Thursday, May 27, 2010

Yoga May Help Fight Depression

Yoga Increases Levels of Brain Chemical That's Low in Mood Disorders, Study Says

- Charlene Laino

Yoga may be helpful in the treatment of depression, researchers say.

In a small study of healthy people with no psychiatric problems, yoga produced greater improvements in mood than walking, suggesting its beneficial effect is not just from physical activity.

"We think that one of the reasons yoga makes people feel better is because it increases levels of GABA, a [brain chemical] that's reduced in depression and doesn't work well in [people with] anxiety," says study head Chris C. Streeter, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University School of Medicine.

She presented the findings at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.

The study involved 19 people who practiced Iyengar yoga, a type of Hatha yoga, and 15 people who walked at an average pace for one hour, three times a week, for 12 weeks.

Participants filled out standard mood questionnaires throughout the study. MRI images of their brains were taken at the start of the study and at the end of the 12 weeks. Then, participants did one more hour of yoga or walking, depending on which intervention they'd been assigned to, followed by one more scan.

The people who practiced yoga reported greater improvements in mood and greater decreases in anxiety than the walking group.

Also, GABA levels showed a trend toward an increase in the yoga group from the second to third scan, but not in the walking group.

Streeter tells WebMD that the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) commonly used to treat depression and other mood disorders also increase GABA levels.

Although the study only involved people without psychiatric problems, this suggests that yoga postures may be helpful in treating people who have depression or anxiety and have low GABA levels, she says.

That's not to say yoga should replace treatment with SSRIs or other medications, says Donald Hilty, MD, co-chairman of the committee that chose which studies to highlight at the meeting and professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Davis.

"It's always best to go with well-studied treatments that have been proven and add complementary treatments such as yoga," he tells WebMD.

"This very preliminary report shows some real positives [to yoga], and it doesn't have a downside," Hilty says.

Both doctors called for further study of yoga in people with depression and anxiety disorders.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

To Meat or Not to Meat - That is the question

Yogis welcome vegetarians and omnivores.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget

Does embracing yoga mean saying goodbye to cheeseburgers?
One of the persistent debates in the yoga community is whether yogis should be vegetarian. One side finds evidence in ancient texts that eschewing meat is among the central precepts of yogic tradition. Others find in yoga's teachings a more inclusive bent, a belief that yoga is for everyone, no matter what they choose to eat.

Data seem to support the latter stance. A 2008 "Yoga in America" survey conducted for Yoga Journal magazine found that almost 16 million people in this country practice yoga, while a Vegetarian Times survey that year found 7.3 million people in the United States are vegetarians.

I did my own little survey of people deeply entrenched in the yoga world. I wasn't surprised by the range of their responses or by their open-mindedness. They're yogis, after all.

"You'd think that yoga has just one message and that everyone interprets it the same way," says Debra Perlson-Mishalove, creative director and founder of Flow Yoga Center in the District. "But yoga welcomes everyone," vegans and omnivores alike.

The thing with yogis and vegetarian eating, Perlson-Mishalove says, is that "as you practice, you become more and more aware of your connection with yourself and the community around you." As that happens, she says, "you notice patterns emerging that aren't serving you." Meat eaters, for instance, "might start to pay more attention to what they put in their bellies and realize that all things are connected."

A vegetarian herself, Perlson-Mishalove urges those who want to move down this path without giving up meat altogether to "take baby steps. Maybe try Meatless Mondays. Or choose foods from kinder sources," such as farms that follow humane practices. "I encourage them to meet their meat."

Should yogis be vegetarians? "Seems like such a simple question," says Cathy Husid-Shamir, media relations director at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Lenox, Mass. "But as a rule, Kripalu's stance on everything is 'You be your own guide. Let your body be your guide.' " If eating a certain way, vegetarian or otherwise, makes your body feel good, then that's probably the best way for you to eat.

Husid-Shamir says the center serves mostly vegetarian food, with a small selection of chicken and fish. The meat options are there for those who feel they need animal protein in their diets. "Some people reacted badly to all the beans and grains," she says. "It was upsetting them."

In the end, the principle of ahimsa carries the day at Kripalu. Ahimsa, variously translated as nonviolence or doing no harm to other creatures, is perhaps the most common argument in favor of yogis' being vegetarian. Farming, butchering and eating animals seems the opposite of ahimsa to many practitioners. In Kripalu's view, though, offering meat to some guests came to seem like a kind of ahimsa, too.

"You have to understand that there's no unanimity of opinion in the yoga world" regarding vegetarianism, says Timothy McCall, medical editor for Yoga Journal. "There are dedicated yogis who eat meat, and there are dedicated yogis who shun it and think everyone else should shun it."

"The crucial thing about yoga is that it cultivates your ability to feel what's happening in your own body," says McCall. "You develop a highly tuned mechanism, a reliable gauge of what's serving you and not serving you in every aspect of your life, including your diet."

A true yogi, McCall observes, is not guided by anyone else's rules about what he should or shouldn't eat. The more you practice, "your internal feedback becomes more and more reliable," he says, allowing you to decide for yourself how eating certain foods make you feel.

McCall says the concept of ahimsa "causes you to consider the karmic implications of what you eat. It comes down not to just not eating meat, but asking how was that animal treated when it was living."

In the end, though, McCall, a 10-year vegetarian who enjoys an occasional dairy product, says, "I take this stuff seriously but try to live a joyful life and not get too hung up on the details, including not worrying about what other people eat."

"I call myself a 364 vegetarian," McCall adds. "If I get invited for turkey and stuffing for Thanksgiving, I'll take it," he says.

Originally posted - Washington Post

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Flow, Sweat, Stink: Nirvana


Full disclosure: I love the heat; I like humidity. It’s in my blood (Cuban) and my upbringing (in Miami). So it didn’t take long for me to fall for hot power vinyasa yoga, a vigorous class taught in a room steamy enough to simulate the tropics in summer.

Flowing from one warrior pose to another, down into plank position and back up again, in 95- to 100-degree heat is grueling. It jacks up your heart rate and sledgehammers your stamina. After 75 minutes or so, you leave behind an outline of your body — in sweat, not chalk — on your yoga towel.

It would all be miserable if it weren’t so intoxicating. Muscles melt. Flexibility comes willingly. Last night’s mojitos surge out of your pores. At the end, you’re floating out of the studio.

“Right off the bat it releases more endorphins in your body,” said Seth Weisberg, the co-owner, with Alison McCue, of Garden State Yoga in Bloomfield, N.J., the spot where I roll out my mat most weekends. “It’s like I’m clean after a class,” Mr. Weisberg said. “I feel fresh, lighter, absolutely.”

New York City is home to several hot power vinyasa studios and classes, including Prana Power Yoga off Union Square; Earth Yoga NYC on the Upper East Side; and Yoga to the People, which opened a separate studio for hot vinyasa in the fashion district last year. Because there are relatively few studios devoted to this kind of yoga — though their numbers are growing — classes are often packed.

The notion of ratcheting up the heat and humidity in a yoga studio was popularized by Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram Yoga, which is practiced in a carpeted 105-degree room (40 percent humidity) and adheres to a sequence of 26 poses. There are Bikram Yoga studios all over the country. I tried it once, a year ago, and while I know there are legions of fans, for me it was simply too hot and the style too evocative of Mussolini circa 1940.

One of my friends, in the throes of a hot flash, wept in the Bikram class and was chastised by the instructor for leaving. The rest of us stole illicit sips from our water bottles and took breaks as discreetly as possible because they were verboten. I wound up with a migraine. I realized then that the difference between 95 and 105 degrees was make or break.

There is no question that doing yoga in a hot, humid room is not for everyone. Purists argue that heating a yoga room is redundant; your body heats itself and then heats the room for you. Germaphobes can get turned off by the sweat and unpleasant odors. Others just can’t stand the heat or feel claustrophobic.

“People can hyperventilate much more easily, so I really emphasize the breath,” said Shayna Hiller, who teaches at Prana Power Yoga. “And the mats can get very slippery, so I stick to a more traditional flow.”

There can be medical reasons to steer clear of doing yoga in a hot room, too, particularly for pregnant women or people with multiple sclerosis, heart problems, high blood pressure or autoimmune conditions like lupus.

“Your blood vessels dilate and your heart works harder,” said Dr. Loren Fishman, medical director of Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and a committed yogi (though he does not practice hot yoga). “You lose more water and more electrolytes.” For that reason, it is important to hydrate long before the class begins and remain hydrated throughout.

To stay sanitary, studios must be cleaned several times a day, and Mr. Weisberg — who runs a construction-related company during the day — said that cleaning supplies were among his biggest expenses.

The fewer clothes you wear while doing hot yoga the better, in my view. I saw one poor soul wearing jeans in class one day, and wanted to tell him to run for his life. Although many people stick to long yoga pants, I suggest stretchy shorts. My arms tend to slip in poses like twists or crow, so I drape a face or hand towel around my knees or elbows. It’s also smart to bring a nonskid yoga towel to stretch over your mat so your hands and feet don’t slide in downward dog.

And one more caveat: It does get stinky in there. I got a whiff of something ripe the other day that wouldn’t dissipate. It turned out to be me.

Originally posted - New York Times

Friday, May 7, 2010

New York Yoga Opens New Annex to Teacher Training Program

May 7, 2010, NYC: Today New York Yoga, the Upper East Side’s first yoga studio, announced the opening of a new annex space, as the permanent home of its Yoga Alliance Certified 200hr Teacher Training program.

The 1300 square foot annex, located in New York Yoga’s office space on 81st Street, opened this spring, and will begin serving as headquarters for the studio’s teacher training program when the summer session commences May 15 under the direction of veteran yoga instructor Carl Horowitz.

New York Yoga’s teacher training program began with the inception of the studio over a decade ago and continues to be an integral part of its identity within New York’s yoga community.

“Because of the unique group of teachers participating in the training and our individual skills, I do not think there is another Yoga Teacher Training out there that can offer this kind of perspective,” says Horowitz.

Horowitz, with the help of assistant director Jenny Gammello, will lead trainees through an intensive training curriculum on Saturdays and Sundays through October 3, which focuses on affording them a solid understanding of the basic principles of Yoga philosophy from a perspective that makes the ancient teachings of this 5,000-year-old practice relevant to the life and practice of program participants today, while also assisting them with the development and enriched understanding of the body, postures and flow sequences discovered only in the deeper lessons of a teacher training program.

“In truth, the beautiful thing about teacher training is that anyone whose goal is to learn more and deepen their practice is an ideal candidate for taking a teacher training program,” Horowitz says. “It really is such an amazing process that someone who is just beginning to practice Yoga will get an amazing amount out of it and learn a lot about themselves as they deepen their practice, and someone who has been practicing for years will get an amazing amount out of it as well. There are so many levels of subtlety to the work that it is really just as great a process whether your goal is to teach or simply to go deeper into your own practice.”

New York Yoga is a Yoga Alliance Registered training facility, and all trainees, upon completion of the program, earn a 200hr New York Yoga Teacher Training Certificate and are eligible to register with Yoga Alliance as a 200-hour-level certified teacher.

“Training is really an amazing process,” says Horowitz. “It is great to see how much each of the trainees grows and changes through the training program because from the process of deepening your own practice and learning to help guide someone else through practice intelligently, you begin to see a lot more about yourself on and off the mat.”

For more information please call: 212.717.9642 or email

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Easing Those Travel Aches Through Yoga

By: John Hanc
Published: May 5, 2010

WHEN the world of the business traveler turns upside down — whether because of a missed connecting flight, lost luggage or an uncooperative volcano — Steve Boerema knows just what to do.

He finds a convenient corner in the airport and stands on his head.

Mr. Boerema, who is 45 and lives in St. Augustine Beach, Fla., travels an average of 150 days a year, most of them overseas, as a consultant to the yachting industry. He has also been practicing yoga daily for four years. That practice has now become as essential a part of his business travel as his frequent-flier mileage.

“Initially, it helped me dealing with homesickness and melancholy,” said Mr. Boerema, who is married with two teenage children. “All of us on the road suffer some sort of guilt, being away from our families. Yoga really calmed my head, helped keep me from thinking about things I had no control of.”

Several million Americans practice yoga at least once a week, according to surveys by the sporting goods industry. Many are college-educated professionals in their 30s and 40s, demographics that match those of business travelers, so it is logical that they would adapt their practice to their life in transit.

There is even an app for it: Yoga Journal magazine’s iPractice 2.0, a mobile yoga class for iPhone and iPod Touch. “I knew I had to find something to keep me centered,” says Sarah Howell, a 29-year-old sales trainer for a software company based in Austin, Tex. She started traveling for work three years ago and is now on the road two to three days a week, most months of the year.

Ms. Howell, who writes a business travel blog called the Road Warriorette (, describes herself as “a better person and certainly a better employee,” when she practices yoga while on her business trips. “I’m better able to focus on the task at hand,” she said.

“Research has shown that those who practice yoga and Pilates have improved sleep quality,” said Michele Olson, an exercise physiologist at Auburn University-Montgomery in Alabama. “That’s a big plus for travelers.”

“If you’re sitting for hours on a plane, your hip flexors and hamstrings and other muscles shorten, and we know that can lead to back problems,” Dr. Olson says. “Yoga, because it involves a lot of moves and positions that lengthen those muscles, can be very beneficial in combating joint stiffness at the hip joint and preventing back problems.”

Christopher Berger, an exercise physiologist at the University of Pittsburgh, is leading a task force for the American College of Sports Medicine called “Exercise Is Medicine on the Fly,” designed to promote physical activity among travelers and airport employees.

“Since 9/11, we have very long lines, unpredictable searches and more demands on people,” he said. “There’s certainly psychological stress associated with that. One of our goals for this task force is to get people to use airports as places to blow off that steam.”

Some major American airports do seem to be trying to offer passengers more opportunities to get blood flowing instead of boiling. Detroit Metropolitan Airport, for example, has a marked one-mile walking trail on the airport grounds, and so-called Reflection Rooms in each of its two main terminals — one 720 square feet, the other 357 square feet — where yoga and meditation can be comfortably practiced.

Beryl Bender Birch, a yoga teacher and author of “Beyond Power Yoga” and “Boomer Yoga,” suggested this sequence of three stretches for business travelers.

SEATED FORWARD BEND (relieves stress in the neck, lessons tensions in the hips and lower back caused by lengthy sitting)
Inhale, stretch your arms out in front of you. Fold your hands and interlace your fingers, then exhale and stretch your arms up overhead. Keeping your fingers interlaced, reverse your hands, so your palms are facing up. Arch your back, press your ribcage out and your buttocks forward, tighten your belly, straighten out your legs and point your toes. Feel the shins stretch as the toes point. Look up and back. Take three deep breaths with your mouth closed. Then inhale and release the whole stretch on an exhale. Repeat.

SEATED BACK STRETCH (stretches the back of your body)
Grab your knees with your hands. On an exhalation, pull against your knees with your hands, curl forward, rounding your spine and pushing your back into the back of your seat (make sure the seat-back tray in front of you is up). Drop your head forward and press your chin into your chest. Pull your shoulders up around your ears and round them forward, tighten the belly, pull your heels back toward the bottom of your seat and lift your toes. Feel the stretch all the way from your shoulders to your feet. Repeat.

SEATED SPINAL TWIST (stretches and strengthens sides of body)
Put your right ankle on your left knee in a cross-legged position. Inhale deeply and grab your right knee with your left hand. Lean forward slightly and take hold of the arm rest to your right with your right hand, then exhale deeply and twist as far as you can to the right. Inhale again and as you exhale, pull with your left hand and reach your right arm up in the air. Push your right shoulder back, and look back over your right shoulder. Pull your belly in and take three big conscious breaths with your mouth closed. Repeat.

To read this article in its original format, please see New York Times