Yoga Women

By Candice Jones / January 9, 2012

“We met girls, mothers, grandmothers, CEOs, prison inmates, dying women, women living in dire poverty—and each one had found a way to make yoga work for them.”
–Yogawoman producer and director Kate Clere McIntyre

To practice yoga in ancient India, women had to leave their families. Only the wildest women even attempted to enter the male-dominated yoga community.

Today in the United States, 85 percent of the 20 million yoga practitioners are female. Women flock to the practice because they want to look better, feel better, find ritual and join healthy communities. “A lot of women come to yoga who are feeling melancholy, depressed, a victim,” yoga teacher Patricia Walden says. “Over time you develop a strong sense of yourself through asana.”

In Yogawoman, women from all walks of life share how yoga has lit the path for new beginnings. “I will spend every day of my life happy,” yoga teacher Seane Corn says in the film.

Contagious Yoga

Colleen Saidman Yee

Not long after Colleen Saidman Yee attended her first yoga class in a New York City loft, she traded in her running shoes, basketball and boxing gloves for a mat. Back surgery in 1994 deepened her commitment. Colleen has been teaching yoga since she graduated from Jivamukti’s Teacher Training program in 1998. She teaches at the Yoga Shanti studio in Sag Harbor, New York, and spreads yoga love through press appearances and articles, DVDs and worldwide yoga retreats. Her husband, yoga celeb Rodney Yee, remains her principal teacher.

Why do you practice yoga?
I can’t imagine getting through a day without it. Maybe I am an addict, but it’s an addiction I’ll never give up. I’m not sure who I would be without my asana and meditation practice, and I don’t think I want to find out. I practice because it eases the aches and pains of my body, my heart and my mind.

Can anyone practice yoga?
We are very involved in teaching yoga in hospitals; we can distill a whole yoga class and teach it in a bed. The benefits of a daily yoga practice—regardless of if you are young or old, tight or flexible, strong or weak, healthy or struggling—are off the charts.

In Yogawoman, you say that giving all teenage girls the gift of yoga would be “mind-blowing.” Why is yoga beneficial for teens today?
It can be heartbreaking watching the way teenage girls treat each other. (We have three teenage girls.) It is also heartbreaking to see them struggle with body image and self esteem. Competition starts at such a young age. There is a feeling of not belonging—the desperation that comes with that is devastating.

Through the yoga practice, they find a sense of deep appreciation and acceptance of the physical body and also gain a sense of connectedness. With that comes the confidence to be themselves and not be desperate to fit in. The compassion that comes from sitting with feelings could help a teen not only realize that she is perfect, but it may help her reach across and help another girl who may feel that she doesn’t add up. Wellness and compassion are as powerful and contagious as cliques and bullying.

Yoga For Health

Dr. Sara Gottfried

“After more than 20 years of taking care of women, I believe stress is enemy number one,” says holistic gynecologist Dr. Sara Gottfried, founder of the Gottfried Center for Integrated Medicine for Women in Oakland, California.

Yoga is the best medicine because it lowers cortisol (the stress hormone) levels and inspires body and health awareness, Gottfried says. Her patients who practice yoga regularly require less hormonal and nutritional support than those who don’t. “My greatest hope is that younger women recognize yoga, as I did in my 20s, as a refuge and a touchstone to cope with stress,” she says.

Gottfried took inspiration from her great-grandmother—who practiced yoga, ate wheat germ and downed fish oil well before it was trendy—to maintain her resilience against medical school’s most “soul-deadening” practices. Yoga helped Gottfried find, define and defend her true self. She believes it can help all women live “fully, deeply, and authentically from their cells to their souls.”

Dr. Sara Gottfried’s 3 Keys to Health

Know your sign. Major advancements in human genome research have made personalized preventive medical treatment via genetic testing possible. People who follow a food plan for their genotype are 2.5 times more likely to maintain a healthy body weight.

Pay attention to your sex drive. It’s not just about sex. Your libido is a key barometer of your vitality. Hormones are responsible for 70 percent of women’s sexual issues. Stress reduction and yoga can even that out.

Develop a morning routine. Begin your day with a mindfulness routine that balances your parasympathetic (rest and digest) and sympathetic (fight, flight or collapse) nervous system. Gottfried does yin yoga (3 poses, 20 breaths each), listens to Deepak Chopra or reads a sacred book such as Geneen Roth’s Women, Food and God.

Yoga For Strength

Tari Prinster

“Maybe society isn’t used to seeing a near 70-year-old woman stand on her head. But it sure is fun,” says Tari Prinster, who teaches a class for cancer survivors at New York City’s Om Yoga Studio.

Prinster began practicing yoga nearly 20 years ago because she wanted to slow down her then-50-year-old body’s aging process. Her practice became invaluable when she was later diagnosed with breast cancer. “Suddenly, I was facing my own dying process,” she says. “But yoga teaches us to face our fears – it’s empowering.”

A cancer diagnosis can make people feel alone and isolated, Prinster says. They worry that people will treat them differently. In the yoga room, united in collective good energy, they can have community without talking.

Tari Prinster’s Tips for Staying Young

Keep moving. Move slowly or quickly, as long as you’re moving. We were designed to move, not to lie on the couch. Don’t fear the future. Think of it as a new friend you didn’t expect to meet. Aging is the opportunity for new things.

Let go of your past. It will free you.

Breathe. If we are not breathing, we are dead. Don’t take your breath for granted.

Yoga For Balance

Anne O’Brien

“Yoga is accessible to everyone. Period,” says Anne O’Brien, who teaches and researches yoga in Glen Ellen, California. “No matter your age, body type or background, yoga can benefit you.”

Since she left a career in international finance to teach yoga 18 years ago, O’Brien has seen countless career women, teenage girls and mothers-to-be find balance and a place to center themselves against extreme external pressure. “What is so important and different from past millennia is that, even though yoga is still about an individual process, more than ever it’s a community,” she says.

Beth Shaw’s Seven Principles of Alignment

Since Beth Shaw founded YogaFit, the world’s largest yoga school, in the early 1990s, more than 200,000 instructors have been certified to teach her style of yoga, which combines fitness moves such as push-ups, situps and squats with traditional yoga postures in a flowing format. At the core of her training, Shaw’s Seven Principles of Alignment emphasize safety while providing functional, mechanical guidelines.

1. Establish base and dynamic tension. Establish a firm base in the feet and hands, stacking joints for maximum support and contracting muscles to become stable in a pose.

2. Create core stability. Use trunk muscles (abdominals, erector spinae) to create core stability before moving into and while holding poses for greater strength and internal support.

3. Align the spine. The spine is supported through core stabilization, and the head follows the spine’s movement. When moving into twists, flexion or extension, start in neutral spine.

4. Soften and align knees. In all applicable poses, knees stay in line with ankles and point directly out over toes. In general, the knees, when bent, also remain in the same line as the hips. To prevent hyperextension, keep a microbend in the knees at all times.

5. Relax shoulders back and down. Drawing the shoulders naturally back and down in poses reduces tension in neck and shoulders.

6. Hinge at the hips. When moving into and out of forward bends, hinge from the hips, using the natural pulley system of the ball and socket joint, keeping a microbend in the knees.

7. Shorten the lever. When hip hinging, flexing or extending the spine, keep arms out to the side or alongside the body to reduce strain on lower back muscles.

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Candice Jones
Candice Jones

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