Say YES to Yoga

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February 1, 2021

This article originally appeared in Psychology Today – A new randomized study shows efficacy for yoga in treating anxiety.

My own personal fascination with yoga dates back multiple decades to a daily, individualized routine at the Yogic Health Center in Mumbai during a gap year in my early 20’s. It seems quite fitting that my love would start in Northern India, the birthplace of yoga’s origins more than 5,000 years ago. For a practice to continue forward thousands of years, there must have been perceived advantages along the way.

Now research shows the physical benefits of yoga can include enhanced flexibility and agility, reduced body mass index, improved hypertension, better glycemic control, reduced lower back and neck pain, and improved menopausal symptoms. Yoga may have additional mental health benefits including improvement in well-being,​ ​sleep, resilience, and symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The past several months Covid has caused families across our nation to worry about issues including change in employment routines, fears of contracting the virus, child care, food security, and social isolation. Recent​ ​CDC Pulse data from January 2021 shows that 36% of Americans are experiencing symptoms of an anxiety disorder, 28% are experiencing symptoms of a depressive disorder, and 41% are experiencing symptoms of an anxiety or depressive disorder.

Therapy and medications are the first-line treatment for depression and anxiety disorders. Yet there may​ ​be a role for yoga as an adjunct treatment or for milder symptoms. A study published this month in JAMA Psychiatry of 226 adults with Generalized Anxiety Disorder found a 12-week course of yoga was efficacious in treating GAD. Yoga was shown to be more effective than stress education received by a control group; however, this study did still support Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as first-line treatment.

Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, Director of the Anxiety Disorders Research Program at Georgetown University Medical Center, explains, “Several controlled research trials have examined the impact of yoga practice on anxiety and stress symptoms. Though in general, they have found positive effects, many of these studies compare yoga against no treatment, so participants may be biased to answer positively. Our JAMA Psychiatry study design is more methodologically rigorous; it compares yoga participants against a group of participants receiving education as well as attention and support from staff.”

So how do you get started with your yogic practice?​ First, your practice should be under the guidance of a qualified instructor. Adults who are pregnant, older, or have a health condition, should discuss their individual yoga plan with their doctor and yoga teacher.

Ease yourself in and avoid extreme poses during your practice. Tara Antonipillai, Cultivate founder and yoga teacher, recommends that if you are new to yoga and have no restrictions,

you should look for three things: a Certified Teacher, Beginner/Level 1/or All Levels class, and Vinyasa or “Flow” style.

Do you have limited time and a day of back-to-back zoom calls? ​Taking a quick break with a handful of poses might allow a few moments of necessary movement and stretching. Tara reminds us, “These should be gentle and warming so that you don’t injure yourself…You can hold each pose for several deep breaths…changing poses with each inhale and exhale.” Forward fold, chair pose, and mountain pose a​ re her three choices for a quick break.

GM and yoga instructor at FLEXX fitness, Anne Bailey underlines the importance of our breathing to center ourselves, “The box breath method can be such a powerful mechanism to reset your body and your mind.”

How do you get more regular with your practice during Covid? ​Eleanor Gollob, a teacher at CorePower Yoga, discovered the power of yoga in her fifties. She recommends trying a few different beginner online classes, figuring out which one works for you, and then setting a goal to stick with it twice a week for a month.

So what do you say? Say yes to yoga today. Namaste.

Editor’s Note: Photos: Debi Schenk (below), owner and instructor at Park Potomac Yoga, yogi extraordinaire, gives virtual private, semi-private and group classes, including one on Sunday evenings (top photo), which is attended by many LadyDocs (and ToddlerDoc). In-person class was pre-Covid.

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