yoga

RECENT POSTS

School Kids’ Yoga Class Is Not Religion, Judge Rules

Here’s a deep legal query: if school kids are instructed to do “criss-cross applesauce” — the seated, cross-legged position known to pretty much every six-year-old in America — can that possibly be construed as religious teaching?

Apparently not, said a California judge Monday, ruling that yoga instruction for children in an Encinitas public school does not constitute religious instruction. Plaintiffs, who objected to the school-based practice for their two children on religious grounds, had opted out of the program, a kid-friendly class in which some of the most pervasive yoga lingo, like Namaste, had already been excised.

papermoons/flickr

papermoons/flickr

Reuters reports:

[Judge John Meyer] also said the Encinitas Unified School District had developed its own version of yoga that was not religious but distinct and separate from Ashtanga yoga.

“A reasonable student would not objectively perceive that Encinitas School District yoga does advance or promote religion,” he said…

The plaintiffs objected to eight-limbed tree posters with Sanskrit characters that they said were derived from Hindu beliefs, as well as to the use of the Namaste greeting in class and several yoga poses said to represent worship of Hindu deities.

But by the start of the 2012-2013 school year, the Sanskrit and Namaste had been eliminated from the program, and poses had been renamed with “kid-friendly” descriptions, poses now called gorilla, turtle, peacock, big toe, telephone and other terms, according to testimony. The lotus pose, for example, is called criss cross apple sauce in Encinitas schools.

With childhood obesity a nation-wide emergency and with kids bouncing out of their seats due to cuts in recess programs and lack of physical activity during the school day, Continue reading

Don’t Miss: Cognoscenti On Flatulent Vegans In Yoga Class

It's not your imagination: yoga is everywhere. ( AmandaD_TX/flickr)

( AmandaD_TX/flickr)

Goodness knows why farting is so funny, but let’s just take our laughs where we can get them on this torporous day.

Sure, file it under “First World Problems.” But then just sit back and enjoy the latest gem in author Steve Almond’s advice column, Heavy Meddle, on WBUR’s Cognoscenti blog. The questioner asks:

Dear Steve,

I love taking yoga classes, but hate when I end up positioned behind a farting vegan. Nothing personal against vegans — it’s just that they typically eat a lot of beans.

Is there any way to tell who the farters are at first glance? If not, is it mean to move your mat after someone farts on your head during a vinyasa sequence?

Steve consults his yogini wife, but so far I’d say the best answer comes from a commenter:

The fix for the yoga class is obvious. Arrive early enough to position yourself in the front row. If there is no one in front of you, it solves the problem.

Read the full post here.

More Americans (20 Million) Are Practicing Yoga, Survey Finds

It’s not your imagination: yoga is everywhere. ( AmandaD_TX/flickr)

You didn’t need a study for this: Just look around at all those toned, mellow women (and a few men) toting rubber mats under their arms, coconut water at the ready. As a friend said to me recently: “I think I’m the only woman in Cambridge NOT doing yoga.” She may be right.

And here are the numbers to prove it. The latest 2012 Yoga in America Market Study (conducted for Yoga Journal by Sports Marketing Surveys USA) found that 20.4 million Americans are practicing yoga, that’s up 29 percent from 2008 when the study reported 15.8 million practicing yogis. And all those down dogs can be pricey. The survey found that “practitioners spend $10.3 billion a year on yoga classes and products, including equipment, clothing, vacations, and media. The previous estimate from the 2008 study was $5.7 billion.” Beyond the current yoga enthusiasts, there are more waiting in the wings: “Of current non-practitioners, 44.4 percent of Americans call themselves “aspirational yogis”—people who are interested in trying yoga,” the survey found.

Here are some more findings, from the Yoga Journal press release:

Gender: 82.2 percent are women; 17.8 percent are men.

Age: The majority of today’s yoga practitioners (62.8 percent) fall within the age range of 18-44.

Length of practice: 38.4 percent have practiced yoga for one year or less; 28.9 percent have practiced for one to three years; 32.7 percent have practiced for three years or longer. Continue reading

Your Brain On Yoga: Practice May Be Effective Treatment For Stress Disorders, Study Finds

(Synergy by Jasmine/Flickr)

We’ve already detailed a number of studies that show how yoga can help combat various ills, among them post-traumatic stressand mood disorders.

Last month we wrote about medical students practicing yoga while learning about a range of related research, including new studies by Chris Streeter, an associate professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine. Her work suggests that yoga may improve levels of a key neurotransmitter in the brain involved in mood and anxiety.

Well here’s Streeter’s latest article on yoga’s impact on the brain; it suggests that practicing yoga may “help in treating patients with stress-related psychological and medical conditions like depression, anxiety, high blood pressure and cardiac disease.”

Here’s the news release:

An article by researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), New York Medical College (NYMC), and the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons (CCPS) reviews evidence that yoga may be effective in treating patients with stress-related psychological and medical conditions such as depression, anxiety, high blood pressure and cardiac disease. Their theory, which currently appears online in Medical Hypotheses, could be used to develop specific mind-body practices for the prevention and treatment of these conditions in conjunction with standard treatments. Continue reading

Sex Scandal At The Yoga Studio

Continuing his reporting on the dark-side-of-yoga beat, William Broad of The New York Times broke this news yesterday: there are sex scandals in yoga too.

Broad, the author of a recent, much-hyped piece on how yoga can wreck your body comes back with another sordid story on the downside of all those down dogs, including a short history of yoga (how it started as a way to pleasure your body) and the science behind that pleasure (the postures and breathing can boost hormones and other brain chemicals to increase sexual arousal) and concludes that, well, it’s not surprising that sex and yoga are often deeply connected. My personal favorite: The concept of “thinking off.”

Here’s how Broad explains it:

…over the decades, many have discovered from personal experience that the practice can fan the sexual flames. Pelvic regions can feel more sensitive and orgasms more intense.

Science has begun to clarify the inner mechanisms. In Russia and India, scientists have measured sharp rises in testosterone — a main hormone of sexual arousal in both men and women. Czech scientists working with electroencephalographs have shown how poses can result in bursts of brainwaves indistinguishable from those of lovers. Continue reading

Downward-Facing Docs: Med Students Study Yoga To Help Patients, Selves

BU med students attend yoga class as part of their professional and personal training.

Ben Tannenbaum, a wiry first-year medical student, is under pressure.

His typical day involves about five hours of lectures and test prep — physiology, genetics and histology on a recent weekday; a mad dash off to a clinic to practice as a doctor learning physical exams and basic medical history-taking; and then, after getting home around 8:30 pm, a few more hours of work reviewing the day’s material before it all starts again the next morning.

“And that isn’t including elective courses, student organizations, research, volunteer work, or extracurricular activities that almost everyone is trying to find time for as well,” says Tannenbaum, a-24-year-old student at Boston University School of Medicine.

But on Tuesday night, the perpetual motion of Tannenbaum’s life stopped. He entered a packed classroom, rolled out his blue yoga mat and plopped down on the floor. Alongside 25 other barefoot medical students, Tannenbaum listened to a half-hour talk on “the relaxation response” and how the technique — a simple type of meditation that reduces the activity of the autonomic nervous system — can alleviate stress-related maladies, from migraines to depression.

Then everyone took a deep breath and stretched into downward-facing dog. The yoga part of the medical school’s weekly yoga course had begun.

As everyone knows, medical students are a singularly stressed-out lot. “More than 20 percent end up with depression, more than half suffer from burnout, and in any given year, as many as 11 percent contemplate suicide,” Dr. Pauline Chen writes in a New York Times report on the “toxic” nature of the medical education process.

So it makes sense to offer these overwhelmed kids de-stressors like yoga and meditation. But here, at the BU medical school’s first-ever yoga elective the aim is even broader: The faculty and instructors who launched the class hope these future doctors will be able to exploit their knowledge of yoga and its research-based benefits to someday help patients and to feel as comfortable prescribing yoga as they do Prozac. Continue reading

The Backlash: NYT On Yoga As A Body-Wrecker

Yoga: Panacea or Saboteur?

The backlash was inevitable.

With yoga studios sprouting up on nearly every urban corner and with practically every adult practicing some form of yoga or another (I’m one of them), the scary, anti-yoga stories were bound to emerge.

Here’s the latest: a massive piece in The New York Times Magazine called: “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” by science reporter William Broad, who has written a book on the topic.

The article’s nut graph goes like this:

According to Black, a number of factors have converged to heighten the risk of practicing yoga. The biggest is the demographic shift in those who study it. Indian practitioners of yoga typically squatted and sat cross-legged in daily life, and yoga poses, or asanas, were an outgrowth of these postures. Now urbanites who sit in chairs all day walk into a studio a couple of times a week and strain to twist themselves into ever-more-difficult postures despite their lack of flexibility and other physical problems. Many come to yoga as a gentle alternative to vigorous sports or for rehabilitation for injuries. But yoga’s exploding popularity — the number of Americans doing yoga has risen from about 4 million in 2001 to what some estimate to be as many as 20 million in 2011 — means that there is now an abundance of studios where many teachers lack the deeper training necessary Continue reading

Good News For Yoga, And For Your Back Pain

Yoga, as well as intense, regular stretching eases back pain, researchers report

I’ve done some kind of exercise all my life: running, dancing, tennis, aerobics, swimming.

But yoga is different. After about 8 years doing “hot” yoga in Cambridge, I no longer consider it exercise. It’s more like a total-body-mental-health-anti-aging-pain-elimination practice that I suspect I’ll do for the rest of my life. It’s not as cheap as jogging, true, but unlike other forms of exercise, I don’t really have to be “up” for yoga: I can do it when I’m tired, annoyed or feeling chubby.

So I always get a zing of pleasure when mainstream medicine acknowledges the benefits of yoga. Here’s the latest, from The New York Times: a study found that weekly 75-minute yoga classes, or a regular practice of intense stretching (sounds kind of like yoga, no?) can help relieve chronic low-back pain:

The study is the largest and most thorough to date to look at whether yoga has an effect on chronic low back pain, a problem that affects millions and has no surefire long-term remedy. Continue reading

‘Air Conditioner Breath’: Cooling Yoga For The Next Heat Wave

I’m armed and ready for the next heat wave. The CDC just sent over this link to its “extreme heat” page, with all kinds of basic public health precautions for when the mercury rises. And now I’ve got an extra secret weapon.

The moment my friend mentioned that her yoga teacher had a technique called “air-conditioner breath,” I wanted it. Of course, this was on 103-degree Friday, and I’m not feeling quite so desperate now. But in this warming world, I fear it will come in handy all too often, and I’m deeply grateful to Ceylan Akturk, a yoga teacher and therapist in the Boston area, for sharing it. She writes:

 

A key philosophical precept of yoga, handed down from the sage Patanjali, is ‘Yoga is the cessation of fluctuation.’ Every summer, the request I hear most from practitioners, family, and friends is for yogic ways to cool off when the mercury fluctuates uncomfortably upwards.

While we can’t do anything about what’s fluctuating around us, we can turn inwards, harnessing our natural central air to create balance through Śītakārī Prāṇāyāma, a cooling breathwork variation that anyone at any age or condition can do anytime, anywhere. Śītakārī, and its cousin, Śītālī, come from the Sanskrit root Śītālā, which means to cool. Benefits of this cooling breathwork include increased energy, soothing of the eyes and ears, support of the liver and spleen, improved digestion, and relief of thirst. (To learn more, see B.K.S. Iyengar’s book, Light on Pranayama.)

There are several variations of both Śītālī and Śītakārī Breath, but the version below is the one that my teacher, Bo Forbes, calls ‘Joker Breath’ for the shape of the mouth (Batman fans will understand). It’s easy for those of you who have difficulty curling the tongue:

Find a comfortable seated position, sit up tall, lift the chin parallel to the floor.
Smile widely, lips open, teeth apart, creating space in the mouth.
Take the tip of the tongue upwards, behind your upper teeth but not all the way up to the soft palate, keeping the tongue soft, like a leaf curling upwards.
Close the eyes and focus your inner gaze, or drishti, on the center of the forehead, visualizing a cool blue point. If this is difficult, lower your gaze to the floor.
Breath through the mouth with slow, deep inhales and long exhales, creating a sound somewhere between hissing and slurping as cool air circulates around the tongue. Pay attention to the turnover, allowing the inhale to flow easily into the exhale, exhale into inhale, creating a continuous flow of energy, or prana.
Do this for as long as it takes to cool off, anywhere from 3-10 minutes. Continue reading

Study: Alternative Care Going Mainstream, Docs Tell Patients To Try Yoga

An Rx For Yoga?

Aditi Nerurkar, an internist and integrative medicine fellow at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, practices yoga and meditation.

But even Dr. Nerurkar says she was surprised by the findings of a new study she co-authored, published today in The Archives of Internal Medicine. She and her colleagues found that one in 30 Americans — that’s about 6.4 million people — were referred for some kind of mind-body therapy (yoga, meditation, tai chi, relaxation, deep breathing or guided imagery, for instance) by their doctor or another health care provider.

“One in 30, that’s huge to me,” Nerurkar said. “When you think of a yoga class of 30 people, that means one has been referred by their health care provider. We were not expecting this number.”

What does it mean when even physicians are sending their patients off to do some deep breathing? Well, she said, it could mean these types of therapies — which it seems everyone is doing on their own, without a doctor’s approval, or even knowledge — are becoming more widely accepted and solidly mainstream.

The study also found that the patients who were referred by providers to these “alternative” therapies tended to be sicker, with higher co-morbidities and more heavily reliant on the health care system overall. This suggests that providers may be considering the mind-body therapies as a “last resort” for patients after other, more traditional approaches had failed, Nerurkar said.

People who had an encounter with a mental health professional and people with anxiety were also more likely to use provider-recommended mind-body therapies, the study found.

Already, about 41 million Americans use some type of mind-body therapy, and studies have shown this approach to be effective in certain areas, for instance, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, insomnia and even in some forms of cardiac disease. But Nerurkar and her colleagues were interested in finding out whether physicians were actually referring patients to get these types of treatments. “For so long, it’s all been patient-driven,” Nerurkar said. Continue reading