Yogas mats and cushions

Yoga, Multiple Sclerosis & Neurological Conditions

Yoga can be a helpful practice of self-care for people with multiple sclerosis (MS) and other neurological conditions (such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, Lyme’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease). Yoga practices such as gentle postures, seated breathing practices, hand movements, guided relaxation, sound, and meditation can be adapted to help people with neurological conditions manage symptoms and maintain function.

Benefits of Yoga for MS and Neurological Conditions

  • Strengthen major muscles in lower and upper body
  • Maintain fine motor movement (fingers, hands, toes, feet)
  • Improve balance
  • Strengthen breathing
  • Increase energy
  • Improve mental alertness and focus
  • Improve sleep
  • Manage stress and anxiety
  • Manage difficult emotions and lift mood

Yoga Practice Tips
People with MS or other neurological conditions should have a yoga practice tailored to their unique symptoms, needs and interests. Individualized yoga therapy or group therapeutic, gentle, beginner, foundations or chair classes are often more suited to people with MS than general or advanced yoga classes.

Classes that incorporate chairs, wheelchairs, walls, counters or other props are especially useful for people with mobility, balance or vision problems. Find a teacher or Yoga Therapist who can adapt and individualize yoga practice for your needs and interests.

Following are a few practice tips for MS and other neurological conditions:

  • Progressively strengthen upper & lower body over time. Don’t overexert.
  • Practice balance postures with the support of a chair, counter or wall if needed.
  • Do slow movements coordinated with the breath as you move in & out of postures.
  • Be gentle with stretching as you stay in a posture, especially if you have trouble sensing what is happening in your muscles. Breath smoothly as you stay in a posture!
  • Do posture adaptations that mobilize fingers, hands, feet & toes.
  • Learn breathing practices (pranayama)
  • Choose and adapt postures to unwind upper body tension if you use a cane or walker.
  • Avoid “hot” yoga or physically aggressive yoga practice if you have MS.
  • Avoid quickly-paced yoga practice if you have vision or balance issues or MS.

Breathing Practice for Energizing – Segmented Inhale

  1. Sit in comfortable position with your back slightly forward from the chair seat. Sit up straight and relax your shoulders and jaws. Close your mouth and breathe through your nose.
  2. Establish a smooth flow in your breath through the inhale and exhale. Gradually increase the length of both inhale and exhale, keeping your inhale and exhale equal in length, for at least 6 breaths.
  3. The next step is to divide your inhale into two parts with a slight pause in between the two segments of inhale. Here’s a possible way to do it:
    1. Do ½ of your inhale in 3 seconds, focusing on expanding in the chest area.
    2. Pause for 2 – 3 seconds.
    3. Do the second part of your inhale in 3 seconds, focusing on expanding in the belly area.
    4. Smoothly exhale.
    5. Do the segmented inhale for 6 to 12 breaths.
  4. Finish by gradually reducing the length of your inhale and exhale for 4 – 6 breaths. Notice the effect of the practice for energy, mood, and mental alertness.

Sweet Slumber: Yoga for Better Sleep

When sleep escapes you and fatigue is your daytime companion, it’s time to evaluate what action you can take to improve sleep. Your yoga toolbox has many tools but you need to know which ones to apply to your situation.

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 fatigue, stress, anxiety, depression, digestive distress and menopause, and creating awareness around the impact of lifestyle choices on the body’s natural rhythms of wakefulness and sleepiness.

The tools of yoga are skillfully applied based on the characteristics of sleeplessness. Some people have trouble falling asleep. Others wake in the middle of the night. The early risers may wake at 4 am even though the alarm is set for 6 am. And some individuals sleep for 8 hours yet never feel rested and refreshed.

Yoga tools that may be used for sleeplessness include yoga postures, breath adaptation in the postures, breathing practices, guided relaxation, meditation, or sound. Talk to a certified Yoga Therapist about how to apply the tools for your particular pattern of sleeplessness. A Yoga Therapist can help you with:

■ Setting the stage for better sleep with lifestyle and yoga techniques
■ Yoga techniques for falling asleep
■ What to do when you wake during the night
■ How to approach waking early
■ Quick and easy techniques for dealing with daytime fatigue
■ Changing your relationship with your sleeplessness.

One of the most common experiences of sleeplessness is not being able to fall asleep because of stress and repetitive negative or worrisome thoughts. Yoga tools that may be applied in this situation include lifestyle changes, and a short evening yoga practice of simple postures with breath adaptation, a short breathing practice that promotes calmness, and guided relaxation or meditation.

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 those tools for sweet dreams at night and vitality and clear thinking during the day.

Water Flowing Over Rocks

Renew Again Every Day

Yoga is a daily renewal, a practice of stopping, slowing down, breathing and moving consciously, witnessing thoughts, and setting or renewing intentions. This daily renewal might be just 5 minutes of conscious breathing, 10 minutes of meditation, or a 20 minute yoga posture practice that helps you prepare for or unwind from your day. Whatever you commit to practice will often have de-stressing effects that stay with you for 24 hours and help you strengthen will and change habits.

Adopting a new healthy lifestyle habit or changing a less-than-desirable habit is not easy. The road to a new habit is often paved with forgotten promises, temporary setbacks and re-lapses.

What does it take to strengthen will and make a change? We need good health in the form of energy and vitality. We need a fairly steady emotional state so that we’re not derailed by temporary dramas. We need a clear and discerning mind to recognize what helps us and what may hurt our attempts for change. And we need ways to link to our goals. Yoga has many tools to help.

• Yoga postures (asanas) build physical vitality and extend the breath.
• Breath practices improve physiological vitality (good digestion, better sleep, consistent energy through the day), stabilize emotions, and cultivate a clear and discerning mind.
• Meditation provides the opportunity to witness and transform thought patterns that may sabotage healthy habits.
• Intention-setting or renewing our commitment to ourselves on a daily basis strengthens will and helps us remember a goal that we are orienting toward.

Starting a yoga practice may weaken a less-than-healthy habit or give you more energy to take on a new healthy habit such as exercising. People often have a hard time pinpointing exactly how yoga helps. They just know that they feel more energy, sleep better and feel more even-tempered. And those changes in vitality and temperament can pave the path to change.

It’s often best to start with one small change that you can sustain for at least 6 weeks before adding any more complexity to what you expect of yourself.

Renew your commitment to yourself every day by taking a few minutes at the end of your practice to remember your goal or intention and how you are manifesting it through the day. As you work with that change and it becomes integrated into your routine, you’ll feel stronger for taking on another small step.

Business yoga

Breathe Your Way to Vitality & Stress Reduction

I’m a skeptic.  I’m not into the latest diet craze, exercise routine, electronic device or trendy clothing designer.  I don’t own a purse that costs more than the monthly home mortgage.  But I am into science and I love what research continues to teach us about our experiences as human beings.  I was skeptical but intrigued when a master level yoga teacher challenged a group of us to take 5 minutes each day to breathe deeply to see if it changed our lives.

The intrigue led me to try it…5 minutes/day of deep breathing for a year.  Can’t be that hard, right?  Establishing any new habit takes a few starts and stops but eventually I was on my way to doing it.  Not only was I skeptical breather, it felt as if my body was a reluctant breather.  The first order of business was trying to make my breath smooth using what’s called “ujjayi” breathing (it’s like saying the word “ha” as you inhale and exhale but with your lips closed).  I built up slowly to an inhale of 10 seconds and an exhale of 10 seconds.  I added a brief pause of 1 second in between the inhale and exhale.  I was on my way.

When I did the breathing challenge in the morning, I noticed that my energy level felt steadier through a busy and hectic workday.  This was powerful for me because it gave me the strength to kick my afternoon diet Coke habit.  It also helped me cut down on “fatigue-snacking”.  I also felt more productive and focused at work.

I also felt calmer in the midst of the typical workday stresses.  While impatience is one of my defining qualities, I was able to be more patient in all areas of my life.

I noticed that when people were pushing my buttons, I was able to be more present with it without reacting to it.  I was able to choose my words and subsequent actions more carefully.

If I had a particularly stressful day at work, I would do another 5 minutes of breathing in the early evening to reduce some of the mental chatter and agitation.  The ability to de-stress toward the end of the day was important for overall better sleep.

The breathing challenge yielded important things for me – more energy, greater focus, higher productivity, less stress, better health habits, more patience, speech that was less likely to create more problems and better sleep.   Imagine if we could put these results in a pill and sell it over the counter?

The person who provoked me into this breathing challenge became my teacher (Gary Kraftsow) and I continue to learn from him how breath practice can be refined for a variety of health conditions.  My work with people for one-on-one therapeutic yoga also continues to refine my understanding of how individualized approaches often yield the best results.   Breath practices are particularly helpful for physiological health issues, stress, anxiety, and depression.

I’ve stayed steady with a breathing practice for a long time.  I appreciate being provoked into trying it.  Are you ready for your own breathing challenge?  If you try the 5 minutes/day breathing challenge, I’d love to hear from you about the challenges and the results.

Breathe on!

Yoga for EmBODIED Awareness: Conscious Eating, Active Living, Habit Change

Yoga for Conscious Eating, Active Living and Habit Change

Can the tools of yoga help us change our habits?  Yoga is a powerful practice for transformation and change.  The tools of yoga can be applied in specific ways to help us strengthen will and change habits around food, exercise and body image.

The process of using yoga to change habits begins with recognizing a pattern of being that no longer serves us.  We have to develop self-awareness as a first step toward developing stronger will.  We have a multitude of choices that can either support or sabotage us and it’s important to understand those choices.

We have to consciously mobilize resources to make changes.  Those resources may come in the form of specific yoga tools including:

  • Asana and postures to build strength and flexibility, to increase awareness of hunger, satiety and digestion, and to help you begin to work with your breath.
  • Breath practice to help manage stress, develop awareness of your physiology (fatigue, energy, digestion, nervous system) and cultivate emotional equanimity.
  • Meditation practice to cultivate self-understanding and observe thoughts, feelings, and mental static that sabotage our best intentions.

Changing habits also requires understanding what we are moving toward and continuing to cultivate a daily awareness of that intention.  A daily ritual that reminds us of your journey of change can be helpful.  It might be a simple few moments of remembrance in our yoga practice, a symbol placed on our desk or in our yoga practice space, or daily journaling that keeps us aware of the intention and our progress in that journey.  Symbols and rituals are powerful tools to help us begin again every day.

Yoga for Upper Back Pain

The skeleton is an amazing chassis, the support structure for movement and a protector of our internal organs and glands.  Just like a car chassis, we may start out with our own unique skeletal attributes and over the years add wear and tear.  Upper back pain can occur due to our work or lifestyle, our structural/skeletal uniqueness, a medical condition, or trauma/injury.

Upper back pain is often felt around the shoulder blades or in or around the upper part of the spine.  Sometimes the pain relates to muscle tightness and tension caused by poor posture, work habits or hobbies.  For some individuals upper back pain is a daily part of their life, especially when it relates to scoliosis, osteoporosis or significant trauma or injury.

Yoga may be a helpful way to eliminate, reduce or manage upper back pain.  Yoga postures, guided by breath, improve posture by improving strength and flexibility in the muscles that support the upper back, neck, shoulders and chest.  Yoga practice can also help create healthier patterns of movement and increase awareness of how you are using your body.

The best yoga approaches for upper back pain use a combination of: 1) repetition in and out of postures guided by breath, 2) staying in some postures to create a deeper effect once the body is warmed up, 3) specific sequencing of postures and 4) adaptation of the postures to address the practitioner’s specific needs.

Try a few simple yoga postures (or the posture below) with awareness of your breath as you move in and out of postures.  Then relax, put your feet up, and make your breath smooth and long while you feel the wave-like movement of your spine as you breathe deeply.  Ease the effect of gravity on the spine and allow muscles to relax deeply.

Breathing exercises are also important for improving upper back pain.  Sit in a chair and spend several minutes breathing with an awareness of lengthening your spine with each inhalation and maintaining that length in the spine as you exhale.  See if you can feel an awareness of growing taller and creating space between the vertebral bodies!

Check with your health care provider about any movement restrictions that are recommended for your specific condition.  Osteopenia (low bone mass), osteoporosis and scoliosis require special caution.  It’s best to work with a certified yoga therapist to determine how yoga practice should be modified for these conditions.

Dvi Pada Pitham (Bridge Pose)

Benefits:  Helps strengthen leg, hip and back muscles.  Stretches the front of the belly and thighs and chest.  Promotes flexibility in the spine and often relieves stiffness in the upper back.

How to Do the Posture:  Lie on your back with your arms at your side and your feet about 6 inches apart and comfortably close to buttocks.  On INHALE, press feet into the floor and raise hips while you press arms into the floor and keep chin slightly tucked.  On EXHALE, slowly lower the spine and hips back to the floor.  Repeat at least 6 times.  You can either lower the spine on exhale in a wave-like, vertebra by vertebra motion, or like a board, depending on what feels better for your back.  When you are done, bring your knees to your chest and take several deep breaths.

Gut Health, Yoga & Conscious Eating

In an earlier article, I covered the basics of yoga and healthy eating for better digestion.  The ancients in India understood the connection between digestion and health and elucidated it through the science of Ayurveda.  Modern scientific studies have shown the connection between gut health and overall wellness.  A nutritious diet that’s appropriate for your body along with a healthy gut means more energy and a stronger immune system.

Yoga can be a powerful self-care practice for better digestion and health.  The choice of yoga asanas and how they are practiced can soothe the gut or, if needed, get things moving.

Pranayama (breath practice) is one of the most useful yogic practices for digestion.  Specific breathing techniques or ratios between the different parts of the breath can be used to create specific effects.  For example, focusing on lengthening the exhale portion of the breath, while gently engaging the abdominal muscles, may help get things moving when your system is sluggish, or decrease stress that may wreak havoc on your gut.

Perhaps the most important idea that I can share is that yoga cultivates awareness of the connection between the body, breath and mind.  In Viniyoga asana (postures), we coordinate the movement of the body with the flow of the breath.  This heightened mind-body-breath connection trains awareness.  We can then use this heightened awareness and apply it to conscious eating.  Through awareness and conscious eating, we can often make choices that support gut health.

You can cultivate awareness through your yoga practice in ways that support gut health.  Once you recognize patterns of eating and digestion, you can begin to explore small shifts that help.  Here are a few questions to contemplate:

  • What is the amount of food that my body can digest at any one time?
  • How much of any particular food is ok for me?
  • How often can I eat foods that tend to be harder for my body to digest (indigestion) or assimilate (food allergies)?
  • Cooked or raw – which can my body handle?
  • What food combinations seem to be ok for my body?
  • How does the time of day or season impact my digestion?
  • Does my gut health change when I travel?
  • Am I eating the most diverse and nutritious diet possible respecting any unique health conditions?
  • How is stress affecting my eating and my ability to digest, absorb and assimilate food?

A yoga practice tailored to your individual needs and interests and adapted to your specific health issues, along with conscious eating can impact digestion and overall energy and vitality.   A Yoga Therapist is trained in applying the tools of yoga for health and healing and can assist you with adaptation of yoga for digestive issues.  Your yoga practice can then cultivate awareness for conscious eating and better digestion.

Jathara Parivrtti:  Supine Twist

Benefits:  Gently twists and compresses the belly, bringing circulation to the digestive organs.

How to Do the Posture:  Move into the posture on an exhalation.  Come out of the posture on inhale.  Repeat the movement in and out of the posture for 6 repetitions, and then stay for 6 breaths, focusing on a steady and long exhalation.

Urdhva Prasarita Padasana

Yoga for Healthy Aging – Body, Mind and Mood

Are you interested in better balance, improved reaction time, sound memory, and emotional calmness?   Through body-mind practices such as yoga, we strengthen all of these aspects of a healthy aging brain.

The physical practice of yoga, known as asana, helps strengthen muscles that are weak (remember, we lose muscle mass as we age so we have to use it or lose it!) and improves flexibility.  Even more powerful is how we practice yoga postures.   Combining the flow of the breath with movement strengthens the connection between the body and mind, trains attention and improves mental focus, all of these key to better balance.

Yoga “lights up” the brain.   Studies done at UW-Madison on meditating monks provided some of the initial evidence that these ancient practices activate and change the brain.   There is a lot of interest in the research community about how yoga may improve cognitive functions in seniors such as improving reaction time and short-term memory.  In my experience with teaching seniors, some of the most helpful aspects of yoga include adaptations of the physical practice and breathing techniques to utilize the right and left hemispheres of the brain, use of sound to train memory, and breathing and meditative practices to promote mental focus.

Emotional intelligence and calmness tend to improve with age.  We can stabilize mood and lift spirits with yoga.  A variety of yoga techniques typically provide the best results for improving mood, including yoga postures combined with breath adaptation, seated breathing practices, sound, and meditation.

One of the most powerful practices for mood is what is called “right association or relationship”.  This includes the people you associate with, the activities you engage in and how you live the values that are most important to you. 

While many people often come to yoga initially for the exercise, they often leave with a stronger body-mind connection, better balance, a “sharper” brain and improved mood.  Yoga is a powerful practice for healthy aging!

Mid-Day Yoga Break – Engage Your Brain 

Urdhva Prasarita Padasana Adaptation in a Chair

Sit in a chair forward of the back of the chair.  Rest hands on your thighs.  Take a few deep breaths, cultivating a smooth flow to your inhalation and exhalation. 

As you inhale, move your left arm/hand forward and up and spread your fingers on the left hand as you simultaneously straighten your right leg and press through the right heel and spread the toes on the right foot.  On exhale, slowly lower the left hand/arm and right leg/foot.

On your next inhale, do the opposite side – right arm/hand and left leg/foot.  Exhale and lower slowly back to the starting position.

Continue to do this for 5 more rounds (10 breaths total).  Rest and take a few more minutes to breath smoothly and deeply, making your inhale and exhale equal in length.


Yoga & Winter Seasonal Changes

“This season of the year grinds the very soul out of me.  My nerves lose their tone, my teeth ache, and my courage falls to the bottomless bottom of infinitude.”

– Henry Adams in a letter to Charles Milnes Gaskell, 1869

Are there days, weeks or months that you feel like Henry Adams?  We are fortunate to have well-insulated homes, snow plows, running water and indoor plumbing but the dark days of winter can still “grind the very soul” out of us.   Most people who live in northern latitudes experience some seasonal changes.  Winter blues and seasonal affective disorder are terms used to describe the spectrum of more problematic and serious symptoms experienced as the days grow shorter.

Seasonal changes may include difficulty concentrating and processing information, overwhelm, irritability, anxiety or a depressive mood.  Pain, an achy flu-like feeling, exacerbation of fibromyalgia symptoms, fatigue,  disturbed sleep (either too much or too little or poor quality), sweet cravings, lowered sex drive and less desire to socialize are all part of the change in brain chemicals that can occur with changing light.

One of the most powerful tools that yoga has to offer to deal with seasonal change symptoms is breath-centered movement and breathing practices.   The breath can be manipulated in different ways to energize, focus, and lift mood.

Try this experiment:  From a seated or standing position, inhale as you simultaneously take your arms out to the side and up and overhead.  Exhale as you bring the arms back down.   Then progressively lengthen your inhale every repetition over the course of six repetitions.  An early morning yoga posture practice that emphasizes lengthening inhalation can help change symptoms of low energy, lack of focus and depressed mood.

Are anxieties and sleep issues a problem for you during the winter?  A practice later in the day that emphasizes gentle, soothing postures and a focus on lengthening exhale may soothe irritability, anxiety and stress.  When I work with clients who have seasonal changes, a variety of short practices to help manage different symptoms are often the most helpful.

Exercise, preferably earlier in the day in natural light, a strong cup of coffee in the morning, a diet that is rich in omega 3 fatty acids (flaxseed oil, salmon, sardines, etc.) and limits simple carbohydrates, stress management, good habits around sleep (no late night electronics!) and social outings with friends can also help manage seasonal changes.

It’s important to work with your health care provider if symptoms progress beyond what feels manageable.   If you have trouble functioning at work, home or in your volunteer work, your personal relationships suffer and you have significant feelings of depression, including suicidal thoughts, it’s time to talk with your doctor.  Light therapy, medication and therapy may be recommended to help you get through the winter.

If you can relate to Henry Adams, it’s good to get into a preventative routine of natural sunlight, exercise, yoga or other stress management practices, a healthy diet, fun social outings and a morning cup of coffee.  Prevent symptoms if you can, manage symptoms that come up and seek the advice of your doctor if symptoms get overwhelming and you can’t escape to a sunny location.

Staying flexible

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.

Can Yoga Help Seasonal Allergies?

As the trees and flowers burst into their spring brilliance, those who suffer from seasonal allergies quickly shift their immune systems into high gear to deal with the pollen.  It’s been a week of students walking into class with itchy, swollen eyes, runny noses, congestion, sinus headaches, coughing, worsening of asthma and fatigue.  “Can yoga help allergies?” has been the question of the week.

Yoga therapy can help seasonal allergies in two very different ways – preventatively and on an emergency basis.  Many of my students needed the emergency approach this week, which is dealing with the most urgent uncomfortable symptoms.

The yoga therapy emergency approach to allergies centers on calming the nervous system, which in turn helps calm the immune system.  A very short gentle practice that includes progressively lengthening exhalation, a calming breath practice and restorative relaxation may help reduce the “hyperreaction” that happens when every tree and shrub decides to spread its pollen.  When I work with people individually, I individualize breath ratio and techniques to manage sinus congestion, asthma symptoms and fatigue.   Most people who have allergies will need to do emergency methods from time to time but even more ideal is building up your system in advance of the season.

A yoga therapy preventative approach to allergies starts long before the pollen count goes up and focuses on progressively strengthening the respiratory, digestive and immune systems.  This prepares your system for high pollen counts so that you have fewer or less disabling symptoms, possibly reduced need for medication amount and frequency, and overall less restriction of doing what you love or need to do. Yoga postures are used to extend the breath and prepare for pranayama or breathing practice.  It is pranayama and other individualized approaches in personal practice that provides something akin to a multivitamin for the immune system way in advance of seasonal allergies.

Your own unique constellation of allergens and subsequent symptoms are the starting point for yoga therapy emergency and preventative approaches that help you live with minimal disruption as the trees and flowers burst into their full glory.

Working Inward with Yoga: Dealing with Life’s Messes and Stresses

“The body keeps the score.” Bessel A van der Kolk

This simple quote reveals so much about what we are just beginning to understand about the science of chronic stress.  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 messes and stresses.

Stress enters through our senses (what we hear, see, smell, and feel) and the nervous system.  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.   We store up knowing how to flee the tiger, deal with a long, uncertain period of unemployment, make the next deadline, or deal with the next difficult person.

The problem with chronic, unrelenting stress is that if we don’t discharge and unwind, our body runs on what I call “reaction overdrive.” Chronic stress often plays out in body tension and pain, headaches, sleeplessness, fatigue, mental fog, increased blood pressure, elevated heart rate, gastrointestinal problems, anxiety and depression.

Yoga helps reduce stress and the symptoms of stress by:

  • Gentle, breath-supported movement that helps dislodge the issues from the tissues
  • Breath practices that re-train and tune the nervous system to be able to handle life’s normal stresses without going into overdrive
  • Yoga philosophy teachings on the nature of the mind that can help usunderstand and work with thought patterns
  • Mental techniques, including self-inquiry and meditation, that help us identify and change disruptive, negative thoughts, attitudes and behaviors
  • Other techniques such as the use of sound/chanting to calm the nervous system and focus the mind

Breath-supported gentle movement is often the doorway in to feeling embodied again after periods of chronic stress.  The body begins to feel as if it’s connected to the brain.  And once that connection is more fully established, it provides avenues to begin to explore more deeply the sources of stress, how we react to them and how we can develop more productive, life-affirming thoughts, attitudes and behaviors.

We can live life’s messes and stresses over and over again, building up a toxic load for our body, mind and spirit or we can take steps to deal with past stress and the day-to-day stresses through positive action.