Yoga: Good for the mind, body and soul

Show aging the door as you slip into your comfy yoga pants and into a yogic posture to ensure your longevity.

We all know the feeling… losing keys, forgetting names of people, places and familiar-on-the-tip-of-your-tongue words… Unnerving as it is, we all get to that point, sometimes as young as forty. A recent pilot study, which involved participants over the age of 50, explored the relationship between performance on memory tests before and after a yoga session. Results of the study showed a significant improvement in memory and levels of depression in the older adults who took part. It also showed that yoga was as effective as other memory enhancement training techniques and had additional physical benefits. Good news for our aging brains and bodies – and some might argue, good news for the soul! Biokineticist Mark Stevens, a stones throw from Life The Glynnwood Hospital and Hatha and prenatal yoga instructor Deevya Vasson Lalla share their insights into the over 5000-year-old ancient art of yoga as a form of physical exercise with multiple benefits. 

Yoga is so much more than just exercise

“The combination of breath work, stretches and relaxation techniques practiced on a regular basis helps the body move out of survival mode which has many positive side effects on your health,” says yoga instructor Deevya. “You may notice a change in your state of mind, the lowering of high blood pressure, improvements in your posture with ease of movement and increased strength and flexibility.” Not only that, yoga assists with brain function and the ability to focus, enhancing concentration and memory, explains biokineticist, Mark. “Participating in regular physical activity definitely has a positive effect on the neuromuscular link between one’s brain and muscular system. From a movement disorder point of view, practicing certain movements, improving flexibility and strength, challenging balance and proprioception and correcting gait are vital in maintaining one’s independence and improving quality of life,” he says. “Exercises to help improve the neuromuscular link between one’s brain and feet can be as simple (not always that easy for some) as doing toe taps and calf raises or balancing on one leg. Often the more active one is, the slower the rate of decline in muscle strength, flexibility and proprioception as one gets older.” 

What do I need to get started?
“You don’t need much to get started with your yoga practice, but it does help to find a good teacher at a venue close to home, so that it is easy and convenient to attend a class,” says Deevya. “You need a willingness to try, a good attitude, comfortable pants and t-shirt and a soft surface to do your poses on. If you don’t have a yoga mat, don’t let that stop you – a carpet will work just fine.” Biokineticist Mark adds that it is also important to ensure that if you have had a previous injury, that you first check with your physiotherapist or doctor that you may engage in the exercise of your choice. “This is determined on an individual basis – and the important thing is that you engage in some form of physical activity. Enter a race,  book a yoga session, commit to doing something physical. It doesn’t have to be too big or daring or expensive. Find a partner, friend or family member to join you and motivate each other to start. Set a goal and write it down. Tell your partner, friend or family member what your goal is and commit to it. It could be walking your first 5km race, losing 5kg, entering a cycle challenge or attending at least one exercise session a week for the next three months,” he says. “Consistency is key and don’t quit too soon. Unfortunately there are no quick fixes and improving one’s fitness, flexibility or strength does take time, persistence and perseverance.”

<Sidebar> Yoga instructor Deevya shares her top five yoga practices to get you startedSukhasana – Easy Pose
Benefits: Opens the hips, lengthens the spine and prepares the body for concentration and meditation.
Method: Sit on the floor with your legs crossed at your shins and the spine elongated. If you struggle to sit up without rounding the upper body or your knees lift up above your hips then sitting on a pillow and against the wall will make this pose more comfortable. Alternate Nostril Breathing
Benefits: Helps balance the body and mind, strengthens the lungs and helps clean the lymphatic system. Method: Sit in easy pose or on a chair. Place your thumb and ring finger on either side of your nose. Press your thumb down on the right nostril and breathe out gently through the left nostril. Now breathe in from the left nostril and then press the left nostril gently with the ring finger. Removing the right thumb from the right nostril, breathe out from the right. Breathe in from the right nostril and exhale from the left. Continue for a few rounds keeping the breath smooth and relaxed. Standing Forward Bend
Benefits: A great stretch for the hamstrings, glutes and spine. Your head is also below the heart so you are getting the benefits of doing an inversion – it calms the brain, reduces stress and anxiety and relieves headaches and sinus. A great one to do before bed or when waking up in the morning.
Method: Stand with your feet hip width apart, hinge from your hips all the way down and rest your hands on the floor next to your feet. Keep the knees soft if straight legs is uncomfortable and rest the hands on a block or pillow if it doesn’t reach the floor. Don’t forget to breath and just allow the body to relax and release. Alternatively hold onto your elbows. Cat Cow
Benefits: Relieves any tightness in the muscles of your back and keeps the spine healthy and flexible. Method: Come onto hands and knees with hands underneath the shoulders, palms flat and knees underneath the hips. Keep a neutral spine and as you inhale lift the head and push the chest through the arms, arching the spine. Exhale and round the spine, tuck the chin, and tuck the tailbone. Close your eyes and try to synchronise the breath with the movement as you do a few rounds.Supine Spinal Twist
Benefits: This pose releases the lower back, helps to open your chest and shoulders, relieves any upper back tension and elongates the muscles of the spine.
Method: Lie on your back and hug your knees into your chest. Take the arms out in line with your shoulders and take both knees over to the left side, resting knees and feet on the floor. Slowly breathe as you relax the right shoulder to the ground and look over the right hand. If you struggle to get the knees to the floor, try putting a pillow between your knees. Hold for a few breaths and repeat on the other side looking over the opposite hand.
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My grandmother: the yoga aunty to all who knew her
“My grandmother Jasoda ‘Bhikibhen’ Keshav, otherwise known as ‘masi’ (‘aunty’ in Gujarati) to her many regular yoga students, taught in Rylands in Cape Town for 49 years. She started her yoga classes in the early sixties making the decision to dedicate her life to sharing the gift of yoga with other women, never charging them for attending. The classes started small, once a week on a Saturday morning, but soon grew to twice a week, including a Wednesday morning as word spread. Before she died at the age of 84 she had taught hundreds of women and stayed active until her last days. One could often hear her say; ‘one day when I am not here, you girls must remember what I taught you’, alongside the motto, which became the motto of many – ‘watch your thoughts… be the observer and you will conquer the mind and its illusions.’ I believe that yoga was her life – and she inspired so many women to use yoga to nourish their bodies and minds. She was the sharpest, wittiest woman I knew and I miss her quick tongue and soft hands. She was testament to the fact that yoga keeps you healthy, fit and living mindfully.” – Rekha Chavda granddaughter to Jasoda ‘Bhikibhen’ Keshav. 

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