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Month: November 2020

11 Ways to Enjoy Yoga Even if You’re Not a “Yoga Person”

By Julia Malacoff for MyFitnessPal.

The mental and physical benefits of yoga are well-known. From more sound sleep to better flexibility and posture, it’s easy to understand why so many people are drawn to the practice. During the pandemic, yoga is getting even more attention for being potentially immunity-boosting and simple to try at home.

Still, it’s not uncommon to feel like you’re just not a “yoga person,” despite all the good things you’ve heard about it. So, what are you to do if you want the benefits of yoga practice but can’t seem to wrap your head around how to get into it?

Here, expert yoga teachers share their best advice for helping yourself enjoy yoga.

1. Identify What You Didn’t Like About Past Yoga Experiences


From there, you can figure out what to look for when selecting future teachers and classes. “If you just try the same exact thing, chances are you won’t like it this time either,” points out Maura Blackstone, DPT, a physical therapist and registered yoga teacher.

2. Try Something Different

People often don’t like yoga because they went to the wrong type of class for their personality or reason for wanting to try yoga, explains Jennifer Ellis, a yoga teacher. “For example, if someone who has never done yoga before enters an intermediate or advanced class where people are doing arm balances and headstands, they may get the wrong idea about yoga. Or, if someone who wants to use yoga more for a workout attends a restorative class, they may come to that ‘I’m not a yoga person’ verdict,” Ellis explains. So, explore the many different types of yoga, and experiment with something new.

3. Test Different Instructors

“No teacher is for everyone. Not in boot camp, spin, dance cardio or yoga,” explains Heidi Kristoffer, a registered yoga teacher. Her advice? “Keep trying different teachers.” If you find a teacher you love — yoga or any other workout — ask if there are any yoga teachers they like themselves, Kristoffer suggests. “Since you love their style, odds are you may love their yoga teacher.”

4. Get Into the Right Headspace

Particularly if you’re taking a virtual yoga class at home, starting your practice in the right headspace can help prime you to have a better experience. “Try starting with a simple 5-minute breathing practice before your class to clear your mind and bring yourself into the present moment,” suggests Caroline Baumgartner, a yoga teacher. “An example would be sitting or lying on your mat with your eyes closed, bringing your hands onto your abdomen, inhaling for six counts and exhaling for six counts.”

5. Let Go Of Your Expectations

Feeling like you’re not “good” at yoga can be a major turnoff for some people. “Often, I see clients expecting to be flawless and effortless in their first class,” says Bridget Barrett-Parker, a yoga teacher. “It reminds me of what my uncle used to tell me when I was learning to ski: ‘If you’re not falling, you’re not learning.’” So just remember, it’s part of the process.

If this is an issue for you, one thing that can help is to seek classes meant for beginners. “Many studios offer beginners’ series, which progressively build on your skills in a closed group setting, so everyone is learning at the same pace,” says Jenni Tarma, instructor for Yoga Medicine Online. They’re not necessarily “easy,” but they do focus on the foundational skills you’ll need to progress to more advanced classes.

Another option: Try a mixed-level class, where teachers offer different versions of poses. “Don’t hesitate to take the one that feels best for your body, even if it’s the ‘easiest’ one on the menu,” Tarma advises. “It’s far better to progress gradually than risk injury by pushing too far right off the bat.”

6. Avoid Comparing Yourself To Others

“Many new yogis will spend half the class looking around and miserably comparing themselves to the person across the room who has been doing yoga for five years and can effortlessly fold themselves in half,” notes Yaz Purnell, a yoga teacher. But these comparisons are actually at odds with what yoga is about. “Yoga is so special because it’s about you, no one else. Try to close your eyes, let go of judgments and comparison, and just enjoy being able to move your body.”

7. Give Yourself Time To Decide If You Like It

It’s not unusual to be skeptical the first time (or even the first few times) you try something — and yoga is no exception. “Commit to practicing consistently, recommends Lilia Karimi, a yoga teacher. “Sometimes we are resistant to yoga at the start because it’s totally different from how we typically move our bodies. Yoga also encourages us to focus on our breath and how we’re feeling in the moment, which can be a scary and new feeling if you’ve never practiced it.”

So how many classes is enough? Barrett-Parker recommends sticking it out for at least 10 sessions. “What I see time and time again is that by 10 classes, you’re comfortable with the flow, you’re learning the names of the postures and, suddenly, you’re starting to see the benefits of practice.”

8. Adopt A Curious Mindset

“Come into class with a sense of curiosity about what or how you will feel during the poses and how you will feel afterward,” suggests Maggie Barchine, a yoga teacher and yoga therapist. “Be curious about your body getting into a pose and welcome what you notice you’re feeling without judgment.”

9. Use the Props!

Sometimes, people see needing yoga props like blocks, straps and cushions as a weakness, but they could help you enjoy yoga more. “Seriously, having a little more separation between your torso and the ground can make a lot of poses more comfortable, yet still challenging, which can make the practice much more enjoyable,” explains Liz Bolton, a yoga teacher.

10. Think Outside the “Yoga Class” Box

Turns out, you can get some benefits of yoga without ever setting foot in a formal class. “Learn Ujjayi breath online or with a teacher and practice a few Ujjayi breaths a day whenever you can,” recommends Namita Kulkarni, a yoga teacher. “This is a really powerful yoga technique, which counters our stress response and signals the body to move into parasympathetic (rest and restore) mode.”

11. Lean In To Your Resistance

If you still feel resistant to doing yoga, consider what that might mean. “Resistance is great; it means there’s something to learn,” notes Rae Davidson, a yoga teacher and coach. Consider: What specifically are you resisting? Where does it come from, and how can you overcome it? The answers might surprise you.

What Is Vibrational Energy?

By Marney A. White for Healthline.

You are a living energy field. Your body is composed of energy-producing particles, each of which is in constant motion. So, like everything and everyone else in the universe, you are vibrating and creating energy.

The field of vibrational medicine, sometimes called energy medicine, seeks to use the vibrational energy generated by and around your body to optimize your health.

To many people, the concept of energy fields in the body may sound more spiritual than medicinal.

More research must be done to understand how electrical and magnetic energy in the body stimulate chemical processes. But there’s growing evidence that these energies can be used to influence your health outcomes.

Here’s what we know so far.

What Do We Know About Vibrations?

Vibrations are a kind of rhythm. Rhythms happen on a grand scale, like seasonal changes and tidal patterns. They also happen within your body.

Heartbeatsbreathing rates, and circadian rhythms are examples of physiological rhythms we can see, feel, and measure.

But there are much smaller vibrations happening in your body, too. Inside each one of your cells, molecules vibrate at characteristic rates.

Using atomic force microscopes, researchers have detected vibrations on the nanoscale — much smaller than 1/1000th the diameter of a single human hair.

These vibrations generate electromagnetic energy waves. Researchers have found that vibrations and the electromagnetic energy associated with them cause changes in your cells, which can then affect how your body functions.

Different molecules vibrate at different rates — and those rates can speed up or slow down if conditions around the molecules change.

Temperature, for example, can change the speed of a molecule’s vibration.

What’s the Connection Between Thoughts, Behaviors, and Vibrations? 

Researchers have known for a long time that thoughts and behaviors affect the rhythms in your body.

For example, anxious thoughts trigger the release of stress hormones that stimulate your heart rate to speed up or slow down. The sound vibrations of music, likewise, affect thoughts, emotions, and body systems.

Vibrational energy experts think our behaviors and thoughts can also alter much smaller rhythms.

Proponents believe it’s possible to speed up or slow down the vibrations that occur at the cellular and atomic levels by changing our thoughts, behaviors — and even our surroundings.

Changing those nanovibrations, it is thought, could ripple outward, affecting our mental state and physical health.

What Are the Benefits of Vibrational Energy?

A growing body of research suggests that there’s a strong connection between your mind and your body.

It isn’t yet understood how vibrational energy fits into the relationship between the two. Proponents think you may be able to change your body’s vibrations to:

  • alter your mood
  • improve your physical health
  • help you achieve your goals and intentions

Vibrational energy experts claim that certain emotions and thought patterns, such as joy, peace, and acceptance, create high frequency vibrations, while other feelings and mindsets (such as angerdespair, and fear) vibrate at a lower rate.

There isn’t much scientific evidence to support this correlation. But there is plenty of evidence linking positive emotions and thinking patterns to better health and greater goal achievement.

Researchers are finding that vibrations of many kinds — electromagnetic, sound, and light — can be used to encourage healing and stimulate growth in the body.

How Can I Change My Vibrational Energy?

Vibrational energy experts recommend several strategies for elevating the vibrations in your body and your life.

Although more research needs to be done to understand whether and how these practices impact vibrational energy, many of the recommended practices are known to provide important health benefits.

Breath Work

Proponents say rhythmic deep breathing is a good way to realign your vibrational energy.

Research suggests that slow, controlled breathing can calm your heart rate and stimulate the areas of your brain that influence:

Meditation

Meditation generally involves comfortably sitting or lying down in a quiet zone, focusing your attention on body sensations or on a specified word or object, and allowing your responses to change as you meditate.

Studies have suggested that the vibrations produced during the rhythmic chanting of the syllable “om” temporarily deactivate the amygdala and other brain structures involved in processing emotion.

Research also suggests that meditation may:

  • change your blood pressure
  • reduce your pain sensitivity
  • affect your mood

It’s also thought that vibrational energy may help alleviate the symptoms of:

Gratitude

Taking time to notice and appreciate what is good in your life is often recommended as a way to raise your vibrations.

Health experts say intentionally and regularly expressing gratitude can:

  • enhance your psychological well-being
  • lower stress
  • make you more inclined to participate in activities that promote your physical health
Generosity

Generosity is thought to raise your vibrational energy because it’s considered a pro-social behavior.

In addition to its potential effects on your vibrational energy, there’s evidence generosity could help you live longer.

2013 study found that generosity may prolong your life by shielding you from the harmful effects of stress.

Diet

Vibrational energy proponents say it’s important to eat foods that contain higher energy levels.

Keep in mind that no research has been done to quantify vibrations in food groups and that many of these foods are simply valuable for their associated health benefits.

Vibrational energy advocates propose that a diet rich in the following foods, which are linked to numerous health benefits, can increase vibrational energy:

Vibrational energy advocates also suggest that the following foods are not considered to have any valuable vibrational energy and may also have negative impacts on your health:

Outdoor Immersion

To raise or reset your vibrational energy, get out into nature as often as you can.

Exposure to natural sound waves, light waves, negative ions, and green spaces are all believed to benefit you.

Multiple studies have found that interacting with nature:

  • lowers stress
  • lowers blood pressure
  • reduces fatigue
  • reduces cortisol levels
  • may lower your risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases

A walk in the woods or a picnic beside a high-energy waterfall is also likely to increase your cognitive functioning and your sense of well-being.

Therapeutic Touch, Healing Touch, and Reiki

These three modalities are considered energy therapies. This means that a trained therapist can use a hands-on approach to move the energy in your body (called your biofields) to improve your health.

Typically used with other conventional medical treatments, these therapies have been part of cancer treatment for decades.

Vibrational energy specialists recommend them for correcting the flow of the energy in and around your body.

Yoga

Yoga unites the mind-body benefits of breathing, meditation, and rhythmic movement.

Little research has measured the effects of yoga on your vibrational energy.

But numerous studies show that regularly practicing rhythmic yoga poses increases the size, function, and connectivity of brain structures devoted to your cognitive abilities.

Yoga has also been shown to:

Healthy Relationships

Energy specialists agree that healthy relationships raise your vibrations, while conflict has the opposite effect.

The National Institutes of Health reports that your relationships have a “powerful effect” on your health.

If you want to raise your vibe, lower your stress levels, and live a longer, healthier life, it’s important to develop a network of relationships.

You need friends, family members, neighbors, colleagues, and other social connections to:

  • share your interests
  • provide brain-stimulating conversations
  • imbue your life with a sense of belonging and self-worth

Are There Alternatives to Vibrational Energy?

In addition to the activities recommended above, you may want to learn more about other integrative and complementary alternative medical therapies.

Each of these therapies is based in part on improving the flow of energy through your mind and body:

When Should I See a Doctor?

Raising your vibrational energy may provide positive health benefits, but it shouldn’t be used on its own to treat mental or physical health conditions.

If you’re experiencing physical, mental, or emotional symptoms that are interfering with your quality of life, it’s important to seek conventional treatments alongside integrative or complementary therapies.

Talk to a healthcare provider about how to blend vibrational energy therapies with targeted medical treatment so you can relieve your symptoms and treat any underlying health issues.

The Takeaway

The vibrations happening at the molecular level in your body may be tiny, but it could turn out that they have a seismic effect on your health.

The field of energy medicine is growing. If you want to enrich your understanding of the ways energy and vibration influence your health, reach out to an integrative medicine specialist in your area.

While there isn’t much research to explain the benefits and drawbacks of vibrational energy, many of the techniques associated with vibrational energy therapy provide well-researched health benefits.

Deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and meditation may boost your vibrational energy. Interacting with nature, eating a good diet, developing healthy relationships, and practicing gratitude and generosity can also help.

If you want to work with a health professional to elevate your vibe, a Reiki or Therapeutic Touch practitioner might be good options.

Can Yoga Relieve Symptoms of PCOS?

By Amanda Kallen for Healthline.

Yoga as a way to manage PCOS symptoms? Yes, please!

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) affects 6 to 12 percentTrusted Source of women during their childbearing years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This common female endocrine disorder causes your ovaries to produce an excess of male hormones, resulting in irregular periods, weight gain, and problems with fertility and ovulation.

But recent research points to a regular practice of yoga as an effective way to manage PCOS symptoms.

How Yoga Benefits Symptoms of PCOS

 

Although yoga cannot cure PCOS, it may help with some of the symptoms.

Yoga May Decrease Testosterone Levels

According to a recent study, practicing yoga may help decrease testosterone levels and alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression in women with PCOS. More specifically, participants who did a one-hour yoga class three times a week for three months reduced testosterone levels by 29 percent.

In the study, researchers randomly assigned 31 women with PCOS between 23 and 42 years of age to either a mindful yoga group or control group. Classes happened three times a week for one hour each, for a total of three months. Participants’ endocrine, cardiometabolic, and psychological measurements were taken initially, and then again after three months.

After the testing period, researchers found that women who completed the yoga intervention (13 total) had lower free testosterone levels (5.96 vs. 4.24 pg/mL; P<0.05). Free testosterone is a normal hormone that can be elevated above typical female ranges in women with PCOS.

Study participants also saw an improvement in measures of anxiety and depression.

Yoga is Accessible for Many Fitness Levels

Although positive changes in PCOS symptoms and anxiety levels can occur with any moderate aerobic exercise, yoga is accessible for many fitness levels and a wide range of ages. This is not always the case with other forms of exercise like swimming, cycling, walking, or running. Plus, yoga has a mindfulness component that helps promote relaxation and balance moods.

Monisha Bhanote, MD, FASCP, FCAP, triple board-certified physician, and Yoga Medicine instructor, says that adding an integrative approach to women with PCOS can be beneficial as individuals can show an increased prevalence of depression and anxiety.

“These mood disorders may be directly related to biochemical imbalances and exacerbated by stress related to body image and fertility issues, and utilizing a mind-body approach with self-care should be encouraged,” she adds.

Are There Specific Yoga Poses that Can Help?

 

Yoga has a wide breadth of practice. From a gentle flow to advanced poses reserved for experienced yogis, this ancient practice has something for all levels. That said, some styles may be a better fit for finding relief from PCOS.

“In seeking relief from the pain and other symptoms of PCOS, I recommend the more gentle yoga poses, especially those focusing on stretching and relaxation,” says Lisa Burnett, certified Pranakriya prenatal yoga instructor and owner of My OM Yoga.

As opposed to building core strength and endurance, Burnett says you want to focus on the abdominal area, but with tenderness and grace.

Bhanote likes to recommend yoga poses that increase mindfulness and bring blood flow to the pelvic region. With that in mind, here are six of their favorite poses for managing the symptoms of PCOS plus a bonus breathing exercise.

Garland Pose (Malasana)

Malasana can strengthen the pelvic floor and abdominal core while opening the hips. Bhanote says this can benefit individuals with PCOS by increasing circulation and blood flow to the pelvic region, improving metabolism, and aiding digestion.

You can use a block or two under your glutes for support until your body becomes familiar with this position.

  1. Start with feet about a mat’s width apart.
  2. Bend your knees and lower your buttocks toward the floor to come into a squat position.
  3. Bring your hands in prayer position (anjali mudra). You can allow your thumbs to touch your sternum to help keep the chest lifted.
  4. Press your upper arms/triceps inside of your knees and stay engaged with spine straight (elbows press into knees to open the hips).
  5. Extend the low back and draw shoulder blades toward one another.
  6. Remain in this position for up to 5 breaths.
  7. Come out of it by straightening your legs.
  8. Repeat the pose for a total of three times.

It’s OK if your heels don’t remain planted on the ground when you come into the position. Support the heels with a rolled blanket to help keep you balanced and upright.

Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)

Bridge Pose can calm the brain and reduce stress and anxiety while relieving tension in the back muscles.

  1. Start by lying on your back with your knees folded and feet hip-distance apart on the floor.
  2. Place your hands, palm down beside your body.
  3. Inhale while slowly lifting your lower back, mid-back, then upper back off the floor (while the pelvis lifts up, lengthen from pelvis to sternum).
  4. Gently roll the shoulders and bring the chest toward the chin.
  5. Keep thighs parallel to each other and the floor with all four corners of the feet pressed firmly into the ground.
  6. Breathe with ease and stay in this pose for 1–2 minutes.
  7. Repeat up to 5 times.
Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)

Dhanurasana may help relieve menstrual discomfort, stimulate reproductive organs, and regulate menstrual flow, according to Bhanote. “It increases circulation to the pelvic region, releases tension from abdominal organs, and also stretches the neck, shoulders, and legs muscles,” she says. Overall, it may improve anxiety and decrease stress.

  1. Start lying down on your stomach with your arms on the side of your body.
  2. Fold your knees up and reach your hands to hold your ankles.
  3. Breathe in and lift your chest up off the ground while pulling your legs up.
  4. Hold the pose for 15 seconds, and remember to keep breathing.
  5. To release, bring your chest and legs back toward the ground, release the hold on your ankles, and relax, face down.
  6. Repeat for a total of 3 times.

If you cannot reach both of your ankles at the same time, you can do one leg at a time, or use a yoga strap for assistance.


Cat-Cow Pose (Chakravakasana)

The Cat-Cow Pose is also high on Burnett’s go-to list for PCOS.

  1. Get in tabletop position with your palms down, wrists and elbows aligned under shoulders, knees under hips, ankles straight back from the knees. You can curl the toes under or tops of the feet down, as the flow moves you.
  2. Inhale, bend the elbows, lower the belly, lift the chin and the tail bone simultaneously, moving each of the vertebrae of the spinal column in a wave.
  3. Reverse the movement on the exhale by tucking the tail bone and chin, and doming the back as you draw the navel toward the spine as the chin tips toward the chest.
  4. Repeat for desired amount of times.
Head-to-Knee Pose (Janusirsana)

Burnett says this is a great “all-inclusive” pose.

  1. Sit down on a yoga mat.
  2. Extend the left leg to the corner of your mat, foot flexed, back of the heel down, toes to the sky. The right knee is bent with the foot tucked as close as comfortable to the groin.
  3. Extend your arms over the legs, breathe in deeply, and exhale, moving the upper body gently toward the left foot, while slowly bringing your right arm in an arc over your head. A strap is nice to create resistance and go deeper into this stretch of the rib cage facing the sky (the right on this side).
  4. Feel the twist of the torso, the shoulder/hip opener, the gentle massage of the sacroiliac joint, and the movement of kidneys, ovaries, and each internal organ with each deep breath.
  5. Do 7–12 on each side.
Butterfly or Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddhakonasana)

Burnett says this is an excellent restorative pose that completely supports the spine and back body, while gently releasing tension from the shoulders and chest, and opening the heart and the hips.

This pose is appropriate for every level. To modify, use blankets or pillows under the shoulders, under the head at an incline, and under the thighs.

  1. Begin seated on the mat with legs extended in front of you.
  2. Bend your knees and bring your heels toward you to press the soles together. Your knees will drop to the sides.
  3. Lean backward until your back is on the floor. Arms will be supported and open, palms up.
  4. Close your eyes, breathe deeply for 3–5 minutes, or longer if you are comfortable.
  5. Be sure to come out of the pose mindfully, by rolling to your right side and pausing there for several breaths and then up to seated, or in any way that works best for you.
Bonus Breathing Technique (Kapalbhati Pranayama)

“Kapalbhati is a rapid breathing exercise that may help a few of the characteristics associated with PCOS such as weight management, blood sugar levels, and stress levels,” says Bhanote.

In this technique you will inhale normally but exhale with force and the help of the abdominal muscles. This is best if performed on an empty stomach. This breathing exercise is not recommended during pregnancy.

  1. Sit in a chair or cross-legged on the floor.
  2. Close your eyes and try to relax the entire body.
  3. Inhale deeply through the nose while expanding the chest.
  4. Exhale with forceful abdominal muscle contractions to relax.
  5. Repeat 10 times (1 cycle) up to 5 minutes while beginning.

What Other Benefits Does Yoga Provide?

What makes yoga practically perfect is the ability to benefit your body and mind at the same time.

Several studies back up the pros of yoga for a variety of mood disorders, health conditions, and overall well-being. While not an exhaustive list, here are some of the more notable benefits of yoga:

Can Other Forms of Exercise Benefit PCOS Symptoms?

Yoga is not the only form of movement that can help with PCOS. Other forms of moderate exercise can also help you manage PCOS symptoms.

According to the CDC, participating in physical activities like walking, jogging, cycling, and swimming can help balance hormones, boost your mood, reduce weight, and manage blood sugar and insulin levels.

Moderate exercise in particular can increase your body’s sensitivity to insulin, which reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and more, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Takeaway 

Living with PCOS can feel frustrating at times. Finding ways to manage the symptoms and boost your overall health can help you feel better.

Practicing yoga regularly may help ease the symptoms of PCOS and decrease testosterone levels. It can also promote relaxation.

Remember, yoga is only one part of an overall treatment plan for PCOS. Diet, cardiovascular exercise, strength training, mindfulness-based meditation, and medication are all treatment options your doctor may recommend.

To Track or Not to Track Your Z’s

By Sarah Munn for Weight Watchers.

The pros and cons of tracking your sleep.

Here at WW, we’ve been talking a lot about getting good sleep – tips for better rest, overcoming nighttime disturbanceshow exercise affects your sleep, and the impact of sleep on your mood and hormones. Now we’re looking at the pros and cons of tracking your sleep – some think it’s a great idea, some not so much. You can give it a try and see if it works for you.

The idea of tracking your sleep is becoming more common with the continued popularity of wearable fitness and health monitors.

Wearable technology has been the No. 1 fitness trend, according to the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual survey, since 2016 (save for 2018, when it dropped to No. 3). Fitness trackers can tell you how many steps you’ve walked, how many calories you’ve burned, what your resting heart rate is, and many of them can also give you insight on your sleep patterns.

“Sleep is one of the most underrated, yet most beneficial aspects to our health and well-being,” says Monisha Bhanote, MD, FCAP, a triple board-certified physician and Yoga Medicine® teacher. “Individuals who have sleep issues are at increased risk for developing anxiety, emotional disorders and depression.”

She points out that a Norwegian study found that lack of sleep is a risk factor for anxiety and people with insomnia were 20 times more likely to develop a panic disorder.

“Using a sleep tracker may help you improve your sleep by recording data that you may not have realized was affecting you,” Bhanote says. “They go beyond telling you how many hours you are sleeping to addressing sleep efficiency, restfulness, latency, timing and total sleep. Sleep trackers can also tell how long you are in REM, light and deep sleep.”

One of the most useful measurable items in a sleep tracker is heart rate variability, or HRV, Bhanote says.

“HRV is the variation between each heartbeat and yet another way to track well-being. The variation is controlled by our autonomic nervous system (ANS), which is subdivided into our sympathetic (fight and flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) systems,” she explains.

“So HRV is a non-invasive way to observe imbalances in ANS. The higher our HRV, the greater our capacity to switch gears between fight and flight [and] rest and digest.”

This flexibility, she says, makes us more resilient. And, she says, recent research has shown a relationship between low HRV and worsening depression and anxiety.

“In medical settings,” Bhanote says, “we analyze HRV with an EKG [electrocardiogram], but now there are a number of trackers that can help at home.”

A sleep tracker can also be a source of motivational behavioural change, Bhanote adds. “It may give you insight into your own sleep and how your body functions.”

Sleep health educator and founder of Insomnia Coach Martin Reed has a different perspective – and if you struggle with insomnia, you may agree.

“If someone has chronic insomnia, sleep-tracking devices can be very unhelpful, since they risk increasing sleep-related worry and anxiety and this makes sleep more difficult,” he says.

He also notes there are some “question marks” over the accuracy of these devices, particularly for people who have insomnia.

“Since, ultimately, the key to better sleep for people with chronic insomnia is to avoid the thoughts and behaviors that perpetuate sleep disruption (this includes sleep effort, ongoing sleep-related research, and sleep-related thoughts and worries), we can see how checking each night of sleep using a sleep-tracking device can be unhelpful,” Reed adds.

“In my experience working with clients with chronic insomnia, they often report how much better they feel when they stop using a sleep-tracking device.”

Reed says, “When it comes to sleep, all that really matters is how you feel. If you feel refreshed after a night of sleep and can get through the day, it’s likely that you are sleeping just fine.”

Whether you decide to track your sleep or not, getting good quality sleep is important.

“Having good sleep hygiene should be part of everyone’s well-being plan,” says Bhanote. “Think of it like having good dental hygiene to prevent cavities, but good sleep hygiene can restore the ability of the human body to heal and repair.”

Here are Bhanote’s tips for good sleep hygiene:

 

1. Maintain a Regular Sleep Routine: 

“This includes going to bed and waking at the same time daily, even on weekends. The variable for this can be up to an hour, but ideally you want it to remain the same every night of the week.”

2. Avoid Naps When Possible

“If you have ever noticed when you take an afternoon nap, your evening sleep is not as good, it is because we are creating sleep fragmentation, which can accumulate overtime.”

3. Avoid Caffeine in the Afternoon

“Each person metabolizes caffeine differently, but on average it takes five hours for the stimulatory effect of caffeine to wear off and then 10 hours for it to leave the body. Afternoon caffeine habits can keep one up at night.”

4. Use Your Bed for Sleep and Sex

“If you watch TV or read in bed, you are now associating bed with a place of wakefulness.” Bhanote also notes that the blue light from your TV, phone or tablet can adversely affect your circadian rhythm. If you need to use devices at night, she suggests trying blue light-blocking glasses.

5. Avoid Alcohol

“Many people like to believe that having a drink in the evening helps them relax and fall asleep, but that is quite the contrary. Alcohol may make them fall asleep faster, but alcohol disrupts circadian functioning and reduces our bodies’ natural melatonin production.”

6. Create a Bedtime Routine

“[This] may include a warm bath, meditation [or] restorative yoga poses.”

What Is MFR? Here’s Your In-Depth Guide to Self Myofascial Release

Your body is composed of much more than just muscle and bone.

Fascia is an interconnected system within the body that moves from superficial to deep to visceral. It is one, continuous layer of connection that exists in the body from head to toe, front to back, and side to side.

This fascia surrounds your bones and organs. It connects bone to bone and muscle to bone. It surrounds groups of muscles and individual muscles – down to every last muscle spindle.

Your fascia plays a huge role in how your body interprets the world around you and in how your body communicates.

Within the last decade, fascia has become an important aspect of research for movement professionals and scientists all over the world. Through the study of fascia, we are learning the important role it plays in our ability to adapt and become resilient as a species.

To learn more about fascia and self myofascial release, click here to read the full article originally published on YogiApproved.com.

4 Ways a Varied Yoga Practice Supports Healthy Fascia

By Rachel LandSenior Yoga Medicine® teacher, for Yoga Digest.

Many of us, myself included, practice yoga asana with the aim of improving or maintaining well-rounded good health. One of the key physical impacts of yoga practice is on our connective tissue, or fascia.

Fascia plays several vital roles in supporting our health. It connects and coordinates our various body structures into a coordinated whole, and allows for movement between them. It transmits force from one part of the body to others, and creates both strength and adaptability. It cushions and protects internal structures like blood vessels and nerves, and contains key immune cells. It contains more nerves than any other bodily structure other than the skin, providing our central nervous system with a rich tapestry of information about our bodies and the environment around us.

Yoga is principally experiential, rather than theoretical, and regardless of what style we practice or what level of experience we have, we almost always feel better after class. However it’s nice to know that science backs up this experience: research suggests that a varied asana practice offers several key benefits to our fascia, and thereby to our overall wellbeing.

Whole-Body Movement

Improved mobility, increased proprioception, and decreased perceived pain.

There’s no doubt our bodies are made to move; simply getting out of the car after a long road trip is enough to remind us of that. That’s why we hear sayings like “move it or lose it” and “motion is lotion”. And they’re not wrong: varied movement not only feels good, but is also good for us.

The first reason is the thixotropic effect. Our fascia varies in viscosity depending how much movement it is exposed to. When we are static for long periods, such as overnight or during that long road trip, it becomes more solid; when we move, it becomes more gel-like. This quality is called thixotropy. The implication for asana practice is that simply taking our bodies into various shapes across multiple planes—changing the state of our fascia from sol to gel—allows for freer and easier movement.

The second reason is the information it feeds our proprioceptive sensors. As we move, we send a constant stream of information to nerves in the fascia of our tendons and joint capsules. These nerves relay detailed information to our nervous system on where we are positioned in space, a sense called proprioception. By providing those nerves with more varied information we hone our proprioceptive sense, training ourselves to move with more sureness and grace.

Interestingly, research (1) suggests that proprioceptive inputs and nociceptive (threat or pain) inputs compete for the same nervous system pathways, implying that improved proprioception could also reduce perceived pain.

The implications for yoga practice are clear: moving our bodies through different planes of motion and in orientations to gravity can have wide-reaching benefits. So experiment with different poses and variations, teachers and practice styles. Play with your pace and intensity. Build your proprioceptive sense by practicing on different surfaces, moving your gaze point or drishti or even closing your eyes.

Gentle Long-Held Stretches

Long-lasting hydration and an anti-inflammatory effect

Hydration is key to fascial health. Firstly, fluid allows for glide between tissue layers, facilitating free movement between neighboring structures. Secondly, fluid makes our fascia stronger by creating pressure from the inside out; to understand how that occurs, visualize a plant drooping before watering and springing up after it.

Long-lasting but low intensity poses, like those we practice in Yin Yoga, offer a helpful boost to fascial hydration. These poses act on our fascia that same way that squeezing a sponge creates space for it to refill with fresh fluid. Subjecting our fascia to sustained tension—whether by lengthening, compressing or twisting—briefly drives fluid out, and this process prompts a hydration rebound that continues for hours after the tension has been released and results in higher than pre-stretch fluid levels (2) .

As a bonus, recent research also suggests an intriguing link between long duration, low- intensity stretching (10 minutes twice a day) and decreased inflammation (3). So incorporate some long, gentle stretches in your asana practice. Rather than looking for strong sensation, enjoy feeling the more subtle influence of tension—lengthening, compressing and twisting your fascia in varied directions to generate a nourishing rebound in hydration.

Eccentric Loading

Enhanced collagen synthesis.

Fluid is the largest component of our fascia, and a key source of its strength; collagen is another. Collagen fibers are the scaffolding of our soft tissues and are laid down, or synthesized, to repair tissue after damage, or in response to load. Areas of our body that are exposed to higher load (such as body weight, gravity or impact) experience higher collagen synthesis, and moreover the collagen fibres are laid down in the direction of the load.

Yoga isn’t all about moving and stretching; there can be a significant strength aspect as well. The specific kind of strength work that seems to best stimulate collagen production is eccentric strength work – where we activate a muscle in its lengthened position (4). This kind of muscle engagement stimulates orderly collagen production, making the fascia in that area stronger or faster to repair.

In yoga practice, these opportunities abound. You’ve felt eccentric muscle engagement in the triceps on the backs of your arms as you lower from plank to chaturanga, in the quads on the fronts of your thighs as you bend your knees from tadasana into chair or fierce pose, in the hamstrings on the backs of your thighs as you hinge from tadasana into uttanasana, or in the top side of your body in extended side angle or triangle pose.

Seek out these poses and variations in your practice. Look for opportunities to engage your tissues as they lengthen, then maximize the benefits by lingering there for an extra breath or two. That challenge will encourage the fascia to adapt, boosting collagen production in the direction of load and making your fascia stronger and more resilient.

Self Myofascial Release

Overall fascia health, including rehydration and glide between tissue layers.

Our muscles are connected, surrounded, and interpenetrated with a network of fascia—hence the term myofascia. Myofascial release is any technique that stretches, squeezes, or sheers our myofascia; self-myofascial release often involves using body weight on a foam roller, tennis ball, yoga block or other tool to create that therapeutic compression.

Now that you know that fascia benefits from twisting and compression as much as it does from stretching, it’s easy to understand how self-myofascial release can be a helpful adjunct to more traditional asana practices. Chief benefits are improved hydration and collagen synthesis, and maintenance of healthy movement between muscle layers. It can also offer novel stimulus to the nervous system, helping us recognize and release patterns of tension as well as improving proprioception.

So, while traditional yoga poses offer far-reaching benefits to our fascia, we can also benefit from branching out. Incorporating targeted pressure from a foam roller, massage balls or a soft yoga block could be exactly the boost our fascia needs to keep us healthy and feeling good.

Our physical health is not the only reason to commit to regular yoga practice, but for many of us it is a significant factor. Humans have felt the benefits of a physical practice for generations, and science is now helping us understand why. The key takeaway from current research is that we reap the most benefits from a varied and well-rounded yoga practices.

Other References:

  1. Effects on c-Fos expression in the PAG and thalamus by selective input via tetrodotoxin-resistant afferent fibers from muscle and skin. Soghra Gholami, Daniela Lambertz, Ulrich Hoheisel, Siegfried Mense. Journal of Neuroscience Research (2006). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16962193/.
  2. Strain Hardening of Fascia: Static stretching of dense fibrous connective tissues can induce a temporary stiffness increase accompanied by enhanced matrix hydration. Robert Schleip PhD MA, Lutz Duerselen PhD, Andry Vleeming PhD, Ian L. Naylor PhD, Frank Lehmann-Horn MD PhD, Adjo Zorn PhD, Heike Jaeger PhD, Werner Klingler MD. Journal of Bodywork Therapy Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies (2012). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22196433/.
  3. Stretching of the back improves gait, mechanical sensitivity and connective tissue inflammation in a rodent model. Sarah M Corey, Margaret A Vizzard, Nicole A Bouffard, Gary J Badger, Helene M Langevin. Plos ONE (2012). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22238664/.
  4. Effect of eccentric training on the plantar flexor muscle-tendon tissue properties. Nele Nathalie Mahieu, Peter McNair, Ann Cools, Caroline D’Haen, Katrien Vandermeulen, Erik Witvrouw. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (2008). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18091014/.
  5. Effects of yoga on chronic neck pain: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Holger Cramer, Petra Klose, Benno Brinkhaus, Andreas Michalsen, Gustav Dobos. Clinical Rehabilitation (2017). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29050510/.
  6. I can’t find it! Distorted body image and tactile dysfunction in patients with chronic back pain. G Lorimer Moseley. Pain (2008). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18786763/.
  7. Is there a relationship between lumbar proprioception and low back pain? A systematic review with Meta-Analysis. Matthew Hoyan Tong, Seyed Javad Mousavi, Henri Kiers, Paulo Ferreira, Kathryn Refshauge, Jaap van Dieën. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (2017). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27317866/.
  8. Superior short-term results with eccentric calf muscle training compared to concentric training in a randomized prospective multi-center study on patients with chronic Achilles tendinosis. N Mafi, R Lorentzon, H Alfredson. Knee Surgery, Sports Traumatology, Arthroscopy (2001). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11269583/.
  9. The role and implementation of eccentric training in athletic rehabilitation: tendinopathy, hamstring strains, and ACL reconstruction. Daniel Lorenz, Michael Reiman. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy (2011). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21655455/.
  10. Yoga for chronic low back pain: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Susan Holtzman, R Thomas Beggs. Pain Research and Management (2013). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23894731/

Meditation Benefits Your Health More Than You Think

By Lauren Cahn for Health Digest.

The word “meditation” derives from a Latin term that means “to ponder,” according to Psychology Today. It’s not known precisely when (or even why) people began to meditate, but the general consensus among experts is that meditation has been in practice since ancient times (5,000 to 3,500 BCE). By the fourth century BCE, different cultures were beginning to develop their own versions of the practice, but all called for using the mind to observe, well, the mind — without judgment and without holding on to what we are observing. This is known as cultivating “mindfulness.”

It is often assumed that meditation must be practiced in a state of physical stillness, but meditation can also be practiced during movement, including yoga and walking, Lori Ryland, psychologist and chief clinical officer at Pinnacle Treatment Centers, explained in an interview with Health Digest. What really constitutes as “meditation” is the cultivation of mindfulness, which as it turns out is a powerful tool that virtually anyone can use to support their health, both physical and mental.

Meditation Can Help You Cope with Anxiety

Research has shown that meditation can help alleviate anxiety. However, observing our thoughts may not always be pleasant, psychologist Lori Ryland told Health Digest, particularly since our thoughts are often the source of our own anxiety. In fact, the very act of meditating may even create feelings of frustration and stress. However, as we watch our thoughts give way to feelings of frustration and stress, we are inevitably confronted with the knowledge that there is an actual difference between our “self” and our “thoughts.”

In other words, we come to understand that who we are is separate from what we think. We also come to understand that thoughts are fleeting; they come and go. The experience of consciously observing our own thoughts teaches us that our thoughts have no inherent power over us. We can even go so far as to let them go, psychotherapist Lisa Hutchison told Health Digest. As we practice meditation, we learn to recognize which thoughts are creating anxiety (e.g., worrying about what isn’t within our control), and we can shift our focus and attention on thoughts that are less anxiety-provoking.

Meditation Can Help Ease Depression

“Many people with depression or anxiety turn to … nonconventional interventions, including yoga [and] meditation,” a trio of scientists out of East Carolina University Brody School of Medicine, Greenville, North Carolina pointed out in a 2019 article published in the academic journal American Family Physician. Yes, meditation can help ease the symptoms of depression — perhaps even more so than anxiety — the scientists pointed out, and those positive effects have been demonstrated to last for six months or more and are associated with no apparent side-effects.  

Health Digest asked certified meditation instructor Paul Harrison how it is that meditation can help ease the emotional pain of depression. When we practice meditation, he explained, we are learning that we may have negative emotions, but we can observe and acknowledge them without reacting. What this does is help to reduce the power those thoughts and feelings may have to cause us discomfort.

A Regular Meditation Practice Can Help with OCD

People with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) experience recurrent thoughts that are unpleasant and intrusive that are sometimes accompanied by a compulsion to engage in repetitive behaviors designed to alleviate the obsessive thoughts, according to a 2019 study.

It’s estimated that about 25 percent of American adults experience some degree of OCD. Medication and behavioral therapy help some, but not all, people dealing with OCD, so it may be comforting to know that meditation has been proven effective in countering obsessive thoughts, yoga and meditation instructor Daniela Mattos told Health Digest.

The 2019 study referred to above, which was published in Frontiers in Psychology, is the third clinical trial and the second randomized controlled trial to demonstrate that a regular meditation practice can provide satisfactory relief for people for whom pharmaceutical and therapeutic intervention have proven unsatisfactory. The benefit appears to be in observing thoughts without immediate reaction. In fact, the study authors go so far as to suggest some clinicians consider adding it as a protocol in the first instance, in order to amplify the effects of medication and/or therapy.

Meditating Regularly Can Help You Learn to Focus Better

Meditation can help us to learn to focus even when we are faced with multiple distractions. When we meditate, we practice observing what we are thinking in the present moment, and without judgment or any reaction whatsoever. Even if observing those thoughts takes us momentarily outside of the present moment, meditation teaches us to simply observe where our mind has gone and return to the present moment. You can therefore see how when we practice meditation, we are (whether we realize it or not) practicing the art of focusing amid life’s many distractions, psychotherapist Lisa Hutchison told Health Digest.

“In our modern society, we have multiple computer screens open. We try to focus, but we keep getting distracted by this, that, and the other,” Hutchison explained. “When you practice meditation, you practice selecting the thoughts to focus on, and which thoughts should just be allowed to fade into the background.”

Meditation Benefits Your Immune System

In 2016, the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences published the results of the first comprehensive review of randomized controlled trials that examine the effects of meditation on the immune system. The results suggest that practicing meditation can have positive effects on the body’s disease-, aging-, and inflammation-fighting mechanisms. More research is needed, of course, but this shows promise, according to the study authors. And Valerie Knopik, the director of research for Yoga Medicine, told Health Digest that she is optimistic that the results will be replicated.

Another factor that makes meditation helpful in supporting the immune system may be how it affects the good bacteria in our gut. “Our gut microbiota plays an important role in our immune response,” Knopik explained. “When we are under stress, our bodies respond with a fight-or-flight response that causes a cascade of events, including a release of hormones that are known to disrupt the gut microbiota.”

A 2017 study published in Advances in Mind Body Medicine demonstrates that meditation may directly interfere with the release hormones or their effect on the microbiome, with the end result being improved immune function.

Meditation May Help You Fight or Avoid Some Respiratory Infections

The results of a 2012 study published in the Annals of Family Medicine bode well for meditation’s potential to help improve the outcome of certain infections. In that study, 149 adults over the age of 50 were randomized into one of three groups. One group was given eight weeks of training in meditation, one was given eight weeks of moderate-intensity sustained exercise, and one was the control group who were simply observed, along with the other two groups, over the course of the cold and flu season.

The researchers found that the meditation and exercise groups had fewer acute respiratory infections than the control group. Additionally, those in the meditation group experience shorter “illness duration.” And since COVID-19 causes, among other things, acute respiratory symptoms, this study supports that there may be some value in meditating as a preventative, psychologist and chief clinical officer at Pinnacle Treatment Centers, Lori Ryland, told Health Digest. Of course, meditation is not a cure-all for the coronavirus. However, it’s a healthy practice that you may find worth adding to your routine.

Practicing Meditation Can Help You to Cope Better with Physical Pain

Meditation can help us to better cope with physical pain, chiropractor Alex Trauberg told Health Digest. That’s because cultivating mindfulness teaches us to separate our thoughts from what we might be feeling, whether emotionally or physically. “Learning to be mindful helps you look at what’s going on inside you as if you were observing it from outside, which can help you to transform how you perceive physical stimuli.” The way it works, Dr. Trauberg explained, is by putting mental distance between yourself and the uncomfortable feelings.

“Most people try to ignore their pain,” noted Dr. Trauberg. “This is the opposite approach.” Instead of ignoring your pain, you focus on it. Trauberg’s findings are supported by a 2012 article published in the academic journal Neuroscience Letters, which reviewed the brain mechanisms involved in meditation-related pain relief and theorized that meditation-related pain relief may share a common neural pathway with other effective cognitive pain-modulation techniques.

When You Meditate Regularly, You May Start to Sleep Better

Insomnia is one of the most prevalent health concerns in the population and clinical practice,” according to a 2020 study published in the academic journal, Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. But one of the benefits of meditation is helping support better sleep, the study highlighted. The practice of meditation helps to focus the mind on the present moment and increase awareness of one’s external surroundings and inner sensations, Valerie Knopik, the director of research for Yoga Medicine, explained to Health Digest. Doing so can help banish ruminating thoughts and emotional reactivity that can contribute to difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.

In addition, meditation can help increase the amount of naturally occurring melatonin circulating in the body, and melatonin supports both falling asleep and enjoying a more restful sleep, according to the Florida Medical Clinic. Moreover, meditation helps alleviate the symptoms of some mental health disorders. This, too, can promote sleep considering insomnia is often a symptom of conditions like anxiety and depression.

Meditation Can Help You Recover From Your Workouts Faster

One particularly interesting way that meditation can benefit your health is that it can help you better recover from working out. “Deep, slow breathing has been shown to help calm the parasympathetic nervous system,” certified personal trainer and meditation instructor Patrick Henigan told Health Digest. “The parasympathetic nervous system governs your response to stress, including activating your fight or flight reaction.” Working out is a form of stress, albeit a physical one and one that we impose upon ourselves intentionally and with the purpose of building strength and stamina. 

Nevertheless, physical stress is stress, and your body responds to it the same way it responds to other forms of stress, including releasing the hormone cortisol into the blood. Elevated cortisol levels can inhibit muscle growth and even encourage the body to store fat. By practicing meditation, especially immediately after a workout session, you may be able to help calm the parasympathetic nervous system, thus reducing the amount of cortisol released in the blood. In addition, meditation helps support better sleep, which Henigan told Health Digest helps support better muscle recovery.

Meditation May Improve Your Athletic Performance

“Meditation can do a lot to help athletes achieve peak performance levels,” meditation instructor Paul Harrison told Health Digest. This is, in part, because meditation can reduce cortisol levels and thus make post-workout recovery more effective. Plus, meditation can support a better night’s sleep. But the reasons also go beyond the physical. The practice of meditation helps with mental focus, and it helps us let go of counterproductive thoughts. That is why many professional athletes keep a regular meditation practice in their toolkit.

For example, Golden State Warriors basketball player Klay Thompson told AP News that his meditation practice helps him to cope with the pressures that go along with an NBA career, and to play a more focused game (via USA Today). Earlier in his career, Thompson sometimes had trouble letting go of a game even after the final buzzer, and that could undercut his performance in the next game. Meditation has learned to help him stay in the moment, which allows him to shrug off, say, a poor shooting performance, and then get back to work. 

Meditating Regularly Can Help You Cultivate a Better Body Image

A regular meditation practice may benefit your life by improving your self-esteem. There are a number of different theories as to why this may be. Certified personal trainer and meditation instructor Patrick Henigan told Health Digest that the act of spending quiet time observing our thoughts without judgment gives us a much-needed opportunity to connect with and appreciate ourselves.

Ahmad Mickens, founder and head boxing and personal training coach at Revolution Training in Stamford, Connecticut, previously told Health Digest that committing to any daily healthy practice can do amazing things for one’s self-esteem, and those results can spread throughout all aspects of your life. 

Lori Ryland, psychologist and chief clinical officer at Pinnacle Treatment Centers, pointed out to Health Digest that the mere act of spending time consciously observing our thoughts makes us aware that we are separate from our thoughts, which goes a long way toward helping to separate ourselves from whatever it is we “think” we should be. Our self-esteem often suffers because we are not enough of whatever it is we think we should be, but meditation can help free us to see ourselves in a different, kinder light.

If You Practice Meditating Regularly, You May Notice a Change to Your Appearance

Meditation may not only help you to feel better about yourself, but actually make you look better, according to certified meditation instructor Paul Harrison. Pointing out that many famous models and celebs maintain a regular meditation practice, Harrison explained to Health Digest that this may come down to regulating cortisol levels.

Meditation is known to help decrease the amount of cortisol (aka stress hormone) circulating through our bodies. Higher cortisol levels not only cause us to experience unhealthy food cravings, they also inhibit the growth of hair and skin cells. That’s one reason why when we feel stressed, we may experience hair loss and acne. Meditation, on the other hand, has been known to combat stress and reduce cortisol levels. In addition to counteracting stress, meditation can also counteract the cosmetic effects of stress on our bodies.

Meditation Could Help Slow Down the Aging Process

Meditation seems to have positive effects on the body’s disease-, aging-, and inflammation-fighting mechanisms, as a 2016 study published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences explained. While the results are preliminary, they show promise, according to Valerie Knopik, the director of research for Yoga Medicine. The notion that meditation can slow the aging process is also championed by physician Dilraj Kalsi.

Aging has been linked to the condition of our telomeres. Telomeres are located at the end of your DNA and act like the plastic bit on your shoelaces, which is to say they keep the ends of the DNA from fraying or sticking to one another. “There is now evidence suggesting that meditation can help to maintain the telomeres for longer, with potential benefits in terms of aging,” Dr. Kalsi told Health Digest. Kalsi’s professional opinion is further supported by a 2019 study published in the academic journal Current Opinions in Psychology.

Meditation Can Help You Fight Addiction

Although scientists have been investigating meditation as a treatment for affective disorders such as depression, anxiety, and OCD for several decades, the study of meditation as a treatment for addiction is still very much in its infancy. However, great strides have been made in the last decade. As Dr. Brian Wind, psychologist and chief clinical officer of JourneyPure addiction treatment center, told Health Digest, a 2018 study demonstrated that meditation can help prevent relapses in people who are in recovery from substance use disorder.

The reason, Dr. Wind explained to us, is that when someone in treatment for addiction practices meditation, they are practicing observing and acknowledging their desire for their substance of choice. But while meditation shines a spotlight on those desires, it also trains the person to face down their cravings without reacting. Dr. Wind also noted that on a physiological level, meditation can alter brain receptors that have been linked with substance abuse and addiction.

Yoga for Tough Times

By Rachel LandSenior Yoga Medicine® teacher, for Thrive Global.

Three unexpected ways yoga helps you handle stress.

For many of us, 2020 has been a difficult year, dominated by physical and economic disruption. At times like these, it can help to have something to rely on, a structure or rhythm to make the uncertainty a little easier to handle. For me, that solace comes from my yoga practice.

The popular view of yoga is that it focuses on relaxation. Of course this is partially true: gentle and restorative yoga poses plus specific pranayama (or breathing) and meditation techniques do have the potential to down-regulate the nervous system and lower our perceived level of stress — a benefit particularly relevant in times like these.

But these practices aren’t all that yoga has to offer in terms of stress management. In fact, here are three other, perhaps more unexpected, ways yoga can help us handle tough times:

1. Rhythmic Movement

It’s not just stillness and tranquility that breed calm. Movement can also soothe, connecting mind into body to reduce feelings of stress and overwhelm. That doesn’t mean crafting a complex yoga sequence. Think instead about moving through your favorite flow with the rhythm of your breath: rocking your knees side to side like wind shield wipers, lifting and lowering through bridge pose, rippling through cat and cow, a few sun salutations, or alternating between a couple of standing poses like reverse warrior and extended side angle.

Aim to:

  • Connect with your body with open awareness and no judgement, focusing on internal sensations rather than external ideals of alignment[1].
  • Follow the pace of your breath, at a rate of around 6 times a minute[2]
  • Move for 20 minutes or more, tapping into the capacity for aerobic exercise to reduce levels of stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol while boosting endorphins, your body’s natural mood elevators[3].

So in times of stress, don’t feel that silent seated meditation is your only option. Find a simple movement that you enjoy and go with the flow, letting your body, rather than your thoughts, be your guide.

2. The Strength to Endure Discomfort

Not all yoga practices are easy and enjoyable, in fact many are the opposite. The study of yoga philosophy abounds with examples of cultivating equanimity in the face of both pleasure and pain. Meditation both teaches, and requires, us to sit with all the parts of ourselves, both light and dark. And there’s nothing relaxing about wobbling in standing balance poses, or holding strong in a plank, the deep knee bend of chair pose and or broken toe.

These practices, and others, hone our ability to endure difficulty and discomfort, to realize again and again that even uncomfortable positions and situations seldom last, building exactly the capability, the resiliency, we need to make it through the challenges of life [4],[5].

3. Community and Connection

Remember the old adage: “A trouble shared is a trouble halved”? Research backs this up; social support makes us more resilient to the effects of physical and mental stress[6],[7]. Yet our lives increasingly lack opportunities to connect. For many of us, a regular yoga class creates that opportunity.

The sense of community is obvious in person. But while many of us are unable to access our usual physical yoga spaces at the moment, we can still find ways to connect: shifting classes to outdoor spaces, engaging in studio or teacher Facebook groups, making a date to practice the same online yoga class as a friend, or chatting before or after livestream classes or workshops. 

While we may not delve into the details of our lives, we do feel seen and included in a shared experience. Whatever comes up — be it joy or sorrow, fear, acceptance, ease or exertion — we know that others, whether across the room or across the country, feel the same. While we may leave class with the same problems we brought to it, the social support we find there may make our burdens a little easier to bear. 

In challenging times, yoga can offer solace. Maybe you respond best to a gentle restorative practice, breath work or meditation, but that’s not the option. Maybe you need to move, to sweat or even struggle a little, to get out of your mind and into your body. Or maybe you simply take comfort in the company of others. No matter what style of practice you choose, yoga can make disrupted times a feel a little less stressful.

References:

  1. [1] Mindfulness: Top-down or bottom-up emotion regulation strategy? Alberto Chiesa, Janus Christian Jakobsen and Alessandro Serretti. Clinical Psychology Review, October 2012. Source: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/233394995_Mindfulness_Top-down_or_bottom-up_emotion_regulation_strategy.
  2. [2] Meditative Movement for Depression and Anxiety. Peter Payne and Mardi A. Crane-Godreau. Frontiers in Psychiatry July 2013. Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3721087/.
  3. [3] Exercising to relax. Harvard health Publishing, February 2011. Source: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercising-to-relax.
  4. [4] The effectiveness of yoga for the improvement of well-being and resilience to stress in the workplace. Ned Hartfiel, Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, Jon N Havenhand and Graham Stirrat Clarke. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health April 2010. Source: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/43024160_The_effectiveness_of_yoga_for_the_improvement_of_well-being_and_resilience_to_stress_in_the_workplace.
  5. [5] The Strength-Focused and Meaning-Oriented Approach to Resilience and Transformation (SMART): A Body-Mind-Spirit Approach to Trauma Management. Cecilia L. W. Chan PhD, Timothy H. Y. Chan BCogSc and Siv Man Ng RCMP. Social Work in Healthcare, September 2008.
  6. [6] Social Support and Resilience to Stress: From Neurobiology to Clinical Practice. Fatih Ozbay MD, Douglas C. Johnson PhD, Eleni Dimoulas PhD, C.A. Morgan III MD, MA, Dennis Charney MD and Steven Southwick, MD. Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2007 May. Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2921311/.
  7. [7] Social Disconnectedness, Perceived Isolation, and Health among Older Adults. Erin York Cornwell and Linda J. Waite, Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 2009 Mar. Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ pmc/articles/PMC2756979/.

How to Combat Posture Problems that Come with Constant Sitting

Tapping into our body’s natural range of motion to lengthen and strengthen key muscles and tissue in our shoulders, neck, hips and back.

So many of us our spending hours of our days sitting… sitting while we work, sitting while we drive, sitting while we eat… the list goes on. It’s widely acknowledged that this lifestyle can have adverse effects on our posture: tightening up the shoulders, neck, back and hips.

Yoga provides us with so many helpful poses that stretch and release tension after sitting all day long. But we don’t need to be tying ourselves up into a pretzel and stretching as deeply as we can to release this niggling tension in the neck, back and hips. Familiarizing ourselves with our body’s natural range of motion and working within these realms to both lengthen and strengthen the surrounding muscles and tissues is often most helpful in the long run. However, this requires us to let go of what a traditional yoga pose looks like and be open to finding a variation that suits our own body type.

What is Mobility?

Mobility is the capacity for the body to move and be moved, often referred to as our range of motion or the range through which a joint can be moved. The movement of the joint can be active, passive or a combination of both 

The yoga practice is full of poses for improving mobility of joints, particularly using passive mobility exercises. An example is folding forward into a passive seated forward fold.

This isn’t a problem and can certainly help release and relieve the niggling tension that we feel after sitting for 6 hours each day. But how might the poses change if we focused on our active range of motion as well? 

Here are 3 familiar yoga poses that are helpful antidotes for sitting at your desk all day. Each one looks a bit different from the traditional variation of the pose as the have been adapted to focus on active mobility rather than our passive mobility. 

Active Mobility Dancers Pose

Good For: active stretch the chest and shoulders, strengthens the core and back, challenges our balance and focus. Standing Leg: strengthens the front of your hips (hip flexors), your thighs (while also stretching the back of your thighs/hamstrings), shins, and ankles. Lifted Leg: Strengthens your gluteal and back of thigh (hamstrings). Stretches the front of your hip (hip flexors), front on your thigh (quadriceps), and ankle. 

How: 

  1. Begin in Mountain pose, facing the front of the mat.
  2. Root down through the big toes while lifting the inner arches.
  3. Pour your weight into your left foot and your raise your right foot, keeping the toes on the ground initially.
  4. Hug your left hip into the hip socket.
  5. Lengthen the skin of your tailbone to the ground.
  6. Imagine that you have a corset around your waist that is slightly tightened to wake up your core muscles.
  7. Glide your shoulder blades towards one another and puff up through the chest.
  8. Bend the right knee and lift up behind you; keeping your frontal hip bones facing forwards.
  9. Reach back towards your raised foot with both hands but without touching.
  10. Hold for 5 to 10 breaths then release back to Tadasana and take the other side.
Active Mobility Cow Face Arms

Good For: Active Stretch for the the shoulders, armpits and triceps, and chest

How:

  1. Find your comfortable seat or stand if you prefer.
  2. Bring your arms out to the side in a ‘T’ position.
  3. Turn your right thumb up towards the ceiling 
  4. Raise your right arm up towards the ceiling, bend your elbow 
  5. Turn the left thumb down to the ground
  6. Reach your left arm down, bend the elbow.
  7. Reach your finger tops towards one another but without touching or pull your hands towards one another with a strap.
  8. Stay for a few deep breaths.
  9. Release and repeat on the other side.
Active Mobility Bow Pose

Good For: Active stretch for the entire front of the body, ankles, thighs and groins, abdomen and chest, and throat, and deep hip flexors (psoas). Strengthens the back muscles, improves posture after sitting all day.

How:

  1. Lie on your belly with your hands alongside your torso, palms up. (You can lie on a folded blanket to pad the front of your torso and legs.) 
  2. Exhale and bend your knees, bringing your heels as close as you can to your buttocks. Reach back with your hands without taking hold of your ankles.
  3. Ensure your knees aren’t wider than the width of your hips, and keep your knees hip width for the duration of the pose.
  4. Firm up through your thighs.
  5. Draw your pubic bone to the ground.
  6. Bend your elbow and glide your shoulder blades towards one another then re-straighten your arms.
  7. Inhale as you lift your chest up, reaching back towards your ankles but without touching them.
  8. Maybe lift the thighs as well.
  9. Take 3-5 deep breaths before releasing and lying down on the ground again.

Our body loves to move in different ways and there is no doubt that sitting for six hours (+) each day has its issues. Getting up and moving about is most important and there are a great number of passive mobility yoga poses that can be incredibly helpful for many things. But giving yourself permission to let go of what you think a pose is ‘meant’ to look like can be a helpful stepping-stone towards learning more about your own body and finding a healthy balance of both strength and flexibility that suits your own needs.

Five Exercises to Keep Your Mind Off Election Day

By Hilary Potkewitz for The Wall Street Journal.

From child’s pose to an upper back release, here are five exercises to help you relax.

Americans are feeling more anxious about this election—more than two-thirds of people across the political aisle say the election is a significant source of stress, according to the American Psychological Association.

All that sitting and staring into laptops or smartphones isn’t helping our stressed-out state, says Tiffany Cruikshank, founder of Yoga Medicine and Yoga Medicine Online. She spent seven years at Nike headquarters helping executives and professional athletes manage stress through acupuncture and yoga. “It’s much harder to take a full breath when you’re bent over a desk or a screen,” she says.

Slouching compresses the diaphragm, leading to shallower breaths, she says. Shallow breathing, in turn, can cause tension in the shoulders, chest and back muscles. “It’s part of the reason back pain often goes along with stress,” she says.

What can you do about it? We talked to a few experts about stress-relieving exercises to help you make it through Election Day.

Diaphragmatic Breathing


Purpose:
 Counteract the body’s stress response

Time: 2 to 5 minutes

Equipment: 

  • None

To help regulate your physical stress response throughout the day, wellness and mindfulness author Deepak Chopra recommends taking frequent breaks from all things political—say, every hour or two—for a short breathing and mindfulness session.

Find a quiet place, preferably in a room without a screen, and settle into a comfortable position, seated or lying down. Breathing through your nose, inhale to the count of four, pause for a count of two, and exhale to a count of six.

“This is the simplest way to get immediate relief,” Mr. Chopra says. “Nasal breathing has huge advantages. It can decrease your breath rate and increase oxygenation in your blood… If you have a Fitbit or another device, you will visibly see your heart rate start going down within a minute or so.”

Child’s Pose


Purpose:
 To relax and focus inward

Time: 2-3 minutes

Equipment:

  • A blanket or yoga mat
  • A dish towel or hand towel
  • An optional pillow

Kneel on a blanket or yoga mat and gently sit back onto your heels. If your hips are tight, place a pillow on your calves for a higher seat. Fold your torso forward. Position a rolled-up dish towel as a headrest, hitting at the brow line. “As an acupuncturist, that’s the place we’d put the first needle to ease anxiety,” Ms. Cruikshank says. Resting the forehead on the towel-roll puts pressure on the same spot, she says. Close your eyes and relax into each exhale.

Upper Back Release


Purpose:
 Release tension in shoulders and chest

Time: 2-3 minutes

Equipment:

  • A rolled up bath towel or yoga mat (or pool noodle)

Position a rolled-up towel or yoga mat on the floor lengthwise, so that when you lie back, it is supporting your head, neck and upper spine. Your lower back should be free and your pelvis on the ground. Rest your arms out to the side and let gravity pull your shoulders downward. “Your shoulders don’t need to touch the ground, but you do need to be relaxed,” Ms. Cruikshank says. “If it feels too high, make the towel-roll thinner.”

Count to four as you breathe into your belly, and exhale to the count of six.

Restorative Inversion


Purpose: Encourage circulation and restore energy

Time: 3-5 minutes

Equipment:

  • Chair, bench or couch
  • Blanket or cushion
  • Optional resistance band or strap for the thighs.

Lie on the floor with your feet up, resting your calves on a chair, bench or sofa, and your knees bent at 90-degrees. Rest your arms out at your sides or on your belly. If you have lower back pain, place a pillow under your pelvis.

By elevating the legs above the heart, this position uses gravity to encourage blood flow but at less risk of injury than more challenging inverted poses like headstands. “Close your eyes, feel your body drop into the floor, releasing all tension in your back and letting the ground support you,” Ms. Cruikshank says.

Plank Jacks


Purpose: Raise heart rate

Time: 5 minutes

Equipment: 

  • None

Start in a push-up position, hands shoulder-width apart, don’t lock your elbows. With your legs extended, jump your feet out to the sides then back together, like a jumping jack move. Do for 60 seconds, rest for about 30 seconds. Do three reps. If wrist pain is an issue, lean on your forearms instead.

“This gets your whole body engaged and fires up your heart rate,” says Kristin McGee, who recently helped launch Peloton’s yoga program. “It’s also a great way to keep your mind focused on the movement and not let your brain wander to things you can’t control, like the election.”

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