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Month: August 2016

Flexibility Test: How Flexible are You?

Samantha Lefave for Fitness Magazine and Tiffany Cruikshank share a flexibility test to help you determine how to improve your overall flexibility and yoga practice.

How Flexible Are You?

Whether you’re a regular yogi or someone who struggles to remember to stretch, flexibility is a key component of a well-rounded fitness routine. So it’s important to squeeze it in. That said, everyone’s range differs. “Different people have different bony structures, so nobody is going to feel the same stretch the exact same way, and not everyone is going to naturally have the same range of motion and that’s okay,” says Tiffany Cruikshank, founder of Yoga Medicine and author of Meditate Your Weight“The most important part is that you are taking the time to stretch, and that you maintain that sense of elasticity and pliability in the muscles.” To see where you’re at—and where you may need to focus your practice—go through these five tests that test flexibility from head to toe.
Click here to read the full article from Fitness Magazine.

Yoga for Chronic Disease Management

Rebecca Powell-Doherty, Ph.D. discusses how yoga can play a role in the management of chronic disease. Learn how the science backs up yoga for pain management, psychological outlook, and mobility in the chronically ill.

Yoga for Chronic Disease Management

Previously in this series, we’ve taken a close look at the benefits of yoga and, specifically, yogic breathing for stress management and short-term wound healing. While yoga practitioners are experiencing these benefits every day, the scientific understanding of how all this works is just starting to grow. However, there’s one area of yogic benefit where the literature, at least in terms of recognition, is actually quite prolific: chronic disease. Studies on everything from heart disease to chronic back pain to ulcerative colitis have explored yoga’s impact.

However, I’d like to focus on a subsection of this and carefully explore how yoga impacts diseases that have an autoimmune component; that is, diseases that stem from the immune system attacking its own body. This includes diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), Crohn’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and many others.

Chronic Disease

For those living with these kinds of diseases, the reality is often chronic pain, fatigue, impaired mobility and neurological dysfunction, dietary restrictions, and unsettling and/or embarrassing symptoms. Living in this way day in and day out also increases the likelihood that these individuals may experience anxiety, depression, and decreased social interaction. Now, depending on the disease, there are a great many therapies offered by modern medicine that can help control or alleviate any variety of disease-associated symptoms. However, even in the most well-managed scenario, flare-ups do occur, and it can often be difficult to get things back under control. While yoga is not a cure or even a management plan by itself, the scientific evidence is mounting that it can benefit in conjunction with medical therapies.

Exciting Research

Understandably, the vast majority of the literature in this area focuses on diseases such as RA and MS: diseases with a movement component, regardless of the underlying pathology. For example, a review and meta-analysis from back in 2013 (Musculoskelet Care 11(2013):203-2017) examined seventeen different studies that looked at the effects of yoga for lower back pain (cause unspecified), RA, and fibromyalgia. In all cases, yoga significantly improved pain outcomes and evaluations of psychological perspective. In addition, more tangible functional outcomes (such as grip strength and range of motion indicators) were measured in numerous studies, and while the results were not always significant, mild to moderate improvements were seen in yoga participants across the board.

It’s exciting to note that this analysis looked at multiple systems and styles of yoga (Hatha, Iyengar, Viniyoga, etc), and the style of choice didn’t really matter. Couple this kind of evidence with a solid RCT, and suddenly we’ve really got something! Naturally, several investigators did just that. Back in 2011, Telles et al (BMC Research Notes (2011) 4:118) showed improvements in rheumatoid factor levels (a biomarker of active RA) after a single week of yoga intervention, and Moonaz et al (J Rheumatol (2015) 42(7): 1194-1202) showed long-term improvements (eight weeks and nine months) in flexibility, walking capacity, strength, and perceived quality of life in previously sedentary adults of all ages with RA or osteoarthritis.

More recently, just this year in fact, both Razazian (Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2016 May;48(5):796-803) and Dehkordi (J Clin Diag Res. 2016 June; 10(6):VC01-05) demonstrate that low impact exercise, such as yoga or swimming, is beneficial for fatigue, depression, pain, and controlling uncomfortable nerve sensations (tingling or burning) in individuals with MS, when combined with standard medications.

Conclusions

Now, as a yoga practitioner, you might be thinking that this sort of thing is obvious to you, and that may be absolutely true! However, medicine relies on peer-reviewed, scientific evidence like this to determine what is safe and beneficial for patients, which means studies like these are essential if we ever hope to fully integrate modalities like yoga and meditation into western medical thinking! We should also note that these studies focus on movement. This is unlike studies we’ve examined previously where breath work was the real requirement. None of it is particularly complicated, but getting on the mat or in the pool does seem to be the key. So if you’re struggling with something like RA or MS, consider working with your medical specialist and a knowledgeable yoga teacher to pick a style of yoga you love and find a routine that works for you.

Cheers, yogis!

Is it Possible to Shorten Wound Healing Time with Yoga?

Rebecca Powell-Doherty, PhD discusses the possibility of using yoga to shorten wound healing time, the science behind it, and whether it’s possible. 

Tiffany Cruikshank pranayama
Does Yoga Improve Recovery and Shorten Wound Healing Time?

I’ve previously written on the general benefit of yoga and breath work to manage stress and boost immunity. The scientific literature certainly supports this overall idea, and it is outlined beautifully in the context of weight management and an overall healthy lifestyle in the recently published book by Tiffany Cruikshank, Meditate Your Weight. In this article, I want to continue to probe deeply and see if the science supports the idea that it could be possible to use yoga to shorten wound recover time following trauma.

Inflammatory Phase

First, consider the notion of wound healing from a clinical, or patient, perspective. Once injured, and this could be anything from a splinter to a bed sore to a bone fracture, the overall process of repair and restoration is generally the same. The first phase of healing works to close off any damaged blood vessels and ensure bleeding stops through the formation of clots. Then, as anyone who has had a splinter or sprained an ankle can attest, inflammation sets in.

This is the phase where the site of injury starts to swell and grows warm to the touch. We talk often in the yoga community about how chronic inflammation in the body is damaging, and it is, but in this case, the acute inflammatory response by the innate immune system is working on our behalf to eliminate cell and tissue debris, along with any bacteria or other invaders who may have accessed our bodies through the wound site.

Regenerative Phase

Following the inflammatory phase, we move into the portion of the process where the debris has been cleared away, and now the tissue structure can be rebuilt. This usually includes collagen deposition (which serves as something of a scaffold for the layers of skin to build and regenerate), regeneration or replacement of damaged blood vessels, and superficial, or dermal, wound closure. In the case of small injuries, this is the phase where most people would claim they’re back to normal and fully ‘healed’. Of course, the larger the injury, the longer the process takes. Finally, we move through the phase where tissue regeneration is completed at a deeper level and the strength of the tissues, ligaments, and muscles that may have been damaged is, at least in part, restored (Wound Care Canada (2011), 9(2): 4-12).

As you can likely imagine (and have undoubtedly experienced on some level), this process takes time, anywhere from a month to two years in more severe cases! So, its no wonder we’d all like to do things that speed the process a bit! The question is, is yoga one of those things?

Support: Pain Management

The science says its certainly possible! There are multiple indications in the literature that point to improved wound healing for a variety of initial injuries when patients are ‘treated’ with some form of yoga therapy. One of the most powerful studies, the gold standard randomized control trial, looked at 30 patients with fairly simple ‘long bone’ fractures (typically bones of the arm or leg). All patients received equivalent treatment, with the exception of the group of 15 who practiced yoga based principles of breath, relaxation, and visualization twice a day for 30 minutes each session.

The study assessed the two groups on the first day and again after 21 days. 21 days is generally accepted as the minimum time for wound healing to take place. The study compared the two based on the assessment of pain, tenderness at the fracture site, swelling, and bone density. In all cases, the group practicing the yogic breathing techniques showed dramatic improvement over the group that did not (The J of Alt and Comp Med (2011),17 (3): 253-258).

Support: Physical Recovery

A second study, even more exciting than the first, points to the use of yoga as beneficial for both self-reported outcomes such as pain or stress and physical and physiological parameters of improvement. Also a randomized control trial, the study explored the effects of yoga on women with stage II and III operable breast cancer pre- and post-operatively. The yoga group practiced regulated nostril breathing and relaxation techniques, while the ‘control’ group received supportive counselling sessions focused on social support and shoulder exercises for rehab. Both groups received their respective treatments during their time in the hospital following surgery, and each group continued the assigned treatment for 30 minutes each day for three weeks following discharge.

When the groups were compared, significant differences were seen in the duration of hospital stay following surgery, the time required to remove the drain that is placed during surgery, and the time to suture removal. In all cases, the yoga group fared much better, reaching these milestones often in half the time as the control group. In addition, the study showed indicators of systemic inflammation (common in cancer patients, particularly post-op) were significantly decreased in the yoga group, thereby providing measurable, concrete biological evidence for the effects of yoga on healing (Int J Yoga (2008), 1(1): 33-41).

Conclusion

So what does all this mean? Well, we don’t yet fully know the details of how, but we know that simple yogic breathing practices are, in multiple cases, scientifically demonstrated to be beneficial for healing and recovery. As we have concluded in other studies and articles, there’s no fancy asana required. Just some simple pranayama practices and you’re on your way.

Cheers, yogis!

10 Innovators Shaping the Future of Yoga

Amanda Jedeikin for Yoga Journal shares ten innovators who are shaping the fitness and wellness industries. The Sonima list of top 50 Wellness Innovators also recognizes these ten yogis. Tiffany Cruikshank is recognized as a yoga influencer for her work on Meditate Your Weight, and YogaMedicine.com

10 Innovators Shaping the Future of Yoga + the Yoga Lifestyle

The idea of something being “new” or “innovative” in yoga may understandably elicit skepticism among loyal teachers and practitioners. Many people consider any modern iteration of a centuries-old practice a departure from its essence. Some might say results in something different altogether. However, there’s no denying the powerful influence that advances in medical research and technology have on our understanding of the physical practice, as well as the unique ways that individual creativity and spirit have moulded our current idea of what it means to be a yogi.
A new feature on Sonima.com recognized 50 people making a deep impact on the world of wellness, and these 10 yogis were among the names featured. The eight-limbed path plays an ever-growing role in how people from all walks of life care for their bodies and minds. Thus, these individuals’ contributions are making waves beyond the sphere of yoga. Read on to learn more about the innovative and inspired men and women who are shaping the future of yoga.

Tiffany Cruikshank – Founder of Yoga Medicine

Tiffany Cruikshank is an internationally renowned yoga influencer, instructor, teacher trainer, and yogi. She has spent the past 20 years crafting a methodology for teaching and practicing yoga, that melds with Eastern and Western notions of medicine. Cruikshank’s backs up her work with a history as a holistic health practitioner, acupuncturist, and sports medicine expert. Based in Seattle, Cruikshank teaches regularly for YogaGlo, and travels extensively around the world. She is also the author of the new book Meditate Your Weight. Her approach has helped thousands of yogis around the world see their practice in a new light as a result of Cruikshank’s innovative thinking and dedication to the practice.
 
Click here to see Yoga Journal’s full list of yoga innovators!

Why Meditate? 3 Popular Myths Busted

Meditate-Your-Weight

Myth: “MEDITATION JUST DOESN’T WORK FOR ME.” OR: “I CAN’T MEDITATE.”
Truth: MEDITATION WORKS FOR EVERYONE AND EVERYONE CAN DO IT.

I hear it all the time: “I can’t meditate—it just doesn’t work for me.” Imagine if a baby who was just learning how to walk tried to take a step and fell down, then turned around and said, “Sorry, Mom and Dad—this walking thing just doesn’t work for me.” Silly, right? But meditation is like walking—it’s an activity we learn to do in very short spurts, then continue to practice and improve upon for the rest of our lives. Once you’ve mastered the basics of walking, you can go in any direction you’d like—you can run the fifty-yard dash in gym class, you can train for a 5k, you can become a marathoner. Or, like many people, you might just stick with basic walking. But the core mechanics involved in each of these activities is exactly the same: You put one foot in front of the other, and you move forward.

Meditation is just like that. You might just do three minutes a day; or work up to twenty. You might fall in love with it and decide to dig deep and do a retreat. But no matter where you find yourself currently, you are a meditator.

Myth: “THE REAL TYPE OF MEDITATION  IS [X]—AND IF YOU DON’T DO [X], YOU’RE NOT REALLY MEDITATING.”
Truth: ANY TYPE OF MEDITATION IS “REAL”; NO ONE TYPE IS BETTER THAN ANOTHER.

When we start meditating, a common trap is to get caught in thinking we have to follow a specific type of meditation. When I got into meditation in the early nineties, people were very specific about it. I heard all kinds of dictums:

  • You can’t be sitting on a chair—you have to sit on a cushion.
  • Your legs need to be in this position.
  • You have to have your right thumb on top and your left thumb on the bottom
  • Your right heel must be in front.
  • Your spine has to be right over your pelvis.
  • You have to chant this or think about that.

All of these might be helpful suggestions to you—or not. To use meditation to reach your health goals, there are truly no absolutes of this kind. What works for you is what works for you. It doesn’t matter if you do a visualization or count your breaths, or simply take a moment to close your eyes and be still while riding on the bus—all of these are just tools, and all of them are forms of meditation. And that’s the ultimate goal of meditation: that, with practice, you will get to a level of comfort in which you can just tip back into that same relaxed, focused mental space on the drop of a dime, anytime you notice that you’re getting stressed. You become able to step out of the stress loop and remain cool, calm, and collected as often as you’d like.

Myth: “YOU HAVE TO MEDITATE FOR TWENTY MINUTES OR MORE, OR IT’S NOT WORTH IT.”
Truth: ANY AMOUNT OF MEDITATION CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN YOUR LIFE.

The length of time you spend meditating is absolutely secondary to frequency. If you have to struggle and force yourself to stay still for twenty minutes, you’re not going to get the health benefits that you would by simply sitting for five minutes and just paying attention to your breath. I would so much rather you meditate once a day for three minutes than once a week for twenty. Yes, that little time really does make a difference. One study found that as few as five minutes of meditation a day for four weeks significantly reduced participants’ measures of stress and anxiety and increased their perceived quality of life. Another study found that fifteen minutes of meditation a day reduced participants’ measures of stress by up to 36 percent. Not only does meditation not take a lot of time to be effective, but a new line of research also suggests that meditation actually changes our perception of time—making us feel as though we have more of it in our daily lives. Just a few minutes spent meditating can deepen and expand your experience of time itself. You will have fewer of those “Where did the day go?” moments.

You will gain a richness in your moment-to-moment existence.

Adapted excerpt from MEDITATE YOUR WEIGHT: A 21-Day Retreat to Optimize Your Metabolism and Feel Great. Copyright © 2016 by Tiffany Cruikshank. Published by Harmony Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

How to Become a Better Yoga Teacher

Shannon Patterson, a Yoga Medicine 500-hour teacher shares some tips on how to become a better yoga teacher using some key aspects of learning science.

3 Tips on Better Understanding the Science of Learning

After completing my 200-hour RYT Certification and teaching for about a year, I fell into a teaching rut. My practice had stalled, my teaching had stalled, and my class numbers were down. All I could think was – What am I doing wrong? Are they not coming because they don’t like me? Is it my style of teaching? The music? Class time? I’m pretty sure that nearly every teacher has asked those same questions at some point in their teaching career.

Recently, I received an email from my Academic Teaching Supervisor at Colorado Mountain College, where I teach a credited PE Yoga class. It said that I needed to take a required class for all college professors. At the time, my ego was not buying into this 5-week course that was supposed to somehow make an austerely diverse group of highly educated college professors better teachers within their respective fields.

As I began reading, my interest was immediately piqued by one comment that our professor made. He pointed out that as Academic Professionals who are passionate about teaching; isn’t it also a great sign of a teacher to always be willing to be the “forever student”. Five weeks later and after some big a-ha moments where I could improve my teaching, I had three big takeaways.

1. Are your teaching objectives explicit to yourself and your students?

As yoga teachers, we know that each student is different. But how can we take our skills as teachers and address that learning stems from a complex set of factors? It is the interaction of intellectual, social, and emotional factors. Collecting data about your students, modelling an expert practice, scaffolding complex tasks, and being explicit about objectives, are basic themes that jointly address cognitive and developmental goals.

In a study by Nickerson & Hinds (1999); they surveyed Master Chefs and culinary students. What they found was that Chefs had become so good at cooking that their instructions were lost in translation on students. For example, “Sauté the vegetables until they are done” or “add spices to taste”. These instructions are clear to master chefs, but they did not illuminate the subject matter to the students who do not know what “done” entails and what spices would create the desired taste.

In fact, when you stop and think about it, teaching is a rather complex activity. In fact, most of us are still trying to master it. Thus, being explicit about the learning objectives of the class helps students see the component parts of a complex task. It allows them to target their practice and move towards mastery. It also serves as a motivational function because it increases student’s expectations of success at the task. As yoga teachers, we need to be explicit about learning objectives not only with our students but with ourselves.  When was the last time you sat down and wrote down your own specific teaching objectives? Sit with this in meditation one day and envision yourself as a phenomenal yoga teacher! Afterwards, ask yourself – What are 3 teaching objectives that (I) can work on to become a better yoga teacher and be explicit?

2. Allow your students to have THEIR experience; not yours.

Many yoga teachers have the misconception that in order to be an effective teacher one must be entertaining, full of personality, extrovert, and funny. Not only is this notion inaccurate, but it’s also incredibly problematic. It traps both introvert and extrovert teachers into rigid and narrow teaching roles with little to no growth. Granted, it is our previous experiences and prior knowledge that we use as teachers, but it’s presumptuous to assume that our students will share the same experiences that we do and that whatever teaching methods worked for us will automatically work for them as well.

For example, Degroot (1965) conducted a landmark study in which he showed novice and master chess players a chess board mid-game and asked them to generate the next possible moves. Interestingly, both groups came up with the same number of options. But, the novice group chose options that were random, and the Masters chose weighted and calculated options. The experiment showed that Masters possess a highly developed knowledge organization that allows them to immediately assess and respond to patterns. However, it does not prove that the novice group would follow the same learning path to gain master knowledge.

Like our students, we as teachers possess a lot of prior knowledge about yoga. We which we draw upon this knowledge both consciously and unconsciously. Prior knowledge can affect both our further learning and our individual performance but it can also be insufficient and inaccurate. Collecting data about our students’ current knowledge and giving them their own space to share and work through their own experiences can be a powerful tool. By broadening our students understanding of learning from “you either know something or you don’t know it,” we as yoga teachers can guide them in the direction of experiential self-study in a safe environment where they’re invited to explore without judgement. In the end, don’t be afraid to ask your students to share their own experience of your class with you.

3. Teacher development is a process of progressive refinement.

Development is another word frequently thrown around in the Yoga Teacher’s world. But what does the developmental process look like? At first, we as teachers, like our students, start with intellectual development and looking for the “right answer”. At other stages in our teaching career, we may come to see our teaching style solely as a matter of personal style and there is no better or worse way to go about it. Later, we may realize that teaching is a highly contextualized methodology and consider the many decisions and adaptations we need to make as educators in terms of our students learning.

We must also remember that we as humans are growing and that as educators, we have to work to develop a sense of competence and autonomy in our teaching style, as well as find a productive way to relate to our students. Because this developmental process involves us intellectually, as well as socially and emotionally; the broader climate in which we learn to develop our own authentic style of teaching matters. Some yoga studios and teachers really value constant teaching improvement programs and goals; which can be energizing. Conversely, the same climate can be demoralizing for another teacher that has a separate vision of teacher development and what their individual needs are.

Applying these Lessons

If we as yoga teachers can begin to recognize when our immediate climate is affecting our development negatively, then we have options. Take the initiative to branch out and seek a more supportive climate. Broaden your reach to colleagues and teachers in other disciplines such as Pilates, TRX, or a different style of yoga. Look into the education section of various professional associations, institutions, or teaching centers for free teaching resources. Find a mentor and work with them on your teaching goals. Then, ask for feedback from your mentor and students directly.

Even more specifically, we need to carefully consider our own strengths and weaknesses in relation to our teaching. Not only so we can play to our strengths, but also so we can challenge ourselves to develop in areas in which we may need to work. The trick is figuring out which method of progressive refinement works best for YOU. Explore some different development options to see which one fits best and then run with it.

Lastly, refining our teaching practice requires being aware of our core beliefs about teaching and learning. At our core, what do we believe is the purpose of our teaching? If we think of teaching skills as a talent that one either has or has not; then we may not engage in behaviors that may help us improve. On the other hand, if we think of teaching as a set of skills one can develop and constantly refine, then we open the doors for our full potential to shine as teachers.

About the Author:

Shannon Patterson Headshot

In 1999, Shannon took a class named “Equilibrium”; not knowing it was basically a yoga class. At the time the Gym Directors felt the term “yoga” wasn’t fashionable in the fitness industry. After graduating from Michigan State University in 2001 and moving to Chicago; it was there, that the practice of Yoga really became part of her life. Shannon finally decided to take her practice to another level after being an avid yogi in Vail, Colorado since 2002. She pursued her 200-hour RYT with Baron Baptiste.

Shannon also attended the Baptiste “Art of Assisting” 40-hour training and received her Level 1 Anjali 25-hour Teacher Training in 2012. After receiving her 200 RYT training she then earned her 500-hour RYT with Tiffany Cruikshank and Yoga Medicine in November of 2015 and has been excited to share Yoga with her students as she guides them to reach their individual, physical, and spiritual potential. Shannon’s specialty is Yoga for Athletes and she has several hours of Anatomy training on Hips, Shoulders, Spine, Myofascial Release & Chinese Medicine.

In her classes, Shannon invites you to explore the full potential and freedom with each pose. She breaks down the complexity and builds the pose from the ground up with an emphasis on biomechanics and alignment. She feels passionate about bringing yogic philosophy and daily inspiration to her class so that students may cultivate their own confidence, spirituality, strength and grace on and off the yoga mat.

Techniques for Stress Relief: Professionals & CEOs

David Kiger from Business 2 Community and Tiffany Cruikshank share some tips for high-level professionals to relax and de-stress.

Try These Techniques for CEO Stress Relief

Stress is an inevitable part of most professional careers. This certainly holds true for those who attain CEO status. Standing at the top of a business’ organization chart can translate to being a magnet for problems and issues.

Relieving that stress is key, but the methods involved can vary in their effectiveness. Here’s a look at several ways to approach it, both in tackling problems in the business and in using calming techniques outside of it.

Physical techniques

On high-stress days, a flurry of activity may be necessary, from aggressive conversations and negotiations to difficult meetings. Taking moments for healthy activities — when time allows, of course — could potentially provide some relief. In a story called “A CEO’s Guide From Distress to De-stress” for The Ultimate Travel Company, a deep-breathing exercise is recommended by “stress expert” Tiffany Cruikshank:

  1. Sit up in your chair and close your eyes to begin.
  2. As you close your eyes, start to notice the natural pace of your breath. Sometimes you might notice the breath is choppy or short, sometimes it might feel more relaxed and longer paced. The quality is not important, but just start to become an observer to the process of the breath, the natural movement of the breath.”
  3. Then start to count your inhale and exhale. Try to make the exhale a little longer than the inhale. For example, if you inhale for a count of four, try to exhale for a count of five or six.”
  4. Continue this for one or two minutes.”

The result, according to the story: “The exhalation helps to tap into the parasympathetic mode where you can be most effective in your work and reduce the effects of stress on your body.”

Click here to visit the article on Business 2 Community.

Yoga For Stress & Anxiety: Namastay Calm

Yoga-ing is an amazing way to deal with stress, anxiety and their mind-body burdens. Whether you have a practice or want to start one, this routine will help you chill and reclaim your sanity… LONG DAY? ROSÉ OR NAMASTE? We all deal with stress and anxiety in our own ways; while some situations definitely call for a wine marathon with the girls, learning to self-soothe the au naturale way means long-term protection from stress’ damaging effects.

Yoga is one of our favorite ways to decompress when we’re feeling frazzled. The following yoga routine from Tiffany Cruikshank – founder of Yoga Medicine and the author of Meditate Your Weight – is specifically designed to help us combat and deal with stress. Integrate these simple but powerful poses into your morning or bedtime rituals for amazing mind-body benefits that linger…

The Research

With numerous research articles headlining the news these days about the effects of yoga and meditation for your health, many people are starting to realize that yoga can be a great adjunct to your weekly routine. Stress has so much negative impact on the body. It can cause muscle tension, headaches, food cravings, weight gain, digestive complaints and more. Luckily, yoga and meditation are particularly effective strategies for combatting stress and its effects.

If you’re like many people, you probably experience a hefty load of stress and anxiety on a daily basis. We are bombarded by it, coming from finances, relationships, health and family. The often-used message that you need to “manage your stress better.”  This messaging is meaningless without clear guidance as to how. After working with thousands of patients and students over the past couple of decades, here are a few of my tried and true favorites to deal with stress.

The key here is to pick one or two that you think you can add to your daily routine and stick with it. In order to re-educate how your nervous system responds to stress (the true task at hand since the stress doesn’t go away), you must do this daily, but it need not take more than a few minutes. Just like building muscle, the more often you do it the more helpful it will be. Below are a few to choose from; try out a few and see which one best helps you deal with stress, relax and unwind.

Supine Twist

This pose is great for unwinding at the end of your day as it helps you relax and, at the same time, release back and neck tension from sitting at a desk all day. If you find yourself tense or stressed when you come home and unable to really unwind and relax, then this pose might be your choice.

For this pose find a comfortable place to lie on the ground and simply bring your knees into your chest and take them over to one side and rest them on the ground in a gentle twist. The key here is to completely relax and let your body lean into the ground. If your legs are in the air, find a pillow or blanket to wedge underneath them so you can relax. Once you’re comfortable, take a few deep breaths and stay for 1-2 minutes, then repeat on the second side. Ease back into the rest of your night with a fresh perspective when you’re done.

DOWN-DOG MODIFICATION:

This variation on down dog is a gentle inversion to refresh the brain. This pose is helpful if you tend to feel overwhelmed and are unable to concentrate and stay focused to your normal capacity.

For this pose you’ll need a yoga block or a stack of books, about 4-6 inches tall, to rest your head on. For this pose, come into downward facing dog with your hands shoulder-width apart and your feet about hip-width apart and the top of your forehead resting on the block/books. You might have to move the block/books around a few times to find the right position but notice that the weight is still primarily held in the hands and feet so there is only the weight of the head on your block. Let your neck relax so the blood flow can refresh your mind. Stay for 1-2 minutes and visualize all of your thoughts and to-do lists dripping off your brain onto your block.

Legs Up the Wall Pose

This pose is a great preparation for deep sleep. It calms the nervous system and helps ease the body into the parasympathetic nervous mode or deep relaxation. This is a great one if stress is affecting your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep. For this pose, you want to be done for the night.  Begin by preparing yourself for bed and dimming the lights so that you can crawl into bed quietly when you are finished.

Start by sitting with the side of your body up against a wall. Then, gently lean back onto your back and rest your legs up the wall. You can move in close with your hips at the wall, or leave a little space between your hips and the wall if that feels more comfortable on your back and hamstrings. As with the first pose, the key is to make sure you are comfortable. You can put a blanket over or under you or strap your legs together so they can relax. Once you are comfortable, close your eyes and notice your breath. Visualize your mind emptying with each exhale and allow yourself to linger a little longer in your exhalations. Stay for 3-5 minutes (or longer, if you like), then gently roll onto your side and slowly crawl right into bed.

Seated Meditation

If none of the previous techniques stand out for you or you feel like the stress in your life is constant, then a simple meditation practice can be a helpful way to re-train the nervous system on a more regular basis. Meditation is a simple and effective way to help shift the body into relaxation. It also helps to bring context to the bigger picture awareness that is key for stress management. The nice thing about meditation is that anyone can do it, anywhere or anytime.

The key here is to find a time and place that you can use every day. For many people, this is the first thing in the morning or at the end of the day. It can also be done at your desk by simply setting a timer and closing your eyes. I recommend using a timer on your phone so that you can relax and not worry about time. Begin with 3 minutes and work up to 5 or 10 minutes. Remember frequency is more important than duration, so find something you can commit to daily.

Begin by finding a comfortable sitting position on the floor or in a chair. If you’re on the floor, find something you can sit on like a blanket or pillow to try to get your hips up a little higher than your knees. Then close your eyes and begin by noticing the sensations in your body and the feeling of the breath as you breathe naturally. Simply notice the experience and take it in. Notice what it feels like to be alive in this moment as you observe the experience. This practice is simply about becoming aware of the sensations and processes in the body without trying to change them or judge them. In order to change how your body responds to stress, your nervous system must first notice what is happening. Then your body can do the rest. When your timer rings, slowly head back into your day.

Calming Breath

This simple breathing technique is helpful if your stress level is more of an up-and-down battle throughout the day. This breathing technique helps to stop the stress response in the body in the heat of the moment by calming the nervous system. The exhalation is intimately connected to the parasympathetic nervous system. You will be lingering in the exhale to induce the relaxation response. Use this daily or as needed to combat stressful tasks or situations.

Begin in any position, with eyes closed or open, by slowing down your breath as you breathe in and out fully for a few rounds. Then without any tension simply inhale for a count of 4 and exhale for a count of 6. Repeat for 3-5 rounds (or more, if you prefer) and notice how quickly the relaxation response starts to kick in. As you get more comfortable, you can inhale for 4 and exhale for 8, but the key is to relax and feel as if you can lean into the exhale rather than forcing it.

Click here to view the original article on The Chalkboard.

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