An interview with Sonia Sumar was published in Illumine Chicagoland last year. Sonia describes how her interest in yoga began, her relationship with her daughter, who was born with Downs Syndrome, and how Sonia developed Yoga for the Special Child.
This inspiring woman ignited my passion for yoga and kindled my interest in breaking down barriers of access to yoga. Sonia teaches that anyone can benefit from a yogic lifestyle. Yoga isn't about contorting your body into esoteric positions. The goal of yoga is "striving to live harmoniously as members of one universal family."
If you'd like to be inspired by Sonia, you're in luck! She is coming to Chicago in late April. Visit Yoga for the Special Child for information about this incredible training.
Dean Ornish's Spectrum includes nutrition, stress management, fitness, and community support. These four pillars align with the yogic path. All of yoga is designed to reduce stress and culminate in mastery over the mind through meditation. A plant-based diet promotes optimal nutrition. Hatha yoga improves fitness. Karma and Jnana yoga encourage healthy relationships with others and within ourselves.
Ornish's research supports the claim that practicing a yogic lifestyle improves health in people with disease. To my knowledge, it is some of the most rigorous research available on the effect of yogic practices on health. For this reason, his Spectrum program is the first to be covered by Medicare for people with heart disease.
Luckily, many of Ornish's studies are available for free on his website. The study I'm excited about right now, measured telomere length in patients with prostate cancer, before and after using the Ornish Spectrum for five years. Telomeres are at the ends of chromosomes in our DNA, which protect the chromosomes from being damaged. Damaged DNA is a significant factor in developing disease. Or as the study explains,
In human beings, telomere shortening is a potential prognostic marker for disease risk and progression and for premature death...Short telomere length...is associated with ageing and ageing related diseases, such as cancer, stroke, vascular dementia, cardiovascular disease, obesity, osteoporosis, and diabetes.
Ornish and his research partners found that by utilizing the Spectrum program for five years, patients with prostate cancer not only halted telomere shortening, they had reversed it! Those who had followed the program had increased the length of their telomeres. A dosage effect was also apparent, as those patients who followed the program very closely had lengthened their telomeres at a faster rate than those who didn't follow as closely. This was a small study, so there is still more research needed to draw conclusions about how and why this telomere lengthening effect is being observed.
However, this is important research for the yoga community and the medical community. As Yoga Therapy looks to coordinate with the medical community, we need studies as rigorous as Ornish's. Hopefully, more studies with similar methodological rigor will document the effect yogic practices have on all sorts of populations.
Ornish, D., Lin, J., Chan, J.M., et al. "Effect of comprehensive lifestyle changes of telomerase activity and telomere lenght in men with biopsy-proven low-risk prostate cancer: 5-year follow-up of a descriptive pilot study." The Lancet (2013). Published online. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1470-2045(13)70366-8
Book One of the Yoga Sutras: Portion on Contemplation
The Yoga Sutras are the guidebook to Raja Yoga. A sage, named Patanjali Maharishi dictated these notes to his students around 400 CE. His students recorded his explanation in shorthand, so it is difficult to read without a commentary. I use Sri Swami Satchidananda’s, but there are many good ones available.
Book One, Sutra Two - The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga
The second sutra is one of the best known for good reason. As Swami Satchidananda writes, “for a keen student this one Sutra would be enough because the rest of them just explain this one.” (3) Indeed, our blog derives its name from this Sutra. Nirodhaḥ means restraint in Sanskrit.
Put simply, yoga is the practice of restraining one’s own mind. When a person is completely in control, they are naturally content. Rocked by neither loss, nor desire. Lasting peace is attainable for everyone, though learning to control the mind is difficult. However, developing restraint is worth the trouble because difficulties appear whether we choose the peaceful path or not. At least by trying to attain peace we can use these difficulties to learn, instead of repeating patterns that don’t serve us when they arise.
Book one is an important foundation for anyone who wants to understand yogic philosophy. Patanjali explains various states of mind, the causes of suffering, methods to alleviate them, what obstacles might arise along this path, and how to achieve lasting peace. The next books of the Sutras go into detail about yogic practices and what a person gains by practicing. We’ll dive into those later.
This is a Jnana Yoga post, where you will find discussions of yogic philosophy and practice. Could I have made this post more clear or comprehensive? Let me know how I’m doing!
This is a short guided meditation, focusing on the breath. I created this meditation for anyone who is short on time or would like to start meditating. It takes less than ten minutes, so you can use it to start your day, end your day, or as a short break.
This is a Raja Yoga post, where we offer you practical exercises and meditations. We hope to provide easy ways to fit yogic practices into your day. Look for more audio and videos in the future! Which Raja Yoga practices do you want to study first? Meditation? Yoga poses? Breathing exercises?
Erin Haddock is the director of Five Keys Yoga, LLC.