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Breathing Easily: Keeping the Breathing Muscles Strong Takes Practice Too

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By B Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT

We take the ability to breathe freely and fully for granted. However, like other muscles in the body, the respiratory muscles become weak and less efficient with age, if they are not sufficiently exercised. This is particularly true for the muscles responsible for inhalation, i.e. the diaphragm and the intercostal muscles.

Imagine having to continuously struggle to catch your breath! This is the reality for millions of people with dyspnea, or shortness of breath. More than one in four Americans (27%) experience dyspnea brought on either because of lack of exercise, the effects of aging, an underlying medical condition or a combination of these. Breathing is a continuous struggle for people with shortness of breath, drastically undermining their quality of life every moment of the day.

It’s a sobering thought, but we are all at risk for developing dyspnea as we get older. As we age, we begin to lose muscle mass at an increasing pace. Add to that inactivity brought about by fatigue, lack of exercise, illness, injury, and a sedentary lifestyle, and for many Americans, the upshot is that the respiratory muscles become progressively weaker. As breathing becomes a struggle, elderly adults are more likely to restrict their activity. This often begins a vicious circle, in which breathlessness leads to more inactivity, and inactivity results in further reduced respiratory capacity.

Fortunately, this process be halted, and breathing can be retrained to some extent, according to research charting the benefits of respiratory muscle training for elderly too weak to engage in traditional cardiovascular exercise.

Now, a new study indicates that yoga breathing exercises may prove to be particularly helpful. The study, which appeared in the July 2013 issue of The Journal of Geriatric Therapy, looked at the differences in respiratory muscle strength and endurance for elderly adults, who participated in either traditional inspiratory therapy, yogic breathing exercises, or no treatment.

The study included 81 residents (90% women) of an elderly care facility with a mean age of 85 years. The residents were randomly assigned to receive 6 weeks of either inspiratory muscle training or yoga breathing 5 days per week, or no treatment. To be included in the study, participants had to be unable to independently walk more than 30 feet at the beginning of the study.

A total of 71 participants completed the study. At the end of the six-week study period, those in the yoga breathing group demonstrated significant improvements in all measures of respiratory muscle strength and endurance (inspiratory, expiratory, and maximum voluntary ventilation). More significantly, the people in the group that received yoga breathing training also exhibited greater improvement in respiratory muscle strength and endurance than those in the traditional inspiratory muscle training as well as in the no-training groups. In other words, yoga breathing, or pranayama, may be more effective in restoring better breathing in frail, older adults, and yoga breathing exercises may well offer an effective alternative to more expensive inhibitory muscle training in elderly adults, the authors concluded.

Since dyspnea is often related to other medical conditions, as well as anxiety and depression, the results could have significant implications for the long-term quality of life of an aging population. Previous studies suggest that a regular yoga practice can effectively reduce the symptoms of a number of chronic conditions in addition to increasing positive mood and decreasing anxiety.

Yoga breathing techniques may be able to improve quality of life on many fronts. Compared to many traditional therapies for respiratory conditions, yogic breathing can be done anywhere and does not require expensive equipment. This treatment approach may be of particular benefit for the millions of older adults globally who have little or no access to traditional forms of health care.

The breath is the heart of yoga. It governs prana or “life force,” and has significant bearing on the physical and emotional quality of our lives. The ancient masters believed that regular pranayama practice increases resiliency and longevity. This study suggests that they may be right.

For yoga practitioners, the study is also a reminder of the importance to keep up with simple pranayama techniques, like Uyaji breathing and full 3-part breath to keep the diaphragm and intercostal muscles strong and prevent the age-related reduction of breathing capacity that many people fall prey to as they get older. For another great simple Pranayama technique with wonderful stress-reducing benefits, also see this article by Dr. Timothy McCall on Bhramari Pranayama, the Bee Breath.

 

 

B Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT, is the former Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. She is an author, intervention scientist and practitioner who has worked extensively in inpatient and outpatient behavioral health settings. Her research and clinical work explore the effects of integrating empirically supported psychotherapy with yoga therapy to relieve stress, anxiety, depression and other psychological illnesses, and to promote health and wellbeing for children and their families. She was the recipient of a Francisco J. Varela Research Award from the Mind & Life Institute. For more information contact Grace at bgracebullock@me.com or see http://www.mind-bodytherapy.com.

 

 

 

Vary Up Your Yoga! Surya Namaskar B for More Aerobic Challenge

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Surya Namaskar B is most typically used as part of the Ashtanga Yoga warm-up sequence of standing yoga postures. It can provide a great additional aerobic challenge, particularly when done briskly. 
 
Warm up with 5 to 10 sets of Surya Namaskar A and follow with 5 to 10 sets of Surya Namaskar B. If you are short on time, this can also be a great standalone practice to recharge and reenergize your system.
 
Here's a lovely demonstration by yoga teacher Ellen Huang. If you need to build up strength or get tired, skip the jump backs and bring the knees on the floor in Chatturanga. Enjoy!

 

 

Embracing Death – Lessons in Grief, Gratitude and Grace

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By B Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT

Nothing prepares you to watch your best friend die.

While we may be able to embrace the idea of impermanence on the mat, off the mat we run headlong into the brick wall of loss and grief.

Most days I make the trek from my house down the hill to see my dear friend, Gordon. Gordon is in his late 60’s, and has been the consummate health and fitness buff for decades.

Eighteen months ago he practiced Bikram yoga 7 days a week, rode his fixed gear bike up the steep hills to our neighborhood, and wind surfed and mountain biked like a madman. Now he spends his days propped in a chair, gasping into an oxygen mask, waiting to die.

Gordon has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. This progressive neurodegenerative disorder destroys the motor neurons, and renders the muscles that they innervate paralyzed. After witnessing its progression, it is fair to say that ALS is an insidious, pernicious blight. Most days it feels as though the forces of darkness conspired to create the most heinous, degenerative crime against the human form – and they succeeded. 

My friend’s symptoms began as weakness in his right hand, difficulty lifting his right ankle and toes (also known as foot drop), and a barely noticeable change in his speech. Now his muscular frame has atrophied nearly beyond recognition, and he has lost almost one third of his body weight. 

He can no longer speak, and his lungs are rapidly shutting down. Yet, he is still alert and present in spite of the fact that his body is failing him. 
I can’t help but reflect on life while witnessing the ravages of death. Gordon’s journey is a poignant reminder of the frailty and impermanence of these bodies that house our inner light. I am reminded of the lyrics in Leonard Cohen’s Anthem, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” That is also how the light gets out.

In spite of his ravaged form, there are windows when his eyes twinkle and he smiles that remind me of the years of laughter and tears that we’ve shared. The physical is transient, but the spirit is enduring. What matters isn’t how we look, but the quality of our relationships.

As I watch Gordon move beyond his physical body I am reminded of how attached our culture is to appearance and form. We see the physical as the manifestation of the person, and not the other way around. Even on the yoga mat, we attend to form as if the posture is what defines the practice, often to the neglect of appreciating the union of breath and movement.

We focus on the physical outcome, less often attending to the spaces in between.

When nailing a pose becomes the litmus test of our experience, we become entrapped in striving for perfection. We lose sense of the reality that, like life, each breath and posture have a beginning and an end. Birth and death dance with each other over, and over again.

Instead of death being the natural outcome of birth, we struggle and suffer, clinging to the illusion of an image that never changes. But change is inevitable. That could never be more poignant lesson for me as I’ve watched my friend’s body tangle into an incoherent mass of muscle and bone.

As I make my way down his driveway each day, I never know what the visit will bring. Last week his chest began to heave continuously in an effort to breathe. This week his hands have morphed into clawed fists, making it nearly impossible for him to write on his lap sized white board or send text messages. Those have been his only means of communication for months.

Even in silence, we find ways to relate. His twisted frame cannot obscure the light within him.

Swami Satchidananda, yogi and sage, eloquently addressed the issue of clinging to life in his interpretation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (II.9).

“What is it that dies? A log of wood dies to become a few planks. The planks die to become a chair. The chair dies to become a piece of firewood, and the firewood dies to become ash. You give different names to the different shapes the wood takes, but the basic substance is there always. If we could always remember this, we would never worry about the loss of anything. We never lose anything; we never gain anything. By such discrimination we put an end to unhappiness.”

While we may be able to embrace the idea of impermanence on the mat, off the mat we run headlong into the brick wall of loss and grief. The collision is inevitable when we lose a friend, loved one, relationship, or cherished animal companion.

I’ve been grieving Gordon’s impermanence for months. I miss the sound of his voice, and the assurance of knowing that he’d rush over with his toolbox when the plumbing backed up or a door wouldn’t close. I’m grateful for the good times, and I miss them.

As Anthony Hopkins eloquently remarks in the movie Shadowlands, “The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.”

My grief is the echo of the laughter that preceded it.

Just as the cracks are what allow the light to enter and to leave, loss and grief make way for gratitude and grace. We are called upon to embrace each breath, posture, and relationship wholeheartedly, and to surrender to its ending.

We are reminded of the gratitude that comes with the joy of connection, and the grace required to let go. It is in that letting go that we make space to give birth to something new.

In these final days of Gordon’s life I am reminded to peek through the windows of his physical form to catch his brilliant spirit very much alive and ready to move on. Those beams of light are the essence of my dear friend, laughing, joking, and riding his bike like a 10 year-old without a care in the world.

That is how I choose to remember him. Today his body is a cage. Soon he will be set free.

Originally published on Elephant Journal

 

B Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT, is the former Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. She is an author, intervention scientist and practitioner who has worked extensively in inpatient and outpatient behavioral health settings. Her research and clinical work explore the effects of integrating empirically supported psychotherapy with yoga therapy to relieve stress, anxiety, depression and other psychological illnesses, and to promote health and wellbeing for children and their families. She was the recipient of a Francisco J. Varela Research Award from the Mind & Life Institute. For more information contact Grace at bgracebullock@me.com or see http://www.mind-bodytherapy.com.

 

 

The Six Basic Types of Exercise - How Does Yoga Measure Up?

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In the same way as we can't just eat one kind of food, we can't stick to 'just' one form of exercise. In this article, Jon Barron of The Baseline of Health Foundations explains why you need to commit to multiple forms of exercise. Running or going to the gym every day and working out with weights every day won't cut it. You need it all: cardio/aerobic exercise, strength training, weight-bearing exercise, stretching, breathing, and balance. Also read our comments on how yoga measures up, and how you can vary up your practice to get the full complement of exercise.

by Jon Barron or staff member at The Baseline of Health Foundation

Many people take up exercise to lose weight, but the importance of exercise goes far beyond obesity. Exercise impacts almost every aspect of health. It can help you live longer, reduce the risk of heart disease, lower high blood pressure and high cholesterol; reduce the risk of diabetes and of many cancers, including colon and breast cancer, reduce depression and anxiety, and enhance overall well-being and energy. To get these benefits, you need to make sure you get all the basic forms of exercise regularly. Let's take a look at each of these and what you can do to make sure your exercise regimen gives you the full benefits.

Cardio/Aerobic/Interval training
By definition, cardio/aerobic exercise is brisk physical activity that requires the heart and lungs to work harder to meet the body's increased oxygen demand. Aerobic exercise promotes the circulation of oxygen through the blood. The key part of the definition here is the word oxygen. The defining aspect of aerobic exercise is that it is of sufficient intensity to force the heart and lungs to work harder, and yet of low enough intensity to facilitate adequate oxygen transfer to the muscle cells so that no buildup of lactic acid is observed. Another way of looking at aerobic exercise is that it involves repetitive movement of large muscle groups (such as your arms, legs, and hips) with all of the needed energy supplied by the oxygen you breathe. When you're aerobically fit, your body takes in and utilizes oxygen more efficiently to sustain the repetitive muscle movement. Benefits include:

  • Improved heart and lung function
  • Lower heart rate and blood pressure
  • Increased blood supply to muscles and improved ability to use oxygen
  • Increased HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol)
  • Decreased triglycerides
  • Reduced body fat and improved weight control
  • Improved glucose tolerance and reduced insulin resistance
  • Enhanced immune function, which means
  • Increased resistance to viral and bacterial infection
  • Increased resistance to cancer
  • Lowered blood sugar levels and reduced risk of diabetes
  • Longer life expectancy

There is a world of aerobic exercise to choose from. Choose one or two that you enjoy and can easily pursue. There's running, jogging, and fast walking. Biking (either road or mountain), and swimming are also good. If you belong to a gym or have home equipment, there are treadmills, elliptical trainers, spin cycles, and rebounders with more being invented and marketed all the time. Just pick one or two that you like, can do easily, and are willing to do.

Editor's Note: How Does Yoga Measure Up? Different yoga styles differ widely in how much aerobic exercise you get. A gentle yoga practice, and even a moderate practice, will not offer any of the benefits of aerobic challenges. On the other hand, more rigorous forms of Vinyasa yoga, Power Yoga as well as Ashtanga Yoga can offer plenty of aerobic activity, particularly when done at a fairly brisk pace. To vary up your yoga practice to get more aerobic exercise, include 5 to 10 sets each of Surya Namaskar A and Surya Namaskar B. You will be huffing and puffing in no time!

Strength Training
Strength training involves the use of weights or some other form of resistance to build muscle and increase strength. Its benefits include:

  • Increased muscle strength
  • Increased tendon and ligament strength
  • Reduced body fat and increased muscle mass
  • Better balance
  • Lower blood cholesterol
  • Improved glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity

Contrary to popular opinion, strength training is not just for young people. Studies have shown that people in their 70's and 80's can experience strength gains of as much as 180% in just a few weeks!

What kinds of strength training options are available? Again, as with aerobics, there is a world of choices. There are free weights, stacked weight machines, and Nautilus circuits at the gym. There's resistance training as found in Soloflex and Bowflex machines and push/pull resistance as found in the Delta Trimax machine. Then there's Pilates equipment and the Total Gym that use your own body weight as resistance. Any and all can work. Choose one that works for you and that you can do easily and are willing to do regularly.

It's worth noting that weight training is the ultimate way to burn calories fast. A pound of muscle burns up to nine times the calories of a pound of fat. In other words, strength training increases your resting metabolic rate, which is the number of calories you burn while sleeping or sitting. The trick is that muscle is active tissue. That is, it requires a lot of energy just to maintain itself. In fact, every pound of new muscle you add to your body will burn about 60 calories per day. Adding just 10 pounds of muscle to your body, will burn off 62 pounds of fat over the next year even while you are sleeping! And it will continue to do so the next year…and the next.

Editor’s Note: How Does Yoga Measure Up?—Strength training is most commonly done using external weights. But in many yoga postures, particularly standing postures, you can get similar benefits, using the weight of the body to build increased muscle, tendon and ligament strength, and enhance postural support.

Please note, however, that if you simply come into a yoga posture and hold it for a while, the main strength training your muscles will receive is isometric training. This mainly strengthens the muscle at the specific joint angle at which the isometric challenge occurs, but it may not strengthen the muscle throughout its full range of motion. To optimize strength training, add a Vinyasa component to your practice, and/or practice coming in and out of standing yoga postures several times, to challenge the muscles through their full range of motion.

Weight Bearing Exercise
Weight bearing exercise is actually a subset of certain aerobic and strength training exercises. It is exercise in which you force your body to support weight (your own included) while exercising. Studies have shown that weight bearing exercise can help slow down the rate of bone loss and osteoporosis, and therefore reduce fractures. How does it do this? First, weight-bearing exercise directly stimulates bone formation. Then, it strengthens muscles that in turn pull and tug on bones. This pulling action actually causes the bones to become denser and stronger. Weight-bearing activities at any age benefit bone health. Studies have shown that even people in their 90's can increase bone mass with weight bearing exercise.

The best weight bearing exercises are: weight-lifting, jogging, hiking with a back pack, stair-climbing, step aerobics, racquet sports, and other activities that require your muscles to work against gravity. Swimming and simple walking don't do the trick. One exceptionally useful form of weight bearing exercise is rebounding. The act of rebounding makes use of g-forces, just like astronauts training in a centrifuge. Rebounding can actually achieve momentary g-forces of 3.5, which means that the bones of a 150 lb person will momentarily have to bear 525 lbs. of weight on each bounce. That's a lot of weight bearing.

Note: the benefits of weight-bearing exercise are site-specific. This means that you strengthen only the bones used directly in the exercise. In other words, it's a good idea to participate in a variety of weight-bearing exercises. To maintain the bone-building benefits, the exercise needs to be continued on a regular basis.

Editor's Note: How Does Yoga Measure Up? Standing yoga postures offer plenty of weight-bearing challenge, and early research indicates that the weight-bearing challenge of yoga might even be sufficient to counteract the bone loss of osteoporosis. Dr. Loren Fishman, a frequent presenter at YogaUOnline.com, is doing pioneering research in the effects of yoga for osteoporosis with very promising preliminary results.

Stretching
Stretching is the step child of exercise, with more lip service paid to it than actual practice. Stretching though is crucial to good health. The usual benefits cited include:

  • Reduced muscle tension Injury prevention
  • Increased range of movement in the joints
  • Enhanced muscular coordination
  • Increased circulation of the blood to various parts of the body
  • Increased energy levels (resulting from increased circulation)

Think for a moment of the opposite of stretching tightness and restriction. By definition, you are talking about constriction in muscles and soft tissue. Tightness and constriction mean reduced blood flow to that muscle and soft tissue, a reduced supply of nutrients to the area of tension, and reduced removal of metabolic waste from those areas. Areas that are tense and constricted, then, are breeding grounds for illness and organ dysfunction. Now tie in the whole concept of traditional Chinese medicine which says that all disease results from restrictions in the flow of energy in the body and the resulting energy imbalances that creates, and you can see that stretching is not just an issue of feeling good; it is essential for maintaining optimum health.

How Does Yoga Measure Up? According to Barron, yoga is probably the best stretching exercise there is, be sure to include long holdings in seated postures to increase flexibility. On days you don't practice yoga, do 5-10 minutes of simple stretching after your daily exercise routine as part of your cool down time.

Resistance Breathing
Proper breathing is topic worthy of its own newsletter, but for now, let's just focus on the advantages of resistance breathing. The concept is simple: putting a device in your mouth that restricts (in a controlled manner) your inhalations and exhalations, which forces your lungs to work harder. This, in turn, strengthens the muscles that makes your lungs work and increases their capacity. There are a number of such devices widely available on the internet and in health magazines. They tend to run $20-40. The investment is well worth it since this type of exercise can significantly improve the strength of your respiratory muscles and increase your lung capacity.

How much of a benefit are we talking about? Studies have shown that these devices can increase breathing endurance by close to 300%. Considering how fundamental oxygen is to health, it's not hard to see the short and long-term health and performance advantages of doing so.

Editor's Note: How Does Yoga Measure Up? Can you say Uyaji breathing? A.k.a. Ocean Sounding Breath, Uyaji pranayama offers natural, comfortable resistance breathing with an added calming and meditative quality. Many types of Pranayama also improve the strength of the respiratory muscles and increase lung capacity.

Balance
One other key aspect of exercise is balance. Why? Because like all other physical abilities, it diminishes with age unless we consciously exercise it. Is that a bad thing? Only if you fall down and break your hip or wrist. Here's a simple balance exercise you can do daily. It takes just a couple of minutes and will produce quick improvement.

Stand while holding for support, with one hand, the back edge of a chair set beside you. Bend the leg nearest to the chair at the knee 90 degrees so that your knees are still together and the foot of the bent leg is projected out behind you.
Get used to balancing on the one leg while holding the chair.
Then turn to the other side and do the other leg.

Once you can comfortably balance like this:

  • Try taking your hand off the chair and balancing on the one leg without support from the chair.
  • As you get more comfortable doing this, try to stop using your arms for balance and pull your hands in, palms together in front of your chest, like in a Far East prayer position.
  • This will force the act of balance to the muscles of one leg.

Once you can comfortably balance like this, try closing your eyes and holding the pose for 30 seconds.

How Does Yoga Measure Up? If you really want to improve your balance, many yoga poses are specifically designed as balance poses, utilizing arms, legs, hips the entire body, in fact. For best restuls, be sure to include at least 2-3 balancing yoga postures each time you practice.

Bottom line: Exercise fundamentally changes every system and function in your body. If you don't move you die. Keep at it, and have fun.

Material originally published at www.jonbarron.org. Copyright © 1999-2011. Baseline of Health® Foundation
Used by permission of the Baseline of Health® Foundation.
All rights reserved worldwide.

More than a Short-Lived Fizz? Fizzy Yoga Targets Common Boomer Issues

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By B Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT - 

Sex and the City star Kim Cattrall may have just unleashed the next fitness craze: Physiyoga (or Fizzy Yoga, as Cattrall prefers to call it). A blend of yoga and physical therapy, Physiyoga is a core-centered workout, which combines the wisdom of yoga with physical therapy and Pilates to stretch muscles that are tight, and strengthen those that are weak.

Physiyoga classes are customized, and include movement, meditative breathing, and hands on instruction. This merger of yoga and physical therapy goes one step beyond traditional yoga classes and may be the ideal solution for fitness buffs dealing with repetitive strain issues as well as boomers facing movement limitations and age-related wear-and-tear issues.

For Cattrall, who was rehabilitating a chronic knee injury, Physiyoga proved the ideal solution. In a recent article in The Times 
of London, Cattrall credits Physiyoga with “saving” her life. Once a cardio buff, Cattrall found that her intense workouts were undermining the overall strength and fitness that she was trying to maintain. That led her to Diana Zotos, a trained physical therapist and yoga instructor.

The emphasis on body awareness, core and overall muscle strength, and flexibility appears to be key to injury prevention. “You learn to take ownership of your body,” says Zotos in an interview with New York Daily News
.  “The practice can be ‘insightful’ by teaching clients how they became injured in the first place, and how to prevent additional injuries.”

Physiyoga won’t be appearing at your local health club any time soon. It is delivered by licensed Physical Therapists who are specialists with extensive training and knowledge in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of physical dysfunctions, diseases, injuries and imbalances. It differs from traditional physical therapy because it uses the holistic approaches of yoga therapy, and a model of empowerment that encourages clients to be actively involved in creating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Instead of passively going to a professional and receiving a prescription of exercises, Physiyoga clients collaborate with their therapists to develop tailored practices that serve their unique goals.

Another huge benefit of a yoga-informed approach to rehabilitation comes in the form of mind-body awareness. Yoga teaches us to tune into our bodies, and to respond to physical and emotional cues. Cattrall is an excellent example of someone who has learned to harness her physical energy wisely, and to take control of her wellbeing.

Like other forms of yoga therapy, Physiyoga is poised to make an important contribution to rehabilitative medicine in the years to come. It may well be part of a growing trend towards more in-depth, informed yoga therapy that helps people deal with or prevent structural imbalances that can otherwise lead to chronic pain issues.  Unlike traditional yoga teaching, Physiyoga offers more in-depth instruction tailored to each individual student and his or her specific structural limitations. And unlike traditional physical therapy, Physiyoga provides a holistic option to getting well—and staying there.
 

B Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT, is the former Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. She is an author, intervention scientist and practitioner who has worked extensively in inpatient and outpatient behavioral health settings. Her research and clinical work explore the effects of integrating empirically supported psychotherapy with yoga therapy to relieve stress, anxiety, depression and other psychological illnesses, and to promote health and wellbeing for children and their families. She was the recipient of a Francisco J. Varela Research Award from the Mind & Life Institute. For more information contact Grace at bgracebullock@me.com or see http://www.mind-bodytherapy.com.

Strength Lessons in Yoga from a Circus Trainer

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Kino MacGregor

By Kino MacGregor  

My biggest lesson in yoga and perhaps in life has been strength. I was not naturally strong when I started but after 14 years of practice I started to feel stronger. I thought I could do a handstand with good balance and good alignment. I'm at the end of the Fourth Series of Ashtanga yoga and a few postures ahead is a one arm handstand. Rather than just try it on my own I decided to ask the only people I have ever seen truly master this truly awesome movement: a circus trained hand balance performer.

After two weeks of coordinating times and dates my trainer, Ricardo, arrived to my house at 1:45 p.m. Just looking at how he held his body and posture made me feel like I was backstage at the cirque du Soliel. His deltoids were the size of my thighs and his body seemed solid and at the time insanely limber. As a yoga teacher I get a sense of people's physical capacity just from standing near them. Clearly Ricardo was a master of the body and physical form. Without much fanfare we walked into my yoga room and he asked me what I wanted to work on. When I said a one arm handstand he smirked and said, "I can see just from looking at you that you're not strong enough." I thought, here we go again. As I looked at my a teacher's photo on my home altar I could hear his words, "Kino, you have to be stronger" in my head. At that moment I decided to treat Ricardo like my yoga guru, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and I just surrendered.

Next Ricardo said, "Show me your handstand." While I did what I thought was a pretty good handstand he systematically picked apart my alignment and lack of strength. My wrists were weak, my shoulders collapsed, my elbows bending, my body disconnected, my abdominals sagging and my ego breaking. I am familiar with being broken down to build back up again from my yoga practice but this was fast and furious and left me breathless, as though 14 years of work amounted to a pile of mush. My circus trainer, lacking the compassionate voice of a yoga teacher, just said get up and started me on a series of brutally intense strength building, alignment focused exercises to train my body. I was upside down in a half handstand counting seconds out loud, pressing up into handstand unsuccessfully with straight elbows, extending my shoulders and trying my absolute best. When my shoulders collapsed, Ricardo tapped my shoulders saying, "no, no, no, why are you quitting." When I was lowering down from handstand and hit the floor with a bump, he said, "do it again, this time don't collapse." When my elbows bent he yelled at me, "you have to let go of your old pattern, it does you no good, do exactly what I tell you to repattern what works." When my muscles nearly gave out and I said with all sincerity that I was trying my best, he said simply, "don't try, do." When I failed to execute his instructs properly and said I was sorry he said, "sorry does nothing for me." The whole while I thought, this is yoga. This is exactly the life lesson that I am working on now.

Yoga is about finding your limit and using it as a mirror. I quit, I collapse, I give up and through the practice I have seen my pattern. I do it emotionally when things get difficult. When the world just seems too much bear I crawl into a cave inside myself and break apart. I have spent days, months and sometimes years digging myself out of my own emotional black hole. The lesson I am learning now is to never quit, never give up, no matter what happens or how intense the situation is. The strength I need is the strength to find meaning in suffering, the strength to become the hero of my own life story and the strength to see hope out of the ashes of disillusionment. I need the strength and determination to never waver no matter how arduous the journey may be. It is the power of Ashtanga Yoga and it is also my own true power.

Originally published on Huffington Post


Kino MacGregor is an international yoga teacher, author of two books, producer of six Ashtanga Yoga DVDs, writer, vlogger, world traveler, co-founder of Miami Life Center, and founder of Miami Yoga Magazine. She is one of a select group of people to receive the Certification to teach Ashtanga Yoga by its founder Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India and practices through the Fourth Series of Ashtanga Yoga. For more information, visit her webpage www.kinoyoga.com/


Trauma-Sensitive Yoga Therapy in Practice

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By Rob Schware

This is an interview with David Emerson, who was a social worker for 10 years before going to graduate school to become a therapist -- a talk-based psychotherapist. Well, he just didn't click with that modality. He became a certified yoga teacher in 1999. After connecting with Bessel van der Kolk in 2001-02, they started the Trauma Center Yoga Program together soon thereafter. With Elizabeth Hopper, David is co-author of Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga: Reclaiming Your Body.

Rob: What originally motivated you to do this work, and what continues to motivate you? How, if at all, has that motivation changed over time?

The primary motivation was the fact that our country was ramping up for two wars, and there is a wet shelter (a homeless shelter where people are not turned away if they are actively using drugs and alcohol) around the corner from my house filled mostly with Vietnam vets. I knew we'd be seeing the younger vets in there soon enough. As we started the Trauma Center Yoga Program and as things evolved, we started working mostly with survivors of chronic, complex, intra-familial abuse and neglect, and this is where the potential benefits of Trauma-Sensitive Yoga really started to reveal themselves. Now I work mostly with teens who have had a great deal of trauma exposure. I also have a veterans group and we continue to meet sporadically after nine years.

Is there a standout moment from your work at the Trauma Center?

When Senator Kennedy mentioned our yoga program during his comments for the Trauma Center's 25th anniversary I felt like yoga had arrived as a serious, viable treatment. One of two other incredibly meaningful moments was our team receiving the first grant ever given by the National Institutes of Health to study yoga and trauma; the other was completing the first -- and to date only -- randomized controlled PTSD trial using yoga as the therapeutic intervention. Finally, any day on which someone I am working with notices a body feeling and makes a choice about what to do with it, is a standout day.

What did you know about the population you are working with before you began teaching? What were some of the assumptions you had about this population, and how have those assumptions changed?

I knew trauma was complex, but I didn't really understand how complex. I have been very lucky to have had several adult students over the years who have been willing to articulate for me what it's like to have a body after suffering through tremendous trauma. I have learned everything I know from them.

What are two distinct ways that your teaching style differs from the way you might teach in a studio, and what are the reasons for these differences?

We do no physical assists and the teacher does not move around the room. To fully explain these teaching points would take up too much space here but they are the result of our understanding of the impacts of trauma that include: 1. disscociation (when people "check out" or have fragmented experiences that from time to time do not include you); 2. the internal interpretation of external stimuli (like touch); and 3. the feeling of safety in relationships.

What has been the greatest challenge in your teaching experience, and what tools have you developed for addressing that challenge?

The biggest challenge for me has been something that is very specific to the kind of chronic, interpersonal trauma that we are working with. Because the trauma took place within the context of a relationship, and the student and I are now entering into a relationship (even more pointed, a relationship with power dynamics, teacher-student), there are times when I have been the source of a trigger for someone. It could be the way I dress, the way I move, a facial expression or a tone of voice -- anything. Sometimes when this happens people become very angry with you, or scared of you, and this has been the most difficult thing for me to experience. The best way we have found as a team to deal with these experiences is to talk with each other. We are a team of yoga teachers and clinicians and we all support each other.

What advice would you give to anyone who is going to teach in the populations you work with?

Please don't go it alone. Get involved with some kind of treatment center where you can interact with therapists, and they with you. If you do yoga with traumatized people it is automatically a clinical issue. Please respect that, and do your due diligence in terms of learning about trauma and its impact on the entire organism.

What are some of your ideas about or hopes for the future of "service yoga" in America in the next decade?

I would like to see more science, more data, and more randomized controlled studies. In my opinion we owe it to our clients/students and to our future funders (tax payers and private citizens) to prove what works, and to recognize what doesn't. We need to enter into the empirical domain, as difficult and as challenging as that is for yoga teachers like me!

How has this work changed your definition of service? Your definition of yoga? Your practice?

First, in terms of my definition of yoga, there have been very real changes as a result of my work with traumatized people. For one thing, the whole process has become much simpler. I feel like I used to put a lot more effort into practicing yoga than I do now. In my personal practice I find that I am less inclined to interpret my body experience and more comfortable just trusting the experience itself. I find that I make less effort to do yoga for someone else, some external approval, and am more interested in practicing yoga for the pure joy of reminding myself that I am here, that I have a body, that I exist.

On the question of service my response is that service, to me, is not a side project. It is a fully-integrated, professional endeavor. Yoga teachers should be paid a reasonable wage if they are offering trauma survivors, for example, a high quality treatment with proven outcomes. People are suffering tremendously, and they need others to devote themselves to their care and unless one is independently wealthy (and more power to you if you are!), one needs to make a living. Service and making a living do not have to be mutually exclusive.

What other organizations do you admire?

There are many, but 3 that I am particularly fond of are:
thereandback-again.org
mandalahouse.org
greentreeyoga.org

Originally published on Huffington Post and Give Back Yoga Foundation

Rob Schware is the Executive Director of the Give Back Yoga Foundation, President of the Yoga Service Council, and Seva Advisor to Hanuman Festival. He has been married to Alice Trembour for 28 years, which, like yoga, is in and of itself a regular commitment to a practice. They have three children.

You can follow The Give Back Yoga Foundation for news, updates, and fun on Twitter at @givebackyoga. www.givebackyoga.org

 

India’s Bihar School of Yoga Celebrates 50th Anniversary at the 2013 World Yoga Convention

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Sri Swami Satyananda

By B Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT -

“Like the rays of the moon, the light of yoga is expanding. All religions, beliefs and sects are receiving shelter under the kalpataru (wish-fulfilling tree) of yoga. Towards the evolution of consciousness yoga has done unforgettable work. Yoga will become tomorrow’s culture and will show a new way of life for mankind.”     - Sri Swami Satyananda

If you are a dedicated yogi and an adventurous traveler, mark your calendar for the 2013 World Yoga Convention in Munger, India from October 23-27, when spiritual leaders, educators, scientists, doctors and others will convene to share the ancient and modern traditions of yoga. A highlight of the convention will be the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the internationally famous Bihar School of Yoga, one of the world’s preeminent yoga research and educational institutions.

The Bihar School of Yoga was founded in 1964 by Sri Swami Satyananda, a sannyasin, yoga teacher and guru in both India and the West. Swami Satyananda wrote over 80 books, including the well-known Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha, one of the most systematic yoga manuals today, which has been reprinted seventeen times since it was first published in 1969.

While not that well known in the U.S., the Bihar School of Yoga remains one of the leading schools of the teaching and study of yoga in India. The school is “dedicated to the propagation of classical, integral yoga” and inspired by the mission of integrating yoga into society. The school is viewed as the “beacon of the modern yoga renaissance.” The ancient Vedantic, Tantric, and yogic text are synthesized with modern approaches to science, and health care. In addition to the original campus in Munger, India, the school influences yoga education across the globe.

The Bihar School of Yoga was founded on the principle that yoga is central to improving quality of life on a multitude of dimensions: physical, mental, emotional, psychic, and spiritual. The school’s mission includes the integration of yoga and medical research, and the cultivation of collaborations with prestigious hospitals and public and private institutions and corporations with the goal of translating the ancient science of yoga to everyday life.

Given the Bihar School of Yoga’s important contribution to the international yoga community, it seems fitting that the school be honored at the 2013 World Yoga Convention. Beginning with its inaugural meeting in 1953, the convention has been held every twenty years. This year’s gathering is dedicated to “bring forth a new level of understanding and application of yoga in people’s lives. [It] will ignite, power and guide the future effort towards a global understanding and realization of spiritual life in its true sense."

The first World Yoga Convention was held in 1953 and conducted by Sri Swami Sivananda, the teacher of Sri Swami Satyananda. Held every 20 years, the conference attracts an internationally renowned lineup of esteemed speakers. Proceedings will include a number of lectures, presentations, a book exposition, and kirtan. Attendees with explore sacred traditions and modern science, seeking to create a forum in which individuals from all walks of life might be inspired to adopt the ancient teachings and practices of yoga. Conference organizers propose, “Yoga must become part of life. Only then can the process of transformation take place in deeper and more profound ways… Through the living of yoga, moment to moment, breath to breath, a new cycle of positive transformation begins, the birth of yogic culture.”

Most Westerners won’t have the opportunity to attend the World Yoga Conference in Munger, India, yet there are many ways in which we might benefit from this convocation. The Conference website offers a number of resources and interesting information regarding the global yoga community and the Bihar School. Perhaps you may be inspired to revisit your favorite ancient yoga texts, explore the vast array of modern writings, or enjoy a workshop or webinar. There are limitless ways to explore the ways in which you can deepen your practice, learn more about the ancient science of yoga, or discover the ways in which yoga can improve your quality of life. Whichever path you choose, it is likely that there will be countless others just like you, exploring the ways in which the “modern yoga renaissance” can enrich your life.

“Yoga can show people of this century the way to self-purification. For all those who wish to devote their life to God, attain samadhi through yoga and meditation, expand their consciousness, I have only one message - get the boulders out of the road first, and then you can proceed safely on your journey. How can the incapable, finite mind, bound by shackles, experience super-consciousness?”  - Sri Swami Satyananda

 


B Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT, is the former Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. She is an author, intervention scientist and practitioner who has worked extensively in inpatient and outpatient behavioral health settings. Her research and clinical work explore the effects of integrating empirically supported psychotherapy with yoga therapy to relieve stress, anxiety, depression and other psychological illnesses, and to promote health and wellbeing for children and their families. She was the recipient of a Francisco J. Varela Research Award from the Mind & Life Institute. For more information contact Grace at bgracebullock@me.comor see http://www.mind-bodytherapy.com.

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Yoga Benefits: Benefit # 1: Yoga Detoxifies the Body

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By Tari Prinster - 

Detoxification is the metabolic process by which toxins, or harmful things, are changed into less toxic substances and flushed from the body.  Similar to how an environmentalist would remove pollution from a lake by flushing it with fresh water and directing drainage. Yoga is a powerful tool in the cleansing or detoxifying of our bodies.

Yoga borrows from the science of physics using the principles of movement, gravity and resistance to achieve this goal. All of our body’s systems participate in this cleansing process, but primarily the lymph system. Think about the lymph system as the body’s plumbing service and trash can for removing potential cancer cells, toxins and other waste (garbage!).  However, the lymph system has no organ that circulates its fluids, so it depends on the movement of muscles—especially the heartbeat, the breath and gravity—to flush waste from the body.  We use yoga to encourage lymphatic flow by placing the skeleton in certain postures, then moving them in specific patterns with our muscles.  Because muscles need more blood flow when moving than when resting, movement increases the heartbeat.  The demand for more blood results in a more rapid movement of blood being pumped through the cardiovascular channels located throughout the body.  Since the lymph system parallels the cardiovascular system, lymph fluid also flows better when blood is moving more forcefully and quickly.

The largest lymph node “waste” collector is the thoracic duct located in the body’s center. The thoracic duct best kept secret of yoga and cancer experts. This central powerful vessel starts at the top of the sternum, reaching all the way to the small intestines.  Proper diaphragmatic breathing will move lymph fluid from the arms, legs, and head toward the thoracic duct.  From there, lymph fluid is cycled through the body’s laundry system and toxins are excreted, sweated out or otherwise expelled in the proper, well-designed process. Simple movements coordinated with diaphragmatic breathing does this. No magic. Just yoga.

The y4c methodology uses these three familiar physics principles in specific poses and with simple vinyasa sequences that involve actively moving muscles and bones. However, even seemingly passive restorative poses create subtle movement that directs the circulation of lymph and blood. By placing the head below the heart in restorative poses, gravity reverses the flow of body’s vital fluids. In addition, such poses encourage specific muscles to lengthen and relax. In itself, this may not appear to be a cleansing or detoxifying process, but considering that post-cancer treatment long-term side effects can leave a survivor’s body riddled with scar tissue and missing organs, creating obstacles to feeling and functioning normally, these poses are very liberating as they encourage passive movement of muscles and fluids.

Finally, yoga can clear, cleanse and “detoxify” the mind, too.  A cancer survivor lives with the fear of cancer returning, and this daily anxiety is a mental toxin.  By applying the same physical techniques, we detoxify the mind by using the movement of the breath, by relaxing into gravity in a restorative pose, and by managing negative thoughts while meditating. The biology of relaxation is based on the principle of reestablishing emotional balance. Left to itself, “the body will naturally relax when tired and arouse itself after rest.”1  Not so the mind. Yoga’s meditation tool can help to ‘refine’ the process of ushering out harmful, unnecessary and emotionally demanding thoughts. Even for a second, this can be a powerful benefit.

Let Pema Chodron’s words constantly irrigate, dilute and detoxify your thoughts. ‘No feeling last forever.’2

Tari Prinster is a breast cancer survivor, yoga teacher and founder of y4c Teacher Training. She is the author of Yoga Prescription: Using Yoga to Reclaim Your Life During and After Cancer. Tari has been featured in Yoga Journal among many other publications, as well as in the feature documentary Yogawoman. For more information, visit http://y4c.com/

 

 

1. How Meditation Heals: Scientific Evidence and Practical Application, by Eric Harison, Ulysses Press, 2000
2. The Pocket Pema Chodron, Pema Chodron, Shambalah Press, 2008

Can Yoga Improve Your Sex Life? A New Study Suggests So

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By Christie Hall - 

Yoga improves so many aspects of your health and wellbeing, so why not your sex life? Indeed, a new study on the effects of yoga on women with metabolic syndrome suggests that yoga might improve overall sexual function in women.

The study focused specifically on women with metabolic syndrome, who are known to have higher rates of sexual dysfunction, and it’s unknown whether results can be generalized to the general population. Still, the study results are noteworthy. Findings suggest that regular yoga practice could be beneficial to women’s sexual health by improving blood flow and pelvic floor strength, and increasing a sense of wellbeing and mindfulness.

The study is the first comprehensive study of yoga and sexual functioning for woman with metabolic syndrome, Metabolic syndrome is linked to higher risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and is characterized by a cluster of symptoms, including obesity, hypertension, as well as elevated glucose, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Globally, the prevalence of women with sexual dysfunction is estimated at 40%, but women with metabolic syndrome have considerably higher rates of sexual difficulties.

In the study, a group of South Korean scientists randomly assigned 41 women with metabolic syndrome (30-60 years of age) to either a 12-week biweekly, 1-hour yoga program or a wait-list. Seventeen women in the yoga group and 20 on the wait list completed an assessment before and after the yoga program.  Participants were matched by age, marital status, education, income, menopausal status, smoking, alcohol use, and chronic disease status.

Comparing pre and post-test scores after the study period, the researchers found that women in the yoga group reported statistically significant improvements overall female sexual function following the 12-weeks of yoga classes. They also reported greater levels of change in arousal and lubrication compared to wait list controls.

Interestingly, the women in the yoga group also saw improved scores on several indicators linked to metabolic syndrome. Study results showed improvements in levels of fasting glucose, triglycerides, and HDL-cholesterol, as well as systolic blood pressure. These results are in line with other studies suggesting that yoga may help reduce risk factors for diabetes, and heart disease.

Yoga Postures Used in the Study

To enhance sexual function, the researchers designed the yoga intervention “to develop the strength, flexibility and balance of psychophysical energies in the body based on the teachings of Hatha yoga”. The practices included pranayama (kapalabhati), a yoga asana (posture) sequence, and finished with savasana, or corpse pose, which the authors considered to represent meditation.

The study used a broad variety of yoga poses to improve sexual function, including

  • Forward bends (e.g. bound angle pose, cow-face pose, a wide-angle seated forward fold, and standing forward bend;
  • Backbends (e.g. cobra, locust, and bridge pose);
  • Standing poses (e.g. forward fold and triangle pose);
  • One inversion, as well as plow pose.

A number of poses were selected specifically with the intention of strengthening pelvic floor muscles including cow-face pose, hero pose, locust pose, and bridge pose.

Fourteen poses were held for less than 5 minutes each, followed by 10 minutes of corpse pose. The teacher varied the sequence as needed, and poses were modified for limitations or discomfort.

This practice places a great deal of physical demand and stress relative to most yoga therapy studies, and the use of kapalabhati is generally contraindicated for individuals with hypertension. However, the authors don’t make reference to adverse effects from the practice.

How Might Yoga Improve Sexual Function?

So which are the possible pathways through which yoga improved overall sexual function in the study participants? The authors suggest that the increased mental focus and sense of wellbeing yoga creates might be one pathway. The results support a link between overall wellbeing and sexual health, the researchers note. In addition, the mindfulness skills acquired during yoga practice may offset mental distractions during sexual activity that can otherwise undermine pleasure and satisfaction.  

Further, the researchers suggest, the increased circulation from improved atherosclerosis (the hardening of the arteries that otherwise reduces blood flow) “may ameliorate the pelvic blood flow leading to engorgement and lubrication of the vagina and vulva. This, in turn, could improve sexual function in women by facilitation of the sexual response cycle”.

Given the short period in which women participated in the study and the lack of long-term follow-up, it is unknown whether or not trends toward improvement in other areas of sexual satisfaction will continue to increase, and whether these results will persist over time.

This is one of the first studies to link regular yoga practice with improved sexual function in women. While the study was conducted with women with a high risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease, findings suggest that regular yoga may be beneficial to women’s overall sexual health by improving blood flow and pelvic floor strength, and by increasing wellbeing and the ability to be mindful and present.

Given that over one third of women report some level of sexual difficulty, these findings could pave the way for greater sexual fulfillment for healthy women as well.

Source: Ha-Na Kim, MD; Jungsu Ryu, MA;  Kyung-Soo Kim, MD; and Sang-Wook Song, MD.  Effects of Yoga on Sexual Function in Women with Metabolic Syndrome: A Randomized Controlled Trial. The Journal of Sexual Medicine. 2013 July 30 (Epub ahead of print) 

Christie Hall began studying yoga in 1995 to cope with crippling back pain. Her home practice started with the book, Yoga: The Iyengar Way. She started teaching in 1997 after studying with Iyengar teacher Karin O'Bannon and she has studied as student and as teacher exclusively with Iyengar teachers, including BKS Iyengar in Colorado in 2005 and Geeta Iyengar in 2007. More of her writings can be found on her blog: www.pratipaksha.com. Her Web site is www.christieyoga.com.

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