Category Archives: Yoga Research

Research Proves It! Yoga Helps Lower Fatigue and Inflammation in Breast Cancer Survivors

I doubt many of you know this, but before I opened Whole Life Yoga, I taught yoga classes to women in all stages of cancer recovery through Team Survivor Northwest.  Some of my classes were taught in English; others through a Spanish language interpreter.  Some of my students were currently undergoing treatment; others had been cancer-free for years. But in all cases I was impressed by the resiliency, joy, and courage I saw in my students.

I knew, deep down inside, that yoga helped my students. Now I have research to back me up. 

A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology and led by Janice Kiecolt-Glaser—professer of psychiatry and psychology at Ohio State University—followed two hundred breast cancer survivors. Some of the women participated in ninety-minute Hatha yoga classes two times a week for twelve weeks.  The rest (the control group) were wait-listed for the same class.  All participants were new to yoga, and students were encouraged to practice with DVDs at home.

The practitioners were diverse. Participants ranged in age from twenty-seven to seventy-six, were diagnosed with breast cancer staged 0 – 3A, and were two months to three years past their latest treatment.  The results were impressive:

  • Yoga practitioners had fifty-seven percent less fatigue than the non-yoga group.
  • Inflammation-related blood proteins were twenty percent lower in the yoga group than the non-yoga group.

The researchers were surprised, because similar results have not been seen with studies of other types of exercise.  They now believe that the breathing and meditation aspects of yoga are especially impactful, which is great news for Viniyoga practitioners.  Viniyoga focuses on the connection of body, breath and mind, making it especially breath and meditation-focused. 

The researchers believe that yoga might have similar benefits with other groups of people who suffer from fatigue and inflammation, including patients suffering from coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease.

All of this just goes to show what I’ve known all along. Yoga works!

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Whole Life Yoga, and other retailers!

Research Proves It. Yoga works!

All I can say is wow.  We’ve known yoga “works” for thousands of years. I have personally read many individual studies that demonstrate yoga’s benefits. I’ve even been involved in designing a study or two.  But a recent systematic review of yoga research since 1970 astounds even me.

Dr. Kim Innes of the University of Virginia performed a systematic review of seventy studies published in the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe, and India since 1970. She was particularly interested in what these studies show about the effects of yoga on insulin resistance syndrome and heart disease. Of the seventy studies:

  • Eighteen focused on yoga’s effects on heart disease
  • Five investigated yoga’s ability to relieve stress
  • Fifty-one studied yoga’s effects on lipids, blood pressure, weight loss and blood pressure

Here’s what Dr. Innes found:

  • Individuals who practiced yoga for one month to one year lost between 1.5% and 13.6 % of their body weight. (This is equivalent to medically approved weight loss programs.)
  • In the fourteen studies that measured cholesterol, yoga participants’ total cholesterol was reduced by 5.8% to 25.2%. “Bad cholesterol” (LDL) was reduced by 12.8% to 26%, and triglycerides decreased by 22% to 28.5%
  • In twenty-seven studies that measured blood pressure, more than 75% of yoga participants showed decreases in blood pressure.
  • All of the fifty-one studies that examined insulin resistance (a major contributor to heart disease) showed significant improvements. There is also great news for individuals with type 2 diabetes.  All individuals with type 2 diabetes showed improvements in fasting glucose levels.

No matter which way you slice it, yoga is good for your heart.  And as those of us who practice regularly can attest, it’s great for your spirit, too!

Namaste

Tracy

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available for preorder now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Whole Life Yoga, and other retailers!

Research Proves It! Yoga Helps Combat Depression

Great news for those of you who suffer from seasonal depression or the holiday blues.

Researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine recently published a study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine that showed that three hours of yoga per week can help combat depression much more effectively than an equivalent amount of other forms of exercise, such as walking.

Researchers monitored two groups of healthy individuals for twelve weeks.  One group walked for three hours each week; the other practiced an equivalent amount of yoga. Both groups filled out questionnaires about their mental health and underwent magnetic resonance spectroscopic (MRS) imaging to measure levels of the amino acid GABA. GABA is essential to central nervous system functioning and helps promote a state of internal calm.

The yoga group reported improved mood and lower levels of anxiety, which were reflected in climbing GABA levels.

Yoga participants also showed improvements in strength, endurance, balance and flexibility.

Exactly what the ancient teachings have told us all along!

Namaste

Tracy

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available for preorder now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Whole Life Yoga, and other retailers!

Growing Gratitude

This week’s blog entry was written by guest author Katie Burns. Katie is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s 200 hour yoga teacher training program and a student in our advanced teacher training program. She can be contacted at katieburns09@gmail.com.

As we awake from our Thanksgiving food comas, the mind quickly transitions full swing into the holiday season. We know our next Thanksgiving—aka, day of the double Gs: gratitude and gluttony—is a good 350+ days away. Daydreams of gifts we would like to receive enter our conscious space, and brainstorms of presents for those we love occupy our thinking. As we move forward, I invite you to carry the spirit of gratitude from Thanksgiving into your daily life.

In the field of positive psychology, researchers set out to investigate wellness, the good things in life, and factors that contribute to overall well-being. Gratitude is one of their areas of focus. After collecting the results from multiple studies, researcher Christopher Peterson concluded, “Counting your blessings on a regular basis makes you happier and more content with life.” Based on this statement, Peterson, along with fellow researchers Seligman, Steen, and Park, conducted a research study in which they asked people to record three things that went well during the day everyday for one week. From their study, they discovered that attuning to positive things in life and expressing gratitude “increased happiness and decreased symptoms of depression for up to six months.”

I invite you to reap these benefits by keeping a gratitude journal for one week. The instructions that the researchers provided for their participants are below.

Gratitude Journal Instructions

by Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson (as published in A Primer in Positive Psychology by Christopher Peterson, 2006)

“At the end of each day, after dinner and before going to sleep, write down three things that went well during the day. Do this every night for a week. The three things you list can be relatively small in importance (‘my husband picked up my favorite ice cream for dessert on the way home from work today’) or relatively large in importance (‘My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy’). After each positive event on your list, answer in your own words the question, ‘Why did this good thing happen?’ For example, you might speculate that your husband picked up ice cream ‘because he can be really thoughtful’ or ‘because I remembered to call him from work and remind him to stop by the grocery store.’”

You can follow their suggestion or adapt your gratitude journal to fit you. Regardless of the form that your gratitude journal takes, you are planting the seed to focus on the positive moments in your life. Watch to see how that seed grows, and if you are willing, share your experience by leaving a comment below.

Wishing you a happy holiday season filled with gratitude!

Namaste,

Katie Burns

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available for preorder now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Whole Life Yoga, and other retailers!

 

 

 

Research Proves It! Yoga Benefits Seniors

A recent study at UC San Diego showed once again the many benefits of yoga, this time for older adults. The study followed yoga students with a median age of sixty-nine.  Students took weekly one-hour yoga classes held at local community centers for three months. The classes included gentle yoga postures designed to be accessible to all functional levels. Students who completed the study experienced the following benefits.

  • Statistically significant decreases in pain
  • Decreased fatigue
  • Increased mobility
  • Statistically significant decreases in symptoms of depression.

The study was small, (thirty-one students) and more work is needed to verify these results according to rigorous Western research standards.  But the initial results are encouraging and prove what the ancient yogis knew all along.

Yoga works!

Yoga is always best studied with a teacher.  In older populations, I think working with a trained teacher is essential.  Yoga for seniors is widely available at aging facilities, senior centers and community centers.  Most classes at Whole Life Yoga are accessible to seniors.  We also offer special “Yoga over Fifty” classes twice each week.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out my author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available for preorder now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Whole Life Yoga, and other retailers!

A Meditation Proven to Invoke the Relaxation Response

In last week’s blog, I shared some of the benefits of a consistent mediation practice and briefly discussed Herbert Benson’s early research.  This week, I’d like to prove how simple an effective meditation technique can be.

The meditation below was used in Benson’s research.  I’ve stolen it from his book The Relaxation Response.

  1. Pick a focus word, short phrase, or prayer rooted in your belief system.
  2. Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
  3. Close your eyes.
  4. Relax your muscles.
  5. Breathe slowly. Say the focus word as you exhale.
  6. Assume a passive attitude. When other thoughts intrude, just say “Oh well” and return to your repetition.
  7. Continue for 10-20 minutes.
  8. Open your eyes and sit for another minute.
  9. Practice once or twice daily.

If it seems like I’ve been writing about meditation a lot lately, I have.  But only because I strongly believe meditation has the power to transform your life and the lives of those around you.

Enjoy, and practice!

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and join my author mailing list for updates on MURDER STRIKES A POSE, available early 2014 from Midnight Ink!

The Relaxation Response

What if there was an exercise that you could do for as little as ten minutes a day, three times a week that was proven to:

  • Decrease blood pressure
  • Reduce or prevent migraines
  • Combat heart disease
  • Reduce cholesterol
  • Decrease premenstrual symptoms
  • Decrease alcohol consumption
  • Decrease pain
  • Boost immune system functioning
  • Improve sleep
  • Decrease adrenaline production, thereby lowering the “fight or flight” response
  • Decrease anxiety and stress
  • Boost creativity
  • Improve relationships
  • Provide an overall feeling of health and well being
  • Increase your ability to recover from sudden stressors
  • And much, much more

Would you do it?

Better yet, what if you could do this exercise virtually anywhere—at home, riding the bus, even sitting at your desk at work?  And what if you never even had to break a sweat?

That exercise not only exists, it’s been used for thousands of years.

I’m talking, of course, about meditation.

Meditation has been studied extensively in the West, much more so than yoga’s other tools.  Herbert Benson, a researcher at Harvard Medical School, was one of meditation’s research pioneers in the 1970s.

Studying something as New Age as meditation wasn’t exactly kosher forty years ago, so Dr. Benson worked under the cover of darkness. He snuck experienced meditators into his research facility late at night, measured physiological markers, and mapped brain wave patterns.  The results were impressive. Meditators showed measurable changes in brain wave activity that allowed them to manage the stresses of life much more effectively than non-meditators.  Benson called meditation’s health and emotional benefits “The Relaxation Response.”

Many other researchers—including Joan Borysenko, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Dean Ornish—have replicated and expanded on these results. Their work has shown that a variety of meditation methods are equally powerful, and that effective meditation doesn’t require hours of time, a Zen-like yoga space or Tibetan master teacher.  To meditate, you simply have to sit quietly for ten minutes a day, three times a week and focus on a word, phrase, idea, or image.

Start with this simple breath focused meditation or go online and Google the word “meditation.” You’ll find literally thousands of sites with hundreds of techniques, one of which is bound to appeal to you.  Of course we also offer a Meditation 101 class at Whole Life Yoga, and my Yoga for Anxiety class teaches meditation techniques that have been proven to reduce anxiety.

Give it a try.  I think you’ll be surprised at the results!

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and join my author mailing list for updates on MURDER STRIKES A POSE, available early 2014 from Midnight Ink!

Meditations to Decrease Stress and Inflammation!

yogi doing meditationA recent study at UCLA’s Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences demonstrated once again that even short meditations, when done consistently, have positive effects on both the body and the mind. The study evaluated 49 caregivers of patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Almost 50% of these caregivers experience clinical depression, and they are also twice as likely as the general population to report high levels of stress.

The study divided the caregivers (who ranged in ages from 45 to 91) into two groups: one that practiced a 12-minute meditation daily for 8 weeks, and one that spent 12 minutes each day for 8 weeks relaxing while listening to a relaxation CD.

The meditation group showed several benefits over the group that listened to the music:

  • Significantly lower levels of depressive symptoms
  • Improvements in reported mental health
  • Improvements in cognitive functioning
  • Increased telomerase activity in the blood (an indication of decreased cellular aging)
  • Significant decreases in blood proteins associated with inflammation.

All these benefits from just 12 minutes of meditation a day!

This specific study examined a chant and meditation practice called Kirtan Kriya, but prior studies on meditation have shown similar mind-body benefits with a variety of meditations. In short, any meditation practice you do for 10 minutes or more daily is likely to achieve similar results.

The meditation below has been used in other studies on meditation’s “relaxation response.” But remember, the most effective meditation practice is one you will actually do. Hundreds, if not thousands, of meditation techniques exist and are easily found on the web. Experiment and find the one that works best for you.

Simple Counting Meditation:

  • Sit comfortably, with your spine erect and the crown of your head floating up
    to the ceiling.
  • Allow your eyes to close, and notice your breath—without intentionally trying to
    change it. Bring your attention to the warmth and coolness of the breath
    at the tip of your nostrils.
  • After 2 – 3 minutes, or whenever you are ready, start counting each exhalation.
    For example, when you exhale the first time, think “one.” The next time you exhale, count “two.”  Keep counting silently to yourself, until you get to ten. After you reach ten, then start over again from “one.”
  • You’ll know your mind has wandered because you’ll lose count or notice that you’re thinking about something else. When that happens, (and it will!) try not to get frustrated. Instead, simply start over again by counting from “one.”  Without judgment or frustration, notice how often you need to restart counting.   The goal isn’t to get to 10, but to keep refocusing whenever your mind wanders.
  • Continue this meditation for 10 minutes or longer if you’d like.

I’ve outlined two other methods in prior blog articles: a simple Meditation for Inner Peace and a Breath Focused Meditation. I will post additional meditations in the future, so keep checking back. Remember not to worry about “being good” at mediation–just by the act of meditating, you are inherently good at it regardless of how often your mind wanders as long as you keep bringing it back.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!

Article on Viniyoga for Back Pain–Complete with a Practice!

Articles touting the benefits of Viniyoga seem to be popping up everywhere (and that’s a good thing!). One of the newest examples is an article called “Watch Your Back” in Yoga Journal. This article talks about Viniyoga’s proven benefits in reducing back pain. Specifically, it discusses the Group Health study on Viniyoga for low back pain and shares the personal case study of a woman who healed her back using Viniyoga.

The student, Terri Stoeker, has a back pain story much like my own.  Like Terri, my back injury cane “out of the blue,” though it had likely been building for quite some time.  Unlike Terri, I suffered for years–seven to be exact.  During that time, I tried a number of methods for healing: physical therapy, acupuncture, muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory medication, osteopathic manipulation, counseling on pain management, ice, rest, and massage therapy. At one point, I even said that I’d dance naked around a witch doctor’s fire if that would help.  The one remedy that healed me, after seven years of failed experiments, was Viniyoga.

Terri’s relief came quickly.  Mine took a bit longer. But after seven years of pain, a few months to get relief seemed like nothing.  In fact, since my doctors and I had already given up hope, the fact that I healed at all is nothing short of a miracle.

I’d like to share two of my favorite quotes from the article with you.

The first is from the student, Terri Stoeker:

“You can let your back control you and change your life into something sedentary and painful, or you can find something that can keep you healthy and get you back to 95 percent normal. I was told I would never run or garden again. Now I can do those things. I have to be careful, I have to take care of myself, but I live my life. Yoga has done that for me.”

The second is from my teacher, Gary Kraftsow.

“We’re not talking about fancy yoga or power yoga  here. You don’t need an hour-long class or a special outfit or a fancy mat to do this. This practice is available to everybody. You can learn it easily and use it to feel better and really begin to manage your condition.”

The article comes complete with a yoga practice that may help decrease back pain.  But be forewarned, the photos are misleading.  In fact, they only show part of each position.  The movement between positions is vitally important in Viniyoga.  So I highly recommend using the text to guide your practice, rather than the photos.  Better yet, sign up for my Yoga for Healthy Backs class!  In the mean time, read the article, and tell me what you think!

Go Viniyoga!

Tracy

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!

Research Proves it! Yoga Provides Benefits Greater than Western Exercise

Let me start this blog article with a disclaimer.  I love yoga, but I’m equally fond of other forms of exercise.  I regularly ride an exercise bike, and my puppy-girl walks me about 20 miles every week.  My yoga practice has always been more about by calming my brain than firming my bottom, so to speak. It would never even occur to me to choose between the two.  But for those of you who think I’m crazy or whose schedules force you to choose, recent research shows that yoga may have increased benefits when compared to more Western forms of exercise.

Brittanie DeChino, an instructor at The George Washington University’s School of Public Health, recently presented her research at the 58th Annual Meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine and 2nd World Congress on Exercise is Medicine®. Her research is noteworthy because of its focus. Although many studies have examined the short-term physical and psychological benefits of yoga, hers is one of the first to examine how long-term yoga practitioners compare to long-term exercisers.

Brittanie and her team surveyed 163 participants from yoga and fitness centers across the Washington, D.C. area.  Participates ranged in age from 18 to 65, and were approximately 80% female. According to Ms. DeChino, her team found the following:

“We surveyed the participants on psychological well-being, as measured by anxiety, depression, coping, mindfulness, perceived stress and general health symptoms. Interestingly, the two groups – yoga practitioners and habitual exercisers – were similar with regard to self-reported symptoms of anxiety and depression.

However, the yoga practitioners reported lower prevalence of joint pain and headaches than those who engaged in cardiovascular exercise and weight training. They also had higher scores for mindfulness and coping skills, and lower scores for perceived stress, compared with the exercise group.”

The joint pain reductions are intriguing. Many people practice yoga specifically because yoga is a low impact exercise, which means that people with pre-existing joint pain are likely to be over-represented in the yoga group. In spite of that, yoga practitioners reported less pain than participants in other forms of exercise.  Even more encouraging, this study supports the Aetna study that showed practicing Viniyoga reduces work-related stress.

I’m also not surprised by the comparative levels of anxiety and depression.  Yoga can help significantly with these two conditions, but the most effective yoga practices for anxiety and depression incorporate pranayama (breath work) and meditation, combined with physical postures.  Typical American yoga classes focus almost exclusively on the poses.  Check out my prior blog articles and  for breath practices that may help with anxiety and depression.

I’d love to continue highlighting yoga research in this blog.  If you hear about other yoga studies, let me know!

Namaste

Tracy