Yoga as a lifeline

British tourist claims yoga helped her stay afloat for 10 hours. Experts explain how it happened

When rescuers found 46-year-old Kay Longstaff in the Adriatic Sea this weekend, she had already been clinging to the surface of the water and wiggling her feet for more than ten hours. “These wonderful guys saved me,” Kay said of being on Croatian soil, “I’m lucky to be alive.” Longstaff, who is a flight attendant by trade, was traveling on a Norwegian Star cruise ship when she went overboard around midnight Saturday. While it is not yet clear how Longstaff got into the water, it is known what kept her alive. The Croatian rescuer told The Sun newspaper that Kay said regular yoga sessions helped keep her body in shape and that she sang all night to stay warm in the water.

Yahoo Lifestyle spoke with several yoga experts who all agreed on one thing: Longstaff’s story is proof that yoga is more than just exercise, it’s a life-saving practice.

Lauren Ekstrom, founder of the Yoga30for30 project and author of Holistic Yoga Flow: The Practice Path, says Longstaff’s case is a great example that shows the energy yoga can bring to our normal lives.

According to Ekstrom, practitioners teach their bodies and minds to adapt to obvious discomfort while developing not only physical strength and stretching, but more importantly, mental flexibility. “Through yoga, they learn about their ability to overcome their own perceived limitations and live through seemingly impossible moments in a calm and aware state. So it’s not surprising that this woman cited yoga classes as the main reason she was saved.

Ekstrom, who is also co-founder of, points to the importance of yoga’s breathing exercises, called pranayama, which apparently helped Longstaff control her heartbeat and anxiety. “Based on my years of experience teaching yoga in maximum-security prisons to men sentenced to solitary confinement, I can say with conviction that the power of yoga practice helps practitioners persevere under life’s harshest conditions. For thousands of students I’ve dealt with around the world, yoga has been a lifeline, guiding them out of depression, suicidal thoughts, illness, and extreme situations like this girl’s case.”

Isabelle du Soleil, PhD, a certified yoga and fitness instructor from Los Angeles, California, elaborates, “Through yoga you get to know yourself better, learn to control your body, mind, nervous system and energy. Yoga works with both the outer and inner elements of the person, creating a connection between the body, mind and breathing. Yoga is a life-saving practice because it allows you to condition and direct your mind, body, psyche and energy in the right direction. And the girl was certainly better prepared for such an emergency situation than those who don’t practice yoga.”

Sadi Nardini, an international yoga and fitness expert and founder of vinyasa yoga for strengthening the muscular corset, believes the other main reason for Longstaff’s survival was her physical strength. “Yoga specifically trains endurance, which probably helped her perform these slow, repetitive movements for hours at a time. In addition, the flexibility developed through the classes kept Longstaff from possible injury during that long night. Also, yoga teaches us to focus our minds in moments of greatest tension, so it’s no wonder the girl called yoga her savior in that terrible situation.”

Nardini considers this story definitive proof for those who already believed in the life-affirming power of yoga. For more than a hundred years, yogis have presented the practice as a miracle cure that can free us from our agony. And now, science itself supports their claims. Yoga throws a “lifeline” from our own body-mind-spirit triad, Kay Longstaff knows firsthand.

Ben Sears, a professional athlete who has used yoga to heal two herniated discs and recover from five knee surgeries, told Yahoo Lifestyle that Longstaff’s experience is exactly what yoga prepares us for: “Focusing on the breath shifts our attention away from tension so that we become capable of sustained effort. The goal of yoga, or any concentration practice that combines physical health and self-awareness, is to develop the patience and resilience that literally help you not drown in any difficult life situation.