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May 03. 2014 1:24AM

Organizers of annual yoga event espouse multiple benefits to novices, experts


Instructors make the rounds among the participants at last year's NH Yoga for Peace in Nashua. (JESSICA LABBE PHOTO)

A s practitioners and teachers, husband and wife Jay and Terry Gupta say they've seen the benefits yoga can offer people coping with chronic physical and mental health problems.

And they share that message every year at NH Yoga for Peace, a daylong public celebration of yoga, health, well-being and community.

"We really believe everyone should have access to yoga," said Terry Gupta who, with her husband, founded YogaCaps Inc., a nonprofit group that works with hospitals and community organizations to offer therapeutic yoga to treat and prevent chronic diseases.

On Saturday, the sixth annual NH Yoga for Peace conference will kick off at 9 a.m. at Merrimack High School with an opening ceremony and a keynote speech from Dr. Amita Chopra, who will talk about how to meditate.

Throughout the day, more than 60 local practitioners will offer classes on different types of yoga and meditation for people of all ages and levels of experience.

There also will be lectures on other aspects of health and well-being, as well as music, dance and food. Admission to NH Yoga for Peace is free, but donations are welcome. Any money raised will be used to support YogaCaps' Volunteer Corps, which provides free yoga classes to cancer patients, seniors, veterans and patients at the Greater Nashua Mental Health Center. Donations also will help fund a group of Merrimack High students who plan to attend Peace Jam, a youth-oriented social justice conference organized by 13 Nobel Peace laureates.

"Yoga for Peace is the world as we would like to see it," said Terry Gupta. "We need everyone on board to build a community where everyone is healthy."

Roseann Latona of White Swan Yoga in Manchester will be back on board for a third year at Yoga for Peace, offering a class in gentle yoga for beginners and people recovering from injury.

"It's a wonderful day of like-minded people coming together," said Latona. "I always come home saying it's one of the best days I've ever had."

Growing popularity

Latona acknowledged there are still people who resist yoga because they don't think they can bend themselves into difficult postures or because they don't understand how it can bolster health.

"If you can breathe, you can do yoga," Latona said, adding that over the past decade, yoga has become much more mainstream.

According to a 2012 study by Yoga Journal, more than 20 million Americans now practice yoga, with another 44 million describing themselves as aspiring practitioners who feel yoga may be the answer to better health, greater flexibility and reduced stress.

Latona credits yoga's rapid growth in part to the acceptance it has gained within the medical field.

Jay Gupta, who is a professional pharmacist, said the idea behind YogaCaps is that people can treat and manage many chronic diseases with a regimen of yoga rather than daily doses of drugs. Gupta said he has worked with patients who, through yoga, have been able to reduce or even eliminate the need for traditional medications for high blood pressure and diabetes.

"We need to understand what is causing our diseases," he said, adding that the traditional approach to care is to treat and manage symptoms.

Gupta believes that yoga can work with traditional medicine and offer better results. Science is starting to catch up and provide evidence for skeptics who feel they can depend on a prescription of pills more than a routine of stretches and breathing exercises, he said.

According to Gupta, studies have shown that the mechanics of yoga affect the circulatory and endocrine systems in ways that help the body respond to health problems.

Harvard Medical School psychiatrist John Denninger is leading a five-year study on how yoga affects genes and brain activity in the chronically stressed. Denninger already has published a study on how yoga's mind-body techniques can switch off some genes responsible for stress and immune function.

Broad appeal

While the Guptas' focus is on therapeutic yoga, the classes and lectures at Yoga for Peace are for a broader audience.

Katie O'Connell of Dragonfly Yoga Barn in North Sandwich will be offering a more advanced class on "yoga warrior" poses intended to tap into a person's strength and endurance.

"You stand up on your two strong feet and stretch out your arms," O'Connell said, explaining that practitioners use their breath and mind to accomplish what they may have felt they couldn't do before.

"There's a joyfulness in staying in a pose," she said. "You kind of arrive."

O'Connell, who has been teaching yoga for 16 years, said that people approach yoga for different reasons, with different goals.

"Some people are there for the physical fitness aspect of yoga," she said. "But if I can get people there for the physical practice, it opens the door to breathing, meditation and spirituality."

For O'Connell, yoga is spiritual, but not religious.

"My take is, yoga is like an umbrella," she said. "It will cover every belief out there; it's all-inclusive."

In addition to classes on all types of yoga, Yoga for Peace will include lectures and sessions on other yoga-related topics. Practitioners Stacey Doll of Littleton, and Beth-Amie Labonte of Concord will talk about how to design a garden that connects yoga to the natural world. Lisa Law, an interior design consultant from Nashua, will offer a class in Feng Shui, a practice of creating an uncluttered and balanced living environment. "Clutter and chaos are time consuming," Law said. "This class is about making life easier and more relaxed."

The event also will feature songs, dancing, chanting and other classes and events for both experienced yogis and newcomers.

"It's a very peaceful event that people find empowering," said Law.

That's exactly what the Guptas had in mind when they launched the event six years ago.

As Terry Gupta said, "We want to create a stronger, healthier community with yoga."

Anyone interested in attending any of the classes offered at NH Yoga for Peace can register online at www.yogacaps.org. Click on the "Peace Dove," and follow the links to read descriptions of each session and class. Classes typically fill up before each event, so preregistration is recommended.


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