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Month: May 2018

Unexpected Ways Yoga Can Prevent Injury

Rachel Land for Yoga Digest shares three unexpected ways that yoga can prevent injury that you may never have considered.

UNEXPECTED WAYS YOGA PREVENTS INJURY

Postnatal Yoga Sequence for the ‘Fourth Trimester’

 for Yoga Journal shares a postnatal yoga routine for new mothers. This routine is calming and restorative.

Calming Postnatal Yoga for the “Fourth Trimester”

I had my two babies in two different countries, Switzerland and the United States, respectively. People often ask me, “What was the biggest difference having your first baby while living abroad?” Although there were many differences, the quality of postpartum care remains the most significant. In Switzerland, a midwife came to see me at home five times, and the visits were all pre-arranged for me before I left the hospital. Everything changes when you’re a new mother, and the midwife supported me in ways I will never forget. She gave me confidence in my ability to take care of my infant. When I had my second baby in the States, what became very clear to me is that outside of family, there is not enough support for postpartum mamas, especially during the “fourth trimester.”

The “fourth trimester” is a term used to refer to the first three months after giving birth. The nights are long and the days are just as exhausting. The world as you know it revolves around caring for a tiny human. Their needs are endless and we as mothers give all that we know to give, often putting ourselves and sometimes our most basic needs last (like when 2 p.m. rolls around and you ask yourself, “Did I even brush my teeth today?”).

The following calming postnatal sequence is dedicated to the fourth-trimester mama. I’m here for you, I believe in you, and I support you. One of the nice things about the early months of infancy is that babies this age (usually) love to sleep. This can be a great time to take a few moments to give back to your body and calm your mind. If your baby is struggling with naps or prefers to be held, I strongly encourage you to ask for help, whether it’s from your partner, family, friends, or a postpartum doula. Taking time for yourself is not only healthy for you, it also benefits everyone around you, including your beautiful baby.

The Future of Western Yoga

Viola J. Gaskell for The Culturist discusses how Western yoga has transitioned from spiritual, to athletic, to medical, and where she sees it going next.

The Future of Western Yoga: From Medicine to Fitness and Back Again

“Nice job, you’re really flexible. I could see you being a teacher someday.” These words from an accomplished yoga instructor made an impression on my extremely impressionable thirteen-year-old self. My father had brought me along to a vigorous Ashtanga yoga class at the Art Barn, a small, forest green A-frame house camouflaged by the lush rainforest that is Hana, Hawaii. From the handstands to the Sanskrit chants, I was pulled in.And I’ve been practicing yoga ever since. The enthusiasm I felt that day was in part a result of the challenge yoga presents, both mentally and physically, and partly because as a very flexible young adult. I enjoyed feeling naturally good at something.

Last year at age 25, I started experiencing extreme pain in my sacroiliac, my coccyx, and my knees. The SI joint is the tiny joint on the back of the hips connecting the base of the spine and the pelvis, reinforced by extremely strong ligaments. While researching the joint and consulting experts about my pain, I noticed that one of the yoga sequences I do most often pulls on the ligaments surrounding the SI joint. Once a ligament has been stretched, any slack that has been created cannot be undone. This is problematic with delicate joints that depend on the support of ligaments.

Finding Tiffany Cruikshank

I began my search for yoga poses do not stretch this ligament, but rather help me strengthen the muscles surrounding it. I found a class on my favorite online platform that is specifically designed to support the often neglected SI joint. The teacher, Tiffany Cruikshank, quickly became one of my favorite online instructors. I enjoy her rigorous approach towards anatomical awareness in all poses. Cruikshank, who has been teaching for over 20 years, now spends the majority of her time running yoga teacher trainings meant to equip instructors with the knowledge necessary to approach yoga from a physiologically informed perspective.

In the past decade, as the number of adults practicing yoga in the West has sharply increased, articles detailing the horrors of yoga have sprung up from time to time. A National Health Statistics Report published in 2015 stated that the percentage of adults in the US who practice yoga rose from 5.1% to 9.5% between 2007 and 2012. The inevitable injuries occurred, and the fringe “headstands lead to strokes” stories, or “Yoga Wrecks Your Body” headlines have found their way into the mainstream alongside the plethora of articles suggesting the opposite. There is however, a logical middle ground, a community of yogis and health professionals bridging the divide between yoga and Western Medicine through increased dual awareness of how the two can be complementary.

Yoga as Medicine

Dr. Timothy McCall, author of Yoga As Medicine references a study in one of his many articles about a group of women with stage II and III breast cancer. In the study, yoga is not meant to replace any sort of primary treatment, it is used in conjunction with surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy to as a means of combating the negative side effects of the primary treatments through immune function and psychological support.

Cruikshank, who has treated over 25,000 patients agrees with the concept: “I’ve definitely seen people with herniated discs, cancer, fibromyalgia, headaches, back pain, etc. be positively affected by yoga. I would never say that yoga can cure cancer or anything like that, but I do think that it can be very complementary to the invasive and difficult treatments that patients often go through.” Cruikshank founded her company Yoga Medicine specifically to strengthen this link between Eastern and Western medicine.

The Founding of Yoga Medicine

At age 14 Cruikshank went to a Wilderness camp where one of her guides who was an herbalist taught her about the medical properties of plants. Quickly fascinated, Tiffany started making tinctures of all sorts, immersing herself in learning about natural wellness. As a 14-year-old tennis prodigy she was already involved in the physical sphere, and with her newfound interest in wellness intensifying, yoga was the clear next step: “As a young athlete, the physical side of yoga drew me in initially but there was always something deeper that kept me coming back.”

In the 90’s when Tiffany began practicing, western yoga was a more direct adaptation of the practices in the East. Strictly physical versions of yoga like Core Power and eccentric modern classes like “Black light metal Yoga” were yet to exist. Over the last two decades we have seen an impressive surge in yoga everywhere from Hong Kong to Edinburgh, with myriad types of asanas and meditation. From “Kink Yoga” in Sydney to “Rave Yoga” in NYC, the asanas have been heavily adapted to fit all sorts of modern preferences.

Western Yoga Criticisms

Critics of western yoga highlight the competitive result-based approach to the practice, where being in a pose is more important than how you got into it or how you get out of it. That may be an incorrect perspective, but there are innumerable ultra-physical, posture-driven classes that are taught in a mindful way with respect to alignment. “You can always take things to extremes, in my 20’s and teens I really appreciated the physical challenge of yoga so I think that part of it served its purpose for me at that time. Some people come to yoga looking for the physical, some the more spiritual, it all has a place and hopefully they stick around long enough to find some depth and purpose in it.” says Cruikshank.

As a practice that can have immensely positive physical and mental effects, there are also precautions to be taken when contorting your body into potentially strenuous positions on a repetitive basis. The same way that Crossfit has been known to inspire a competitive, time-based approach that can lead to poor form and preventable injuries, yoga can have undesired effects when practiced routinely in a competitive class environment, without full physical awareness. Training centers like Yoga Medicine are working to increase body awareness for teachers and those who practice at home whether self-guided or with an online platform.

The Right Effort

Tias Little, a renowned yoga instructor with a background in Somatic studies and Eastern Philosophy, leads lower back intensives that teach students how to develop the proper amount of strength and mobility in the lower back and hips. He advises his students to stall the desire to push the body to its limits, and to hover somewhere around 80 percent. “In the Buddhist tradition it’s called ‘right effort’ and it’s very hard for people to find because they think more is better. At 80 percent, the body can really accommodate the stretch, whereas 100 percent brings hardness and excess tension into the connective tissues and nerves. The attitude of ‘the harder I push the more progress I’m going to make’ is not always true.”

Aging is hugely transformative in how yogis practice, whether from 40 to 50, or 20 to 30. When Tiffany Cruikshank experienced a major spinal injury, she had to substantially modify her practice to work with her recovery. “Having a herniated disc was one of the most intense things I’ve ever dealt with, it was definitely one of the things that shifted me towards a more purpose driven practice. In my 20’s I was really interested in the gymnastic side of Asana, and through my 30’s my practice has been more grounded and balanced.”

The Meeting of Eastern & Western Medicine

Cruikshank holds a Bachelors degree in Medicinal Plant Biology, a Masters in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine with a specialty in Sports Medicine & Orthopedics, and has been teaching yoga for over 20 years. She embodies the meeting point of Eastern and Western medicine, living by her opinion that “clearly the traditional practice of yoga has worked . . . [but it’s] smart to combine what we’ve been doing for thousands of years with what we now know about western science and medicine.”

A National Health Interview Survey completed in 2012 reported what may be thought of as common knowledge in the yoga community, that Yoga was useful in treating musculoskeletal conditions and mental health conditions among the participants of the survey. Experts like Cruikshank and Little say that back pain is likely the most common problem they have seen yoga help to heal. The more informed yoga instructors are about what is best for their students anatomically, the more legitimized yoga will become as a practice to be used in conjunction with Western medical treatment for issues like back pain and depression.

Holistic Health

As the holistic approach to wellness gains traction in the mainstream, one of the pros of yoga is that is has the space to integrate the facets of the physical, psychological and social perspectives on health. Tiffany uses a detailed questionnaire with new students & patients that helps her approach their conditions from all angles. “Recently I worked with a woman who had been experiencing neck pain for ten years, and she had this long list of traumatic experiences.

I went through the physical records with her, and she had no serious physical diagnosis, but it was clear to me that she was carrying serious trauma. I think one of the beauties of yoga is that you don’t have to know everything – it’s not about psychoanalyzing but more about being cognizant of patterns. Simple things like meditation and pranayama with a focus on personal inquiry can be so useful in restructuring these patterns to be more beneficial.”

Meditation offers a way to step back from the way we see ourselves and to detach from the negative patterns that we have implemented throughout our lives. Pranayama, a controlled breathing technique integral to yoga, can be used along with the asanas and meditation to attain a quality of objectivity that allows room to break these physical and mental patterns.

Conclusions

Regardless of the many modifications, yoga has undergone in its transition to the modern world, the practice undoubtedly has inspired its devotees to invest in self care whether physical, mental, or spiritual. The next step is infusing yoga with what we now know about our anatomy and physiology to prevent injury and allow for the practice to be used to its fullest potential as therapy when applicable. “I think some of the trendy things of yoga will come and go and the things that are really significant will stick around. More and more people are using yoga for wellness and there is more knowledge about how to do this available all the time,” says Cruikshank.

Read on Culturist here.

Types of Yoga: A Guide to the Different Styles

Stepfanie Romine for The Beachbody Blog shares a guide to the different types of yoga being practiced today, with a suggestion of who might like or benefit from each specific style.

Your Guide to the Different Types of Yoga

Yoga has come a long way in the past few years. Take a look at any studio’s schedule and you’ll see so many different types of yoga, from ashtanga yoga and kundalini yoga to aerial yoga and acro yoga. You might have even heard about — or tried — some of the more modern and unusual iterations of the ancient practice: hip-hop yoga, HIIT yoga, and naked yoga…just to name a few.

Yoga practice is thousands of years old. However, it only arrived in the US in the late 1800s and only firmly took root within the last few decades. Since then, yoga has gone from a practice associated with hippies, to one that’s practiced by nearly 37 million people.

And not all of these millions of people go to a yoga studio to do their downward dogs. If you like to unroll your mat at home (like with Beachbody Yoga Studio) you’re not alone: That’s the number one place people practice.

What Is Yoga?

“Plain and simple, yoga is the union between the body, mind, and spirit. That’s the origins of yoga and that’s how it is practiced in the East,” says Miriam Amselem, yogi of nearly 30 years. “It is a place of discovery and connection with your own body that encompasses balance, proper stretching techniques, breathing, meditation, centering the mind and spirit — that’s yoga in its real form.”

However, you’ll find that every type of yoga has a slightly different definition or interpretation. That is why we see things like goat yoga (a.k.a. doing yoga with goats running and jumping around) popping up alongside traditional forms like Iyengar and ashtanga.

But above all, yoga ignores the “no pain, no gain” philosophy that’s rife in fitness communities. Yoga is not a place to push through, go beyond your edge, or ignore your body. The primary tenet is ahimsa, or non-harming, and that starts with choosing the right type of yoga for you.

Types of Yoga

13 Types of Yoga: How to Choose the Right Kind for You

When you’re trying to determine which of the different types of yoga is best for you, remember that there is no right or wrong one— just one that might not be right for you at this moment.

“Like any form of exercise, choose something you want to do,” says Stephanie Saunders, executive director of fitness at Beachbody and a certified yoga instructor. “Bikram or Iyengar might appeal to you if you are a very detailed person. If you are more of a free spirit, vinyasa or aerial yoga might be fun. Find a class that makes you excited to go.”

So which one will get you excited? Our guide to the common types of yoga can help you decide whether you’re in more of a restorative yoga or a power yoga kind of mood, or anything in between.

Kundalini Yoga

Yogi Bhajan, teacher, and spiritual leader, brought this style of yoga to the West in the late 1960s. “Kundalini” in Sanskrit translates to “life force energy” (known as prana or chi in the yoga community), which is thought to be tightly coiled at the base of the spine. These yoga sequences are carefully designed to stimulate or unlock this energy and to reduce stress and negative thinking. “You get to elevate your consciousness and feel great,” says Veronica Parker, an E-RYT 200, and a certified kundalini yoga teacher.

This is accomplished by challenging both mind and body with chanting, singing, meditation, and kriyas (specific series of poses paired with breath work and chanting). You might notice everyone is wearing white, as it’s believed to deflect negativity and increase your aura. Typically, a kundalini class starts with a mantra (a focus for the class), then includes breathing exercises, warmups to get the body moving, increasingly more challenging poses, and a final relaxation and meditation, says Parker.

Who Might Like It: Anyone in search of a physical, yet also spiritual practice, or those who like singing or chanting.

Vinyasa Yoga

Vinyasa yoga is also called “flow yoga” or “vinyasa flow”. It is an incredibly common style. One example is 3 Week Yoga Retreat’s flow yoga for beginners. It was adapted from the more regimented ashtanga practice a couple of decades ago. The word “vinyasa” translates to “place in a special way,” which is often interpreted as linking breath and movement. You’ll often see words like slow, dynamic, or mindful paired with vinyasa or flow to indicate the intensity of a practice.

“Vinyasa flow is a style of yoga where the poses are synchronized with the breath in a continuous rhythmic flow,” says Sherrell Moore-Tucker, RYT 200. “The flow can be meditative in nature, calming the mind and nervous system, even though you’re moving.”

Vinyasa yoga is suitable for those who’ve never tried yoga as well as those who’ve been practicing for years.

Who Might Like It: Anyone who wants more movement and less stillness from their yoga practice.

Power Yoga - Types of Yoga

Hatha Yoga

Hatha yoga derives its name from the Sanskrit words for sun and moon, and it’s designed to balance opposing forces. The balance in hatha yoga might come from strength and flexibility, physical and mental energy, or breath and the body. “Hatha is a blanket term for many different ‘styles’ and schools that use the body as a means for self-inquiry,” says Jennifer Campbell-Overbeeke, E-RYT 500.

It’s often used as a catch-all term for the physical side of yoga, is more traditional in nature, or is billed as yoga for beginners. “Hatha translates to ‘forceful,’ but this relates more to the aspect of concentration and regularity of practice rather than applying unnecessary force to the body,” says Campbell-Overbeeke.

To be considered hatha, classes must include a mix of asana (poses), pranayama (breathing exercises), and meditation, so other types of yoga — like Iyengar, ashtanga, or Bikram — are technically considered to be hatha yoga as well.

Who Might Like It: Anyone looking for a balanced practice, or those in search of a gentler type of yoga.

Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga yoga consists of six series of specific poses taught in order. Each pose and each series is “given” to a student when their teacher decides they have mastered the previous one. This is a very physical, flow-style yoga with spiritual components — you might remember it as the type Madonna did in the late ’90s. Ashtanga teachers give hands-on adjustments, and in Mysore-style studios (named after the city where the practice’s guru, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, lived and taught), each student has a unique practice.

“The practitioner moves at the pace of her own breath and to her personal edge, or growth point,” says Lara Land, a level two authorized ashtanga teacher. “Each person memorizes the practice and moves at her own pace through the poses.”

Ashtanga vinyasa yoga is often taught as “led” classes in the West, where the first or second series is taught from start to finish over the course of 90 minutes to two hours. There is no music played in ashtanga classes.

Who Might Like It: Anyone who likes routine or a more physical yet spiritual practice.

Yin Yoga

Yin yoga is a slower style of yoga in which poses are held for a minute and eventually up to five minutes or more. It is a type of yoga with roots in martial arts as well as yoga, and it’s designed to increase circulation in the joints and improve flexibility. The practice focuses on the hips, lower back, and thighs and uses props like bolsters, blankets, and blocks to let gravity do the work, helping to relax. While other forms of yoga focus on the major muscle groups, yin yoga targets the body’s connective tissues.

Yin also aids recovery from hard workouts. “Adding a deep stretch and holding class like yin can be extremely beneficial to a strong body,” says Megan Kearney, a Yoga Medicine instructor. Holding poses longer benefits the mind as well as the body, providing a chance to practice being still. “This is a beautiful practice that honors stillness,” says Moore-Tucker. “This style of practice is a great balance for vinyasa flow.”

Who Might Like It: Those who need to stretch out after a tough workout, or anyone interested in a slower-paced practice.

Restorative Yoga - Types of Yoga

Iyengar Yoga

Named for its founder, B.K.S. Iyengar, who developed his classical, alignment-based practice in India. This type of yoga became popular in the US in the 1970s. Iyengar yoga is known for the high level of training required of its teachers and for its resourceful use of props. While considered optional in many practices, multiple props are used in Iyengar classes — including chairs, walls, and benches, in addition to more common ones like straps, blocks, and bolsters.

Paul Keoni Chun, an E-RYT 200, likes this more static form of yoga for older adults, since it “emphsizes detailed alignment and longer holds of positions.” Iyengar yoga is usually less intense than other types of yoga, although that can vary based on the instructor or class. But generally, it’s suitable for people of all ages and skill levels.

Who Might Like It: Someone who likes detailed instruction, anyone with physical limitations, or those in search of a more classical form of yoga.

Bikram Yoga

Bikram Choudhury developed Bikram yoga. It is a form of hot yoga. These classes, like ashtanga classes, consist of a set series of poses performed in the same order, and the practice has strict rules. Each class is 90 minutes, with 26 postures and two breathing exercises, and the room must be 105° Fahrenheit with 40 percent humidity. Additionally, instructors do not adjust students.

Since Bikram yoga has so many rules, many studios simply call their classes “hot yoga” so they can customize their offerings. Devotees of hot yoga tout the massive amount of sweat and the added flexibility the practice gives them.

“Practicing yoga in a heated environment allows students to get deeper into postures, improves circulation, and aids in detoxifying the body,” says Natalie Sleik, RYT 200, who teaches hot power yoga.

Who Might Like It: Anyone who likes to sweat, someone who wants a more physical practice, or those who like routine.

Hot Yoga - Types of Yoga

Power Yoga

Like vinyasa yoga, power yoga traces its roots to ashtanga but is less regimented and is more open to interpretation by individual teachers. “Power yoga is generally more active and is done at a quicker pace than other styles of yoga,” says Chun.

Sleik adds that “power yoga strengthens the muscles while also increasing flexibility. The variation of sequences keeps the brain engaged while you work all muscle groups in the body.”

Power yoga can be hot yoga or not, and some studios offer a mix of power and slow flow yoga to ease students into this intense practice. Fans of power yoga may also like buti yoga, which is just as physical but also includes tribal dance, primal movements, and plenty of core work.

Who Might Like It: Those who like ashtanga but want less rigidity, anyone who wants a good workout, and anyone who wants a less spiritual yoga practice.

Sivananda Yoga

Sivananda yoga is a form of hatha yoga based on the teachings of Hindu spiritual teacher Swami Sivananda. Classes are generally relaxing: while most yoga classes end with savasana (a final relaxation/corpse pose), Sivananda starts with this pose, then moves into breathing exercises, sun salutations, and then 12 basic asanas.

Kearney likes this practice for “someone looking for more spiritual or energetic work,” while Saunders says such Sivananda yoga can help push yourself to the next level if you’re a beginner. Designed to support overall health and wellness, Sivananda yoga is appropriate for all levels and ages.

Who Might Like It: Those looking for a gentler form of yoga, anyone who wants a more spiritual practice.

Restorative Yoga

If you walked by a restorative yoga class, you might think everyone was taking a nap on their mats. This form of yoga uses props to support the body. The goal is to completely relax into poses, which are held for at least five minutes but often longer. This means that you might only do a handful of poses in a class, and it’s perfectly acceptable to drift into sleep during them.

Some teachers might even lead you through yoga nidra – a guided meditation that allows you to hover blissfully between sleep and wake. One hour in yoga nidra is said to equal a few hours of shuteye, and while that can be a good self-care tool, it can’t replace a healthy night’s sleep.

Though all different types of yoga can aid stress relief and brain health, restorative yoga places its focus on down-regulating the nervous system. Restorative yoga can benefit those who need to chill out and de-stress, and it can also be used as part of your rest-day self-care. “Taking time to relax in a restorative class can have a huge impact on an athlete,” says Kearney.

Who Might Like It: Anyone who needs to de-stress, those dealing with pain, and someone who struggles to relax.

Prenatal Yoga

Yoga can be a wonderful workout for moms-to-be. It often focuses on easing pains associated with pregnancy, such as sore hips or an aching low back. Prenatal yogaprovides stress relief, exercise, and self-care in one session, and the breathing exercises can come in handy during labor and delivery.

Since this is a practice designed specifically for moms-to-be, it excludes poses that might be too taxing or unsafe for the changing body. (But make sure you check in with your doctor before beginning a yoga practice, if you are pregnant.) Yoga for pregnancy, such as the Active Maternity series on Beachbody On Demand, also often includes plenty of exercises to prepare your body for delivery, like squats and pelvic floor work.

Who Might Like It: Moms-to-be and new moms who are easing back into exercise.

Aerial Yoga

Aerial yoga — sometimes called anti-gravity yoga — is relatively new, but quickly catching on. It involves traditional yoga poses with the added support of a strong, silky hammock that hangs from the ceiling. The hammock is used as a supportive prop in poses like pigeon or downward dog, and helps you more easily perform inverted poses (like headstands and handstands) that might be beyond your abilities or comfort levels. It’s also used for a cocoon-like savasana (the final resting pose at the end of a yoga class). Classes can be either physically challenging or relaxing.

“Teaching aerial yoga has been so rewarding for me because I get to witness beginners gain body awareness and overcome fear of being inverted,” says Melissa Vance, RYT (Registered Yoga Teacher) 200, an aerial yoga teacher based outside of Atlanta. “Hanging upside down reverses the blood flow in the body and decompresses the spine providing much relief and a euphoric feeling.”

Who Might Like It: Those who want a nontraditional yoga experience, or anyone who wants the benefits of inversions but might fear going upside down on their own.

Aerial Yoga - Types of Yoga

Acro yoga

Acro yoga takes familiar yoga poses — like downward dog or plank — and makes them double the fun (and sometimes double the work) by adding a partner. One partner serves as the “base” on the ground, while the other is the “flyer” who contorts themselves on the soles of the base’s feet. (A spotter should always be involved for safety). “[Acro yoga] allows people to break from the rectangular confines of their yoga mat and find a connection with their fellow practitioners,” says Lyle Mitchell, a YogaSlackers acro yoga teacher in Asheville, NC.

This type of yoga helps you playfully explore your mind-body connection, develops effective communication skills with a partner, and aids in setting appropriate boundaries. “Exploring these skills through acro yoga can translate to strengthening these skills in all our other relationships in life,” he says.

Saunders recommends acro yoga “if you are looking for the physical benefits of yoga in a fun and interactive environment.” If you work as a base, it builds a strong lower body and core. Working as a flyer requires flexibility and strength, not to mention trust.

Who Might Like It: Those who enjoy practicing with a partner, couples looking to build trust and intimacy, or anyone with an adventurous streak who likes to go upside down.

The Takeaway

Every style of yoga has its unique benefits, and you might encounter a mix of many types of yoga in the same class. “I teach a mix of hatha, kundalini, yin, and restorative in my sessions — this keeps my students guessing and challenged,” says Amselem.

Want to try a variety of yoga workouts in the comfort of your own home? “The Beachbody Yoga Studio has all levels of yoga classes, including those needed to challenge the veteran yogi,” says Saunders.

The Mood Boosting Effects of Yoga

 for Mantra Wellness Magazine shares how yoga can boost mood through mindfulness and physical activation. Learn more about the evidence, and how to start practicing yoga for a better mood.

Is Yoga the Magical Mood Elixir?

After teaching last week, a new student came up to me two days after class and said, “That yoga class… I felt muscles that I didn’t even know that I had turn on; my body was literally humming the next day. It was as if I had this calm, positive, internal energy uplifting me. It was amazing, and I can’t wait until our next class.” This is the ultimate response one can hope for as a teacher. And as a student? This opportunity to practice yoga and then walk away from our mats and keep the positive shifts we make during our practice? This is, in many ways, the heart of our practice.

When asked why we practice, both teachers and students alike tend to mention things like yoga being grounding, yoga is a tool to help them be ‘in their body,’ and yoga is the magic mood lifter. But have you ever paused to think about why this yoga practice, consisting of physical poses (asana), focused breath work (pranayama), and meditation, can have these profound effects on mood?

Yoga as a Mood Lifter

There is a growing body of research that lends credence to our own personal stories of yoga being a mood lifter. Researchers have recently shown preliminary evidence that yoga can ease depressive symptoms, particularly when life stressors are on the rise. Further, yoga and focused breath work can decrease depressive symptoms in individuals diagnosed with major depressive disorder. In short, there is suggestive evidence that yoga, meditation, and pranayama can keep us, dare I say it, more content.

How does this happen? When we practice mind- body techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, and focused intention tasks, we influence brain activity in regions that are involved in reducing psychological stress and increasing the parasym-pathetic response. These effects have downstream results of reducing heart rate, increasing immune function, and making digestion more efficient – all of which feed back to the brain to affect mood and behavior. Further, when we engage in the physical aspects of yoga or controlled breath work, both of which require us to use our musculoskeletal system and increase our cardiovascular output, we subsequently influence the body’s capability to fight illness, balance between the parasympathetic/ sympathetic nervous systems, and improve mood.

Mindfulness & Cognitive Response

A yoga practice including mindfulness and focused intention in a non-competitive and non-judgmental atmosphere can change our cognitive response to stimuli. In other words, we have the capacity to retrain our brains and change what we choose to pay attention to. Yoga teaches us to be in the present moment and to accept ourselves and our experiences, just as they are. Meditation teaches us to become the internal observer of our thoughts and to learn to identify negative or irrational thoughts. Through these practices, we can, over time, adjust our frame of thinking.

Find the Right Practice

The beautiful thing is that you need not be a well-seasoned yoga practitioner to reap the mood-enhancing benefits of yoga – although a consistent practice will indeed bring long-term benefits. Even those newer to the practice show positive mood responses to this practice. If you struggle with depressive symptoms, it’s worth some investigation of your local yoga studios to find an environment that suits you. Research suggests that knowledgeable and well-trained yoga teachers who promote positive ‘non-judgment zones,’ provide individualized attention, teach mindfulness and breathing, and provide guidance for translating studio class elements into a home practice are most effective for decreasing depressive symptoms. It’s worth the effort to seek out the right teacher.

The take-home message is simply to practice. Whether it’s every day or once a week, just practice. Whether it’s asana, pranayama, or meditation, just practice. And then, build to a consistent practice. The more you make time for yourself, the more consistent your practice. And the more you go inward and stay present through yoga, pranayama, and meditation, the more seasoned you become at recognizing the thoughts and patterns that don’t serve you or bring you joy. You’re worth it.

Healthy Habits You Should Always Do at Night

Lisa Marie Conklin for Reader’s Digest Online shares 12 healthy habits to help you get better sleep, and live a healthier life. Tiffany Cruikshank, founder of Yoga Medicine, shares an easy yoga practice to do before bed.

12 Healthy Habits You Should Always Do at Night

Think that brushing your teeth and washing your face are the only things you should do before hitting the sack? Think again. We asked the experts for more health moves we should always do before bedtime.

Use mouthwash

Brushing your teeth and flossing are important steps in maintaining a cavity-free mouth, but that’s not all you should be doing for healthy teeth, according to Scott B. Eisen, DDS at Catonsville Dental Care. “While we sleep, we produce less saliva and our mouths become dry,” he warns. “Saliva is the body’s natural neutralizer of the cavity-causing acids that are byproducts of the food and bacteria we neglect around our teeth and gums.” So use a mouthwash. While not a replacement for brushing and flossing, mouthwash is a healthy defense against bacteria and plaque.

“Using an antiseptic or fluoridated mouthwash at night can help maximize the benefits of the rinse, without them being quickly washed away by food and drink,” says Dr. Eisen. The type of mouthwash will depend on your specific needs. “Antiseptic rinses, like Listerine, reduce oral bacteria and plaque and help prevent gingivitis. Fluoride rinses, like ACT, can help remineralize enamel and reduce sensitivity in people who are at a higher risk for cavities,” says Dr. Eisen. These are the 7 things successful people do before bed.

Go to bed at the same time every night

Yep, even on the weekends. A lot of important things go on in our body’s and mind’s while we’re snoozing, so it’s important to keep a consistent sleep schedule. “Long term health depends on the regeneration that occurs during deep sleep,” says Jacqueline Blakely, naturopathic doctor at Holtorf Medical Group. Hormones secreted during sleep stimulate important functions such as liver cleansing, muscle building, tissue regeneration, the breakdown of fat stores, and normalization of blood sugar. “Sleeping at odd hours and at different times messes up our natural sleep cycle,” says Dr. Blakely. When we go to bed at the same time and wake at the same time, it trains our body for sleep. You’ll also want to try these 13 secrets for better sleep, according to sleep doctors.

Snack on this combo

Fiber, protein, and healthy fats are the combo you should always eat at night if you’re going to snack says Jillian Michaels, health and wellness expert and creator of the Jillian Michaels App. “These foods promote satiety and contain tryptophan which aids in better sleep and better mood,” says Michaels. Her go-to snacks are: turkey lettuce tomato roll ups, a handful of dry roasted or raw almonds, organic Greek yogurt and a handful of blueberries, hummus and veggies, organic string cheese, or a hard-boiled egg.

Sugar, starch, or fried and fatty foods are combos you always steer clear from at night. “Be sure to avoid starches and sugars as those drive up insulin levels, causing restless sleep and interference with the bodies release of HGH, our immunity boosting, anti-aging, fat-burning hormone,” says Michaels. Other foods to always avoid at night are fried or fatty foods, which result in delayed gastric emptying and could lead to an upset tummy or bloating, causing more tossing and turning instead of snoozing, says Steven Bentley, MD, a retired emergency physician. Fermented foods produce gas and bloating as well. “It’s important to refrain from these foods so that you avoid stomach aches and pain,” says Bentley.

Do some easy yoga

If you sit all day, chances are your hips and hamstrings are tight by the end of the day. “The tension in these tissues compounds over time and plays a significant contributing role in back & hip pain,” says Tiffany Cruikshank, founder of Yoga Medicine and author of Meditate Your Weight. To get relief try these two Cruikshank recommends:

Supine hamstring pose: Lie on your back and loop a towel or strap around the ball of your right foot, then extend your leg in front of you. (The key is to find a gentle stretch where your low back and hips can still relax.) Bend the raised leg if your leg is lower than the height of your hips, this will put a little slack on your hamstrings so you can relax. Take a few deep breaths to unwind as you stay for 30 to 60 seconds then repeat on the left side.

Figure four pose: Lie on your back with your feet on the floor. Take your right ankle and place it on your left knee. If you feel a stretch in your hips here simply stay put, otherwise you can draw your left leg in toward you and grab the back of your left thigh or your left shin. Relax your head and shoulders as you lean your torso back into the floor. Take a few deep breaths as you relax your low back and hips here. Stay for 1 to 2 minutes then repeat on the second side. Here are 9 more easy yoga poses you can try at night.

Swallow probiotics

Gut health is a popular topic these days and for good reason. The bacteria in the gut have a major influence on our health besides just digestion. More studies now point to gut health influencing obesity, cancer, depression and more. If you’re taking probiotics and want them to be more effective Will Cole, DC, suggests taking them at night. “Probiotics work best not taken with food so that they don’t interfere with your digestive enzymes. Right before bed would is an optimal time since it’s a few hours past dinner and several hours before breakfast,” says Dr. Cole.

Try magnesium

Magnesium carries a lot of clout. It’s responsible for over 300 biochemical reactions in the body, yet many of us aren’t getting enough of this essential mineral.

“It is so crucial to make sure you are getting this vital nutrient as it aids in optimal thyroid health,” says Dr. Cole.

“Taking magnesium right before bed can be the best time as it promotes better sleep. It not only relaxes muscles for more restful sleep but helps the calming neutransmitter, GABA, in your brain,” says Dr. Cole.

Take calcium

Calcium and magnesium are the dynamic duo of better sleep. “Your body uses calcium at night to help relax your muscles and aids a better night sleep by helping your nervous system. Magnesium helps move calcium from your muscles to the rest of your body for other uses,” says Dr. Cole. When you’re popping a magnesium pill at night, reach for some calcium too to get the optimal effects of both supplements for overall health and good night’s rest. Here’s how to know if your muscle cramps are a sign you’re not getting enough calcium.

Drink hot lemon water

According to Devan Kline, a personal trainer and co-founder of Burn Boot Camp, it’s always a good idea to balance your PH level and nighttime is great time for sipping lemon water. “Having a glass of lemon water before bed will help create alkalinity in your body. With the majority of our foods being highly acidic it’s important to constantly balance your PH level,” says Kline. “Disease has a lot tougher time thriving in an alkaline environment rather than an acidic one. Lemon water will help you combat acidity,” he claims.

Find out 12 insane benefits of drinking lemon water in the morning, too.

Consider taking cornstarch

Nocturnal hypoglycemia, is when blood sugar drops at night. This condition is quite common if you have type 1 diabetes. Symptoms such as night sweats, poor sleep, or waking with shakiness, sweating, or anxiety may be a sign of nocturnal hypoglycemia. Kent Holtorf, MD, medical director at Holtorf Medical Group, recommends taking two to three teaspoons of uncooked cornstarch at bedtime.

Cut back on booze

We know it may be a buzz kill (pun intended), but according to Dr. Blakely, alcohol is full of sugar and can make for a lousy night of sleep. “Alcohol may seem like it helps you fall asleep, but it doesn’t allow for a restful night. Studies have shown that alcohol can disrupt neurotransmitters in the brain that regulate sleep cycles like REM, your deep sleep cycle,” says Blakely. If you’re menopausal, booze before bed can worsen night sweats

and hot flashes. “Skip the beer and try a tea with hops. Hops are calming on the nervous system and can provide a restful night sleep.” Here’s how to easily cut back on alcohol.

Cut back on caffeine (yep, dark chocolate too)

Always avoid caffeine, including dark chocolate, soda and coffee in the evening. Caffeine has a six-hour half-life, which means it could take a full twenty-four hours to work its way out of your system. The cup you had at eight o’clock this morning could leave as much as 25 percent of the caffeine in your body at 8:00 tonight, depending on your body chemistry and genetics. That coveted piece of dark chocolate whispering to you after dinner? Sure, it’s full of healthy benefits but Michael Breus, PhD of SleepScore Labs and author of The Power of When says that a two-ounce chunk of 70 percent dark chocolate has 70 mg of caffeine, about the same as a shot of espresso—not exactly a nighttime drink. “Limit consumption of alcohol and caffeine after 2:00 PM,” says Dr. Breus.

Power down

You can power down, as Dr. Breus calls it, by lowering your body temp, blood pressure, and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This downshift should occur the hour before bedtime and includes three 20-minute sections:

First 20 minutes“Do things you must get done. If you don’t you will think about them while you’re trying to fall asleep,” says Dr. Breus. These may include making a to-do list for the morning, journaling, and preparing for tomorrow in whatever way may make your morning run smoother.

Second 20 minutes“Do your nightly hygiene routine, which may include taking a hot bath or shower-in a dimly lit room, or one with the special sleep bulbs which filter out blue wavelength light,” suggests Dr. Breus.

Final 20 minutes: Do relaxing activities such as light stretching, read magazines or a book—no electronics. Have casual conversations with friends and family. You can play cards or games, just make sure you don’t get too excited or competitive. Meditate, pray or read scripture. Then it’s off to snoozeland. Here are 19 things you should be doing all day long to ensure a better night’s sleep.

Deep Six Muscle Group: Isolation Exercises

Diane Malaspina, Ph.D., e-RYT for Yoga Medicine® shares some poses that target the deep six muscle group through slow, deliberate practice. Learn how to make sure you are isolating the right muscles for the best results.

Slow Down & Pay Attention to the Deep Six

Many people try yoga because of hip pain or tightness, looking to gain more flexibility in the tissue and increased range of motion. Often, the goal becomes how deep a student can get into an asana. For example deep pigeon pose, with less concern on creating balance in the joint. When it comes to external rotation of the hip, there can be an overemphasis on stretching the muscles and little awareness on strengthening them.

The gluteus maximus is the most superficial muscle (closest to the skin) responsible for external rotation of the hip. Six deeper muscles work together to bring the femur bone into external rotation in the hip socket: the piriformis, gemellus superior, obturator externus, gemellus inferior, obturator internus, and the quadratus femoris. Conversationally, they are referred to as the deep 6 lateral rotators or the piriformis and the GOGOQ’s. These muscles lie below the surface of the gluteus maximus and are essential in supporting the weight of the body while standing.

Causes of Weakness & Tightness

For those of us who sit a lot, the external rotators are prone to be both weak and tight. Sitting creates a constant amount of pressure on the muscles, which reduces blood flow and nervous system activity. Over time, tightness can lead to discomfort, inflammation, and compression of the sciatic nerve. Furthermore, weakness in these muscles is associated with knee osteoarthritis and knee pain due to the significant role these muscles play in aligning the femur, which then impacts alignment at the knee (Prins and van der Wurff, 2009).

The piriformis is typically the most familiar of the deep 6 rotators. Many students are referred to yoga because of sciatica (a condition where the sciatic nerve root is compressed due to lower back disc issues like herniation or degeneration) or piriformis syndrome (where the piriformis muscle is so tight that is compresses the sciatic nerve). Both conditions create pain and/or nerve symptoms in the posterior hip, with sensation running down the back of the leg. Both conditions are also typically treated with yoga postures that stretch the piriformis muscles in external rotation of the hip, like pigeon pose and figure four.

How To Stabilize these Muscles

Stretching the deep 6 rotators addresses tightness in the muscles but doesn’t address weakness. These muscles are key stabilizers in the alignment of the pelvis, as well as controlling the movement of the thigh bone in the hip socket. Strengthening the external rotators brings alignment to both the pelvis and knees. As a group, these muscles stabilize the hip in weight-bearing yoga poses like warrior 2 and side angle pose.

From anatomical position, the piriformis is superior and superficial to the other five muscles in the group. Given its position, it is more easily identifiable (both through palpation and sensation) and more likely to fire in weight-bearing poses where the thigh bone is in external rotation (warrior 2 and side angle pose). Without much thought or even body awareness, the piriformis does its job and engages as we move through standing poses that require external rotation at the hip. But if we don’t slow down and work with controlled movement, we lose the ability to connect to what is happening in the deeper, lower five stabilizing muscles, and this can develop into a muscular pattern where the lower five muscles become dormant leading to less stability in the joint.

Building Awareness by Isolating the Deep 6 Muscle Group

Start with an isolated movement that focuses solely on the engagement of the deep six: external rotation. Isolated strength training targets the deep muscles and also can reveal muscular imbalances (such as when one side fatigues more easily) as well as build strength and endurance over time.

Clamshells

Lie on your right side with your head, back ribs, back pelvis, and sole of feet all on one plane (you can lean against a wall to find this). Lift the left side of your waist away from the floor and draw the low belly into the body. Keeping the feet touching, inhale and lift your top knee, exhale and lower the knee, without moving the pelvis. Repeat until fatigue and then switch sides. If you find that one side fatigues with less repetition, repeat the weak side a second time.

Butterfly Hip Lifts

Lie on your back and draw the soles of the feet together, knees wide. Walk the heels away from your pelvis, so that the legs create a diamond shape. Bring your hands to your belly. On your inhale, lift your hips a few inches off of the floor (keeping your feet together and your belly drawing into the body). Exhale slowly lower the hips to the floor. Repeat until fatigue and then rest.

Creating Awareness of the Lateral Rotators

An effective way to assess whether or not you are engaging the deeper muscles of the lateral rotators is through palpation. First, locate the piriformis muscle so you can feel its engagement. Start with your stance as if you were setting up for triangle pose – right leg forward. Bring your right fingers to the middle of your gluteus maximus muscle and notice if there is any muscular engagement (there should be minimal). The piriformis is positioned right below the center of the gluteus maximus. Keeping your fingers on your piriformis muscle, bend your right knee, coming into warrior 2. As you externally rotate the right thigh bone, you will feel the engagement of the piriformis under your fingers. Come in and out of warrior 2 a few times to create an internal awareness of when the piriformis muscle is firing. Then switch to the left side.

Finding the Quadratus Femoris

Next, locate the quadratus femoris muscle. Again, starting with the stance for triangle pose (right leg forward), bring your right fingers to your right sit bone, then move the fingers just lateral to the sit bone (to the right when working on the right side). Relax your lower gluteus maximus muscle. Keep your fingers adjacent to the sit bone and slowly bend your knee coming into warrior 2. As you externally rotate the thigh bone away from the midline, you will feel the quadratus femoris muscle turn on. Slowly come back to stand with the legs straight. Repeat several times. Move slowly so that you can feel the muscle engage and you can create internal awareness on how to turn the quadratus femoris on.

After locating both the piriformis and quadratus femoris muscles, you can bring this awareness into your standing poses and create stability with mindful movement on the breath.

Once again, set up for triangle pose, right leg forward. Bring your right hand to your inner right knee. On your exhale slowly bend your right knee as you lower your right hand toward the floor, coming into side angle pose. The left hand can extend over your head. Inhale, slowly return to stand. Adding the breath, exhale to a count of eight as you slowly bend the knee and lower the hand into side angle pose and inhale back up to stand. Repeat until fatigue then switch sides. If one side fatigues with less repetition, repeat on the weak side a second time.

Increasing the Challenge: Half Moon Pose at the Wall

Come to a wall and stand the distance of the length of your leg away from the wall. Using a block under your left hand for stability, lift your right leg to the wall and turn the toes out to the side. Once you feel balanced, start to rotate the torso open to the side, drawing the belly in, and extending from the crown of the head to the foot on the wall. You can rest your top hand on your hip or reach it up. The work is happening in the standing leg: rotate the thigh bone away from midline while simultaneously hugging the hip in toward midline – this will activate the deep six. Hold for several breaths and switch sides.

The key to alleviating hip pain is through a combination of poses that both stretch and stabilize the muscle tissue. This often starts with body awareness and approaches that isolate the muscle groups to gain an innate understanding of the location and engagement of the muscle groups. Slowing down the practice can activate the deeper muscles responsible for external rotation at the hip and can lead to pain reduction and overall joint stability.

Prins, M.R. and van der Wurff, P. (2009). Females with patellofemoral pain syndrome have weak hip muscles: A systematic review. Australian Journal of Physiotherapy, 55(1). 9 – 15.

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