Dr. Jinsup Song
On April 10, 2008, the New York Times reported on a study conducted by podiatrist, Dr. Jinsup Song of Temple University. Dr. Song noted that both strength and flexibility are important for helping people avoid falls, a leading cause of disability among older people, especially women.
Dr. Song engaged “elderly women” (This is his phrase, not mine. In fact, there were 24 women age 65 and older.) in a nine-week yoga program. After completing the study, the women showed measurable improvements in their walking speed and balance and they gained a centimeter in height, on average. (On a personal note, I’ll add that at 61 years old, I haven’t lost any of my height, and I attribute this to yoga.)
What’s most interesting to me, as a yoga teacher is that past studies have investigated yoga for helping improve balance have used Iyengar style yoga, which is fairly demanding, and the classes are typically 90 minutes. In this study, Dr. Song worked with Marian Garfinkel, a certified yoga instructor, who trained with B.K.S. Iyengar, to develop a program specifically designed for older people. “The poses were very basic — how to stand upward, how to bend forward, sideways,” said Song, who admitted he found some of the poses challenging himself.
After the program, the women walked faster, used longer strides, and could stand for a longer time on one leg. They also felt more confident in their ability to balance while standing and walking.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that falls are the leading cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions for trauma among people aged 65 and older. Almost one third of older adults suffer some type of fall each year, the CDC reported.
The program was crafted specifically for elderly people who have had little or no yoga experience. The Iyengar technique, which is known for the use of props such as belts and blocks, was chosen to help participants gradually master the poses while building their confidence.
“In the past, similar studies have been done that look at gait and balance improvement in elderly females using a more aggressive form of yoga,” Song said. “For this study, we worked to create a very basic regimen that taught participants proper ways to breathe, stand and pose.”
Researchers also found that some participants who had unrelated back and knee pain were pain-free by the end of the study.
While the women had been balancing their weight on the ball of the foot as they walked before they had yoga training, afterwards their weight was more evenly distributed across the bottom of their feet as they walked, Song noted, which could contribute to greater stability.
“The only explanation,” said Dr. Song, “is that they are standing more upright, not so much crouching.”
Whatever explanations researchers want to attribute to yoga training are secondary to me. I’m at a point in my life where I’m not so concerned about the why something works. All I know is that for me, yoga works.
Dr. Song presented the findings April 4, 2008 at the Gait and Clinical Movement Analysis Society’s Annual Meeting.
© Copyright 2012 Dee Buckingham, All rights Reserved. Written For: Rising Tide Yoga