Yoga News

New Research Casts Doubt on Benefits of Osteoporosis Drugs

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yoga for osteoporosis

Are millions of women putting up with undesirable side effects of osteoporosis drugs not getting the hip fracture-preventing benefits that they are hoping for? And, do efforts to improve balance and prevent falls ultimately produce better results when it comes to preventing hip fractures?

This seems to be the conclusion of a new study published in the British Medical Journal by Finnish researcher Teppo Järvinen,  a professor at the University of Helsinki, Finland and colleagues.

Most women over the age of 50 are recommended screenings to check for the thinning bones of osteopenia or full-fledged osteoporosis. And, the logic goes, if the thinning of the bones reaches the benchmark set for a diagnosis of osteoporosis, women should be taking drugs to slow the loss of bone mass density (BMD) or, preferably, even increase bone density.

There is only one problem with this, Järvinen and colleagues point out in the paper. While osteoporosis drugs have been shown to increase bone mass density, this doesn’t necessarily translate into fewer hip fractures.

How could this be? Well, fewer than one in three hip fractures are attributable to bone fragility, the researchers note. Fractures are traumatic events triggered by falls; and most falls serious enough to result in a fracture happen in frail older adults.

The simple question, “Do you have impaired balance?” is a better predictor of fractures than osteoporosis, the researchers note. This question can predict about 40% of all hip fractures, whereas osteoporosis predicts less than 30%.

The incidence of hip fracture in women rises 44-fold from the age of 55 to 85, and the effect of aging is 11-fold greater than that of reduced bone mineral density. About a third of generally healthy people aged ≥65 fall at least once a year, this proportion increases to a half by age 80.

As a consequence, the researchers note in the study, we are over diagnosing bone fragility, and this in turn leads to overtreatment. Osteoporosis drugs are big business: In the U.S., about 75 percent of white women over the age of 65 are the primary targets for osteoporosis medication marketing. The amount spent on these drugs tripled from 2001 to 2008, and it is forecast to exceed $11bn in 2015.

Bisphosphonates, such as Fosamax, are the dominant drugs for fracture prevention. However, while bisphosphonates do increase bone mass density by blocking the resorption process that is part of the natural process of bone metabolism, the evidence that bisphosphonates prevents fractures is weak, according to the researchers.

Our systematic review of the evidence base for bisphosphonates identified 33 randomized controlled trials of sufficient duration (≥ one year) to expect a preventive effect on hip fractures. In 23 trials reporting on hip fracture, 254/17,164 women taking bisphosphonates versus 289/14,080 taking placebo had hip fractures (relative risk 0.68, (95% confidence interval 0.57% to 0.80%); absolute risk reduction 0.57% for hip fracture over three years. Accordingly, 175 women must be treated for three years for each hip fracture prevented.

But the evidence base is fraught with gaps. Although the mean age of patients with hip fracture in Europe is about 80 years, and over 75% of hip fractures occur among people older than 75, only three of the 23 trials in our systematic review included sufficient women over 75 to allow analysis of hip fracture incidence. All failed to show any significant effect on hip fractures in this age group. Counterintuitively, the evidence thus suggests that those most prone to hip fractures do not benefit from bisphosphonate treatment. This discouraging finding was corroborated by a recent randomised trial of single dose zoledronic acid for osteoporosis in frail elderly women.

Hip fractures in elders often lead to permanently reduced mobility, quality of life and an overall decline in health, as well as significant social and medical costs. So while strengthening the bones intuitively makes sense, Järvinen argues, anti-osteoporotic medication may not be the answer to prevent hip fractures.

"The benefit from the drug treatment is marginal at best. It also seems — and this is an interesting detail — that the better the response to the treatment in the study, the more flaws the study had," Järvinen said. 

"Only three studies have been conducted on subjects 80 years of age or older, and none of them found that the medication prevented hip fractures." 

A better strategy for combatting hip fractures: Minimize the risk of falls in seniors by encouraging more physical activity, particularly activities such as yoga that improve balance.  If you are a smoker, quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do to reduce your fracture risk.

In a recent study, YogaU’s Dr. Loren Fishman has shown that yoga offers potential bone-building benefits. Add to that the facts that yoga is a great way to improve balance, and yoga is increasingly emerging as a great technique to reduce the risk of falls and fractures as you get older.

“In contrast to osteoporosis drugs, which come with considerable side effects, yoga offers numerous side benefits,” Dr. Fishman notes. “For millions of women worried about thinning bones and wondering whether they should be taking osteoporosis drugs, it’s important to pay attention to these kind of results.”

Dr. Loren Fishman and Ellen Saltonstall are currently offering their popular course on Yoga for Osteoporosis: Prevention, Teaching and Practice on YogaUOnline.com. You can go here to learn more.

Yoga and Meditation Keep Your Brain Sharp and Resilient New Study Shows

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By B Grace Bullock, PhD E-RYT 500 - 

Can yoga and meditation can help stave off cognitive decline and increase our brain’s efficiency and resilience? This appears to be the implications from a study recently published in Frontiers in Aging Neuorscience, which found that long-term yoga practitioners in particular exhibited higher and more resilient brain functioning than similarly aged peers.

In the study, an international team of researchers examined the brain functioning of 47 healthy middle-aged yoga and meditation practitioners and normal controls to see whether the groups differed in fluid intelligence, resilience, function and efficiency. Participants included 16 yoga practitioners (mean age 49.4 years, SD =7.8), 16 meditators (mean age 54.1 years, SD =8.2), and 15 controls (mean age 52.9 years, SD =9.8). Groups were matched for age, gender, education, race and handedness. 

The yoga practitioners included in the study were trained in the Kripalu tradition, and they had an average of 13,534 (SD = 9,950) hours of yoga experience. Individuals in the meditation group were trained in the Insight Meditation tradition; they had an average of 7,458 (SD = 5,734) hours of meditation practice. Controls had no experience with either yoga or meditation.

Members of each group were asked to complete a number of behavioral measures of fluid and verbal intelligence, cognitive functioning and mindfulness. Fluid intelligence encompasses skills such as logical thinking, problem solving, and the capacity to identify patterns and relationships when solving novel problems. Participants also reported on their weekly physical activity and how often they engaged in cognitive activities like reading, writing, solving puzzles, and playing card and board games. Images of their brains were then obtained using an MRI scanner.

Yoga Associated With Higher Brain Functioning

Overall, results revealed that yoga practitioners and meditators had a lower rate of age-related decline of fluid intelligence compared to normal controls. This reduced decline was most pronounced for yoga practitioners, and likely responsible for greater fluid intelligence observed in yoga practitioners as well.

Yoga practitioners also demonstrated significantly greater global efficiency, network integration and “small worldness” than control group members. Small worldness refers to networks, or clusters of connections between neighboring brain nodes. These networks are associated with brain efficiency and dynamic complexity. Interestingly, there was no significant difference between meditators and the control group on this measure.

Together these findings suggest that yoga practitioners tend to have higher levels of brain network integration and efficiency compared to controls. While this was also true for meditators, the effects were not as strong as those in the yoga group.

Yoga Linked to More Resilient Brain Functioning

Researchers also tested the resilience of participants’ brains by simulating damage to these functional networks by altering patterns of connectivity between brain nodes. They discovered that yoga practitioners have more resilient networks when compared meditators and control group members.

Lastly, investigators examined whether a measure of mindfulness would be related to greater fluid intelligence and network resilience. As anticipated, yoga and meditation practitioners had higher mindfulness scores than controls. Levels of mindfulness were significantly correlated with fluid intelligence, network resilience, global efficiency and network integration. This suggests that mindfulness is associated with greater fluid intelligence and more integrated and resilient brain networks.

Taken as a whole, results of this study suggest that both yoga and meditation are effective in maintaining higher levels of brain performance in middle-aged adults. This study is important as it moves the field beyond knowledge of the structural effects of these practices on brain development to a greater understanding of the functional significance of these differences. 

B Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT 500, is the Founding Director of the International Science & Education Alliance, a firm that provides strategic planning, research consultation and assessment design to support the empirically rigorous evaluation and sustainable implementation of programs in education, leadership, health and human services. Grace is an intervention scientist, psychologist, yoga educator and author who has worked extensively in integrated behavioral health settings. Her research, clinical practice, teaching and writing emphasize the incorporation of empirically supported psychotherapy with yoga therapy and mindfulness practices to relieve the symptoms of stress, trauma, anxiety, depression and other psychological illnesses, and to promote healthy relationships. She is Faculty at the Integrated Health Yoga Therapy therapist training program, and Professor of Yoga & Neuroscience at the Taksha University School of Integrative Medicine. Grace is the former Editor in Chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy and 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://isaeaorg.wix.com/isaea and http://www.mind-bodytherapy.com.

Twisting Postures for Grounded Flexibility

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By Kathryn Boland - 

Although we often focus on remaining grounded and centered in our yoga practice, strength and flexibility are equally important for remaining balanced and limber both inside and out. Twisting postures can help us to move between solidity and fluidity by practicing staying both rooted and pliable. This helps us to become more adept at facing uncertainty on and off the mat.

What’s more, twisting postures have a number of health benefits including detoxification and stretching and strengthening of vertebral (spinal) muscles. As we twist our tissues and muscles literally “wring out” our organs. This is particularly helpful as we’re moving into spring and ridding ourselves of winter stagnation.

Yoga Twists for Detoxification 

Try taking a relatively mild twist from Baddha Konasana (Tailor’s Pose). First sit with the bottoms of your feet together and knees wide. Play with the distance from your feet to your pelvis until you are comfortably rooted into your sitbones (ischial tuberosities) at the base of your pelvis.

To get a deeper sense of grounding you can rotate your upper leg bones (femurs) out and away from the midline (external rotation). Some practitioners find additional stability and comfort from sitting on a block, pillow, or blanket. You will definitely need to do so if your knees and upper leg bones do not reach the floor.

With your seat established, lengthen your spine from the pelvis to the crown of the head on an inhale. As you exhale, twist your spine to the right, initiating that movement in the lower torso upward until you gently turn your head in the direction of your spine. Continue to elongate the spine on the inhale, and deepen the twist slightly on the exhale. Repeat on the left side.

Another somewhat challenging posture is Marichyasana III/C. Extend your legs in front of you, as if in Dandasana (Staff Posture). Find a comfortable seat as you did in the prior posture. Bend your right knee toward you, and place your foot flat on the floor as close to you as you are comfortable. Make sure that your legs are parallel to each other, and the foot of the extended leg is flexed with your toes pointing upward.

Place your right hand on the floor or a prop behind you for balance. On the next inhale, lift your left and as you exhale, hug your right knee toward you while keeping your right foot on the ground. You also have the option of bending your left arm and placing your left elbow on the outside of right knee if you have sufficient spinal rotation. Again, elongate your spine as you inhale, and gently deepen the twist on the exhale.

Twists are a wonderful way to explore the “dance” between stability and flexibility both physically and mentally. Try incorporating more twists into your practice and enjoy the benefits.

 

Kathryn Boland is a third-year Master’s degree student in Dance/Movement Therapy at Lesley University (Cambridge, MA), and an E-RYT 500. She is originally from Rhode Island and attended The George Washington University (Washington, DC) for an undergraduate degree in dance (where she first encountered yoga). She has taught yoga to diverse populations in varied locations. As a dancer, she has always loved to keep moving and flowing in practicing more active Vinyasa-style forms. Her interests have recently evolved to include Yin and therapeutic yoga, and aligning those forms with Laban Movement Analysis to serve the needs of various groups (such as Alzheimer’s Disease patients, children diagnosed with ADHD, PTSD-afflicted veterans, all demographically expanding). She believes in finding the opportunity within every adversity, and doing all that she can to help others live with a bit more breath and flow!

Yoga, Tuna, and Heat

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By Jennifer Williams-Fields E-RYT -

I’ve been practicing yoga for more than 5 years now and teaching for almost as long. I love my vinyasa practice and I enjoy a good Kundalini yoga class when I get the chance. I’d heard about Bikram yoga and figured I’d give it a try.

Bikram yoga is done in a room heated to about 105 Fahrenheit with 60% humidity. The founder, Bikram Choudhury, has been quoted as calling his classes “the torture chamber.”  I know I have to try this.

Bikram yoga claims to improve your cardiovascular system, help you lose weight and increase your willpower and determination. On the downside, the extreme heat can be difficult to deal with and there is a higher rate of injuries in hot yoga classes. And still, I want to give it a try.

So on a hot summer Memphis day, when the outside temp is 99 and the heat index is 113, I walk into the local Bikram studio full of confidence and maybe a little cocky. I am a registered yoga teacher after all. The woman at the desk signs me in and reminds me class should be taken on an empty stomach. Oh, it’s been 3 hours since I’ve eaten lunch and I assure her I’ll be fine.

I enter the room, and like most new students I head straight to the back and lay out my mat. The room is packed full of barely clothed silent people. I take a seat on my mat and scan the room. Yeah it’s hot but no worse than outside.

The teacher soon walks in. She’s a tiny waif of a woman, full of tattoos and an almost shaved head.  She doesn’t scare me. She asks who is new today, and when I raise my hand she again gives me directions to just do what I can. Seriously people, I’ll be fine.

There is no actual physical warm up; we just begin with a series of standing poses.  I know these poses; I’m doing ok and holding my own. But it is hot in here.

Soon I am literally dripping sweat. I mean there is an actual puddle forming on my yoga mat. Oh, that is why everyone has a big towel over their mat.  Ewww, was that just sweat from the mostly naked hairy guy next to me?

Fifty-five minutes in to class and we finish the standing series. Oh this isn’t so bad, yeah I’m dehydrated and my heart rate is racing, but I’ve got this. And then, I feel it. A not-so-good feeling in my stomach. Worse, I taste it. That tuna fish sandwich from four hours ago is making an appearance. I am stronger, I will keep it down, and I will finish this class.

We move to the floor series, which seems to be moving faster than the standing part.  Oh please don’t tell me pull my knees tighter to my chest. I had tuna for lunch!

The almost bald tattooed woman is now yelling at people to bend deeper and to make it hurt. She’s starting to scare me now. I notice quite a few people are just lying on their mats. I wonder if they have heat stroke. Or maybe they are just playing dead so the screaming lady will leave them alone.

At this point I’m not only questioning my lunch choice but I’m questioning the physical logistics of all this. How am I supposed to wrap my elbows around my knees, pull them over my ears, when I’m so sweaty my hands are slipping any my eyes hurt from all the salty sweat dripping into them? But I will finish this class!

Finally scary lady says it’s time for Savasana, which in the yoga classes I’m used to means lay quietly and peacefully, and turn off your brain. In this Bikram class however, it means you are finally allowed to drink some water. Oh, so the 33 ounces I’ve been chugging for the past 90 minutes was against the rules? My bad.

She ends with a few announcements, which I can’t hear because my ears are too clogged with sweat and everyone quietly gets up and rolls up their literally soaking wet mat and towel.  I make my way out of the room and pick up a copy of the class schedule. After all, I paid the new student intro rate so I will get my money’s worth. I just won't eat tuna before the next class.

As I walk to my car I realize the outside temp has dropped to 97! Oh it feels wonderful out here!

 

Jennifer Williams-Fields E-RYT, is passionate about writing, yoga, travelling and being a fabulous single momma to six super kids. Doing it all at one time, however, is her great struggle. She has been teaching yoga since 2005 and writing since she first picked up a crayon. Although her life is a sort of organized chaos, she loves every minute of the craziness and is grateful for all she’s learned along the way. Her first book "Creating a Joyful Life: The Lessons I Learned from Yoga and My Mom" is currently being shopped for a publisher. She co-wrote "Transform Your Life From F'd up To Fabulous" and is featured in other yoga collaboratives. She also is a regular writer for Elephant Journal Magazine and YogaUOnline. Follow Jennifer on Twitter @yogalifeway, Instagram @JNELF6 and read her YogaLifeWay blog.

 

What Makes a Good Yoga Class? - 5 Tips for Great Sequencing

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By Olga Kabel -

You know how sometimes you go to a yoga class and leave feeling more centered, energized and whole? And other times you leave feeling more fragmented and discombobulated?  Why is that? Certainly, everybody’s response to any given class is highly individual.  But are there certain universal principles that make a class great? Let’s take a look.

Good yoga class in many ways seems to be similar to a good movie.  If I asked you what makes a good movie, what would you say? It’s probably some version of the following:

1) A thought provoking story that touches on universal themes and concerns

2) A skilled director with a vision who is able to bring it to life via:

  • Presentation of the plot that keeps the audience engaged
  • Ability to connect with the audience
  • Acting that serves to convey the story
  • Cinematography and Music that wrap it all together

How is a yoga class similar?

Universal Themes and Concerns. By its very nature yoga addresses the fundamental questions that we all face about health, awareness and life well-lived.  Whether you are interested in physical benefits, mental stability or connection to something greater then yourself, you can find it here, regardless of your age, skin color or zip code.

A yoga teacher is like a skilled film director that makes that experience possible.

First of all, any director must have a VISION. He needs to ask himself: What is the main idea of the film? Is it relevant to my audience? What choices do I need to make to manifest my vision? And it needs to lead to a resolution of some kind. In the same way, a yoga teacher needs to have a vision. We call it an INTENTION. Without an Intention you are stumbling in the dark, being pulled from one idea to the next and end up with everything but a kitchen sink and no clear focus. What are you trying to accomplish? Is it relevant to your students? What poses/practices do you need to choose to manifest your vision in the best possible way? If at the end of the class your students cannot articulate clearly what this class was about, then either your intention wasn’t clear or your choice of tools wasn’t optimal.

Audience Engagement. While a good yoga class doesn’t need to have a pace of a thriller, it does need to keep your students’ attention.  Left to our own devices most of us would drift off into daydreaming or our to-do lists. There are many ways of keeping your students engaged. Just like in movies, you can introduce unexpected plot twists, interesting developments, usual things presented in an unusual way or good old humor. Engaged is different from entertained though. In a yoga class we want the students to be eager to join the ride, curious about what comes next – not laughing their heads off (unless that is your intention :)).

Ability to Connect. If you cannot identify with any characters in a movie and it doesn’t touch you in any way, you are likely to forget it quickly. As a yoga teacher, you need to show your students that they matter – by listening to them, taking their requests, remembering their names and some important facts of their lives. It’s essential to pay attention to them before, during and after the class. I took a class once where the teacher entered without greeting, set up her mat to face the mirror with her back to her students and lead the entire class like that, doing her poses and talking to what felt like herself in the mirror. Personally, I felt abandoned as a student. After all, yoga is about connection by definition, so it needs to be present in every class.

Acting is about bringing the essence of the character to life. And the best directors are the ones who allow the actors, as the characters, to find their way through each scene. Interestingly, the “character” that we are trying to unearth in a yoga class is our own real self, underneath the clutter of how we present ourselves to the world. Getting in touch with that unchanging, unconditional True Self that is the source of our wisdom and personal power is the ultimate goal of yoga.  If we manage to get a glimpse of it in a yoga class, we feel more clear, stable, and peaceful.

Cinematography and Music tie it all together. They help create a certain mood, atmosphere that has to support the development of the plot, not to overpower it.  In a yoga class you might choose to set up your space to make it more conducive to your vision: dimming the lights, turning up the heat, etc. Using music can be an effective tool in a yoga class, but it can also be very distracting.  If you choose to play music you have to make sure that it doesn’t conflict with the pace of movement, your instructions or students’ awareness of their breath. Imagine if the director chose Enya for a suspenseful moment in the plot – wouldn’t that be a bit disorienting?

When all those things come together, some sort of magic happens and we end up with a wonderful, moving and engaging film. Was it a happy accident? Probably not. Some things probably did fall into place, but it is the masterful orchestration by the director that made it possible. And the best movies are designed to pull you into the story without being aware of the director’s “invisible hand.”

It’s the same with the best yoga classes. It might seem that things “just happened,” but it’s the “invisible hand” of the yoga teacher that guided you through the process and brought you to some logical conclusion. It doesn’t mean of course, that at the end of the class all your issues are resolved, but hopefully you arrive at a place where you are a bit more aware, a bit more centered, a bit more whole. And it’s our responsibility as yoga teachers to continuously fine-tune our “directorial” skills to make the practices more effective for our students.

 

Reprinted with permission from SequenceWiz

 

Educated as a school teacher, Olga Kabel has been teaching yoga for over 14 years. She completed multiple Yoga Teacher Training Programs, but discovered the strongest connection to the Krishnamacharya/ T.K.V. Desikachar lineage. She had studied with Gary Kraftsow and American Viniyoga Institute (2004-2006) and received her Viniyoga Teacher diploma in July 2006 becoming an AVI-certified Yoga Therapist in April 2011. Olga is a founder and managing director of Sequence Wiz - a web-based yoga sequence builder that assists yoga teachers and yoga therapists in creating and organizing yoga practices. It also features simple, informational articles on how to sequence yoga practices for maximum effectiveness. Olga strongly believes in the healing power of this ancient discipline on every level: physical, psychological, and spiritual. She strives to make yoga practices accessible to students of any age, physical ability and medical history specializing in helping her students relieve muscle aches and pains, manage stress and anxiety, and develop mental focus.

 

Neuroplasticity, Yoga, and Transformation – How Yoga Affects Your Brain

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By Meagan McCrary - 

Think you’re just exercising your body when you’re at the gym or on your yoga mat? Think again. Neuroscience has proven that yoga and other exercise are just as good for your brain as they are the rest of you.

Scientists used to think that the brain was immutable, and degenerated with age, leaving little room for growth or change. We now know, however, that the brain and nervous system are continuously regenerating, as we gain new knowledge and experience. And, practices that combine concentration and movement, like yoga, are especially powerful for facilitating change.

Yoga and Neuroplasticity

The brain’s ability to change is known as neuroplasticity. Derived from the root words neuron (or nerve cells in the brain linked together by synapses) and plasticity (or the capacity to be sculpted, molded or altered), neuroplasticity is the brain’s potential to create neural pathways and reorganize itself according to how it’s being used—or not being used.

Similar to muscles, regions of your brain become larger and stronger the more they are used, and unused regions become weaker and atrophy.

For example, every time you have the experience of being “stressed out,” the neural networks and areas of the brain responsible for the experience are reinforced and grow stronger. Meanwhile the structures that produce the experience of being “calm, cool and collected” are neglected and weaken.

Here’s why: Neurons that fire together, wire together. Our habitual thoughts, behaviors and reactive patterns fortify neural networks. The more that we engage a particular pattern of thought, feeling or behavior, the stronger the network becomes. This is why it can be difficult to change chronic, overlearned patterns.

This also means that the first step in making any change is to be aware of what you are doing as often as possible, and to detect your patterns and habits whenever they occur. Once you become aware of your patterns, you have the ability to try on new ways of thinking and being, and create new neural pathways.

How Yoga Helps To Change Your Brain

Studies of the brain show that the same areas and structures of the brain that are active in cognitive function (all aspects of thinking, reasoning, evaluating, judging, remembering and feeling) are also active during movement.

That means that whatever you think, perceive and feel (whether intentional or unconscious) while you’re practicing yoga is essentially training the brain to think, perceive and feel in those ways.

Your mind and body are essentially rewiring when you practice yoga. Therefore, your attitudes, judgments, and inner dialogue are just as important as your breath and alignment when you practice.

Beyond physical form, the practice of yoga is about becoming aware of what’s occurring on the inside. So remember to pay attention to your thoughts, feelings and internal dialogue as you practice. When it comes to neuroplasticity, the inner journey is just as important as creating new musculoskeletal patterns. 

 

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 is America’s New Favorite Complementary Therapy, A New Survey Finds

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By B Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT 500 - 

Americans are turning to complementary health approaches more than ever before to reduce pain, improve health and wellbeing, and relieve the side effects of standard medicine. And, yoga is one of the most popular and fastest growing alternative therapies among people of all ages, according to a new, 10-year National Health Interview Survey.

The health survey was administered to more than 88,000 adults over age 18 at three time points (2002, 2007 and 2012). At each interval, participants were asked about their use of a number of alternative health approaches including acupuncture, Ayurveda, biofeedback, chelation therapy, chiropractic care, energy healing therapy, hypnosis, massage, naturopathy, non-vitamin/non-mineral dietary supplements, homeopathic treatments, diet-based therapies, yoga, tai chi, qi gong, meditation, and other relaxation techniques.

The report of the survey results, published in National Health Statistics Reports, revealed a number of interesting trends.

  1. Non-vitamin, non-mineral dietary supplements were the most frequently used complementary approach in each of the three survey administrations (18.9% of American adults in 2002, and 17.7% in both 2007 and 2012).
  2. Deep breathing exercises were next in popularity, although their use appeared to be declining by 2012 (11.6% in 2002, and 12.7% in 2007 and 10.9% in 2012). Breath exercises were considered either as a stand-alone practice or a strategy used in yoga, tai chi, qi gong, biofeedback, hypnosis, meditation and progressive relaxation.
  3.  There was a growing trend towards more Americans taking up yoga, tai chi, and qi gong at each survey point. Notably, yoga use had increased the most dramatically over 10 years (5.1% of American adults in 2002, and 6.1% in 2007, and 9.5% in 2012). Meditation was also consistently among the top 5 most commonly used approaches, however unlike yoga, its popularity has declined slightly in recent years according to the survey (7.6% in 2002, and 9.4% in 2007, and 8.0% in 2012).
  4. The use of homeopathic treatments, acupuncture and naturopathy as well as chiropractic and osteopathic care are also on the rise for the most part.

Who is Practicing Yoga?

Historically, educated, white women represent the largest demographic of yoga practitioners in the United States, but this is changing. Yoga practice has rapidly become increasingly popular among 18-44 year olds (from 6.3% in 2002 to 11.2% in 2012). In fact, the increase in the number of American adults in this age group between 2007 and 2012 is more than double what is was between 2002 and 2007 – strong evidence of yoga’s increasing popularity among young-to-middle-aged adults.

More older adults are also practicing yoga now than a decade ago (5.2% in 2002 to 7.2% in 2012 among 45-64 year olds and 1.3% in 2002 to 3.3% in 2012 among those 65 and over). Similar to the 18-44 year olds, this increase was most pronounced between 2007 and 2012, pointing to a growing trend among older adults to adopt a yoga practice.

Yogis and yoginis are also becoming more ethnically diverse. The use of yoga among Hispanic adults and non-Hispanic black adults nearly doubled between 2007 and 2012 (5.1% and 5.6% in 2012 respectively). This is consistent with the trend among white adults, whose reported use rose from 5.8% in 2007 to 11.2% in 2012. This represents not only a marked increase in the number of adults practicing yoga, but also a greater diversity in age and ethnicity among yoga practitioners.

Although the use of most forms of complementary therapies is on the rise, the growing movement for American adults to take up yoga is noteworthy. More American health practitioners are recognizing the enormous benefits of regular yoga practice for stress reduction, not to mention managing the symptoms of pain and other medical illnesses and recommending yoga to their patients. While the yoga research is still relatively nascent, evidence of yoga’s beneficial effects on most major systems (circulatory, nervous, endocrine) and overall general health continues to grow.

 

B Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT 500, is the Founding Director of the International Science & Education Alliance, a firm that provides strategic planning, research consultation and assessment design to support the empirically rigorous evaluation and sustainable implementation of programs in education, leadership, health and human services. Grace is an intervention scientist, psychologist, yoga educator and author who has worked extensively in integrated behavioral health settings. Her research, clinical practice, teaching and writing emphasize the incorporation of empirically supported psychotherapy with yoga therapy and mindfulness practices to relieve the symptoms of stress, trauma, anxiety, depression and other psychological illnesses, and to promote healthy relationships. She is Faculty at the Integrated Health Yoga Therapy therapist training program, and Professor of Yoga & Neuroscience at the Taksha University School of Integrative Medicine. Grace is the former Editor in Chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy and 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://isaeaorg.wix.com/isaea and http://www.mind-bodytherapy.com.

Teaching Yoga: Learning to Listen to the Body and Mind

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Taking the time to respond to the truths of our bodies and minds in our yoga practice allows us to discover what is uniquely best for each of us, and integrate this wisdom into future practice, writes blogger and yoga teacher Kathryn Borland in this article. This type of patient and continued processing is what has allowed yogis and yoginis to develop and pass on the yoga tradition to millions worldwide. It all begins with taking time to process and respond to change, she suggests, rather than moving swiftly from yoga pose to yoga pose.

By Kathryn Boland - 

As an undergraduate tutor in academic writing, there was one concept that particularly resonated with me – giving writers “wait time” to think and respond. This goes hand in hand with asking open-ended, yet clear and direct questions. Those queries can lead writers to their own insights much more effectively than simply giving answers or closed instructions. As the saying goes, “Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day, but teach him to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” These principles are also very applicable when teaching yoga.

In the six years that I have served as a tutor, I noticed that asking questions and giving writers time to mindfully respond results in more productive and nuanced sessions. Though awkward pauses and what can feel like obstacles are sometimes difficult, the hard work of taking the time to reach a self-generated answer helps students to achieve learning that will last. The same process can be very useful for yoga students.

Creating Space in Yoga Practice

As a yoga instructor and practitioner, I believe the way in which we approach challenges and develop new learning in our practice and teaching can be incredibly beneficial. I love offering yoga students hands-on assists (when and where they are appropriate) that require the experience of working with tactile feedback. That work can develop student’s bodily memories of moving from alignment or positioning that at first feels comfortable (but may not be healthiest) to one that allows them to safely experience a pose’s potential benefit.

With time and repetition the new physical patterning may become the norm. The result - incredible holistic growth, multiplied with every posture or movement flow in which one undergoes this process.

I am currently honing my physical cueing skills to help set my yoga students on the path of that kind of growth. Sometimes I have to take a breath and remember to allow students time to physically respond to my cueing, that giving of “wait time” an essential part of this approach. Bodies need time to process and respond.

Using Questions to Create Space

Another option is to give yoga students a chance to self-correct through mindful questioning. This can be helpful in situations where touch is not allowed or where it is contraindicated for physical or psychological reasons. Such questioning can be a helpful alternative to point-blank instruction.

Imagine a yoga student with feet significantly farther apart than hip distance, for instance. An instructor could say, “Move your feet hip width apart.”  The student could respond by making the proper adjustment, and the instructor might feel pleased at helping the student achieve healthier alignment. The student may not understand the reason for the change, or feel self-conscious, however. In this case the student may not adopt a corrected stance when engaging in the posture in the future.

Another approach might be to ask the student, “How does the posture feel on your hips and knees?” She might say it feels just fine, which may very well be true. There is now at least space for considering other options rather than being instructed to take them, as in the prior approach. In that same line of questioning the yoga teacher might help the student move his feet to hip distance apart and ask, “How does that feel now?” This might be followed by an explanation of how the new positioning may transfer energy from the core and spine through to the knees to avoid straining the knees through faulty alignment.

In this scenario the yoga practitioner engages his mind while experiencing different physical sensations, and may be more likely to attempt this modified stance in the future. He may not have been able to answer the instructor’s questions right away because he had yet to have the experience of adjusting himself into the new postural alignment. Giving “wait time” allows the student and instructor to be present during that experience of physical and mental exploration.

Keeping an open line of questioning also allows for the positive instructional responses in cases when the conventional form of the posture is not ideal for an individual’s unique anatomy and/or capabilities. Although it may be difficult to give students this degree of individualized instruction in large classes, it is something for us instructors to strive for.

Exploring Space in Our Own Yoga Practice

As yoga students and teachers we can explore this process whether in studio classes or at home. The main idea is to bring a questioning and discerning attitude to our mats, so that we can experiment with different approaches. For instance, when comfortably in a favorite posture, a modification that you read about might come to mind – perhaps a way to open up space for the breath in Trikonasana (Triangle Pose), or a new form of a balancing posture. Why not try it and see what happens?

To allow the body and mind to understand and respond to the new approach, take the necessary time to allow yourself and others time to explore making changes. Then act upon those responses, such as in maintaining the change or going back to the preliminary state (such as positioning or formation of a posture).

Taking that time to respond to the truths of our bodies and minds allows us to discover what is uniquely best for each of us, and integrate this wisdom into future practice. This type of patient and continued processing is what has allowed yogis and yoginis to develop and pass on the yoga tradition to millions worldwide. It all begins with taking time to process and respond to change. 
 

Kathryn Boland is a third-year Master’s degree student in Dance/Movement Therapy at Lesley University (Cambridge, MA), and an E-RYT 500. She is originally from Rhode Island and attended The George Washington University (Washington, DC) for an undergraduate degree in dance (where she first encountered yoga). She has taught yoga to diverse populations in varied locations. As a dancer, she has always loved to keep moving and flowing in practicing more active Vinyasa-style forms. Her interests have recently evolved to include Yin and therapeutic yoga, and aligning those forms with Laban Movement Analysis to serve the needs of various groups (such as Alzheimer’s Disease patients, children diagnosed with ADHD, PTSD-afflicted veterans, all demographically expanding). She believes in finding the opportunity within every adversity, and doing all that she can to help others live with a bit more breath and flow!

   

Linking Emotion to Physical Sensation: Lessons from Yoga and Research

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By B Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT 500 - 

We all know that we experience emotions not only in our minds, but also in our bodies. In fact, according to a study recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), different emotional states are experienced in particular regions in the body.

Just as interesting, these somatic experiences may also influence the way we experience emotion. Yoga may be a key practice that enables us to more fully understand this mind-body connection.

The study was conducted by researchers in Finland, who decided to explore whether discrete emotional states might be associated with distinctive patterns of bodily sensations.  Researchers presented 302 adult participants (261 female, mean age 27 years) with either emotional or neutral words. They then asked them to digitally paint where they felt physical sensation on anatomically neutral human silhouettes using a computerized mouse after each word.

Emotional words were either “basic” (anger, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness and surprise), or “nonbasic” (anxiety, love, depression, contempt, pride, shame or envy), or neutral. Images digitally painted on body silhouettes were stored and compared to identify patterns that might be unique to each emotion.

In the second phase of the study, a different sample of 72 participants (mean age 39, 53 female) were asked to look at averaged composites of the silhouette drawings or “heat maps” created from the sample of 302 participants and match each heat map with the emotion word that best described the image.  Researchers then compared these classifications with the initial stimulus words to determine how accurately people matched emotion words with body maps.

When comparing the basic emotions (anger, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness and surprise) and the neutral state against other emotions, participants had an average accuracy of 72%. When discriminating one emotion from another based on these emotion maps participants’ average accuracy dropped to 38%. While that may sound low, that was 24% higher than their ability to detect these emotions by chance.

These accuracy rates were fairly consistent for the “nonbasic” emotions (anxiety, love, depression, contempt, pride, shame or envy: 72% and 36% respectively) as well as all 13 emotions when considered together (72% and 24% respectively). This suggests that people in this sample were reasonably accurate in their assessment of which body maps corresponded to a particular emotion.

This study is particularly noteworthy because the researchers used native Finnish and Swedish (European) as well as Taiwanese (Asian) participants to make certain that the body mapping for particular emotions was not culturally specific. They found no differences by language or ethnic group, leading the authors to conclude that our mapping of emotions onto bodily sensations is culturally universal.

Where Do We Feel Emotional Sensations?

Another interesting aspect of this study is that the patterns of sensation reported by participants were consistent with our existing understanding of how emotions affect us physiologically.

For example, most basic emotions like anger, fear, happiness and sadness were mapped as being felt in the upper chest area. These are likely to correspond to increases in heart and breathing rates that we often notice when experiencing intense primary emotions. Sensations in the upper body and arms were most pronounced for feelings of happiness and anger, whereas less activation in this area was associated with sadness. This makes sense in light of recent research that demonstrates a direct relationship between slumped posture and feeling sad or fearful versus upright posture, which was related to strength, joy and enthusiasm respectively.

The body maps also consistently included sensation in the head, which may represent changes in our facial muscles and jaw as well as the expression of how we process emotional events in our minds as well as our bodies.

It is important to note that participants’ tendency to map emotions onto particular body regions may be a function of language-based stereotypes that we use to describe emotional experience. For example, the expression having butterflies in our stomach may influence the way that we physiologically perceive anxiety or stress because we have an expectation of having a fluttery stomach when we feel those emotions. While this is possible, participants were asked to illustrate their immediate experience on body maps “online” (while experiencing the emotions and sensations), which lessened the probability that they were relying on linguistic stereotypes when mapping their experience.

The researchers suggest that this study may “support models assuming that somatosensation and embodiment “play critical roles in emotional processing.”  They further note that “unraveling the subjective bodily sensations associated with human emotions may help us to better understand mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, which are accompanied by altered emotional processing, autonomic nervous system activity and somatosensation. “

Does Yoga Make Us More Attuned to our Bodies?

This body mapping study is especially interesting when we consider a recent theory that suggests that yoga activates our brains and bodies in a reciprocal exchange of information while we practice. When we feel stress it often includes cognitive and emotional experiences such as a negative evaluation of the situation, emotional reactivity, and rumination. This is often accompanied by physical sensations such as muscle tension, pain and even inflammation. So the body maps and the emotions that they were linked with may represent the ways in which we experience this mind-body connection.

Yoga teaches us mind-body awareness, and gives us the ability to consciously modulate our stress response through the breath, movement and intention. By linking the mind and body through practice we become aware of physical sensations and use them to interpret our mental states. This awareness allows us to downshift the stress response, and to create space in our interactions with others.

It would be fascinating to see future studies that compared the body mapping accuracy of yoga practitioners versus non-practitioners to test the hypothesis that yoga practice enhances this mind-body connection.

 

B Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT 500, is the Founding Director of the International Science & Education Alliance, a firm that provides strategic planning, research consultation and assessment design to support the empirically rigorous evaluation and sustainable implementation of programs in education, leadership, health and human services. Grace is an intervention scientist, psychologist, yoga educator and author who has worked extensively in integrated behavioral health settings. Her research, clinical practice, teaching and writing emphasize the incorporation of empirically supported psychotherapy with yoga therapy and mindfulness practices to relieve the symptoms of stress, trauma, anxiety, depression and other psychological illnesses, and to promote healthy relationships. She is Faculty at the Integrated Health Yoga Therapy therapist training program, and Professor of Yoga & Neuroscience at the Taksha University School of Integrative Medicine. Grace is the former Editor in Chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy and 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://isaeaorg.wix.com/isaea and http://www.mind-bodytherapy.com.

Check Out Our New YouTube Yoga Channel

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YogaUOnline on YouTube

If the thought of listening to interviews with your favorite yoga teacher or watching videos with yoga practices and yoga teaching tips appeals to you, be sure to subscribe to our new YouTube channel! This little baby is barely a month old, but already it’s making some great strides, if we may say so.  :-)

 Especially be sure to check out our Open Source interview in which Judith Hanson Lasater is interviewed by Lizzie Lasater. Wonder about the name similarity? Yes, indeed, this is Judith’s adult daughter, now living in Europe, who is interviewing Judith about how a home practice develops and changes over the decades.

 In addition to being a great designer, Lizzie is now a yoga teacher in her own right, and the interview offers wonderful depth and unique insights into what has kept one of yoga’s great teachers inspired, engaged and progressing in her practice over more than four decades.

 Also check out our Youtube interview with Kaoverii Weber on Natural Detox with Yoga, as well as our interview with Ana Forrest on yoga and embodiment.

 But this is just the beginning! Over the next few weeks and months, we will begin to upload yoga practice video tutorials and quick tips to keep you inspired and progressing in your practice. These are Sneak Peaks for our upcoming yoga practice channel with all the leading yoga teachers you know and love, and a few more that you will LOVE getting to know.

Be sure to subscribe to the channel so you have easy access and will be informed as soon as new videos are uploaded to the channel.  It’s easy, just hit the Subscribe button under any one of the videos in the channel.

 

 

 

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