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Posts Tagged ‘Teachers and Centers’

Playing with Google’s Ngram site … exploring the usage of words & phrases in the zillions of books currently digitized by Google.  Here are a few charts showing the frequency of a few popular yoga words published between 1808 and 2008.

There seems to have been a spike of mentions in the early 1900’s followed by a wave in 1980 and a recent wave in 2000.  Vipassana meditation and the term “namaste” seemed only to catch the 2000 wave, but not the earlier yoga wave … seems it was yoga that caught on first and then finer aspects of the practices followed later?

yogaearliest blips in 1810 then a spike in 1980

 

ashtanga mentioned in the early 1800’s!?

bhagavad – its spikes seem to presage the spikes in yogic terms?

 

anusaramentioned in the very early 1900’s!?

vipassanano wave in 1980, but tracks the 2000 wave

meditationalways a commonly used term in many non-yogic contexts

 

namaste caught on only in the recent wave

what other words might be of interest???

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Hatha Yoga Video - Revolving Lunge Pose
Image by myyogaonline via Flickr

Does yoga feel good?  Do you feel good during the practice – moving your body through the bending, twisting, inverting etc.?  Be honest. I mean, since you’re probably sore as hell the next morning … if you don’t feel good during the practice, why would you bother at all?

Now that I have a tad of strength in my arms and shoulders, I think I can say that, “yes” I do feel good and enjoy the practice … but usually just for the first 20 minutes or so before I start playing the frantic “just keep up with the instructor and hope for a break” game.

Some say that their good feelings come from the relaxed meditative state that yoga puts them in.  Some folks just like to move their bodies and are attracted to the strange and exotic beauty of the postures.  I always enjoy the music.

But where do these good feelings come from?   Aren’t they just in my head?  Do I really need to move my body to feel good?  Why not just sit and breathe?

It turns out that there is a scientific theory on this topic.  The so-called Somatic markers hypothesis that suggests that afferent feedback from the body to the brain is necessary for generating our feelings.  For example, stimulation of the vagus nerve (aka Kundalini serpent) makes us feel good, while individuals with spinal cord damage who lack afferent input from the body reportedly have blunted emotions.

In his research review article, Human feelings: why are some more aware than others? [doi:10.1016/j.tics.2004.04.004] Dr. Bud Craig from the Barrow Neurological Institute reviews the science of this topic and lays out the neural circuitry that goes from body to brain and is necessary for us to FEEL.

These feelings represent ‘the material me’, and so this broader concept of interoception converges with the so-called somatic-marker hypothesis of consciousness proposed by Damasio. In this proposal, the afferent sensory representation of the homeostatic condition of the body is the basis for the mental representation of the sentient self.  Recursive meta-representations of homeostatic feelings allow the brain to distinguish the inner world from the outer world. Most strikingly, degrees of conscious awareness are related to successive upgrades in the cortex (a target of visceral afferent activity), supplementary motor cortex (involved in manual responses), and bilateral insular cortices. This pattern supports the general view that a network of inter-related forebrain regions is involved in interoceptive attention and emotional feelings.

Amazingly, it seems that humans have evolved several unique adaptations that make us able to convert bodily sensation into self-awareness.

For instance, a novel cell type, the so-called spindle cell, is exclusively located in these regions of the human brain. Recent evidence indicates a trenchant phylogenetic correlation, in that spindle cells are most numerous in aged humans, but progressively less numerous in children, gorillas, bonobos and chimpanzees, and nonexistent in macaque monkeys. Notably, this phylogenetic progression also parallels the results of the mirror test for self-awareness.

The rapid development of right Anterior Insula within a brief evolutionary timescale suggests that nested interoceptive re-representations could be directly related to the advantages of advanced social interaction.

So it seems that we human beings rely on bodily awareness to attain emotional awareness.  This sounds very yogic and something the yoga practice helps to develop.  Feel your body –> feel your emotions!

 

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Richard Freeman

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In his new movie, former Harvard psychology professor turned spiritual teacher Ram Dass (Dr. Richard Alpert), hails us to, “love everybody and tell the truth”.

Tell the truth.  Not only a great rule to live by, but one of the things that I’ve always loved about science … its a way to discover and face the objective “truth” as separate from our subjective wants and wishes.

Take the latest scientific data on happiness.  I mean, from a – scientific point of view – what really makes us happy? Daniel Gilbert (another) Harvard psychology professor has published a research article entitled, “A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind” [doi:10.1126/science.1192439].  The researchers used a cool mobile web application trackyourhappiness.org to collect:

an unusually large database of real-time reports of thoughts, feelings, and actions of a broad range of people as they went about their daily activities. …  The database currently contains nearly a quarter of a million samples from about 5000 people from 83 different countries who range in age from 18 to 88 and who collectively represent every one of 86 major occupational categories. … what people were thinking was a better predictor of their happiness than was what they were doing. …  The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost. (the figure from the paper shows the happiness scores of mind wandering vs. not wandering)

As covered very nicely in the NY Times, it turns out that when folks’ minds were engaged in focused activities, they were happier as compared to when their minds were wandering.  So, it seems that scientific data support the ancient teachings (and Dass’ 1971 book) to Be Here Now!

Here’s the new movie clip found on RamDass.org:

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Neal Pollack
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Really enjoyed reading   Stretch – The Unlikely making of a Yoga Dude by Neal Pollack!  He’s so honest and blunt about his extensive journeys through yoga practices, workshops, conventions, that – as a guy and newbie to yoga – it was hard to put the book down.  Over and over again in the book, he skewers the phony “open your heart to the possibilities of the universe” and “feel good” culture of western commercial yoga inc., and finally comes to resonate and find inner-peace in the deeper guidance of Richard Freeman and in-depth analysis of the ancient yoga texts. Drug-use, fart and sexist humor aside, I learned A LOT about yoga!

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Do you?  Do you care for yourself the way you’d treat a sweetheart or your very own child?  Do you accept yourself and ‘not see’ all the imperfections in yourself that you ‘don’t see’ in your loved ones?  Do you give yourself the same gifts of kindness, tenderness and tolerance that you lavish on those you love?  Perhaps if you loved yourself more, you’d love others more.  You’d love your loved ones more deeply and in more ways.

But how do we learn to love ourselves?  It sounds narcissistic.  Its not.  In this video (0:10:50), former molecular biologist and medical school professor,  Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests that giving yourself a small gift – some time to rest – time to accept yourself – time to allow your thoughts to drift – time to listen to your feelings and thoughts with honesty and vulnerability – via yoga and meditation – is a wonderful act of self love.

Put aside the stronger muscles, the leaner body and the soothing music …  to me, Kabat-Zinn points to the one and only, most fundamental reason to practice yoga and meditation.  Ultimately, its an expression of LOVE that is practiced first on oneself – and then – radiates to others.  If you can’t love yourself – body, mind, soul – how can you really love others?

P.S.  The images (0:12:03) of Harvard Chemistry Professor, Nobel Prize winner George Wald doing yoga and sitting on a beach while beating a drum and chanting are priceless!

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Oregon Health & Sciences University
Image by drburtoni via Flickr

A recent scientific study of yoga and fibromyalgia has been buzzing around the web (here, here, here, here).  The study is entitled, “A pilot randomized controlled trial of the Yoga of Awareness program in the management of fibromyalgia” [doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2010.08.020] and is one of the most scholarly articles on the science of yoga that I have ever read (more posts to come on this research article). In a nutshell:

53 women who have suffered with fibromyalgia for 1-10+ years were randomly separated into a test group (25 women) who participated in an 8-week Yoga of Awareness course vs. a control group (28 women) who participated in so-called routine care for fibromyalgia.  After the 8-week course, the test (yoga) group showed greater improvements in a number of fibromyalgia symptoms than the control group.

The results are big news – not only for people who suffer from fibromyalgia – but for many others who suffer with chronic pain.  The results suggest that yoga works!  and may be worth a try!

One of the things I found so great about the article, is the way the authors delved into the question of WHY yoga works and why it may be a rather ideal adjunct to traditional medical therapy.  Here’s a passage from the article:

The intention of the yoga program we employed was to fulfill the need for both exercise and coping skills training as effective counterparts to pharmacotherapy for FM. Recent reviews of exercise trials concur that aerobic exercise and also strength training usually improves some FM symptoms and physical functioning, but rarely shows effects on pain or mood. In contrast, reviews of FM coping skills trials have concluded that such treatments usually show mild to moderate post-treatment effects on pain, mood, and disability. However, several reviews have emphasized that the best results have been produced by multi-modal interventions that combine both exercise and coping skills training.

What made a this yoga intervention so innovative – from a purely medical or clinical perspective – is the way it aimed to treat BOTH body and mind.  Note how the medical world has a way of divvying up treatments into those that are specific to the body and those that are specific to the mind.   Perhaps, it is starting to dawn on modern medical practice that this separation does not work well for certain ailments – particularly for the treatment of chronic pain.

Credit two unassuming yoga instructors for this!

It turns out that the lead authors for the research are James W. Carson and Kimberly M. Carson from the Department of Anesthesiology and Peri-operative Medicine and School of Nursing, Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Oregon.  They are strangers to neither science nor the practice of yoga.  From their website – Jim is a former yogic monk with more than 25 years of teaching experience while Kimberly is an instructor of Kripalu Yoga – in addition to numerous other academic and yogic accomplishments.

Yogis doing science?

Of course!  This should not come as a surprise.  Ancient yogis were dabbling in psychology, chemistry and medicine LONG before our modern era of science came along.   Just like modern medical practitioners – they wanted to help people cope with suffering 🙂

Today, there is much to be gained in scientific research on the mind-body interface.  A recent article in Nature Medicine reviews the neuroscience of this most mysterious interface.  “Getting the pain you expect: mechanisms of placebo, nocebo and reappraisal effects in humans” [doi:10.1038/nm.2229].  Will try and explore some of these brain-body connections and the way yoga practice engages them in future posts (related post here).

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Yoga Class at a Gym Category:Gyms_and_Health_Clubs
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One of the most mysterious aspects of modern medicine is the so-called placebo effect.  Imagine a drug company that has a new pill.  To see if it works, they give one group of people (the “test” group) the real pill and they give another group of people (the “control” group) an identical looking pill that does not contain any medicine (sugar pill).  If the the “test” group improves in health and the “control” group does not – voila! – one can conclude that the medicine works.

What happens when the “control” group gets better?  Hunh?  but there was no medicine … how can they get better? This is known as the placebo effect – wherein a persons EXPECTATIONS lead them to feel better.

Believe it or not, it happens all the time in scientific research and in the pharmaceutical industry.  Apparently the brain has a way of convincing the body that things are getter better (or worse).  You probably have probed this complex mind-body interface at some point … “is the pain really in my back, or perhaps just in my head?” Indeed, you can almost hear the frustration among the blue suits in a big pharma board room,  “Mind and body are connected?” “How much is this damned mind-body problem going to cost us?”  Its a multi-billion dollar problem!

Ancient yogis seemed to understand the placebo/mind-body phenomenon.  Its a part of what makes yoga so interesting.  Its ALL ABOUT THE CONNECTION between mind and body – not one vs. the other.

Most folks who practice yoga will attest to its mental and physical benefits.  This is true.  However, one can still ask the valid question of whether the actual benefits are real?  The purely physical benefits (muscles) are not in doubt.  But, does yoga really improve a person’s mental life – or do we just want to think so (a placebo response)?  I mean, have you left the yoga studio (fully relaxed) only to honk the horn after being cut off in traffic?  Did yoga really change you?  Is there evidence – in the scientific sense – that yoga leads to mental well-being?

Hats off to Dru worldwide – an organization that is “passionate about positive health and wellbeing. With yoga and meditation at [its] core.” – for taking on this important question!

In an article entitled, “The effectiveness of yoga for the improvement of well-being and resilience to stress in the workplace”  [PMID: 20369218]  published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, researchers from Dru Education Center, University of Gothenburg, Harvard Medical School and Bangor University used the scientific method and compared 24 people (mostly women with mean age of 39) who participated in a 1 hour yoga class each week (for 6 weeks) to 24 people who did not participate in the yoga training (the control group).  Importantly, these groups were selected at random and showed similar profiles for age, prior yoga experience and health condition.

Specifically, the investigators sought to “measure” the effects of yoga using 2 instruments:  the Profile of Mood States Bipolar (POMS-Bi) and the Inventory of Positive Psychological Attitudes (IPPA – you can take the assessment here).  As noted by the researchers, these questionnaires allow investigators to track changes in both positive and negative feelings.  To determine whether the yoga experience conferred a psychological benefit, the investigators measured the POMS and IPPA scores at the start and at the end of 6 weeks and then asked whether the change in score was different between the “test” and “control” groups.

The results (nice graph on the Dru website) show that the improvements in score (benefits) were higher in the yoga “test” group than the “control” group (who were on the waiting list for the 6 weeks).

In 7 of the 8 POMS-Bi and IPPA domains, scores for the yoga group improved 2–5 times more than those in the control group over the course of this study. The interaction term from a two-way ANOVA showed that in comparison with the control group, the yoga participants at the end of the program felt significantly less anxious, confused, depressed, tired, and unsure, and had a greater sense of life purpose and satisfaction and were more self-confident during stressful situations. Although the yoga group reported feeling more agreeable (less hostile) than the control group at the end of the program, this difference was not statistically significant.

Thus, the research team validly concludes that the yoga experience was associate with improvements in mental well-being.   This is remarkable given the small size and short duration of the study.  I do recall, when I first started yoga (9 months ago) that I felt sooo much better, so I think I can understand what the participants might have been feeling.

BUT, was this just the placebo response?  Like me, did the study participants want to THINK that it was the yoga that made the difference?  In other words, were the mental wellness benefits due to the EXPECTATION of feeling better – the placebo effect?  The investigators are not unaware of this issue:

Because participants in our study were self-selected, it can be assumed that they were a highly motivated group who wanted to practice yoga. Participant expectations may have included a desire to feel less stressed by the end of the six-week sessions and this may have contributed to their perceived benefit.

So, the data suggest that yoga made a contribution to the mental well-being of the participants.  This is a valid conclusion – and hats off to the research team for conducting the study.  Are the effects “real” or “just in the mind” of the participants?  Does it really matter?

Personally, I don’t think so.  That’s the fun of exploring the mind-body interface via yoga and meditation.  Not “knowing” but rather, just “feeling”!

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Thanks to Yoga Dork for this great post on yoga at the NY Giants!

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Last night I sat together with my 6 y.o. son at a kirtan in our yoga shala listening, clapping, chanting and singing along with Girish and his band.  My little guy is something of a yogi himself – even though we’re both newbies to yoga.  (At left is his drawing of  yoga class.)

At some point during the performance, as we sat together on the floor and the vibrations pulsed through us, I looked down at his gentle innocent face – and it suddenly dawned on me – why I’ve been feeling so compelled to expose him (and his younger brother) to kids yoga classes – not to mention kirtans.

Someday, I’ll be long gone from this world.

How will my children find me when I gone?

Where will they look?

How can they find comfort in time of distress?  How can they connect with “me” – my heart and soul?

There amidst the chanting, it became clear – that yoga, being a form of spirituality in its barest, stripped-down most primitive form – is a way that folks come to know their true selves, heart and soul.

Suddenly I realized that, someday when I am long gone, my sons will be able to find “me” –  my own self, heart and soul – RIGHT HERE! On the bare floor – wherever they are – between their own hands,  in the place where their own beads of sweat fall.  They will find their own selves – hearts and souls – in their practice – and know that their dad found his true self, heart and soul right there – in the very same place – where the sweat falls from the brow.

It felt so wonderfully comforting to realize that there IS a way to stay connected.  To share a living, breathing bond that survives long after the body.  There is a path! I think doing yoga with my kids is a way to build a passageway – through space and time – to find each other again – long after we leave this world.  I will never forget that moment of clarity.

I’ve seen many great dads in my town, and I think they all feel the same way – whether it be baseball, football, basketball, soccer etc.  Yoga – although a deeply spiritual endeavor – does not have to be special in this regard (you should see some of the fanatical baseball dads in my town!).  Perhaps, we all imagine that someday, our kids will play and teach their own kids in the same way we taught them.  Perhaps, many years from now, they’ll stop for a moment and think fondly of us – about the simple joy they shared, and – in that instant – realize that there is a living bond that cuts across space and time.

Whatever you LOVE to do –> teach it to your kids and you will forge a bond that survives long after you are gone!

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Raging River, Preston WA
Image by Preconscious Eye via Flickr

As a parent, there are times when I realize that the world of my children is not the world I grew up in.  Yes, the Readin’, ‘Ritin’ & ‘Ritmetic are still just as important … and there is nothing as precious as apple pie and little league in the spring … and yes, kids must eat their vegetables and say their prayers at night.  Just as its always been – and will always be.  The wider technological and economic world of my children, however, is much different – most obviously altered by the recent rise of computer technology that “creatively destroys” all forms of industrial activity (media, finance, trade, healthcare) across the globe.  Such change, while unsettling, is, itself, nothing new.  Just teach the children to adapt and, like every generation before, your children will be fine.  OK.

With this in mind, I enjoyed the recent NY Times article, “Outdoors and Out of Reach, Studying the Brain” that describes a rafting expedition of neuroscientists who ventured down a remote river in Utah – purposefully out of touch with computer technology – in order to ponder how computer technology, in the form of our email, video gaming, texting etc., etc. shape our mental experience and mental health.  According to the article:

It was a primitive trip with a sophisticated goal: to understand how heavy use of digital devices and other technology changes how we think and behave, and how a retreat into nature might reverse those effects.

In particular, the team was focused on the neural systems that help us pay attention.

David Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah, says that studying what happens when we step away from our devices and rest our brains — in particular, how attention, memory and learning are affected — is important science.  “Attention is the holy grail,” Mr. Strayer says.”  “Everything that you’re conscious of, everything you let in, everything you remember and you forget, depends on it.

Every parent knows that kids are increasingly hooked on this and that computer device.  We know that these devices constantly serve up all manner of entertaining news, sports scores, gossip, visual images, games, etc. etc.    Unfortunately, we also know that so-called “intermittent reinforcement”, “variable ratio of reinforcement” or “random reinforcement” can be just as addictive as any drug (the red line in the chart here shows how much more reinforcing “random” rewards are than fixed, predictable rewards).  This is why these devices are – in every sense of the word – ADDICTIVE.  They offer up a steady, but unpredictably so, stream of rewarding images and bits of information.  I mean, how many times a day do you check your email and favorite websites?  Do you feel disappointed when there is nothing juicy – but can’t help checking “just one more time”?

Hence, computer technology presents a quandary for all of us – grown ups and kids alike.  How to adapt to, and manage this “new normal” of hand-held, computer-based, ubiquitous access to social and entertainment information?

Although the trip did not yield THE definitive answer, it seemed to prompt the scientists to take a closer look at the effects and value of conecting/disconnecting from computer technology.  For Professor Todd Braver, a neuroscientist from Washington University:

When he gets back to St. Louis, he says, he plans to focus more on understanding what happens to the brain as it rests. He wants to use imaging technology to see whether the effect of nature on the brain can be measured and whether there are other ways to reproduce it, say, through meditation.

Boy, it sure would be nice to head out with the kids and shoot the rapids for a few days every time I felt overloaded!  Unfortunately NOT one our our family’s economic realities!

Professor Braver’s comments on reproducing the effect of the rafting trip through meditation, however, got me wondering, and also reminded me of a quote that is painted on the wall of my yoga shala – from the 13th century Persian poet, Rumi.

“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy”

Although I can’t get away with the kids for a rafting trip, I can – and do – enjoy spending time together in a place where “CrackBerrys” and all other forms of digital technology are not to be found.  A quiet spot in NJ near the, ahem, scenic Rahway River.  One thing my kids have been learning in their children’s yoga classes are the rudiments of mindfulness meditation.  Might this be what Professor Braver had in mind?  Can it help reproduce the cognitive and emotional effects of a river rafting trip?  As noted in the article:

Mr. Strayer, the trip leader, argues that nature can refresh the brain. “Our senses change. They kind of recalibrate — you notice sounds, like these crickets chirping; you hear the river, the sounds, the smells, you become more connected to the physical environment, the earth, rather than the artificial environment.”  … “There’s a real mental freedom in knowing no one or nothing can interrupt you,” Mr. Braver says. He echoes the others in noting that the trip is in many ways more effective than work retreats set in hotels, often involving hundreds of people who shuffle through quick meetings, wielding BlackBerrys.”

Hmmm, this kind of stuff is oft said about meditation.  As many parents fret about their way kids become attached to their digital devices, it is perhaps too early to know whether meditation is an effective counter-balance to the new digital reality.  Can it provide the same cognitive and emotional benefits experienced by the river rafters who were truly “disconnected” for a few days?  Perhaps – with practice, and more practice.  Nevertheless, a relaxing walk through the forest is different for kids today – as their digital devices buzz away in their pockets.  What’s a modern-age kid to do?

To begin to explore this question further, check out these 2 review articles on the physiological and psychological benefits of both meditation and yoga in children.  The first, Sitting-Meditation Interventions Among Youth: A Review of Treatment Efficacy by David S. Black, Joel Milam and Steve Sussman, published in Pediatrics Aug 24, 2009  and Therapeutic Effects of Yoga for Children: A Systematic Review of the Literature by doctors Mary Lou Galantino, Robyn Galbavy and Lauren Quinn from the University of Pennsylvania.

Both articles examine existing scientific evidence – in the form of controlled clinical studies – on whether these very ancient practices provide benefits to kids in the modern world.  In short – they do – but more research is needed to better understand how much benefit is provided.  How many sessions are needed?  Does it last after practicing stops?  How do the benefits work?  How to best engage children of different ages?  From the abstracts:

“Sitting meditation seems to be an effective intervention in the treatment of physiologic, psychosocial, and behavioral conditions among youth.” … “The evidence shows physiological benefits of yoga for the pediatric population that may benefit children through the rehabilitation process, but larger clinical trials, including specific measures of quality of life are necessary to provide definitive evidence.”

Its fun to meditate and fun to spend quiet time with my young children – so there is no real downside to spending some time meditating and “disconnecting” from our digital devices.  Might they be learning a skill that protects their creativity and emotional well-being?  I hope so.  Perhaps one day when they are older, they will email me to let me know!

To learn more about meditation for children, visit The David Lynch FoundationUCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center (adapting ancient practices to modern life),  the Committee for Stress-Free Schools, Dr. Elizabeth Reid’s six week curriculum to encourage mindful learning in a class of fourth grade students and an interview with my former postdoctoral mentor on the science of attention training.

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The 14th Dalai Lama, a renowned Tibetan Buddhi...
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In this essay, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama addresses the question, “What possible benefit could there be for a scientific discipline such as neuroscience in engaging in dialogue with Buddhist contemplative tradition?”

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Practice Yoga, Be Healthy! {EXPLORED}
Image by VinothChandar via Flickr

Have you ever noticed how everything healthy these days is “anti-oxidant” this and “anti-oxidant” that?  Green tea, dark chocolate, vitamin E and vitamin C – just to name a few.  Surely, its all the rage to be “anti” oxygen these days (indeed, there are currently 458 clinical trials open now for the study of anti-oxidants!).

But wait.  Isn’t oxygen the stuff we BREATHE?  Don’t we need it to live?  How can we be so “anti” oxidant?

Herein lies a very sobering chemical fact of life.  We need oxygen to breathe – while at the same time – the very same oxygen produces so-called reactive oxygen species (hydrogen peroxide, hypochlorous acid, and free radicals such as the hydroxyl radical and the superoxide anion) which cause damage to our lipids, proteins and even our genome.  What gives us life – also takes away life – a little bit each time we breathe.

Such is the basis for the healthy foods and myriad dietary supplements that (promise to) counteract and biochemically scavenge the toxic reactive oxygen molecules in our bodies.  But for the fact it would make me even fatter, I’d promptly say, “Bring on more dark chocolate!“.

But what if we could just forgo all those dietary supplements, and just USE LESS oxygen?  Might that be another way to enhance longevity and health?

With this thought in mind, I enjoyed a research article entitled, “Oxygen Consumption and Respiration Following Two Yoga Relaxation Techniques” by Drs. Shirley Telles, Satish Kumar Reddy and H. R. Nagendra from the Vivekananda Kendra Yoga Research Foundation in Bangalore, India.  The article was published in Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, Vol. 25, No. 4, 2000.

In their research article, the authors noted that – with practice – yoga can help an individual voluntarily lower their cardiac and metabolic levels.  A number of previous studies show that advanced meditators and yoga practitioners can lower their heart rate and respirations to astonishingly low levels (more posts on this to come).  The scientists in this study asked simply whether a relatively brief 22min routine of “cyclic meditation” (CM) consisting of yoga postures interspersed with periods of supine rest led to a greater reduction in oxygen consumption when compared to 22mins of supine rest (shavasana or SH).  Their question is relevant to the life-giving/damaging effects of oxygen, because a lower metabolic rate means one is using less oxygen.  According to the authors:

“We hypothesized that because cyclic meditation (CM) has repetitive cycles of ‘activating’ and ‘calming’ practices, based on the idea from the ancient texts, as discussed earlier, practicing CM would cause greater relaxation compared with supine rest in shavasan (SH).”

In the results and discussion of the data, they found (using a sample of 40 male adults) that the when they measured oxygen consumption at the beginning and at the end of the session, that the yoga postures/rest routine (CM) resulted in a 32% reduction in oxygen consumption (this is the amount of oxygen used when sitting still at the end of the session) while just laying in shavasana led to only a 10% reduction in the amount of oxygen used at the end of the session.

Wow!  So even after moving through postures – which admittedly gets one’s heart pumping and elevates one’s breathing – I would be using less oxygen (when sitting at the end of the session), than if I had just decided to lay in a supine position.  In this instance, I guess I may be using more oxygen overall during the session, but perhaps would be glad to improve the efficiency of my breathing – and intake of oxygen – in the long run (after many years of practice I’m sure).  Maybe this is a physiological/biochemical basis for the longevity-promoting benefits of yoga?

How does the effect work?  Does the act of moving in and out of postures engage the sympathetic nervous system (something not observed for shavasana)?   Much to explore here.  The authors point out that these effects on improving the efficiency of breathing and oxygen consumption may not be specific to yoga, but to any MODERATE exercise regimen, where exercise and some sort of mental focus is practiced (Tai Chi for example).

Move and pay attention to your breath.  I will keep this in mind tonight in my beginners class.  By the way, there are currently 93 clinical trials involving yoga!

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