A recent randomized, controlled, six-month trial of yoga practice among healthy seniors found significant benefits in physical health but no improvement in cognitive tests. It appears that a regular practice of hatha yoga does result in better health and even weight loss, the researchers found.
Yoga is a commonly practiced, mind-body approach that has components centering around meditation, breathing, and activity or postures. In recent US surveys of adults, 7.5% reported having used yoga at least once in their lifetime and 3.8%–5.1% reported having used it in the previous 12 months.1,2 Iyengar yoga, one of the active, or Hatha, yoga techniques, is a system for developing physical and mental well-being through stretching of all muscle groups for strength, flexibility, and physical balance. A person assumes a series of stationary positions that use isometric contraction and relaxation of different muscle groups to create specific body alignments. There is also a deep relaxation component. Iyengar yoga is amenable to easy adaptation for elders through modifications of the poses and the use of props, such as blankets and chairs.
The results of the study surprised the researchers. While there was no improvement in cognitive skills among the regular yoga practitioners, there were significant gains in other measures of health.
The improvements in physical measures directly related to the yoga intervention are not surprising. Yoga practice involves training on poses very similar to these outcome measures. One-legged balance may have some health implications, such as risk of falls, and has been shown previously to be improved in healthy older people practicing tai chi, another mind-body technique of which balance exercises are a component.61,62
Though this study did show that yoga produced beneficial effects on quality-of-life measures, the mechanism of action of these improvements may not relate directly to the yoga. Socialization, placebo, and self-efficacy effects are other potential mechanisms. The exercise group controlled for socialization to some degree, but there was less of a class format in the exercise group. At least 1 previous study has suggested that exercise-related improvements in stress were secondary to class participation and not to improvements in fitness. Future yoga intervention studies will need to carefully control for the class aspect that may be beneficial to everyone, but especially seniors. There is also likely some placebo effect related to the yoga intervention. One group has already shown that psychological benefits of an aerobic exercise intervention in a group of healthy young adults could be increased simply by telling subjects that the exercise program was specifically designed to improve psychological well-being.64 The placebo effect, expectancy, and self-efficacy may have a significant impact65,66 and are difficult to adequately control for in behavioral interventions that are necessarily non-blinded. Even reported cognitive improvements related to transcendental meditation may be related to expectancy of subjects recruited for trials.
I’ve been meditating since I was 17 years old. That’s when I was initiated into, or simply taught, the Transcendental Meditation technique popularized by the Maharishi Mehesh Yogi. I am now 50 and have been meditating more than 30 years — although you would never know it from my excitable Irish personality.
It was the early 1970s and TM was everywhere. I was then and remain to this day fascinated by Eastern religion and mysticism although I was then and remain now a devout Catholic. Then, as now, I thought the churches were doing a poor job communicating their own mystical heritage and was impressed by the systematic, step-by-step character of eastern meditation in general and TM in particular.
I went to the introductory meeting and was “sold.” I drove out to a modest house in a suburb and went through the whole initiation ceremony with the bestowal of my secret “mantra.” I must admit, the smell of flowery incense and the chanting (in Sanscrit) to images of the Maharishi’s own teachers made me uneasy… but the teacher, like all TM teachers, was dressed like an accountant and went out of his way to stress that TM was a mental and physical technique that has nothing to do, in essence, with Hinduism.
I’ve always remained grateful to TM for getting me started as a meditator… and was sad when the Maharishi finally died recently. I would still say that the TM technique is as good as any other for a beginning meditator.
For one thing, I like the stress they put on REGULAR daily meditation — twice a day, in the morning and afternoon, for 20 minutes.
The second thing I like, and this is due to TM’s yogic roots, is the stress that TM people put on the physiological nature of meditation — how it is fundamentally “deep rest,” deeper than sleep, that allows your body to release accumulated stress and your mind to literally expand as a result. Perhaps it grew out of the Maharishi’s background in science… but that is an emphasis I’ve never really encountered in my instruction by more esoteric Buddhist meditation teachers, such as the Tibetans.
In many ways, TM is very simple and to the point. The Maharishi deserves a lot of credit for demystifying meditation and making it something very accessible. Sit for 20 minutes. Repeat your mantra. When thoughts intrude, notice then and return to your mantra. If you fall asleep, that’s great. It means you needed a nap!
I was a bit disappointed to find out, years later, that my super-secret mantra — allegedly chosen just for me according to rigorous criteria that made the use of just “any” mantra something horrible — was mechanistically assigned to me according to my age. You can look up lists of TM mantras on the Internet these days and, yes, there was my mantra according to what my age was then.
I still meditate twice a day. More often that not, I still use a mantra — although these days I am just as likely to pray the Jesus Prayer or Maran (Lord) atha (come!) as I am a Sanscrit syllable. And when I fall asleep when meditating, as I sometimes do, I’m delighted. I guess it meant I needed a nap!
New York yoga instructor Sadie Nardini, a columnist for many top Internet yoga sites, demonstrates a vinyasa routine that can help you lose weight quickly and easily. Sadie calls this a “calorie torching” sequence that “tones and stretches you whole bod.”
Sadie critics yoga for keeping her weight down and giving her a healthy, flexible body.
I’m a sucker for Christian Zen. While I ultimately think the yogic techniques of meditation are more systematic and useful for advanced meditators, the simplicity and power of Zen (and early Ch’an teaching) probably explain why so many Christian seekers are drawn to Zen practice. For years, there were only a handful of guides to walking “the razor’s edge” of Christian Zen, but recently there has been an explosion of new books about Christians who have studied Zen in depth — and lived to tell the tale.
One book I am reading right now is Reuben L.F. Habito’s marvelous Living Zen, Loving God. A Filipino Jesuit priest who has studied Zen since 1971, Habito’s book has a fresh, nonchalant perspective on Zen not seen since perhaps William Johnston’s classic book published more than 30 years ago.
I found Habito’s ability to integrate Zen practice with his Christian faith to be particularly enlightening, if I may use such a word. As Habito’s describes them, the Four Vows of the Boddhisattva — the desire to seek the liberation of all sentient beings even before that of oneself — can easily be harmonized with the Christian initiate’s vow to put the will of God before one’s own desires.
“Be it done unto me according to His will,” as the Blessed Virgin Mary told the angel, in the Gospel account of the Annunciation. “Not my will, but thine,” said Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
A wonderful book… well worth a read.
You can lose weight quickly with 5,000-year-old secrets from yoga.
Have you ever wondered why the people you know who practice yoga are so thin? It’s not an accident. Yoga practice, combined with the “green,” organic diet followed by many yogis, seems to burn off weight faster than almost any other weight-loss approach. Unfortunately, busy modern people often find it difficult to follow this “green” diet — which is why many modern yogis use supplements. (You can get a FREE bottle of a wonderful organic “green” diet supplement by clicking on the link below.)
Both anecdotal reports and some research supports the belief that regular yoga practice, combined with some weight loss secrets from the ancient Indian health care system known as ayurveda can result in significant weight loss.
Of course, the amount of weight you can lose with yoga depends on the kind of exercises you do and the regularity of it. Using yoga is one of the most effective, natural and long term way for weight loss. The weight loss may differ from person to person.
Some people believe that merely the sustained attention given to your body from a regular, daily yoga practice — combined with the relatively few clothes you wear when practicing hatha yoga — simply provide additional motivation for people to lose weight. A new study at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle found that middle-aged people who practice yoga for as little as 30 minutes a week curbed the weight gain that is oh-so common between ages 45 and 55. Those who began at a normal weight weighed an average of 3 pounds less than their non-practicing counterparts 10 years later. And those who started out overweight lost approximately 5 pounds, instead of packing on the typical gain of 13 pounds among non-exercisers.
“Yoga makes you more mindful of your body and feelings, so you may also become more aware and sensitive to when you’ve eaten enough,” says study author Alan R. Kristal, PhD, who himself practices yoga. The secret to losing weight with yoga, he believes, lies not in burned calories but in increased body awareness. With yoga, he says, you become more focused and are better able to recognize emotional feelings for what they are and not mistake them for hunger.
Yoga, dating back to over 5,000 years ago, is a form of a spiritual and physical practice that its practitioners believe can help people in the west lose weight. Yoga practice provides an excellent means for maintaining balanced weight and overcoming obesity problems, provided a daily yoga program is followed with a regular routine. There are a number of contemporary yoga styles that can give us the traditional benefits of yoga and a cardiovascular workout at the same time. These include:
Vinyasa: This popular type of yoga is based on movement from one pose to another while practicing yoga breathing techniques. Sun Salutations are frequently used, but other poses are usually included as well. This is sometimes done in a hot room to increase sweating.
Ashtanga: Ashtanga is a complex style of yoga that includes six different series of poses. Each serious is more complex than the previous one, so it is important to start at the beginning and work your way up.
Power yoga: This Americanized version of yoga combines faster, more active movements with traditional yoga breathing techniques.
These types of yoga are more likely to increase your heart rate and work up a sweat than traditional yoga. While they may not give you as much of a workout as aerobics, they combine weight loss and cardiovascular benefits with the muscle building and flexibility training of yoga. And for those who do not have the time to participate in two separate workout programs but still want to lose weight quickly, they can be great options.
Hatha yoga experts believe that even gentle yoga asana (postures) followed by the Sun salutation exercise routines are very good for removing lymphatic blockages and liberating energy in your body that revitalizes the body and mind. To lose weight, yoga exercise does not have to be intense or vigorous, but it must be regular and should amount to at least 30 minutes a day. Along with Yoga exercise, a healthy diet based on yogic principles is obviously very helpful for overcoming obesity and maintaining balanced weight.
Ayurveda and a yogic diet can complement any hatha yoga exercises in a combined program for weight loss. Ayurveda or Ayurvedic medicine is an ancient Hindu system of health care, related to yoga, that is native to the Indian subcontinent. It is used by millions of people in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and increasingly in the west to lose weight quickly and easily according to ancient principles of health.
The word “Ayurveda” is a compound of the Sanscrit words ayus meaning “life,” “life principle,” or “long life” and the word veda, which refers to a system of “knowledge.” Thus “Ayurveda” roughly translates as the “knowledge of life” or “knowledge of a long life.” Recent medical advances are increasingly demonstrating that one key to a long life is weight loss.