Yoga for Focus & Attention as the Season Changes

Autumn brings a distraction, more so this year as we navigate the change along with the pandemic and all its twists, turns and complexities.  Have you noticed how your mind and thoughts run around like squirrels gathering and burying acorns?

Squirrel!

It is the season of the squirrel.  Summer has said its last goodbye for the year.  The crispness and color of fall is upon us.  With the season change comes distraction, cognitive fog with fewer hours of daylight and maybe even this year, an accompanying worry about what is next as we are still actively in a pandemic.

The nature of the mind is to have runaway thoughts.   Fortunately, the ancient yogis devised techniques for harnessing thoughts to create focus and improve attention.  At our disposable are simple but effective tools and techniques.

Tips for Yoga Practice for Focus & Attention during Seasonal Changes

  • Infuse yoga postures with the breath.  Each part of a movement is accompanied and powered by a phase of the breath.

  • Do yoga postures with contra-lateral adaptations
  • Adapt the breath in yoga postures to lift energy or calm, depending on what you need.  If you need to focus and lift energy, use a short retention after inhale.  If you need to focus and calm down, extend exhale progressively as you do a posture.
  • Do breathing practices (pranayama), especially with nostril valving such as Nadi Shodana (alternate nostril breathing)
  • Use meditative techniques such as fixing your attention to an image of light in your heart and mind or using a mantra (a word or phrase that is supportive for you).  A supportive mantra at this time of year is Om Jyotir Aham (invoking light within).

When to Get Help

As the season changes, it’s important to work with your health care provider if you get significant symptoms of seasonal affective disorder that deeply impact your life such as having trouble functioning at work or home, difficulty in your personal relationships, or you have significant feelings of depression and hopelessness or anxiety.

Resources

If you are interested in using yoga techniques to help with seasonal changes, contact a Yoga Therapist as they are trained in tailoring techniques for your unique manifestation of seasonal changes as well as other health conditions you may have.

For other writing on yoga and seasonal changes, see past blogs on fatigue and general yoga practice tips for seasonal changes.

Intention

As you move toward the winter solstice, use your yoga practice to support and nourish your focus and attention.  Use your practice to gently harness your attention to do what must be done and cultivate light to burn off any cognitive fog that clouds your day.

Stick figure graphics by Sequence Wiz, www.sequencewiz.com.

Mary Hilliker, RDN, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT is a Certified Viniyoga Teacher and Yoga Therapist and Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist with 5 Koshas Yoga and Wellness Center and River Flow Yoga Teacher Training School in Wausau WI. Mary offers individualized Yoga Therapy in person and online.  She teaches therapeutic and wellness yoga classes, mini-retreats, workshops, webinars and yoga teacher training (200 hr. Yoga Teacher Training | 300 hr. Advanced Yoga Teacher Training for RYT-500). 

Yoga for Fatigue as the Season Changes

Summer has said it’s last goodbye for the year.  The crispness and color of fall is upon us. With the season change comes the very real problem of fatigue for many who live in northern climes.  It’s one of the more overwhelming symptoms of seasonal affective disorder and a troubling symptom for many as the hours of daylight fade.

Fatigue can have different qualities.  It may feel physical (more muscular) or physiological (shortness of breath, no “mo-jo”, lethary) or cognitive (presenting as difficulty concentrating and processing information).  It can be mild at one end of the spectrum or bone-numbing and paralyzing at the other extreme.   A dandelion scattering its seeds is symbolic for the scattering of energy that comes with fatigue.

The ancient yogis devised models for understanding human energy and how to transform it.  We can use these ancient models for the fatigue that comes with the season, health conditions, treatments, grief, or other factors that cause fatigue.

Breath-centered postures, breathing practices and relaxation/meditative practices have the greatest potential to help us transform fatigue.  We can choose postures that build energy, adapt the breath in postures to awaken and nourish, or use breathing practices that feel awakening when we are tired or calm us when stress is depleting our energy reserves.  We can also use yoga to become more sensitive to when we need more energy-conserving practice like relaxation or meditation.

Here are 5 ways to get started with yoga practice tools to transform fatigue:

  1. Awareness – track your fatigue level, stress level, work hours, leisure activities and lifestyle habits such as exercise and diet for 1 week to see if you notice any trends
  2. Asana – do a short practice of 1 – 3 postures to get going in the morning.  Lengthen your breath over 4 – 6 repetitions of the posture.  Standing postures are the most energizing but if your energy is really low, you may need to do something on your back or in a kneeling position.
  3. Breathe – when energy is low but you need to be present or productive, do 12 full deep breaths with Inhale = Exhale and a short 3 sec pause after Inhale.  An example is:  Inhale 6 sec, Pause for 3 sec after Inhale, Exhale 6 sec.
  4. Meditate – spend about 5 minutes visualizing light moving to every part of your body, especially the heart space, center of the head and hands and feet.
  5. Breath-infused Relaxation or Nap – systematically work through the body, sending a deep breath to each major part of the body (R arm, R leg, L leg, L arm, center of the head, center of the chest, belly, abdomen).  Do 1st round with 1 breath, 2nd round with 2 breaths, 3rd round with 3 breaths.  Continue until your body feels suspended in a deep state of relaxation and rejuvenation.  Spend 5 – 10 minutes in this rejuvenation.

Fatigue is often transformed more by a variety of short practice tools that are “do-able” and not too energy-consuming than a monster practice. As your reserve of energy improves, you may be able to exercise more or add stronger yoga practices or begin to work with breathing practices that build your energy reserves.  A yoga teacher or Yoga Therapist trained in the Vedic models of human energy can help you out.

It’s important to work with your health care provider if symptoms of fatigue feel overwhelming or are new without any discernible reason.  If you have trouble functioning at work, home or in your volunteer work, your personal relationships suffer, and you have significant feelings of depression as a result of the fatigue, it’s time to talk with your doctor.

As you move toward the winter solstice, use your yoga practice to support and nourish steady energy and to transform fatigue when it presents itself.

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.

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:

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.

Fuel

How do you fuel yourself?

  • Working-out
  • Outdoor activities
  • Food
  • Family and friends
  • Music
  • Quiet…?

Recently a student stated, “Remind me what the 5 Koshas represent.”

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