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Tiffany Cruikshank

These Tests Will Measure Your Flexibility from Head to Toe

By  Samantha Lefave for Shape.

Whether you’re a regular yogi or someone who struggles to remember to stretch, flexibility is a key component of a well-rounded fitness routine. And while it’s important to squeeze in some stretch time after every workout, know that not everyone is capable of performing the backbend that fitness influencer is posting about—or even touch their toes.

“Different people have different bone structures, so nobody is going to feel the same stretch the exact same way, and not everyone is going to naturally have the same range of motion and that’s okay,” says Tiffany Cruikshank, founder of Yoga Medicine® and author of Meditate Your Weight“The most important part is that you are taking the time to stretch, and that you maintain that sense of elasticity and pliability in the muscles.”

To see where you’re at—and where you may need to focus your practice—work your way through these five flexibility tests that gauge your elasticity from head to toe. (BTW, flexibility is different than mobility.)

Flexibility Test for Your Hamstrings

Most people think it’s best to test your hamstring flexibility while standing, but Cruikshank says doing so while lying on your back isolates the hamstrings so they don’t get assistance from the hip flexors or spine.

  1. Start lying on your back with legs straight out.
  2. Lift one leg up into the air, then see how far you can reach up your leg while keeping your back and head on the floor.
  3. It’s best if you’re at least able to touch your shins, and then work toward being able to touch your toes, says Cruikshank.

If you can’t, grab a yoga strap to wrap around the base of your foot, and use the straps to help slowly guide you deeper into the stretch. Hold the stretch for 1 to 2 minutes on each side, practicing daily to help you become more comfortable in the position.

Flexibility Test for Your Hip Rotators

This is a big one for those who sit at a desk all day, as the external rotators of the hips become very tight—even more so if you add a regular running routine on top of it. Cruikshank recommends this test:

  1. Start lying on your back, with the left foot on the ground and right ankle resting gently on top of the left knee.
  2. Lift the left leg up off the ground and try to reach for your hamstring or shin, bringing it in closer to your chest; you’ll start to feel tension on the outside of your right hip.

If you’re unable to reach your hamstring, That’s a big indicator that your hips are really tight, says Cruikshank. To work on it, she suggests placing your left foot against a wall for support and finding a comfortable distance that allows you to feel tension without pain (which means the stretch is working).

Flexibility Test for Your Outer Hips and Spine

While Cruikshank says it’s difficult to test your spinal flexibility on its own, you can give it a go if you double up with a hip test, too. (And who’s going to say no to multitasking?)

  1. Lie on your back and bring both knees into the chest.
  2. Then, keeping your upper body flat on the ground—it may help to stretch your arms out to each side—slowly rotate both knees to one side, getting as close to the ground as possible.
  3. The goal is to be able to reach the same distance from the ground on both sides, otherwise it could indicate an imbalance.

As you lower down, if you feel more tension in the hips, that’s your cue that the area is tight. You should focus on releasing tension in the area, says Cruikshank. Same goes if you feel it more in the spine (just remember to keep your back flat on the ground while you rotate your knees from side to side).

As for how low you can go? “If you’re nowhere near the ground, then that’s something you need to work on for sure,” says Cruikshank. “Find some pillows or blankets to support your legs while you settle into that position for a few minutes each day, gradually removing the support as you progress closer to the ground.” 

Flexibility Test for Your Shoulders

“This is an area where people get really tight, whether you’re running, cycling, Spinning, or even lifting weights,” says Cruikshank. “It’s a significant limitation to be tight in the shoulders though, so it could be something you want to focus more attention on.” To find out if you’re in need of some regular stretching, try this test:

  1. Start standing with feet together and arms down by your side.
  2. Bring your hands behind your back and aim to grab the opposite forearm.
  3. You should be able to at least reach mid-forearm, though touching your elbows is even more ideal, says Cruikshank. Think about broadening your chest as you perform the stretch, or pushing your chest forward while keeping your abs tight and posture tall. “That way you’re stretching the chest, arms, and shoulders, rather than just the arms alone,” she says.

If you’re unable to reach your forearms or clasp hands, Cruikshank suggests using a yoga strap or dish towel to assist you until you get closer to your goal. Practice it a few times each day, holding the stretch for 1 to 2 minutes each time.

Flexibility Test for Your Spine and Neck

“The neck and spine tend to get really tight nowadays, especially if you’re a desk warrior and an athlete—posture isn’t always kept at the forefront,” says Cruikshank.

  1. From a seated cross-legged position, slowly rotate to one side and look behind you. How far around can you see?
  2. You should be able to look 180 degrees, says Cruikshank, though it’s not uncommon to find your limit is less than that due to tension in the neck.

To help release that, practice this same stretch a few times throughout the day, even when you’re in that desk chair (you can grab the sides or back of the chair for assistance). Just remember to keep your hips and pelvis facing forward, she says. “Your lower body shouldn’t move; this is all about relaxing into the seated stretch with a neck twist to release where a lot of tension is held when we get stressed out.”

How to Flow Through Hot Yoga Without a Headache

By Victoria Moorhouse for Popsugar.

The last thing anyone wants on their mind during a sweaty, 90-something degree hot yoga class is a headache — flowing from Upward Dog to Downward Dog goes from relaxing to all-around uncomfortable.

But headaches in hot yoga happen, so your best line of defense is knowing how to prevent the pain and exactly what to do when one does pop up. So inhale, exhale, and keep reading for these pro yogi tips.

While headaches can be triggered by many different things, one of the most common culprits during hot yoga is dehydration.

To state the obvious, hot yoga classes are — shocker — really hot. According to Tiffany Cruikshank, a yoga instructor and the founder of Yoga Medicine and the Yoga Medicine Seva Foundation, hot yoga classes can range in temperature anywhere from 90 to 110 degrees, some with or without humidity. You will sweat, which is why hydrating properly is essential.

“The most important thing to do before class is be sure you’re well hydrated,” Cruikshank notes.

Along with fluid, Cruikshank says sweating also leads to the loss of precious minerals that the body needs to function properly and regulate muscle contractility, so replacing electrolytes is also crucial if you’re taking hot yoga classes.

Another overlooked factor, Cruikshank says, is blood sugar.

“Traditionally these practices are done on an empty stomach, usually at least three hours away from food, however each person metabolizes food differently and that doesn’t work for everyone,” she explains.

“If you’re having headaches and staying hydrated, I recommend experimenting with foods that won’t sit in your stomach but will bolster your blood sugar. For some, a piece of fruit is perfect, but for many it’s not enough fuel to get them through a full 90 minute class.”

She recommends starting with a tablespoon of coconut oil 15 to 30 minutes before class, or for those who are quick digesters, a little protein powder 30 to 60 minutes before class.

Donna Rubin, a yoga instructor and a co-founder of bodē nyc, suggests really taking your time to adjust to the heat if you have a history of headaches.

Step out of the studio every so often, or as Cruikshank suggests, begin your hot yoga practice with shorter classes. If you aren’t acclimating, it might be time to reassess why you’re going to hot yoga.

“What is it you really want from your yoga class and can you find it in a non-heated class? There are so many options out there,” she adds. “If it’s the sweat and detox you’re looking for, maybe try a sauna separate from some non-heated yoga classes.”

But what should you do if you feel a headache coming on in the middle of class? Rubin, suggests stepping out of the studio and rehydrating right away. “Do not push through and think it will go away. Listen to your body,” Rubin says.

Cruikshank adds that taking a seat, laying down, or slow deep breaths might be helpful.

“Most importantly, listen to your body,” she adds. “Each persons’ needs are so unique and influenced by so many things in our body, DNA, environment, and life.” And when in doubt, always consider talking to your doctor about your exercise habits and the side effects that come along with them.

How Yoga Is Helping Me Manage My Sciatica

By Fiona Tapp for Prevention.

Sciatica is a pain in the butt, literally. Since having a baby, I feel fire dancing down my back, into my backside, and tingling in my legs whenever I turn over just a little too quickly. Far from a temporary inconvenience, this condition seems intent on sticking around: My “baby” is now almost 4 years old, and he recently had to play nurse when I suffered an attack that left me on the floor unable to move. Luckily, he managed to follow my instructions to grab the remote control, a pillow, blanket, and the phone to call Daddy.

Now that I’ve been initiated into the painful club of sciatica sufferers, I’ve become much more aware of just how prevalent it is: An estimated 40% of people will have sciatica pain at some point in their lives. 

What is Sciatica?

The sciatic nerve is the longest single nerve in the human body, and it runs all the way from the lower back down the back of each leg, says Dr Loren Fishman. While anyone can develop pain along this nerve for a variety of reasons (such as a slipped disc), it’s fairly common among women during and after pregnancy.

For starters, weight gain can place pressure on the fragile nerves of the spine, says orthopedic surgeon Dr. Alfred Bonati. The sciatic nerve can also become irritated during childbirth itself, especially during long labors, when women experience so-called back labor, or when the baby is in an abnormal position (such as breech), according to research from the European Spine Journal. After childbirth, many moms are left with weakened back and abdominal muscles, which can lead to more pain. Poor posture and hunching—pretty common among those who are breastfeeding and cradling their baby—makes the problem even worse.

My son’s labour lasted a grueling 48 hours and involved long stretches of excruciating back labor. Once I was home, I didn’t pay too much attention to any aches and pains that I was experiencing. I was too busy taking care of my baby; plus, the pain was intermittent: I could go weeks without any symptoms, and then one day I’d bend down too quickly or move a certain way and be in agony. Sometimes I’d even end up “frozen” and unable to move without help, which was pretty frightening.

Shortly after my son’s first birthday, it finally dawned on me that maybe this wasn’t normal.

Is Yoga the Best Rx?

I started to research treatment options and found that the latest guidelines show pain meds aren’t best for most patients with low-back pain—or at least that they shouldn’t be relied upon as a first-line defense. Heat, massage, stretching, and yoga seem to do the trick for many people. Meanwhile, a study found that the practice can alleviate sciatic pain, at least in the short-term.

I’ve always loved yoga and had followed a prenatal routine throughout my pregnancy, but since my son’s birth I had fallen out of the habit. I decided to try a few asanas and realized that any moves that helped me stretch my back or lie flat on the floor provided immediate relief.

After practicing on my own for a while, I decided it was time to talk to an expert. Tiffany Cruikshank, who works closely with doctors to create pain management plans involving yoga, confirmed that the practice can definitely ease lower back pain and help prevent flare-ups. To that end, she suggests the following moves, which release the tense muscles along the back and down the legs. Just be careful not to push yourself too far. “Find a comfortable position and soften into the pose,” says Cruikshank. “If you experience any nerve pain, back out of the pose until the pain is gone.”

Ardha Matsyendrāsana (Seated Twist)

Sit on the ground cross-legged. Keep your left leg on the floor and cross your right leg over it, placing your right foot flat on the floor. Place your right hand to the floor behind you and use your left arm to hold onto your right leg. Lengthen your spine to sit up straight. As you exhale slowly, begin to twist to your right until you feel a gentle stretch. Take a few deep breaths and hold for at least 30 seconds, or up to 2 minutes if it feels good. Release slowly and repeat on the other side.

Bird Dog

Start in a tabletop position with a flat back. Focus on drawing in your abdomen to support your back. Keep your spine and legs straight while you slowly extend one leg back behind you and the opposite arm forward. Elongate your body from heel to head as you take 3-5 deep breaths. Repeat on the other side.

Supta Padangusthasana (Supine Hamstring Pose)

Lie on your back, bend your right knee into your chest, and place a strap around the sole of your right foot. Slowly extend your leg until you feel a gentle stretch through the back of the leg while keeping your lower back relaxed. Hold for 30-60 seconds and repeat on the other side.

Since I returned to a regular yoga practice, my sciatica has gotten much better. Of course, yoga isn’t a cure-all: I also make an effort to walk a lot, get quality sleep and I use a posture trainer for 15 minutes every day. But now whenever I feel that familiar pain, I usually realize that it’s been a few days or even a week since I’ve done yoga, and I make an extra effort to get back to the mat. Yes, the stretching aspect is key, but yoga also forces me to slow down, breathe, and focus on my needs—which is all pretty important.

15-Minute Matrix Podcast Interview: Mapping Myofascial Release with Tiffany Cruikshank

Andrea Nakayama interviews Tiffany Cruikshank for the 15-Minute Matrix Podcast.

Connective tissue connects all of our organ systems and is widespread throughout the entire body. On this episode, Tiffany Cruikshank discusses the innate, intelligent, full body system of connective tissue and how encouraging clients to work slowly with myofascial release can be a key tool in the healing process. Grab your pen and lets map myofascial release!

Click here to listen to the full episode.

Click here to download the completed Matrix from this episode.

Follow Andrea on Instagram @Andrea Nakayama

Try These Experts’ Tips to Help You Transform Your Fitness Routine — and Stick to It

By  for Thrive Global.

Celebrity fitness experts explain how to exercise more in 2020 — using Microsteps and sustainable behavior change.

As we approach the New Year, making resolutions is top of mind.  Setting goals for exercise and movement is one of the most popular resolutions made in the U.S. According to a YouGov Onmibus survey, 59% of respondents had “exercise more” as their New Year’s goal. But while we all start out with the best of intentions, actually keeping those resolutions can present an insurmountable challenge, with most people giving up by mid-February. Only one in five Americans stuck to their 2018 resolutions — with only 6% of people reporting that they stuck to their resolution completely.  

Thrive talked to the top fitness trainers across the country for their secrets to making sustainable, manageable changes to your life, and getting in more movement with smart, achievable Microsteps instead of grandiose resolutions. Here, they give you motivating tools and tricks to pave the way to a successful New Year.

“The reality is that it takes effort on a myriad of fronts to make the work associated with your goal far more manageable and achievable. The first step is to identify your motivation. As in, why is it you want to achieve this goal, and why are you choosing this resolution? How will your life improve if you stick with it? If you have this why, it allows you to tolerate the how — which is the work associated with achieving the goal. Plus, work that has a purpose becomes a passion. Work without purpose can just feel punishing — which is why so many people quit. 

That said, having a plan that allows you to get real results that is also in line with who you are and what resources you have available to you is key. For example, if you pick a crazy strict diet, the chances of you sticking to it are slim. If you join a bootcamp gym, but you dread the hard workouts, you won’t want to go. So be sure you stick with the simple science of not overeating, choosing foods in their most whole and organic form when possible, and moving your body as often as possible. From there, pick the food you love, and the types of workouts you enjoy in order to help ensure your success. Even if the path takes a little longer, there’s nothing wrong with that. The key is progress: Every step in the right direction is exactly that — a step in the right direction.”

Jillian Michaels, A.F.A.A., fitness expert, life coach, and founder of Jillian Michaels App


“Whether you are a person who makes completely fresh resolutions as 2020 approaches or not, looking back on your year with the intention of positively reframing or restructuring for the future is a great start. Think specifically about what aspects are already moving in the right direction and look for some simple ways to create continued forward momentum. A positive mindset is key to making resolutions stickier and suggests getting started with these simple tips! 

Build on a solid foundation. Goals should be tiny, measurable, and attainable and are often “stickiest” when they build from an already positive place. For example, if you’re someone who does a great job of going to the gym at lunch, perhaps start also paying attention to how many times you get up from your desk in the afternoon. Tracking steps or time standing at your desk may seem very 2005, but you might be surprised by how much traction you gain on fitness or weight loss goals with more consistent daily movements.

Book your week. Take your goals 7 days at a time and treat you time toward your resolutions like meetings and appointments. Booking classes on the MINDBODY App is awesome because they add directly into your Outlook calendar. Many of my clients automatically schedule around them now without even thinking about it.

Be kind to yourself. If you’re starting small with your resolutions, they shouldn’t leave you overly sore, uncomfortable, or in pain in any way.  A small goal is just 5-10 mins of increased activity. If you have been fairly sedentary, walking the stairs for 10 mins at lunch is a reasonable, actionable first step.”

Kate Ligler, Wellness Specialist at MINDBODY 


“Connecting to a deeper purpose captures the power and determination of our emotional body to see our goals through to fruition. For instance, if you want to lose weight to get healthy or build confidence, be specific about why, and what it will look like in your life. Will it affect your interactions, how you feel in your body, your confidence, how you move, how you see yourself, your health, or your ability to live long and appreciate life? Try to attach a feeling or picture to it in your mind — something simple that you can come back to quickly and often. Then, before you get out of bed each morning — or anytime you remember — take a minute to visualize what your day ahead would look like with that quality. For extra stamina, you can also post a reminder of that quality or picture somewhere you won’t miss it.  For instance, if you really want to lose weight so you feel better and live longer, then post a picture of someone you love that you want to enjoy life with, as a symbol of the happiness it represents. Or if you want to get healthy to build the confidence to build a life you love, post a pic of something you might do or somewhere you might go in that life you want to build as the wallpaper on your phone.

Less is more: Start with just 10 minutes a day of movement you enjoy. The habits we stick with have the biggest impact on our long-term health, so start simple to create a lasting habit you can commit to. Also, if you find something you enjoy, you’ll be much more likely to stick to it then forcing yourself to do something you hate.”

Tiffany CruikshankL.Ac. MAOM, founder of Yoga Medicine®


Read the full article on Thrive Global’s website here.

Gold with Jeanette Schneider Podcast Interview: The Whole Person with Tiffany Cruikshank

Jeanette Schneider interviews Tiffany Cruikshank for the Gold with Jeanette Schneider Podcast.

In this episode, Tiffany discusses Chinese Medicine, the idea of bringing the whole person into balance to allow the body to be more resilient, and how yoga can be a great tool for teens as well as adults to combat stress and support both our mental health and our hormones. 

Click here to listen to the full episode.

Easy Couples Yoga Poses You’ve Got to Try With Your Partner

By Emily Shiffer for Parade.

Finding time for both yourself and your relationship can be one of the most difficult balances in life. You may assume that to meet the demands of one, you must sacrifice the other. But couples yoga can enhance not only your individual physical, mental and emotional health, but the health of your relationship.

We asked Tiffany Cruikshank, L.Ac. MAOM, founder of Yoga Medicine, to create a sequence of easy yoga moves that couples can do together and bring them closer.

How can doing couples yoga benefit your relationship?

“As with any health or wellness practice, it’s helpful to have a partner who supports you in the lifestyle and schedule shifts needed to maintain a new routine,” says Cruikshank. “As a couple I think one of the greatest things we can do to enhance our relationship is to deepen our own self-awareness and self-reflection to take ownership of our feelings and reactions.”

According to Cruikshank, this can help improve your communication with your partner.

“We all know that communication is key for a good relationship but this communication is also dependent on our self-awareness. Yoga captures this so eloquently with its practices focused on untangling the filter of our judgements and emotions, so we can see things more clearly,” says Cruikshank. “Not that our relationships magically become effortless, but that we start to see how it’s all entwined and begin to unravel it simply through our nonreactive awareness, self-reflection and compassion.  Or better yet, a commitment to continuing to learn and grow together.”

Couples Yoga Poses

Pose #1: Child’s Pose

“This one is great for creating the foundation for self-reflection, sensing that there’s not a right and wrong in the noticing. This is a great place to come back to when you notice yourself stressed or emotional during your day,” says Cruikshank. “You can even just tune into it without the pose. Allowing yourself the space to notice how the terrain here changes, both influencing and being influence by our emotions and the world around us.”

How to do it: In this simple bowing posture, you need only sit back on your heels and bow your head forward to rest on the floor. If you have trouble sitting on your heels, try putting a pillow or blanket under your ankles or under your hips. You can also put a pillow or blanket under your forehead if it doesn’t easily reach the floor. As you allow yourself to be still here, notice the experience of being in your body and all the sensations under your skin. Notice the breath, areas that feel light or heavy, if you feel tired or energized, thoughts that come and go and anything else you notice here. Allow your mind to be the canvas as you paint a picture of the landscape of your experience in this moment. Stay for 2-5 minutes.

Pose #2: Couples Butterfly Pose

How to do it: Start seated with the soles of your feet together and knees spread apart. If sitting with the soles of the feet together is uncomfortable, you and/or your partner can opt to sit in a simple cross-legged position instead. Sit upright back-to-back and begin by noticing the breath, both yours and your partners.  Then slowly start to deepen your breath for a 4-count inhale and a 5-count exhale.  Repeat for 5-10 rounds.  This is a great way to quickly induce the relaxation response to counteract stress and build stress resilience while you feel the support of your partner doing the same. 

Pose #3: Supine Twist

Courtesy Tiffany Cruikshank

How to do it: Start on your back, bending the knees in toward your chest and taking them off to one side. Allow your legs to rest on the floor in a comfortable position, using pillows or blankets under your knees if you like. Stay for 2-3 minutes on each side. Follow the same thread of nonjudgmental awareness you found in child’s pose above as you relax here and notice. A great pose to both wring out the day or prepare you for the day ahead, both rejuvenating and relaxing as needed. This supported twist gently massages the spinal nerves along each side of the spine that innervate and regulate both the organs and muscles. An efficient and effective pose on its own when you’re short on time.

Pose #4: Partner Savasana

“Traditionally yoga practice ends with this final relaxation, which can be a great time to reconnect with your partner (my personal favorite),” says Cruikshank

How to do it: For this one simply lie on your back, hand in hand, without any effort. Allow yourselves to enjoy a deep relaxation as you sense the physical and energetic connection and support between you.  Relax here for 5-10 minutes. This final relaxation is often overlooked, but it’s an important time for the body and nervous system to integrate the effects of your practice. This is also a valuable way to increase vagal tone, associated with better stress resilience, greater heart rate variability and cardiac health, improved digestive health and everything else influenced by a decreased stress response.

Pose #5: Partner Meditation

How to do it: Sit side by side in a comfortable cross-legged position with your hips on a folded blanket or cushion so you can be comfortable here.  Ideally you want your hips as high as your knees so adjust how many blankets/cushions you have underneath you to achieve that.  Set a timer for 2-10 minutes, whatever you have time for.  If you’re new to meditation start with 2-5 minutes.  As you both close your eyes begin by noticing the breath inside your body. Allow yourself to be curious to the sensations and experience of the breath.  Then allow your attention to expand out to notice the awareness around you and that of your partner.  Sense the current of life that flows through both of you, however you experience that (the breath, heartbeat, blood flow pulsing through your, energy or vibration). When the timer rings slowly bring yourselves back to greet the rest of your day.

Optional: if you like and it’s comfortable you can do this side by side, hand in hand.

Meditation has so many benefits from stress reduction to mental clarity, focus and well-being.  Notice how it affects the rest of your day and your time together or apart.

Find out how mindfulness therapy for couples can boost your connection.

Mastering the Business of Yoga Podcast Interview: Tiffany Cruikshank on Creating and Growing a Successful Yoga Business

Amanda Kingsmith interviews Tiffany Cruikshank for the Mastering the Business of Yoga Podcast.

On this episode of the podcast, Tiffany talks about how she has worked to combine the eastern and western models of medicine to help serve her clients, how she has expanded her business from just in-person work to online courses and programs, as well as training programs around the world. She also talks about the Seva Foundation that she has founded, and all of the business lessons she’s learned throughout her career!

Click here to listen to the full episode and to download the podcast here. Also check out the podcast on Facebook and Instagram.

4 Daily Stretches for a Healthy Body

No matter how old you are or what you do for a living, we are all part of a society that spends way too much time sitting.

The following poses are aimed at keeping your body healthy as a counterbalance to all of the time we spend in a sedentary state. Keep in mind that more isn’t necessarily better, and try to find a gentle stretch you can breathe into. Happy stretching!

Figure 4 Hip Stretch

This pose is an accessible way to release the posterior hip and take pressure off of the sciatic nerve, which is great for athletes, as well as those who spend most of their day sitting.

Lie on your back with both feet on the floor, then place your right ankle on your left thigh just above your knee. If you feel a stretch here, stay. Otherwise, draw your legs in toward your torso and grab either behind your left hamstring or around your left shin. Stay here for one to two minutes, resting your head and back on the floor as you take a few deep breaths.

Supine Hamstring Stretch and Back Release

The hamstrings are notoriously tight, especially for those who sit a lot. The wonderful thing about this pose is that it stretches the hamstrings while also taking pressure off of the back.

Lie on your back and bend one knee in toward your chest. Start to straighten your leg until you feel a gentle stretch through the back of the leg. Grab behind the thigh or calf—somewhere you can relax into as you rest your head and back on the floor. Stay for one minute on each side.

Anterior Hip Stretch

Releasing the front of the hip can be a great way to prevent lower back and hip issues.

For this stretch, you’ll need a large bath towel rolled up tightly to about three or four inches in diameter. Lie on your back and place your feet on the ground, then lift your hips to place the rolled towel underneath your sacrum (the bone on the back of your pelvis, at the bottom of your spine). Hug one knee in toward your chest and stretch the other leg out on the floor. Relax and stay for one to two minutes on each side.

The Currency of Kindness

How Service Work Impacts Your Life and Your Health

The first time I visited our shelter in India I knew it would be a life changing experience, but I was not prepared for just how much it would shift my reality. This even after growing up working in the homeless shelter my mom ran, teaching yoga at a juvenile detention center, and doing acupuncture in shelters and drug and alcohol treatment facilities. I’ve seen countless people get involved in our nonprofit knowing that it was something important to them, but leaving with more than they ever thought possible.

It’s hard to quantify something that’s worth more than money, it’s hard to put a price tag on something that enhances your quality-of-life, it’s hard to put a value on something that affects your state of mind and well-being. As someone who works in the wellness industry and also runs several companies I know full well what it means to be caught up in the busyness of our lives and the effects it can have on your life and health. And, though I love what I do more than almost anything, there’s a weight with it as well.

As a modern-day society we’re finally starting to appreciate the cost of a stress-centered system. If we understand that stress is the currency we spend at the cost of our health, how/where do you want to spend it? We know full well part of the health impacts of stress, or at least a long list of them. We have hundreds of remedies to reduce stress at any given moment, all of which we both forget and under prioritize in our busy lives. But it’s hard to stay on top of it when there’s always another thing you need to be doing.

So, for those of you that love research, here’s some interesting information as it relates to helping others. Just witnessing acts of kindness increases oxytocin and stimulates your body to create serotonin. People who practice kindness regularly have lower cortisol and tend to age more slowly than the average population. When you’re kind to another person your brain’s pleasure and reward systems light up. In other words, helping others is both like a wonderful high (without the negative side effects) and the most potent of antidepressants. 1

But we know there’s so much more to life than what we find in research at the surface. The depth that our relationships create in our lives and their effect on our heart health has been well proven but still not completely acknowledged by the medical world. According to Dr. Dean Ornish, you can predict fairly accurately who will do well after a heart attack by their social support and relationships. But you don’t see that on any of the lists of 5 things to do to improve your health because there’s no way to put a number on it. We love quick fixes and bulleted lists to optimize our health and yet the at the simplest of all is often the most effective and underutilized.

As someone who loves science and research and loves to study how it all interconnects and interrelates there are still so many things we miss when we look at the world through a research lens. But when we speak from experience we have only truth. So, I can speak firsthand from my own experience working with thousands of patients, my own health and my experience in the nonprofit world just how powerful service work can be.

As a woman, I’ve always felt drawn to help other women who lack the resources that I’ve had in my life– education, medical access, healing modalities, yoga and so many others. As a Yogi I’m also very grateful for a culture that’s giving us this gift of yoga to help both ourselves and our communities. So it was natural to want to give back to these women in India who don’t have the same resources to empower and educate themselves or even to change their current situation. Our shelter houses up to 100 women at a time, usually there for 6 to 12 months, rescued from trafficking and other social injustices. But what I love most about what we do is that we empower them with yoga as a self-care tool and we pair them up with meaningful vocational skills that bring them above the poverty line. Meaning they get to choose what they study. Some want to go to college (around $1000/year there), some want to get married (even more expensive), we train some to be goldsmiths (one of the most highly revered jobs in India), we have one girl in law school right now, and so many others. But nothing means more to me than seeing their faces and that spark in their eyes when they realize that they too have a meaningful contribution to this world that they alone are destined (and now empowered) to create. These women have taught me more than anyone in my lifetime, not through their words but through their hearts and their eyes. They taught me the value of acceptance, the power of taking that next step forward and a reminder that all we have is now.

More than anything though, I think the biggest thing people take away from the work we do is a shift in perspective. Stress is simply our perception or reaction to our circumstances, whether it be about the past, present or future. Service work changes the lens with which we see our lives and our circumstances. It’s as easy as that. So, you could take your medications, do your yoga, breathing practices and meditation, follow your exercise plan and nutrition regimen and all the other ways you might try and reduce your stress or simply change the lens with which you view the world to shift the entire cascade completely! Personally, service work has changed the lens I see the world through and I can honestly say I feel happier and healthier now than I did in my 20’s and 30’s. I believe a big part of it is due to these extraordinary women.

REFERENCES

https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/science-good-deeds#1
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