How Yoga Heals: The Ancient Art Soothes Pain as It Boosts Strength, Balance, and Flexibility

By Berggoetz, Barb | The Saturday Evening Post, March-April 2011 | Go to article overview

How Yoga Heals: The Ancient Art Soothes Pain as It Boosts Strength, Balance, and Flexibility


Berggoetz, Barb, The Saturday Evening Post


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NAGGING ACHES AND PAINS IN HER KNEES, legs, and hips were taxing competitive runner Diane Earl's body as well as sapping her psyche. After extensive medical exams proved inconclusive, Diane tried typical antiinflammatory drugs and physical therapy to get back on the path to good health.

Nothing worked.

But as she continued her search for relief, Diane read about the benefits of yoga-stress reduction, strength building, improved balance, and flexibility-and decided to give it a try.

Two years later, the athlete utilizes the ancient mindbody practice to better align the right and left sides of her body and bolster core muscles, as well as to quiet her mind after a hectic day as a business executive.

The pains are a memory, and her running stride is more balanced and efficient than before she began yoga.

"Everything is resolved," says Diane, 51, a half-marathoner who lives in the Indianapolis area and attends classes twice weekly at one of the city's top yoga studios, All People Yoga Center. "I would really miss it if I would stop."

Earl's experience isn't unusual. Yoga attracts more than 15 million, or 6.9 percent of U.S. adults, nearly threequarters of whom are female. About 41 percent are 35 to 54 years old, while more than 18 percent are over 55. In fact, a growing number of seniors are drawn to yoga, according to a recent report in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

"Yoga stretches your body and mind as it addresses the primary 'ager' of humans-frailty," Dr. Mehmet Oz tells the Post. "The ability to lift your own body is the key determinant of survival in most societies, and yoga's emphasis on these simple lessons combined with a focus on deep breathing enable all participants to cope with daily stresses."

A Question of Style

The many practices of yoga--gentle, restorative, power, hot, and the new aerial-style that uses a silky harness to support the body, among others-appeal to people seeking anything from a vigorous workout or rehab to deep meditation or stress relief.

Advocates attest to its positive influences on both body and mind.

Deep, intentional breathing-central to traditional yoga teachings-increases lung capacity and improves sports performance and endurance. Meditative techniques also reduce stress hormone levels, eliciting relaxation and calm. In late 2010, study results found that participants who practiced yoga experienced better moods and less anxiety than those who walked at the same intensity level. In addition, the new data suggest that yoga boosts levels of gammaaminobutyric acid GABA)--the brain's primary inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps induce relaxation and sleep.

Laurie Schneider, who has practiced yoga for lo years and plans on taking classes to work with the physically challenged, notices that yoga clears her mind and recharges her battery. "Little things don't bother me as much," says Schneider, 63. "It's a mood stabilizer, and has given me peace in my everyday life."

Researchers also are testing yoga's impact on easing the symptoms of menopause (see sidebar). …

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