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Month: April 2018

Loving-Kindness Meditation for Kids

Dr. Rashmi Bismark reflects on the message from “A Wrinkle in Time” and shares a Loving-Kindness Meditation that is a great excercise to do with your kids.

Love is the Frequency: A Loving-Kindness Meditation for Kids

My family finally got around to seeing Disney’s new fantasty/sci-fi adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time in the theater.  Our girls were taken by the cinematic grandeur, all of the sparkles, and of course, the many main characters of color on the screen.  Given our youngest daughter is convinced she is going to be a fashion designer/inventor of the first smart device with teleporting capabilities, this movie was a perfect spark for her imagination.

The story follows the family of a NASA scientist who discovers the ability to warp time and space with his consciousness. He travels billions of light years through the universe by attuning with the vibratory frequency of love. His discovery, the phenomenon of a universal “tesseract”, is able to manipulate sound and light. This creates an opening in the fabric of the time-space continuum, allowing him to “tesser” to other planets.

Unfortunately, the father gets stuck in a dark corner of the universe, and his children set off on a journey to help him get home. Without giving too much away, the children finally learn that to break free from the evil planet holding him captive and “tesser” back home, they need to tap their red glittery slippers together and…. Oh wait – oops, wrong movie!

Using Themes from A Wrinkle in Time

Back to A Wrinkle in Time – to get back to Earth, the main characters are challenged to be warriors for light and peace by: (1) feeling the “one-ness” of the universe while remaining true to their unique diverse qualities; (2) courageously confronting their darkness while staying connected to light; and (3) letting go of all resistance while vibrantly resonating with the innate frequency of love.

Though the ambitious movie is not without its own faults, its main message to young viewers of loving compassion for self and others is inspiring.  In theory, the concepts sound good, but how does a kid exactly “align with the right frequency”, trust that “love is always there, even if you don’t feel it”, or recognize that it “isn’t gone; it’s just unfolded,” as the movie suggests?  Perhaps it all starts with cultivating a relationship with love…

Loving-Kindness Meditation

Many contemplative traditions include practices that help to cultivate various innate positive character strengths and virtues of wellbeing, including love.  Loving-kindness meditations are a perfect example.

Loving-kindness practices carry the intention of nurturing a relationship with the shared human capacity for love.  They ask us to attend carefully to the embodiment of love that arises as we open our hearts to our selves and others with curiosity, interest, and patience. Research suggests that engagement in such practices can be a source of harmony and health.

Meditations on loving-kindness can begin by feeling into sensations within the body and heart space.  They explore inviting a sense of loving friendship by bringing to mind a loved one for whom it is easy to generate such tender feelings.  Holding this invitation to love, practices attend to the embodied experience through noticing shifting sensations, thoughts, and emotions as they unfold.

Resting within the awareness of loving presence, the focus of practice then centers back upon one’s self to nurture the natural capacity for self-love and self-compassion. Practices often close by expanding attention to include others – sending out wishes for love, peace, and prosperity to family, community, and even the world beyond.

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Feelin’ All the Feels

Younger children are more inclined to be open to the idea of feeling into their heart and generating love. The younger they are, the more freely they tend to give and accept love. When sharing these practices with little ones, sometimes just a few questions can uncover a range of experiences. We are allowing children to freely explore how love feels within their bodies, minds, and hearts. After a few calming cycles of breath, you may consider the following:

  • What do you notice happening in and around your chest, in the space of your heart?  What does the love in your heart feel like?  Does it have a color or a temperature? Does it tingle or tickle? Is it still? Can it move through your body? What is that like? How does it make you feel? What do you notice in the rest of your body? Are any thoughts, pictures, or memories coming to mind?

When sending love to others, children may call upon the memory of any loved one. It may be a person, a pet, a plant, a stuffed toy, someone living, a family member who has passed – allow them to be creative.

  • As you feel even more into love, is there anyone you are reminded of that brings a smile to your heart or that you would like to send a little love to? Can you let the love from your heart shine out towards them, like the sun shines its light to the Earth? What does it feel like to share love with them like this? What wishes do you have for them? Can you let them send some love back to you? What do you notice happening now in your body, heart, and mind?

Using Universal Prayers

Children who are in their tween years and beyond may need a bit more guidance when exploring loving-kindness practices in this way.  Feeling into the body can be more challenging, while shifting emotions can be harder to define.  Even if it is difficult for them to connect with the presence of love, often helping them stay open to the intention for love, well-being, and peace can be enough.

Mantras or affirmations may be used to encourage a relationship with loving intentions for self and others.  These phrases are focusing tools that help build a connection with the “felt-sense” or embodiment of their words. Universal prayers for love and peace exist in many wisdom traditions. A simple yet powerful suggestion comes from renowned Western Buddhist teacher, Sharon Salzberg.

  • May I/(you/we) be safe.
  • May I/(you/we) be happy.
  • May I/(you/we) be healthy.
  • May I/(you/we) be peaceful and live with ease.

If the exact wording doesn’t make sense for you, or if English is not your preferred language, feel free to use whatever word(s) speak to you. Truly honoring one’s self and others requires the ability to draw upon attitudes of trust, patience, compassion, as well as a willingness to allow for mistakes and building resilience.  The words you or your child choose may shift and change, but the intention for connection with loving presence remains.

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Wrinkling Time

Watching the journey of Meg, the main character in A Wrinkle in Time, certainly transported me back to memories of adolescence and the general awkwardness of it all.  It also reminded me of a Sanskrit universal prayer for well-being and peace that I learned back in my youth[i].  At that time, I really did not grasp the depth of meaning behind its words.  I have been revisiting it these days in my own house during loving-kindness practices with my older daughter.  She will be joining the ranks of tween-dom very soon.

Below is an offering of our current interpretations of what it means for us in the context of cultivating loving-kindness.  (For anyone interested, the Sanskrit words are in the endnotes.)

  • May I move beyond all false ideas about myself to clearly see and be friends with who I truly am;
  • May I be kind to myself as I bravely walk through dark fears and challenges by opening to light and luminous love;
  • May I break free from anything that keeps me stuck or holds me back as I continue to learn, grow, and flourish in the sweetness of life;
  • May I feel peace, be peace from within, and share peace with the whole universe around me.

Whether or not you choose to explore any of this, either for yourself and/or with the children in your life, we are sending you wishes for boundless love and peace.

So can the vibration of love really allow us to travel through space and time?

That was a question hotly debated in the car on the way home from the movies.  Our youngest declared, “Well I can feel Grandpa and Appuppa (grandfather) whenever I send them love during prayers at night.  I can see them in my heart. I can feel them smiling at me.  And they don’t live here any more. So I’m going to say – YES.”

Footnotes:

[i] asato ma sat gamaya; tamaso ma jyotir gamaya; mrityor ma amritam gamaya; om shanti, shanti, shanti – From untruths to truth, may I be led; From darkness to light, may I be led; From death/limitations to the sweet nectar of immortal life, may I be led; Universal peace, peace, peace. Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (1.3.28)

Start Meditating: A Beginner’s Guide

Diane Malaspina for Yoga InternationalYoga Medicine® teacher Diane Malaspina explains the research-backed benefits of meditation and provides simple suggestions for those looking to start meditating. If you are having a hard time adapting to stress or are lacking focus, follow through, and creativity, it may be time for you to start a meditation practice.

How Meditation Reduces Stress (Plus 6 Tips for Absolute Beginners)

Many of us are aware of the physical effects that stress has on the body, but we may be surprised to learn that stress can also affect us mentally by impairing cognitive flexibility and self-regulation. Two areas of the brain are activated during a stressful event—the prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain responsible for decision making, concentration, and self-regulation) and the amygdala (the region of the brain that initiates fight-or-flight arousal)—and both are sensitive to the detrimental effects of stress.

The degree to which the prefrontal cortex regulates the amygdala determines how we perceive and respond to stress both cognitively and emotionally. When the prefrontal cortex is in control, top-down processing is executed, and we can make conscious responses before emotionally reacting or going into flight-or-fight mode.

In contrast, when the amygdala becomes more active than the prefrontal cortex, it often leads to maladaptive responses and bottom-up processing—responding with emotion, like fear, without evaluating circumstances. Even minimal amounts of stress can impair functioning in the prefrontal cortex and amygdala.1 Interestingly, there’s some compelling evidence in favor of using meditation to fortify these very brain structures that are adversely impacted by stress.2 3

The Impact of Stress on the Brain

Stress produces a rush of neurohormones to the prefrontal cortex. The amygdala is also activated; it recognizes threats and sounds the alarm. In turn, the prefrontal cortex signals the amygdala to ascertain whether the alarm is justified. This interaction helps us regulate our emotions on a moment-to-moment basis.

The neurohormones released during a stressful event impair the top-down functioning of the prefrontal cortex and strengthen the emotional responses of the amygdala. Structurally, both the amygdala and prefrontal cortex change. At the cellular level, dendrites, the branches of the nerve cells that receive electrochemical stimulation from neighboring neurons, show atrophy in the prefrontal cortex and extension in the amygdala. This leads to fewer neurons being fired in the thinking brain and more neurons fired in the emotional brain. Emotion then overrides cognition, which results in bottom-up processing and emotional dysregulation. And these poorly modulated emotional responses can lead to more stress and impaired functioning.

Self-Regulation and How Meditation Can Help

Emotional dysregulation is the foundation of many psychological challenges, including stress, anxiety, and depressive disorders. In contrast, self-regulation is the ability to monitor emotions, thoughts, and behavior as a situation demands. It includes the ability to balance highly emotional reactions, change expectations in the face of frustration, and direct behavior toward a goal despite our feelings. When our self-regulation skills are honed, we are more likely to respond to stress in adaptive ways. Furthermore, when thoughts and emotions are appropriately regulated, we are less likely to activate the flight-or-fight response in the face of stress. The stress is still there, but how we process it, make decisions, and choose a course of action are influenced by our ability to self-regulate. As a form of mental training in cognitive control and emotional regulation, meditation can foster adaptive self-regulation, thus honing the ability to respond to stress mindfully.

In meditation practice, we hone the ability to keep the mind focused on one point, such as the breath, a word or phrase, or a state (such as compassion), while maintaining a relaxed physical posture. Research in neuroscience suggests that meditation can initiate neuroplastic changes in both the prefrontal cortex and amygdala, positively influencing how we regulate emotions. Meditation has been associated with increased grey matter and cortical thickness in the prefrontal cortex and decreased brain cell volume in the amygdala.45

Consistency of Practice

These structural changes might allow the cognitive functions of the prefrontal cortex to become stronger, even while allowing reactivity to emotions and stress as produced by the amygdala to become weaker. With practice, meditation may enhance self-regulation by boosting cognitive flexibility and decreasing emotional reactivity, changes which in turn promote healthy responses to stress.

When it comes to establishing a regular meditation practice, accessibility is key. If meditation becomes one more thing on our to-do list, we are more likely to experience stress before or during our practice, which in turn may mean that we have a harder time sticking with it. Remember, meditation has a cumulative effect, meaning the benefits are reaped through consistent practice over time, so it’s important to approach meditation in a way that makes it more likely to become a part of our lifestyle. Below are a few tips that can help you incorporate meditation into your life.

Tips to Start Meditating

1. Start simple: Sit for three minutes.

Start with sitting quietly for three minutes and see where it takes you. Use a meditation app on your phone (silence the ringer) or set a timer. Don’t ask any more of yourself than sitting quietly for these three minutes with your eyes closed, mentally following your breath. What happens from there doesn’t matter. Step one is to just get into the habit of showing up for meditation and committing to being quiet. If you do this each day, you may experience noticeable benefits, like less reactivity and more tranquility. Eventually, you’ll probably sense that you need more than three minutes and will start increasing your time.

2. Select a time and meditate at that time every day.

It helps to have a regular time and space for your meditation practice. You might try different times of day to see what works for you. The mind may be calmer in the morning than later in the day. Choose a time that you can commit to. If it helps to have a dedicated space with a meditation cushion and an altar with candles, that’s fine, but it’s not necessary. If you find the floor uncomfortable, try sitting against the wall or in a chair.

3. Choose something on which to anchor your attention.

If we don’t choose a point of focus, the mind ends up pulling us in multiple directions. You can follow your breath or choose either the inhale or the exhale to focus on. Another option is to count the length of the inhale and/or exhale to maintain concentration. If focusing on the breath isn’t working for you, try a phrase related to why you are sitting in the first place. For example, you can mentally say “Be” on your inhale and “still” on your exhale.

4. Release expectations of what meditation should or should not be. Let go of the end result.

There’s no hard-and-fast “right” versus “wrong” way to meditate, and there’s not a magic number of minutes that leads to the best results. Refrain from bringing a controlling mindset into your meditation practice. Let go of worrying about doing it right, of pushing yourself to increase your sitting time, and of thoughts of not being “good” at it. Instead, take a calm and open approach. Acknowledge that just showing up and sitting is a success.

5. Label thoughts as thoughts and let them go.

To be human is to have a stream of consciousness running through our minds at all times. What’s neat about meditation is that it is a mental break from the chatter of the mind. All meditators experience lapses in focus during which their minds wander—the key is not to go down the rabbit hole by pursuing those inevitable thoughts. When you notice yourself indulging in thought, label it as thought, and then go back to your anchor (your breath or other focal point).

6. Be willing to try different techniques.

If sitting and following your breath is not working so well for you, try a different approach. Use a guided meditation app that allows you to select how long you want to meditate and then be led through a practice (Insight Timer, Headspace, and Calm are popular choices). Or (as noted above) work with repetition of a phrase (mantra) to keep the mind focused. If my mind is particularly busy, I mentally repeat “I am peace” as I practice. If closing your eyes is difficult, try a one-pointed visual focus technique like candle meditation. Light an unscented candle and place it three feet away from you at eye level. Bring a soft gaze to the glow surrounding the candle and maintain your focus there.

When we can skillfully manage stress and emotions, we function at our best. Enhanced self-regulation aids us in identifying opportunities in difficult situations, maintaining motivation, and being able to keep going when times are tough. Research on meditation seems to be heading toward revealing how the practice initiates structural and functional changes in the brain that impact our ability to think and respond to stress. Through meditation, we can learn to clear the mind and strengthen our ability to stay present. With this presence may come better decision-making and a clearer sense of how to accomplish our goals. Once you balance the mind, other behaviors follow.

Read on Yoga International here.

Footnotes

1. Arnsten, A.F.T., Raskind, M.A., Taylor, F.B., & Connor, D.F. The effects of stress exposure on prefrontal cortex: Translating basic research into successful treatments for post-traumaticstress disorder. Neurobiology of Stress, 1, 89-99, 2015.

2. Lazar, S. W., Kerr, C. E., Wasserman, R. H., Gray, J. R., Greve, D. N., Treadway, M. T., . . . Fischl, B. Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. NeuroReport, 16(17), 1893-1897, 2005.

3. Taren, A.A., Gianaros, P.J., Greco, C.M., Lindsay, E., Fairgrieve, A., Brown, K.W., . . . Creswell, J.D. Mindfulness meditation training alters stress-related amygdala resting statefunctional connectivity: a randomized controlled trial. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 10(12), 1758-68, 2015.

4. Lazar, S. W., Kerr, C. E., Wasserman, R. H., Gray, J. R., Greve, D. N., Treadway, M. T., . . . Fischl, B. Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. NeuroReport, 16(17), 1893-1897, 2005.

5. Holzel, B.K., Carmody, J., Evans, K.C., Hoge, E.A., Dusek, J.A., Morgan, L., . . . Lazar, S.W. Stress reduction correlates with structural changes in the amygdala. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 5(1), 11-17, 2010.

Holzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S. W. Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research, 191(1), 36-43, 2011.

Yoga Practice Getting Boring? Learn How to Mix it Up

Kristen Fischer for Spirituality & Health shares some advice on what to do when your yoga practice is getting boring. Try these tips to mix it up, and maybe learn something new.

7 Ways to Make Yoga Class a Self-Discovery Goldmine

Time on the yoga mat is enlightening for most of us, but it can get a little blah no matter how much we love it. Liven up your practice by using your average yoga class to learn more about yourself.

“If your yoga practice feels stale, consider the following tips to pull your lotus flower out of the mud,” said Kris Fleischer, a yoga teacher from the Jersey Shore.

1. Slow down your breathing.

We focus a lot on breathing techniques during class, but some of us don’t pay attention to the pace. “By slowing down your breaths, your nervous system calms and your mind settles, allowing the muddy water to settle,” Fleischer said. “Your mind settles, and as a result, you are able to make better decisions.”

2. Make time for rest.

Need a break 10 minutes into a one-hour class? Don’t be afraid to be the person who randomly takes Child’s Pose. It may be just what you need to discern what’s going on in your body and mind, leading to the breakthrough you need. “By giving your body what it needs on the mat, you take the practice of making clear choices with you into the world,” Fleischer explained.

3. Get creative.

Tired of your yoga teacher’s musical preferences or practicing in the same studio? Make up your own routine and practice at home (or somewhere else really inspiring) and use your own playlist. “When you listen to music you are connected to, you move in ways that further connect you to your yoga practice,” Fleischer said. “The postures become new all over again.”

4. Keep showing up.

Looking for more from your yoga practice but just not getting it? “Show up anyway. Persevere,” Fleischer recommended. “These are the practices when you discover what you are really made of because you are giving yourself to be in the present moment on the mat, warts and all. Your practice becomes an offering of self.” That may just lead you to find out more about what you desire or need—and exactly how to get it.

5. Don’t go big.

Avoid going into your deepest expression of a pose—at least for one class. “Stay up higher in Triangle Pose and focus on getting equal length on both sides of your torso by elongating your spine. Use a block in Half Moon Pose so that you can pay more attention to your Quadratus Lumborum [that ab muscle on your back] than getting your hand to the floor,” suggested Valerie Knopik, PhD, Yoga Medicine® instructor from Indiana. “Slow down enough to focus on subtlety and nuance rather than depth.”

6. Focus on the poses you hate.

We all have at least one pose that we dread. Why don’t you like that pose or those poses? “Sit with this and cultivate some wonder about what your most disliked postures might be able to teach you,” Knopik, said.

7. Stay after class.

Maybe your practice isn’t where to look for self-discovery after all. It could open you up and help you connect with the energy of others in the class. That may spark a discussion that helps you feel more in tune with who you are. So don’t rush out the door right away. “Some of the best lessons come at the moments when you want to bail,” Knopik said. Staying—whether in a pose you can’t stand or just hanging out after class—is often the harder work. “That time spent lingering is the time when breakthroughs and wonderful ‘aha’ moments come about,” Knopik added.

Read on Spirituality and Health here.

Yoga Blocks: Using Props to Advance Your Practice

Rachel Land for Yoga Journal shares 10 poses that utilize yoga blocks to deepen postures and advance your practice. Leave your ideas of props being for beginners at home, because this is a sequence for practiced yogis.

10 Ways to Use Blocks to Advance Your Yoga Practice

This Yoga Move Can Help Relieve Anxiety and Tension

Parade shares a stress-busting yoga move to try for this year’s stress awareness month. This simple stretch from Yoga Medicine founder Tiffany Cruikshank is perfect to do at home for stress reduction.

This Yoga Move Can Help Relieve Anxiety and Tension 

April is Stress Awareness Month, a perfect reminder to check on your stress level and how you’re managing it. In November 2017, the American Psychological Association released its annual Stress in America Survey to find out what Americans are stressed out about and what the most popular stress-management methods are. At 47 percent, most Americans handle stress by listening to music, 46 percent exercise or walk, 29 percent pray and 12 percent meditate or do yoga.

Try this simple at-home exercise from yoga instructor Tiffany Cruikshank the next time you are feeling tense. “This pose is a great way to gently stimulate the spinal nerves to help regulate the central nervous system’s response to stress,” says Seattle-based Cruikshank, founder of Yoga Medicine, a training program connecting yoga instructors with doctors and patients.

Spinal Twist

1. Lie on your back with knees bent and feet resting on the floor.

SupineSpinalTwist1

22232.22 Allow your legs to drop to one side, as close to the floor as possible (gently use your hand to deepen the stretch). Keep both shoulders flat on the floor. Take a few deep breaths to encourage relaxation. Hold this position for 1 minute, then switch to the opposite side and repeat.

SupineSpinalTwist2

TIP If you’re uncomfortable in this position, try placing a pillow under or between your legs for support.

Seasonal Depression: Chinese Medicine Yoga Sequence

By Tiffany Cruikshank for Yoga Journal shares a yoga practice inspired by Traditional Chinese Medicine. Use this routine to help cope with seasonal depression, feelings of imbalance, and other issues as the seasons change.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Inspired Routine for Seasonal Depression

Spring is a time of regeneration, growth, and expansion in our bodies, minds, and in the planning of our lives. However, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), spring can also be a time when feelings of irritability, frustration, or anger sink in, and yoga can be an incredibly effective tool to work with them.

Why We Feel Out of Balance in the Spring

In TCM, spring is associated with the wood element and an inherent sense of growth and renewal. The organs associated with the wood element are the liver and gallbladder. The liver is related to our ability to make plans and bring our goals and aspirations to life, but to do this requires flexibility in the process. Like bamboo, we must be able to bend while at the same time be strong enough to keep growing. The gallbladder represents our ability to make clear and timely decisions and the courage to carry them out.

Much like in Western medicine, in TCM, the liver and gallbladder organs are essential for our body’s capacity to process both physically (detoxification) and emotionally. In our modern-day world, the wood element (liver and gallbladder) is represented as our type A tendencies. In balance, these tendencies show up as our ability to create, cultivate, and bring our goals to life. Out of balance, they appear as stress, tension, irritability, anger, feeling stuck, restlessness, frustration, and of all the maladies that can be a manifestation of stress, in particular tension headaches, hypertension, PMS, mood fluctuations, and indigestion, to name a few.

Disharmony in the wood element can show up at any time of year, but it tends to be more predominant in the spring. With the need to move and grow, imbalance here often shows up as stagnation, so a yoga practice can be an effective way to work with this element or to help create balance.

Though there are many pathologies that can show up in the liver and gallbladder from a TCM perspective, liver qi (energy) stagnation is by far the most common. In our type A, goal-oriented society, it’s also one of the most common TCM diagnoses. Whether you work 50+ hours a week, are a full-time parent, a student, several of the above, or none of the above, you could probably benefit from a liver-focused practice to shed some of your stress, anger, and frustration.

How Yoga Can Help

The most important thing to take note of is the your quality of movement in your yoga practice. The liver thrives on smooth movement with a sense of ease. For instance, if you’re short on time, you may simply do a few slow, easy Sun Salutations to get the liver qi and circulation going. Kapalabhati pranayama is another great one when you’re short on time or don’t have your mat.

Pay close attention to the quality of your breath as well—only linger on the breath as long as there is still a sense of ease. Type A personalities usually get themselves into trouble in one of two places: moving too fast and jerky, or pushing too hard in their yoga practice. Let go of your attachment to poses looking a certain way, and focus instead on the internal quality of the pose.

As you move through your regular yoga practice this season, try connecting to a sense of free flow through the body. Look for resistant or stagnant areas and breathe through them. Spring is a great time for a group yoga class—the liver thrives on slow-flow classes to create movement and ease.

Springtime Flow to Counteract Irritability

The following practice targets the liver and gallbladder for a springtime flow to counteract irritability this season. The poses can be connected with a vinyasa for a flow-style practice, or used on their own for a more hatha-style practice. Please apply general precautions and modify to suit your body.

Myofascial Release Techniques for Your Daily Routine

 for Yoga Medicine® shares three simple myofascial release techniques that you can incorporate into your day. A perfect release for morning, midday and evening.

3 Myofascial Release Techniques for Your Daily Routine

Daily routines, yes we all have them. Whether or not it’s a morning yoga practice or something as simple as brushing your teeth, routines are a part of our daily lives. Ever since self myofascial release was introduced to me by Yoga Medicine®’s 500-hour advanced teacher training, it has become a daily practice for me. The best part is it doesn’t take long at all.

Self myofascial release is a practice that involves the use of balls, blocks, foam rollers, and many other tools to target trigger points, areas of restriction, or limitations in range of motion on the body. Practicing a few techniques a day can provide so much relief in the body.

Here are 3 myofascial release techniques I recommend you try today and add into your daily routine. These can be done throughout your day or all at once. For this practice you will need one or two myofascial release balls or tennis balls.

1. Wake Up Call: Release the Feet

One of the first things I do in the morning is a quick release of the feet. It’s the perfect start to my day. Grab your myofascial balls to begin to release the feet, one foot at a time. Remember to incorporate deep breaths while rolling. Take a few minutes on each side working the heel, arch, and ball of the foot in a rolling or side-to-side motion. Repeat second side.

2. Mid Day Hip Release

If you’ve been sitting a lot today, take five minutes to promote some movement, hydration, and release in the tissues surrounding the hips. Either lying on your back with the knees bent and the feet hip width apart or from the seat, place one ball into the center of your gluteus maximus on the right side. Take 10-15 breaths moving the ball around this area and alongside the sacroiliac joint to relieve any tension that may exist. Then, placing the ball along the outside of the hip, allow the ball to sink into any tenderness that may reside in the outer hip. Take 10-15 breaths. Add a second ball to support or place a blanket over the balls if the pressure causes restriction into your breath. Repeat second side

3. End of the Day Shoulder Release

Unwind your postural tendencies i.e. driving, working on the computer or phone, or carrying children. This is a great way to release any tension that has accumulated throughout your day in the upper back and shoulders. Lying on your back, bend your knees and place the feet hip width into the floor. Pressing through the feet, lift your hips and slide a block under the sacrum. With your hand, palpate the skin that sits right above your shoulders.

Grab your 2 balls and place them on your back. The balls will feel as if they could potentially slip out. Bring your hands by your sides and take a few deep breaths allowing the balls to sink into your tissues. On an inhale begin to move the arms up and back towards the head, taking deep breaths. As you move your arms, notice any areas of tenderness or restriction. If you do feel that tenderness, allow the arms to linger in that space and take a few deep breaths. Continue to move through a gentle range of motion for 2-3 minutes. This can also be modified standing up against a wall.

Holistic Healthcare: Becoming a Yoga Medicine Practitioner

 for Yoga Medicine® shares her experience with combining healthcare and yoga to create a holistic healthcare approach for her clients. She shares some advice for new Yoga Medicine practitioners, or those looking to move into the medical sphere.

Holistic Healthcare: Becoming a Yoga Medicine Practitioner

Have you ever been in one of those situations where a dream opportunity becomes available to you, but you’re tempted to run in the opposite direction? As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve had a couple of these situations over the past few years. I was about to teach my first ever public Yoga class.  Every cell in my body was screaming “you’re not ready for this, get out while you still can!”

I’ve learned to negotiate with the voice inside my head and show up to opportunities that would challenge me. But, I found myself revisiting my old perfectionist self just over a year ago. I was contacted by the largest private hospital in my country and asked to introduce Yoga sessions as an alternative modality to patients.

Yoga as an Alternative Modality

The idea was intimidating, to put it very mildly. How could I, a teacher with only two years of teaching experience and a few hundred hours of anatomy training, be expected to work with hospital patients who were dealing with all sorts of health conditions that I can’t possibly understand entirely well?

I had my trepidations. But after an inspiring conversation with the hospital’s open-minded vice chairman, I decided to go for it. I’ve since had the opportunity to work with patients with a variety of health concerns including herniated discs, osteoporosis, anxiety, depression, digestive issues, shoulder neck and back pain, sleep issues, and scoliosis.

The results have been really rewarding and exciting so far. While my collaboration with the hospital is still in its infancy, it feels like an absolute dream to be a part of this groundbreaking movement towards holistic healthcare. I believe that a lot of us are attracted to teaching Yoga – and to Yoga Medicine® trainings in particular – because of a desire to help people work through pain (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual). My hope is that this kind of collaboration becomes a regular part of healthcare systems all over the world.

Looking back on the experience so far, I have a few pieces of advice:

1)   Start simple.

Never underestimate the power of breath, mindfulness and postural awareness. It’s easy to be intimidated by fancy medical terms and a seemingly severe diagnosis. It helps to remember that you can’t hurt anyone by teaching about breath and mindfulness. Remembering to move from a place of ahimsa (non- violence, or do no harm). Start with the most basic things and take it one step at a time from there. Also, make sure you ask your students a lot of questions about their experience and don’t make assumptions.

I thought I knew how powerful the breath was until I started working therapeutically with hospital patients. Literally, everything from anxiety to abdominal pain and disc herniation seemed to improve with just a few moments of mindful breathing. No fancy pranayama techniques or anything complicated, just an awareness of our built-in elixir of life and its representation of our tissues’ capacity to transform and regenerate.

2)   Reach out to the doctors and medical staff.

Most people in the medical community know little about Yoga beyond the fact that it’s a “relaxing” practice. It’s our role as teachers to communicate what we do and the many facets that fall under the term Yoga. Moreover, as Yoga Medicine® teachers, it becomes even more valuable for us to have in-depth conversations with medical providers. This allows them to understand our level of knowledge and refer patients to us accordingly.

A few months into my work with the hospital, I was given the opportunity to share a presentation with the staff during a morning assembly. The focus was on Yoga’s potency as an adjunct to medical care. I focused on its powerful capacity to increase parasympathetic tone and increase body awareness, thereby mitigating the need for excessive medication and also helping doctors work more effectively with patients who are calmer and more body aware.

Several doctors seemed excited by the preventative and rehabilitative potential of a Yoga practice. But it’s worth noting that some were fixated on numbers and figures. You might want to have some statistics on hand when having such discussions with medical providers. It’s also helpful to stay in touch with a couple of doctors who seem to believe in Yoga or be willing to explore its potential. They become an excellent point for patient referrals, but also great collaborators with whom you can discuss patient progress and potential ways to move forward.

3)   Remember (and remind patients) that you are not their doctor.

As tempting as it can be to assess a person’s situation from a holistic Eastern perspective and draw conclusions that could be missed by the more rigid approach of Western medicine, it is important for us as teachers to stay humble and remember that there is a lot we don’t know. We are not here to diagnose or override the doctors. Although when all patients with back pain receive the same ‘exercise leaflet,’ I’ll admit it can be tempting to challenge what has been given to them. But we must establish an individualized approach without belittling their doctor.

4)   Create a system that keeps you organized and protected.

Remember to keep records of your work with patients. This lets you can track their progress and continue to gather information that adds to the big picture. Also, it is important to write up waiver forms that protect you from any liability. Ensure the patient’s understanding that they are responsible for their own wellbeing. Establish with the patient that they should speak up if something doesn’t feel right.

5)   The thing students will appreciate the most is that you care.

Before you get too in your head about whether or not you know everything about the person’s condition, remember that a huge component of their healing process is to have someone who asks them questions and actually listens. Often, doctors don’t ask patients about their emotional wellbeing, or if their condition was aggravated by an emotional time. This is where we, as Yoga teachers, can hold space for them to feel heard. We have to remember that we are not therapists and that there have to be healthy boundaries, but they will appreciate our dedication to helping them learn to cope with stress.

Our power as Yoga teachers also lies in the fact that unlike many doctors who inform patients of a diagnosis and potential cures, we are guides who accompany them on a journey of introspection where they get to feel what’s going on inside of them and intuitively explore what helps them move forward. This approach empowers them to take charge of their own wellbeing.

6)   You are more capable and knowledgeable than you think.

Somewhere along the journey of being modest and unpretentious, we sometimes lose sight of the innate wisdom within us. As Tiffany reminds us at the end of every training, trust that you have everything you need inside of you. The knowledge and insight you need is already within you. You just have to trust that it’s there to access it. As I’m sure you’ve experienced before, once you get out of your own way, you’ll be blown away by what you find.

Power Statements to Help You Crush Your Career

Anna Davies for LearnVest shares career power statements from 10 successful women across various industries. Try these affirmations and mottos as a part of your day to feel empowered. 

10 Power Statements to Help You Crush Your Career

When it comes to getting what you want at work, you can type up multi-page memos, get to the office early every day and spend months anticipating your boss’s every need. And all these behaviors are valuable. But sometimes, it’s what you tell yourself — and others — that helps you truly get ahead.

Here, powerful women across industries share the words that mean the most to them, and the ones they invoke when they’re trying to make a major move.

Most importantly, a power statement is what resonates with you — what makes you be the best, most professional and polished version of yourself.

1. ‘Keep the future in mind, not just the present.’

“Many years ago, I took what some might think of as a step back in my career by taking a less-defined role to work with a team I truly believed in. Truly, it was the best thing I could have done. It allowed me to broaden my experience, which long-term allowed me to have a broader role. It taught me to always balance short- and long-term goals. If I hadn’t taken that leap of faith earlier in my career, I would have never built the relationships with my co-founders that ultimately led to us launching M.Gemi.”

— Cheryl Kaplan, president of M.Gemi, Boston

2. ‘Yes!’

“Throughout my career, I have been asked to do things that I could have easily said ‘no’ to, but because I chose not to, my business grew — and so did I. The areas where I have taken the ‘yes’ approach generally fall into three categories:

1. Working on projects that I have never done before: doing a keynote speech for the first time, giving a training outside of my usual niche (customer service training or sales), diving into a coaching or consulting project that is different from the norm.

2. Working with people or industries that are unfamiliar, like a concrete company or a moving company instead of my usual corporate business.

3. Going to events, meeting people or speaking at places that I would never have expected to lead to anything, but then they did.”

— Liz Bentley, executive coach and founder of Liz Bentley Associates, New York City

3. ‘Maybe’

“There’s something really powerful about not having all the answers. It leaves room for personal differences and also empowers those I’m working with. In the worlds of both medicine and yoga, there are rarely hard-and-fast answers that apply to every person, so it’s an important phrase when training our teachers to work in medical settings.

When I use it in running my business, it empowers my employees to seek answers and find a way to make things happen.”

Tiffany Cruikshank, wellness expert and founder of Yoga Medicine, Seattle

4. ‘But what do you think?’

“It sounds counterintuitive, but whether you’re the boss or not, asking this question can be empowering to those around you. Taking the time to garner that extra feedback or to absorb those fresh perspectives can ultimately help you all succeed. Plus, nobody likes a know-it-all. You get valuable input when you open up to other people’s ideas.”

— Andrea DeVos Abraham, founder of Woosh Beauty, New York City

5. ‘How can I do better?’

“For me, it’s all about improving daily. Asking this question to yourself, your boss and the people you work with can make you maximize your resources, work to your maximum potential and constantly strive for improvement.”

— Alison Bernstein, president of Suburban Jungle Realty, New York City

6. ‘I’m sure your offer will be fair.’

“Using this phrase is what helps a potential client or boss think of you as a partner. It invites collaboration.”

— Jeana Anderson Cohen, founder of ASweatLife, Chicago

7. ‘Does this bring me joy?’

“In life and in business, the question I’ve used most often is ‘does this bring you joy?’ As an entrepreneur juggling business and family, my time is very precious, and I constantly ask myself this question to help prioritize what’s truly important. I also pose this question to the team I work with, and to whoever asks me for advice.”

— Shilpa Shah, cofounder of Cuyana, San Francisco

8. ‘Fail fast, frequently and small.’

“Many of the best ideas lie in uncharted territory in some capacity. There is no playbook on how to perfect success. Mistakes and failures are unavoidable and are actually essential for paving the way. The key for my team is ensuring that we experiment in small, but meaningful ways, and that we openly share our learnings so issues will ultimately result in valuable growth.”

— Ashley Merrill, founder and CEO of Lunya, Los Angeles

9. ‘What’s in it for the customer?’

“Business can feel complicated when you get mired in operational details. Often, there is a pull to come up with what’s possible or what’s a slight evolution of what worked last year without always asking this ultra-basic and critical question. It’s not about what product or service you want to make or feel is possible, or how you want to sell — it’s simply about delighting the customer in a way they value enough to purchase over all the other choices in the world.”

— Jessica Herrin, founder and CEO of Stella & Dot, San Francisco

10. ‘Everything’s a number.’

“This is the phrase that I use the most when I am trying to influence my team to think rationally, rather than emotionally, about business decisions. My goal is for them to think about the big picture instead of making of-the-moment decisions. They need to understand that our choices need to not only be made from the gut (what we think is right), but to also have data that supports that choice.”

— Christina Stembel, founder and CEO of Farmgirl Flowers, San Francisco

Read on LearnVest here.

Yoga for Pain Relief: 5 Moves to Ease Pain

Jill Schildhouse for Oxygen Magazine shares 5 yoga moves to try for pain relief. Try these five easy poses to treat common aches and pains.

5 Yoga Moves to Ease Pain

Instead of reaching for that bottle of painkillers in your medicine cabinet the next time you experience a headache or back pain, try channeling your inner yogi. Why? While 11.5 million Americans living with chronic pain misuse prescription opioids, there are alternative treatment options available — like yoga — that are effective and come with zero risk of side effects.

“One of the main reasons I believe yoga for pain is such a hot topic right now is that there’s still a lot of unknowns in the world of pain science and our understanding of the nervous system,” says Tiffany Cruikshank, LAc, MAOM, RYT, an internationally renowned yoga instructor, holistic health practitioner, acupuncturist, sports-medicine expert and founder of Yoga Medicine. “This question mark leaves behind a void that our health-care systems haven’t been able to solve yet. Plus, the current solutions have way too many side effects and drawbacks. We’re in desperate need of a better strategy, and yoga practices can be an effective, cost-efficient solution.”

Yoga is a great tool to help people:

  • Self-soothe with stress-reducing techniques
  • Down-regulate the stress response and, in effect, increase the relaxation response
  • Create body awareness, which acts as an internal monitoring system to help the nervous system recalibrate

Putting Yoga Into Practice

The next time you experience one of the five common painful conditions listed below, Yoga Medicine® instructor Marnie Hartman, DPT, CSCS, RYT, suggests practicing its corresponding yoga pose. “It’s important to note that it’s not actually about the ‘pose’ itself but the ‘practice,’” she says. “Mindfulness, awareness of breath and reactions during the positions or movements are just as important as the posture themselves.”

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