Tuesday, September 30, 2014

How Yoga Teaches Us to Be Kinder to Ourselves

In yoga, as in life, it's easy to start making comparisons. Not only do we compare ourselves to others, we also compare our performance on a given day to how we performed last week, last month, or last year. In some situations this can be a helpful and even necessary exercise, but when measuring our abilities in yoga, it quickly becomes detrimental. Although some people make the physical aspect of yoga the central focus of their practice, we can deepen our relationship with yoga and with ourselves if we instead approach yoga as a way to achieve mental, emotional, and spiritual growth.

Even a student who has been practicing yoga only for a short time has probably noticed that some days his body blesses him with great balance or deeper flexibility, and some days he just can't reach his toes no matter what. Rather than getting frustrated when your practice fluctuates, you can use these changes as opportunities to learn to accept your body and live in the present moment. Adopting this approach, rather than comparing yourself to previous classes or even other yogis, can help you cultivate a practice of being kinder to yourself, both in yoga and in everyday life.

Monday, September 22, 2014

How Seniors Can Enhance Their Well-Being through Yoga

An increasing number of older adults are discovering the numerous benefits—both physical and emotional—of practicing yoga. The nonprofit group Yoga Across America is one organization focused on bringing the discipline to people of all ages and backgrounds, with classes held in senior living facilities, recreation centers, public parks, and other venues.

For seniors, yoga can enhance flexibility, muscle tone, bone strength, and stamina. It can alleviate minor aches and pains and the effects of some of the physical conditions associated with aging. In addition, yoga has the potential to calm and focus the mind and to help restore mental agility. It can even take the edge off the discomforts associated with menopause. Because yoga promotes a positive mental attitude, it can also help seniors navigate some of the stressful situations of today’s fast-paced world.

Yoga has earned its reputation as a safe, individually paced practice. An older beginner should search out local classes that offer a gentle introduction, rather than jumping into an intense hot yoga workout. Many classes are specifically designed to meet the needs of senior adults, who may have to deal with some initial physical hurdles, such as tightened hamstrings or mobility issues. A gentle hatha yoga practice can be an excellent introduction. A class focused on the Iyengar style, with its use of props to accommodate special physical and structural needs, may also be a good fit. In any practice, an experienced instructor should be able to guide older beginners through a series of poses and practices that take the students individual needs into account.                          

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Role of Yoga in the Treatment of PTSD

A group study conducted in 2009 under the auspices of Major Jon Greuel involved 70 military personnel stationed in Kirkuk, Iraq. Using randomized experimental and control groups, the study looked at the impact of hatha yoga on the symptoms of combat stress in deployed members of the military. The study concluded that hatha yoga significantly reduced anxiety when compared to the control group. The yoga practitioners experienced less irritability, had more of a desire to socialize, and struggled less with concentrating and performing daily tasks. At the same time, they slept better, attended to their self-care more readily, and demonstrated improvements in mood.

Participants who regularly practiced yoga had the opportunity to share feedback about the experience. Many felt calmer and more relaxed and more than half reported an improvement in sleep patterns. More than a quarter of yoga practitioners noted other physical benefits.

This study shows the significant promise of yoga as part of a treatment plan for people struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While more research needs to be done on the direct link between yoga and the treatment of PTSD symptoms, yoga holds a great deal of promise as a real option for veterans and other people with PTSD.                            

Monday, September 8, 2014

Yoga Helps Adolescents Build Coping Skills

In today’s world, virtually all adolescents live with stress, whether from school, family, friends, or their living environment. Even small children often have a large amount of stress in their lives. Unfortunately, many children do not have the tools necessary to deal with stress in an effective manner. This inability to process stress could manifest in inappropriate, violent outbursts or steer children toward the use of drugs and alcohol. In Parker, Colorado, a yoga instructor has envisioned a different scenario. She sees yoga as a primary way of teaching coping skills. Through yoga, these children learn how to develop their sense of inner peace and discover the value of creating and maintaining quiet time devoted only to themselves.

In addition to learning how to manage stress in the present, yoga can teach children and adolescents a number of valuable lessons that they can apply in various other parts of their lives as they grow older. Through yoga, individuals can learn how to let go of stress and channel it into something productive.

On a more practical level, yoga instruction helps children and adolescents perform better at sports and avoid certain injuries because of greater flexibility.                            

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Is There a Link Between Meditation and Joyful Laughter?

A recent study conducted by researchers at Loma Linda University suggested that joyful laughter, caused by humor, elicits brain-wave frequencies that are similar to those seen in people while they meditate. The study involved 31 individuals who watched 10-minute video clips while attached to an EEG monitor, which measures brain-wave frequency densities. The videos had humorous, spiritual, or distressing tones.

When participants saw humorous videos, their brains produced high-amplitude gamma-band oscillations. Gamma frequencies are the only type of frequency found in every part of the brain, which means that humor engages the entire brain. Researchers have found similar gamma frequency patterns in people who meditate. This finding may fuel further inquiries into exactly how meditation and joyful laughter produce therapeutic effects on a biological level. Previous studies have linked laughter with lower blood pressure, better immune function, and decreased stress.

While watching spiritual videos, participants’ brains produced alpha brain bands similar to those found in individuals at rest. Distressing videos resulted in flat brain waves, which are most commonly seen in individuals who are detached or anxious.