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Month: April 2019

How Yoga Changes Your Brain

Emmy Lymn discusses how yoga can provide benefits beyond just the physical, and how it can additionally leave a positive impact on the brain.

How Does Supine Position Affect Health?

Dr. Monisha Bhanote, who is currently pursuing her 500-hour certification with Yoga Medicine®, discusses the affects and risks the supine position can have on your sleeping patterns and general health.

By Sara Lindberg for healthline.

The term “supine position” is one you may come across when looking up or discussing various exercise movements or sleep positions. While it may sound complicated, supine simply means “lying on the back or with the face upward,” like when you lie in bed on your back and look up at the ceiling.

Supine position in exercise practices

It’s common to be in the supine position when doing exercises for yoga and Pilates or various breathing and relaxation exercises.

Dr. Monisha Bhanote, MD, FASCP, FCAP, triple board-certified physician and Yoga Medicine® instructor, says there are a number of yoga poses that may include the supine position, including but not limited to:

  • Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
  • Reclined Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)
  • Fish Pose
  • Reclined Butterfly (Supta Baddha Konasana)
  • Reclined Pigeon
  • Happy Baby
  • Supine Extended Mountain Pose (Supta Utthita Tadasana)
  • Savasana

When practicing these positions, you can always modify by using blocks, bolsters, or blankets for comfort.

Additionally, many Pilates classes do exercises in the supine position. The starting pose in many Pilates floor exercises involves finding a neutral spine. When your body is in this position, your core and hips need to be strong and steady.

Finding neutral spine

  1. To find neutral spine, start by lying on your back in the supine position. With your knees bent, keep your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Take a deep breath in and let your body relax or press into the floor.
  3. As you exhale, use your abs to press your lower spine into the floor.
  4. Inhale to release. When your back raises off the floor, you will feel a gap or natural curve in your lower back. This is the neutral spine position.

Supine position and sleep

How you sleep can exacerbate existing health issues as well as increase neck and back pain. If you have no specific health issues related to sleep, then sleeping in the supine position shouldn’t be a problem. But there are some health and medical issues that can get worse if you sleep on your back.

Here are some of the more common issues associated with sleeping in the supine position.

Obstructive sleep apnea

According to a 2014 study, more than half of all people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are classified as supine-related OSA. That’s because for people with OSA being in the supine position may lead to sleep-related breathing problems as their ability to increase lung volume and expand the chest may be compromised.

“This occurs as the diaphragm and abdominal organs may compress the adjacent lung as one shifts from standing to supine. Due to difficulty with sleep, this decreases the overall quality,” explains Bhanote.


After about 24 weeks of pregnancy, Bhanote says sleeping in the supine position may cause some dizziness with breathing difficulty. You can get relief from this by lying on your left side or sitting in an upright position.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

GERD affects up to 20 percent of the American population. With this disorder, stomach acid flows back into the esophagus.

The supine sleeping position is not recommended for people with reflux, as the supine position allows for more acid to travel up the esophagus and remain there for longer times. This results in heartburn, and even coughing or choking, while trying to sleep.

Longstanding GERD can eventually lead to more severe conditions including bleeding ulcers and Barrett’s esophagus. Keeping the head of your bed elevated may relieve some discomfort.

Risks of the supine position

Many of the risks associated with being in the supine position are also associated with other conditions.

During pregnancy

If you’re pregnant and spend a lot of time lying on your back, there is a risk that the uterus can compress the inferior vena cava, a large vein that carries de-oxygenated blood from the lower body to the heart. If this happens during pregnancy, it can result in hypotension for the person who is pregnant and reduced blood flow to the fetus.

Being in the supine position while exercising during pregnancy is another concern. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, you should avoid being on your back as much as possible. When doing Pilates or yoga moves, modify the poses to accommodate less time on your back.

With a heart condition

Additionally, Dr. Jessalynn Adam, MD, a board-certified physician specializing in primary care sports medicine with Orthopedics and Joint Replacement at Mercy, says that individuals with congestive heart failure can have trouble breathing in the supine position, and therefore, should not lie flat.

With acid reflux or GERD

Just like GERD can affect your sleep, it can also trigger symptoms after you eat. “Lying flat after a large meal can contribute to acid reflux as it allows the stomach contents to reflux into the esophagus,” explains Adam.

If you have GERD, she recommends eating smaller meals and remain sitting upright for at least 30 minutes after eating. If you are planning on sleeping in the supine position, Adam suggests eating no closer than two hours before bed to avoid reflux when lying supine.

The takeaway

The supine position is one of the most common ways to rest and sleep. It’s also a popular position when performing certain exercises during a yoga or Pilates class.

If you have a health condition that worsens when in this position, it’s best to avoid it or minimize the amount of time you spend on your back.

Why Breathing is Your Best Defense Against Stress

Dr. Rashmi Bismark, a Yoga Medicine® E-RYT 500 instructor, offers her advice on how different breathing exercises can help control our responses to various stressors in life.

By Amy Height for Class Pass.

Think about the most stressful situation you can remember experiencing. What are the physical sensations you associate with that time? Lightheadedness? Feeling weighted or unable to move? Blurry vision? Nausea?

Now think about a less stressful but still challenging time. Are any of those same feelings there, perhaps just less intense?

The body receives and interprets high-pressure situations using many of the same systems, regardless of the source of the stress. It’s why many of our reactions feel consistent or familiar across stressful events, whether we are stuck in traffic or feeling verbally attacked by a coworker.

While we can’t always control our stressors, we can control how we respond to them, and even more specifically, we can control how our mind and body feel in response to these events. There’s just one simple trick: breathing.

We’ve compiled advice for how to breathe in different scenarios, as well as a list of breathing exercises you can do to combat those moments of feeling like it’s all just too much.

How to breathe to handle different situations

At work

It probably won’t surprise you that a bulk of the stress we experience day to day can come from our jobs. The stakes are often high and the pressure can be intense, no matter what line of work you’re in.

When it comes to handling stressful coworker interactions in the workplace, it’s important to realize what you can and cannot control. If a colleague explodes at you, try stepping away for a moment to collect your thoughts. Take a handful of deep, calming breaths, breathing in the things that you can control (positivity, understanding, openness) and breathing out the things you can’t control, like the reactions and behaviors of others.

Breathing can also be an effective tool when assessing the effects of a stressful workload. Sit quietly for a moment and breathe in for three counts, then out for three counts. Breathing to ground yourself into the reality of your stress can turn “I will never get this all finished” into “Good enough is good enough.”

With family

Family time can be challenging, especially if you don’t see your folks often. Erica Basso, an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist in Woodland Hills, California, recommends spending five minutes prior to a family event practicing slow, meditative breaths, as well as conducting frequent “emotional check-ins” with yourself. If you find yourself getting stressed out, breathe deeply into your diaphragm to access how you’re really feeling and identify which needs are unmet in the given moment. Remove yourself from the stressful situation if you can and breathe until things settle in your body.

In relationships

Feeling stressed out by the people you find yourself in relationships with can be exceedingly challenging. There are a lot of emotions and attachment at play, which can make the experience feel harder to work through (although it’s often very much worth it!).

Jennifer Sutton of What If Wellness recommends asking new questions and just being still with those questions while breathing slowly to let the brain do the work of seeking the answers.

“If someone is stressed about their relationship, I might have them ask, ‘What if everything is falling into place perfectly for me to have great joy and love in my relationship?’ or ‘What would my life look like if my relationship was moving in the direction I most want?’” Simply ask the question, take a few deep breaths and access the feeling that you would have if these things were true in your life. Just feel that feeling, breathe deeply and hold the question in your mind.

When things just feel really big and out of control

Sometimes the last thing that feels available to you when you’re overwhelmed or intensely challenged is a connection to a time when things were better — or at a very minimum, just not quite this stressful. “We cannot silence the mind, but we can shift the pattern by “choosing” the thoughts to meditate on and to incorporate breathing techniques,” says Miriam Amselem, Holistic Nutritionist at Naturally Healthy by Miri.

Jennifer recommends capturing the feelings of ease and peacefulness from previous moments in your memory to help tamp down the fireworks of your current situation. Sit with this practice for anywhere from one to five minutes to notice a shift in your mindset and a reduction in your stress response.

Breathing exercises you can do right now

We asked Rashmi S. Bismark, MD, MPH with Yoga Medicine®, for some of her most tried-and-true exercises to stay on top of your stress. Here are some of her favorites:

Pausing in the moment

Two Feet, One Breath: This is a lovely pause that can be done at any time to remember your presence in the body. Simply bring attention to feeling the sensations of each foot, one at a time, grounding into the floor below, and then settle attention upon one breath — one full inhale and one full exhale.

Inviting relaxation

If the breath is a safe anchor for you, consider exploring the potential for breath to promote relaxation in the body. Simple breathing exercises such as matching the length of each inhale and exhale or slightly prolonging the exhale, can tap into the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, our “rest and digest” mode of being.

Lion’s Breath: Taking in a deep breath, allow the exhale to release deeply with an audible sigh, or “Ahhhh,” through the mouth, open wide, like a lion. This emphasizes the exhale, continuing to promote physiological relaxation. It also may relax the face and neck muscles while inviting a bit of fun and humor.

Befriending yourself

Affectionate Breathing: Explore allowing the breath to be a vehicle for compassion within you. If it feels right, place a hand over the heart, paying close attention to the sensations of breath there. Allow yourself to savor the warmth and support this may provide. Explore sending this felt sense of care throughout the body with each breath, allowing it to soften and illuminate yourself from within. If it feels right, consider adding some phrases that feel natural to you and might express the support you need right now.

Examples of self-compassionate anchoring phrases include:

  • This is a challenging moment.
  • I am not alone in my struggles.
  • May I accept myself as I am.
  • May I give myself the compassion that I need.
  • May I feel peaceful, loving and free.

Other ways to ground your body in stressful situations

If it feels like breathing actually makes your stress worse, you’re not alone. If that is the case for you, try exploring a different anchor such as the sensations in a particular part of the body (feet on floor, sit bones upon a chair, back leaning into a support, hands upon the lap) or listening to sounds in the environment. Meditation can be another method of remaining mindful of stressors and mitigating their effects on the body. But one of the biggest things you can do? “Don’t be afraid to seek mental health care,” Dr. Bismarck advises. “Mental health professionals are a vital part of the process and can provide you with the support, expertise and perspective you may need.”

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