Daily Archives: February 9, 2017

Yoga: The Secret To A Great Body…And Better Test Scores?

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What do Christy Turlington, Angelina Jolie, and Melissa Joan Hart have in common? They’re among 18 million Americans devoted to a 5,000-year-old system of breathing and stretching–yoga. For some, says Turlington, it’s about attaining a strong, toned body. But many devotees roll out their yoga mats to gain less visible rewards. “Yoga feels so good,” says Justine Grissin-Churchill, 13, at Hunter College High School in New York City. She started yoga last year to attain calm and focus before class tests. Now medical research may validate Grissin-Churchill’s goals–and yoga’s healthful benefits.

Yoga began in India as a philosophic system combining postures, breathing exercises, and meditation. Some recent studies indicate yoga actually induces physiological changes to combat stress and strengthen the immune system’s ability to fight illness. For example, a pose called “downward-facing dog,” in which you stand in an upside-down V, could stimulate the body’s lymphatic system, helping ward off infections.

The lymphatic system is a network of vessels and nodes, or tissue clusters, which among other functions fights infection by draining and recirculating a fluid called lymph in all body tissues. Within lymph nodes located under the arms and in the groin and neck, disease-fighting white blood cells ingest foreign bacteria and other substances, and reroute purified lymph back to the bloodstream and body tissues (see diagram, below).


Many Western doctors say they need more scientific proof to confirm yoga’s beneficial effects. But studies by Dr. Herbert Benson of the Mind Body Medical Institute at Harvard University suggest that in addition to boosting lymphatic activity, yoga slows brain activity and decreases heart rate and blood pressure (the force with which the heart pumps blood to the rest of the body). Benson also discovered that by focusing on something repetitive–the traditional yoga chant of ohm, your breath, or a body movement–and attempting to let go of all other thoughts, you create a relaxation response. The response spurs the opposite effect on the body of the fight-or-flight response produced by fear (see p. 14).

Studies at hospitals around the country suggest the relaxation response reverses negative stress effects in part by lowering the body’s oxygen consumption by up to 17 percent in just three minutes (see p. 25). Today, hospitals such as the Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City are offering yoga classes to recovering heart-disease patients.

Some experts think yoga can be a boon for teens, too. “They’re often stressed out,” says Baron Baptiste, founder of Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga in Boston. “They have to deal with academic and peer pressure, along with dramatic changes in their growing bodies.” Baptiste’s studios recently launched special youth workshops.

“Teens suffer from stress-related problems like trouble sleeping, migraine headaches, and panic attacks,’ says Dr. Gloria Deckro, director of research and training at the Mind Body Medical Institute. Deckro helps schools around the country develop classes like yoga to teach students the relaxation response. To illustrate her message, she places bio-dots–sensors measuring blood pressure and temperature–in students’ hands while they perform yoga exercises or meditation. Her point? To show teens they can manage stress. “We give them tools to help them realize their day isn’t ruined because they find a zit on their nose or don’t get the highest grade,” she says.

“Some kids think yoga is a bit wacky,” says New York eighth-grader Justine Grissin-Churchill. “I love it–if only I had a lot more time to practice.”

Mind Your Body: Has Yoga Lost Spirit?

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YOGA, IN ITS various forms, is an ancient tradition of physical and spiritual practices. But today in the West, it is also a billion-dollar industry that markets longevity, weight and stress reduction, tight butts and abs, amazing flexibility, and sexual endurance.

Yoga’s big attraction is that it works. Five thousand years of trial and error and passing fads have been added and subtracted to achieve a total process that effectively benefits the body and all it contains as mental and spiritual energy. The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit, translated roughly “to yoke or to join;” its practice is meant to unite the body, mind, and spirit as one aligned unit. The question arises, though: Can such an ancient devotional practice as yoga save its soul in a tell-all, make-a-buck, quick-fix-and-move-on society? Will such a sacred traditional culture be copyrighted, trade-marked and licensed to the point it loses its meaning?

Yoga’s origins vanish in antiquity; over the centuries, it was maintained as an oral tradition passed from “guru” (teacher) to student. A few texts, such as the Yoga Sutras, and innovations, have been added through time. Here in the U.S., yoga began to be recognized in the 1920s, and as early as the 1970s, PBS broadcast a regular television show devoted to the practice. Today gurus pose not on holy tiger rugs, but on slip-proof sticky mats. Gone are cotton loincloths and turbans in favor of microfiber stretch workout togs that wick perspiration away from the body. Yoga has become part of the American culture, with regular infusions from India and innovators who focus on particular uses of yoga for particular benefits.

Some innovations target a certain demographic. Power Yoga[TM], for example, founded by Beryl Bender Birch as an out-growth of Ashtanga yoga, is a more athletic form found on health club schedules midway between aerobics and traditional moving meditations. Linda Sparrowe and Patricia Walden, in their publication The Woman’s Book of Yoga and Health: A Lifelong Guide to Wellness [Shambala, 2003], bring a therapeutic usage of traditional postures and herbs to women.

“We wrote the book because yoga speaks to women in really powerful ways,” says Sparrowe, who is also the mother of a professional ballet dancer. “Because they don’t often make lime for themselves, the time on the mat is a way for women to honor and better know themselves…. There’s a reason we call it ‘practice.’ What we learn on the mat we can take out into the world. If we hold a really difficult pose for even twenty, seconds, then we know we can get through any difficult situation for that long. It’s there that we practice holding our power.”

Kevin Kortan, the developer of Evolutionary Yoga[TM] who is also a Feldenkrais[R] practitioner explains, “We should differentiate between ‘yoga’ and ‘asanas.’ The postures, asanas, are only one part. Yoga is much more, with many aspects such as breathing, meditation, and service.” Kortan, a former dancer with the Trisha Brown Dance Company, clearly understands the difference between performance and study. “I teach primarily principles, not individual postures. I don’t believe in becoming slaves to mastering or executing those forms. The postures should serve us.”

“I think it’s great that yoga’s so prevalent now,” says Kortan. [Estimates are that one in thirteen Americans practice some form of yoga.] “When it is approached in an un-yoga way–such as an overemphasis on quantity rather than quality–it ceases to be yoga. But no matter what, yoga is invincible.”

The practice of yoga in any form ultimately results in a healthier body that can cope with the stresses of any age. Yoga calms the mind so it is better able to make positive choices, and elevates the spirit above the ego. To paraphrase Indira Devi, who opened the first yoga studio in the West and authored Yoga for Americans [1959], “It doesn’t matter why you begin to practice yoga. You will derive benefits that you never anticipated on all levels.”


Editor in chief K.C. Patrick is a writer in the dance field. “Namaste” is a Sanskrit word defined as “The divine in me blesses and honors the divine in you.”

How do Seniors Benefit from Yoga

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With health conscious lifestyles, most of us are pepped up to hit the gym. Seldom, there is same thrill for working out, once the gray’s start streaking the hair. But there is one form of exercise that can benefit all ages of society, including the seniors. It is a traditional form of exercise and is also followed as a religion in some countries. Yes, it is yoga that we are talking about. Yoga has emerged to be a complete form of exercise that is suitable for all age groups. The poses along with breathing tactics and meditation, has made this a favorite and most followed exercise across the globe. Talking about yoga for the senior population in the society, it is very safe when followed and practiced under guidance. We all know that aging gets along many health problems. The body slowly starts showing off the signs of aging through, joint pains, sleeping disorders, blood pressure, diabetes, weak health and much more. In short, we can say that, with age not only does a person require exercise for physical well-being, but also for mental health and peace of mind. Yoga is one name that addresses all these issues effectively. According to a research, seniors that practiced yoga regularly, lived a much improved quality of life, in terms of physical health, emotional balance and mental health too. With so much in the news, let us check on how exactly do seniors benefit from this effective exercise.

Benefits of Yoga for Seniors

As we know yoga is the key to mental and physical health for all age groups, it gives you great muscles, a toned body, and a stress free living. This ancient lifestyle also surprises us with benefits of yoga, which can address most of their issues.

Regulates Blood Pressure

Yoga is an exercise that involves poses and stretching of the body to the extremes. This enables good blood flow in all the parts of the body. The breathing techniques that are practiced along with the poses, helps in good flow of oxygen and relaxes the body and mind. This is very good for balancing blood pressure, and as seniors have blood pressure issues, it can help in maintaining a healthy blood pressure.

Relieves Pain

Old age usually gets wrapped slowly with joint and muscle pain. The different poses in yoga, are known to give more flexible joints. The stretching of the muscles too helps in relieving joint and muscle pain. According to a survey conducted on seniors suffering from joint pain, regular practice helped in relieving most of the symptoms of joint pain and other similar diseases.

Combats Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders too are very common amongst seniors. Yoga with its many relaxing techniques and different poses, helps in effective sleep. For seniors specially, yoga when combined with herbal therapy, showed amazing results, on seniors who had difficulty sleeping. The techniques like controlled breathing, focusing and relaxing were mainly to trigger good sleeping habits, that in turn gives better energy in the day.

Improves Social Life

As you age, the energy and enthusiasm is on the slope. Also this is the time when most of the seniors retire and there needs to be a strong mind and energy that keeps up the mood and happy feeling in seniors. It helps in relieving blood pressure which also helps in relieving stress and tension. The many different poses and breathing techniques also help in more supply of oxygen to all the parts of the body. This also helps in elevating the feel-good vibes in seniors. It was observed that seniors who practiced yoga along with proper breathing techniques, were reported to be happier and content, with a fresh look for life and higher sense of well-being.

Treats Breathing Difficulties

Certain breathing exercises, mainly ‘pranayama’ have excellent effects of seniors who had breathing difficulties, and diseases like bronchitis, asthma, etc. Certain poses that stretched the muscles, proved to be very useful for breathing issues. Yoga also reduces stress and anxiety, which calms the body and diminishes any symptoms of difficult breathing.

These were some of the facts on ways seniors benefit from yoga. And this is not the end of the list that gives benefits of yoga. Regular practice helps in increased flexibility and good posture, it enhances immunity and also helps to tackle many diseases. So for all the seniors looking for a good workout, start practicing yoga for total health care. For those who are suffering from certain diseases of the joints and similar, it is strictly advised to consult a doctor first, and practice yoga only under trained supervision.