Local volunteer puts her yoga teaching skills to rest

October 04, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

WASHINGTON COUNTY - 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 relaxing properties of the 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 honor 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 volunteering, the team of Reema and Lata Datta also holds 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 United States 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 of 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 focused on strengthening the spine. The theory is that from a strong spine, the rest of the body will benefit.

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 consider 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 in 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."

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