Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bent on Learning: Why Increased Accessibility to Yoga Is a Vital Endeavor

-Eddie Stern-

As a yoga teacher since 1989, I am at the point where I am almost embarrassed to say that it is what I do because it can sound like such a cliche. Everyone does yoga; sometimes it feels like everyone sells yoga. The yoga scene, which has always been pretty wacky (think the Omnipotent Oom's yoga harem of the early 1900's), seems to be getting wackier by the day (suede yoga mat bags, anyone?).

Yoga in India was originally -- and by originally I mean more or less 3,000 years ago -- practiced by those living on society's fringes: those intrepid seekers of reality that left the cities and their Vedic lifestyles to search out truth, freedom and liberation. Vedas are the revealed sacred texts of the Hindus, and to be Vedic is to belong to the Hindu culture that produced and abided by the Vedas.

While in America there are certainly are many practicing yoga with profound sincerity, it seems as though they are dwarfed by a multi-billion dollar industry that is largely focused on, well, selling stuff that we don't really need to practice yoga.
Anyway, let it be. That spirit of commercialism and consumerism has helped to make yoga a household word, and that's not an entirely bad thing. I believe that increased accessibility to yoga is a positive result of yoga's modernization.

Why do I believe this? Because everyone experiences suffering. Suffering is undiscriminating and it comes to all who live on this planet. Yoga affirms, though, that there is a way to deal with it: by practicing yoga poses, by breathing consciously for a few minutes each day, and by being attentive, thoughtful human beings, we can mitigate the mental torments we all experience.

One example of how yoga has become a mainstream practice can be seen in the New York City public school system. Schools are coming to realize that yoga is helpful for public students who deal with many sources of stress and trauma on a daily basis.

I serve on the board of a nonprofit organization called Bent On Learning, founded in 2001 by Anne Desmond, Jennifer Ford and Courtney McDowell. To date we have taught over 9,000 school children, and currently serve over 1,500 children per week, in 10 schools. If yoga remained esoteric and mysterious, rather than mainstream, Bent On Learning would not be able to have such a strong presence in NYC public schools. In fact, we most likely would not have a waitlist of schools from the Bronx to Brooklyn, eager for yoga classes.

Interestingly, my late teacher, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, was deeply committed to creating a yoga syllabus in the Indian school system. I did not know this when I was first studying with him, and found this out only much later after I became involved with yoga in the schools. He saw the importance of training children from an early age to be conscious of their bodies, health and the ability to strengthen their minds before unhealthy habits took root -- habits that later in life are much more difficult to reverse.

I am convinced that yoga belongs in schools, especially in NYC public schools. Out of a seven-hour school day, children in most public schools get only 15 minutes for lunch and 15 minutes for recess. Only 56 percent of NY's 1.5 million public school kids are of a healthy weight. Many schools have painted a walking track around the perimeter of their cafeterias so the kids can walk in circles to get exercise. They have to walk in the cafeterias because many schools have no gym facilities. Forty-three percent of NY's 1,450 public schools do not even have a gym teacher. Coupled with constant exam preparation, cohabitated schools and overcrowded classrooms, the DOE clearly could use some help getting children to exercise.

A proven fact is that children need to move to be healthy, and healthy kids are happy kids, and better learners. Cooped up kids, exploding with the energy of youth, are not happy kids! BOL has a simple and practical solution to this problem: yoga in the classroom. By moving the desks to the side of the room, the classroom is transformed into a yoga room, a haven for relaxation and stress reduction, and in which the children can learn skills for healthy movement, healthy breathing and concentration.

In a realm where the popular phrase 'giving back' is heard in association with such endeavors like BOL, I would prefer to think that groups such as BOL are not 'giving back,' but simply giving. Why patronize the intelligent, vital kids we are teaching? We need them as much as they need us, for they are the future of this world, and it is our duty to help however we can.

The spirit of yoga is the removal of suffering; it is the central tenet of the earliest texts. As I stated earlier, everyone suffers: inner city kids, their teachers, the wealthy who summer in East Hampton. Suffering is undiscriminating and comes to all who live on this planet. Yoga provides tools to cultivate stability, good health, mental focus, relaxation and compassion. Bent On Learning lives by this simple prescription. The children who take our classes find that it makes them happy, and perhaps a little healthier. In the BOL syllabus book, the first definition we give of yoga is that yoga is a practice of kindness. I can't think of anything more worthwhile to practice in life.
- Eddie Stern is the Director of Ashtanga Yoga New York and Sri Ganesha Temple in NYC.
- For more information about Bent on Learning, check out
- Originally printed

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Yogi Tips to Weighing Less and Living Better

New York - Stress eating is not the answer to depression, sadness or chronic mood swings, and yet, it is very common for people to use food as a healing mechanism. How come? How do we fight it? What is the better solution? Donnalynn Civello says, “It is through an in-depth understanding of our relationship to food that we begin to empower ourselves to make the right choices for our personal growth and development.” New York Yoga is proud to host Donnalynn’s workshop: A Yoga Body in Balance on Wednesday, May 26th, 7:00pm – 8:30pm.

We’ve all been there. It’s been a long day, work was awful, and you’re stressed out. Do you turn to the healthy dinner plans you came up with earlier in the week or the left over chocolate cake waiting in the refrigerator? The answer’s easy right – the stressful day justifies the chocolate cake. You earned it and you’ll feel better… right? Wrong!

Stress eating, or emotional attachment to food, can exasperate the stressors you are trying to resolve. Controlling your diet can lead to a happier, healthier you, and can be a power tool for self-transformation. Better understanding our relationship with food allows us to take a closer look at emotional, mental and physical disharmony.

Our diet plays a big role in our ability to bring about balance on and off our mats. A yoga body is a clean body. Unfortunately, today's daily diet is filled with toxins that inhibit the body from achieving an optimum state of emotional, mental and physical balance which is required for any successful yoga practice. Come learn how you can get your yoga body in balance with Donnalynn at New York Yoga!

-New York Yoga, your neighborhood yoga studio, is an Upper East Side studio offering over 100 classes a week. Classes range from Vinyasa to Restorative to Mom & Baby and Kids Yoga. New York Yoga HOT, will turn up the heat with a hot vinyasa flow class.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ellen DeGeneres "Yoga should calm you down!"

These days, exercise for Ellen is as much about slowing down and unplugging from a crazy, two-job lifestyle as it is about staying fit. "I first started doing power yoga in L.A., which really makes no sense. Power yoga? It's the opposite of what it should be. Yoga should calm you down!"

Read more about Ellen's committment to yoga and healthy living here, at

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

91 Year Old Yoga Instructor Hard At Work

Tao Porchun-Lynch on 

Tao Porchon-Lynch learned yoga while growing up in India, in the former French colony of Pondicherry, but she didn't become an instructor until half a century later.

For much of her career, she danced, modeled and acted in India, France, England and California. She appeared in Hollywood movies and on television before landing a job with UniTel in the 1960s, establishing TV stations in India. "I was playing with life," she says. "There was so much to do and so little time to do it."
Porchon-Lynch has taught yoga since the 1970s and certified 400 other teachers. Until recently, she was able to suspend herself by her hands in the full-lotus and peacock positions before she broke her wrist. She's still a competitive ballroom dancer, despite undergoing hip replacement five years ago. "I'm not going to give up," Porchon-Lynch says. "I'm going to dance and do yoga for as long as I live."

By Aaron Smith, staff writer

Check out her website:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

M. D. Anderson receives 4.5 million grant, largest ever for study of yoga and cancer

Phase III trial will study efficacy of incorporating mind-body intervention into breast cancer treatment, cost-benefit and work productivity

HOUSTON - In an ongoing effort to scientifically validate the age-old belief that mind-body interventions have a beneficial impact on the health of patients, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center has been awarded more than $4.5 million to study the efficacy of incorporating yoga into the treatment program of women with breast cancer.

The grant, the largest ever awarded by the National Cancer Institute for the study of yoga in cancer, will allow researchers to conduct a Phase III clinical trial in women with breast cancer to determine the improvement in physical function and quality-of-life during and after radiation treatment. It will also investigate if such stress reduction programs result in economic and/or work productivity benefit.

Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., professor and director of M. D. Anderson's integrative medicine program, received the funding.

"Research has shown that yoga and other types of mind-body practices, incorporated into the standard of care, can help improve patient outcomes, particularly quality-of-life," said Cohen, the study's principal investigator. "However, none have become standard of care, or are on the clinical care pathway for cancer patients. This funding will allow us to definitively determine the benefit of incorporating yoga into treatment plan for women with breast cancer."

The research is being done in collaboration with the Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana (VYASA), a yoga research foundation and university in Bangalore, India. M. D. Anderson has been collaboration with VYASA for more than six years.

Two previous studies led by Cohen and colleagues investigating yoga in similar populations of breast cancer patients have shown benefits in physical function, compared to women who did simple stretching and/or those who did not participate in any such program. Patients who participated in the yoga program reported that their ability to engage in everyday activities – walking a flight of stairs or around the block, carrying a bag of groceries – all improved, said Cohen. The study also found an indication of improved sleep and reduced fatigue levels, and preliminary analysis suggests lowered stress hormone levels in the yoga group.

Building on such research, the Phase III study will enroll 600 women with stage 0-3 breast cancer, all undergoing radiation at M. D. Anderson. The women will be randomized to one of three groups: yoga (YG), stretching/relaxation (STR) or those who receive the standard of care and do not enroll in any exercise program, the waitlist control (WLC). Participants in both the yoga and stretching groups will attend sessions three days a week throughout their six weeks of radiation.

Participants will self-report quality-of-life aspects, including physical function, mental health and fatigue levels. In addition to reporting their sleep quality, patients also will wear an activity watch monitor that objectively monitors the restfulness of their sleep. Cortisol levels will also be collected and studied, as blunted cortisol slopes have been linked to worse outcomes in breast cancer, said Cohen.

A secondary aim of the trial, but one of great importance, stressed Cohen, is assessing cost efficiency analysis for the hospital, and health care utilization costs in general, as well as examining work productivity of patients.

"In this age of health care reform, it's very important to determine the cost savings, not only to the hospital, but to also to women's lives and their ability to engage in their work in a productive fashion, whether that's the work of being a mother and running a household or working outside the home," said Cohen. "By including such data as cost-effectiveness analyses, we may be able to change the standard of care the way women with breast cancer are treated in this country."

About M. D. Anderson

The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston ranks as one of the world's most respected centers focused on cancer patient care, research, education and prevention. M. D. Anderson is one of only 40 comprehensive cancer centers designated by the National Cancer Institute. For six of the past eight years, including 2009, M. D. Anderson has ranked No. 1 in cancer care in "America's Best Hospitals," a survey published annually in U.S. News & World Report.

Monday, April 12, 2010

On Perc. And on Trying Anew. And, Most Especially, on Ahimsa & Satya.

-Juliana Mitchell -

There’s a chemical so potently toxic, that our former President Bill Clinton compared it to Agent Orange. The noxious formula is a suspected carcinogen; being linked to numerous forms of cancer and is considered a likely contributor to infertility, among many other issues. Its use is illegal in some countries. Clearly, none of us wish to consume it! But unwittingly, many are.

I speak of perchloroethylene (aka “perc”) the traditional dry cleaner solvent used in America.

Two key things here. One: Perc “off gasses” - a description of which is below. Two: Perc then binds itself to fat molecules, where it remains.

Say a woman walks into a traditional perc cleaner, sipping a frappuccino. She hands a pink ticket to the attendant, and meanwhile perc residue clings invisibly to the garments hanging all around them. Some quantities of those perc molecules move, continuously and invisibly, off the fabric and into the air. This is off-gassing. The dry cleaning equipment at the back is full of perc too it off-gasses even more. The garment gurney rolls by, the attendant and customer exchange pleasantries. With each inhale, the perc in the air moves into their lungs, into their bloodstream and then binds to their body fat. Amounts of airborne perc bind to the milk fats in her frappuccino as well. The beverage is sipped, money is exchanged. Slurp. The perc moves through her digestive tract and into her fat stores. Transaction completed, and with an unwitting share of perc now residing within, she departs. At home, the pants are hung and off-gas for a time. She breathes. If the pants have proximity to her dining or cooking space, some off-gassed perc will bind to the fat in her food. She eats.

Things to ruminate on:

The trip to the dry cleaners described here is a weekly occurrence for some. Can you imagine the bodily accumulation of perc?

Some such dry cleaners occupy commercial space underneath a residential building, where the families are unaware that they and their children may be receiving perc off-gassing into their homes and bodies.

If our customer from the above example were a breast-feeding mom, some portion of the perc would bind itself to the fat in her breast milk and later be ingested by her baby.

Finally, let’s acknowledge the dry cleaning attendants who’re inhaling and ingesting the stuff all workaday long.

A decade ago I learned of the horrors of perc. It was painfully clear that patronizing a perc-use cleaner was harmful to me personally; to anyone I shared my home with and to anyone who came within sniffing distance of me once I donned the clothes. I felt deeply that it was injurious to the workers at the cleaners who, when working on my clothes, would have been ingesting unthinkable toxicity specifically because of me. I was fired up to make the necessary changes in my life. I switched to green cleaners (a green cleaner uses non-perc processes to care for fine fabrics.)

I was also jazzed to get the word out! Surely everyone would want to know and would stop patronizing traditional cleaners. Then our government would outlaw perc and create programs to assist traditional cleaners in transitioning to non-perc methods.

In actuality, most people didn’t want to know. Or, listened aghast, but went right back to using whichever cleaner. I continued to eschew traditional cleaners myself, but generally I stopped sharing this carcinogenic-news.

A decade has passed. Huge, unforeseeable shifts have occurred. I’m feeling hopeful to try anew. This time, I wish to begin with my Yoga community, from the vantage point of Ahimsa - to do no harm and Satya - impeccable truth. Satya and Ahimsa are our primary Yogic directives for balanced living.

I ask this: As Yogis, how can we tolerate and support the harmful nature of perc?

In deference to Satya, I acknowledge that some folk’s very employment depends on a well-fit suit and I’ve yet to find a perc alternative that doesn’t cause some shrinkage. Also, green cleaners tend to be more expensive and may be price prohibitive to some. Yep, some stains are beyond the scope of certain green cleaners. And finally, some people’s livelihoods - at this moment - depend on employment at a perc-use cleaner. Impeccable truth is a complex target.

This considered, it feels aligned with both impeccable truth and intentions of non-harming to return to this: How can we Yogis tolerate and support any perc use at all?

Looking for a perc alternative near you? Check out this site:

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Yoga Improves Mental and Physical Health in African-American Heart Failure Patients

INDIANAPOLIS – African-Americans with stabilized heart failure can reap a multitude of benefits from yoga, according to a study in the April issue of the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.

Researcher Paula Pullen and her team found yoga improved cardiovascular health, flexibility, markers of heart inflammation and quality of life.

“Yoga appears to be an effective, worthwhile pairing to standard medical care,” Pullen said. “Our study is one of the first on this topic and the results merit even more attention to these benefits.”

Forty heart-failure patients participated in the study, with 21 participating in the yoga program. All participants completed treadmill, flexibility and EKG tests, and they self-reported quality of life with a questionnaire. Patients had similar baseline levels in all areas at the start of the yoga intervention program.

Patients in the yoga program increased their aerobic capacity in treadmill tests by 22 percent, although it should be noted all 40 patients were instructed to begin a regular walking program. Flexibility also significantly improved, with all participants improving on sit-and-reach tests by at least four centimeters. Vascular markers of inflammation decreased and quality-of-life scores increased.

“It’s important to note the marked improvements in both physical and mental health with these patients, as around 25 percent of heart-failure sufferers experience severe depression,” Pullen said. “They often feel their lives are ‘over’ after a cardiac event and physical activity – in this case, yoga – can help curb those emotions.”

Pullen noted that incidence of heart failure among African-Americans has risen in recent years, giving even more importance to finding post-cardiac event interventions for this group.
NOTE: Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise® is the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, and is available from Lippincott Williams & Wilkins at 1-800-638-6423. For a complete copy of the research paper (Vol. 42, No. 4, pages 651-657) or to speak with a leading sports medicine expert on the topic, contact the Department of Communications and Public Information at 317-637-9200 ext. 127 or 133. Visit ACSM online at

The conclusions outlined in this news release are those of the researchers only, and should not be construed as an official statement of the American College of Sports Medicine.