The thought of getting 20 tiny needles stuck in your back admittedly might not sound very relaxing. But acupuncture is a beneficial treatment for everything from stress to chronic pain. And lately, it’s become a lot more accessible.
Just look at WTHN, the nearly year-old acupuncture studio in New York’s Flatiron neighborhood, which offers a monthly membership to reframe how people think of the traditional Chinese wellness practice. According to Dr. Shari Auth, a cofounder of the studio, acupuncture is great for both averting and treating pain. “We want to see patients once a month, ideally once a week. The reality is somewhere in between,” she says. “If you’re coming in because you have chronic migraines or something like that, I would say to come in every week, and once you’re no longer having frequent migraines, then you can figure out what the rhythm is for you, whether that’s twice a month or once every three weeks.”
If you’re not addressing any specific malady, though, a more occasional treatment could fit the bill. “I always suggest that patients who no longer need regular acupuncture come and see us four times a year for preventative care,” says Dr. Jill Blakeway, founder of the Yinova Center in New York City.
Basically, teeny-tiny needles stimulate the fascia (the connective tissue in the skin), which, in turn, results in a lot of benefits—and the science behind acupuncture is strong. According to Auth, it increases circulation, which is how it relaxes tight muscles. It also stimulates collagen production, which can decrease the appearance of wrinkles. Not to mention, the procedure can help with both depression and anxiety. A single session of acupuncture will leave you feeling pretty rejuvenated, but the longer you invest in treatment, the better you can expect to feel.
After One Day
If you’ve been feeling burned out or anxious, a good acupuncture session can make a difference. Because it decreases cortisol levels (which causes stress) and increases serotonin and dopamine (which make you feel happy), it’s a great antidote for a bad mood. “At the end of the treatment, most people feel energized, as well as calm and relaxed,” says Tiffany Cruikshank, acupuncturist and founder of Yoga Medicine.
Seriously—be prepared to really let go of all those bad vibes: “The most common testimonial that we hear is that people had the best nap of their life on an acupuncture table,” says Auth. When it’s time for bed, too, you’ll likely find dozing off easier than usual.
If you decide to get acupuncture to target an injury or a specific pain, it won’t be totally healed after just one session, but you will experience some relief, Auth adds.
After One Month
Once you’ve had a few treatments—either once a week for a month or two to three times—you’ll start to feel more lasting changes. Your immune system will get a nice boost (so you’ll fall victim to colds less often), says Blakeway, plus you’ll feel less stressed and your muscles will relax more, which means you can also expect to sleep better.
Because acupuncture is an anti-inflammatory, it can also soothe digestion issues: “gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, IBS, all of that kind of stuff,” says Auth. Oh, and it can ease the pain that comes along with menstruation and menopause.
After Three to Six Months
If you’ve been focused on treating an injury or another medical condition, lasting improvements can typically be felt after a few months—after which you might decide to scale back on frequency. By now “with chronic pain, there should be a huge shift in the level, intensity, and kind of pain a client is dealing with,” says Mona Dan, founder of Vie Healing.
It all depends on which part of the body you’ve been targeting. “If you’re getting facial acupuncture, it’s basically nature’s Botox,” says Auth. Because it increases collagen and elastin production, you could see an anti-aging effect within a few months.
When you make acupuncture a preventative treatment in your wellness routine, you’re targeting both mind and body. As Auth notes, it can address long-standing issues like headaches, migraines, PCOS, and carpal tunnel, not to mention stress and anxiety. This more holistic approach to health might just be worth the prick.
Yin yoga is commonly equated with passive stretching, which is perhaps why some people see it as an unhelpful practice for more flexible people. If the aim of yin yoga were merely to increase range of motion, I might agree. Fortunately, however, yin has much more to offer than flexibility gains.
There are four other potential effects of yin that even the most supple students can benefit from.
1. Collagen Synthesis
Yin targets the connective tissue, or fascia, that surrounds, encapsulates, connects, and interpenetrates the bones, muscles, organs, nerves, and blood and lymph vessels. Fascia is adaptive, constantly responding to the demands we place on it.
So rather than aiming to stretch fascia, yin poses subject it to subtle but sustained “stress”—including compression and shear, or rotational force, as well as stretch. This seems to stimulate specialized cells within the fascia, called fibroblasts, to lay down additional collagen fibers in the direction of the stress. Collagen fibers give our soft tissue its structure, strength, and capacity to connect the parts of the body into a unified whole.
This adaptive process is not unique to fascia—most of us are familiar with the idea that strength training makes our muscles stronger, or that cardiovascular training makes our heart and lungs more efficient. So for flexible students, instead of making their already supple tissues weaker, yin can actually encourage their fascia to become stronger and more resilient; the key is to set up in yin poses in a way that creates a gentle, sustained sensation rather than a deep stretch.
To do butterfly pose in a way that prioritizes subtle but sustained “stress” over a deep stretch, a flexible student might practice with knees propped with blocks, and hands on the floor with arms straight to support the spine.
Subtle stress on our fascia has multiple flow-on effects, including temporarily squeezing fluid out of our fascial layers. As discussed above, it also stimulates fibroblasts, resulting in collagen synthesis, and the production of a chemical called hyaluronic acid. Water-loving hyaluronic acid attracts a rush of water molecules from surrounding tissue back into the fascia, initiating a process of rehydration that outlasts yin practice by hours.
Visualize a sponge submerged in water: Squeezing, twisting, and pulling on the sponge drives out residual fluid, creating space for fresh water to fill it up again.
Good hydration is vital to the healthy function of fascia for two key reasons:
• Hydration yields better glide between fascia layers, allowing for free movement and circulation between body surfaces and structures and reducing the potential for irritation and adhesion.
• Water is incredibly resistant to compression, so that when our tissues are well-hydrated they are stronger and more resilient to life’s demands. An easy way to visualize the structural strength of a fluid-filled system is to imagine a plant wilting from lack of water, its stems bowing under the weight of its leaves—but as soon as you water that plant you’ll see it stand tall again.
The gentle compressive forces of a twist can initiate a process of rehydration that outlasts yin practice by hours.
3. The Relaxation Response
Physiologically, yin practices have the capacity to balance our autonomic nervous system (ANS), which governs unconscious or involuntary body processes like heart rate, breathing, pupil dilation, and muscle tension. The ANS has two arms. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) triggers the fight or flight response, priming us to handle perceived threats with quick and decisive action. The parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) governs the relaxation response: It is ideally the dominant force during daily life—diverting blood away from the muscles to the digestive, reproductive, and immune system organs.
Few would dispute that modern life is very yang—emphasizing movement and action, and exposing us to constant stimulation. The frantic pace of life today means that the SNS is far more active than our biology intended it to be, and many of us are seeing that imbalance reflected in our physical and mental health.
Yin yoga allows us the time and space to find the nourishing stillness required to downregulate the ANS. When we prop ourselves in yin poses in a way that allows us to truly rest, we might feel our vigilance, heart rate, and blood pressure lower while our immune, digestive, and reproductive functions improve.
Students with large ranges of motion won’t feel stress on their fascia in all positions. But if they simply settle into stillness they can still benefit from the soothing impact on their nervous system.
While a very flexible student may not feel a big stretch in bananasana (a.k.a. supine half moon pose), by resting there in stillness, their nervous system can still benefit greatly.
4. Energy Flow
The same way a road map and a weather map show completely different views of the same terrain, the Western view of the physical body comfortably coexists with the Eastern model of an energy body. The energy body referenced in yin comes from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and is composed of life force, or qi, which is thought to flow through specific channels called meridians.
According to TCM principles, the physical stress created by yin poses also stimulates the flow of qi through the meridians. Poses that compress the abdomen could be viewed as supporting healthy digestion by compressing our abdominal organs and by nourishing the stomach meridian. Poses that lengthen the back seam of the body not only gently stress the thoracolumbar fascia and hamstrings but also support the soothing and introspective qualities of the bladder meridian.
We in the Western world may not be as familiar with the energy body as we are with the physical body. However, we don’t have to be able to see or understand electricity in order to grasp its effects when we switch on a light. Likewise, we don’t have to fully understand Traditional Chinese Medicine to know that we feel different after yin yoga; even the most flexible students can still benefit hugely from its capacity to nurture good flow of qi.
Caterpillar pose, propped, is a great way for flexible students to feel nurtured and turn inward in practice. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, this pose supports the introspective qualities of the bladder meridian.
The key to reaping these broader benefits, especially for students with extensive range of motion, is to follow three guiding principles in each pose:
• REDUCE YOUR DEPTH. Rather than coming to your usual endpoint, approach each pose slowly enough to stop where you first feel sensation. If you’re anything like me, that will be an enormous reduction in the depth of the pose—meaning that you’ll stay closer to 50 percent of your full range of motion. Unlike in restorative yoga, the aim is to feel some sensation, but the key word is: some.
• FIND SOMEWHERE YOU CAN RELAX. Once you’ve found your new version of the pose, take time to set yourself up so that your muscles can relax as completely as possible. That may involve using props to fill the gaps between your body and the floor, or leaning into the support of your arms or a wall. It could even involve an alternate version of a pose, like lying on the floor with your legs up a wall instead of doing a seated forward fold.
• STAY IN STILLNESS. Fascia, the target tissue of yin practice, is highly adaptive— constantly responding to the demands we place on it. Its response, however, is slow and gradual. To target our slow-reacting fascia we need to stay in the same subtle, relaxed shape for at least a couple of minutes.
There’s no doubt that yin yoga can help those who would like a little more mobility. But it also has the potential to maintain well-hydrated, elastic, and resilient soft tissue, rebalance the nervous system from the constant stimulation of modern life, and regulate the flow of energy. Even the most flexible students can realize these benefits by practicing yin with a subtle approach—not going as deep, finding a shape they can relax into, then staying patiently still. The key, as with any yoga practice, is not in what we do but how we do it.
Photography: Andrea Killam
Constantly fatigued? Mood swings? Nauseous? The symptoms of Celiac disease are more common than you thought, but they’re a sign of a serious problem.
Celiac disease is a hereditary autoimmune disorder—meaning you can’t “catch it” from a friend—that disrupts digestion in your small intestine, making it so you can’t digest gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Over time, if you continue eating gluten-containing foods, the inflammation that results can lead to other medical issues and more serious health complications.
According to the nonprofit Beyond Celiac, an estimated 1 in 133 Americans have Celiac; that’s roughly 1 percent of our nation’s population. Unfortunately, it’s also estimated that roughly 83 percent of Americans who suffer from the disease are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other medical conditions.
Celiac disease can be diagnosed, but you might not even be aware that testing for Celiac disease is an option. Before you book that appointment, however, there are some signs you should look out for that might indicate it’s a good idea to head to the doc to ask about a gluten-free diet.
If you think you’ve been experiencing Celiac disease symptoms and suspect you may suffer from the autoimmune disease, these 10 warning signs might be the encouragement you need to get tested.
“Individuals with Celiac disease often have nutritional deficiencies which may contribute to fatigue. Since the small intestine villi tend to blunt or flatten (villous atrophy) and there is an increase in intraepithelial lymphocytes (inflammatory cells) at the intestinal border, the small intestine is not able to absorb nutrients from foods,” offers Monisha Bhanote, MD, a triple board-certified physician at Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center and Yoga Medicine® teacher. “The resultant damage can result in maldigestion and malabsorption, and lead to micronutrient deficiency which may ultimately result in the feeling of fatigue and exhaustion.”
“Believe it or not, some people think that having diarrhea is just a normal occurrence. It’s not!” cautions Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD, who serves on the advisory board for Smart Healthy Living. “Normal, healthy stools should be soft, formed and easy to pass. There are countless things that can cause frequent diarrhea, but if you have celiac, you may notice a pattern of diarrhea after gluten-consumption. It is important that you determine the cause of your diarrhea, since diarrhea can be dehydrating!”
3. Depression & Mood Swings
One sneaky sign of Celiac disease manifests in the psychological realm: “Gluten intolerance and celiac disease disrupt the composition of normal gut microflora which frequently results in the intestinal overgrowth of Candida albicans (yeast),” explains Alexander Shikhman, MD, PhD, Rheumatologist, and owner of the Institute for Specialized Medicine.
“Candida overgrowth is associated with a massive histamine release, causing allergic reactions and increased permeability of the blood-brain barrier. The blood-brain barrier prevents harmful materials from the blood to enter the brain. The byproducts of metabolizing yeast (for example, ammonia) penetrate into the blood circulation and have a detrimental effect on the brain function causing depression and mood swings.”
Of course, depression and mood swings can exist independently of Celiac disease, but if you suffer from these issues and have other potential symptoms of Celiac disease, it’s probably a good idea to get tested.
4. Iron-Deficiency Anemia
Anemia refers to blood not having enough healthy red blood cells, the cells that carry oxygen to your body’s tissues. Indeed, iron deficiency anemia means you’re not getting enough iron-rich foods as the cause of this common condition. “Anemia is often blown off as many other causes but if you’re experiencing chronic anemia that has been treated with supplements with no resolve, it’s time to get tested for Celiac,” shares Kylene Bogden, RD, cofounder of FWDfuel a blog for athletes with gut issues. “This occurs because gluten consumption changes the bacterial balances in your gut and causes your body to produce less digestive enzymes, therefore you are unable to properly digest and absorb your food.”
Constantly bloated? Indeed if you suffer from bloating after eating foods containing gluten, it could be a sign of Celiac: “If we take 100 people with this symptom, two will have celiac. The small bowel loses its villi so less of your food is absorbed. That which remains unabsorbed is gleefully feasted upon by your native bacteria,” comments Glenn H. Englander, MD, Gastro Group of the Palm Beaches. “That produces gas which causes mild distention and other generalized uneasiness, or bloating.”
6. Difficulty Controlling Appetite
You may have heard of Ghrelin, the so-called “hunger hormone” that regulates your appetite and is created by specialized cells in your GI tract. “When the stomach is empty, ghrelin is produced. When the stomach is stretched, the production stops. Clinical research demonstrates that both adults and children with celiac disease have disproportionally elevated levels of ghrelin in their blood compared to age-matched healthy hormones. Administration of a gluten free diet results in normalization of ghrelin levels,” says Shikhman.
Fat accumulation, coupled with other symptoms, may be a related sign of Celiac disease. “Leptin the ‘satiety hormone,’ is a hormone made by fat cells that inhibits hunger and appetite. Leptin is opposed by the actions of ghrelin. In obese people, a decreased sensitivity of brain hypothalamic cells to leptin occurs, resulting in an inability to detect satiety despite high fat/energy stores. Recent research data revealed that gluten inhibits the binding of leptin to its receptor at clinically relevant concentrations and induces leptin resistance and obesity.”
7. Frequent Nausea &/or Vomiting
“We all have felt nauseous for one reason or another, but if it seems consistent (daily, weekly), the nausea (or worse, vomiting) may be a sign that you are eating something that your body cannot digest well,” warns Kostro Miller. “If you notice that you feel nauseous after a gluten-containing meal, then you may want to be tested by your doctor for celiac.” So you can give your doctor as full a picture of your case as possible, try writing down every time you feel nauseated or throw up and what you ate prior to it so you have a log to show at your appointment.
Perhaps surprisingly, fertility-related issues may be associated with gluten intolerance. “Infertility may also be due to malnutrition,” says Jason Reich, MD, Gastroenterologist at Southcoast Health, as well as a host of other issues, “but this is less clear and may be an immune-mediated phenomenon.” Bogden echoes Reich’s sentiment: “We are seeing more and more that infertility is incredibly common with undiagnosed Celiac. It is tricky to know for certain why this it but as healthcare providers, we believe the body is intelligent enough to know it is unable to carry a child when it is under a constant state of autoimmune attack.”
So far, the research is mixed on the topic of Celiac disease and infertility, but some studies indicate there’s increased difficulty getting pregnant and an increased risk of miscarriage for those with Celiac disease. In some cases, a woman with reproductive issues may have undiagnosed Celiac disease. A diagnosis can be the first step in helping a woman have a live birth pregnancy. Learn more at Beyond Celiac.
9. Increased Risk of Fractures
Suffering from decreased bone strength or even suffering from an unexplained fracture? “Chronic inflammatory diseases, including celiac disease, are associated with overproduction of proinflammatory cytokines, which activate osteoclasts and accelerate bone resorption leading to osteoporosis and increasing the risk of osteoporosis-associated fractures,” says Shikhman. There are also countless osteoporosis risk factors besides Celiac disease.
10. An Itchy Rash
Formally known as Dermatitis Herpetiformis, this rash can be a sign of Celiac disease. “Only about 20% of people with DH have intestinal symptoms of Celiac disease. DH is known as the ‘skin version of Celiac disease,’ though a high amount of people with DH have damage to the small intestine similar to those with intestinal symptoms of Celiac disease,” says Diana Gariglio-Clelland, RD, who has worked in hospital, public health, and primary care settings and now is with Balance One Supplements.
Recently, Nat (from Nat & Sandy Yoga) took a short trip to Portland for a training on mental health and wellness with Yoga Medicine. In this episode, Sandy interviews Nat on her experience and the main takeaways from her week in training. We discuss the importance of epigenetics in mental health, depression and anxiety, the enteric nervous system (your gut) and its connection to mental health, and so much more. This topic is hugely important for yoga teachers to be well-versed and sensitive towards, so if you’re currently a yoga teacher or looking to launch your teaching career, please do have a listen! We discuss tools and techniques to use within group yoga classes that may help someone with depression or anxiety feel a bit more comfortable.
Dana Diament for Yoga Digest offers a yoga practice to nurture qualities that exist inside all mothers but sometimes feel unreachable.
As a mother, I have come to know very well the fine line between feeling like everything is smooth sailing and everything is falling apart. Some days I’ve got my feet firmly planted in the “I’ve got this” camp, and other days I’m just tip-toeing the line, teetering on the edge of a breakdown. With a mile long to do list, a never ending pile of laundry, a toddler that still wakes up 1 or more times at night, four mouths to feed, and two businesses to run, it can often seem impossible to find the time for self-care.
Giving myself permission to do less on my mat is key to squeezing in a much needed practice. A short and simple daily practice can still provide immense mental health benefits. Because time is precious, I pick 5 poses and get straight to the point. This new way of practicing in motherhood has given me the courage to face my challenges with a touch more grace and a lot more laughter.
The yoga practice below is designed to cultivate qualities that exist inside all mothers but sometimes feel out of reach. You’ll need a bolster and a mat, or a couch cushion and rug will also work.
Place the bolster lengthwise on the mat and kneel in front of the bolster. Bring your feet together, separate your knees, and then lay your belly and chest on the bolster. Turn your head to one side for comfort. As you embrace the bolster, feel that you are embracing yourself. Pour the love that you give to everyone else into yourself. Stay for 2 – 5 minutes.
WARRIOR 1 WITH CACTUS ARMS
Stand at the top of your mat. Step your left foot to the back of the mat, and bend your right knee. Face the front of your mat to find Warrior 1 legs. Reach your arms out to the side and bend your elbows with your fingers pointing up. Open your chest towards the ceiling. As you take 5 breaths, tap into a courageous feeling in your legs and heart.
Wrap your left arm under your right. Lift and wrap your left leg over your right so that you are standing on your right foot. As you take 5 breaths, find a sense of focus in the awkwardness and chaos of the pose.
Step your left foot to the back of the mat and bend your right knee. Turn your shoulders and ribcage to the long edge of your mat. Bend your left side waist and reach your right arm over your head. As you take 5 breaths, become aware of effortlessness and ease.
Come back to stand at the top of the mat and repeat these 3 postures on the left side. You could also add a vinyasa between sides. If time allows, repeat the entire sequence 1 – 2 more times.
Set a timer for 5 minutes. Find a comfortable seat on your bolster. Begin by noticing your breath. On the inhale breath, tune into a feeling of calm. Visualize a place that instantly brings you into a state of peace. On the exhale breath, sense any stress or negativity leaving your body and mind. Let emotions like anger, frustration, and impatience thin out and disappear. Try to let your breath feel natural without trying to purposely deepen or lengthen the breath. Continue to observe your breath and focus on these intentions for the duration of the meditation.
More than 36 million people regularly practice yoga in the United States. It is estimated that one in three Americans have tried it at some point. Clearly, Eastern traditions of health and wellness have expanded into Western cultures. And along with this incredible growth, a number of yoga masters have emerged—yoga gurus who are not just enhancing individuals lives but entire communities as well.
Between 2012 and 2016, the number of people practicing yoga grew by more than 50 percent. More than 6,000 yoga studios now exist in the U.S., and there are countless options for online yoga practice and education. But how do you know which yoga guru is right for you? In an effort to help you decide, here are 10 of the top yoga gurus active today.
Based in New York City, this yoga guru is a well-known author and speaker. In addition to offering online yoga practices on Glo.com, Brower’s first book Art of Attention has been translated into six languages and her second book, Practice You: A Journal is now a bestseller. From her Practice You Podcast to writings, to her global doTERRA team, Brower brings realistic reverence to every day. Her most recent project is a spoken word piece on the Flow State album by Above & Beyond.
Founder of the Miami Life Center, Kino MacGregor has millions of followers on social media. As an international yoga guru, she promotes truth, non-violence, and love through daily deep spiritual practices. Primarily focused on Ashtanga Yoga, this yoga master has published four books and six DVDs. And she is frequently sought after as an inspirational speaker throughout the world.
Combining strength, flexibility and play, this yoga guru teaches a vigorous form of Vinyasa flow. His practices can be found online, and he trains through his Awakening Yoga Academy in Washington state. In addition to providing classes and workshops in Seattle, international events are also routinely held. In fact, many yoga teachers seek this yoga master to advance their skills.
Founder of Off the Mat, Into the World, Corn is a truly inspirational yoga master. Through yoga, self-awareness, and community activism, yoga practitioners are encouraged to be a positive change. And this yoga guru practices what she preaches. She is involved in dozens of grassroots humanitarian efforts in addition to writing books, promoting online classes, and releasing DVD publications.
Growing up with parents who were yoga masters was not as mainstream as it might be today. But for Baptiste, it became a way of life that he wanted to share. Today, his Baptiste Power Yoga combines physical, inquiry, and meditation practices to evoke balance and counterbalance. And as a yoga guru, he instills in others the importance of serving others instead of one’s self.
As a yoga guru, Crandell believes in challenging practices while seeking heightened awareness. His approach to Vinyasa Yoga involves power, precision, and mindfulness to promote continuous growth. In addition to international yoga master speaking engagements, Crandell offers teacher training and is an active author. He has also released yoga DVDs with Yoga Journal to expand access to his teaching.
Along with his wife, Tracy, this yoga master developed the “Mazé Method,” which advocates a precise, clean approach to yoga. In addition to an L.A.-based yoga instruction school, yoga classes can also be found at MazeONYoga.com. From curricular development to teacher training, to corporate consulting, Mazé is well-known as a top yoga guru.
Perhaps one of the most innovative yoga gurus, Cruikshank founded Yoga Medicine. Her practices uniquely combine Eastern wellness philosophies with Western medicine with attention to anatomy, physiology, kinesiology and yoga. With a masters’ education in plant biology, sports medicine, and Oriental medicine, this yoga master has pursued a different approach to health.
As an international model and filmmaker, Miller found it important to be centered and to de-stress. Today, she has used those experiences to combine Vinyasa and Kundalini Yoga in her Radiant Body Yogainstruction. In the process, she has become well-appreciated as a top yoga guru throughout the world. Her yoga master approach is one that focuses on interconnectivity, breath, and alignment to promote holistic wellness.
Though born in Kansas, Budig received her yoga training in L.A. from Yogaworks. Since then, she has gone on to serve as yoga health editor for Women’s Health journal. And she is recognized internationally as a yoga master in teacher training and inspirational messaging. Likewise, she continues to spread her messages of being true to one’s self through her Aim True yoga DVDs.
At one time, yoga practices were slow to take off in the U.S. But today, millions practice yoga, with its popularity continuing to expand. The increased interest has in part been due to a shift in health and wellness perspectives, with reactive medicine giving way to preventative care. But at the same time, yoga masters have also highlighted the importance of holistic health. And this has served to advance the practice of yoga in the process.
Yoga is a wonderful way to promote complete health and well-being, as many have already realized. And for those who have not, the list of yoga gurus cited here can help enlighten you about its many benefits. Take the time and find the yoga practice best for you. Incorporating yoga practice into your life will not only make your life richer but also bolder.
Senior Yoga Medicine® teacher, Rachel Land, examines five familiar poses and explains the value of adopting a more open-minded approach to asana.
If there were one belief I could dissuade my students of it would be that there is a single version of a pose that everyone can achieve with patience and persistence, and that any variation of that ideal represents failure. This false notion underpins many of the questions and comments I hear from students, such as: “How can I get my heels down to the ground in down dog?” “When will my hips open enough that my knees can come to the floor when I sit cross-legged?” or “I have such tight hamstrings; I’m terrible at this pose.”
But what if the problem wasn’t the student but the pose or our expectation of how the pose “should” look? Because here’s the thing: If we dissect the range of motion required by even foundational yoga poses (as we will in the examples below), we see that many require above average ranges of motion.
Our range in any given joint could be above or below average, meaning that the idealized image of a yoga pose may or may not be available to us. The good news is that it doesn’t need to be in order for us to reap the benefits of practice, which include strength, stability, coordination, and focus. And when we let go of our need for a pose to look a certain way, we create space to receive those benefits while respecting our unique anatomy.
So what is “average” range of motion?
Before we go further, let’s define “average” range of motion. Range of motion charts commonly used by physical therapists and other movement professionals were calculated by measuring joint end range in a specific direction across a large sample of people. Then averages were calculated from that sample, roughly midway between the most flexible and least flexible people.
Of course, some people will have more range of motion than average and some will have less, but understanding the average ranges can help us manage our expectations of what’s possible in practice.
Can we increase our range of motion?
Put simply, our flexibility is a reflection of the elasticity in our muscles and fascia as well as the hard boundaries created by the shapes and proportions of our bones. How do we know whether we are limited by muscle tension or bony compression? Soft tissue tension is likely to be on the opposite side of the joint into which we are moving: In a forward fold, for example, we might feel a tug on our hamstrings. Bony compression would be on the same side of the joint: In the same forward fold we would feel the tissues deep in the front of the joint meet, preventing us from folding further
Yoga does have the potential to increase soft tissue flexibility over time, so if muscle tension is preventing us from moving deeper into a particular yoga pose, we may be able to increase our range by stretching the muscles that are involved. However, the shapes and proportions of each person’s bones vary slightly, and will not change, so we each have a unique end point in the range of motion of every joint.
If bony compression is limiting us in a particular yoga pose, there are ways to adjust our alignment, potentially changing the positions of the bones enough to bypass that limitation. But that requires us to let go of our attachment to the textbook version of the pose and take a more open-minded approach.
Let’s examine a few poses that could be enhanced by this approach—poses regularly featured in all-levels classes that require above average range of motion.
1. Downward Facing Dog
Downward dog, adho mukha svanasana, is a staple in yoga classes for good reason. It stretches the hamstrings, calf muscles, pectoralis major, and latissimus dorsi. It also helps us balance upper- and lower-body strength, and prepares us to more effortlessly support our body weight on our hands.
Downward dog is regularly offered as a resting pose, but for many of us there’s nothing restful about trying to use our arms overhead without compressing the sides of our neck, straightening our legs without rounding our back, or attempting to get our heels to the floor. These challenges aren’t imagined; this pose requires average or above average range of motion in the shoulders, hips, and ankles.
2. Standing Forward Fold
Looking around the yoga studio and seeing students effortlessly fold in half, you could be forgiven for thinking of the standing forward fold, uttanasana, as an easy pose. But now knowing that the hip flexion required by downward dog exceeds average range of motion, you can see how uttanasana presents an even more significant challenge.
Standing forward fold does offer a hamstring stretch, an opportunity to gently traction the spine and neck, and the chance to cultivate an inward focus. However, the goal of uniting chest and knees or head and shins is simply not accessible for most of us. Average ROM in hip flexion is, at 70 to 90 degrees with straight legs, not even halfway into the forward fold. This suggests that most of us will need some kind of modification for this pose.
3. Upward Facing Dog
Upward facing dog, urdhva mukha svanasana, stretches commonly tight muscles on the front of the body, including the abdominals and hip flexors. It even presents us with a rare opportunity to lengthen the muscles on the tops of our feet. The inclusion of this pose in sun salutations can also teach us alignment lessons we can apply to deeper backbends. However, the surprisingly deep range of motion required in the wrists, spine, and ankles could make it an unexpectedly challenging part of a vinyasa practice.
4. Triangle Pose
Extended triangle pose, utthita trikonasana, contains enough benefits to be sequenced into classes of all levels. It offers a hamstring stretch for the front leg, eccentric strength work for the gluteus medius and quadratus lumborum on the top side of the body, a subtle chest opener, and a chance to build balance and stability with both feet on the ground. But if this pose is tough for you, you’re not alone: It requires well above normal range of motion in the front leg, especially if you try to connect your bottom hand to the floor.
5. Seated Spinal Twist
Seated spinal twist, ardha matsyendrasana, is a regular in vinyasa classes, often used to transition between standing poses and the floor. It can help us mobilize the spine from a stable base, shifting our postural habits—and potentially our perspective. It also provides a valuable opportunity to release outer hip and thigh muscles. However, without modifications this pose does require well above average flexibility in the spine and hips.
I don’t have X-ray vision. I can’t see my students’ bones or the makeup of their connective tissue. I don’t know whether their potential range of motion is above or below average. I don’t know whether they will ever be able to ground their heels in downward dog or get their chest to touch their thighs in a forward fold. Fortunately, asking them to do these things is not my goal as a teacher. I want them to have a successful, by which I mean beneficial, yoga experience.Guiding my students toward more realistic expectations frees them from perceiving any deviation from an imagined notion of alignment as failure. It means they can cultivate open-minded curiosity instead of brute force determination, allowing them to focus on the benefits of each pose rather than its idealized shape. As far as I am concerned, that approach can bring us all closer to the true practice of yoga.
Sometimes, falling asleep can be hard. Whether it’s because of stress from your day or because you can’t find the right position to fall asleep in, it can be frustrating to be laying awake in bed hoping you’ll fall asleep. And if you’ve tried everything from drinking warm milk at night to counting backward from 100, you’re probably desperate to find something to help you doze off. Well, you’re in luck, because you can do simple night time stretches that will help you fall asleep.
“Most of us run through our days quickly, there is rarely enough time for grounding, pause, stillness — surrender,” Nina Endrst, yoga instructor and holistic health coach, tells Bustle. “A wind down ritual supports a deep and restful sleep and gives us a chance to check in with ourselves. Breathing and stretching is a great way to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and decrease general anxiety — something all human beings struggle with in some way.” If you begin to work stretching into your nighttime routine, you make a habit of helping your body recover every night. And if you don’t know which stretches to start with, here are 12 you can do at night.
1. Legs Up The Wall
This is an easy pose you can do right in your bed (if it’s up against the wall) before you sleep. Lie flat on your back with your butt touching the wall. Lift your legs up and put them against the wall, with the back of your heel on the wall, feet parallel to your torso. Then, rest your head and neck back. If you want, you can even cross your legs over each other. “I like to place one hand on my heart and one on my belly and practice deep breathing here,” Endrst says. “It’s also great for circulation, stretching the hamstrings, and relieving lower back pain.”
2. Forward Fold
Start in a downward dog position and then walk your hands back toward your feet, stopping when your chest is pressing against your legs. Then, let your head dangle. “Let the arms hang if you wish or take hold of opposite elbows behind the knees and hug everything in tight to hold yourself here,” Endrst says. By doing this pose, you allow your neck and shoulder tension to be released, and stretch out your calves, hamstrings, hips, getting your body more relaxed and ready to rest for the night.
3. Supta Baddha Konasana
Sit on the floor with your knees bent facing up, and then lower your back to the ground or your bed. Then, keeping your feet side-by-side, lower your knees to opposite sides, creating a diamond shape with your legs. You can use blankets to support your knees if you want. “Place one hand on your heart and one on your belly,” Endrst says. “Rest for 10 minutes and elongate the breath, inhaling for a count of three, exhaling for a count of four.” This pose is known as a restorative pose because it works to improve circulation and can even relieve symptoms of stress, depression, and menstruation.
You begin in downward facing dog. Then, you lift your right leg up and bend that knee. Open up your hips by pointing that knee out to the side. Then bring your body and your knee to the floor. You should end up sitting with your right shin down on the mat and your left leg stretched out behind you. “Inhale, lift your pelvic floor, draw your navel in and up,” Endrst explains. “Inhale to create space in your lower belly here. As you exhale gently wave and release yourself down to the ground. Rest here 10-20 breaths, then switch sides.” This position can aid in digestion and stimulate abdominal organs.
5. Bridge Waves
This is a little remix to the well-known “bridge pose.” “Start out lying flat on your back with the souls of your feet on the earth,” Endrst says. It’s important to focus on your breathing. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth, pushing your hips up with every inhale. During this, bring your arms over your head and move them in a wave-like motion. “Draw your heart toward your chin and keep a soft gaze toward the sky,” Endrst says. “As you exhale, gently wave your spine down flat on the mat and rest. Repeat 5 times.” This pose can improve circulation and calm your mind and body down, making it easier to fall asleep.
6. Figure 4 Pose
Lay flat on your back and then bring your right ankle to to your left knee, imitating the number “4” with the shape of your legs. Then, grab your left shin (or thigh if it’s easier) and bring it toward your chest, holding it for three minutes before switching. “This is a great hip opener that also releases the low back after a long day in repetitive positions.” Megan Kearney, a Yoga Medicine instructor, tells Bustle.
7. Resting Jackknife
For this pose, you’ll need a pillow or some sort of block to place under you. Start on your back with your knees bent and feet touching the floor. Raise your hips and then place the pillow or block you chose underneath the bottom of your spine, without touching it. Bring your knees up over your hips while keeping your lower back curved. Kearney advises to bring your knee to your chest, keeping your spine in place, all while extending the opposite leg and putting it on the ground. Hold the pose for 2-3 minutes before switching sides. “This is a great way to release the hip flexors,” Kearney says. “If you sit or drive most of the day, these muscles tend to shorten. Releasing them can help ease low back pain and help you sleep easier at night.”
This move is simple to do. Lay down flat on your stomach and then bring your elbows under your shoulders, holding your body up in a plank position. Then, relax your shoulders, buttocks, and back, Kearney says, letting everything fall to the floor. “Again, most of us sit all day at our jobs. This pose can help open the front line of the body and also gently stimulate the adrenals, part of our endocrine system responsible for delivery of stress hormones, as well as assisting our immune system,” she says.
9. Myofascial Release
“A long day in a consistent posture can be exhausting and dehydrating to our tissues,” Kearney says. She suggests using the myofascial release roller on your lower back and gluteal muscles so that you can ease this pressure in your body, making it easier to fall asleep afterwards. Begin on the right side of your gluteals and then work your way from the bottom of your spine to your hips or from your hips to just beneath them. “Stay off bone and just move on soft tissue,” Kearney says. “Be sure you are able to comfortably maintain your deep focused breath.”
10. Progressive Body Scan
This is less of a yoga pose and more of a relaxation technique to calm yourself, but it does begin with you laying on your back. All you have to do is lie back and list each and every one of your body parts, starting from your toes, working your way up to your face. “Another technique that helps induce the relaxation response,” Kearney says.
11. Simple Neck Stretch
This stretch is simple, yet makes a world of a different. Begin by sitting at the edge of your bed with your right hand placed underneath your right thigh. Then bring your left hand over your head to hold the right side of your head. Then pull your head toward your left shoulders. “This will open up the muscles in your neck, and alleviate pressure.” Austin Martinez, MS, ATC, CSCS, director of education for StretchLab, tells Bustle. Martinez suggests holding the pose on each side for 30 seconds, and repeating three times. “During all these stretches it is important to concentrate and maintain your breathing,” he says. “Deep breathing not only allows you to get into a deeper stretch, but will also reduce your stress and tension prior to sleeping.”
12. Hamstring Stretch
“By stretching our your hamstrings, you can diminish tension in your lower back and lower body,” Martinez says. Start by laying flat on the floor, with your bed parallel to your hips. Place a leg up on the bed and bend at the hips. Martinez says that you don’t have to bend too far so long as you make sure you’re pivoting your hips and keeping your back straight. Hold this position and then, repeat this stretch, with your foot rotated inward and then outward. “This will activate different areas of your hamstring and reduce overall tension,” Martinez says.
While these poses can be a great way to unwind and release tension at night, if you’re having repetitive sleep issues despite all your efforts, you may want to consult a doctor to see if there is a more serious, underlying issue you should be getting treated for, because everyone deserves a good night’s sleep.
Diane Malaspina, a Yoga Medicine® E-RYT 500 instructor and Therapeutic Specialist, discusses the benefits of a regular meditation practice and how it could help boost energy, fight fatigue and enhance mood.
Maybe it happens mid-morning, as the minutes tick like molasses toward lunchtime. Or perhaps it’s after lunch, as your full belly lulls your tired brain into an unproductive stupor. It might even strike during the last hour of your shift, when it’s too early to clock out physically, but it seems too late to get your mind focused on a new task.
We all succumb to the workplace slump now and then. The key to combat it is to find quick and easy power boosters to keep you energized and on track until it’s time to wind down and head home.
Talk a short walk.
A quick five- to 10-minute walk provides a change of scenery and has an energizing effect, notes Hillary Cecere, M.S., RDN for Eat Clean Bro. “Studies have shown that taking a short walk can result in an improved mood, more energy and even decreased food cravings,” Cecere explains. Plus, she says taking a walk outside offers even more benefits from exposure to sunlight, which is thought to increase levels of serotonin—a hormone that stabilizes mood and increases focus—in the brain.
Fuel up with a small power snack.
Instead of eating a large lunch and consuming foods that are high in refined sugars, Cecere says it’s best to stick to small meals and snacks that contain high-fiber whole grains, veggies, lean proteins and healthy fats to maximize energy levels.
As a bonus, when you prepare a special snack, you can look forward to it and set aside time to enjoy it, notes psychotherapist Dr. Kathryn Smerling. “It’s a little bit of a break, or recess, to look forward to, like when you were a child,” she says. “Plus, snack time can foster a bit of creativity and create an opportunity for social time.”
Drink plenty of water.
By keeping a water bottle at your desk, you’re more likely to stay hydrated, energized and on task. “Dehydration can cause fatigue and leave you feeling sluggish,” warns Cecere. “If you’re unsure whether you’re drinking enough water, check your urine. It should always be light yellow or clear. If it’s not, up your water intake.”
Take a power nap (if possible).
When you’re struggling to keep your heavy eyelids open long enough to draft an email or parse a spreadsheet, tat’s your circadian rhythm telling you to take a nap, notes fitness and nutrition coach Jill Brown. If you’re fortunate enough to have that as a viable option, stop fighting that natural impulse and step away for a quick 20-minute snooze.
Do an energy breathing exercise.
If napping is more dream than reality, Brown suggests “energy breathing” as the next best energy booster. Sit up tall or stand, breathe in deep and slow from your nose, and exhale fast from the mouth. Repeat at least 10 times, or for a full minute. “This technique increases oxygen to the body quickly,” explains Brown. Better yet, follow that up with a 10-minute walk, also focusing on that breathing pattern to circulate oxygen through your muscles.
Clean your workspace.
Piles of papers, dusty surfaces and generally disorganized spaces can bog you down and serve as a subconscious distraction. Take a break from your screen to clean and organize your workspace. “Less clutter results in more productivity,” notes Cecere. “I often find that when my space is clean, my mind is clear.” Plus, just the act of standing and physically straightening your surroundings will give your brain a jolt of energy.
Do some calf raises.
Health coach Cheryl Russo swears by this exercise as a quick pick-me-up. Stand behind a chair and place your hands on the back of it, then lift your heels off the floor and push up through the ball of your foot, then lower back down. “This move improves circulation in the lower extremities and energizes fatigued legs,” Russo points out.
Do a quick yoga sequence.
Russo shares some of her favorite energy-boosting yoga poses:
Standing mountain pose: Stand with your legs hip distance apart and your back straight. Roll your shoulders back so your chest is open and the crown of your head reaches toward the ceiling. With a big exhale, raise your arms overhead and interlace your fingers, reaching up out of your rib cage. Lean toward the right and left. Repeat for a few rounds.
Standing tabletop position: Hinge forward until your back is parallel with the floor, gently placing your hands on the back of a chair or on your thighs. Stay here for a few breaths.
Cat/cow (standing): Start in the standing tabletop position. For the cow pose, roll your shoulders back, let your belly and chest release toward the floor and inhale deeply. On the exhale, round out your back, draw your navel toward your spine and lower your head toward the floor (cat pose). Switch back and forth a few times.
Do a five-minute bodyweight circuit.
When you’re feeling sluggish, a mini workout can do wonders for energy levels, with the bonus of burning some extra calories. Bertus Albertse, founder of Body20, suggests this five-minute exercise routine to increase blood flow to the muscles and also to harmonize your left and right brain hemispheres for better problem-solving skills, coordination and overall productivity, while releasing the feel-good hormone serotonin. Perform each move for one minute, taking breaks as needed.
Wall Squats: These isometric holds activate the glute and leg muscles.
Standing Lunges: These improve blood flow for better circulation, while increasing the heart rate and metabolic processes.
Plank: This move activates the core/stabilizing muscles for better posture and back support.
Pushups: This exercise engages the upper body muscles while also activating the stabilizers for improved posture.
Triceps Dips: Use your desk or chair to dip your way to toned arms while increasing the blood flow to your fingers.
Take a meditation break.
Instead of taking a coffee break, try a meditation break.“Meditation elicits a calming effect on the nervous system, and also contributes to mental clarity and focus,” says Diane Malaspina, Ph.D, Yoga Medicine® therapeutic specialist. “Endorphins are released during meditation, which naturally boosts energy, wards off fatigue and enhances mood.”
You don’t even have to leave your desk to squeeze in a quick meditation. Start by sitting tall and making sure the hips and legs are comfortable. Close your eyes and follow your breath. After a few moments of centering your mind on your breath, begin to count each inhale, with the goal of maintaining attention on your breath for 10 consecutive inhales. If your mind wanders and you lose count, start again and repeat until you can maintain focus on the breath for 10 straight inhales, Malaspina suggests.
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