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. 

For more information and to find a yoga instructor near you, visit for a directory of practitioners. 

What the fitness experts want you to know…

It’s time for me-time this month, and here’s some sound expert advice to help get you moving for better health and fitness.

Sometimes, becoming fit and healthy is easier said than done – and for many, seems like an insurmountable challenge in their life. According to the World Health Organization, obesity has more than doubled since 1980 and in 2014, more than 1.9-billion adults were overweight. One of the best ways to avoid becoming a statistic is prioritise your health and wellness, which encompasses better nutrition, more movement and improving your fitness levels. Charlene Yared-West speaks to the experts to find out more about what you should and shouldn’t be doing to get fit – and stay fit. 

Just move!

Movement can happen in the gym or it can be tickle fights, sex, a walk on the beach, playing sport and anything that gets you moving, explains Dr Greg Venning, author and chiropractor at Peak Chiropractic in Cape Town  ( “Fitness has at least ten different components to it and human beings do best when they have competence in each of these ten. They are; strength, speed, endurance, stamina, power, accuracy, mobility, co-ordination, balance and agility,” he says. “How each person archives these is going to be personalised, as there is no single path to fitness. Find the things you love and approach them playfully and practice them for mastery. That will accelerate your short-term results as well and give you long-term staying power.” Adele Pudney, physiotherapist from ADK Physio & Hydrotherapy ( agrees. “You must learn to love yourself and the movement you’re doing to be successful in maintaining your exercise goals. Be kind to yourself and reward yourself for small improvements,” she says. “See it as a journey; there will be times of great enthusiasm and other moments of total disinterest – and have ways to cope with both ends of the spectrum.” 

Movement for health

“Quit exercise. Workouts suck. Practice and play with movement and rediscover the joy in it,” says Dr Venning. He recommends moving for at least five minutes a day, which, as you start to enjoy the movement, will expand over time. “You require three types of movement for health; move moderately everyday, move heavy things one to three times a week and move fast, one to two times a week. Avoid long, repetitive cardio workouts, they aren’t as good for you as you think,” says Dr Venning. Zeno Rossouw, physiotherapist based at Life Orthopaedic Hospital at Vincent Pallotti agrees and points out that 30 minutes of daily exercise can reduce both weight and BMI almost as much as a 60 minute workout. “Be time efficient and rethink the value of a warm up. It is crucial to prepare your muscles for the activity they are about to endure,” he says. “It also helps to choose an exercise that will keep your mind guessing, like cross training. Each new and different workout can target different muscle groups, which reduce the risk of injury, boost energy levels and keep boredom at bay.” Dr Venning adds that a short duration (less than 20 minutes) of high intensity intermittent training can help you to get all the benefits of cardio in a fraction of the time. “Avoid moving weights around if you can’t move your own body weight around well. Start small and do something you enjoy doing,” he says. 

Are there shortcuts to fitness freedom?

The experts concur: there is no easy way – and no shortcuts, but you can still have fun anyway!Liesl Way, physiotherapist at Life Westville Hospital says that consistency and discipline are key in the beginning of your path to fitness. “Start with simple activities that you enjoy and realise that fitness is built over time – and not overnight, so don’t binge exercise. Doing so will make you lose your motivation and possibly cause injury – and you will feel awful (physically and emotionally) if you exercise beyond your current fitness level,” she says. Exercise creates opportunity to meet new people, it leads to a sense of well being, can combat feelings of depression, increases energy levels, can reduce insomnia and can be a very enjoyable part of your day, adds Liesl. 

<SIDEBAR> What you should be avoiding on your journey to fitness?Having a cheat meal after a good workout.Procrastinating when to start your routine.Focusing on the end goal. It becomes overwhelming and prevents us from moving forward.Making excuses as to why you shouldn’t workout.Setting unrealistic goals and time frames.Continuing with an unhealthy diet. A balanced, healthy diet is important for joint and muscle health.Starving yourself in an attempt to speed up the weight loss.Ignoring the value of adequate rest and stretching before and after exercise.
<SIDEBAR> Top tips for getting fitStart small and make steady daily improvements.Use positive and realistic affirmations and pictures to motivate yourself.Take part in outdoor exercise … Fresh air, scenery like a trail run or mountainbiking can boost your energy levels.Tracking your activity is also a very useful exercise, whether it’s a fitness diary or a high-tech app on your smartphone.Grab a workout partner, but also someone that will challenge you and thereby increase how long and hard you workout.Enlisting the help of a personal trainer could help to motivate you. They can supervise and ensure that your technique is flawless preventing injuries and ensuring good results.Nutrition has a major role to play, as people have heard that the six pack is made in the kitchen and not at the gym. People should consider keeping a food diary to track how certain meals impact their performance.Sleep is also a vital aspect of a healthy balanced lifestyle. Ensuring that we have between 6-8 hours will also help boost our fitness levels. A post workout cool down can leave the individual with the notion that the workout wasn’t as tough as they originally expected. A better mindset for getting back to the gym the next day. Performing static stretches whereby a 20-30 second hold is best.Love yourself enough to take care of yourself.