Chapter 1: The Easy Does It Yoga Program of Total Fitness: How It Works and What to Expect"Since my physical limitations have curtailed most of my activities, I really have a psychological need to feel like I'm accomplishing something or I get despondent and depressed. Improving my physical abilities in my Yoga helps give me that needed sense of accomplishment."
-- Dorothy Wild (age 69)
Each aspect of Easy Does It Yoga training engages different parts of your body and mind. There are five major parts to the Easy Does It Yoga program:
"Since I started Yoga I feel so much more energetic, alive, and alert. And you know, it's the combination of everything in this Yoga, not just one thing, that did it -- it's the whole thing.
- Exercises: Gentle stretching, strengthening, and balancing movements that can be done in a chair, in bed, in a pool, in a wheelchair, or on the floor.
- Breathing Techniques: Slow, diaphragmatic breathing techniques that strengthen the respiratory and circulatory systems.
- Relaxation and Meditation: Step-by-step procedures that release tension throughout the body, improve concentration, increase circulation to the heart, and brighten mood.
- Nutrition: Suggestions for building health by gradually improving diet.
- Philosophy: Ideas from Yoga philosophy that enhance creative thought, promote inner growth, and stimulate intuition.
-- Jeanne Hrovat (age 66)Exercise
Easy Does It Yoga modifies traditional Yoga exercises into a safe, gentle, and gradual system that does not require great limberness or stamina and is noncompetitive. Easy Does It Yoga exercises consist of nonstrenuous bends, lifts, and twists performed with specific breathing patterns. They can be done while you are standing, seated in a chair or wheelchair, in bed, or in a bathtub or pool. I encourage you to do them at any odd time of day, while you watch television in your favorite chair, stand in line, or wait in your car, for example. These exercises, or some variation of them, can be done by anyone, regardless of physical limitations.
If you have been inactive or ill for a long time, do not allow yourself to think that you are too stiff or disabled to begin exercising again. Even if you are very weak, blind, recovering from an injury, severely disabled, or suffering with addiction, you can now benefit from regular exercise that you will love and that will be easy for you to do. Many studies, as well as our own experiences with students over the past forty years, have undeniably proven that the participants who have been the least active and who are the most damaged by inactivity have benefited the most from this exercise program.
Any exercise program needs to be enjoyable -- otherwise you will not continue doing it. Many of us say we hate to exercise, but you will love doing Easy Does It Yoga exercises. After doing your exercise program each day, you will not be tired, but instead will feel refreshed, energized, and bright. Our students give the best testimony to the fact that they enjoy Easy Does It Yoga: On the average, they practice their exercises ten minutes longer every day than we suggest!
The physical and mental benefits of Easy Does It Yoga exercise include:
"The deep breathing has helped me to relax tremendously. I sleep better if I do my deep breathing every day. Sometimes I used to go for four or five nights with very little sleep -- that's murder. I was getting really depressed from a lack of sleep. But now my Yoga relaxes me so much that I not only sleep better at night, but I can nap in the afternoon, which I hadn't been able to do in years."
- Increased mobility: Loosens stiff, frozen joints; strengthens and limbers the muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
- Improved circulation: Increases blood supply to head, arms, and legs; normalizes blood pressure; eases the strain on the heart.
- Increased respiratory strength: Strengthens breathing muscles; loosens the chest wall; restores elasticity of lung tissue.
- Improved health in digestive and genitourinary systems: Stimulates smooth muscle tone of digestive and eliminative organs by deep internal massage to deal with constipation, bladder, and prostate problems; improves sexual function; relieves incontinence.
- More energy and zest for life: Restores self-confidence; improves self-esteem; increases energy for daily tasks.
- Better weight control: Relieves depression and anxiety that trigger overeating; strengthens the will to eat correctly and exercise regularly.
- Better coordination: Restores body awareness; improves balance; strengthens the nerves that control body movement.
- Reduced anxiety and loneliness: Reduces fear and nervousness by releasing tensions and frustrations that build up in the body and mind; builds a better self-image; builds the strength to enjoy a more outgoing lifestyle; rebuilds self-confidence.
-- Helen Gould (age 64)Breathing Techniques
Breathing techniques are one of the most helpful aspects of Easy Does It Yoga. Attention to breathing can add years to your life as well as greatly improving the quality of your life right now. Breath is vital for life, yet, perhaps because breathing is so automatic, we often give it little consideration. Unless we are faced with a serious respiratory condition such as asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, or pneumonia, we take our breathing for granted.
Most people breathe with only the upper third of their lungs, resulting in an inefficient exchange of oxygen and other gases in the body. The breathing exercises in Easy Does It Yoga retrain your body to use your lungs to their fullest capacity. Many of our students tell us that breathing exercises are their favorite part of the course, and they do them while watching television, walking, bathing, or even lying in bed. Breathing techniques can be used to lessen insomnia and to reduce the effects of upsetting emotions such as anxiety or anger. They can also help regulate blood pressure. Some of the common problems associated with aging, such as confusion, memory loss, depression, and fatigue, can also be helped by your learning to breathe more deeply.
Here's why: Inactivity contributes to the pattern of breathing more with the upper lung area than the lower, and this condition tends to worsen with age. Unfortunately, the blood vessels that pick up the oxygen accumulate more in the lower lung. As a result, the oxygen content of the blood tends to decrease with age. Since the brain requires three times as much oxygen as the rest of the body, it is affected most severely by lower blood levels of oxygen. This decreased oxygen level contributes to the confused, muddled thinking that sometimes accompanies aging. Lung efficiency normally decreases further when you lie down; nighttime confusion -- a common condition in which people wake during the night momentarily unable to remember where or who they are -- frequently results from a decrease in oxygen levels during sleep. The sluggish, depressed moods of many of our students disappear when they begin to breathe better. If you feel depressed upon waking, it may simply be due to reduced oxygen flow to your brain during the night.
Strengthening the muscles in the diaphragm and the abdomen brings each breath lower into the lungs where more of the blood circulates. You will learn to breathe easier, deeper, and slower, getting more of the fresh energy of life to the brain and body.
You will enjoy life more because your mind is brighter and more alert.
Some of the physical and mental benefits of Easy Does It Yoga breathing techniques are:
"You can make yourself sick just by thinking, and a lot of these older people today, they get so despondent they just quit living. But not me -- I got it -- I get the benefit of this Yoga. Just don't overdo, that's all. Build up slowly and keep going, and sure enough you'll be compensated for your efforts. You'll feel more alive."
- Increased strength: Increases the strength of all the muscles and nerves used in breathing, including the diaphragm and the muscles between the ribs; strengthens back muscles; increases vigor.
- Greater limberness: Increases the flexibility of the joints where the ribs join the breastbone in the front and the spine in the back.
- Greater vital capacity: Increases the volume of air that one can breathe.
- Increased oxygen and energy levels: Increases the amount of oxygen available to all parts of the body, raising energy levels.
- Easier breathing: Lowers the respiration rate by deepening the air flow into the total lung space.
- Reduced heart strain: Decreasing the number of breaths per minute and increasing oxygen supply reduces strain on the heart, helping to normalize blood pressure.
-- Gene Roy (age 62)Relaxation and Meditation
Relaxation is a valuable tool that helps you eliminate accumulated tension and strain. Easy Does It Yoga teaches you how to visualize tension spots in different parts of your body and gently relax them. You can do this either sitting in a chair or lying in bed or on the floor. Practice the technique at various times during the day. It's especially useful when you are watching television or waiting for an appointment.
After you completely relax your body, meditation training takes over to relax and quiet your mind. This produces a state of deep silence and peace. Both of these practices improve concentration skills, memory, and self-esteem.
Some of the physical and mental benefits of relaxation and meditation training include:
"This Yoga was a blessing from God for me. I had been through seven operations and was on twenty-six pills a day for pain and depression. You name it. I told the doctor, 'Hey, I can't live like this. I've got to do something.' He said, 'Double the dose.' I came and told my wife, Mary, 'That's it.' I dumped all the pills in the toilet and flushed it. That was five years ago. I was so determined to be out of that condition. When I started this Yoga exercise there was some pain, sure, but nothing like what I'd already been through. Before this Yoga I never did any exercise at all. Now, hey, I feel so good. It's helped give me back ninety-nine and three-fourths percent of my life. I'm a new person!"
- Less tension and stress: Shows you how to quiet your mind and relax tension in the body without medicine; helps to normalize blood pressure.
- Improved concentration and awareness: Increases alertness and willpower; develops intuition.
- Increased coping skills: Teaches you how to tolerate stress and create a more balanced outlook on daily frustrations.
- Reduced anxiety, irritability, and nervousness: Shows you how to change your moods if you wish.
- Reduced dependence on medications or alcohol: Encourages you to systematically relax yourself so you don't need to rely so much on self-medication.
- A positive self-image: Improves your view of yourself; stimulates creative thought and intuition.
- Diminished fears: Develops greater freedom from incapacitating fears, and shows you how to explore your full potential.
- Openness to new views: Develops sensitivity to your inner being; creates greater feelings of connection to others and the world around you; provides strength and encouragement for you to explore your own ideas about life and your relationship to the world.
-- Gene Roy (age 62)Nutrition
Many Americans eat a diet that is imbalanced and deficient in many essential nutrients. Our high-sugar, high-fat, and low-fiber diet is prematurely killing us. Overconsumption of saturated fats, cholesterol, sugar, salt, and alcohol has been correlated with six of the ten leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, cerebrovascular disease, diabetes, arteriosclerosis, and cirrhosis of the liver. Making the problem worse, often older adults are especially attracted to high-fat, high-sugar diets because diminished senses of taste and smell make rich foods more appealing.
People of any age who feel listless and depressed due to inactivity, substance abuse, or convalescence tend to eat what is convenient and comforting rather than what is nutritious. Weight is also an increasing problem: Recent surveys show that over 40 percent of adults in the United States are overweight to a degree that may impair health and longevity. Underweight, and associated loss of appetite, are also a problem in some people. Both of these problems of imbalance can be corrected with proper nutrition.
Conditions such as obesity, osteoporosis, diabetes, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, anemia, constipation, and many nonspecific complaints such as confusion, poor appetite, melancholy, and listlessness can be improved when you change your diet following the guidelines in this book.
The nutritional suggestions that follow present an attractive alternative to our unhealthy American diet. Our suggestions are based on choosing more traditional foods -- foods that are less processed and with fewer added chemicals -- and preparing them more simply. Far from being a new "health food" diet, these suggestions resemble the way we ate before food technology became such a big business. In this book you will find a flexible diet substantially lower in fats and higher in unrefined carbohydrates than the average American diet. A diet higher in fresh or frozen fruits, vegetables, and grains and lower in processed or refined foods is healthier, cheaper, and lower in calories.
You will achieve a better diet as you learn:
- How to recognize and purchase nutritious foods on a limited income.
- How to store and prepare foods for best nutritional value.
- How to recognize the most common nutritional diseases and what to do about them.
- How to supplement your diet wisely.
Yoga is not based on any original book or scripture; instead, its precepts have been handed down orally from teacher to student for thousands of years. The goal of this philosophy is self-understanding and the development of a harmoniously balanced individual. The essence of Yoga philosophy is transformation.
The ideas and growth associated with Yoga have tremendous value for everyone. As you begin to know yourself better, your self-esteem and leadership abilities emerge. You will ultimately discover something at the very core of your being that does not change, or grow old. In Yoga this is called the Self, and it is considered to be the real support of the individual. As self-awareness grows, you become more resistant to the negative attitudes of depression, fear, and despair that are often associated with age or disability, and you will be able to find a deep beauty, contentment, and balance inside yourself.
Practicing Easy Does It Yoga philosophy will result in benefits such as:
"As my strength and control of my body have improved, I have a feeling of physical well-being, which gives impetus to a greater participation in recreational and social activities. My family and friends have commented favorably on the change in my personal appearance. This gives a lift to my mental outlook, which, in turn, results in a feeling of emotional well-being. The Yoga philosophy and meditation also lead to a spiritual well-being and self-acceptance -- an acceptance of one's own years and that we are worthwhile, with contributions yet to make in life."
- Increased self-respect and positive self-image, along with greater tolerance of others.
- Enhanced, more mature concepts of life and death; happiness with genuine appreciation in later stages of life.
-- Harriet Peel (age 74)
Copyright © 1999 by American Yoga Association