texting shoulders

Improve your posture with yoga

Texting Shoulders, iPosture,  iHunch … just some of the names assigned to the posture we fold into it when we use our mobile devices.

It’s pretty obvious that this kind of body positioning can create a lot of stress on the neck. The weight of the head is usually about 10-12 pounds, but the more you lean your head forward, the heavier will the load become. For example, if you lean your head forward 60 degrees (which is quite common), the load on your neck will be about 60 pounds, which equals 5 gallons of paint or 4 bowling balls. In addition to that, your upper back can become frozen in the forward curve and much less mobile, which can lead to a stooped posture.

Interestingly, latest research shows that this kind of posture is not just problematic for the body alignment, but has a great impact on your mental state as well. This recent article from the New York Times emphasizes that “posture doesn’t just reflect our emotional states; it can also cause them.” Studies show that the slouchers reported significantly lower self-esteem and mood, and much greater fear; they were more likely to be more negative when they talk, and recall more negative experiences. They also became less assertive. “In fact, there appears to be a linear relationship between the size of your device and the extent to which it affects you: the smaller the device, the more you must contract your body to use it, and the more shrunken and inward your posture, the more submissive you are likely to become.”

Think of the common expression “He walks with his head held high,” which projects confidence and self-assurance. When we droop our heads down we feel the opposite.

Since our electronic devices are not going anywhere, all we can do is be mindful about our body positioning when we use them. We can also try to counteract the iHunch by strengthening the muscles that support the body in the upright position, relieve neck tension and realign the spinal curves to improve the posture.

Here are four simple poses, courtesy of Yoga Journal, to help combat poor posture resulting from device addiction.

Article credit: Olga Kabel on Sequence Wiz   article link 

yoga in addiction recovery

In 2014, an estimated 21.4 million people in the United States who were 12 years old or older battled a substance use disorder, which equates to about 1 in every 12 American adults, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSUDH) reported.

There are many methods and programs available to treat substance abuse and addiction, from traditional, to alternative, to complementary. More and more programs are focusing on a “whole person” or holistic approach that encompasses a variety of methods and tools to help achieve, maintain, and enhance recovery.

Yoga is increasingly being used in substance abuse treatment programs and throughout recovery to help prevent relapse, reduce withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings, and provide a healthy outlet to cope with potential triggers and daily life stressors.

Yoga is a complementary, or adjunct, health practice that is often considered a natural form of medicine. Adjunct means “in addition to,” and not “in place of.” Yoga is often beneficial when used in tandem with other traditional substance abuse treatment methods.

The Yoga Journal describes modern yoga as the use of physical postures to learn how to connect mind, body, and breath to gain self-awareness and focus attention inward. According to data published by US News & World Report, around 21 million Americans practice yoga, a number that has doubled in the past 10 years.

Yoga has many potential benefits, including:

  • Stress relief
  • Increased physical stamina and strength
  • Self-reflection and increased self-awareness
  • Healthier exercise and eating habits
  • Heightened self-confidence and improved self-image
  • Pain relief
  • Better sleep
  • Increased energy levels
  • Reduction in fatigue
  • Emotional healing
  • Overall health and wellness improvement
Yoga’s Effects on the Brain

When someone abuses drugs or alcohol regularly, some of the pathways in the brain are altered, and the pathways related to feeling pleasure, regulating emotions, making sound decisions, and controlling impulses may be negatively affected. After a period of time without the influence of drugs or alcohol, brain chemistry and circuitry can heal and rebuild itself. Yoga may be able to help with this as well.

Yoga has long been used to help relieve stress, and scientific evidence has provided a link between practicing yoga and the reduction of stress by modulation of the stress response, Harvard Health reports. When a person feels stress, heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and body temperature increase. Yoga may actually act on this system by regulating and balancing some of the stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, the Yoga Journal publishes. Grey matter and regions of the brain active in controlling stress, like the hippocampus, may also be enlarged with the regular practice of yoga, as published in Scientific American.

The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine also reported on a study that showed an increase in the levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) with the practice of yoga techniques. GABA is a kind of natural tranquilizer produced by the brain to help manage anxiety and the stress response. Higher levels of GABA usually mean less anxiety and less stress. Stress, anxiety, and depression are common side effects of drug withdrawal, and the use of yoga in recovery may actually work to improve these symptoms.

A study published by Harvard Health on a group of women who reported themselves to be “emotionally distressed” practiced yoga for 1.5 hours twice a week. At the end of three months, half reported less depression, a third cited fewer anxiety symptoms, and 65 percent claimed an increase in overall wellbeing. Over 80 percent of the people practicing yoga in the United States, according to a National Health Interview Study (NHIS) in 2012 published by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), reported a reduction in their stress levels as a result.

source: American Addiction Centers article

yoga for migraines

The head is the center of the body, if not physically, then certainly psychologically. (Indian mythology and folklore abound with stories of identity conundrums involving the head. In one, a woman’s husband and her brother both behead themselves as offerings to the goddess. The distraught wife/sister prays to Mahadevi to restore their lives. The goddess grants her prayer, instructing her to reattach the heads, but in her haste, she transposes them. Now, which one is her husband and which is her brother? The body with her husband’s head is her husband because “the head is the most important part of the body, and the rest of the body is identified by the head.”) The head houses our brain, which is the driving force of the central nervous system. A pain in the head affects the entire person, particularly if that pain is from a migraine. Harriet Beecher Stowe (yes, that Harriet Beecher Stowe), writing in 1871, described it well: “Lillie went to bed with a sick headache, and lay two days after it, during which she cried and lamented incessantly.”

The defining characteristic of a migraine is an intense pain that may be related to dilation of blood vessels in the head. Symptoms include visual blurring, sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and vomiting. A migraine, as distinct from a stress headache, is usually one-sided and typically lasts for two or three days.

I was diagnosed with migraines in my early twenties. Over the years I was prescribed medications: One, ergot-derived, did little for the pain and made me throw up; another helped the pain somewhat but wiped me out. Even with medication my headaches lasted for three days, occasionally longer, and by the time I was in my mid-twenties and in a graduate program at Harvard Divinity School, I could expect to have at least two in any given month. When one hit, about all I could do was lie in a darkened room with my eyes covered, not unlike poor Lillie—hardly a winning strategy for academic success.

I visited the student health service and received a trial dose of something. I took it at the onset of the next headache, and the pain quickly vanished. “What was that? I want a prescription!” I told them.

“Oh no,” they said, “that was morphine. We can’t prescribe morphine for you. We just wanted to see what would happen.” They refilled my prescription for Fiorinol (the one that helped a little but spaced me out) and advised me to reduce stress in my life.

This was good advice. Migraine triggers include stress and hormonal changes. Many women are more prone to migraines before or during their menstrual periods. For some people, certain foods, alcohol, or caffeine can bring on a migraine. In Yoga As Medicine, Timothy McCall identifies stress and muscle tension in the head, neck, and back as possible triggers for migraines; many people find relief through a back-centered practice when their headaches are not active.

After I was advised to reduce my stress level, a friend told me she had started taking Iyengar yoga classes and invited me to join her. I had practiced yoga in my early teens, before I had migraines. I hadn’t done any regular practice for several years and couldn’t envision how it would help, but I was willing to try anything, and the idea of doing yoga again appealed to me. I went to class.

That first class put me in touch with muscles I had forgotten I had. The pose that stands out from that class is supta padangusthasana III, with its intense (for me) stretch of the glutes and piriformis; I still remember how amazing it felt. (That and pigeon pose have become my lifelong friends—not necessarily to help my headaches but as part of my ongoing practice.) I kept going to class, and gradually my headaches became less frequent and less severe. After a while, although they still lasted three days, I could manage the pain with over-the-counter meds, selected “yoga hacks,” and certain lifestyle strategies. Many years later, I realized one day that the headaches had vanished, but in the meantime these strategies helped me function.

Hacks to Help Your Headache

1. Wrap your head in an elastic bandage and lie in supported savasana.

First set up your props. You’ll want a bolster or blanket roll under your knees and a blanket or cushion to support your head. Place a blanket on your mat, or use a carpeted floor. (You can also do this in or on your bed, if you wish; I often have. You may also enjoy having an extra blanket as a cover.)

migraine article image 1

Sit up to put your headwrap in place. In India, the ideal bandages are sold as “varicose vein bandages,” but any elastic bandage about 4″ wide will be fine. Start with it rolled up, holding the loose end toward your face. Stretch the bandage so it will be somewhat tight when in place but not so tight that it makes your eyes feel constricted. Place the loose end over your ear (left ear, for me, since I’m right handed) and hold it there. Unroll it across your eyes (not your nose!), making sure it doesn’t create an unpleasant sense of pressure on the eyes. Bring it around your head, still at ear level. You can remove the hand that was holding the bandage as you catch the loose end with the next layer. Bring this layer up over your forehead and down across the base of the skull. Keep covering your eyes, ears, forehead, and occiput till the bandage runs out; then tuck the edge in. To avoid the “princess and the pea” effect, tuck it someplace so that you won’t be lying on it.


migraine article image 2

Now, lie down with the bolster or blanket roll under your knees and a blanket, towel, or pillow under your head so that your forehead is slightly higher than your chin. This position helps to relax the muscles of your back and neck, while the bandage provides a welcome counter-pressure to the engorged blood vessels in your head. I found that, if I did this early enough, and if I could go to sleep in this position, when I woke up, my headache would be far less severe or even gone.


2. Warm your hands.

You could hold hot water bottles or heated eye pillows in each palm, or if that’s too complicated when you feel so awful, just visualize your palms growing warmer. Evoke the body memory of wrapping your hands around a warm, smooth cup of some comforting hot liquid; let the warmth penetrate the palms and hands and steal gradually up the arms to the shoulders. This simple exercise can help to relax the arms and shoulders, evoke a sense of comfort and well-being, and seems to relieve some of the tension contributing to the pain. I’m sure it would work to visualize your feet getting warm, too, but I tend to carry tension in my hands so they became my go-to body part for relaxation exercises.

These two simple yoga-based relaxation techniques can go a long way toward relieving the pain of an existing headache. However, the Yoga Sutra tells us, “Heyam dukham anagatam”—pain that has not yet come can be avoided. Here are some ways you might try to avoid the pain of future migraines.

‌• My friend Beth, a yogini and fellow migraine sufferer, swears that a gentle kapalabhati practice has helped her stave off headaches if she begins the practice the instant she senses the headache approaching.

‌• Discover the circumstances in which your pain arises, and learn the subtle pre-symptoms that signal its onset. Avoid everything that brings you toward that pain. Don’t be overly concerned about inconveniencing other people; put self-care first. Maybe you’re exhausted by too much activity, by multitasking, by excessive heat or cold, or by too much talking and social interaction. Learn your ayurvedic constitution and follow the recommendations for a healthy diet and lifestyle for you, remembering that what a kapha type finds pleasantly stimulating may send a vata type diving under the covers with a sick headache.

‌• Get enough rest. If you even suspect that you are heading for a migraine attack, don’t exert yourself physically. Substitute a restorative sequence for your active asana practice. Spend time in supported poses such as legs up the wall, supported reclining bound angle pose, shoulderstand in a chair, and forward bends with your head supported. Practice a few of these with your head wrapped.

‌• Reassess your relationship with caffeine, and drink enough water to stay hydrated.

‌• Develop or re-commit to a meditation practice. Learn to redirect your attention from the pain to your chosen devotional object.

‌• Do your best to develop a non-adversarial relationship with your pain. Migraine headaches are not your enemy; they are signals that something is out of balance, that something needs loving attention. Trying to conquer your migraines or override their influence with strong medications may allow you to push through a deadline, but it will not reduce the stress in your life or lessen your long-term suffering. Your body is very intelligent; it wants to be whole and in balance, and chronic illnesses like migraines may be one way it tries to communicate its needs.

I was disappointed, to put it mildly, when the health service refused to give me morphine, but today I’m grateful. If they had, I would have used it to override my pain, and it probably would have taken me much longer to return to yoga. Yoga taught me to observe my body and mind compassionately and objectively, to align my energies with my body’s natural healing forces, and to stop pushing myself so hard. Slowly, over time, with regular restorative and pranayama practices, my chronic migraines have gone away.

I wish I could publish a set of asanas guaranteed to cure your migraine, but I am pretty sure there is no one-size-fits-all practice. While there are medications that can help override symptoms (thank goodness), real healing involves the kind of transformation that comes from a long-term, dedicated, kind personal practice.

author credit: Zo Newell  on Yoga International. article link