Strength from within
Four Oxonians open up about the way yoga provides far more than physical benefits to their daily lives and routines
Story by Christina Steube
Photos by Mike Stanton
There are many misconceptions about yoga. Some people are hesitant to ever set foot in a yoga studio because they think they aren’t flexible enough or serious enough. The truth is, yogis aren’t born with some kind of genetic makeup that gives the ability to do crane pose from birth.
While yoga is a physical practice, the primary goal is to connect mind, body and soul through mindfulness, focus and breathing. All genders, races, ages, lifestyles and skill levels can benefit from the practice.
Four Oxonians opened up about how they incorporate yoga into their daily lives for reasons beyond just the physical benefits. Liv Taylor’s search for a new workout turned into opening her very own yoga and wellness center. Jeff New stumbled across yoga while looking for a lower impact workout to compliment his heavy lifting and intense cardio routines. He’s now a yoga instructor and looks forward to the ways yoga centers him mentally and physically. Price Bennett is a graduate student at The University of Mississippi and an instructor at Hot Yoga Plus. For Price, yoga is her escape from the stress and chaos of graduate school. Finally, Annie Haymans, an on-the-go stay at home mom of three, uses yoga as a time for herself and mental clarity.
Before Liv Taylor began practicing yoga four years ago, she didn’t have a daily plan for activity.
“I didn’t have a workout routine or a healthy outlook and I certainly wasn’t flexible,” she said.
After struggling with depression and anxiety, Taylor struggled to find inner peace. That’s when she says yoga found her.
“It’s almost like it was a missing puzzle piece,” she said. “Preventative measures are always better than reactionary ones, and yoga allows me to be with myself without any outside distractions.”
Taylor is now an instructor and has opened LivLoveYoga, a wellness center in Batesville. But when she first started practicing yoga four years ago, she couldn’t even touch her toes.
“People always tell me they can’t do yoga because they aren’t flexible,” she said. “I just remind them that you don’t have to be strong to go to the gym. It makes you strong. With yoga, it’s the same. Flexibility is a product because new movements are introduced to your body.”
Taylor has made it her mission to help others realize that yoga can be an all-in-one activity to provide strength, flexibility and stress relief.
“It’s such a dynamic practice and when you challenge yourself with different poses, you give yourself the opportunity to really see what your body can do.”
In the past she has taught yoga classes to those who need physical rehabilitation as well as alcohol and substance abuse rehabilitation.
“This gave me the opportunity to heal on a different type of level,” she said. “The testimonials I heard after class were that people felt calm and peaceful and doing things they weren’t able to do before.”
Yoga has completely changed Taylor’s outlook on life, and she tells everyone that practicing is not about being good at yoga, but being good to yourself.
“There are no pre-reqs for yoga,” she said. “A yoga body is the body you bring to yoga – no matter what shape, size, age or gender.”
She said yoga helps develop a mentality that follows you wherever you go.
“The most beautiful thing is that it’s the gift that keeps on giving,” Taylor said. “Yoga helps develop body awareness and mindfulness and the way you live your life the rest of that time is reflective of that.”
Jeff New will be 54-years-old this month. He’s always been physically active in some way, whether it was mountain biking, water skiing or weightlifting. As a personal trainer for nearly three decades, the primary fitness focus of New was lifting weights. So basically, he was not someone that fit the stereotypical yogi mold.
“I ended up attending a class at Southern Star almost by accident,” he said. “I was just looking for something different.”
He was immediately hooked. In just three years after taking his first class, he began teaching yoga.
“Even though I teach it, my practice is much like the first day of kindergarten,” New said. “The more I know the more I realize I don’t know.”
New teaches twice a week and takes classes three times a week to supplement his weightlifting.
“Yoga can enhance whatever you do – run, bike, weightlift – and it doesn’t matter your skill or fitness level,” New said. “It’s for anybody and everybody.”
While most exercise classes work at a fast pace, yoga has a much different speed. The thought out and intentional movements throughout the class slows down the body and mind to concentrate on the breath.
“It’s just a good chance to get away from your cell phone and on your mat,” New said. “It reboots you and I love to see the happy faces that come out of classes.”
New said yoga does help loosen up the body and improve flexibility, but the breath work and the community of yoga is his favorite part.
“No one there is judgmental. No one’s looking at your butt or what you’re wearing. I’ve even practiced in cut off khakis before,” he said. “You’re surrounded by others who are not perfect, but are just working on themselves. Finding your energy makes you a better father, mother, husband, wife, student, teacher and person.”
University of Mississippi graduate student Price Bennett has been practicing for four years. The Hot Yoga plus instructor is balancing a graduate course load for speech therapy, but yoga is her happy place.
“It just has that physical aspect that lets you go in and forget everything,” Bennett said. “That mental release and spiritual aspects allows you to leave everything behind.”
As a former gymnast, Bennett wanted to find a way to keep her body in shape. She’s found that yoga has provided more flexibility and toned muscles than she had even has a gymnast.
“You don’t burn as many calories as cardio, but yoga still gives you a targeted muscular workout.”
Bennett is in the studio a lot. She teaches six classes each week in addition to practicing five to six days a week. But her favorite part about being an instructor is helping other, especially through restorative yoga.
“A former football player couldn’t even touch his toes when he started yoga,” she said. “In just three months, he not only lost weight and gained flexibility, but he also began to feel good about his own body.”
So much of yoga can be taken off the mat. Bennett has incorporated the breathing techniques into her speech therapy and her personal life
“I often use the breathing techniques in yoga to calm myself down when I’m feeling overwhelmed,” she said. “There are just so many benefits to practicing.”
The life of a stay-at-home mom of three can be stressful. There’s no lunch break or clocking out of that 24-hour a day job, so Annie Haymans uses yoga as a calming space.
“When my husband came home from work, my out was going to a yoga class,” she said. “I love to move my body, but it’s such a good exercise for my mental state.”
Haymans has been practicing yoga on and off for 12 years. After her first child, who is now 10 years old, she developed a consistent routine with her practice.
“Now that all the kids are in school, I try to get to a yoga class about four or five times a week,” she said. “The beauty of yoga as opposed to some other activities is that it can be done in my living room.”
When she’s busy, she makes sure to incorporate some yoga, even if it’s a single pose, into her life every day. And she’s introduced it to her children as well.
A few years ago, she taught a children’s yoga class and brought her kids with her.
“They liked and were interested, but it’s also what their mom was doing, so it wasn’t cool,” Haymans said.
“Now that they’re in basketball and football, they’ll ask me ‘mom, what yoga poses do I need to do to stretch before the game,’ so I’m still influencing them in some way and we keep it playful.”
Haymans had always been an active as a runner and in exercise classes, but yoga always held her interest.
“What kept me coming back was the mental and spiritual aspect of it,” she said. “It really brings a sense of calm and taught me how powerful my breath is. Taking yoga off the mat and learning to breathe through frustrations for mental clarity is also something I’ve learned through yoga practice.”