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15761 W Dodge Road
Omaha, NE, 68118
USA

4026792114

Est. 2013

Head yoga instructor, Lisa Kanne has been teaching yoga for over 10 years.

New studio with familiar faces.

Teacher Blog

Fall is here and your skin may be telling you so, if you feel drier, itchy or otherwise off it is time for an Ayurvedic Facial. 

Vata Season is settling in and our natural response to this is dryness - both internally and externally, it is vitally important to lubricate through our diets adding good oils, ghee (clarified butter) and cooked foods that are comforting and nourishing and massaging good quality oils into our skin. One tip I share with my Ayurvedic clients is to shut the shower off and immediately massage oil into the skin before toweling off, less oil is required and the skin benefits greatly from being warm, the oil able to absorb deeper into the tissue. They say self massage invokes the inner pharmacy and is anti-aging, I say it is well worth the small amount of time this might take to add to your daily routine.

Gaby Van Houten

Ayurvedic Health Practitioner

Pancha Karma Specialist

Licensed Esthetician


Book your Ayurvedic Facial now and claim your Free 1oz massage oil while supplies last. Your skin will thank you. Call 402-614-2244 or

https://my.timedriver.com/9TVKK

Thyroid Imbalance Solutions

Lisa Kanne

The Hidden Culprit: Thyroid Imbalance and What to Do About It

by Sarah Gottfried

A sluggish thyroid can leave you overwhelmed, run-down and depressed. This three-step holistic plan can put you back on track and get you moving again.

Six years ago, I was a 38-year-old stressed-out mess, working as a doctor at an HMO and seeing 30 OB/GYN patients a day. I’d wake up exhausted every morning, nurse my infant daughter, and race from one task to another until I’d arrive home to care for my baby again, cook dinner, and fall into bed—only to start all over the next morning. My mood tanked, my weight climbed, my focus suffered, and my sex drive? What’s that? Yoga provided my only respite, but unfortunately, my home practice withered as my to-do list grew.

 

My mood tanked, my weight climbed, my focus suffered, and my sex drive? What’s that?

How did this happen? As a doctor, shouldn’t I have known better? My Harvard medical training finally kicked in: Could this be my thyroid? Turns out it could—and it was.

A Little Troublemaker

Your thyroid, a tiny butterfly-shaped gland in your neck, may weigh only an ounce, but as I learned firsthand, it wields formidable influence on your metabolism, mood, and body temperature. My symptoms all pointed to a sluggish thyroid, which shoulders the blame for a whole litany of complaints, such as middle-aged spread, hair loss, poor concentration, depression, constipation, aching muscles and joints, low libido, and even rising cholesterol. To add insult to injury, an underperforming thyroid can even raise your risk of Alzheimer’s.

If that list sounds familiar, it’s because we may very well have an epidemic of borderline- to low-function on our hands. Consider these statistics: 20 percent of women aged 40 and over have hypothyroid (low thyroid) symptoms; women are seven times more likely to suffer with thyroid problems than men; rates of thyroid cancer have increased steadily for the past 30 years, for no apparent reason; and some 80 million people worldwide have swollen thyroids (goiters) caused by a completely preventable iodine deficiency. Nor do these numbers tell the whole story: thousands of people go undiagnosed, and thousands more don’t get the treatment they need for the fatigue, depression, and weight gain that accompany low thyroid.

A Brief Physiology Lesson

Before we explore the reasons for such a monumental increase in thyroid problems, let’s take a moment to understand what the thyroid actually does. Your thyroid converses with every cell in your body, as it governs the rate of nearly all the body’s biochemical reactions. Together with the hypothalamus and pituitary gland it forms the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis, which is the master regulator of your metabolism, including your heart rate and body temperature. Using iodine, the thyroid produces two hormones (thyroxine or T4 and triiodothyronine or T3) and stores them, awaiting instructions from the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. The hypothalamus shoots the pituitary a chemical signal telling it when to deliver the hormones, and the pituitary responds by dispensing thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which tells the thyroid just how much or how little to release.

For people like me who have sluggish thyroids, the thyroid gland releases too little. Others have the opposite problem—the thyroid releases too much into the bloodstream, resulting in weight loss, increased pulse rate, heart palpitations, and muscle weakness.

Why the Epidemic?

No one knows why we have such an astonishing increase in thyroid problems. But we do know that the thyroid is extremely sensitive to environmental toxins. Anything from excess gluten in our food supply to endocrine disruptors in the products we use—Bisphenol-A (BPA) in our water bottles, phthalates in our cosmetics, and flame retardants in our mattresses—can cause it to malfunction. And we can also pin some culpability on that ever-present health wrecker, chronic stress. It plays a part in most of our health problems, so it’s hardly surprising that an unabated stress response would have a role in the emerging slow-thyroid story.

Chronic stress can make you feel like your thyroid is a total slacker that’s not doing its job, even though your blood tests come back normal. What gives? When cortisol, the main stress hormone, either soars too high or sinks too low, it blocks your body’s ability to make T3, the active thyroid hormone, even when your pituitary sends the right signal. So, when your doctor measures the pituitary’s thyroid-stimulating hormone it may indeed be normal, but your body may not be converting the inactive hormones (the T4s) into an active form it can use (T3). If that is the case for you, I generally recommend checking your basal body temperature, a simple way to assess thyroid function, especially if you’re under a lot of stress (see below).

Chronic stress can make you feel like your thyroid is a total slacker that’s not doing its job, even though your blood tests come back normal.

Unfortunately, Western doctors don’t always make the cortisol/thyroid connection. When they detect deficient thyroid hormones in their patients, they immediately start them on synthetic medication, usually T4. But I don’t believe the answer automatically lies in a bottle of prescription pills. When my own thyroid problems surfaced, I turned to a more integrative approach, taking a hard look at my stress levels, as well as my diet and other lifestyle choices.

An Integrative Approach

After my own experience—and as an integrative doc—I know better than to tell anyone struggling with these symptoms to just exercise more and eat less. Janie, a 41-year-old woman, is a case in point. She came to see me hoping to find answers for her flagging energy and cranky moods, as well as her unforgiving metabolism that kept an extra 10 pounds on her frame no matter how much she exercised or how little she ate. “I’m more negative than I used to be,” she said. “The usual life problems feel more difficult to solve, and I can’t concentrate like I used to.”

She said these symptoms had been going on for two or three years, with her doctor insisting all the while that her hormone levels were just fine; but in reviewing her lab results, I noticed that her thyroid was borderline slow. Instead of trying to solve all her individual symptoms, I suggested we focus on their underlying cause.

Root cause analysis—practiced for millennia in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and ayurveda—looks into why a set of symptoms keeps occurring. In my case, instead of filling a prescription for synthetic thyroid hormone, I took time to reassess my lifestyle. Could the stress of a new baby plus an over-the-top busy practice and an overachieving personality have anything to do with my hormone imbalance? What could I give up or change that would make my life easier and ultimately healthier?

I helped Janie face similar questions. Together we came up with a plan that also took into account her perimenopausal fluctuations.

I call this thyroid-reclaiming protocol “evidence-based integration,” which means I combine the best of ancient wisdom traditions (yoga, ayurveda, and Traditional Chinese Medicine) and cutting-edge science (bioidentical hormones and even prescription drugs when absolutely necessary) to help prevent or heal thyroid dysfunction. One caveat, however: Overt symptoms, including labored and slow breathing or the more serious thyroid coma, need immediate Western intervention.

3 Steps to Rebalance Your Thyroid

1.  Nutrition and Nutraceuticals: When you know your thyroid is out of balance, take a hard look at your diet. What you put in your mouth may profoundly affect your thyroid function. Certain very common foods and nutritional supplements can help reset your thyroid.

When you know your thyroid is out of balance, take a hard look at your diet.

Eat brazil nuts. Brazil nuts are rich in selenium, which is a crucial nutrient for thyroid function. Selenium has recently gotten attention for its connection to fertility, which may also be directly tied to normal thyroid function. Other sources of selenium include eating shellfish, particularly crab, and foods from composted soils. Many holistic doctors recommend using coconut oil; it’s worth a try, but I could not find convincing evidence that it actually affects thyroid function.

Check your iodine levels. Your thyroid gland depends on iodine to make its hormones. Levels among Americans dropped by half between 1971 and 2000, when bakers in the United States began using bromide instead of iodine as a dough conditioner for making bread. Also found in soda, bromide competes with iodine, which means that it can block your absorption of iodine even when you think you’re getting enough. Solution? Don’t eat bread with bromide or drink soda. Make sure you are getting sufficient iodine to support normal thyroid hormone production by getting at least the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance). Note: Anyone with autoimmune thyroiditis should not supplement with iodine.

Consider supplements. Unless you live on an organic bio-sustainable farm or eat exclusively from composted soils, you probably lack sufficient levels of minerals—particularly copper, zinc, and selenium—that help convert the inactive thyroid hormone T4 into T3, its active counterpart (see sidebar on page 58). Have your levels tested, and if low, take a daily mineral supplement that contains 500 mcg to 1 mg of copper, 10 to 15 mg of zinc, and 200 mcg of selenium.

Increase your vitamin D. The body needs vitamin D to drive the thyroid hormone into the core of the cell. Otherwise, it can’t perform its task well, and you’ll likely feel slow, tired, and apathetic. Unless you live in a sunny climate year-round, you need to supplement your vitamin D, since food rarely provides adequate amounts. Shoot for the high-normal range—1,000 to 2,000 IU a day. Maximum doses are 10,000 IU per day, and toxic levels are rarely encountered even at these dosages.

Give up (or limit) certain foods. When I first heard that tofu, broccoli, and even my beloved kale could slow me down by interfering with thyroid hormone production, I refused to believe it. Sadly, reliable data support that theory. While not all goitrogens (foods that interfere with iodine uptake and thyroid function) are well documented, one study in particular showed that isoflavones from soy can reduce T3 by 7 percent in women who have had their ovaries removed. You may want to at least limit these foods to be on the safe side.

2. Targeted Lifestyle Changes: These commonsense lifestyle changes have proven effective in reducing thyroid-related symptoms.

Minimize environmental toxins. Limit exposure to flame retardants found in mattresses; mercury found in fish, high fructose corn syrup, and dental fillings; and plasticizers (phthalates) found in cosmetics to dissolve ingredients and to moisturize the skin.

Try Traditional Chinese Medicine. Most Western doctors learn to treat the thyroid in isolation by tweaking the biochemistry with a pill or surgery. TCM practitioners most often identify kidney deficiency as the root cause and may further see a problem with the heart or liver meridians. TCM is a great place to start if your symptoms are mild, because there are few side effects.

Practice yoga. Although limited data exist showing that yoga increases the release of thyroid hormones, many women report their symptoms improved when they committed to a regular practice. Timothy McCall, MD, a Western-trained internist and author of Yoga as Medicine (Bantam, 2007), points out, “Many things from the yoga tradition that haven’t been tested turn out to be true, and as long as yoga’s done appropriately, there’s little risk in doing asana—and many benefits beyond just helping the thyroid.” B. K. S. Iyengar champions sarvangasana (shoulderstand) as a way to balance the thyroid, because it employs a chin lock. However, I don’t usually recommend unsupported shoulderstand to my patients, especially those who are new to yoga, because of the intense pressure it places on the tiny cervical vertebrae. I prefer ardha halasana (half plow pose with your legs resting on a chair) or viparita karani (legs up the wall pose), both of which offer gentler alternatives.

B. K. S. Iyengar champions sarvangasana (shoulderstand) as a way to balance the thyroid, because it employs a chin lock.

I also prescribe shavasana to my stress-case clients every chance I get. This deep relaxation pose gives the master glands (the hypothalamus and the pituitary) a break from their red-alert vigilance. Ellen Heed, an anatomy teacher for Forrest Yoga’s teacher training program, agrees. “We’ve bought into the idea that we need to spend 75 percent of a 24-hour day in high productivity, and whittle sleep down to six hours per night,” she says. “Deep healing is not possible at night with that approach.” The result? Organs, such as the thyroid, don’t replenish reserves, and metabolism suffers.

Consider structure. Structural issues can also affect the thyroid—something I never learned in conventional medical training, but a core concept in my yoga teacher training. When you hold stress in your jaw, for example, or your neck and shoulders, you chronically tighten the muscles that may, theoretically, reduce the blood flow into your thyroid and prevent optimal outflow of toxins and waste. A consistent yoga practice can not only release that tension, but also help you notice when you start gripping those areas of the body.

Reduce stress. While scant research exists on yoga and thyroid health, studies point to yoga’s ability to reduce the stress hormones—particularly cortisol—that interfere with normal thyroid function. A full yoga sequence, including simple breathing practices, may indirectly have a profound effect on the thyroid. “Your endocrine glands, like the thyroid and the adrenals, need regular doses of deep relaxation to regenerate,” explains Heed. Furthermore, in a very small study at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, participants were able to reduce their cortisol levels doing sequences that included sarvangasana (shoulderstand), halasana (plow pose), and vrikshasana (tree pose).

I suggest spending at least six weeks focusing on nutrition and lifestyle strategies and then having your thyroid hormones and BBT rechecked. (Six weeks is the minimum amount of time it takes for your body to reach homeostasis.) If you don’t see the improvements you hoped for, you may want to consider bioidentical hormones as a short-term solution.

3. Bioidentical Hormones: When changes to your diet and lifestyle still don’t allow your body to produce enough hormones to balance your endocrine system, bioidentical hormones—given in the lowest possible dose—may be your best alternative. These medications, structurally the same as the hormones your body makes, are no panacea, but can often quickly correct irregular thyroid levels.

Thyroid hormones are not one-size-fits-all. Some women do well with a natural dessicated thyroid medication, such as Armour Thyroid or Nature-Throid. For others, I recommend a synthetic preparation such as levothyroxine (T4) with or without liothyronine (T3). To find out which one is right for you, check with your holistic health practitioner. Tracking symptoms, checking your basal body temperature, and getting the correct blood tests will inform your path and next steps.

Thyroid hormones are not one-size-fits-all.

If you suffer from fatigue, weight gain, depression, and a host of other unexplainable symptoms, try some of these tests and techniques to assess your thyroid, even if your more conventional lab tests come back negative. With a rigorous, integrative strategy, you can get to the root of your malaise. And, believe me, once your thyroid is back working for you instead of against you, you’ll have that longed-for zip back in your step.

Deciphering the Thyroid Players:

TSH Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone. Released by the pituitary gland, this is the most commonly tested thyroid hormone in Western medicine. Higher levels, above 2.5 mIU/L, suggest borderline- to low-thyroid function.

T4 Thyroxine. T4 is the inactive thyroid hormone, generally kept in storage in the thyroid gland until it’s turned into T3, the active thyroid hormone.

T3 Triiodothyronine. T3 is the active thyroid hormone, which means it has the most profound effect on your metabolism, heat, and weight.

RT3 Reverse T3. RT3 is made in excess during times of stress, which can cause thyroid resistance by blocking the thyroid hormone receptor. In other words, when you’re stressed out, the body responds by making reverse T3, which keeps you from losing weight or controlling your mood swings. Reverse T3 is the body’s way of adjusting metabolism, such as during a famine, and we make too much these days because of stress.

Take the Thyroid Quiz

Three or more of these symptoms may mean that your thyroid is working against you.

  • You’ve packed on a few pounds and can’t get them off.

  • You look at a piece of pie and the extra pounds appear on your hips.

  • Your body feels a little slow, maybe a little tired.

  • What’s that called again? Oh, yes… brain fog.

  • Your reflexes are sluggish.

  • Your hair is dry, tangles easily, or is falling out.

  • Your joints feel geriatric.

  • You wear more layers than anyone you know. Your spouse has terms of endearment for your cold feet and hands.

  • You’ve lost a bit of spring in your step.

  • The world isn’t quite as rosy as it used to be.

  • You’re slower than you used to be—your reactions, your thoughts, and, yes, your thyroid.

Basal Body Temperature

Basal body temperature (BBT) offers an important low-budget assessment of your thyroid function; you should consider taking your BBT even if your blood tests come back within the normal range. BBT measures your T3 activity inside the cells, which is where thyroid truly affects metabolism. Doctors used to recommend BBT mostly for women who were trying to conceive, but now I encourage anyone trying to assess their thyroid health to keep track of their basal body temp, especially those who suffer from chronic stress.

Chronic Inflammation? Cool the Fire with Ayurveda

Lisa Kanne

 

 

 

Chronic Inflammation? Cool the Fire with Ayurveda

by Shannon Sexton

Do you have arthritis? Fibromyalgia? Ulcers? Bursitis? Colitis? Your allopathic doctor may have told you that your condition is incurable, but don’t despair. Ayurveda classifies inflammatory conditions as derangements of the pitta dosha (the fire principle) that can be cooled—and even cured—with simple adjustments to your diet and daily routine along with herbal supplements.

When metabolic fire burns too hot or flares up in the wrong places we end up with chronic inflammation, and a host of disorders arises.

Fire is one of the principle metaphors in ayurveda; it is an essential ingredient to good health. In the form of metabolism it digests our food, generates life-sustaining energy, and incinerates waste. But when metabolic fire burns too hot or flares up in the wrong places we end up with chronic inflammation, and a host of disorders arises. Here are a few tips for redirecting your metabolic fire.

A Cooling Diet

If your internal environment is overheated, watch your diet. Red meat, caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco all increase inflammation. Avoid them and instead follow a pitta-pacifying diet of cooling, slightly dry, low-salt foods. Eat plenty of whole grains (especially barley and basmati rice), vegetables (especially bitter, leafy greens), and protein. Beans, tofu, egg whites, soft cheeses, and milk are great for you. You can also dine on organic poultry or freshwater fish on occasion if you’re craving more substantial fare.

Good Fats vs. Bad Fats

In today’s low-fat/no-fat obsessed society, we have forgotten that some fats are good for us. Healthy fats are the kind that melt in your mouth—like fresh organic butter or the cocoa butter in high-quality chocolate. Unhealthy fats, on the other hand, taste like candle wax—margarine, crisco, and overprocessed, refined oils that are unstable under heat, like canola oil. To maximize profits, manufacturers chemically alter these products so they have a longer shelf life. In the process, however, they become indigestible and burden the liver, thus inflaming pitta. They also irritate mucus membranes and predispose us to heart disease.

Generally speaking, oils aggravate pitta. Of the cooking oils, for example, only ghee and coconut oil have a cooling effect on the body; the rest are warming. The exceptions are Omega-3 oils, which quell inflammation. You can get your Omega-3s by incorporating flax oil and coldwater fish into your diet.

RX: HERBS

Turmeric and Ginger:  These herbs will reduce your joint pain, muscle pain, gastritis, or cystitis. Like all astringent herbs, turmeric cools inflammation by tightening and strengthening tissues, reducing swelling and congestion. Ginger is more enigmatic. A pungent herb, it assists digestion and so theoretically should aggravate pitta conditions. However, it has constituents that are cooling and calming for irritated tissues—hence its traditional use as an anti-inflammatory.

Spiced milk:  Here’s an anti-inflammatory recipe you can try at home. Bring half a cup of water to a boil and add:

  • 1⁄2 tsp. ground turmeric

  • 1⁄2 Tbsp. freshly shredded ginger root

  • 1⁄2 tsp. ground green cardamom

Let the mixture simmer for 2 minutes, then add 1 cup of milk. Boil for 3 minutes, strain, and serve. Stir in sugar or maple syrup to taste (optional). Makes one serving.

Drink this mixture twice a day—early in the morning and just before bedtime—for 40 days.

Brahmi and Ashwagandha:  Inflammation often begins in the mind, for when we create a hard-driving, goal-oriented mental environment and begin to ignore our body’s need for good food, rest, exercise, and a regular yoga practice, we start overworking—and overheating. We know the warning signs but stubbornly ignore them, listening instead to the inner critic that commands us to accomplish more. Brahmi and ashwagandha are herbs that can help. They calm the mind without sedating it, leaving it clear, grounded, and inspired. And ashwagandha is a tonic that keeps the body strong and counters overexhaustion. It also treats a variety of ailments that result from depletion: arthritis, nerve pain, and infertility.

Doses

Homemade extracts are superior to store-bought ones. Put 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 teaspoon of each herb (in powdered form) into 1 cup of milk, add 1 cup of water, stir, and gently boil the mixture down to 1 cup of liquid. Let it cool off slightly and then drink it.

If you’re short on time, take 1–2 droppers (40–80 drops) of each herb in extract form twice a day. In capsule form, take 2–4 pills of each twice a day. Best taken with warm water or milk for 2 to 12 months

Ayurvedic Tips for Chronic Fatigue

Lisa Kanne

Ayurvedic Tips for Chronic Fatigue

by Kayla Kurin

Often referred to as yoga’s sister science, ayurveda originated in India more than 3,000 years ago. Over the last 50 years, there’s been a surge of interest outside India in this holistic practice as a complement to Western medicine.

One condition for which some have turned to ayurveda is chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). CFS is characterized by extreme fatigue that precludes activities that caused an individual no strain prior to the illness. While Western medicine currently has no known cure, some people who have CFS have reported that ayurvedic practices have allowed them to feel better—and some even see these practices as providing a road to recovery!

 

 

According to ayurveda, illnesses like chronic fatigue syndrome and adrenal fatigue are imbalances of vata, one of the three doshas or dispositions that define our physical, mental, and emotional makeup. Ayurveda views good health as resulting from balance in these doshas.

The Three Doshas

(Each of us is composed of all three doshas, but one or two doshas are dominant for most individuals. You can take this quiz to help you identify your primary dosha, and this quiz to find out which, if any, doshas are out of balance.)

Kapha: Kapha dosha is an interweaving of the water and earth elements. Content and deliberate, people who have a lot of kapha in their constitutions generally have a wide, strong build, thick hair, and smooth skin. They tend to move slowly and enjoy nurturing those around them. Kaphas will be drawn to slow types of yoga like Yin and restorative yoga.

Pitta: Pitta dosha is a combination of fire and water. Fiery and intense, those with a dominance of pitta in their constitution are driven, intelligent, and quick to anger. They often have a medium build with yellowish or reddish skin and red hair and freckles. Because they are competitive and focused, pittas may be drawn to a vigorous yoga practice like Ashtanga.

Vata: Vata dosha is composed of ether and air. Airy and scattered, vatas love talking about many ideas and can never seem to get warm. They tend to have a thin build and often have knobby joints. Vatas resist routine and may be drawn to the quick movements of vinyasa.

Ayurvedic principles hold that when one dosha is out of balance (whatever balance may mean for an individual’s constitution), the imbalance can negatively affect the mind or body and eventually lead to illness. For example, when vata is out of balance, it can cause insomnia, anxiety, running thoughts, dry skin and nails, gas, bloating, brain fog, and a dislike of cold. To many with chronic fatigue syndrome, these symptoms will sound all too familiar. Insomnia, problems with memory, and trouble with digestion are all characteristic of CFS.

Using ayurvedic practices to balance vata, we may begin to decrease fatigue and bring the body back into balance.

Six Ayurvedic Tips for Countering Fatigue

1. Create a routine. An excess of vata can express as a feeling of distraction or spaciness, and establishing a routine may help counteract these feelings. Commit to a time to both go to bed and to arise each day. Eating meals at the same times and scheduling activities like work, study, and socializing may also help to reduce vata.

2. Get an ayurvedic massage. You can seek out an ayurvedic massage therapist or practice ayurvedic self-massage (abhyanga) at home. (Learn how to do self-massage here.) Choosing heavy oils like sesame, almond, and olive for massage will help reduce and calm vata.

3. Do a grounding yoga practice. When you’re experiencing extreme fatigue, exercise may be the last thing you want to do. But gentle exercise is important to keep your muscles and joints healthy. The right kind of practice can also help to reduce stress and replenish your energy stores.

Poses that focus on grounding and balance, and on the muladhara chakra, are considered best for balancing vata. If your CFS symptoms are severe, begin with a floor yoga practice that involves only seated and lying-down postures, and then gradually include standing poses. At that point, you might like to try this brief yoga practice for balancing vata.

The most important teacher to listen to when practicing yoga is yourself. Make sure you pay attention to your body during your practice, and gently come out of any poses that aren’t working for you.

4. Incorporate meditation and pranayama (breathwork) into your day.Western medicine is beginning to recognize the benefits of mindfulness meditation, yoga, and deep breathing. Meditation and pranayama can help calm the nervous system and reduce stress. (Try a mindfulness meditation or this vata-reducing relaxation-in-action practice.)

5. Reconsider your diet. According to ayurvedic philosophy, vata is related to the element of air. When vata is in excess, this can lead to symptoms such as bloating, gassiness, diarrhea, and constipation. To combat these effects, ayurveda recommends consuming warm and nourishing foods, and staying away from raw foods like smoothies and salads. Stick to warm soups, curries, rice dishes, and cooked vegetables.

Healthy fats and oils are recommended for decreasing vata dosha, and even a sweetener such as honey can be used in a hot ginger tea. Rice and wheat are considered the best grains for vata imbalance, while the best fruits are those that are more dense, such as bananas, avocados, mangoes, berries, and figs. Minimize bean consumption, as beans can cause gas. But cheese lovers can rejoice, because dairy is recommended for balancing vata!

6. Practice self-care for your mind, body, and soul. Vata dosha thrives on creativity. Help soothe the running thoughts in your mind by channeling them into a creative pursuit like journaling, painting, or photography. Taking the time to nourish your passions and artistic inspirations may help bring you into balance. Schedule times every day to pursue your passion.

Ayurveda offers many benefits for those who experience chronic fatigue. Implementing these ayurvedic tips can help to balance your vata dosha and bring the energy back into your life!

 

 

 

 

 

Practicing with Scoliosis

Lisa Kanne

 

 

 

 

https://yogainternational.com/article/view/Embracing-the-Curve-Practicing-with-Scoliosis

Embracing the Curve: Practicing with Scoliosis

by John Zadroga

I remember it like it was yesterday—being corralled down a corridor to the school nurse’s office in separate boys' and girls' lines. Being instructed to bend forward and then stand back up again. Feeling the nurse palpate up my spinal column, tracing a painfully obvious lateral curve…how could this be? Although seemingly insignificant to many, my primary school scoliosis screening is a memory that has remained with me throughout my life.

 

Until this point, I figured back pain was a part of everyone’s life, and I asked how he managed his.

 

In high school, I swam varsity. I recall one very frank locker room conversation with a friend about back pain, and how I felt it was keeping me from performing at my best. Until this point, I figured back pain was a part of everyone’s life, and I asked how he managed his. When he told me he didn’t have any, my jaw practically hit the floor. This sparked an interest in the interrelation between anatomical form and function, and it set the stage for my personal philosophy and career choice.

 

GET STARTED

I now understand that the prevalence of back pain is, in fact, remarkably high in the United States—especially among people with scoliosis. Scoliosis is a condition marked by a lateral deviation of the midspinal line. It can be inherent from birth, or develop during growth periods due to poor posture. Its severity is quantified in degrees by a clinical measurement known as the Cobb angle.

Shortly before college, I (reluctantly) attended my first yoga class, at the insistence of my older sister. The teacher that day delivered a structurally oriented class with liberal prop use and consistent verbal feedback. She made me feel as if I were the only student in the room. Without once rekindling my primary school insecurities, she made me feel that she understood my scoliosis better than I did. Most importantly, she gave me a huge gift that class—a pain-free afternoon. This not only convinced me that I could manage my pain by physical means, but also inspired me to become a yoga teacher.

 

Yoga is for every body. Modifications can make it work, and it is possible to feel at home in a pain-free body.

 

As a medical student, I spend a fair amount of my day sitting in lecture halls, attempting to absorb what can occasionally seem like an impossible volume of information. As an osteopathic medical student, I receive additional education on the manual diagnosis and treatment of conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system. This, coupled with my own struggle to “find alignment” in my inherently asymmetrical frame, inspired me to reach out to others and let them know that yoga is for every body. Modifications can make it work, and it is possible to feel at home in a pain-free body. I would be remiss to share this sentiment without providing practical examples of how you can accomplish this, so here goes.

 

Understand the underlying anatomy of your curve.

This might not seem revolutionary, but don’t count on yoga teachers who have completed a 200-hour training program to understand the fine points of your anatomy. A scoliosis-type curve can really be anywhere in the spine and can sometimes result in a compensatory “counter curve” (i.e., an S-curve). Ask your primary care provider to do a musculoskeletal exam on you and tell you if your curve is more predominant in the thoracic or lumbar region. Understand that scoliosis can cause other physical nuances (one shoulder sitting higher than the other, one hip lower than the other, etc.). Depending on your degree of curvature, some physical therapy might be indicated before beginning an exercise regimen like yoga. In severe cases, surgery is the only intervention indicated. Don’t let even this deter you, as I have a client with Harrington rods (i.e., surgically implanted, spine-straightening devices) who is quite capable in her practice.

 

Watch yourself in the mirror.

The first time I practiced in a studio with mirrors, my mind was blown. “Do I really look like that?” I asked myself in virtually every posture. Humbling as it was, it was an excellent opportunity to learn self-awareness on a very literal level. Need proof? Take yourself to your mirror now. Come into warrior II. Are your arms level with each other? (Mine rarely are.) A neurological mechanism known as “proprioception” is responsible for this awareness (or lack thereof) of our bodies in three-dimensional space. When you have a curvature of the spine at baseline, visible misalignment might feel entirely natural. Be aware of this, and try to make the effort to internalize visual cues and rely less and less on mirrors as you reset your proprioceptive “normal.”

 

Take verbal cues seriously…but not too seriously.

I genuinely believe in the power of concise, tactful verbal cues for improving form. However, getting caught up in the excessive verbiage employed by some teachers can be far more harmful than helpful. Listen carefully, but do not obsess.

 

Avoid teachers who make you feel bad about yourself.

I once took a very challenging class with a teacher at a local studio who made me feel terrible about myself. She pointed me out to the class as someone with “poor form,” when in reality her demonstrated knowledge of anatomy was very shaky. I felt compelled to continue to attend her class because of the physical rigor, but then noticed that I left the class feeling down on myself and far from centered. I decided one day that no amount of physical challenge was worth the borderline emotional abuse, and I found a new class.

Acknowledge that you are perfect just the way you are.

I basically consider myself a bonsai tree in the literati style. Pin-straight posture is a beautiful and rare thing, but I embrace the curve handed to me and recognize that some of the most beautiful things in nature are asymmetrical. Although alignment is always a good goal to have in a yoga practice, recognize that concerning yourself too much with perfection is anti-yogic in itself.

 

I embrace the curve handed to me and recognize that some of the most beautiful things in nature are asymmetrical.

 

Do what feels right and set small goals, keeping in mind that there is nothing ugly or wrong about your essential physical composition.

Feeling “at home” in my body is a choice I had to make, and my constant postural self-adjustment continues on. However, the corporal awareness yoga has instilled in me has helped not only to address discomfort in the physical sense, but also to correct some misconceptions I had internalized over the years of how one “ought” to stand tall.

 

ABOUT AUTHOR

John Zadroga

developed an interest in the human body and how its form influences its function as an awkward 10-year old at a school-mandated scoliosis screening.

 

https://yogainternational.com/article/view/scoliosis-and-yoga-the-dos-and-donts

Scoliosis and Yoga: The Do’s and Don’ts

by Amber Burke

Editor's note: The below are intended to be general recommendations for yoga practitioners and teachers. They are not a replacement for the personal advice of a health professional.

Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine whose most commonsymptoms are lower back pain and stiffness. Nascent research into the effects of yoga on scoliosis has shown that regular practice of a single posture, side plank, can reduce scoliosis curvature. If one pose has that kind of power, some yogis might wonder about the value of a more complete yoga practice for those with scoliosis, as well as how to approach such a practice to make it as safe and beneficial as possible.

 

GET STARTED

 

Bill Reif, a physical therapist, yogi, and author of The Back Pain Secret: The Real Cause of Women’s Back Pain and How to Treat It, believes that yoga can be a valuable part of the treatment for scoliosis. “Yoga can help foster the self-awareness—and the strength and flexibility—that make it possible to improve the alignment of the spine, which can in turn minimize pain and possibly respiratory issues, too,” Reif says.

But for a yoga practice to be helpful, both students with scoliosis and their teachers need to understand the condition and its implications when choosing and approaching poses.

 

Understanding Scoliosis

Unlike kyphosis and lordosis, which refer, respectively, to the outward and inward curvature of the spine, scoliosis refers to the sideways, or lateral, curvature of the spine. While a healthy spine will have some degree of kyphosis and lordosis, ideally there is no lateral curvature at all; viewed from behind, the spine should appear relatively straight from neck to tailbone.

Scoliosis can be categorized into two main types: nonstructural, or functional, scoliosis, which results from a soft tissue asymmetry and is temporary, and structural scoliosis, in which the changes to the curvature of the spine are generally more permanent.

Most cases of structural scoliosis, the focus of this article, are idiopathic; that is, they have no clear cause. Idiopathic scoliosis tends to appear just before puberty and occurs in females more frequently than in males.

Scoliosis has been observed in 10.7 percent of women and 5.6 percent of men between the ages of 25 and 74. In an older population, scoliosis may occur in up to 68 percent of individuals. (The increased prevalence in older adults may be connected with osteoporosis, loss of bone density, which has been observed in many older people with scoliosis.)

Though scoliosis can often be treated nonsurgically (for example, by bracing and physical therapy exercises), in severe cases, the insertion of a titanium rod to straighten the spine may be necessary.

 

Types Of Curves

The most common curvature pattern in scoliosis is a spinal curve to the right (dextroscoliosis). Usually this occurs in the thoracic spine, with the midspine curving to the right as if to avoid the heart. On the other hand, a leftward curve (levoscoliosis) most often occurs in the lumbar spine.

Both of these spinal curves are examples of a singular C curve—one concave side, which curves inward and is shortened, and one convex side, which is lengthened and rounded laterally.

But in some cases of scoliosis, there are S curves; for example, the right thoracic curve may be accompanied by a left lumbar curve, making an S shape, with two concave sides and two convex sides.

 

“Some, but not all, S curves may start as C curves,” Reif says. “Compensation over time may cause an S as the body attempts to level itself, but one curve is generally larger—a major curve—and accompanied by more restrictions. That’s the one you’ll want to focus on in your yoga practice: You’ll feel the greatest effects of stretching and strengthening there.”

 

Symptoms and Symmetry

The relationship between asymmetry and pain is a complex one. “When the spine curves abnormally, spinal cord compression can occur,” Reif says. “Just as in conditions like intervertebral disc disease, when the spinal cord is compressed, pain and neurologic signs will result.”

However, while those with scoliosis do not always have back pain, some studies seem to indicate that adolescents with scoliosis experience more frequent and more severe episodes of back pain than control groups.

According to Reif, “Whether or not scoliosis leads to pain depends in part on the load the asymmetry is asked to bear, and how often it bears that load. For instance, someone with scoliosis who participates in vigorous sports might be more likely to feel pain than someone who doesn’t, since more weight is moving through that asymmetry more repetitively. Pain can also depend on the severity of the asymmetry.”

Further, more severe curves (greater than 40 degrees) tend to correlatewith higher degrees of pain, and problematically, many curves become more severe over time. While smaller curves are less likely to progress, many curves greater than 30 degrees do tend to increase over time. As many as 68 percent of curvatures detected in children will progress even after spinal maturity. Curves may continue to progress with age because of disc degeneration and muscular imbalances.

If the scoliosis progresses to a degree that places pressure on the heart and lungs, it may impair cardiovascular and pulmonary function. In severe cases, scoliosis may even lead to respiratory failure.

Because so many curves progress in magnitude, and because curves of greater magnitude may be linked with greater pain as well as lung and heart problems, Reif believes in being proactive, suggesting that even those with minor curves or without symptoms practice movements and poses designed to minimize asymmetries.

“Even though it is unlikely that you can make dramatic changes to a longstanding scoliosis curve through targeted exercises, what you can do is reduce the negative impact of a large curve—usually breathing difficulty, upper or lower back pain—and prevent further deterioration of the curve over time,” Reif says.

 

Practicing Yoga With Scoliosis

If you have scoliosis, it’s important to check with a medical professional before embarking on a yoga practice. During your consultation, the more information you can find out about your curve pattern the better. Work with your doctor, physical therapist, or chiropractor to find out which adjustments bring your torso closer to neutral—i.e., what you have to do, and in what order, to even out your hips, shoulders, and head; you can then apply this information to your yoga practice.

If you have had corrective surgery for scoliosis, as long as you have been cleared by your doctors to exercise, you may also benefit from a yoga practice, though your practice may be more limited. As Reif explains, “Your focus will need to be on poses that help to elongate the spine above and below the surgically fixated region.” Since a corrective rod would not allow backbending and forward folding, he recommends that you skip extremes of all motion and instead focus on neutral-spine poses, poses in which your back is in its “mountain pose” alignment.

In addition to speaking with your doctor, it’s a good idea to talk to the teacher before taking a yoga class. While being able to give adjustments and advice tailored to a particular curvature often requires medical training, your teacher might be able to provide or reinforce general advice. At the very least, a conversation with your teacher will ensure that they do not unwittingly make things worse, for example by giving encouragement or hands-on assistance designed to bring you more deeply into a pose than you can safely go.

The following do’s and don’ts for a general yoga practice may be helpful for students with scoliosis and their teachers. If you’d like a yoga practice specifically designed for scoliosis, try this one.

While you’ll notice that very few types of poses are off-limits for many of those with scoliosis, Reif points out, “If your scoliosis is accompanied by another condition, like kyphosis or osteoporosis, you may need a gentler practice that forgoes extreme ranges of movement, especially forward folds.”

 

Scoliosis Do’s

1. Do asymmetrical poses a second time on the more challenging side…or stay on that side longer.

“You may notice that your abilities on each side differ,” Reif says. “This difference comes from the scoliosis curvature causing asymmetries in your torso muscles. Often the concave side is tighter, and the convex side is longer and weaker.”

Some recommend that yoga students with scoliosis practice a pose on one side and not the other in order to strengthen the convex side and lengthen the concave side. While Reif understands this advice, he notes that it can be complicated to apply, especially when students have S curves—two concavities or two convexities—and wonders if such methods might lead to other imbalances elsewhere.

Reif instead recommends practicing asymmetrical poses on both sides and then repeating the pose again on the side where the stretch felt more intense or the strengthening work felt more challenging. This way, neither side of the body is entirely neglected. Through this method, any asymmetrical pose in which you notice a difference in how the pose looks or feels on different sides would be practiced a total of three times.

But Reif explains, “The purpose of repeating poses like this is to establish which side of your body is not as mobile or strong in a particular pose.” If you already know which side of a given pose is more challenging, feel free to simply spend more time on that side than you do on the more mobile or stronger side—perhaps another five breaths or so.

2. Using mirrors, practice self-study to create a longer, more neutral spine.

While mirrors are often eschewed in yoga, “a mirror is the best way to learn awareness and provides important feedback when not being observed by a medical practitioner,” according to Reif.

He suggests that while sitting or standing at the beginning of your yoga practice, you move your spine as close to neutral as you can. For those with scoliosis, creating a more neutral spine will entail some degree of side bending and/or twisting “First, create length by imagining a marionette string pulling you up,” says Reif. “Once you’ve created that length, look in the mirror. Side bend and rotate your spine as needed in order to make the spine more neutral and to level out your hips and shoulders.”

If you have an S curve and know which curve is primary (often the thoracic curve), make adjustments there first and then adjust the area surrounding the secondary curve (often the lumbar curve), so that you are not treating the compensatory effect rather than its root cause.

Don’t expect to instantly achieve a neutral spine. Reif acknowledges: “This realignment can be very confusing, especially if there is a double curve. Only a professional—like a physical therapist, doctor, or chiropractor—can tell you with assurance which way you need to move, though over time you might get better at making these changes on your own.”

Having moved closer to neutral, maintain an awareness of that alignment. “Throughout your practice, look in the mirror to observe the levelness of head, shoulders, and hips,” Reif recommends.

3. Strengthen core- and back-stabilizing muscles by holding neutral in increasingly challenging positions.

For those with scoliosis, some sections of the multifidus and erector spinae, supportive muscles running along the spine, will need strengthening (particularly on the side that’s convex) in order to hold this new, more neutral alignment. The best way to strengthen the muscles that stabilize the spine, in Reif’s view, is simply to hold a near-neutral spine for longer periods and in more challenging positions.

For example, once a student can create a neutral spine in mountain pose or while seated, they can then try to hold that alignment when moving from sitting in a chair to standing or when practicing poses like chair, bird dog, plank, and side plank.

4. Practice pranayama.

Though holding the alignment described above will require some degree of “tensing the torso,” as Reif puts it, the effort you apply should never be so great that you can’t breathe comfortably.

“With scoliosis, often one of the primary losses involves your capacity to inhale and exhale,” Reif says. “Your energy level in turn is affected by this lung capacity. Through stretching and pranayama [breathwork], your vital lung capacity may increase, which in turn increases your energy levels. If your lungs are more efficient, you will be slower to fatigue.”

Deergha swasam (three-part breath), which aims to increase lung capacity, may benefit those with scoliosis. It encourages slow and deep diaphragmatic breathing: The lungs are filled and emptied in three steps each.

Toward the beginning of practice, experiment with this pranayama either sitting or standing while holding the neutral spine you’ve created. Breathe into this alignment, imagining filling your lungs from bottom to top on the inhale, first by expanding the belly, then the lower and middle ribs and lungs, and finally the upper lungs. On the exhale, visualize the breath emptying in reverse, from top to bottom. Draw your belly in slightly at the end of the exhale.

Reif says that you can give yourself additional feedback by placing one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest throughout deergha swasam. Ideally, on your inhale, you will feel your belly expand first, and then your chest will lift. On the exhale, your chest will drop slightly, then your belly will draw in gently. Once this begins to feel natural to you, you can begin to expand your awareness: work to inhale into, and exhale from, your right and left sides as evenly as possible.

“Notice any limitations,” Reif advises. “Does one side of your rib cage have more difficulty expanding—likely the concave side of the curve in the thoracic region, where the ribs are close together? You want to facilitate more expansion in the area that feels restricted on the inhale, and try not to let the restricted space collapse when you exhale.”

5. Emphasize poses that lengthen the muscles between the ribs, like side bends and side glides.

The concave, or shorter, side of the torso can be stretched through side bends and poses called side glides. Reif describes the difference between a side bend and a side glide this way:

“When side bending, you intentionally lengthen one side of the torso and lift one shoulder higher than the other—as you reach back for reverse warrior, for example. But in side gliding, the goal is to try to keep the shoulders—and head—level as you shift the rib cage or the hips to the right and left.”

You can practice such glides standing: Initiating the movement from the middle of the rib cage, encourage your rib cage to move side to side, and then your hips to shift from side to side, without disturbing your shoulders and head. Hold each glide for several breaths.

“Where we will feel the stretch when side bending or side gliding is where the concavity is, and that’s what we want to lengthen,” Reif explains. “So you’ll want to spend more time bending, or gliding, to the side opposite the concave side of the curve.”

6. Practice slowly, holding each pose for at least five breaths.

Instead of practicing at a fast clip, in which it may be possible to forget about alignment and breath, Reif suggests that you hold each pose for several breaths: “Take the time to make sure you are elongating your spine as much as you can in a pose and breathing diaphragmatically.”

Additionally, according to Reif, applying a milder version of deergha swasam to every pose—filling both the right and left lungs from bottom to top, then emptying them from top to bottom—will enable you to discover, and eventually release, tight areas.

7. Add yin or restorative classes to your yoga regimen.

“In these floor-based, slow practices, the extra time spent in each asana and the support of blocks, bolsters, and the ground in gentle poses will allow gradual lengthening of shortened structures,” Reif says.

While relaxing, Reif recommends that you facilitate deep muscular release by imagining your breath moving into restricted areas.

8. Take a side-lying savasana.

For some students with scoliosis, the pressure of the floor beneath their backs may cause them to be acutely aware of asymmetries, and they might find themselves actively trying to fix them—for instance, working to press one side of the middle back toward the floor—even during time set aside for relaxation.

Reif suggests that you lie on the side that is more convex as you relax. In addition to placing a pillow or blanket under your head, “try placing a bolster or other support under the part of your rib cage that’s rounded outward the most—that way you are still encouraging an adjustment, but passively this time.”

If you have two curves, after several minutes of lying on the larger curve, you could roll over to rest on your other side, placing a rolled-up blanket or towel under the second (smaller) curve.

 

A yoga practice for scoliosis aims to create length in the concavities (as illustrated here).

Scoliosis Don’ts

1. Don’t practice inversions without support if your scoliosis is severe or you are experiencing pain.

Though Reif is a fan of inversion tables, and a cautious supporter of many yoga inversions when they are practiced against a wall, he has concerns about the pressure an unsupported inversion could place on a scoliotic spine. “Be careful doing any inversion. Inversions allow the spine to compress—the opposite of the elongation that those with scoliosis need to prioritize,” Reif explains. “Use a wall to take some of the load off the spine when doing poses like headstand, handstand, and shoulderstand.”

2. Don’t expect asymmetrical poses to look (or feel) exactly the same on both sides.

In any kind of asymmetrical pose you may find it harder to lengthen, twist, or bend on one side. While, over time, practicing poses on that more challenging side twice or for longer periods, as suggested above, may help create more evenness from side to side, forcing one side of your body to do exactly what the other side is doing may cause strain. In your quest for evenness, “never push yourself to the point that you experience pain,” Reif says.

3. Don’t become overly stressed by the degree of your curvature as you practice, or how much or little your yoga practice is changing your curvature.

While certainly moving toward increased symmetry is important, Reif suggests balancing that focus on evenness with a degree of equanimity. “Don’t obsess or fret,” he says. “Your goal is not to become perfectly neutral, but rather to prevent any further increase in your scoliosis, and perhaps improve your alignment gradually—finding a little more length in the concavity, a little more strength in the convexity—so that you can move without pain and breathe a little easier.”

 

In Daily Life

Outside of yoga class, those with scoliosis can benefit from continuing to focus on lengthening the spine. “Keep upright, striving to be as tall as you can be,” Reif recommends. “Throughout your day, visualize a marionette string pulling you up by the crown of your head. Slumping will cause further distortion of the spine.”

He suggests that while sitting, you support your lumbar curve and perhaps one arm: “Many of those with scoliosis have one shoulder that is lower than the other. The head tips in that direction, too. To level your shoulders and your head, try placing the arm of the shoulder that’s lower on an armrest or even a bolster to raise it.”

When you stand for a long period, Reif recommends propping one foot on a block or footstool to level your hips, shoulders, and head. If you are not sure which foot to bring to the block to create greater evennness, experiment, looking in a mirror to assess the effects.

Throughout your day, avoid lifting heavy weights or other objects, especially if your scoliosis is severe and/or you are experiencing pain. “Lifting heavy loads will place greater stress on the concave side of your curve, which may lead to further tightness on the muscles within the concavity, causing or exacerbating back pain,” Reif explains. He also recommends that those with scoliosis who weight train counter the downward pressure of the weights by following their routine with some time on an inversion table or with gentle backbends over a large therapeutic ball.

At night, try sleeping on the side that is convex, just as you did in savasana, with some light support—like a pillow—under the convexity, or sleep on your back, if that is comfortable for you. Reif advises against sleeping on your stomach, “which can compress the neck.”

Through a regular yoga practice and this continued awareness, yoga students with scoliosis might find that it gradually becomes natural for them to stand taller, and perhaps even notice that they are breathing easier and moving with less pain.

Beyond Foam Rolling: 4 Self-Myofascial Release Practices for Tension

Lisa Kanne

Beyond Foam Rolling: 4 Self-Myofascial Release Practices for Tension

Relieve pain and increase mobility through these self-myofascial release tips from Tiffany Cruikshank, at Yoga Journal LIVE!

 

 

JENESSA CONNOR

 

 

Relieve pain and increase mobility through self-myofascial release.

I jumped at the opportunity to attend Tiffany Cruikshank’s “Myofascial Release Revealed” workshop at Yoga Journal LIVE! in New York City. OK, to be honest, it was more like a one-legged hop followed by a labored shuffle. As a yogi, CrossFitter, and (temporarily side-lined) runner, I deal with my fair share of injuries and tightness; you can bounce a quarter off my upper back muscles, and I’ve got a bout of plantar fasciitis that just won’t quit.

See also 6 Yoga Poses for CrossFit Cross-Training

Judging from the attendance for Cruikshank's class, I’m not alone. The room was filled to capacity with achy yogis, all of whom eagerly gathered around as she began the class with a brief explanation of the purpose and role of the body’s fascia. She described it as a sort of “saran wrap” that connects the muscles in chains so that they can move together. And, like muscles, fascia can bind up, form scar tissue, restrict movement, and cause pain.

See also Ease Lower Back + Shoulder Tension with Fascial Work

 

 

3 Guidelines to Ease Muscle Tension and Practice Self-Myofascial Release

Cruikshank spent the next couple hours walking us through myofascial release techniques we could do on our own with just a yoga mat and a couple of tennis balls. Before we began, she provided us with three important guidelines for any self-myofascial release practice:

  1. Stay away from bone.

  2. Stay away from nerves or any sensations that feel sharp, shooting, or radiating.

  3. Avoid swollen tissue.

She also noted that less is sometimes more, as the muscles may tense up if the sensation is too strong.

4 Myofascial Release Practices to Try

With those rules in mind, here are some exercises you can do at home to relieve tightness and release any chronic tension that plagues your body. You’ll need a yoga mat and two tennis balls.

1. Relax tight calf muscles.

Roll up your mat to 2–3 inches in diameter. With your hands and knees on the floor, bring your forehead to the ground and tuck the rolled up mat into the crook of your knees. Gently sit up on your knees.

If you have tight calves like mine, you’ll feel this immediately. (I think I actually said “whoa” out loud.) Spend some time here before releasing the mat and moving it to a point on your calves that’s about 1/3 of the distance between your knees and ankles. Sit up again, allowing your body weight to press the mat into your calves. Repeat with the mat positioned 2/3 of the way between your knees and ankles.

Once you’ve worked your way down your calves, unroll your mat and take Savasana. Cruikshank instructed us to do this after every exercise so that we would have the opportunity to notice any new sensations in the muscles.

See also 7 Ways to Upgrade Your Next Massage

2. Loosen your hamstrings.

Sit on your mat with your legs straight out in front of you in a narrow V shape. Move the flesh from below your sitting bones so that they are resting directly on the floor.

Slide a tennis ball under each thigh and position them directly under your sitting bones. Try leaning forward and back to increase or decrease the sensation as needed, but resist the urge to stretch forward, as stretching will pull on the muscle. This was another “whoa” moment for me. I didn’t need to do much more than simply sit there in order to feel a significant amount of pressure.

When you’re ready, move the tennis balls so that they’re about 1/3 of the way between your hips and knees and repeat the process. Then do the same with the tennis balls positioned about 2/3 of the way between your hips and knees.

Take Savasana.

See also How Bodywork Can Transform Your Practice

3. Release tension in your back.

With your knees bent, lie on the mat with the tennis balls positioned on either side of your spine (about an inch apart) just below the trapezius muscles.

Allow your bodyweight to press the tennis balls into the muscles on either side of your spine. When you’re ready, use your legs to roll up two inches so that the tennis balls roll down your spine. Spend some time here and then continue to roll the balls down your back two inches at a time. Once you’ve traveled the length of your spine remove the tennis balls and take Savasana.

Perhaps it was the two and half straight days of yoga I’d just done, but I actually fell asleep during this portion of the class. For me, it had the same effect as a deep tissue massage that’s both effective and relaxing.

 

4. Deepen your hip flexibility.

Lie down with your knees bent and the bottoms of your feet on your mat. Slide the tennis balls under your hips so that they’re positioned about 1 inch from either side of your sacrum. Rest here for as long as you like before straightening the right leg and moving the right tennis ball further away from the sacrum. Use your bent left leg to roll to the right slightly, increasing the pressure.

Continue to move the tennis ball away from the sacrum a little at a time, rolling your body to apply pressure. When you get to the outer edge of your leg just below the hip bone, roll your body so that you’re not quite all the way on your stomach and position the tennis ball so that it’s in the front “pocket zone” of your hip and apply pressure there. Judging from the symphony of collective gasps, groans and sighs in the room, we���re all carrying more than a little tension in our hips.

Take Savasana before moving on to the left side so that you can observe the differences between the right and left hips.

See also Hip-Opening Yoga Flow Video

 

While all of Cruikshank's exercises are informed by her comprehensive training and education in health and wellness, she concluded the class by assuring us that none of these exercises are an exact science. She encouraged us to explore and experiment to find what works best for our particular bodies.

off.

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TIFFANY CRUIKSHANK

Yoga in Pregnancy!

Lisa Kanne

Prenatal Yoga Poses for Each Trimester

Find the best prenatal yoga poses for all stages of your pregnancy.

LYNN FELDER / ASANA SEQUENCE BY SHIVA REA

AUG 28, 2007

 

Find the best prenatal yoga poses for all stages of your pregnancy.

Sitting cross-legged on sticky mats arranged in a wide circle, seven women inhale deeply, fling their arms wide, and turn their faces up toward the ceiling. Exhaling slowly, they round forward and wrap their arms around their big bellies to embrace their growing babies. The room, seafoam green and mirrored, is pleasantly dim. Unstructured, relaxing music plays quietly in the background. It is almost like being underwater. Or in the womb.

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The women, all in the second and third trimesters of their pregnancies, are here strengthening their bodies and spirits and finding a measure of comfort and community in Amanda Fitzgerald's prenatal yoga class at BodyMind Inc. in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Fitzgerald is a childbirth educator who owns Mother Spirit, a company that provides education and support for natural childbirth and parenting.

Fitzgerald, other prenatal teachers and students, and even some medical professionals say that prenatal yoga can ease the discomforts of pregnancy, such as moodiness, shortness of breath, and swollen ankles; can give women time to bond with their babies; and can help them prepare for the rigors and mysteries of labor.

Angela Gallagher, another prenatal yoga teacher located in Winston-Salem, feels strongly that a sense of community is important during pregnancy. "I end class with a muffin, a cup of tea, time to talk, and sometimes different speakers," she says. She tells her students that if they don't feel up to a class, they should come at the end—just for the fellowship. Prenatal yoga classes can provide a chance to spend time with other pregnant women sharing experiences and concerns, especially helpful if a woman is feeling stressed, unsupported, or fearful.

Class is a place where information is exchanged and questions answered, so it's important that the teacher be trained in prenatal yoga—and it's even better if she's been through the experience of childbirth. Prenatal yoga is a great way to train for labor and to enhance the experience of pregnancy, explains Gallagher, whose daughter, Ruby, is 3. "Labor is one of the most physical things you'll ever do," she explains. "You would not run a marathon without preparation: Why would you go into labor without preparing for it?" asanas, the physical poses, can help build strength and stamina and improve circulation. Meditation can improve the abilities to relax and to concentrate. Pranayama, breathing exercises, can help manage the pain of contractions.

Standing postures, like Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II Pose), can increase your leg strength and also generate courage and self-confidence. Kneeling on hands and knees and rounding the back up toward the ceiling can help a woman rehearse tilting her pelvis to facilitate the baby's delivery. "This modified Cat-Cow is a good one to move the baby into the right position for the delivery," says Fitzgerald. Sitting in Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose), with the soles of your feet together and the knees moving away from each other, and doing modified squats can increase blood circulation to the pelvic floor and help a woman get used to the feeling of opening up. "The most open you will ever be is in labor," says Gallagher. "Labor is no time to be shy."

Yoga class is no time to be shy either. It's a time to get to know your body and to build confidence in your ability to give birth. Yoga students and teachers alike stress the fact that women possess the innate skills to give birth in a natural and healthy way, despite Western medicine's inclination toward interventions like epidurals, forceps deliveries, and C-sections. In yoga class a woman can learn to tune in and respond to her body's needs, so that during her labor, when rational thought may be suspended, she'll be able to identify and ask for what she wants.

The process of birth is not a Hollywood script with harp music, diaphanous robes, and sweetly smiling cherubim. It is work made of muscle, sinew, sweat, blood, and love. By toning the body, mind, and spirit, yoga can help a mother be present for the miracle of birth.

What to Expect

Experts agree on some general rules for practicing yoga during pregnancy:

If you have never practiced yoga or have practiced very little before your pregnancy, you should practice only prenatal yoga while pregnant.

If you already had a strong yoga practice before your pregnancy, you may be able to continue a fairly vigorous practice-with modifications-after your first trimester.

During the first trimester both beginning and experienced yogis should only do a gentle practice or none at all, as the fetus is still implanting and the risk of miscarriage is highest.

Shari Barkin, M.D., a pediatrician with Wake Forest University Health Services/ Brenner Children's Hospital in Winston-Salem, who practiced yoga during her two pregnancies, cautions against starting "any new kinds of strenuous activities during pregnancy. However do spend at least 10 minutes a day doing Ujjayi breathing(Victorious Breath). Do some hip openers, forward folds, and Cat-Cow poses," she says. "If you are used to doing yoga, then keeping up your regular routine with modifications is important."

In all three trimesters pregnant women can expect to experience hormone surges, mood swings, bouts of insomnia, and frequent urges to urinate, explains Stephanie Keach, director of the Asheville Yoga Center and mother of two boys. Two kinds of pranayama are especially beneficial during pregnancy: Ujjayi, a long, strong, deep breath that helps you to focus on the present moment and maintain calm, and Nadi Shodhana, (Alternate Nostril Breathing), which according to yogic teachings helps to balance the body's energy flows. Avoid any kind of breath retention or hyperventilation that could limit the baby's oxygen supply. "As the circulatory, cardiovascular, endocrine, digestive, and nervous systems get nurtured by correct deep breathing, sleep comes easier and moodiness is less intense," Keach says.

During pregnancy the body produces the hormone relaxin, which softens the connective tissue. The good news is that this allows the pelvic joints to become more flexible while the uterus expands, making space for the baby. The bad news is that it can lead to instability in the sacroiliac joints and can cause lower back pain, so pregnant women need to be careful not to overstretch in their asana practice. "Pregnancy is not a time to strive for more flexibility, although it may occur" adds Keach.

 

 

First Trimester (0 to 13 weeks)

The first trimester holds mixed blessings for most women. There can be a lot of joy as well as much discomfort. Most women experience nausea and fatigue. They may not look pregnant, but profound biological and musculoskeletal changes are occurring in the body. "It is rare to want to do anything physical during this time, so I don't have many first trimester mamas," Keach says. Although most experts advise against starting a yoga practice in the first trimester, they also say if you already have a strong practice, you can continue yoga with modifications."Do not do inversions, twists, or jumps in your first trimester," Barkin says. "Step back; don't jump back in Sun Salutations. It's important not to jar or threaten implantation of the fetus and placenta." Barkin also advises substituting Ustrasana (Camel Pose) and Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) for Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward-Facing Bow Pose) during your first trimester. Consult with a prenatal yoga teacher to find out how to modify your practice as your body changes.

See also Prenatal Yoga: 6 Feel-Good Backbends Safe for Pregnancy

Second Trimester (14 to 28 weeks)

 

Most women begin their prenatal practice during the second trimester. Often they may feel very good. "They are not too huge and can do just about anything they feel comfortable doing, with or without props, as long as they can breathe deeply," Keach says. A woman may feel faint or light-headed during this time. "She will feel like eating more," Crawford says. "Pregnancy is a natural low blood sugar state." During pregnancy, explains Barkin, "the volume of blood in the body expands 40 to 60 percent to support the fetus and placenta, the blood circulates faster, your rate of metabolism increases, and your resting heart rate rises. You're using up your body's sugar faster; important reserves are being used to support the placenta and fetus." To meet the needs of your changing metabolism, eat a light meal or snack about an hour before class, drink plenty of liquids, and don't push yourself. Increasing your protein intake (as long as the kidneys are healthy) to about 60 grams a day is the best way to keep the blood sugar steady, Barkin says.

 

See also Prenatal Yoga: An Imprint Flow for Strength and Space

 

Third Trimester (29 to 40 weeks)

Now your body is really changing. The baby's movement is strong. The sacroiliac joints are loose, and breathing may be difficult. The extra weight and your protruding belly will likely challenge your balance in every posture. "Balance is an issue, as is weight, and the presence of a protruding belly makes a lot of poses difficult, requiring modifications and props," Keach says. Barkin, however, says she loved doing balance postures throughout her pregnancies. "Balance postures made me feel lighter and more aligned...but do them near a wall if you are feeling unsteady." Although some experts advise against lying on your back after the sixth month so as to avoid putting pressure on the vena cava (a large vein that runs along the side of the spine and curves behind the uterus), others say it's acceptable for short periods of time. It is especially important for a woman to do deep breathing when she is lying on her back, says Keach.

"Pretty much six months and on, I prop mama's head and heart up." She advises the same modification for Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall Pose)—"so she is like a 'V' with legs up the wall and head above heart above pelvis, breathing deeply." The medical perspective, says Barkin, "is that compressing the vena cava for long periods of time (as when sleeping) is dangerous . . . It is not clear if small bursts of lying on your back are problematic or not." Lying on the left side with pillows for props is the modification most often made for Savasana (Corpse Pose) during the relaxation period at end-of-class.

For those women who are practicing with a prenatal teacher and listening to their bodies, the third trimester is as good a time as any to build stamina and courage. "When I notice a pregnant woman at 38 weeks, say, in Warrior Pose, and her knee is hardly bent and her breath is short, my job is to encourage her to take her breath down deeper, to face her feelings of weakness and doubt," Crawford explains. "Then she can take that step into the unknown with her baby. Pregnancy is a time of changing, an opportunity to transform her feelings of weakness into strength."

Barkin says that "backbends and inversions are great in the last trimester for the practiced yogi. The caveat is, if you're body doesn't feel good doing it, stop." To avoid compressing the belly, Fitzgerald and Keach instruct women to take their legs apart during standing or seated forward folds. They also recommend moving the knees apart when resting in Balasana (Child's Pose).

 

See also Prenatal Yoga: 5 Psoas-Releasing Poses to Relieve Low Back Pain

 

Labor Training

Many women who practice prenatal yoga and give birth at home, in birthing centers, or in any situation that they helped create, describe their labors as amazing. But both prenatal yoga teachers and their students say that when approaching labor, it is best to expect the unexpected. "A woman brings everything from her whole life to this moment," Crawford explains. "You can not go into a birth planning what you are going to do. You have to go in empty, so that life guides you."

"With my very first contraction, it became clear to me that nothing anyone had ever said about labor had prepared me for this," says Camille Mulchi, who studied prenatal yoga with Crawford. "But my prenatal practice reminded me to simply be fully present in each moment and to allow my baby's birth to follow its path."

To teach women to breathe through the pain of the contractions, Fitzgerald invites them to hold Warrior II for one minute, about the length of a contraction. To help her students tolerate the burning pain of stretching open to accommodate a baby, Gallagher has her students take Thai Goddess Pose (sitting back on their heels with the toes tucked under) and breathe through the pain in their toes for several moments. "It may not seem like a very long time, but even 10 seconds can seem like infinity for someone in labor or holding a difficult yoga posture."

"The way to prepare mentally and physically for labor is to practice yoga every day," Gallagher explains. "We live from the neck up. Birth happens from the neck down." Yoga teaches us to listen to the needs of our bodies and to trust the wisdom of our bodies. Deeper intimacy with the body allows pregnant women to rely less on rational thinking and more on intuitive wisdom.

In Fitzgerald's class the women speak quietly to one another as they move into position for a seated, partner stretch. They work together, gently bending and stretching, elegantly balancing effort and surrender. When class is nearly over and they are lying in final relaxation, Fitzgerald softly invites them, "Imagine your baby, floating inside you, happy, healthy, and growing, soothed by the beating of your heart." Like life and yoga, pregnancy is not only a destination but also a journey—a time to savor the experience of having a life growing inside. "I love being pregnant, because it is the only time you can take your child everywhere," Barkin says.

Watching a class full of pregnant women with round bellies, it is easy to see where the concept of the Earth as a mother came from. Just as the Earth sustains all life, a mother-to-be provides a life-sustaining environment for her baby. And a prenatal yoga class can create an environment that nurtures the nurturer. At a time when you may feel tired, moody, nauseous, and out of control, a regular prenatal yoga practice can give you the energy to enjoy your pregnancy, the serenity to build a deeper intimacy with your own body and spirit, and also the presence of mind to expect the unexpected and be fully present for the miracle of birth.

Moving Through Mantra and Poetry: Create a Home Practice!

Lisa Kanne

 

Moving Through Mantra and Poetry: How I Created a Home Practice

by Kathleen Kraft

I needed a home within my home,

A place to return to

With many needs weighing me down—

Some of them my own—

I built a home by bowing to the sun

Last spring, I was searching for a way to bring clarity into my new life as housemate and default caregiver to my partner’s elderly mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease. My new family’s road seemed paved with rocks; it was unfamiliar and hard to navigate. I suddenly had many roles to fill, and too many people to take care of—loved ones, as well as students in numerous locations—and I had gotten lost in the shuffle.

Staying centered during difficult or busy times can be challenging, even for yoga teachers. And it’s particularly the case when it comes to staying connected to your own practice in a way that keeps your teaching true and embodied. The upside of times like these is that teaching can actually become an oasis, a place to explore the practices more deeply, and a means of exposing more of yourself to your students. For me, it was a matter of truly accepting my vulnerability and giving it a shape.

Becoming a caregiver and dealing with its complexities forced me to look at my practice with new eyes, and to take inventory. The essential questions that demanded review included this: How did I first arrive at yoga, and how could I get back to that pure place? I had begun my practice at another difficult juncture of my life, and it was the devotional movements of surya namaskar (sun salutation) that swept me off my feet. The flowing movement, the rising energy, the rinsing of body and mind... I found that I could be strong and free, maybe even fearless, with the help of a 68-inch-long piece of rose-colored rubber.

Many teachers—although, of course, not all—agree that asana practice without sun worship is like dressing without vinegar. Without its harnessing of mental and physical energy, asana practice loses its connection to something more primal and devotional. Regardless of our personal beliefs about surya namaskar and its origins, the knowledge that it is a shared sequence of movements spanning generations, possibly centuries and worlds, is powerful. We rise and we fall, we lift up and move back, and we jump forward to our starting position, only to rise again. The cycle invites us to think about life and faith, and about our own lives—where the kinks are today and what we’re doing with them.

But what happens when our prayers to the sun become rote and somewhat disconnected? What happens when the practice loses its luster?

I needed to start over somehow. Take a step back to the land of vairagya, or “detachment.” I needed to gain some perspective on my practice in order to bring light back into it. Practically speaking, I also needed to create a shorter, more focused practice that would work with my zigzag schedule.

Most of all, I wanted to touch the earth gently, in the morning, at home.

As one who has always enjoyed words and derived solace from them, I turned to mantra for the first time in earnest. I knew that mantra was, among many other things, a way to focus the mind. Georg Feuerstein used the phrase positive mental tracks when discussing the power of mantra to “help us gradually overcome spiritual darkness.” Let’s linger on the words “positive mental tracks” for a while.

Practicing mantra creates a passageway in the mind. I tend to think of neurons lighting up in a pretty, holiday-lights kind of way. But in reality, the sounds of a mantra create a kind of portal, a way out of something and toward something else—essentially an altered consciousness. It diffuses and defuses my thoughts. My first off-the-mat “aha” moment was on the R train, on my way to teach transit workers in Brooklyn. I was stuck in my head, in the past, and the mantra I was practicing at the time rose up, seemingly from nowhere, and it stayed there until I got off the train. Yes, at that moment, I was somewhere else (!), but I was also free from the former prison of my mental entanglement.

The sounds of a mantra create a kind of portal, a way out of something and toward something else—essentially an altered consciousness. It diffuses and defuses my thoughts.

So my mantra journey began by pairing mantra with movements that were accessible to me—the classic sun salutation (sometimes called Sun Salutation C). The classic sun salutation Surya mantra felt like the right fit, given my limited knowledge of Sanskrit. To better engage with the words, I talked to different teachers about their various meanings.

Here is the mantra, along with the English names of the sun that suited my ear. (The English translations for the names of the sun were gifted to me by Jenny Meyer, her teachers, and Prem Sadasivananda.)

Om Mitraya (friendly one) Namaha

Om Ravaye (shining one) Namaha

Om Suryaya (dispeller of darkness) Namaha

Om Bhanave (one who illumines) Namaha

Om Khagaya (mover in the sky) Namaha

Om Pusne (nourisher) Namaha

Om Hiranyagarbhaya (one of golden color, the container of everything) Namaha

Om Maricaye (possessor of rays) Namaha

Om Adityaya (son of Aditi, the cosmic divine mother) Namaha

Om Savitre (the cause of everything) Namaha

Om Arkaya (healer of afflictions) Namaha

Om Bhaskaraya (giver of wisdom) Namaha

It was a process to sync the mantra with the movements (each name goes with a position of the sun salutation), and to stay focused on the words as I chanted (initially out loud, and later silently). I’d like to say that it was a beautiful process, but it wasn’t. It was a way of digging out. A way to practice in a slower, more deliberate way. I realized that I was quite scattered, which though not necessarily terrible, was not a welcome realization. I also began to realize that that was a result of caring for someone who has a mental illness, which allowed me to be more patient with myself. Mostly, I learned that it’s not easy to slow down, now, in our Instatimes. And it’s not easy to slow down a sequence that I initially learned to practice with speed. But eventually the lento rhythm came. And eventually it sped up again. And now I have choices as to how to practice it.

So now I should talk about God … or sun gods? Or perhaps how it’s all the same. I prefer not to. Suffice it to say that these names of the sun can also be applied to the Big One. Or whomever you choose. But can you chant it without that type of belief, without intense devotion to a supreme being? I believe you can. For many, the notion of a higher power is personal, so why don’t we just stay with that vibration. What if one or two names of the sun resonate with you more than the others? What if one or two evoke qualities you’d like to bring to your daily outlook? Or what if, as Prem Sadasivananda said, every time you look at a tomato you see the sun?

That level of appreciation echoes the leading 20th century theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s concept of “radical amazement.” He says:

Wonder or radical amazement is the chief characteristic of the religious man’s attitude toward history and nature. One attitude is alien to his spirit: taking things for granted, regarding events as a natural course of things. To find an approximate cause of a phenomenon is no answer to his ultimate wonder. He knows that there are laws that regulate the course of natural processes; he is aware of the regularity and pattern of things. However, such knowledge fails to mitigate his sense of perpetual surprise at the fact that there are facts at all. [...]

As civilization advances, the sense of wonder declines. Such decline is an alarming symptom of our state of mind. Mankind will not perish for want of information; but only for want of appreciation. The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living. What we lack is not a will to believe but a will to wonder.

I wholeheartedly agree, but would argue that wonder can be the chief characteristic of every person, religious or not. I remain in awe of “my” mantra and what it gave me, that it brought me back to the bigger questions—the ones that need poetic license—the ones that arise.

Poetry of the Sun

As a poet, the Surya mantra led me to seek out poems about the sun. There are many gorgeous, profound poems of reverence, of quest for what exists beneath and beyond human desire and folly. For example, “O Sun of Real Peace” (from Leaves of Grass), by Walt Whitman, who worked in a hospital during the Civil War, is about the process of creation, and it celebrates the war’s end. You can hear the long echo of a yearning many of us feel today. There is a lot here to contemplate, but the imperative is clear: Pale as we are, we must follow the ideal of the sun.

It is yogic ultimately in its return to the present moment:

O SUN of real peace! O hastening light!

O free and ecstatic! O what I here, preparing, warble for!

O the sun of the world will ascend, dazzling, and take his height—

and you too, O my Ideal, will surely ascend!

O so amazing and broad—up there resplendent, darting and burning!

O vision prophetic, stagger'd with weight of light! with pouring glories!

O lips of my soul, already becoming powerless!

O ample and grand Presidentiads! Now the war, the war is over!

New history! new heroes! I project you!

Visions of poets! only you really last! sweep on! sweep on!

O heights too swift and dizzy yet!

O purged and luminous! you threaten me more than I can stand!

(I must not venture--the ground under my feet menaces me--it will notsupport me:

O future too immense,)—O present, I return, while yet I may, to you.

A more recent poem whose flowing language has a relaxing effect is Mary Oliver’s “The Sun," which asks:

Have you ever seen

anything

in your life

more wonderful

than the way the sun,

every evening,

relaxed and easy,

floats toward the horizon...

And here is a poem for our times. A poem of now: Can we actually give up the things that we think we need? Can we really spend more time in contemplation? I wonder. But poems like these resound with faith and can be read more frequently in the yoga room—the one you teach or practice in.

Celebrate Love this St. Valentines's Day!

Lisa Kanne

3 Ways to Celebrate Self-Love This Valentine’s Day

Adults tend to think of Valentine’s Day as a time to revel in romantic love, but what if instead you used this day to simply celebrate another kind?

PATRICIA KARPAS, MEDITATION STUDIO

FEB 8, 2018

Adults tend to think of Valentine’s Day as a time to revel in romantic love, but when things aren’t ideal in that area of your life, the holiday can become downright depressing. It can put a magnifying glass on an iffy relationship, remind you of trouble within a long-term partnership, or enhance your longing for one. What if instead you used this day to simply celebrate love—the most real kind there is?

 

1. Recognize love as something you always have.

“If you go underneath your habits and underneath your immediate experience, you will find the capacity for growth, for change, for wisdom, for love that’s never, ever destroyed,” says Sharon Salzberg, meditation teacher and author of Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection, in her Untangle podcast interview with Meditation Studio last year. “It may be covered over—it usually is. It may be hard to find, and it certainly may be hard to trust, but it’s there. There’s nothing that we can go through that will make that not be true.” Instead of seeing love as a thing your family, friends, and romantic partner give you, truly embrace the knowledge that it is something you have within you at all times.

2. Love thyself often.

 

 

In her Falling in Love with Yourself meditation on the Meditation Studio App, yogi and meditation teacher Coby Kozlowski recommends a powerful self-love exercise: Think of your top three qualities, look in the mirror, and with each quality say, “One thing I love about myself is…” This is not a narcissistic practice, but rather a reminder to celebrate what you love in yourself. It’s a better pick-me-up than your daily dose of caffeine.

3. Open your heart to others.

Feeling good about yourself has benefits for others too. In relationships it can eliminate the tendency to cling to or control your partner’s love, allowing for a truer, deeper connection. You can open your heart more freely to others when you feel love for yourself from within. “Recognizing that no one else can complete us actually enhances our capacity to love and receive the love of others,” Salzberg writes in Real Love. “It’s in that process of really listening, really looking at somebody, really being there, that the possibility of genuine connection, and then real love, can grow.” Listen to the full interview with Sharon Salzberg on Untangle.

 

 

4 Ayurvedic Self-Care Practices for Spring Renewal

Lisa Kanne

4 Ayurvedic Self-Care Practices for Spring Renewal

Turn to Ayurvedic self-care practices to regenerate your body and your mind to feel fresh and healthy this Spring.

Turn to Ayurvedic self-care practices to regenerate your body and your mind to feel fresh and healthy this Spring.

As signs of springtime—renewal, warmth, and expansion—emerge, you may still feel stuck in the cold and heaviness of winter, fighting sleepiness and possibly extra weight from the holidays and being holed up. Or, you may feel worn out from battling budding allergies, rather than energized and ready for the new season. But adopting these simple time-­tested Ayurvedic self-­care practices for balancing, purifying, and rejuvenating the body and mind can help you fully prepare for and enjoy the dynamism of spring.

See also The Ayurvedic Diet For You

1. Add Turmeric

This common kitchen herb has potent healing properties. A 2014 meta­study in the journal Biotechology Advances tallied more than 6,000 articles about its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, and anticancer activities. Make a cup of morning tea using 1⁄4 tsp each of ginger and turmeric powder to wake up your digestive system and soothe aches and pains. Turmeric is also effective at drying mucus and soothing irritation associated with allergies and colds. To tackle the sniffles, take 1⁄2 tsp of turmeric powder with equal parts raw honey, used to help clear phlegm, three times a day.

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See also Eat Your Way to Happy: The Mood-Boosting Benefits of Food

2. Rinse your Sinuses

Using a neti pot, a teapot of sorts that helps you pour saline solution through your nasal and sinus cavities, can clear cold­ and allergy-­related sinus issues. The saline solution, prepared with 8 ounces distilled water and 1⁄2 tsp non-iodized mineral or sea salt, helps tiny hair­-like structures called cilia sweep out dust, germs, allergens, and mucus. Fill the pot with solution, and stand over a sink. Place the spout in one nostril, and tip your head back and slightly to the side until the solution starts to drain out your other nostril. If you are really congested, gently drain the saline solution out the same nostril into which you poured it.

See also 7 Tricks to Nip Allergies in the Bud

3. Eat your Greens

The spring harvest includes important foods for promoting a healthy liver, colon, and lymphatic and immune systems, all of which can become stagnant when you spend a lot of time indoors. Dandelions start popping up this season, and both the leaf and root are excellent for purifying digestive organs. The Italians make an excellent dish by sautéing garlic and dandelion greens in olive oil. If you find the taste too bitter, substitute with kale or spinach, which also pack in fiber, minerals, and antioxidants that promote elimination.

See also 7 Ways to Renew Yourself from the Inside Out for Spring

4. Practice Peace, Love, and Understanding

One of the most powerful ways to feel in sync with the change of seasons is to work on lingering issues in your relationships. In winter, we go inside ourselves, but spring encourages us to open up again, and that includes opening up to new possibilities in our relationships. Make a list of loved ones with whom you would like to clear the air or just reconnect,and reach out to them. Forgiveness, peacemaking, and understanding will help lift emotional heaviness and ensure a joyful spring!

See also 10-Minute Guided Meditation for Self-Compassion

Scott Blossom is a traditional Chinese medical practitioner, Shadow Yoga teacher, and Ayurvedic consultant. Learn more at DoctorBlossom.com






 

Natural ways to cope with Flu and Colds

Lisa Kanne

Natural Ways to Cope with Winter Colds and Flu

    BY SHANNON SEXTON

 

It’s the dead of winter and you’ve got a miserable cold or the flu—again. Why is it so hard to escape this season without sneezing, coughing, aching, or running a fever?

Because winter is a kapha-dominant season, we begin to feel increasingly cold, heavy, wet, dense, and inert.

We often invite these ailments in unwittingly. As the temperature drops and twilight falls earlier and earlier, we’d rather slouch on a couch and eat pizza in front of the TV than take a brisk walk or head to the gym. Throw in a few festive holidays and we’ve got an overburdened, underexercised body brimming with ama (toxic buildup). And because winter is a kapha-dominant season, we begin to feel increasingly cold, heavy, wet, dense, and inert. As kapha rises and ama builds, the body becomes congested.

In its wisdom, the body attempts to slough off this toxic buildup before it causes bigger problems (according to ayurveda, ama is the fertilizer for all the seeds of illness). A cold or the flu can be the mechanism for a little “spring cleaning,” however unpleasant.

So while it’s tempting to raid the medicine cabinet for cough suppressants, decongestants, anti-inflammatories, and anti-nausea medications, ayurveda encourages us to support our body’s cleansing mission, even if it means toughing out uncomfortable symptoms. Here are some natural ways to cope with colds and flus.

At the first sign of sickness…

Support your body’s cleansing efforts and boost your immune system with the following items:

Vitamin A (20,000 IU once a day for 5 days at your heaviest meal. Contraindicated in pregnancy.)

Zinc lozenges (25 mg up to 3 times per day, best with food to prevent stomach upset.)

Echinacea extract (30 drops in an ounce of hot water, 4 to 8 times per day. Best absorbed on an empty stomach, 30 minutes before meals or 2 hours afterward.)

Vitamin C (500 mg 4 to 8 times per day on an empty stomach.)

Sip hot water throughout the day. It will counteract dry indoor environments by hydrating you and liquefying toxins so that they’re easier to move out of the body.

If you have a sore throat…

Take a Ceanothus compound extract (30 drops, 3 to 4 times per day in an ounce of hot water). It helps soothe a sore throat by releasing lymphatic congestion.

Gargle with warm salt water up to every two hours.

If you’re congested…

Rinse your nose with a neti pot 4 to 5 times a day until your congestion dissipates. After filling the neti pot with warm saline water, tilt your head and let the liquid pass from one nostril to the other and out. Then repeat on the other side. The nasal wash carries away airborne particles—dust, bacteria, viruses, and fungi—and flushes out excess mucus. Neti pots are available online and at many health-food stores.

Put a few drops of eucalyptus oil into a pot of steaming water. Drape a towel over your head, lean over the pot, and breathe in the steam for several minutes up to 5 times a day. Eucalyptus is an anti-kapha aroma that will energize you while increasing the circulation and drainage of mucus.

If you have a fever…

Wait it out. Recent medical studies show that people tend to stay sick longer when they suppress fevers with medication. A fever is your body’s way of destroying an invader, so many ayurvedic practitioners do not treat a fever unless it’s over 102°. Instead, they recommend dressing warmly and using cold compresses or taking tepid baths to alleviate the fever’s discomforts. (And, of course, resting!)

If you’re nauseous…

Don’t suppress the urge to vomit. This purging activity is so kapha-diminishing that ayurvedic physicians use it as a form of therapy for people with sluggish, overburdened systems. Nausea is a sign that your body is unable to digest whatever you’ve eaten. Vomiting relieves the body of that burden.

If your body is strong and the disease is weak…

Follow a modified kapha-pacifying diet for 2 to 4 days. Eat plenty of fruit and hydrate yourself with vegetable juices, broth, and herbal tea. This gentle fast will stave off hunger while freeing up digestive energy that can be used to fight off disease instead.

Yoga movement to help prevent cognitive decline

Lisa Kanne

Twice-weekly workouts may be best medicine for cognitive decline

Cheryl Platzman Weinstock

(Reuters Health) - - There’s little evidence that medications improve mild cognitive decline associated with aging, according to a new review of research, but doctors can recommend exercise with confidence. 

A man exercises in downtown Los Angeles, California, March 9, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Researchers reviewed 11,530 studies of so-called mild cognitive impairment (MCI), to see how many older people are affected and which interventions and lifestyle changes have been shown to improve symptoms. 

MCI becomes increasingly common at older ages and is characterized by mild problems with thinking and memory that usually don’t interfere with daily life or independent function. People diagnosed with MCI are more likely, however, to go on to develop Alzheimer’s or other dementias than people without it. 

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Until now, said Ronald Petersen, the lead author of the new study and American Academy of Neurology (AAN) treatment guidelines, “Clinicians didn’t know what to do with these people. Now that we know that it’s a burgeoning condition we need to pay attention when folks come in and complain.” 

Petersen, who directs the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in Rochester, Minnesota, and his coauthors found that between ages 60 and 64, 6.7 percent of people have MCI. In the 65-69 age group, that rises to 8.4 percent, and about 10 percent at ages 70-74, nearly 15 percent at 75-79 and just over 25 percent at ages 80 to 84. 

When they looked at the use of drugs, such as cholinesterase inhibitors, they found “no high-quality evidence” that the medications work, according to the report in the journal Neurology. 

Their analysis of studies looking at the effects of physical exercise on cognition did find a benefit, though. In one study involving 86 women with MCI, 70 to 80 years old, researchers found that twice-weekly resistance training for 26 weeks was more effective than aerobic training over the same time period at increasing what’s known as executive functioning. After completing the exercise regimen, the women were better able to plan, manage and organize their thoughts. 

Based on their review, the authors updated a practice guideline for MCI to include, for the first time, a recommendation that people with the syndrome should exercise regularly as part of an overall approach to managing their symptoms. 

“This is a rich area of study. I don’t think you can say that if you exercise 150 minutes a week you can push back cognitive decline a certain number of years,” Petersen said in a telephone interview. “We don’t know that for sure, but . . . physical exercise might be beneficial in slowing down the rate of cognitive decline since it has been shown to cause some stabilization or improvement of cognition.” 

He thinks a combination of aerobic exercise and resistance training is likely best for MCI patients, but the data about its long-term effectiveness remains “scant.” He recommends that patients with MCI try to work up a sweat by walking briskly for 50 minutes, three times a week, because it might improve blood flow to the brain or induce enzymes to break down proteins that can build up into brain plaques. 

Neurology researchers are hoping to develop more specific evidence-based guidelines on how much exercise and what kind is needed to potentially delay or prevent cognitive decline based on ongoing clinical trials, he noted. 

The new AAN guideline, which is endorsed by the Alzheimer’s Association, also urges clinicians to discuss with their MCI patients the diagnosis, prognosis, long-term planning and the lack of evidence that drugs and dietary options, such as vitamins E and C, homocysteine-lowering B vitamins and flavonoid-containing drinks, are at all effective. 

Petersen and his colleagues also analyzed five studies of brain-training interventions and found “insufficient evidence to support or refute the use of any individual cognitive intervention strategy.” Nevertheless, they conclude that doctors may recommend this approach because it might improve specific cognitive skills. 

“Continuing to be cognitively and physically active is paramount for overall brain health,” noted Dr. Neelum T. Aggarwal of the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago, who wasn’t involved in the review or guidelines. 

Some cases of MCI are associated with reversible causes of cognitive impairment, including medication side effects, sleep apnea, depression and other medical conditions, so it’s important for patients to visit their healthcare provider at the first sign of memory problems, he said in a phone interview.

Letting go

Lisa Kanne

Why It's Time to Replace "Letting Go" with "Letting Things Be"—& How to Start

In this excerpt from her new book Deep Listening, Jillian Pransky offers a practice for creating space to let yourself be just as you are.

JILLIAN PRANSKY

NOV 7, 2017

 

 

When I was growing up, my father was not an easy person to be around. He was the guy who’d drive 100 miles per hour on Main Street, cutting people off. He would walk into the house after work holding a gum wrapper he’d found on our driveway, and my brothers and I would brace ourselves for his fury—and our punishment. My father controlled everything in our house, from the thermostat to the emotional climate. I learned early on how important it was to yield to him.

The conversations I had in my mind about my father took up a lot of my thinking time. This dialogue felt urgent and true, but more important, it became “me.” My “story” developed—the one where I must not be good enough, and to get my father to pay me the kind of loving attention I wanted, I had to be better. I pushed myself daily—in sports, in school, at my job. I spent all my time achieving, and these achievements became who I was in the world.

We’re often not consciously aware of these old foundational conversations that live inside us—how they define us, and how they often control us. I certainly wasn’t. It wasn’t until I started the practice of Deep Listening that I learned how to respond differently to the story in my head; for the first time, I learned how to truly relax and just listen to my body.

Deep Listening is the process of truly connecting to ourselves and our lives. It isn’t so much a specific technique as it is an approach to how we receive and respond to ourselves and others.

Over the past 25 years, Deep Listening has helped me recover from injuries, illness, and grief. It has helped me better understand my challenging relationships and become closer to the people who are important to me—including my father. Through teaching this practice, I’ve discovered a number of things. Namely:

  • Most of us are used to living life as a series of reactions to what’s going on around us.

  • Most of us feel stressed and overwhelmed much of the time.

  • Most of us live with tension in our body that is wreaking havoc on our health.

  • Most of us suffer from anxiety and don’t know why it arises.

  • Most of us carry around powerful emotional narratives—the “stories” we tell ourselves about our undigested pain—and we’re not sure how to heal those hurts from the past.

  • Most of us don’t understand how to change the habits that keep us stuck.

  • And most of us don’t know how to be gentle, kind, and compassionate with ourselves—the conditions that allow us to evolve.

But the truth is, stress is not really the problem. The problem is that we need to respond differently—not only to stress but to anything that makes us uncomfortable. We need to make space so we can respond differently. And most of us have no idea how to do that.

See also Why Restorative Yoga Is the ‘Most Advanced Practice’ Plus, 4 of Its Biggest Benefits

Making Space Versus “Letting Go”

Creating space is different from “letting things go.” I once believed I needed to let go of certain things, because I thought the stuff I was holding on to must be “bad” parts of me. That perspective reinforced the idea that I had to get rid of something or I wouldn’t be okay. It felt like a little war was going on inside me.

I am no longer fond of the concept of letting things go because it implies that we need to eliminate something from our life, and that idea can create more tension. The truth is, we are all a walking summary of our life experiences—everything we’ve taken in, good and bad.

So instead of trying to “let things go,” I invite students to “let things be.” This is the attitude from which we can make space. Rather than pushing parts of us away, we are instead creating an environment that allows us to simply loosen our grip. We don’t have to fix anything. All we’re doing is bringing tender, nonjudgmental attention to our body and making room for whatever is living there. This is how the process of sustainable change begins.

Nothing ever goes away

until it teaches us

what we need to know.

—Pema Chödrön

Study with Jillian Pransky in Yoga Journal's Restorative Yoga 101 online course

Try This Practice for Making Space

Take a moment to gather yourself here.

Let your body land on the ground.

Let your breath arrive in your body.

Let your mind rest on your breath in your body.

Here, now.

Welcome the breath with a receptive belly.

Your breath will gently unravel the tension it meets.

Your breath will tenderly expand you inside.

Allow your breath to unwind you,

unfurl you.

Let yourself be opened by your breath.

Allow your breath to rise and fall.

Let it flow in and out of you,

on its own,

softening everything in its path.

Expanding you.

You’re bigger than you think you are.

Adapted from the book, Deep Listening, by Jillian Pransky. Reprinted with permission from Rodale.

Ten Ways to be Fearless in the Face of Grief and Loss

Lisa Kanne

10 Ways to be Fearless in the Face of Grief and Loss

Fearlessness is about having the courage to show up to your reality, to face your real emotions, and to be brave enough to continue moving forward with your life.

LEAH GUY - Ocotber 30th, 2017

Natural disasters, public or personal tragedies, and general feelings of unsafety in the world are giving many people reason to feel extreme stress, fear, grief, confusion, and loss. Learning to healthily move through these emotions will help you avoid stagnation in your pain and suffering. Being so close to your deepest feelings can make you feel very vulnerable, but that is where you learn to trust and transform. Fearlessness isn’t about mindlessly bulldozing through life like a daredevil, it’s about having the courage to show up to your reality, to face your real emotions, and to be brave enough to continue moving forward with your life. Here are 10 tools you can use to process difficult emotions so you can continue to function as optimally as possible through times of bereavement.

10 Ways to Be Fearless Through Grief and Loss

1. Practice present-moment mindfulness.

You can call it meditation or mindfulness but essentially it is the practice of acute awareness of self and your surroundings to help you stay grounded in the present moment. Notice how you feel, the smell of the air, what you hear. These very simple but powerful exercises of mindfulness can help heal your heart and mind.

2. Give yourself a grieving schedule.

Often grief can feel all consuming and emotions can feel out of control. Setting aside time on your schedule to grieve will give you structure with attentiveness to the reality of your suffering. If grief starts to overtake you, tell it you will attend to it at your next designated time and focus on the current tasks at hand. This practice will allow you to continue healing for as long as you need without causing total emotional depletion.

3. Allow and accept your authentic feelings.

It’s natural to want to run away from deep emotions out of fear. As you learn to sit and trust the moment, you can learn to trust yourself and take emotions as they come. Allowing emotions means not judging them but accepting what is real.

4. Express your emotions.

It’s important that you not only accept the feeling but that you find ways to express the feelings. Painful emotions can feel overwhelming but the more you healthily express your feelings, the more trust you build in yourself. The danger arises when you deny your emotions. Years of suppressed feelings can grow within you and cause ill health.

See also Emotions in Motion

5. Stay connected to others.

It’s easy to isolate during difficult periods. Although it is important to spend some time alone to process grief, it is vital to stay connected with others in your community and who care. As you are brave enough to accept your emotions, you can allow others to be present in your life to share experiences.

6. Keep a journal.

Writing can be a very helpful tool to help express emotions and track the flow of healing. Let your thoughts and feelings pour out onto the paper and try not to judge or filter what is said. Keep this journal private. It is where you can safely share and express your feelings.

7. Be of service.

Helping others is a wonderful way to stay connected and to keep your heart open. When you serve others, your community benefits and so do you.

8. Get extra rest.

Grief and loss can cause intense stress and it takes a toll. It’s important to honor yourself by allowing extra time for rest. Don’t expect to perform at your highest level during this time and don’t push yourself. Get plenty of sleep and rest. Emotional processing can cause energy depletion.

9. Optimize nutrition.

Excess stress requires enhanced nutrition. Nourish your adrenal glands with extra vitamin c and enough proteins and healthy fats to feel more grounded and safe. Include plenty of superfoods and micronutrients to support your overall health. Reducing sugar and processed foods will not only make you feel better physically but will help stabilize your mood and your mind.

10. Create a memorial.

Create a special art piece, plant a tree, or craft a memory book. Place a special plaque on your favorite area or name a new recipe. Imprinting your emotions onto a memorial is a beautiful way to treasure and stay connected to your loving memories.

5 Things I Learned When I Took My Yoga Practice Way Off the Mat

Lisa Kanne

5 Things I Learned When I Took My Yoga Practice Way Off the Matt

 

 

An American yoga instructor shares lessons from her experience in Kenya.

 

By Maria Chatman, Contributor |Oct. 18, 2017

"In every country, all over the world, our yoga mats are a place to cultivate a deeper sense of compassion for ourselves and for one another." (Getty Images)

Yoga is growing in America by leaps and bounds. A practice once thought of to be reserved for flower children or patchouli oil-wearing vegans is now attracting carnivores, CrossFitters and executives worried about being unable to touch their toes.

All of this can seem contrived and elicit the occasional eye roll – especially from longtime practitioners who shame commercialization and the recent proliferation of nontraditional yoga classes. But I love the fact that more people are finding their way onto a mat and doing it in their own style. Because more important than whether you take your yoga hotor room temperature, in English or Sanskrit, fast or relaxed, is how you translate your practice off the mat.

For example, presence, acceptance, equanimity and non-judgment are words we lean on in our classes, but how are we yogis walking our talk once we leave the studio? Where do the hashtags end and the real impact begin? How can we use yoga as a tool for change?

These are questions I asked myself when I became an ambassador for Africa Yoga Project, a program that trains unemployed youth from marginalized communities to earn a self-sustaining income as community yoga teachers. Based in Nairobi, Kenya, AYP has trained more than 200 yoga teachers who provide free yoga classes in 80 locations across Africa to those who wouldn't otherwise have access. As an AYP ambassador, I spent 14 days in Kenya working with schools, informal settlements and prisons to get a firsthand look at the impact yoga is having on these communities.

Here are the top five things I learned from taking my yoga off the mat:

1. Community is our lifeline.

Many people I spent time with in Kenya live in poverty, do not have access to clean water and have lost parents and loved ones to illness or violence at young ages. In dealing with tragedy and heartbreak, their yoga community became their lifeline; their method for dealing with and overcoming extreme hardships.

In an increasingly digitized world, we are witnessing more and more people flocking to yoga studios seeking real connection. My suggestion is to pull your mat a little closer to the person next to you, make eye contact with your teacher and open yourself up to the like-minded individuals with whom you are fortunate to share your practice.

[See: 9 Surprising Things That Happen When You Go on a Digital Detox.]

2. Limits are self-imposed.

During my first week in Nairobi, I accompanied AYP teachers to community classes, often in the slums, usually followed by lunch in their homes. Seeing firsthand the environmental challenges these instructors overcome while having tremendous impact on their communities by teaching yoga was by far one of the most inspiring things I have ever experienced. In a place with no yoga mats – let alone fancy gear – these yogis were transforming lives.

It became clear that any limits we place on ourselves are self-imposed and that much of what holds us back from seizing opportunities is our own self-doubt. Setting an intention at the beginning of your yoga practice is an invitation to reframe your thoughts, let go of resistance and work toward your highest potential.

3. Authenticity is the key to great leadership.

The most effective instructors and practitioners I encountered in Nairobi were not necessarily the most credentialed or anatomically knowledgeable, but were those who spoke with openness and led with their hearts. In fact, some of the most powerful leaders didn't speak at all: One class I attended included participants and instructors who were deaf. They led with such passion that no words were needed to express themselves.

[See: 9 Misconceptions About Yoga.]

This is not to discount the value of solid training, experience and continuing education, but when looking for a yoga teacher, both physical and spiritual alignment should be considered. In addition to finding an instructor who challenges you physically, seek out someone whose ethos inspires you to make conscious choices, take action and have a positive impact on your community.

4. Being teachable is the foundation of personal growth.

My second week in Nairobi, I gave a presentation I had prepared for for weeks before my arrival. But after spending seven days in the city, I realized that most of what I planned to share did not translate meaningfully to what these teachers were experiencing daily. I had to ask questions and listen intently to what challenges they faced and – together – discuss ways to enhance their teachings.

It was a reminder that to be teachable means being consistently open to learning from anyone at any time in any environment – especially if it's one that's unfamiliar. By letting go of control and being open – whether it's to an unexpected substitute teacher or a challenging new flow – we learn to be truly present and grow as individuals and yogis.

5. Human suffering is universal.

After a particularly emotional day spent visiting outreach programs, I discussed how difficult it is to witness this degree of human suffering with the co-founder of AYP. Being face to face with such extreme poverty and inequality that we know exists but almost never see caused me to question a lot about my perception of the world. It was then that she reminded me that all suffering is universal – regardless of age, race or income level.

In that moment, I truly understood that while we all live differently, we are all connected as a global community. While our individual challenges may be unique, we all experience pain, joy, fear and love. In every country, all over the world, our yoga mats are a place to cultivate a deeper sense of compassion for ourselves and for one another. Compassion, like yoga, is a daily practice that we must commit to and choose to come back to over and over again.

Lisa Kanne

ERIN TOMASO SMITH      WHAT IS MY STRUGGLE TO ACHIEVE TAPAS?

Tapas, Hinduism (Sanskrit: “heat,” or “ardour”), in, ascetic practice voluntarily

carried out to achieve spiritual power or purification. In the Vedas, tapas refers

to the “inner heat” created by the practice of physical austerities and figured in

the creation myths, as a means by which Prajāpati (the main creator god)

brought the world into existence. In later Hinduism the practice of tapas was

especially associated with yogic discipline as a way of purifying the body in

preparation for the more exacting spiritual exercises leading to liberation

(moksha). Among the austerities mentioned in the are fasting, the holding of difficult and often painful bodily postures, vigils kept in the presence of fires or extreme cold, and breath control literature sacred.   (www.Britanica.com/tapas)

Okay, okay, okay...now that I fully understand the meaning of Tapas, I can

finally define my struggles to achieve it. I get it. Our discipline to experience it

or to achieve it. To define Tapas as being a struggle was what I initially saw

as confusing because I did not view this concept as a struggle. After a bit (a

lot, actually) of exploration of the concept and with myself I realize that the

“struggle” is what keeps us from finding Tapas. Not that Tapas is as struggle.

So, what part of me makes it difficult to practice (or find) Tapas in my life?

Well, as hard as it is to admit, I like to be in control. An enormous side of me is

very open to accepting help.... I like to personally believe anyway. Help in big

or small ways. Whether it be help with daily chores around the house,

understanding certain financing, completing a task or assignment, organizing

an event, calming the chaos, getting the girls ready for school, so on and so

forth. One of two things are bound to occur.... One, I ask for help only to find

myself annoyed with the help I am offered, turning it down, or demanding that

it be done a very complicatedly and precise way. Two, I simply will not ask for

help knowing that the answer might be scary or I simply won’t like the answer.

OIY! What is wrong with me!!!???

 

Definition of my struggle toward achieving Tapas: unadmitted (but now

 

admittedly) “help control freak”.

Wow, I never knew that I felt that way about myself until this very instant. I

ERIN TOMASO SMITH WHAT IS MY STRUGGLE TO ACHIEVE TAPAS?

I am very proud, highly educated, know what I want in my life, I always try to

be openminded and supporting of others even when I don’t feel like it, I am a

positive and influential leader. But I am also sad. I don’t need, or want, people

to know this. As a mother, supporting wife, coach, and friend I don’t feel that I

can be sad or down or anything other than optimistic and “strong”. So, I

replace it with this behavior. “Help Control Freak”. Maybe if I am in “control” of

all help that I need (but won’t necessarily request) I will always come across

strong? I don’t really know, to be completely honest.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not the type to always be right. That is not the

control I am talking about. My struggle is entirely regarding asking and

receiving the help that I need. So maybe control is a crazy term to use. But

really it is about the control. I feel like I need to be in “control” of the result that

I may get from the asking part. The result.... Eeek. The result may, very likely,

be to pliable for me to handle.

 

wrote that. I said that out loud. That is terrible. I always thought of myself

 

differently. But, it’s absolutely truth.

I think this is called vulnerability? Whew. Scary stuff. But I am discovering

more about myself EVERY SINGLE DAY! I cry EVERY SINGLE DAY,

because I realize I can be vulnerable. I am finally realizing I don’t have to be in

control of every result. I think I feel that if I can control this one thing, the

potential results, I can maintain face. I will never be caught in a state of

weakness. Because asking for help may expose my weakness.... My

sadness, right? Or so I thought. If the result opens a can of worms.... It’s ok. I

can feel sad and no one will be negatively affected by it. If the result scares

me and someone sees it.... It’s okay. And hey, maybe my exposures will help

someone else in some way. That is what I am here on earth to do anyhow.

Help others. That [helping others] is what I feel my purpose here on Earth is.

So, why the heck am I so padlocked from accepting help from others if I am

so determined to help everyone else? I know that me being sad, a lot, is a big

obstruction and I believe that it stems this need to be in control of the results. I

need to realize that it’s okay. I’m okay. This is another path to help me learn

more so I can teach more. This vulnerability, the need to be in control of the

results, the fear of letting anyone discover that I too can be weak.... It’s ok.

Just ask for help gosh dangit! I will be okay. I did break down and ask you for

help the other day, didn’t I? Wewhooooo! See, I am already beginning to be a

stronger soul. 

Being and Becoming: the Practice of Embracing Change.

Lisa Kanne

 

 

Being and Becoming: The Practice of Embracing Change

OCTOBER 12, 2017    BY KATHRYN ASHWORTH

 

On August 21, the day of the full solar eclipse, many people living in North America looked up at the sky with protective eyewear. Depending on where they were geographically, they experienced different degrees of dim—perhaps even total darkness. And on this day, like any other, myriad human experiences occurred. In my own case, I turned 30.

Now, three days later, I am flying from the East Coast to the West, where the sun always seems brighter. And I am writing these words to pass the time. There is only so much yoga-in-tiny-spaces that one can do, only so many pages of a book that can be read, and only so many songs that can be listened to when sandwiched for five hours between two strangers. And I am writing to mark the occasion.

In light of turning 30 and experiencing the eclipse, I find myself pondering transitions, shifts, and changes of all kinds. In particular, I wonder why some feel so big and others so small, and why some make us feel more alive than others.

It is often said that when we’re on our mats practicing asana, the way we transition between poses is as important as the poses themselves. It’s suggested that we need to bring presence of mind to the entire journey, rather than just to what we may perceive as joyful stopping points along the way. But off our mats, in daily life, we can easily get so focused on the objective destinations—work, errands, dinner—that we lose all sense of joy in the journey that is our life. Instead of finding it in the present moment, we wait expectantly for the rush of new love, a fantastic vacation, a birthday celebration to light up our life or wake us up.

A teacher of mine says that human beings go to work just to come home and walk between the kitchen, the bathroom, and their bedroom. While this paints a somewhat bleak picture of existence, there is some truth to it. I, too, have succumbed to this Groundhog Day existence of same-old, same-old.

When someone asks me “What’s up?” my response has always been “Not much.” Even after not seeing someone for months, I often catch myself saying, “Oh, nothing’s all that different.”

But as I watched the moon crawl across the sun I felt more engaged with my life. I experienced the rare feeling of the fleetingness of all material things, including myself. An eclipse such as this won’t happen again for another twenty-three years, I thought. So I have to make the most of it.

As the sky grayed, the community of practitioners I live with came together to meditate. And as we sat in the shrine, I could feel change rolling across my skin like a thick fog—a feeling that was also more palpable because my 20s were being eclipsed.

Although my latest birthday came with some agitation—sleepless nights when I wondered, What am I doing with my life?—turning 30 actually felt like the offer of a blank slate. When a zero was tacked onto my age, everything felt new. Exciting even.

This feeling of “wow,” similar to the feeling many of us got as we watched the solar and lunar merge, is also something we work toward in our practices.

I remember listening to Ashtanga yoga teacher Richard Freeman talk about yoga many years ago. He defined it as a moment that can take us by surprise, a moment of “wow.” This feeling of “wow,” similar to the feeling many of us got as we watched the solar and lunar merge, is also something we work toward in our practices.

When a mantra fills our mind, we are led into this secret space that facilitates the “wow.” Our minds become less dogged by their own roaming tendencies and less bogged down by the kleshas (afflictions): ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion, and clinging to life. When we practice asana, we can also feel this way. We walk off the mat feeling lighter, more spacious, and ready for the newness that each moment presents.

We let go a little bit. Then we do it all again. And even if we do our practice every day, it is never the same—and we are never the same. Realizing this, we can also see that nothing ever has to be the same.

Maybe then, when we walk between the kitchen and the bedroom and the bathroom, we can attend a bit more to the journey, to the transitions from room to room, rather than just hurrying onward to the next destination. We might observe the feeling of each foot as it lands on the carpet or wood or tile, and the temperature or texture of that surface on our bare feet. Perhaps we also notice a small flower on the lawn outside our home and continue to observe it throughout its season. And when that flower dies, we might notice another small, fleeting thing.

And like this, we can turn our whole life—which is ultimately a string of small and big changes and transitions—into a moving meditation on what it means to be, become, and to finally no longer exist in the same way we do now. We won’t have to wait for something big, whether an eclipse of the sun or a total eclipse of the heart, to be amazed. We can keep finding “wow” everyday, we can keep on waking up to being changed.

New Study Finds Yoga Significantly Reduces Depression in Male Veterans

Lisa Kanne

 

New Study Finds Yoga Significantly Reduces Depression in Male Veterans

JENNIFER D'ANGELO FRIEDMAN

OCT 5, 2017

 

A new study presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association found that male veterans who had elevated depression scores before a twice weekly hatha yoga program had a significant reduction in depression symptoms after the eight-week program.

How Yoga Benefits Veterans with Depression

"Yoga is unique in that it combines several things that empirical research has shown to be very helpful for improving depression and other mental health concerns: exercise, mindfulness, and breathing practices, to name a few," says study information co-investigator Lindsey B. Hopkins, Ph.D., a research fellow at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Health Care Center. "All of these things likely played a role in the benefits that these veterans experienced."

The study, which featured 21 male veterans, also found that improvements in depression were significantly correlated with increases in mindfulness and decreases in experiential avoidance—defined as engaging in a particular behavior in order to change or avoid unwanted negative thoughts, emotions, or sensations, even when doing so produces harm. This is consistent with other research, Hopkins says. The social aspect of yoga may also play a role: in interviews, many of the veterans said they derived a great deal of benefit (in terms of mental health and well-being) from having the opportunity to connect with other veterans, she adds.

The Most Significant Study Finding  

Not only did the veterans see a reduction in their depression symptoms after participating in the hatha yoga program, they also simply enjoyed it. On a 1–10 scale, the veterans gave the yoga classes an average enjoyment rating of 9.4, and all participants said they would recommend the program to other veterans.

"The most unique aspect of our study is that it focused on male veterans with an average age of 61, whereas most other research has focused on younger and predominantly female populations," Hopkins says. "From my view, our most meaningful finding was how much these men—almost all of whom were practicing yoga for the first time—enjoyed the practice, believed it had improved their physical and/or mental health, and viewed it as a promising treatment option, suggesting that yoga could be a highly acceptable complementary approach for male veterans. I think this is important given that people in the U.S. often think of yoga as a woman’s activity ... and, more specifically, a privileged young white woman’s activity. This study lends support that this isn’t the case, given the diversity of these male veterans in terms age, race, and economic status."

More Evidence That Yoga May Help Reduce Symptoms of Depression

While this was a small study, others presented at the APA convention also highlighted the role that yoga may play in reducing symptoms of depression.

  • In one study, co-authored by Hopkins, eight weeks of hot yoga significantly reduced symptoms of depression compared with the control group for 52 women, ages 25–45.

  • Another pilot study of 29 adults showed that eight weeks of at least twice weekly hot yoga significantly reduced symptoms of depression.

  • In another study, 12 patients who had experienced depression for an average of 11 years participated in nine weekly yoga sessions. Scores for depression, anxiety, and stress decreased.

  • And in another study, 74 mildly depressed university students were asked to perform a yoga or relaxation exercise at home for eight days. Two months later, participants in the yoga group had significantly lower scores for depression, anxiety, and stress than the relaxation group.

 

https://www.yogajournal.com/meditation/yoga-practices-veterans-healing-mantra

Yoga Practices for Veterans: Healing "I AM" Mantra

This five-part series explores the insight "American Sniper" offers into the yoga of war, the mind of a veteran, and the practices crucial to finding the next mission.

BHAVA RAM

FEB 6, 2015

In this five-part series, author Bhava Ram explores the insight the film American Sniper offers into the yoga of war, the mind of a veteran, and the practices crucial to finding the next mission.

Follow your breath…

Anchor into the gap between each breath…

The space between each heartbeat…

Single-pointed gaze…

Target in crosshairs…

Finger slowly on the trigger…

THOK!

Enemy killed.

I was stunned by the yoga of American Sniper. Actor Bradley Cooper as Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, accessing breath practices I do on my mateach morning before sunrise, only with different intentions.

The movie also transported me back to the life I once had as a war correspondent in Iraq, Afghanistan, and beyond. The PTSD that came with a broken back, stage-four cancer, and a lost career. No more peak moments, an identity shattered. The painful inability to integrate back into American life. It all felt drab, tasted like cardboard. And if you came into my emotional crosshairs, I would instantly pull the trigger on my inner rage.

How Yoga Serves Vets Suffering from PTSD

Yoga saved my life. Daily practice slowly healed and transformed me. I found a new mission. Facing PTSD and learning to cultivate resilience takes time and devotion. As I experienced, however, it is possible to experience peak moments deep within ourselves, to bring color and taste back into our lives, and even to find a new mission that calls to us from the depths of our hearts.

Teaching Yoga to Veterans

When working with veterans in yoga classes or private sessions, I always seek to facilitate the transition from the fight-or-flight syndrome of stress to the rest-and-restore state, where true healing begins. Five practices comprise the cornerstones of my teaching. Here’s how I instruct the first of five:

"I AM" Mantra

This is a yoga pose for the mind. It’s much more powerful than physical asanas. It focuses us, brings us into the present moment, melts stress away.

1. Begin cross-legged, eyes softly closed, anchor your attention to the breath.

2. Silently, chant “I” on the inhale, “AM” on the exhale.

3. Sustain the chant throughout the yoga practice, gently returning to it whenever you forget.

The effect? Rough emotional edges get softer, heart rates slow, jagged nerves relax. We learn to let go. In time, peace replaces panic. Healing becomes possible.

Cancer and Yoga

Lisa Kanne

A year and a half ago, I had no idea that cancer treatments put patients at risk for osteoporosis or that one could do something about it.

After a fall on invisible ice resulted in pelvic fractures, I simply assumed that at 71 I had arrived a tad early in little-old-lady-land. Only medical appointments appeared on my calendar. After lacing my thick-soled shoes and straightening my wig, I got to the hospital by grasping the nearby walker which my stepdaughter had decorated with bling: purple and red plastic streamers.

The oncologist took one look and sent me for a bone density test and then to Dr. Theresa A. Guise, a specialist in bone disease at Indiana University. My bone problem was caused not by my ovarian cancer but by the seven years of medical responses to it, she told me. Radiation, chemotherapy and steroids can render bones brittle, Dr. Guise explained. Before and after I received recurrent infusions of Taxol and carboplatin, I was given the steroid dexamethasone to prevent nausea.

The literature on treatment and bone loss focuses primarily on prostate and breast cancer patients. In men, researchers have found a strong link between androgen-deprivation therapy, often used for prostate cancer, and osteoporosis. In women, an estrogen drop — when aromatase inhibitors or other interventions bring about the early onset of menopause — can compromise the strength of bones.

No, there was no history of osteoporosis in my family, I told Dr. Guise. Yes, I did eat yogurt and cheese, but I did not get out in the sunshine much. Dr. Guise nodded, ordered blood tests, and recommended Prolia, a twice-a-year injection to help fight osteoporosis, instead of the oral drugs available. 

I had heard of the osteoporosis drugs Fosamax, Actonel, Boniva and Reclast, all of which have the potential to cause some deleterious consequences. Prolia’s side effects, though rare, seemed formidable: osteonecrosis of the jaw and fracture of the thigh bone. Since the blood tests showed that I had a vitamin D deficiency that had to be remedied before the injection could be administered, there was time to deliberate.

 

The vitamin dosing made me realize how often I ignore health issues because they seem trivial compared to the mortal threat of cancer. Stress tests, dental work, cholesterol checks: who cares? Just dealing with cancer had been enough for me. Clearly that had to change.

To avoid another catastrophe, I got the injection. A few months later I managed to jettison the walker by meeting with a physical therapist who is an expert in bone density issues. I wish I had seen her earlier. The youngest member of my cancer support group, Dana, consulted with medical professionals before she suffered a fracture.

By the age of 51, Dana had experienced three of what Dr. Guise calls “skeletal insults”: celiac disease, pelvic radiation and Arimidex (the estrogen suppressant she takes as a maintenance drug). Despite a careful diet and a rigorous workout schedule, Dana has osteopenia in both hips and osteoporosis in her spine. Like me, she was told to supplement weight-bearing exercises with calcium, vitamin D and walking as much as possible.

I used to love to walk; however, I had given it up after cancer. I understood why on the day I caught sight of my reflection in a storefront window. Without the walker, I stooped. The tilting embodied my dread of falling again. Along with neuropathies in my feet (also caused by chemotherapy), osteoporosis intensified my agoraphobia, a fear of going outdoors, as well as my tendency to look down at uneven paths instead of directly out in front of me.

Encouraged by Dana and my physical therapist, I have taken up a type of yoga that may benefit my bones, my posture, and maybe my confidence in walking: chair yoga. To my surprise, one can do many stretches either sitting on a chair or standing and using a chair for balance or ballast. In a nearby studio with women and men generally older than 12 or 20, this exercise feels less like a chore, more like a timeout from all the medical regimens. An added plus: It relieves back and neck pain.

The physical therapist also mentioned a vibrating board that may strengthen bones. So-called vibration therapy was discovered when astronauts needed to regain bone loss after spending time in a space station, or so the legend goes. It sounds intriguing, but I have yet to see such a board and besides, I would probably topple off it.

Though I still wear clunky shoes and a wig, my calendar now includes trips to my university office, the library, concerts and movies. I concentrate on sitting and standing as tall as possible. While cooking, I use the kitchen counter to do modifications of yoga poses like the tree, the plank and the downward-facing dog.

Should the walker be needed again, I will try to take it in stride, for the treatments that hurt my body have kept me alive longer than anyone ever thought possible. If it is possible to sign up not only for chair yoga but also apparently for yoga with cats or even with goats, why not classes with walkers, where — inspired by Mel Brooks’s hilarious production number “Little Old Lady Land” — I might just tap my bling till it swings.

Leslie

 August 15, 2017

I'm a yoga teacher and osteoporosis "sufferer" as well, age 68. Chair yoga is a wonderful, adaptive and welcoming practice that has so many...

Lenore

 August 13, 2017

I started doing astanga yoga 30 years ago, I was a runner, marathoner, etc. etc. Some years later I developed osteopenia and took fosamax...

Dr Rick Boulay

 August 13, 2017

Susan,I am so grateful for you and your column. Your experiences and your powerful voice have opened many doors for conversations that may...View More Trending Stories »

working With Difficult Emotions in Yoga!

Lisa Kanne

There’s a lot going on in the world this week, between politics and natural disasters. Working through these things and helping others can be overwhelming, and it can take a toll on our mental and physical capacity to care for ourselves as well. We have to remember that in order to care for others we need to be able to discern our own emotions as well. The articles I’m sharing with you below are from Yoga International.com. The subject of each is geared towards spending a piece of your practice to work the emotions you find difficult or may not understand fully. I hope you find something helpful to yourself or that might be helpful for a friend or loved one, and I hope you enjoy!

 

Working With Difficult Emotions in Yoga

JULY 20, 2017    BY TIAS LITTLE

 

To be human is to experience an array of emotion.

Animals also have feelings, and I am reminded of this each time I leave home and my dog begins to tremble and whine. The human psyche is unique, however, and our highly sensitive and responsive nervous system processes a complex of human emotion that ranges from joy and ecstasy to despair and sorrow.

In the yoga tradition, there tends to be a bias toward states of equanimity and joy (feeling om shanti, or peace). Students come to believe that the true state of yoga is an effusive and expansive love for everyone in all situations. This may be due to the description in classical yoga of the "body of bliss," the most interior layer of the body, called the anandamaya kosha.

This subtle interior of the mind-body is identified as sublime and eternally joyful. In hatha yoga, accessing this semi-divine body is in some ways the summit of the training.

I certainly do not mean to degrade this state of exquisite joy. On a good day in my own meditation, when I drop into the depth of my being and rest in an ocean of calm, I feel a delightful rapture.

However, in yoga practice—both on and off the mat—it is also important to be able to attend to difficult emotions. I would like to explore here the very question of how to navigate them.

Experiencing Our Emotions Directly

Of course, we all would rather not feel grumpy, jealous, antagonistic, or irritable. In fact many of us, myself included, go to great lengths to avoid difficult feelings, and we can be quick to deny their presence when they arise.

So when we hear about the body of bliss and its nectar of sweetness, we may say to ourselves, "I want that!" Because difficult emotions are painful, we hopscotch right over our shadow, ignoring and neglecting how we really feel.

In this way, a yoga practice can become an emotional bypass. The impulse to be equanimous, happy, or enlightened is so strong that we may pretend we are content when we actually feel miserable inside. And the slim waistlines, pretty leggings, fun yoga sequences, and dance-like postures of contemporary yoga culture can contribute to simply glossing over a more messy interior.

It is important to acknowledge that we all experience suffering. Discontent or dissatisfaction is the first of the Four Noble Truths as espoused in the earliest teachings of the Buddha.

One of the primary aims of both yoga and Buddhist practice is to alleviate suffering. Despite our inclination to hightail it away from painful feelings as soon as they arise, it can be advantageous to acknowledge them. In our own quest for truth, we have to touch our heart and our mind pain, the sometimes decades long, intergenerational suffering that we carry.

And who of us is not born into heart-mind pain?

Jalaluddin Rumi once wrote, "The cure for the pain is in the pain."

In order to better understand this, consider the analogy in manual therapy of “unwinding.” When adjusting strain in the body, osteopaths, craniosacral therapists, and Rolfers will at times take the body’s connective tissues—muscles, bone, joint capsules, and ligaments—into the strain pattern (i.e., the pattern of holding).

The body’s sensory-motor system may then respond with, “Oh, that is the pain pattern that has locked me up all these years, and maybe I don’t need to hold on any longer.”

When the future Buddha, Prince Siddhartha, left the cozy confines of his father's palace, he was motivated to see into the suffering of all beings. He knew he had to witness pain firsthand. Ultimately he had to feel the hurt and the wound that was deep in his own heart.

In feeling our own pain, we touch a place inside of us that is tender, empathetic, and kind—and in so doing, we remember our connection to our greatest good.

That direct experience was his "practice." Jesus Christ also experienced the wound, both personal and collective. For Buddha and Christ, as well as other historical spiritual figures, suffering is essential on the path toward the development of higher consciousness.

In feeling our own pain, we touch a place inside of us that is tender, empathetic, and kind—and in so doing, we remember our connection to our greatest good.

In this context, to suffer doesn't mean stubbing your toe, having a stomachache, or experiencing your arm going to sleep. Rather, it suggests a suffering inherent to all beings. One of the tenets of the Buddha’s teaching is that everything is impermanent and life is fragile.

Stepping into Our Greatest Good

There is a saying in Zen that "All things hang by a thread." We realize that our bodies are fragile, threadbare, prone to decay and collapse. Also, mountains of ice and granite are impermanent as they melt and erode. In fact, the very ecosystems that sustain us are fragile, and in this age of global warming, it is possible to sense that the earth itself is in pain.

What is your own experience of fragility or loss?

Perhaps you or someone close to you has recently received a life-threatening diagnosis, your relationship with your spouse or beloved partner is in chaos, or you have a parent in the last stage of life.

Maybe you have felt anguish, outrage, or despair in light of the recent socio-political developments within the United States.

If we override our experience of suffering by denying it or sublimating it—or if we simply try to get it to pass as quickly as possible—we close a window that offers potential for opening us to our greatest good. When the molecules of feeling move freely inside of us, an alchemical shift occurs.

Feeling deeply can help us to move away from a posture of condemnation, defensiveness, and enmity to one that is open, tolerant, and sympathetic.

So if the yoga practice is working well, we welcome difficult and unpleasant feelings. This can be easier said than done, however. Many of us are willing to put our bodies through rigorous yoga postures, but we resist stretching into areas of emotional pain.

Many students of yoga could benefit from not only physical tapas (heat-induced transformational practice) but also emotional tapas. The tapas process is like the age-old practice of churning milk into butter.

Whether stretching the fascia in yoga or sitting with entangled thoughts and feelings in meditation, potentially toxic feelings may surface. Yogis who practice being with difficult emotions allow caustic or bitter feelings to arise.

Without judgment or blame, they allow themselves to feel fear or to acknowledge the shadow of a painful memory.

Three Key Components of Transformation

There are three key components to this transformational process. The first is intention—that is, a willingness to be with feelings of fear, irritation, or desire without succumbing to the impulse to change them, make them better, or resolve them.

The second is acknowledgement. This involves what we call “somatic tracking”—locating sensation in the body and witnessing the raw feeling associated with it. In meditation this recognition is called vipassana, which translates literally as "seeing into."

The third component is non-reactivity—building a capacity to observe painful emotional states without acting on impulse.

By touching our own pain, we develop the ability to work with the wounds of others. As a yoga teacher, this is what enables me to accommodate all kinds of different students from all walks of life. It is through recognition and somatic integration of my own painful feelings that I am able to sense the suffering of others.

Heart pain and mind pain are great teachers, showing us the path to compassionate action. This is the life of the spiritual warrior.

The spiritual warrior is not someone who can plow into handstand or hold warrior pose for hours on end—nor one who remains aloof, fearless, and unaffected by the trials of the world. It is someone who has worked deeply through his or her own wounds. By attending to our pain, we become more accepting, making it possible for feelings of humility, grace, and love to then flow through us.

In working with the emotional body, we typically pass through waves and waves of difficult emotion. In meditation we bring mindfulness to feelings that may be raw, irritating, or deeply frightening. As if approaching an animal in the wild, we need to proceed slowly, carefully, and lovingly. In yoga poses, it is through breathing, sensing the tension in our belly, and moving into the constriction of the hamstrings, or anywhere else in the body, that we transform.

Like in an archeological dig, we move layer by layer, strata by strata, through the history of our feeling body. When we can work through the pain and fear trapped in our bodies, we connect to our deepest sensitivities.

Through deep kindness toward ourselves, we develop a greater capacity for more nuanced feeling and sympathetic resonance with others.

Remaining Open

When I began practicing yoga 20 years ago I didn’t have the capacity to stay with difficult, conflicted feelings. I lacked the sensitivity and the emotional resilience. As my practice matured, I was able to work drop by drop, sensation by sensation, through the confused, distorted soup of my own emotions.

Rather than armoring or trying to engineer, control, or compensate for a feeling, I can now let it arise within me, allowing it to be what it is without analyzing or judging it.

When we can acutely feel our own pain and the pain of others, we become more open and available in our lives.

We live in a time where mindsets and "heartsets" are becoming ever more divided along lines of good and evil, right and wrong. Attitudes of us versus them prevail. Perhaps more than ever before, we need to cultivate patience, empathy, and sensitivity.

Yoga fosters sensitivity, and it is worth noting that sympathy and receptivity lie at the very root of yoga’s first principle, non-harming. The yoga teachings espouse that profound and lasting change occurs within. That is, when we stay connected to our own suffering and remember the fragility that is inherent to being human, we develop a greater capacity to care for ourselves and others.

It is by moving through the layers of complex feeling inside of us that we become more tender, and find the strength and resilience to remain open in the midst of a rapidly changing world.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

TIAS LITTLE  

Tias’s unique and skillful approach enables students to find greater depth of understanding and awareness in their practice, both on and off the mat. His approach to the practice is interdisciplinary, passionate, intelligent, innovative and full of insight.

Yoga, Meditation along with healthy foods helps Prevent Heart Disease

Lisa Kanne


Inflammation, Not High Cholesterol, May Cause Heart Disease

A combination of yoga, meditation, and a diet rich in good fats and antioxidants can help prevent it.

FEBRUARY 26, 2014    BY JAMES KEOUGH

 

By and large, yoga practitioners are a heart-healthy group. Yoga provides us with regular exercise for our bodies and stress-reducing techniques for our minds. Few of us smoke or use tobacco, and those of us who imbibe tend to do so moderately. And for the most part, our diets follow Michael Pollan’s straightforward advice in his book In Defense of Food: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

So why should we concern ourselves with heart disease? Well, first off, no one is immune from health issues, and heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Second, we all know at least one person whose annual checkup ended with warnings about high cholesterol and a prescription for statin drugs. And, finally, we need to know that cholesterol might not even be the primary cause of heart disease (that dubious distinction, researchers now say, belongs to inflammation), which means we’ve had our eye on the wrong ball for a long time.

This focus on cholesterol began almost 60 years ago, when the American Heart Association declared that the cause of coronary heart disease was “butter, lard, beef, and eggs.” Mainstream medicine quickly bought into the idea that the high levels of saturated fat in those foods raised cholesterol levels in the blood, and the excess cholesterol clogged the arteries. And now, after half a century of low-fat diets and the staggering proliferation of cholesterol-lowering medications ($35 billion in sales last year), the notion is firmly entrenched in the minds of most health practitioners and consumers.

“Trying to prevent heart disease by lowering cholesterol is like trying to cut calories from a McDonald’s supersized meal by removing the pickle.”

Maybe it’s time to reconsider. As nutritionist Jonny Bowden, PhD, coauthor (with Stephen Sinatra, MD) of The Great Cholesterol Myth: Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won’t Prevent Heart Disease—and the Statin-Free Plan That Will(Fair Winds Press, 2012) says, “Trying to prevent heart disease by lowering cholesterol is like trying to cut calories from a McDonald’s supersized meal by removing the pickle.” For men over 65 and for women of any age, cholesterol levels are practically useless in assessing coronary heart disease risk. And, oddly enough, if you step back and look at the big picture, low cholesterol may actually cause more health problems than it prevents.

Getting to Know the Enemy

What doctors rarely admit is that people with high cholesterol actually live longer;and at least six studies found that the lower the cholesterol, the higher the mortality. In fact, if you look at all the causes of death in this country, people with higher levels of cholesterol have less cancer, a lower risk of dying from gastrointestinal and respiratory disease, and fewer automobile accidents and suicides. Surprisingly, the protective role of cholesterol extends even to people with serious heart disease. Studies in the United States and Europe found that heart disease patients with high cholesterol levels live much longer than those with low levels.

Our bodies need cholesterol because, among other things, it plays a critical role in the production of brain cells, and studies have linked too low a level (below 160) to depression, aggression, cerebral hemorrhages, and cognitive problems—all of which may explain those higher death rates from accidents and suicides.

How Cholesterol Got a Bad Rap

Any discussion about cholesterol should begin by acknowledging that the liver makes roughly 800 to 1,000 mg of it a day—all that the body needs to maintain good health.

Any discussion about cholesterol should begin by acknowledging that the liver makes roughly 800 to 1,000 mg of it a day—all that the body needs to maintain good health. But if you get additional cholesterol from the foods you eat (all foods from animal sources contain cholesterol), your body scales back production until it can deal with the surplus. Furthermore, the body needs this soft, waxy sterol to help digest fats, strengthen and repair cell membranes, insulate nerves, manufacture vitamin D, and make hormones, including those that govern our sex lives.

Because it’s a fatlike substance, cholesterol can’t dissolve in our water-based blood and flow directly to the cells. Instead, it has to hitch a ride on special carriers called lipoproteins. By now we’re all probably familiar with two of those: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). The LDLs, scientists discovered, deliver cholesterol to the cells on an as-needed basis, and the heavier HDLs act as scavengers, picking up any excess—even scraping it off artery walls—and transporting it back to the liver for processing and elimination.

Seen in this context, both HDL and LDL can be called “good” cholesterol, because each performs a critical function in the day-to-day operation of the body. In the early rounds of the cholesterol-causes-heart-disease discussion, however, only HDL received that distinction, because it reduced the level of cholesterol in the blood. LDL, on the other hand, was labeled “bad,” because researchers in the Framingham Heart Study deemed it a “marginal risk factor” for heart disease.

It’s hard to imagine that the body would make a mission-critical substance that could also cause death, but that’s what the label “bad” cholesterol implies, and it spawned an all-out medical war on LDL cholesterol, the intention of which is to drive LDL levels as low as possible. This premise not only overlooks the body’s critical need for low-density lipoproteins—without them the cells can’t get the cholesterol they need—it misses an important fact. LDL turns “bad” only when free radicals oxidize it (essentially, destabilize it) by stealing one of its electrons. It can then stick to an artery wall and start an inflammatory cascade that leads to heart-attack-causing blood clots.

 

Maybe There’s Something Else

Perhaps the most telling disconnect about the high cholesterol theory (called the lipid hypothesis) is the inconvenient truth that fully half of all heart attacks occur in people who have normal cholesterol levels. Most people would look at that number—50 percent—and wonder if something other than cholesterol might account for this apparent contradiction.

It turns out that the lipid hypothesis has seriously oversimplified heart disease, according to numerous studies, and has completely discounted the role that antioxidants play in preventing heart problems. Case in point: The Lyon Diet Heart Study, which occurred during the 1990s, placed one group of heart attack survivors on the low-fat, high-carb, anti-cholesterol diet then endorsed by the American Heart Association, and a second group on what’s called the Mediterranean diet, which consists primarily of vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish, and olive oil. At the end of the study, both groups had roughly the same cholesterol levels, but subjects on the Mediterranean diet had a much lower number of second heart attacks and experienced far less chest pain (unstable angina) and heart disease. Why? Researchers believe it had something to do with the antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables and the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids found in fish.

And then there’s the French paradox, the puzzling fact that France has one of the lowest incidences of heart disease in the developed world, even though its citizens eat rich, high-cholesterol foods with seemingly reckless abandon and have an average total cholesterol level that hovers around 250. Researchers studying this paradox also point to the consumption of fresh vegetables and fruit and to the powerful antioxidants in red wine, particularly resveratrol.

So what role do antioxidants play in the body? They reduce inflammation. And those two studies, along with more recent ones, seem to confirm that inflammation plays an important role in the development of heart disease and the onset of heart attacks.

So what role do antioxidants play in the body? They reduce inflammation. And those two studies, along with more recent ones, seem to confirm that inflammation plays an important role in the development of heart disease and the onset of heart attacks. How? Let’s take a look at what happens inside the arteries. Something—high blood pressure, blood sugar spikes from a high-glycemic diet, or toxins from smoking, pollution, or pesticides—injures the endothelium, the delicate one-cell-thick lining of the arteries. LDL cholesterol lodges in the injury—perhaps in an effort to repair the damaged cells—and then becomes oxidized by free radicals in the blood. The immune system rushes in to repair the wound and in the process inflames it further—think of the redness surrounding a cut on your finger. In an effort to contain this growing “infection,” the body covers it with a tough, fibrous cap, creating what’s called arterial plaque. Sometimes the plaque is stable, meaning the inflammation calms down, the cap holds, and the only harm the plaque does is contribute to narrowing the artery. Unstable plaque, on the other hand, can burst and cause blood clots that in turn can block a narrowed artery and cause a heart attack.

To find out if you have inflammation-related heart problems, your doctor relies on a number of blood tests. These inexpensive tests play a critical role in detecting heart disease even before symptoms occur.

So, should you march down to the lab and get tested? Probably not, unless you have a number of heart disease risk factors—especially a high-stress lifestyle, excess body weight, or high blood sugar. In short, any lifestyle choice that promotes inflammation. But you should turn the page to see what you can do and what you can eat to keep your heart healthy.

Heart Attack Warning Signs

Some heart attacks are sudden and intense—the “movie heart attack,” where no one doubts what’s happening. But most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people affected aren’t sure what’s wrong and wait too long before getting help. Here are signs that can mean a heart attack is happening:

  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.

  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.

  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.

  • Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness. Women are somewhat more likely than men to experience shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

Even More Complicated…

If you’re a middle-aged man for whom high cholesterol is a significant risk factor—or if you know your LDLs are high—take note. Recently, researchers have discovered that the “bad” cholesterol comes in two flavors: Pattern A and Pattern B. The light, fluffy, and perfectly fine LDL-A poses no risk for heart disease, but the small, dense B is “nasty stuff,” says heart-health expert Jonny Bowden, PhD. Pattern B is the LDL that lodges in the endothelium, gets oxidized, and leads to arterial plaque. So knowing your A and B counts will help clarify your heart disease risk and may signal a need to reduce your Pattern B LDL. Of course, you’ll still need to minimize the other risk factors that lead to LDL oxidation and feed the inflammation that triggers arterial plaque formation.

What You Can Do

Doctors and researchers may never sort out the complex causes of heart disease, but that shouldn’t stop you from taking action now to protect your heart. For some that might entail major changes, but most of us just need to add the following to our already healthy lifestyles.

Reduce Your Risk Factors

Like many of the chronic diseases that plague our collective health, heart disease develops because we make poor choices about diet, exercise, and questionable habits like smoking and excessive drinking. Most people will say they know this already, so the first step is to act on this knowledge and make changes in how we eat and cut back on the proven risk factors for heart disease. Then consider taking these less well-known steps to give your heart a fighting chance:

1. Cut your insulin levels. Doctors tell us to do this to prevent diabetes, but high insulin levels also contribute to heart disease by causing a biochemical chain reaction that leads to inflamed arteries. High insulin levels also encourage the formation of abdominal fat (the all-too-prevalent spare tire). To lower insulin levels, limit the sugar you eat—nutritionist Bowden calls it a “far more damaging and inflammatory substance than fat ever was”—and avoid high-glycemic carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, short-grain rice, potatoes, and instant oatmeal.

2. Practice good oral hygiene. Regular brushing and flossing will do more than protect your teeth and sweeten your breath—numerous studies have found a link between unhealthy gums and heart disease. The most serious form of gum disease, periodontitis, can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by more than 30 percent.

3. Reduce your stress level. Chronic stress in our bodies causes our adrenal glands to release a steady stream of cortisol as part of our natural fight-or-flight syndrome. This and other related hormones cause arterial constriction, increase blood pressure, speed up our heart rate, and promote clotting in the blood. Studies have shown that meditation, prayer, yoga, biofeedback, and other mind/body techniques can lower stress levels and reduce heart attack risk.

Take Your Supplements

You can counteract the heart-negative inflammatory foods and free-radical-inducing environmental toxins and pollutants by adding antioxidant-rich vitamins and other anti-inflammatory supplements like these to your diet.

  • Vitamins C and E. These powerful antioxidants also reduce arterial stiffness and combat the formation of plaque.

  • CoQ10. A fat-soluble nutrient found in virtually all your cells, Coenzyme Q10 acts as a powerful free radical scavenger and helps prevent LDL oxidation.

  • NAC. Its official name is N-acetyl-L-cysteine. NAC is a well-researched form of cysteine, an amino acid that raises glutathione, one of the body’s most important antioxidants.

  • ALA. Besides being an antioxidant itself, alpha lipoic acid (ALA) helps recycle vitamins C and E and glutathione in the body. ALAs are also found in flax seeds and flax seed oil.

  • Omega-3s. These essential  fatty acids appear to reduce inflammation, prevent blood clots, and even cut down on heart attack fatalities.

  • Keep Practicing Yoga

Studies at Ohio State and Georgia State universities found that yoga reduces levels of the cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6), a marker for chronic inflammation. Numerous studies have also shown that yoga reduces blood pressure (another risk factor for heart disease) primarily by lowering cortisol and bringing the central nervous system into balance.

Of course, yoga experts believe heart disease is more than just the sum of test results; they see it as a disconnect among our physical, emotional, and spiritual bodies. And they say that in order to create a healthful environment for the heart, we must weave together all the elements of practice—asana, pranayama, meditation, and selfless service. Here are some ways to do that.

Commit to a consistent practice and include a variety of poses that will put your body through its full range of motion. Backbends open the rib cage to improve heart and lung function; standing poses strengthen your legs and stretch your whole body; forward bends allow you to feel safe and nurtured and help quiet your sympathetic nervous system; and twists massage your internal organs and increase circulation throughout the body.

Examine your emotional and spiritual status. Obviously, your blood pressure didn’t rise by itself. More than 20 years ago, Dean Ornish, MD, and his team of researchers proved to the world that emotional stress, isolation, hostility, and low self-esteem had as much to do with heart disease as high cholesterol, oxidized LDLs, triglyceride levels, and nicotine. And then they surprised the medical profession by demonstrating that lifestyle changes which include yoga, meditation, and group support can reverse the disease.

Incorporate ujjayi (victorious breath) and nadi shodhanam (alternate nostril breathing) pranayamas into your daily routine to reduce anxiety and agitation. If you have high blood pressure, however, do not practice kumbhaka (breath retention).

Practice restorative yoga, chanting, and mantra meditation, all of which contribute to relieving hypertension and calming your heart, both physically and emotionally. (See the sample restorative practice to the right.)

Heart-Healthy Restorative Practice

Include any of these five restorative poses in your daily practice to calm your nerves and restore equilibrium. Avoid headstand or other unsupported inversions if you have high blood pressure. If you have time for only one pose, chooseshavasana (corpse pose) or viparita karani (legs-up-the-wall pose) for maximum benefit.

  1. Support the head in adho mukha shvanasana (downward dog)

  2. Sink into your support in balasana (child’s pose)

  3. Use plenty of props for supta baddha konasana (reclining bound angle pose)

  4. Elevate your sacrum in viparita karani (legs-up-the-wall pose)

Three Ways to Get Your EFAs

Vegetarians (or people just worried about mercury contamination and sustainability) can get the essential fatty acids they need from plants alone.

  • Hemp and flax seed oils contain alpha linolenic acid (ALA), which the body converts to the essential fatty acids found in fish oil. Hemp oil tastes better than flaxseed oil, and it contains the ideal ratio of omega-6 EFAs to omega-3s: 3 to 1. A further benefit: hemp seed oil also contains gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which reduces inflammation and improves the health of the skin. Both oils break down when heated, and they turn rancid quickly, so refrigerate them after opening and consume them in one to three months.

  • In addition to omega-3s, walnuts contain heart-healthy monosaturated fats and an especially heart-friendly, non-wheat version of vitamin E. The skin covering the nut also contains key phenolic acids, tannins, and flavonoids, so eat it too, even though it’s somewhat bitter tasting.

  • Three ways to get your EFAs: Micro-algae contain high levels of DHA and EPA that, along with ALA, make up the three essential fatty acids in omega-3s. The fish eat the algae and store the omega-3s in their fat. Micro-algae, now available in supplement form, have the same heart-healthy benefits as fish oil, according to a study in the British Journal of Nutrition.

What You Should Eat

Historically, people in the Mediterranean countries of Spain, Greece, and Italy, and those who live in Asia, particularly China and Japan, have had a fraction of the heart disease found in the United States and northern Europe—and they have some of the longest life expectancies, as well. The reason? Their traditional diets. They differ in details—you won’t find soy in marinara sauce or olive oil in a wok, but both diets have low levels of saturated and hydrogenated fats, high levels of healthy fats, and an emphasis on fish and vegetables. Cardiologists Stephen T. Sinatra, MD, and James C. Roberts, MD, coauthors of Reverse Heart Disease Now(John Wiley & Sons, 2007), propose combining the two in the Pan-Asian Mediterranean (PAM) diet, which contains these basic ingredients.

Antioxident-Rich Fruits and Veggies. These compounds combat the free radicals that oxidize LDL cholesterol molecules and cause inflammation throughout the body. The trick here is to eat your colors.

  • What to eat: Brightly hued fruits like blueberries, blackberries, cherries, red grapes, and strawberries; rich green veggies like kale, spinach, brussels sprouts, and broccoli; and vibrant red veggies like beets and red bell peppers pack the highest concentrations of antioxidants. Onions, too, boast a specific flavonoid, quercetin, which blocks the oxidation of LDL. Looking for an antioxidant beverage? Try red wine in moderation (it contains resveratrol) or green tea, which blocks an enzyme involved in inflammation.

Nuts and Seeds. Rich in good essential fatty acids, protein, and fiber, these staples of our hunter-gatherer past also contain phytosterols (plant fats), which help cut back on the dietary cholesterol we absorb.

  • What to eat: Raw almonds, walnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, and sunflower seeds.

Low-Glycemic Grains. Because these foods contain more fiber than their high-glycemic cousins, they take longer to digest and, therefore, help maintain steady blood sugar levels, reducing the need for dramatic increases in insulin. The added fiber also helps cleanse the digestive system and sops up excess cholesterol. In fact, studies report that a 10 g increase in daily fiber intake produces a 29 percent reduction in heart disease risk.

  • What to eat: Pumpernickel or spelt bread; bulgar; brown or wild rice; pearl barley, steel-cut oats, quinoa, millet, and buckwheat.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Processed food made with corn, safflower, and sunflower oils contains excessive amounts of inflammation-causing omega-6 fatty acids, and, as a result of our fondness for these products, the ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s in our bodies is way out of whack. Estimates put it at as much as 20 to 1 instead of a healthier 3 to 1. Avoid omega-6-rich polyunsaturated vegetable oils and processed foods, and ramp up your omega-3s.

  • What to eat: Cold-water fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), hemp and flax seeds, soybeans, and sea vegetables.

Little If, Any Beer and Dairy. Despite their central roles in the standard American diet, these two foods contain too much saturated fat for daily consumption. They’re also high in methionine, a precursor to homocysteine, which promotes damage to the arteries.

  • What to eat: Substituting fish gives you lean protein and a dose of anti-inflammatory omega-3s, and avoiding animal foods altogether eliminates the problem.

Garlic. Prominent in both Mediterranean and Asian cuisine, garlic has a long medicinal pedigree. Among other phytonutrients, it contains allicin, which boosts good cholesterol levels while lowering LDL. And it lowers blood pressure and reduces blood platelet stickiness.

  • How to use: Cut up raw garlic and let it sit for 15 minutes to release its healthy compounds. You need to eat the equivalent of about five cloves of garlic a day to gain the most benefit.

Lots of Olive Oil. The ancient Greeks thought the olive tree had great healing power, and studies suggest that the monounsaturated oil—high in omega-9 fatty acids—from its fruit can reduce heart attack risk and lower blood pressure.

  • What to use: Opt for extra-virgin olive oil, which is minimally processed, unrefined, and low in acidity.

Soy. In its many shapes and forms, soy helps raise HDL and lower LDL and blood pressure.

  • What to eat: Use whole or fermented soy, such as edamame (soybeans), tempeh, tamari (wheat-free soy sauce), soy milk, and soy-milk yogurt.