By Debbie Teofilo
Special to the Sun
People often think of yoga as a strenuous stretching exercise for younger people who twist their bodies into pretzel shapes during class sessions. Instead of a workout, a new medical version of yoga is customized to each individual’s abilities and is focused on its healthcare benefits. It has been taking the Kern River Valley (KRV) by storm by appealing to those of all ages who are interested in improving their health condition.
MediYoga, the discipline of using yoga as a therapeutic tool to treat and prevent health problems, was developed in 1995 by Swedish Kundalini yoga teacher Goran Boll. Scientific research was conducted in collaboration with hospitals in Sweden to prove its medical value. After it was demonstrated that MediYoga reduces the risk of heart attacks, the therapy was integrated into the public health systems in Sweden in 2010 and later in Norway. These techniques are now being taught in the United States, beginning with hospital-associated programs here in the KRV and in Bakersfield where the private sector has begun expressing interest in its many healthcare benefits.
The Kern Valley Healthcare District (KVHD) recently received a grant from Dignity Health to examine the effects of a 12-week MediYoga training program on the quality of life for 80 adults in the KRV who have symptoms of cardiovascular disease. The grant classes are being taught in four locations throughout the valley by Helen Miller Lynch, Operative Manager and Teacher Trainer for MediYoga U.S.A.
The KVHD MediYoga training includes gentle breathing exercises with postures, meditation, and relaxation from a seated position so everyone is able to participate. A weekly one-hour group session is followed by four days per week of practice at home with the help of a CD. Baseline data for cardiovascular tests such as blood pressure and heart rate are collected before and after the 12-week program to determine if there have been any beneficial changes in the conditions of the participants.
A key to the effectiveness of MediYoga is the technique of consciously changing the way we breathe and being mindful of ourselves by meditating. This allows us to gain greater physical, mental, and emotional control over our bodies. One of the students described MediYoga as a bridge to connect his mind, body, and spirit which keeps him centered. Instructor Lynch commented that focusing on the body and mind together creates a balance that can be therapeutic by helping people control their own health issues. At the end of a recent group session when the participants were relaxed and focused, Lynch could be heard saying in a soothing voice, “Feel the balance that you have created.”
Interviews with several of the program participants revealed their surprise and excitement about the many different health improvements they experienced after only a few weeks of training. For instance, one woman uses an oxygen tank to help her breathe, but for a time after the chair exercises, her body is able to get enough oxygen on its own without using the tank.
A man with Type II diabetes had a dangerously high blood sugar level one morning, so he went through the MediYoga sequence of breathing exercises to relax; his glucose level dropped dramatically. He’d learned during the program that a person can’t prevent a particular event from happening, but one can change how to respond to that event by maintaining balance.
A woman with constant back and hip pain has been seeing a chiropractor to get relief. During the past several weeks in the program, she has found the MediYoga techniques have given her a self-help capability to reduce her pain levels.
She and another participant also have high blood pressure, but when they take a moment to stop and be mindful of their bodies, they can feel spikes in their blood pressure and lower them by doing breathing exercises. Another woman used the techniques to keep her blood pressure down during a stressful time after her husband was taken to a hospital emergency room.
One woman with an irregular heartbeat said she wakes up frequently during the night and has a difficult time getting back to sleep. The MediYoga exercises allow her to relax and she is able to drop off to sleep much faster.
Because 45 percent of the KRV population is 55 years of age or older (double the California rate) and 30 percent of KRV adults age 18-64 have a disability (compared to an 8 percent state average), availability of MediYoga classes could potentially make a positive difference in the health of many residents here. Classes that are part of the KVHD grant are closed, but an ongoing class for the general public is being held on Wednesdays from 2:30 to 4:00 p.m. at the Veteran’s Senior Center Community Room in Lake Isabella on a donation basis.
Additional MediYoga instructors are now being trained by Lynch. Instructors must have some medical background or need to complete a course to understand the interrelationships of the major body systems. Eight U.S. instructors have already completed MediYoga training in California, including local yoga teacher Nancy Ivey.
The next instructor training course begins on September 30 and lasts for 10 weeks, including three full weekends. Details about this instructor course or the public MediYoga classes at the Senior Center can be obtained from Helen Miller Lynch at (760) 549-9545. General information about the MediYoga discipline can be found at http://en.mediyoga.com.