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Scroll down this page to read more about Elaine’s Healthy Recipes, Articles, Q & A Column and Short Stories of her adventures in Greece.




The beauty of yoga exercise is that it can be enjoyed by all. No matter your age or fitness level, this gentle, yet powerful discipline offers a completely balanced workout, allowing you to develop strength with flexibility, while reducing stress and tension. Practicing yoga has been shown to improve overall health and cardiovascular fitness. And practitioners agree: this ancient art may slow and possibly even reverse the aging process. First popular in the United States during the 1960s and '70s, yoga has now re-entered the mainstream. People today are rediscovering what yoga practitioners have known for thousands of years-that yoga's simple stretching exercises provide the opportunity for a lifetime of radiantly good health and inner peace. Health professionals now recognize that yoga's preventive, healing benefits can be the perfect antidote to the stresses of the modern world.


Yoga is an ancient philosophical system that Originated in India over 5,000 years ago. Yoga means "to yoke" or "union" in Sanskrit-a bringing together to make whole the body, mind, and spirit. In approximately 2 AD, the great Hindu sage, Patanjali, wrote down the principles of classical yoga in the Yoga Sutras. Since that time, yoga has evolved into four philosophical branches: Bhakti Yoga (cultivating devotion), Jnana Yoga (developing wisdom), Karma Yoga (the way of action), and Raja Yoga (inner concentration). The stretching exercises familiar to Westerners are hatha yoga, a small branch of Raja Yoga.

While a small dose of hatha yoga can result in a heightened sense of well-being, a regular regimen will reward you with a body that's lighter and more flexible. Scientific studies confirm many of yoga's benefits. In an article in Medicine, Exercise, Nutrition, and Health Journal, a team of Georgia Tech researchers concluded that a 32 minute yoga routine was a more efficient cardiovascular exercise than the same amount of time spent walking on a treadmill. According to the research team, yoga's cardiovascular value, along with its ability to enhance flexibility, strength, and coordination, qualifies it as an important form of exercise.

A plethora of healthcare providers, hospitals, and insurance companies confirm yoga's preventive benefits. Having a flexible lower-back and hamstring muscles can reduce your chances of becoming one of the millions of Americans afflicted with back pain, says physician and yoga teacher Mary Schatz, M.D. In her best-selling book, Back Care Basics, Dr. Schatz advocates a program of therapeutic yoga exercises for the prevention and rehabilitation of back pain. Studies on yoga exercise, relaxation and meditation
techniques indicate that it can relieve high blood pressure, help chronic pain and illness, and neutralize the toxic stress of modern life. Kaiser Permanent, one of the nation's largest healthcare providers, offers a therapy program that teaches patients how to incorporate yoga and meditation into their daily lives.

Daily yoga practice, meditation, relaxation and breathing techniques, and a low-fat vegetarian diet, are key components of Dr. Dean Onrush's innovative program for the non-surgical treatment of heart disease, described in his book, Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease (Random House, 1990). Dr. Ornish's program has proven so successful that medical insurance companies now reimburse individuals who participate in it.


Yoga stretching for flexibility has been recommended by exercise specialists to prevent injury and improve sports techniques. Exercise physiologists Dr. Frank Katch, Ph.D., and Dr. William McArdle, Ph.D., authors of Introduction to Nutrition, Exercise and Health, strongly recommend that stretches be performed slowly, with each position held for at least 10 seconds to fully extend the muscle. Over the centuries, different yoga poses have been developed to efficiently stretch every muscle in the body slowly and gently as a type of moving meditation. While weight training improves dynamic strength--in which muscles become shorter and thicker as a result of moving the weight they work against-holding yoga poses develops isometric strength. Muscles with this kind of power turn long, lean, and limber from pushing against resistance from a fixed position.

There are hundreds of yoga postures, called asanas, which belong to one of five basic movement categories: forward bends, backbends, twists, standing and inversions, as well as meditation poses. A balanced yoga class should have a series of postures that includes all five movement categories. Although yoga can be practiced at home, it's a good idea for beginners to attend a class to learn how to safely and properly perform the postures. If you have a medical condition, always consult your health professional
before beginning an exercise program.

Whether you're 9 or 90, you can enjoy the many benefits of yoga. Its requirements are minimal: all you need are 30 minutes each day, a mat or blanket, and a small exercise space. Yoga addresses a wealth of different needs: it can teach children to quiet their minds while promoting strength and flexibility; provide healthy ways for senior citizens to slow down the aging process; and serve as a natural beauty aid by creating a more limber, graceful body and serene demeanor. Hatha yoga practice provides each of us an opportunity to reach our full potential physically,
mentally and spiritually.


In yoga philosophy, prana is life force energy. Pranayama breathing is the conscious regulation of the breath that circulates revitalizing prana throughout the body. Research indicates that breathing slowly and deeply sends a message to the body and mind that all is well, thereby interrupting the stress cycle. Many different controlled breathing exercises are available in hatha yoga.

The following simple yoga breathing exercise can be performed anytime to promote calmness--

Sit comfortably in a chair, or on the floor in a
cross-legged or half-lotus position, keeping your back straight and your neck and head aligned with your spinal column. Gently place both of your hands, fingertips touching, below the bellybutton. Then slowly breathe in and out from your stomach. You should feel your belly calmly rise and fall with each breath. Continue this basic breathing technique for ten breaths, allowing yourself to derive a joyous serenity.


by Elaine Gavalas
(Adapted from Elaine's column published in Veggie Life Magazine.)

Q: How come some people gain weight more in certain areas than others? Example: someone who has skinny arms but is very large in the hips and thighs?

A: Genetics primarily determine what you look like in your birthday suit. However, you can make the most of what you have by tailoring your exercise program to your individual body type which will highlight the outstanding aspects of your physique and downplay the ones you're less thrilled with.

Physiologists classify people according to four basic body types: endomorph, mesomorph, ectomorph and meso-endomorphs. Endomorphs have a round build and gain weight easily with an hourglass-type figure; mesomorphs are muscular with a low amount of body fat; ectomorphs are tall and thin with fast metabolisms and meso-endomorphs have the muscles of a mesomorph but a higher amount of body fat.

These body types are more commonly known for women as: the 'pear' shape - small on top, big on bottom; the 'apple' shape - big on top, small on bottom; the 'ruler' shape - hips and waist in proportion and flat-chested; and the 'hourglass' shape - upper and lower body in proportion with curvy hourglass shape.

Although some people are slight variations of two body types, most of us are more one type than another. You can figure out your own body type by determining where you put on weight most easily - both muscle mass weight and fat weight. Knowing your body type should determine your choice of exercises to reach your desired physical appearance while reducing fat, improving cardiovascular fitness and increasing lean muscle mass.

Most of us have heard don't judge a book by its cover. There can be a huge disparity between looking good and feeling good. Don't confuse body type with good health, since good health is truly internal.

For those of you interested in a yoga and fitness practice for your specific body type, check out The Yoga Minibook for Energy and Strength for a complete program.


by Elaine Gavalas
(This short story was originally published in Greece Travel Magazine)

Greeks can be disconcertingly candid. This is just the way they are. For reasons known only to the gods, my cousin John was often singled out as the recipient of their brutal frankness.

John is a Greek American, but he doesn't understand a word of Greek. He was never able to develop an ear for the language. This, of course, is a disadvantage if you intend to travel through the backwaters of Greece. Fortunately, John was traveling with a group of Greek-speaking friends and relatives, but he had to rely on us to understand what was going on.

John's a healthy, young American male, built very large by Greek standards. He stands six feet and six inches, weighs at least two hundred and fifty pounds, and is built like a football player. Despite his appearance, John was a serious student and in his second year of graduate school. Nonetheless, wherever he went, he always drew looks of disbelief from the Greeks around him. His size really made him an aberration in their eyes.

One hot August morning, John and I boarded a bus from Athens to Sparta, a city in the southern Peloponnesian peninsula. We were going to meet the rest of our group there and visit with our Spartan relatives. The bus trip took at least six hours, so we settled into our seats and prepared for the very long ride. Villagers crammed into the bus. There were mothers with crying babies, grandmothers dressed in black from head to
toe, and fierce looking men with dark eyes and mustaches. There were even some handsome, young Greek soldiers on their way to who knows where. The sight of their rifles was a little unsettling.

Greek music blared from the bus driver's radio. Most of the passengers seemed to know the words and sang along. This communal singing made the bus ride an extraordinary experience, much like the car rides we take with our families in America.

An hour into the journey, I felt a nudge from John.
"I have to go to the bathroom," he said in a desperate voice.
I turned to face him. "Can you hold it for awhile?
We'll be at a stopover in another hour or so."
Johns shook his head. "I can't wait any longer."
I sighed. John had been suffering with traveler's
diarrhea on and off during his stay in Greece. This really presented a problem. There were no bathrooms on the bus!

John looked at me with agonized eyes. I knew I had to do something, immediately. I got up and walked down the aisle, past the curious stares of the villagers, but stopped only when I reached the driver.
"You should be sitting down," the driver said in
"Yes, I know. I need to ask you to stop the bus so
that my cousin can go to the bathroom." I hoped he
understood my less than perfect Greek.
The driver looked at me from the corner of his eye. "I only stop the bus in an emergency."
"This is an emergency," I said.
The driver groaned. "Go sit down. You should know there are no bathrooms here. Your cousin will have to find a place to go on the side of the road."
I nodded. Slowly I headed back down the aisle, trying to figure out a way to break the news to John.
"What did the driver say?" John whispered urgently.
I reached into my bag and took out a handful of
tissues. I handed them to John. "He said he will stop the bus, but you'll have to go on the side of the road."
His eyes widened. "I can't do it."
"You have no choice. It's either that or explode."

The driver shifted his gears noisily. "Who needs to go to the bathroom?" he shouted.
Everyone looked at each other.
John stood hesitantly.
"Over here," I yelled in Greek.

All eyes turned to us, eyes that narrowed at John as he squeezed his way towards the front of the bus. I heard angry murmurs from the people. They were clearly not pleased to have their trip interrupted.

I looked out the window and moaned. The driver
directed John to go behind the single olive tree in a large open field. This was the extent of his privacy.
By then, people craned their necks to look out the
windows to watch this interesting spectacle. I heard

John squatted behind the tree. His body was twice the width of the tree. When he pulled down his pants, the entire bus exploded into laughter. I couldn't watch John's degradation any longer. I turned away from the window.

"What's taking him so long?" I heard someone say.
Indeed, it seemed like John was taking an inordinate amount of time.
The driver opened the door. "Come on, now," he
When I glanced out the window again, John was pulling up his pants. He reboarded the bus, his face beet red, and squeezed back into his seat. I knew he heard the snickering behind him.
"Are you all right?" I asked.
"No! I couldn't go with all those people staring at
"Then we'll just have to get off at the next town," I

I got up and marched back up to the front of the bus.
A small smile played at the driver's lips when he saw me.
"Please let us off at the next town," I said. "My
cousin is sick."
"We're outside a small village near Corinth. I will
let you off here." The driver ground his gears, bringing the bus to a stop. Again, all eyes glared at John as he took our bags.

The driver opened the door. "The village is a short
ways down the road."
We climbed off the bus.
"Hurry up," John called back to me. Loaded with bags, he ran down the road. "I don't think I'm going to make it."

We ran through the countryside, without a building or a person in sight, just a few goats grazing nearby.
"John, there's a bunch of trees over there. You can go behind them, there's no one around." I handed John the tissues and he ran to the trees. I turned my back.

When John finished, he slowly walked back toward me with a relieved look on his face.
"Are you better now?" I asked.
John nodded. "I think I'll always be haunted by the
sight of all those Greek villagers staring at me from the windows of the bus."
"Yeah. You looked pretty wild," I said, trying not to
We looked at each other and we both began to laugh. Our laughter built up to the point of hysteria. The Greek hills rang with it. We rolled on the grass, laughing. The goats set aside their grazing to stare at us. We didn't care.
John finally got to go to the bathroom.