Wednesday, February 8, 2012

NUTSHELL: NPR Fresh AIr Interview: Risks & Rewards of Yoga

Have you ever done yoga?  A few years ago I started out doing "Gentle Yoga" at my gym and found it to be really relaxing and a nice refuge, especially since my gym had free childcare for two hours.  There was a very interesting interview on Fresh Air (NPR: WHYY Philadelphia) today with the author of a book on what research has been able to find out about what yoga does to your body and how it affects your mood.  It's definitely worth a listen if you have about 40 minutes.  If not, you can check the link above to read more about what was said, or here is what stuck with me:
  • There are many flavors of yoga.  Find out exactly what kind of class you are joining.
  • Start slow.  Don't think that after six weeks you should be able to do every pose.  Don't let your instructor tell you otherwise.
  • Avoid poses that put extra strain on your neck, like the "plow" and others that bend your head far forward.  You can rupture or damage the little blood vessels in the topmost vertebrae and then pop a clot to your brain, which can be devastating or fatal.
  • Yoga relaxes your body, especially if you do the proper breathing (slow) with it.  This can lower your metabolism.  BUT, since you get so much more relaxed, you may find yourself able to avoid giving into cravings and this is the reason you might lose weight, not cardio calorie burn.
  • Little to no certification is required to teach yoga.  This can be abused, so you might want to ask what your teacher's background is. 
  • There are many yoga instructors that are doing good work in trying to make yoga safer for all practitioners.  For example, by placing supports behind the shoulders or neck to make the more difficult/dangerous positions safer.
  • Yoga is most beneficial when done daily, even for as little as 10 minutes a day.  The working of the muscles and increase in blood flow to the spine helps reduce dessication of your vertebral disks, which is what leads to a lot of back problems as you age, and is also the reason people seem to shrink with age.
  • Yoga can increase sexual response and satisfaction.  Who knew?!
  • Because yoga relaxes the body, it works on the parasympathetic nervous system (As he described it, the sympathetic nervous system revs you up for fight or flight, the parasympathetic system is like the "brake" and pulls you back into a relaxed state.).  Because of this, it can really affect your mood and bring you into a calmer, more relaxed and present state, which is great for counteracting stress and anxiety.
  • Anything, taken to extreme, can be dangerous.  Use common sense.

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