For thousands of years people have turned to yoga to enhance their quality of life. Yoga gradually builds physical flexibility and strength, improves concentration, relieves stress, increases energy, and develops the ability to relax at will. Easy Does It® Yoga, a nationally recognized fitness program, adapts traditional yoga techniques to make them safe and easy for people who may face physical limitations. But, although it is a gentler form of yoga, it is just as effective as more strenuous fitness programs for getting and staying in shape.
Alice Christensen, founder, of the American Yoga Association, guides you through the program, showing you:
-The basics of yoga exercising, breathing, and meditation with specific, easy-to-follow illustrations throughout
-Specific postures such as the Gentle Full Bend, the Easy Sun Pose, and the Elbow Twist to help you target your weaker spots and increase your overall flexibility
-The unique benefits of Yoga for alleviating chronic health conditions ranging from arthritis to depression
-A six-week program to get you started and to help you develop a basic understanding of essential movements
-Specially designed sequences to boost energy or bring calm, depending on your specific needs
-Strategies to incorporate the yoga lifestyle into your daily routine, not only with exercise, but also with tips on creating a healthy diet and ways to develop a more peaceful, positive mental attitude
Regardless of your age or physical condition, The American Yoga Association's Easy Does It® Yoga will inspire you to awaken your body and mind and experience the well-being and fulfillment that yoga brings.
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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:
- 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.
"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."
-- Jeanne Hrovat (age 66)
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:
- 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.
"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."
-- Helen Gould (age 64)
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:
- 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.
"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."
-- 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:
- 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.
"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!"
-- Gene Roy (age 62)
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:
- 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.
"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."
-- Harriet Peel (age 74)
Copyright © 1999 by American Yoga Association
Table of Contents
Yoga and Your Lifestyle
The Easy Does It Yoga Program of Total Fitness: How It Works and What to Expect
Six Weeks with Easy Does It Yoga
How to Start Breathing Better
Exercises for Bed or Floor
Relaxation and Meditation
Diet and Nutrition
Easy Does It Yoga Philosophy
Summary of Research on Easy Does It Yoga
Resources from the American Yoga Association
-- Jeanne Hrovat (age 66)
Most of us know that in order to maintain health, we need regular exercise. However, if you are elderly, convalescing from an illness, recovering from an injury or from substance abuse, or if you simply haven't exercised in many years, you may be hesitant -- not knowing where to begin, or even afraid to exercise for fear of hurting yourself. Easy Does It Yoga is a safe, gentle program that any adult can do. Its greatest value is that you will love it. It will not become a burden; rather, it will help lift your spirits and become a happy support for everyday living. Easy Does It Yoga is a complete fitness program in itself. It can help you build strength as well as the confidence to engage in more vigorous exercise, if you wish.
Easy Does It Yoga is a holistic program of simple exercise, breathing, relaxation, and meditation techniques designed to help you regain and maintain health, well-being, and independence. The program also includes some discussions about philosophy, to stretch your mental muscles, and up-to-date nutritional guidelines to help you make informed choices about what you eat. The practice of Easy Does It Yoga encourages a positive view of aging and physical capabilities because it shows you that you need not be limited by these conditions. Easy Does It Yoga can help you live your life to the fullest. It is a program that fits the expression "If I knew then what I know now...," giving you the choice to have a wholesome, healthy body that makes for a wonderful, productive life.
Easy Does It Yoga is derived from the classical techniques of Yoga, which date back more than five thousand years. In ancient times, the desire for greater personal freedom, longer life, and heightened self-understanding gave birth to this system of physical and mental exercise that has since spread throughout the world.
The whole school of Yoga is built on three main structures: exercise, breathing, and meditation. Yoga exercises are designed to put pressure on the glandular systems of the body, thereby increasing its efficiency and total health. The body is looked upon as the primary instrument that enables us to work and evolve in the world, and so a Yoga student treats it with great care and respect. Breathing techniques are based on the concept that breath is the source of life in the body. The Yoga student gently increases breath control to improve the health and function of both body and mind. These two systems of exercise and breathing then prepare the body and mind for meditation, and the student finds an easy approach to a quiet mind that allows silence and healing of the damage caused by everyday stress. Regular daily practice of all three parts of Yoga produces a clear, bright mind and a strong, capable body.
"Yoga" is a Sanskrit word that means "to join" or "to yoke," and the practice of Yoga brings the body and mind together into one harmonious experience. It might surprise you to learn that traditionally, the ideal age to begin the practice of Yoga was said to be fifty-three, the age marking one's passage into a new stage of life, one of contemplation and self-discovery. Yoga was traditionally practiced by older people and was designed to develop better physical and mental health.
Easy Does It Yoga will show you that exercise does not have to be strenuous, painful, or boring. Once you find out how enjoyable it is to practice Easy Does It Yoga, you will be able to overcome one of the most problematic factors in the American lifestyle: inactivity.
Inactivity is a habit -- a habit that is easy to fall into as we get older and extra movement becomes stressful. If you have been sick, it can be difficult and uncomfortable even to think about moving around actively again. The desire to become strong and well is sometimes blocked by the hopeless attitude "I can never do it. It takes too much effort. I'm not worth anything." When you practice Easy Does It Yoga, you can cure that problem by immediately improving your self-confidence and enjoyment of life.
In this day and age, there are always more ways to make life easier for ourselves. Almost anything can be purchased by mail order, for example; even food can be delivered right to our doorstep. The problem with such conveniences is that they help to create a lifestyle that is more and more sedentary. A typical weekday for many of us may involve rising from a comfortable mattress after a full night's sleep, driving to work, sitting at a desk most of the day, driving home, and relaxing all evening on a couch or in an easy chair until it's time for bed again. Our most common entertainments are other sedentary pastimes such as videotapes, movies, concerts, and spectator sports. If you are among those fortunate enough to take advantage of the luxuries of mail order, the latest labor-saving devices, and other comforts, you still need an inner courage and impetus to stay well and strong by continuing to exercise. Otherwise, a sedentary lifestyle can make you vulnerable to many chronic health problems.
The sedentary lifestyle eats away quietly and steadily at physical and mental health. Without exercise, muscle turns to fat, circulation slows down, fat clogs artery walls, and the brain gets less oxygen. It becomes harder to get out of bed or the easy chair. We tire more easily and sometimes even become depressed. Energy levels fall, and so we reduce our activity even more.
Inactivity can be directly associated with many of the problems that are usually attributed to aging or illness, such as stiffness, overweight, constipation, back pain, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Inactive people spend more weeks bedridden, visit doctors more often, have a lower opinion of their health, and die younger than do those who maintain an active lifestyle. Most people who gain weight in midlife and their older years do so not because of overeating but because of decreased activity levels.
Our sedentary lifestyle catches up with us when, for some reason, we fall out of even minimal exercise habits, when we're injured, for example, or recovering from a major illness. Perhaps office politics, financial needs, or other motivations lead us to value our work more than our health. Major life changes, such as retirement, children leaving home, or moving to a new home, can also disrupt our regular activity levels, as can the onset of chronic illness.
"I started taking Yoga so I could be involved in some type of exercising activity. You see, for seventeen years I indulged in high-impact aerobics. However, in 1996 I had an attack that was diagnosed as multiple sclerosis (MS). I was only forty-four at the time, and I knew I needed to do something. Yoga has helped me focus on the breathing and stretching aspect, allowing me to relieve some stressful situations occurring in everyday life. Even though I can't do every exercise, the ones I can do give me a sense of accomplishment."
-- Barbara Solomon (age 47)
Inactivity can cause people of any age to experience difficulty coping with stress. Sometimes people begin to use alcohol or drugs to escape the feelings of depression and anxiety that are common results of inactivity. Easy Does It Yoga exercise provides a constant, safe release for feelings of stress. A few minutes of daily practice prevent everyday stresses from accumulating to levels that can bring on depression and anxiety.
Anyone who has ever experienced a serious injury, illness, or addiction knows that it takes a long time to recover. Even after a simple cold, sometimes it takes weeks before we feel like ourselves again. Often a longer time passes before we feel like exercising.
The habit of inactivity is pervasive even without the disabling effects of an illness or injury. Many of us do some form of exercise for fun: We might play a set of tennis on the weekend, or swim a few laps on a hot day. Few people, however, exercise with the regularity and the vigor necessary to get really fit and stay that way. We all know it would be better to exercise more, but we find that we really don't want to. It seems like such an effort! It is easy to find all sorts of excuses for not exercising when your exercise program is dull and boring: "In the morning, I'm too stiff." "During the day, I'm too busy." "In the evening, I'm too tired from working all day." "It hurts too much." "I have a bad knee." "I don't have the right shoes." "It's raining."
The quality and amount of exercise you get every day can be the single most important factor in maintaining your good health, and with Easy Does It Yoga, you can exercise properly in as little as five minutes. The hardest part of any new fitness program is getting started. Easy Does It Yoga is such an enjoyable program that it won't have you looking for excuses. It will give you the motivation to take up a daily exercise program with vigor and delight.
Health professionals agree that for many chronic health problems, the best treatment is to change the lifestyle patterns that contribute to the symptoms. For example, several recent studies have proven that a combination of Yoga exercise and meditation and a low-fat diet can actually reverse heart disease. Adult-onset diabetes is another example of a chronic illness that can often be reversed when you pay careful attention to diet and practice moderate exercise such as that provided by the Easy Does It Yoga program.
In Easy Does It Yoga you will find a way to coax your body and mind toward health and vitality by using gentle, safe, interesting, and enjoyable movements that can be done easily -- even if you are currently bedridden. You don't need any special equipment or clothing, and you can practice almost anywhere, anytime: watching television, standing in line at the store, or even lying in bed. The program includes exercise, breathing, and relaxation techniques that you will love. These techniques will gradually increase your stamina, strength, flexibility, and feelings of well-being. I can assure you that you will notice a definite improvement within one week if you practice a few minutes each day.
Many people associate Yoga primarily with stretching and relaxation, and most people who take Yoga classes do so for stress management, to learn how to relax, or to increase flexibility. These benefits definitely exist. However, there is a more subtle, cumulative effect of regular Yoga practice that directly affects mood and self-awareness, and it is this aspect that confronts -- and defeats -- the moodiness, isolation, and depression caused by inactivity. Because of its efficient, specialized movements, controlled breathing, and relaxation training, Yoga acts very quickly to help you maintain a centered, positive attitude. If a Yoga class is taught correctly, no one leaves tired, depressed, or worn out. It is not a competitive program. Instead, you will learn to adjust it specifically to your own needs.
"A friend of mine teaches Yoga and asked me to help her review the Easy Does It Yoga curriculum. She knew I wasn't an active person and didn't like to exercise because I have a bad shoulder and back problem. She assured me that Easy Does It Yoga wasn't too strenuous and that the exercises could be modified if I found them too difficult. I found that I could do most everything and I wasn't in pain. After we did exercises every day for several days, I found I was beginning to enjoy my new pain-free shoulder and back, thanks to Easy Does It Yoga."
-- Terry Lewis (age 65)
As you begin, it will be easy to master the simple movements and techniques of Easy Does It Yoga. Even a little daily practice will show increasing benefits each day. I suggest that you begin by trying just five minutes of Easy Does It Yoga twice a day. You can choose the exercises and breathing techniques that you like best. You won't find it tiresome or boring, and you will notice an immediate sense of well-being that will encourage you to practice a little longer each day. I believe that twenty minutes is sufficient for a complete, entirely beneficial exercise session. If you want to add a relaxation/meditation session, begin with ten minutes and then gradually add more time if you wish.
Whatever your physical condition, you can use Easy Does It Yoga to improve the quality of your life. It will empower you to do the things that you want to do to make your life happy, healthy, and rewarding.
Copyright © 1999 by American Yoga Association