Larry Payne, PhD: Yoga -- Anyone Can Do It

Yoga really is for everyone!

By Larry Payne, PhD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Live Events Transcript
Event Date: Aug. 28, 2003

Yoga can help our minds and bodies feel stronger and less stressed out, even those of us who are flexibility challenged! Larry Payne, co-author of Yoga for Dummies, answered questions about this time-tested workout that combines exercise, breathing techniques, and meditation.

The opinions expressed herein are the guest's alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome to WebMD Live, Larry. Is it just me, or is yoga really taking off in this country?

Payne: It's not just you. We are at a stage now where we are approaching 20 million people doing yoga in America. If you were to put all products purchased regarding yoga, including yoga classes, yoga mats, workshops, books, tapes, videos, etc., and put them under one corporation called "Yoga Mart." It would be placed somewhere between Dow Chemical and Microsoft, in the range of $22 billion a year going to yoga.

Moderator: You co-founded the yoga program at the UCLA medical school. That would have been impossible a few years back, wouldn't it? Will we eventually see med students taking yoga 101 between anatomy classes?

Payne: It has already started. UCLA was the first and now I receive requests from other places for the format. Interestingly enough, the textbook that we used at UCLA was Yoga for Dummies. The class was co-founded by me with Richard Usatine, MD. Basically Richard was referred to me by a physician for a back problem. Fortunately I helped him and he invited me to introduce this program of yoga, which is a combination of yoga philosophy and yoga postures and introduction to yoga therapy, to the first-year medical students at the UCLA School of Medicine. That was six years ago, and now we have our first graduates; there are two that became certified yoga teachers as well as MDs.

Moderator: So with the explosion of yoga classes (they are popping up all over my town) how do we choose which classes to take and which instructors to follow?

Payne: A great question. Now there are established yoga traditions, so you may look at yoga in a broader sense. One way to do that is by age. One of the greatest yoga masters of all times, Krishna Macharya, said that yoga should be taught for three stages of your life.

The first stage is the building stage. For example, a professional athlete usually peaks in their late 20s, early 30s. At that time they change how they work out and how they play the game. Then there is a middle ground -- a middle stage -- where what you want is optimum health and not to be injured, to enjoy life. Interestingly, the largest population segment -- the baby boomers --is in the middle stage, yet a lot of the popular yoga today is for the first stage.

The style of yoga that is more open to the middle age is called viniyoga. The styles of yoga that are more for the more vigorous, or for the building stage, are known as ashtanga yoga and iyengar yoga. Basically in the first stage the form is emphasized more; in the second stage function is emphasized more.

I have tried to reach the middle ground in my books with Yoga for Dummies and also Yoga RX. For example, in almost every yoga book it shows a posture called a standing forward bend or uttanasana. Ninety-eight percent of yoga books show the posture with someone standing bending forward, head on the legs. Yet less than 10% of the population can do that. I think, especially for the middle group, the function should be more important than the form. Therefore I recommend softening the knees so that you will stretch your spine.

The third stage is usually saved for people who become more interested in the philosophy of yoga and where they're going after this lifetime: More reading of scriptures, more medication, sitting, etc.

The beautiful thing is that they're all good. It just depends on what you need. Yoga has something for everybody.

Moderator: Where does hatha yoga fit into this? That's the term I hear a lot.

Payne: The word hatha is for the limb of yoga that focuses on postures called asana, yoga breathing, and a term called bandas, which has to do with sealing off energy to create heat in the body. All of the classed that you see that we think of as yoga are different forms of hatha yoga, pronounced "hot-ha."

Classical yoga has eight limbs. People are normally first attracted to this one limb, hatha yoga, but for those really interested in yoga, the first two limbs are both moral discipline and personal growth. We call them the do's and the dont's. The third limb is called asana, and that's what most people think of as hatha. Then come advanced breathing techniques. The last four limbs are higher and higher states of meditation.