Yoga News

Yoga Posture Clinic: Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose (Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana)

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Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana

By Meagan McCrary -

Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose (Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana) is one of those poses that reveals itself over time, unfolding as the body lengthens and opens with the breath, but it can be a bit sticky at first.

To begin with, the pose is a hamstring stretch, groin and hip opener, as well as a shoulder opener; however, it’s the sides of the bodies that often feel it the most. Shortened from long hours of sitting, our side bodies can be surprisingly tight and restricting, especially for the breath.

Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose can be felt from your hip through your armpit, stretching all those little intercostal muscles between the ribs—allowing for fuller expansion of the lungs and chest. Opening and lengthening the side bodies in Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana will give you a greater sense of ease and freedom in your body.

Getting Into Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana

  1. Begin seated in Baddha Konasana with the bottoms of your feet together and knees open to the sides.
  2. Extend your right leg out to the side and pull your left heel closer to your groin, opening the left knee further back. Place your hands on either side of your hips and press down, lengthening the spine up as you firm both thighbones down.
  3. Inhale, lift and turn your torso to the left; exhale and side bend to the right, placing the back of your right hand to the floor inside your right leg, palm facing up. Next, inhale and extend your left arm out, palm facing up; exhale and lean back as you reach the arm over your ear toward the right foot.
  4. Firm down through your left thighbone as you pull your left shoulder blade back, revolving your torso open toward the ceiling as you lean to the right.
  5. Continue extending your right arm along the floor inside your right leg, lengthening your right waist and rib cage alongside your right inner thigh. Rotate the upper arm bone out, turning the palm up, and hold onto the arch of your right foot with your right hand.
  6. Reach your top arm up and over, clasping the outside of the right foot with your left hand. Inhale and press your elbows apart as you lengthen both sides of your body; exhale and pull your top arm and shoulder blade back as you revolve your torso toward the ceiling and gaze up.
  7. Press down through both thighs to keep a nice lift of the spine as you breath your left side body open. When you’re ready to release, inhale, press down into your thighs and reach your left arm back up, bringing you upright.  

Common Misalignments

The most common misalignment of any seated postures is rocking back on the siting bones, tilting the pelvis and rounding the low back—making it nearly impossible to extend the spine.

It’s important that you’re sitting upright on both sitting bones with your low back lifting in and up, and that the kneecap and big toe of your extended leg pointing straight up. If your hamstrings, hips or low back feel tight, sit on a firmly folded blanket, turning your inner thighs down.  

When you side-bend to the right, your left sitting bone will get light. Press down through your inner left thigh, anchoring your left sit bone as you lean back and over. Continue to press your right thigh down as well, lengthening your right inner thigh toward your right inner knee.

Keeping the top arm and chest revolving open can be tough in Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana. I often have my students start with the top hand holding the base of the skull, where the neck and head meet, asking them to lean back into their hand as they side bend to keep the chest open.

Variations and Entry Strategies

Like many yoga poses, there are few different ways to approach Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana. For example, some methods start with the extended leg bent holding onto the foot with both hands as you press the leg straight and revolve the torso.

Another common way to get deeper into Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose is to take your bottom hand to the opposite knee, pulling and twisting your torso as you lean in the opposite direction.

Or you could turn your bent knee up, placing your foot flat on the floor and holding onto the ankle with the bottom hand. It’s fun to play with different variations and ways of finding freedom this pose.

In the full expression of Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana, the sides of the body are parallel, the top arm is behind the top ear, the torso is revolving and the back of the head comes to rest on the knee.

 

Meagan McCrary is an experienced yoga teacher (500 ERYT) and writer with a passion for helping people find more comfort, clarity, compassion and joy on the mat and in their lives. She is the author of Pick Your Yoga Practice: Exploring and Understanding Different Styles of Yoga a comprehensive encyclopedia of prominent yoga styles, including each system’s teaching methodology, elements of practice, philosophical and spiritual underpinnings, class structure, physical exertion and personal attention. Currently living in Los Angeles, Meagan teaches at the various Equinox Sports Clubs, works privately with clients and leads retreats internationally. You can find her blog, teaching schedule and latest offerings atwww.MeaganMcCrary.com, as well as on Facebook.

What Makes a Good Yoga Study? Some of the Basics

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By B Grace Bullock, PhD, E RYT-500 - 

People often ask me what makes a good yoga study. The short answer is, it’s complicated. If good yoga research were simple, we’d all be doing it. Here are the fundamentals that all yoga teachers, students and yoga therapists should know.

The Golden Rule – Correlation Does Not Imply Causation

There is one golden rule in research, and that includes yoga studies: Correlation does not imply causation. No matter how much we would like to think that the programs we develop cause someone or something to change, we can’t make that assumption even in the most carefully controlled of studies.

Why? Because humans are complex. We simply can’t statistically rule out the myriad contextual, biologic, psychosocial and other factors that may explain the effects we detect. That’s not to say that you should curb your enthusiasm. It’s a suggestion to take research results for what they are - data from one study at one point in time. And don’t assume that one thing ‘caused’ another, even if it looks to be the case. Period.

In addition to the Golden Rule, there are a number of fundamental terms and concepts that are important to understand, particularly in regards to the basic research design of studies and what that implies about the conclusions we can draw.

Research Designs: The Basic Blueprint of Data Collection

A research design is essentially a systematic blueprint that guides the collection and analysis of data. There are two primary types of designs – descriptive and experimental. Descriptive research focuses on how something works, whereas experimental research emphasizes what works.

Descriptive Research Designs. Descriptive research includes ethnographic studies and case examples among others. Studies often focus on understanding how a particular program is implemented and how participants perceive their experiences and outcomes. These studies typically make use of qualitative information, such as journal entries, written responses, interviews and focus groups.

There are also quantitative descriptive studies. These often use numeric data to examine the number and type of people who participated in a program. Data may be used to loosely interpret whether an individual’s initial scores differ from his or her final scores after an intervention.  

Descriptive research is often used when researchers are studying a new program and its benefits and are less concerned with statistical results. Experimental studies, on the other hand, systematically test the relationship between a specific program or programs and a predetermined set of outcomes.

Experimental Research Designs I: Randomized Controlled Trials

Experimental studies are used to systematically test the effects of a particular program. The “gold standard” of experimental designs is the randomized controlled trial (RCT). Using this approach participants have an equal likelihood of being randomly assigned to either a treatment group or a control group.

Treatment and control group participants are matched on a number of dimensions (e.g. age, sex, health status, years of practice) to make sure that the groups are relatively equivalent to each other. The purpose of random assignment is to attempt to control for extraneous factors, or covariates (e.g. age, sex, health status) that may unduly bias the results of a study.

Most experimental studies divide participants into two or more groups. The treatment group (often called the experimental group) refers to the collection of participants who receive the primary intervention (i.e. yoga program). Studies may have one or more of these groups, depending on the research objectives, however yoga researchers are typically interested in comparing a particular yoga program to a “no yoga” control condition.

The control group refers to those who are not invited to participate in the active condition under investigation (e.g. yoga program) as part of a study. While many assume that control groups are passive and do not receive any type of intervention, this is often not the case. Many studies use “active” controls.

A good example is a study comparing a yoga group to both an exercise condition and to a no treatment condition. In this case the yoga group receives the treatment, the exercise group is an active control group that receives an exercise intervention, and the no treatment group receives no special instruction. Both the exercise and no treatment groups are considered control groups in this case. The use of an exercise group as a control allows researchers to assess whether differences between groups are related to exercise in and of itself, or the act of practicing yoga.

Randomized studies can use either a ‘blind’ or ‘double blind’ approach. In double blind studies, neither researchers nor participants know which condition (group) a participant has been assigned to. As you can imagine, it is particularly difficult to conduct double blind yoga research, as those engaged in practices that resemble yoga are likely to assume that they have been assigned to a yoga condition. It is much easier for an experimenter to have no idea as to group assignment, unless the experimenter is both the yoga instructor and the researcher examining the data. This is not an ideal situation, and should be avoided when at all possible.

Experimental Research Designs II: Quasi-Experimental Designs

Quasi-experimental designs are similar to randomized controlled trials in that numeric (quantitative) differences between intervention and control groups are emphasized. Unlike RCTs however, these studies often use “convenience samples” or volunteers. In this approach, experimental groups often receive the yoga program as part of the formal study, and controls are placed on a waitlist and offered the program shortly after the formal research is completed.

Participants in these studies are not randomly assigned to either a treatment or control group. This means that the two groups may differ greatly on one or more key dimensions (e.g. age, sex, prior yoga experience, health status), which may significantly impact group differences and statistical outcomes. It is critical to examine whether the treatment and control groups differ at baseline when interpreting the results of these studies.

Studies of Studies: Meta-analyses and Systematic Reviews

Meta-analyses and systematic reviews are also considered to be research studies. These approaches systematically examine the existing research to ascertain the overall impact of published or reported interventions for a particular outcome (e.g. osteoarthritis). Such analyses of the literature help to identify what may work for individuals with a particular condition, and also evaluate the overall impact and quality of a body of research with the intention of making broad assumptions and recommendations.

At present there are a number of critical issues that make meta-analyses and systematic reviews of yoga research particularly difficult. These include a lack of consistency among yoga programs and their approaches, high variability in program duration and length, inconsistency of measurement strategies, and weak research designs (e.g. non-randomized samples), among others.

Testing Study Hypotheses: Statistical Analysis of the Data Collected

Good experimental studies are organized around a priori hypotheses. These hypotheses delineate the direction of specific outcomes that are anticipated as a function of participating in an intervention. The strategies for measuring these outcomes are also determined prior to the onset of research.

For example, a study may be designed to test the effects of a yoga program on stress. Researchers hypothesize that yoga group participants will exhibit lower levels of stress after completing an 8-week yoga program compared to a matched (age and sex) control group of sedentary participants. They measure all participants before and after the 8-week program on a number of conventional measures of stress including blood pressure, salivary cortisol, and participant’s self-reported stress ratings. They then compare the yoga and control group pre- and post-intervention data to test for differences.

These data are quantitative, meaning that numeric values are used to represent participant stress. The values are statistically analyzed based on the study’s a priori hypotheses. In very simplistic terms, these analyses test to see whether the yoga and control group values before and after the 8-week yoga program are statistically different at a level above chance. This means that differences between the two groups may be related to participation in the yoga program and not just an artifact of random variation.

Other Key Research Terms You Should Know

There are a number of other key terms that are typically used in research studies. It is important to understand what they mean so that you can use them properly.

Independent variable – An independent variable refers to what is manipulated. It is often considered the factor that will be associated with change. For example, in yoga research, the independent variable is often the yoga program, which “manipulates” participants to behave differently than usual.

Dependent variable – Dependent variables refer to the specific outcomes of interest in a study. These typically consist of outcomes related to the independent variable. For example, in a study of the effects of yoga for high blood pressure, the independent variable is the yoga program and the dependent variable might be systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels.

Most studies include multiple dependent variables. For example, we might hypothesize that 5 minutes of deep breathing a day (independent variable) would be associated with decreased heart rate, blood pressure, and subjective ratings of stress (3 dependent variables). Note that this assumes a linkage, not causality.

Validity and Reliability

Validity and reliability are the cornerstones of scientific research. Validity refers to whether or not something is factually sound. There are many different types of validity (internal, external, criterion, discriminant, convergent, predictive, concurrent, test-retest, and others), many of which relate to the statistical properties of the measures used and their relationships.

Validity: There are 3 types of validity that are conceptually critical for yoga research whether the studies are quantitative or qualitative (descriptive) in nature.

Internal validity refers to the integrity of a scientific study. To have strong internal validity in yoga research we need to be able to assume that the effects of a program are attributable to the program itself and not other factors or causes.

External validity refers to whether or not the results of a particular study can be generalized to other situations and sample of people. Even though a single study may demonstrate the benefits of a yoga program, those benefits may be an artifact of the sample, teacher or situation. It is essential that programs and their effects be replicated with different populations and by other researchers in order to establish the program’s external validity.

Ecological validity refers to the extent to which an intervention or program and its results can be applied in real-world settings. In the case of yoga research, some programs are delivered in laboratories, intensive retreats, or other contexts that are not representative of the places where most people are exposed to yoga. In these cases, it is essential that these programs be effectively delivered and successful in settings that are accessible to the population for which they are designed.

Reliability refers to whether or not the results of a study can be replicated. This means that a program is delivered in exactly the same way, using the identical measures and research design, and that the statistical results are identical (or very similar to) the original study. Programs and results with poor reliability often suffer from poor internal, external and ecological validity.

These are just a few of the key terms and ideas that we should be mindful of when evaluating and participating in research. In this emerging field it is essential that we form multidisciplinary alliances between researchers and yoga teachers and therapists so that we can share our knowledge in the service of creating a strong evidence base for the use of yoga as therapy.

Although yoga research has grown exponentially in recent years, we are only now beginning to see studies that consistently make use of rigorous research designs and methods. Part of this is due to the fact that yoga research has historically been poorly funded, which makes sophisticated designs and methods very difficult to execute.

It is essential that the field continues to address these issues and others including participant attrition, the consistency of approach, measures, and methods, and more precise description of the yoga technologies used. Even though the field of yoga research has a long way to go, the future is promising. 

 

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.

Yoga Alliance Makes Significant Updates to Distance and Continuing Ed Standards

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Yoga Alliance recently made some significant updates to its continuing education standards for yoga teachers, which became effective January 1, 2015.  While the changes may appear small on the surface, they are likely to have a considerable positive impact on the development of yoga as a profession going forward.

Most significantly, Yoga Alliance updated the standards for non-contact hours for long distance ed to be on par with that of the distance ed standards for allied health professions, such as physical therapists, nurses, and doctors.

As of January 1, long distance education hours (non-contact hours) now count at a 1:1 ratio. This has been the ratio for long distance standards for other professions for quite some time now, but until this change, long distance ed for yoga teachers was counted on a 5:1 ratio, which meant that to get one distance ed credit from distance learning, 5 hours of distance ed study was necessary.

In other words, with the new system, now for every hour of distance ed you take, be it online or similar, you get a full hour of credit towards the continuing education Yoga Alliance requires yoga teachers to take—up to a total of 20 non-contact hours. (All teachers are required to take 30 hours of continuing education, but a full 20 hours of those can be non-contact hours in the form of distance ed.)

“Self-directed study can be effective for professional maintenance learning,“ Yoga Alliance wrote in an announcement of the changes.  “We believe that all yoga teachers, no matter their experience or knowledge level, stand to benefit from continual learning and from studying with teachers with extensive experience.”

The second part of the changes was a significant upgrade in the experience required for a teacher to be considered a valid Continuing Education Provider by Yoga Alliance. As of January, only yoga teachers with an active registration with Yoga Alliance at the E-RYT level are qualified to offer continuing education for yoga teachers.

This is an upgrade from previous standards, in which RYT500 yoga teachers qualified to be a Continuing Education Provider. It’s not impossible for a yoga teacher with the RYT 500 designation or for other faculty to qualify as a CE Provider, but they have to meet additional criteria. This means that they have to have “a relevant degree or certification, or substantial education in an area of expertise that is related to one of the Yoga Alliance® Educational Categories.” The CE Provider must also have substantial teaching experience (500+ hours) and/or the equivalent of two years of relevant experience in that area.

In addition, the requirements for Other Faculty (non-Registered Yoga Teacher [RYT®] trainers) for Registered Yoga Schools (RYS®s) were also updated and required to meet the same criteria.

Also, going forward, Continuing Education reporting is required for all RYT®s and E-RYT®s, regardless of experience. Previously, E-RYT 500s with more than 5,000 hours of teaching experience were exempt from reporting their Continuing Education.

So what does it all mean? Well, on the one hand, the bar has been raised for what it takes to be qualified to offer Continuing Ed credits, which means the quality of continuing ed programs for yoga teachers will likely go up as well. At the same time, because distance ed and online learning now qualifies on a 1:1 ratio, so you get a full hour of credit for every online hour of study, high quality distance learning offering continuing education for yoga teacher is made more attractive and accessible.

Going forward, this is great news for YogaU subscribers, because most all of the teachers at YogaUOnline meet the requirements to be a Continuing Education Provider.  In short, going forward, for each online course you take with YogaUOnline, around 2.5 hours can be counted as continuing ed.

Be sure to look to our online courses with leading national yoga teachers for an easy way to enhance your yoga teaching skills, while meeting the CE requirements for your yoga teaching registration with Yoga Alliance. And, if you haven’t checked out our Unlimited Access program for the upcoming semester, be sure to do so here. It gives you an easy and affordable way to accumulate the full 20 hours of non-contact continuing ed hours you need to stay registered as a yoga teacher.

Yoga May Lower Risk of Metabolic Syndrome, Study Finds

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If you suffer from a combination of high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar levels, excess body fat around the waist and high cholesterol levels, chances are you suffer from metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is increasingly common, with some 50 million Americans suffering from the condition, according to the American Heart Association. While one of the above issues in and of itself may not be a problem, when these issues occur together as a cluster, it greatly increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Can yoga help prevent metabolic syndrome? A new exploratory study indicates so: People who practiced yoga regularly, the study found, were more metabolically healthy than non-yogis, and regularly practicing yoga could help protect against the effects of metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is extremely common in Western society. Genetics, lifestyle, and environment all play a role, which means that addressing the problem is not as simple as hopping on a treadmill or choosing a salad over red meat. Most physicians agree, however, that losing abdominal fat (even as little as 10 or 15 pounds) and making healthy lifestyle changes, are the most effective ways of reversing metabolic syndrome.

For many people, “lifestyle changes” mean diet and aerobic exercise, like walking or jogging. And while this is a crucial part of managing metabolic syndrome, it neglects a crucial (and under-researched) aspect of the disease: its connection to stress. Stress doesn’t just make you feel bad; it has demonstrable physical effects on your body, including on your metabolic processes. The physical effects of stress can increase your metabolic rate or exacerbate any metabolic problems you already have. Prolonged stress is connected to the development of metabolic syndrome and the risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and even some kinds of cancer.

Since yoga has been known to reduce stress, of particular interest is whether yoga practice will have an impact on metabolic syndrome. In the study, researchers in India compared the metabolic health of long-term yoga practitioners to that of non-practitioners as well as to people diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. The study included 46 subjects: 16 people who regularly practiced yoga for 90 minutes daily, 15 people who did not practice yoga but also did not have metabolic syndrome, and 15 people with metabolic syndrome.

The subjects were led through a series of activities designed to either induce stress or promote relaxation. For example, to induce stress, participants were asked to participate in a mental arithmetic test. To promote relaxation, the subjects were guided through light meditation and yogic breathing.

After each experiment, the subjects were given a variety of tests to gauge their stress level and metabolic health. In addition to their weight, their blood pressure was measured, as well as their rate of oxygen consumption. Oxygen consumption is a good indicator of metabolic health because it tends to be lower in people who are fit and healthy and higher in people with the pathologies that make up metabolic syndrome, like hypertension and diabetes.

Results showed that the yoga group had a lower rate of oxygen consumption than either the non-yogis or the people with metabolic syndrome; an indicator of greater metabolic and overall health. The researchers also found that the yoga group displayed greater variability in oxygen consumption across activities. People in the yoga group were able to breathe more deeply (and thus more effectively) during periods of exertion, and they were also to recover more quickly.

The study provides some preliminary evidence that yoga may increase metabolic resilience and may lower the risk of metabolic syndrome. The researchers emphasized, however, that more research into the possibilities of yoga treatments for managing, preventing, or reversing metabolic syndrome is needed. 

When Stretching Hurts: The Science of Connective Tissue

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By Meagan McCrary - 

Whether you’re a yogi, runner, body builder, corporate CEO or aging baby boomer, there’s growing evidence that stretching offers numerous benefits for optimal health and performance. Regularly stretching increases and maintains a healthy range of motion, it improves posture and eases pain,  boosts circulation and calms the nervous system. As we age we lose elasticity in the body, making stretching even more important for our health, wellness and quality of life.

While it’s no secret that stretching is good for us, the perils of stretching haven’t been widely talked about until recently. Overstretching can lead to strains, hypermobility and instability that can wreak havoc on the body. As medical research into the connective tissue grows, we are becoming increasingly clear about the role micro injuries in the connective tissue play in the development of chronic pain.

What is connective tissue?
Connective tissue, or fascia, is essentially the fabric of fibrous tissue that holds our structure together. It connects muscles to bones and bones to bones (tendons and ligaments are both considered fascia), suspends organs in their proper places, cushions vertebrae, and wraps the brain and spinal cord. In fact, fascia is everywhere, encasing the internal body like a honeycomb. It’s all connected.

The body was once studied in parts, but now science is  beginning to look at and understand the multi-dimensional properties and role of connective tissue as an entire system rather than individual parts.

For example, we now know that muscles don’t truly begin and end at their individual origin and insertion points; rather the layers of connective tissue surrounding and penetrating the muscle fibers blend into the next, creating a giant web of fascia. Therefore, what happens in one area of the body affects another, seemingly separate, part of the body.

When the body is injured in a certain area, it tends to compensate by using other muscles and tendons in an unnatural way. As a result, seemingly unrelated problems begin to surface in other areas of the body due to these unaddressed compensatory patterns.  Compensation can lead to, for example, pain in the right shoulder which is related to an old hamstring injury that the person has long recovered from. This is known as the domino effect.

What does all of this have to do with stretching?
Fascia comprises up to 30 percent of a muscle’s total mass. When we stretch, we also elongate the associated connective tissue. With too much stretching, fascia tissues loaded with collagen and elastin molecules can become overstretched, and as a result, become inflamed, lose their ability to recoil and eventually degenerate.

One thing to be careful of when stretching is hyperextension — extension beyond the normal healthy limits of a joint. When you hyperextend your knee, for example, the ligaments that serve to stabilize the knee joint become overstretched. Once elongated, ligaments, a form of fascia that lack elasticity, never return to their proper state. Over time, the knee joint becomes weak and unstable, often leading to pain and even injury. The same is true for all of the joints in the body.

Along with creating instability, the muscle itself becomes vulnerable when tissue, which contains nerves and blood vessels that help supply the muscle with nutrients, is chronically overstretched. Over time, muscles along with tendons and ligaments, can develop painful micro-tears.

What to do?
For starters, don’t stretch passively — actively engage the muscles you’re seeking to stretch. Muscle engagement creates integration and prevents hyperextension, helping to keep muscle fibers, tendons and ligaments safely intact and the joints stable. Stretching with muscle integration is not only an issue of safety, but also efficiency. While it may seem counterintuitive, stretching with engagement will actually allow you to move more deeply into a pose.

Experience it for yourself. Next time you stretch, notice the difference you feel when, for example, the leg is active, toes spread and foot flexed as opposed to when all the muscles are relaxed. And for those of us who are already experiencing discomfort from overstretching it’s time to hit the weights. Strength training is essential to recover, tone and restore the necessary muscles and create more stability in the body.

 


Meagan McCrary is an experienced yoga teacher (500 ERYT) and writer with a passion for helping people find more comfort, clarity, compassion and joy on the mat and in their lives. She is the author of Pick Your Yoga Practice: Exploring and Understanding Different Styles of Yoga a comprehensive encyclopedia of prominent yoga styles, including each system’s teaching methodology, elements of practice, philosophical and spiritual underpinnings, class structure, physical exertion and personal attention. Currently living in Los Angeles, Meagan teaches at the various Equinox Sports Clubs, works privately with clients and leads retreats internationally. You can find her blog, teaching schedule and latest offerings at www.MeaganMcCrary.com, as well as on Facebook. 

 

Yoga Jumps to Position 7 in Top 20 Worldwide Fitness Trends

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If you’ve recently incorporated more yoga into your fitness routine, you’re part of a growing trend.  Moving from the number 10 spot last year, yoga has jumped to number 7 in a survey of worldwide fitness trends for 2015. 

Yoga has ranked in the top 20 since the survey began nine years ago (except in 2009), but only last year did it move into the top ten rankings, when it entered the 10th place for top 2014 fitness trends, up from 14th in 2013. 

If you ever wondered if yoga is just short-lived a fad, the consistent rise in the survey of worldwide fitness trends indicates otherwise. The survey is conducted by the editors of the Health & Fitness Journal, which is published by the American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM), the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world.

The annual survey is sent out to thousands of health and fitness professionals worldwide to get a grassroots perspective on the exercise programs currently driving the market. The results help people in the industry make important programming and business decisions.

The number 1 position in the survey went to body weight training, a form of resistance training using the body’s own weight, making it easy to exercise at home or the gym.  Number 2 on the list went to high-intensity interval training, which ranked number 1 in the survey last year and remains popular worldwide.

And in 3rd place for a second year is educated, certified, and experienced fitness professionals.  Exercise programs supervised by professionals have become even more popular because there are now accreditations by national third-party organizations. These assure the public of the education and expertise of their trainers. 

Of the 20 fitness and exercise programs ranked in the survey, some represent enduring trends with a big impact and some will fade in popularity, but based on yoga’s steady rise in the ranks over the last 6 years, yoga has a broad base of support among practitioners and might well continue to enjoy broad popularity.

The results of the annual survey are intended to help the health and fitness industry make decisions for future growth and development. It casts light on emerging trends embraced by a broad range of health fitness professionals, rather than the latest exercise innovation marketed during late-night television or the next hottest celebrity. 

Is the World about to Get an International Yoga Day?

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Prime Minister Modi

Is the world about to get an International Yoga Day? According to the Indian newspaper The Financial Express, the UN is about to declare June 21 as international World Yoga Day.

Three months ago, India Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an appeal to the UN to declare a day dedicated to the celebration of yoga in all its forms. The proposal so far has received support from 170 nations, including the United States, Germany, Japan and China, the United Nations. According to Indian newspapers, the United Nations is set to declare June 21 as the World Yoga Day in a meeting on December 10.

Spurred by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Indian officials are already planning how to integrate yoga more fully into Indian life and culture. He recently created a new ministry dedicated to the promotion of alternative therapies with a strong emphasis on yoga. Currently, plans are underway to introduce yoga in more than 600,000 schools and thousands of police training centers and hospitals.

Shripad Yesso Naik, India’s new yoga minister, has long practiced yoga in his own life and has big plans for reclaiming yoga for India. These plans include introducing it widely into Indian schools and other organizations as well as promoting it in the world at large.

Prime Minister Modi, who begins each day with yoga and pranayama, has for many years been an avid supporter and proponent of traditional Indian health and spiritual practices. He credits yoga with the fact that he feels strong and energetic every day and needs just a few hours of sleep. The Washington Post quotes him as saying, “I am equally energetic from morning till night.  I guess the secret behind it is yoga and [breathing exercises].  Whenever I feel tired, I just practice deep breathing and that refreshes me again.”

With the growing popularity of yoga in the West, it has seen a revival in India in the last couple of decades as well. For many years Indians viewed yoga as something the saints and gurus practiced. But the popularity of yoga in the West has had a strong influence, and yoga has become more widely accepted and embraced at home. This is a trend that Naik wants to build upon and embrace.  According to The Washington Post, Naik said, “There is little doubt about yoga being an Indian art form. We’re trying to establish to the world that it’s ours.”  

Which Is More Effective—Yoga or Stretching?

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By B Grace Bullock, PhD, E RYT-500 - 

For some, yoga just looks like sequenced stretching. New preliminary research suggests that yoga may have greater effects on increasing hip range of motion than static stretching alone, and that both are linked to greater shoulder mobility.

Scientists at Laurentian University in Ontario, Canada, were interested in determining whether adults (age 18-65 years: average 34 years) participating in hatha yoga classes for 4 weeks would differ in their hip and shoulder ROM from matched comparison groups doing either an equivalent amount of time stretching, or no stretching at all. 

Range of motion (ROM) refers to the movement of any specific joint. It depends on the bony structure of the joint itself, as well as the health of the connective tissues and the length of the muscles “spanning the particular joint.”  So inflexible muscles would also contribute to a reduced range of motion.

Forty-four adults volunteered for the study (33 female). Participants in the yoga group (11) attended one-hour classes, two evenings per week for 4 weeks. Those in the static stretching group (12) also attended two, one-hour classes per week for 4 weeks. Control group participants (21) were instructed not to stretch for the same period of time. ROM was assessed using a gonimeter, which measures angles similar to a protractor.

Two days prior to the beginning of yoga and stretching classes, each participant underwent gonimeter measurement. The researchers measured shoulder flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, horizontal abduction and horizontal adduction on the left and right sides of each individual. They then measured hip flexion, extension, adduction and abduction on both sides.

After 4 weeks of classes, both the static stretching and yoga groups demonstrated significant overall improvement in range of motion (ROM) compared to the control group. Yoga participants demonstrated considerably greater increases in overall hip and shoulder ROM than those in the stretching group.

In addition, the yoga participants experienced significantly greater increases in hip range of motion compared to both the stretching and control groups. In contrast, increases in shoulder ROM were similar for both groups, suggesting that yoga and stretching were equally effective in increasing shoulder joint mobility.

When breaking ROM into individual action, two shoulder motions were found to be significantly different between the yoga and stretching groups. Yoga participants had significant increases in shoulder abduction, while static stretchers had greater horizontal adduction. This may be a result of different types of motion being emphasized between the two groups. For the hips, yoga participants demonstrated significant increases in adduction compared to the other two groups.

The authors hypothesized that yoga’s superior effects on increased ROM were due to a combination of the use of asana, pranayama and meditation throughout class. Unfortunately, they did nothing to test this assumption. This could have been accomplished by randomly assigning participants to two separate yoga groups – one that performed only the postures themselves with no breath queues, and one that included the three components combined. As it stands, it is possible that the yoga postures were solely responsible for the increased ROM.

Another limitation of the study was that while attendance was measured, there was no mention of the level of participation for each of these types of classes or the dropout rates between groups. Consequently, we have no way of knowing whether these results may be attributed to the number of sessions attended rather than the type of activity, and the extent to which yoga and stretching were utilized by this sample. Further, as noted by the authors, “there are joint differences … between male and female participants, which could create variation in results.”

This study provides very preliminary evidence that yoga may be more beneficial to increasing hip and shoulder ROM than static stretching alone. More, carefully controlled studies are needed to determine whether postures, breath, or some combination are responsible for these types of effects.

 

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.

 

 

 

India's Prime Minister Announces New Ministry for Yoga and Ayurveda

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India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently established a ministry to promote alternative therapies such as yoga and Ayurvedic medicine, as part of a wider mission to raise awareness of home-grown, natural therapies.

The ministry will focus on Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy, designated by the acronym AAYUSH. In establishing AAYUSH, Modi inducted 21 ministers and appointed Shripad Yesso Naik as the new Minister of State who will head up the department. 

"This is our system and it has not received enough prominence. We will take it to the masses," Naik said on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

Prime Minister Modi, who begins his day with yoga, has long been an enthusiastic supporter and proponent of traditional Indian health and spiritual practices. He has often taken the opportunity to mention them in his exchanges with world leaders.

He has also encouraged the United Nations to observe an International Yoga Day, and so far, more than 50 countries including the US, Canada, and China strongly support the idea. In his speech at the UN, Modi praised yoga, saying it can change one’s lifestyle, raise one’s level of consciousness and even help the world deal with climate change.

On his recent world tour he had the opportunity to give a book on yoga to the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, after he expressed interest in the practice.  Modi is quoted as saying “Yoga embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being.” 

In addition, Modi spoke about yoga and Ayurveda to U.S. leaders including Barack Obama and Joe Biden when he visited the U.S. in September 2014.  According to the Washington Post, Modi and Obama agreed to work together toward common goals. 

YogaGlo Forfeits Its Patent. What Comes Next?

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On October 27 this year, online yoga video service YogaGlo announced its decision to forfeit the patent issued for its mode of filming yoga videos.

The decision came seemingly out of the blue, leading many to wonder what lies behind the decision. Does this really mark the end of the story, or simply the beginning of a new chapter? In this article we update you on the developments since the YogaGlo patent was issued in December 2013, and speculate on what might come next.

When YogaGlo first declared its intention to patent its way of filming yoga videos about a year ago, it evoked widespread controversy in the yoga community.  It didn’t help that the patent application—even before it was approved—was accompanied by cease and desist letters sent to other yoga websites with online practices, which, according to YogaGlo lawyers, resembled the YogaGlo system of recording online yoga classes in a live classroom setting.

Among the recipients of the cease and desist letter was the Himalaya Institute’s Yoga International, which had created a number of videos with a set-up similar to the YogaGlo class format: A class of students filmed from a camera at the back of the room with the teacher visible through an unobstructed view through a wide center aisle.

Upon receiving the cease and desist letter, the Himalaya Institute’s editorial department took its case to the court of public opinion, and not surprisingly, quickly garnered widespread support across the blogosphere. For many, the patent application symbolized everything that’s wrong with the increasing commercialization of modern yoga, and was viewed as a step even further away from the kind of guiding values we’d like to think prevail in the yoga community. Also of great concern was the notion that something as obvious and common as the filming of a yoga class could be standardized and patented.

Shortly after the announcement, Yoga Alliance decided to get involved in the controversy, creating an online petition urging YogaGlo to withdraw the patent request, which eventually got more than 14,000 signatures.  Nonetheless, Yogaglo proceeded, and on December 10th of last year, YogaGlo’s patent (U.S. Patent No.8,605,152) was granted. Yoga International took down the videos, which supposedly violated the patent, and changed the format with which they were filming videos.

Then, out of the blue on October 27, YogaGlo announced that it had forfeited the issued patent in response to concerns raised “about how broad the patent seems to be and that it may prevent filming in general.” On October 31, the company officially filed a request with the PTO to disclaim its patent.

The YogaGlo announcement about the forfeiture came a few days before the nonprofit organization Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), named the patent as ¨October’s Very Bad, No Good, Totally Stupid Patent.”

Even though the patent had been withdrawn, the EFF went ahead with the story, stating that “Despite our familiarity with absurd patents and our concerns about cursory review at the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), we were still surprised that this one was issued. It seemed the so-called ‘invention’ wasn’t the kind of thing that should be patented at all—or at the very least, was not something novel or nonobvious.”

Why Did YogaGlo Give Up the Patent?

If you are curious about why YogaGlo decided to forfeit the patent less than a year after it was issued, you are not alone. The company spent tens of thousands of dollars on the patent process, and stuck to their guns during the uproar that followed when the patent was announced. So why give it up, and why now? There are likely several factors involved, and one can only speculate on a few.

The EFF, in its blog post, points to the yoga community’s willingness to speak out and take action against the patent. This may well have been one important factor in the decision.

Another reason may have been the growing realization that the patent would have been very difficult to enforce—in other words, worthless. After the patent was issued, Yoga Alliance compiled a Citation of Prior Art with examples of similar systems that were either claimed in other patent applications or that were in public circulation at least a year before the YogaGlo patent was filed.

“We believe these examples of prior art would have invalidated YogaGlo’s now-forfeited patent,” Yoga Alliance commented in a blog post about the patent forfeiture. The internet was replete with legal firms analyzing the patent and proposing a legal strategy to fight it, presumably in an effort to be retained in the case of future legal battles.

Following the YogaGlo announcement, Yoga Alliance applauded the company’s decision to give up the patent, stating in a blog post that, “This is great news for the yoga community and for yoga practitioners everywhere, because it means that individuals and organizations are now free to use any system and method of recording a live yoga class without fear of reprisal.”

Still, uncertainties remain about what’s really behind the move. In announcing their decision, YogaGlo founder Derek Mills wrote, “On balance, the majority of the concern [about the patent] is about how broad the patent seems to be and that it may prevent filming in general. In an effort to remove confusion and concern within the yoga community and beyond, we have decided to focus our efforts on narrowing our protections. To begin this process in earnest, we have decided to forfeit the issued patent” (emphasis added).

Mills is mum on what exactly is meant by ‘narrowing our protections’, but continues: “We still believe the look and feel of our classes are unique to YogaGlo and have become associated with high quality teaching,” Mills writes. “We will continue to protect that just as we would protect our logo or our name.”

So what exactly is the YogaGlo look and feel? A class of students filmed from the back with the teacher in front as the image of Patthabi Jois teaching a class? Or, a frontal view with a central camera, which—incidentally—happens to also be the best way to film a yoga class to capture correct alignment, as evidenced in the Youtube video above? 

Hopefully, the YogaGlo decision to forfeit the patent marks the end of the road.  But whether there’s the second shoe to drop remains to be seen.

A Rising Tide Lifts All Ships

The underlying question in this discussion is really about the nature of competition as it interacts with the yogic values one might hope companies that are a part of the yoga community would strive to stand for.

There are two kinds of competition: Bad competition and good competition. Bad competition is based on a sense of scarcity and limited resources. Good competition, on the other hand, is based on constant renewal, innovation, and creativity, leading to a progressive growth of the services in the market.

Good competition, one could say, is like infill development in a city—while there are plenty of houses already, infill developers will find new, overlooked areas to build on and fill out. This is the equivalent of taking advantage of the unfilled niches that exist in all markets by innovating and improving existing services.

A case in point? YogaGlo itself. YogaGlo essentially copied the business model for online video subscription services first introduced by MyYogaOnline, improved it and developed it further by focusing exclusively on some of the highest caliber teachers around. As a result, it has brought the world of online yoga a huge step forward, and offered a great service to the yoga community.

In the world of good competition—there is no shortage of resources. Bad competition, on the other hand, instead of innovating and filling new niches, simply engages in a fight to control and dominate what is perceived as a limited market and limited resources.

As the old adage goes, a rising tide lifts all ships. There may be many online yoga video sites, but there are, equally, also many types of yoga audiences.  Creativity and competitive forces will eventually unite to create more and more opportunity for the many diverse niches within the world of yoga.

So, is there a second shoe waiting to drop? Let’s hope not. YogaGlo has a solidly established position in the market place, and it’s hard to think of anything that could conceivably hurt that position. Except of course, from the self-induced destruction of brand image that would come from turning to a business paradigm that is the antithesis of the values the yoga community holds dear. 

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