Benefits of Yoga for Seniors

senior-yoga-2

Getting older presents many gifts—maturity, grace, wisdom, experience, and perspective, to name a few. Growing older can also carry many challenges.

Physically, it becomes harder to keep extra weight off. According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, over one third of adults 65 and older are obese.

Risk of life-threatening illnesses, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancer also increases with age. Joint stress, osteoarthritis, and other types of pain will also commonly surface as you age.

Psychologically and emotionally, seniors experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. Memory can decline, balance can be impaired, and with that, sense of self can suffer.

Not to mention the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease—which can impair the ability to have relationships and function in the world—doubles every five years after age 65.

With these statistics and more, the topic of aging often renders fear as birthdays pile up and you become eligible for social security. The good news is, there are so many things you can do to improve your overall health and well-being as a senior.

Healthy eating and exercise can assist in preventing disease, injury, and keeping your physical body in good shape, and meditation and brain training exercises can keep your mind sharp.

Yoga, especially restorative yoga, can also offer a wide array of health benefits—working physical and psychological wonders. Seniors, who often struggle with pain, joint stress, imbalance, osteoarthritis, and other physical limitations, can benefit from incorporating a yoga practice into their daily routine.

Here are just six of the many benefits of a daily yoga practice for seniors.

Yoga Improves Balance and Stability

senior-yoga-class

Many yoga poses focus on balance and stability, both incredibly important as you age. Strengthening your muscles and improving your balance prevents the likelihood of falls, which can be a common concern for elderly.

Not only does it prevent them in the first place, but an increase in strength and stability also helps seniors bounce back and recover, should a fall occur.

Yoga Improves Flexibility and Joint Health

If you’re looking for a gentle exercise that increases flexibility, yoga is a great option. Flexibility exercises such as yoga are great if your joints tend to be achy or stiff. In a study that looked at the effectiveness of yoga as an exercise to manage osteoarthritis in elderly women, researchers found that it provided therapeutic benefits.

Not only can these low-impact moves loosen your muscles, they can also tone your supporting muscles and help prevent injury.

Yoga Improves Respiration

With age comes respiratory limitations and reduced tolerance to physical exertion. Anything that reduces oxygen in the respiratory system can have negative effects on the mind and body. Recent studies have shown that a 12-week yoga program significantly improved respiratory function in elderly women.

Breathing is the foundation of life. Humans can go weeks without food, but you can’t go more than a few minutes without breath, so it’s a good idea to keep your respiratory system in tip-top shape at any age.

Yoga Reduces High Blood Pressure

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, can lead to cardiovascular disease and is the second leading cause of kidney disease. Recent studies have found that yoga reduces oxidative stress in the elderly. Oxidative stress is one of the underlying causes of high blood pressure and, especially for seniors, is a strong risk factor for heart attacks.

Yoga Reduces Anxiety

Yoga classes are calm and restorative, relaxing your body and mind—especially those geared toward seniors. When practiced regularly, yoga can reduce your sympathetic nervous system’s fight-or-flight response, which can cause inflammation of all kinds and wreak havoc on your mind and body.

Yoga practice involves focusing on the breath and slow movements, which can help trigger your parasympathetic nervous system, reducing the by products of stress and feelings of anxiety.

Yoga Encourages Mindfulness

senior-meditation

Since so much of yoga is focused on breathing and listening to your body, an added benefit is the expanded awareness of Self through practice.

As you practice yoga and become mindful of not just your body, but also of your thoughts and emotions, you will become more connected to and mindful of your environment, your community, and the world around you.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.”
-George Bernard Shaw

Can Yoga Help With Anxiety & Depression? The Answer is YES!

restorative-collage

Anxiety disorders, including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, are the most common mental illness in North America, affecting about 40 million adults. If current trends continue, it’s estimated that by the year 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of disability throughout the world. A significant amount of research has been conducted on yoga as a therapeutic tool, and evidence supports the findings that yoga can help treat depression and anxiety.

Depression and anxiety are diseases in which people experience being stuck in a cycle of negative self-talk, obsessive rumination on the past or anxiety about the future. Physical exercises that increase awareness of sensations arising from within the physical body can help people heal. Yoga connects the mind and body through the breath, creating presence and mindfulness. Mindfulness in the body is the ability to inhabit the body and be present with bodily sensation as they fluctuate from one moment to the next.

Most people aren’t aware that inside each of us, there’s a mind-body communications network that contributes to the patterns of anxiety and depression. This network includes (but is not limited to):

The autonomic nervous system: The part of the nervous system responsible for control of the bodily functions not consciously directed, such as breathing, the heartbeat, and digestive processes.

The enteric nervous system: Often called ‘the second brain’ which controls the gastrointestinal system and is the reason we get ‘butterflies in our stomach’ or need to use the restroom more frequently when we are nervous and/or under stress. The Immune System: Made up of a network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to protect the body.

The Connective Tissue Matrix: A group of tissues in the body that maintains the form of the body and its organs and provides cohesion and internal support. The connective tissues include several types of fibrous tissue that vary only in their density and cellularity, as well as the more specialized and recognizable variants—bone, ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and fascia.

To really effect change, we need to access this mind-body network and change patterns in these bodily systems.

Mindfulness may be a doorway to healing many anxiety disorders, and yoga, specifically Restorative Yoga incorporates practices to strengthen this quality. With the aim of awareness in mind, Restorative Yoga is not like the typical hot, sweaty Westernized forms of yoga that are prevalent. Restorative Yoga is a gentle, therapeutic style of yoga that uses props such as bolsters, blankets and yoga blocks to fully support the body in restful, still positions held from 5 – 10 minutes. The focus of the practice is to completely relax the muscles and very gently stretch the body, letting go of tension in the connective tissue, which includes bones, ligaments, tendons and fascia. Long holds allow time for stillness, presence, guided meditation and mind body connection and give practitioners an experience of present and safe in the moment. All of the poses are done on the floor, no standing or kneeling postures – you go down to the mat once and get up from the mat once, thus making Restorative Yoga accessible to anyone that can get up and down to the floor.

savasana-with-bolster

Savasana using a bolster to take pressure off the lower back

At FitZonePLUS, while in poses we use specific questions and cues that serve to increase a person’s awareness of the sensations in his or her body. For example, a Restorative class begins and ends with Savasana. Lying on the back, the arms and legs are spread at about 45 degrees, the eyes are closed and the breath deep. The whole body is relaxed onto the mat with an awareness of the chest and abdomen rising and falling with each breath. All parts of the body are scanned for muscular tension of any kind, which is consciously released as it is found. All control of the breath, the mind, and the body is then released for the duration of the pose, typically 10 minutes. The pose is released by slowly deepening the breath, flexing the fingers and toes, reaching the arms above the head, stretching the whole body, exhaling, bringing the knees to the chest and rolling over to the side in a fetal position. After a short time and a slow inhalation, the practitioner takes a seated position.

After completing this pose, we ask practitioners to check in with their bodies. Without judgment, how am I feeling physically? Is there any pain, tightness or tension in my body, if so, where is it? How am I feeling mentally? How deep is my breath? During final Savasana a second check in is done. This time we ask practitioners to notice any changes. To notice how their body and mind may feel different after 60 minutes of practice. Most clients notice that their body feels less tense, elongated, more open and flexible. The mind usually feels less cluttered and a sense of calm is present.

The more consistently you practice, the longer this feeling stays with you.

All types of yoga and exercise can help to ease anxiety and depression, however Restorative yoga provides more time for stillness and releasing tension from connective tissues. If you’re experiencing anxiety, depression or stress, give it a try, it may change your life!

Click here to view the FitZonePLUS class schedule. Restorative type classes on the schedule include: Happy Knees, Yin Yoga, Yin/Restorative Yoga, Reiki Restorative and Restorative yoga.

 

FitZonePLUS on Global TV News Hour

http://globalnews.ca/video/1057751/a-gym-meant-for-overweight-people

FitZonePLUS is mentioned on Global TV News Hour. It’s presented as a gym for everyone who is looking for a non judgmental, supportive, NO attitude environment.

Yoga for Change in the New Year…A Resolution?

Not everyone makes a resolution each January, but chances are you have at least once in your life made a New Year’s Resolution. Think back over past resolutions and shine a light on them. What were they all about? If you are like most people, your resolutions were to change something about yourself: either there was something that you were doing that you wanted to no longer do, or there was something that you were not doing that you vowed to start doing.

“I resolve to give up smoking, eat less, exercise more, spend more time with family, read more, finish that project, … (fill in the blank).”

These are “yang” resolution relating to activities: resolving to do something or refraining from doing something, or in other words to change yourself or your life in some way. These can be wonderful intentions and there are times, not necessarily only on January 1st, when we do need to tap into our yang energies and change the course of our lives, but to be balanced, we also need to look at the yin aspects of such intentions.

When we examine our resolutions we find that they are based on the unspoken assumption that the way we are right now is not good enough. There is a “should” lurking in our self-evaluation: we should be better, or different than we are right now. Where is that assumption coming from? Why are you not content with the way you are right now, with the way your life is right now? Whose voice is whispering in your ear that you should be different?

Balance requires consciously honouring both the yin and yang energies of life. Yang is about change, movement, passion, climbing great heights, and accomplishing great deeds. Yin is about acceptance, allowing, stillness, enjoying the present moment and doing small everyday tasks as if they were great deeds.

We are constantly urged in our society and in our culture to change, to improve, to seek what we don’t have and fix the problems we do have. Step back for a moment and really look at every ad you see, notice the way media portrays the “ideal” life, hear what advice your friends and family offer to you. It is easy to fall into the belief that however we are right now is inadequate in so many ways. And, since we are so flawed, why not vow to improve? All we need to do is buy certain products, dress in a different ways, change jobs, relationships, locale, etc.

Over the past many years, we may have done all of this and more and yet, somehow, we still feel inadequate is so many ways. This yang approach to fixing life is not yielding the promised results. It is easy to blame ourselves for this failure, and that blame just feeds into the next cycle of change: we need to try harder or do more. It is not a surprise that so many New Year’s resolutions lie broken in the gutter before the Xmas tree is taken away. We have tried in the past and still our culture deems us not yet good enough.

Let’s look at the yinside of all of this. What is there about yourself that you can simply accept and not try to change? After all these years of trying to change, select something that you will simply allow to just be.

This is not easy! It is counter-cultural and counterintuitive. Some examples could be: 

“I resolve to accept my body just as it is right now!”  
“I resolve not to allow my fear/anxiety get in the way of allowing me to try a yoga class.”        
“I resolve to make a holistic lifestyle chance that I can continue for life, not just for January.”
“I resolve to let … (fill in the blank) … just be”

Perhaps in years past you resolved to give up something, to lose weight, or stop eating desserts or you gave up chocolate (gasp!) The shadow side of that yang decision may have been losing joy and comfort as you deliberately restricted the amount of pleasure you allowed yourself. As a consequence you were unhappy and this unhappiness spread to the loved ones in your life.
This is not to say that these yang resolutions were unwise, but rather to point out that every decision and action has a consequence to it. The key question to ask yourself is, “Am I better having made these resolutions in the past?” It is up to you to define “better” – healthier, happier, more content, more balanced… If you do not believe you are better off, then it is time to revisit the intention behind your resolutions.

This year, why not resolve to accept something about yourself that you will no longer try to change or improve! You may even decide that this is the year that you accept something about someone else and vow to no longer try to change him or her! Sure, go ahead and consciously make a yang resolution to do or not do something, but why not add a yin resolution this New Year’s?  What are you going to accept, allow and no longer try to change this year?

Let 2014 be your year of yin.

CBC The National interviews Suzanne Gracan, Owner, FitZonePLUS for The Obesity Myth

It was a bittersweet experience. The CBC called me to asking if they could interview me an possibly a client or two at my studio for a piece called The Obesity Myth. Regardless of the fact that they gave me 40 minutes notice on one of my busiest days of the week, of course I said yes.

They interviewed myself, a client and Karla, one of my yoga and zumba instructors. Relevent questions were asked, excellent answers were given. We even staged a mini yoga class for the camera.

The next day, I got a call from the producer asking if she could come to my home to film footage of me riding my bike. (I has said in the interview that I regularly bike 30K’s) I dropped everything again and made room in my schedule. Anything to benefit FitZonePLUS!

The piece was picked up for the 6pm nightly news in all markets across Canada, The National (canada’s biggest news program), radio and print. I was elated; I stayed up all night making my website more presentable for the thousands of people who would learn about FitZonePLUS. Imagine my surprise when I was introduced as Suzanne Gracan, not Suzanne Gracan, Owner of FitZonePLUS. My client was featured for a few seconds too. FitZonePLUS was never even mentioned. It seems all they wanted was a ‘fit fat person’ to be featured in the piece. The only question that actually made it into the piece was ‘Can you be overweight and fit?’. They used the footage of me biking and the mini yoga class, but didn’t say where we were, who we were or why we were being interviewed. In fact, I appear in the piece longer than the Doctor who wrote the study! By not explaining why they were interviewing me, I had no credibility, zero. To say that I was disappointed is putting it lightly.

I have no advertising budget; FitZonePLUS has grown from 2 – 26 classes per week stricyly by referral and social media. The words, Suzanne Gracan, Owner of FitZonePLUS, would have made all the difference! The people watching the piece, feeling even more desperate about their health, would have known there is a safe, non judgmental place they can come to get healthier. FitZonePLUS is the only business of it’s kind I know of in North America. A supportive, non judgemental, NO attitude studio, where everyone will always be treated with respect and doesn’t have to worry about humiliation or harrassment of any kind.

Sadly, CBC used me. What can I do about this…nothing, but learn from the experience. (well there is an investigation in progress to determine whether the producer breached policy, but all that is likely to bring is an apology)

Click below to view the piece that appeared on CBC, The National on December 3, 2013. (you can fast forward through the commercials)

CBC The National Interviews Suzanne Gracan, Owner, FitZonePLUS

Check Out the Excellent FitZonePLUS Review at YummyMummyClub.ca!

Yoga For All Shapes and Sizes 
FitZonePLUS Aims to Make Everyone Comfortable at Its Studio  
by:  Liis Windischmann

Have you ever gone to a gym or fitness studio and felt so intimidated you wanted to leave? FitZone PLUS owner Suzanne Gracan can relate. She was active and involved in sports until an accident in 2001 left her barely able to walk for two years. After gaining over 120 pounds, a mixture of yoga and acupuncture helped her get back in action. But her experiences in yoga studios were not ideal. At her size, she wasn’t able to do all the poses and instead of being shown modifications to boost her confidence and master them in a way that worked for her body, she was told “just do your best.” She wanted to channel the shame and embarrassment she felt into something positive creating a small plus-size yoga class in 2002. She eventually opened FitZone PLUS in 2011 with just two classes — but those two classes sold out from day one! In two short years, demand for classes has grown so much that the company needed to move to a larger location.

As of this week, FitZone PLUS has a new, much larger home in Toronto’s Danforth area, a short walk from Chester subway station. The extra space will allow for even more classes — and not all just yoga. While FitZone PLUS specializes in beginner, plus-size and senior demographics, everyone is welcome to its many yoga, zumba, and personal training classes. Plans are now underway to introduce a kids’ program as well as classes for parents and their children. Other new classes will continue to be added as the company grows into its new space so be sure to visit the site often for updates!

If you are looking for some really fun events to stimulate you mind, body and soul, there are also some great workshops being offered. You can release your inner vixen with Burlesque 101 happening Saturday, October 26th or perhaps learn some tai chi. How about a little Sunday Zen Getaway on November 3rd with four workshops, mini massages and lunch? There are lots of options with new events being regularly added to the fun lineup and if you are interested in a future retreat, contact the studio to request info. No need to feel intimidated at this studio — no matter what shape your shape is in, all the caring instructors are trained to make your experience a positive one!

 

 

               

 

Introducing: Happy Knees Yoga!

I have had a knee injury all summer and have been limited to restorative yoga only. One day there was only one other person in the class, who also had a knee injury. I asked the instructor if she could teach a non-restorative class that only required getting up and down from the mat once – getting up and down really hurt. The class was fantastic and consisted of seated cat and cow, seated twists, supine twists, bends using props, leg stretches with straps, seated sun salutations and a few restorative poses at the end. We were stunned, the class worked out our whole body and it was also super relaxing with no pressure on the kness at all. Happy Knees Yoga was born!

If you’ve stayed away from or found yoga classes too difficult because you have sensitive knees/joints or find it difficult to get up and down from the floor for other reasons, this is the class for you. All poses in a Happy Knees Yoga class will be done on the mat either seated or lying on the back or side. You only go down to the mat once and get up once. There will be zero pressure on the knees, yet you will get a full workout and it’s very relaxing because it ends with a few restorative poses. There will be chairs provided to help you get up and down if you require them. Note…this class is not meant to strengthen knees, but to stay off them completely. Happy Knees Yoga would also be appropriate to those with arthritis and joint pain and for others who just want a gentle class which still provides a good workout. This class is appropriate for everyone including absolute beginners, no flexibility required!

The class starts on September 12th and runs on Thursdays from 7:00 – 8:00pm.

Visit http://www.fitzone-plus.com for more information or to register for the class.

“Yoga Body”: The Conspiracy

Posted on January 24, 2012 by

 

I thought I’d said all I wanted on body image and yoga in my last post but controversy in the yoga world regarding a certain video has left me feeling I didn’t say nearly enough. Or say it clearly enough. So let me try again.

The taut and toned ‘yoga body’ on display in the media marketplace is a lie. It is NOT obtained from a regular yoga routine (as many would have you believe) – no , its obtained at the price of constant work, a Herculean effort to burn calories, and a saintly denial of carbs.

The implication that rippling abs can be yours with a couple of yoga classes a week is obviously motivated by profit. It is the creation of yoga studios who want you to buy more classes, and of corporations who want you to buy all the necessary yoga accoutrements your ‘yoga body’ needs (pants, mats, water bottles, mat holders, towels, mat cleansing mists, and even your underwear).

But the point of this post is the shocking depth to which this lie has permeated the yoga world. It seems no one, not even half-starved yoga superstars, will admit that the emperor has no clothes.

Case in point, Kathryn Budig’s article in Huffington Post pleading with us to stop judging her and other yoginis who strip down to sell products. Budig’s post defends a video advertisement in which we spy upon the early morning yoga routine of a near naked limber yogini Briohny Kate-Smyth who is performing in Budig’s words “awe inducing asana in her lingerie”.

Set in a luxurious bedroom, with a handsome young lover asleep on an acre wide bed (on what are doubtless 800 thread count sheets) the yogini moves with complete and awe-inspiring control over her body against a backdrop of wall to wall windows (revealing the skyscrapers of capitalistic success). The camera lovingly caresses each part of her cellulite free body, her concave belly, her taut buttocks, her ripped biceps.

The video’s tag line reads “Equinox’s Briohny Kate-Smyth shows there’s no limit to what the artfully honed yoga body can do.” Her discipline and control (and sexy underwear), the ad implies, have given her the power to have it all.

Budig is the naked ‘yoga body’ in the famous Toe Sox ad for which she received much pillory and now the feet of her former student  Smyth are similarly on the fire.  Budwig defends Briohny and herself against criticisms that these ads sexually objectify women by stating “ Our intention was to inspire and show the beauty of a body that practices regular yoga.”

Umm what?

Most of the following commentary on Budig’s article and Briohny’s Equinox ad, veers between two poles – this is just the same ole sexual objectification of women versus those who claim it is glorification of the beauty of the female form.

But what no one seems to mention, is the glaringly obvious fact (at least to me) that this is NOT what a body that regularly practices yoga looks like – and I’ve been practicing yoga for 15 years for Pete’s sake!

C’mon folks, let’s get real. The body featured in the Equinox ad is not result of regular yoga practice, it’s the body of a finely honed athlete, a dancer, someone who pushes their body to the limits. This is a body in training – but in training for what? To mistake yoga for a performance or a competitive sport goes a long way explaining why yoga “wrecks your body” as the recent article causing such a furor in the yoga world points out.

To think that one emerges carved and rail thin as a result of a regular yoga routine begs the question – what kind of routine are we talking about? A punishing daily routine of Power Yoga in 101 degree temperature is what.

The ‘yoga body’ is a fiction, and its a fiction judging by the favorable commentary on Budig’s post and the video, that many are buying. Numerous comments in the thread were positively yearning ” ….“I only practice yoga twice a week and know that I’ll never achieve that, but it’s still a goal to work toward….. I only hope to achieve your level after years of practice… I’m inspired even though I just got started with yoga….The control she has of her body is astounding! This is inspiring me to take up yoga!”

Comments like these are why I believe we have a responsibility, however tiring it has become, to continue stating the obvious. Yoga blogger Roseanne Harvey points out that protesting such advertising only feeds into the marketing strategy of nude yoga campaigns.

She writes “I’m starting to think that the best policy is to let my silence speak louder than my words… because this is what the brand wants (this is the intention behind the video: not to show a “powerful” or “empowered” or “beautiful” practice; it’s viral marketing, and its ROI – return on investment – is determined by how many people are talking about it, how many click-throughs they get).”

Blogger Carol Horton, in her comment on Harvey’s post, agrees that silence might make these ads less viral but she also suggests that “ there are in fact some people out there who are learning something from these arguments.”

Yes precisely. Silence is a plausible strategy if the target of such campaigns were mature yogini’s such as Harvey – but they’re not. The target is those young women at risk of eating disorders and depression, who on seeing this ad might feel they don’t measure up. Who might feel that if they just pushed themselves further, ate a little less…and so the cycle of eating disorders and depression continues.

Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of women out there already practicing yoga, who by comparing themselves with this image, might just think there’s something wrong with them….maybe if they just worked a little harder, ate a little less….

But I don’t think the debate should be about whether such advertising objectifies women, of course it does -the debate is about what we can do about the underlying attitudes that allow it to flourish.

The real questions no one is asking are these – why do so few yoga teachers admit that they work hard to maintain their fat-free physiques?Why does the yoga world, from the cover of Yoga Journal to the glossy advertising of main stream studios, continue to display the “yoga body “ as a norm? Where are the images of average woman with rounded thighs and obvious bellies, women who practice yoga with regularity and passion?

Perhaps they are absent, if we are honest with ourselves, because we don’t want to give up the fiction? Ads like Equinox transfix because we have bought into the underlying premise that the yoga body is worth having, that it is a currency by which we purchase success .

Women have mistakenly conflated power and control in the world, with power and control over our bodies. And without a doubt, it is an assumption that the corporate world works to exploit and ever aggrandize.

Lets face it, the yoga body is not a healthy ideal. It is a body overworked and underfed. It is not the result of regular yoga classes but the result of a narcissistic obsession with working out. And it is driven less by empowerment than by feeling ‘fat and inferior’ as Briohny herself states in Budig’s post.

This is the Beauty Myth, that feminist author Naomi Wolf has written so eloquently about. A myth that by keeping us chained to self loathing, robs us of energy, time and money, and prevents us from achieving real power in the world.

Yoga for Arthritis: Benefits of Yoga for Arthritis

A very informative piece re-printed from the Johns Hopkins Website.

Introduction

Holistic (or mind-body integrating) movement practices with origins in eastern philosophy and culture are receiving a great deal of attention recently. For many adults, yoga, t’ai chi, qi gong, and various dance forms are joining the treadmill and exercise bike as way to safely and effectively increase physical activity. Having arthritis should not prevent individuals from trying these alternatives to traditional exercise. However, for many people, yoga, in particular may bring to mind pretzel-like poses requiring considerable strength and balance. In reality, beginner yoga classes provide simple, gentle movements that gradually build strength, balance, and flexibility – all elements that may be especially beneficial for people with arthritis. In this article, Steffany Haaz MFA, a professional choreographer, certified movement analysis (CMA), registered yoga teacher (RYT) and Research Coordinator with the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center will demystify yoga for arthritis patients and their providers.

Restorative Yoga

Restorative Yoga

What is yoga?

Yoga is a set of theories and practices with origins in ancient India. Literally, the word yoga comes from a Sanskrit work meaning “to yoke” or “to unite.” It focuses on unifying the mind, body, and spirit, and fostering a greater feeling connection between the individual and his/her surroundings. Yoga has spiritual roots, with the main goal of helping individuals to realize true happiness, freedom, or enlightenment. Beyond this, however, yoga has several secondary goals, such as improving physical health and enhancing mental well-being and emotional balance(1).

As interest in yoga has increased in western countries over the last few decades, yoga postures are increasingly practiced devoid of their original spiritual context, solely for physical health benefits. This physical practice of yoga, often called Hatha Yoga, sometimes overlaps or includes references to the other aspects of yoga. A popular misconception is that yoga focuses merely on increasing flexibility. The practice of Hatha Yoga also emphasizes postural alignment, strength, endurance and balance. Table 1 offers an overview of several of the more common styles of Hatha yoga (including those most appropriate for people with arthritis).

Restorative Yoga - Legs Up The Wall Pose

Restorative Yoga – Legs Up The Wall Pose

What are the benefits of yoga?

Over 75 scientific trials have been published on yoga in major medical journals. These studies have shown that yoga is a safe and effective way to increase physical activity that also has important psychological benefits due to its meditative nature. As with other forms of exercise, yoga can increase muscle strength, improve flexibility, enhance respiratory endurance, and promote balance(2-4). Yoga is also associated with increased energy and fewer bodily aches and pains.(5, 6) Finally, yoga is associated with increased mental energy as well as positive feelings (such as alertness and enthusiasm), fewer negative feelings (reduced excitability, anxiety, aggressiveness) and somatic complaints(5, 6). In summary, yoga is associated with a wide range of physical and psychological benefits that may be especially helpful for persons living with a chronic illness.

Additionally, physical activity is an essential part of the effective treatment of osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), according to treatment guidelines published by the American College of Rheumatology(7, 8). In persons with arthritis, exercise is safe and does not exacerbate pain or worsen disease(9-12). In fact, exercise may play a key role in promoting joint health(13), since those who do not exercise often suffer more joint discomfort than those who do(14). The health and psychological benefits of exercise are widely recognized(15, 16). However, regular physical activity is especially important for people with arthritis, who often have decreased muscle strength, physical energy, and endurance(17), in part due to their arthritis and the tendency to be sedentary(18). Being sedentary can began a downward spiral where pain increases, leading to more inactivity which leads to greater pain and disability. The psychological benefits of exercise such as stress reduction, fewer depressive symptoms, improved coping and well-being and enhanced immune functioning(19-22) also contribute to greater overall health.

Have scientific studies of yoga been done in arthritis patients?

While there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence of the benefits of yoga (just visit any yoga studio), to date only a handful of scientific studies have been conducted on persons with OA and RA (though several more are currently underway). These early studies have shown promising results with some improvement in joint health, physical functioning, and mental/emotional well-being(23-25). Perhaps most importantly, yoga has an important positive effect on quality of life. People with arthritis may also enjoy yoga more than traditional forms of exercise, and exercise enjoyment is an important predictor of adherence(26, 27). This is particularly important considering that, on average, 50% of sedentary individuals will drop out of exercise within 6 months(28).

In summary, yoga can be a meaningful and enjoyable alternative to traditional forms of exercise such as aerobics or aquatic exercise with important health benefits. Yoga can play an important role in reducing stress and frustration that results from pain and disability, and increasing positive feelings and wellbeing. Drug treatments for OA and RA have improved markedly in the last few years. Despite this, arthritis cannot be cured, and even the best medications and medical care can only help so much. There is a great need for additional activities patients can do to reduce pain, disability, and take control of the overall impact arthritis may have on their lives. Thus, the evidence suggests that, when combined with a program of good medical care, yoga may provide important additional physical and psychological health benefits for arthritis patients. Scientists at Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center hope to be at the forefront of exploring this relationship through rigorously conducted clinical research trials.

If you are interested in learning more about yoga, read on. We hope you will find the following information and resources useful.

Gentle Yoga Class - Perfect for Those With Arthritis

Gentle Yoga Class – Perfect for Those With Arthritis

What is the best way to try yoga?

Yoga can be a safe and effective form of physical activity, but as with any new activity, it is important to take proper precautions. Talk with your doctor and ask specifically if there should be any limitations or restrictions your doctor wants you to observe. (If your doctor has specific recommendations, ask for them in writing and give this to the yoga instructor.) The best introduction to yoga is generally a beginner class, led by a qualified teacher who can guide you in the safe and healthy execution of modified poses.

How do I find a qualified yoga instructor and yoga classes?

The Yoga Alliance is the national certifying body for yoga instructor and facilities. You can search the Yoga Alliance website for a list of certified yoga instructors in your area. You can contact an instructor directly for information about classes and/or private instruction. Private lessons will be more costly, but will ensure that you receive proper attention and guidance, particularly if you are just beginning, or have special needs or concerns related to your arthritis.

Another option is to find a yoga studio in your area (the phone book is a good resource). Some yoga studios may offer specialized classes for older individuals or people with arthritis or other mobility challenges. Beginning or Gentle Yoga classes also are widely available in YMCAs, health clubs, community and seniors centers. Always ask about the credentials of instructors at these locations. When attending your first class, be sure to arrive a few minutes early and take time to introduce yourself to the instructor and explain your condition. If your doctor has placed any specific restrictions or limitations on physical activity, tell the instructor about these before the class begins.

Questions you should ask when selecting a class

  1. What is the style of yoga offered in the class? The combination of asanas (poses) and pranyama (breathing practices) is generically called “Hatha Yoga.” Because yoga has been passed down through many teachers to many students, many schools or styles have emerged with different methods of practice. Some of these styles are fairly gentle and safe for students with arthritis, while others should generally be avoided. See Table 1 for more information about various styles of Hatha Yoga.
  2. Is the instructor certified? Yoga Alliance is the accrediting body for yoga instructors worldwide. Being certified by Yoga Alliance requires a minimum level of training in techniques, anatomy/physiology, teaching methodology, philosophy/ethics, and practical experience. You can find a certified teacher by visiting the Yoga Alliance and searching in your area.
  3. Do you offer beginner or gentle yoga classes? Some classes combine students with varied experience, and provide modifications for each level. Especially when first beginning to practice yoga, it is helpful to be in a class geared toward beginning students.
  4. How long has the instructor been teaching? While this is not always the case, teachers with more experience are often more adept at modifying poses for each individual and are likely to have continued training for students with special needs.
  5. Does the instructor have a medical background or experience teaching students with arthritis? This is an ideal scenario. Try to find a teacher who is familiar with your condition and can guide you in making the proper adjustments for your body. Short of this, classes offered through hospitals or medical settings are often supervised or overseen by medical staff.

What can I expect to do in a beginning yoga class?

There are three main components to most western yoga classes: poses (asanas), breathing techniques (pranyama), and relaxation. Some classes will also include additional elements such as meditation or chanting.

The types of poses that are usually included in beginning or gentle yoga classes are simple standing and seated poses. This introduction helps students to increase their awareness of the body and its relationship to space in a safe and gradual manner. Many people have fears that they may be asked to try standing on their heads or twisting into a pretzel-like position. These practices are part of yoga, but are only recommended for very advanced practitioners and will not be included in beginner classes. Additionally, an important aspect of yoga is that it is non-competitive. Students work at their own ability level, being sure to respect the body and its limitations. You should never go beyond what is comfortable and reasonable and a good yoga instructor will help you determine what is appropriate for you in each pose. All yoga poses can be modified for your safety and comfort, to accommodate any special needs you may have.

Components of a Yoga Class

Asanas Asanas are a series of poses designed to bring about greater health and well being. The poses are combined in a predictable sequence that addresses strength, flexibility, and balance of the whole body. Poses are held for variable lengths, depending on the experience on the participant, characteristics of the pose and the style of yoga being practiced. Most poses can be easily modified to account for a student’s level of experience and physical condition. Some teachers utilize props, such as blocks, straps, or blankets to help students adjust challenging poses. While originally, the asanas were created to prepare the body for sitting still in meditation, they have evolved as a physical practice and are considered by many to be a moving meditation themselves.

Asanas are the yoga practices that require the most guidance and special attention for individuals with arthritis. If something seems too challenging or causes discomfort, you and the instructor can arrive at an appropriate modification.

Pranyama Breath is an important aspect of many yoga classes. Movement should be connected with the breath throughout yoga practice. In some poses, this means moving one direction on an inhale and the opposite direction on an exhale. Some teachers also instruct students to hold a pose for a particular number of breaths. Independent of the asanas there is another set of breathing practices to invigorate or calm the body and mind, which should only be practiced with a qualified instructor. A good resource for learning more about breathing practices is “Science of Breath” A Practical Guide” by Alan Hymes, MD.

The breathing techniques taught in beginner yoga classes are generally safe for anyone, including those with asthma or COPD, as long as they feel comfortable. If you have a lung condition, you may want to speak with your doctor about the safety of advanced breathing practices, and be sure to tell your yoga instructor about any concerns you might have.

Deep Relaxation At the closing of class, most teachers incorporate some type of relaxation for somewhere between 1 and 15 minutes. This is usually done in Savasana or Corpse Pose (lying on the back with eyes closed). The purpose of this relaxation is to absorb the stress and tension-reducing benefits of the asanas, so that a sense of calm and ease will carry over from the practice after the class had ended. It also relates to the original purpose of Hatha practice, relaxing the body so that it can remain completely quiet for a more meaningful meditation. In American yoga classes, the deep relaxation is often considered a reward at the end of class, though for the restless, it can often be the most challenging.

Deep relaxation is beneficial for all persons and generally requires no modification. If you are pregnant, or if lying on your back for prolonged periods is painful, your yoga instructor can suggest alternate poses for relaxation.

Meditation Some classes include brief periods of seated meditation before or after the asana practice. During these times, some instructors give guidance on how to approach meditation. It is a time to quiet and focus the mind, relieving it of the unnecessary clutter of trivial thoughts that stream in and out during the day. This discipline of the mind is said to allow greater spiritual awakening, but can also simply provide relief from the day’s stresses. Meditation can have any focus, such as the breath, an image, an idea or affirmation, a sound, or a personal prayer.

Modifications to the traditional cross-legged seating pose are an option for those with arthritis. Other seated positions can be used, and props such as a chair or block may be helpful.

Chanting Sound vibrations can be very powerful, capable of breaking glass, or even causing an avalanche. The healing properties involved with making various sounds have also recently been studied(30). Beyond healing, chants have historically served the purpose of unifying communities, or fostering an individual sense of spirituality. Not all yoga classes incorporate chanting, but some more traditional styles consider chanting to be an essential aspect of Hatha practice. Most chants in yoga class incorporate words for peace (Shanti) or words that have no translation, but are said to reflect natural universal vibrations (Om). If you don’t feel like joining in with the chant, it is perfectly acceptable just to listen. It is important to note that, unlike singing, there is no judgment of quality in chant. It is a sound, not a song that is being created, though it is often beautiful and moving. (For more information on chanting, see Robert Gass, “Chanting: Discovering Spirit in Sound.”)(31).

No modifications are required for people with arthritis.

Can I practice yoga even if I am relatively sedentary and inflexible?

Absolutely. In fact, individuals with limited range of motion or poor flexibility, due to arthritis or otherwise, may benefit the most from yoga practice, as it can increase flexibility, strength, and balance. Even if you are unable to kneel or have difficulty getting up and down, modifications are available. There are some “chair yoga” classes that are taught entirely in a seated position! It may feel a bit disheartening at first when challenges arise, but overcoming such judgments and accepting where you are is an important part of yoga.

A core concept of yoga is to always honor what will allow you to benefit most from the practice. Your yoga teacher will emphasize the importance of always listening to your body, recognizing your current limitations, and approaching your yoga practice from there. Yoga is not competitive, and the focus should not be on how the pose looks (aside from ensuring safe anatomical alignment). It is about experiencing a connection of the body and mind through the breath. While there are some yoga poses that do require a great deal of flexibility, strength, and balance, those poses should only be attempted by very experienced yogis and are NOT for beginners or persons with activity limitations. Again, a good yoga teacher will provide alternatives and modifications to all activities so that students can work within their levels of comfort.

Are there any poses people with arthritis should avoid?

The general rule for arthritis patient (and people in general) is that if it hurts, stop. The old adage of “no pain, no gain” does not apply to yoga, particularly if you have activity limitations. When doing backbends, arthritis patients should keep them relatively small and be aware not to hyper-extend the neck, keeping the head in line with the rest of the spine. For those with arthritis of the hip, be cautious when doing “hip openers” or poses with extreme external rotation of the hips. Generally, you will notice pain if you are going too far with the pose, but sometimes the effects are not felt until the next day. It is important to be gentle with your practice, especially at first. If you do not experience any pain after a few days, you can decide to gradually increase the intensity of the poses. There have also been some indications that strength training targeted at the quadriceps muscles might not be recommended for those with malaligned or lax knees(29). However, interventions that balance opposite muscle groups and exercises that improve muscle awareness (such as yoga) might help stabilize the knee. As with any condition, it is important to be cautious and pay attention to your body. Also, be sure to consult your doctor and instructor if you experience any pain or difficulty resulting from yoga practice.

What should I bring to my first yoga session?

Wear comfortable clothing that allows for full movement of the body. If the clothing is too loose, the instructor will be less able to guide you in proper alignment, but it should also not be restrictive. Clothing specially designed for yoga is available, but unnecessary. Yoga is traditionally practiced barefoot, though it may be possible to wear socks at the start of class, until the body warms up. “Sticky” mats are used in modern yoga practice to provide some cushioning and prevent slipping. Some studios or gyms will supply mats for general use. You may want to inquire about this in advance. Also, be sure to bring water or an empty container for filling, in case they are not supplied. It is important to stay hydrated during any physical activity.

Can I practice yoga at home?

While not recommended for those who are completely new to yoga, as you become more confident and experienced, you may want to supplement classes with home practice. There are also many yoga books and videos available, but they do not necessarily address the needs of arthritis patients. The Arthritis Foundation has a video titled “Yoga for Arthritis – Pathways to Better Living with Arthritis and Related Conditions” and can be found through stores and online retailers. You can also visit their website. While the video is safe for most patients with arthritis, it cannot provide the same level of supervision and individual attention offered by working with a qualified instructor.

FitZonePLUS offers several different types of classes appropriate for people with arthritis including, Restorative, Gentle Restorative Flow and soon we will offer a class called Happy Knees Yoga. www.fitzone-plus.com

To the Guys Who Threw Eggs at Me Tonight

This is a powerful, powerful piece about fat shaming and how one brave, kick ass, witty and wonderful and inspring person dealt with it. I’m doing my best to help become viral – everyone NEEDS to read this.

Dances With Fat

Who throws and eggI was five miles into a nine mile training walk for my upcoming marathon when your car pulled up beside me, I didn’t think much of it until I heard you yell “HEY FAT BITCH!”  I stopped and turned to look at you and you took that opportunity to throw 2 eggs and, somewhat inexplicably, an empty egg carton, at me. (Picture at the bottom of this blog)

To recap – adult males threw the eggs and carton at me for daring to exist outside my house in a fat body.  Of course they are utter cowards who sped away immediately, leaving me with so many questions:

  • First of all, how did you come to have 2 eggs and an egg carton in your car? Did you throw the first ten at other fatties, or are you now dealing with 10 eggs and no carton in your car?
  • Were these…

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