Monday Medical: Yoga for health | SteamboatToday.com

Monday Medical: Yoga for health

Susan Cunningham/For Steamboat Today

Monday Medical

During the past few years, Lynda van Tassle has learned a lot about dealing with pain. With rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis so severe it resulted in a shattered pelvis, she knows what it's like to have a body that feels fragile.

One of the practices that has helped her through it is yoga.

As a longtime registered yoga teacher, van Tassle has been trained to teach yoga to people with cancer, heart disease and other debilitating diseases.

"(Yoga) helps with pain management, emotional issues, stress issues," van Tassle said. "It allows people to be re-empowered to get back into their own bodies for healing."

The practice of yoga has been around for thousands of years and has long been cited for its benefits in reducing stress and aiding physical health. Through the past few decades, it's also been used to promote management and healing of chronic health issues.

At Yampa Valley Medical Center's Integrated Health, cardiac patients and cancer patients receive three private yoga sessions as part of their treatment. Yoga can also be helpful for other conditions, including ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, multiple sclerosis and orthopedic surgeries. Yoga does not replace traditional treatments, van Tassle said, but is a complementary tool.

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Most sessions incorporate gentle stretching, deep breathing and a guided rest period.

Patients shouldn't be scared off by the idea of traditional yoga classes, which can include intense stretching and strengthening. Instead, van Tassle works with each individual to make sure the movements are gentle and comfortable. For many patients, that means doing all of the stretches while seated in a chair.

"Very gentle stretching releases that tension in the muscles and opens up pathways of circulation," van Tassle said.

Deep breathing is also important, especially when it comes to easing anxiety and helping with pain. Often, when someone is in pain, he or she takes shorter, shallower breaths, and even hold the breath in more. With longer and deeper breaths, patients can diffuse some of their pain and anxiety.

"Whenever you start focusing on pain, it can feed the pain," van Tassle said. "When you can pull out of that by breathing and stretching and moving, the pain is still there, but it gives you that little break … something else to go to, and changes the intensity of the pain."

In the final portion of each practice, van Tassle guides a patient through a deep relaxation, also called a yoga sleep. The deep relaxation can help release tension patients may not be aware they're holding on to and can promote healing.

Perhaps most importantly, yoga can help patients reconnect with their bodies. Experiencing an intense health issue can cause people to feel as though they don't want the bodies they have, van Tassle said.

"And if you don't want it, you kind of pretend like it's not part of you," she said. "If you disassociate any part of you because something is uncomfortable, no energy goes there."

But with gentle yoga, patients reincorporate wholeness, making it easier to manage pain and to heal.

Susan Cunningham writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at cunninghamsbc@gmail.com.

Breathe Easy Yoga

Lynda van Tassle will teach a monthly Breath Easy Yoga class for people managing chronic conditions such as cancer, heart disease, MS or arthritis. Class will be held from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Mondays in the Fitness Room at Integrated Health, located at Yampa Valley Medical Park, 3001 S. Lincoln Avenue. Cost is $10 per class. For more information or to sign up, call van Tassle 970-871-2588.