Dr. Baxter Bell practiced family medicine in Cincinnati for 11 years. He enjoyed working with patients and the time he spent with them in treatment rooms but he also encountered frustrations with “the bureaucracy and business of medicine.” When he started to practice yoga he found “it gave me some space to notice the things I liked and wasn’t liking about the Western model of health care.”
This experience prompted Bell to take a short sabbatical from his medical practice and to deepen his study of yoga. He soon extended his investigation to medical acupuncture, and, he says, “I came out a year-and-a-half later with a new vision of how I wanted to work with patients one-on-one and to spend more time with them.” Still a licensed physician, Bell now lives in Oakland, Calif. He teaches yoga and therapeutic-yoga classes and sees individual patients for medical acupuncture and therapeutic yoga. His patient visits typically last an hour or longer. There are no before-and-after figures to compare, but there’s no argument that Bell and his clients and patients feel better.
Yoga has enjoyed a dramatic increase in popularity in recent years. When I first started to teach it now nearly 15 years ago, I couldn’t even call it yoga. The class that I taught then — and still teach — is focused on improving range of motion and the ability to perform the activities of daily living. But, back then, I called it “Joy of Stretch,” because people were intimidated by yoga. They somehow had the image that to do yoga, you had to be a contortionist, a vegetarian and a connoisseur of high colonics.
Most of those perceptual obstacles have passed. There is increased appreciation of and research support for yoga’s many health benefits, which range from reducing back-and-neck pain to increasing balance.
Yoga has been established as therapeutic to varying degrees for COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), congestive heart failure, diabetes and hypertension, to name just a few. There is an increasing recognition that it has a role to play in the treatment of cancer and in post-stroke and cardiac rehab programs. It is, in many ways, a miracle modality offering spiritual and psychological, as well as physical, benefits.
With all that going for it, you’d think it would be even more popular than it is, especially among older populations. But there are barriers. One mentioned by Bell is the misconception that “all yogis are super-flexible human beings.”
Bell says he wasn’t flexible at the outset; he couldn’t get his hands past his knees in uttanasana or standing forward bend. But rather than being put off by it, he recognized that yoga was the route to more flexibility.
Another issue is fear of being hurt. That risk, of course, accompanies any new physical activity. The way to minimize it is to find the right style and the right teacher who will take you safely through the learning process.
But yoga’s greatest benefit may well be outside the purely physical realm.
When Bell started to practice in the early 1990s, he found it beneficial to both his body and his mind. And the yoga that he teaches today is not just the physical postures but specific breath and meditative techniques. You can experience his particular brand of yoga in early February, when he will be visiting Sarasota in conjunction with Lynn Burgess’ Yoga from the Heart studio. Private sessions are available, and there are some intriguing classes: “The Gentle Yoga Release of your Week” 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 5.; “Let’s Heat Up” 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 6; and “Let’s Cool it Down” 3 to 5 p.m. Feb. 6. Sunday’s class, “The Yoga Doc’s In,” takes place from 9 a.m. to noon. It is a therapeutically based practice focusing on the health and function of the lower back and hips as well as the shoulders and neck. For information, contact Yoga from the Heart at 929-98789 or visit www.yogafromtheheart.com.
Molly Schechter is an ACE-certified personal trainer, with a specialty in older adult fitness plus YogaFit Instructor Training and a Power Pilates(tm) Mat Certification. She teaches classes at the Bayfront Park Recreation Center. E-mail her at [email protected].