Thursday, January 23, 2014

How Winter Changes Your Practice

Last week after class a student expressed her frustration with her practice. She had been practicing more often then usual- almost every day that week- and really pushing herself to move deeper into the postures. She had it in her mind that she should be in this super flexible place and was upset when her body didn't open up as she had been expecting it to. She felt tired and even a little stiffer then she had been in our previous class. She said she was straining to hold the postures that she had done a million times and struggled quite a bit with the deeper stretches.

This is not so strange or out of the ordinary moment in our practice of yoga. Her reaction isn't unexpected either. We tend to think about our yoga practice a linear, upward moving journy. Everyday we take a class we expect our body to be stronger, and more twisted then the class before. Sadly our body never got that memo.

The body changes daily. It is effected by the food we eat, how much rest we have gotten, and our stress levels. It is effected by us running to class frantic or by our strolling into class 10 minutes early. It is effected by if you were sitting all day or if you were walking around. It is effected by the shoes you were wearing while you were taking that walk.

So if the body is so deeply influenced by the contents of our day of course it is effected by the winter months- especial during an Arctic Chill!

Some reasons  your body might be a little slower moving then you remember it:

  • with less sunlight exposure the body tends to produce more melatonin which is a chemical in the brain aids the body in sleep
  • cold causes muscles to decrease in elasticity. Kinda like stretching a rubberband after its been sitting in the refrigerator for a long time
  • cold dry air can cause lungs to lose heat and moisture which makes it difficult to breath efficiently
Don't be hard on yourself or your body. Maybe spend extra time warming up before practice. Add more child's poses during your routine and some restorative poses at the end. In the spring months we get a burst of energy and our summer is filled with activity. Allow you body to move with nature. Winter is the time for rest and restoration. Allow your body that space and I bet you'll see a happy blossoming in your practice!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Yoga As Medicine: How it Can Help You

This past weekend I had the amazing opportunity to listen to some of the top world yoga researchers discuss the findings over the past 5 years to 35 years of how people have benefited from yoga. We got to listen to people doing field work on the practice of yoga, unlike, The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards by William Broad who is just a writer on science, not a scientist. We heard findings from: Timothy McCall, MD, Richard Miller, PhD, Eric Schoomaker, MD, PhD, Robert B. Saper, MD, MPH and Dean Ornish, MD.

As a yoga teacher, I can sometime gets frustrated with teaching the western style of yoga. It seems to be a constant dilemma for me as a teacher because Americans, often times, want to forget about the practice with 8 limbs and focus on just the asana or the physical postures because this is what people often think will assist them in losing weight. However, with the complete practice of the 8 limbs we hear through actual statistics that a therapy, per Dr. Saper, the Director of Integrative Medicine for the Boston Medical Center which incorporates a spiritual component, social component, a mind component tying in with the actual physical body will have greater health outcomes and longer lasting effects than say a therapy that focuses on one component, such as physical therapy or taking a prescription drug. Dr. Dean Ornish, the founder and president of the Preventative Medicine Research Institute and is Clinical Professor of Medicine at UCSF, has demonstrated for the first time, that comprehensive lifestyle changes may begin to reverse coronary heart disease without drugs or surgery. And because of this in-depth research, his program of comprehensive lifestyle changes is the first of its kind to be funded by Medicare.  

So why as a country do we let heart disease be our leading cause of death, with over 600,000 deaths per year from heart disease. Why do 100 million Americans experience chronic pain, 5-10% with specific lower back pain? I came into yoga because I was in the latter group, I had terrible back pain since I was 12, my first episode when I couldn't walk for days. But I have used this ancient technique of yoga with many personal teachers and now supported evidence to assist me to live a happier life. We offer yoga classes, but the fact is if there is a specific injury or ailment that needs to be addressed that can not be addressed in a group setting. As a teacher, we do our best to give alternative poses or variations but it is not the same to have a one-on-one with a teacher. A person doing an intake to understand the stress level one is dealing with, the spiritual component, and then looking at the alignment of the body to come up with poses only for that person within the session will assist the individual on a healing journey.

Private sessions can take place once to get a yoga prescription or sequence of postures, breathing techniques and meditation to assist on the healing process or it can be a regular weekly session until one feels comfortable to do a home practice. But if you want to fully live a more joyful, peaceful life by taking less medication, feeling less aches and pains, and being able to smile more use yoga, a practice over 4500 years old.