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Local Research Shows Yoga’s True Benefits

Kiersten Mooney instructing at recent Yoga Journal Live conference.

Kiersten Mooney instructing at recent Yoga Journal Live conference.

An intellectual pursuit for understanding the biomechanics and physiology of the human body led c, co-owner of Bala Vinyasa and Green Monkey yoga studios, to pursue a life in the health and well-being industry. After earning degrees from the University of Miami (UM) in both sociology and exercise science/sports medicine, Mooney continued her graduate studies at UM in exercise physiology with a specialization in sports-specific training before embarking on a career in fitness in 1991.

One of her favorite teachers, Baron Baptiste, opened her eyes to her ultimate vocation—teaching yoga, which creates results for individuals on the physical, mental and emotional levels. Mooney opened her first studio in Naples in 2008 and has grown exponentially due in part to a recent merger with Green Monkey, a yoga studio with locations in South Miami, Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale. “My first space in Peacock Court was small, recalls Mooney. “Before we expanded into what was once a furniture store next door, we regularly had students on yoga mats that covered our entire floor space from wall to wall, and sometimes even a few in the bathroom and prop room,” quips Mooney.

Bala Vinyasa expanded to the Coral Gables market in 2012. In 2013, a second Naples location was opened at the Naples Bay Resort. At present, there are a total of six Bala Vinyasa and Green Monkey yoga studios across south Florida. Amid this growth, Mooney remains true to her original mission to reach as many individuals as possible and introduce them to the powerful impact that yoga can have on the health of their body and emotional state, as well as their relationships.

This mission has led Mooney to teach in Israel, collaborate on the Africa Yoga Project, to accompany Michelle Obama as a part of the Let’s Move initiative and to lead classes at Yoga Journal conferences across the country.Yoga research

In 2012, Mooney visited UM to thank her professor of kinesiology and sport sciences, Joseph Signorile, Ph.D., for the profound effect he had on her life and educational foundation, which she continues to use. The conversation yielded more than just a pleasant catching up. “During the conversation I mentioned the lack of science-based research on the benefits of yoga. Dr. Signorile has a joint appointment as a member of the research faculty at the Center on Aging at the UM Miller School of Medicine. He was interested in how a regular practice of yoga might help seniors to prevent falls and the impact yoga could have on individuals with neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease,” remarks Mooney.

According to the 2013 Medscapes.com article, “Geriatric Rehabilitation,” falls are the leading cause of death from injury in older individuals, with a third of 65-year-old individuals likely to experience one fall annually. Even non-injurious falls often result in inactivity and subsequent loss of independence. Poor postural stability, lack of physical activity and reduced muscle strength and power are all strongly correlated with increased fall risk.

Mooney’s dialogue with Signorile became the catalyst for several research projects at the UM Laboratory of Neuromuscular Research and Active Aging with Kysha Hariell, Ph.D., a clinical assistant professor and program director in the UM Department of Kinesiology and Sport Sciences. The results from three individual clinical studies have been published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine (2014) and the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (2014). “Eventually, even the head trainer for the football team wanted to get his players involved in our research,” remarks Mooney.

For the journal article, “Core Muscle Function During Specific Yoga Poses,” the research team assessed such things as the potential use of yoga poses in specific training and rehabilitation programs. The team studied the muscle activation patterns in selected trunk and hip muscles among 30 healthy yoga practitioner volunteers that had more than three months yoga experience. The results demonstrated that individual core muscles could be targeted using specific poses. The researchers concluded that the variations in core muscle firing patterns depended on the trunk and pelvic positions during the particular poses. The findings can be useful in developing training programs that target specific core muscles related to reducing the probability of back injury and low back pain.

Another study compared the impacts of tai chi, balance training and a specifically designed yoga program on balance in older fallers. For this, 48 healthy older adults with a history of falling participated in training twice a week for 12 weeks. The researchers concluded that the yoga program was as effective as tai chi and the balance training for improving postural stability.

The third published study involved 36 yoga practitioners. Muscle activation patterns were compared in 14 dominant-side muscles during 11 different poses across three skill levels. The results indicated that individual muscles could be targeted by specific poses and were used differently by practitioners depending upon their skill levels, which means yoga is useful in designing rehabilitation and training programs that can be adjusted to the skill and fitness levels of individual students.

Kiersten MooneyFor Mooney, the research just affirmed what she already knew about vinyasa yoga from experience. “At the age of 61, my mom had been wrestling with a recurring leg issue for 10 years,” Mooney relates. “I watched her thrive as a result of a regular yoga practice and our 200-hour yoga teacher training. The significant improvement in her strength and flexibility rehabilitated her leg. She became an inspiration and role model for everyone.”

As more individuals look beyond the effectiveness of conventional medicine, they look for new ways to take control of their health. Medical research over the past decade shows that yoga may provide many health benefits for which it was previously unrecognized.

“We are multi-dimensional beings functioning in a multi-dimensional world,” Mooney points out. “Walking, riding a bike or swimming doesn’t train the body physiologically for functional living in the dynamic way that yoga’s up, down, twisting, turning, stretching and balancing poses, combined with meditative attention and breath, does.

“If we hope to prevent illness or injuries with a well-being approach that includes diet and regular exercise, yoga is an optimal choice because of its preventive and prescriptive multi-dimensional benefits. “I truly believe that what we are doing has the power to change the world, one person at a time,” says Mooney.

Bala Vinyasa Yoga and Green Monkey offer 200- and 300-hour yoga teacher training courses, as well as programs, classes, retreats, consulting, corporate wellness, research and development, licensing opportunities, and product development. For more information, visit BVYoga.com or GreenMonkey.com.

Locations: Naples, 6200 Trail Blvd., 239-598-1938; S. Naples, 1800 Tamiami Tr. E., 239-598-1938; Coral Gables, 1430 S. Dixie Highway, Ste. 116, 786-953-7709; Miami Beach, 1827 Purdy Ave., 305-397-8566; S. Miami, 5792 Sunset Dr., 305-669-494.; Fort Lauderdale, 1445 SE 17 St., 954-533-6782.

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