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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

balancing mind and body

earlier this evening, i was sitting in the reception area of santa monica yoga, trying to find something to do because i had gotten there a bit too early for class. a stack of newsprint flyers caught my eye; i picked one off the top and glanced at the title. living well -- the second half. the second half of what? turns out it was an advertising supplement to a recent issue of the LA times that focused on health for senior citizens. oh, THAT half. the half i belong to, now that i'm officially AARP-eligible...

on the front page was an article that was clearly yoga-related (the accompanying photo of someone standing in warrior 2 was a dead giveaway). the photo caption read: As people age, vision problems, loss of strength and medical conditions can cause poor balance, resulting in injuries. Yoga can help.

thank god i was about to take a yoga class, because it's bad enough that i'd already injured myself a number of times through pure klutziness... and now i have to worry about even more injuries due to poor balance? what fun.

here are some excerpts from that article (i later found out that some of the SMY teachers and students were featured prominently in the article, which explains why it was being made available to everyone who walked into the studio):

Building Balance
Exercises can prevent tipping -- and serious injuries
By Bob Young, Special Advertising Sections Writer

Before David Denton of Santa Monica was found to have Parkinson's disease four years ago, one of the first symptoms he experienced was a flagging sense of balance. "I felt it just walking around my office, very unsteady," he said.

Now, after about a year and a half of practicing yoga three times a week at Santa Monica Yoga, balance is no longer a problem for the 61-year-old man. Denton, who walked the Los Angeles Marathon in March in nine hours, credits yoga balance poses with his amazing improvement.

"Poses like the tree, which is very difficult to hold, with one leg over the thigh of the standing leg and arms in the air, is terrific for increasing balance and strength," the architect said. "Parkinson's is a progressive disease, but yoga has helped me actually experience a big improvement."

Exercising to maintain equilibrium is important for everyone, with or without health issues, said Linda York, a classmate of Denton's. The 58-year-old creative director practices yoga to help compensate for a slightly curved spine and cramped toes and feet.

"Most women my age experience balance problems because of cramped feet caused by years of wearing small high-heels that cram your toes together. It causes a person to balance differently," said York, a Santa Monica resident. "But yoga can put you back in proper balance."

the article goes on to talk about how staying healthy and avoiding serious injuries is especially important for those over 50. a simple fall alone can cause a serious fracture of the arm, hand, ankle, and/or hip; medical expenses for fall-related injuries among those 65 and over add up to almost $16.4 billion annually, according to an AARP study. with health insurance coverage becoming more restrictive and less affordable, senior citizens have to be especially proactive when it comes to maintaining their health.

Dana Marcoux, an instructor at Santa Monica Yoga (as well as at Silverlake Yoga) explains the connection between yoga and balance: "Yoga is intended to create an overall balance in life. I like to open classes with a balance pose and have the students hold it for three breaths. Usually they focus their eyes on a spot on the wall in front of them. It's a matter of developing calmness and coordination between vision, physical balance and mental balance, all important and entwined."

Jane Zingale, another SMY instructor, focuses on physical strengthening for students who need special help with balance, such as Denton. "One of my students had a 'slow bleed' stroke, which can be devastating. His left side was severely affected, but after working with yoga, he has greatly improved his balance."

other balance-improving practices are touched upon by the author, such as water training, weight training, tai chi, bowling, and even ballroom dancing.

i suppose spinning around while ballroom dancing might help improve my balance, but then again, with my history of being a klutz, i think i'm better off sticking to yoga...

the article -- as well as other health-related articles of interest to the senior community -- can be found in its entirety at www.latimes.com/livingwell