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How yoga heals: The ancient art soothes pain as it boosts strength, balance, and flexibility.

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

Nothing worked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Question of Style

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

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

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

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

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

"Yoga is a very powerful practice, a marriage between strength and flexibility, and one of the most direct ways to learn how to live in your body," says Dayna Macy, a long-time yogi and spokesperson for the authoritative magazine The Yoga Journal.

Pick the Right Program

To find the right yoga class and instructor for you, Macy and others offer these four simple steps:

1 Consider your goals and overall fitness level. People can learn from books, DVDs, online videos, or TV classes. However, instructors at a studio or fitness facility can help people fine-tune poses, provide modifications, and answer questions, according to Ann Miller, a certified yoga instructor since 2002 and owner of All People Yoga Center.

2 Select your yoga style. Finding the right mix of meditation and physical intensity are important facets of selecting a class and instructor, advises Nancy Schalk, a 36-year yogi and long-time teacher who developed a not-for-profit organization, Heartland Yoga Community, to offer therapeutic yoga. Gentle hatha yoga, for example, engages the mind, body, and emotions, but power or athletic yoga is more fitnessoriented and less focused on meditation, she says. (For an online quiz to determine your yoga style, visit yogajournal.com.)

3 Find a certified teacher. Ask friends for recommendations or browse online directories of yoga studios and instructors at yogajournal.com and ideanet.com. Many health clubs and YMCAs also offer yoga classes. Locating a good instructor is paramount because not all are well trained, adds Macy. Certifications vary between states, but most call for 200 or 500 hours of training. Good instructors, she said, will ask class members about their health, injuries, or other conditions that could affect their practices.

4 Take sample classes. Contact selected facilities and instructors to request a free session. "You need to experiment. Go to different classes with different instructors and styles," says Holly Haskett, a certified yoga instructor since 2004. "Then you end up finding what's best for you."

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Can Yoga Ease Hot Flashes?

The NIH is launching a clinical trial to test the effects of yoga on menopause symptoms.

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Women between the ages of 40 and 62 experiencing hot flashes or night sweats and not already practicing yoga, exercising regularly, or taking hormones or supplements may be eligible for the study.

"We're trying to help women live healthier lives and do something, rather than take a pill, that will be good for them and help them get over symptoms," says Dr. Susan D. Reed, a principal investigator and director of Women's Reproductive Health Research Program at the University of Washington.

Clinical trial sites include Indianapolis, Seattle, and Oakland, California. For more on menopause research, visit msflash.org (Finding LastingAnswers for Symptoms and Health) or call 877-287-4508.

Yoga Fact

Today, more students practice yoga in California than in the entire country of India.

--Yoga for Dummies
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:HEALTH: FITNESS
Author:Berggoetz, Barb
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2011
Words:975
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