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.

Cakra (or Chakra) Practice to Refresh the Body Temple One Room At A Time

By Mary Hilliker, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT

“Each cakra represents an essential chamber in the temple of the Self.  Each one houses an aspect of the sacred and is necessary for wholeness.  The more we clean and properly decorate the temple, the more we court the presence of the divine.”

– Anodea Judith in Eastern Body, Western Mind

When The Body Temple Needs Refreshing

Do you ever feel off, stagnant, stuck, spinning out, unable to propel forward, unable to achieve something, unable to manifest something that you know is possible or less connected to your sense of faith or the divine?  If you answered “yes,” welcome to being human.  There are times when our prana (life force) is not flowing freely or it’s too active at some level in our energetic body.  Those times tend to be reflected in a lack of harmony in how we feel about ourselves, how we relate to others, and how we connect to sources of inspiration and the divine.    It’s like a house in need of spring cleaning.

What Are The Cakra-s? 

The ancients conceived of the cakra model to help us understand the energetic nature of who we are in relationship to our self, others, time and change, and death.  The cakra-s are “whirling vortices that receive, assimilate and express vital energy in its many forms.”

Coming back to the idea of a temple with rooms, we might consider each of the rooms of the temple as an energetic center with a purpose and action.  The first floor takes care of survival needs and grounds us.  The second floor produces innovative ideas.  The third floor helps us take an idea and make it into something.  And up we go until the seventh floor dials us up (hopefully with a good cable connection) to our relationship with the divine, faith, God, source.

Where Are These Teachings From?

These teachings come from the ancient transmission of Laya Yoga.  My favorite sources on the cakra-s besides what I’ve learned from my teacher, Gary Kraftsow, is Chakras: Energy Centers of Transformation by Harish Johari and Chakra Meditation by Swami Saradananda.  In more modern times, teachers like Anodea Judith, have added a synthesis of the ancient teachings through the lens of Western psychology which may be of interest to teachers, health care, and mental health professionals.

Why Do Cakra Practice?

One of the most important reasons to consider cakra practice is to refine our relationship to ourselves, to better harmonize with others, to be able to manage the changes that occur through life, and as my teacher Gary says, “have a good death.”  Well, we hope that isn’t coming anytime soon, but we must face that we have an expiration date.  Why not slide into our final passing with all our humanly work done and our relationships in harmony?  Why not elevate our potentials now?

At an overarching level, the cakra model helps us understand the interplay between the microcosm and the macrocosm.  At an individual level, the cakra model helps us understand our challenges and potentials in relationship to the macrocosm.

The Cakra Model in Brief Form

There are several models of the cakra system but for purposes here, let’s focus on seven major energetic areas in the body.  Each of these areas are associated with qualities of potential and dysfunction.

 

Major Potential of Cakra

 

Sanskrit Name Location in the Body
1 Survival, Trust, Stability

 

Muladhara

Base of the spine

Pelvic floor

2 Creation, Bringing to Life

 

Svadhistana Just above pubic bone
3 Transformation and Self-Esteem

 

Manipura                                                                          Navel
4 Yummy Qualities of the Heart

 

Anahata Base of sternum
5 Communication and Listening

 

Visuddhi At Adam’s apple
6 Decision-making and Discernment

 

 

Ajna Above nose and between eyes
7 Inspiration and Connection to our Faith

 

Sahasrara Crown of the head

Creating the Conditions for Transformation

How can we cultivate the conditions for transforming our potentials and weakening dysfunctions?   The roadmap of the cakra-s link the microcosm to the macrocosm, especially in any cakra meditation practice.  The first five cakra-s (the earthlier duty ones) are associated with the five elements and the five senses (jnanendriya).   Each cakra is associated with an action (karmendriya) and an organ of action.  In meditation, we connect to the elements, senses, cakra actions, and organs of action to surface what’s there.  Then we use that information to meditate on the potentials that we want to strengthen.

Cakra practice may focus on a variety of yoga tools including:

  • Yoga asana and pranayama that regulates flow of prana in different areas of the body
  • Mantra-s (sounds, chants)
  • Mudra-s (hand gestures)
  • A variety of meditations including the use of mantra repetition and yantra (geometric designs)
  • Other practices (example: Take a walk near water, go swimming)

We can return to cakra practice throughout our lifetime to help us continue to transform through life’s changes, develop our potentials, work with our challenges, and continue to refine our relationship to time and change.

The Fruits of Practice

I’ve been doing cakra practices for about 30 years, adapting the practices to what’s happening.  These practices can be incredibly helpful during grief, big life changes, or periods of feeling stuck, rudderless, and indecisive.  They are also helpful in continually checking in with yourself to surface your blind spots and to address what’s pushing your buttons.  It’s like doing spring cleaning on a regular basis so nothing piles up into a big mess.

If I can leave you with three words to describe the fruits of cakra practice, it’s process, harmonize and elevate!  If you want to learn more about the cakra-s, what and how to practice, and discussion around exploring each of the cakra potentials, consider joining 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness and the River Flow Yoga Teacher Training School for our upcoming Meditation + Cakra-s Intensive.

Meditation + Intensive_200hrTTFlyer_2021-22_010922

 

 

 

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). 

Mind-Body Practices to Manage & Alleviate Chronic Pain

“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”…. Buddhist proverb

Pain is an important part of life. Pain is protective. It helps stimulate the healing response through release of chemicals and hormones in the body. We will all feel pain in our lives. However, pain can also become prohibitive. It can stop us doing the things we want to do. It can become chronic and consuming, where it affects the way we think, and feel and interact with those around us. It becomes suffering.

The best way of dealing with pain is to try to eliminate the source. Sometimes this means medical treatment. Sometimes it means rest and recuperation; breaking the cycle of repeated injury that we can easily fall into. Sometimes eliminating the source isn’t possible though. It continues. There are good days and bad days, changing with the weather, our diet, our mood and for inexplicable other reasons. Some pains relate to diseases or conditions which cannot be cured and we have been told to ‘live with it’.

The Buddhist proverb tells the story. We will all feel pain, and not all pain can be directly eliminated. But do we have to suffer? Mind-body practices have a unique ability to help, especially when it comes to determining whether or not pain leads to suffering, because that distinction occurs within the space of the mind.

On the simplest level body work such as yoga and massage can improve blood flow to tissues, increase lymph flow, help wash away inflammatory chemicals and contribute to tissue healing. The mental aspect of mind-body practices however can help how we process pain. How we react to it, and how we let it affect us. Chronic pain leads to stress, fear and depression which can be reversed. Meditation has been shown to be very helpful for pain from many sources. Science has shown, using scans, that the brain handles pain differently in patients who meditate, even to the extent of different parts of the brain being active. It has also been shown to be able to reduce the amount of pain medication people take. So it is a powerful tool.

Taking part in mind-body practices is not an admission that its ‘all in the mind’, and pain is certainly not ‘weakness leaving the body’ as the military saying goes. One of the core goals of mind-body work is taking a non-judgmental approach. Feeling pain is not your fault, its not because you have not been trying to get better. The very step of calming your perspective to the situation can be a first major step in the pathway to feeling better.

If meditation can improve the way the brain processes pain, then it can alter pain perception, it can improve how the pain affects us emotionally and how we handle our thoughts and feelings in the context of chronic pain. Chronic pain leads to a rewiring of the nervous system that makes it increasingly easy to feel pain; like a memory that becomes ingrained. Meditation has the power to reverse this imprint, as well as improve emotional and psychological well-being.

Combining physical and mental exercise in a mind-body practice therefore has the greatest ability to impact pain by combining the benefits of both. Yoga has a unique power to achieve this and yoga has an increasing amount of scientific evidence to support its power over pain.  Doing a practice regularly and consistently is important. Doing it with a friend or an understanding partner can really enhance things through the benefits of social connection.

While pain may be inevitable, suffering as a result of it isn’t. If you deal with chronic pain consider exploring mind-body practices and deepen your understanding of and relationship with your pain. Wrestle back control of your situation and don’t let your pain become suffering.

Yoga + Mindfulness Tools for Conscious Eating & Embodied Well-Being

When we start to pay attention in an intentional and nonjudgmental way, as we do when we cultivate mindfulness, and thus bring ourselves back into the present moment, we are tapping into very deep natural resources of strength, creativity, balance and yes, wisdom – interior resources that me may never have realized we even possess.  Nothing has to change.  We don’t have to be different or “better.”

– Jon Kabat-Zinn in the Foreward to ‘Mindful Eating’ by Jan Chozen Bays, MD

Are You Ready For A New Relationship to Food, Eating and Exercise?

Are you ready to inhabit your body from the inside out?  Are you ready to listen to your internal cues for what nourishes you?  Have you had enough of scales, diets and external sources of control?  Yoga and the mindfulness tools that are part of this ancient science can re-orient us to our own inner wisdom about what makes us feel well.

How Yoga Helps Conscious Eating

Yoga has a vast set of tools that can be helpful for cultivating conscious eating and emotional well-being around food, eating, exercise and body image.  Here are a few ways that yoga and mindfulness can help:

  • Breath-centered yoga postures done slowly and mindfully can create a feeling of groundedness and rootedness for inhabiting the body we have
  • Yoga posture practice and breathing practices help cultivate stability and strength in body, thoughts and emotions
  • Yoga postures, breathing practices and meditation help manage stress, a saboteur of a positive and healthy relationship to food, eating, body image and enjoyable forms of movement
  • Breathing, meditation and awareness exercises often improve our internal sense of hunger, fullness, thoughts and emotions that ultimately drive behaviors
  • A well-rounded yoga practice helps us continually dig into the well of our own deep wisdom around what helps our energy level, sleep, physical comfort, and emotional well-being

We live in a time where they are so many “shoulds” and “don’t’s” around food, weight and exercise.  The tools of yoga and mindfulness offer an intuitive, conscious and inner wisdom-based approach to food, eating, movement and relationship to oneself.

A Mindful Eating Exercise

As we move through this time of celebrations and resolutions, you might ask yourself, “What is it I really hunger for and how am I hungry for it?”  Here are 6 questions to guide you in your mindfulness around eating:

  1. Are my eyes hungry for this because of its beauty?
  2. Am I hungry for the smell of this food?
  3. Is my stomach feeling hunger or thirst for this food?
  4. Do I have a deep craving for this food at a cellular level and how is my body responding to this food that I craved?
  5. Is my mind running a script about this food, telling me the “shoulds” or “don’ts”?
  6. Is my heart craving this food because it’s soothing or nourishing to me, and what is the story about this food that attracts me to it?

Access Deep Inner Wisdom Through Holistic Yoga Practice

Slowing down the art of eating with simple mindfulness tools can help re-establish a deep inner connection to food and eating.  Moving, breathing, grounding, and reflecting through a holistic approach to yoga practice can help cultivate a sense of inhabiting the body.  By accessing deep inner wisdom, we become more fully aware of what helps us feel well at all levels of the Koshas – physical body, physiology, mind, intuition and heart.

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.

Yoga for Cancer Treatment and Recovery

The ancient tools of yoga can help you feel your best through cancer treatment and assist in helping you reclaim your life after cancer.  Yoga can help with side effects from medically essential and life-giving treatments.  Yoga can be adapted to provide relief for nausea, fatigue, constipation, sleeplessness, anxiety, depression, “chemo brain”, and neuropathy.  Feeling more like yourself after treatments is often a side benefit of developing a personal yoga practice.

Yoga for YOU

Yoga therapy uses therapeutic application of the tools of yoga to help you address issues that are especially problematic during treatment and post-treatment.  Based on your interest and need, simple practices are developed to help you address specific issues.  Yoga practice might include yoga postures, breathing practices, guided relaxation, sound, meditation or other practices.  There is no “one-size-fits-all” yoga approach when it comes to the type of cancer, the treatment side effects or the recovery.  Let’s address a few common concerns.

Nausea

Nausea is a common side effect of chemotherapy treatment.  A therapeutic yoga practice might be very simple in the days following a treatment.  Prop your head and chest up with pillows or cushions in bed or on the couch.  Breathe in and out through the mouth, focusing on a long exhale.  On the inhale, direct your attention into the navel area.  On exhale, focus on directing your attention down through the pelvis, legs, feet and toes.  You might even try a quiet sound on the exhale such as “haaa”.  Some patients benefit from a curled tongue inhale and a long sighing exhale.

Anxiety Tool: The Calming Breath

Breathing techniques are especially helpful for many treatment symptoms.  Anxiety around the diagnosis or treatments is very common.  Here is a simple breathing technique to try to create some calm when thoughts and emotions are taking away your calm.

Sit upright in a chair or rest back on the couch or in bed.  Inhale with ease, pause for 2 – 3 seconds and exhale smoothly. Do this for 6 breaths.  Continue the same pattern and make your exhale 2 – 3 seconds longer than your inhale.  Do this for 12 breaths.  Then gradually allow your breath to settle back to normal.

Care and Tending of the Immune System

One of the most important self-care strategies for cancer treatment and recovery 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.

A Yoga Therapist or yoga teacher who specializes in cancer care can help you through different phases of treatment and recovery that may present different symptoms that keep you from feeling your best.  Seek out specialized help to feel your best and integrate all that’s happened to you.

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