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Month: November 2019

4 Daily Stretches for a Healthy Body

No matter how old you are or what you do for a living, we are all part of a society that spends way too much time sitting.

The following poses are aimed at keeping your body healthy as a counterbalance to all of the time we spend in a sedentary state. Keep in mind that more isn’t necessarily better, and try to find a gentle stretch you can breathe into. Happy stretching!

Figure 4 Hip Stretch

This pose is an accessible way to release the posterior hip and take pressure off of the sciatic nerve, which is great for athletes, as well as those who spend most of their day sitting.

Lie on your back with both feet on the floor, then place your right ankle on your left thigh just above your knee. If you feel a stretch here, stay. Otherwise, draw your legs in toward your torso and grab either behind your left hamstring or around your left shin. Stay here for one to two minutes, resting your head and back on the floor as you take a few deep breaths.

Supine Hamstring Stretch and Back Release

The hamstrings are notoriously tight, especially for those who sit a lot. The wonderful thing about this pose is that it stretches the hamstrings while also taking pressure off of the back.

Lie on your back and bend one knee in toward your chest. Start to straighten your leg until you feel a gentle stretch through the back of the leg. Grab behind the thigh or calf—somewhere you can relax into as you rest your head and back on the floor. Stay for one minute on each side.

Anterior Hip Stretch

Releasing the front of the hip can be a great way to prevent lower back and hip issues.

For this stretch, you’ll need a large bath towel rolled up tightly to about three or four inches in diameter. Lie on your back and place your feet on the ground, then lift your hips to place the rolled towel underneath your sacrum (the bone on the back of your pelvis, at the bottom of your spine). Hug one knee in toward your chest and stretch the other leg out on the floor. Relax and stay for one to two minutes on each side.

Self-Care Yoga for Stressful Times

Simple steps you can take to rest, repair and keep common stress from becoming chronic.

Stress is a given in these modern times we live in. Stress in and of itself is not a bad thing, as we need the stress response when important actions need to be taken. The issue is when that stress goes from acute to chronic and we are unable to return to the repair, rest, and digest state. The longer our bodies and minds remain locked in the stress loop, the more likely we are to suffer from anxiety, insomnia, pain, and illness. 

Our connection between body and mind is a two way street, so it is entirely possible to affect stress in the mind with the body and stress in the body with the mind. Do not stress about whether you are doing the recommendations below “right”, as that will not help. Simply go for the ride, notice how you feel along the journey, and take note of how you feel at the end. Since it can take 30 days to solidify a new habit, so if you want to see a change, commit to your own health and well-being.

Daily Schedule/Routine

Establishing a regular schedule can promote stability when we are feeling discombobulated, and establishing a regular sleep schedule is tantamount. Waking and going to sleep at the same time daily (+/- 30 minutes) helps to combat the irregularity that chronic stress can cause. A waking and bedtime routine can be helpful to prepare the body and mind for activity and rest (respectively). If you are unsure of what that could look like, some examples are below. 

Post-Waking Routine:

  • Use the bathroom
  • Brush your teeth
  • Meditate
  • Yoga
  • Eat
  • Shower

Pre-Sleeping Routine:

  • Turn off all screens
  • Take a bath
  • Brush your teeth
  • Yoga
  • Read
  • Use the bathroom

If you have insomnia, do not stress out if you cannot sleep. Just stick to the routine for 30 days and see what happens. 

How Can Yoga Help?

A stress relieving yoga practice is slow and grounded. As you practice the simple sequence below, keep your awareness on your connection to the floor. Notice the pressure of gravity pulling you down as you press down in resistance to gravity. Cultivate downward moving energy. Also be attentive in your transitions and treat them with as much importance as the poses themselves. If you experience any pain, take less range of motion or skip the motion entirely. Your self-care starts now!

  1. Seated/supine meditation (3-5 minutes) – Focus on your connection to the floor. Inhale say “I am” and exhale state a quality that is the opposite of your stressed state (stable, smooth, heavy, warm, peaceful, or still). 
  2. Flowing Bridge – Start by bending the knees, feet on the floor, arms along torso. Inhale to tilt the pelvis forward and exhale tilt the pelvis back (keeping it on the ground). Take 2-5 rounds then move into lifting the pelvis off the ground into bridge on the inhale, then lowering it on the exhale for 5-10 rounds. 
  3. Apanasana (Wind Relieving pose) – Hug knees into chest. Explore rocking side to side and/or circling the knees. Take 5-15 breaths. 
  4. Low Lunge w/hands on blocks – Slowly transition into Tabletop (your hands on blocks and knees on a blanket/mat). Step your right foot forward to a low lunge, inhale to extend the knee keeping the foot on the floor, exhale to bend the knee an sink just slightly into the hips. Take 3-8 rounds. For extra credit use a 4 count inhale and 4 count exhale. Repeat on the left leg. 
  5. Low Lunge Twist & Side Bend w/hands on blocks – From tabletop step right foot to lunge. Keep the right hand on the block and inhale the left arm alongside left ear, then exhale to side bend to the right. Take 3-5 breaths, then release the left hand back to its block on the exhale. Right hand on sacrum and inhale to twist to the right taking 3-5 breaths before switching legs and repeating on the other side. 
  6. Windshield Wiper Twist – Lie on your back, knees bent, feet on the floor placed wider than hip width apart. Inhale at center and exhale to lower the knees to the left, then inhale to center and lower the knees to the right. Take 5-10 rounds. 
  7. Savasana – Lie in a comfortable supine position and cover at minimum your pelvis (the home of Vata) with a blanket.

The Currency of Kindness

How Service Work Impacts Your Life and Your Health

The first time I visited our shelter in India I knew it would be a life changing experience, but I was not prepared for just how much it would shift my reality. This even after growing up working in the homeless shelter my mom ran, teaching yoga at a juvenile detention center, and doing acupuncture in shelters and drug and alcohol treatment facilities. I’ve seen countless people get involved in our nonprofit knowing that it was something important to them, but leaving with more than they ever thought possible.

It’s hard to quantify something that’s worth more than money, it’s hard to put a price tag on something that enhances your quality-of-life, it’s hard to put a value on something that affects your state of mind and well-being. As someone who works in the wellness industry and also runs several companies I know full well what it means to be caught up in the busyness of our lives and the effects it can have on your life and health. And, though I love what I do more than almost anything, there’s a weight with it as well.

As a modern-day society we’re finally starting to appreciate the cost of a stress-centered system. If we understand that stress is the currency we spend at the cost of our health, how/where do you want to spend it? We know full well part of the health impacts of stress, or at least a long list of them. We have hundreds of remedies to reduce stress at any given moment, all of which we both forget and under prioritize in our busy lives. But it’s hard to stay on top of it when there’s always another thing you need to be doing.

So, for those of you that love research, here’s some interesting information as it relates to helping others. Just witnessing acts of kindness increases oxytocin and stimulates your body to create serotonin. People who practice kindness regularly have lower cortisol and tend to age more slowly than the average population. When you’re kind to another person your brain’s pleasure and reward systems light up. In other words, helping others is both like a wonderful high (without the negative side effects) and the most potent of antidepressants. 1

But we know there’s so much more to life than what we find in research at the surface. The depth that our relationships create in our lives and their effect on our heart health has been well proven but still not completely acknowledged by the medical world. According to Dr. Dean Ornish, you can predict fairly accurately who will do well after a heart attack by their social support and relationships. But you don’t see that on any of the lists of 5 things to do to improve your health because there’s no way to put a number on it. We love quick fixes and bulleted lists to optimize our health and yet the at the simplest of all is often the most effective and underutilized.

As someone who loves science and research and loves to study how it all interconnects and interrelates there are still so many things we miss when we look at the world through a research lens. But when we speak from experience we have only truth. So, I can speak firsthand from my own experience working with thousands of patients, my own health and my experience in the nonprofit world just how powerful service work can be.

As a woman, I’ve always felt drawn to help other women who lack the resources that I’ve had in my life– education, medical access, healing modalities, yoga and so many others. As a Yogi I’m also very grateful for a culture that’s giving us this gift of yoga to help both ourselves and our communities. So it was natural to want to give back to these women in India who don’t have the same resources to empower and educate themselves or even to change their current situation. Our shelter houses up to 100 women at a time, usually there for 6 to 12 months, rescued from trafficking and other social injustices. But what I love most about what we do is that we empower them with yoga as a self-care tool and we pair them up with meaningful vocational skills that bring them above the poverty line. Meaning they get to choose what they study. Some want to go to college (around $1000/year there), some want to get married (even more expensive), we train some to be goldsmiths (one of the most highly revered jobs in India), we have one girl in law school right now, and so many others. But nothing means more to me than seeing their faces and that spark in their eyes when they realize that they too have a meaningful contribution to this world that they alone are destined (and now empowered) to create. These women have taught me more than anyone in my lifetime, not through their words but through their hearts and their eyes. They taught me the value of acceptance, the power of taking that next step forward and a reminder that all we have is now.

More than anything though, I think the biggest thing people take away from the work we do is a shift in perspective. Stress is simply our perception or reaction to our circumstances, whether it be about the past, present or future. Service work changes the lens with which we see our lives and our circumstances. It’s as easy as that. So, you could take your medications, do your yoga, breathing practices and meditation, follow your exercise plan and nutrition regimen and all the other ways you might try and reduce your stress or simply change the lens with which you view the world to shift the entire cascade completely! Personally, service work has changed the lens I see the world through and I can honestly say I feel happier and healthier now than I did in my 20’s and 30’s. I believe a big part of it is due to these extraordinary women.

REFERENCES

https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/science-good-deeds#1
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