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Padma Shri winner Wai Lana revolutionising yoga in USA

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Himani Kumar Sanagaram

Her  colorful “ Haku Fresh Flower Head Lei” or Hawaiian  crown of flowers is what sets her apart from the rest of the pack. Recent Padma Shri winner Wai Lana is a woman of Chinese origin woman, who introduced Yoga to China and has made it mainstream in the United States.

Showing off her Hawaiian origin, this daughter of Chinese immigrants in the US has achieved great heights by her sheer hard work and is conspicuous in her colorful clothing and yogic postures be it TV, DVD, or YouTube videos. Wai Lana is only one of two Chinese nationals to win the prestigious Padma award in its 62-year history.

“I’m very humbled and don’t feel deserving. I’ve just been trying my best to share the gift of yoga with the Chinese people and the rest of the world. My real reward is seeing so many people experiencing the many benefits that yoga has to offer,” Wai Lana said of the award in a press release

Yoga has been popular in America  for many years and was first introduced in United States by Swami Vivekanada, who came to the country in  1893 to attend the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. Later it was made popular by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda, Yogi Bhajan etc.

Wai Lana, whose actual name is Zhang Huilan in Chinese  credits the Chinese leadership to her successful Yoga TV programs in China.

“Chinese leaders understood the value of yoga long before it became popular in the United States,” Wai Lana said.

“Mother of Yoga” as she is called has been broadcasting  the Yoga TV series “Wai Lana Yoga”  for over 17 years ago on PBS in the United States. She has inspired many American and Chinese youth to take up Yoga. Her videos are mostly shot in natural locations- by the sea or trees in a forest.

Her popular song “Namaste” has been well received and the video was releases worldwide on the International Day of Yoga on June 21 last year, when it was celebrated for the first time.  International Yoga Day was internationally recognized by the United Nations General Assembly on Dec. 11, 2014. In the song, her sweet melancholy voice captures the peace and joy that yoga gives as she joins people all over the world from Poland, Hawaii, India, Canada etc. to unite in peace and practice Yoga.

At a time, when even many young Indians both in India and United States are renouncing their culture and religious practices, for western culture, Wai Lana bridges the gap between the east and the west

Her hard work is endearing as can be seen in videos. She is truly a modern yogi and one can hardly doubt if she is of Chinese origin. Her programs started airing on CCTV in China in 1985 and in America in 1998 and then in many other countries.

Wai Lana has also worked on a “Little Yogis” DVD for kids and has launched various healthy food products and yoga gear related to Ayurvedic cures. Her website sells various healthy products related to yoga and shares information on meditation, lifestyle, yoga sound meditation techniques and recipes. She has really spread the art of Yoga to United States and China as well as other countries.

Himani Kumar Sanagaram is freelance journalist based in Chicago. She covered Headley’s trial from Chicago from 2010-2012. She is also a former foreign correspondent with Press Trust of India.

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Yoga as Good as Aerobic Exercise for Super Brain Health

Yoga helps people with or without anxiety disorders manage their stress

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Yoga
Yoga can lower your back pain and treat your insomnia as well. Pixabay

If you do not like or cannot perform aerobic exercise for some reason, try yoga to improve brain health as scientists led by Indian-origin Neha Gothe have found evidence that yoga enhances many of the same brain structures and functions that benefit from aerobic exercise.

The findings are based on a review focused on 11 studies of the relationship between yoga practice and brain health.

Five of the studies engaged individuals with no background in yoga practice in one or more yoga sessions per week over a period of 10-24 weeks, comparing brain health at the beginning and end of the intervention.

The other studies measured brain differences between individuals who regularly practice yoga and those who don’t.

Each of the studies used brain-imaging techniques such as MRI and all involved Hatha yoga, which includes body movements, meditation and breathing exercises, said the team from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“From these 11 studies, we identified some brain regions that consistently come up, and they are surprisingly not very different from what we see with exercise research,” said Gothe, University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor Neha who led the research with Wayne State University psychology professor Jessica Damoiseaux.

“For example, we see increases in the volume of the hippocampus with yoga practice,” she added.

Many studies looking at the brain effects of aerobic exercise have shown a similar increase in hippocampus size over time.

Space object, Human Being, Deep Meditation
As soon as you start doing asanas, you’ll know what the fuss is all about! Pixabay

The hippocampus is involved in memory processing and is known to shrink with age.

“It is also the structure that is first affected in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease,” said Gothe in a paper published in the journal Brain Plasticity.

Though many of the studies are exploratory and not conclusive, the research points to other important brain changes associated with regular yoga practice, Damoiseaux said.

The amygdala, a brain structure that contributes to emotional regulation, tends to be larger in yoga practitioners than in their peers who do not practice yoga.

The prefrontal cortex, cingulate cortex and brain networks such as the default mode network also tend to be larger or more efficient in those who regularly practice yoga.

“The prefrontal cortex, a brain region just behind the forehead, is essential to planning, decision-making, multitasking, thinking about your options and picking the right option,” Damoiseaux noted.

“The default mode network is a set of brain regions involved in thinking about the self, planning and memory”.

The studies also find that the brain changes seen in individuals practicing yoga are associated with better performance on cognitive tests or measures of emotional regulation.

The discovery that yoga may have similar effects on the brain to aerobic exercise is intriguing and warrants more study, said researchers.

Yoga is an antidote to the fast pace of today’s technology. Pixabay

“Yoga is not aerobic in nature, so there must be other mechanisms leading to these brain changes,” she said. “So far, we don’t have the evidence to identify what those mechanisms are.”

Enhancing emotional regulation is a key to yoga’s positive effects on the brain.

“In one of my previous studies, we were looking at how yoga changes the cortisol stress response,” Gothe said.

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“We found that those who had done yoga for eight weeks had an attenuated cortisol response to stress that was associated with better performance on tests of decision-making, task-switching and attention.”

Yoga helps people with or without anxiety disorders manage their stress.

“The practice of yoga helps improve emotional regulation to reduce stress, anxiety and depression,” she said. (IANS)