Yoga: Ancient Cure for Modern Stress -- with John Schumacher

By John Schumacher
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Live Events Transcript

Yoga was a mind and body workout long before stress became a household word, but its combination of stretching and meditation make it an ideal antidote to today's chaotic world. And you don't need to be as flexible as a bendy straw to do it! John Schumacher, founder and director of Unity Woods Yoga Center, joined us on Nov. 18, 2004, to get your yoga journey off on the right foot.

If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

MODERATOR: Welcome, John. What makes yoga such a good choice for stress management?

SCHUMACHER: The main reason is that it's holistic in nature. It doesn't deal with only one aspect of the person, but all aspects of their being.

Yoga has physical components, emotional components, mental components, and spiritual components. And each of us is in an amalgam of all these qualities. So to address stress most effectively, one really does best by engaging in some comprehensive activity or discipline, like yoga.

MODERATOR: So it's not just about the stretching?

SCHUMACHER: No, although stretching is obviously an important part. Other aspects, particularly the breathing, and one's mental attitude, are crucial factors.

MEMBER QUESTION: How do we choose which classes to take and which instructors to follow?

SCHUMACHER: That's an excellent question, because the quality of instruction varies tremendously. One of the first things you should do is inquire about the training of the instructor.

One often reads or hears that studying with a certified instructor is important. To a certain extent that's true, but the nature of the certification is important. Some certificates can be acquired in a weekend or a month, without any previous yoga training or experience.

Compare this with certifications that require a minimum of two years of study and rigorous examination, as in Iyengar yoga. So the training of the instructor and the amount of experience the instructor has is a really important factor. Probably the second most important aspect of choosing a teacher is your gut feeling about that person.

A person can have lots of information, but if you don't resonate with them, it's going to be hard for you to receive their teaching. Plus, who wants to spend an hour or 90 minutes with someone you don't particularly care for?

So try to find someone that you feel comfortable with, and someone who seems to you to embody the qualities you're looking for from yoga classes.

MODERATOR: Can the amount of personal attention you get vary widely? It seems you would want more direction and guidance than from, say, a spinning or aerobics instructor.

SCHUMACHER: Yes, the amount of individual attention does vary, and generally it's best to have someone who is observing you carefully and guiding you. Being guided, being paid attention to, can take several forms:

  • The instructor shows you what they want you to do.
  • The instructor tells you what they want you to do.
  • The instructor physically adjusts you in a pose.
    (Some people do not want to be touched in a class. In that case they should inform the instructor ahead of time. By the same token, if an instructor does physical adjustments, he or she should let the students know that and make sure that it's okay, either with a general statement at the beginning, or at the time of the adjustment.)

Although it's desirable and beneficial to have individual attention, don't assume that because you aren't getting step-by-step direction that attention is not being paid. Sometimes the instructor decides that in a particular instance it's better for the student to discover for him or herself the best way. This can be very empowering for the student, and when you find something on your own, you treasure it better sometimes than when it's just given to you. Still, some specific guidance should take place in a good yoga class.

MEMBER QUESTION: Is one kind of yoga routine better for stress than others?

SCHUMACHER: That depends on the source of the stress. If the stress source is psychological, perhaps a deadline, one particular routine might be recommended. If the stress source is physical, as in the case of an illness or injury, another routine or sequence might be recommended. So it depends.

MEMBER QUESTION: You mentioned different routines for different sources of stress. I'm curious about how it can help deal with chronic illnesses like IBS or GERD, which can cause a lot of stress.

SCHUMACHER: One of the initial ways that yoga can help deal with gastrointestinal-oriented illnesses, such as you mention, is through relaxation. Tension in the abdomen, tension in the gut, tension in the bowels, is often a source of irritation and inflammation that can create gastrointestinal problems.

So sequences that emphasize relaxing the abdomen and creating a sense of space can be very helpful. Also, breathing techniques that invite relaxation of the abdomen and a smooth rhythm of breathing can deepen the general feeling of relaxation, and that can be helpful.

The sensitivity that comes through a general nonspecific yoga practice, meaning not geared toward a particular illness or problem, helps to develop a level of sensitivity that might guide one in observing and choosing one's diet more wisely, which can also be helpful.

And the practice of meditation enhances all of the aforementioned aspects, the physical, the emotional, the breath, as well.

MEMBER QUESTION: Can you explain more about the spiritual aspect of yoga, and the training a beginner gets in that area?

SCHUMACHER: This is a very important aspect of the practice of yoga, one that's often neglected in the physically-oriented approach to yoga that's so often emphasized. This is not to demean the physical aspects of the practice which are important and can open the door to the spiritual levels of practice.

The underlying principles of yoga are that everything is interconnected. The very word itself, yoga, derives from a Sanskrit word, yuj, which means to yoke or connect. To tap in through various yoga practices to the realization of this interconnectedness, is at the heart of the spiritual aspect of the practice.

And it should be said that no matter what the type of yoga, what the method, the goal of all the various yoga practices is to come into contact with the real nature of things. This is at the heart of the spiritual practice of yoga, the dropping away of illusion, delusion, any sense of separateness, and to come into contact through deep quietness with the unity of all things.

MEMBER QUESTION: How can yoga help connect one with subconsciously induced physical responses?

SCHUMACHER: This is a great question. One of the real benefits of yoga is to bring what is subconscious or unconscious to the level of consciousness. One of the most effective ways of doing this is with the breath.

We breathe all day and only rarely are we ever conscious of it. It is an autonomic process; it just happens. We can, however, breathe consciously and through working with what had previously been an involuntary process, we can make that process voluntary.

So the breath provides us with a tool to start to penetrate those areas which were before inaccessible to us, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. We then begin to become more attuned to the deep and subtle underlying processes that cause us stress and in so doing, have information that allows us to begin to deal with it.

©2004 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.


16 Foods That Boost and Improve Your Immune System See Slideshow

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors