Turning pretzel to calm the mind
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Turning pretzel to calm the mind

Exercising makes people feel good about themselves, which is great for them but not for the people around them who have to listen to how much they run, lift, cycle or swim each day.

columns Updated: Aug 31, 2013 23:06 IST

Exercising makes people feel good about themselves, which is great for them but not for the people around them who have to listen to how much they run, lift, cycle or swim each day.

The more committed fitness enthusiasts are worse, going beyond the usual ponderous listing of their training-workout schedule to drone on about muscle gained or weight lost — depending on what their target is — and, worse, their strains and pains and the result of their last physical.

Since I write on health and know a bit about these things, I get more than the usual share of people solemnly listing what they do or don’t to stay healthy. After being forced to watch someone demonstrate push-ups on the office floor and another pull up his shirt to display his alleged washboard abs, I survive by making my brain go into an auto-shutdown mode immediately till they shut up or are called away.

I’m more indulgent with people who go on about how great yoga makes them feel simply because they usually don’t look it. While temporarily turning into a human pretzel and breathing slow and easy has many benefits, they are not immediately apparent as the physical transformation associated with exercise and sporting activity.

You may not see it, but empirical data shows that yoga improves wellness by boosting flexibility, immunity and calming the mind, which help you cope with stress. It lowers risk of heart disease by lowering high blood pressure, high cholesterol, hardening of the arteries and inflammation, which is the body’s reaction to infection. It also helps people tolerate symptoms and lower anxiety associated with the illness and is especially useful for people with chronic disease, such as cancers, high blood pressure, constant pain such as that associated with arthritis, and those on prolonged treatment.

Yoga lowers blood pressure and improves anxiety, depression and insomnia among cancer, heart attack and stroke survivors. It helps people diagnosed with cancer to sleep better and reduces their use of sleep aids, reported a study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology on Saturday. On a scale of general sleep quality where lower scores indicate fewer problems, that of people who did yogic relaxation, breathing and meditation improved from 9.2 to 7.2 during the study period. Those practicing yoga also reduced their use of sleep medication by 21% per week.

A study in Psycho-Oncology last year reported that yoga improved mood and reduced fatigue in women being treated for breast cancer. A 10-weeks programme of 75 minute a day lowered depression by 50% and mood by 12%. Yoga asanas (physical postures) and breathing exercises improved balance in people disabled by stroke and helped them to get back on their feet six months after an attack, reported a study in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke last year.

Even meditating without the asanas buffers against the intense stress of schoolwork and exams, reported the International Journal of Psychophysiology last year. It improves brain function by increasing focus and lowering fragmented thinking and disorganised planning. Studies have linked yoga with helping teenagers recover from eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia; easing chronic back pain; and even boosting the success rates with in-vitro fertilisation for conception.

An hour of yoga three times a week boosts the mood and immunity of people being treated for depression, showed research at Bangalore’s National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS). In India, one in four families has at least one person with a behavioural or mental disorder, which affects one in 15 (6 to 7%) people.

Supermodel Christy Turlington, 44, put it in a nutshell in an interview to Prevention magazine this week: “It's so not about asanas. It’s living yoga daily. And I do that every day to the best of my ability. There are always challenges. As a parent, I can get so frustrated. Any parent can! But then my yoga that day is parenting. It’s learning patience. With my advocacy work, too, there are so many obstacles. So the yoga is sticking with it, no matter what.”

First Published: Aug 31, 2013 23:03 IST