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Sunday, 24 September 2006 10:00

Staying Youthful with Yoga

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We live in a society that obsesses over the concept of staying young. However, spa clientele actually seek to do something about it, while most of society is simply obsessing over the concept of youthfulness. This educated, informed segment of the population constantly searches for new ways to improve themselves and to remain youthful in health and appearance. As spa professionals, we must consistently strive to offer services that meet the demands of our clients. Ironically, incorporating into the spa environment a practice that is centuries old creates a pathway for our clients to follow towards the fountain of youth.

Yoga is, literally, an exercise in youthfulness.
A famous concept in yoga philosophy determines a person’s age based not on a chronological number, rather on the flexibility of the person’s spine. Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa further explains this philosophy by stating that meditation slows the aging process by stimulating the endocrine system. “The glands wear out as we age, producing fewer hormones. You’re as young as your spine is flexible, your hormones are active, and your nervous system is strong.”
Meditation is an intrinsic part of the practice of yoga. Each asana, or pose, executed in a yoga class requires meditation on the process of the pose for correct execution. Additionally, yoga classes begin and/or end with a minimum of 10 minutes of mindful breathing and meditation. During yoga and meditation, fingertips are stimulated through proper placement during various asanas. The fingertips correspond to more areas of the brain than any other part of the body. Stimulating these areas through yoga practice, especially when done in conjunction with proper breathing, releases information in the command center of the brain, thus switching on and off key neuronal pathways.
The benefits of yoga are not limited to spinal and hormonal health. Yoga also offers such physiological benefits as lowered blood pressure, improved circulation, and stronger immune system. Further, yoga lengthens the spine, thereby improving posture, balance, and flexibility. Yoga involves weight-bearing exercise, which increases bone density. Yoga reduces stress, improves mental awareness, and enhances a person’s sense of well-being and self-image. Yoga boosts energy and increases mental clarity.
Yoga acts as preventative medicine. Unlike traditional medicine, yoga offers the means to prevent degenerative diseases rather than simply treat them. Yoga helps eliminate toxins from the body, thereby improving the health of internal organs, joints, and skin. In some cases, inverted yoga postures have converted gray hair back to its natural color due to increased blood flow and nutrients to the scalp.
In the western culture, many people spend eight hours a day bent over a desk. This lifestyle contributes to one of the most visible symptoms of aging, the rounded spine. Such spinal degeneration affects the organs in the chest cavity, inhibiting full oxygen intake as well as efficient blood flow to the vital internal organs. Practicing yoga prevents, and can even reverse a shortened, rounded spine.
Yoga enthusiasts refer to yoga as the fountain of youth, due in large part to the many inverted positions executed during practice. Modern medicine has long recognized the benefits of inverting the body, recommending it for reversing such conditions as weakened veins in the lower leg and respiratory problems. Reversing the downward pull of gravity helps improve circulation, brain function, and intestinal efficiency.
Dr. Krishna Raman, in his writings on yoga and the circulatory system, states that the blood flow to the brain of a 65-year-old may be one-third that of a 25-year-old. Practicing yoga increases blood flow to the brain by lowering the head below the level of the heart, thus permitting circulation throughout the upper body without straining the heart.
A truly healthy person takes care of her whole self—mind, body, and spirit. As an exercise, yoga focuses on the whole being—mental, physiological, and spiritual. More than simply physical exercise, yoga, by design, brings about a greater sense of self which results in greater happiness and better quality of life. Through yoga the mind and body link, creating a state of internal oneness rather than the state of separation in which many people exist. This integration of mind, body, and spirit leads to self-awareness, self-acceptance, and improved self-image, enabling a person to live more at peace with herself.

Yoga Classes
Because of society’s emphasis on youthfulness and physical beauty, the spa setting logically becomes the perfect arena for the practice of yoga. Clients already turn to their aestheticians to help them achieve a youthful face. By adding yoga into an already youth-oriented program, the spa keeps its clients from having to look elsewhere to satisfy their quest for a youthful body and mind.
A spa that offers yoga on its service menu shows its clients that it is not only aware of needs and trends, but is also willing to accommodate those needs. This effort on the part of the spa creates client loyalty and brings in new clients that otherwise might not venture into a spa environment. Reluctant clients can be educated about the benefits of yoga through brochures, or demonstrations held during an informational class.
A well-planned yoga routine provides anti-aging benefits in as little as 20 minutes. Chronological age rarely factors in to inhibit anyone from enjoying anti-aging yoga. Such asanas as “Spinal Twist (Arha Matsyendrdsana), “Abdominal Lift” (Uddyiana Bandha), “Plough’ (Halasana), and “Shoulder Stand” (Sarvangasana), as well as neck and eye stretches help enhance vitality. These asanas concentrate on brain and spinal rejuvenation, producing a healthy central nervous system.
Hire a well-trained yoga instructor to teach all classes. Licensing does not yet regulate the industry; however, reputable instructors can verify training with a certificate of certification or with a membership to an organization such as The Yoga Alliance. Many types of yoga exist, with Hatha yoga being the most mainstream. Research the various types of yoga and offer one or more techniques, according to the philosophies of your spa.
Conduct classes in a well-ventilated room with enough space for proper stretching and asanas. Keep the temperature warmer than that of a standard exercise room, but do not allow the room to become too hot. Dim lighting and soft music help create an optimal atmosphere for a successful class.
Ideally, the spa has enough space to set aside a room dedicated strictly to the practice of yoga. However, no spa is too small to offer clients the benefits of yoga. Even spas with limited space can incorporate the benefits of yoga into their repertoire by offering such treatments as The Yoga Facial and Thai Yoga Massage.

The Yoga Facial
The face consists of 18 muscles. These facial muscles differ from the muscles throughout the rest of our body. The muscles in our body attach to bone on both ends through tendons and ligaments. The muscles in our face attach to bone only on one end, and the inner layers of skin on the other end. As a result, we must exercise and tone facial muscles using different techniques than those used to exercise the rest of our muscular system.
Most people never think about exercising the muscles of their face. Unfortunately, they also do not think about how their facial expressions cause “lines of expression” to become permanent on the surface, due to the physiological structure of the face. Nor do they realize that the facial muscles become tense, due to stress, just like other muscles. This tension restricts blood vessels, limiting the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the face. The result is grayish pallor, loss of elasticity, and dehydration.
Yoga exercise helps to reverse the signs of aging by increasing circulation to the face, relieving facial tension, and fighting gravity, (many poses turn you upside-down). However, when limited space inhibits a spa from offering anti-aging yoga classes, a trained aesthetician can achieve similar benefits through the Yoga Facial performed in a standard facial room. While many types of standard facials only concentrate on the skin, not on the muscles below the skin, a Yoga Facial incorporates massage techniques focusing on the muscles of the face, scalp, and décolleté. Specifically designed stretching maneuvers and pressure-point stimulation release deep tension, soothe, and revitalize the entire structure of the face.
Begin the Yoga Facial by having the client relax and close her eyes. Instruct her to breath completely, relaxing her stomach muscles and allowing her lungs to fill with air. Have her hold the breathe for four seconds before slowly exhaling all the air from her lungs. During the four-second count, press the fleshy part of your palms gently but firmly onto her closed eyes. Release your palms up slowly as she finishes exhaling. Repeat the process three times for optimal soothing of the optic nerve.
Follow the breathing exercise by cleansing the face, neck, and décolleté with a light creamy cleansing lotion to which you have added 1 or 2 drops of grapefruit essential oil. Grapefruit is beneficial for its youth enhancing qualities. Massage the cleanser over the décolleté and neck in long upward effleurage strokes. Overlap strokes as you work toward the center and up. Continue cleansing up the face in upward strokes, feathering your fingering firmly over the cheek area. At the eye area, cleanse out and around the eye with gentle maneuvers.
A manual exfoliation should follow the cleansing process. Avoid using chemical or acid exfoliation during the yoga facial. The manual technique of firmly holding small sections of skin stretched between your fingers and using your ring finger to roll the exfoliating mask off in the gommage method actually stimulates facial nerves and promotes rejuvenation.
After the exfoliating process, while the client relaxes under steam, massage the hands and forearms. Concentrate gentle pressure on each fingertip as you squeeze from the base of the finger up. Firmly pinch the fleshy part of each hand, between the client’s thumb and forefinger, using your own thumb and forefinger. This pressure releases tension all the way up the arm through a main nerve that sends tension-relieving signals to the brain.
Once steaming is finished, begin the massage by pressing firmly down on the client’s shoulders while having them exhale completely. Next, gently turn the neck first in one direction, massaging in long strokes from the outer part of the trapezius, up the neck, and across the base of the skull to the center. Follow by stroking firmly up the sterno-cleido-mastoid, then down the platysma, using less pressure as you come down this neck muscle. Repeat three times, then turn the head to the opposite side and repeat this sequence.
When you have completed the neck and shoulder massage bring the client’s head back to the center, and proceed into massaging the face. Begin by interlocking your fingers at the center of the client's forehead. Using firm effleurage strokes, release your hands out across the forehead, ending at the temple. Continue with circular rotations at the temple, then circle your fingers back up to the center of the forehead, interlock your fingers and repeat the sequence three times. After the third repetition, slide your index finger down the forehead to the inner corner of the eye; placing your middle finger just above the brow bone. Apply pressure to the lower edge of the brow bone then slide your fingers firmly out to the temple; sliding your fingers down under the eye and, using lighter pressure, circle back up to the starting point. Repeat this sequence three times before moving down to the jaw line and begin a jacquets maneuver, lightly pinching and twisting small sections of skin. Work out across the jaw line, then up the cheeks in this manner.
The remainder of the massage sequence consists mainly of various effleurage techniques on the face, neck, and décolleté. Remember that the massage part of the yoga facial lasts longer than that of a standard facial. Take your time, concentrating on helping the client de-stress. Remind her to breathe slowly and completely throughout the massage, as this will help her release toxins from her system. Make sure all of the massage sequences flow smoothly into one another, avoiding any abrupt lifting and placing of your hands. Follow the massage with a mask appropriate to skin type; then tone and moisturize accordingly. Before you leave the facial room, at the end of the treatment, instruct your client to lie quietly, meditating on an affirmation while she continues to breathe completely, for at least ten minutes.

Thai Yoga Massage
Thai yoga massage, founded by Jivaka Kumarbhacchi, a celebrated yoga master and Ayurvedic doctor, dates back 2500 years. The technique brings penetrating massage and gentle yoga movements together into an intensely therapeutic treatment. Yoga philosophy states that we absorb life-energy (Prana) through the air we breathe and the food we eat. Invisible energy lines flow throughout the human body and serve as a network (Prana Nadis) that supplies this life-energy to our system.
Life’s everyday stresses can cause the energy network to become blocked. Thai yoga massage releases tension by unblocking this energy network. This energy unblocking results from a combination of yoga poses and stretches performed in conjunction with massage concentrated on the energy points and lines. Promoting a free flow of energy helps to restore inner balance, creates a deep state of relaxation, and promotes a sense of well-being for the client.
A treatment room large enough for the placement of two yoga mats can accommodate this yoga therapy. Clients will receive the benefits of yoga stretching combined with the benefits of therapeutic massage in one healing session. They will leave feeling pampered rather than feeling as if they have just completed an exercise session.
Thai yoga massage requires specialized training. Various massage schools throughout the United States, as well as in other countries, offer such training. Some schools specialize strictly in the technique and philosophy of Thai yoga massage. Other schools offer similar training in yoga massage techniques.
Whether practiced in a group setting or as part of a spa-treatment, yoga calms the mind, soothes the emotions, and de-stresses the body. As a holistic exercise and therapy, yoga increases self-awareness, thereby improving overall self-image. Offering yoga to spa clients benefits them on all levels—mind, body, and spirit. By this principle, yoga logically fits into the spa environment.

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