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

yoga to become a better driver

Even though yoga has helped me become kinder to others, when I’m in my car and stuck in traffic, any practice of loving-kindness is replaced with a middle finger and a resounding f-you. Yoga asks us to serve the world in an elevated capacity. But it can be difficult when our daily commute is stressful and even dangerous. However, with practice, yoga can help drivers be more mindful when hitting the road.

Core Power Yoga in Phoenix and Allstate teamed up in August 2016 to inform drivers of the importance of mindful driving. According to the spokespeople for the Be Present mindful driving campaign, which aims to end distracted driving, 25% of accidents involve smartphone use. More alarmingly, in 2015, there was a 15% increase in fatal vehicular accidents. With these looming statistics, it is more important than ever to be a mindful driver and do yoga practices for driving. Thankfully, there are multiple ways that yoga can turn a traffic jam into a joy ride.

1. Eliminate Distractions

Similar to pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), eliminating distractions is one of the best ways to be a mindful driver. Focus only on the road. Put your phone in the backseat or glove compartment. If you have to use it, pull over before sending a text message or making a call. Make your playlist in advance so you aren’t distracted shuffling through music. If you are rushed and have to eat in the car, carve out 10 minutes before or after driving to mindfully eat.

2. Breathe

Pranayama (conscious breathing) can calm the road rage you might feel when someone cuts you off in traffic. According to research from Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, conscious breathing can reduce anxiety, improve stress resilience, and lower the heart rate.

Not all yogic breath is appropriate while driving. However, there are a few breathing practices that are safe to do behind the wheel. Dirga Pranayama (three part breath) is relaxing and calming. Ujjayi Pranayama (victorious breath) can redirect your focus from frustration to the soothing sound of the breath.

3. Be Compassionate

Yoga teaches us to treat all beings with love and compassion. Still, when you are alone in your car, it is easy to forget that you are interacting with other humans. As such, practice compassion with fellow drivers. For instance, drive the speed limit so that you don’t endanger yourself and/or others. When someone lets you merge, wave to say thank you. Offer other drivers the same courtesy as you would to a friend.

4. Do Yoga Before Driving

Before hopping in the car, take two or three minutes to stand in Tadasana (Mountain pose), close your eyes, and breathe. Or spend a few moments moving through Cat pose and Cow pose. Your pre-travel yoga practice doesn’t need to be intense. Simply give yourself time to get centered.

5. Set an intention

Yogis practice intention or sankalpa as a way to stay focused and to redirect distractions and frustrations toward something more positive. For instance, if drivers in your area tend to be aggressive, drive with the intention of having peaceful interactions with fellow motorists. If driving stresses you out, set the intention to stay calm and let go.

6. Observe Your Body

Current research proves what yogis have known for thousands of years: emotions manifest in the physical body. For example, when traffic is gridlocked and frustrations are high, the body tenses. Use your drive to connect the mind and body. Where can you soften? Are you clenching the steering wheel? Notice your shoulders. Draw them down and away from the ears.

7. Practice Yoga Regularly

All of these methods are important components of a regular yoga practice. So the more yoga you do, the more natural these become. If you aren’t sure where to start, try this Calming Basic Yoga Sequence.



author credit: Rebecca Warfield on Yoga Basics article link

discover your ayurvedic dosha

Originating thousands of years ago among monks in India, Ayurveda or the “science of life” is an ancient healing system based on eating the right foods and taking care of the body by following self-care routines. In order to prescribe the right regimen, practitioners first determine a person’s dominant dosha or energies present in the body. The three main doshas—vata, pitta, and kapha—correspond to the elements of air, fire, and earth, respectively.

Follow this this link to take the quiz. Takes no time at all and the results might surprise you 🙂

 


author credit: Carmela Caruso on Yoga Basics. other articles by Carmela

 

is blindfolded yoga for you?

Blindfolded yoga is just like your traditional yoga class, but with a bandana, eye mask or some other cover over your eyes. This unique practice has been rising in popularity and can be found at Wanderlust Festivals, yoga retreats, and in a few studios in New York and Australia. I was excited to try blindfolded yoga at a yoga retreat in Lake Tahoe, CA, but honestly wasn’t expecting the class to do much more than challenge my balance. To my surprise, that blindfolded yoga class was one of the most powerful yoga classes I have ever attended. But what makes blindfolded yoga so different than any other yoga class?

Blindfolded yoga increases body-awareness

I never realized how much I rely on my gaze in yoga until it was removed. Even when I practice with my eyes closed, I can still peek to make sure my knee is over my ankle. With blindfolded yoga, there’s no checking that your arms are in one straight line. You can’t look and see. You have to feel instead.

Vision plays an important role in helping us understand where our body is in space, but vision is not the only sensory system involved in body-awareness. Proprioception plays a huge roll as well. Receptors in our skin and muscles tell our brain where our body is and what it is doing. A healthy proprioceptive system is important for a high level of body-awareness, and, like most things, it gets stronger with practice. Practicing blindfolded yoga can help us strengthen our proprioception and grow more intimately connected with how our body feels and moves.

As we stepped from downward facing dog to high lunge, I realized how much of my body-awareness was dependent on my sight. The instructor told us to step one foot between our hands. After stepping my foot forward, I had to grope around with my hand to find where my foot had actually landed (which was quite a few inches beyond my hands and to the far right of the mat), then guide it back to the proper position. Once we were in high lunge, I began to shift around and explore my body from the inside out. Was my knee over my ankle? I couldn’t see, so I had to bend my knee and move my foot until I could feel where both were in space and how they related to each other. Suddenly, I realized that I was aware of my joints and the position of my body in a way I’d never experienced in a normal yoga class.

Blindfolded yoga teaches focus

If you had asked me before my blindfolded yoga class, I would have said I am usually very focused and present in yoga. But blindfolded yoga showed me just how much more focus I am capable of. Take tree pose. In a normal yoga class I can get into tree with little waver and stay there awhile. But once I donned the blindfold I was wavering and shaking and could hardly get my foot to my ankle without falling over. Besides giving my ego a healthy knock, inching my way into tree pose while blindfolded forced me to truly focus in a way I never have before. It demanded my presence. I needed to steady my breath; to feel the connection between my standing foot and the earth; to still the muscles of my standing leg and tighten my core; and to move slowly with a connection to my own stability and stillness.

Blindfolded yoga gives you the gift of pratyahara

The most powerful part of blindfolded yoga was the dampening of the senses, pratyahara. My lack of sight helped me connect with my body and find more focus in my practice. This awareness and focus brought a new depth to my practice.  Ancient yogic philosophy teaches that pratyahara helps us to unify the mind, body, and spirit. During my blindfolded yoga practice, I saw a hint of that unification. Without the distractions that come from looking around the room, I was able to begin moving inward instead. I felt I could track the movement of the breath as it traveled through my body and when we settled into savasana, I dropped into a deeper stillness than I had ever known.

Something about being so aware of my body actually helped me get out of my body and connect with something deeper. The focus I cultivated during the practice pulled me deep into myself. When we settled into savasana, and there was no alignment or balance left to worry about, that focus transformed into stillness. I was so far from distraction by that point that it was easy to slip into a quiet calm and let the flow of thoughts and breath move through me while I remained comfortably steady in that place where thoughts and distraction stop and unity begins.

Blindfolded yoga helped me grow physically, mentally, and spiritually, and it is something I would recommend to any yogi looking for a little more depth in their yoga practice. It has yet to be offered at most studios and is mostly found at yoga retreats or festivals, but if you can’t find a blindfolded yoga class, you can still try it at home. Next time you get on the mat, try wrapping a blindfold around your eyes and see how this simple change makes a big difference in your practice.


author credit: Sarah Dittmore on Yoga Basics article link