Yoga for Men: Dealing with Stress and Pain Before it Gets Out of Control

An interview with Andrew Beaumont, M.D., Ph.D., Yoga Therapist & 5 Koshas Yoga Partner
By Bernice Thill, Writer and Yoga Practitioner

Andrew Beaumont, M.D., Ph.D., was inspired to become a yoga instructor after seeing so many patients in his neurosurgery practice with back and neck pain and few options for self help. In addition to his medical work, he now teaches Viniyoga and yoga therapy focused on helping men and women tackle their structural issues as well as stress.

 

“I realized the benefits of yoga after trying to deal with my own injuries,” Beaumont explained. “I wanted to bring those benefits to others.”

 

While men and women are equally affected by back and neck problems, Beaumont’s experience is that men tend to get into more pain before they seek help. “Some men have a fear of showing weakness, or complaining about pain. They can be less likely to take care of themselves with preventive strategies,” he said.

 

Beaumont sees two consistent and related problems men endure.

 

The first is increased muscle tension, which can cause neck, back, leg and pelvic pain and headaches. The second is stress and anxiety. Stress and anxiety make muscle tension worse, and increased muscle tension and pain makes stress worse. 

 

“The accumulated pain and stress can start to influence relationships with wives and children and extended family, which in turn causes more stress,” he explained.

 

“Men and women in middle age are often wearing many hats. They are still raising children, but might be caring for parents as well. They often have to do physical work at their own place of residence and sometimes at their parents as well. There may be workplace stress that compounds all this.” 

 

Beaumont finds that men dealing with these issues often react to the stress by tensing up and holding that tension in their back and necks, hunching their shoulders over and walking with a flexed posture. This is a physically defensive position, brought about by the mental stress. All this muscle tension leads to fatigue and pain.

 

“Yoga can help relieve muscle tension,” he explained. “Through breath work and meditation, it can also help with anxiety and stress. So with regular yoga practice you can begin to unravel the vicious cycle of muscle tension, pain, stress and fatigue.”

 

For men in particular, yoga therapy can help in several ways:

  1. Stress reduction
  2. Muscular relaxation
  3. General and cardiac fitness
  4. Help with neck and low back pain
  5. Improved relationships with family and friends

“Men and women are prone to developing structural spine problems in middle age,” he said. “The most common symptom is pain. It can be hard to distinguish the pain of muscle tension and stress from the pain of structural spine problems. Numbness, tingling, pain shooting into the arms or legs and weakness would all be unusual symptoms for muscle tension and stress, and these symptoms should make you think of underlying spine problems.” 

 

Yoga therapy, when performed with a yoga therapist, has the ability to help with spinal disorders too, and regular yoga and other exercise is an important tool to help prevent flares of symptoms related to degenerative spine disease.

 

“To get the benefits from yoga, it is important to have a regular practice. When you are tired, stressed and in pain, it can help heal you, but it’s also really useful as a way to prevent the build up of stress,” Beaumont added. “Keeping up with that ‘you time’ is key to being able to keep going through all the stress and physical demands we face in life.”

 

With Father’s Day just around the corner, consider giving a 5 Koshas gift card to the men in your life HERE. Gift cards can be used toward exploring various classes and getting started with a new practice to help ease pain and stress.

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

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

Violence

Just the word ‘violence’ catches our attention.

We are inundated with violence in movies, media; an overload of destruction and hurt and an ‘underload’ of kindness and compassion.

For many, MMA – Mixed Martial Arts – is synonymous with some type of combat, rough and tumble contact and yes, even violence.

So where does the Filipino Martial Art of Kali fit in at a yoga studio?

Kali, derived from a matriarchal culture, carries a rich history, steeped in a balanced approach of awareness, adaptation and assimilation.  Communicating through the language of movements by individuals imprinted with centuries of survival.

Kali offers the modern day warrior – the desk dweller ‘in the trenches’ at work, the professional mom ‘battling with her toddler,’ the 80 hour a week healthcare professional ‘under attack,’ the individual preparing ‘to invade’ the supermarket to buy groceries – many physical and mental health benefits:

  • Feeling stable in feet and legs
  • Fostering mobility in hips up through shoulders
  • Practicing hand-eye coordination
  • Deepening concentration
  • Activating the whole brain
  • Developing team building skills
  • Increasing confidence

5 Koshas Martial Arts teacher Jamie Sparling states, ‘I have students of all ages with attention deficit challenges who are looking for more focus and calm.  I have students who want to stay mentally sharp because their family has a history of dementia.

These are real challenges and Kali can be a non-violent outlet. The use of the left brain and right brain within rhythmic movement patterns is similar to Yoga, Tai Chi and dancing just to name a few.  All of these practices simply help us ignite our innate ability to adapt.’

With over 20 years experience as a practitioner and teacher, Sparlings most in depth study and practice derives from his time with Guro Dan Inosanto, student of world famous martial artist Bruce Lee.

In a Kali class, Sparling provides students with a tailor made practice that fosters growth in mind, body and spirit.  He also invites students to continue to learn about the parallels of Kali and Yoga, with classes using yoga to prepare the body and mind for the variety of fluid movement patterns experienced within Kali.

Awaken your compassionate warrior and overload on the benefits – you’re invited to Yoga & Kali classes on Thursdays, 4:15p at 5 Koshas Yoga and Wellness.

 

 

 

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