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

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!

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.

Getting Ready for Golf with Pilates

By Faith Wilfley, MD, Stott Pilates Trained in Mat & Reformer

“The practice of Pilates is wonderful for all sorts of reasons: balanced musculature, improved mobility, decreasing injuries, spinal alignment (posture), lessening low back pain, and a strong core.”

Who’s ready for golf?! We all may be mentally, but after a good old Wisconsin winter, we probably aren’t physically up to the challenge. So what’s a body to do? My suggestion is Pilates.

If Josef Pilates were trying to create the perfect exercise for golfers when he invented his method of controlled movement, he would have succeeded beyond all measure.  It may not have been his intent, but I believe he achieved that goal all the same.

The practice of Pilates is wonderful for all sorts of reasons: balanced musculature, improved mobility, decreasing injuries, spinal alignment (posture), lessening low back pain, a super-strong core. The list could go on and on. The practices in themselves are amazingly similar in some ways. They are both complex full-body movements. Just as every swing of the club requires many moving parts to work together, so every move in Pilates requires control of the whole body. If two sports were ever “pat-your-head-rub-your-tummy” kind of movements, these are it.

Golf, however, is asymmetric. The cruel trick of the game is that you swing only one way; only work the muscles on ‘one side’ of the body. If your game isn’t going well, you practice. Only swinging one way. Only becoming more imbalanced. Haven’t you ever found that the more you are practicing, the worse your game is getting? This is why. It also leads to injury.

For right handed people, the left (leading) side of the body is injured more than the trailing (right) side. Vice versa for the Phil Mickelsons out there.  Fifteen (15) minutes a day of golf-specific Pilate’s exercises can ensure your body stays balanced and can break the cycle of imbalance and injury.

The best thing is, if you can golf, (or even if you can’t) you can do these exercises. All of the exercises are done standing, wearing sneakers and comfortable clothes. Some people hear ‘Pilates’ and think I’m going to have them prancing about in spandex. I swear that is not what it is. It was actually invented using only men’s bodies.

One of the first male clients I ever had accompanied his wife (I am sure, unwillingly). He was so nervous, he was visibly sweating. He was a golfer though, and so most of what we did that day was golf-specific. At the end he was laughing and relaxed. He looked at me and said, ‘well that was just moving’. Exactly. I still wonder what he thought I was going to make him do. By the way, he called me the next week and said he had had the best golf game of his life that day. Maybe a coincidence, but I like to think he learned something that helped.

What I think helped the most was that he became more aware of his body. Especially the core. And when you initiate every shot by moving from the core first, your movements become repeatable and consistent.

There’s a reason why professional golfers like Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods do Pilates after all. If you are interested in finding out more, please join me at 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness for our “Getting Ready for Golf” sessions on Mondays at 5:30 pm or for individual training. Here’s to a great season!

Faith Wilfley is Stott Pilates Trained in Mat and Reformer.  Dr. Wilfley enjoys helping people with different bodies and ways of movement be able to optimize mobility and achieve their goals. She received her undergraduate degree from UW-Milwaukee, M.D. from Medical College of Wisconsin, and did her joint Pediatric residency at UNMC/Creighton in Omaha, NE, and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.  Dr. Wilfley is a Medical Doctor and was a practicing pediatrician for 12 years. She has good anatomical knowledge and is very safety conscious. Her philosophy in Pilates is the same as that for medicine: ‘First, do no harm’.

What is Pilates Anyway?

by Faith Wilfley, MD, Stott Pilates-Trained in Mat and Reformer 

First, let me start by saying that Pilates is for everyone. That’s right, pretty much anyone, with certain modifications, can do Pilates. From the person recovering from a prolonged illness or long stretch of inactivity, to the elite athlete, Pilates has something to offer all sizes, genders, and fitness levels. In fact, it is a great entry point to increased activity. It teaches proper body position and form, so it is a great way to begin your journey to a more fit life.

I’m getting ahead of myself though. I can almost hear you thinking, ‘seriously, what is it though!’ It is a method of exercise developed by Joseph Pilates (thus, the name) almost a hundred years ago. He called it ‘Contrology’ because the essence of all of the exercises is control. Holding one part of the body stable while moving another part with control. His theory, at that time, was that modern life with its inactivity was leading to illness and poor physical conditioning. Thus, why it’s around almost 100 years later!

What is a mat Pilates class like? Well, above all, hopefully it is fun! If you look in at a class, it looks pretty harmless. A lot of the time is spent laying on the mat. Movements are slow and controlled. Every move, however, is combining breath, core control, balance, and fluid movement. It’s a lot like trying to pat your head and rub your tummy. I tell people it takes about 6 classes before you feel like you are really starting to get it. Did I mention, it’s also a practice in patience?

What do you get out of it?

  • Improved core conditioning. And by core, I mean abdominals in the front, deep back muscles, pelvic floor, and diaphragm.
  • Improved mobility. Flexibility + Strength = Mobility. The goal of my practice is to get, and keep, people as mobile as possible for as long as possible.
  • Improved endurance. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in March 2010 found that in active middle-aged men and women, basic mat Pilates moves practiced twice weekly for 60 minutes, for 12 weeks, showed statistically significant increases in “abdominal endurance, hamstring flexibility, and upper body muscular endurance.”
  • Maintaining spine health, prevention of injuries, and improved body composition are all benefits as well.

How is it different from yoga? I like to think of yoga and Pilates as cousins. They are both mind-body forms of exercise. Both are low impact and will increase flexibility. Yoga practice may include physical postures (movement in and out of postures and held postures), breathing exercises, sound, meditation and philosophical teachings, whereas Pilates was invented as an ‘exercise’ and focuses on controlled fluid movement. Pilates is also very spine focused and the exercises should not have neck extension.  Pilates mats are also much thicker, as there is a lot of spinal articulation during classes and a thicker mat provides more comfort.

The only way to truly know what Pilates is like, however, is to come to a class.  Just let your instructor know beforehand if you have any history of injuries, or limitations of movement. Hope to see you soon!

Guest blog by Faith Wilfley, MD, Stott Pilates-Trained in Mat and Reformer, is a teacher at 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness.  She teaches on Tuesdays at 9:00 am, starting March 15.

Inviting Transformation with Sound

We know the power of sound and how music can energize, or calm us. We know how good it feels to laugh, cry, and to feel the vibrations we make with our own voices resonating deeply within our own chest or throat or head. Science tells us  these vibrations stimulate the vagus nerve, that nerve that wanders throughout our organ systems, and regulates our internal energy systems. This has a positive effect on our physical and energetic structures.

We also know the power of thoughts. Thoughts lead to emotions, actions, behaviors, habits, values, and destiny. If our background thoughts are not positive, they color our perception of our world, our relationships and ourselves. Replacing those faulty background thoughts with intentional chant or mantra can bring transformation, and help us bring life-giving clarity to ourselves and our world. This clarifying effect on our mind and character enables us to realize the bliss that is at the core of our being, deep within our heart.

We can bring these two threads, the physical/energetic effect of sound and the clarifying intention of  chant or mantra on our mind and character, into our regular practice.  In the yoga tradition, there are many chants that help place the person, the true self, in healthy relationship to others and to the world. One such chant is the Laghu Nyasa, juxtaposing  the cosmos and the individual. Internalizing this chant places us in healthy relationship to ourselves, others, and the world. This Sanskrit mantra makes a beautiful sound, and resonates throughout the physical and energetic body. It’s meaning resonates in our mind as it changes our character and connects us to the universe. The refrain to this chant can be translated as:

“My heart is my true Self.

My true Self is immortal and one with Universal Consciousness”

The person who lives with this mantra becomes open-hearted, capable, and sees unity in all that is.

Jay Coldwell,FSA, MAAA, RYT-200, is certified as a 200 hour Viniyoga Wellness Instructor from the River Flow Yoga Teacher Training School and the American Viniyoga Institute.  He is a Registered Yoga Teacher at the 200 hour level with Yoga Alliance.  He has studied at the Vedic Chant Institute, where he continues to take regular lessons.  Jay is also studying Kirtan leadership with Mike Cohen.

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.