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When people first think of yoga, it's safe to say many may conjure up images of a series of unusual, even painful looking poses. However, yoga, though originated in India about 5,000 years ago, has a worldwide popularity that has given many people another activity option in their quest to achieve a healthy lifestyle.
Beyond the physical poses, yoga is a form of therapy that helps people to relieve stress and increase strength and flexibility as well as improve body circulation and balance. Yoga also has the ability to "quiet the mind". These benefits are the reasons why Ryan McGraw is so passionate about yoga.
Ryan first got involved with yoga at the age of 18 at his local health club in the Detroit area. His mother had convinced him to try a class thinking it would be a good form of therapy for his cerebral palsy. The idea was that yoga could help Ryan lengthen, strengthen, and increase flexibility in his muscles. Ryan definitely found yoga to be rewarding! Not only was it a good form of "physical" therapy; it was also a good way to relieve stress - an added bonus!
Ryan's first yoga instructor, Chris, who is still a good friend, introduced him to Anusara yoga. Anusara yoga is a modern school of Hatha yoga grounded in a Tantric philosophy of intrinsic goodness. The school is based upon the "Universal Principles of Alignment" which underlie all postures, including "heart opening" postures, and the spiritual/meditative benefits of Hatha yoga.
As time went on, Ryan was able to better connect his movement with his breathing. Breathing is a key component of yoga, along with the positions. Ryan explains, "Breathing is essential to yoga and allows your mind to focus".
In college he met another yoga instructor, Karina. Karina had a lot of experience working with people with disabilities and while working with her, Ryan began to really understand how yoga could be a therapeutic tool for his body specifically, as well as have positive long lasting effects. As his body awareness increased, he began incorporating various adaptations and props into his poses. While furthering his practice of yoga, Ryan became increasingly interested in the philosophy of yoga.
Ryan speaks about the fact that there is much more to yoga than the physical poses. "Yoga is not about achieving a certain advanced pose; it is about working at the level that is appropriate and comfortable for you ... It's truly incredible - the emotional gains I receive from it!" To fulfill his yoga fix even more, Ryan also partakes in yoga retreats and workshops. "It's incredible how I feel after I do one of those".
At this time, Ryan is living in Chicago and practicing yoga on a regular basis. He tries to meditate regularly and incorporate the philosophical teachings of yoga into his daily life. "I find I feel better physically and mentally if I exercise once a day. If not, I tend to feel sluggish". To maintain his healthy lifestyle, Ryan also tries to make wise food choices by staying away from fast food (but does admit that he slips up every once in awhile).
When he's not practicing yoga, Ryan enjoys other physical activities such as cycling, golfing and working out at his fitness center. Ryan's passion for yoga reaches far more than just practicing it. His goal is one day to become a yoga therapy instructor to help others also experience all the benefits yoga has to offer.