Yoga News

Early Onset Osteoporosis Is a Concern for Millions


Most people think osteoporosis mainly affects older women. However, increasingly, younger people with chronic medical conditions are being afflicated by the bone loss associated with osteoporosis.

Researchers are calling it “secondary osteoporosis” and have identified an increasing number of medical factors that contribute to the early onset of osteoporosis. These contributing factors include chronic diseases such as cancer, celiac disease, and inflammatory bowel disease. Early onset osteoporosis if in part caused by the powerful drugs used to treat these conditions, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The findings are important because there are no symptoms as bone weakens and osteoporosis isn’t diagnosed until a patient suffers a fractured bone. Osteoporosis causes an estimated 1.5 million bone fractures every year; it is one of the most widespread chronic conditions in the Western hemisphere, affecting 44 million Americans.

As a result of these new findings, researchers are calling on healthcare professionals to employ greater efforts to identify patients earlier who are at risk for secondary osteoporosis, before their bones become more fragile and further raise their risk of injury and disability.

Secondary osteoporosis does not fit the usual profile of people with osteoporosis, older women, but rather affects men and those under 50 as well. People at risk for secondary osteoporosis should have regular bone density scans, researchers recommend, regardless of age or gender.


"When I find a younger patient with osteoporosis, there is likely to be a secondary cause, and if that cause isn't treated, they will continue to lose bone even if they are on osteoporosis medications," Pauline M. Camacho, an endocrinologist at Loyola and co-author of the study said to the WSJ. “Our primary image of osteoporosis is a grandma hunched over, but we’re spotting it in younger patients and men.”

Secondary osteoporosis is often caused by medications. Anyone taking corticosteroids, such as prednisone, is at risk, according to the American College of Rheumatology. The drugs, prescribed to suppress inflammation in a wide range of illnesses and to prevent organ rejection after transplants, have a direct negative effect on bone cells and can interfere with the body's handling of calcium.

Other medications also interfere with how the body naturally breaks down and rebuilds bone tissue, and how well it absorbs bone-building nutrients like calcium and Vitamin D. People at increased risk for secondary osteoporosis include people taking blood thinners, depression medications, reflux drugs, people undergoing bariatric surgery or receiving hormonal treatments to prevent breast or prostate cancer.

In addition to medications, certain lifestyle factors contribute to a higher risk for early onset osteoporosis. These include smoking, drinking and lack of exercise.

Most people think osteoporosis mainly affects older women. However, increasingly, younger people with chronic medical conditions are being afflicted by the bone loss associated with osteoporosis.

Malasana: Grounding Through Center - A New Approach to the Classic Squat


by Kreg Weiss - 

Our feet connect us to the earth for most of our lives. This is one of the main reasons why “rooting” and “grounding” are foundational ideas in yoga. As our feet connect with the earth we experience stability and integrity. Sometimes the positioning of our knees, feet and ankles can interfere with this experience. A few subtle modifications to your stance may make all the difference.

Aside from the philosophical significance, “rooting” and “grounding” also refer to the process of translation throughout the kinetic chain – from feet up through the knees, hips, and spine. How does this chain work, and what does this mean for your yoga practice?

“Rooting” and “grounding” have fundamental anatomical and biomechanical functions.  It can be helpful to examine these functions in terms of a particular movement. In this case, we will use the Malasana – the classic bent-legged squat.

Common functional limitations for a full squat

Although many view the squat as bad for the knees and low back, humans are biomechanically designed to perform a full squat safely. Unfortunately, our sedentary lifestyles characterized by chronic sitting in chairs and vehicles, have generated functional limitations in the kinetic chain of the body involved in the squatting position.  

These functional limitations commonly appear in the ankles, where limited dorsiflexion requires people to lift their heels in order to get down into a deep squat position.  This break in the natural kinetic chain causes improper shifts in the center of gravity, resulting in the tendency to shift the grounding and force loads forward into the toe mounds. This creates displacement of the hips and spine.

The debate about knee and foot placement in squats

Some experts propose that sheer force in the knees increases dramatically when the knees travel forward toward, over, or past the toes when the knees are in loaded flexion during a squat.  The energy in the belly of the thigh muscles transmits into the connective tissue of the knees and poses a risk for chronic injury.

A common cue in the fitness and yoga communities for squat-like poses is to align the knees above the heels, shifting weight back. Some kinesiology experts propose that this creates problematic postural instability due to improper kinesthetic development of balance.  

Others suggest that the center of gravity shifts out of the natural line when the knees are above the heels. For some, this can disrupt their functional balancing principles, placing them at risk for developing a pattern of rolling back off their heels and falling.

A new approach to grounding

The squat—and for that matter, most standing poses—require sustaining the functional center of gravity to optimize the inherently natural, biomechanical position of the body and limbs. Knowing this, how should the knees and feet be placed?

A new approach to the classic squat first considers the center of gravity. When standing in mountain pose, this center flows down through the tibia bones (shins), transmits through the talus bone (ankle), and ends just forward of the heel.  

When squatting, we should permit the knees to move slightly ahead of the heel allowing for dorsiflexion of the ankle while keeping the heels on the ground.  As the knees and hips flex, the spinal curvatures should remain neutral by engaging the core muscles, while encouraging the spine flow forward and follow the same angle of shin. We can then broaden the base of the feet from toe mounds to heel while focusing grounding pressure just ahead of heel.

Transferring to standing poses

In rooting through the forward edge rather than the center of the heel, we can experience a new depth of grounding in other standing poses as well. We can explore shifting the grounding pressure through the heel by adjusting the position of the knee relative to the heel, and aligning the angle of the spine with the tibia.  In bringing the energy into the front of the heel, the knees tend to come into appropriate alignment to facilitate stable grounding.

It is important to note that it is not wise to allow the knees to track forward beyond the heel in warrior poses or high lunges. If you are used to positioning your knee above the heel so that the force load works through the center heel, try moving the energy of the heel a little bit forward, and see how this transmits energy into the leg muscles and knee collectively.

Key points to remember

All postures need to support the body’s inherent movement patterns throughout the kinetic chain, and account for the gravitational and energetic balancing patterns that maintain joint integrity.  When we overload joints and take them out of their inherent biomechanical movement patterns, we risk chronic injury.  Understanding where force loads and gravitational lines flow throughout all stages of a pose can greater enhance your ability to align, root, and ground in order to optimize the benefits of your practice.  

If it feels as though your knee placement prevents you from feeling rooted, try these few suggestions. You may feel more grounded in your practice than ever before. 


Kreg Weiss, BHKin, is a certified hatha yoga teacher, international presenter and kinesiologist (exercise science).  All of his classes integrate a purposeful, meditative quality to allow for an experience of connection and reflection while the body explores expansion and renewal. With a background as a fitness trainer and athlete, Kreg has been teaching yoga since 2002 and complements his teaching practice with additional studies in Kinesiology and Health Sciences at the University of British Columbia. Through integrity-driven classes, Kreg aims to provide students with the tools to pursue a unique, confident practice where asanas, pranayama, and meditation interact collectively to rejuvenate and heal the body and mind.

The Africa Yoga Project: Inspiring Social Change with Yoga


The language of yoga, with its beautiful, poetic expressions of the body is universal. But images of an African man doing yoga in a field with zebras, orphans in Nairobi demonstrating downward dog poses, or inmates at the Langata Women's Prison combining dancing and yoga without a doubt are among the most inspiring and heart melting expressions of yoga.

From Africa to the Middle East and even war-torn countries, yoga is becoming an instrument of inspiring social change. A leading non-profit organization in this trend is the Africa Yoga Project, based in Nairobi, Kenya.

While images from inner cities in Africa often depict terrible suffering, the tranquility and celebration of human beings reaching their full potential comes to life in a powerful way through the Africa Yoga Project.

Yoga Africa Project

The Africa Yoga Project is a non-profit organization established in 2007 with a mission to use the transformative power of yoga to empower communities and change lives.

According to an article in Conscious Life, the program got its start when former Wall Street Journal consultant Paige Elenson was on safari with her family in Kenya and spotted some locals practicing acrobatics in a rural area. A keen yoga enthusiast, she joined them and began to teach them some yoga moves. That’s where the idea to bring yoga into the neighborhoods and informal settlements of Nairobi was born. Elenson teamed up with yoga guru Baron Baptiste, and the Africa Yoga Project was born.  

Today over 6,000 Kenyans participate in more than 350 weekly community yoga classes in 80 locations, including community centers, orphanages, prisons and schools. In addition to teaching yoga, the program provides educational scholarships, job training, food stipends, temporary housing and health services to people in need. More than 72 teachers are employed, giving them an opportunity to take care of themselves and their families.

For Eliam Sandra Wanjiku, one of the young women trained to teach yoga, the project has been transformative.

“[M]y life was a mess. I was a rude girl who would fight with anyone. I used to live in a mud house with no water or toilet. I thought yoga was a cult for the rich,” Wanjiku says of her life before she became involved with the Africa Yoga Project. The first time she tried yoga, however, she felt a tremendous shift.  “During my first yoga class, I felt like a big burden had been lifted from my back and I suddenly felt like a new, full person.

For Wanjiku, that first class became the beginning of a new life. “The Africa Project has changed my life in many ways;” she says. “I am now a responsible mother. I’m more polite, and I live in a good house with water and plumbing.”

Her story speaks volumes about the impact of the Africa Yoga Project and its impact throughout Kenya.

The nucleus of the project is housed in the Shrine Center in the heart of Nairobi. There, hundreds of young people come to be trained as yoga instructors. It’s also where yogis from throughout the world come to volunteer through the organization’s various charities. Scholarship participants from Ethopia, South Africa, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Israel and Palestine also took part in a 200-your training course, with the hope that they will bring Africa Yoga Project back to their communities, reports Elenson in the Conscious Life article.

Join the Africa Yoga Project’s Seva Safari 

Are you looking for an opportunity to serve? The Africa Yoga Project’s Seva Safari, July 17 through 26, 2014, is an opportunity for families and friends to travel together, to experience a new culture and connect as a family on a Kenyan adventure that you will share forever. 

Through the Seva Safari, families will participate in yoga practice, meditation, self-exploration through inquiry, performing arts as a vehicle for empowerment, health education (HIV/AIDS), relationship building, and community activism. The programs are designed to increase physical, emotional and mental wellbeing on the individual level while also building healthy and empowered communities. 

This adventure will be led by Dana Robinson, a registered yoga teacher, registered children’s yoga teacher, and mother to three, who has spent eight years teaching yoga to families and young children. She and her husband served as Africa Yoga Project Ambassadors last June, and now they are leading the adventure next summer. 

Robinson will be co-facilitating with Billy Sadia, Development Director for Africa Yoga Project, a certified Baptiste Teacher and father. Together they have created a heartfelt itinerary designed for families to connect deeply to the environment, to new Kenyan friends and to one another.

Families will work side by side with other Africa Yoga Project families to build lasting friendships, all while opening the door to new cultures, people and ideas. The trip will include a visit to the Abedare Mountains to work with the Flying Kites Orphanage. For more information, see The Seva Safari.

Photos used with permission from Robert Sturman

How Does Yoga Work? Study Sheds Light on Mechanisms of Change


By B Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT - 

Have you ever wondered what was behind the magic that you feel at the end of a yoga practice? There are over 2,000 articles related to yoga and health listed on PubMed, a database managed by the National Institutes of Health. These studies suggest that yoga is good for your health, but rarely address how yoga works.

A new review of the yoga literature, published in the Journal of Yoga & Physical Therapy, aims to cast light on how yoga affects the primary systems in your body to keep you healthy. Eighteen peer-reviewed articles studying the underlying effects of practicing yoga were identified and thoroughly examined.

Of the 18 articles identified, five contained original research, and all but one was of fairly low quality. The remaining 13 were clinical reports or reviews of the literature, which provide little detail regarding the methodology used.

Based on the literature provided, physical mechanisms related to the endocrine system and nervous system, as well as metabolism and cardiovascular, respiratory and physical parameters of health were reviewed. The following is a brief synopsis of the results.

Endocrine System
“The strongest evidence in both quality and quantity suggests yoga has a positive impact on hormone regulation,” the authors concluded. Levels of salivary cortisol decreased significantly in a number of the studies and reviews examined. Lower cortisol levels are related to decreases in perceived stress and anxiety, increases in feelings of well-being and improved pain management.

Other effects of yoga practice cited included elevated serotonin production, the release of oxytocin during visualization, and higher levels of melatonin, which are related to improved sleep quality and immunity.

The metabolic effects of yoga have been most intensely studied for diabetes management in general, and glycemic control in particular. Studies suggest that regular asana practice is linked with improved glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, and clinically significant changes in fasting plasma glucose (FPG) and postprandial plasma glucose (PPPG) levels.  Each of these is an important indicator of diabetes management.

Nervous System
Yoga is commonly believed to directly influence sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system activity. Evidence suggests that pranayama, visualization and calming techniques, and physical movement (asanas) increase parasympathetic activation. In addition, they elevate levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and regulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The latter are related to decreased stress, anxiety and depression and improved subjective well-being.

Circulatory System
Two general mechanisms related to the circulatory system were identified in this review: Lowering blood pressure and improving arterial function. Three studies provided evidence of a number of specific benefits to circulatory health. These benefits included lowering blood pressure, enhancing cardiovagal function, slowing atherosclerosis (hardening of blood vessels) to prevent cardiovascular disease, increasing blood flow, and restoring baroreceptor sensitivity. These are all indicators of heart health and efficiency.

Overall Physical Health
General measures of physical health typically examined in yoga studies include cardiorespiratory fitness, biomechanic indicators like balance and flexibility, and anthropometric indicators such as body mass index (BMI). Yoga interventions designed to increase strength and balance are linked to a decreased risk of fall-related injury in the elderly. Interventions using yoga postures have been found to yield exercise training effects such as lowered resting heart rate and oxygen consumption rate, decreased basal metabolic rate (BMR), and decreased body mass index (BMI) and fat mass. Each of these suggests that yoga may be related to preventing heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

We’ve long known that yoga is mind-body “medicine”, and that its effects are systemic rather than isolated to one or two clinical outcomes. This review suggests that your yoga practice can benefit your overall physical health and well-being in myriad ways. 


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 in 2010. For more information contact Grace at or see


Yoga Gets into Med School - Students learn to relax patients, and themselves


Emily Holick thought yoga was for sissies. But as a graduate student hoping to reduce stress, she gave it a try. And hated it. What irked the former college tennis player most was her inability to do a move that everyone else had perfected—the wheel, a complex pose that contorts the body into an upside down bridge. Holick says it was only her competitive spirit that kept her going.

Four years later, Holick (MED’14) believes that yoga has transformed her life. Although her first year of medical school was brutal, leaving her stressed and questioning whether she had what it takes to be a doctor, her yoga practice helped her cope. Then a curious string of events pulled her out of the abyss.

Holick took a healing arts class with Robert Saper, a School of Medicine associate professor of family medicine and director of integrative medicine, known for his research involving yoga and lower back pain relief. He recommended that she meet Heather Mason, a yoga therapist and trainer interested in creating a class for medical students, an idea Holick had toyed with herself.

“We met in a coffee shop in Cambridge and started dreaming,” Holick says. “It was amazing to meet someone who independently said this is something that medical students need.”

That java-infused dream has become a reality since, as Mason, Holick, and a team of medical students lobbied for its creation. Starting spring semester, MED will offer an elective called Embodied Health: Mind-Body Approaches to Well-Being. Mason will lead a weekly hour-long yoga session, followed by a half hour discussion of the practice’s medical benefits. The class will also be part of a research study led by Saper, Mason, and Allison Bond (MED’14) that will attempt to document changes in the students’ mental health. A pilot of the elective, called MED Yoga, or Mind-Body Education and Development Yoga, ran this semester, quickly attracting a following of 30-plus students.

While yoga sessions for med students are not unique (the University of Connecticut Medical Center and Georgetown Medical School both offer them), teaching students about yoga’s physiological and neurological effects is. Saper, who will be one of several guest speakers addressing issues from positive thinking to the neurobiology of stress over the 11 weeks of class, says the class “targets the unique challenges and stressors medical students face as well as offers a fairly advanced level of intellectual content appropriate for the medical students.”

And there are stressors: according to a 2009 study in Academic Medicine, nearly 25 percent of medical school students will be depressed at some point during their education. The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study in 2010 showing that the empathy medical students feel decreases as they progress through their four years.

BU MED yoga, Heather Mason, Embodied Health: Mind-Body Approaches to Well-Being

Yoga therapist Heather Mason leads a breathing exercise before a yoga session designed for medical students at the School of Medicine.

Mason believes that yoga can be a powerful antidote. On a recent Wednesday late afternoon, she tinkered with speakers that send a low chime through the airy space of the MED student lounge where the class was meeting. While she adjusted the sound, nearly three dozen students unfurled yoga mats toward a bank of windows facing the setting sun. Some had come directly from cramming at the library for a pulmonology exam the next day.

Mason, a petite 35-year-old brunette, spent three years in Southeast Asian monasteries as an out-of-the box method of battling chronic depression. That experience led her to earn master’s degrees in Buddhist studies and psychotherapy, and another now in progress in neuroscience.

The New York native paces methodically as she leads the class into a rhythmic ujjayi breath, a diaphragmatic breathing technique. “The chime is like an anchor bringing you back to the breath,” she says. “Inhale, lift, and open your heart center.”

Some students stumble from move to move; others slide into position as if into a second skin, eyes forward, bodies steady. After an hour, Mason directs them to close their eyes, lie down, and relax. Their limp bodies rest on a rainbow of yoga mats.

Mason asks them to count their breaths per minute. She knows that the ideal count of five or six has been shown to increase heart rate variability, which can ameliorate problems like depression, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, and cardiac disease.

Breaths counted, Mason segues from the practice of yoga to a short dissertation on the neuroscience of yoga, something that has been studied by Chris Streeter, a MED associate professor of psychiatry and neurology. In one study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Streeter used magnetic resonance spectroscopy to explain why yoga practitioners report a greater improvement in mood and a decrease in anxiety than people who simply walked for relaxation. Streeter found that the yoga group had higher levels of the neurotransmitter gamma-amino butyric acid, or GABA, the likely cause of positive mood changes.

Mason explains to the class how the ujjayi breath and the chiming work together, medically, to bring about a healthful biological balance of breath, heartbeat, and other functions. When the lecture ends, Mason bows, and thanks her class with a namaste, a customary gesture on parting.

Mason says the first goal of MED Yoga was to let doctors know how yoga could help their patients, but then she realized how it could help the doctors themselves.

That message resonates with Holick, who feels refreshed by yoga and has renewed faith in her career choice. The past year has “made me realize that I can make medicine my own thing,” she says. “It’s an amazing profession that I really can help people in. Sometimes I really lose sight of these bigger things.”

Originally published on BU Today

Yoga Teacher’s Scope of Service: Knowing Your Limits


By B Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT - 

A large proportion of yoga students come to the mat with some sort of physical problem, be it an injury or illness, chronic pain, a tight neck and shoulders, bad knees, a hip replacement, or a sore back. Many have heard that yoga can help to relieve physical issues like back pain, or help with stress or emotional problems.

Yoga teachers are called upon to provide a safe context for those undergoing personal challenges. They also may be asked questions regarding how yoga may help or hinder physical or emotional wellbeing. While it is natural to want to help, it is also important for teachers to know their limits, and to be aware of the scope of service that yoga teacher training prepares them to provide.

Scope of service (sometimes called scope of practice), refers to the procedures and actions that are appropriate for an individual to engage in when working in a given context. It is based on a person’s education, experience and demonstrated competencies.

Most yoga teachers do not have the skills or training to properly evaluate physical or psychological complaints, or to recommend a course of treatment. When working with students it is important to discriminate between teaching yoga and offering helpful suggestions that can be construed as medical advice.

Teachers can provide support and encouragement for those facing challenges, and share yogic teachings and philosophy that will aid students in their journey. This service is invaluable.

They can also serve as models of acceptance and grace as they navigate life’s obstacles and pitfalls. This may be as simple as getting up and laughing after a face plant during a demonstration, or offering a smile or a gesture of caring. The scope of service that yoga teachers provide is like no other, and it is important to stay within it.

Navigating emotional and psychological issues

Most if not all yoga teachers take up the call to teach out of a need to be of service. They tend to be empathic, compassionate, and are typically good listeners. They are also often dedicated to wellness and healing in some capacity, and are motivated by a desire to assist others on the yogic path.

Although yoga asana (posture-focused) practices may resemble exercise, most students will attest to the fact that their experience on the mat transcends stretching, strengthening, and a cardiovascular boost.

This may be due to the fact that mindful attention to the breath that typically occurs during asana, pranayama, meditation or other yoga practices directly impacts the autonomic nervous system. (See Yoga and the Breath: Antidotes for a Stressful Life for more on how the ANS works). Whereas activation of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) mobilizes our body’s systems for action, activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) tends to elicit calm, receptivity and space for introspection.  This can tap deeply into emotional states that may otherwise be inaccessible in our daily lives.

Somatic Experiencing pioneer, Peter Levine, (see Somatic Experiencing: Free Your Body to Free Your Mind, and Tom Myers, integrative manual therapist and author of the acclaimed, Anatomy Trains, concur that the body’s physical structures are often the repository for unexpressed emotions including traumatic experiences.

Dr. Levine, founder of the Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute and one of the foremost experts on healing trauma believes that, “painful symptoms associated with trauma are the result of ‘fragments of sensory body memory’ that become trapped”. Both experts agree that yoga practices can, and often do, release emotional energy that has been stored in our tissues.

Yoga practices may elicit a breadth of affect and sensation. This can range from intense anger, frustration or irritability after falling repeatedly out of a pose, to sadness or grief during savasana - and all points in between. 

When difficult sensations or emotions arise, it is essential that yoga teachers clearly understand the scope of what they are able to provide. A compassionate ear is not equivalent to appropriate mental health care. Most yoga teachers lack training regarding how to evaluate and treat psychological problems, and should never attempt to do so.

What yoga teachers do have is the ability to provide support and encouragement for those facing emotional challenges, and the wisdom to impart yogic teachings and philosophy that will aid students in their journey. Once again, this service is invaluable.

Know your scope

The process of svadhyaya, or self- reflection is a critical component of teaching and practicing yoga. It involves being aware of your limits, and the scope of service that you are able to provide.

Svadhyaya also involves examining the behaviors, motivations and habitual thoughts and actions that influence our self-image.   We may see ourselves as healers, karma yogis, or the like, and our actions will reinforce this ideal. But these beliefs may not be in the service of the students.

It is important to engage in this process to assure that the next time you are called upon to be of help, you will have a clear understanding of how you can be of service as well as your limits.

When approached with a situation ask yourself the following:

-  Am I sufficiently trained and qualified to address this student’s needs?

-  Would an experienced professional be better qualified to serve this student?

-  Am I responding in a way that serves the best interest of my student or am I responding from a place of ego? 

It is good practice to maintain a referral list of trusted professionals in your community. That list may include physicians, physical therapists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, massage therapists, mental health professionals, Ayurvedic practitioners and others who may be able to address the specific needs of your students. This list is an invaluable tool, and allows the teacher to be a resource to students in the context of their scope of service.

It is important to engage in self-reflection to assure that you have a clear understanding of how to best serve the needs of your students when called upon. That is, after all, the essence of teaching yoga.

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 in 2010. For more information contact Grace at or see

Next Level: Maryland University of Integrative Health Launches Masters in Yoga Therapy Program


Yoga therapy is still a new and evolving professional practice. Yet interest in the medical and therapeutic applications of yoga is rapidly growing and making headway into the academic world.

Potential practitioners of therapeutic yoga can take their skills to the next level in Maryland University of Integrative Health’s (MUIH) newly developed Master of Science in Yoga Therapy, one of the first graduate degree programs in this developing field.

The MUIH program started in Fall 2013, originally planning for 20 students in the first year. However, the interest was so strong that admittance was expanded to 27 and a second cohort will start in April 2014.

While the university environment may seem like an unlikely setting for advanced studies in the therapeutic application of yoga, the university’s visionary leadership saw the potential.

“Our provost has an interest in yoga and yoga therapy, and she is a yoga practitioner herself,” says program director, Mary Lauttamus. “When she saw the International Association of Yoga Therapy standards, she realized that an 800-hour program was perfectly suited to a Masters in Yoga Therapy.”

IAYT is a professional organization for yoga teachers and therapists that supports research and education in yoga. Their mission is to “establish yoga as a recognized and respected therapy,” the first step of which is developing educational and accreditation standards.

There is little difference between the 1,000 hours required in current IAYT standards and the MUIH Masters program. Both have similar admission requirements, requiring that applicants have a minimum 200-hour training. However, as an accredited university, MUIH also requires a bachelor’s degree and every hour spent in the classroom is matched by two hours of practical applications.

The MUIH program includes foundational knowledge in yoga therapy, the theories of health and disease, and evidence-based practices in the field, while incorporating a broad base of perspectives and experiences in yoga therapy. The two-year weekend program is intended to accommodate professionals and people with busy lives.

Given this level of seriousness and professionalism, the emerging profession of yoga therapy is a good fit for a university degree.

“The university setting is ideal for this kind of program,” says Lauttamus. “The level of academic rigor is very high. Having a Masters degree is typically the minimum it takes to get into a Western medical setting. It sends the message that there’s been a certain level of study.”

The training includes the basics of therapeutic yoga, physiology, anatomy and mind-body research, with a strong emphasis on students learning and speaking medical language. What sets this apart from studio-based yoga therapy trainings is the terminology and language of Western medicine, so yoga therapists can effectively communicate with medical professionals.

“Critical thinking skills are vital, because we are not lineage-based,” Lauttamus adds. “We have people coming from multiple backgrounds and in this setting, we’re asking students to develop strong information literacy. That way they can apply their knowledge to figure out what’s right for that client in that moment.”

The MUIH Masters program bodes well for the future of yoga therapy as a profession. The university administration, program faculty, and students are actively involved in cocreating highly professional yoga therapists. Lauttamus adds, “We are all working really hard to more clearly define the scope of work of a yoga therapist.”

It also points to an interface of yoga and physical therapy. The program enables students to become familiar with the physiology and pathology of joint conditions, and speak the language of physical therapy. However, Lauttamus emphasizes what sets the two modalities apart, and how they can complement each other.

“Yoga therapy is a completely relationship-centered practice. What we’re really asking is: How does this impact the person’s life? What is the client’s relationship to the disease? Because we’re never teaching the disease, we’re always teaching the person around it.”

Full Circle: Bringing Yoga to Underserved Populations in Africa and the U.S.


Can yoga transform lives across race, nationality, age, gender, and economic status? Will it be valued if offered without charge? Can people who are struggling to survive be able to transform their ideas of what might be possible through the practice of yoga?

These were some of the hard questions, the founders of the African Yoga Project (AYP) asked themselves back in 2007, before launching their programs in Africa. Since then, the AYP has received the answers to those questions, and much, much more.

Each year since its inception, the Africa Yoga Project has empowered over 250,000 Kenyans through the power of yoga. AYP co-founder Paige Elenson worked with well-known yoga teacher Baron Baptiste to facilitate the first yoga teacher training in Kenya. Fifty-two teachers, trained by Baptiste, offer free classes in prisons, schools, special needs centers, HIV/AIDS support groups, schools for the deaf, and rural villages. They offer yoga lessons, meditation, self-exploration through inquiry, and empowerment through performing arts.

The organization has grown so that today, at 80 locations around Kenya, over 5,000 people are participating in more than 250 community yoga classes every week.

The Africa Yoga Project is more than yoga. The project provides community activism, relationship building, and health education, in addition to facilitating concrete projects such as building schools and funding educational and environmental efforts.

AYP’s extraordinary growth since 2007 has been noticed near and far. In fact, the program has become so successful that American researchers wonder if it could be a model for similar work in the US bringing yoga to underserved populations in the U.S.

In mid-July 2013, a team of researchers from the Graduate School of Education at the University of Buffalo headed to Kenya to study the effects of the AYP’s work. The team of psychologists and yoga instructors went with the intention of starting a similar project in Buffalo, New York.

“Jobs are being created,” Catherine Cook-Cottone, associate professor in the Department of Counseling at the University of Buffalo told the UB reporter. “And it is all healthy and has essentially none of the impact on the earth that you might see in other industries. It is an amazing thing, and we want to figure out what the program means to people and how it is changing lives.”

Cottone was particularly intrigued to see the effects of yoga in a part of the world where chronic stress associated with poverty and violence prevails. She believes that yoga is “neurologically integrating,” providing tools to move from “fight, flight, or freeze” to “repair, rest, and restore.”

While Buffalo, New York, is quite different from Nairobi, Kenya, the research team is committed to using social science research techniques to determine how they might be able to bring the physical, emotional, and mental benefits of yoga to underserved communities in Buffalo

The team’s goal is to have instructors from Buffalo’s Ease Side neighborhoods learn how to teach yoga in Nairobi and then return to teach in their schools in New York state. The team will then study the effects of this program.

Twice-weekly yoga classes for East Side children in Buffalo started last summer proving that the AYP’s innovative and successful program has traveled full circle, from the United States to Africa and back again. The healing potential of yoga knows no boundaries or limits.







Fascia in Movement - Tom Myers Launches New Webinar Series

While we mostly think in terms of training muscles when we exercise or practice yoga, it is important to also understand how exercise and yoga asana affect the fascial structure of the body.

Tom Myers, author of Anatomy Trains, had been a pioneer in understanding the role of fascia, the connective tissue in the body. Some of you will remember Tom from his webinar on YogaUOnline on Fascial Fitness. Tom has developed this concept further, offering a course exploring the role and behavior of Fascia in Movement.

According to the Anatomy Trains website, the course looks at what every personal trainer, yoga teacher, Pilates teacher, athletic coach and hands-on practitioner needs to know about fascia and new biomechanics. No matter what you do for your muscles or cardiovascular, you are also training the fascia – you may as well do it consciously and with knowledge.

For more information, see here:
Tom Myers – Fascia in Movement

Also see here for more on Tom Myers’ course on Fascial Fitness - An Emerging Revolution in Movement Science as it related to yoga practice.

Also be sure to check out Tom Myer’s upcoming course on YogaUOnine entitled
Issues in the Tissues - Releasing Emotional Holdings through Movement and Body Repatterning




Preventing Yoga Injuries vs Preventing Yoga - The Daily Bandha Weighs in on the Debate


Dr. Ray Long, author, yogi, and orthopedic surgeon, recently weighed in on the yoga injuries debate in his blog The Daily Bandha with a two-part post, entitled Preventing Yoga Injuries versus Preventing Yoga. A pertinent title, indeed.

Known to most yogis for his groundbreaking yoga anatomy books, including The Key Muscles of Yoga and The Key Poses of Yoga, Dr. Long has an impressive pedigree. In addition to his training as an M.D., he brings more then two decades of yoga training to the table, including extensive trainings with BKS Iyengar.

To those familiar with the yoga injuries debate (resurfacing recently with author William Broad’s recent blog post on yoga and hip injuries in the New York Times), it is a fascinating discussion, which perhaps says as much about the challenges facing yoga as a profession, as about the risk of injury itself. With the limited knowledge of anatomy many yoga teachers have, the claims of yoga injuries can be hard to evaluate. As a consequence, is easy, as Dr. Long points out in his title, to go to the extreme in erring on the side of caution.

To say that yoga carries risk of injury is, of course, stating the obvious. Any physical activity challenging the body comes with some degree of risk. A basic premise of exercise, and the key to many of its numerous beneficial effects, is to challenge the body to invoke a healing response. That, of course, involves some risk, if the challenge is overdone. As Dr. Long aptly points out:

[A part of yoga] practice involves poses that take some of our joints to the extremes of their range of motion (from a western medical perspective). Indeed, many of the benefits of Hatha yoga derive from moving our joints (carefully) within their range of motion.

Obviously, we want to avoid injuries when practicing yoga. One way to do that is to eliminate a bunch of the asanas on the grounds that they’re “too dangerous”. That approach also eliminates the benefits of those poses. Or, we can practice mindfully, using modifications where appropriate and working in a progressive manner towards the classical asanas that are appropriate for each of us individually. Knowledge of the body combined with awareness of mechanisms of injury aids in this process.

Rather than stating the obvious, to get traction for their claims, crusaders for the dangers of yoga argue that yoga is uniquely injurious. The evidence put forward for this claim has included certain conditions, such as (femeroacetabular impingement syndrome (FAI) and vertebral artery dissection supposedly caused by yoga. Never mind that the etiology of these conditions is poorly known and that they both appear to be triggered by a very long list of activities.

When trying to understand the risk of injuries in yoga, Dr. Long points out, it is key to not confuse correlation with causation. If five people with red hair in our circle of friends contract cancer, can we say that red hair causes cancer? Of course not.

If we have heard through the grapevine of five long-term yoga teachers who have gotten hip replacement, can we say that yoga puts one at higher risk for hip replacement? Again, of course not. There are numerous other possible factors that come into play, including as other physical activities (most yoga practitioners engage and many physical and athletic activities), heredity, childhood injuries, previous musculoskeletal imbalances, and so on. For this reason, without statistical evidence, it is impossible, and fool-hardy, to draw conclusions based on a few isolated cases.

As Dr. Long puts it.

Let’s look at the concept of association vs causality. Simply put, because some activity is associated with a problem does not mean it caused it. In medicine, we when we recognize that an injury is associated with a specific activity we then investigate whether there are factors associated with that activity that could cause the injury. An example would be anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears. 

A while back, we recognized that ACL tears were approximately five times more common in female athletes compared to males. Thus, investigators sought to identify circumstances that could account for this increased incidence. The risk factor thought to contribute most significantly to the higher rate of ACL ruptures in female athletes related to insufficient neuromuscular control of the knee joint in certain athletes. Accordingly, neuromuscular training regimens were devised that have reduced the incidence of ACL ruptures in this group. This approach to ACL injuries is an example of working with science to decrease the risk of an activity, not the activity itself.

In seeking to prevent yoga injuries, Dr. Long notes, let’s not get to the point where we are preventing yoga itself. As he notes,

“Hatha yoga wouldn’t have its beneficial effects without, you know, the poses of Hatha yoga.”

The majority of the two blog posts in the Daily Bandha are dedicated to understanding the biomechanical basis of what Dr. Long views as one of the key causes of injury in yoga: Joint hypermobility. The articles discuss the details of this issue in relation to the hip in details, as well as steps that can be taken to aid in prevention.

We applaud Dr. Long’s for showing us how to move the yoga injuries discussion forward in a constructive and positive manner.  Rather than spreading fear and misinformation in the interest of selling books. The Daily Bandha articles illustrate how an informed debate about yoga injuries and how to prevent them can help deepen the knowledge and sophistication of yoga as a profession in a way that benefits all. In the words of Dr. Long:

In medicine, we look for ways to eliminate the risks of a given activity, not the activity itself. To illustrate my point, check out this quote from one of the scientific articles that studied the effect of extreme hip motion in professional ballerinas: “These results do not mean that the dancers should stop executing these movements, but rather they should limit them in frequency during dancing class.”2

Wow. Think I’m down with that.

Indeed, so are we.

Read the full posts here:  
Preventing Yoga Injuries vs Preventing Yoga





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