Woman a calming influence

October 01, 2004|By MARLO BARNHART

Lata Datta likes nothing better than finding out she is putting people to sleep.

A yoga instructor who studied in San Francisco, Datta is volunteering her talents to patients at Brook Lane Health Services and at several assisted living facilities to promote the relaxation properties of this ancient art.

"I've gotten some very positive feedback from the patients at Brook Lane who tell me they are sleeping better," Datta said.

She began volunteering there after working with some patients of her husband, Dr. Vasant Datta who has a family practice in Hagerstown. From that beginning, she expanded into the assisted living arena where again, the reports have been very encouraging.


"The residents tell me they are feeling calmer and better about themselves," Datta said.

Datta and her daughter, Reema, 27, decided to start teaching yoga last year under the name Usha Yoga in remembrance of Reema's grandmother who died recently, Datta said.

Usha means dawn, an awakening or a new beginning. "Reema and I continue to be inspired by the strength and composure with which my mother lived her life," Datta said.

As a team, they wish to spread the message of how yoga can help all people live their lives with grace even in the midst of challenge.

Datta, who is in her 50s, stressed that there is no religious agenda with yoga.

In addition to the volunteering, the team of Reema and Lata Datta is also holding weekly yoga classes at Niki Perini's studio in Spring Valley. On a recent class day, Perini joined the class for an hour of breathing and gentle stretching exercises.

"I've always been interested in yoga," Perini said. "My late grandfather, John Reese, did breathing exercises, even when he was very ill."

So devoted was her grandfather, Perini said, that he traveled to India several times to learn more about the benefits of the discipline.

A native of India, Datta has been in the U.S. for 32 years. She learned the yoga discipline from her father and grandfather and then she passed it down to Reema.

As participants listen to soft Eastern-style music, Lata talks in hushed tones as she leads them through each component in yoga. Often she encourages them to close their eyes and imagine different scenarios to promote relaxation and calm.

"You are like a mountain which endures all kinds of weather," she said. The accompanying poses, stretches and focus help promote a unity of body, spirit and mind.

Datta tells her participants not to push themselves beyond what is possible. "Listen to your body and if you feel pain, stop," she said.

Most of the positions and exercises are centered around strengthening the spine. The theory is that from a strong spine, the rest of the body will benefit.

The large studio at the Perini home is open, airy and flooded with light. Participants line the floor with thin mats as they watch and listen as Datta leads them through the positions, some standing, some sitting and others lying down.

"We also do modified sessions for expectant mothers and people who have physical limitations," Datta said. When people tell her of health problems, she explains the modifications but also recommends that anyone wishing to start yoga first talk to a doctor.

Companies might want to look into yoga for employees, Datta said, adding there are also many benefits for children. "It promotes calmness without the use of drugs," she said.

The emphasis is on breathing and relaxation techniques. And the benefits are so dramatic that Datta hopes she can offer more free classes within the community.

"I'm looking for a community center somewhere where I can introduce yoga to anyone who is interested," Datta said. "Doing this makes me feel good and I want to share it."

For more information, contact Datta at 301-797-2773, or access her Web site at

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