MARCH 5-6, 2005 — 20


Outplaying rugby, but referee’s out
Yoga is shedding its mung bean image, but not everyone is happy with its mainstream makeover, writes Jane Lyons
HEN James Hasemer was three he would regularly wander into his parents’ bedroom and look with astonishment into the inverted face of his father, who, like many alternative lifestyle dabblers of the 1960s, was doing one of his morning headstands.
Now 36, Hasemer has been practising such yoga moves for the last 18 years and runs the Central Yoga School in Sydney’s innercity suburb of Surry Hills. What he now watches with bemusement is yoga’s shift into the mainstream and an exponential rise in its popularity. With even burly rugby teams such as the Roosters and South Sydney giving yoga a go as part of their fitness regimes, it seems yoga’s ‘‘herbal’’ image has been forever changed. And its move out of the fringes has been aided by the A-list advocacy of stars like Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Claudia Karvan. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2002 report, Participation in Sport and Physical Activities, 2.1 per cent of the Australian population, or almost half a million people, now practise yoga. It is one of the top 10 most popular physical activities, usurping even rugby, which comes in at number 11. Law firm Minter Ellison has been subsidising yoga classes for its Melbourne office workers for the past three years. According to Alison Meade, the firm’s occupational health and safety officer, everybody from the tea lady to the firm’s partners attend the classes. ‘‘This is all part of a work-life balance which promotes a happy and healthy workplace,’’ she says. Lawyer Jennifer Blom, 29, has been going to the classes since the beginning and says she is ‘‘completely addicted’’. She’s not alone: NSW parliament staff have in-house yoga classes to help them de-stress, and even midwives say there’s evidence that prenatal yoga can help women cope with childbirth. Jamie Papar, a strength and fitness co-ordinator with South Sydney last year, says yoga is an ideal way to relieve a player’s tightness during intensive preseason training. But the biggest proliferation and mainstreaming of yoga has been through the gyms.


What is yoga?
Yoga, a word derived from the ancient Sanskrit meaning ‘‘to unite’’, originated in India about 3000 years ago. ■ Hatha is the umbrella term for the most popular form of yoga, which involves physical postures, meditation and breathing. ■ Iyengar, Ashtanga, Bikram, and Satyananda are well-known Hatha styles. Iyengar emphasizes alignment of the body and holding the posture. Ashtanga involves postures done in a flowing sequence. Bikram yoga involves doing sequences in a heated room. Satyananda combines chanting, meditation and physical postures. ■ There are a number of other Hatha schools, including Vinni, Integral and Heart yoga.

Tips for beginners
■ Make sure you choose the appropriate class for your level. If you’re a beginner, make sure it’s a beginners’ class. ■ Make the teacher aware of any injuries and go slow. ■ Leave the ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality at the door. It’s not aerobics. You shouldn’t be trying to out-pretzel the person next to you. ■ Recognise your limits. Yoga can challenge your body but if it really hurts, stop.
Fitness First has 40 gyms across Australia and almost 200,000 members. They run five yoga classes a week, as well as their hybrid ‘Bodybalance’, which incorporates yoga, Pilates and tai chi. But many have accused yoga of becoming the new aerobics, and fear that too many of its new adherents are looking less inside themselves and more on achieving the ‘‘yoga body’’. Fitness First’s national group fitness manager Yvette Flacke says she gets frustrated by students who expect to walk away with the physique of Madonna. Hasemer argues this kind of focus ignores yoga’s emphasis on the body as a tool for achieving mental clarity and personal transformation. According to him, quietening the mind’s chatter can be distasteful to some people.

Heads first: James Hasemer, standing, conducts a class in Surry Hills, Sydney

Picture: Andy Baker

‘‘The mind is a good master and not a good slave. Yoga can be quite confrontational because we are trying to make the mind more like a slave and you’re having to be still,’’he says. Hasemer believes this is why people are often attracted to dynamic styles of yoga like Ashtanga, Bikram or other flow styles (see box). But Hasemer’s biggest concern is what he sees as the watering down of yoga to suit people’s tastes and expectations. ‘‘There is a tendency to give people what they want, not what they need. People think they are coming for a massage, but it is not like that at all — they have to work,’’ he says. Flacke admits Fitness First’s Bodybalance and their basic yoga style classes may clash with the

‘‘purists’’, but says she is more concerned with getting people to move and to think about their health. She points out that these classes often feed the yoga schools, with people getting a ‘‘taste’’ and moving onto the purer forms. Gaby Hughes, who until recently ran Urban yoga in Sydney’s Potts Point, thinks the direction yoga is taking in the States — where at least one gym has introduced ‘‘cardio-yoga’’ to a disco beat — is ‘‘off the track’’. However, she doesn’t believe all adaptation is wrong. ‘‘I think yoga has to keep pace with us, you can’t just keep practising something that was first developed thousands of years ago, because our lives and tastes are different now,’’ she says. Her decision to add ambient music to the beginning and end of

her classes, as well as some tai chi hand movements, was partly a business decision in a very competitive market. With yoga schools seemingly popping up on every street corner, concerns have also been raised about teaching standards. Dr Scott Burne, Sports Physician at Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs Sports Medicine Centre, says experienced teacher supervision is imperative in preventing yoga injuries. He has two patients in their 60s and 70s with tendon tears from doing yoga. He says teachers need to be sensitive to age and pushing people beyond their limits. According to him, the other groups that need to take care are those with arthritis, spinal problems such as disc protrusions, and those with tendon injuries. ‘‘Sometimes there are teachers

who may not be well trained,’’ admits Sally Flynn, head of Nature Care College’s yoga teacher training program. But with no consistent accreditation scheme or agreement on standards among a wide variety of different styles, it can be difficult for potential students to be sure they have found a good yoga teacher. Flynn, who has been practising for 25 years, says experience is one of the key factors to look for. And with an increasing awareness in Australia of lifestyle issues, Dr Marc Cohen, head of complementary medicine at RMIT, says interest in yoga is part of a broader dynamic. ‘‘Yoga is part of a more proactive approach to health and a move to complementary medicine,’’ he says.


The good, bad and ugly side of cholesterol
NY woman who has tried one of the myriad diets that come and go with the length of their skirts will tell you that eating breakfast is one of the few things suggested by all weight-loss programs. We’ve all been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. If you want to lose weight, you’re better off skipping lunch or dinner than going hungry at breakfast time. Now it appears that breakfast is also important for a healthy heart. Research shows skipping breakfast increases cholesterol levels in your blood. The study also suggests that skipping your breakfast can decrease your sensitivity to insulin, which keeps blood sugar levels under control. The American Heart Association describes cholesterol as a soft waxy substance found in the fats, or lipids, in your blood. Cholesterol is important in forming cell membranes and hormones in the body but too much can cause heart disease. Cholesterol and other fats do not dissolve in the blood and so are transported through the body by carriers called lipoproteins, of which the main ones are lowdensity lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is the major carrier of cholesterol in the blood and is known as ‘‘bad cholesterol’’ for its role in atherosclerosis. Too much LDL circulating in the blood can stick to the walls of the arteries, forming a hard deposit or plaque on artery walls that restricts blood flow and ultimately can result in a heart attack or stroke. HDL is often referred to as ‘‘good cholesterol’’ and carries between one-third and one-quarter of the cholesterol in the blood. It is believed HDL carries cholesterol away from the heart and back to the liver, where it is passed from the body. HDL could also play a role in removing excess cholesterol from plaques on the artery walls, thus slowing the growth of the deposits. In the breakfast study conducted by scientists at the University of Nottingham in the UK, 10 healthy women aged 19 to 38 years of a normal weight ate a bowl of cereal between 7am and 8am for two weeks. After two weeks, the women skipped breakfast for two more weeks but ate the same bowl of bran flakes and low-fat milk at midday instead. The study, printed in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2005;81:388-396) found that women who skipped breakfast ate more during the day. In addition, the women’s cholesterol levels, particularly the level of LDL in their blood, were raised after skipping breakfast and they were also resistant to the effects of insulin, leaving them at risk of higher blood sugar levels and the development of diabetes. While it is known that insulin sensitivity varies between meals, the scientists are unable to explain why the timing of breakfast was so critical. But they noted that insulin stimulates the production of an enzyme involved in cholesterol synthesis, suggesting lower cholesterol levels after you’ve eaten breakfast might be related to lower levels of insulin.

Justine Ferrari

Best eaten: Everyone agrees, skipping breakfast is bad

Medical Appointments
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A BUG’S LIFE By Dr Adam Taor

Clostridium botulinum
CLOSTRIDIUM botulinum is the beauty and the beast of the bug world. This bacterium is a potential weapon for devastating bioterror attacks, and yet it’s also an instrument of beautification. These two seemingly opposite uses stem from the fact that Clostridium botulinum produces the most poisonous substance known, botulinum toxin, which acts on nerves to paralyse muscles. Doctors use botulinum toxin in minute doses to treat a wide range of medical conditions where there is muscle spasm, such as blepharospasm (spasm of the eyelid muscle resulting in closure of the eye). Cosmetic surgeons use it to paralyse facial muscles and conceal wrinkles. Bioterrorists, on the other hand, are interested because it’s a killer of astounding potency. One gram is enough to kill more than a million people, it’s estimated. US authorities believe the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo cult unsuccessfully tried on a number of occasions in the 1990s to launch a botulinum toxin attack, before successfully using another deadly agent, sarin. Clostridium botulinum’s natural habitat is soil, and the bug thrives in places where there is little oxygen. Its spores are resistant to heat and disinfectant and live for long periods if exposed to the air, dormant until conditions are right for them to germinate and produce their deadly toxin. If food contains the toxin then we’re potentially in trouble. But botulinum toxin is relatively sensitive to heat. It can be inactivated by heating to 100C for about 10 minutes, so proper cooking protects us. Botulism from food is rare. So food-borne botulism is more an ‘‘intoxication’’ than an infectious disease. If you were unfortunate enough to ingest the toxin it would be absorbed from your gut into your blood, which would transport it to nerves. Here the toxin irreversibly attaches to nerve cells and blocks the transmission of nerve signals, effectively causing paralysis. Symptoms begin as early as two hours or as long as eight days after ingestion and include double vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech and weakness. If untreated, botulism can cause paralysis of the arms, legs, and breathing muscles (and so can kill). If food-borne botulism is diagnosed quickly there is an antitoxin that blocks the botulinum toxin in the blood. Patients may need to be put on a ventilator, a mechanical breathing machine, but today only about 5 per cent of sufferers die. But those who survive may have fatigue and shortness of breath for years.

Tokyo terrorism: Sarin gas was used simultaneously on at least three subway lines, killing 12 and injuring thousands

Bunbury Branch


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