STRETCH IT, BABY!

A YOGA SCEP­TIC TRIES THE DOWN­WARD-FAC­ING DOG

Guru Magazine - - Contents -

Stretch­ing, med­i­ta­tion and align­ing your­self with the universe. Don’t worry, Jes­samy Bau­dains agrees it all sounds a bit whacky. She dares to con­tort her­self into the shape of an in­verted tor­toise for the sake of ‘re­search’. Find out how it went on page 15.

Down­ward-Fac­ing Dog, Dead Bug, Co­bra, One-Legged King Pi­geon, Cow Face and In­verted Tor­toise. No, this isn’t the line-up for some bizarre Noah’s Ark. Th­ese are the po­si­tions into which mil­lions of peo­ple twist them­selves ev­ery day, all in the name of yoga. Of­ten when peo­ple hear ‘ yoga’, they imag­ine in­cense burn­ing, long-haired hip­pies, or, at the other end of the spec­trum, skinny celebri­ties talk­ing about how yoga “healed” them (hmm). Yes, there can be in­cense, chant­ing, and the odd Madonna-like-bod – but yoga is much more than smells, sounds and body envy. This ac­tiv­ity is about com­mu­nity, con­fi­dence-build­ing and, more re­cently, a lit­tle bit of sci­ence. It’s about bring­ing a va­ri­ety of peo­ple to­gether and get­ting in touch with your phys­i­cal ‘nooks’ and men­tal ‘cran­nies’. Sounds scary, I know, but I re­cently gave yoga a go, and it wasn’t as bad as it sounds… We all know that ex­er­cise is good for us, but many of us un­der­es­ti­mate just how much it can im­prove and main­tain both our phys­i­cal and emo­tional health. Last year, Bri­tish Med­i­cal Jour­nal an­nounced that ex­er­cise can re­duce your risk of ma­jor ill­nesses, such as heart disease, stroke, di­a­betes and can­cer, by up to 50% and lower your risk of early death by up to 30%. Still, we all know that work, fam­ily, or re­la­tion­ship pres­sure can make you feel like there’s lit­tle enough time to ex­er­cise, let alone ded­i­cate a whole hour to Pi­lates, Zumba or a yoga class. But, a toned body aside, there is clearly a lot to gain from ex­er­cise – yoga in­cluded. So is it fi­nally time to wave good­bye to love han­dles?

Take your pick

There are many dif­fer­ent types of yoga out there. From ‘Hatha’, us­ing slow and gen­tle move­ments, to ‘Ash­tanga’ and ‘Power’ yoga, which are both phys­i­cally de­mand­ing and fast paced – the world is your yoga oys­ter! No two classes are likely to be the same, mean­ing the ef­fects on the body will vary ac­cord­ing the spe­cific prac­tice. Some prac­tices al­low you to stretch and unwind while oth­ers will def­i­nitely get a sweat go­ing. Of course, many peo­ple still think of yoga as the lazy op­tion – a waste of time in a fast-paced world where ‘box­er­cise’ or ‘spin­ning’ are the sup­posed guar­an­tors of a chis­elled physique. Other peo­ple con­sider yoga worth­less be­cause of its less than sci­en­tific roots in In­dian mys­ti­cism. It is true that you may not be con­stantly gasp­ing for breath dur­ing a yoga class, but the phys­i­cal ben­e­fits of yoga are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly hard to ar­gue against. Stretch­ing and the hold­ing of pos­tures en­cour­ages mus­cles to lengthen, a process that leads to stronger, more pow­er­ful mus­cles. In­deed, re­search pub­lished in the jour­nal Pre­ven­ta­tive Car­di­ol­ogy, in 2007, showed im­prove­ments in mus­cle strength, flex­i­bil­ity and car­dio­vas­cu­lar health in young adults af­ter two months of twice-weekly ‘Hatha’ classes. I know how in­cred­i­bly frus­trat­ing it is to trudge away on a cross trainer for an hour af­ter a full day of work when all you re­ally want to do is sit in front of the TV and con­sume a large glass of Mer­lot. In fact, an Of­com sur­vey from the end of 2013 found that the av­er­age per­son in the UK spends around 4 hours watch­ing TV each day, with another re­port es­ti­mat­ing we spend 1 in 12 wak­ing min­utes on the In­ter­net. And we’re not alone: Canada has sim­i­lar sta­tis­tics, while res­i­dents of the US squeeze in an im­pres­sive 5 hours of box-watch­ing per day. Even if you are pushed for time, it might be worth sub­sti­tut­ing an hour of TV or In­ter­net surf­ing for an hour of yoga.

While many stud­ies have ex­plored the men­tal health ben­e­fits of yoga and med­i­ta­tion, they have tended to rely on par­tic­i­pant ques­tion­naires or have been pub­lished in ques­tion­able jour­nals. En­cour­ag­ingly, though, main­stream med­i­cal jour­nals are start­ing to pub­lish care­fully-con­ducted crit­i­cal anal­y­ses: one study in The Bri­tish Jour­nal of Sports Medicine con­cludes that the ev­i­dence for yoga use is “en­cour­ag­ing” but more re­search is needed. There is cer­tainly more work to be done but sci­en­tists are edg­ing closer to con­firm­ing what yo­gis have be­lieved for years – yoga and med­i­ta­tion can im­prove health and help us cope with stress. John Den­ninger, a psy­chi­a­trist at Har­vard Med­i­cal School, is cur­rently lead­ing a five year study on how yoga and med­i­ta­tion – which are in­trin­si­cally linked – af­fect the genes and brain ac­tiv­ity of those who are stressed. Den­ninger says: “There is a true bi­o­log­i­cal ef­fect. The kinds of things that hap­pen when you med­i­tate do have ef­fects through­out the body, not just in the brain.” In another re­port pub­lished in 2012, sci­en­tists at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Los An­ge­les and No­bel Prize win­ner El­iz­a­beth Black­burn found that yogic med­i­ta­tion may even slow the age­ing process. 39 peo­ple were ran­domly cho­sen to prac­tice Kir­tan Kriya, a type of yogic med­i­ta­tion, or lis­ten to re­lax­ation mu­sic for 12 min­utes a day for eight weeks. Blood tests re­vealed that the med­i­ta­tion group showed a marked in­crease in the ac­tiv­ity of an en­zyme called telom­erase over and above the re­lax­ation group (43% vs 3.7%). Though not nor­mally ac­tive in most cells, telom­erase can pre­vent cells from age­ing in the nor­mal way. Yes, it’s too early to say that this ef­fect is from yogic med­i­ta­tion specif­i­cally, or that up­ping telom­erase ac­tiv­ity will def­i­nitely re­sult in pro­longed youth­ful­ness. Time, as they say, will tell. Ac­cord­ing to ex­pert prac­ti­tioner, Swami Rama, yoga (which means ‘union’) sup­pos­edly unites

Yoga your­self younger?

the “the body, breath, mind, soul, and ul­ti­mately, the universe it­self”. Now, I know the prospect of uni­fy­ing your body with the universe sounds ridicu­lous at worst and a lit­tle comic at best, but yoga nev­er­the­less aims to pro­vide some­thing more mean­ing­ful than a jog around the park. “The warmth of the heated ceil­ing, the smell of the burn­ing in­cense along with the seren­ity and peace of the room is to­tally ther­a­peu­tic. As soon as you walk into a prac­tice you for­get about ev­ery­thing around you and are taken into a world of peace and re­lax­ation,” says Gabriella Maubec, 22, a ded­i­cated yogi.

From a purely psy­cho­log­i­cal point of view, deep breath­ing and med­i­ta­tion prac­tices can help shift our thoughts away from ev­ery­day fi­nan­cial con­cerns and per­sonal strug­gles. “Ev­ery ses­sion I ded­i­cate my prac­tice to one per­son. I am able to give up an hour where I can fo­cus on some­thing and some­one other than my­self”, says Gabriella. Ex­pe­ri­enced yoga teacher, Emma De­spres, 38, says “For me, yoga has been life-chang­ing, and not sim­ply be­cause it helps to in­crease our strength, stamina, flex­i­bil­ity and bal­ance on all lev­els – phys­i­cal, men­tal and emo­tional.” “I love get­ting so many peo­ple in­volved in my classes,” says yoga teacher-in-train­ing, So­phie Bourge, 23. “I es­pe­cially like to get boys to come to classes, be­cause I still feel there’s a bit of a stigma in the UK about guys prac­tic­ing yoga. When I lived in Van­cou­ver, all the ski and surfer dudes loved it! We need to get more of the boys in­volved!” So, as a per­son com­mit­ted to the ethos of try­ing new things, I have started a per­sonal ‘ex­per­i­ment’ into yoga. I can’t be sure I’m do­ing it ‘right’, but I have to say, ex­er­cise and healthy eat­ing have be­come less of a bat­tle. They say that “yoga gets you back to you”. So far, I have found that it also al­lows you to take time out of your busy sched­ule, to put down the re­mote con­trol, and just re­flect. Oh, and there are also claims it can im­prove your sex life. What’s not to love!? Right, now to get into the one-legged king pi­geon…

Re­search

Com­par­a­tive ef­fec­tive­ness of ex­er­cise and drug in­ter­ven­tions on mor­tal­ity out­comes: metaepi­demi­o­log­i­cal study Ef­fects of Hatha Yoga Prac­tice on the Health-Re­lated As­pects of Phys­i­cal Fit­ness Yoga for anx­i­ety: a sys­tem­atic re­view of the re­search ev­i­dence Av­er­age daily TV view­ing time per per­son in se­lected coun­tries in 2011 A pi­lot study of yogic med­i­ta­tion for fam­ily de­men­tia care­givers with de­pres­sive symp­toms: ef­fects on men­tal health, cog­ni­tion, and telom­erase ac­tiv­ity. Quan­tifi­ca­tion of Out­come Mea­sures for Mind Body In­ter­ven­tions UK dig­i­tal ad­spend hits record 6 month high of £3bn The Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Mar­ket Re­port

JES­SAMY BAU­DAINS

TOP: A Hatha yoga

class.

ABOVE: An Ash­tanga

yoga class.

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