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 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!

Evolve!

Cakra-s as a Map for Energy, Personality, Potential & Transformation

As we navigate the journey of life, there are times of re-evaluating our priorities and values, our challenges and their impact on our relationships, our goals, and how we derive the most meaning in life.  Most of us have a deep calling to continue to evolve, to grow and to reach our fullest potential.  The cakra model, derived from the ancient teachings of yoga, provides a roadmap for esoteric anatomy, energy, personality and spiritual consciousness.

Cakra means “wheels” or whirling vortices that take in, process and organize energy.  In Western medicine, the cakra-s might be viewed as the nerve plexus in the physical body.  In Western psychology, cakra-s might be viewed as a map to the development of the personality and self-actualization.  In yoga, cakra-s are a model for human potential and spiritual consciousness.

“Cakra-s are a map of our disposition or character (svabhava) and a path to actualizing svarupa (true or essential self).”

– From Gary Kraftsow, author of Yoga for Transformation

Consider your spine or the space in front of the spine as the central power line or central channel of your body.  Starting at the base of the spine is the 1st energetic area, one associated with the qualities of stability and strength and the earth element.  The following chart provides more detail about the cakra-s, their approximate location, the main associated personality quality and the associated element:

 

Approximate

Location

Personality Quality Associated Element
Cakra 1 Base of spine Stability Earth
Cakra 2 Center of the lower pelvis Enthusiasm Water
Cakra 3 Between navel and back waistline Empowerment Fire
Cakra 4 Center of the chest Love Air
Cakra 5   Center of throat space Expression Ether
Cakra 6   Center of the space of the brain Discernment

All Elements

Intelligence

Cakra 7    Crown of the head Inspiration

Universal Consciousness

The good news for our journey through life is that we can evolve.  Within the ancient teachings are tools, methods, and practices for working with each cakra.

The heart of cakra practice is pranayama (breathing practices), chanting, and meditation.  These are the most potent yoga tools for working with prana and for seeing and transforming our challenges and maximizing our potential. It’s hard to “down dog” your way into a better attitude or a more positive relationship with people you love.

While asana (yoga postures) may be integrated into cakra practice, the purpose is to create circulation in certain areas of the body, stimulate the flow of prana (life force) through the central channel, prepare the breath for pranayama (breathing practices), and prepare the body and mind for meditation.  In other words, you “down dog” yourself into getting ready for the inner practices of yoga that have the most potential to transform obstacles and maximize potential.

A potent form of cakra meditation is bhuta suddhi.  It is an ancient technique of cakra meditation that includes sustained focus on the elements.  The goals of this type of meditation are to purify the elements, encourage the flow of prana (life force) through the central power line of the body and transform our samskaras (deep patterns and grooves).

Changing patterns of how we see ourselves and interact with others and developing a spiritual consciousness about all that we need to navigate in this human existence is evolution, the end result of cakra practice.

Taking Care of Your “Backbone”

We go through the middle years of life stressing our “backbone”. There are many responsibilities that require stamina in our metaphorical backbone– work, raising children, being active in the community, and taking care of aging parents to name a few.

It’s also a time when we may be engaged in repetitive movements (computer work, sports, and work- or hobby-related activities) that stress our real backbone or spine! The wear and tear of the middle years often surface as stiffness, pain, and spinal pathology.

No matter what your age or stage in life, yoga has positive benefits for the spine. Yoga helps the spine by:

• Improving strength and flexibility in the muscles that support the spine
• Developing healthier patterns of movement
• Improving posture with the goal of reducing or preventing low back, upper back, and neck pain
• Cultivating awareness of what helps and what hurts the spine.

Not all yoga is the same. “Early data has shown that yoga, specifically Viniyoga, can be as effective as regular physical therapy for back pain. Combining yoga with other treatments for low back pain is likely to yield even greater results, and yoga therapy should be considered a great tool for spine problems in general,” according to Dr. Andrew Beaumont, PhD, MD, Neurosurgeon.

A preventative or therapeutic approach to yoga typically includes:

  • Breath-centered movement in and out of some simple yoga postures (not necessarily the advanced or pretzel poses!)
  • Staying in specific postures to create a deeper impact on the fascia (the connective tissue that surrounds the muscles)
  • Specific sequencing of postures for safety as well as impact
  • Adaptation of the postures for your needs
  • Breath techniques to help you access your core muscles as well as to reduce stress that may cause muscle tension
  • Deep relaxation for release of tightness, pain control, and decompression of the spine.

Prenatal yoga classes include approaches adapted for the common spine and posture concerns seen in pregnancy such as low back pain, sciatica, and upper back and neck tension.

Find a yoga teacher or yoga therapist who understands how to develop, teach and adapt yoga classes for the spine. If you are new to yoga and have back pain or a spinal condition, find a therapeutic, gentle, or beginner class that can accommodate your needs. If you’re motivated to practice at home, consider working with a yoga therapist one-on-one for a practice designed for your specific condition or needs.

Our spine or “backbone” is important to our overall health, productivity and enjoyment of life. Take care of yours with a little bit of daily yoga!

Why Do Yoga During Pregnancy

Yoga has many benefits for mom and baby.  It’s a body-mind practice that promotes wellness in the 5 Koshas (layers of being):  Body, Vital (Physiology), Mind, Character, and Heart.

The Mayo Clinic has looked at research studies on yoga for pregnancy. They list some of the benefits of yoga for pregnancy as:

  • Better sleep
  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • An increase in the strength, flexibility and endurance of muscles needed for childbirth
  • Less shortness of breath and nausea
  • Less back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and headaches (all common during pregnancy)
  • Decreased risk of preterm labor and pregnancy-induced high blood pressure.

Wow, that’s a long list of really positive benefits!

Should you start yoga for the first time during pregnancy?  It depends!  Look for classes that are adapted for pregnancy and open to beginners.  Talk to the teacher in advance.  Another option is to participate in a class that is open to beginners where the teacher is comfortable adapting for you.

Prenatal yoga classes are specially designed to avoid contraindicated positions, temper how physically hard you work, keep the room temperature in a safe zone, help you get what you need to be as comfortable as possible through your pregnancy, and get ready for the delivery.

Prenatal classes are often a celebration of the journey of birth. You’ll typically find the support a circle of women who share the experience, an hour of “Me” time, and an inoculation of stress relief.

If you participate in yoga during pregnancy, it’s really important to let your Yoga Teacher or Yoga Therapist know if anything has changed for you from class to class.  Any change in blood pressure, breath capacity, pain, swelling, or spotting/bleeding is important to report so that modifications can be made to keep you and your baby safe.

If you’re pregnant and interested in using yoga to feel good and get ready to deliver your baby, learn more about the class options or individualized practice options that are available in your community.

 

 

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

Feel Your Best with Yoga: Cancer Treatment and Recovery

Life changes in an instant with a diagnosis of cancer. It’s like a big wave crashing through the house rearranging everything. How do you manage the big wave? The ancient science of yoga provides useful tools for coping with the diagnosis and treatments and supporting optimal health in recovery.

How Yoga Helps
Yoga therapy (the therapeutic application of the tools of yoga) can help increase energy, reduce fatigue, reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep, manage pain, and improve psychological health, including depression.
One of the most important self-care strategies for cancer is caring for your immune system. A tailored yoga practice does this by reducing stress, improving sleep and promoting better digestion. Yoga, along with nutritious food, adequate sleep, regular exercise, social support and other therapies, promotes the optimal functioning of your immune system during and after treatment.

Yoga Adapted for Your Needs
A yoga practice for cancer treatment and recovery is adapted to the person to help with their unique and very individual experience. Yoga practice might include yoga postures, breathing practices, guided relaxation, sound, meditation or other practices. The tools used are always tailored to the person’s interests and needs. There is no “one-size-fits-all” yoga approach when it comes to the type of cancer, the treatments or the recovery.

Short, Simple and Practical
My clients often find that short, simple practice tools tailored for their specific needs are the most beneficial. Many people with cancer find that simple breathing practices are extremely helpful in managing nausea, stress, fatigue and sleep. Yoga breath practice (pranayama) can be tailored for managing specific symptoms.

One of my yoga therapy clients, a woman with breast cancer, found that her yoga practice helped her throughout her day. She did a short breathing practice in bed in the morning to increase her energy, a short mid-day practice of 4 gentle postures to help manage stress and pain, and a walk outside before dinner to connect with nature, something that brought great meaning to her life and helped her feel better. She was also equipped with other yoga tools to use as needed to manage fatigue and improve sleep. Through our work together, she was able to better understand the relationship between stress, anxiety and pain and how she could control stress and anxiety through her breath, rest, movement, and other yoga tools.

If you are interested in yoga as a tool for managing cancer treatment and recovery, seek out the services of a Yoga Therapist or a yoga teacher with specialized training in cancer. It’s usually best to work one-on-one, especially while undergoing any treatments, so that the practice is adapted to your needs.

A Yoga Tool: The Calming Breath
Sit upright in a chair with your feet firmly placed on the floor. Begin to notice the flow of your breath and make your breath smooth through the inhale and exhale. Control the flow of your breath through the throat area so that you can hear your own breath. Then progressively make your inhale and exhale longer, keeping your inhale and exhale equal in length. Do this for 6 breaths. Then make your exhale 2 – 3 seconds longer than your inhale. Do this for 12 breaths. Then gradually allow your breath to soften back to a normal. Notice the effects of the breath practice for you.

Why Eat Fermented Foods?

Did you grow up with grandparents or parents who made sauerkraut in the old-fashioned way where the cabbage was shredded, salted, pounded and stored in a huge crock to stink up the basement or garage for a few weeks?  It turns out that your ancestors were culturing a healthy batch of bacteria, nutrients and flavor.

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