Booster Shots

Oddities, musings and news from the health world

Category: yoga

Book Reviews: 'The No Om Zone,' 'The Yoga Body Diet' and 'Healing Yoga for Neck & Shoulder Pain'

June 26, 2010 |  2:57 pm

Some people use yoga to strengthen, stretch and relax muscles; others delve into its lifestyle and spiritual aspects. Here are three new books with varying approaches to the 5,000-year-old practice.

Noomzone “The No Om Zone” bills itself as a “no-chanting, no-granola, no-Sanskrit practical guide to yoga.” This book by Kimberly Fowler, founder of the L.A.-based YAS Fitness Centers, is geared to athletes and others who want to improve muscle tone and flexibility, take away aches, alleviate pain and calm the mind. Fowler promises you won’t have to go sit on a mountaintop and chant to achieve these results.

The former triathlete started doing yoga in 1983 to rehabilitate after an injury and became a fan after seeing the benefits to her body and athletic performance. She was turned off, however, by "elitist" classes targeted to the few who could do pretzel poses and handstands. Today, the motto in her yoga classes is “safe, fun and effective.”

Her book offers short workouts for 13 parts of the body, including the neck, arms, core/abs, lower back, hips and knees. Each body part gets its own chapter describing and showing the anatomy of the area, common injuries, recommended yoga poses for it and a workout routine typically lasting about 10 minutes. Poses are accompanied by photos, step-by-step guides, difficulty ratings, descriptions of benefits, tips and modifications to make them easier.

Fowler does manage to slip some mind-body material into the book. The first body part addressed is the head, for example, and here she talks about the benefits and practice of meditation and describes how to do yoga breathing.

This is a good book for those who want yoga workouts targeted to individual body areas as opposed to a one-size-fits-all workout. Fowler also offers a "No Om Zone" DVD containing three 15-minute workouts.

Yogabody “The Yoga Body Diet,” by Kristen Schultz Dollard and John Douillard, is everything “The No Om Zone” is not. Not only is it not a no-granola book, it even includes recipes for granola.

Dollard, digital director at Self magazine, is a yoga teacher and former editor of Douillard directs LifeSpa, an ayurvedic retreat center in Boulder, Colo., and has written and produced numerous health and fitness books, CDs and DVDs.

Their pretty book – generously illustrated with colorful pen-and-ink drawings – says it can help you get a “yoga body” in four weeks through eating, exercising and de-stressing according to the principles of yoga and ayurveda.

The book describes ayurveda as yoga’s sister science, one of the world’s oldest medical systems practiced by 80% of India’s population today. Dollard and Douillard say their mission is to present “ayurveda’s greatest hits” and teach you how to use it for weight loss.

“Yoga Body” kicks off with a quiz to determine what ayurvedic “type” you are: vata (airy), pitta (fiery) or kapha (earthy). Each type is told what kinds of foods to eat and avoid, yoga moves to do and lifestyle changes to make. Recipes for chai tea, pad Thai, roti pizza and other dishes include variations for each ayurvedic type.

The book’s illustrated yoga pose guide is easy to follow, with about 75 positions that range from the simple corpse pose to the more challenging revolved half-moon.

The book at times has the feel of an overly simplified greatest hits compilation as it offers its take on ayurvedic practices. Some of the recommendations – such as to stop snacking and eat only three meals a day – may not work for some or even have proven benefits. But those interested in the ayurvedic philosophy may find the book an approachable starting point to determine whether they want to go further into the practice.

Healingyoga “Healing Yoga for Neck & Shoulder Pain” zeroes in on the area of the body where many people feel the effects of stress. Author Carol Krucoff, a yoga therapist at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, N.C., writes that neck and shoulder tension, tightness and discomfort are the top complaints of her students. Krucoff says she’s been successful in helping people find lasting relief with yoga, though it doesn’t happen overnight.

Krucoff, a former Washington Post journalist, looks at the practice of yoga through this lens, exploring the science of neck pain and yoga; the anatomy of the spine, shoulders, neck, face and jaw; the role of stress and emotions in neck and shoulder pain; and the best postures for sitting and standing.

She explains how, where and when to do yoga; how to breathe properly; and how to do 38 poses to help the neck and shoulders. Simple line drawings illustrate the mostly gentle exercises. Some of the stretches can be done in an office chair. 

“Healing Yoga” is a good introduction for those who want to focus on this part of the body, or ease into yoga for physical reasons or lack of familiarity with the practice. The book’s production values are basic, but the writing is clear, informative and inspiring.

Krucoff writes that the best healing comes when people bring the lessons of yoga into their daily lives.

“Rather than muscle your way into a yoga pose, you learn to relax into it -- using the tools of gravity, patience, and the breath -- to allow the pose to deepen and unfold,” she says. “Over time, with regular practice, the lessons learned on the yoga mat begin to influence how you live in the world.”

-- Anne Colby

Photos, from top: "The No Om Zone: A No-Chanting, No-Granola, No-Sanskrit Practical Guide to Yoga," Kimberly Fowler, Rodale Books, $19.99; "The Yoga Body Diet: Slim and Sexy in 4 Weeks (Without the Stress), Kristen Schultz Dollard and John Douillard, Rodale Books, $21.99; "Healing Yoga for Neck & Shoulder Pain: Easy, Effective Practices for Releasing Tension & Relieving Pain," Carol Krucoff, New Harbinger Publications, $17.95


Book Review: 'Gold Medal Fitness'

Book Review: 'The 10-Minute Total Body Breakthrough'

Book Review: 'Denise's Daily Dozen'


Free yoga in Malibu, plus breakfast -- does it get any better than this?

June 25, 2010 |  4:16 pm

If we had to put together a perfect weekend morning, it would probably involve some form of exercise, being outside and food. Guess we're not alone in enjoying that scenario, since this weekend Yoga on the Pier is returning, a series of free Saturday morning yoga classes on the Malibu Pier, followed by a free continental breakfast at the Beachcomber Cafe. Yes, we said free, and free.

Yoga on the Pier 4This is the second year of the series, sponsored by radio stations KIIS-FM (102.7) and KYSR-FM (98.7), in which people at all levels of yoga -- even rank beginners -- are invited to take part in the classes, which go from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. Coming back for another round of teaching is Los Angeles-based yoga instructor Lori Rischer, who does a basic vinyasa flow class with modifications for those who may have less experience.

"It's great to start your weekend this way, in one of those most beautiful places in the country, doing something healthy, and listening to great music. It's one of those experiences that feeds your soul on so many levels."

Rischer also works in radio marketing and promotion for a record label, so she knows her way around a playlist. Music is an important component of the classes, and Rischer spends a good amount of time putting together an eclectic array of tunes that flow along with the yoga: Kings of Leon, Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, Fabolous. "All the music I play is inspirational and encouraging," she says.

After class, students can hang out and eat and enjoy the scenery. A few practical notes: Rischer recommends bringing a yoga mat, towel, water and a light jacket or sweatshirt because the mornings can be cool. Because the classes have become so popular, a space must be reserved in advance; go to the KIIS-FM or 98.7 FM websites to sign up (other details about parking, etc. are on both sites). The series goes until Sept. 4.

"Yoga allows us to check out of the insanity of our lives," Rischer says. "When you come here, you're able to put all of that on hold, and just be in the moment. When you're on the pier and listening to the music, this allows you that chance to catch your breath."

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo: Free yoga classes are held on Saturdays throughout the summer on the Malibu Pier. Credit: David Iino

Yoga and infertility, take two

December 14, 2009 |  4:10 pm

Last week we told you about a pitch we got for actress Brenda Strong's Yoga4Fertility program. The pitch began like this: "Brenda Strong, Mary Alice Young from Desperate Housewives, has created a new yoga method--and it is getting women pregnant." Strong, a longtime yoga practitioner and instructor, developed the program to help women dealing with infertility, and has other programs for pregnancy and menopause.

Kjmc74nc We're used to seeing hyperbole in press releases, and we're also no stranger to celebrities touting health-related products and services or getting behind public policy issues. We felt compelled to comment on this one, cautioning readers to take any claims with a grain of salt, despite the fact that yoga can be effective in coping with various health-related issues, including cancer and multiple sclerosis. Some people are influenced by their favorite actor/actress/singer/athlete's involvement in various programs and causes, and they can be blind to the occasional outrageous statement or forceful proposal.

Today we spoke with Strong, who said that she was unhappy with the way the pitch went out, and wanted to clarify a few things. First, she said, she believes that before entering any health program people should research it to make sure it's viable and right for them. Infertile women should also seek help from their health professional in addition to trying other solutions. "In no way, shape or form," she said, "am I saying that yoga is the only way to get pregnant."

However, she does believe that yoga (specifically her program) does have physical benefits, especially for the endocrine system, and can help women survive infertility, an issue known to elicit enormous amounts of stress. "If anything," she says, "yoga gives women tools to deal with the stress of infertility and helps empower them, so they can say, 'I can go through this.' For a lot of women who feel out of touch with their body, this can give them a positive feeling again, like their body can be trusted."

And yes, women who have taken part in her program have gotten pregnant. But she can't say for sure if it was yoga, acupuncture, medical treatments, or various combinations of those that did the trick.

"My intention," she added, "has always been to help women help themselves."

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo: Actress and yoga instructor Brenda Strong. Photo credit: Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images

Do yoga, have a baby -- maybe

December 11, 2009 |  5:06 pm

Today we got a pitch that began like this: "Brenda Strong, Mary Alice Young from Desperate Housewives, has created a new yoga method -- and it is getting women pregnant."

Ktosvknc All righty then. Reading further, we discovered that Strong, who we loved as the bra-baring Sue Ellen Mischke on "Seinfeld," has developed a method called Yoga4Fertility that purports to increase fertility with the help of her trademarked Fertility Ball, which has its debut next month. Combining yoga with something called "Tibetan finger pressure techniques" allegedly helps women get pregnant.

Working with that ball, says the Yoga4Fertility website, "is a way for women to empower themselves to stimulate circulation/blood flow, massage internal organs, use acupressure points for fertility, help to regulate gynecological function, detoxify and cleanse, decrease stress, and open connective tissue/fascia." That seems like a lot of responsibility for a ball. And we're not really sure we want our internal organs massaged anyway.

Doing a little checking on the connection between yoga and fertility, we ran across an oft-quoted study presented in October at a meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine that showed participating in a stress management program may have helped increase fertility. The women were undergoing in vitro fertilization.

Although we're not discounting alternative medicine, and yoga has shown to be effective in dealing with a number of health issues, including helping cancer patients cope with pain and treatment side effects, we caution anyone against believing that this is the sure road to pregnancy. Just because a celebrity says it's possible, doesn’t mean it is. Om.

-Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Chris Oberholtz / The Kansas City Star

Yoga helps relieve chronic back pain

September 3, 2009 |  6:00 am

Yoga Chronic back pain is difficult to treat and causes loads of misery. But something as simple as twice-weekly yoga appears to relieve pain and improve mood in people with the condition.

The study, published in this month's issue of the journal Spine, was a three-year, $400,000 research project funded by National Institutes of Health. Researchers assigned 90 people with chronic low back pain to a yoga group or a control group that received standard medical care.

Those in the yoga group participated in 24 weeks of biweekly yoga classes designed for people with chronic lower-back pain. Six months after the study ended, those in the yoga group reported significantly more improvements in pain and functionality compared with subjects in the other group. In addition, depression was much lower in the yoga subjects. The use of pain medication was reduced, but that reduction was similar in both groups.

"The yoga group had less pain, less functional disability and less depression compared with the control group," Kimberly Williams, the lead investigator, from West Virginia University, said in a news release. "Proponents of yoga have long described its benefits in reducing back pain. But not everyone was convinced. This is a much bigger, much more rigorous evaluation than had been done before."

The classes were taught by an instructor certified in Iyengar yoga, a type that emphasizes posture.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Tony Gutierrez  /  Associated Press

The real reason people who carry yoga mats always look thin

August 5, 2009 | 11:44 am

It’s no secret that yoga helps practitioners stay slim. A new study explains why: People who engage in the traditional form of exercise are more in tune with their bodies in general, including at meal times.

Mindful eating helps people to stop eating once they are full, even if delicious food remains on their plates. They try not to let tempting advertisements lure them to food; they avoid eating while they are distracted by a TV show or other diversion; and they don’t eat to distract themselves from emotions like stress or sadness.

Yoga1 Researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington in Seattle created a 28-item questionnaire to assess the degree to which people practiced mindful eating. They passed it around to yoga studios, gyms and weight-loss centers around the Seattle area and got more than 300 people to respond.

The researchers – led by longtime yoga enthusiast Alan Kristal, associate head of the Cancer Prevention Program in the Hutch’s Public Health Sciences Division – found that mindful eaters weighed less, as measured by body mass index. They also found that the 40% of respondents who practiced yoga for at least one hour per week had an average BMI of 23.1 (well within the normal range), compared with a BMI of 25.8 (slightly overweight) for those who didn’t.

The results suggest that yoga should be recommended for people trying to diet through more traditional means, like limiting portion sizes and counting calories, Kristal said. The mental focus required to hold a difficult yoga pose could also help people avoid “eating more even when the food tastes good” or “eating when you’re not hungry,” he said in a statement.

The study appears in the August issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Assn.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: Researcher Alan Kristal and study co-author Denise Benitez, owner of Seattle Yoga Arts, think about their bodies instead of Ivar’s world-famous fish and chips. Credit: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Taking yoga classes just got easier for cancer survivors

April 9, 2009 |  5:54 pm

Exercise can be enormously beneficial to people going through cancer treatment, helping cope with insomnia, the effects of medication, and fatigue. The discipline is also good for cancer survivors, as they rebound from their illness.

2960568762_9a0fe7d3ca_mHowever, those who have been through cancer treatments often can’t afford a gym membership or fitness studio classes. That's why Halle Tecco started Yoga Bear, a nonprofit organization that allows cancer survivors to take classes at local yoga studios free of charge.

Why yoga? "It's the community yoga brings," says Tecco, based in San Francisco. "The principles are all about healing and finding inner happiness, and it's a really healthy environment to be in."

Some 125 yoga studios nationwide are Yoga Bear affiliates, with several in Southern California. Those interested in finding member studios can go to the website and click on "participants" to fill out a form that will help volunteers assign them to appropriate studios and classes (the site also has information for studios on how to join). How many free classes are available varies, depending on the studio.

"We ask if they've done yoga before, and what they're looking for — a more spiritual practice, or a style that's more vigorous," Tecco says. Yoga Bear gives the studio background about the student before class, but students are encouraged to speak with the instructor as well to discuss any modifications that might be needed.

Tecco says that many participants are grateful for the opportunity: "They tell us that they feel great physically, that they're gaining their strength back, and that it's the best therapy they've had. There are a wide variety of benefits."

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo of Upeksha yoga teacher Yehoshua Shy Sayar teaching partner yoga for Yoga Bear, via Flickr

Of falls, yoga and small yippy dogs -- as they relate to older adults

March 31, 2009 |  2:00 pm

Fear isn't always protective -- sometimes it can create a self-fulfilling prophecy of poor health. Yoga might help. Pets might not.

Recent research at Oregon State University suggests that older adults who are worried about their health are less likely to have active lifestyles. Such inactivity is then linked to more trouble walking. And that trouble, as we know, can make controlling weight, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol more difficult -- in short, creating more health worries. (Rather than belabor the benefits of exercise, we'll refer you to the Mayo Clinic's quick tutorial.)

Similarly, walking difficulties can cause a fear of falling. And less physical activity can increase the likelihood of falls. Indiana University researchers have found that some older adults who are afraid of falling can be helped by yoga. In their small study, a 12-week class ratcheted down participants' fear a bit and significantly increased their lower-body flexibility.

Perhaps greater flexibility could also increase the chances of surviving a pet-related accident unscathed. A recent CDC report has detailed the fall-related risks posed by pets, pet-walking and pet-related accessories (such as food dishes) and found that, though such injury-related accidents are rare, older people are more likely to sustain them.

(To be fair, there's no breakdown on whether small barking dogs are more likely to be the culprits, but at the moment -- because of a particularly incessant nighttime barker in the neighborhood -- I'm not inclined  to give the variety the benefit of the doubt.)

Here's the L.A. Times story, Pet-related injuries? They do happen, and the original CDC report.

... And all any of this does is provide a reason for highlighting exercise as a way to reduce falls among older Americans.

Falls are the leading cause of injury death among older adults and, in 2005, were blamed for 15,800 deaths among people 65 and older. They were also responsible for about 1.8 million emergency room visits. (More fall-related stats.)

Such falls can often begin a downward health spiral -- leading to increased disability, a loss of independence and death -- hence the well-founded fear many people have of them.

So do what you have to do to prepare yourself to get moving -- have your vision checked, get handrails or walking accessories, and don't obsess too much about fear itself. (More information -- actually useful -- on fall prevention.) And, please, watch out for the pet dish.

-- Tami Dennis

Yoga and wine -- the ultimate fusion?

March 11, 2009 |  5:03 pm

Hybrids aren't popular just in the car world — they're big in fitness classes too. No longer is it necessary to spend an hour in one pursuit, such as group cycling or Pilates — now one or more workouts combine to cover more ground. It's perfect for short attention spanners and multi-taskers, but it also actually makes sense: More muscle groups get worked, and strength training and stretching can be combined with endurance.

Dave_photo_sm_2So it shouldn't be that much of a surprise that this notion of exercise fusion has been expanded even further to include ... wine and food. Yoga and wine, for example, are one of the newer combinations to come about, pairing a yoga class (which usually happens first, for obvious reasons), with wine tasting. And while this may sound like the ultimate thing white people like, we can think of worse ways to spend a couple of hours.

"There's nothing gimmicky about it," says yoga instructor David Romanelli. "There's something really organic about it — it's not like, 'Let's do yoga and let's do wine.' "

Los Angeles-based Romanelli leads two yoga fusion events this week at Exhale Spa in Venice, where he teaches: Friday evening is "Yoga + Chocolate + Wine Party for the Ages," featuring Sicilian wines and gourmet Vosges chocolates, preceded by a Vinyasa flow class (donations only, and proceeds will go to Heal the Bay). Saturday afternoon is "Beautiful, Funny, Delicious," with yoga followed by olives and cheeses ($30 in advance, $35 at the door).

In the Friday class, Romanelli will also impart wisdom about aging: "Everybody is afraid of getting old," he says, "but the yogis see aging as not based on your skin tone, but how vibrant your spirit is. How many times a day do you stop and take a deep breath and really enjoy life? So many of us just grind it out, and the spirit takes a hit. That's really when you age."

Pass the Cabernet.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo: Tyler Boye

Where to om: SoCal yoga guide

June 9, 2008 | 10:13 am

You’re driving around town when all of a sudden you have a hankering for an eclectic, Vinyasa-style yoga class. But you’re miles from home and haven’t a clue where to go. What do you do?

YogaYou open the glove box and pull out your handy Yoga Guide Southern California, a pocket-size handbook that lists studios in various neighborhoods. Although it doesn’t feature every location — which might be tough, considering Southern California probably has as many yoga studios as it does Starbucks — it does include Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Glendale, Woodland Hills, the South Bay, Irvine, Chino Hills, Pasadena and other environs (although oddly, downtown L.A. was left out). Each listing includes the studio's address, phone, website, and a brief description of what it offers. City Yoga in L.A., for example, is described as Anusara-based, a place where "the kindest instructors will encourage you to face your fears and meet them head on, on the mat."

A couple of online guides also offer studio listings (LA Yoga magazine and Yoga Journal have them, as does Citysearch). The advantage to this one is that it can be easily slipped into a bag or briefcase. The book is courtesy of Lululemon Athletica, a chain of yoga-inspired athletic clothing stores, some of which also feature yoga and fitness classes. According to the company’s publicist, community leaders and store managers researched and visited local places to come up with the directory. It also features a short list of healthy restaurants, plus tips for attending your first class.

Just like the best things in life, the guide is free, available at Lululemon Athletica stores.

-Jeannine Stein

Photo: Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times


The Latest | news as it happens

Recent Posts
test |  March 15, 2011, 4:00 pm »
Booster Shots has moved |  July 12, 2010, 6:02 pm »