Sweet Dreams: Yoga for Better Sleep & Daytime Energy

“When sleep escapes you and drowsiness and fuzzy thinking are your daytime companions, it’s time to evaluate what action you can take to improve sleep.  Mind-body practices, including yoga, can improve sleep and daytime energy.”  

The roots of sleeplessness may be related to age, stress, hormonal changes, pain, digestive distress, anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, other health issues, treatments, medications, exercise (lack of or timing), diet, or lifestyle.  Yoga is especially helpful for reducing symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, digestive distress and menopause that often make it difficult to fall asleep or interrupt sleep. In addition, yoga can be used to reduce daytime fatigue caused by poor sleep.

The tools of Yoga Therapy are skillfully applied based on the characteristics of sleeplessness and resulting fatigue.  Some people have trouble falling asleep.  Others wake in the middle of the night.  A common pattern that arises with age is early waking.  And some individuals sleep for 8 hours yet never feel rested and refreshed.

Yoga Therapy tools that may be used for sleeplessness include yoga postures, breath adaptation in the postures, breathing practices, guided relaxation, meditation, or sound.  The tools of yoga can be applied for your particular pattern of sleeplessness and might include:

  • Setting the stage for better sleep with exercise, nutrition and yoga techniques
  • Yoga techniques for falling asleep
  • What to do when you wake during the night
  • What to do if you experience waking early
  • Quick and easy techniques for dealing with daytime fatigue
  • Changing your relationship with your sleeplessness.

An important aspect of Yoga Therapy is to better understand what helps and what aggravates a particular condition.  Through newfound awareness, we can apply the highest value yoga tools in efficient and effective ways to improve your life.  Being able to fall asleep or having better daytime energy can drastically transform productivity and overall enjoyment of life.

One of the most common experiences of sleeplessness is not being able to fall asleep because of stress and repetitive negative or worrisome thoughts.  Some movement with adapted breathing may be helpful right before bed.

Try Apanasana (Gas-Relieving Pose) right before bed to relax, relieve any digestive distress and stretch your low back.  You can do it on your bed or on the floor.  Repeat the posture 6 times, lengthening your exhale every 2 repetitions.

Try Yogic Sheep Counting Method right before bed or if you wake during the night. Do the technique either in a seated position or relaxing on your back in bed:

Inhale 1 second, Exhale 1 second X1
Inhale 2 seconds, Exhale 2 seconds X1
Inhale 3 seconds, Exhale 3 seconds X1
Inhale 4 seconds, Exhale 4 seconds X1
Inhale 4 seconds, Exhale 5 seconds X1
Inhale 4 seconds, Exhale 6 seconds X1
Inhale 4 seconds, Exhale 7 seconds X1
Inhale 4 seconds, Exhale 8 seconds X1

Repeat this exercise for several rounds until you feel sleepy.

Whether you need better sleep, more sleep, or better energy during the day, your yoga toolbox has options for skillful action. You can learn how to use the tools for sweet dreams at night and vitality and clear thinking during the day.

Stick figures by Sequence Wiz

Mental and Emotional Ease

Tame the Anxiety & Worry Monkeys

Mental and emotional ease are states of being that we can all appreciate.  We put our best selves forward when we are peaceful, calm and focused.  We need fast, easy and accessible tools to bring us back to order and calm when fear, anxiety, stress or worry monkeys knock on our door and enter our inner sanctum, wreaking havoc.  The ancient practice of yoga therapy has tools that can be tailored for working with the monkeys.

The journey of life brings difficult changes, losses and transitions that create disturbances of thought and emotion.  It’s like an entire jungle of monkeys vacationing in our home.  We may also be “hardwired” genetically or through family or other conditioning to be more anxious, worried and fearful.  In other words, you bought the house with monkeys included.  Ultimately we have to accept innate tendencies, process life experiences and learn tools for cultivating awareness and changing the inner sanctum when the monkeys take over and create a mess of our minds, emotions and physiology.

Yoga can work in the short term by soothing the stress response, quieting the mind and balancing emotions.  Over time, regular practice that is tailored to your needs can help to reduce or prevent stress and anxiety symptoms, panic attacks and side effects of stress and anxiety such as distraction, insomnia, digestive distress, shortness of breath, heart palpitations and high blood pressure.

My teacher, Gary Kraftsow, a master level Yoga Therapist and trainer, says that “one of yoga’s most important gifts is an inner connection to the reality that you are not your diagnosis” or your monkeys.   Working with the monkeys of anxiety, stress, worry or fear requires cutting through the physiological stress response to connect to something deeper within ourselves, that inner aspect of ourselves that is unchanging, even in the face of our genetics, family conditioning or external life changes.

5 Steps to Soothing Anxiety, Worry and Fear

Step 1:  Move your body.  Engage in some exercise.

Step 2:  Breath in coordination with movement in a yoga posture, adapting the breath in a unique way to soothe the stress response.

Step 3:  Do at least 12 – 18 breaths of a specialized anti-anxiety breathing technique.

Step 4:  Use a mantra (word or phrase) with awareness of your inhale and exhale whenever you feel that inner quickening feeling that arises before worry, fear, anxiety or stress kicks in.  We can prevent the monkeys from getting in the house.  A simple mantra might be Inhale – “Peace, Peace”, Exhale – “Peace, Peace, Peace”.

Step 5:  Connect to a source of inspiration or faith that gives you courage and strength for all that is ahead in the journey of life.   This shortened version of the Serenity Prayer is an example.  “Help me accept the things I cannot change, courage to change those that I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

The nature of our mind is that tendency toward monkeys repeatedly showing up and taking over.  By doing regular yoga practice we place the bananas outside on the lawn for the monkeys, keeping our peaceful inner sanctum.   If the monkeys do get in, we can use our emergency tools of movement, breath, mantra and sources of inspiration and strength to calm the monkeys and gently evict them.

 

Grounding During Grief

Grief is a unique combination of sadness, memories, fog, strong emotions, bodily experiences and occasional moments of peace and clarity. This simple quote reveals so much about what we are just beginning to understand about the science of chronic stress and the effects of grief. Dr. van der Kolk, a researcher who studies the effect of yoga on stress and trauma, is reminding us that the body stores up life’s most difficult moments and stresses.

“The body keeps the score.” Bessel A van der Kolk

Our senses (what we hear, see, smell, taste and feel) provide input to the brain through sensory pathways or nerves. All that we perceive is processed through the brain. The brain is then involved in little or large reactions that are physical, physiological, mental and emotional.

Our day-to-day life stresses may not create a very big reaction because we build up experience and resilience. “Been there, done that, got it!” Grief is different. The physical, physiological, mental and emotional reactions are larger and often unrelenting for a longer period of time.

It is a difficult journey. It’s hard to discharge and unwind. The body runs on “reaction overdrive.” You might experience body tension and pain, headaches, sleeplessness, fatigue, mental fog, increased blood pressure, elevated heart rate, heart palpitations, gastrointestinal problems, anxiety, depression, anger and overwhelming sadness. There are a few key tools that may help you.

  • Yoga or any type of gentle movement or exercise can ease some of the symptoms. It provides a discharge for what builds up and gets lodged in the tissues. It can help you feel as if you are present in your body and a little more grounded.
  • Breath practices may help soothe and tune the nervous system and help you feel grounded, stable and a little more peaceful and calm. Breathing is also a mood stabilizer. It’s invisible and can be used anywhere and at any time.
  • Creating space for meditation, reflection, inquiry or prayer can be helpful. Most people need more solitude for a period of time. I have adapted a meditation that I learned from one of my mentors. The inquiry is simple: What has been lost? What remains? What is changing as a result of this loss? This inquiry changes over time and provides a way to measure how you are processing all that is a part of this journey.
  • Sound or music or chanting can be calming to the nervous system. It also settles the mind. Use something that speaks deeply to you. It might be relaxing music, a spiritual song, or a chant.

Every grief journey is different. No two people will experience and process the same grief experience in the same way. It’s an important time to take it on your terms. Watch for increasing moments of clarity and peace. That will be a sure sign that you are finding your way.

GroundingThroughGriefShortSequence

Yoga for the Winter Blues

The crispness and color of fall quickly leads into the dark days of winter. As Henry Adams said, winter can still “grind the very soul” out of us. Most people who live in northern latitudes experience some seasonal changes. Winter blues and seasonal affective disorder are terms used to describe the spectrum of more problematic and serious symptoms experienced as the hours of daylight grow shorter. Having a plan to manage mood, energy and other seasonal symptoms can help you feel more confident in navigating through the dark days.

Seasonal changes may include difficulty concentrating and processing information, overwhelm, irritability, anxiety or a depressive mood. Pain, an achy flu-like feeling, exacerbation of fibromyalgia symptoms, fatigue, disturbed sleep (too much, too little or poor quality), sweet cravings, lowered sex drive and less desire to socialize are all part of the change in brain chemicals that can occur with changing light.

Yoga practice for seasonal changes can be tailored to increase energy, cultivate focus, and lift mood as well as soothe anxiety and improve sleep. Yoga tools might include breath-centered movement, breathing practices, relaxation, meditation, sound and community.

An early morning yoga posture practice that emphasizes lengthening inhalation can help change symptoms of low energy, lack of focus and depressed mood. The addition of sound (chanting a mantra, a passage from the Bible, or an inspirational phrase as you Exhale) provides even more potency to a morning practice.
Are anxieties and sleep issues a problem for you during the winter? A practice later in the day that emphasizes gentle, soothing postures, lengthening exhale, and relaxation or meditation may soothe irritability, anxiety and stress.

A variety of short practices specifically tailored to the individual often helps in managing the complexity of different symptoms with seasonal changes.
Exercise, preferably earlier in the day in natural light, a strong cup of coffee in the morning, a diet that is rich in omega 3 fatty acids (flaxseed oil, salmon, sardines, etc.) and low in sugar, stress management, good habits around sleep (no late night electronics!) and social outings with friends and family can also help manage seasonal changes.

It’s important to work with your health care provider if symptoms progress beyond what feels manageable. If you have trouble functioning at work, home or in your volunteer work, your personal relationships suffer, and you have significant feelings of depression, including suicidal thoughts, it’s time to talk with your doctor. Light therapy, medication and therapy may be recommended to help you get through the winter.

If you can’t escape to a sunny location, get a prevention plan in place. Manage symptoms that come up and seek the advice of your doctor if symptoms get overwhelming. Explore the tools of yoga to awaken your inner light!

5 Ways to Use Yoga to Awaken Your Inner Light in Winter
1. Move – Stand with your feet hip distance apart. Sweep your arms wide and up on INHALE in a sun-like movement. Lower your arms in a sun-like movement on EXHALE. Repeat 6 times.
2. Breathe – Close your eyes. Sense the center space of the chest. As you INHALE, try to feel an expansiveness in the chest. As you EXHALE, hug the navel inward. Do 12 full deep breaths.
3. Use Sound – Use the seed mantra of the heart cakra (energy center), YAM. Inhale, then sound the word on Exhale. This sound creates vibration in the center of the chest. Repeat 6 times.
4. Visualize – Focus your attention on the center of the chest, the cave of the heart. Visualize light, perhaps a beautiful sunrise, the light of a flickering candle, a lighted star atop a Christmas tree, or a sunset. Spend 5 minutes focused on that light. Feel as if the light grows more expansive within and around you.
5. Be Present – Linger longer with the good that comes your way through friends, family, community connections, pets, nature, and faith.

Free

“Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into treesThe winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

-John Muir

Free yourself from winter hibernation +

Free yourself from cold weather tension and stagnancy +

Free time to be outside, breathe, move and participate +

Free outdoor yoga classes in the best ‘green spaces’ of Central Wisconsin =

Better physical and mental health!

Your outdoor ‘green space’ yoga practice invites you to reconnect with the earth, stretch to the sky, inhale fresh oxygen and exhale the doldrums of winter.

Sip in the sweet benefits of outdoor yoga:

  • Be a Kid Again – stretch on the ground and look up at the sky
  • Practice Concentration – foster one-point-concentration as life happens around you
  • Hone Your Proprioception – that advanced sense of your body in space that helps you with stability, balance and movement
  • Plug in to the Totality of the Experience – be one with the beauty as well as the bugs
  • Engage Your 5 Senses and Be Inspired

For a personal practice, rolling out your mat on your patio, in the grass or beside your favorite water provides a familiar space to take 10-15 minutes to breathe and stretch into your favorite postures.

Group classes in ‘green space’ invites you to find balance with/between your heightened five senses and the ease of tranquility and calm.

The grass that tickles your hand, the birdsong that makes you look into the trees and the bug that wants to join you on your mat also provide you the opportunity to stop, breathe, observe and be present.

Shunryu Suzuki-roshi, author of ‘Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind’ shares, “If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything.  In the beginners mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Be free, be curious, be open to your beginners mind this summer.

Learn about all the Outdoor Yoga Classes 5 Koshas will be sharing this summer HERE, pre-register for classes: HERE.

Yoga for Gardening

The deliciousness of a sweet heirloom tomato, the snap of fresh green beans, the tangy sweetness of a fresh strawberry, the heady scent of a blossoming peony…it’s within reach now that the sun graces the sky for long days.  Gardening has approximately equal parts science, weather, faith and hard work.   The hard work can lead to a sore back, cranky knees, a stiff neck, aching shoulders and repetitive movements for the wrists and elbows.  Yoga is a wonderful addition to your self-care for the gardening season.

Here are some tips for your yoga self-care program.

  1. Gently warm up your upper back, shoulders, elbows and wrists with wide sweeping arm movements and wrist circles.
  2. Raise and lower heels to cultivate balance.
  3. Do some gentle back bending to strengthen the back and counter all of the forward bending that is done with gardening.
  4. Do some gentle forward bending with bent knees to warm up the low back but not too much since you’ll get plenty in the garden.
  5. Gently twist the upper back and turn the head/neck to warm up the upper back and neck muscles.
  6. Keep the muscles that support your spine and major joints (elbows, wrists, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles) strong, stable and flexible so that you have more optimal alignment in the spine and joints (which means less nerve impingement and pain).

See the attached short yoga practice that can be done in the garden before or after gardening:  Yoga for Gardening handout.  Enjoy the gardening season!

Re-solve-lutions

Resolve – settle or find a solution; decide firmly on a new course of action

Revolution – to overthrow a social order in favor of a new system  (Google.com)

Could ‘New Year Resolutions’ be overthrown?  What if they were erased from our culture? How would we react? What would we talk about? Would we still have a purpose? We seem to want to solve and re-solve things for ourselves, equating a new year with an amped up willpower to change. Making resolutions has become an important ritual.

Many scholars and sages have written and discussed the importance of having a purpose, committing to something that creates positivity in life every day, beyond fleeting ideas only at the beginning of the year.

With many scientific and soulful studies of ‘self,’ there is momentum of a ‘revolution of the resolution,’ helping us dig deeper to support our health journey.

Here are some healthy perspectives to support you in your purpose – all year:

Gratitude. Take 5- 10 minutes to write down what you are grateful for. Research has proven that a simple ‘Gratitude List’ has high impact on our ability to be kind and realistic with ourselves and others.  We are hardwired to change ourselves and be better.  Your ‘Gratitude List’ can keep you grounded in what is positive and what is purposeful in your life.  For more on the science of gratitude, read this article. And because we live life through our mobile apps, try this Gratitude Journal 365

If/Then. Write down your ideas, intentions, goals, plan of action for the year (yes, more documentation). Take the time to sit down with no other agenda except to grab a pen, paper or iPad and document what you are interested in for better health and wellbeing in your life.

Then dig deeper and document when and where you are going to carry out these intentions with an If/Then statement. For example, ‘If my alarm wakes me 30 minutes earlier three days a week, then I will take 20 minutes to participate in my home yoga practice.’

To help you problem-solve when challenges arise, take your documentation one step further, anticipating the barriers keeping you from implementing your intentions.  For example, ‘If I feel too tired when my alarm goes off, then I will get up and take 10 minutes for my home yoga practice, fixing my favorite cup of coffee soon afterwards.’

According to psychologist Peter M. Gollwitzer, this ‘implementation intention’ of creating an ‘If/Then’ statement will help you implement your goals.  “The forming of the plan is conscious,” Gollwitzer explains. “The execution is unconscious.”

For more details on this research, visit the article on Forbes.com.

Silence. One of the most powerful tools you have within yourself is the ability to be quiet, inhale and exhale and observe the present moment as you breathe.  Your yoga practice, a winter walk or sitting for 5 minutes with your phone and computer silenced will offer you time to center yourself.

In his book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Deepak Chopra describes it as the ability to, ‘Slip into the gap…that silent space between thoughts.’

Even with a plan of action for health intentions and predicting barriers that may arise, Chopra reminds us to set intentions yet, ‘Relinquish attachment to the outcome, giving up rigid attachment to a specific result and living in the wisdom of uncertainty….Enjoy every moment in the journey of life….’

Your quiet time will give you respite from the static of life so you can practice focusing your attention in the present moment and trusting the development of your intentions.

Everything takes practice.  Donna Farhi reminds us in her book, ‘Bringing Yoga to Life’ that your yoga practice is a parallel to life, ‘When we begin Yoga Practice, we are signing up for a lifelong apprenticeship with our Self and to the Self.  And as in any apprenticeship, many skills can be learned only over a long period of time.  There are no shortcuts and no crash courses, and there is no replacement for the satisfaction and richness that follow in the wake of such wholehearted commitment.’

In the spirit of the new year, may you offer yourself the opportunities for health and wellbeing: with gratitude, a written plan, openness to all possibilities and a commitment to a life-long apprenticeship of learning.

Let your new year resolutions be revolutionized.

The Radiance of Your Inner Light

We are light.  Within us is a light, very much like the Sun, that is unchanging and brilliant.  This is one of the fundamental teachings in yoga philosophy.  The darkness of the winter creates an inward movement of our attention that creates opportunities to experience our inner life and radiance.

As we move into this time of the return of the Sun, here are 5 different ways to awaken the light within your heart:

  1. Move – Stand with your feet hip distance apart. Sweep your arms wide and up on INHALE in a sun-like movement.  Lower your arms in a sun-like movement on EXHALE.  Repeat 6 times.
  2. Breathe – Close your eyes. Sense the center space of the chest.  As you INHALE, try to feel an expansiveness in the chest.  As you EXHALE, hug the navel inward.  Do 12 full deep breaths.
  3. Use Sound – Use the seed mantra of the 4th or heart cakra (energetic center), YAM. Focus on the center of the chest.  Inhale, then sound the word, YAM, on Exhale. This sound creates vibration in the center of the chest. Repeat 6 times.
  4. Visualize – Focus your attention on the center of the chest, the cave of the heart. Visualize light, perhaps a beautiful sunrise, the light of a flickering candle, a lighted star atop a Christmas tree, sunset, or the light of the full moon that we’ll see this Christmas Day.  Spend 5 minutes focused on that light.  Feel as if the light grows more expansive within and around you.  If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to visualization of light.
  5. Be Present – Linger longer with the good that comes your way through friends, family, pets, nature, and faith.

 

Yoga Stress Busters for the Holidays

3 Quick and Easy Yoga Tips for Energy, Calm and Clarity for the Holiday Season

Tis the season to get really stressed out!  We tend to compress a year’s worth of entertaining, professional networking, cooking, baking, connecting with family and friends, extra school activities for kids, family traditions, shopping, and decorating all in one month.  It’s a lot of activity and mental clutter akin to snow on the windshield.

All of this activity happens at a time of year when the lack of light in northern latitudes creates a loss of physical energy and mental clarity for many people.  Yoga can be individualized and adapted to meet your needs whether it is energy, mental clarity, or calming influences.

Here are 3 quick yoga tools to help you moderate your energy and stress during the holidays:

  1. Breathe – Take 5 minutes to breathe deeply. As you inhale, try to feel your chest and belly expanding.  As you exhale, pull the belly inward.  Deep, smooth breathing is one of the quickest ways to shift distraction, fatigue, anxiety, stress, and the tendency to overindulge.  It’s the invisible game changer and it can be adapted to what you need at any given moment.  You can do it in bed before you get up, at your desk, standing in line, at a Christmas concert, or in bed at night.

To energize:  Make your inhale and exhale equal in length.  Pause after the inhale for 2 to 3 seconds.  Example:  Inhale 6 seconds, pause for 3 seconds, exhale for 6 seconds.

To calm down:  Make your exhale at least 2 – 3 seconds longer than your inhalation.  Example:  Inhale 4 seconds, exhale 6 seconds.

  1. Move – Do a favorite yoga posture, first with 6 repetitions in and out of the posture, then stay in the posture for 6 full deep breaths.

To energize:  Do Mountain Pose (Tadasana).  Stand with your feet hip distance apart.  On inhale, sweep your arms out to the sides and up as you raise your heels.  Pause for 2 – 3 seconds after the inhale. On exhale, lower your arms and heels at the same time.

To calm down:  Do Table to Child Pose (Cakravakasana).  Kneel in a table position, placing hands on the floor below the shoulders.  On exhale, lower forearms to the floor as you lower hips toward heels. On inhale, return to the table position.   Make your exhale 2 – 3 seconds longer than inhale.

  1. Hit the Pause Button and Contemplate – Take a minute every hour or two where you just sit and do nothing. Put the electronics away.  Just observe and feel.  There are often a lot of society- and family-imposed thought patterns and obligations that creep in over the holidays.  Becoming a witness to your own thoughts is helpful.  Ask yourself what is most important for the holidays.  What events, social gatherings, rituals and obligations reflect your most deeply held values and priorities?  As you clarify and prioritize, it’s much easier to say “no” to what isn’t as important to you and your family and to say “yes” to what is deeply nourishing.

If you take time to move and breathe deeply as well as contemplate your highest priorities, it will be easier to stay grounded, be clear and calm, and act in integrity with what’s most important to you and your family.  Turn on the windshield wipers several times daily with these quick and easy yoga practices.

HolidayDe-StressSequence

Creativity

“Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.” — Pablo Picasso

Most of us are aware when we are stressed: the shortness of breath, tension in areas of the body, stomach twinges and mental meltdowns indicate how much stress we are dealing with.

It also invites us to slow down, breathe and acknowledge what is triggering our stress.

‘Letting go’ of stress is easier said than done, because there is always stress in life.  Practicing living a balanced life within stress instead of becoming the stress is an ongoing practice.

Opportunities fostering creativity are proven to help us stand with a bit more steadiness and balance on the tightrope of life.

In 2010, the American Journal of Public Health published a review titled, The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health.  In that article, researchers analyzed more than 100 studies and found that music, writing, dance and art can improve health and our ability to heal ourselves.

The National Institute of Health encourages us to participate in hobbies that involve color, creating, building, drawing, photography, movement, music and singing.

Did you know? Singing releases substances that serve as the brain’s own natural pain-killers and increases the “bonding hormone” that helps us feel a sense of trust. And when we listen to music, levels of molecules important for fighting infection can rise.

Bebrainfit.com states, “When you get totally immersed in a creative activity, you may find yourself in what’s known as ‘the zone’ or in a state of ‘flow.’

This meditative-like state focuses your mind and temporarily pushes aside all your worries. Creating art trains you to concentrate on details and pay more attention to your environment. In this way, it acts like meditation.”

Many of you have cried out, “But I’m not creative.”

It doesn’t matter.  Take advantage of opportunities that let you engage in art, music, and movement and encourage creativity in others.  You and your health depend on it to thrive.

Here are some easy opportunities in the month of November at 5 Koshas:

  • DANCE – Belly Dancing every Tuesday at 7:00p with Anna
  • MOVE AND MEDITATE – Tai Chi every Thursday at 10:30a with Lee
  • MEDITATE – Offered in a variety of classes, mini-retreats and retreats
  • CONCENTRATE AND LAUGH – Kali Martial Arts every Thursday at 4:15 with Jamie

For more reading:

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