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5 Big Benefits of Restorative Yoga (Plus the Motivation You Need to Try It!)

So much to do, so little time. If you are like most people, your list of things to do is endless. Just as you cross something off, giving you a minor sense of accomplishment, another task gets added to the list. And it certainly seems like Restorative Yoga has no place on this endless list.

But while this may seem like a never-ending saga, the truth of the matter is that many of us thrive on checking off the boxes on our to-do lists, giving us a sense of accomplishment. In today’s society, many of us feed off of the “glorification of busy.”

With unbelievable emphasis placed on how many boxes we have checked off our list, we lose sight of the benefit of finding stillness.

The Glorification of Busy and How Restorative Yoga Fits In

When we think of moving our bodies to stay healthy, we often gauge the value of the workout by calories burned or how much we sweat.

Time is a precious commodity as it is a resource that we cannot recoup once spent, so we want the most bang for our buck.

Many people who have not experienced Restorative Yoga have the impression that it is the “relax and take a nap class” where we lay on the floor, supported by props and just chill out . . . not burning many calories, not sweating, not being productive.

So why would anyone want to do that?! Click here to read the full article originally published on YogiApproved.com because the list of reasons to practice Restorative Yoga is compelling!

12 Yoga Moves to Ease Uncomfortable Pregnancy Symptoms

By Amanda Tust for The Bump.

Suffering from aches and pain, rising stress and a lack of sleep? These powerful prenatal yoga practices might be just the thing.

Pregnancy stretches us to our limits, prompting an assortment of aches and pains—from round ligament pain to back pain, gas pain and more, most moms-to-be become intimately familiar with some discomfort along their pregnancy journey. The good news? There’s something to be done about it! Certain yoga poses can not only help ease common pregnancy symptoms, but they can also help you recenter and release your mounting stress.

“The poses can be anatomically great and help our bodies, but yoga also teaches us how to be present and in the moment—which can be difficult during pregnancy when there’s so much focus on future and what happens next,” says Jennifer More, E-RYT 500, RPYT, a prenatal yoga teacher, doula, and hypnotherapist based in Santa Rosa, California.

Curious to learn which yoga moves can help alleviate which pregnancy pains and problems? Read on.

Tips for Staying Safe

The overarching end-goal of these poses is to help ease any discomfort you’re currently experiencing—so it would be pretty counterproductive to suffer an injury. Listen to your body and be careful not to overstretch, which pregnant women are more susceptible to doing thanks to the added weight of your belly and the pregnancy hormones that are lubricating your connective tissue and joints. The hormone relaxin, which helps support early pregnancy and ramps up in the third trimester to prepare you for labor, can also make you more prone to hypermobility or overstretching, so it’s important that you don’t push yourself to your max.

“If you’re in a Wide-Legged Forward Fold during pregnancy and your hands can suddenly touch the ground, it doesn’t mean that they should,” says Allie Geer, E-RYT 500, RPYT, a registered yoga medicine therapeutic specialist and prenatal yoga teacher based in Boulder, Colorado. “Don’t go to the depths of your flexibility or hang out in your end range of motion. Come out of it a little bit and use props to support you.” If anything is painful or doesn’t feel good, stop immediately.

For Getting Centered: Calming Breath Practice

More recommends starting a prenatal practice in a seated position, such as Sukhasana (Easy Pose), and simply focusing on your breath for a few minutes. “There can be so much anxiety with all the tests you’re getting and all the newness and the huge transformational time this is, so breathing is one of the simplest and most important things you can do to start to find balance,” More says.

Tune into your breath and simply observe each inhale and exhale. Notice any rising and falling of your belly. After a few minutes, you can start moving in a gentle rocking motion along with your breath, which should help deepen it and give you a focus to help quiet the mind chatter and activate your parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system to give you a sense of calm. (This same rocking with your breath can also be helpful in labor.) You can also start moving your head and shoulders, doing some gentle side bends and moving your hands behind you for a gentle backbend.

For General Discomfort: Belly Breathing

Belly breathing can help minimize your discomfort during daily movements, such as getting out of bed or in and out of the car. “Belly breathing helps you connect to the layers of your core and draw your abdominals in gently to feel more support,” Geer says.

After taking some grounding breaths in Sukhasana (sitting cross-legged), place your hands out toward the sides of your belly. On an inhalation, feel your belly swell into your hands. On the exhalation, draw your fingers in toward your navel and sense that you’re hugging in around your belly, like you’re giving baby an internal hug, Geer says. You can also try making a “shhh” or “haa” sound on the exhale to feel how your abdominals have to draw in slightly to make this sound—that’s the gentle engagement you’re going for. As you hug in, you’re engaging your transverse abdominis, the deep abdominal muscles that wrap around your torso like a corset. On each exhale you’re gently fastening the corset for support, Geer says, which can be especially helpful if you’re experiencing back pain or round ligament pain. Continue this breathing pattern for three to five minutes; use it throughout your yoga practice and your day.

For Back Pain: Cat-Cow

“If I had to pick only one yoga position to tell pregnant women to do daily, it would be Cat-Cow,” More says. “It helps take pressure off the lower back and can gently stretch and support the ligaments that connect the uterus to the pelvis.” If you’ve been sitting a lot, the contractile tissue of the round ligaments may pull your uterus into a position that leads to discomfort and back pain, she says. Cat-Cow can serve as a reset.

Come onto your hands and knees with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Bring your index finger forward, which will spin your hands out a couple inches to externally rotate your arms, which allows more space between your shoulders. (If you have any discomfort in your wrists, put blocks under your palms.) On an exhalation, move into Cat Pose by gently rounding your back, releasing your head and relaxing your neck. Imagine that you’re gently bringing baby in toward your body with a hug that goes all the way to your lower back. This is a gentle hugging —you don’t want to be too aggressive. It’s just to allow a slight muscular engagement so your lower back is supported. On your inhalation, lift your head up and allow a very slight sway in your back for Cow Pose. Repeat three or four cycles of Cat-Cow.

For Round Ligament Pain: Leg Extensions

During pregnancy, your uterus expands from roughly the size of an apple to the size of a watermelon. That’s a lot of stretching! No wonder it can hurt a bit—officially known as round ligament pain. One of the best things to ease that pain is to use the belly breath to hug in on an exhale to offer support while you transition between poses or get up from lying or sitting down, Geer says.

To warm up your round ligaments for more movements, do some alternate leg extensions after Cat-Cow, More says. This may help settle your ligaments and gently stretch the contractile tissue to prepare for bigger stretches, such as lunges.

From all fours, extend your left leg back, curl your toes under and press your heel back. Stay here, or lift your leg up gently. Hold for three breaths, then switch sides.

For Lowering Stress: Modified Sun Salutations

A yoga practice as a whole can help reduce stress—and let’s face it, expectant moms have a lot on their minds these days. “Taking time for yourself is so key,” Geer says. “It’s important to make yourself a priority and your practice a priority.” More suggests doing about 15 minutes of yoga a day, including a gentle form of Sun Salutations, to reduce stress and bring major areas of the pelvis into balance.

After warming up with Cat-Cows and Leg Extensions, stand with your feet hip-distance apart and a block between your feet. Inhale as you reach arms overhead. Exhale as you bend your knees and bring your arms out to your sides, resting your hands on your thighs or bringing your hands to a block (at any height) slightly forward of your feet. Inhale, then lengthen your spine to flat back.

Bring your right foot next to the block, then exhale as you step your left foot back into a lounge and place your knee down onto the ground. Your left knee should be in line with your left hand and your right hand should be in line with your right foot.

Once in the lunge, inhale, reach your arms up and bring your hips back so your hips are directly over your left knee. Exhale, gently hug baby in, and then lunge forward, making sure your knee doesn’t go past your ankle (to avoid overstretching). On an inhale, lengthen your spine and lift back up so your hips are once again over your back knee. Exhale, gently hug baby in, and then bring your hands back down to the ground. Bring both knees back into a wide-knee Child’s Pose. Inhale, then move to all fours. Exhale, then press up into Downward-Facing Dog. Inhale here. Exhale, place your knees back down and repeat the lunge sequence on the other side.

For Relieving the Weight of Your Belly: Downward-Facing Dog Pose

Carrying your growing baby around all day can be tiring work. Downward-Facing Dog takes weight off the pelvis and decreases that constant downward pressure you feel during pregnancy, says Geer.

Start on your hands and knees with your arms slightly forward, then lift your sit bones toward the sky and ground down through your hands. Keep your knees forward and gently press your heels down. Hold for at least three breaths.

As a modification, you can try an L-Shaped Pose. Stand facing a wall and bring your hands to the wall at shoulder height. Slowly walk your feet back so your arms and legs form an L shape. Press your hands into the wall and lengthen through the sides of your waist, reaching your sit bones toward the center of the room. Try not to collapse in your lower back or rib cage—instead, imagine a straight line from the crown of your head to your tailbone.

For Swelling: Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose

Your belly isn’t the only thing to get big during pregnancy— swelling in your legs and feet is super-common among moms-to-be, thanks to all that extra blood and fluid your body is generating. Good news: This yoga pose can take pressure off your feet and legs to potentially give you some relief, Geer says.

Position a bolster near a wall at a 45-degree angle with one edge on the ground and the other resting on two blocks, one at medium height and the other at a low height; you can also prop up a couple pillows. Leave enough space between the bolster and the wall for you to sit. Bring your left hip right up next to the bolster and lower down from your side, mindfully rolling onto your back so it’s resting on the bolster. Take your legs up the wall. (You can also put your feet up against a chair or even your couch.) Stay for about five minutes, focusing on your breath, and imagine the swelling reducing and fluid draining out of your legs. If at any time you feel dizzy or nauseous, rock over to your side.

Yoga Modalities for Symptoms of Depression

By Diane Malaspina for Yoga Medicine®.

Whether you experience depression to a point where you need medical intervention or it’s something you find you can personally manage in your life, yoga for depression can be a supportive practice and can help alleviate some of the associated negative patterns that come up. Depression can present itself in many forms, particularly patterns that are considered low energy with symptoms like fatigue, exhaustion and inability to engage with life – or high energy, presenting with symptoms like anxiety, anger, muscular tension and irritation.
 
Follow along and learn about the array of symptoms associated with depression and why it’s important to understand the diversity of ways depression can show up so that we can support our students coping with these challenges. This is a short yoga practice for depression that can be used on yourself or with your students.
 

Find the original video on Yoga Medicine’s Youtube channel.

Epi-What? Change Your Internal Landscape Part 2: Epigenetics and How It Reduces Depression and Increases Longevity

In my last Yoga Digest article, we explored the concept of neuroplasticity as it relates to yoga and mindfulness. In this article, we dive a little deeper and investigate epigenetics. If you haven’t already heard this buzz word, now is your time. The term epigenetics itself is very often misunderstood and misinterpreted, so even if you have heard it, we’ll spend a bit of time unpacking what it actually means but keep in mind, this is the speed-dating version. Careers are spent on this stuff!

Essentially, the epigenome can be thought of as sitting on top of the genome (or DNA). To get a visual, think of a textbook where the printed words represent your DNA. Let’s say you go in and highlight a few sentences with a yellow highlighter. That yellow highlight can be thought of as the epigenome. It sits on top of the words but doesn’t change the words. What it changes is the emphasis; i.e., when you go back to review that section, those highlighted sentences will be emphasized (or increased gene expression). Alternatively, you could use a black marker to cross out sentences and, in that case, it would be really challenging to read those sentences again (this would decrease gene expression). Again, the words didn’t change, but your ability to read them did. Theoretically, epigenetic changes are one mechanism by which environmental exposures can ‘get under the skin’ to affect the underlying biology of a system. While there are multiple epigenetic ‘marks,’ this article will only discuss two of them: DNA methylation and telomere length. DNA methylation happens when a chemical group (called a methyl group) acts like a little sticker that adheres to specific segments of the genome. Telomeres are the end of our chromosomes and they are known to shorten as we age.

There is a small, but growing, body of research suggesting that mindfulness-based techniques, such as yoga and meditation, induce changes to our biology, particularly our biology related to stress. Luders and Kurth (2019) describe meditation as an active mental process that, when done repeatedly, regularly, and over longer periods of time, can change our biology. This is due, in part, to the fact that meditation incorporates efforts in multiple domains: awareness, attention, concentration, and focus. Yoga is a mind-body practice incorporating many of these same qualities alongside movement. There is accumulating evidence of positive effects on yoga on mental health, physical health, and well-being (Tolahunase et al., 2018). This has led some researchers to suggest that mindful-based practices, such as yoga and meditation, hold promise as evidence-based treatment for mental health disorders, such as depression (Goldberg et al., 2018).

How does this happen? Most of us that practice yoga and mindfulness techniques likely feel a shift in mood after practicing, but I suspect most of us, don’t sit back and think deeply about what is happening biologically to create this shift. One possible path is through neuroplasticity, which was the focus in my last Yoga Digest article. But we can zoom the microscope in even deeper to look at cellular changes! There are currently a handful of studies examining epigenetic mechanisms as one other possible avenue by which yoga and mindfulness can affect our biology. As one example, Garcia-Campayo et al. (2018) compared the methylome (i.e., 450,000 epigenetic methylation markers across the entire genome) of experienced meditators (10+ years) to non-meditators and found differential methylation at 43 genes. What is differential methylation? It’s when there is more (or less) methyl groups attaching themselves to the DNA in meditators vs non-meditators. The majority of these 43 genes that showed different levels of methylation between the two groups have been suggested to be involved in neurological and psychiatric disorders, cardiovascular disease and cancer. These researchers went on to perform experiments to show that the epigenetic response to mindfulness may modulate (or change) inflammatory pathways supporting the potential of meditation-based-interventions in the treatment of chronic inflammatory conditions. This work was supported by very recent work by Chaix et al. (2020), also comparing meditators to non-meditators, who found differential methylation in 61 genes involved in immune-related (and thus likely stress- related) pathways.

An additional study by Chaix et al. (2017) focused on the epigenetic aging rate. Did you know that there are specific patterns in the genome that can predict the rate of aging? These show up in DNA methylation patterns and also in telomere length, both of which are considered epigenetic markers. Further, cumulative life stress and trauma can accelerate our epigenetic clock and these faster clocks are associated with age-related chronic diseases. Slower clocks, however, predict longevity as well as better cognitive and physical fitness. And, guess what? Meditation and yoga decreased the epigenetic aging rate, with the more years of formal practice predicting increased protective effects on epigenetic aging markers. I don’t know about you, but I want a slower epigenetic clock.

Kaliman (2019) cautions us, however, that this area of research is in its infancy. As a mental health researcher who studies epigenetics as it relates to ADHD-like behaviors, I couldn’t agree more. We need other research groups to replicate (or find similar results) what has been done, ideally in larger and more controlled studies. We also need to be able to speak to the long- terms effects of epigenetic changes. There might also be sensitive developmental periods more conducive to epigenetic changes. And so many more questions beyond the scope of this article. Despite this, however, I feel encouraged. We know, experientially, that mindfulness-based techniques are highly effective in stress reduction, and it now appears possible that such stress reduction may also mediate changes deep in our cells (Kaliman, 2019).

If you don’t already have a yoga or mindfulness practice, here are simple tips to get you started:

1. Bring meditation into your daily practice. Starting with just 3 minutes a day and building to 10 minutes over time. If sitting down to meditate feels too daunting, try a walking meditation. This isn’t just going on a walk. Being barefoot is really helpful for this approach as it will help you stay very aware of each blade or grass or grain of sand or plank of wood floor. You could literally walk back and forth over the same area trying tostay very focused on the feeling of each movement of your feet, noticing your mind wandering, and staying super present in your experience.

2. If meditating just feels like it’s too inaccessible, try practicing mindfulness as you practice yoga or exercise. When you find your mind wandering or creating your grocery list, bring it back to what you are doing. What muscles are engaging in the pose you are in? What muscles are lengthening? Mentally watch your breath coming in and exhaling out. What is the temperature of the air as you breathe in? As you breathe out? There are countless ways to keep your mind present while you practice and move.

If you couldn’t already tell, I have a tendency to completely nerd out about this type of thing. Our bodies are built to be resilient and to change. And, that change doesn’t have to be negative. In fact, changes can be positive. We have the capacity to change our habitual patterns, which could, in turn, create positive changes in our internal landscape—even at the deep layers of our cells and the ways our genes are expressed.

Change our immune response? Change our inflammatory response? Slow down our epigenetic aging clock? Ummm….yes, please!

How to Improve Safety and Reduce Anxiety During the Coronavirus Pandemic

By Leah Zerbe for Dr. Axe.

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

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

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

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

8 Steps for More Safety and Less Anxiety

 

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

1. Wash your hands for 20 seconds.

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

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

2. Stay Home if you are sick.

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

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

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

3. Stay appropriately informed, but not over informed.

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

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

4. Keep children calm.

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

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

5. Increase the use of relaxation techniques.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Reduce stress.

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

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

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

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

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

8. Do (gentle) yoga.

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

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

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

By Caroline Cox for InStyle.

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

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

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

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

Yoga Can Be Used to Cope with Traumatic Experiences

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Physical and Emotional Benefits of Practicing Yoga Right Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Meditation Can Increase Mental Durability in Athletes

By Alison Heilig for Yoga Medicine®.

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

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

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

What is Mental Durability?

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

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

Why Mental Durability Matters

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

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

Alison Heilig

Three Ways Meditation Can Boost Mental Durability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Workouts You Can Do at Home Without Equipment

By Emy Rodriguez Flores for Sand.

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

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

Utilize the Floor

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

Finding Weights in the Kitchen

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

Find Virtual Classes 

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

Download a Health and Wellness App

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

Workout Your Mental Muscles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A 5-Step Yoga Routine To Deal with Stress

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Psychological Nutrients for a Fulfilling Life

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

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

Human Needs

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

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

Autonomy

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

Ways to Build Autonomy

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

Competence

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

Ways to Foster Competence

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

Relatedness

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

Ways to Strengthen Relatedness

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

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

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