When rescuers spotted Kay Longstaff in the Adriatic Sea this weekend, the 46-year-old flight attendant had been treading water for 10 hours straight. “These wonderful guys rescued me,” Longstaff told reporters on shore in Croatia. “I am very lucky to be alive.” Longstaff was traveling on the Norwegian Star cruise ship when she ended up overboard, some time before midnight on Saturday.
While it’s unclear exactly how Longstaff ended up in the water, it’s no mystery how she stayed alive. “She said the fact that she practices yoga helped her as she was fit,” a Croatian rescuer told the Sun. “And she said she was singing to not feel cold in the sea overnight.”
Yahoo Lifestyle spoke with several yoga experts who say Longstaff’s story is proof that the practice is more than a workout — it’s a potentially life-saving practice. Lauren Eckstrom, creator of Yoga30for30 and co-author of the book Holistic Yoga Flow: The Path of Practice says Longstaff’s survival is an example of the power yoga can wield in everyday life.
“In a physical yoga practice, students train their body and mind to stay with extreme discomfort, building not only physical strength and flexibility but most importantly an adaptable mind,” Eckstrom tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Through yoga, they realize their capacity to persevere beyond their perceived limitations and see seemingly impossible moments through with equanimity and focus. Knowing this, it’s not surprising in the least that this woman cited her practice as a reason for her survival.”
Eckstrom, who also co-founded Innerdemsionmedia.com, specifically notes the importance of breath work in yoga (called pranayama), which likely helped Longstaff regulate her heart rate and level of anxiety. “Having taught yoga in maximum security prisons, to men left in solitary confinement for years at a time, I can attest to the power of a yoga practice to help students transcend some of life’s most harsh conditions,” says Eckstrom. “There is no question, with the thousands of students I’ve taught and interacted with across the world, yoga is truly a life-saving practice, rescuing students from the brink of suicide, depression, illness, and extreme situations such as this woman endured.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Isabelle Du Soleil, Ph.D, a certified yoga & wellness expert in Los Angeles, Calif. “Yoga practice allows you to know yourself and control your mind, your brain, your body, your nervous system as well as your energy,” Du Soleil tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Yoga is both an outer and inner practice that creates a body mind breath connection. It is a life-saving practice because it allows you to harness the powers of your mind, body, psyche, breath, and energy. In situations of emergency like hers, she was better prepared than someone who does not practice yoga.”
For Sadie Nardini, an international yoga and fitness expert as well as founder of Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga, another major aspect of Longstaff’s survival was strength. “Yoga directly builds an endurance-based strength, which likely helped her do those slow, repetitive movements for hours. It gave her the flexibility to not hurt herself with all that repetitive movement,” Nardini tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Yoga also trains students to keep their minds centered in the midst of intensity, so it’s no wonder she credited her yoga practice with helping her survive this horrific experience!”
Nardini says the story is the ultimate validation for those who already believe in the life-saving power of yoga. “For over a century, yogis have touted this practice as a miracle remedy for what ails us. Now science is backing up their claims,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Yoga throws us a lifeline body, mind, and spirit. Kay Longstaff sure knows this to be true.”
Ben Sears, a competitive athlete who used yoga to heal from two herniated discs and five knee surgeries, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that Longstaff’s experience is exactly what yoga prepares you for. “Focus on breath diverts attention away from the struggle and makes effort more sustainable,” Sears says. “The purpose of Yoga, or any focused practice that combines physical health with self-inquiry, is to develop the patience and resilience to literally keep you afloat in times of trouble.”
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