National Stress Awareness Day – Life Yoga (5 Tips to Reduce Your Stress)

nsad_logo2010     Today is National Stress Awareness Day. For real though, we don’t need a day to remind us that we have stress. It’s everywhere. On some days it seems that the stress starts from the second we wake up and doesn’t stop even when our heads hit the pillow at night. Stress dreams can plague sleep leaving you to wake even more tired than when the night began. That’s life though. Right? It’s how we live. No big deal. Everyone is stressed. But listen carefully, if you aren’t careful stress will kill you. When stressed, we kick off the flight or flight response in our bodies. It protects us from mortal danger. Here’s the rub, when our brains tell us to fight or flee our organs respond by creating adrenaline and dialing up the engines of our organs. In today’s society many of us function like this even though our bodies aren’t in mortal danger. This isn’t healthy. In fact it’s dangerous. Sure, it’s not like stepping on the third rail dangerous but it is like playing 10,000 games of Russian Roulette and never getting the bullet. The odds keep increasing that one day…bang.

  Here are some facts from the Global Organization for Stress

  • The Stress in America survey results show that adults continue to report high levels of stress and many report that their stress has increased over the past year – American Psychological Association.
  • 75% of adults reported experiencing moderate to high levels of stress in the past month and nearly half reported that their stress has increased in the past year – American Psychological Association.
  • Approximately 1 out of 75 people may experience panic disorder – National Institutes of Mental Health.
  • Stress is a top health concern for U.S. teens between 9th and 12th grade, psychologists say that if they don’t learn healthy ways to manage that stress now, it could have serious long-term health implications – American Psychological Association.
  • 80% of workers feel stress on the job and nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress.  And 42% say their co-workers need such help – American Institute of Stress.
  • Stress levels in the workplace are rising with 6  in 10 workers in major global economies experiencing increased workplace stress.  With China (86%) having the highest rise in workplace stress – The Regus Group
  • Alarmingly 91% of adult Australians feel stress in at least one important area of their lives.  Almost 50% feel very stressed about one part of their life – Lifeline Australia.
  • Australian employees are absent for an average of 3.2 working days each year through stress.  This workplace stress costs the Australian economy approximately $14.2 billion – Medibank
  • An estimated 442,000 individuals in Britain, who worked in 2007/08 believed that they were experiencing work-related stress at a level that was making them ill – Labour Force Survey.
  • Approximately 13.7 million working days are lost each year in the UK as a result of work-related illness at a cost of £28.3 billion per year – National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.
  • Depression is among the leading causes of disability worldwide – World Health Organization
  • Fewer than 25% of those with depression world-wide have access to effective treatments – World Health Organization.

- See more at: http://www.gostress.com/stress-facts/#sthash.DCEnJa4d.dpuf

 

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Just as easy as it is to live a life under stress we can take small steps to reduce it.   Here are some tips that you can take to slow it down and live longer:

  1. Breathe. Take a deep breath in for a count of four and an exhale for a count of four.
  2. Yoga. Any physical activity for 30 minutes a day will help reduce stress. I’m of supporter of yoga for stress reduction because yoga itself is the idea of yoking our body, mind and breathing. In yoga we talk about moving through the asana practice with steadiness and ease. By controlling how we breathe as we increase intensity we are training our bodies how to deal with stress off of our mats.
  3. Laugh. Check out the benefits courtesy of the Mayo Clinic: A good laugh has great short-term effects. When you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body. Laughter can:
    • Stimulate many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
    • Activate and relieve your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response and increases your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
    • Soothe tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.
  4. Eat well. When we fuel our bodies with good food we are better equipped to thrive. I love what Michael Pollan says about a healthy diet, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Keep it simple.
  5. Sleep. Set a bedtime and stick to it. Keep your electronic devices out of bed. Keep the TV off (ideally- don’t use one). Keep the bedroom a sanctuary of peace.

Today take a minute, take a second and remember that it’s okay even when it’s not. But by managing the stress we can make better decisions and live a better life.

 

Namaste y’all.

Adventures in Meditation- Mindful Walking

 

 

photo 5

An alley

“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” 
― Thích Nhất HạnhPeace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life

 

These days meditation is at the forefront of my life. Being still has brought a sense of peace and helped ‘unstick’ some stuck places.

While I’m a lot more comfortable with the idea of quieting the mind stuff, I couldn’t help but wonder how to find ways to still my mind as I’m living life. The benefits of mediation of yoga are amazing. How could I be more mindful while doing day-to-day activities?

For example I can’t tell you how many times I commutes home from work careening down the NJ Turnpike at 80 mph only to arrive at the parking garage with no recollection of any of it. Yikes.

Even now, I walk from point A to point B without remembering the journey.

Why?

I’m distracted by an outside force like a phone or by an inside distraction like my wandering mind. Lately though, I’ve embraced the idea of meditating while while in transit. Some call it mindful walking. Buddhism says that by being mindful we create a foundation of well-being and happiness.

Yesterday afternoon, I grabbed Dakota and headed out into my neighborhood. I didn’t have a destination, just a desire to stay in the moment.

Five things that helped me during my mindful walk:

  1. Posture.  Standing tall I closed my eyes and mentally scanned my body to see if I was holding onto tightly in certain areas and made a conscious effort to let go.
  2. Breathing. Before I started walking in took deep inhales and exhales. As I began my walk I tried to pay attention to how I was breathing.
  3. Intention. Setting an intention was helpful. It allowed me to create a shape to the practice without feeling like a test.
  4. Attention. Before walking I noticed the ground under my feet. As I moved I directed my thoughts to how my heel connected with the sidewalk. It felt like cat/cow, I observed my foot touching the ground and felt the moment just when it lifted off the ground.
  5. Acceptance. Once I was moving I noticed the breeze on my face and the hang of my jacket on my shoulders. I acknowledged smells, sounds and sights.

 

Are there ways that you meditate while in motion? Mindful cycling in next on my list.

 

Namaste y’all.

 

Below are pics of a few discoveries.

 

green window

A window pops out- unexpected

 

photo 3-2

Kasa Buddha a local business

 

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I never knew that part of the East Coast Greenway was a block away

 

photo 4

Dakota looks down an alley

Adventures In Yoga- Upside Down Shiva You Move Me

photo-25

 

In movies rain is symbolic of change. You know that moment when the main character realizes something that is central to the story or some major event takes place in the rain indicating that something big may be around the corner. Sometimes the use of rain is blatantly obvious representing baptism or rebirth. Think Tim Robbins in Shawshank. He escapes during a thunderstorm. He crawls through a tunnel of shit metaphorically and literally to emerge reborn and free. In this case the rain washes away the wrongs against him- absolving him of the crime of prison break.

 

Shawshank_Redemption_271

 

Rain is change. And change shows us another point of view.

Handstands help me see the world from another perspective. I am literally turning myself upside down. As a kid I loved to stand on top of dresser and feel how different the bedroom was. It was like living in a new place. Sadly, while I’m plenty fearless in some parts of my life there are a few areas that need an shake-up.

The past few months have been challenging and trying. I’m in the middle of a debate in my head about which direction to take my yoga and it’s been really hard. I’m wavering more because I’m almost sure positive what I want to do but afraid to take the leap. This recent decision isn’t what I planned and is uncharted territory. Irrationally, I started looking for signs to see if I was making a good choice.

table headstand

 

The universe didn’t hit me over the head with a brick but at Jivamukti the monthly focus is inversions. For the past week I’ve been on my head, hands and thinking with my heart.

Shiva the Destroyer blasting through what I thought was real as I kick my legs up.

Shiva the Destroyer bringing me back to earth as I come falling down out of Pincha Mayurasana.

With every fall and every kick back up I am a little more balanced, a little less afraid and a little closer to finding that center.

It’s true that when you change the way you look at things, the way you look at things changes.

Upside down, Shiva you move me.

Namaste y’all.

 

handstand table

Adventures in Meditation – Learning to Stay

meditationmedication

 

My mama said
Baby don’t ride that crazy horse
And my mama said
You must push with much force
And my mama said
Go get all that you’re after
And my mama said
That love’s all that matters

But I’m always on the run,
Always on the run,
But I’m always on the run ( on the run )

- Lenny Kravitz ‘Always on the Run’

 

Sometimes meditation just- sucks.

It ain’t been so easy the past week. Sitting still has been a struggle. I’ve been grasping at frustration and physical pain. Added to that are the thoughts that I should be headed down a different path than the one I’m currently on.

But I’m sticking with it.

This morning while walking Dakota I was listening to Pema Chödrön (as I am wont to do when I am feeling a bit out of sorts). I pulled up any track. Pema was talking about learning to stay. My facetious face reared its snarky head. Oh great. I listened anyway.

In meditation there will be bad days. But if I can learn to be with the thoughts and stay compassionate with myself, it’ll be okay. On the days that I’m feeling growly is when I most need this. It’s on these days when seconds pass like hours that I learn the most. The space in between the seconds is my opportunity to open my heart a little more. Acknowledging feelings of hurt, frustration or fear during a sit helps me move beyond instead of running away.

Yes Meditation, you are a crafty vixen but I see you.

Namaste y’all.

 

Fibroids Aren’t My Friends – Gynecological Yoga

 

 

the red sea

The Red Sea.

 

Ten days ago I got my period. Not such a big deal (and you may wonder the reason for the ‘overshare’) except, that I’d just had it a few weeks prior. Along with excessive bleeding came pain so intense that I could no little more than teach my classes and roll on the floor hoping someone would kill me. The cramping was even too much for this masochist so I went to my Gyn. I have endometrosis and a history of fibroids, so pain isn’t unusual. But dealing with an extra period- um- I don’t think so. I don’t think so. Not happening. No way. 

Turns out my fibroids were to blame.

What are fibroids anyway?

Here’s the skinny according to womenshealth.gov :

Fibroids are muscular tumors that grow in the wall of the uterus (womb). Another medical term for fibroids is “leiomyoma” (leye-oh-meye-OH-muh) or just “myoma”. Fibroids are almost always benign (not cancerous). Fibroids can grow as a single tumor, or there can be many of them in the uterus. They can be as small as an apple seed or as big as a grapefruit. In unusual cases they can become very large.

There are factors that can increase a woman’s risk of developing fibroids.

  • Age. Fibroids become more common as women age, especially during the 30s and 40s through menopause. After menopause, fibroids usually shrink.

  • Family history. Having a family member with fibroids increases your risk. If a woman’s mother had fibroids, her risk of having them is about three times higher than average.

  • Ethnic origin. African-American women are more likely to develop fibroids than white women.

  • Obesity. Women who are overweight are at higher risk for fibroids. For very heavy women, the risk is two to three times greater than average.

  • Eating habits. Eating a lot of red meat (e.g., beef) and ham is linked with a higher risk of fibroids. Eating plenty of green vegetables seems to protect women from developing fibroids.

 

I must admit I’m not so sure about the green veggie thing. My diet is 70% plant-based. I don’t eat meat. I’m not overweight. However, there is a family history of fibroids.

My doctor was great and after an exam I was sent off to get an ultrasound to get the bottom of the problem.

Fibroids themselves are usually benign and don’t cause problems unless they push on something or get embedded in a way that may cause pain.

There’s tons of talk about how to ‘cure’ your fibroids, but I give serious side-eye to anyone who says that they can ‘cure’ anything. There’s no cure for the common cold but eat a can of kidney beans, hop on one leg while drinking turmeric milk and I’m cured of fibroids. Yeah, sure.

However- yoga helped some. A few restorative versions of the following poses helped get me through the rough patches:

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana  (Bridge Pose) – resting with a block under my sacrum was such a relief for my sacrum.

Setu-Bandhasana-Supported

Vaparita Karani (Legs against the wall)-  this pose is said to be an attitude adjuster (of which I was greatly in need), relieves mild back pain and helps with tired legs and cramped feet.

 

photo-22

 

 

Once the tests come back, I’ll know more. But in the meantime- it’s yoga, yoga and more yoga. With some Motrin when absolutely necessary.

Namaste y’all!

Are there yoga poses that you use to help alleviate physical pain?

 

uterine-fibroids

 

There’s a nifty fact sheet about fibroids here. Check it out.

 

 

108 Days of Meditation – Breathe Baby

breathe-2

 

I meditate. But it’s been a long road to get here. The road ahead is longer- but I’m focused on the now.

Buddha on the mountaintop, I’m not. A bit tense high-strung might describe me- my mind clicks at a million miles a minute. In fact, as I am typing this I am thinking of a grocery list, my class tonight, my own practice and the laundry that I need to fold.

Suffice it to say- I was the poster child for someone who needed to get still. I wasn’t completely averse or unaware of this thought- I do find stillness both before and after my yoga practice. Yet, I hadn’t fully embraced a meditation practice. Oh sure, there have been some half-hearted attempts. But even though I’m a yoga teacher and someone who works on becoming more self-aware, the idea of meditating made me a bit… skittish.

Why?

Fear, mostly. Afraid of my thoughts? Maybe. Afraid that I’d be forced to let go and breathe- a little bit of the doctor getting a taste of her own medicine? Perhaps….

Maybe there was a little lazy mixed in for good measure. I’m being harder on myself than I should be- but I’d broken too many promises to my spirit by not committing to a practice of stillness.

Enter accountability.

Last year I practiced 108 days in a row of yoga (as you have probably guessed I’m sort of an all or nothing kind of woman- this is a gift and a curse and another post entirely) – it was a great way to reconnect with my practice and myself.

And it worked.

I was going to do it again this year- but in the back of my mind I knew that meditating was the bigger issue.

So I procrastinated- I told myself I needed the perfect meditation space. I told myself I should start on a Monday, when the sun was out, on the fifth of the month..blah blah you get the idea.

After reading a post on MindBodyGreen about before and after photos of people who meditated I said out loud:

“I’m going to commit 108 days of mediation and see what happens.” (I love experiments particularly when I’m the guinea pig)

And so it was. I don’t know how you operate, but when I say things out loud- even when my dog Dakota is the only witness, they become true and therefore must be realized. Now that I had said it- it was time to get started. Here are the ten things that helped me:

 

  1. Leap. There is no great time to get started meditating. I would always be busy. I just had to start.
  2. Keep a journal of your feelings either in a diary or on your phone. Jotting down feelings is a powerful motivator for both change and acceptance.
  3. Start small. I started out for with 10 minutes and went from there. If ten minutes seems like eternity, then try five.
  4. Use an app or a timer. It’s hard to let go if you are constantly sneaking your eyes open to take a peek at the clock. By using the stopwatch function on your phone you can focus on the act of observing your breathing rather than a watching how many minutes are still left. I found success with two apps. One is Stop, Breathe & Think- this app allows you to ‘check in’ with your feelings before you begin and offers suggestions for a meditation that suits your mood. Another app is Insight Timer. One of the cool features of this app is that it shows you how many people are meditating when you are.
  5. Find a comfortable seat. Sit upright. I sit on the floor on a block. But using a pillow or a chair may work for some.
  6. Find a comfortable gaze. This may mean the eyes are open or closed. I like to close my eyes. If I chose to do a second meditation at night- I’ll keep my eyes open and use a candle.
  7. Use a simple mantra. My monkey mind can get the best of me. Swinging from thought to thought while I’m trying to be still. Instead of trying to reach up and grab the thoughts I allow them to go on but I focus on a simple thought that turns the volume on those thoights down. Sometimes it’s a simple phrase like ‘I am.’ I inhale on the word I and exhale on am. Inhale and exhale. I…Am…Eventually I come to the place I am quiet- even if only for a moment. If a phrase doesn’t work counting can help- inhale on one and exhale on two.
  8. Be kind (to yourself). It’s not easy to be still- especially in the go go go world. There will be days when it’s torture to sit. Heck, many days are like that- but if every step I take is on the path to enlightenment- I can’t go wrong by trying.
  9. Be consistent. During the first few days- I made time each day to be still. This didn’t work for me. So now- I get up early each morning and begin my day with stillness.
  10. Try again. And again.

It’s been two weeks and I feel…aware. Aware to the idea that living in the moment is powerful. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that meditating is not about emptying my mind but coming to understand it.

 

So- go ahead and sit.

Namaste y’all.

 

 

Adventures in Yoga- Slowing Flow Down Turns Things Up

Photo credit Alsion Aucher

Photo credit Alsion Achauer

“Тhe gentle overcomes the rigid.
The slow overcomes the fast.
The weak overcomes the strong.”

“Everyone knows that the yielding overcomes the stiff,
and the soft overcomes the hard.
Yet no one applies this knowledge.”
― LaoziLao Tsu: Tao Te Ching

To paraphrase Kevin Lamb advanced classes aren’t just about complicated poses, they’re about slowing down the actions that create postures.

What I love about Kevin’s class and Anusara yoga is the meticulous nature of the practice. Crossing T’s and all that. Every Saturday at noon I can count on a discovery. Often it’s a ripple that turns into an ocean of understanding about my body. Last week I realized that when I lifted up my pelvic floor my shoulders felt better aligned. I also realized that I could hear the word anus and vagina repeatedly and not giggle like a seven year-old boy. Though don’t ask me to say Uranus or I will collapse in laughter. 

Back to our program. Class. Saturday.

Something big was in store. I could feel it.

My prana hummed from the soles of my feet and slowly wound up my body as we stood in Tadasana. Asked to open my eyes wider my heart lifted. Next,  a feeling rose up- fear? Hope? It floated up and out and  briefly, I was completely free of judgment.

I was the observer. Watching. Waiting.

My thoughts wandered to my daily meditation practice.

I’ve spent the last three weeks attempting to be still for for at least 20 minutes. Some mornings I am elated. The stillness hovers around me and at once I am nothing and everything. On others it is thorns and bad thoughts- and profanity in my veins making my blood thick with doubt. Who the fuck meditates I grumble in my head wondering when I can get up. But, whatever comes up is what it is. So, I go with it.

And that, I suppose is the point.

Joy, anger, sadness or boredom is what it is in the moment. No matter what, I am firm and rooted in my commitment to it. I am committed to growth just like in mountain pose, my teacher telling me to breathe in deeply. I fill my lungs. I take in more air and with an exhale I am released. I am relaxed and ever more present.

Slow down. Slow down. Slow down.

Kevin said Tadasana pose at the top of class would be the hardest thing we would do that day. I stood exposed for what seemed like an hour but may have been 5 minutes.

Slow down. Slow down. Slow down.

Increasing the amount of time it takes to enter a pose intentistfies the posture tenfold. The time we took to transition from downward dog to three-legged plank was like climbing a vertical incline with a rucksack. It’s not just the pose- but the subtle cues that stack muscle engagement with movement. As I slowly drew my knee to the outside of my elbow while maintaining a full blown conversation with the back of my pelvis did I realize that I was in the deep end without floaties.

And it was okay. For the second time (in the same class no less) I realized that I was observing myself and my practice without judgement. Maybe it was the recommended reading. Self Observation by Red Hawk has opened up my heart and mind to myself  mounds of bullshit that  that gets in the way of my growth as person and yogi.

Cool, I thought. This class is going to rock.

And then the bottom fell out.

This is my own fault. The minute I assigned judgement to to my feelings is the moment that I set an expectation. And whatdya know- most expectations that you set for others can’t be met.

Class increased in intensity.. We held plank and transitioned to lifting a leg while raising the opposite hand. Time wobbled and stood still as I searched for balance. Did he say four breaths? Five? One?

There were points during class when I said to myself, ‘It can’t get harder.’ And of course it would. Poses were held longer and longer. Kevin talked about challenging our notion of staying in a pose for what we call the prescribed amount of time and moving past that. What happens to the mind? What thoughts arise? Is it possible to feel yourself changing if you move quietly enough?

The answer isn’t clear to me. Without question though, I felt the emotions rise up the longer I held a pose. I must admit while holding a three minute lunge I had less than peaceful feelings about Kevin. I was reminded of taking a challenging hike during my silent retreat. There were points that I was sure that I couldn’t make it but after a moment rational thinking comes back.

The transition down was a long bumpy landing rather than quick and dirty descent. And by that I mean things worked their way down just as hard as they worked their way up. Arm balances popped up close to the end of class. Patterns and habits can be friends and foes. When we set ideas of what a class looks like both as teachers and students we miss the chance to play and explore. This was exactly Kevin’s plan.

In savasana my body felt the effects of the battle. And it was a battle. For a moment I wondered if I had pushed too hard and had crossed the line of tapas into violence against the self. I don’t think so. The intensity of the class was more of a molting.

I’m changed by the experience. Class was 3 days ago and I’m still thinking about it. That’s a good thing.

Yoga. Yoga. Yoga.

Namaste y’all.