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Mental Health And Wellness Module Overview

By Nat & Sandy Yoga Podcast.

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.

Listen to the full podcast here. Enjoy!

When Your Doctor Recommends Yoga

 for Yoga Medicine® discusses the concept of a yoga prescription – or a doctor recommendation that you start yoga. Learn about some of the benefits, and how to maximize the chance of success.

Yoga Prescription: When Your Doctor Recommends Yoga

The benefits of yoga are starting to overwhelm the Western medical community in such a way that more and more doctors are prescribing yoga. Studies are emerging with positive and beneficial results from a regular yoga practice. Not only for physical health but also mental health.

A study by the Yoga Journal found that “the health care world’s increased acceptance of yoga therapy is partly due to a significant body of clinical research. This research documents yoga’s proven benefits for a range of health conditions, including back pain, anxiety, depression, and insomnia…” [1]

While there are many reasons why yoga is gaining traction, a key oversight that seems to be unaddressed is what actually constitutes “yoga” as it encompasses numerous interpretations, especially for those who have never practiced or are new to a yoga practice. As a yoga teacher, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard misconceptions such as, “yoga is just stretching” or “yoga is great for relaxing”. While both of these statements contain some validity, there are many realms to yoga, including power yoga, inversions, strength-focused and flow-focused practices. Because of this, doctors are prescribing yoga almost blindly, and unfortunately, if the patient is unaware of different styles of yoga, this prescription could have the potential to be more detrimental than beneficial.

Let’s talk about how you can ensure that a yoga prescription will produce a positive result.

1. Do your research.

As I stated earlier, there are many different forms of yoga. Here are some prevalent styles of yoga to help you decide what would be the best option for you in your studio research.

Hatha:

Hatha is the physical practice of yoga, also called asana. Its postures are meant to create alignment and balance within the body. There can be beginner and advanced Hatha classes.

Vinyasa:

Vinyasa is a set of movements initiated by the breath and created to help flow from one sequence to another. It can be found in all levels of classes and can be non-heated or heated. (Shoulder injuries should be cautious with this type of practice, and most likely, avoid.)

Ashtanga:

Ashtanga incorporates vinyasa in a physically demanding practice that merges the breath and body. It can vary from beginner to advanced. (Shoulder injuries should be cautious with this type of practice, and most likely, avoid.)

Bikram:

Bikram is a form of Hatha and consists of a set of 26 postures done twice each in a heated room that can get up to 108 degrees, plus humidity.

Power Yoga:

Power yoga has stormed across the yoga world. It often involves ashtanga and/or vinyasa and can often be heated. Many relate to this style as showing up for a hot, sweaty, high-energy, strength and conditioning class that also contains some aspects of stretching and cool-down. This type of class is not recommended if you’re dealing with an injury. This style is more geared towards the students who is wanting to get in shape, build muscle, and advance in the postures.

Yin Yoga:

Yin yoga is a gentle form of yoga that involves holding stretches for a longer amount of time. This can be highly beneficial for those dealing with injuries, however, make sure you find a teacher who knows how to offer pose modifications if you are new or injured.

Restorative Yoga:

The teacher will instruct you into a gentle pose that usually requires no muscle activation and very little stretch. This type of yoga can often be very healing for someone dealing with an injury or stress as it allows the body to slow down and recover.

Beginner Yoga:

I highly recommend this style for those who are new to yoga, especially if you’re dealing with an injury. These classes allow you the chance to learn the poses correctly, more gently, and in a space with other beginners. It’s often less intimidating.

     Side note: If you see “Level 1” and “Level 2/3” class descriptions, Level 1 can be beginner or can be more of an intermediate flow. It will depend on that particular studio. Level 2/3 is typically an advanced class for those looking to grow their practice into an advanced state.

2. Look for teachers who are qualified.

When I look back at my first couple years of teaching, I almost feel embarrassed from some of the cues I gave and the way I instructed students into poses. Teachers grow not only through actual teaching experience, but also through advanced trainings that focus on specific injuries and anatomy within the yoga practice.

Look up your instructor before you take their class. Often, there will be a quick bio on the website of the studio. Some instructors may also have their own websites and social media profiles. Make sure to check for these factors:

Certification: A 200-hour certification is the standard certification for instructors. A 500-hour is more advanced and requires much more training and hopefully, instructing experience.

Experience: How many years have they been teaching? What classes do they normally teach? Do they have any specialties?

Contact: If you are still unsure if a teacher is the right fit for you, feel free to contact either the teacher directly or the studio. If you feel comfortable with the initial contact, you’ll most likely feel more comfortable in person.

3. Practice in a studio.

Don’t get me wrong, the access to online yoga is wonderful and makes establishing a consistent practice more financially accessible. However, if you’re dealing with a specific injury or an area in need of help, or if you’re a beginner or you need to focus specifically on proper alignment, I would highly recommend going into a studio. Using the above information, it would be helpful to find a teacher with experience and knowledge in the specific area you’re dealing with, and practice under the guidance of that instructor. This can help ensure safety within your practice and your body. If you don’t feel comfortable practicing in a group setting, most instructors offer private sessions. While that can be a little harder on the wallet, it allows for an invaluable one-on-one experience.

4. Practice with the mindset of non-judgment.

“Mindfulness is defined as the nonjudgmental focus of one’s attention on the experience that occurs in the present moment,” says a recent study done on the benefits of practicing mindfulness and non-judgement within athletics and performance of the athletes. 2 This study found that that “mindful-ness and acceptance approaches may be particularly effective for performance enhancement” and that this awareness actually helped the athletes “manage their activation state more efficiently”. I can only imagine and believe that this would be true within a yoga practice as well. Yoga is centered around the idea of mindfulness. Can you imagine coming to your yoga practice with a mindset of non-judgement? The healing benefits both physically and mentally could be extremely effective.

I may be slightly biased, but I truly believe yoga is for everyone and you will experience physical and mental benefits when you find the right style, teacher, and mindset. Above all, listen to your doctor’s advice, but do your research as well in order to assure that you receive healthy instruction and the proper class for YOU.

Here’s to getting healthy through yoga and continuing to merge yoga and medicine.

***

References:

1. Enfield, Susan. Why More Western Doctors are Now Prescribing Yoga. Yoga Journal, 2016.

2. Marjorie Bernier, Emilie Thienot, Romain Codron, Jean F. Fournier. Mindfulness and Acceptance Approaches in Sport Performance. Journal of Clinical Sports Psychology, Human Kinetics, 2009, 320, 329.

Myofascial Release for Injuries Exploring Techniques

Lisa Muehlenbein, Yoga Medicine® Teacher shares some techniques to practice myofascial release for injuries. Learn how she treated her own injuries with myofascial release, and try to incorporate some of these techniques into your own injury recovery plan.

Exploring Myofascial Release Techniques for Injuries

Robert W. Service said, “It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out; it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.”  For me, as a yoga teacher, it wasn’t necessarily a grain of sand, but rather a bone spur in my acromioclavicular joint that felt like the thorn embedding itself deeper and deeper into my biceps tendon and supraspinatus muscle with every Chaturanga.  This impingement in the shoulder joint added to the recipe of my discomfort.  After discussing my options with my orthopedic surgeon, I decided that this bone spur no longer had a home in my shoulder.  I needed to be able to move freely and be fully functional—after all, that is what I help my clients do each and every day.  Why would I treat myself any differently?  Why wouldn’t I use what I know to help me heal?  So, that is exactly what I did.

Recovering from Surgery

After having surgery to remove the barb-like spur, I followed doctor’s orders for the first week as I could only manage to stay in a sling for that long without losing my mind!  This body needed to move and get back to normal.  At this point, I had been in living with this nagging pain for about a year and a half, so I really couldn’t even remember what “normal” was. I started off at two weeks post-op with the usual exercises that most patients are given after rotator cuff surgery to strengthen the muscles surrounding the joint.

I started with these exercises because the ball and socket joint of the shoulder is more like a golf ball sitting on a tee rather than the deeply set hip joint. To start, I going through weightless motions. Theraband resistance is typically added after the one month mark.  I noticed that I was subconsciously guarding my shoulder, which created an unproductive level of tension from my sub-occipitals all the way down into the healing joint.  The levator and trapezius decided to join the party as well as the teres minor/major and subscapularis, leaving me with aches and pains not only in the joint, but also across the entire upper-right quadrant of my body.

Diving into my Yoga Medicine Toolbox

I was in so much additional pain. I had to do something.  So, I dipped into my Yoga Medicine toolbox and pulled out my green Rad Rollers.  I started by addressing the tension and tightness in my suboccipitals that was creating headaches.  I placed the balls on top of my cork block (on the lowest level) and found that spot that was holding tension right below the edge of my skull and finally achieved some relief.  After the balls, I shifted the block to its mid-level height and enjoyed more pinpoint relief from the corners of the block as they massaged away the woes.

Since I wasn’t that far out of surgery, I wanted to be mindful of the joint itself. My next area needing a little TLC was my levator and trapezius.  To begin gently, I approached these areas in a standing position with one ball placed between my body and the wall, rolling and gliding to find those spots that “hurt so good.”

At each visit to the doctor, I would share what I was doing.  He supported me exploring myofascial release (MFR) as part of my healing process.  As my journey progressed, I began adding scapular push-ups at the wall to strengthen the serratus in conjunction with the newly added Therabands, MFR and massage. To execute the scapular push-ups, I began facing the wall, placing my palms flat against the wall creating the push-up position in a vertical, standing plane.  Gently, and slowly retracting the shoulder blades toward each other and then pushing the wall away. Once I was able to move through my ROM here without pain, I transitioned to performing the scapular push-ups on the floor in quadruped.  I was excited to be an active participant in my own recovery!

3 Months Out

At the 3-month mark, I was still feeling pain at the end-range of motion.  My doctor was happy with my progress, but I wasn’t.  I  wanted to be pain free. I needed to step it up a notch (or three) while still staying within the boundaries of what my shoulder would tolerate.  So I added kneeling forearm planks and kneeling side planks to focus on stabilizing the shoulder.

I continued my MFR regimen with some additional attention to the subscapularis, teres minor and serratus; cue the green Rad Rollers and the block!  I found that approaching the teres minor/major by lying on my side with my head on the block and the ball underneath me and just behind me was the most effective (albeit intense!) way to address this area.  Placing the block on it’s side with the ball on top and just inside the armpit was helpful invaluable at getting into the subscapularis and releasing the resistance I was experiencing in this area.  Making my way to release the serratus anterior, only a block on its side was needed as I placed it underneath the armpit and cradled my head in my bottom hand as I explored rocking forward and back with productive results and improved range of motion (ROM).

4 Months Out

At 4 months out, I was seeing results with what I was doing. But I decided to add the additional modalities of chiropractic, cupping and the deeper MFR approach of the Graston technique in the hopes of getting closer to the goal of pain-free ROM.  The Graston technique was the most intense (yet manageable) form of MFR that I added to my recovery.  Using a metal tool that resembled a metal tongue depressor, my chiropractor would press the blunt edges along my scapular border explaining that she was releasing adhesions.  I could feel the resistance of the adhesions as they fought back against the tool.  Following the treatment, I could feel a sense of warmth in the area and mild soreness, but more importantly, I could feel increased ROM.

Conclusions

Each day, each pose, each technique brings me a step closer to turning that intention into a reality thanks to my experience and knowledge gained through my Yoga Medicine trainings.  I feel gratified to have been an active participant in my own healing journey as I worked side-by-side with my health care providers.  While I am not off the mountain just yet, the grain of sand—or rather, the thorny spur—is gone and the view ahead looks clearer each day.

Treat Upper Body Tension & Pain

In this article, Shannon Stephens, Yoga Medicine® Teacher, identifies key trigger points in the trapezius, pecs, and rhomboids, and explains how you can address upper body pain and tension with a blend of myofascial release and Yin yoga. Techniques, poses, and tips are provided to release areas prone to tension.

Upper Body Tension: Myofascial Release & Yoga Poses That Can Help

We all carry tension and stress in our neck and shoulders. The way we sit or stand, repetitive movements, and psychological stress all contribute to tightness and pain, which is why yin postures that focus on breath and passive release of muscular tension can be particularly beneficial for this area. Although yin yoga typically targets the lower half of the body, we can still incorporate yin principles to target the neck, chest, and shoulders.

When teaching yin yoga for the upper body, I often incorporate myofascial release. As a technique, myofascial release can help to ease pain, restore range of motion, improve circulation, and hydrate the tissues. The pairing of these two modalities offers an effective treatment for neck and shoulder tension that my students welcome.

The sequence below targets the trapezius, the pectoralis major and minor, and the rhomboids. The white x’s indicated in the illustrations denote trigger points. Myofascial trigger points are painful spots, more commonly known as “knots”, in the fascia surrounding the skeletal muscle.

When we apply pressure to a trigger point it can feel tender, both at the site and in a different region (this is known as referred pain). With myofascial release work dull, achy pain is normal, but we should always avoid the pain that is sharp, shooting, or unbearable. Place the tennis balls directly at the site of the trigger points and stay for up to two minutes. Avoid bone, major arteries, and nerves, and do not practice if there is acute injury, bruising or visual swelling. To decrease the intensity, try placing a towel over the tennis balls.

Props needed: 2 tennis balls & 1 block

1. Trapezius

Tension in the shoulders is often the result of overuse of the trapezius. The trapezius is a large, superficial V-shaped muscle that originates at the occipital ridge and extends distally to the lower thoracic vertebrae, and laterally to the spine of the scapula. There are a couple of common scenarios that occur when we overuse this muscle. Scenario 1) When the shoulders are slouched, and the head is pitched forward, the trapezius can become overstretched.

“Text neck” is the term used to describe the injuries and pain sustained from looking down at wireless devices for too long. When we look down at our smart phones it places a tremendous amount of strain on the muscles that help to hold the head up. Scenario 2) Elevation of the shoulders is an involuntary response to stress. When the muscles return to this position repeatedly, or remain there for long periods of time, tension develops. Headaches are also common with overuse of the trapezius.

Yin – Seated Neck Stretch

Sit on a cushion or folded blanket. Draw the chin toward the chest then slowly roll the right ear over the right shoulder. Relax the jaw and tilt the chin slightly forward and slightly back. Allow the head to be heavy. Find an area that feels tight and stay there for up to 2 minutes on each side. To go deeper, rest hand just above the ear and extend the arm of the side being stretched so that it hovers 6-12 inches above the floor.

Myofascial Release

Lie on your back and set up for a supported bridge with a block positioned beneath the sacrum. Place tennis balls near the top of the traps, 1-2 inches lateral of the spine. For location accuracy, if you were to look at your students from above, you should be able to see the top of the tennis balls. Lift the hands toward the ceiling and allow the arms and upper back to be heavy. Stay here for a few breaths, then pin the tennis balls in place while slowly lifting and lowering the arms. Continue for up to 2 minutes, then push into feet to roll the body up, tennis balls down 1-2 inches. Repeat the same movements.

2. Pectoralis Major & Minor.

Although we typically feel more tension in the back of the body, it’s important to investigate the other side. On the front of the torso, located in the chest, is the Pectoralis major and minor (Pecs). Shortened or tight pecs contribute to pulling the shoulders forward. By encouraging flexibility in this muscle, we can prevent the constant forward pull of the shoulders.

Yin – Pec Stretch

Lie face down with arms in a cactus shape. Turn one ear toward the floor, then roll the body to that same side. A variation of the pose can be performed with the arms extended to a “T” shape. Increase the stretch by lifting top hand toward the ceiling, then drape the arm behind the back. Allow the side of the head to rest on the floor. Remain here for approximately 3 minutes then repeat second side.

Myofascial Release

This can be performed at against the wall or lying face down, however, I find that with large classes it’s easier to do this one seated. Sit in sukhasana and place 1 tennis ball in your left hand. Roll the ball from the anterior deltoid (front of the shoulder), to the small hollow just below. From here, roll slightly down and medially to locate pectoralis major and minor. Apply firm pressure and roll the ball in a circular motion. Move slightly up and down to access the entire surface area of both muscles. Spend 2 minutes on each side.

3. Rhomboids

The rhomboids lie beneath the trapezius and extend from the spine to the medial border of the scapula. Pain and tension here can be a result of many factors. When the shoulders droop forward, the scapulae fan away from the spine. Over time, this position causes the rhomboids to become overstretched and weak. When these muscles are used excessively, it can lead to pain. Carrying heavy loads, performing repetitive and/or tedious tasks with the hands, and playing sports such as golf or tennis can all cause overburden the rhomboids. Pain here is common but relief is fairly easy to achieve.

Yin – Prone Shoulder Stretch

Lie face down and extend the arms forward. Push into the palms and lift the upper arms and chest away from the floor. Thread the right arm under the left arm, then crawl left fingers forward and over to the right so the arms are crossing beneath the chest. Tuck the toes under and inch the body forward. Rest the head on the arms or floor. Stay here 3-5 minutes and breathe into the new space between the scapula. Repeat on the other side. *Thread the Needle is a great alternative for students who cannot comfortably get into the pose.

Myofascial Release

The landmark for this technique is the space between the medial edge of the scapula and the spine. Most students won’t be able to place the tennis balls in the right spot with their hands, so I have them set the balls 1-2 inches apart (enough space for the spine) and lie down slowly. I always ask students to put a hand in the air if they need assistance. To assist, stand over your students with one foot on each side of their torso. Wrap your hands from outside the ribcage in and have them lift slightly if possible to unweight their upper back.

Start with the arms in cactus, palms up. Stay here a few breaths, then create circular motions with the arms, crossing the wrists just in front of the chest (think, Karate Kid, wax on, wax off). After several circles, cross the arms in front of the chest and rock from side to side. Continue for 2 minutes, then push into the feet and roll up or down. The medial border of the scapula is peppered with trigger points, so move in 1 inch increments and repeat. Your students will appreciate this one!

How to Pack for Yoga Medicine Training

 for Yoga Medicine shares some tips and tricks for making sure you have the right gear for your next Yoga Medicine training.

How to Pack for Yoga Medicine Training

Does this scenario sound familiar? You’re on your way to your next training. You have spent hours pondering, planning, and packing for this week-long yoga medicine training trip. You’ve spent money on new yoga clothes, traveling supplies and new shoes. You’re ready! You have everything you need… Then, you get to the training.

You begin to realize you need this item, or that item, and you have to go to the store to buy this, so it ends up costing you more money, and everyone else’s outfits are cuter and look comfier, and you are borrowing the retreat center’s pen, and you’re feeling dehydrated because you didn’t bring the right water bottle, and you keep dropping manuals and props, and you think, “How am I not prepared?”.

Some of you may not relate to this in the least bit. But if you’re like me, an over-thinker and an over-processor, this may be really helpful for you in getting ready for your next training! I’ve now been on five separate trainings with Yoga Medicine®. I’ve experienced cold weather, warm weather, and sticky, humid weather.

After my third training, tired of feeling unprepared, I started compiling a list of items I wish I had brought with me. And after my most recent training in Koh Samui, where I sweat gallons of water, got sick, and had to borrow the retreat center’s mat because I kept sliding on mine, I added on quite a few more items. Below you’ll get my view of the best items to bring with you to a training. Obviously, keep in mind the differing weather, and adjust accordingly to your specific training and needs. And if you tend to be more of a light-packer, cut everything in tenths. Here we go…

1. A really, really, really big suitcase and your own yoga mat.

This trip to Koh Samui, I decided I was going to pack “light”. Since the travel for me was 24-hours, I thought, “I’ll just do a carry-on bag, that way they can’t lose my bag.” That was the worst decision. My carry-on bag was so heavy that I ended up having to check it anyway. And because it was smaller, I didn’t pack as much as I would have liked to. And, because I didn’t bring a large suitcase, I had to carry my yoga mat through the airport. So, I decided to borrow a friend’s travel mat that I had never used before. Bad idea. It smelled, and I couldn’t practice on it because I was sliding off. I also caused quite the scene on the airplane. (Sorry, to the man I bumped in the head with my mat.) Just bring your own mat. And stick it in your large suitcase so you don’t have to carry it through the airport. Be sure to get travel insurance just in case your bag does get lost.

2. Props: Journal, 4 pens, 2 tennis balls, towel mat, light water bottle, travel mug, and a tote bag that you can use to-and-from class and lecture.

Journal: I have used the same journal now from the very beginning of my teacher-training journey, and am finally getting ready to invest in another one. It’s really nice to be able to look back at your notes from previous trainings and track your progress.
Pens: I always lose them, as I’m sure others do as well. Bring enough for yourself and everyone else in the training.
Yoga props: If you don’t know by now, you should always bring two tennis balls with you for myofascial release work. If you’re an overachiever, bring several to share with those that forget. In humid weather, a towel mat is helpful.
Drinking Containers: You have to drink so many fluids at these trainings, and often-times, mugs aren’t allowed in the Shala. Bring a light water bottle (easier for travel), and a travel mug (with a lid) so you can bring tea/coffee/juice into the Shala as well.
Tote Bag: It’s really convenient to have a little tote bag to carry back and forth with you. It can carry your manual, laptop, tablet, phone, tissues, cough drops, pens and any other necessities.

3. Your medicine cabinet.

I don’t know about you, but when I stress out, I get sick. Oftentimes, this comes with travel. You never know what’s going to happen, and often in these remote areas, it’s hard to get exactly what you need if you get sick. Below, I’ve included both holistic and Western options for medicine:

  • Supplements: Oregano, Garlic, Vitamin C, Probiotics, Cranberry, Ginger
  • Essential Oils
  • Day and Nighttime Cold/Flu
  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Cough Drops
  • Bug Spray, Suntan Lotion, Aloe Vera
  • Eye drops, Ear Plugs, Eye Mask
  • Any Feminine Care Products (Pads, Tampons, Infection cream)
  • Antibiotics (If you feel this is the best route)
  • Any medications/powders/supplements that you already takeI have had a really sick roommate of whom I was able to share my medicine with, as well as, been sick myself, and am very grateful to those that shared with me.
    *Fun tip: If you tend to get stopped up when you travel, invest in Smooth Move tea. You can get it in-stores or online. Follow the directions and enjoy the results!

4. What to wear: 7-8 days of yoga outfits, 4-6 days of loungewear, 1 really cute outfit, and travel gear.

Yoga Outfits: I always think I won’t need as many clothes as I bring, but on these trainings, I usually end up using all of it. You can bring laundry soap and a sink stopper with you, but when you have break times, it’s best to spend that time recovering. There is practice every morning and depending on if you get sweaty, you may have to change your outfit right after. This is when the loungewear usually comes out to play.
Loungewear: I’ve noticed for warm weather places, loungewear looks like rompers, comfy shorts, dresses, tank tops and crop tops. For colder weather places, it’s usually sweatpants, sweatshirts, comfy socks and sweaters. Basically, bring your most “yoga-looking” outfits and you’ll fit right in.
Cute Outfit: The last night is usually a celebration or an outing night. This is when the dresses, jeans, or cute tops come out. The best decision is to wear something that is YOU.
Travel Gear: I’ve always found it’s best to be comfortable and dress in layers for the plane. This usually looks like sweatpants/leggings, top, sweatshirt, tennis-shoes, and warm socks. I often get cold on the plane and then hot in the airport. For long travel, bring a change of clothes.
*Fun tip: Wait to spend money on new yoga clothes until after the training. That way you can see what you like as it’s being modeled on your friends and training-mates. And, you’ll probably spend less because you’re broke from your training.

5. Yourself.

I’ve really changed from the beginning of my trainings to now. It’s been such a beautiful journey, but I remember feeling so insecure with who I was, who I fit in with,not being “popular” enough, and not being good enough on my first couple trainings. I have since then, become more confident, been through more life experience, and come into more of a place of contentment. My last two modules, I really felt a strong connection with my training-mates. We weren’t there to judge each other or ourselves. Instead, we were there to learn and build each other up within this community that so easily tears others down. I am so grateful for a community of yoga teachers who are eager to learn, eager to help, and eager to grow within the beautiful realm of yoga. Thank you, Tiffany for leading us on this incredible journey.

To my Yoga Medicine family. I love you all.

Cheers,
Leanna

Note from the Yoga Medicine® Team:

This is a suggested list to help you prepare. Always make sure to double check visa and passport requirements, your personal medications, and whatever else you need for traveling and yoga practice. Required and recommended items may change per training, so make sure to double check the information you receive after registration and contact info@yogamedicine.com if you have any questions.

Preparing a Yoga Workshop after Teacher Training

Jessica Perry, Yoga Medicine 500HR Trainee shares some insight on putting together your first yoga workshop after finishing your teacher training. Learn how to incorporate new concepts into your practice, and deliver a workshop to convey these experiences to your students. That is where the real gem and crux lies — how to transfer what you know into a meaningful, educational, and accessible workshop.

Getting Started is the Hardest Part

I began preparing for my first workshop on low back pain and how yoga may help relieve and prevent it. I was nervous and a little overwhelmed in planning the workshop since it was my first time. What if no one came to my workshop? Do I really know anything? Would I be able to help anyone? These thoughts are normal for me in just about anything I do. I fear wasting someone else’s time. I fear not being able to help. While I have those thoughts and fears in almost everything I do, the key to getting over them is to start. Getting started is the hardest part but the most rewarding once you get past that initial stage.

A few months prior, I had brought up my interest to teach a workshop to my fellow yoga medicine teacher, Shannon Stephens at Soul Yoga. Shannon graciously took me under her wing to help me decide on a topic and guiding me down the path in planning. Originally, I wanted to discuss everything about the back that I learned through the spine module. I was excited to share all the knowledge I had gained. I also wanted to test myself to see what I actually know. Shannon helped steer me in the right direction to focus on one area. That area would be low back pain which is a common complaint we hear from yoga students, friends, and family.

Planning the Content

In order to focus and get started in planning, I went to a local coffee shop. I sat down with my Yoga Medicine Spine Module manual, my notebook full of notes from that module, and a blank document opened on my computer. I typed out my ideas for the workshop and then started to organize them in a fluid way. It is similar to planning a vinyasa flow class: Decide on a theme or peak pose and break it down on how to get there.

What muscles are stretched? Which ones are shortened? What poses help with those muscles being lengthened or shortened? In this case it was what poses will help strengthen the muscles around the low back and why would that help with and prevent back pain. I planned the workshop by putting myself in the shoes of an attendee. What would I want to know? How do I learn? How do my friends learn? Can I make this accessible to a beginner? Will it be interesting for an experienced practitioner?

Laying out the Workshop

In the end, I broke the workshop into four main sections. The introduction was about who I am and what the workshop was about. After the introduction, I spoke of body awareness and why breath is important. The next part of the workshop was the anatomy of the low back. I kept the anatomy short and sweet in order to help reinforce the information in the yoga sequence. Next, we discussed a few common causes of back pain. Finally, I led everyone through a yoga sequence to tie it all together.

During the yoga sequence, I emphasized why a particular pose was important in regards to preventing or helping low back pain by referencing the anatomy and common causes we discussed. I pointed out which muscles the pose shortened/lengthened, and explained how that relates to low back pain. I referenced the common causes section and spoke about why it is important to be mindful of our muscles in a pose.

Reflecting on the Experience

Overall, I felt relieved, grateful, and a little stronger mentally after the workshop. I got over my fear of getting in front of a group of people and discussing things other than just putting them through poses. I got to take the time to explain more about why a pose can help us and how to avoid hurting ourselves. In class, we sometimes do not have time to go over that detail in depth. After the workshop I had several students tell me they enjoyed the workshop and requested I teach more. When I heard those words it made the fear disappear. I am glad I got started. I’m looking forward to translating the information I have and will learn through Yoga Medicine modules into workshops to serve my community.

In summary, what I have learned through this experience is do not be afraid to step into the role of teaching a workshop. The hardest part is getting started! Let your fears motivate you and guide you into what you want to deliver to your community. Remember you have the knowledge and it is there! Be sure to have a main focus for your workshop, break it up into pieces in order for others to follow and take away something, and reinforce the topic in your yoga sequence. I wish you a fun and successful experience in planning and delivering your first workshop!

Rachel Land Interview: 500HR Yoga Medicine Trainer

The Native Society does a feature on Yoga Medicine instructor and 500HR graduate Rachel Land. Learn about her life, her biggest successes, and why she loves her phone.

Rachel Land Profile – The Native Society


Bio:

Rachel Land is a Yoga Medicine instructor who teaches vinyasa and one-on-one yoga sessions in Queenstown New Zealand, and works internationally as a Yoga Medicine teacher trainer. Passionate about seeing real-world benefits from her studies in anatomy and alignment, she uses yoga to help her students create strength, stability and clarity of mind. Rachel has completed her 500hr teacher training with Tiffany Cruikshank and Yoga Medicine and is currently working toward her 1000hr certification.

What do I do best?

No matter how much I learn, I’m keenly aware of how much I don’t know. As a yoga teacher, this is a great help because it reminds me to offer from what I know, but keep my students in charge of their own practice.

What makes me the best version of myself?

Hard work is one of my core values. I’m always trying to learn something, or develop in some way. Hopefully that means I keep on growing and improving.

What are my aspirations?

My aim is, and always has been, to be happy. Happiness for me encompasses both the little joys I experience in the moment, and the feeling that my life is heading somewhere meaningful. I assess all the decisions I make against this compass.

My Biggest Success?

I feel incredibly lucky to have been in a relationship with my partner, Steve, for almost thirty years. We met in school, so we’ve seen a lot of changes together, and somehow it has made our bond stronger. He is very honest with himself and others, completely down to earth and in the moment. Being with him constantly challenges my tendency to think in limited and linear terms, and nudges me out of my comfort zone.

My Most Challenging Moment?

I’ve been really fortunate in my life (knock on wood) and haven’t had to face any huge obstacles. So the challenge I struggle with the most is simply to find balance in my life. It often feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to do all the things that are important to me – to spend time with the people I love, look after my health, study, do the work I find so rewarding, and meet my other commitments. That’s where a yoga practice is so powerful because it reminds me that life isn’t about the end result but about experiencing the process and allowing space for exploration and imperfection along the way.

My Motto?

Herman Hesse’s line from Siddhartha: “within you, there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself” speaks to me. I’m reminded that no matter what happens around me, I can access a core of quiet within that is unruffled and unchanged.

My Favorite People/Role Models?

I’ve mentioned my partner, who keeps me pretty grounded. I’m lucky to also have my mother, Lynne Brown, and her partner, Mark Hunter, as friends and mentors. They’ve worked in health and wellness for years and are a constant source of advice, support and inspiration.

My teacher, Tiffany Cruikshank, is also a huge role model for me. She offers freely from her education, experience and expertise but at the same time creates space for each of her teachers to find their own way. Her positivity and open-mindedness have created an inclusive family of Yoga Medicine teachers all over the world, encompassing many yoga styles, approaches and professions.

I learn a huge amount from my students too. Some of my private yoga students are older, and working through significant injuries or medical conditions; they teach me what it means to keep showing up for practice with courage, commitment, and compassion.

My Favorite Places/Destinations?

It’s hard to beat waking up at home; that’s where my heart is. I live in Queenstown New Zealand, surrounded by the Southern Alps. A five-minute walk out of town and I’m immersed in nature, lake and mountain views as far as the eye can see, and everything is instantly in perspective.

Yoga Medicine training is my home away from home. My idea of an amazing holiday is not a destination but the opportunity to learn, and to spend time with people who want to make a positive difference in the world.

My Favorite Products/Objects?

This probably won’t be a popular answer, but I have to say my phone. No matter where I am, I can access the world. Not just to stay in touch but to have amazing books, music, podcasts, and other resources literally in my pocket.

My Current Passions?

I’ve just mentioned how useful I find my phone; I’ve heard it said that most of us know more about the apps on our phone than we do about our own bodies. My passion is to help people get to know their bodies and minds, to take control of their physical and mental health and feel more powerful and positive.

The Definitive Yoga Guide for Everyone

Tiffany Cruikshank and the  Yoga Medicine Team share a comprehensive yoga guide with Healthline. Check out this guide for in-depth information and advice for all levels of your yoga journey.

 

Get your Yoga Start with Tiffany Cruikshank’s Yoga Guide

Tiffany Cruikshank is a teacher’s teacher, international yogi, author, and wellness expert. Tiffany Cruikshank founded Yoga Medicine as a platform to connect people and doctors with experienced yoga teachers. Yoga Medicine trains their ever-expanding community of teachers to understand body anatomy, biomechanics, physiology, and the traditional practice of yoga.

With this fortitude of knowledge, they’re able to create individualized, effective yoga programs for each student.

Ready to channel your inner yogi?

Get your start with this comprehensive guide, crafted by Tiffany and her team of accomplished Yoga Medicine teachers, trainers, and contributors.

This detailed guide is for yogis at any stage in their practice (beginner, intermediate and advanced) and covers several topics including definition and history, motivation, basics and foundation, and many others.

Click here to read more.

My Yoga Medicine Teacher Training Experience

Louise Flannelly shares her personal experience participating in Yoga Medicine Teacher Training. She has completed the 200hr level of training and is eager to continue on to the 500hr program.

My Yoga Medicine Teacher Training Experience

Whilst living in Western Australia, I regularly attended a fantastic yoga studio there called The Yoga Vine. It can sometimes take a while to find the perfect yoga studio and teachers who are inspiring and dynamic; so when I found The Yoga Vine, I became a loyal yogi at the studio.

I had attended this studio for a while when I noticed an upcoming yoga workshop with a guest US yoga teacher, Tiffany Cruikshank. There was a lot of excitement amongst the dedicated yogis that Tiffany was coming to town. She was doing three yoga workshops over a weekend, so I decided I’d go along to all three and signed up on the spot.

Getting Hooked on Yoga Medicine

From the first yoga workshop I was hooked. Tiffany had started her own yoga business, Yoga Medicine, where she led teacher trainings and workshops all over the world. She had an in-depth knowledge of anatomy and the effect of different yoga poses on strengthening and stretching specific muscles. I found all of this fascinating as I have a degree in anatomy and was thinking of signing up for a yoga teacher training course. After attending Tiffany’s workshops and researching her trainings, I knew she was offering the right teacher training for me. So I signed up for her 200hr teacher training which was starting six months later!

My yoga teacher training journey started in Mexico in October 2015. Now I won’t lie, I was a little nervous! When I arrived at the resort, everyone was really friendly; and I shared a beautiful beach hut with a fellow trainee teacher, a sweet American girl. Waking up to the sound of the ocean was just glorious every morning. We ate local fresh organic food for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Intense Training in Paradise

The training itself was as it said in the brochure… intense! Morning yoga practice started at 7 am for two hours, then we had breakfast for one hour, then lectures mostly on anatomy for three hours, then lunch for two hours, lectures for another two-three hours, a restorative practice for one hour, dinner one hour, an evening lecture for one hour and homework. Phew! Full on packed days! But I thoroughly enjoyed every moment.

The amount of knowledge I gained in that one week was incredible. I loved that the course had a very strong focus on anatomy. Tiffany is an amazing teacher, and her teaching method really helps you remember all the fine details. We learned all about the major muscles in the body and which yoga poses work to lengthen and strengthen the corresponding muscles. Tiffany used an anatomy app as a teaching tool, which gave a great visual of the specific muscles she was teaching on.

We learned the art of safely adjusting students in numerous yoga poses by first watching Tiffany and her assistants and then practicing on each other. By practicing adjusting each other in various poses, it taught us how to apply the right amount of pressure and watch out for our own safety and posture while we were adjusting students. I met some incredible people from all around the world and learned so much in that first week.

Homework Time

At the end of Week 1, we were given three assignments to complete over the next three months before we came back for Part 2 of the training. The first assignment involved choosing a book from the provided reading list and summarizing our findings on how the information we learned would influence our teaching. The second assignment involved observing ten yoga classes and writing on these experiences. Finally each Sunday we received ‘homework’, which was uploaded to our online class forum. The homework was to be completed during the week and consisted of videos, yoga sequences to practice and teach to friends, a meditation practice and otmini-assignmentsents. We were assigned a group leader who was always available to answer any questions we had in relation to our homework or assignments. It was great knowing we had that support network available to us.

Back to Paradise

The second part of my teacher training was scheduled for the end of January 2016. The training was held in a beautiful resort in Hawaii. This was a beautiful place full of trees (including avocado, oh to have an avocado tree!) and wildlife. The first evening at the resort was filled with excitement as we were reunited with our fellow teacher trainees.

Part 2 of our training began, and at this point, what we learned over the past few months really came together as we found our unique voices as teachers. I think we were all a mix of nerves and excitement. We started our days at 7am with a two-hour yoga practice, then our mornings were filled with lectures or practice teaching, which gave us a chance to teach each other mini-classes based on a specific theme.

Teaching the Teachers

There were about 60 of us in the training altogether, so we were split into smaller groups and each of us had a group leader. Each person in the group had to teach a 20-minute class to their group and team leader. This took place on the last two days of the training. Much of the week was focused on preparing for this class.

The theme of my class was “Releasing Stress Through the Psoas”. I took the group through a breathing exercise to begin. The breathing meditation I choose is called the “So Hum” meditation. This helped calm everyone down including myself as the air was electric with nerves! I guided the class through a dynamic flow with plenty of nice, juicy, hip openers whilst physically adjusting students and finished the class with a well-deserved savasana. At the end of my class, my group leader and fellow yogis gave their comments on my class, both on what I had done well and where I could improve. This information was invaluable as it really helped to improve my teaching in “real life” classes. It was a very supportive group and a really positive experience.

The Aftermath

Afterwards, I was flooded with emotion. I felt so proud of everyone in our group at how far we had all come in just a few months – from being nervous teacher trainees to being fully qualified yoga teachers. That night we had our graduation where we were all presented with our 200hr teacher certificates. I felt a mixture of emotions. Happiness, relief, sadness that it was over. But also proud. Proud of myself for having the courage to go on this amazing journey. This was just the beginning.

I am so glad I chose this training course. I now feel confident in teaching my students about the anatomy of the poses and creating dynamic classes in which the poses complement each other, creating a seamless flow. This was the perfect course for the anatomical aspect of yoga – exactly what I wanted. I would highly recommend Yoga Medicine for anyone considering doing a teacher training. I now hope to continue my yoga journey with my 500hr training.

Yoga for Athletes: A Little Goes A Long Way

The Benefits of Adding Yoga to a Training Program

There is growing research available that outlines the benefits of yoga for athletes related to their athletic performance. Athletes benefit from yoga both physically and mentally. Assuming the great benefits of yoga for athletes, how can athletes and coaches make time for another training regimen when they already dedicate five hours to their sport daily?

For elite athletes, their commitment might include practice for their sport, weightlifting, agility and speed training, and physical therapy for recovery or injuries. This is not even considering the most important element – their actual competition.

I am a college softball coach. I also teach yoga to college athletes from all sports and direct softball camps for high school athletes. From my experience, a quick yoga practice is something that can be integrated into any schedule. It can fit into the training schedule of time-strapped college athletes. It can fit into the sports camp experience for younger athletes. Athletes have experienced both the ‘yoga fog’ in as little as three restorative postures as well as the energizing qualities of vinyasa breath after a few sun salutations.

Regardless of scheduling challenges or available space to practice yoga, the main emphases of a shorter practice are breath, awareness of how their body responds, and general mindfulness.

Breath

Sport psychologists often start with noticing breath and what it feels like to breathe intentionally and from the belly. Some athletes do not even have time to take full breaths or forget to breathe when they compete. One of our most successful athletes remarked after her final season that she wished she had practiced breathing earlier. It would have allowed her to avoid almost passing out from holding her breath and help her settle her nerves. Athletes can start in any comfortable position (lying down or seated) to connect with their breath and understand how they can calm themselves or get focused simply by bringing awareness to their breath.

To show the effects of breath, they can try a few styles of breath. I suggest alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodhan) and skull shining breath (kapal bhati).  This allows them to experience how different types of breath (pranayama) affect them physically.

Recognizing what is going on with their bodies

Mind over matter is a common mantra for competitive athletes, especially when it is a matter of the body. Most athletes are concerned with doing their jobs regardless of what their bodies are capable of doing. They will recruit whatever muscles needed to be explosive, dynamic, and endure the rigors of a competition. Spending time in any yoga posture while tuning in to alignment and noticing where the restrictions in movement or compensations happen can benefit athletes by simply being more aware of how their bodies feel and move.

Guided mindfulness

To help integrate both breath and being present in their bodies, space, moment, and breath, I like to end with guided mindfulness or meditation. It could be incorporated into their final corpse pose (savasana) or when breaking down a posture. Athletes can focus on feeling their alignment or noticing their body’s physical or emotional response to different postures. This is especially useful with postures that target the hips, spinal column, or side bodies. These areas are often tight in athletes. If time allows, a guided meditation with attention to counted breath or a general body scan is another way to guide athletes toward mindfulness. The New York Times recently printed an article about a study that revealed that meditation helped a team of Division I football players withstand the physical demands of training.

Incorporating Yoga for Athletes

Athletes can read about the benefits and hear rave reviews from yoga practitioners. But, they may not understand yoga’s value until they actually experience yoga themselves.

For the teams or athletes who feel there is not enough time in their training schedule for yoga, even 10 minutes could make a great difference. I recommend starting with integrating 10 minutes of yoga to experience its benefits. It can be before or after sport-specific training workouts or at a completely separate time.

No need for extra equipment. Athletes can do yoga anywhere – outfield grass or swim deck. Yoga props can be improvised from whatever is on hand – helmet, towels, or a team sweatshirt.

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