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The Benefits of Yoga


Yoga is the most ancient and respected of natural methods for achieving and maintaining a high level of physical, mental and emotional health.



Benefits of Yoga


Accelerate Weight Loss

Reduce Stress

Improve Balance

Increase Energy

Build Stamina

Increase Flexibility

Improve Concentration & Focus

Improve Strength

Develop Muscle Tone

Lower Blood Pressure

Relieve Headaches

Improve Coordination

Promote Relaxation





What's happening to my body?



As you practice yoga, you are contracting and stretching the muscles at a cellualr, biomechanical level, allowing lipids and proteins toreorganize more optimally for better circulation. All nerves of the body are stimulated by this compression and extension of muscles, supplying fresh blood, oxygen and nutrients to the various systems of the body such as heart, lungs, veins, arteries, organs, tissues, muscles, etc., while flushing out waste products. 

Bones are strenghthened because of the additional weight and stress applied when the postures are practiced routniely and appropriately. Blood and calcium, essential to health, are transported to the bones. 

The brain is stimulated by improved circulation and the "controlled change" in blood pressure. Communication within the nervous system is improved. The lymphatic system works more effectively to carry fatty tissue from the intestines. 

Immune system organ function is boosted. Compression and extension of thymus, spleen, appendix, and intestines help to keep them functioning properly. Endocrine glands are encouraged to secrete the appropriate hormones into the body. The communication of hormones among various glands and systems of the body are "perfected". Joints are strenghthened and lubricated, which can increase their range of motion (good for arthritis). 

Your yoga practice balances the muscles, joints and energies of the body via the strength built and overall balance attained.



Water & Hot Yoga

VDP_10044-hfThe room is intentionally hot. Sweating helps expel toxins through the skin, your body's largest organ of elimination. Exercising to the point of perspiration offers overheating therapy benefits too. Tests show that when athletes sweat, they excrete cancer-causing elements like heavy metals and pesticide PCB's. 

The body's ability to function in heat is not a measure of physical conditioning, but heat conditioning. Being in good condition will help, but only consistent exposure to heat will allow the body to adjust (similar to the acclimation process at higher altitudes). 

Until acclimated to the heat, some students may show symptoms of heat stress. The process of heat acclimatization is a physiological process that takes time. Veteran students can experience these symptoms after prolonged absence from classes, stress, illness and/or dehydration. 

Full acclimatization takes as long as 14 days, but most students will feel more comfortable after attending a few classes in a row. 

Because of salt (electrolyte) loss prior to acclimatization, it is ESSENTIAL that new students take electrolyte replacements. this is also true when a student increases exposure by taking more classes as well as differing temperature and/or humidity. 

Hydration is key to successful hot yoga practice. Hydration must occur BEFORE heat exposure and/or exercise.
Some guidelines are:

  • 8 (8 ounce) glasses of water a day (conventional)
  • 1 ounce of water for every two pounds of body weight a day (revised)
  • 1 liter for every 30 pounds of body weight a day (super hydrate)

Remember that your body needs a certain amount of water every day just to maintain its normal functions. Participating in hot yoga increases the body's water requirements. 

Wiping sweat from the body stimulates additional sweating, which increases water loss! 



Overheating therapy is an ancient cleansing technique!


VDP_10010cAfter eight months teaching in his new Manhattan studio, Sonic Yoga founder Jonathan Fields began noticing something curious about his devoted clientele, it wasn't their flawless downward dogs or newfound inner peace-it was their diminished waistlines. They were losing weight-& lots of it. "It wasn't just a couple of pounds," Fields says. "It was five or ten-significant enough to lead me to believe that yoga may be an aerobic activity." Intrigued, he approached Bob Otto, Ph.D., director of the Human Performance Lab at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York , with his hypothesis. To test Field's theory, Otto assembled a preliminary group of 13 men & women to run through a sampling of traditional yoga asanas & sun salutations found in a typical one-hour session of any form of the practice. During the sequences, the participants were wired so that everything from heart rate to calorie expenditure was recorded. "It was a little cumbersome," says Otto. "But this is the first time hard, objective data on the energy cost of yoga have been collected." 

The results were surprising: The "active standing element" (the poses that keep you on your feet) of Vinyasa yoga can burn up to 540 calories an hour-the equivalent of running an eleven-minute mile. This is exciting news in a country where more than fifteen million Americans incorporate some form of yoga into their fitness routine. While yogis & health experts alike have long heralded the mental benefits of yoga, it now seems that putting that mat to good use may be comparable with more traditional methods of burning calories, like jogging & spinning. According to some of Fields' students it can be more motivating also. "I wanted to get in shape, but I always got so bored at the gym," admits Sophie Stewart, a restaurant & bar consultant who lost eight pounds since beginning to attend practice four or five times a week at the end of last year. "I used to be a larger woman, especially around my middle. It is amazing how much my body has changed." 

It is important to note, however, that the study focused on a very dynamic form of Vinyasa yoga-"a sweat-drenching experience," as Fields puts it. But it does indicate there are serious body-shaping benefits to be reaped from every form of the practice. How can you maximize your yoga workout no matter where you go? Physical fitness is best understood by examining its four components: flexibility, muscular strength, muscular endurance, & cardio respiratory endurance. Of course, flexibility is the building block of every form of yoga. From plough to upward dog, each pose not only loosens up the limbs (thereby preventing injury as you get older), it provides a slimming effect by improving posture & lengthening the spine. "In my experience, even if you're really tight in the beginning you will become more limber with continued practice," says Fields. 

Muscular strength & endurance are achieved in yoga through isometric contractions. "When you support your own body weight to the point of fatigue, you work the muscles," Otto says. "For best results, you want to hold your positions as long as possible." A few extra seconds in plank pose, for instance, will get you a firmer overall base tone & more defined arms & abs overtime.



Yoga gave me my life back!


VDP_10043by Sara Curry, Owner of Bikram Yoga Portsmouth

I cannot over-expound on the ability of Bikram Yoga to heal back pain from herniated discs. This yoga gave me back my life. In the depths of my pain, I remember sitting in the car with my husband outside one of our favorite restaurants just crying. I was in so much pain, I couldn't even imagine enduring the suffering of a nice, romantic dinner. Those of you who have experienced pack pain know what it does to your life. 

The following is my story and experience. I have included a posture-by-posture list of my personal approach to the practice for back pain-sufferers. I offer the information to help you on your way. 

I injured my back in the fall of 2001, shortly after I had started practicing Bikram Yoga. I had spent my youth playing sports, and most recently rugby, running and weight lifting. A lifetime of aggressive and contact sports culminated in two herniated discs in my low back at S1/L5 and L5/L4. They caused acute low back and sciatic pain radiating down to my left knee. 

I was in pain constantly, even in my sleep. The pain was so acute some days that my husband had to put my shoes on my feet. It was excruciating to go to work, to rest, to sleep, to walk, to drive. 

My doctor told me I had three options: live with the pain, undergo a discectomy or take cortisone shots for the rest of my life. 

I had begun my practice at a fantastic studio in Burlington, Vermont under wonderful, supportive teachers Kelley Lyons and Amy Nietzberg. I decided to try Bikram Yoga first. 

It was no miracle cure from the start. Classes were hard and uncomfortable. I had set backs regularly. At the time, my job only allowed me to attend 3 to 4 times a week. Some days I didn't think I could go through the pain and challenge of a class, but I always felt better (increased range of motion, better sleep, less pain and an ability to participate in more) after attending.

Over time, I could see slow progress. The miracle happened when I started practicing two times a day. It took me 10 days of doubles to be pain free. I kid you not. PAIN FREE. I could sit without a back support. I could roll over at night. I could put my pants on standing up. I kept it up for two months, resting on Sundays. I have had set backs since then. Under extreme stress or after moving or shoveling snow for hours in the Vermont winter, I have had times where I get sore again. Once, I threw my back out. I have found that the quicker I get back to yoga and the more classes I can take, the faster I recover. 

Now, four years out from the initial bad spell, I live a free, active life. I hike, water ski, shovel, stand on my head. There are no yoga poses that I skip or avoid. I haven't thrown out my back in over a year. I am very rarely even sore in my low back. 

I recognize that double classes are not possible for all of us. With less frequent practice, the healing (and strengthening) will simply take more time. Be patient with yourself and your students. Be strong and work hard. All you need is your body and this yoga to heal yourself. 

Anatomy of Back Pain 

Once a herniation, always a herniation. Inter-vertebral discs function to cushion the spine and absorb shock. A herniated disc is essentially a disc with a hole in it. The tough outer membrane of the disc is breached, and the softer, inner membrane extrudes. Pain occurs when the extrusion comes into contact with a nerve. A traumatic accident or years of accumulated abuse and degeneration of the tough outer walls most commonly cause herniated discs. Most people with herniated discs have either tight hamstrings (creating downward pressure on the pelvis) or weak abdominal muscles. Both cause a state of nearly constant forward bending in the low spine. 

The spinal nerves are located on the back side of the spine. When a person bends forward, the front of the vertebrae move closer together. This forces the disc toward the back of the spine, and the spinal nerves. Persistent, unsupported forward bending will cause or aggravate back pain from herniated discs. It is essential, especially in the beginning of healing for the student to be very cautious with forward bending. For most people, when their low back hurts, they lean forward and touch their toes. This is exacerbating the back pain. It will sound counterintuitive to most people to backward bend when they are sore, but it is essential to make that philosophy shift. Instead of leaning forward, a back pain-sufferer should try a supported standing backbend (like the set up for camel with the hands on the low spine) throughout the day as needed. That has been the hardest point for me to get my students to understand. I have watched students yank on their toes in the final stretching, skip camel and drop into child's pose between postures. After years, they cannot understand why they are not healing. When they finally understand and embrace the anatomy of their back pain and try the postures the right way, they begin to live without pain. 

Back pain sufferers need backward bending to strengthen and relieve pain. In a backbend, the back side of the vertebrae come together, moving the discs (and their extrusions) away from the spinal nerves, thus relieving pain. Pain relief may not be instantaneous because there is often a good deal of swelling in the area and tension in the muscles from experiencing pain. Time will help. In the beginning, do like Bikram says and "kill yourself" in backward bends. That is how you will heal yourself. Second, it is important for those with herniated discs to begin strengthening their abdominal and back muscles. One can never heal or repair a herniated disc. The hole will always be there. The student must develop enough muscle strength to support the lower back and prevent aggravation. That means: SUCK YOUR GUT IN. Throughout the class, draw the abdominal muscles in during all postures except for backward bending. Third, spine twists are the most healing movement for the inter vertebral discs. The rotation of the vertebrae serves to draw the extruded material back into the disc. Any time the low back has been compacted or strained, a spinal twist (like the reclined abdominal twist) will help undo the damage. A student with back pain must work the spine twist in triangle as well as the final spinal. 

Here are the four main concepts to work on during class: 

  • Easy does it in forward bending
  • Back bend like crazy
  • Suck your gut in
  • Spine twist like there is no tomorrow

The following is a list of modifications (from my experience) that may need to be made in the BEGINNING of a student's healing process while there is a lot of inflammation in the lumbar spine and trauma in the muscles. It is important not to become dependant on these modifications. They are temporary changes to help you get through the tough times. As you are able, you will move back to the regular execution of all postures. You'll have your head to your knee in no time!

  • Pranayama - Take this opportunity to drag your abdominal muscles in as much as possible. Remember a strong belly means a strong back.

  • Half Moon - The side bending is helpful in relieving tension in the muscles around the lumbar spine. Use it to help you feel less uncomfortable.

  • Backward Bend - Remember to keep those elbows locked so you don't sink into your lower back. Concentrate on lifting your chest as you arch back.

  • Hands to Feet - Take it very easy. Try bending your knees to get your hands to the floor. If that is too much, walk your hands down your thighs instead of keeping your arms with your ears. If putting your hands on the floor is too much, bring your hands to your thighs, chin up, suck in your stomach & flatten your back. No rounding when the pain is acute. You should look like an upside down "L" from the side.

  • Awkward - Great. Work the backbend in part one like it is your job. Work your abdominal throughout.

  • Eagle - No problems. Again, stomach in.

  • Standing Head to Knee - This is a challenge in the beginning. If you can reach your foot, slowly straighten your back a little at a time, sucking your abdomen in when you feel sore. If you cannot reach your foot due to pain, stand up straight & lift your thigh as high as it will go. DO NOT GRAB YOUR KNEE OR YOUR THIGH; this will put more pressure on your low back. When ready, contract the abdomen & begin to round forward reaching for your foot until you can grab it. I cannot over-emphasis, DO NOT GRAB YOUR KNEE.

  • Standing Bow - Work it as strongly as you can its good for you!

  • Balancing Stick - You may not be able to come down to parallel because your arms and torso drag on your lower back fairly intensely. If not, set it up. Step forward and stand rock solid like a statue. Belly in, of course. Over time, start to take it down inch by inch.

  • Standing Separate Leg Stretching - This posture may strain the low back in the beginning, but it is important to get a stretch to those tight hamstrings. Try hands to the thighs or hands to the floor in between your feet (depending on your flexibility) with a flat back, stomach in just like suggested in Hands to Feet.

  • Triangle - Another good one. Pay attention to your spine twist.

  • Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee - Similar to balancing stick, you may only be able to set it up. Step out, arms strong, belly in and turn to the side. Build the strength in your abdominal muscles and in time you will be rounding down with the best of them.

  • Tree - Work those abs.

  • Toe Stand - Test it out. Sometimes the bend forward hurts in the beginning. It is a great posture to stretch and strengthen, though, so get back to it as soon as possible.

  • Savasana - Many students want to bend their knees up in Savasana. Try to not. When you stretch your legs out, if your lower back is achy, dribble your knees up and down like they were basketballs. That should shake out some of the tension in your lower back muscles and relieve the cramping.

  • Wind-removing - The only reported problem is picking up the foot. Sometimes the pull on the front of the spine by the muscles doesn't feel good. Do what you need to do to get your leg up. Enjoy how the floor is supporting your whole spine.

  • Sit up - None in the beginning. Roll over and push yourself up. Over time, though, try to get back into them. They are not a permanent modification. They will help to strengthen the abs.

  • Cobra - Work your hardest even though it may be sore in the beginning. It is good for you.

  • Locust - Just do your best. It will help to strengthen your back, but your legs may be too heavy in the beginning. Lock your legs tight. Work them off the floor as you can.

  • Full Locust - Go for it!

  • Bow - Another good one that may feel like cramping in your low back. Work through it while respecting your limitations (and don't baby yourself).

  • Fixed Firm - Tight hip flexors will pull acutely on the low back in this one. That may be uncomfortable, but it is important to get them a good stretch. Do the best you can. Concentrate on lifting your chest once you can get to the floor. That should take some of the pressure and acute bend out of the lumbar spine.

  • Half-tortoise - Walk your hands down your thighs to come to the floor (contracting the abdominal muscles). If that is too much, skip it for a while.

  • Camel - Sore or not, camel is your friend. Don't be scared. Camel is here to help. Do your best.

  • Rabbit - Go easy or skip in the beginning. Like half tortoise, you can walk your hands down your thighs if you need to & then set it up.

  • Head to Knee - Try it, but bend your knee a TON, drop your head on your knee. Over time, work your heel out away from your body.

  • Final Stretching - Bend your knees if you need to, to get your feet. Chest up, flat back, stomach in. As you develop strength and flexibility, you will be able to bend forward with the rest of the class. ALWAYS SUPPORT YOUR LOWER BACK WITH YOUR ABDOMINALS IN ALL FORWARD BENDS.

  • Spine Twist - So, so, so good for you. Twist it out. Use your abs (it is a great strengthener for the obliques) to twist.

  • Kapalbhati - This is a great opportunity for you to develop strength in your abdomen. Work it. Enjoy it.

  • Keep working at it. You don't have to live in pain anymore.

The author of this story is now a successful yoga studio owner and instructor in New Hampshire. She will be happy to answer any questions on the subject or just share war stories with you. You can find her on the web at:bikramyogaportsmouth.com or Sara@BikramYogaPortsmouth.com



Yoga may change your shape more than you think.


VDP_10010cOverheating therapy, or hyperthermia as a healing technique, has been known throughout history. Ancient Greek physicians raised body temperature in healing centers as an immune defense against infection (I visited a center that still exists in Turkey ). The Romans had elaborate bath complexes for cleansing and healing. American Indians used sweat lodges for spiritual and cleansing rituals. The Scandinavians used healing steam baths. 

Ancient healers knew that a slight fever was a powerful healing tool against disease. Today, high heat procedures, like overheating baths, saunas and steam rooms are experiencing new popularity as people realize their enormous benefits for health. Modern health care professionals are finding that a non-life-threatening fever can do exceptional healing work. Slightly raising body temperature creates a natural defense and healing force by the immune system to rid the body of harmful pathogens... to literally burn out invading organisms. 

Ancient herbalists used heat-producing herbs as protective healing measures against colds and simple infections, even against serious degenerative diseases like skin tumors. Today, alternative healing clinics use artificially induced fevers to treat infections like acute bronchitis, pneumonia, arthritic conditions like fibromyalgia and lupus, even cancers such as leukemia. AIDS syndromes like cytomegalovirus respond to blood heating. 

Despite skepticism by conventional medicine, other means of treatment have and are being explored for conditions such as the HIV virus which has no one effective counter active drug therapies, mean that other methods must be tried. In 1997, CNN Health News reported on a blood heating procedure for AIDS in treating Kaposi's sarcoma, a cancer that produces severe skin lesions in HIV infected patients. The sores vanished in about four months after the therapy, along with other symptoms. Since then, many AIDS sufferers with sarcoma have undergone hyperthermia with success. In some cases, the blood has even tested negative for the HIV virus! (Researchers warn that even if the blood tests free of HIV, the virus may still resurface.) 

Here's how overheating therapy works as a detoxification mechanism:

When exposed to heat, blood vessels in the skin dilate to allow more blood to flow to the surface, activating sweat glands which then pour water onto the skin's surface. As the water evaporates from the skin, it draws both heat and toxins from the body, becoming a natural detoxification treatment as well as a cooling system.



Physician's thoughts on Hot Yoga:


VDP_10024Superheating the body helps to soften the collagen around the joints. "Collagen is a lot like plastic, & its rigidity eases when you warm it," says Marc Darrow, M.D., director of the Los Angeles based Joint Rehabilitation & Sports Medical Center. "Some athletes ride an exercise bike before stretching, which heats the muscles & softens collagen, but there's no reason you can't do the same thing by adjusting the thermostat," says Dr. Darrow, who includes Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver, Johnnie Morton, among his patients. 

Heat also helps "feed" the muscles by increasing the circulation of oxygen-laden red blood cells, says Lewis Maharam, Pres. of the Greater New York Regional Chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine. It's like working a bellow, as you pump more oxygen into your muscles, they are able to burn more fuel & the best way to let that rich, oxygenated blood into the inner recesses of your muscle tissue is to stretch. "Heat speeds up your metabolism," he explains, "& the yoga postures will certainly assist by improving your circulation & elasticity." 

But who says our muscles need more oxygen? Speed skaters for one. According to a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Olympic speed skaters are especially prone to muscle fatigue because of the tight crouch they skate in decreases blood flow to their calves & thighs. Something similar happens to you & me when we're hunched over a computer or cramped behind the wheel of a car. "Some of your muscles are so oxygen-starved, they're living on dogma," Pier quips. "They've heard about red blood cells, but never actually seen them."