Does yoga hold the power to heal?

Discovering the healing powers of yoga.

(NEWS CENTER) — Two recently released studies have concluded that there are strong ties to practicing yoga and easing chronic pain, and in some cases, helping individuals with brain injuries – improving their sense of self and helping them cope.

In Maine, there are yoga studios opening up in just about every community, and for good reason.

It's estimated that 36 million people around the world practice yoga. And Maine has caught onto the craze.

The site "do you yoga.com" ranked Maine No. 8 on the 8 most yoga-obsessed states in the U.S.

Ask anyone who practices it why they do yoga, and you'll likely get a host of answers: peace of mind, relaxation, anger management and, for a growing number, physical and mental healing.

"I'm a mom of two kids and for the first time in three weeks nobody is sick or home with the flu,” Kelly shared, as she sat, waiting for yoga class to begin.

"Let's grab some blocks … and a strap. Why don't you grab a strap,” yoga instructor Alice Riccardi tells her students.

For the next 60 minutes, Kelly will call a thin, 24-inch wide yoga mat home base.

"Release your arms and bring your hands up to your lower back and interlace your fingers and lift your arms up and over your back and keep squeezing through your shoulder blades."

» RELATED: 10 things you may not know about yoga

While it may seem a painful exercise to some, many others call yoga life-changing, even life-saving. I ask Kelly to describe how she's feeling before vinyasa yoga.

"I feel stressed, I feel reactive, I feel I am yelling a bit more than I usually do. I just was feeling very cold and heavy."

Inside a Scarborough studio, instructor Alice Riccardi works with students on making consistency a priority. “Our bodies were meant to move at any age and so yoga works to keep bodies mobile we were meant to stay mobile. Just because we're aging doesn't mean we can't move."

Andrea Gleason owns the yoga studio and understands, first hand, the value of practicing several types of yoga. "I started doing vinyasa yoga maybe about nine years ago, and I was also doing triathlons and I ended up with a frozen shoulder."

Surgery was the best choice for Gleason. She was warned, even with that, she would only get back 80 percent of the mobility in her shoulder.

"My arm literally I couldn't lift it any higher than here, it was this high,” she lifts it up just a couple of inches, “and it was painful, it hurt at night."

Gleason turned to a yoga practice called Yin. It uses long slow holds targeting deeper tissue, into the faschia, ligaments and joints.

"And then to this position, and then back here in class. And when you step away from the wall, there's a noticeable … you'll see the shoulder that you've just worked will be relaxed and loose and low, the arm will be further away from the hip while the other one that you haven't done is kind of up here somewhere."

After four months, Andrea says her pain subsided, dramatically. And that frozen shoulder? Gone.

“If I had to sum it up, yoga creates breathing room in the body, so you create space in the body whether you're strengthening it, or you're lengthening it."

She demonstrates the exercises she uses with the yin technique.

"I do a lot of shoulder openers here against the wall, and I've got full range of motion. I can go all the way up, I can go back."

Back inside the studio, Riccardi leads her class. "Stretch up, look up, reach higher, then bow low and let go. Really let go of your head especially."

Riccardi adapts different yoga styles and workouts to fit her students' needs. For the elderly, chair yoga to help with balance, flexibility and motion.

"Flow can be a little slower and meditation is really important for the brain function piece, to keep the brain healthy."

And there may be something to the idea that yoga is good for the brain.

A study by the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical practice, published in the British medical journal "brain injury," concluded that practicing gentle yoga regularly doesn't only help patients with acquired brain injury cope, it can also give them "a positive sense of self" and happiness.

"Sometimes I like to listen for, you know, 'I don't know what it is but I just feel better.' And I'm like, 'well, that's great.'"

And remember Kelly? The stressed out mom who said she had been angry more than usual? I asked her how she felt after class.

"Wonderful, really nice. Lighter, energetic and stronger. Definitely stronger. Like I just got off the beach.

"I feel like I need this to kind of live better. I need it to be a better mom to be a better wife and to be a better person."

Riccardi sends her students off with one final stretch. "Look up, that's it, whole body stretch and then bring your arms to your heart center, deep breath in and long breath out."

Breathing is at the heart of every kind of yoga.

And there are a lot of different kinds: nearly 200 different yoga styles. So, as yoga becomes mainstream, do insurance companies cover the cost?

A quick Google search and I found a handful of health plans offering rebates for yoga classes. Does yours? You can find out at HealthCare.gov.

Copyright 2017 WCSH


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