Laura’s Corner

Laura’s Corner

Pinehurst Magazine

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Hot Yoga: Is it Healthy?

“Do your practice and all is coming” said the late Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009). He was referring to the ancient practice of yoga: a discipline that is believed to be 5000 years old. As old as the practice is, it has never been more relevant than it is today. Yoga studios are springing up everywhere, from major cities to small towns, as people become more and more aware of the many health benefits of yoga and particularly hot yoga. Not only has the public embraced yoga but, an increasing number of medical practitioners are looking to yoga to supplement western medicine in caring for their patients. Doctor Timothy McCall, a board certified specialist in internal medicine has recently written the book: “Yoga as Medicine”. Yoga is definitely moving into the main stream!

What exactly is yoga? The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root “yuj” meaning to join, attach and yoke, to focus one’s attention, to use and apply. It also means union: union of mind, body and spirit. What we, in the west refer to as yoga is actually a series of “asanas” or physical postures, each of which has its own purpose and benefit. There are roughly 80 different asanas with thousands of variations. There are also many different styles of yoga, including Vinyasa, Hatha, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Kundalini, Jivamukti, Kripalu, Integral and Hot Yoga.

Hot Yoga was introduced in this country by Bikram Choudhury in the 1970’s and has continued to grow in popularity. Over the years a few of Bikram’s top teachers, including Jimmy Barkan and Baron Baptiste, have spun off and created their own style and sequence of asanas, including what is referred to as Hot Vinyasa Flow. While they may have added or removed some of the asanas, the principle remains the same: traditional asanas performed in a heated room and led by a certified instructor.

How can working out in a hot room be good for you? The heat reduces the risk of injuries and allows you to stretch further in comfort. By letting the muscles stretch further you will get more immediate results. Those with arthritic or stiff joints find they can stretch more, without feeling the pain and aches that inhibit movement. The heat also acts on your body fluids. Besides the obvious sweating (which is detoxifying) your blood vessels and capillaries expand, thereby increasing blood flow and reducing blood pressure. In other words you are getting a cardio workout without the pounding of running or aerobics.

Learning to “enjoy” sweating runs counter to our modern way of thinking, however you will appreciate not only the efficiency of your body but the healthy affects as well. Sweating out the toxins in your body helps clear out bacteria on and just below the surface of your skin. The net effect is a clearer more glowing complexion.

What about weight loss? Although calories burned will vary from one individual to another, it has been found that calories burned in a typical hot yoga class range from 500 to 1000 per hour.

Beyond the physical, there is also mental strengthening that takes place. Breath control is an integral part of any Hatha or Vinyasa class, and is particularly important in a hot yoga class. By learning to control your breathing not only will you begin to expand your lung capacity, you will also increase your ability to focus and stay calm in stressful situations!

Is hot yoga for you? As with any new activity, you should check with your doctor first to make sure you are healthy enough for the practice. Then give it a try! What have you got to lose except that stiff back and a few pounds?

Pinehurst Magazine – June 2010

By Laura Christophersen

Yoga: Staying Current for 5000 Years

The history of yoga dates back some 5000 years and yet it has never been more popular than today. Google the word “yoga” and you will get roughly 9.8 million search results. Type ”yoga” into Amazon’s website and you will get 50,000 results, with over 16,000 in books, alone! Yoga has been featured on shows from Oprah and Good Morning America, to Seinfeld. Madonna and Sting practice yoga and so do your teenager and grandmother. According to a 2008 study released by Yoga Journal magazine, Americans spend $5.7 billion a year on yoga classes and products. Trisha Lamb Feuerstein, director of research for the Yoga Research and Education Center, has stated that the practice has over 20 million followers in the United States, up from 6 million in 1994! Yes, yoga has definitely arrived, and Americans in big cities and small towns are embracing this new way of staying healthy. The question is why now? What has made this ancient practice so relevant to today’s lifestyle?

The 2008 study by Yoga Journal indicated that roughly half of the current practitioners started in order to improve their health. The majority of practitioners are women (72.2%) but men are increasingly showing up, particularly to the “Power” and “Hot Yoga” classes. Professional coaching staffs are sending their teams to yoga to improve their performance. Whether it’s running, golf or football, athletes of all ages and interests are finding that yoga can give them that extra edge, as well as aiding in the prevention of injuries.

It’s true that consistent practice will help your performance on the course and court. Yogis discover greater strength and flexibility, better posture and deeper breathing. Weight loss, improved muscle tone and greater endurance, are all measurable benefits of yoga. But, there is more to yoga than what you see in the mirror and on the playing field. Increasingly, doctors, scientists and medical researchers are discovering the virtues of yoga. Dr Timothy McCall has written a book, “Yoga as Medicine” in which he describes the medical benefits of yoga for a wide variety of ailments from anxiety and asthma to insomnia and menopause. One of the most studied health benefits of yoga is its effect on heart disease. Yoga has been known to lower blood pressure and slow the heart rate, one reason that Dr. Dean Ornish made it a key component to his program for reversing heart disease. As more studies are done, the medical community is focusing on the less obvious benefits as well.

Harder to quantify and measure, concentration and mental focus are benefits that you will hear commonly cited by yogis. Yoga’s effects on depression and ADD are also areas of study that have shown positive results. According the WebMD: “among yoga’s anti-stress benefits are a host of biochemical responses…a decrease in catecholamines, the hormones produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress….lower levels of hormone neurotransmitters…creating a feeling of calm…and even an increase in the hormone oxytocin…the so called “trust and bonding hormone” that is associated with feeling relaxed and connected to others.”In other words, yoga not only makes you healthier, you actually feel better!

Even those who are just beginning to practice feel more relaxed and less stressed after their first class. Perhaps this is the real reason for yoga’s long history and current relevance. In these difficult times, people are not only looking to improve their physical state but also to improve their mood and outlook on life. Yoga’s philosophy of living and enjoying the present, of accepting life and learning to cope with it may just be the perfect formula for finding happiness in our crazy world. The only way to find out what yoga can do for you is to try it. This 5000 year old practice may be just what your 21st century life needs!

The Pilot Newspaper

By LJ Christophersen

HOT YOGA: WHY?

Sixteen years ago, a friend suggested that I go to a yoga class with her. As a runner and biker (the kind propelled by legs) and somewhat of a “gym rat”, I was curious but skeptical. Like many westerners, I thought yoga was just a lot of stretching on the floor or “mat”. Little did I know that I had embarked on a journey that would bring strength and healing to my body and mind.

The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root “yuj” meaning to join, attach and yoke, to focus one’s attention, to use and apply. It also means union: union of mind, body and spirit. What we, in the west refer to as yoga is actually a series of “asanas” or physical postures, each of which has its own purpose and benefit. There are 80 different asanas with thousands of variations. There are also many different styles of Asana yoga, including Vinyasa, Hatha, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Kundalini, Jivamukti, Kripalu, Integral and Hot Yoga.

Hot Yoga was introduced in this country by Bikram Choudhury in the 1970’s and has continued to grow in popularity to the point where “Bikram” studios number in excess of 500 around the world and his certified teachers number in the thousands. The Bikram method consists of 26 postures from the ancient Hatha Yoga (said to be thousands of years old), performed in a room heated to 100+ degrees. Each pose is performed twice and always in the same order. Over the years a few of Bikram’s top teachers have spun off and created their own style and sequence of asanas, including Baron Baptiste and Jimmy Barkan. While they may have added or removed some of the asanas, the principle remains the same: the practice consists of traditional asanas, performed in a heated room and led by a qualified instructor.

When I entered my first “Bikram Hot Yoga” class, my immediate thought was: ‘You must be kidding! There’s no way this could be good for you!’ Believe it or not, it truly is. The heat reduces the risk of injuries and allows you to stretch further in comfort. By letting the muscles stretch further you will get more immediate results. Those with arthritic or stiff joints find they can stretch more, without feeling the pain and aches that inhibit movement. The heat also acts on your body fluids. Besides the obvious sweating (which is detoxifying) your blood vessels and capillaries expand, thereby increasing blood flow and reducing blood pressure. In other words you are getting a cardio workout without the pounding of running or aerobics. Holding a particular pose in the heat will add to the increased heart rate

Beyond the physical, there is also mental strengthening that takes place. You truly need focus to hold a balancing position in the heat. Breath control is an integral part of any Hatha or Vinyasa class, and is particularly important in a hot yoga class. By learning to control your breathing not only will you begin to expand your lung capacity, it will also aid in maintaining focus. This newly increased ability to focus can be carried over to other aspects of life outside the yoga studio. In today’s world of constant multi-tasking the ability to focus on just one thing has been compromised too often. Learning to focus can bring better results to any project or aspiration.

Learning to “enjoy” sweating runs counter to our modern way of thinking, however you will appreciate not only the efficiency of your body but the healthy affects as well. Sweating out the toxins in your body helps clear out bacteria on and just below the surface of your skin. The net effect is a clearer more glowing complexion.

What about weight loss? Although calories burned will vary from one individual to another, it has been found that calories burned in a typical hot yoga class range from 500 to 1000 per hour.

Still not convinced? Take a look at the likes of Elle McPherson and Daniel Craig, two devotees of hot yoga. Bikram lists Quincy Jones, Madonna, Candice Bergen and Brooke Shields among his famous followers. Like these celebrities, many sports coaches from NFL football to golf have gravitated to yoga to balance their athletes’ workouts.

So what does it take to enjoy a hot yoga class? First abandon all preconceptions and go with an open mind. Be prepared to sweat by arriving hydrated and staying hydrated during and after the class. You do not want to eat a meal within two hours of class and as with any new exercise regime; you should consult your doctor before you begin.

One of the most important factors of this practice is listening to your body. Hot yoga will not only make you listen, you will actually like what you hear. After all, the goal of yoga is to encourage us to be a little better than we were before.