Experts Say Yoga the Key to Health, Rapid Weight Loss

October 25, 2008 by  
Filed under Health

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.

Yoga Instructor Reveals Yoga Weight Loss Routine

October 22, 2008 by  
Filed under Sadie Nardini, Weight Loss

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.

A New Book on Christian Zen by a Jesuit Priest

October 19, 2008 by  
Filed under Christian Zen, Reuben L.F. Habito

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.

Yoga Weight Loss Secrets

October 15, 2008 by  
Filed under Ayurveda, Hatha Yoga, Weight Loss

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.

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“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.

Yoga Promotes Flexibility, Strength and Balance

July 15, 2008 by  
Filed under Chaturanga dandasana, Pushups


PHOTO: Sonia Monteiro of DeRose Antas School, Porto, Portugal

When I first started doing yoga, decades ago, many people thought it was a slightly feminine undertaking. And I have to admit, even today the majority of the students at my local yoga school are women — although that is changing. But the only people who think yoga is not a rigorous, difficult, often even aerobic activity are those who have never taken a class.

I’ll never forget one class I took in which there were three men among about a dozen women. It was a very ordinary, relatively basic class. At one point, the instructor guided us into chaturanga dandasana, the “plank” or staff pose. It’s basically like doing a pushup halfway down — and then holding it. The young woman instructor remained in the pose, calming issuing little tips and giving suggestions, her voice calm and not betraying even a hint of strain. Read more

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Yoga Therapy and a Return to Eden

I just finished reading Leo Damrosch’s magisterial 2005 biography of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius) and I’ve been thinking a lot about how Rousseau’s vision ties in neatly with what Christian Yoga is all about. (Full disclosure: My wife hates Rousseau because he forced his lifelong mistress, Therese Levasseur, to give up their five children to foundling homes and then had the temerity to instruct women on why they should breastfeed their children and raise them according to his precepts.)

Rousseau, born in Switzerland in 1712, was basically a professional vagabond and loafer who ran away from his home in Geneva at the age of 16, was almost entirely self-taught, and who earned his living through menial jobs, copying musical manuscripts and writing books that both titillated and outraged most of Europe. Rousseau’s basic argument is that “civilization,” far from being an engine of progress and advancement, is actually a corrosive, even destructive force. Read more

The Daily Discipline of Pushups

June 6, 2008 by  
Filed under Daily Exercises, Habits, Pushups

The first thing I do every morning when I get out of bed is to do 30 pushups. It’s also the last thing I do every night before I climb into bed. That may not sound like a very “yoga” thing to do, but it’s a discipline I adhere to that I believe has been very good for me.

I’m 50 years old so, if you’re younger, you can do more. I will probably gradually work up to 40 or so just to show off but 30 is plenty for conditioning purposes.

To some, 30 may sound like a lot… so I want to share how I worked up to that number. I used a very simple method that I use for most difficult things: I did started with something very easy that I knew I could do: One pushup.
Read more

Download Free Book on Christian Zen

May 14, 2008 by  
Filed under Christian Zen

Readers of this website know that, for us, “Christian yoga” covers quite a large territory. It basically includes mainstream hatha yoga practices as well as a bewildering variety of eastern and western meditative disciplines.


As a result, we write a lot about what is known as “Christian Zen,” which is basically Christians who practice Zen meditation without giving up their Christian values and beliefs. In the past 30 years or so, an emerging movement has developed in which dedicated Christians (mostly Catholics but some Protestants as well) have attempted to actually work out intellectually just how Zen practice and ideas can be integrated into a holistic Christian worldview. The results, naturally, have been mixed… and many people consider Christian Zen to be somewhat confused.

thomashand.jpgWe, however, are encouraged. One of the leaders in the Christian Zen movement is the late Jesuit priest, Thomas Hand, S.J. , who died in 2005. Now, one of his associates — Judy Hayes, a former nun in both the Vedanta and Tibetan Buddhists traditions — has edited his writings into a new work titled Crossing Over Together: Walking the Zen Christian Path. It’s available for free download just by clicking on the link.

Anthony De Mello and Christian Yoga

demello1.jpgAnthony de Mello, SJ, was a famous Jesuit priest, psychotherapist and seminar leader who sought to fashion a “Christian spirituality in Eastern form.” Anyone interested in Christian Yoga should definitely check out his many books — especially his seminal and fascinating text, Sadhana: A Way to God.

He was born in Bombay in 1931 into a large Portuguese Catholic family whose ancestors were converted by the early Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier. He attended a Jesuit high school and joined the Society of Jesus in India in 1947. Following a typical Jesuit course of studies that included philosophy in Spain, theology in India and psychology in the U.S., De Mello was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1961. Read more

What is Yoga Anyway?

February 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Patanjali, Yoga

Yoga is a system of physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation exercises that promote bodily health and mental control and well-being.

Yoga is an an ancient spiritual path, originating in India but also practiced and refined in many places in Asia, including Tibet, that aims to achieve the union of the individual with the Supreme Consciousness that lies at the very heart of reality itself. A practitioner of Yoga is called a Yogi (male) or Yogini (female). Outside India, yoga is mostly associated with the practice of asanas (postures) of Hatha Yoga or as a form of exercise.

The majority of practitioners of yoga outside India are primarily interested in improving physical health and flexibility. The ultimate goals of Yoga for the spiritual inclined range from reaching liberation from all suffering to extended longevity.

In Indian philosophy, Yoga is the name of one of the six orthodox philosophical schools. The Yoga philosophical system is closely allied with the Samkhya school. Unlike Buddhism, classical Yoga is theistic and realist in its metaphysics. Many Hindu texts discuss aspects of yoga, including the Vedas, Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Shiva Samhita and various Tantras.

Classified by the type of practices, the major branches of yoga include: Hatha Yoga, Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and Raja Yoga. Raja Yoga, established by the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and known simply as yoga in the context of Hindu philosophy, is one of the six orthodox (astika) schools of Indian thought.

The Sanskrit term yoga has many meanings. It is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, “to control”, “to yoke”, or “to unite”.[5] Common meanings include “joining” or “uniting”, and related ideas such as “union” and “conjunction.” Another conceptual definition is that of “mode, manner, means” or “expedient, means in general”.

The Indian sage Patanjali is widely regarded as the founder of the formal Yoga philosophy. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are ascribed to Patanjali, who, as Max Müller explains, may have been “the author or representative of the Yoga-philosophy without being necessarily the author of the Sutras.”

Patanjali’s yoga is known as Raja yoga, which is a system for control of the mind. Patanjali’s writing also became the basis for a system referred to it as “Ashtanga Yoga” (“Eight-Limbed Yoga”). This eight-limbed concept derived from the 29th Sutra of the 2nd book became a feature of Raja yoga, and is a core characteristic of practically every Raja yoga variation taught today.The Eight Limbs of yoga practice are:

(1) Yama (The five “abstentions”): nonviolence, truth, non-covetousness, chastity, and abstain from attachment to possessions.
(2) Niyama (The five “observances”): purity, contentment, austerities, study, and surrender to god
(3) Asana: Literally means “seat”, and in Patanjali’s Sutras refers to seated positions used for meditation. Later, with the rise of Hatha yoga, asana came to refer to all the “postures”
(4) Pranayama (“Lengthening Pr?na”): Pr?na, life force, or vital energy, particularly, the breath, “ayama”, to lengthen or extend
(5) Pratyahara (“Abstraction”): Withdrawal of the sense organs from external objects.
(6) Dharana (“Concentration”): Fixing the attention on a single object
(7) Dhyana (“Meditation”): Intense contemplation of the nature of the object of meditation
(8) Samadhi (“Liberation”): merging consciousness with the object of meditation

They are sometimes divided into the lower and the upper four limbs, the lower ones being parallel to the lower limbs of Hatha Yoga, while the upper ones being specific for the Raja yoga. The upper three limbs practiced simultaneously constitute the Samyama.

In the west, the type of yoga best known and most widely practiced is hatha yoga, a system of physical exercises, stretches and postures. Hatha Yoga is a particular system of Yoga described by Yogi Swatmarama, a yogic sage of the 15th century in India, and compiler of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (a “bible,” of sorts, of hatha yoga). Hatha Yoga is a development of — but also differs substantially from — the Raja Yoga of Patanjali, in that it focuses on shatkarma, the purification of the physical as leading to the purification of the mind (ha), and prana, or vital energy (tha). In contrast, the Raja Yoga posited by Patanjali begins with a purification of the mind (yamas) and spirit (niyamas), then comes to the body via asana (body postures) and pranayama (breath). Hatha yoga was greatly influenced by the esoteric system of thought known as Tantra and marks the first point at which the concepts of energy centers (chakras) and a mysterious evolutionary bodily energy known as kundalini were introduced into the yogic canon. Compared to the seated asanas of Patanjali’s Raja, yoga which were seen largely as a means of preparing for meditation, hatha yoga also marks the development of asanas as full body ‘postures’ in the modern sense.

Hatha Yoga in its many modern variations is the style that most people actually associate with the word “Yoga” today. Because its emphasis is on the body through asana and pranayama practice, many western students are satisfied with the physical health and vitality it develops and are not interested in the other six limbs of the complete Hatha yoga teaching, or with the even older Raja Yoga tradition it is based on.

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