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Month: January 2021

Healthy Lungs Yoga Sequence

Tiffany Cruikshank, founder of Yoga Medicine® and Yoga Medicine® Online, leads a short-breath focused sequence to improve lung capacity.

Research suggests that lung capacity is an important predictor of health and longevity. Work here to support the physiological needs you can’t see: heart health, lymphatics, digestion and so much more.

Click here to watch the full sequence. Enjoy!

Inspiring Sleep Tips From People at the Top of Their Fields

By Marina Khidekel for Thrive Global.

Athletes and CEOs share their go-to sleep Microsteps.

Sleep is the ultimate keystone habit. When we are our rested, recharged selves, we are in the strongest position to build and sustain the habits that allow us to truly thrive — not only personally, but professionally.

And yet, many of us carry the limiting belief that we can either get the sleep we need or we can succeed at work — but we can’t do both. 

In fact, getting the sleep we need makes it possible for us to show up as our best selves. Here, some of the highest-performing people in sports, entertainment, business, and beyond share their go-to sleep Microsteps. Which of these will you try?

Turn down the lights in your home when it’s nearing bedtime.

“A couple hours before bed, I start to slow down, power down, and turn the lights down to help slowly lower my cortisol. I’m very protective of this sleep ritual, no matter where I am in the world.”

Tiffany Cruikshank, bestselling author and founder of Yoga Medicine® and Yoga Medicine® Online 

Turn off all your electronic devices a half hour before you go to sleep.

“If there’s a T.V. in your bedroom, consider putting it somewhere else. It’s a bedroom, not a tech cave. My wife doesn’t even allow cell phones near the bed when we sleep.” 

—Tom Brady, NFL quarterback and Super Bowl champion

Take a midday nap.

“My days are split between very early mornings and evening events, so I really try to energize with afternoon naps. But never longer than 30 to 35 minutes; anything longer than that is a problem.” 

—Tamron Hall, broadcast journalist and talk show host 

Before bed, read a few pages from an inspiring book.

“I try to fill the last couple of minutes before I close my eyes with something nourishing, whether it’s a book I keep on my bedside table, or something that I read that’s uplifting.” 

—Hoda Kotb, co-anchor of “The TODAY Show” and “TODAY with Hoda & Jenna”

When you can’t fall asleep, breathe deeply and think about what you’re grateful for.

“Lying awake in bed and mulling over your to-do list can be distressing. Personally, when I wake up too early, I breathe deeply and slowly and take those predawn moments to relax and think about what I am grateful for… Try closing your eyes and placing your attention on joyful, calming thoughts, whether that’s family, friends, pets, nature, or a favorite vacation spot.” 

—Shelly Ibach, CEO of Sleep Number and Thrive Global’s sleep editor-at-large 

Adapted from “Your Time to Thrive: End Burnout, Increase Well-being, and Unlock Your Full Potential with the New Science of Microsteps,” by Marina Khidekel and the editors of Thrive Global. Learn more and pre-order your copy here.

Max Out Podcast: Creating a More Vibrant life with Tiffany Cruikshank

By Max Weigand who interviews Tiffany Cruikshank for the Max Out Podcast.

In this podcast, Tiffany Cruikshank discusses fusing the two worlds of eastern and western medicine together to help professional athletes, celebrities, and normal people alike create more vibrant lives.

Click here to listen to the full episode.

Let’s All Take A Collective Breath

By Leah Zerbe for Republican Herald.

Your breath directly affects your mind.

And the quality of your breathing impacts not only your mood, but influences the words you say and the actions you bring about in the world.

Despite these big health and societal ramifications, breathing is something so few of us think about, despite the fact that we take about 20,000 breaths a day.

And here’s the thing. Most of us are breathing all wrong. And that takes a toll.

Chronic stress triggers your body to release abnormal surges of stress hormones. Over time, the nervous system becomes completely imbalanced, and that translates into an unhealthy, shallow chest breathing pattern that brings about more stress and tension. It’s a devastating snowball effect that many of us experience without even knowing.

“Think about what happens to your breath when you get frightened: maybe you hold it, maybe it gets shallow as it moves into the upper portion of the chest, maybe it speeds up,” said Cristina Kuhn, instructor at Yoga Medicine. “This is the response of the sympathetic nervous system that is preparing you to fight, run or freeze.”

So how can we “hack” the nervous system to better our breathing?

Yoga! Not the stand-on-your-head, turn-yourself-into-a-pretzel-type, but yoga that unites the breath and the mind in a gentle way to cool down our overrun, agitated nervous system.

(Psst. If you’re thinking you’re not a “yoga person,” you probably need it twice as much!)

Relearning How to Breathe

By teaching your body how to diaphragmatically breath again, you open the door to better focus, strengthened lungs, a healthier digestive system, less pain, lower blood pressure, reduced anger and frustration, better confidence and more.

Crocodile

When I teach a yoga class, we always start out in “crocodile,” a belly-down posture that many people crave.

It naturally aligns your body for diaphragmatic breathing and eases your body into “rest and digest” mode.

“It helps to restore balance in our nervous system as we breathe, letting each inhale be nourishing and each exhale soften the grip of anxiety, fear and reaction,” said Shari Friedrichsen, senior teacher at the Himalayan Institute in Honesdale. “It’s kind and necessary, especially when the world seems turned upside down with so much anger and violence.”

Directions for Crocodile
  • Lie face down on a firm surface, like the floor.
  • Stack your forearms on top of one another, with each hand on the opposite elbow.
  • Draw the forearms in so that the chest is slightly off the floor, with the forehead resting on crossed arms.
  • If this creates tension in your shoulders, you can slide your elbows out a little wider or place a rolled up blanket under your collarbones.
  • Slightly separate the legs a comfortable distance with the toes turned in, back or out
  • Close your eyes. Relax the legs, abdomen and shoulders. Soften the eyes and jaw. Turn your attention to the breath and feel the resistance of your belly against the floor with each inhale.
  • Notice the breath, without trying to control it in any way. Is it jerky? Choppy? Are you holding it?
  • Observe with curiosity, knowing with practice, the breath will start becoming smoother, quieter and deep without effort.
  • Center here for two to five minutes before moving on with your day.

Yoga is for Everyone

“If you are breathing, you can practice yoga,” Kuhn said, noting that practicing for five minutes most days is more beneficial than doing just one long, weekly session.

Even if crocodile pose isn’t comfortable, you can still practice yoga.

Simply sitting in your chair and placing your hands on your belly and breathing deeply into this area will help reset vagal tone, which reduces anxiety and fear, Friedrichsen noted.

“If we can balance here with the breath; inhale, nourishing; exhale, releasing what you’ve eaten visually, emotionally or mentally that isn’t good for you, we can start healing ourselves and bring that healing into the world,” she said.

Foster Well-Being in 2021

Mindfulness habits and intentional mental training for the 4 core pillars of well-being.

The importance of fostering well-being and alleviating mental stress is more apparent now than ever. Mental health challenges are on the rise, leading to a decline in our collective well-being. The good news is that well-being is not a static state, but rather, a set of skills and beliefs that can be learned over time (much like learning to ride a bike). With each attempt to ride a bike, the brain fine tunes its circuitry so that with repetition and practice, we learn to ride with balance and ease. Similarly, with intentional mental training, we can tap into the brain’s capacity for plasticity by practicing skills that nurture a healthy mind, fine-tuning our ability to cope with challenge and change. As these skills become habitual, we become more adept at applying them in daily life, boosting overall well-being and resilience.

Taking care of personal mental health is an ongoing practice. Similar to building the muscles of the body, we can strengthen the metaphorical muscle of the mind with practices that sharpen cognitive performance and self-regulation. Psychologists have identified four core dimensions as pillars of well-being that can be strengthened with training and practice: awareness, connection, insight, and purpose[1]. Let’s explore each in a bit more detail:

Awareness

Awareness is the ability to bring focused attentiveness to the environment, internal cues, thoughts, and feelings. This is characterized by being fully present with each activity we engage in, the surrounding environment, and any internal states such as sensations or thoughts. Awareness is a mindfulness exercise and its opposite, distraction, has been connected to increased stress, anxiety[2] and impairment of decision making, planning, and memory[3].  One study revealed that on average, people spent an estimated 47% of their waking life in a state of distraction, which also correlated with feeling less happy[4].  Awareness skills build the ability to recognize mind wandering and re-direct attention back to the present moment. Repeated practice of intentional regulation of attention trains the mind to be in a state of presence more frequently and for longer periods of time.

Intentional Mental Training: Awareness

Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Begin with following your breath, noticing the inhales and exhales. Notice where you feel the breath passing through the nostrils, along the throat, inflating the chest and abdomen, and other nuances or sensations that come up. After a few moments of attentiveness on the breath, begin counting each breath up to 10. If you lose track, start counting again from 1.  

Connection

Connection is the personal feeling of care and kinship towards others that promotes healthy interactions and supportive relationships. Caring relationships and positive social supports are important to well-being in that quality social support is a better predictor of health than various biological and economic factors[5]. As humans, we come equipped with distinct brain networks that underlie our capacity to form and maintain healthy relationships, which in turn impact well-being. Positive social relationships are essential for healthy functioning and serve as a buffer against disorders such as depression[6] and anxiety.[7] Connection-based practices like compassion meditation are associated with increased altruistic behavior and activity in the brain’s central-executive network, strengthening self-regulation skills[8].  

Intentional Mental Training: Connection

Compassion meditation is a mindfulness practice with the intention of shifting thoughts from judging others to caring about others. Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Center yourself by following your breath. When ready, bring to mind someone you care about. Visualize, feel their presence, and silently offer the following phrases: “May You Be Happy;” “May You Be Peaceful;” “May You Be Free of Suffering.” After several moments of repetition, bring your attention inward and offer these same phrases to yourself. Repeat in your mind a few times until you feel ready to move on.  

Insight

Insight is self-knowledge of personal psychological processes including how our emotions and beliefs contribute to our experiences and sense of self. To better familiarize ourselves with the contents of consciousness, we can use the mindfulness practice of self- inquiry. To do this, approach the practice with a sense of curiosity. What thoughts, feelings, and sensations are streaming across the mental landscape, and ultimately, who am I in the midst of all of these thoughts? In doing this, we can shed light upon what we are thinking, how it makes us feel, and challenge the self-narratives that don’t serve us, ultimately revealing the root of anxiety and self-defeating behaviors. With this insight, we can change the narrative to growth-oriented mindsets that have a powerful influence on decreasing depression and anxiety and increasing performance[9]. Techniques that train individuals to identify self-limiting maladaptive beliefs and generate alternative more adaptive beliefs, have been shown to reduce symptoms of stress, depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric disorders[10].

Intentional Mental Training: Insight

Deconstructive meditation is using self-inquiry as a tool for understanding the mind and how it creates our reality through our thoughts, emotions, and sensations. Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Set a timer (start with 3 minutes and slowly build). Take a few moments to center and follow your breath. Return to the breath as an anchor to calm you and bring you back to the present moment. Notice how your mind naturally drifts into different thoughts. When this happens, mentally label the thought (you can mentally say “this is a thought”). The idea is to develop the capacity to recognize the constant stream of thoughts without getting lost in the story line. You will likely notice other stimuli like sounds in the environment or sensations in the body – notice how they tug at your awareness – attend to them and then return to the mindfulness of breathing. As thoughts and emotions float through awareness notice if they intensify or weaken or if they change into a different state. The particular thoughts and emotions that arise through this practice are not the emphasis of this activity, rather, the focus is to increase the ability to stay present with what comes up and label it as such (nothing more or less). With time, we learn to deconstruct our inner experience and engage in healthy perspective taking and cognitive reappraisal (the process of re-labeling negative self-talk) leading to corresponding changes in the brain and experience of well-being.

Purpose

Purpose refers to the sense of clarity around personal core values and how those values are applied in daily life. Our values serve as an internal GPS that remind us where we are going and why we are going there. A strong sense of purpose is associated with improved health outcomes including cardiovascular health[11], financial health[12], and overall psychological functioning[13]. Higher levels of purpose in life have shown to have an important role in stress resilience: those who demonstrated higher levels of purpose showed increased stress resilience and accelerated recovery from stress load[14].

Intentional Mental Training: Purpose

Have a pen and journal close by for this writing exercise. Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and ask yourself: If I could take a snapshot of my ideal day (from waking to going to bed), what would those moments look like? As you are ready, open your eyes. Set a timer for 3 minutes and free write on the following:

  • What is my ideal day? Who would I spend my ideal day with? What am I doing that uplifts myself and my community?

Review what you wrote down. If you could define the moments as values, what would they be? Can you sum up the moments into 5 values? (i.e., quality time, family, kindness). Now choose 2 values to cross of the list. What would remain and still be definitive of your purpose? Of the 3 values remaining, circle the one that is most important. Focusing on the value we deem most important allows us to make choices about how we will act in the future, including who we spend time with, how we spend our time, and where we spend our money. By bringing more mindfulness to our day-to-day choices, we can be more purposeful in what we do and connect with what is truly meaningful. 

During a time when we face historic levels of stress, we may wonder how we can access a sense of well-being and resilience when it feels as though the world is falling apart all around us. The answers lie in modern neuroscience and contemplative practices. It turns out we can train our minds and rewire neural connections to be more resilient. Mindfulness practices and intentional mental training can build the skills of awareness, connection, insight, and purpose, leading to changes in the way the brain functions and ultimately improving psychological well-being. And while big events in the world will still affect us in some way, we have control over our emotions and behavior.

References:

[1] Dahl, C. J., Wilson-Mendenhall, C. D., & Davidson, R. J., (2020). The plasticity of well-being: A training-based framework for the cultivation of human flourishing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Dec 2020, 117 (51).

[2] Seli, P., Beaty, R. E., Marty-Dugas, J., & Smilek, D., (2019). Depression, anxiety, and stress and the distinction between intentional and unintentional mind wanderingPsychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice, 6, 163–170.

[3] Kane, M. J., & McVay, J. C., (2012). What mind wandering reveals about executive-control abilities and failures. Curr. Dir. Psychol. Sci. 21, 348–354.

[4] Killingsworth, M. A., & Gilbert, D. T., (2010). A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Science 330, 932.

[5] Vaillant, G. E., (2008). Aging well: Surprising guideposts to a happier life from the landmark study of adult development. Little, Brown and Company.

[6] Santini, Z. I., Koyanagi, A., Tyrovolas, S., Mason, C., & Haro, J. M., (2015). The association between social relationships and depression: A systematic review. Journal of Affective Disorders, 175, 53–65.

[7] Teo, A. R., Lerrigo, R., & Rogers, M. A. M., (2013). The role of social isolation in social anxiety disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 27, 353–364.

[8] Weng, H. Y., et al., (2013). Compassion training alters altruism and neural responses to suffering. Psychological Science, 24, 1171–1180.

[9] Mrazek, A. J., et al., (2018). Expanding minds: Growth mindsets of self-regulation and the influences on effort and perseverance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 79, 164–180.

[10] Hofmann, S. G., Asnaani, A., Vonk, I. J. J., Sawyer, A. T., & Fang, A., (2012). The efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy: A review of meta-analyses. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 36, 427–440.

[11] Cohen, R., Bavishi, C., & Rozanski, A., (2016). Purpose in life and its relationship to all-cause mortality and cardiovascular events: A meta-analysis. Psychosometic Medicine, 78, 122–133.

[12] Hill, P. L., Turiano, N. A., Mroczek, D. K., & Burrow, A. L., (2016). The value of a purposeful life: Sense of purpose predicts greater income and net worth. Journal of Research in Personality, 65, 38–42.

[13] Lewis, N. A., Turiano, N. A., Payne, B. R., & Hill, P. L., (2017). Purpose in life and cognitive functioning in adulthood, Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition, 24:6, 662-671.

[14] Zilioli, S., Slatcher, R. B., Ong, A. D., & Gruenewald, T. L., (2015).  Purpose in life predicts allostatic load ten years later. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 79, 451–457. 

The Best Way to Avoid ‘Yoga Butt’

By Agnes Erikson for Health Digest.

Yoga is often associated with deep breathing and relaxation rather than lasting pain. Of course, we feel the discomfort when holding a one-legged tree pose, but it’s worth it by the end of our session when we clasp our hands together and murmur “namaste.” But if you feel pain in your butt that continues after your session, then you may be suffering from “yoga butt.” Ariele Foster, a physical therapist and yoga teacher based in Washington, D.C. tells Women’s Health what symptoms yoga butt is associated with. “This is most likely a burning, discomfort, cramping, or pinching high up in the hamstrings, close to the pelvis,” Foster explains.

Of course, “yoga butt” is more of a casual nickname than true medical term. Jenni Tarma, a Yoga Medicine Therapeutic Specialist, explains to Healthline the real root of the pain. “Yoga butt, technically called proximal hamstring tendinopathy, is an irritation or inflammation of the hamstring tendons at their attachment site on the ischial tuberosity (the sitting bone),” Tarma says.

Yoga Butt Occurs from the Stress of Certain Movements


Hamstring tendinopathy, or yoga butt, is most often caused by holding certain poses such as: the Deep Forward Fold, Compass Pose, Splits, and more advanced poses where the foot is placed behind the head, Healthline shares. “In this sense, hamstring tendinopathy is not just an overuse injury, but also an underloading issue: The tissues haven’t been subjected to enough challenge and have therefore lost their ability to tolerate the stress of certain movements or joint positions, resulting in pain and irritation (aka poor function),” Tarma says. To prevent this, Tarma recommends building strength in tendons through isometric holds.

This type of yoga injury is also common from not being properly warmed up. So make sure to listen to your body’s limits to reduce the chance of injury. If it’s too late and you are already dealing with a yoga butt injury, then it would be helpful to see your physician so they can assess the damage, Foster explains to Women’s Health. She goes on further saying the best thing you can do to recover is rest. And if you just can’t wait to get back to your yoga mat, then try restorative yoga, which is known to be less intense.

As it turns out, yoga butt is really “a pain in the butt.” So remember to make sure you are properly warmed up before attempting to advance your yoga skills, and take it easy if your body needs to heal.

Not a Napper? Think About It.

By Sarah Munn for Weight Watchers.

Some people take regular naps, but for the rest of us it’s more of a rarity – maybe only when we’re sick, for example.

If you’re not a napper, it may be worth considering the potential benefits of taking short naps.

“Napping is not for everyone, but for some it may help improve mood and reduce fatigue when you are not getting an adequate amount of sleep,” says Monisha Bhanote, MD, FCAP, a triple board-certified physician and Yoga Medicine® teacher. “In some cases, napping may even improve performance, resulting in a quicker reaction time.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, other benefits of napping can include:

  • Relaxation
  • Increased alertness
  • Better memory

When to Nap

The Mayo Clinic says you may want to consider napping if you’re experiencing new fatigue or unexpected sleepiness, if you’re about to experience sleep loss (like before starting an extra long work shift) or if you simply want to make napping part of your daily routine.

The key here is to keep it short and sweet. Mayo Clinic suggests napping for 10 to 20 minutes, because “the longer you nap, the more likely you are to feel groggy afterward.”

“Ideally, you want to keep naps limited to less than 30 minutes and in the first half of the day, otherwise naps can backfire and disrupt nighttime sleep,” Bhanote adds.

More research is needed to determine the effect of napping on nighttime sleep duration. People respond to naps differently, so you should do what feels right to you (and, as always, talk to your doctor). However, if you want to nap, we encourage you to pay attention to whether napping affects your ability to fall asleep at night. The goal is to get 7-9 hours of uninterrupted nighttime sleep. If your naps get in the way of that, you may want to avoid napping or shorten your naps. Additionally, if you are getting enough sleep during the night (7-9 hours), but feel tired during the day, we recommend you talk with your doctor about what could be disrupting your sleep.

Why We Dream

By Sarah Munn for Weight Watchers.

Dreaming is a part of sleep, but no one fully understands why it happens. There are some interesting theories, though.

“Dreams happen in both REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM [non-REM] sleep, but it is the vivid ones during REM sleep that we most likely remember,” explains Monisha Bhanote, MD, FCAP, a triple board-certified physician and Yoga Medicine® teacher.

“Scientists are still trying to determine why we dream,” she says, but there are a few theories.

One theory is the dream rebound theory.

“In this theory research suggests that a dream results from suppression of something,” Bhanote says. “Dreams may also be a processing of our emotions of the day. This is linked to an early activation-synthesis model of dreaming, where certain parts of the brain including the limbic system, which includes the amygdala and hippocampus, create electrical brain impulses. This theory suggests that the impulses are signals that the brain interprets and we experience as dreams.”

Other theories, according to a Healthline piece, include one that posits dreams are a way to train our fight-or-flight response, and another that says dreams play a role in fostering creativity, and yet another that suggests dreams are a tool for memory building – storing important ones and purging unnecessary ones.

University of California professor and writer Matthew Walker, PhD, elaborates: “REM-sleep dreaming appears to take the painful sting out of difficult, even traumatic, emotional episodes experienced during the day, offering emotional resolution when you awake the next morning. REM sleep is the only time when our brain is completely devoid of the anxiety-triggering molecule noradrenaline. At the same time, key emotional and memory-related structures of the brain are reactivated during REM sleep as we dream. This means that emotional memory reactivation is occurring in a brain free of a key stress chemical, which allows us to re-process upsetting memories in a safer, calmer environment.”

And just last year, a pair of neuroscientists suggested another theory – that dreaming is a way our brain protects itself.

Bhanote adds that dreams are absolutely normal, however, when they start disrupting your sleep, you may want to look at a few things.

One thing to consider is your sleep hygiene, she says, which may be helpful in decreasing bad dreams.

Sleep hygiene refers to the things you can do to ensure good quality sleep. Tips include keeping your bedroom cool, creating a calm environment, avoiding looking at TV, computer and smartphone screens a couple hours before bed, and reserving your bedroom for the purposes of sleep and sex only.

“Additionally, having a toolbelt of relaxation techniques may help ease anxiety, which may be beneficial for more restful sleep,” Bhanote says.

Techniques to get you back to sleep may include practicing mindfulness and meditation or reading – but experts say screens should be avoided.

Check out this article for natural ways to drift off to sleep.

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