Breathless (Wonder Wheel)

By Ed Staskus

Before today’s groundswell of yoga there was Charles Atlas in the 1920s and Joe Wieder in the 1930s, he-men manufacturing “97-pound weaklings into men.” Jack LaLanne, the godfather of physical fitness, opened his first health studio in California. Resistance training gained ground and Nautilus was invented in the 1940s. Isometrics or “motionless exercise” was the rage in the 1950s, and Universal introduced its first multi-station weight-training machines.

Dr Kenneth Cooper’s aerobic training popularized jogging in the 1960s and in the 1970s modern health clubs began to spring up. In the 1980s Jane Fonda brought aerobics to the masses. Aerobicise, the world’s highest-grossing exercise video of all time, was produced, and the weight-loss fitness personality Richard Simmons became a household name. In the 1990s step aerobics was wildly popular, Madonna inspired women to weight train, riding a bike became spinning, and Tae Bo, or fitness kickboxing, was the hottest trend of the 1990s.

In the new century boot-camp style workouts, Latin dance, or Zumba, and Pilates were top fitness trends. But, in terms of growth, from the late 1990s through today, nothing has matched the marketplace expansion of yoga. In 2009 the National Sporting Goods Association reported that among activities in which more than 10 million people participated, yoga was the fastest growing of them all, its rise measured at a rate of 21% annually. This compared to 3% for aerobic exercise, 2% for weight lifting, and 1% for jogging.

Spending on yoga products has increased by 87% in the past 5 years, according to the Yoga Business Academy. Doctors sometimes recommend it to their patients and a few insurance companies already pay for the practice. The wellness industry is bringing it into its fold and the corporate world is busy mainstreaming it. Approximately one in sixteen Americans currently practice yoga.

“If the rate of growth continues,” said Mathew Schaser of Equity Engineering, “every American will be practicing yoga by the year 2032.”

The consequences for the American way of life would be both confounding and devastating.

Many people practice yoga on a physical level, going to yoga exercise studios or unrolling their mats at home. Yoga practice has specific health benefits, including greater range of motion, strength, muscle tone, pain prevention, and better breathing. Yoga breathing calms the central nervous system, which has both physical and mental benefits.

Scientific studies have proven that spinal flexibility and cardiovascular health markers improve with yoga exercise.

“There are all these wonderful cardio effects that come from the other end of the spectrum,” said William Broad, author of The Science of Yoga. “The relaxation of the heart, rather than the pumping-up phenomena that you get from aerobic sports.”

According to the Yoga Health Foundation the health issues yoga addresses include chronic backache, depression, diabetes, menopause, stress, asthma, obesity and heart disease, not to mention arthritis.

More than one in five Americans suffer from arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of Americans with arthritis is expected to climb to 67 million by 2030, estimates the Arthritis Foundation.

“People with rheumatoid arthritis may benefit from low-impact exercises like yoga to help improve overall health and fitness without further damaging or hurting the joints,” said Dr. Cheryl Lambing, Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of California Los Angeles. “It may optimize both physical and mental health and play a vital role in disease management.”

Bikram Yoga benefits bad knees through poses that focus on stability and alignment, keeping the kneecap moving smoothly along its track. Iyengar Yoga provides relief from lower back problems. In a 6-month research study in 2009 at the University of West Virginia, subjects suffering from chronic back pain who engaged in Iyengar Yoga reported less ”functional disability and pain.”

For many people who practice yoga it is a game changer.

“I started yoga in 2002 and it has become a way of life for me,” said Dr. Rathore Ramkashore, a biologist and former editor of the Journal of Agricultural and Scientific Research who suffered from back problems. “It has given me physical and mental well-being.”

Given its applicability and success in dealing with many physical ailments, yoga practice poses a serious threat to the American healthcare industry.

Americans spend more than $8 thousand dollars per person, man, woman, and child, on healthcare every year. The American healthcare industry is the largest of its kind in the world. According to the World Health Organization spending in the USA on healthcare is close to 20% of GDP, the highest by far on the globe, even though American healthcare is ranked 37th in overall performance and only 72nd in overall health of its population.

American health insurance companies increased their profits by 56 percent in 2009. A recent report by Health Care for America Now noted that the country’s five biggest for-profit health insurance companies ended 2009 with a combined profit of $12.2 billion.

There are 784,626 healthcare companies employing almost 17 million people in the United States. According to the US Department of Labor the healthcare industry added on average 26,000 jobs to the economy every month in 2012.

The more people practice yoga the less likely they might be to need the services of the healthcare industry. That could spell trouble for an industry that employs approximately one of every eight Americans. For example, more than $86 billion dollars are spent annually in the USA treating back pain, according to The Journal of the American Medical Association. If most of that money were extracted from the economy because everyone was practicing yoga and there were far fewer back problems for doctors to treat, it would result in significant downsizing and unemployment among healthcare workers.

Arthritis is one of the top 5 health problems plaguing Americans today. The total annual tab for treating arthritis exceeds $100 billion dollars annually, from prescription drugs to surgery. Everyone recommends exercise, or simply movement of any kind, from family doctors to the Arthritis Foundation. The reason is that exercise makes synovial fluid move within joints. The element that supplies nourishment and lubrication to joints is specifically this fluid. The flexibility and pivoting of joints is only possible because of it.

One positive effect of yoga practice is to get synovial fluid flowing. “One thing that yoga does for sure is move the joints into extreme but safe positions, allowing the obscure corners and crevices of each joint to be awash with lubricating, life-sustaining fluid,” write Dr. Loren Fishman and Ellen Saltonstall in Yoga for Arthritis.

If everyone practiced yoga asanas, and if even half of them were able to stabilize or reverse their arthritis issues, the end result would be a loss in the range of $50 billion annually to the healthcare industry, forcing more contractions and subsequent lay-offs of personnel.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the American Heart Association. Approximately 600,000 people died because of it in 2011. Among those who practice yoga it has long been known to be good for the heart, in more ways than one. Now even the medical community is chiming in. “A small but promising body of research suggests that yoga’s combination of stretching, gentle activity, breathing, and mindfulness may have special benefits for people with cardiovascular disease,” writes Harvard Health Publications.

“Yoga is designed to bring about increased physical, mental, and emotional well-being,” said M. Mala Cunningham, Ph.D., counseling psychologist and founder of Cardiac Yoga. “Hand in hand with leading a heart-healthy lifestyle, it really is possible for a yoga-based model to help prevent or reverse heart disease. It may not completely reverse it, but you will definitely see benefits.”

Even if not a panacea, if yoga practice could make a dent in half of the heart disease in the USA, it would not only alleviate a great deal of suffering, it would significantly cut into the direct medical costs of the malady. One study estimated that over the course of a person’s lifetime, the cost of coming down with severe coronary artery disease is more than $1 million.

Even if you don’t develop heart disease, it is still costing you.

“You’re paying for cardiovascular disease whether you have it or not,” said Paul Heidereich, a cardiologist at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System in California, and Associate Professor of Medicine at Stanford University. “You’re paying for it in your taxes and your health insurance premiums.” He estimates that the average person in the USA is paying $878 per year for the societal costs of heart disease.

The consequences for the healthcare industry of everyone in America practicing yoga become clear when focusing on lower back pain, arthritis, and heart disease. The result would be severe dislocations and unemployment, as well as the loss of significant revenue for hospitals, clinics, and doctors, not to mention support personnel and vendors.

Obesity in America would also likely be trimmed to manageable levels, or reduced to nothing, if everyone practiced yoga.

More than one-third of all Americans are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity is defined as having an excessive amount of body fat, or a body mass index over 30, says the Mayo Clinic. Since 1988 in the USA obesity has dramatically increased in adults at all income and education levels. Current estimates suggest that the yearly medical costs of adult obesity are between $147 billion and $210 billion. The weight loss and diet control market has been estimated to have reached $60 billion a year, led by commercial diet chains, multi-level marketing diet plans, and retail meal replacements and diet pills.

Although not primarily known as an aerobic activity, or an activity that raises ones metabolic rate, which is belied by such 90-minute practices as Ashtanga and Vinyasa, yoga has long been known to be a practice that changes people’s bodies and keeps them changed.

“Yoga practice can influence weight loss, but not in the traditional sense,” said Beth Lewis, Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota School of Kinesiology in Minneapolis. “Many yoga practices burn fewer calories than traditional exercise, but yoga can increase one’s mindfulness and the way one relates to their body. So, individuals will become more aware of what they are eating and make better food choices.”

Yoga professionals are more emphatic about yoga’s weight loss capabilities.

“Yoga facilitates weight loss in several ways and, when combined with evidence-based nutritional guidance, can be highly effective,” said Annie Kay, Lead Nutritionist at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health.

What people who have lost weight through yoga say about it is the proof in the pudding. In 2008 Claudia Azula Altucher lost 30 pounds “and the weight never came back.”

“When it comes to losing weight I find that it does not so much matter what kind of yoga one practices, but that one does,” said the author of 21 Things to Know Before Starting an Ashtanga Yoga Practice. “The simple act of getting on the mat every day sends the body the message that one cares.”

Doing an about-face on obesity could cost the American economy $270 billion a year.

Although universal yoga practice would be dire for the healthcare industry, the picture for normative life in America gets worse when a light is shone on the rest of yoga, not simply on the physical exercise aspect of it. If everyone practiced all eight limbs of yoga, society in America as we know it could very well be transformed, or collapse.

A version of this story appeared in Yoga Chicago Magazine.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Poor Little Retard Kid

By Ed Staskus

   After Maggie Campbell was born family vacations became a sore point. “I have to drag those two around?” her mother Alma complained, pointing to Maggie and her older sister Elaine. Fred her husband took a slurp of his Manhattan. The day Bonnie and Brad came on board vacations came to a dead stop, except for once. When Elaine had been the one and only, she went all the time, mostly to Florida to see their grandparents, where she would ride fan boats and go fishing, and all her other fun stuff.

   Maggie screwed up the scheme of things, but still had her summer fun. When Bonnie and Brad rounded out the family her mother blew her top. “Too many kids,” she complained after they were born. The family vacations were more-or-less over and done with after that.

   “I never wanted you kids. You are all your father’s idea,” Alma told them their entire lives. She meant the children were a bad idea since they were her husband’s handiwork. “Why are you even here? You’ve ruined my life!”

   Her mom never wanted any of them, so she was sullen whenever one of them was in the house. Anytime one of them would walk into a room she got irate that they were living and breathing and asking her for something. Whenever all of them walked in all at once she hit the roof, exasperated. 

   “It’s a good thing she doesn’t have a gas chamber in the basement,” Maggie told her brother and sisters. She didn’t know gas chambers were frowned on in Bay Village, Ohio. Even so, knowing wouldn’t have helped.

   Later, when they got older, Elaine was ostracized from the family, and Bonnie cut herself off. Elaine locked herself in her room and never came out. Bonnie was always fuming if she was within a mile of the house. 

   Whenever Brad made his parents mad, Maggie would jump in and take his punishment. She couldn’t stand to see him get it. None of them wanted to get hit. But the sisters were always throwing each other under the bus. “The bad part is your sisters then grow up hating you.” That’s how there was the mess between them and Maggie, a mess that wouldn’t go away. She wasn’t saying there weren’t good times, but it was tough sledding.

   The one and only all in the family vacation they went on her whole life was to Disneyland. Her mom was sullen about it, complaining that it was like corralling cats. One morning Maggie was with her. They were out searching for breakfast. No one knew where Elaine was. She had just walked off by herself. Bonnie took Brad with her, and their dad went to find tickets to see the Country Bears Jamboree.

  That’s the only reason he had agreed to go to Disneyland to begin with. He was a stockbroker and vice-president at Prudential Bache in downtown Cleveland where moneybags went every day but loved the Country Bears and couldn’t get enough of them. He laughed ear-splittingly at the mention of them.

   When her mom and she finally got trays of breakfast for everybody they couldn’t find anybody, so they sat down on a curb. A minute later, sitting on the curb, looking up, they saw Bonnie and Brad go slowly past, leaning back in a horse-drawn carriage, waving at them like movie stars

   Alma and Maggie looked at each other. Where were the rest of the lost and found? Their food was getting cold.

   They saw the Bear Jamboree later, and the next day Maggie spotted Donny Osmond riding the same monorail with them out of their hotel. Her sisters loved Donny Osmond but wouldn’t go up to him. They were scared skittish. Maggie was gun-shy, too, but her dad pushed her in Donny’s direction, anyway.

   “Go get his autograph,” Fred said.

   “No, no, no,” she said.

   Fred pushed her forward. She got a push in the small of the back running start, and the next thing she knew was standing in front of Donny Osmond. Maggie was just flabbergasted. She had seen him on TV and now she was standing less than a foot from him. She stammered and bumbled fumbled with her hands. She got his autograph, although she didn’t know how. Maybe he felt bad because he thought she was special needs.  

   “Poor little retard kid,” he probably thought and gave her his autograph. He could be cavalier, unless they were lookers, when he got even more cavalier. When the wheels of the monorail stopped, Maggie ran off the car as fast as she could. One of her shoes went flying. Donny Osmond ducked. It hit Micky Mouse who was behind him. Mickey gave Donny a dirty look.

   “Why would you do that to me?” she asked her dad. “Why me?”

   After the vacations stopped Maggie went to Bay Village High School. She was a lifeguard at the Bay Pool and a Bay Rockette on the kick line for two years. She had many friends growing up, but hardly ever had them over to her house. She went to their houses. She was always leery of having them over because she never knew if her dad would out of the blue lose his temper or her mom would out of the blue start something disastrous.

   If anybody liked something Alma was always going to find a way to not like it. After Maggie moved away, her sister Elaine, who had long since moved away, wanted a family heirloom their mom had, a bench that had been in their great grandparent’s house, but Alma wouldn’t let her take it.

   Her parents had the bench in their split-level family house in Bay Village, at the end of their bed, but when Fred passed away and Alma re-married in the blink of an eye, marrying her old high school sweetheart from Jersey Shore, and moving to a new house in North Ridgeville, she put it away in her garage.

   Elaine wanted the bench bad. Maggie told her mom over and over that she wanted it, but Alma said, “No, she can’t have it, and that’s final.” It was like talking to a blockhead of wood.

   “What are you doing with it?” Maggie asked. She knew the answer, which was nothing, but wanted to hear Alma say it. “No, no, no,” was all she said. It was because she knew Elaine wanted it that she wouldn’t give it to her. That’s the way Alma was. If someone loved something, then she hated it. She had always been like that. Their dad could be cool sometimes, at least. Maggie knew, even though he beat the tar out of them, that he cared about them. But, their mom, not so much, if at all.

   Maggie had a Rockette party at their house before her senior year, at the tail end of August. The party came out of left field. They were at practice and their coach said the first football game was coming up soon. It was on September such-and-such, but they didn’t have a place scheduled for their potluck, yet.

   “We can have it at our house,” Maggie blurted out. Just like that, thirty high school girls were going to be coming over to their house. She called her dad at work. He sounded happy to hear from her.

   “Hey, dad,” she said. “I just invited all my friends over for a potluck.”

   “Sweet,” Fred said. “We’ll make it work.” Maggie was amazed and hung up before he could say anything else. She didn’t say anything about the potluck party to her mom. It would have been like poking a hornet’s nest with a stick.

   Her dad came home early from work the day of the party, brought all the hot dogs hamburgers buns and pickles, and enjoyed having her friends in the backyard. He was all over the place with his camera and took a ton of pictures. It was a good time. Her mom stayed in the house and never came out. Fred loved it, but Alma was angry and sulking that her daughter had all her friends over.

   Maggie loved being a Rockette. She was one of the in crowd during her sophomore and junior years in high school until the night not long after the party when she tore her hamstring in three places. It was an act of God, but a misadventure that was going to take three or four months to mend. She had to give up being a Rockette her last year of high school because of her leg.

   It was terrible, like she had lost something special, something she could never get back.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”