrenaline rushes, we’re not getting the same cortisol release.”

Cook referenced an article from Yoga Journal, which discussed several studies of yoga’s effects on cortisol levels.

“They’re showing yoga does release the cortisol,” she said.

“The mind quiets,” Benham said. “Once the mind is quiet, you can begin to really listen to your God, the universe, you name it. It calms the clutter of the mind.”

Cook said “the interesting thing about” cortisol release is weight gain in the belly is directly related to cortisol levels. So not only is yoga lowering stress and quieting the mind, it also can have a direct effect on weight loss in the stomach area.

Benham said yoga is designed for long-term effects on stress and mind control as well. She said once people can slow down and become aware of what they’re thinking, they can then choose what to think, too.

“That’s what meditation is,” she said. “It’s not ‘not thinking.’ It’s choosing what you think about, instead of letting the mind run off to, ‘Oh, I’ve got this problem and that problem.’”

Benham said she started yoga as a novice before the birth of her daughter. While pregnant, she was put on bed rest and gained 50 pounds.

After giving birth, she “started yoga religiously.” Within nine months, she lost all the weight.

“And I realized, ‘Huh, life is good. Life is actually much better now,’” Benham said.

She then started going to the YMCA, where she took group classes and became certified.

She taught yoga at several places until seven years ago, when she started Flip Your Dog.

Flip Your Dog offers a variety of yoga classes, depending on the type and level a person is interested in doing.

Meanwhile, Cook offers several types of yoga in her group classes, including a particularly popular class called restorative yoga.

“It is different from what you might expect to see at a standard yoga class,” Cook said. “In mine, we never get off the floor. We spend time in our postures — three to five minutes sometimes in each posture — but we’re supported by props, our blankets, blocks and bolsters. That allows you to go to a deeper place to release.”

Benham also offers a restorative class and a faith-based yoga session. Cook offers private sessions, in which she tailors the practice to the therapeutic needs of the client.

At the J.A. Walters YMCA at 2455 Howard Road in Gainesville, a few group yoga classes are available. Specifically, a meditative posture yoga class is known to be peaceful and quiet, said  Emily Young, personal trainer with the YMCA’s Wellness Department.

Young said those who cannot do yoga or are interested in another way to shed stress said any cardio activity can help with stress management.

“So walking, jogging or bicycling,” Young said. “And group fitness classes that get your mind off the everyday.”

Cook advised people to never discount the connection between mental and physical strength. She said sometimes the hardest workout isn’t the most strengthening for the mind.

“I think that’s what more people need,” she said. “Sometimes what our body needs is just for us to be gentle with it.”