“Where does it start? Muscles tense. One leg a pillar, holding the body upright between the earth and sky. The other a pendulum, swinging from behind. Heel touches down. The whole weight of the body rolls forward onto the ball of the foot. The big toe pushes off, and the delicately balanced weight of the body shifts again. The legs reverse position. It starts with a step and then another step and then another that add up like taps on a drum to a rhythm, the rhythm of walking. The most obvious and the most obscure thing in the world, this walking that wanders so readily into religion, philosophy, landscape, urban policy, anatomy, allegory, and heartbreak.”
Rebecca Solnit in her 2000 masterpiece Wanderlust: A History of Walking
Mondays, 10:00 – 11:15 AM, June 1 – 29
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Learn the basics of form, alignment, breath work and meditation to improve strength,flexibility, agility and balance. 7 wks/$75/ $12 class. Call (431-6780) with questions.
Sunday, Dec 21, 4- 6 PM. Dancing Lotus Center. $25. All proceeds go to Helena Food Share.
Moving through life with balance, strength, flexibility and agility are common reasons people practice yoga through the golden years. These are certainly good foundations for healthy aging. But recently in Prevention News, the online magazine of Prevention Magazine, there was an article by Victoria Wolk that highlighted another benefit to yoga, improving your mind!
In her article, “The Gentle Workout That’s Proven to Protect your Memory,” Wolk describes improved cognitive skills (the parts of our conscious mental activities that include thinking, understanding, learning and remembering) with Yoga. She writes, “In the quest to keep dementia and Alzheimer’s out of your future, you’re probably already doing what you can to get plenty of sleep and exercise, both proven ways to protect your brain. Now a new study offers up one more tool to add to your anti-aging brain plan: gentle yoga.
In a study published in the Journals of Gerontology, two groups of adults 55 and older were tested on cognitive skills such as planning, problem solving, and multitasking. Then they were split into two groups: One group did gentle yoga for 60 minutes 3 times a week, and the other did a series of stretches and strengthening exercises, like bicep curls and flutter kicks, for the same amount of time. After 8 weeks, the participants’ cognitive skills were tested again. The result: the yoga group significantly improved their cognitive performance, while the stretching group showed no changes.
What is it about yoga that wakes up your brain?
Study author and assistant professor at Wayne State University Neha Gothe, PhD, isn’t entirely sure why yoga has an impact on mental skills, but she believes it has something to do with the mind-body element of the exercise. “While practicing yoga, you’re not just moving your body,” she says, “you’re focused on your breath and mindfully aware of your postures.” If you’re doing other kinds of exercise, like running, it’s much easier to get distracted by everything going on around you—but get distracted during, say, Triangle pose, and you could end up kissing the mat.
Plus, according to past research, stress and anxiety have a huge impact on cognitive function, so the relaxation aspect of yoga might also be in play.”
Do you race through the day, feeling there is not enough time to accomplish everything you want to do? Do you feel weighted down by the daily grind or the growing concern about your future? Maybe you long for a deeper connection and a feeling of purpose to life?
A daily meditation practice may be the smartest thing you can do to promote wellness and bring a deeper connection to yourself and the world around you. According to Harvard psychologist John Denninger meditation reduces stress and illness. His recent 5 years study of regular meditation practice shows change occurring on a cellular level, essentially turning on clusters of “good” genes that make us healthier, while turning off clusters of “bad” genes that lead to disease.”
In the study, volunteers meditated for 20 minutes daily, for eight weeks. The results showed more activated health-promoting genes that boost immune response, energy metabolism, and insulin secretion (which helps prevent diabetes). Meditation was shown to turn down health-depleting genes linked to stress and inflammation, says Denninger in his NIH (U.S. Dept. Health) report.
Denninger is the Director of Research at Harvard’s Benson-Henry Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital. In the 1970s Herbert Benson, MD, did a landmark study on the effects of meditation that he reported in his book, The Relaxation Response (Benson 1975). Benson explored the effects of meditation on the relaxation response, the physiological responses that hold heart rate, lung capacity and blood pressure stable. He found that practicing meditation can turn on the relaxation responses and, in turn, the relaxation responses decrease the impact of stress on the body.
These are Western studies of what is a time honored, ancient practice across eastern cultures; taking the time to breath, focus and let go of the ceaseless thoughts, the ‘loop of mental tape’ running in our mind. It is a simple practice but very difficult in our busy lives- taking the time for you.
In general, in a short amount of time, a regular meditation practice can bring:
• decreased anxiety
• decreased depression
• decreased irritability and moodiness
• improved learning ability and enhanced memory
• increased feelings of vitality
• increased emotional stability
Why not try? Close your eyes, watch your breath for a few rounds of inhales and exhales, observe the moment. Do you feel anything different?