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  Lifestyles 10/23/03
Popular yoga classes have students striking a pose for mental, physical health

By Shanna Nielsen

Yoga instructor Greta Ward gets into the "tabletop" position during her exercises. She said she thinks such poses support clarity, concentration and peace of mind. / Photo by Shanna Nielsen

From athletes and celebrities to breast cancer patients and children, it seems everyone is twisting themselves into a pretzel in the name of yoga. Dogs even do it. With millions of people (and some dogs) practicing, this popular workout is managing to stretch and bend its way into health clubs across the country.

From an old Indian exercise, yoga has become a fitness craze. Some doctors recommend it, practitioners swear by it and more than 75 percent of gyms across the country are now offering classes.

"I would recommend yoga for anybody," said Greta Ward, yoga instructor at Logan's Sports Academy & Racquet club. "It really just depends on what your goals are."

Yoga is about uniting body, mind and breath. There are many different kinds, including power yoga, yoga for meditation and rehabilitation yoga.

According to the National Library of Medicine, the use of yoga for rehabilitation has many applications: "Yoga practice benefits mentally handicapped subjects by improving their mental ability, also the motor coordination and social skills. Physically handicapped subjects had a restoration of some degree of functional ability after practicing yoga."

According to the CBS news website, New York researchers are trying to measure healing and quality of life in one of the nation's first federally funded investigations of yoga's effect on cancer patients. Many believe that yoga can even help prevent certain types of cancer by stimulating lymph flow and strengthening the immune system. Yoga has also been cited for improving life for diabetics and asthmatics.

"I really do buy into the theory that the poses have rehabilitation qualities," Ward said. "Another one of the biggest benefits of yoga is that it makes you learn to love the body you're in regardless of age or body type."

Ward has been practicing yoga for eight years and teaching it for three. She advocates it for young and old alike -- if you're old enough to pay attention and still young enough to walk, you should be able to find something to fit your needs.

"There really isn't a lot of limits," she said."There are modifications for children and you can even do some poses sitting in a chair."

Ward recommends doing yoga every day, but people should incorporate some cardio into their routine, too. If you are looking to lose weight, yoga does burn calories, but you are more likely to lose weight because yoga helps people want to take better care of their bodies and they tend to become more aware of what they eat, she said.