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.
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.
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.
A very informative piece re-printed from the Johns Hopkins Website.
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.
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).
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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
People often ask me where I buy my yoga/fitness clothes. The answer is Old Navy. Although general clothing quality is hit or miss, the active clothes are well made. I’ve been wearing several pair of yoga pants for over a year and they still look new!
There is a huge selection online, however rarely, if ever are there any plus size active clothes left in the store. They must be super popular. I would strongly suggest ordering online. Free shipping for orders of $50+ and you can return to any Old Navy location.
XL is approximately a 14/16, XXL is 18/20. Some clothes are generously cut and all are stretchy. XXL would most likely fit size 22/24 in tanks and yoga pants. (really depends on the item) I’m a size 18/20 and sometimes have to size down to XL.
If you’re reading this post on July 1st, 2013, Canada Day, there is a 30% off sale today only. They often have sales, but even the regular prices are totally reasonable. With 30% off, it’s a steal! I just stocked up and am good for the next year!
Happy Canada Day!