Patricia Walden took her first yoga class 30 years ago for reasons that were less physical than metaphysical. "My interest was enlightenment," she recalls. "I was reading Aldous Huxley at the time." But she was well grounded in psychology and physiology and devoted herself to the most anatomically precise style of yoga: Iyengar. After 26 years of teaching, Walden has become one of the leading proponents of yoga as a form of holistic therapy. At the Somerville, Mass., B.K.S. Iyengar Yoga Center she co-founded in 1985, she teaches a class for students with "specific needs." She has developed customized posture sequences for conditions ranging from arthritis to cancer to Parkinson's disease. Her students report experiencing both relief from pain and greater calm. "Some say it's the only thing that gets them through the week," says Dr. Timothy McCall, who works with Walden in her specific-needs class.
"Yoga is the single best system of preventive medicine there is," says McCall, echoing a belief subscribed to by more and more doctors. "It increases strength, flexibility, balance, and brings psychological calm. It can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, tap into spiritual leanings and be a heck of a good aerobic workout."
When Walden conducts seminars whether in Italy or India they sell out months in advance. "She's one of the crown jewels," says India Supera, executive director of the Feathered Pipe yoga retreat in Helena, Mont. Yoga is more popular than ever, and Supera credits Walden's early teaching videos with helping move it into the mainstream.