Tagged Yoga

Downward Facing Dog and High Heels

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Tao Porchon-Lynch teaches a yoga class in Scarsdale, N.Y. “I haven’t finished learning,” says Ms. Porchon-Lynch, who is 97. “My students are my teachers.”

Tao Porchon-Lynch teaches a yoga class in Scarsdale, N.Y. “I haven’t finished learning,” says Ms. Porchon-Lynch, who is 97. “My students are my teachers.”Credit Gregg Vigliotti for The New York Times

Tao Porchon-Lynch, 97, breezed into her regular Wednesday evening yoga class in a brightly colored outfit: stretch pants, sleeveless top, flowing scarf and three-inch heels.

She put down a mat, folded her long, limber legs into a lotus position, and began teaching her zillionth session. Softly, she guided the 15 or so students through stretching and strengthening moves, and meditative breathing.

The group, at the JCC of Mid-Westchester in Scarsdale, ranged from rank beginners to 20-year veterans of Ms. Porchon-Lynch’s classes, which she has been teaching for decades. She walked the room, adjusting poses, as her students shifted from dog to cobra to camel.

Ms. Porchon-Lynch herself moved through the poses with no apparent effort. At one point, she suspended herself above the floor, supported by her arms.

“Feel your whole body singing out, and hold,” she instructed.

“The ladder of life will take you to your inner self,” said Ms. Porchon-Lynch, who said that before the class, she had knocked out two hours of ballroom dancing.

“I did the bolero, tango, mambo, samba, cha-cha and, of course, swing dancing,” she said.

After the class, she slipped back into her heels — modest height, by Tao standards. Six-inch stilettos are more her speed because the lift helps the flow of energy from the inner feet up through the body, she said.

Back at her apartment in White Plains, she pointed to a photo of herself being dipped dramatically by a dance partner in a competition.

“He was 70 years younger than me,” she crowed. When Ms. Porchon-Lynch was in her 80s she began competitive ballroom dancing and competing widely, even appearing on “America’s Got Talent.”

“I’m very silly. I haven’t grown up yet,” she said. Then she sat and described her “I was there” life story, a march through history that rivaled a Hollywood film.

She said she was raised by an uncle and aunt in Pondicherry, India, after her mother died giving birth to her on a ship in the English Channel in 1918 toward the end of World War I.

At age 8, she began practicing yoga when few women did, and she traveled widely as a child with her uncle, a rail line designer.

Her father, she said, came from a French family that owned vineyards in the South of France, and she moved there as World War II approached. She and an aunt hid refugees from the Nazis as part of the French Resistance.

In London, she entertained troops as a cabaret dancer, and after the war she began modeling and acting in Paris, she said.

She spoke of English lessons with Noël Coward, and hobnobbing with the likes of Marlene Dietrich and Ernest Hemingway.

She said she had acted in Indian films and around 1950 was signed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and had bit roles in big films such as “Show Boat” and “The Last Time I Saw Paris.”

She had stories about marching with Mohandas K. Gandhi and, years later, with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and attending demonstrations with Charles de Gaulle.

Ms. Porchon-Lynch said she had studied yoga over the years with prominent teachers such as Sri Aurobindo, Indra Devi and B. K. S. Iyengar and taught yoga to many actors in Hollywood.

Even after three hip replacement surgeries, she still drives her Smart car daily and travels widely to teach yoga.

“I haven’t finished learning,” she said. “My students are my teachers.”

Ms. Porchon-Lynch, a longtime widow with no children, attributed her longevity to keeping her vortexes of energy flowing with “the fire of life,” and waking up each morning with the positive attitude that each day will be your best.

“Whatever you put in your mind materializes,” she said. “Within yourself, there’s an energy, but unless you use it, it dissipates. And that’s when you get old.”

Five hours of sleep a night is plenty, she said.

“There is so much to do and think about,” said Ms. Porchon-Lynch, a lifelong vegetarian and a wine enthusiast who still enjoys imbibing.

At the JCC class, she took her students through sun salutation movements and told them, “Remember, the sun salutation means that the dawn is breaking over the whole universe.”

Finally, she talked them through a wind-down period of relaxing meditation.

“Bring your consciousness back down to the physical plane,” she said. “May the light of the union of all things join our mind, our body and our spirit.”

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Yoga May Be Good for the Brain

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Credit Getty Images

A weekly routine of yoga and meditation may strengthen thinking skills and help to stave off aging-related mental decline, according to a new study of older adults with early signs of memory problems.

Most of us past the age of 40 are aware that our minds and, in particular, memories begin to sputter as the years pass. Familiar names and words no longer spring readily to mind, and car keys acquire the power to teleport into jacket pockets where we could not possibly have left them.

Some weakening in mental function appears to be inevitable as we age. But emerging science suggests that we might be able to slow and mitigate the decline by how we live and, in particular, whether and how we move our bodies. Past studies have found that people who run, weight train, dance, practice tai chi, or regularly garden have a lower risk of developing dementia than people who are not physically active at all.

There also is growing evidence that combining physical activity with meditation might intensify the benefits of both pursuits. In an interesting study that I wrote about recently, for example, people with depression who meditated before they went for a run showed greater improvements in their mood than people who did either of those activities alone.

But many people do not have the physical capacity or taste for running or other similarly vigorous activities.

So for the new study, which was published in April in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, and other institutions decided to test whether yoga, a relatively mild, meditative activity, could alter people’s brains and fortify their ability to think.

They began by recruiting 29 middle-aged and older adults from the Los Angeles area who told the researchers that they were anxious about the state of their memories and who, during evaluations at the university, were found to have mild cognitive impairment, a mental condition that can be a precursor to eventual dementia.

The volunteers also underwent a sophisticated type of brain scan that tracks how different parts of the brain communicate with one another.

The volunteers then were divided into two groups. One began a well-established brain-training program that involves an hour a week of classroom time and a series of mental exercises designed to bolster their memory that volunteers were asked to practice at home for about 15 minutes a day.

The others took up yoga. For an hour each week, they visited the U.C.L.A. campus to learn Kundalini yoga, which involves breathing exercises and meditation as well as movement and poses. The researchers chose this form of yoga largely because people who are out of shape or new to yoga generally find it easy to complete the classes.

The yoga group also was taught a type of meditation known as Kirtan Kriya that involves repeating a series of sounds — a mantra — while simultaneously “dancing” with repetitive hand movements. They were asked to meditate in this way for 15 minutes every day, so that the total time commitment was equivalent for both groups.

The volunteers practiced their programs for 12 weeks.

Then they returned to the university’s lab for another round of cognitive tests and a second brain scan.

By this time, all of the men and women were able to perform significantly better on most tests of their thinking.

But only those who had practiced yoga and meditation showed improvements in their moods — they scored lower on an assessment of potential depression than those in the brain-training group — and they performed much better on a test of visuospatial memory, a type of remembering that is important for balance, depth perception and the ability to recognize objects and navigate the world.

The brain scans in both groups displayed more communication now between parts of their brains involved in memory and language skills. Those who had practiced yoga, however, also had developed more communication between parts of the brain that control attention, suggesting a greater ability now to focus and multitask.

In effect, yoga and meditation had equaled and then topped the benefits of 12 weeks of brain training.

“We were a bit surprised by the magnitude” of the brain effects, said Dr. Helen Lavretsky, a professor of psychiatry at U.C.L.A. who oversaw the study.

How, physiologically, yoga and meditation had uniquely changed the volunteers’ brains is impossible to know from this study, although reductions in stress hormones and anxiety are likely to play a substantial role, she said. “These were all people worried about the state of their minds,” she pointed out.

Movement also increases the levels of various biochemicals in the muscles and brains that are associated with improved brain health, she said.

Whether other forms of yoga and meditation or either activity on its own might likewise bulk up the brain remains a mystery, she said. But there may be something especially potent, she said, about combining yoga with the type of meditation practiced in this study, during which people were not completely still.

The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation, which partially funded this study, provides information on its website about how to start meditating in this style, if you would like to try.

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Yoga for the Showoff. Namaste.

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Practicing handstands at Pure Yoga. “You will never be more focused than when you are upside down,” said Kiley Holliday, an instructor.

Practicing handstands at Pure Yoga. “You will never be more focused than when you are upside down,” said Kiley Holliday, an instructor.Credit Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

Chip Foley has competed in 50 triathlons, but now he’s turning his focus upside down. “My ultimate goal is to be able to do a handstand and hold it for 30 seconds,” he said.

To achieve the feat, he is pursuing a rigorous training regimen: attending daily classes at Lyons Den Power Yoga, a studio in TriBeCa that specializes in hot yoga; studying handstand videos on YouTube; and doing core-strengthening exercises at home four or five times a week. “I’m obsessed with it,” said Mr. Foley, 38, who spends his right-side-up time as the owner of a Manhattan-based technology consulting firm.

Why the fixation? Social media could be the culprit. Sarah Turk, a lead analyst with IBISWorld, a market research firm, said yoga poses lent themselves to showing off. And Instagram has the numbers to support that statement: The hashtag “yogaeverydamnday” has racked up over five million posts; #handstand and #handstands, over 400,000.

“There’s a level of badassness to it,” said Metta Murdaya, 41, who has been working on her handstand for the past two years. Ms. Murdaya, co-founder of JUARA Skincare, said her inversion practice made her feel more confident, fearless and focused, which she channels into her work as an entrepreneur.

“Literally, you succeed because you refuse to fail,” she said.

The rise of the inversion comes with the rise of the yoga and Pilates industry in the United States, which brought in an estimated $9.1 billion in 2015, according to an IBISWorld report prepared by Ms. Turk. A Yoga in America study recently found that the number of yoga students increased to 36 million in 2016 from 20.4 million in 2012.

Owners of trendy studios that have cropped up to meet New Yorkers’ demands for new ways to practice yoga, like Lyons Den, Pure Yoga and Y7 Studio, said that they had noticed an uptick in requests for inversion workshops and time devoted to handstands and headstands in class. Y7, which holds yoga classes set to pop and hip-hop music in rooms heated by infrared light, has already held four sold-out, two-hour inversion workshops this year, said Sarah Larson Levey, a founder of the studio.

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“There’s a level of badassness to it,” said Metta Murdaya, 41, who has been working on her handstand for the past two years.

“There’s a level of badassness to it,” said Metta Murdaya, 41, who has been working on her handstand for the past two years.Credit Juara Skincare

Kiley Holliday, who teaches at Pure Yoga and Equinox in Manhattan, says handstands are popular among her students because of the feeling of accomplishment they experience when they are finally able to do them.

Inversions help students be present in the moment, a perennial objective among yogis, she added. “You will never be more focused than when you are upside down,” Ms. Holliday said. “It is impossible to think of anything else than what you are doing.”

The danger, of course, is taking a tumble, which for many is a rite of passage. “We all fall,” said Lauren Abramowitz, 39, founder of Park Avenue Skin Solutions, who has posted pictures of herself online in an advanced-level scorpion pose (a handstand with a backbend). “It’s not a matter of if, it’s how do you get back up.”

Dr. Gregory Galano, an orthopedic surgeon affiliated with Lenox Hill Hospital, said he often saw patients with yoga-related injuries. “Doing repetitive or long-lasting handstands can lead to everything from low-grade wrist sprains and tendinitis to more serious labral tears in the shoulder,” he said.

He recommends that people slowly work up to more challenging poses. “You want to do things in a controlled and safe manner,” Dr. Galano said.

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Instagram users show off their poses.

Instagram users show off their poses.Credit From left: Melissa Perlzweig, Lauren Abramowitz and Elina Lin

To that end, the trainer Kira Stokes prepares students for handstands with a variety of core-strengthening moves in her Stoked 360 class at BFX Studio, the studio brand of New York Sports Clubs, owned by Town Sports International. One of her favorite exercises, a pike on a stability ball that involves bringing the hips over the shoulders, also helps improve shoulder stability and balance.

“Its more than a good party trick,” Ms. Stokes said of achieving a handstand. “It takes strength, balance, coordination and body awareness — all in one move.” She likes to do them, she said, because the practice “boosts my energy and is great for the circulatory system.”

For those who are starting out, just propping your legs against a wall and breathing deeply can give you some of the same energy-boosting benefits, said Sally Melanie Lourenco, a yoga and meditation teacher. “A lot of people aren’t comfortable flipping their world upside down.”

EMAIL: fitcity@nytimes.com

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Ask Well: The Best Exercises to Improve Balance

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Jarell Jones, 33, who served with the Marine Corps in Iraq, leads a yoga class at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1 in Denver.

Jarell Jones, 33, who served with the Marine Corps in Iraq, leads a yoga class at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1 in Denver.Credit Benjamin Rasmussen for The New York Times

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