Yoga Is a Path to Lifelong Fitness and Flexibility

Katyayani Gayle Worden

Does the idea of twisting into a human pretzel make you ache just thinking about it? Luckily, the practice of yoga includes many styles and is adaptable enough that nearly anybody can do it. Yoga can be both a physical and a lifestyle practice, improving balance, helping with arthritis, and bringing calm to the mind/spirit, according to yogini Gayle Worden, of Guilford.

“Sometimes people try to push themselves into poses, but that can create more of an injury,” Gayle advised. “Don’t ever take yourself to the point of pain. In my classes, there’s no perfect pose, in the same way that all poses are perfect. We are not trying to look like some model in a yoga magazine. It’s more about how you feel in a position than how you look.”

Gayle, who has been a fitness instructor and director of two fitness centers for the past three decades, discovered yoga while taking martial arts classes in the late ´90s. “The teacher used yoga poses to warm us up and did a meditation at the end. That was my favorite part of the class—the warm-up and the end—so I started studying more of the yoga part,” she said.

For several years, Gayle was self-taught via reading and videos. She took weekend certifications offered at various fitness programs. She taught what yoga she knew, first at Vitality Fitness, and when that facility was sold, at Community Fitness, located at a former elementary school in Guilford.

Gayle continues to teach yoga classes at Community Fitness (even though she “retired” in November). Her classes are for all ages, but they tend to attract more seniors.

“As I have aged, so have my students,” she quipped. “Most of my students are 50 to 80. Because what I teach now is a very gentle yoga, those looking for a vigorous workout would choose a different type—although we feel like what we’re doing is vigorous some days, too!”

Delving deeper

In 2013, Gayle took an intensive teacher-training course.  “I went for a 200-hour immersion yoga certification and then continued past that, to my 500-hour certification,” said Gayle. “This was a more in-depth training, totally different. Here in the West, we mostly think about the postures, the physical aspects, but going to yoga school taught me much more than the physical aspects, including a lot of the philosophy.”

Yoga improves balance, flexibility, and strength in students of all ages.

One of her teachers, a former monk, gave her the spiritual name Katyayani, after a goddess warrior, a manifestation of the divine feminine.

“I learned a lot more about the pranayama (breathing) and meditation, as well as the very rich history of yoga,” Gayle said. “So, I incorporated all of that in my classes, with the breathing and meditation more in depth, and even some chanting.”

In addition to her directorship of Community Fitness and the classes she taught there, Gayle opened a home yoga studio, Center Yoga & Healing Arts, where she continues to offer yoga bodywork, yoga nidra(or “yogic sleep”), and personal yoga practices designed specifically for individual clients.

Katyayani Gayle is a certified and registered yoga instructor through ShivaShakti Yoga and Healing Arts School and the Yoga Alliance. Gayle is also a certified Thai Yoga Bodywork and Yoga Nidra provider. A certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor since 1991, she is also a black belt in two martial arts disciplines, and a Reiki/Shinkiko Master Level from Dr. Elliot Diamond of Midas Health.

Yoga what?

There are many different types of yoga. “I think that most often what our seniors do is hatha yoga, which is mostly the physical postures and breathing exercises, and the focus on the union of your mind and body. It brings calmness to the person,” Gayle explained.

Vinyāsa yoga is another style of hatha yoga in which participants practice breath-linked movements and smooth transitions between positions. “My school of yoga is actually Vinyāsa, but it can be modified to be very vigorous or very gentle,” Gayle said.

“Yin Yoga, which is a style I sometimes teach, involves mostly being on the floor holding postures for long periods of time to cleanse and energize the connective tissues,” she said. “Although connective tissues don’t stretch in the way we think of muscles stretching, they can be encouraged to relax, which in turn creates better energy flow.”

And there’s Iyengar yoga, named after the late yogi B.K.S. Iyengar, who developed this style in the 1970s. “His type is very much about the alignment of the body, and he introduced props that are commonly used in yoga now, like blocks, blankets, chairs, and bolsters,” Gayle explained. “He made it into a healing art.”

There are other paths to yoga that don’t necessarily include the physical aspects, such as karma yoga (doing good deeds), yoga Veda (which focuses more on knowledge) and Bhakti yoga (a yogic path of devotion and love),” said Gayle.

Then there’s yoga nidra, which is described on Gayle’s website,, as “a state between sleep and deep relaxation. It involves a systematic method of inducing deep physical, mental and emotional relaxation. The practice is done while lying down on one’s back with eyes closed and the body made completely comfortable. It involves deep relaxation with inner awareness while the instructor leads a guided session with her voice. The guide uses auto-suggestion cues, visualization and affirmation to create an environment in which healing can occur. A few of the benefits now being confirmed by the medical field are increased immune function, digestive function and better sleep. The gifts of yoga nidra are the releasing of old habits, fatigue, worry and stress. This is a technique for physical rejuvenation, mental relaxation, spiritual growth and overall wellness. The secret of yoga nidra, and to better health, lie in its ability to relieve tension and stress at its root and restore a balanced state of mind and a deeply rested body.”

Thai bodywork is not yoga, but incorporates a lot of yoga postures, done in an assisted way, “so that the client doesn’t have to get themselves into position,” she explained. “You help them, and use breathing and energy. With Thai bodywork, I’m working with sen lines (energy lines). Sometimes, with seniors, I put them on a table rather than on the floor, if they have a hard time getting down and back up.” Manipulating the body into various positions lubricates the joints, provides gentle stretching and opens and balances the chakras,” Gayle said. “It’s loving kindness, and we can all use more of that.”

Thus, yoga is very multi-faceted. “You take yoga off the mat in being a real yogi,” said Gayle. “It’s not just about exercise. I think the mediation, the pranayama, and of course, the nice stretch and strength and balance are the parts that are so good for seniors. Anyone can do yoga. You don’t have to be flexible. You don’t have to be strong. You just need to meet yoga where you’re at. Lots of yoga classes are done with a chair, so you never have to get up and down off the floor. You can stay seated.”

The most important thing, Gayle advised, is not to give up too soon. “People need to find a yoga instructor who works for them because there are many different people teaching yoga, and they all have a different approach. One might not be a good fit, but another might be a great fit! Do not give up on yoga until you’ve tried a few different classes and a few different teachers.”

For more information about Center Yoga & Healing Arts, call Gayle at 343-0827 or visit the Facebook page.

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