Recently, Nat (from Nat & Sandy Yoga) took a short trip to Portland for a training on mental health and wellness with Yoga Medicine. In this episode, Sandy interviews Nat on her experience and the main takeaways from her week in training. We discuss the importance of epigenetics in mental health, depression and anxiety, the enteric nervous system (your gut) and its connection to mental health, and so much more. This topic is hugely important for yoga teachers to be well-versed and sensitive towards, so if you’re currently a yoga teacher or looking to launch your teaching career, please do have a listen! We discuss tools and techniques to use within group yoga classes that may help someone with depression or anxiety feel a bit more comfortable.
Sometimes, falling asleep can be hard. Whether it’s because of stress from your day or because you can’t find the right position to fall asleep in, it can be frustrating to be laying awake in bed hoping you’ll fall asleep. And if you’ve tried everything from drinking warm milk at night to counting backward from 100, you’re probably desperate to find something to help you doze off. Well, you’re in luck, because you can do simple night time stretches that will help you fall asleep.
“Most of us run through our days quickly, there is rarely enough time for grounding, pause, stillness — surrender,” Nina Endrst, yoga instructor and holistic health coach, tells Bustle. “A wind down ritual supports a deep and restful sleep and gives us a chance to check in with ourselves. Breathing and stretching is a great way to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and decrease general anxiety — something all human beings struggle with in some way.” If you begin to work stretching into your nighttime routine, you make a habit of helping your body recover every night. And if you don’t know which stretches to start with, here are 12 you can do at night.
1. Legs Up The Wall
This is an easy pose you can do right in your bed (if it’s up against the wall) before you sleep. Lie flat on your back with your butt touching the wall. Lift your legs up and put them against the wall, with the back of your heel on the wall, feet parallel to your torso. Then, rest your head and neck back. If you want, you can even cross your legs over each other. “I like to place one hand on my heart and one on my belly and practice deep breathing here,” Endrst says. “It’s also great for circulation, stretching the hamstrings, and relieving lower back pain.”
2. Forward Fold
Start in a downward dog position and then walk your hands back toward your feet, stopping when your chest is pressing against your legs. Then, let your head dangle. “Let the arms hang if you wish or take hold of opposite elbows behind the knees and hug everything in tight to hold yourself here,” Endrst says. By doing this pose, you allow your neck and shoulder tension to be released, and stretch out your calves, hamstrings, hips, getting your body more relaxed and ready to rest for the night.
3. Supta Baddha Konasana
Sit on the floor with your knees bent facing up, and then lower your back to the ground or your bed. Then, keeping your feet side-by-side, lower your knees to opposite sides, creating a diamond shape with your legs. You can use blankets to support your knees if you want. “Place one hand on your heart and one on your belly,” Endrst says. “Rest for 10 minutes and elongate the breath, inhaling for a count of three, exhaling for a count of four.” This pose is known as a restorative pose because it works to improve circulation and can even relieve symptoms of stress, depression, and menstruation.
You begin in downward facing dog. Then, you lift your right leg up and bend that knee. Open up your hips by pointing that knee out to the side. Then bring your body and your knee to the floor. You should end up sitting with your right shin down on the mat and your left leg stretched out behind you. “Inhale, lift your pelvic floor, draw your navel in and up,” Endrst explains. “Inhale to create space in your lower belly here. As you exhale gently wave and release yourself down to the ground. Rest here 10-20 breaths, then switch sides.” This position can aid in digestion and stimulate abdominal organs.
5. Bridge Waves
This is a little remix to the well-known “bridge pose.” “Start out lying flat on your back with the souls of your feet on the earth,” Endrst says. It’s important to focus on your breathing. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth, pushing your hips up with every inhale. During this, bring your arms over your head and move them in a wave-like motion. “Draw your heart toward your chin and keep a soft gaze toward the sky,” Endrst says. “As you exhale, gently wave your spine down flat on the mat and rest. Repeat 5 times.” This pose can improve circulation and calm your mind and body down, making it easier to fall asleep.
6. Figure 4 Pose
Lay flat on your back and then bring your right ankle to to your left knee, imitating the number “4” with the shape of your legs. Then, grab your left shin (or thigh if it’s easier) and bring it toward your chest, holding it for three minutes before switching. “This is a great hip opener that also releases the low back after a long day in repetitive positions.” Megan Kearney, a Yoga Medicine instructor, tells Bustle.
7. Resting Jackknife
For this pose, you’ll need a pillow or some sort of block to place under you. Start on your back with your knees bent and feet touching the floor. Raise your hips and then place the pillow or block you chose underneath the bottom of your spine, without touching it. Bring your knees up over your hips while keeping your lower back curved. Kearney advises to bring your knee to your chest, keeping your spine in place, all while extending the opposite leg and putting it on the ground. Hold the pose for 2-3 minutes before switching sides. “This is a great way to release the hip flexors,” Kearney says. “If you sit or drive most of the day, these muscles tend to shorten. Releasing them can help ease low back pain and help you sleep easier at night.”
This move is simple to do. Lay down flat on your stomach and then bring your elbows under your shoulders, holding your body up in a plank position. Then, relax your shoulders, buttocks, and back, Kearney says, letting everything fall to the floor. “Again, most of us sit all day at our jobs. This pose can help open the front line of the body and also gently stimulate the adrenals, part of our endocrine system responsible for delivery of stress hormones, as well as assisting our immune system,” she says.
9. Myofascial Release
“A long day in a consistent posture can be exhausting and dehydrating to our tissues,” Kearney says. She suggests using the myofascial release roller on your lower back and gluteal muscles so that you can ease this pressure in your body, making it easier to fall asleep afterwards. Begin on the right side of your gluteals and then work your way from the bottom of your spine to your hips or from your hips to just beneath them. “Stay off bone and just move on soft tissue,” Kearney says. “Be sure you are able to comfortably maintain your deep focused breath.”
10. Progressive Body Scan
This is less of a yoga pose and more of a relaxation technique to calm yourself, but it does begin with you laying on your back. All you have to do is lie back and list each and every one of your body parts, starting from your toes, working your way up to your face. “Another technique that helps induce the relaxation response,” Kearney says.
11. Simple Neck Stretch
This stretch is simple, yet makes a world of a different. Begin by sitting at the edge of your bed with your right hand placed underneath your right thigh. Then bring your left hand over your head to hold the right side of your head. Then pull your head toward your left shoulders. “This will open up the muscles in your neck, and alleviate pressure.” Austin Martinez, MS, ATC, CSCS, director of education for StretchLab, tells Bustle. Martinez suggests holding the pose on each side for 30 seconds, and repeating three times. “During all these stretches it is important to concentrate and maintain your breathing,” he says. “Deep breathing not only allows you to get into a deeper stretch, but will also reduce your stress and tension prior to sleeping.”
12. Hamstring Stretch
“By stretching our your hamstrings, you can diminish tension in your lower back and lower body,” Martinez says. Start by laying flat on the floor, with your bed parallel to your hips. Place a leg up on the bed and bend at the hips. Martinez says that you don’t have to bend too far so long as you make sure you’re pivoting your hips and keeping your back straight. Hold this position and then, repeat this stretch, with your foot rotated inward and then outward. “This will activate different areas of your hamstring and reduce overall tension,” Martinez says.
While these poses can be a great way to unwind and release tension at night, if you’re having repetitive sleep issues despite all your efforts, you may want to consult a doctor to see if there is a more serious, underlying issue you should be getting treated for, because everyone deserves a good night’s sleep.
Diane Malaspina, a Yoga Medicine® E-RYT 500 instructor and Therapeutic Specialist, discusses the benefits of a regular meditation practice and how it could help boost energy, fight fatigue and enhance mood.
Maybe it happens mid-morning, as the minutes tick like molasses toward lunchtime. Or perhaps it’s after lunch, as your full belly lulls your tired brain into an unproductive stupor. It might even strike during the last hour of your shift, when it’s too early to clock out physically, but it seems too late to get your mind focused on a new task.
We all succumb to the workplace slump now and then. The key to combat it is to find quick and easy power boosters to keep you energized and on track until it’s time to wind down and head home.
Talk a short walk.
A quick five- to 10-minute walk provides a change of scenery and has an energizing effect, notes Hillary Cecere, M.S., RDN for Eat Clean Bro. “Studies have shown that taking a short walk can result in an improved mood, more energy and even decreased food cravings,” Cecere explains. Plus, she says taking a walk outside offers even more benefits from exposure to sunlight, which is thought to increase levels of serotonin—a hormone that stabilizes mood and increases focus—in the brain.
Fuel up with a small power snack.
Instead of eating a large lunch and consuming foods that are high in refined sugars, Cecere says it’s best to stick to small meals and snacks that contain high-fiber whole grains, veggies, lean proteins and healthy fats to maximize energy levels.
As a bonus, when you prepare a special snack, you can look forward to it and set aside time to enjoy it, notes psychotherapist Dr. Kathryn Smerling. “It’s a little bit of a break, or recess, to look forward to, like when you were a child,” she says. “Plus, snack time can foster a bit of creativity and create an opportunity for social time.”
Drink plenty of water.
By keeping a water bottle at your desk, you’re more likely to stay hydrated, energized and on task. “Dehydration can cause fatigue and leave you feeling sluggish,” warns Cecere. “If you’re unsure whether you’re drinking enough water, check your urine. It should always be light yellow or clear. If it’s not, up your water intake.”
Take a power nap (if possible).
When you’re struggling to keep your heavy eyelids open long enough to draft an email or parse a spreadsheet, tat’s your circadian rhythm telling you to take a nap, notes fitness and nutrition coach Jill Brown. If you’re fortunate enough to have that as a viable option, stop fighting that natural impulse and step away for a quick 20-minute snooze.
Do an energy breathing exercise.
If napping is more dream than reality, Brown suggests “energy breathing” as the next best energy booster. Sit up tall or stand, breathe in deep and slow from your nose, and exhale fast from the mouth. Repeat at least 10 times, or for a full minute. “This technique increases oxygen to the body quickly,” explains Brown. Better yet, follow that up with a 10-minute walk, also focusing on that breathing pattern to circulate oxygen through your muscles.
Clean your workspace.
Piles of papers, dusty surfaces and generally disorganized spaces can bog you down and serve as a subconscious distraction. Take a break from your screen to clean and organize your workspace. “Less clutter results in more productivity,” notes Cecere. “I often find that when my space is clean, my mind is clear.” Plus, just the act of standing and physically straightening your surroundings will give your brain a jolt of energy.
Do some calf raises.
Health coach Cheryl Russo swears by this exercise as a quick pick-me-up. Stand behind a chair and place your hands on the back of it, then lift your heels off the floor and push up through the ball of your foot, then lower back down. “This move improves circulation in the lower extremities and energizes fatigued legs,” Russo points out.
Do a quick yoga sequence.
Russo shares some of her favorite energy-boosting yoga poses:
Standing mountain pose: Stand with your legs hip distance apart and your back straight. Roll your shoulders back so your chest is open and the crown of your head reaches toward the ceiling. With a big exhale, raise your arms overhead and interlace your fingers, reaching up out of your rib cage. Lean toward the right and left. Repeat for a few rounds.
Standing tabletop position: Hinge forward until your back is parallel with the floor, gently placing your hands on the back of a chair or on your thighs. Stay here for a few breaths.
Cat/cow (standing): Start in the standing tabletop position. For the cow pose, roll your shoulders back, let your belly and chest release toward the floor and inhale deeply. On the exhale, round out your back, draw your navel toward your spine and lower your head toward the floor (cat pose). Switch back and forth a few times.
Do a five-minute bodyweight circuit.
When you’re feeling sluggish, a mini workout can do wonders for energy levels, with the bonus of burning some extra calories. Bertus Albertse, founder of Body20, suggests this five-minute exercise routine to increase blood flow to the muscles and also to harmonize your left and right brain hemispheres for better problem-solving skills, coordination and overall productivity, while releasing the feel-good hormone serotonin. Perform each move for one minute, taking breaks as needed.
Wall Squats: These isometric holds activate the glute and leg muscles.
Standing Lunges: These improve blood flow for better circulation, while increasing the heart rate and metabolic processes.
Plank: This move activates the core/stabilizing muscles for better posture and back support.
Pushups: This exercise engages the upper body muscles while also activating the stabilizers for improved posture.
Triceps Dips: Use your desk or chair to dip your way to toned arms while increasing the blood flow to your fingers.
Take a meditation break.
Instead of taking a coffee break, try a meditation break.“Meditation elicits a calming effect on the nervous system, and also contributes to mental clarity and focus,” says Diane Malaspina, Ph.D, Yoga Medicine® therapeutic specialist. “Endorphins are released during meditation, which naturally boosts energy, wards off fatigue and enhances mood.”
You don’t even have to leave your desk to squeeze in a quick meditation. Start by sitting tall and making sure the hips and legs are comfortable. Close your eyes and follow your breath. After a few moments of centering your mind on your breath, begin to count each inhale, with the goal of maintaining attention on your breath for 10 consecutive inhales. If your mind wanders and you lose count, start again and repeat until you can maintain focus on the breath for 10 straight inhales, Malaspina suggests.
Your yoga practice can be a therapeutic tool for pain management and prevention. Try this gentle sequence by Tiffany Cruikshank to target your nerves and protect their signaling powers.
With all of the new and emerging information on pain science, yoga students and teachers have the opportunity to apply modern research to their practices and help alleviate and prevent pain.
Preliminary research suggests that gentle movement of your nerves is vital to both managing pain and supporting the general health of your nervous system. The idea is that healthy nerves should be able to gently slide, elongate, and angulate within neural tissues (some nerves can move as much as ¾ inch) in order to adapt to different loads and minimize pressure that can worsen existing pain, alter sensation, or lead to new pain patterns. Sometimes, tone and tension around neural tissues can be a problem. These tissues are bloodthirsty and rely on an important pressure gradient around them to maintain adequate blood flow. So even small changes in tissue tension around a nerve can be enough to block nerve mobility and lead to compression that disrupts blood flow and nerve signaling back to the brain, contributing to pain.
To help you keep your nerves adaptable and protected, try the asana technique on the following pages based on an understanding of neurodynamics (the study of nerve movement through its surrounding tissues) and nerve pathways. We have the ability to alternately put tension on different ends of the nerve to create a movement of the nerve through the tissues, often referred to as nerve gliding. As you floss the nerve, you potentially allow it to move more freely so that it can communicate more efficiently with your brain. For example, the sciatic nerve runs through the back of your leg, so in Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose) if you bend your knee (raised leg) and flex your foot, you’ll put tension on one end of the nerve (by your foot) and slack the other end (by your knee). This action draws the sciatic nerve and its branches toward your foot. Then, as you extend your knee and point your toes, you’ll reverse the areas of tension and slack. This action draws the branches of the sciatic nerve toward your knee. When you put these movements together you can encourage the sciatic nerve to move back and forth through its tissues more effortlessly. You also may down-regulate local inflammatory responses, restore healthy blood flow to the hard-working nerve, and encourage more efficient communication between your brain and body. Optimal signaling is crucial if you want your immune and nervous systems to function at their best, which is another reason to add nerve gliding to your repertoire.
The key to nerve gliding is to move gently within an easy range of motion. Since your target is the pain-free movement of your nerves, not of your muscles and fascia, you want very little sensation or stretch. It’s a great reminder that even in the physical body there’s clearly more to what we do than just sensations or the feel-good endorphins associated with them. Another thing I love about this approach is that, in addition to being a safe way to work with pain, it’s very accessible since it’s about simple, gentle movements.
Sequence – Neurodynamic Movement
To begin, pick a nerve you want to focus on and find a range of motion that’s accessible, pain-free, and with very little (if any) stretching sensation. Do 5–10 repetitions of the pose or this sequence once or twice a day. If you’re using these moves more preventatively, try rotating a few of them into your regular practice a couple times a week, and remember that in group classes there’s more than just stretch and sensation affecting the tissues. Happy flossing!
Target: Sciatic Nerve
The largest and longest nerve in your body. It stretches from your lower back to your feet.
Not only is the sciatic nerve the largest and longest nerve in your body, it’s also the most commonly irritated. Flossing this nerve is a great place to start, and return to again and again.
A Lie on your back with your right knee bent and your right foot flexed to move your sciatic nerve toward the end of your foot.
B Then, extend your right knee (but there’s no need to straighten it completely), and point your foot to move your sciatic nerve toward your spine. Find an easy, pain-free and stretch-free range of motion.
Repeat 5–10 times. Switch sides.
Target: Spinal Cord
The tube of your central nervous system that extends from your brain stem to your lower back.
Flexion of your spine puts more pressure on your spinal column and nerves, so for this pose you can use opposite movements of your cervical spine (neck) to create a more centralized flossing effect on your spinal cord. This one may feel strange if you’re familiar with Cat-Cow Pose, but it’s a great way to target the central nervous system.
A As you come into Cat Pose, look up to take your neck into extension.
B Then, move into Cow Pose as you tuck your chin to bring your neck into flexion. Find an easy range of motion.
Repeat 5–10 times. Then, switch sides.
Target: Femoral Nerve
Runs along the front of your hips and thighs.
3. SPHINX POSE, VARIATION
A From Sphinx Pose, simply lift one leg off the ground as you look up.
B Then, lower your leg as you tuck your chin. Find an easy range of motion to help rejuvenate the femoral nerve, which is important for the health of your mid-lower back (second to fourth lumbar vertebrae) and front hip.
Repeat 5–10 times. Then, switch sides.
Target: Femoral Nerve & Sciatic Nerve
Get two nerves in one move.
4. ANJANEYASANA (LOW LUNGE)
The back-leg action targets the femoral nerve on the front of your hip, and the front-leg action targets the sciatic nerve on the back of your leg.
A Start in Low Lunge with your left knee on the ground as you lift your head to look straight ahead.
B Then, lean your hips back to straighten your right leg (no need to straighten completely), round your back, and tuck your chin.
Repeat 5–10 times. Then, switch sides.
Target: Sciatic Nerve
This technique is for people who are using nerve flossing as a preventative practice.
This version of Standing Splits offers a more challenging and functional approach for those who are pain-free.
A For Standing Splits on your right side, bend both of your knees and tap your left knee to your right calf as you look forward.
B Then, straighten your legs and lift your left leg as you come onto the ball of your right foot and tuck your chin. Find an easy range of motion.
Repeat 5–10 times. Then, switch sides.
Target: Median Nerve
This nerve runs through your arm and hand.
6. VIRABHADRASANA II (WARRIOR POSE II, VARIATION)
The median nerve is the most commonly irritated nerve in your hands and arms. Since pressure on the median nerve is what causes the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, this move can be helpful for this condition and other wrist pain.
A From Warrior II on your right side, take your arms out to your sides with your palms facing forward (toward the long edge of the mat). Take your right fingers back so that your palm faces the front of your mat. Bring your left fingers forward as you lean your head to the right.
B Then, switch positions with your hands and head so that your right fingers are pointing forward and your left fingers are back as you lean your head to the left. Find an easy, pain-free range of motion.
Senior Yoga Medicine® teacher and therapeutic specialist, Allie Geer, explains why the power of restorative yoga is not to be underestimated.
As a teacher and practitioner of restorative yoga I often come to wonder how I ever got by without this practice. More than ever, students are turning to this form of yoga as a way to alleviate stress. Stress in small doses can be a very adaptive, natural, and healthy experience for your body. However, we run into trouble when the body becomes chronically stressed. Restorative yoga provides us with tools and techniques to help us better manage the symptoms of stress and chronic stress. When we learn to cope with stress, we can support our body’s natural rhythms and cycles. Restorative yoga encourages the body’s innate capacity to heal. The ability to relax is truly a learned habit, and must be practiced over time and with patience. The first time you try restorative yoga, you might struggle to get comfortable. You might fidget and move around throughout class. Just know that this is OK. Sometimes, the biggest hurdle is giving your body permission to rest. I also encourage you to get curious and to notice the effects the restorative yoga poses have on your body, breath, and even your heart rate.
The Benefits of Restorative Yoga
Restorative yoga is a practice that effects the body from the inside out. It targets our nervous system, our digestive system, and also has a direct impact on all the internal systems within our body. It helps restore our body’s natural capacity for health by targeting the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is a branch of the nervous system that regulates our body’s ability to rest, digest, and heal. When we can balance the nervous system and activate the parasympathetic response. This response will help us manage the symptoms of stress and fatigue.
Restorative Yoga: Here’s What You Need to Know Before You Get Started
Unlike other styles of yoga, restorative yoga is a passive and deeply receptive practice. Typically poses are held anywhere from 5-25 minutes. Sometimes, it includes the use of yoga props to set the body up to be as comfortable as possible. There is little to no muscular activity. The goal is not to stretch or stimulate our tissues. Once we settle into a pose, we stay. We become a witness to our internal environment within our body. If you are new to restorative yoga, try the following sequence. The props suggested include a strap, a bolster, two blocks, and four blankets. However, if you don’t have the suggested props, you can always modify with scarves, towels, pillows, couch cushions, and even large books in lieu of the blocks. The goal is to rest and set your body up so that you give it permission to just be, relax, unwind, and nourish from the inside out. This short sequence is one of my go-to sequences whenever I need a system reboot and overall the class could take you anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. It’s up to you how much time you can carve out. The longer you can hold, the better. Try setting a gentle timer or just come out of the pose when you feel ready.
Try These 4 Restorative Yoga Poses to Relax Your Body and Mind:
Before you begin your practice, take a few moments to ground. Find a comfortable seated position that will allow you to feel the weight of your sit bones dropping into the earth.
Then, take a moment to welcome the breath into your body. Begin to observe the breath in its natural state.
Take three vocal sighs out through your mouth for three exhales. If possible, try to sit for a few moments just observing your breath and sensations within your body without the need to change, interpret, or shift anything. Linger in the exhalations.
1. Legs on the Bolster
Suggested props: 1 blanket, strap, bolster, 2 blocks, or a wall
This gentle inversion massages your heart and improves blood flow and circulation. It helps to calm your mind and nervous system. It also alleviates soreness due to muscle aches and pains in the legs and feet.
Let’s try it:
Take two blocks and set them towards the end of your mat on the medium height
Place the bolster on top of the blocks, like you are making a table
Loop your strap, and slowly come down on to your back. Place your legs on top of the bolster so that the calves are fully resting on top of the bolster with the legs at about a 90-degree angle
Place the strap around your mid-thigh to allow your hips to feel fully relaxed and supported
Additionally, for extra comfort place a blanket under your head and perhaps one on top of your belly. Stay in this pose anywhere from 5-20 minutes
Once you arrive into the posture allow a few moments to settle in. Welcome your breath into your body and begin to visualize fatigue, tension, and stress slowly draining out of your body starting at your feet.
Take your time transitioning out of the posture. Making mindful, easy movements arriving back to a seat. You can also modify this posture by elevating your legs on a wall instead of a bolster.
2. Elevated Prone Twist
Suggested props: 4 blankets, 2 blocks, 1 bolster
Twists, and this twist in particular, offers gentle stimulation for the digestive organs, liver and spleen. It can help alleviate tension in the muscles of the back and hips and gently stretch your intercostal muscles between your ribs to enhance your breathing.
Let’s try it:
Start by placing one block on the medium height and one on the lower height. Place your bolster on top of the blocks so the bolster slopes downward
Place a blanket in front of the bolster. Sit on the blanket with your right hip next to the bolster and the knees stacked
Place a blanket in between your knees. Place a blanket on each side of the bolster to support your arms
Begin by sitting upright and connecting to the breath, feeling the pelvis drop into the floor. Slowly rotate your torso towards the bolster and recline down on top of it
Settle in and stay for 5-10 minutes before switching sides. Allow the props to support the body. To modify, this pose can also be done without using the blocks for elevation.
3. Supta Baddha Konasana or “The Goddess”
Suggested props: 4 blankets, 2 blocks, 1 bolster
Supta Baddha Konasana softens your shoulders and relaxes your chest, abdomen, and pelvis. It can be helpful during menstruation, menopause, and pregnancy.
Let’s try it:
Keep the same prop set up as the previous pose with the bolster and blocks elevated and the blankets to each side
This time, sit in front of the bolster with the sacrum as close to the edge of the bolster as possible. Bring the soles of your feet to touch and let your knees open wide as if you were making a diamond shape with your legs
Slowly recline down onto the bolster and tuck the rolled blankets beside you under your hips
Should you need more support, add another blanket under your head and neck and a blanket to cover for warmth. Option to add an eye pillow for your eyes. Stay in the pose anywhere from 5-20 minutes.
To modify, adjust the height of props to personal comfort.
Savasana seals your practice and allows your entire body to relax by inviting it to find a deeply restful and supportive state.
This pose encourages rest and repair of tissues and helps ease stress, anxiety, tension and insomnia while balancing your parasympathetic response in the nervous system.
It is important to take the time to set up Savasana to provide maximum amount of comfort for your body.
Let’s try it:
Try setting up in Savasana by laying down with a bolster under your knees, a rolled blanket under your ankles, and a rolled blanket to support the curvature of your neck
Support for your neck is key here to really tap into the parasympathetic response
Get the most out of the pose by adding the weight and support of a sandbag or pillow on top of your belly. Rest in Savasana anywhere from 5-25 minutes. Feel your body fully supported and landing onto the earth. Give your body permission to relax and be at ease.
Do You Feel Relaxed After These 4 Restorative Yoga Poses?
Restorative yoga is a practice that nourishes the body from the inside out. It is a practice of non-judgment. It is a practice of curiosity and tuning in to your body’s internal state. Restorative yoga taps into our body’s natural capacity to heal and maintain a healthy state of balance. I hope this practice helps you feel deeply rested, supported, rejuvenated, and restored. Rest is best, especially when we are feeling tired, stressed, and overwhelmed. May this practice be of benefit. Namaste Yogis!
I was still detoxing from opiates when I tried yoga for the first time. My entire body hurt and no amount of medication was able to fix that. As soon as the yoga instructor began the session, I struggled to hold the positions he was telling me to hold, but this completely distracted me from the withdrawal symptoms I was experiencing at the time. By the end of the session, my body felt loose and relaxed. The 30-minute yoga session had immensely reduced nearly all of the symptoms I was experiencing.
Throughout my sobriety, yoga has been an extremely beneficial part of my recovery. I have continued to incorporate yoga into my regular routine, and have found that it has helped me heal from addiction mentally, physically, and spiritually.
I often hear people in recovery say “if you bring the body, the mind will follow.” The concept behind this phrase is basically that even though it may be difficult to convince yourself to accept and do the things you need to do, if you simply put forth the effort, the mental benefits will follow. By pushing myself through these challenging sessions and postures, I would be rewarded by being able to find a peaceful state of mind.
When I first started doing yoga, it wasn’t easy. However, as it became a more important part of my routine, my mind and focus became clearer. By placing my concentration on my breath, it was impossible to focus on any other worries that were racing through my brain. My obsessive, drug-related thoughts became easy to identify and control. I used the mindful techniques that I learned to help control feelings of anxiety and stress. I started to feel stronger as the different positions became easier, so I felt more confident overall.
As yoga became a regular part of my routine, I stopped feeling fragile and weak. My strength and balance returned. I had done a lot of damage to my body due to the effects of opiate abuse, but yoga helped me get my body healthy again. It was the first activity where every muscle in my body truly felt relaxed.
Through the various positions, I was able to feel the release of tension that I held in my neck and shoulders. I found myself experiencing less stress, less pain, and more energy. I had struggled with insomnia since stepping away from the drugs, but I found that I was able to fall asleep quickly and sleep throughout the night if I had done yoga and meditation that day. As my body felt better, I started to eat healthier as well. It was like a ripple effect – my overall mental and physical health was getting better and better as time went on.
Spirituality has profound effects on the success of a person in recovery being able to maintain long term sobriety. In most yoga sessions I have participated in, my instructor has told me to set an intention to my practice. Since spirituality is something I have always struggled with, my intention is usually to connect my mind, body, and spirit through the practice of yoga and meditation.
Many instructors will describe the importance of quieting the mind. Pushing through difficult postures allows me to let go of my thoughts and emotions to create a sacred space within myself. By gaining awareness of the energy and capabilities of my body, I am able to focus inward on my body’s demands allowing me to connect with my body while distancing my mind from negative thoughts and energy.
When I am in control of my mental focus and emotions, I am able to be grateful for the body and for the life I have been given. Having a grateful attitude and spiritual awareness provides me with an understanding of my motives behind the things I do. It reminds me of why I got sober in the first place – to live a better, happier life. Spending the last few minutes of each yoga session in a meditation has allowed me to transform my thoughts and change my outlook on life for the better.
When I was younger and came down with a ‘stomach bug’, my parents would often give me flat ginger ale to relieve my discomfort. Growing up, it was a fairly common remedy for stomach issues. As kids, most of us had no idea why it worked. But we knew we felt better and that was the important bit. Fast forward a few decades. Dand during a bout with norovirus I was desperate for some relief, so I gave this little trick a try. Sure enough, I felt better.
So the question is, why does it work? It’s not just any flat soda product; it has to be ginger ale, which gives us something of a hint. It’s the ginger. Zingiber officinale, the scientific name for ginger, has been used for thousands of years for a wide variety of health issues, most of which are related to gastrointestinal distress (Ali, 2008). Its use appears in both Chinese medicine and the Ayurvedic system. These systems use ginger for stomach cramps, bloating, vomiting, and even helminths (worms) and bacterial infections related to the GI tract.
As an infectious disease specialist studying clinical herbalism, I became curious about what modern scientific inquiry might have to say that could corroborate some of these ancient claims.
Why Does it Work?
As it turns out, there is a tremendous body of literature that fully supports many of these assertions. In addition, the studies that investigate ginger are increasing rapidly in number. Particularly because scientists have become interested in whether it could be used as a means of decreasing antibiotic usage. Which would, therefore, combat antibiotic resistance. In a really fantastic literature review by Valussi in International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition (2012), we see multiple studies that point to the components of ginger that seem to be responsible for its myriad of uses.
The essential oil found in ginger along with chemical components known as oleo-resins were extracted in ethanol (a tincture) and given either via injection into the intestine or orally to rats. In the case of the injection, we see an increase in bile secretion. In the oral administration, the results show increased digestive enzymes. This includes enzymes produced by the pancreas, trypsin, and chymotrypsin, which break down large proteins in the duodenum (the first section of the small intestine).
Valussi further describes several studies wherein consumption of ginger in both lab animals and people results in reduced spasmodic activity in the intestines, but increased rates of digestive activity. This includes enzyme stimulation and peristaltic movement, which drives food products through the GI tract. These studies offer evidence to explain why ginger is frequently used to calm an upset stomach. It also offers a solution to why those who have difficulty with constipation or other digestive issues – including Crohn’s disease, IBS, and ulcerative colitis – may find some relief by the consumption of ginger before or immediately after meals.
Ginger as an Antibacterial/Antimicrobial
The good work of ginger does not end there. As I mentioned before, many scientists are interested in if ginger could be utilized in lieu of antibiotics or antimicrobials. Use of ginger in this way could help to stem the tide of antibiotic-resistant infections. A study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology (Iqbal, 2006) demonstrated that crude powder and a simple aqueous extract of dried ginger were somewhat effective in treating sheep with helminth (nematodes/worms) infections.
Both the powder and extract showed a dose-dependent anthelmintic effect with up to a 66.6% reduction in six different species of worm infection. The standard pharmaceutical, Levamisole, exhibited a 99.2% reduction; but it is worth noting that Levamisole has recently gained notoriety as a cutting agent for cocaine. This is due to its transient neurological side effects, most often reported as “excitement” in both humans and livestock. As such, further investigation of ginger as a potential substitute or complementary treatment is warranted.
Ginger for GI Tract Infections
Finally, an in vitro study in Phytotherapy Research (Bensch, 2011) explored multiple herbal extracts (in ethanol) to determine if any among them might prove useful against the digestive infection caused by Campylobacter jejuni (C. jejuni). This is a bacterium that leads to severe diarrhea and is loosely associated with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, an illness in which one’s immune system attacks one’s nerves – resulting in tingling, weakness or even paralysis. Bensch found that of the 21 extracts he studied, the extracts of ginger and licorice exhibited the greatest effect – the inhibition of the C. jejuni ability to adhere to cells in vitro. This finding suggests these extracts warrant further investigation as to whether they could prevent C. jejuni adhesion in the human gut and, thus, prevent infection and disease.
In summary, there is a lot of exciting evidence from both ancient systems and modern scientific inquiry that suggest how ginger is a great addition to one’s diet and perhaps to one’s over-the-counter arsenal of complementary or alternative options as well. This is especially exciting for those who suffer from chronic gastrointestinal distress. That’s not to say that ginger will fix it all, but it may alleviate pain and discomfort for acute flare-ups.
Certainly, we have progressed rather a long way in our understanding of sugar and other processed foods, so the old trick of a flat ginger ale might not be the best option anymore. But, ginger is readily available. So as are tinctures and teas made from it – or try your hand at making your own! Ginger is suggested to be safe with few or no side effects. But, it is important to always check with your physician before making changes or additions to existing medications.
Check out Dr. Doherty’s article on the use of dandelions as a powerful antioxidant here.
Ali, Badreldin H., Gerald Blunden, Musbah O. Tanira, and Abderrahim Nemmar. Some phytochemical, pharmacological and toxicological properties of ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe): A review of recent research. Food and Chemical Toxicology 46 (2008): 409-420.
Bensch, K., J. Tiralongo, K. Schmidt, A. Matthias, K.M. Bone, R. Lehmann, and E. Tiralongo. Investigations into the Antiadhesive Activity of Herbal Extracts Against Campylobacter jejuni.Phytotherapy Research 25 (2011): 1125-1132.
Iqbal, Zafar, Muhammad Lateef, Muhammad Shoaib Akhtar, Muhammad Nabeel Ghayur, and Anwarul Hassan Gilani. In vivo anthelmintic activity of ginger against gastrointestinal nematodes of sheep. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 106 (2006): 285-287.
Valussi, Marco. Functional foods with digestion-enhancing properties. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition 63(S1; 2012): 82-89.
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