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How dedication of two women popularised the practice of yoga in Britain

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From fairly obscure beginnings in the mid-20th century, the practice of in Britain has become a massively popular pastime. It’s hard to find official figures for just how many people practise regularly, but it’s thought that between 300,000 and 500,000 people regularly take part in what the UN describes as “a holistic approach to health and well-being” with “universal appeal”.

The discipline was popularised in Britain through the hard work and dedication of a diverse group of unusual individuals. There were competing ideas of yoga, different forms of practice, and many different points at which entered British culture, as my book Yoga in Britain explores. But there are two women whose dedication and enthusiasm played a huge part in popularising yoga in Britain and whose legacies have sadly been largely forgotten. Yogini Sunita

Yogini Sunita was born Bernadette Boccaro in 1932 to an Catholic family of Portugese-Indian ancestry in a suburb of Bombay. She arrived in Britain with her husband and son towards around 1960. Finding her new acquaintances eager to learn yoga, she quickly adopted the persona of Yogini Sunita and began teaching what she learned from yogi Narainswami on the beaches near Bombay, which she called Pranayama Yoga. By 1965, Sunita was teaching 780 yoga students at the Birmingham Athletics Institute. According to historical sources, she was a charismatic teacher who taught a flowing sequences of postures, many with at least one knee bent, resting a foot in the groin.


Sunita’s signature technique was the “slipped second” during which one calls to mind anxieties, before releasing them completely for “just one second”. Explaining to listeners of BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour in 1961, Sunita described this practice as mental relaxation which allows one to engage with life’s demands more efficiently. In fact, Sunita claimed that it was equivalent to eight hours of “perfect sleep”. Shortly before her sadly premature death in 1970 at 38, Sunita began training others to teach, but left no training syllabuses or manuals. She wrote that mastering Pranayama Yoga involved knowledge of psychology, the causes of tension and knowledge of “three hundred exercises”. Sunita was emphatic, though, that “the gift and ability to impart such a subject can never be decreed by letters”.

In this, Sunita anticipated many of the debates about the nature and validity of “yoga teacher training programmes” today. As Sunita understood in the 1960s, possessing a yoga teaching certificate does not automatically mean that a person will be a good, or a charismatic teacher of yoga. She emphasised how yoga was an embodied practice and not all competent practitioners make appropriate teachers of this kind of tradition. Kailash Puri

A second remarkable woman who popularised yoga in Britain was Kailash Puri (1926-2017) who taught yoga from her home in Crosby with her husband, Gopal Singh Puri (1915-1995), between 1968 and 1990.

Both Kailash and her husband were Sikhs born in the Punjab and had settled in Crosby through Gopal Puri’s employment at Liverpool Polytechnic lecturing in biological sciences.

Noticing a demand for yoga shortly after the Beatles returned from India, Puri encouraged his wife to teach postures, breathing exercises and relaxation while he gave philosophical lectures and made up herbal prescriptions based on Ayurvedic principles. Kailash Puri also gave lessons in healthy eating and cooking with vegetables and her influence in this area extended to her acting as an Indian cookery consultant to Marks & Spencer during the 1970s. Like Sunita, the Puris also emphasised yoga as relaxation, an antidote to the problems of modern life – stress, materialism and emotional imbalance. Two of their students, Frank and Hazel Wills, further popularised these methods of yoga with a regular slot on BBC Television’s lunchtime show Pebble Mill at One for several years from 1973 and with a book, Yoga for All.

Both Sunita and the Puris emphasised that their yoga practices were not associated with any specific religious ideology. They both claimed that the techniques were accessible to everyone and had significant benefits for health and relaxation. Significantly, neither Sunita nor Puri established guidelines for training others in yoga. This has meant that their influence has largely been forgotten.

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Meanwhile men such as B. K. S. Iyengar (1918-2014), who developed a standardised teacher training syllabuses in conjunction with the London adult education system, and Wilfred Clark (1898-1981), who founded the British Wheel of Yoga, have legacies which are much easier to document. Why British women embraced yoga

But the significance of these two women in inspiring other women should not be underestimated. Women quickly became the majority of both students and teachers of yoga in Britain, comprising of 70-90% of those attending yoga classes in the post-war period. There were several reasons for this. As Mark Singleton, yoga historian and senior research fellow at SOAS, pointed out, modern yoga practice has much in common with exercise methods such as Swedish and Danish gymnastic drills that were popular for women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Yoga also offered relief from what one yoga teacher described in 1976 as “housewife syndrome” which included “monotony and lack of recognition, indeterminate pains and psychosomatic symptoms.” Yoga, in the experience of many women of this period, provided a space to refresh physically and mentally.

Teaching yoga also gave women viable work that could fit around family commitments. Teaching yoga allowed them to earn more in shorter periods of time compared to other employment accessible to women at that time, such as secretarial work.

Yogini Sunita and Kailash Puri were more than simply yoga teachers – their lives exemplify how yoga provided new opportunities for personal empowerment and social influence, offering a new route to liberation for women.


Suzanne Newcombe, Lecturer in Religious Studies, The Open University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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Sick hospital workers often expose patients to contagious illness

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Hospital workers often come to work with contagious respiratory illnesses, against the recommendations of public regulators, a Canadian study suggests.


Nearly all of the 2,093 care workers in the study who had such symptoms came to work at some point while sick.


For the study, published in the Journal of Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology, nurses, doctors, and support staff at nine across Canada filled in online illness diaries during four flu seasons, recording symptoms such as a runny or stuffy nose, fever, cough or scratchy throat.


Of the 1,036 participants who had contagious respiratory illnesses during the study period, 52% reported working on every scheduled day of work and 94.6% reported working at least one day of their illness.


The most common reason given for working while sick was that the illness seemed mild and manageable. Compared to other care workers, physicians were more likely to work while sick and nurses were less likely.


But nurses who thought their managers expected them to show up unless they were too sick were more likely to feel obligated to work.


For most people, in fact, feeling obligated was a driving factor behind their decision to come to work sick, as was their perceptions of what managers expected from them. Younger workers, and workers without paid sick leave, were more likely to say they could not afford to stay home.


“It is only by knowing these reasons that managers and employers can take steps to mitigate the risk of infection to other people,” said Brenda Coleman, senior study author of the study from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, in email to Reuters Health. Eleven percent of the hospital workers said they had come to work even while feeling miserable because they had “things to do.” Physicians were under-represented in the study, and self-reporting of the illnesses may also confound the results, the authors acknowledge in their report.


The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises workers to take seven days off or consider temporary reassignment if they have a fever and respiratory symptoms.


The research team suggests that changing sick leave policies and cultural norms could help reduce the risk of disease transmission from sick health care workers to patients.


Also needed, the researchers say, is an understanding of how to balance the costs and risks of absenteeism by sick workers against the costs and risks of illness transmission associated with working while ill.


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First two cases of Ebola confirmed in Congo’s South Kivu: Officials

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A woman and her child were the first two cases confirmed with in Congo’s South Kivu region this week, opening a new front in the fight against the outbreak.


Health officials said on Friday that the latest cases were more than 700 km (430 miles) south of where the outbreak was first detected.


has killed at least 1,900 people in Democratic Republic of Congo over the past year. This is the second biggest toll ever and militia violence combined with local resistance have made the outbreak harder to contain.


The 24-year-old woman had been identified as a high-risk contact of another case in Beni, more than 700 km north, last month, according to a government statement issued on Friday.


She travelled by bus, boat and road with her two children to Mwenga, in South Kivu, where she died on Tuesday night, according to a slide from a presentation by health officials.


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Research shows how nordic walking may benefit breast cancer patients

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Nordic walking, an aerobic activity performed with walking poles similar to ski poles, may benefit patients with breast cancer, according to a review of existing research.


The low-impact exercise improved swelling, physical fitness, disability and quality of life, the study authors conclude in the European Journal of Cancer Care.


“The main strategy in rehabilitation for women with is a change of habits, where physical exercise is a fundamental tool,” said study co-author Jorge Torres of the Faculty of Educational Sciences and Sports at the University of Vigo in Pontevedra, Spain.


“It’s not easy to turn a sedentary person into an amateur athlete, so sports such as Nordic walking are accepted more easily,” Torres told Reuters Health by email, particularly since the activity doesn’t require expensive equipment, can be done in a group with others, and is easy to learn.


Introduced in the 1980s as a summer training exercise that was similar to cross-country, or Nordic, skiing, Nordic walking became more widespread in the 2000s. It’s now part of some exercise-based rehabilitation programs, especially in Northern Europe where it is more common, Torres noted.


He also owns a personal training company, Vigo Entrena, that creates physical activity programs for people with specific needs, including injuries, obesity, pregnancy, postpartum and women with breast cancer, and he specializes in Nordic walking training.


To see if this form of exercise helps women treated for to reduce side effects like arm swelling, and offers other benefits of exercise, Torres and his colleagues analyzed nine studies. Four studies were randomized controlled trials comparing Nordic walking to other activities; the other studies focused on specific effects of Nordic walking.


Periods of exercise in the studies ranged from 30 to 80 minutes and were performed on one to five days a week for up to 12 weeks.


In eight of the nine studies, Nordic walking had a positive effect on a number of symptoms, including lymphedema, fitness, upper-body strength, disability and perceptions of pain and swelling.


A handful of studies also showed improvements in depression, self-efficacy for managing pain and improvements in physical activity levels. They didn’t find any adverse effects, and the study participants seemed to stick with the programs.


The biomechanical gesture of Nordic walking, compared to just walking, seemed to counteract some of the side effects that can come from cancer treatment, such as shoulder-arm mobility and postural problems, the study team writes.


“(Many) health professionals and therapists do not realize that there are contraindicated exercises during breast cancer rehabilitation and that alternatives such as Nordic walking can be very effective,” Torres said.


“Nordic walking is a structured form of physical activity which nowadays has been shown to be ‘more complete’ than basic walking,” said Marco Bergamin of the University of Padova in Italy, who wasn’t involved in the research review.


“Another important point that is less stressed by these authors: quality of life,” Bergamin said in an email. “Nordic walking gives huge benefits because breast cancer patients are survivors, and from a socio-psychological point of view, that really impacts their life.”


Future studies should also investigate the intensity, frequency, duration, and length of exercise needed to help breast cancer patients, said Lucia Cugusi of the University of Cagliari in Italy, who also wasn’t involved in the review.


“What is most evident is the growing interest of the scientific community in tracking the needs, interests and preferences of patients,” Cugusi said by email.


“Offering them novel forms of physical activity that are both effective and engaging has become one of the new and stimulating research fields in cancer therapy and management.”


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