Breathing is Proven Stress Reliever


As heard on NPR’s Morning Edition earlier this week, breathing has been scientifically proven to affect the heart, the brain, digestion, the immune system — and maybe even the expression of genes.


Mladen Golubic, a physician in the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative Medicine, says that breathing can have a profound impact on our physiology and our health.

“You can influence asthma; you can influence chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; you can influence heart failure,” Golubic says. “There are studies that show that people who practice breathing exercises and have those conditions — they benefit.”

He’s talking about modern science, but these techniques are not new. In India, breath work called pranayama is a regular part of yoga practice. Yoga practitioners have used pranayama, which literally means control of the life force, as a tool for affecting both the mind and body for thousands of years.

Breathing exercises can have immediate effects by altering the pH of the blood, or changing blood pressure. They can be used as a method to train the body’s reaction to stressful situations and dampen the production of harmful stress hormones.

Find the full story at For an introduction to yoga pranayama (breath work), check out this beginner’s tutorial.

Gratitude for Health

Image via Wikimedia Commons

On this holiday of family, food and giving thanks, we pause to consider just how important gratitude is for our overall well being.

Turns out, research suggests that gratitude has an important influence on health, leading to better sleep, fewer ailments, and a greater ability to deal with stress.

Via Yoga Journal:

“Gratitude elevates, it energizes, it inspires, it transforms,” says Robert Emmons, a University of California, Davis, psychology professor who has helped champion the study of gratitude as a factor in mental and physical health.

A series of studies he conducted in 2003 found that people who kept weekly written records of gratitude slept longer, exercised more frequently, had fewer health complaints, and generally felt better about their lives when compared with those who were asked to record only their complaints. In another study, he found that students who wrote in gratitude journals felt more satisfied with their lives and their school experience.

Practicing conscious gratitude has also been linked with positive mental health. Todd Kashdan, associate professor of psychology at Virginia’s George Mason University, found that when veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder kept gratitude journals, they experienced a greater sense of overall well-being in their lives. “There are two parts of being grateful,” Kashdan says. “One is recognizing that someone benefited in some way, then mindfully seeing the connection to yourself. You have to really be in the present to see what’s happening in your life, what’s causing things to happen, and how you fit into things bigger than yourself.”

A daily gratitude journal is a wonderful way to increase mindfulness and appreciation, though we could even just take a moment to be present and thankful on special days like today. What are you grateful for?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Survey Says: To Lift Mood and Reduce Anxiety, Choose Yoga

You know that yoga has many health benefits—reducing stress and increasing flexibility, among many others—but how does it stack up to other forms of exercise?

Researchers recently put yoga head to head with a walking routine, and found that those who practiced yoga had greater improvements in anxiety and mood.

Via the Vancouver Sun:

Researchers randomly assigned 19 people to an Iyengar yoga program and 15 to a metabolically matched regular walking regimen.


Both groups took part in the programs for an hour three times a week for 12 weeks. Study participants were tested several times to measure mood and anxiety. They were also given magnetic resonance spectroscopy scans to measure levels of the brain chemical gamma-Aminobutyric acid, a neurotransmitter that quiets brain activity, reducing anxiety and producing a state of calm. The scans were done at the beginning and end of the study and immediately following a yoga or walking session.


Those in the yoga group saw better changes in mood and less anxiety than those in the walking group. The yoga group also saw increases in GABA levels linked with improvements in mood.

The study was published in the November 2010 issue of The Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine.


Yoga for Fertility

Trying to conceive can be a tricky, lengthy process. For many couples, especially those struggling with infertility, this process can become emotionally taxing and full of stress, frustration and anxiety. 

Yoga can help.

“Fertility yoga,” as it’s often called, is the practice of yoga with the specific intent to help women create the best possible conditions for conception. Gentle movement, meditation, breathing exercises and particular poses encourage conception by helping to reduce stress, improve overall health, and deepen the body/mind connection. Many yoga for fertility classes are open to couples—not just the prospective mothers-to-be—which can serve to strengthen the partners’ connection to each other.

Yoga unites the body and breath to remove physical tension and quiet the mind, which is crucial for creating a welcoming environment for new life. Fertility yoga goes a step further by increasing fertility awareness, addressing the relationship between stress and fertility, and incorporating specific poses—often forward bends and reclining postures—that target the abdominal and pelvic regions in ways that are gentle and easy, even for yoga newbies. It is a safe, serene way to seek conception, whether a couple has been “trying” for awhile, or is just starting down the path toward parenthood.

Yen Yoga & Fitness will host a fertility workshop with Aimee Meeker on December 12 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Participants will journey through a gentle, meditative yoga practice geared toward calming the mind and opening the body. The workshop will include basic postures to increase chances of conception, mindful steps to prepare for and encourage fertility, and breathing techniques specifically designed to unblock psychological factors affecting a woman’s body. No yoga experience is required, and partners are encouraged to attend.

Meditation Reduces Stress, Increases Compassion

If you’re prone to feeling stressed, researchers say a 1,000-year-old Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice can hold the key for unlocking inner calm—and increasing your body’s immune capacities.
Via an article on
…Scientists are looking at how an ancient Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice called Lojong may help reduce stress itself, as well as improve the immune system’s response to stress, said Dr. Charles Raison, principal investigator of the study at Emory and CNNHealth mental health expert. Raison planned to present preliminary results of the study to the Dalai Lama, who attended the Compassion Meditation Conference on Monday.

“Lojong” means “mind training,” and this specific practice is aimed at making a person more compassionate toward others, including friends and enemies. This is the type of meditation that the Dalai Lama primarily practices, Raison said.

Participants are taught to look at all people equally as being valuable and important, and then attempt to develop strong feelings of compassion. They first examine compassion toward people they already care about, then toward people about whom they feel neutral, and then finally enemies. “In its purest form, it’s a way of practicing, of learning to become very thankful for your enemies because they help teach patience and caring,” Raison said.

Raison and Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, a lecturer in Emory’s religion department, have been working on methods of testing the effects of this meditation practice on the human body. They have preliminary results from a group of Emory University students as well as a more recent study on teenagers in foster care in Georgia. In both groups, researchers found that the more a person practices, the more stress-reduction benefits he or she receives. It appears that just going to the six or eight weeks of classes is not enough, however; those who showed the best outcomes had meditated on their own time as well, Raison said. The available data suggest that you can get stress-related benefits from meditating three to four times a week, he said.

“It’s not necessarily something that would require a complete change of life. You don’t have to go off and go to a monastery,” he said.
Interested in trying meditation in a group setting? Please join us at Yen Yoga’s free weekly guided meditation class on Sundays at 9 a.m. For more on Lojong, check out the full article on, or click on over to a compassion meditation tutorial on
Photo from

Yoga Combats Fibromyalgia Symptoms

A small study has found that gentle yoga and meditation can help alleviate the symptoms of fibromyalgia, a chronic condition characterized by long-term, body-wide pain and tender points in joints, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues.

In the study, 25 women diagnosed with fibromyalgia were enrolled in a two-hour “Yoga of Awareness” pilot program that met once a week for eight weeks. Each session included gentle stretching and poses, meditation, breathing techniques, lessons on applying yoga principals to daily life and coping with fibromyalgia, and group discussion. Participants were also encouraged to practice at home.

Another group of 28 women with fibromyalgia were put on a waiting list and told to continue their normal routine for handling their condition.

After eight weeks, the yoga group reported improvements in the physical and psychological aspects of fibromyalgia, including decreased pain, fatigue, tenderness, anxiety and better sleep and mood.

Fibromyalgia has been linked to fatigue, morning stiffness, sleep problems, headaches, numbness in hands and feet, depression, and anxiety. It is difficult to treat, and can develop on its own or along with other musculoskeletal conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.

Lead study author James Carson, a clinical psychologist and pain specialist at Oregon Health & Science University, says the women in the yoga group reported less pain, better sleep and a feeling of increased encouragement. Though researchers were careful to point out that the study had several limitations, including sample size, they noted that the initial findings showed promising support for the benefits of yoga in patients with fibromyalgia.

Check out a Bloomberg Businessweek article on the study, which was released online October 14 and will appear in the November print issue of the journal Pain.

Best Foods to Fight Flu

With flu season creeping up around the corner, it’s time to think about boosting our bodies’ natural defenses. Sufficient sleep, regular exercise and careful hand-washing are all front-line defense tactics, but there’s serious firepower to be found in certain foods, too. We found a thorough list of the top 10 flu-fighting foods (as well as other natural immunity boosters) over on; we’ve synopsized the top 10 foods below, but do check out the article, as it lists many other super-foods to naturally bolster your immune system. Read on, then stock up!
Green chili peppers: For vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that boosts immune function and protects cells from environmental damage
Sunflower seeds: For vitamin E, which enhances virus-fighting white blood cells
Carrots: Full of carotenoids, which enhance immune function
Cod liver oil: For vitamin D, an immune system regulator
Yogurt: Full of beneficial bacteria that guard against attacks in the digestive tract
Garlic: For sulfur, which stimulates immune system cellular production
Dark chocolate: Full of bioflavonoids, which act like antioxidants
Brazil nuts: For selenium, a mineral that aids white blood cells’ response
Mushrooms: Used medicinally for centuries, mushrooms contain immunity-enhancing compounds
Oysters: For zinc, an antioxidant that aids in the development of white blood cells and also protects cells from environmental damage


Yoga for Cancer Patients Provides Benefits of Sleep, Vitality

This article was in the May 21, 2010 issue of Bloomberg Business Week. It has amazing findings on the benefits of yoga for those  going through cancer. Do you know someone fighting cancer? Bring them into Yen Yoga and we will give them a free week of classes so they can see the benefit of practice.

Yoga for Cancer Patients Provides Benefits of Sleep, Vitality

May 21, 2010, 12:03 AM EDT

By Tom Randall

May 21 (Bloomberg) — Touch toes. Downward dog. Breathe. It’s a yoga routine that cancer doctors have prescribed for years without evidence it would do much good. Now the biggest ever scientific study of yoga finds their instincts were right.

While yoga doesn’t cure the disease, its stretching and breathing exercises did improve sleep, reduce dependence on sedatives and help cancer patients resume the routine activities of everyday life, according to a 410-participant study being highlighted at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting in Chicago next month.

Health insurers and government programs don’t pay for yoga even as mounting evidence from dozens of smaller studies show benefits for treating chronic disease. The research and more than $5 million in additional tests funded this year by the National Institutes of Health may convince skeptical doctors and provide scientific evidence to allow coverage.

“Clinicians should now feel pretty comfortable prescribing gentle Hatha yoga or restorative yoga for their patients,” said Karen Mustian, lead author of the study and assistant professor in the department of radiation oncology and preventive medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “The data from this study is one of the first steps in the direction toward insurance coverage, but we’re not there yet.”

Doctors at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York aren’t waiting for more studies to start prescribing yoga. The hospital is one of the few facilities in the country to offer personal yoga therapy instruction for all of its sickest cancer patients.

Fighting Leukemia

David Goldberg, a 30-year-old computer programmer and recreational athlete, learned earlier this month that he has leukemia. The cancer cut short his five-mile runs and pick-up basketball games even before his diagnosis. Goldberg hadn’t considered yoga until checking into Beth Israel’s emergency department a few weeks ago and learning of his disease.

“I was certainly a little skeptical, but so far it’s been very helpful in relaxing me, getting me in a good state of mind,” Goldberg said before a 20-minute lesson in his hospital room. His instructor wears a mask to protect Goldberg, whose immune system has been weakened by five rounds of chemotherapy. “I’m hooked up to a machine, so I can’t totally forget that I have this. For me, it’s just an amazing experience to feel where my body is and what I’m experiencing.”

Cancer Meeting Highlight

The yoga study released yesterday by the cancer group is one of more than 4,500 reports showcased at this year’s meeting of 30,000 oncologists. Doctors have been especially interested in yoga’s muscle-toning stretches and meditative breathing, which practitioners say clears the mental fog of chemotherapy and the chronic fatigue that plagues some survivors for years.

In the Rochester study, about 8 out of 10 cancer survivors reported significant sleep impairment that affected their lives before the study. Half of the patients were assigned to yoga classes twice a week for one month. By the end of the trial, 31 percent of yoga patients no longer had the sleep disruptions, twice the recovery rate of patients who didn’t take classes.

Yoga practitioners also reported a 42 percent reduction in fatigue, compared with a 12 percent reduction for the control group. Yoga users decreased the use of sleep medication by 21 percent, while the control group actually increased reliance on sleeping drugs by 5 percent.

Learning More

Scientists still don’t know exactly what makes yoga work, said Lorenzo Cohen, professor of behavioral science and cancer prevention at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Cohen and his research group were awarded a $4.5 million U.S. grant this year for the biggest yoga and meditation study. His research will compare yoga to meditation and to stretching and will analyze economic benefits from increased productivity at work.

“Once we can show an economic impact, you’ll start to see changes,” Cohen said in an interview in New York. “Companies want to provide services that keep their employees healthy and productive.

“The concept that the brain can change if you put it into different states is a whole new wonderful science that’s emerging,” Cohen said.

Yoga began in India as a combination of physical and mental exercises. Historians have traced its roots back thousands of years to references in Buddhist and Hindu texts. In Western practices, muscle-stretching poses are accompanied by meditative breathing exercises. About 15.8 million Americans practiced yoga in 2008, according to a study commissioned by Yoga Journal.

The health benefits of yoga have been explored in scores of smaller studies looking at everything from weight loss to depression. Previous studies were too small to be considered definitive, and they are difficult to compare because most of them use differing definitions for just what “yoga” is.

Skepticism at First

“Ten years ago, there was almost complete skepticism from oncologists, but now most of them are coming around” said Woodson Merrell, chairman of the department of integrative medicine at Beth Israel. Merrell’s center is completing its own studies comparing patient improvements before and after the hospital’s holistic cancer floor was finished in March 2009.

Beth Israel’s yoga program was developed with celebrity instructor Rodney Yee and the Urban Zen Foundation set up by fashion designer Donna Karan, whose husband died of lung cancer. The hospital’s cancer floor also offers acupuncture, aromatherapy, a meditation room called the “Sanctuary” and massage chairs for patients and visitors.

Integrating Mind, Body

“We’re not talking about using a Ouija board and using fern leaves instead of chemotherapy,” Merrell said. “We’re talking about relaxation techniques to integrate the mind and body — instead of feeling disconnected from this cancer that’s in you, to feel that you’re a whole human being and you’re going on this path toward healing.”

For Goldberg’s fight against leukemia, yoga is a series of slow, gentle stretches, beginning with his feet and ending in his shoulders. The reclining poses are followed by guided breathing instructions that encourage him to let go of the sounds of the hospital and to focus on his thoughts and the sensations of his body.

After his session, Goldberg told his instructor that a headache that had been bothering him during a visit with his family had disappeared and his outlook on the world was little bit brighter than before. His doctors said his positive attitude is a strong medicine and his prognosis for recovery is good.

–Editors: Angela Zimm, Bruce Rule

To contact the reporter on this story: Tom Randall in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at

Find Your Spin-Spiration

Individuals from all walks of life enjoy (or at least endure) spinning for a number of reasons. Spinning, also know as indoor cycling, provides a fun and efficient cardiovascular workout that almost anyone can try. From seniors to cyclists, the spectrum of spinners is vast. Yet they all share a common respect for a healthier self, and realize the amazing potential spinning has at sustaining that beautiful perspective.

On a LeMond spinning bike, the rider is in optimal control. A leader guides and motivates the group of spinners through a series of cycling related simulations. Not only is the experience often exciting and intense, but the amount of comfort and control while on a spinner surpasses most other forms of exercise. In essence, spinning serves as a wonderful workout that is both extraordinarily fun and rewarding.

The benefits of spinning are just as vast as the activity’s demographics. Aside from promoting a healthier self, there are many unique and beneficial aspects of spinning that stimulate the soul.

  • Low-to-No Impact – One of the most significant features of spinning is the lack impact. Unlike running and other forms of cardiovascular exercise, spinning is easy on the joints, particularly in typical problem areas like the knees and hips. In fact, moderate spinning is a common form of physical therapy for individuals recovering from knee surgery.
  • Extreme Calorie Burner – A solid thirty minute spinning session can burn as much as 500 calories. Combine out-of-saddle hill climbs and high-intensity sprints into a 45-60 minute spin class and the calorie burning potential can reach the 1000’s.
  • Time Flies – A treadmill workout can seem like an eternity, whereas a spinning session can drift by in no time. The difficulty is constantly changing, and as spinners work through various levels of intensity, there is a welcoming tendency to lose track of time.
  • Training – From a training standpoint, triathletes and cyclists are not the only athletes who benefit from spin training. All types of athletes can enhance their performance by improving their cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, lactate threshold and VO2 max. Spinning enables athletes to push themselves to the extremes without the risk of injury associated with more impactful forms of exercise.
  • Complete Control – The instructor might push the class to the max, but overall, the rider is in complete control. At any moment, the resistance can be taken off, cranked up, or slightly adjusted to suit the rider’s desired level of intensity.
  • Groove to the Music – Music and spinning go hand in hand. Music acts as the course, merging cadence (RPMs) and song tempo (RPMs). Slow songs typically make for good climbs or cool downs, whereas up-tempo songs encourage speed and sprints. Sustain a cadence that matches the beat and the spinning experience is like a dance party.
  • Simulated Experience – When the cold months arrive and the bicycles go into hibernation, spinning provides the perfect alternative. Many classes simulate the riding experience by incorporating hills, flats and other common elements of traditional road riding. It is both a great way maintain “bike shape” and keep cyclists sane throughout the winter.
  • Active Recovery – After more intense forms of training, certain muscles need to rebuild and replenish. That doesn’t mean sitting on the couch is the best form of recovery. Going for an easy spin allows oxygen rich blood to flow to the leg muscles, promoting faster recovery. In addition, spinning can be ideal for many forms of rehabilitation and physical therapy.

Spinning offers so much more to the self than the average Joe could ever imagine. Improving mental strength, stamina, self-confidence, sense of community and unity are also benefits that bring spinners life. For those who have hesitated to hop in the saddle, now is the time to experience a workout that is invigorating, fun and effective. Find out more information at our website.

–       Tyler Tafelsky Traverse City Spinning Instructor