yoga articles

We hope that the following articles will be of interest. The authors have no connection with BoCo.

Yoga could be as effective as a pill at cutting blood pressure, study suggests

Laura Donnelly, Telegraph Health Editor

Yoga could be as effective as a pill at cutting blood pressure, a study suggests. The research found that volunteers with elevated levels saw improvements after doing just 15 minutes of the activity daily.
Around 12 million adults take drugs for high blood pressure, which is the single biggest trigger of heart disease and stroke.
The new research involved 60 volunteers with raised blood pressure.
Doing just 15 minutes of exercises like the “downward dog” five times a week was found to reduce their readings by around ten per cent.
Scientists said it is a similar drop as patients would see from taking a water pill, which are commonly given for high blood pressure.
Ashok Pandey, a 16-year-old who carried out the study as school project, said participants were either asked to do beginner yoga poses, relaxation, stretching or deep breathing.
After three months, the yoga group saw their blood pressure drop by 9.7 per cent.
Those doing simply deep breathing cut their readings by 7.1 per cent, while stretching reduced it by 4.5 per cent. However just setting aside time to relax had no effect.
His paper, backed by the Cambridge Cardiac Care Centre in Canada, was presented at the European Society of Cardiology conference in Munich.
The school boy said: “The results suggest yoga could be an important tool to reduce blood pressure.
“These are simple poses that don’t require a lot of flexibility and really anyone can do them, so it could be applied on a much broader scale
“A large proportion of the benefit could be attributed to deep breathing.
“It is clinically relevant. It should not be used as a replacement for existing treatments, it’s about incorporating yoga into existing programmes.”
The researcher is now recruiting 500 people to take part in a trial at Laval University.
Dr Paul Poirier, from Laval University, said: “Yoga could be interesting in hypertensive individuals [high blood pressure patients] to better modulate their level of stress and as such blood pressure.”
Heart expert Professor Charalambos Antoniades, from Oxford University, said a diuretic [water pill] - commonly prescribed for the condition - reduces blood pressure by around ten to 20 per cent.
Metin Avkiran, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation said: “Alternative approaches, such as yoga, could help people with high blood pressure. But they shouldn't replace proven methods which lower blood pressure, including leading a healthy lifestyle and taking prescribed medications when they're recommended by a GP.
“This study suggests that some components of yoga, such as deep breathing and stretching, may individually have some blood pressure lowering effects. They’re easy to adopt and unlikely to do any harm.”

The turkey tail mushroom

By Maya Patwa

TT Mush1Mush2Mush 3

Blimey! All my years and I have not heard of the turkey tail mushroom. This beautiful mushroom is well researched as a medicinal fungus and can be used in a few different ways. It is a polypore mushroom which when freshly picked  and eaten raw is quite leathery and tough.  It is usually dried and powdered to be used either brewed in hot water as a tea, or made into a tincture.
It is renowned  for its immune boosting properties. Very much like my other favourite medicinal foods - coconut oil and kefir, it is anti-viral and anti bacterial but has additional properties that make it beneficial.  Research and numerous studies apparently show the following properties:
Anti-viral effects against human papilloma virus, herpes and Epstein Barr virus
Anti-cancer effects - pro-apoptosis* and anti-angiogenic** activities
Anti-tumour effects, like inhibition of tumour cell invasion and migration

By its Latin name, Trametes versicolor has been used in treatments for diseases of the lungs, gastric tract, and the colon.  It assists in immune adaptation, helps to increase resilience to environmental stress and the adverse effects of other cancer treatments. It helps boosts the body’s natural defences with virtually no documented side effects. It is also used to help protect and nurture recovery after chemotherapy.

There are several treatments which help the immune system to gain anti-fragility qualities. In this context anti-fragile describes an immune system that is hardy and robust. It refers to  concept that certain systems thrive from shocks, volatility, and stressors in the environment. Vaccinations use this effect to stimulate immunity as does fasting.
There is a huge amount of information online  and lots of pictures! This link was one I found particularly informative.

My sister has been preparing a tincture which she now supplies to a local health shop for sale. If you are interested in using some, please email me on and I can give you more details. And more next time on what all this has to do with Yoga! One page is quite enough.



* There are two ways that a cell can die: necrosis and apoptosis. Necrosis occurs when a cell is damaged by an external force, such as poison, a bodily injury, an infection or getting cut off from the blood supply (which might occur during a heart attack or stroke). When cells die from necrosis, it's a rather messy affair. The death causes inflammation that can cause further distress or injury within the body.
Apoptosis, on the other hand, is relatively civil, even though it may not sound so at first -- it's when a cell commits suicide. How is that better than necrosis? For one thing, the cleanup is much easier. It's sometimes referred to as programmed cell death, and indeed, the process of apoptosis follows a controlled, predictable routine.

[I have read that in the process of cancer, apoptosis is interrupted. Simplistically, cells which become cancerous are cells that 'should'  go into apoptosis but instead mutate and keep growing. Apoptosis is essential otherwise the body's natural cell regeneration cannot function efficiently.]
(Extract from

** An angiogenesis inhibitor is a substance that inhibits the growth of new blood vessels. Some angiogenesis inhibitors are endogenous and a normal part of the body's control and others are obtained exogenously through pharmaceutical drugs or diet.

[Interestingly cancerous cells become very good at generating new blood vessels around a tumour to ensure its blood supply.  A medicinal supplement that helps the body balance this process and prevent blood supply to particular areas around the body in order to prevent undesirable growth seems to me to be a jolly good idea.]

( Definition is from good old Wikipedia)

Birth Story

by Holly Hood

After a relatively long early labour, Thomas arrived very swiftly, less than an hour after being admitted to a room on the Malden Suite in established labour.  It was all quite a whirlwind in the end, and I relied so much on yoga during the whole process.. you are definitely in the right place!  Your body really does 'take over', so the more your body is familiar with helpful postures / movements and how to quiet the mind, the more it will lean towards this.

I had gone to bed on the Sunday night with slight back ache and what felt like menstrual cramps.  Being 8 days overdue at that point, Tom and I were trying not to get too excited.    I was woken in the night as the sensations had become stronger and I made my way to the birthing ball where I sat making hip circles, using golden thread breath & meditating for about 5 hours until morning.  I woke my husband at a more reasonable hour and we watched some Fawlty Towers episodes on Netflix (not yoga, but laughter is said to be good for softening the cervix).  I then took a 60 minute walk around the local park.  At this point I was standing and walking through the surges, slowing down as they started and breathing gently through them.  At home I was on all fours a lot of the time, making big hip circles, or leaning against the wall or my husband and padding my feet quickly up and down.

The day really flew by as we were totally in the zone and by 9pm on Monday evening the surges were coming every 2 to 3 minutes, and my exhales had become much more breathy moving on to 'ooos' and 'soos', so we made the trip into Kingston Hospital, over a bazillion speed bumps!  I was checked over and found to be only 1cm dilated, so we were sent home!  Over the next few hours things intensified and the most natural place for me to be was on all fours making smaller hip circles, resting on my side in-between surges, or in the bath, although the restriction of movement in the bath after a while was too much.  I did find my monkey mind started to kick in then once my body felt restricted, but thanks to my husband breathing with me I was quickly able to get back to a good place.   Please do teach your partners what you are learning - it is invaluable.  By 3 am my waters had broken so it was back to the hospital.
I was eventually admitted to a room on the Malden Suite at 4:15am, after a check found I was 4cm dilated, but things were progressing quickly.  I had an antibiotic drip fitted as I was group B strep positive, which took a while for them to fit - hence the delay.  The next hour was a bit of a blur as I was also taking some gas and air.  The extra oxygen was really helpful in regulating my inhalation as it was so warm on the ward, but I must say I didn't enjoy the way the gas made me dozy!   My exhales were very animalistic - grunting and mooing, which really felt wonderful and Tom says looked and sounded like the most natural thing in the world.  The most comfortable position to be in at this point was on my knees on the bed, facing the back and using the head of the bed for upper body support while I waiting for the birthing pool to be filled.  Shortly before 5 am I was invited to get into the pool, but while moving over there they realised how close I was to delivery, and I was told there wasn't enough time to get in!  Funnily enough a water birth hadn't actually being in my birth plan at all, but at the time it had felt like a good place to be in.  In the end I delivered little Thomas standing up in a goddess squat with the support of the bed and some very quick reactions from the wonderful midwives!   He gurgled as he was born, but the first time he cried was during the vitamin k injection.  We were amazed at how calm he was and still is.
The care at Kingston Hospital was amazing.  We stayed in for one night and found the breastfeeding support really helpful.  I really think that initial support has made feeding so wonderful and productive this first week.

If there is one piece of advice I would give about the post natal period it would be to take it easy and be so, so kind to yourself.  Eat nourishing food, rest during the day, let emotions come and if they are challenging, know that they will pass.  I found it helpful to set an alarm to remind me to revisit my breathing and posture as I'm so wrapped up in our little man that it is easy to forget.
Wishing you all a wonderful birthing experience.  Trust your bodies, trust the yoga and I hope to see you at post natal classes soon. 

the full lotus
Extract from The Economist, Nov 15th 2014 

UNTIL this week India had somehow got by without a minister for yoga, ayurveda and other traditional medicines. Now it can breathe easier. On November 11th Shripad Naik took charge of a new ministry to promote them. His boss, Narendra Modi, the prime minister, is a yoga enthusiast. He also wants local manufacturers, such as of homeopathic potions, to tap a global market for “alternative medicine” that is said to be worth some $100 billion.   Mr Naik arrived as one of 21 additional ministers, bringing the total in Mr Modi’s cabinet to 66,

Yoga 'helps breast cancer patients cope with treatment'

London Evening Standard, 27 January 2014

Yoga can alleviate the side effects of treatment for breast cancer, a study has found. Practising yoga for as little as three months reduced symptoms of fatigue and inflammation that followed radiotherapy in a group of patients. On average, fatigue was reduced by 57% and inflammation by up to 20% after six months.

"This showed that modest yoga practice over a period of several months could have substantial benefits for breast cancer survivors," said study leader Professor Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, from Ohio State University in the US. "We also think the results could easily generalise to other groups of people who have issues with fatigue and inflammation."

The findings are published in the latest edition of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Chronic inflammation is linked to numerous health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer's, as well as effects of ageing such as frailty and functional decline.

A total of 200 women aged 27 to 76 took part in the study having undergone surgery or radiotherapy two months to three years earlier. One group was offered 90 minute yoga classes twice a week for three months, and encouraged to practise at home. Immediately after the sessions ended, tests showed that levels of pro-inflammatory signalling molecules were significantly lower in women who had attended the classes. After another three months fatigue levels were 57% lower in the yoga group and inflammation was reduced by between 13% and 20%.

"We think improved sleep could be part of the mechanism of what we were seeing," said Prof Kiecolt-Glaser.

Yoga 'can ease pain of arthritis': Studies finds exercise can provide physical relief and reduced depression linked to condition

Yoga can help relieve both the pain and psychological distress suffered by patients with arthritis, according to new research. Patients with osteoarthritis and those with rheumatoid arthritis both frequently see benefits from the activity, it found. Around 1.5million people in the UK see their GP every year about osteoarthritis, which mainly affects the knees, hips, spine and hands, while rheumatoid arthritis - which is common in hands, feet and wrists - affects more than 580,000 people.

The US research, published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, involved a review of nine previous studies carried out between 2010 and June 2013. The studies involved hundreds of patients who took up yoga and showed evidence of reductions in pain, less morning stiffness, improved physical function and reduced levels of depression.

Yoga better for your brain than exercise, study finds

Twenty minutes of yoga is better for boosting brain activity than vigorous exercise for the same amount of time, a study has found.

By Josie Ensor, Telegraph, 6 Jun 2013

Researchers report that a single, short session of the popular Hatha yoga significantly improves working as it improves memory, speed and focus, more so than regular workouts.

The university study involved a 20-minute progression of seated, standing and supine yoga postures that included contraction and relaxation of different muscle groups and regulated breathing. The session concluded with a meditative posture and deep breathing.

The 30 female undergraduate students at the University of Illinois in the US, also completed an aerobic exercise session where they walked or jogged on a treadmill for 20 minutes. Each subject worked out at a suitable speed and incline of the treadmill, with the goal of maintaining 60 to 70 percent of her maximum heart rate throughout the exercise session.

The researchers were surprised to see that participants showed more improvement in their reaction times and accuracy on cognitive tasks after yoga practice than after the aerobic exercise session, which showed no significant improvements on the working memory and inhibitory control scores.

Researchers found that following yoga practice the participants were better able to focus their mental resources, process information quickly and more accurately and also learn, hold and update pieces of information more effectively than after performing an aerobic exercise bout.

"The breathing and meditative exercises aim at calming the mind and body and keeping distracting thoughts away while you focus on your body, posture or breath,” Professor Neha Gothe, who led the study, reported. “Maybe these processes translate beyond yoga practice when you try to perform mental tasks or day-to-day activities."

The study team said several factors could explain the results.

Prof Gothe said: "Enhanced self-awareness that comes with meditational exercises is just one of the possible mechanisms. Besides, meditation and breathing exercises are known to reduce anxiety and stress, which in turn can improve scores on some cognitive tests.”

Prof Edward McAuley, co-author of the study, said: "This study is extremely timely and the results will enable yoga researchers to power and design their interventions in the future. We see similar promising findings among older adults as well. Yoga research is in its nascent stages and with its increasing popularity across the globe, researchers need to adopt rigorous systematic approaches to examine not only its cognitive but also physical health benefits across the lifespan."

An earlier study also found that regular sessions of the exercise can help fight off depression as it boosts levels of a chemical in the brain which is essential for a sound and relaxed mind.

Scientists from the Boston University School of Medicine found that the levels of the amino acid GABA are much higher in those that carry out yoga than those do the equivalent of a similarly strenuous exercise such as walking.
Low GABA levels are associated with depression and other widespread anxiety disorders.


the power of yoga

The video link below is from a Norwegian newspaper. It starts in Norwegian, but switches over to English. Quite inspiring. Aurthur Boorman had knee injuries and really poor health. He injured his knees from parachute jumping in the military, with many hard landings. Doctors said he would never be able to walk properly again. Then he started to practice yoga. Amazing to see what he has been able to accomplish on his own.


Yoga 'helps stroke patients recover balance'

Performing yoga regularly can help people who have had a stroke regain their balance, stop them falling over and maintain their independence, according to a study.

By Stephen Adams, Medical Correspondent, Telegraph, 27 Jul 2012

It found stroke victims put on an eight-week yoga course went on to have significantly better balance than those who were not. They also felt more able in their lives as a whole.
The study examined results in 47 people who had suffered a stroke at least six months before the trial commenced.
Strokes often cause partial paralysis down one side of the body, and patients should be given short-term rehabilitation to help them walk again and regain other physical functions.
However, longer-term rehabilitation is rare, both because it is costly and due to the assumption that there is a limited period of time for the brain to ‘rewire’ itself after a stroke. In Britain, for example, few receive rehabilitation for longer than 12 months after the event.
Consequently occupational therapists at Indiana University in the US decided to look at whether yoga classes would help people who had suffered a stroke some time ago.

They randomly assigned participants, all of whom could stand unaided, to one of three groups - two yoga groups and one who received usual care. The oldest participant was 90.
Those in the yoga groups took part in classes that gradually got more difficult.
Tests found people in the yoga groups had better balance, less fear of falling, were more independent and happier with their lives than those who did not do yoga.

Arlene Schmid, assistant professor of occupational medicine, said: “For chronic stroke patients, even if they remain disabled, natural recovery and acute rehabilitation therapy typically ends after six months, or maybe a year.
“But we know for a fact that the brain still can change. The problem is the healthcare system is not necessarily willing to pay for that change.
“The study demonstrated that with some assistance, even chronic stroke patients with significant paralysis on one side can manage to do modified yoga poses.”

Yoga participants also told researchers they were more confident, saying they felt more able to take showers unaided, get out and about and visit friends.

Prof Schmid continued: “It has to do with the confidence of being more mobile. Although they took time to unfold, these were very meaningful changes in life for people."
Writing in the journal Stroke, she and colleagues suggested that yoga might be better than traditional exercises because the combination of poses, breathing and meditation made the brain work harder.
However, they cautioned it was only a small study and so they could only draw limited conclusions from it.

Dr Clare Walton, of the Stroke Association, said: “Many stroke survivors have problems with balance which puts them at an increased risk of falling. We know that even the smallest amount of exercise can be an effective way to improve balance and this early research shows how yoga can also help.
“Stroke can be an extremely isolating condition and many stroke survivors are left with depression as a result.
"Therefore, as well as helping with balance and movement problems, group activities such yoga can also help survivors reintegrate into society and get back to life.”

Yoga may work better for lower back pain than conventional treatments

Patients with lower back pain who did yoga showed bigger improvements in their ability to perform everyday physical tasks

Nic Fleming,, 31 October 2011

Doing yoga is a more effective way for people with lower back pain to become more mobile than the treatments currently offered by GPs, according to new research.

The study found that back pain sufferers recorded greater improvements in everyday physical tasks such as walking, bending down and getting dressed if they did weekly yoga sessions.

Participants who had practised yoga reported enhanced function compared with those receiving standard care, even nine months after the yoga classes had finished.

Previous, smaller studies have suggested yoga could be beneficial to back pain sufferers. However, these have often involved just one teacher and have not included long-term follow-up.

Back pain is estimated to affect 80% of adults at some point in their lives, and one in five people visits their GP in any given year because of it.

The condition, defined as chronic if it lasts longer than six weeks, is the second most common cause of long-term disability after arthritis and second only to stress as a cause of absence from work. It costs the NHS around £1bn per year and the annual cost to the economy has been estimated at £20bn.

Existing treatment options include painkillers, spinal manipulation, acupuncture, exercise classes and cognitive behavioural therapy.

"In the past when you had back pain, you were told to lie down until it passed," said Prof David Torgerson, director of the York Trial Unit at the University of York, who led the study.

"These days the main advice is to keep your back active. It seems yoga has more beneficial effects than usual care including other forms of exercise, although we have not carried out a direct comparison.

"We are still carrying out the economic analysis but it is likely yoga could reduce the costs of back pain both for patients and for the NHS."

Twenty experienced yoga teachers from the British Wheel of Yoga and Iyengar Yoga were trained to deliver a beginner level course of 12 yoga sessions specially designed to be safe and beneficial to those with lower back pain.

A group of 156 patients with chronic lower back pain were assigned to have the 75-minute yoga classes in north and west London, Manchester, York and Truro, in addition to normal GP care, while a control group of 157 just saw their GPs.

Participants filled in a 24-point questionnaire on whether their condition prevented them from doing everyday tasks. Lower scores equated to better function.

Those who did the yoga scored on average 2.17 points lower than those who did not. Three and nine months later, their scores were still 1.48 and 1.57 points lower respectively.

Participants also reported lower overall pain levels on average. However, this effect did not reach statistical significance. Around 60% of those in the yoga group continued with their practice after the classes.

The study is published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Rates of reported cases of back pain have doubled in the past 40 years in England, a trend seen in other Western countries. Some believe this is a result of higher levels of obesity, stress and depression, while others suggest people are more willing to report the condition.

When the UK's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence – which draws up guidelines on the best treatments – last reviewed treatments for lower back pain in May 2009, it ruled that exercise, spinal manipulation and acupuncture were cost-effective treatments.

"Yoga is one of a number of treatments that have now been shown to be effective for back pain," said Martin Underwood, professor of primary care research at Warwick Medical School.

"The study shows it having a small to moderate average effect for patients, meaning there will be some people who experience little or no effect and other people for whom it has substantial benefit. Unfortunately we don't yet know which patients respond to which treatments."

Yoga aids chronic back pain sufferers

Posted on 1 November 2011; York University website

Yoga can provide more effective treatment for chronic lower back pain than more conventional methods, according to the UK’s largest ever study into the benefits of yoga.

The study, led by the University of York and funded by Arthritis Research UK, found that people offered a specially-designed 12-week yoga programme experienced greater improvements in back function and more confidence in performing everyday tasks than those offered conventional forms of GP care.

The research focused on back function – people’s ability to undertake activities without being limited by back pain, which was measured using the Roland Morris Disability Questionnaire. Although improvements in back function were more pronounced at three months, researchers found there was still an improvement in people’s ability to perform tasks such as walking more quickly, getting dressed without help or standing up for longer periods of time even nine months after the classes had finished.

The trial involved two groups of people who were both receiving GP care for chronic or recurrent back pain. A 156-strong group were offered group yoga classes specially designed to improve back function, while a second control group of 157 people were offered GP care alone.

The findings of the study, which was carried out by researchers from the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York and the Hull York Medical School, are published in the Annals of Internal Medicine this week.

Lower back pain is a common episodic condition, with 80 per cent of the UK population suffering from it at some point in their lives. It is estimated that around 4.9 million working days a year are lost due to back pain. However, few effective, evidence-based treatments exist.

The yoga programme, which involved 20 experienced yoga teachers, was designed and delivered by Truro-based Alison Trewhela, an Iyengar Yoga teacher and Senior Practitioner in Yoga on the British Register of Complementary Practitioners, in collaboration with York-based yoga teacher Anna Semlyen, a Back Care Advisor to the British Wheel of Yoga.

The classes were designed for complete beginners, with yoga teachers given extra training in back care. Participants were recruited from 39 general practices in seven Primary Care Trust areas, with classes held in non-NHS premises in Cornwall, North London, West London, Manchester and York.

Chief Investigator Professor David Torgerson, Director of York Trials Unit, in the University’s Department of Health Sciences, said: “Back pain is an extremely common and costly condition. Exercise treatment, although widely used and recommended, has only a small effect on back pain. We therefore set out to investigate an alternative approach using a specially-developed weekly yoga programme for back pain sufferers to see if this allowed them to manage their back pain more successfully.

“While previous studies have focused on the short-term benefits of yoga, we also wanted to see the long-term effects and measured improvements three, six and 12 months after entry into the study. Our results showed that yoga can provide both short and long-term benefits to those suffering from chronic or recurrent back pain, without any serious side-effects.”

While previous studies have focused on the short-term benefits of yoga, we also wanted to see the long-term effects and measured improvements three, six and 12 months after entry into the study

Medical Director of Arthritis Research UK Professor Alan Silman said: “We’re delighted that our trial has shown that yoga provides such positive benefits for people with chronic low back pain. This extremely common condition cannot be managed with painkillers alone and there is an urgent need to have non-drug therapies that sufferers can utilise in their own home. This trial is part of our larger commitment to seek self-help solutions to this common musculoskeletal problem. There are compelling explanations why yoga may be helpful and this trial lends powerful support to the wider use of this approach.”

Trial participants completed a questionnaire at three, six and 12 months from the start of the programme. On average, members of the yoga group were able to undertake 30 per cent more activities compared with those in the usual care group after three months, a statistically significant difference between the two groups which has been recognised as clinically important.

The trial showed that there was more reduction in pain in the yoga group than the usual care group, but of marginal statistical significance.

Researchers also compared the results from the yoga programme with those for high-quality randomised trials for exercise and manipulation, the Alexander technique and cognitive-behavioural treatment. The results suggested that the 12-week yoga group programme may improve back function more than exercise and manipulation, cognitive-behaviour treatment and six sessions of 1-to-1 Alexander technique, but not as much as 24 sessions of 1-to-1 Alexander technique.

Trial participant Sue Faulkner, 68, retired from her job as an administrator four years ago with the intention of spending her time gardening. However, within six months of retiring her back was so bad she found that walking any distance was painful and she needed to stop regularly to rest. Gardening was out of the question.

Sue from Bishopthorpe in York said: “I felt a definite benefit after the programme as it made me more flexible and we were taught positions to relieve certain types of back pain. I’ve continued going to yoga classes and still do the positions I was taught during the 12-week programme. Walking around is no longer a problem and I can do my gardening now so long as I pace myself. I’ve even taken on an allotment with my daughter and son-in-law and no longer take pain killers.”

Those attending the specially-designed yoga programme, which involved step-by-step gentle classes, were encouraged to become self-sufficient in the long-term. Classes were supported with four home practice sheets, a manual, and a four-track audio CD teaching how to relax physically and mentally.

Iyengar Yoga teacher Alison Trewhela said: “The yoga programme offers poses for pain-relief and mental calming; mobilising, stretching, strengthening and relaxation; improving awareness of posture; education about how a healthy back functions; and positive mental focus. Yoga aims to treat the whole person – not just the physical.

“As most back pain conditions recur, these lifelong self-management skills are likely to be useful as a preventative measure. As a result of smaller previous trials, one million Americans currently practise yoga as a recommended treatment for low back pain.”

Participants in the yoga programme were surveyed nine months after classes had finished and more than half of those who responded were still regularly practising yoga, mostly at home, twice a week.

More information on the 12-week ‘Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs’ programme and trial is available at Lower back pain sufferers, yoga teachers and health professionals can also learn more about the programme at, a website created by the yoga teachers involved.

Buff Up Your Happiness with Laughter Yoga

By Carol Miller

Laugh until your sides ache! Could the first person who said that have been thinking about Laughter Yoga?

After belly laughing my way loudly through my first session I would not be surprised. My abdomen felt as if it had been given a gentle workout, yet all I had done was laugh. Even better, I felt a kind of liberated calm knowing that I was already looking forward to returning for another session.

Most of the group who came to BoCo for the Laughter Yoga workshop with Kit Hammond Stapely were new to the concept. Initially we eyed each other nervously, not knowing what we would be asked to do. However, Kit’s bubbly personality shone through the room like a giant mirror ball.

From the moment she launched silly toys at us, we simply parked any inhibitions at reception. We took our cue from the signs Kit had posted around the room and drew on the delicately scented air that wafts through the rooms at BoCo.

Kit explained how laughter is an important tool for dealing with stress and can have therapeutic and preventative health benefits. The laughter exercises, she explained, incorporate yogic breathing (pranayama), to increase the amount of oxygen in the body.

We made silly monkey noises, clapped, jumped and skipped or simply breathed through simple floor exercises hardly aware that our laughter was becoming more genuine with enjoyment of the experience and the company.

So while many may don their fashionable workout gear to tone and hone their bods at the gym, I’m off for another dose of laughter yoga to buff up my body from the inside and to rekindle some happiness.

Call Kit on 0208 398 4034 or contact her through the website for more information.

To book email or call 020 8399 3930.


Eat, Pray, Love

The three little words soon to be on every woman’s lips are “Eat, Pray, Love”, says Myra Butterworth.

By Myra Butterworth, Telegraph, 6 Sep 2010

Forget “I love you”. The three little words soon to be on every woman’s lips are “Eat, Pray, Love”. The title of writer Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling memoir – and, from next month, a surefire hit Hollywood film starring Julia Roberts – has become a mantra that has inspired a generation of thirtysomething women to up-sticks and travel overseas in search of romantic and spiritual fulfilment while perfecting their yoga poses in the process. I should know – I was one of them.

Published in 2007, Eat, Pray, Love tells the true story of a writer who lives in a large house with a husband who wants to start a family, surely every girl’s dream. But Gilbert slowly realised something was missing and that she was married to the wrong person. Which is how she eventually found herself sobbing her heart out on the bathroom floor.

She picks up her heartbroken skeleton of a body off the tiles and takes off on a round-the-world journey, first travelling to Italy, where she begins to eat properly again, regaining the weight she had lost during her bitter divorce. She then finds enlightenment scrubbing temple floors in India, before meeting a toothless medicine man in Bali who reveals a new path to peace – and a new man.

Her emotional journey struck a chord with millions of readers who turned the post-divorce memoir of spiritual and romantic discovery into a bestseller. And it inspired my own trip to the other side of the world.

Like Elizabeth, I had to pick my underfed, scrunched-up body off the floor in the aftermath of a broken relationship. I remember clasping my palms together in the pray position as I sobbed out loud for a helping hand. And there it was, just days later at work, when a colleague handed me a copy of Gilbert’s bestseller, saying: “I’ve got just the book for you.”

She was right. No sooner had I turned the last page, I made the decision to follow Gilbert’s example. I would use a month of annual leave to head abroad in an attempt to pull myself together, to rediscover my appetite for life, and perhaps even find myself a new man.

Admittedly, with only a handful of weeks to spare, this was going to be a fast-tracked self-discovery tour – Eat, Pray, Love with one eye on the mortgage repayment – but, still, I knew this journey was going to be transformational. Rather than feed myself up on Italian pasta before holing up in an Indian ashram – like the character in the book – I travelled to the Balinese town of Ubud to take part in an intensive month-long course at the Bali Shakti yoga studio. It was for people thinking of becoming yoga teachers themselves, and run by Bridget Woods Kramer, an international yoga teacher whose London classes I had taken whenever I needed to stretch my muscles and clear my mind.

It was clear when I arrived at the resort that I wasn’t the only one on an impromptu Eat, Pray, Love pilgrimage. There were students from all over the world, including Germany, Singapore and Canada – all of whom had read the book which, during our feverish conversations about it, soon took on something of a Bible-like status.

This was no average holiday. Our days began at dawn with asana practice, during which we would try to perfect and broaden our range of yoga postures. Mid-morning, there were pranayama (breathing) classes taught by Ananda Leone, the celebrated yogi who never seemed to stop smiling. The results of our practice were impressive. Our lung capacities were measured when we first arrived. Over four weeks of study, my reading doubled.

There were moments when I did hold my breath, however – not least when wading through some pretty meaty philosophical texts (an integral part of the course). But a plunge in the stunning infinity pool at the Sunset Hill Villas where I was staying helped refresh me after the intense physical and mental training each day.

With all of the exercise and fresh air, it wasn’t long before my appetite came back. I enjoyed fresh vegetarian food, including exotic fruits, fluffy rice from the nearby rice paddy fields and juice from freshly cut young coconuts. Despite there not being a glass of white wine in sight, it didn’t take long to regain the stone in weight that I’d lost during my break-up.

Bali is a stunning, spiritual place, and its culture is inspiring. Every morning as I walked to the yoga studio, I watched families place offerings of rice and flowers outside their front doors – a simple but powerful act of gratitude.

One of my most spiritual moments came one evening while listening to Jack Harrison, the gorgeous Irish musician who sang and played his guitar for us. Our group of 25 students sat crossed-legged on a stone floor and chanted the night away as we breathed in the beautiful, lush green forest. Tears of joy rolled down my face as I acknowledged that the peace I had longed for was finally mine.

As the taxi collected me for my flight home, Ananda’s parting words to me were: “Breathe, promise me that you’ll breathe.” He wasn’t just talking about practising the physical breathing techniques we had learnt, but breathing in a way that would allow me to soak up the fullness of life.

Having completed the “Eat” and “Pray” parts of my journey, I was determined on my return to approach the “Love” element with renewed vigour and openness. And, with my head now clear, my skin much brighter, and my skinny jeans hanging beautifully on my toned yoga hips, have I have a found a new love? Like Gilbert, whose follow-up book is all about the man she found in Bali, I too am enjoying a beautiful new chapter in my life.

Yoga protects the brain from depression

Practising yoga really does relax your mind as well as your body more than other types of exercise, a new study claims.

By Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent
Telegraph, 20 Aug 2010

Those who did yoga reported lower levels of anxiety Photo: ALAMY Researchers have found that three sessions of the exercise a week can help fight off depression as it boosts levels of a chemical in the brain which is essential for a sound and relaxed mind.

Scientists found that the levels of the amino acid GABA are much higher in those that carry out yoga than those do the equivalent of a similarly strenuous exercise such as walking.

The chemical, GABA, is essential to the function of brain and central nervous system and which helps promote a state of calm within the body.

Low GABA levels are associated with depression and other widespread anxiety disorders.

Scientists from the Boston University School of Medicine, USA, spent 12 weeks monitoring two groups of healthy individuals, half of whom walked for three hours each week, while the other half spent the same time doing yoga.

Participants brains were scanned before and after the study using magnetic resonance spectroscopic (MRS) imaging to measure GABA levels, while they were also asked questions about their psychological wellbeing throughout the study.

Those who did yoga reported lower levels of anxiety and increases in their mood than the walkers.

Professor Chris Streeter said yoga participants increased feeling of wellbeing was associated with GABA levels.

He said: "Over time, positive changes in these reports were associated with climbing GABA levels."

Prof Streeter called for further research into using yoga as a treatment for other forms of mental illness.

The research was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

Katie Prior, of mental health charity Mind, welcomed the study.

She said: "Any kind of exercise is good for improving a person's mood and self esteem. It makes you feel good and look good, both of which help with mental wellbeing.

"Yoga is a relaxing, low impact activity for people who don't like the thought of walking or running.

"It can be done in the privacy of a person's own home, or people can join a class where they can meet others – this is a great way to meet people, especially for those who may suffer from isolation and loneliness."

The research is good news for yoga which along with pilates was criticised earlier this month for not pushing the body as hard as other exercises.

The University of Wisconsin said that it fell short of what was considered an all-round workout.

They found that while yoga did improve strength, endurance, balance and flexibility, they burned very few calories — suggesting they had not pushed their bodies hard enough to gain substantial aerobic improvements.

In fact, researchers found that a typical class used 144 calories in 55 minutes— the same amount burned during a slow walk.

Even power yoga, which requires participants to perform poses in quick succession, was found to burn only about 237 calories per class and to boost the heart rate to only 62 per cent of the maximum that constitutes a light aerobic workout.

A heart rate of 64-94 per cent maximum is the level needed to work the heart and lungs effectively.

On average, a 50-minute Pilates session burned 174 calories (beginner) and 254 (advanced) — half the amount you might burn on a run of similar duration.


50 Ways to Look Younger

Alice Hart-Davis, Telegraph 2/1/10

Take up Yoga

It is soothing, de-stressing, improves your posture, helps loosen the knots of tension that we all accumulate in our bodies, and can be done anywere. All you need is the space to unroll a yoga mat.Also, yoga devotees usually look remarkably youthful -and if you can't beat them, why not join in and see if it works its magic for you.

Ryan Giggs: I am playing better than ever for Manchester United

one of the secrets of Giggs’s enduring success has been yoga

From The Times, April 28, 2009

It is one of the most iconic images in the game and Ryan Giggs has threatened to show off his hairy chest again if he scores another crucial goal against Arsenal at Old Trafford tomorrow.

The 35-year-old midfield player has scored 147 times for Manchester United and the pick of the bunch was an incredible solo effort that started with him pouncing on a loose pass by Patrick Vieira in his own half and ended with him wheeling away in delight with his white shirt swirling above his head after he had slalomed his way through the Arsenal defence and slammed the ball past David Seaman.

Giggs’s breathtaking extra-time goal came after Roy Keane’s dismissal and Dennis Bergkamp’s dramatic penalty miss towards the end of normal time of the FA Cup semi-final replay at Villa Park in April 1999. It has been voted the greatest FA Cup goal of all time.

“I don’t know if I like those images,” Giggs said. “People remember them more than the goal. When you score an important goal, you have no control. I used to say that I’d never do it again, but you never know. If I score the winning goal in the last minute against Arsenal, I might do it again.”

Giggs made his United debut in March 1991 and the former Wales winger expects to make his 800th United appearance in the Champions League semi-final, first leg tomorrow. Speaking after he was voted the Professional Footballers’ Association’s Player of the Year for the first time in his career, Giggs said that he did not deserve to win the award when he was younger, despite ten Premier League titles, two Champions League honours and four FA Cups in the locker.

“I have probably got better the older I have got,” Giggs said. “During my twenties I played better than I do now in the odd game, but now consistently over the season I have got better.”

One of the secrets of Giggs’s enduring success has been yoga. While younger players have been shopping for watches and Bentleys, Giggs has been stretching and bending his body into the record books.

“I’ve been doing it for five years,” he said. “When I turned 30 I just decided that I have to make some sacrifices — diet, alcohol, yoga. I was missing a lot of games because of hamstring injuries. I think it helps that I’m not as quick as I used to be, so I’m not getting hamstring injuries and I don’t play as many games, but yoga has definitely helped me with my hamstring injuries and how I feel. I feel good after games and fresh during games.”

To get past Arsenal and reach the Champions League final for the second year in a row, United will have to defend much better than they did in the first half of the 5-2 victory over Tottenham Hotspur in the Barclays Premier League on Saturday and Giggs has warned his team-mates that they will need to be at their best to have any chance of keeping the European Cup at Old Trafford.

“Arsenal have been our biggest challengers over the years,” he said. “They are a top team and you have to raise your game against them.”

Not everyone is pleased that Giggs was voted the best player in England by his peers on Sunday. Cynics have pointed out that he has scored only one Premier League goal this season. “If you had asked me when I was 19 or 20 whether I would be playing in the Champions League semi-final at 35, then I would have said no,” Giggs said. “But I look after myself and it helps when you’ve got good players around you. Hopefully, I’ll be playing against Arsenal, by the way.”


How breathing differently can help you beat stress

The pandemic has sent stress levels soaring. Deep breathing techniques can help you cope with the tension and transform your outlook.

By Sarah Rodrigues 29 June 2020 • Telegraph

“What are you sighing about, then?”

My colleague’s amused tone pierced the email I’d been reading which, as it happens, was nothing to sigh about at all. “Ah yeah, she loves a good sigh,” laughed another.

I have endless things about which I’m self-conscious, but this one was brand new. Inevitably, I became acutely aware of every time I exhaled loudly - and in doing so, found that there’s no external stimulus for the tendency: I’m not bored, annoyed, or frustrated. It is simply this: I barely breathe so, every so often, I have to take - and let out - a deep lungful of air.

Meeting Transformational Breath facilitator Julie Ann Horrox for a one-on-one session at Fiona Arrigo’s Holland Park haven A Place to Heal, she quickly establishes that my regular breathing is shallow: an inhale gets about as far as the middle of my ribcage before being expelled again. This though, she assures me, is very common.

“When we breathe, we are breathing in energy, breathing in life,” she explains.

“It stirs up memories - so we use our breath to control this; we close down or restrict our natural breathing pattern in order to feel safe.”
If life is already stressful, the coronavirus pandemic, with its attendant lockdown and loneliness, plus fears about job security, finances, health and, in many cases, the responsibility of home-education, has, for many people, sent stress levels soaring - and, says Dominique Angelo, sophrologist at BeSophro clinic, “when we are stressed, our breathing naturally becomes more fast and shallow, and more centred in the chest.” Now, more than ever, one imagines, we are probably a nation of shallow breathers.

“Abdominal breathing shifts the breath from your chest down to your tummy,” explains Dominique.

“Breathing from this region automatically activates the parasympathetic nervous system: the mechanism that encourages the body to relax and climb down from stressful situations.”

Additionally, she says, anyone can engage in simple but physiologically powerful breathwork at home and on their own. For me, I soon learn that being guided in a safe environment is not, initially at least, enough to get me breathing therapeutically. Even with Julie Ann’s gentle encouragement, my jaw is resolutely clenched and my breath, determinedly shallow.

At Julie Ann’s suggestion, we implement a medical mouthpiece to encourage me to loosen my jaw and breathe, more fully utilising my diaphragm. It feels horrible. When I revisit the experience, I’m aware that the ‘horrible’ is something that I’m attributing to the mouthpiece: the sensation of a foreign body jammed in my mouth, the pooling of saliva as I struggle to activate my ‘swallow’ reflex.

And no, none of that was pleasant. But here’s what really happened. I saw faces and relived moments from my past, as clearly as if I had time-travelled. My heart ached and splintered. My insides felt like they were being yanked out. Remembering now, I know that I was sobbing, vaguely aware of Julie Ann holding and comforting me. Julie Ann’s wonderfully calm, patient voice was there with me; I can’t remember what she said; only that I was so reassured by her presence.

Honestly, even when you’re as intimacy-avoidant as I am, it’s nice to have someone nurturing and non-judgemental close by when you gather your senses and discover yourself lying on the floor in a sweat-soaked dress with drool inching down your chin.

“With breathwork, you can potentially bypass years of talking therapy,” says Julie Ann.

“This is why the breath is so profoundly powerful; because, with the assistance of a facilitator, it can guide you in to meet and connect with those places where, in the past, you’ve shut down.”

It occurs to me that breathing, being a necessary survival function - even if many of us are not doing it entirely correctly - is possibly a more natural, less intrusive way of accessing trauma than speech is. What may have taken multiple talking sessions to unearth has here been confronted with some diaphragm-busting breathing and, mercifully, I don’t need to chew over it endlessly.

“Breath takes you right to the causal point,” agrees Julie Ann. For someone like me, for whom the mortifying intimacy of talking therapy brings out an adolescent resentfulness, this is a boon. That said, points out Julie Ann, all Transformational Breath facilitators are trained as coaches and, if the client wants or needs to talk, they will be supported in that.

In the meantime, with the latest Office for National Statistics poll showing that worries about the future, plus stress and anxiety, continue to be the biggest factors affecting the wellbeing of Brits at the moment, we could probably all benefit from taking a few deep breaths.

Living Light: My experience of yoga for mental health support

One in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year - I have been one of those people.

Navigating The Darkness: My Experience

For the past ten years I have suffered with bouts of anxiety that came and went fairly quickly.  Then four years ago I hit an impressive height of anxiety and spiralled into a deep depression.  I panicked several times a day, I found it hard to go to sleep and even harder to get up in the morning and would plan out how to end it all.
I didn't really think much about the situation I was simply being swept up in it. It wasn't until my boyfriend at the time suggested I go to the doctor that I realised that something was noticeably wrong.  Admitting I felt how I did was really tough as I felt ashamed.  So I retreated inwards until I found myself crying in the doctors surgery feeling desperate and overwhelmed. I don't remember many of the details of when I was ill - it's really a blur of tears, ugly thoughts, paranoia and darkness.
Going to the doctor was really helpful. She was understanding and after an assessment prescribed anti-depressants (SSRI's), Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and monitored me regularly. I felt a huge stigma attached to anti-depressants but at that point I was desperate and didn’t really care enough to protest. If I did not take those tablets then I know I would not be here today and they were definitely the first step to sorting the situation out.  Cognitive Behavioural Therapy was the second step but the NHS only funded a short course so I felt quite alone after the treatment.

Finding Lightness 

After a few months I decided to exercise a bit at home to see if that would help and got quite into it. Yoga was always something I had enjoyed since I was teenager so I forced myself to go to a yoga class.  After my first class I remember feeling a little sense of relief.  I got a class pass to my local studio and went several times a week.  It was a tough journey as I often had thoughts of being rubbish and often was in tears during śavāsana. There was a lot of stuff that I needed to deal with on the mat, but after class I always felt a little lighter and a little stronger.  After a while I started to let go of a lot of thoughts that didn't serve me and my life began to improve too.  I had found lovely housemates, sorted out my work and found some stability which had been missing for so long.  I had stopped punishing and abusing my body with excessive amounts of alcohol, late night parties, junk food and general excess.  I had found some balance at last which had been missing for so long. 
Yoga has given me so many useful tools for coping with everyday life, stressful experiences and dark times. I decided I wanted to find out more about yoga and share my experience with others.  Over 2 years ago I took up my first teacher training course, recently I took the plunge and left my job to teach yoga full time and I feel more content, grounded and happy than I have ever before. I've achieved things that I never thought were possible and am living a more authentic contented lifestyle.

Spread The Light 

These days I find I am living lighter in my mind.  Of course I still have low or anxious days but I acknowledge that as a human this is normal and it is nowhere near as intense as it was during the darkness.  I am fully equipped to deal with dark thoughts and anxiety now.  I love teaching yoga and the opportunity to serve others has helped me immensely.
Yoga is not just about what happens on the mat but how it transcends into everyday life. This is my journey and I write with an open heart to anyone who is experiencing mental health issues. It is incredibly common and there is so much help and support available.
I will be teaching two new classes to support mental wellbeing at BoCo.  Classes will use breathing techniques, mindfulness and meditation practices integrated with a flowing sequence of yoga postures to support mental health.  If you would like to find out how yoga can help mental wellbeing then please get in touch.

Jo Harris

Calming the Mind classes:  

Develop practical tools of mindfulness and movements to help create well-being of mind.

Monday 1:45pm and Thursday - 2:00pm

yoga gives hope to back pain sufferers

The Times, 20.12.05

New research from the United States suggests that back pain sufferers recover faster and experience fewer debilitating symptoms if treated with a course of Yoga instead of conventional exercise regimes.

In a study of 101 adult sufferers, published in December 2005 in the Annals of Imternal Medicine, groups of patients were placed on a yoga programme or a conventional aerobic, strengthening and stretching course. The first group attended weekly 75 minute classes to learn yoga and then practised at home, while the second spent 75 minutes a week doing aerobics. After 12 weeks, the researchers found that the yoga group were better at activities that put pressure on their backs. After six months, they were also in less pain and needed fewer pain relievers.

Yoga is a system of exercises based on Hindu spiritualism. The study used viniyoga, a therapeutic style that is easy for beginners to learn. It links breathing and movement in flowing exercises that typically allow postures to be adapted for use by a wide variety of people. Because the style is adapted to suit each individual, it is particularly suited to treating back or neck problems. It can include common yoga exercises, such as the "down dog" and "easy bridge", which promote stretching of the entire back of the body and help to develop arm and shoulder strength. The students learned 17 postures from viniyoga during the research.

The study was conducted by the Group Health Co-Operative's Centre for Health Studies, in Seattle. It was funded by the National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the US National Institutes of Health.

Lead author Karen Sherman said that the study clearly showed the benefits of yoga. "Most people have experienced back pain at some point in their lives," she said. "Sometimes the pain goes away in a few days, but sometimes it lasts for weeks. And unfortunately the treatments offered by modern Western medicine are only modestly effective. Although exercise is one of the few proven treatments for chronic low back pain, its effects are often small and we haven't known whether one form is better than another. The study, which is the largest randomised controlled trial to date, helps to prove yoga's effectiveness.

According to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, back pain affects two thirds of the population at least once each year

relax your way to perfect health

Cutting-edge scientific research now proves what the yogis have always known: deep relaxation can have a profound effect on a wide range of medical conditions. Anastasia Stephens reports

The Independent, 28 July 09

The state of relaxation is linked to higher levels of feel-good chemicals such as serotonin and to the growth hormone which repairs cells and tissue

It's a piece of advice that yogis have given for thousands of years: take a deep breath and relax. Watch the tension melt from your muscles and all your niggling worries vanish. Somehow we all know that relaxation is good for us. Now the hard science has caught up – for a comprehensive scientific study showing that deep relaxation changes our bodies on a genetic level has just been published.

What researchers at Harvard Medical School discovered is that, in long-term practitioners of relaxation methods such as yoga and meditation, far more "disease-fighting genes" were active, compared to those who practised no form of relaxation.

In particular, they found genes that protect from disorders such as pain, infertility, high blood pressure and even rheumatoid arthritis were switched on. The changes, say the researchers, were induced by what they call "the relaxation effect", a phenomenon that could be just as powerful as any medical drug but without the side-effects.

"We found that a range of disease-fighting genes were active in the relaxation practitioners that were not active in the control group," explains Dr Herbert Benson, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, who led the research.

The good news for the control group with the less-healthy genes is that the research didn't stop there. The experiment, which showed just how responsive genes are to behaviour, mood and environment, revealed that genes can switch on, just as easily as they switch off.

"Harvard researchers asked the control group to start practising relaxation methods every day," explains Jake Toby, hypnotherapist at London's BodyMind Medicine Centre, who teaches clients how to induce the relaxation effect. "After two months, their bodies began to change – the genes that help fight inflammation, kill diseased cells and protect the body from cancer, all began to switch on."

More encouraging still, the benefits of the relaxation effect were found to increase with regular practice – the more people practised relaxation methods such as meditation or deep breathing, the greater their chances of remaining free of arthritis and joint pain with stronger immunity, healthier hormone levels and lower blood pressure.

Benson believes the research is pivotal because it shows how a person's state of mind affects the body on a physical and genetic level. It might also explain why relaxation induced by meditation or repetitive mantras is considered to be a powerful remedy in traditions such as Ayurveda in India or Tibetan medicine.

But just how can relaxation have such wide-ranging and powerful effects? Research around the world has described the negative effects of stress on the body. Linked to the release of the stress-hormones adrenalin and cortisol, stress raises the heart rate and blood pressure, weakens immunity and lowers fertility.

By contrast, the state of relaxation is linked to higher levels of feel-good chemicals such as serotonin and to the growth hormone which repairs cells and tissue. Indeed, studies show that relaxation has virtually the opposite effect, lowering heart rate, boosting immunity and enabling the body to thrive.

"On a biological level, stress is linked to fight-flight and danger," explains Dr Jane Flemming, a London-based GP. "In survival mode, heart rate rises and blood pressure shoots up. Meanwhile muscles, preparing for danger, contract and tighten. And non-essential functions such as immunity and digestion go by the wayside."

Relaxation, on the other hand, is a state of rest, enjoyment and physical renewal. Free of danger, muscles can relax and food can be digested. The heart can slow and blood circulation flows freely to the body's tissues, feeding it with nutrients and oxygen. This restful state is good for fertility, as the body is able to conserve the resources it needs to generate new life.

While relaxation techniques can be very different, their biological effects are essentially similar. "When you relax, the parasympathetic nervous system switches on and that is linked to better digestion, memory and immunity, among other things," explains Jake Toby. "So as long as you relax deeply, you'll reap a variety of rewards."

But, he warns, deep relaxation isn't the sort of switching off you do relaxing with a cup of tea or lounging on the sofa. "What you're looking for is a state of deep relaxation where tension is released from the body on a physical level and your mind completely switches off," he says. "The effect won't be achieved by lounging round in an everyday way, nor can you force yourself to relax. You can only really achieve it by learning a specific technique such as self-hypnosis, guided imagery or meditation."

The relaxation effect, however, may not be as pronounced on everyone. "Some people are more susceptible to relaxation methods than others," cautions Joan Borysenko, director of a relaxation programme for outpatients at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, US. "Through relaxation, we find that some people experience a little improvement, others a lot. And there are a few whose lives turn around totally."


Relaxation appears to boost immunity in recovering cancer patients. One study at Ohio State University, in the US, found that progressive muscular relaxation, when practised daily, reduced the risk of breast cancer recurrence. In another study at Ohio State, a month of relaxation exercises boosted natural killer cells in elderly people, giving them more resistance to tumours and viruses.


A study at the University of Western Australia found that women are more likely to conceive at periods when they're relaxed rather than stressed. Another study at Trakya University, Turkey, found that stress reduces sperm count and motility, a finding that implies that relaxation may boost fertility in men, too.

irritable bowel syndrome

When patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome practised a relaxation meditation twice daily, symptoms such as bloating, belching, diarrhoea and constipation improved significantly. The method was so effective that the researchers at the State University of New York at Albany, recommended it as an effective IBS treatment.

blood pressure

A study at Harvard Medical School found meditation lowered blood pressure by making the body less responsive to stress hormones, in a similar way to blood pressure-lowering medication. Meanwhile, a report in the British Medical Journal found that patients trained to relax had significantly lower blood pressure.


Stress leads to inflammation, a state linked to heart disease, arthritis, asthma as well as skin conditions such as psoriasis, say researchers at Emory University in the US. Relaxation can play a role in preventing and treating such symptoms by switching off the stress response. In this way, one study at McGill University in Canada found meditation clinically improved symptoms of psoriasis.

So how can you access relaxation's healing powers? Harvard researchers found that yoga, meditation and even repetitive prayer and mantras all induced the relaxation effect. "The more regularly these techniques are practised, the more deeply-rooted the benefits will be," says Jake Toby. Have a go at one or more of the following for 15 minutes once or twice a day.

body scan

Starting with your head and working down to your arms and feet, notice how you feel in your body. Taking in your head and neck, simply notice if you feel tense, relaxed, calm or anxious. See how much you can spread any sensations of softness and relaxation to areas of your body that feel tense. Once your reach your feet, work back up your body.

breath focus

Sitting comfortably, become aware of your breath, following the sensation of inhaling from your nose down to your abdomen and out again. As you follow your breath, notice your whole body and let tension go with each exhalation. Whenever you notice your mind wandering, come back to your breath.

mantra repetition

The relaxation response can be evoked by sitting quietly with eyes closed for 15 minutes twice a day, and mentally repeating a simple word or sound such as 'Om'.

guided imagery

Imagine the most wonderfully relaxing light, or a soothing waterfall washing away any tension or worries from your body and mind. Make your image as vivid as possible, imagining the texture, colour and any fragrance as the image washes over or through you.

how to avoid a fall with yoga

By Richard Alleyne, Daily Telegraph, 6 Apr 08

GENTLE yoga and related exercises such as Pilates can substantially reduce the risk of falls among older women, research published yesterday suggests.
Even the most basic poses and breathing exercises can improve the stability and balance of women over the age of 65, a study found.

Researchers at Temple Medical School in Philadelphia found that after two months of gentle yoga exercise pensioners showed substantial improvements in gait and posture.
In particular, they had greater leg flexibility and strength and a faster stride. They also experienced fewer falls.

The findings are particularly significant because falls are the leading cause of non-fatal injuries and hospital admissions for retired men and women. Nearly a third of older adults suffer some type of fall each year.

Dr Jinsup Song, the director of the Gait Study Centre at the School of Podiatric Medicine, which led the research, studied the progress of 24 women who enrolled on a Iyengar yoga course, a gentle form of the exercise which uses props to aid balance.
He found that at the end of a nineweek programme all the participants showed substantial improvements in balance and
stability, no matter how fit or healthy they were.

"We were very impressed at the progress our participants made by the end of the programme," said Dr Song.
"Subjects demonstrated improved muscle strength in lower extremities, which helps with stability. There was also a pronounced difference in how pressure was distributed on the bottom of the foot, which helps to maintain balance."

"For this study, we worked to create a very basic regimen that taught participants proper ways to breathe, stand and pose. The bottom line is, people want to stay active as long as possible. This can help elderly women maintain their mobility and independence in several ways."

Before she started the classes, one participant, Maryanne Brown, wasn't sure she would stick with it. Now she spends six hours a week practising.
"I've never been one for exercise," she said. "But I feel more centered now. I have more confidence when I walk, and I'm able to walk further for longer periods of time. It's tremendous."

yoga masters strike a blow for the older generation

Coventry Telegraph Apr 21 2008

WHEN you work early in the mornings as I do, it's nice to find something to do in the afternoons, like an exercise class - even if it does mean you're by far the youngest in a class of retired people.

It was a few months ago when I first started walking past my village hall, the afternoon when the yoga class was on. Fortunately for nosy people like myself, if you stand on tiptoes, just as if you were doing a bit of a stretch, you can see what's going on through the windows.

I saw a group of older women doing a few poses at what looked like a very sedate pace and I scoffed to myself about how easy it looked and how when I used to regularly do my Geri Halliwell video back when people still had videos, Geri and I had Sun Saluted til the cows came home and we'd worked up a bit of momentum.

These pensioners looked as if they were having a coffee morning lying on their elbows and staring into space, albeit without the coffee.

I went past a few weeks later and thought, well it has been a while since I had an exercise fad. Remember the last one was jogging?

That one lasted three weeks before winter came along and I suddenly remembered I was busy every night. Mainly busy huddled in a big fleecy blanket watching Grey's Anatomy. But I digress...

So, I went along to yoga and was surprised to see that in fact the doddery old pensioners I'd seen were actually marathon runners and tennis coaches and oh yes, experienced yoga masters.

Strike one to the pensioners.

"I hope it's not too tough," I joked to one little old lady, thinking I'm youngish, I'm strong, I used to be able to do three cartwheels in a row down the playground in the fourth year, this will be simple.

She said: "Oh you'll soon get the hang of it. I used to struggle a bit with Downward Dog but it gets easier."

Downward Dog, for the uninitiated, is a yoga pose where you've got your hands flat on the floor, your feet almost flat on the floor and your bottom stuck right up in the air like an inverted V.

I tried to get into that pose, I really did, and you know me, I'm not prone to exaggeration, but somehow in the past few years all the bones in my entire body have fused together and my Downward Dog was more of a Play Dead Dog.

Next mat along was Phyllis, 64 years old and nimble as a lamb, pert bottom in the air, making it look easy. And also looking better in a velour tracksuit than me.

Strike two to the pensioners.

By the end of the hour, I was pink and sweating and my thighs were like jelly. In the relaxation at the end, I didn't as much meditate as pass out. When it was over, there was a bit of a hold-up as a doddery woman shuffled her way to the exit at a snail's pace.

Yes, that was me. "If you're finding it a bit tough, love, there is a class in the evening that some of the youngsters go to. It's a bit sedate for us lot, but you might enjoy it," laughed Phyllis on her way out. Luckily for them I was too exhausted to come up with a witty comeback.

Strike three to the yoga pensioners

Yoga walking

A New York yoga teacher has changed the way his students walk; Here's how to improve your gait

Peta Bee, Times Online

The way you walk can affect your health, with bad habits causing everything from back pain to ankle instability.

After observing the students in his own yoga classes, a New York-based instructor, Jonathan FitzGordon, realised that most didn't know how to put one foot in front of the other. “People would do beautiful yoga and then, as soon as the class ended, would leave with terrible posture.”

So convinced is FitzGordon that most people need to relearn the basic act of walking that he launched his own method of “walking yoga”. “The body is like a machine,” he says. “Each part has its own job, but everything is connected.” He trains people to walk with feet parallel, weight evenly distributed and body aligned to reduce joint stress, tiredness and back pain while improving physical performance. Walk this way...

1. Your ears, shoulders, hips and ankles should all fall in a straight line.

2. Unless you're going uphill, your buttock muscles should have no active role in walking. Untuck your tailbone so that your bottom juts out slightly. This makes the buttock muscles relax and helps to recruit the deeper core muscles to hold us upright.

3. Think about keeping the muscles of your inner thighs back so that your legs fall directly underneath the pelvis. This keeps the pelvis level and the spine balanced.

4. The stomach muscles should be strong and engaged so that you are using your entire core section as you walk.

5. Imagine a string being pulled from the back of your head, allowing the chin to fall to level and the throat to soften.

Yoga cuts depression by half in women with breast cancer

Yoga provides emotional benefits to women with breast cancer and reduces their chances of depression by half, study claims.

By Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent, Daily Telegraph, 25 Feb 2009

Researchers found that patients on a 10 week course of Restorative Yoga, a mild form of the exercise, were much more positive, were less tired and less likely to be depressed.

Restorative Yoga is a gentle type of yoga which is similar to other types of yoga classes, but uses props such as cushions, bolsters, and blankets so people in differing levels of health can practice yoga more easily.

The study, published in Psycho-Oncology, found the women had a 50 per cent reduction in depression and a 12 per cent increase in feelings of peace and meaning after the yoga sessions.

Of the 44 women who took part in the study, 22 undertook the yoga classes.

All of the women had breast cancer with 34 per cent actively undergoing cancer treatment while the majority had already completed treatment.

All participants completed a questionnaire at the beginning and end of the 10 week course, asking them to evaluate their quality of life through various measures.

The results clearly showed that the women who had been given the RY classes experienced a wide range of benefits compared to the control group.

"Evidence from systematic reviews of randomised trials is quite strong that mind-body therapies improve mood, quality of life, and treatment-related symptoms in people with cancer," said the lead researcher Suzanne Danhauer of Wake Forest University School of Medicine, North Carolina.

"Yoga is one mind-body therapy that is widely available and involves relatively reasonable costs. Given the high levels of stress and distress that many women with breast cancer experience, the opportunity to experience feeling more peaceful and calm in the midst of breast cancer is a significant benefit."

The study found that women who started with higher negative emotions and lower emotional wellbeing derived greater benefit from the yoga compared to the control group.

Do real men do yoga?

Paul Clements discovers why yoga is no longer solely the preserve of the fairer sex.

By Paul Clements, Telegraph, 27 Oct 2011

Are you one of the tens of thousands in the UK who have discovered the wonders of yoga? No, me neither. I don’t know my asana from my elbow – but lately it seems as though everybody else does. Even footballers: Ryan Giggs was so pleased that downward dogging helped him become one of the oldest players in the Premiership, he released a “yoga for men” DVD.

Leading sportsmen, from Andy Murray and Evander Holyfield to the entire New Zealand All Blacks, rave about how yoga tones muscle, improves flexibility and increases endurance. According to the current issue of Men’s Health, one pose in particular – vipareeta karani, or the legs-up-a-wall shoulder stand to those who don’t speak Sanskrit – can even halt hair loss. And yet despite all the chatter, it still seems irredeemably… girlie.

Not any more. James Muthana, founder of, which offers tailored sessions in the workplace, says that the gender balance of his classes has recently reversed. Men now regularly outnumber the women.

“Yoga is no longer the preserve of the hippy-dippy stereotype. The men we teach fit a common profile: they’re between 30 and 40, work in the City, and do two or three sessions a week to maintain peak condition for their main sport, be it rugby, football, running or triathlons.

“They’ve realised that yoga is great for keeping trim, sculpting the abs, as well as providing that calm but focused mental attitude that’s useful at work and play. They see yoga as part of their general conditioning.”

But the hardest part, says James, is getting blokes into the class. “I just remind them they’re going into a relaxed environment with a large number of 20 to 40-year-old women who look after themselves. It’s quite an attractive proposition.”

As a yoga virgin, I head to The Third Space fitness club in central London for a taster session. Matt Julian, the general manager and its yoga instructor, agrees that yoga is no longer the preserve of the fairer sex – if it ever was: “Originally, women weren’t allowed to do yoga,” says Matt. (When yoga began in India, women were not allowed to practise as they were considered obstacles to enlightenment). “For blokes, it’s more a case of asking yourself: are you man enough? There are plenty of moves that men are better at than women – such as this.” He drops to the floor, into a squat, and performs a mini handstand – the Crow. Can yoga get much more manly than that?

Matt, who did his first sun salutation four years ago – “when I could barely touch my toes” – now has the zeal of a convert. He finds at least 10 minutes a day to practise his asanas, the various positions that go together to make up a routine. Given there are dozens, if not hundreds, of variants, he recommends a beginner like me might benefit from vinyasa flow, a dynamic power yoga based on a series of key poses that you combine into circuits.

How hard can it be to join generation flex? It’s tougher on the ego than the muscles, says Matt. “Guys don’t like feeling the worst in the class. Its not conventionally competitive, but you are competing with yourself to maintain your breathing and pose.”

Matt shows me a few key moves – the sun salutation, downward dog and warrior – all of which have Sanskrit names which I promptly forget, and require both strength and that you breathe in and out through the nose “like Darth Vader”. I can do that.

To my surprise, I can also do some of the stretches and hold some of the trickier poses (ta-dah, bending-over-backwards bridge!). I can almost keep up with Matt’s flow of contortions, too. It’s aerobics meets Twister.

“Can you feel the heat building up and a sweat coming on?” he asks. We’re only a minute in, and I am already dripping wet.

For such a deceptively simple circuit workout, I feel a furnacelike glow at the end. But it’s the next day that I really feel the benefit – or, rather, a dull ache all over, and stiffness in muscles that haven’t been used for ages.

If I could just get the hang of a few poses – and the breathing – I can see myself doing a 10-minute session on the yoga mat every so often, before work or after a gym workout. I feel myself going native. “Good,” says Matt. “The world would be a better place if more men did yoga.”

Significant Benefits of Yoga in People With Rheumatoid Arthritis, Study Shows

ScienceDaily (May 28, 2011) — Individuals with rheumatoid arthritis who practice yoga showed statistically significant improvements in disease activity, according to a small study presented at the EULAR 2011 Annual Congress.

The results of the study conducted in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) among 47 patients (26 yoga patients and 21 controls) demonstrate that patients who completed 12 sessions of Raj yoga which is one of the gentler styles of yoga, combining exercise and breathing techniques showed significant improvements in disease activity scores (DAS28) of p=0.021 and health assessment questionnaire's (HAQ†) of p=0.0015. However there was no statistically significant improvement on the quality of life scale (QoL).

"Most patients with RA do not exercise regularly despite the fact that those who do report less pain and are therefore more physically active," said Dr Humeira Badsha MD Rheumatologist and founder of the Emirates Arthritis Foundation, Dubai, UAE. "While our study has been conducted in a small group of patients the results show clear benefits for patients who regularly practice Raj yoga. We believe that practicing yoga longer term could in fact result in further significant improvements and hope our study drives further research into the benefits of yoga in RA."

Patients were recruited by email through the Emirates Arthritis Foundation RA database (mean age of yoga group 44 years, mean age of control group 46.2 years, 80% female). Demographic data, disease activity indices, health assessment questionnaire (HAQ) and SF-36 (a standard patient survey commonly used to calculate patient quality of life) were documented at enrolment and after completion of 12 sessions of yoga.

Results of a separate study show the positive effects of yoga on the quality of life in patients with Fibromyalgia, a long-term condition which causes extreme pain all over the body.

Results of one further study investigating the effects of yoga on the QoL of patients with fibromyalgia, demonstrated that QoL scores, after an eight session classical yoga program which combines gentle yoga postures, breathing techniques and meditation, were better than scores obtained before the program (p<0.05) along with a significant decrease in the anxiety levels of patients (p<0.05). As anxiety is often a key symptom in patients with this condition, this study represents a positive step in improving the lives of people suffering from fibrolmyalgia.

Yoga cuts depression by half in women with breast cancer

Yoga provides emotional benefits to women with breast cancer and reduces their chances of depression by half, study claims.

By Richard Alleyne, Telegraph Science Correspondent, 25 Feb 2009

Researchers found that patients on a 10 week course of Restorative Yoga, a mild form of the exercise, were much more positive, were less tired and less likely to be depressed.

Restorative Yoga is a gentle type of yoga which is similar to other types of yoga classes, but uses props such as cushions, bolsters, and blankets so people in differing levels of health can practice yoga more easily.

The study, published in Psycho-Oncology, found the women had a 50 per cent reduction in depression and a 12 per cent increase in feelings of peace and meaning after the yoga sessions.

Of the 44 women who took part in the study, 22 undertook the yoga classes.

All of the women had breast cancer with 34 per cent actively undergoing cancer treatment while the majority had already completed treatment.

All participants completed a questionnaire at the beginning and end of the 10 week course, asking them to evaluate their quality of life through various measures.

The results clearly showed that the women who had been given the RY classes experienced a wide range of benefits compared to the control group.

"Evidence from systematic reviews of randomised trials is quite strong that mind-body therapies improve mood, quality of life, and treatment-related symptoms in people with cancer," said the lead researcher Suzanne Danhauer of Wake Forest University School of Medicine, North Carolina.

"Yoga is one mind-body therapy that is widely available and involves relatively reasonable costs. Given the high levels of stress and distress that many women with breast cancer experience, the opportunity to experience feeling more peaceful and calm in the midst of breast cancer is a significant benefit."

The study found that women who started with higher negative emotions and lower emotional wellbeing derived greater benefit from the yoga compared to the control group.

yoga for beginners - four essential yoga breathing exercises to cleanse and strengthen your body

By Ntathu Allen

If you are new to yoga, it is essential you learn how to breathe correctly. To help you gain a better understanding of your breath, try the following breathing exercises.

1. abdominal breathing
Lie flat on your back with your arms and legs apart. Close your eyes. Have your feet about 2 feet apart, ankles falling to the side, have your arms about 6 - 12 inches from the body, palms facing upwards, keep your lower back flat on the floor, tuck the chin in slightly, so your neck is nice and long, relax the jaw.
Become aware of your breath, allow your breath to be slow and steady.
As you inhale, feel the abdomen rise slowly. As you exhale, feel the abdomen sink down.

2. full yogic breathing
To check you are breathing correctly, sit in a cross-legged position.
Place your right hand on your upper chest and your left hand on your abdomen.
Inhale deep into your abdomen, feel your left hand rise up. Keep breathing in into your lower chest and then upper chest, feeling your right hand rise as he ribs expand.
Reverse the process as you breathe out, releasing air from the upper chest first, then the lower chest, then the abdomen.
Repeat this cycle for 3- 5 rounds.

3. alternate nostril breathing (anuloma viloma)

Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position, spine straight, body relaxed.
Turn your attention to your right hand, bend the index and middle finger into the palm. The thumb, ring and little finger are up (this position is known as Vishnu Mudra. The thumb is used to close the right nostril, the ring and little finger the left nostril.
Close the right nostril with your thumb, and inhale through the left nostril to a count of four.
Close both nostrils and hold the breathe to a count of 16.
Release your thumb and exhale through the right nostril to a count of eight
Inhale through the right nostril to a count of four.

Close both nostrils and hold breath to a count of 16.
Release your fingers and exhale through the left nostril to a count of eight.
Repeat this cycle 5 - 10 rounds daily.

4. yogic cleansing breath

Sitting comfortable, spine straight. Gently close your eyes.
Breathe in slowly through your nose for a count of three.
Slowly breathe out, through your nose for a count of 6
Repeat this pattern for 3 - 7 more times.

Once you have experienced the therapeutic benefits of doing these breathing exercises, you will feel so much clearer and fitter. Try and make them a regular part of your daily yoga practice to help you cleanse and strengthen your body.

Ntathu Allen, Yoga and Meditation Teacher


Article Source:

10 minute yoga

Nikki Page, Daily Telegraph 8 Nov 2008

No time to exercise? Too busy to relax? Nikki Page highlights low-maintenance routines to survive the working week

The Butterfly pose is excellent for firming the inner thighs and opening the hips. Remember to stretch only as far as is comfortable. With a little practice this stretch will become lovely and long. The Jaw Lift looks and feels strange at first, but it really firms the chin and helps get rid of sagging flesh under the jaw line. Do both exercises at least twice every day regardless of age.

Consult your doctor if you are pregnant, recovering from an operation or have any medical concerns before beginning an exercise routine. Stop if you feel any pain.

Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you. Inhale. Bend your right knee and then your left one. Bring the soles of your feet together. As you exhale, let your knees drop to the side. Keep your feet together and as close to the pelvis as you find comfortable. Keep your spine long and straight, shoulders relaxed. Breathe slowly and evenly through the nose. Hold for five to 10 breaths.

Sit in a comfortable position with your shoulders relaxed. Inhale and lift your head, raising your chin slightly while keeping the back of your neck long. Exhale. Open the bottom part of your jaw and relax. As you inhale, push the bottom jaw forward and up. Place your teeth over your top lip. Hold for one second, then exhale and relax, breathing slowly. Repeat four times. Close your eyes and slowly bring your head back to its natural position.

A beginner's guide to yoga

Kathy Phillips, The Guardian, January 9 2007

The British Wheel of Yoga, a registered charity, is the largest yoga organisation in the country. Principally teaching hatha yoga, it also offers a range of courses including a foundation course, teacher-training diploma and post-training modules, as well as information about your nearest yoga class.

hatha yoga (classical yoga)

Hatha yoga is generally interpreted as the yoga of physical action and is practised in most western yoga classes.

kundalini yoga

The aim of kundalini yoga is to awaken dormant energies in a subtle way. The principle idea of it was turned into a system by Yogi Bhajan (the son of a Sikh doctor) in 1969. Also called the "yoga of awareness", it is commonly referred to as kundalini, although it does not concentrate on raising the kundalini energy, or pure consciousness, but promises "to make you the best you can be".

ashtanga yoga

Ashtanga is named after the practice of yoga as laid down by the sage Patanjali - "ashta" meaning eight and "anga" meaning limb which symbolised the eightfold path of yoga of which asanas, or postures, is only one. The highest-profile teacher of Ashtanga yoga is K Pattabhi Jois, who was a student of Krishnamacharya, who taught Iyengar. Ashtanga is a fast-paced gymnastic style of yoga popular in the west because it represents the smallest shift from gym culture to yoga.

iyengar yoga

Christened "the Michelangelo of Yoga" by the BBC, Iyengar is the founder of the famous school and, aged 88, is still teaching in Pune, south India. His book Light on Yoga was first published in 1966 and continues to inspire students all over the world.


Krishnamacharya broke all sorts of social taboos when he opened his yoga school in Mysore in the 1930s. He was still teaching at the age of 101. His son, TKY Desikachar, carries on his work, with great emphasis on the individual and the belief that yoga must be tailored to fit the person and not the other way round.


Vanda Scaravelli was in the privileged position of being able to study with many gurus. She was a close friend of Krishnamurti, a pupil of Iyengar and she later worked with Desikachar. She went on to develop her own technique which owes much more to breathing and to "the song of the body" than most other systems.

sivananda yoga

Swami Sivanada Sarasawi was born in Tamil Nadu in southern India. He founded an ashram in 1948. Sivananda is based on the gurukula system. Guru means "teacher" and "kula" means home. Students would arrive at the age of eight and study at the ashram (home) for 12 years. The contemporary model of this is somewhat truncated: students arrive for an intensive four-week programme to live, work and study with teachers and students, leading a yogic lifestyle including a vegetarian diet. The classes are based on 12 basic asanas.

bikram yoga

Bikram Choudry was born in 1945 and gained the title of national yoga champion of India at 12. After a weightlifting accident at 20, he was told he would never walk again. He created a set of postures to restore his own health, using a heated environment to encourage sweating and stretching without injury. He and his wife now teach this method to others. He has moved to Los Angeles, where his nine-week training programme and method of franchising have made him hugely wealthy; he claims to have pioneered the most successful system of yoga ever.



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