I felt the need to post a recent “change of heart” I’ve had about the practice of yoga: it’s not all about the calorie burn. Isn’t it always said that the greatest advocate of something is at first the greatest skeptic? I was such a skeptic. I’ve advocated and recommended yoga in the past to my clients, as strictly a core-strengthening/breathing regimen. In truth, I did not practice yoga on a regular basis because I believed it moved too slow and it didn’t “burn” enough calories, like running, biking or swimming. A couple of things happened in my life to make me change my mind, along with strong scientific data that further strengthened my “yoga” resolve. In my youth, I ran roughly 3 miles per day. When I hit my forties, I fancied myself as being a triathlete, working out by strictly running, biking or swimming (typically 4 hours per day), with little core, weight or balancing exercises AND totally flat feet. Now I know (a little too late), I had no business slamming my feet on the pavement for hours, experiencing my foot in a brace for nine months with a torn ligament and now limiting my exercise to non-impact endeavors (i.e. walking, eliptical machine, swimming, biking, body-weight exercises, pilates, yoga). So my need for a non-impact type of exercise was one reason I turned to yoga, but the real clincher was what yoga has done for our 19 year old daughter, Samantha (Sammi).
Sammi, who has inherited my totally flat feet, has already visited the orthopedic surgeon with foot problems at her tender age. When she left for college this year she discovered yoga on her own and it has helped her with her poise, her horse-riding skills AND her focus in school. I personally notice after a yoga session compared to a strictly aerobic workout, I’m more relaxed but still focused and alert AND my body isn’t aching from overuse (please note, I never push myself in yoga poses to the point of pain, and you shouldn’t either). So core-strengthening and balance are two obvious pluses of a regular yoga practice, but that isn’t the whole story.
Recruiting the techniques of yoga and meditation has also made some possible inroads in warding off stress, decreased immune function and markers for heart disease, specifically elevated blood pressure. In “Yoga Scientists Find Proof of Meditation Benefit” , scientists are on the cusp of discovering why yoga and meditation can possibly ward off stress and disease. John Denninger at Harvard Medical School is leading a five year study, using nuero-imaging and genomics technology to prove a link between mind-body techniques that can switch some genes on and off that are linked to stress and immune function. Similarly, in “Yoga Can Help Blood Pressure”, three groups were studied. One group adhered to a prescribed diet for weight reduction, the second group only practiced yoga 2-3 times per week for 24 weeks and the third group was a combination group of yoga and prescribed diet. So what group do you think experienced the best blood pressure drop? You guessed right if you think it was the yoga only group, “patients who did yoga in studio 2-3 times per week experienced a statistically significant drop in their blood pressure, greater than the diet only group.”
So what are the “take home” health points to following a yoga practice on a regular basis? Yoga is a non-impact exercise (especially for us baby-boomers out there that can no longer perform exercise as we did in our youth) that not only has the potential of offering you an excellent form of exercise in the form of core strength, balance and just general fitness, it also has the potential of aiding in lowering your stress load, boosting your immune system and lowering your blood pressure. So what do you have to lose? Just try a regular yoga practice (2-3 times per week, be it with a yoga instructor or just yoga DVD’s) for a month and let me know what your think. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.