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Month: March 2020

How to Improve Safety and Reduce Anxiety During the Coronavirus Pandemic

By Leah Zerbe for Dr. Axe.

No March Madness. Moreover, no sports games, anywhere, for the unforeseen future. For many, no schooling. No Broadway. Limited travel. The list goes on.

Needless to say, the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) has significantly disrupted American life and continues to do for the foreseeable future.

Lastly, anxiety levels are on the rise. Will I get the virus? Will my older relatives get it and fall gravely ill? Will the U.S. become like Italy, where only grocery stores and pharmacies are open? How much will loneliness and social isolation become an issue? When will I be able to resume normal, daily life?

While we don’t have answers to every one of the questions, we’re going to give the following valuable tips from top health and wellness experts.

8 Steps for More Safety and Less Anxiety

 

Cara Natterson, MD, pediatrician and author of Decoding Boys: New Science Behind the Subtle Art of Raising Sons:

1. Wash your hands for 20 seconds.

Yes, that’s a long time. But it works — better than 5 or 10, and better than just slathering on some antibacterial liquid. That’s why surgeons stand at scrub sinks and lather up to their elbows for a full 20 seconds (often longer) before cutting into a body.

On “Grey’s Anatomy,” you don’t see them squirting on the Purell and walking into the operating room, now do you?

2. Stay Home if you are sick.

There is a huge public service component to virus containment, and this requires that your life not be more important than someone else’s.

If you run an errand or downplay your symptoms and go to the office, you have just chosen to expose a much bigger group of people to your germs, which may or may not be coronavirus. So seriously, if you are sick, stay home.

Gail Saltz, MD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill–Cornell School of Medicine and host of the “Personology” podcast from iHeart Media:

3. Stay appropriately informed, but not over informed.

Other than that, consume information about the virus no more than once a day. Watching and listening and reading headlines will only serve to make you overly anxious.

Many headlines are catastrophizing the situation inappropriately and driving fear. Having basic knowledge will reduce anxiety. Anxiety beyond doing what you appropriately can do, like hand washing and social distancing, is not serving a purpose and it’s worth reminding yourself just that.

4. Keep children calm.

Stay calm when speaking to them, answer questions reasonably, teach them to do appropriate hand-washing or use of hand sanitizer, but don’t frighten them into it.

Avoid keeping the news on in the background where they keep hearing it and likewise restrict screen time on news items that will only serve to frighten. Tell them you as a family will stay up on the facts from a reliable source and do what is recommended as a family.

5. Increase the use of relaxation techniques.

When anxiety goes up, so does the body’s tension level and, in turn, this tension raises your anxiety. To interrupt the cycle, practice relaxation techniques such as muscle relaxation, deep breathing, mindfulness, taking a warm bath, whatever helps you to relax your body.

Aerobic exercise is also helpful for decreasing anxiety — for 30 minutes several times per week.

6. Know when this is an anxiety problem, not a COVID-19 problem.

If you are highly anxious after taking recommended steps to be safer, this is more likely an anxiety problem than a COVID-19 problem and stirring up people around you is not helpful. It is reasonable to ask workplaces to ask for and approve sick people staying home, and you should do the same.

But beyond that fear mongering just makes this all worse for everyone, without changing the spread of the novel coronavirus. Increased fear tends to drive poor decision making, and certainly is driving economic consequences. So trying to keep perspective is important.

If you do feel overwhelmed with anxiety, and people who already have anxiety particularly about health issues are at higher risk, then do consider seeing a professional. Some therapy can make a big difference in managing anxiety about all kinds of things, including the coronavirus.

Tiffany Cruikshank, L.A.c., MAOM, RYT, founder of Yoga Medicine®:

7. Reduce stress.

If you’re like many people right now, you’re probably also feeling the stress that this outbreak has also created in our lives, whether that be due to canceled travel plans or fear of catching it.

Stress can be one of the biggest hindrances to our immunity, especially with the escalating situations surrounding COVID-19. My favorite remedy when I feel stress and anxiety rising is pranayama or breathing techniques. I love this because it’s simple and doesn’t cost anything.

But the key here is that it’s best done regularly when you have an ongoing stressful situation. Diaphragmatic breathing is powerful because it stimulates the vagus nerve to mediate the stress response of the nervous system, and this increased diaphragmatic movement also acts as a pump for the lymphatic system to support immune function.

To do this one, simply lie on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor and your hands on your belly. As you inhale, feel your belly expand into your hands and on the exhale feel your belly drop back toward the floor.

To magnify the effect, press the belly into the resistance of your hands on the inhale and feel the belly drop and relax on the exhale, keeping the rest of your body relaxed. Repeat for 3–5 minutes daily.

8. Do (gentle) yoga.

A simple yoga practice can be a great way to support the immune system. Not only can it decrease stress hormones in the body, but these easeful whole-body movements also act as a pump for the lymphatics to support your immune system.

The key here is simple movements with ease and deep breath. Simple sun salutations can be a great way to accomplish this, along with this yoga for lymphatic flow sequence.

Now Is the Perfect Time to Take Up At-Home Yoga

By Caroline Cox for InStyle.

We’re living in a scary, unprecedented time. Due to the rapid spread of coronavirus, millions of people are self-quarantining across the globe. During these stressful times, we’re prone to hold more tension in our body, have difficulty sleeping, and snap at our partners or kids.

“A lot of people don’t know what to do with emotions,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and physical therapist. “We learn to read and write, but we’re not really taught how to deal with emotions.” By acknowledging the stress as normal, we can begin to cultivate self-compassion — as well as compassion and patience for others if we find ourselves on the receiving end.

One outlet people are turning towards to help them do just this? Yoga. (Google Trends shows searches for “at home yoga” have skyrocketed in just the last few weeks.) As both of a form of self-care and a solid method for staying in shape, it’s no surprise that people are turning to the practice in their own spaces while self-quarantining — for both their body and their mind.

Here, experts explain how yoga can be used to work through trauma and boost both your mental and physical health during this stress-inducing time.

Yoga Can Be Used to Cope with Traumatic Experiences

There’s growing evidence that the physical practice of yoga can affect our emotions in unexpected ways. I’d heard from a few instructors that certain yoga poses can cause emotions to bubble to the surface, but I witnessed it first-hand recently in a class when, during a hip-opening exercise, the student next to me burst into tears. So, what is it about this particular mode of movement that’s different from a cycling, Pilates, or barre class, for example?

“There is a saying in Ayurveda — the ancient Indian medical system and sister science to yoga — the issues are in your tissues,” says Ann Swanson, a Denver-based certified yoga therapist and author of Science of Yoga. “These tissues include your muscles, fascia, and blood.” When we feel fear, for example, Swanson says it’s like an alarm bell ringing our amygdala, the part of the brain that houses fear and other emotions. “Yoga has been shown to lessen electrical activity in the amygdala and increase activity in the prefrontal cortex,” she adds, which is responsible for careful planning, conscious thinking, and emotional regulation. (In clinical research, yoga and meditation have been shown to lessen anxiety and depression symptoms, relieve pain, and improve emotional regulation to boot.)

“Even when we’re not under existential threat, this happens,” Atlanta-based yoga teacher and healer Elizabeth Rowan says of the tears that can come while doing yoga. “Different emotions are believed to be housed in different parts of the body.”

She says chest opening or back-bending yoga positions are considered “heart-opening,” which can make us feel vulnerable, and hips are said to hold trauma, meaning longer hip-opening shapes can bring those feelings forward. “The difference between yoga and any other activity or workout is that yoga is designed, when sequenced properly, to create conditions for profound self-awareness to arise,” she adds.

Abby Vernon, an instructor for YogaSix in San Diego and an expert in trauma-informed yoga, has seen time and again the ways that yoga can help process traumatic experiences. “Trauma tends to keep people trapped in their survival responses of fight, flight or freeze,” she says.

Because yoga calls us to focus on the present and our own bodies, it encourages students to tune into their moment-by-moment experiences instead of ruminating on the past. “Rather than working from the top-down, meaning starting with the neocortex area of the brain first,” Vernon adds, “yoga works from the bottom up, starting with the brainstem and limbic system where the survival responses live, to encourage a sense of integration and agency in one’s own body and resolution of traumatic experiences.”

The Physical and Emotional Benefits of Practicing Yoga Right Now

But don’t let the possibility of unexpected emotions keep you from getting on the mat. Not only can moving our bodies help lessen our stress and temporarily get us out of our heads (or just off our phones), it also keeps our immune systems stronger.

In fact, there’s a clear link between moderate exercise and better metabolic health. “Especially when people have so much anxiety about their health or when our minds and bodies are exposed to prolonged stress, our immune system actually [gets weaker],” says Lombardo. “That’s why addressing your emotional and physical wellbeing will help protect you.”

If we do find emotions, whether old or new, rising to the surface during your at-home yoga practice, Rowan encourages us not to resist or attempt to shut these feelings down. “When you’re emotional, turn toward yoga, and when in yoga, turn toward the emotions,” she advises. “Allow both to do their profound healing work at this time.” The point, she continues, is not necessarily to feel good, but to connect with ourselves — “the good, the bad, and the ugly.”

For most of us, day-to-day reality looks quite different right now than it did weeks ago. But while we may not be able to control our current circumstances (outside of helping our communities by donating what we can and doing our part to keep the virus from spreading), focusing on our mental health may be one of the most beneficial actions we can take.

“We are being inundated right now with massive amounts of unsettling information: illness, lost hours of work, disparities in access to care, juggling childcare and working from home, lack of resources, and so much more,” says Valerie Knopik, Ph.D., a professor at Purdue University’s College of Health & Human Sciences and a Yoga Medicine instructor who has studied how yoga and meditation can be an asset for mental health. She says distress — what we tend to label as “stress” — occurs when we feel like we don’t have the necessary resources to meet our demands. This can mean a lack of emotional resources, but also physical resources too, like when you can no longer find cleaning supplies or toilet paper on the shelves at your grocery store.

Knopik says yoga can be a great tool for shifting your mental focus from what you can’t control to what you can — and with at-home practice, there’s not even the temptation to measure your skill level against your peers. “Instead of thinking about what you look like in each shape,” she explains, “focus on your breath. Focused breath work can tap into our parasympathetic nervous system” — which helps conserve our energy by slowing our heart rate and relaxing our muscles — “to bring us back into balance.”

While it’s certainly not possible for everyone to drop what they’re doing — whether it’s work, childcare, checking in with friends and family, or all of the above and then some — taking even a few minutes to stretch your muscles and practice deep breathing is bound to put you in a better headspace. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced yogi, hundreds of apps and studios are offering free streaming classes right now — like Peleton (free for your first 90 days), CorePower Yoga (free for your first week), and Tonal (free on YouTube) to help you get started.

And even if you need tissues after the last “namaste,” at least you’re listening to what your body needs — a practice that’s worthy of its own gratitude.

How Meditation Can Increase Mental Durability in Athletes

By Alison Heilig for Yoga Medicine®.

If you’re a yoga teacher reading this, I don’t need to convince you of the numerous benefits of meditation. But for many athletes, meditation can be a much harder sell. As both an athlete and coach in multiple sport modalities, I totally understand and I have grappled with these barriers myself. After all, time is precious and much of the available time that an athlete has is spent training specifically for their sport.

So it can be challenging to convince athletes that spending 5-10 minutes per day sitting or laying in meditation can produce tangible benefits in their sports performance. Fortunately, this concept is becoming easier now that many high profile athletes are beginning to open up about their own experiences with meditation. With the increased interest around meditation and its applications to sports performance, there’s so much more research now which means that the benefits — such as improving focus through distractions, enhancing concentration, heightening breath awareness, reducing in sensitivity to pain, and aiding in physiological and mental recovery — are now well-documented by scientific studies.

Since I currently have my feet in both the athletic competition and coaching worlds, I thought I’d add my voice to the conversation and share one other interesting benefit that I’ve noticed in myself and the athletes I coach: how a consistent meditation practice can significantly improve mental durability.

What is Mental Durability?

Many people think that mental durability means “being tough” but, while mental toughness certainly is part of it, there’s a lot more at work here. Mental durability is the resilience of your mind and refers to its ability to withstand the stress caused by the rigors of training and competing without becoming burnt out, frustrated, or mentally fatigued.

Intuitively, we know that training day after day for competition can take a toll on our bodies and, as athletes and coaches, we do our best to manage that reality through intelligent physical training program design. However, that same stress can also take its toll mentally and I believe we should be taking steps to prepare for and guard against that as well. This is something that meditation is well-positioned to do – specifically in developing the grit or mental toughness to keep going in the face of discomfort, the ability to remain present and composed as the intensity increases, and the capacity to focus through nerves and distractions. Just like our physical training, these are all skills that can, and should, be developed through repetition and practice.

Why Mental Durability Matters

Let’s be honest here, high performance output for competition is tough. It’s important to note here that “high performance output” is a relative term meaning that for each individual athlete, their own maximum effort typically involves significant, if not extreme, discomfort — regardless of where he or she stands on the leaderboard or in the rankings. This means that you don’t have to be an elite level athlete to understand what I mean when I say operating at maximum capacity when it’s time to throw down in competition or the day of your event is no walk in the park. That’s why we reserve these high intensity performances for the peak of our training — whether that is a single day or a series of days throughout a designated competition season.

"Meditation can be a help tool for learning how to step back from the intensity of the current experience and see it as part of a bigger picture..."​

Alison Heilig

Three Ways Meditation Can Boost Mental Durability

The widely discussed performance applications for meditation include refining focus, concentration, and breath awareness – all of which form the building blocks for mental durability. To truly maximize the effectiveness in a sport setting, it’s helpful to look at how these specific skills trained in meditation can transfer to competition and ultimately increase your mental durability. Let’s look at some of the applications I’ve used for myself as well as the athletes I coach.

1. Meditation provides the perspective needed to manage discomfort.
During high output, things quickly get uncomfortable. This can go on for hours depending on the length of your event. When you’re giving it all you got out there, the longer the discomfort goes on, the more difficult it becomes to stay focused on the task at hand. Most of us eventually feel a palpable deterioration of mental clarity and perspective where we begin to then fixate on the discomfort, analyzing all the things that hurt or what we feel is going wrong. Meditation can be a help tool for learning how to step back from the intensity of the current experience and see it as part of a bigger picture — which is important because the moment you feel like more is going wrong than right, the wheels really start to fall off the wagon.

To practice this ability to mentally step back from the discomfort to see the bigger picture so you have it in your pocket on competition day, I find it helpful to routinely do a simple body scan meditation where you’re alternating between noticing the parts of your body that feel unpleasant and those that feel pleasant. As you do this, try to avoid judging, analyzing, or interpreting and simply notice them as pure sensation without needing to label them. After a few moments of sensing these two separate and distinct areas, imagine blurring them together and allowing them to coexist in your experience as you breathe calmly. As I once heard Yoga Medicine founder, Tiffany Cruikshank, say during a meditation: “imagine that every sensation in your body is like one brushstroke in the painting of your entire experience in this moment as you step back to look at the whole picture.” Practices like this one, when done consistently, can help develop your ability to zoom out, take in the whole experience, and likely see that many things are still going well and working in your favor.

2. Meditation teaches presence and patience when the panic starts to set in.
In the sports performance world, we often talk about “flow state” or being “in the zone.” While it has many definitions depending on who you talk to, my experience with it is that it’s a state where you’re fully immersed — mind, body, and spirit and involved in the process of performing. This state requires absolute presence with your full awareness and engagement directed towards the present moment. By definition, this means that you cannot be worried about whether your training was adequate (the past) or the eventual result (the future). Often, the panic sets in when we feel like we don’t have what it takes to see it through to completion; in other words, we allow the past and future to seep into the present and interrupt the flow.

Obviously, there is a place for forethought — after all, competition in any sport requires strategy even if the only person you’re competing against is yourself. However, a well-thought-out pre-competition strategy is different from obsessively worrying about the outcome mid-performance. One will help you, the other not so much.

To practice this skill, I recommend a meditation with a specific focus on your breath. For this one, set a timer for five minutes and focus on being right there for every exhalation — completely present for the feeling of emptying and being empty of breath. When your mind wanders off and you notice it, gently bring your attention back to the process of exhaling your breath. You’ll learn to use something that’s always with you — your breath — to stay anchored in the present moment. One step at time. One rep at a time. One breath at a time.

3. Meditation reduces pre-competition nerves and refines focus.
For most athletes, we have some sort of taper or deload period built into our training leading up to competition. This is the time where your coach tells you to trust your training and ease up to let your body fortify itself and prepare for maximal effort on the day of competition or your targeted event. In my experience both personally and as a coach, this is the time when athletes start to get a little nuts! After so much intense training, all this extra rest and recovery time causes us to feel stir-crazy, get extremely antsy, and then direct that energy toward worrying. This is the perfect time to double down on your meditation practice — after all, you’ve got the time, why not use it to condition your mind to perform optimally the way you’ve conditioned your body. There’s nothing worse than finishing your event after countless hours of training, knowing you had it in you physically but mentally you just couldn’t rally.

During this time, I highly recommend to my athletes to spend time in meditation visualizing how the entire day of competition playing out in as much detail as possible and ending in a positive outcome. Note the sensations in your body present with every step of the way — visualize the pace of your movement, the contact of your feet with the ground, the cadence of your breath, the power in your muscles, the control in execution, the sensations associated with confidence and resolve — all the elements involved, no detail about the experience is too small or insignificant. This will help you create a sensory imprint that you can recall and return to on the day of competition which will keep you focused and moving toward that positive outcome even if things don’t play out perfectly according to plan. Much of those pre-competition nerves are related to feelings of the outcome being out of our control so visualizing a positive outcome and anchoring into the sensations associated with a good performance can help alleviate performance anxiety and help you stay focused on what you do control — giving your best effort right now.

5 Workouts You Can Do at Home Without Equipment

By Emy Rodriguez Flores for Sand.

Working out can be a way to reduce stress and keep your body healthy. Releasing endorphins by working out is scientifically proven and many people travel to their nearest gyms or exercise centers to work it out. What happens if there is a global pandemic occurring and we’re all told to stay home? The fancy machines at our gyms are most likely not in our homes and that expensive trainer isn’t there to motivate you along the way.

How do we keep from binge watching TV shows for days or eating our way through the weekend without the motivation just stepping into the gym gives us. The simple answer is: the gym is anywhere you want it to be. Burpees and lunges are done without any assistance really so why can’t we do them at home? On Top of the multiple exercises you can do without machines, there are ways to mimic the gym atmosphere with just your music library and a yoga mat. Check out our top five workouts you can do at home without any equipment. Summer is not canceled so if you’re trying to get that bod, you might as well start now.

Utilize the Floor

You can do a lot with just your own body weight and the floor. Next time you’re in your living room, try doing some push ups, squat jumps, hip rotations or even front planks. Depending how clean your floor is, you can pretty much work out the essentials. We don’t recommend this practice for someone who wants to build muscle or practices bodybuilding. Lifting your own muscles gets you in shape, but won’t give you Jason Mamoa’s body in Aquaman.  

Finding Weights in the Kitchen

Have you ever bought too many groceries and had to carry them home in one trip? The soreness your arms feel is the same soreness they would feel lifting weights next to some grunting human at the gym. If you’re like the rest of the world right now, you’ve panic bought some crisis-unrelated item like toilet paper and now have more than you can use in a year. Take advantage and use those extra packs as a 20-pound bar and curl it for a few reps. Find things that have good grips like large cans or an oversized bag of rice to make sure you’re not taking on more than you can handle. Next time you raid your pantry, look for paper towels and imagine them to be foam rollers. A trip to the kitchen for dinner can turn into a 20-minute yoga session and we’re not mad at that.

Find Virtual Classes 

If you’re the type of person that needs more motivation to work out, check out some free online classes. YouTube has a plethora of them, but some gyms are proactively hosting online classes during shut-in times. “Home Work-Ins” by Planet Fitness are a series of free classes that are streamed live on Planet Fitness’ Facebook page. Starting at 7pm EST every day, classes are led by certified trainers and on occasion special guests. If that time doesn’t work for you, they record their sessions for later broadcast on their Youtube channel

Download a Health and Wellness App

There are plenty of apps for your smart watches that fit a whole series of different criteria. The best ones are subjective, but if you’re looking for one of the best, try Aaptiv. It’s been highly rated and has a great mix of different activities you can try during your next workout.  

Workout Your Mental Muscles

“The issues I think most people face right now are stress, anxiety, fear of the unknown, financial instability or loss, fear of financial loss, loneliness at home and lack of connection to others which all influence the immune system. Says Tiffany Cruikshank, founder of Yoga Medicine®

My tip is that you need to note the importance of self care right now. From mindful eating, good sleep quality, movement to pump lymphatics to support immunity, gratitude practices to neutralize fear/anxiety and stress management.”

The most important workout you can do at home is making sure you’re mentally sound. Try giving yourself some mental days doing something you enjoy. Don’t get overwhelmed by being guaranteed or stuck at home. Take advantage of the time and practice healthy mental and physical exercises not as a distraction, but a goal with rewards. 

Namast’ay Calm: A 5-Step Yoga Routine to Deal with Stress + Anxiety

YOGA IS ONE OF OUR favorite ways to decompress when we’re feeling frazzled, and the following yoga routine from Tiffany Cruikshank of Yoga Medicine and author of Meditate Your Weight is specifically designed to help us deal with stress. Integrate these simple but powerful poses into your morning or bedtime rituals for amazing mind-body benefits that linger…

With numerous research articles headlining the news these days about the effects of yoga and meditation for your health, many people are starting to realize that yoga can be a great adjunct to your weekly routine. With so many negative implications that stress can have on the body (everything from muscle tension, headaches or food cravings to weight gain or digestive complaints and more), yoga and meditation are particularly effective strategies for combatting stress and its effects. If you’re like many people, you probably experience a hefty load of stress and anxiety on a daily basis, bombarded by it coming from finances, relationships, health or your family. The often-used message that you need to “manage your stress better” seems to feel meaningless without clear guidance as to how. After working with thousands of patients and students over the past couple of decades, here are a few of my tried and true favorites to deal with stress.

The key here is to pick one or two that you think you can add into your daily routine and stick with it. In order to re-educate how your nervous system responds to stress (the true task at hand since the stress doesn’t go away), you must do this daily, but it need not take more than a few minutes. Just like building muscle, the more often you do it the more helpful it will be. Below are a few to choose from; try out a few and see which one best helps you deal with stress, relax and unwind.

A 5-Step Yoga Routine To Deal with Stress

 

Supine Twist
This pose is great for unwinding at the end of your day as it helps you relax and, at the same time, release back and neck tension from sitting at a desk all day. If you find yourself tense or stressed when you come home and unable to really unwind and relax, then this pose might be your choice.

For this pose find a comfortable place to lie on the ground and simply bring your knees into your chest and take them over to one side and rest them on the ground in a gentle twist. The key here is to completely relax and let your body lean into the ground. If your legs are in the air, find a pillow or blanket to wedge underneath them so you can relax. Once you’re comfortable, take a few deep breaths and stay for 1-2 minutes, then repeat on the second side. Ease back into the rest of your night with a fresh perspective when you’re done.

Downward Dog Modification
This variation on down dog is a gentle inversion to refresh the brain. This pose is helpful if you tend to feel overwhelmed and are unable to concentrate and stay focused to your normal capacity.

For this pose you’ll need a yoga block or a stack of books, about 4-6 inches tall, to rest your head on. For this pose, come into downward facing dog with your hands shoulders-width apart and your feet about hips-width apart and the top of your forehead resting on the block/books. You might have to move the block/books around a few times to find the right position but notice that the weight is still primarily held in the hands and feet so there is only the weight of the head on your block. Let your neck relax so the blood flow can refresh your mind. Stay for 1-2 minutes and visualize all of your thoughts and to-do lists dripping off your brain onto your block.

Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose
This pose is a great preparation for deep sleep as it calms the nervous system and helps ease the body into the parasympathetic nervous mode or deep relaxation. This is a great one if stress is affecting your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep. For this pose you want to be done for the night and begin by preparing yourself for bed and dimming the lights so that you can crawl into bed quietly when you are finished.

Start by sitting with the side of your body up against a wall, then gently lean back onto your back and rest your legs up the wall. You can move in close with your hips at the wall, or leave a little space between your hips and the wall if that feels more comfortable on your back and hamstrings. As with the first pose, the key is to make sure you are comfortable. You can put a blanket over or under you or strap your legs together so they can relax. Once you are comfortable, close your eyes and notice your breath. Visualize the mind emptying with each exhale and allow yourself to linger a little longer in your exhalations. Stay for 3-5 minutes (or longer, if you like), then gently roll onto your side and slowly crawl right into bed.

Seated Meditation
If none of the previous techniques stand out for you or you feel like the stress in your life is constant, then a simple meditation practice can be a helpful way to re-train the nervous system on a more regular basis. Meditation is simple and effective way to help shift the body into relaxation as well as help bring context to the bigger picture awareness that is key for stress management. The nice thing about mediation is that anyone can do it, anywhere or anytime. The key here is to find a time and place that you can use every day. For many people this is first thing in the morning or at the end of the day, but it can also be done at your desk by simply setting a timer and closing your eyes. I recommend using a timer on your phone so that you can relax and not worry about time. Begin with 3 minutes and work up to 5 or 10 minutes – but remember frequency is more important than duration, so find something you can commit to daily.

Begin by finding a comfortable sitting position on the floor or in a chair. If you’re on the floor, find something you can sit on like a blanket or pillow to try to get your hips up a little higher than your knees. Then close your eyes and begin by noticing the sensations in your body and the feeling of the breath as you breath naturally. Simply notice the experience and take it in. Notice what it feels like to be alive in this moment as you observe the experience. This practice is simply about becoming aware of the sensations and processes in the body without trying to change them or judge them. In order to change how your body responds to stress, your nervous system must first notice what is happening. Then your body can do the rest. When your timer rings, slowly head back into your day.

Calming Breath
This simple breathing technique is helpful if your stress level is more of an up-and-down battle throughout the day. This breathing technique helps to stop the stress response in the body in the heat of the moment by calming the nervous system. The exhalation is intimately connected to the parasympathetic nervous system so you will be lingering in the exhale to induce the relaxation response. Use this one daily or as needed to combat stressful tasks or situations.

Begin in any position, with eyes closed or open, by slowing down your breath as you breath in and out fully for a few rounds. Then without any tension simply inhale for a count of 4 and exhale for a count of 6. Repeat for 3-5 rounds (or more, if your prefer) and notice how quickly the relaxation response starts to kick in. As you get more comfortable, you can inhale for 4 and exhale for 8, but the key is to relax and feel as if you can lean into the exhale rather than forcing it.

3 Psychological Nutrients for a Fulfilling Life

Instilling Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness into our work and relationships helps increase real growth and satisfaction in all we do.

We live in a busy time with high stimulation where stress and burnout can lead to dissatisfaction and underperformance. This shows up in many aspects of life, especially at work, leading to a sense of floundering versus flourishing. Autonomy, competence, and relatedness are considered the nutrients of living a fulfilling life, and when we instill these nutrients in our work and relationships, we can see real growth and gratification in all that we do. Psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan identified these 3 social and contextual factors that motivate human thriving and call it Self-Determination Theory (SDT). The three nutrients of SDT enhance our capacity for growth, engagement, and wellness which serve to internally drive us toward vitality, motivation, and effective performance. 

Human Needs

Just as we have physiological needs such as adequate nutrition, clean water, and freedom from harm, we also have psychological needs that are essential for optimal functioning. When one is deprived of certain psychological needs, we see decrements in growth and performance. Interestingly, at the individual level, the person doesn’t have to identify or value these needs, just as we don’t have to value or identify the need for Vitamin C as necessary for bodily growth, development, and repair. 

Needs motivate our behavior. There are two types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivators are driven by external rewards such as money, power, and praise. While extrinsic motivators can be powerful in initiating new behavior, we find that lasting behavior that is deemed as meaningful is driven by intrinsic motivators. Intrinsic motivation is an inner drive that comes from within where we do something for the sake of doing it because it is inspiring, enjoyable, purposeful, and challenging in a good way. When we cultivate the three key nutrients of autonomy, competence, and relatedness we set the stage for behavior based on intrinsic motivation, which drives engagement and high performance. 

Autonomy

Autonomy means self-governing; it is the ability and power to self-regulate our actions. It is the opposite of micromanagement. We feel empowered when we have choice and when we are trusted to make the right decisions. This is different than independence where we work alone. Autonomy is where we have a sense of acting on our own accord with the ability to take direct action as needed. 

Ways to Build Autonomy

  • Set expectations but allow each person to decide for themselves how to go about meeting those goals. 
  • Realize that perfection doesn’t exist. Mistakes will be made. Use errors as opportunities for learning and create a culture of trying again.
  • Grant ownership of work and align each person with their strengths and work for which they have high interest.  

Competence

When we feel competent, we feel that what we do is effective and masterful. It is the feeling of being capable at what we do and the ability to accomplish and achieve goals. 

Ways to Foster Competence

  • Engage in opportunities for continued learning and skill building to encourage mastery.
  • Use goal setting in increments to provide continuous feedback along the way.
  • Offer positive and meaningful encouragement and feedback on performance and express strong belief in others’ capabilities. 

Relatedness

As humans we are social creatures with a high need to belong. Relatedness is exhibited when we have positive connections with others. It is important to feel both cared for and that we make a unique and important contribution to the group.  

Ways to Strengthen Relatedness

  • Encourage community integration with social events, outings, and group activities that are not work-centered.
  • Connect with colleagues on a personal level and allow for and validate emotional connection. 
  • Identify layers of support within the context and form teams that allow members to grow while working collaboratively.

When autonomy, competence, and relatedness are satisfied people experience high quality motivation that fuels passion and commitment to the work they engage in. The most profoundly motivated people are those who pursue a cause larger than themselves because they feel self-governed, masterful, and connected. When these needs are optimally supported, we see our work as deeply satisfying and meaningful, creating a positive emotional charge at both the individual and organizational level. 

Practice This Juicy Yin Yoga Sequence to Release Your Tight Hips

Let’s face it, most of us have tight hips. But luckily, Yin Yoga poses are an excellent resource to help release connective tissues in the hips.

The hip joints are a type of synovial joint known as a ball-and-socket. These joints connect the head of the femur or thigh bone (which is the ball) to the acetabulum of the pelvis or hip socket (which is, of course, the socket).

By design, the hip joints are built for stability. The femur sits deep within its socket and is designed for weight bearing. Due to its innate sense of stability, mobility and flexibility of the tissues surrounding the hip joint is not always a guarantee.

To find out the benefits of and how to use yin yoga for tight hips, click here to read the full article originally published on YogiApproved.com.

5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness with Yoga Expert Emilie Perz

By Beau Henderson for Authority Magazine.

Changing your living environment, trying out a new physical activity and/or even recovering from an injury can spark your brains neural pathways into action creating better tools for survival and growth. This means that at any age we have the capacity to change our brains firing patterns to assimilate new things that stimulate us and keep us going.

As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emilie Perz.

Emilie Perz is widely known for her strong, creative and educational vinyasa flow classes. Voted one of Los Angeles’ best yoga instructors, Emilie’s detail-oriented teachings reveal how yoga asana mirrors the practical movements we make in life and how learning to align the body precisely can create energy and equanimity in the body and mind.

Thank you for joining us! Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Sadly, my father passed away while I was transitioning from high school to college. Shortly after I began suffering from stress induced panic attacks that left me in the hospital. Months of heavy antidepressants only made matters worse, so at the advice of a friend I tried my first yoga class. The breath techniques (pranyama) practiced at the end immediately sedated my anxiousness and gave me a feeling of power over my mind and body connection. I made a promise to carry on with yoga everyday and ten years later it led to a full-time career.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Every aspect of this career route has been both interesting and inspiring. However, I think a standout story is working with my favorite family from Saudi Arabia. When I first met them there was a disconnect between everyone. Even though they were living under the same roof, the communication between children and parents was strained. Through yoga I was able to see each of their vulnerabilities and foster social and physical connection again. Miraculous things happen when you allow intimacy and acceptance into your life. Presently one of the daughters is now the first ever Saudi female race car driver and the first Saudi woman ever to hold a racing license.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

Allowing people to assume my last name was Perez and never correcting them. Quite honestly, I didn’t care due to the similar spelling. But neglecting that one little thing led to years of confusion for people who would address me as it. First off, people can’t find you through google if your name is incorrect which means they can’t find your website or look up your teaching schedule!

Also, this is a network referral type of business so that means if clients are referring you to other clients and giving the wrong information then that person might never find you or hear of your good work when talking to someone else. Over the years, I realized that this little issue lost me valuable connections, private clients and events and is still something I have to clarify continuously.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I would have to give credit to Tiffany Cruikshank, founder of Yoga Medicine, for having an enormous influence on my career. Tiffany hired me early on as the YM Community Builder and offered me the opportunity to go on several teacher training retreats a year to work on my education and teaching skills. Through her, I was able to fine-tune my public speaking and lecturing techniques while learning creative ways to work with injured and ill clients. I transferred that education into working at Urban med, a rehabilitation center in Los Angeles where I treated patients through yoga therapy programs.

I currently still treat a number of severely ill and recovering clients in Los Angeles and am proud grateful for my education under Cruikshank for enabling me the tools and awareness to do so.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

You can’t give optimally if you aren’t your optimal self. That means taking time to rest and recover your body, mind and spirit. Yoga teachers are generally care-givers who overextend to students. It’s imperative to not allow the needs of your community to inundate your own personal well-being. It’s great to get excited about the community you build, but it’s another to allow it to overwhelm you and become a distraction from your actual life. Yoga teachers need to continuously practice mindful tools that create equanimity for their emotions, time and energy.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

Practice mutual respect. In order to flourish energetically there has to be mutual respect for everyone. Creating healthy boundaries and ideal working conditions requires both respect and appreciation. I truly believe that I’ve been successful because I value the experience, wisdom and character of each emissary and student that comes my way. You will endlessly thrive if you treat people with the utmost integrity.

Mental health is often looked at in binary terms; those who are healthy and those who have mental illness. The truth, however, is that mental wellness is a huge spectrum. Even those who are “mentally healthy” can still improve their mental wellness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to improve or optimize our mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each.

Synchronized movement — mindful movement has been shown to decrease the symptoms of depression and synchronized movement has been shown to increase self-esteem. A study by Harvard found that “When subjects intentionally synchronized their movement with the recording, they had higher self-esteem than when they did not. Prior studies had shown that synchronizing your movement with others makes you like them more. You also cooperate more with them and feel more charitable toward them.”

Practicing gratitude — my favorite virtue verb, simply put, you must practice gratitude like a muscle in order to see gains/results. gratitude is a very special energy that can transform your life. if you take a moment to pause and feel the emotion of gratitude you will allow a sense of harmony to come over the body, creating a feeling of equilibrium. When we practice this regularly we create the possibility (through neuroplasticity) of coming back to it more easily. the more we tune into gratitude the more things bother us less and less and the happier we become.

Balancing our hormones — when hormones go arise so do our emotions. I recently did an instagram story poll asking who suffers from insomnia, mood swings and weight gain. Of over 2,000 people that voted, an astounding 82% said yes. This goes to show that something is out of whack. Balancing our bodies from the inside out is key for optimal wellbeing. When our hormones are in balance they are sending clear messages throughout our system and we feel energetic and happy. Regrettably, modern life stressors can inhibit our hormone functioning properly and leave us feeling terrible. Giving love to our hormones is crucial for our overall health.

Meditation — meditation is a key component for handling modern day stressors. Our heavy agenda filled lives need to be shut off every once in a while in order for our mind body connection to re-calibrate. Think about what happens to your car when the oil is low and or the brakes are worn out. If you keep grinding on your gears for long enough you’ll eventually burn the car out. Same goes for our minds ability to process and make accurate decisions. Meditation is the best tool for bringing your awareness and concentration back into the present moment allowing you to witness things without reacting to them.

Breathing techniques — the best medicine for stress is a deep breath. Breathing techniques are widely researched in having a number of medicinal benefits on our bodies. anxious people are exposed to physiological changes they fear such as a rapid heartbeat. Breathing tools can assist with the down regulation of the sympathetic nervous system allowing them to control and develop a tolerance over the symptoms if and when they should occur. Breathing techniques can also be energizing for those who suffer from depression symptoms or soothing for those who suffer from insomnia.

Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.

I live part-time in Palm Springs where I encounter many retirees who have moved here for a healthier lifestyle. My number one rule for anyone is to always stay active. Research shows us that the brain is like a muscle that needs new things to continuously build it. Changing your living environment, trying out a new physical activity and/or even recovering from an injury can spark your brains neural pathways into action creating better tools for survival and growth. This means that at any age we have the capacity to change our brains firing patterns to assimilate new things that stimulate us and keep us going. Look around, retirees are active, healthy, vibrant adults these days due to lifestyle changes that support their brains optimal functioning.

How about teens and pre teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre teens to optimize their mental wellness?

Adding in mindful activities such as partner yoga, silent walking meditations, breathing techniques and learning about the yoga philosophy are all effective tools for improving overall academic performance and social emotional capacity. I have taught continuously at Los Angeles Unifided Schools and have witnessed the profound affects a yoga practice can have on teens. From laughter, to tears, to feeling they are in a safe space for sharing their feelings; mindful activities such as this address the underlying concerns teenagers are going through and provide them healthy tools of expression and management.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

The Bhagavad Gita is an absolute must read for any leader as it contains philosophical concepts still relevant to modern living. The main theme of the book is about finding and following one’s dharma (individual purpose, mission or gift in life). The Gita is beautifully depicted as a poem based on the three Gunas (spiritual laws of energy) of action, compassion and darkness. The opening places Arjuna heading into war with his family but refusing to fight his own blood. Lord Krishna appears and explains the three paths of salvation which are Karma Yoga, the path of action, Jnana Yoga, the path of knowledge and Bhakti yoga, the path of devotion. Through this depiction many life questions begin to be answered such as the law of attraction, impermanence, non-attachment and acceptance.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My present hope is for yoga teachers to be recognized globally as medical specialists in optimal well-being. I strive, and will succeed, at seeing insurance providers allocate yoga therapy to their coverage in the very near future. Yoga teachers are a crucial component to helping patients heal and can provide many holistic treatment plans that empower patients to take care of themselves without the use of heavy medication or numerous doctor appointments.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.” ― Mary Oliver

For over a decade after my father’s death I questioned whether or not I was capable to ever be happy again. Then one day, out of nowhere, I decided to take a leap of faith and become a yoga teacher. When I finally took the plunge my life completely. I decided to leave my eleven year relationship, I quit my high-end corporate job, and I got very real with myself on what was holding me back from success. The fact is that my lack of courage truly was to blame. Taking that leap of faith allowed me to see that my father’s death inevitably lead me to my dharma; which is the greatest gift I could have ever received.

Tech Neck? Try These Three Simple Techniques to Relieve that Nagging Neck and Shoulder Pain

Do-It-Yourself myofascial release to reduce pain, restore flexibility, hydrate tissues, and re-establish healthy movement to relieve common pain-causing tension.

Do you suffer from pain in your shoulders and neck? Maybe it’s the result of working at your desk, driving a car, picking up kids or perhaps you hold tension in this region of the body when you are feeling stressed. Whatever the reason, nagging pain in the shoulders and neck can be exhausting. The good news is, there are some simple self massage techniques you can do any time to relieve this aching pain.

Myofascial Release (MFR) is a massage technique that works with both the muscles and fascia. Myo refers to the muscles, while fascia refers to the connective tissue and fascia. MFR can be very simple but it’s also incredibly complex. The goal of myofascial release is to reduce pain, restore flexibility, hydrate tissues, re-establish healthy movement between the myo-fascia and allow for free passage of signals through the connective tissue system.

What is Fascia?

The fascial web is one continuous interconnected system of connective tissue that exists from head to toe without any interruption. In quite recent history, connective tissue was believed to be a ‘space filler’ and was cut away in a cadaver. However, in more recent years its relevance has become increasingly important as body worker and the medical community are realizing its vital role in creating support, providing separation, protection, hydration and communication for the body. 

Some Fundamentals

When coming to practice MFR, there are some fundamentals to consider:

  • Avoid bone: you won’t cause damage to the bone but it will just feel uncomfortable.
  • Avoid areas of acute injury/ inflammation/ swelling. If you have an area of acute pain, work around that region softly rather than irritating even more.
  • Change the position of the ball if you feel numbness, tingling, shooting or sharp pain. 
  • Less is more: the aim of MFR is to reduce pain and deep seated tension. If applying pressure on the massage balls is causing you to tense up more and screw your face up (!) then ease off as there’s every chance that you’ll be causing more tension rather than less, making the practice counter productive.

Neck Release on a Block

Good For: releasing tension in the sub-occipital muscles at the base of the skull, which work hard all day holding the head up right.

Props: 1 block and a blanket

Lie supine on the ground with both knees bent and your feet on the floor. Lift your head and place the block on its medium height. The bottom edge of the block should be pressing into the base of the skull (approximately where the hair line is). Allow your head to be really heavy on the block. Very slowly, start to move your head from right to left (as if you were shaking your head to say ‘no’). Make sure that as your do this you are keeping your head really heavy on the block. When you find a point of tension that you can work with, pause for a couple of breaths at the spot. Allow the weight of your head and gravity sink down into the block, releasing deep seated tension at the base of the skull. When you feel even on both sides, move the block to one side to lie the back of your head on the ground. If you suffer from headaches or find that the block alone is too intense, place the blanket over the block to reduce the intensity.

Corners of the Neck

Good For: Releasing tension in two common trigger points for the upper portion of the Trapezius muscles. This is a common area of the body that people tend to hold onto stress.

Props: 2 tennis balls/massage balls, blanket and a block

Lie on your back and use your right hand to place the ball at the left ‘corner of the neck’ and use your left hand to place the ball on the right side. This might already feel tender for some people, in which case stay as you are. If you would like to apply more pressure onto the balls, lift and place your hips on the block. If you would still like to apply more pressure onto the balls, raise your arms up above your head so the backs of your hands are resting on the ground behind you. Stay here for about one minute and breathe deeply. Just as before, you can place a blanket over the balls to reduce the intensity.

Between the Shoulder Blades

Good For: Releasing tension in space in between the shoulder blades, the Rhomboid muscles. This tends to be a common area of tightness and tension, especially for people who sit for a large portion of the day.

Props: 2 tennis balls/massage balls, pillow and a blanket

Lie on your back and bend both knees so your feet are on the ground. Use your right hand to place the ball between the left shoulder blade and the spine and use your left hand to place the ball on the right side. At this point, you may like to lie your head on a pillow. Bring your arms out in a ‘T’ position, with the palms of your hands turned up toward the ceiling. If this is already tender, stay as you are and breath deeply. You can also bring your arms across your body as if you were giving yourself a hug. When you find a point that you can work with, stay there and breath. After about one minute, remove the balls and lie flat on your back.

This 15-Minute Yoga Flow Is All You Need to Break a Bad Mood

By Victoria Moorhouse for Popsugar.

When I’m in a really foul mood, my first inclination is to call my mom and whine for a solid 15 minutes. Sure, sometimes it’s nice to vent, but more often than not, continuous complaining just digs me into a deeper hole of misery and stress.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of positivity lately, which led me to start researching other, more productive ways for breaking a bad mood, like unrolling my yoga mat and flowing through the frustration.

“If you’ve ever taken a yoga class when you’ve been stressed or down, you’ve probably felt firsthand just how helpful a yoga practice can be to shift your mood,” Tiffany Cruikshank, L.Ac, a yoga instructor, and founder of Yoga Medicine, tells me.

I was reminded of yoga’s mood-boosting benefits one Saturday morning when my grumpiness and my anxiety completely took over. I left without a tension headache and in a much better mindset, but I didn’t understand why yoga had this effect on me.

“There are so many elements of a yoga practice that support this shift, like the present moment awareness that allows our nervous system to focus on just one thing, and the breath as a medium to shift the stress response through its influence on the sympathetic nervous system,” she explains.

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