By Kathleen D. Tresemer
I do a lot of research regarding maximizing my brain’s potential in the Second Half of life. This cerebral journey recently led me to the practice of yoga.
My experience with yoga: first, during my Flower Child period when I took great pleasure in standing on my head and expanding my mind; and then again in my late 40s, when I took an exercise class called “Power Yoga” (sort of a blend of Pilates and yoga moves done at break neck speed) that left me whimpering in pain on my chiropractor’s table.
That nagging voice in my head croons, “Remember how good yoga used to make you feel?” I was a teen-ager back then, lithe and limber.
“Simply waking up in the morning made me feel good in those days!” was my comeback.
But the nagging voice continued and led me to Rachel Bixby at the Lazy Dog Yoga Studio in Main Street Square, Roscoe. I can relate to the Lazy Dog image, having four lazy dogs at home and a husband who tries desperately to emulate them. When did I start classifying “lazy” as a bad thing?
Rachel Bixby is a physical therapist and registered yoga instructor, devoted to complementary health practices. I explained my history with yoga, asking Rachel to give me some perspective for my Second Half readers.
“I recommend people approach yoga with a sense of exploration and inquiry,” she advised me over a cup of tea. “Yoga should serve you, not the other way around.”
“I’m a bit reluctant to join a class with a bunch of soccer moms,” I confided. “I’m better off Sweatin’ to the Oldies in the privacy of my living room!”
Laughing, Rachel assured me the high-energy fitness crowd is not really attracted to her studio, specially designed to help students relax and feel good, “like coming home.” She shared that, in Eastern traditions, young people are not typically drawn to yoga until family and career goals are met.
“When they have acquired wisdom and experience,” I sat a little taller, “… like ME!” I’m still dwelling on the “Lazy Dog” reference as positive tunes ring in my head: up a lazy river and roll out those lazy, crazy, hazy days of summer. Does maturity alone permit me to languish in my happy place?
Rachel offered some solid science: In May 2008, the National Institute of Health (NIH) hosted their first “Yoga Week—Exploring the Science & Practice of Yoga.” Since then, NIH has funded a ton of research regarding the benefits of yoga. Documented results verify the obvious—improvement in flexibility, strength and balance. Less-known benefits include improved immune function, increased brain function, activation of the left prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain specializing in establishing positive feelings), and it promotes weight loss! (Visit the NIH Web site: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/yoga/.)
If reading all this research seems like too much work, here’s an overview. Rachel describes yoga as “stilling the fluctuations of the mind,” or like a time-out for your nervous system. The brainstem houses the centers for breathing, heart rate, and appetite as well as the “fight, flight or freeze” responses. This is where communication between the mind and body takes place.
The evidence: it lowers blood pressure, reduces production of the stress hormone cortisol, and relaxes the nervous system. Everything about this practice seems to be healthy for the bodies and brains of the Second Half crowd, kind of like “brain health insurance.”
My healthy lifestyle resource, WebMD, offers more:
“Most Westernized yoga classes focus on learning physical poses, which are called ASANAS. They also usually include some form of breathing technique and possibly a meditation technique as well. Some yoga classes are designed purely for relaxation… Choosing one of these styles offers the greatest health benefits by enabling you to develop your flexibility, strength, and balance.” (Read this article at: http://www.webmd.com/balance/the-health-benefits-of-yoga)
“It improves plasticity of both neurological and physical arenas,” Rachel explains patiently. “As we stretch ourselves to try a more challenging position, we also challenge our brains.”
Bixby offers another treatment called Craniosacral Therapy, a gentle technique used to treat musculoskeletal conditions (such as arthritis, sciatica, fibromyalgia and chronic back pain), nervous system conditions (such as depression, anxiety and headaches), and to improve circulation. A nice surprise…enlightened doctors are actually prescribing Rachel’s treatments, and she is able to bill insurance for those clients.
The cost for a one-hour yoga class is only $10 or “buy 5/get 1 free.” This is cheaper than a fast-food dinner for me—I always include dessert, so my meals can add up. I figure I can fork over 10 bucks for a mental time-out and some “brain health insurance,” happily noting it is way cheaper than any health insurance I can buy right now (don’t get me started on THAT topic!).
CHALLENGE TO SELF: Try the Lazy Dog approach and report back to you in future columns. I can’t promise great insight, but I’ll give you my Second Half perspective. I may even convince a friend to join me for additional feedback. The worst that could happen…my left prefrontal cortex gets stimulated. WHOO-HOO! When that happens, folks, there’ll be no living with how cheerful I can be.
(Visit the Lazy Dog Yoga Studio Web site for additional info at www.RachelBixby.com or call (815) 703-3384.)
In her second half of life, Kathleen D. Tresemer is both a journalist and an award-winning fiction writer. She lives with her husband on a small ranch in rural Shirland, Ill. Kathleen can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the November 4-10, 2009 issue