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November 03 2015


Yoga: the secret to a great body...and better test scores?? (Lymphatic System/Blood Pressure).


The X chromosome is one of two sex chromosomes--gene-containing chemical structures--that determine whether you're born male or female. In humans, females possess two X chromosomes; males have one X and one Y. The X chromosome is much longer than the Y, and also contains many more genes; the Y carries just enough genes to ensure that a Yoga Workout fetus (unborn baby) develops male features, such as testicles to produce sperm. Until recently, researchers assumed sperm production was solely the role of the Y. But scientists at the Whitehead Institute Center for Genome Research in Cambridge, Mass., have found that nearly half of all genes related to the earliest stages of sperm production reside on the X--universally thought of as the female sex chromosome.

What do Christy Turlington, Angelina Jolie, and Melissa Joan Hart have in common? They're among 18 million Americans devoted to a 5,000-year-old system of breathing and stretching--yoga. For some, says Turlington, it's about attaining a strong, toned body. But many devotees roll out their yoga mats to gain less visible rewards. "Yoga feels so good," says Justine Grissin-Churchill, 13, at Hunter College High School in New York City. She started yoga last year to attain calm and focus before class tests. Now medical research may validate Grissin-Churchill's goals--and yoga's healthful benefits.

Yoga began in India as a philosophic system combining postures, breathing exercises, and meditation. Some recent studies indicate yoga actually induces physiological changes to combat stress and strengthen the immune system's ability to fight illness. For example, a pose called "downward-facing dog," in which you stand in an upside-down V, could stimulate the body's lymphatic system, helping ward off infections.

The lymphatic system is a network of vessels and nodes, or tissue clusters, which among other functions fights infection by draining and recirculating a fluid called lymph in all body tissues. Within lymph nodes located under the arms and in the groin and neck, disease-fighting white blood cells ingest foreign bacteria and other substances, and reroute purified lymph back to the bloodstream and body tissues (see diagram, below).


Many Western doctors say they need more scientific proof to confirm yoga's beneficial effects. But studies by Dr. Herbert Benson of the Mind Body Medical Institute at Harvard University suggest that in addition to boosting lymphatic activity, yoga slows brain activity and decreases heart rate and blood pressure (the force with which the heart pumps blood to the rest of the body). Benson also discovered that by focusing on something repetitive--the traditional yoga chant of ohm, your breath, or a body movement--and attempting to let go of all other thoughts, you create a relaxation response. The response spurs the opposite effect on the body of the fight-or-flight response produced by fear (see p. 14).

Studies at hospitals around the country suggest the relaxation response reverses negative stress effects in part by lowering the body's oxygen consumption by up to 17 percent in just three minutes (see p. 25). Today, hospitals such as the Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City are offering yoga classes to recovering heart-disease patients.

Some experts think yoga can be a boon for teens, too. "They're often stressed out," says Baron Baptiste, founder of Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga in Boston. "They have to deal with academic and peer pressure, along with dramatic changes in their growing bodies." Baptiste's studios recently launched special youth workshops.

"Teens suffer from stress-related problems like trouble sleeping, migraine headaches, and panic attacks,' says Dr. Gloria Deckro, director of research and training at the Mind Body Medical Institute. Deckro helps schools around the country develop classes like yoga to teach students the relaxation response. To illustrate her message, she places bio-dots--sensors measuring blood pressure and temperature--in students' hands while they perform yoga exercises or meditation. Her point? To show teens they can manage stress. "We give them tools to help them realize their day isn't ruined because they find a zit on their nose or don't get the highest grade," she says.

"Some kids think yoga is a bit wacky," says New York eighth-grader Justine Grissin-Churchill. "I love it--if only I had a lot more time to practice."


October 29 2015


Meditation as Medicine on the Rise

Many moons ago, a wandering Nepalese prince sat under a tree, vowing not to rise until he attained enlightenment.

After a long night of deep meditation, Siddhartha Gautama, better known as the Buddha, saw the light and declared that suffering is subjective, and can be reduced through self-awareness.

Today, 2500 years later, a growing number of American doctors and healthcare workers are teaching people who are ill how to apply Buddhas epiphany to their lives.

In hospitals, businesses and community centers around the country, meditation is increasingly being offered as a method of stress reduction, and to help patients better cope with the physical pain and mental strain associated with many medical conditions, including heart disease and HIV infection.

Recent research shows meditations soothing effects can be detected in arterial walls and in the brain. Once considered outside the mainstream, today more insurers are paying for meditation, both as a form of medication and as preventive medicine.

Learning to Disidentify

Meditation is the act of disidentifying from inner thought flow and concentrating on calming and healing, explains Robert Thurman, Ph.D., a professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University in New York and the first American to become a Tibetan Buddhist monk. Through meditation, doctors help patients detach from their pain and anxieties and cultivate a connection between the mind and the body, he says.

While there are many kinds of meditation, the mindfulness approach, used widely in hospitals around the country, focuses primarily on breathing. Practices vary, but the basic idea involves sitting comfortably, with eyes closed, spine straight and attention focused on breathing.

Practitioners aim to maintain a detached, calm awareness of their thoughts and sensations. Through mindfulness, experts say, meditators learn to pay attention https://bitly.com/u/jimmiejenkins to the present and cultivate clarity of mind, equanimity and wisdom.

Minor Mindfulness Miracles

All of which may sound very abstract. Unless, points out Jeff Brantley, Ph.D, Director of the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at the Duke Center for Integrative Medicine in Durham, N.C., you are a patient who is suffering.

We had one patient, a 40-year-old woman with metastatic breast cancer who was enrolled in the 8-week MBSR program. At her exit interview she said that before the course began 5 minutes wouldnt go by without her worrying about what would become of her and her young family and now, after the class, she can concentrate on other things for more than hour at a time, even days, Brantley says, calling the results a minor miracle.

The Duke program is one of at least 70 such mind-body based courses modeled on the University of Massachusetts Medical Schools Stress Reduction Clinic, in Worcester, Mass., created in 1979 by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. Taught mainly in hospitals around the country, mindfulness training is typically run as an 8-week-long outpatient program to complement other medical treatments.

The aim, according to a website dedicated to Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction, is to assist people in taking better care of themselves through a gentle but rigorous daily discipline of meditation and relaxation.

Doctors refer patients to mindfulness programs for any number of diseases and disorders, including heart disease, anxiety and panic, job or family stress, chronic pain, cancer, HIV infection, AIDS, headaches, sleep disturbances, type A behavior, high blood pressure, fatigue and skin disorders.

In keeping with the growing interest in preventative medicine, some insurance companies, such as Blue Cross/Blue Shield in Massachusetts and a number of insurers in what Thurman calls the more enlightened states like Oregon and California, are now paying for all or part of these programs.

Research for Coverage

While the National Institutes of Health says it is too soon to quantify the medical benefits of meditation, Anita Greene, spokeswoman for the Institutes Complementary and Alternative Medicine division, concedes, It is a therapy worthy of further scientific investigation to refute or support the health claims being made.

In fact, in 1999, the NIH granted Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, $8 million during a five-year period to study the effects of meditation in African Americans with cardiovascular diseases.

Researchers at Maharishi say that relaxing and reducing stress through transcendental meditation may reduce artery blockage and the risk of heart attack and stroke, according to a study released in the March issue of the American Heart Associations journal Stroke (see related story).

Another recent pilot study, published in the May 15 issue of NeuroReport, by Sara Lazar, Ph.D., a Harvard research fellow in psychology at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston, suggests meditation activates specific regions of the brain that may influence heart and breathing rates. Using a brain imaging technique known as functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, Lazar measured blood flow changes in experienced meditators.

What we found were striking changes. There was significant decrease in blood flow and activity in specific areas https://twitter.com/RitaScribner of the brain, says the studys senior author Dr. Herbert Benson, president of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Mass.

The usual, fight-or-flight brain response liberates adrenalin and is stressful to the body, he explains, but during meditation the brain acts to quiet the body through concentrated breathing or word repetition, evoking a relaxation response that minimizes the harmful effects of stress.

It does away with the whole separation of mind and body and gives further proof to insurers that [meditation] is cost effective, he says. Ultimately, Benson predicts, medicine will be akin to a three-legged stool, leaning on pharmaceuticals, surgeries and procedures, and self-care, which includes, meditation, nutrition, exercise and health management.

A Tool for Transformation

But, Thurman points out, meditation is for more than just health benefits: It is a tool for seeking inner transformation. Meditation practices in the health field are secular, however.

We get everyone from born-again Christians to avowed atheists. We tell people we are not trying to make anyone into anything, Dukes Brantley reassures. No matter what their religious persuasion, he says, patients find an increased awareness and appreciation of their lives.

Registered nurse Shirley Gilloti, a San Rafael, Calif., health educator and mindfulness training teacher agrees, I tell people to try to bring more mindfulness to saying their rosary if thats what they do.


October 25 2015



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