Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Breath, Lives, Memory: Yoga Classes Stretch Mind, as Well as Body, of Alzheimer's Patients

“Words like ‘concentration,’ ‘focus,’ and ‘recall’ figure highly into Flesch's class: yoga for the memory-challenged. Twice a month, Flesch tailors breathing and exercises for people with Alzheimer's, dementia, and other conditions involving memory loss. Her thinking: By stretching the body, you relax the mind, which in turn makes it easier to concentrate and remember tasks at hand. The class also serves as a social gathering, providing a place to meet other patients, even if they may not remember one another. Although variations of yoga have been used to relax the sick and frail, Flesch's holistic approach is unique. She treats her students in a way that lends them grace, dignity, and a sense of control over a disease that can often make them feel powerless. ‘It's very grounding. It makes you pay attention, which relates to memory,’ said Flesch, a commercial photographer and yoga instructor for 35 years. ‘The yoga trains your mind to focus. Removing stress helps you be able to concentrate more.’ Flesch owns South End Yoga studio, but her memory classes are held at the Rogerson House, an adult day care and residential facility in Jamaica Plain. Each class enrolls fewer than 10 people, most of whom are elderly. Yoga has played a role in relaxation and gentle exercise for some people with Alzheimer's, according to the Alzheimer's Association Massachusetts/New Hampshire chapter. Similar classes have launched recently. In Pensacola, Fla., a class called ‘Super Brain Yoga’ combines movement with breath to energize brain activity for adults with memory loss. In Australia, an Alzheimer's and memory community center began a free yoga class for caregivers and people with memory issues. A study released last year during the Alzheimer's Association's International Conference on the Prevention of Dementia in Washington, D.C., found that regular meditation can bolster cognitive function for people with memory loss. Whether they meditate alone or in a yoga class, patients will reap benefits, said Dr. Paula Raia, director of patient care and family support at the Alzheimer's Association's local chapter. As Alzheimer's and dementia ravage the brain, sufferers can become agitated and prone to anxiety. Gradually they experience a loss of memory, intellect, and social skills. Their grip on reality progressively slips away. Flesch began teaching these specialized classes 11 years ago after photographing Rogerson House seniors for promotional brochures. She believed that yoga might keep them active, both physically and mentally ‘I thought, 'Wouldn't it be interesting to try and work with Alzheimer's,' she recalled. ‘I went online to research it, and there was absolutely nothing. That made me want to do it even more.”


1 comment:

tanyaa said...

Yoga, derived from the Sanskrit word meaning "union," is a spiritual practice that uses the body, breath, and mind to energize and balance the whole person. This mind-body therapy involves physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation to improve overall well-being. Yoga began nearly 6,000 years ago in India as part of the Hindu healing science known as Ayurveda. Today, approximately six million Americans practice yoga regularly.
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