Three women practicing yoga following yoga instructor Robin Downes

Robin Downes: "Yoga Saved My Father's Life"

Award-winning journalist Robin Downes left a prestigious career 25 years ago to become "yoga instructor to the stars" In the process, she completely transformed her ailing father's health.

Scientifically reviewed by Dr. Gary Gonzalez, MD, in August 2022. Written by: Laurie Mathena.

Robin Downes is an Emmy award-winning journalist who worked on high-profile television shows such as the ABC News show 2020 and The Cosby Show, and as the production coordinator for Spike Lee films.

But after experiencing a personal tragedy, Downes left behind her prestigious career in the entertainment industry to pursue something she believed had much more meaning: yoga.

Over the next 25 years, Downes sold millions of yoga instructional videos and became the "yoga instructor to the stars," teaching private yoga sessions to celebrities and sports stars like Brandy, Vanessa Williams, and NBA star John Sally.

Now, her most important client yet is someone she affectionately calls "Sergeant Major"—her father.

How Yoga "Resurrected" Her Father

Downes admittedly had a fairytale career in the entertainment industry. So, at age 41, when she was faced with marriage problems and her mother’s breast cancer diagnosis, she needed tools to help her cope with stress.

That’s when she turned to yoga.

"In 1995, I walked into my first yoga class, and I knew that this was what I needed," said Downes. "When stress and reality hit, it was yoga that saved me."

Now, at age 61, she is using those same tools to help save her elderly father.

Downes’ father was malnourished, depressed, and drinking too much—plus dealing with health problems like congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, and dementia.

He needed an intervention.

"I was able to draw on the wonderful experience I had gathered from treating my VIP yoga clients," said Downes. "I thought maybe I could use yoga to help him out in his final days of life, but that was four years ago. Instead, yoga was able to resurrect my dad."

Downes started with simple, seated poses designed to help her father breathe better.

"As we get older, we start to walk hunched over. My father had begun to walk with a cane. All of this diminishes your capacity to breathe," said Downes.

It also impacts balance and flexibility.

To help combat this, Downes likes to do a pose called Tadasana Mountain Pose with her father. It encourages participants to ground their feet, lift their chest, push their shoulders back, and sit tall—and then take deep, cleansing breaths.

Poses like these—all of which can be done seated in a chair—can help older individuals gain flexibility, strength, and balance, while also providing what Downes calls a "sense of ease."

Studies have shown the beneficial impact this can have on dementia patients.

In one study, regular yoga sessions were found to improve respiratory function, improve balance control in Alzheimer’s patients, and help calm agitated patients.

And in an exciting study of people with mild cognitive impairment, 12 weeks of yoga led to short- and long-term improvements in executive functioning and produced beneficial effects on depressed mood and resilience.

Yoga can also reduce stress for both the patient and the caregiver, which is why Downes participates in a program called Caregivers Embracing Elder Care.

Through this program, Downes guides caregivers through meditation and yoga moves, and a geriatric care manager provides practical tips for caregivers of elderly patients.

"Yoga provides a greater sense of ease, greater mobility, and ultimately greater longevity," said Downes.

Yoga Flava®

Downes knew her father might not be receptive to traditional yoga. Fortunately, her yoga style is anything but traditional.

Her yoga company, called Yoga Flava®, is unique because it combines ancient yoga practice with urban culture and modern music.

"It uses ancient moves to contemporary grooves," said Downes.

In fact, when Downes pioneered Yoga Flava® in 1995, she produced an instructional video and became the first African American female to have an internationally distributed yoga video.

Working with her father showed her that this unique take on yoga transcended generations as well as cultures.

"Yoga Flava® has achieved such remarkable success because it uses music that’s familiar," said Downes. "For me, that means Erykah Badu or Mary J. Blige. For my father, that means doing yoga to salsa music or Nat King Cole."

Choosing Your Best Life

Downes knows that in order to care for her father, she needs to care for herself as well. That’s why, in addition to her yoga practice, she has started boxing.

"It’s another way of relieving stress, and it’s a great cross-training program for me at this point," said Downes. "I know I need to be doing everything I can to help with caregiving. In addition to managing my stress level, I need to maintain my strength."

She also eats lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and takes numerous supplements, including vitamins A, C, and D, biotin, iodine, zinc, selenium, collagen, turmeric, and fish oil.

She believes it’s all part of a holistic lifestyle that contributes to longevity, both for her and for her father.

"Every day we can pick and choose how we want to live our best life," said Downes. "For me, it’s about perspective. I get to enjoy my father, and I get to create a lifestyle that can bring both of us joy."

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