Part 1: Ayurvedic Self-Care for Cold and Flu Season

This blog is the first of a 3 part series on Ayurvedic self-care practices you can build into your routine for better health. In part 1 you will find morning self-care practices you can start building in your daily routine. Part 2 will discuss evening routines for a better sleep. Part 3 will have details for digestive reset program that I am participating in this Fall and I will invite you to join me.

This year it felt like Mother Nature flipped a switch and the weather changed from the hot humid summer to a cool brisk Fall. When the seasons change we are at risk for lowered immune function. I see people all around me getting colds already.

As a student and later as I began my first career as a classroom teacher I would get sinus infections like clockwork as the seasons changed. It wasn’t until I began a regular yoga practice that my nervous system started to become better regulated and my immune system became stronger and the infections stopped.

That is not to say I haven’t periodically come down with the flu or felt under the weather. As I delve deeper into my yoga therapy studies for the C-IAYT certification, I have started some new routines based on Ayurvedic science. Ayurveda is the sister science to yoga that developed thousands years ago. It is based on the belief that health and wellness depends on the balance between mind, body and spirit. Its main goal is to promote good health, not fight disease. This is a proactive approach that we can assimilate into our routines which becomes an ongoing self-care practice or lifestyle, rather than an antidote you receive in order to fix a problem. As a part of my daily routine I have started to implement some new practices. As I begin to find ease in my routine I will continue to add more and more.

Why is a daily routine so important? Without going too deeply into it, our doshas, or qualities that are inherently in us, influence our body-minds and environments in a particular way throughout the day. When we can align with the natural rhythms of the day and the natural rhythms of our body, we promote optimal health. Starting with our morning routine is a great way to begin because it sets the stage for how our day unfolds.

Our bodies naturally work to clear out excess toxins while we sleep. This is why having a full nights sleep is so important. These toxins find their way into our colon and skin which is why personal hygiene needs to be taken care in the morning. First thing when you wake up drink warm water with a squeeze of lemon, followed by elimination. My friend Shelly Prosko, a physio/yoga therapist designed a toilet mediation which I will share in a separate post.

Here are a few things you can build into your morning routine (choose 1 or 2 things then add more later). The key is to be able to create more ease and not feel overwhelmed by a to do list of things.

  1. For your Mouth:
    • Gargle: use sea salt and warm water for a sore throat or to clear the throat of potential infections. To reduce soreness or dryness use sesame oil. To reduce inflammation of the oral tissue use milk.
    • Scrape your tongue with tongue scraper or spoon: it removes accumulations from the tongue and stimulates the fire quality (that we need for energy and digestion). Rinse the mouth after to clear any residue.
    • Brush teeth: astringent, bitter or pungent tooth powder or paste are used to keep the gum tissue firm.
    • Oil pulling: the state of the mouth is thought to reflect the state of the entire gastrointestinal tract. Lubrication is of the utmost importance for a well-functioning digestive system, especially for elimination. Take tablespoon of oil (sesame for fall/winter, coconut for summer) and swish it in the mouth for 2 to 10 minutes. When I started 30 seconds was the most I could handle. It helps to strengthen gums, teeth and tongue. Reduces dryness of the lips and tongue and helps to promote elimination.
  2. For your Eyes:
    • To freshen the eyes, rinse with cool clean water or organic rose water (hydrosol).
  3. For your Nose:
    • Neti: this is my favourite part of my morning routine. This is a technique used to clean the nasal passages using sea salt, water and a neti pot. It is great to clear excess mucus from the nasal passages and sinuses. It reduces the build-up of allergens, dust and other debris in the nasal passages and promotes clear and easy nasal breathing.
    • Nasal Oleation: oiling the nasal passages helps keep them lubricated and nourished and prevents dryness. It is especially important with environmental sensitivities like animal dander and pollen. Use 2-4 drops of plain oil like sesame or coconut in your palm. Rub your pinky finger in the oil and gently swirl in your nostrils.
  4. For your Skin:
    • Dry brush: using a raw silk glove or a brush specifically designed for the body, gently brush the skin to remove any dry skin and promote lymphatic circulation. Depending on your need, it may be done daily, weekly or monthly. Brush gently over your face and genitals. Long strokes over the long bones, and circle strokes over the joints.
    • Self oil massage: a technique used to nourish and protect the skin, harmonizes the flow of energy and promotes circulation and soothes the nervous system. Depending on your need, oil massage may be done daily, weekly or monthly. Use sesame, sweet almond or jojoba for Fall/Winter. Use similar strokes to the dry brushing. Sit and breathe for a few minutes while the oil is absorbed by the skin. The skin is a very important organ of digestion therefore using organic cold pressed oil is recommended. From an Ayurvedic view, you would only put on your skin what you would put in your mouth.
    • Shower or Bath: after self oiling, a bath or shower is taken to remove excess oil before getting dressed. They are also invigorating, refreshing and release negative energy. Soap can be used for the arm pits and groin area. The remainder of the body is simply rinsed – unless there is dirt of course. Too much soap removes the natural oils that maintain the health and strength of the skin.
    • Sweat: the skin benefits from sweating daily. A little perspiration beneath the arms and at the low back – about 50% of one’s capacity. This can be done by going for a brisk walk or visiting a sauna. The intention is to liquefy any toxins and allow it to release through the open pores.
  5. For your Ears:
    • To keep the auditory passages from drying, we put a few drops of oil (sesame or coconut) into the ears by either putting oil on the pinky fingers and rotating them around the aperture or using a dropper to put 2-3 drops of oil into the ear canals. You can also oil the outer architecture of the ears if you like.

I invite you to pick one or two things to incorporate into your daily routine this week and let me know how it goes. Stay tuned for my next post on evening routines and bed time hygiene.

Happy exploring!

Source: Mona Warner, Ayurvedic counsellor, Janati Yoga

Pain and Healing – Part VI

Over the last month and half I have writing about pain science research to help us broaden our scope of understanding pain and how we can begin to heal ourselves. Today’s review comes from a talk by yoga therapist Matthew Taylor from the United States. He teaches from the perspective of the Biopsychosocial model. This brings all the parts together to make a whole. For example, if you roll your ankle, you experience pain physiologically in the sympathetic nervous system, but also psychologically, your active mind is upset that your weekend plans got ruined and you feel unsupported spiritually. This means we can’t look at the ankle in isolation. When we look through different lenses we help the mind shift perspectives.

Yoga is the science of transformation. Through yoga we seek to shift our state  into the parasympathetic nervous system and by doing so we unlock creativity, clarity and calm. Simply taking 3 sets of 10 deep breaths for a given movement (such as during a yoga pose) shifts the nervous system and turns the solution seeking inward rather than outward.

Yoga asana (the poses) is a process of the how, no the what. In yoga we use attention as a tool to notice how you feel and to gain insight.

Applications for persistent pain: Most people with persistent pain don’t trust their body because the pain is in the body. Try some of these suggestions from Matthew:

  1. Explore your identity around pain.
  2. Pain education and language. When we say “the damn knee” we are talking about it as something other but it’s actually you. 20 minute of pain education can help us to reduce our pain.
  3. Legs up the wall with weight on the belly can create a SIM situation.
  4. Build stamina around hope = possibility.
  5. Have compassion for yourself.
  6. Social media diet – content can raise sympathetic nervous system activation.

Your body is a barometer. Try the Breath test – our breath tells us if something was wise idea. Compare before and after. Fast/shallow breathing is a system in danger (DIM). Think back to the Protectometer. If your breath is long and deep and even you likely feel safe, calm and relaxed.

Salience and interest drives neuroplasticity. Want a stable enough nervous system to non-react to pokes/prodes without looping back into old patterns? A stabilized nervous system lasts 24 hours. So when you practice yoga therapy every day with awareness and attention the results might surprise and shock you. We are complex, we can’t predict anything and we are always changing.

Next week will be the final post on Pain and Healing. See you then.

In health,

Lindsay

Pain and Healing – Part V

 The Food Fallacy: The idea that eating should be pleasurable, social, fun, and comforting is a marketing ploy. This is how food addition begins. When our eating experience produces pleasure, the biological process in the brain is getting a hit a dopamine. We then want to reproduce that experience over and over again. Think about kids and candy, cake, juice – anything with sugar. Sugar addiction is a really hard habit to stop.

When you go to a restaurant there is an “expectation” that the food be beautifully plated, colourful, alluring in smell, sight and taste. We are eating to please our senses, or expectations, our desires – it is no longer about fuelling and nourishing our body.

When we learn how to eat in a way that is appropriate for our nourishment needs – to provide nutrients, to balance the gut and remove toxins we suddenly find ourselves with more energy, more clarity, less pain and illness, maybe we lose weight, have less inflammation, have better skin, sleep better, etc. Our food can still be tasty and flavourful but perhaps the experience of eating becomes duller than when we eat for desire. When our food brings out body and minds back into balance, we no longer need the dopamine spikes to make us feel better. The purpose of eating is to refuel, not to induce pleasure.

Want to live healthier, longer? It’s time for a paradigm shift in how we approach food and eating.

Neuroscience and Ayuvedic practioner Dr. Kulreet Chaudry outlines how we can use food as medicine to improve our digestion and how our gut health is intimately linked with our brain health and thus full body health.

Three ways we can support ourselves and heal our gut through food is:

  1. Tri-Dosha tea: one teaspoon of each: coriander, cumin and fennel. Steep in 4 cups of boiling water and sip throughout the day. This will help improve digestion.
  2. Take Triphala, 1000mg at bedtime. This will help remove toxins and heal the gut mucosa.
  3. Eat your heaviest meal at lunch and the lightest meal at dinner.

Our gut microbiomes is a huge living population that impacts every part of our health. What is often seen as a structural issue is often related to inflammation, as is the case of migraines. The blood brain barrier is mimicked in the gut, so we can prevent neurological conditions through the gut. The majority of neurotransmitters that talk to the brain, come from the gut.

In general, pain is often seen as structural issue. We use medication to hide pain from the brain BUT you are not getting to the cause of the pain. Dr. Kulreet has found that 90% of pain is related to inflammation. Inflammation caused by the food we eat. The blood brain barrier is mimicked in the gut. It’s kind of a like a canary in a coal mine. This means we can prevent neurological conditions through the gut. The neurotransmitters that relay information from our body to the brain, mostly come from the gut. It talks to the brain. She describes leaky gut as a dumb gut. A gut that has lost intelligence because the shift in the population of gut bacteria that prevents inflammation. There is also an autoimmune component so there are lot of things happening all at once.

The take-away? Healing happens on many different levels and effects the physical body Be mindful of what you eat. Consider consulting an Ayurvedic practitioner and find out what you need for your constitution to maximize your health and wellness.

In health,

Lindsay

Pain and Healing – Part IV

 

Today I am reviewing the session with Dr. Tracy Jackson to discusses opioid addiction and pain. She says that anyone who experiences addiction feels a sense of isolation, feelings of failure or a need to be put their dependency in a positive light. They feel stigmatized.

When we are in pain, we are under psychological and physical duress. Our sympathetic nervous system, also known as our fight or flight system is stressed.

A big piece of the puzzle about pain is unpacking assumptions. The first and foremost is that the experience of pain can be different for everyone. Second, often times, patients are not in the doctors office long enough communicate and to be heard. You have your 10 or 15 minutes and are given medication of your symptoms. Having to go back to the doctors multiple times is inefficient and unhelpful. Third, there is little in the way of pain education in medical school. Doctors are not well versed in understanding pain.

So a part of this conference that I attended and what I am hoping to impart to you, the reader, is to empower you to understand what is going on in your body. What we do is not complicated, we just do it often, over and over again. This means we can re-train our bodies and our minds! We are incredibly resilient and the results are durable. yay! Experiencing a reduction in pain mean it can be long term (hope!) (yay!) (double yay!)

Medicine ads tell us to take this drug or that drug to keep going and enjoy life but this doesn’t address the issue or the innate intelligence of our body. While medicine can be life saving short term – it should be temporary while you learn how to retrain your body. Research findings tell us that no pill or surgery that is going to “fix” a body part that is just responding to a brain that is on high alert. We have to calm the underlying stress to be a better ______(fill in the blank).

When we feel unsafe we are pricked with the highest capacity for pain. We experience symptoms like insomnia, adrenal fatigue, depression – we are on high alert. When we feel safe we have a lower capacity for pain. We feel more energized, happy, alert, and creative – we are calm and relaxed. For someone who is diagnosed with fibromyalgia, there is a certain stigma (DIM) but at the same time, the person can feel better just from the diagnosis (SIM). Anyone can endure an illness – we want to be able to channel the “enduring” to make changes.

The challenge is that it is hard to see while in the thick of it. It takes a long time to develop pain or addiction but recovery can be quick.

If you, or someone you know has concerns for addiction, Dr. Tracy Jackson offers these steps to take:

  1. There is hope. It won’t be as bad as you think. Have compassion for yourself because relapse is high.
  2. If you are given a prescription for opioids ask for a referral for treatment.
  3. Keep trying. People are desperate to help you if you want to be helped.
  4. Mindfulness and movement are the most effective ways to cope with pain and addiction.
  5. Self-care. Put your airplane mask on first. This is the same for family members who see another family member in pain.

Opioids can actually make the experience of pain worse. Once you come off dependency, the capacity for pain will be improved and the body will function better (better immune, more energy, etc). If you are taking opioids, come up with a coping plan for withdrawal – make sure your support system is in place.

A part of the coping plan is looking at your diet. Diet is critical because there are lots of inflammatory foods that impact all of our body systems. It is also important to unplug from technology and go out in nature. The Japanese have a term called “forest bathing” for the therapeutic effects of walking and appreciating nature. Dr. Jackson also recommends at least a 150 minutes of yoga a week that is calming.

Next week, I will explore the topic of diet and gut health from the perspective of Ayurvedic medicine and how it relates to pain.

In health,

Lindsay

 

Pain and Healing – Part III

This week I am reflecting the interview with David Butler who is a physiotherapist and educator on pain science. I learned two new terms DIMS (danger in me) and SIMS (safety in me). DIMs and SIMs are used to describe experiences that either increase pain (DIMs) or decrease pain (SIMs). This has implications for our immune/inflammation systems, our nervous system and brain network.

Pain science tells us that pain occurs when the brain perceives danger in the world. The brain perceives safety when we have less pain. Often times in yoga we experience a stopping point. Such as, we gain a certain amount of strength and stop or we are unable to relax beyond a certain point. At some point in our lives we have learned not to advocate for ourselves or we feel too unsafe to be able to let go. From a movement perspective, we can break movements down even more in order to “trick” our nervous system to strengthen more or to relax. From a psychological perspective we can explore beliefs of why we feel unworthy of getting stronger or letting go.

The language we use in how we express our story of pain also plays a role in how we perceive pain. For example, instead of focusing on the negative (the swollen knee), focus on the positive (you are healing already) because you came in for therapy. This is an example of turning a danger in me (DIM) into a safety in me (SIM). Another example of a DIM is blaming your health care practitioner. Change it to a SIM by thinking that your health care provider is trying to help you. Not sure how your use of language frames your pain? Have your partner or friend report on the language you use. Expressions such as “my back is out…” or “it feels like a knife,” are a DIM. The story we tell ourselves over and over again impacts our brain by becoming ingrained. Even the expectation of pain can increase our pain experience.

David described the Protectometer which is a metaphorical device to demonstrate the ups and downs of DIMs and SIMs. The balance shifts up and down. Education and exposure to movement are powerful SIMs. So are taking care of our emotions, well-being, and safety. For example, going for walk (movement) and enjoying the weather (happy emotions) increases your SIMs. Our immune system is impacted by SIMs.

A DIM at one level may not be a DIM at another level. For example, at work your neck hurts but it doesn’t hurt at home. Explore what aspect of work is making your neck hurt.

A SIM or a DIM can be something as simple as a thought. In fact a thought can change a DIM to a SIM. For someone in chronic pain going to the movies for the first time in 6 years could be a SIM. We need conscious awareness to go through this process of recognizing DIMs and SIMs. They tend to hide in hard places to find. A loved one who knows you well, a yoga teacher or a therapist might be able to help you with this process. There could be 30-40 DIMs in someone with chronic pain.

For people in pain, David Butler recommends

1) looking for a health care practitioner who is scientifically aware and believes recovery is possible (very few doctors are well versed in pain science). The biomedical model doesn’t work because it operates on the causal. A biopsychosocial model requires discussion, explaining and curiosity.

2) Look online and familiarize yourself with SIMs/DIMs/Protectometer.

3) Seek out Level A evidence from studies that are a trusted resource.

4) Start a journal of your SIMs and DIMs. There are apps for symptom tracker than can help, if a journal is a DIM.

4) Adopt a sense of curiosity and discuss what you find. Awareness follows and then clarity arises.

5) Be aware of your frame of reference – we may not notice what changes when pain goes away.

Here are 10 Target Concepts to get into this new way of thinking.

  1. Pain is normal, personal, real
  2. Danger sensors, not pain sensors. It is the brain that weighs whether or not it will hurt. We don’t have pain neurons.
  3. Pain and tissue damage are rarely related. It’s all about context.
  4. Pain depends on Danger and Safety. More danger = more pain.
  5. Pain involves distributed brain activity. Different areas of the brain are affects such as memory, fear, future, vision and smell.
  6. Pain relies on context. What we see, hear, smell, taste, touch, say, think, believe, places, people, what we do.
  7. Pain is a protected output. This mean other things change our immune system and nervous system. For example, someone with back pain likely has gut (digestive) issues.
  8. We are bioplastic in that we can change. At any age our brains can change.
  9. Learning about pain can change you. Understand why you hurt.
  10. Active treatment fixes pain. Doing, learning, dealing. Can’t be passive (pill popping).

In health,

Lindsay

Pain and Healing – Part II

Today I am reviewing the talk by Tasha Stanton a neuroscientist from Australia who researches the complexities of pain. I learned that there are many biological variations in every person that could effect the mechanisms of any given treatment. Essentially, the higher the perceived danger is versus the perceived safety, neither of which is not always in our consciousness, can have on impact on our treatment for pain.

Tasha further teaches us that our senses play a key role in our experience of pain. Research has shown that one sense can modulate another. For example, vision plays an important biological role in the experience of pain. When we can see the body part that is experiencing the pain, the pain can actually decrease. Even our perception of how a body part looks can change how pain is experienced. Participants in one study who had rheumatoid arthritis were shown altered pictures of their hands where they look healthier and the patients reported a reduction or elimination of pain. This strongly speaks to how context is critical to how pain is felt.

Here are 5 things you should know if you or someone you know experiences persistent pain.

1) You can become an advocate of your condition. Your recovery should be a partnership between you and your healthcare provider.

Recovery is significantly faster for people who actively participate in their recovery rather than people who passively receive care from someone else.

2) We need to rethink how we define the “causes” of pain. For example, pain in your foot is not a pain signal from the foot to the brain that the foot is hurt. It is a danger signal that something is not functioning optimally. This means pain may not be a tissue issue – this is why stretching away back pain won’t work.

3) There is hope: Our nervous system is often forgotten and the brain interprets in the context of what is going on in your life, your past experiences, beliefs about pain.

4) Surround yourself with positive people that believe in you and who support you. This is critical in how you frame your experience and your recovery.

5) A short reduction of pain or a sensation of pleasure means there is hope for long term possibilities. This means your nervous system/body is giving you an experience of pain that has been modified (no pain!). Worse pain doesn’t mean more damage either because we can have a pain experience without damage!

 

In health,

 

Lindsay

 

Pain and Healing – Part I

Mid November I attended an online Pain and Healing Conference hosted by my teacher and yoga therapist Susi Hately of Functional Synergy. There has been a lot of research in recent years on Pain Science and the implications that has for people who suffer from pain.

Over the course of the next few weeks I am going to work at unpacking some of this vital information in a series of blog posts so you can be more informed and empowered to take back your control from pain and move with hope towards a brighter, pain free future.

Of the 10 speakers from the conference there were underlying themes and concepts that kept arising. My intention is to summarize some of the findings so that you can have a better understanding of the paradigm shift that is occurring with modern pain science research findings so that you will feel more informed and empowered to take back control from the pain that you or a loved one is experiencing.

The biggest and most important findings are four-fold. One, pain is not where the problem is. Two, pain is a protector. Three, pain is complicated and we are complex beings with complex systems so don’t give up. Four, hope is essential and possible.

There is an incredible trifecta of pain researchers in Austraila that are focusing on pain education. Pain research findings teach us that pain is a warning signal or a protector. This means, rather than perceiving pain as something being broken in our bodies, our brain is perceiving danger that something is not functioning quite as it should. This provides hope. Danger means we can get out of danger by doing something. By perceiving that something is broken. We are more likely to give up and see it as something that is long lasting and can’t change. Luckily this simple isn’t true.

Movement is critical in reducing pain at both the level of tissues and the spinal cord.  It is at the tissue and spinal cord level that our body communicates with the brain. Like Skinners salivating dogs, we too can condition movements to be either painful or not painful. Simply by imagining desired movements in our minds, we can reduce our pain and promote recovery.

Movement and visualization starts by reducing our stress. Many of us don’t even realize we under stress. It has become so normalized we don’t recognize it. When we are in pain and/or our body is in a state of stress – there are protective agencies at play.  We need to return our systems to a non-protective state by tapping into our parasympathetic nervous system through breath and movement. Therapeutic yoga is an excellent way to train our nervous system.

The research teaches us that we bioplastic human beings. This means our systems are adaptive. Pain can go. When we change the context, pain can come back. Like I said before, pain doesn’t indicate something is broken. This is really good news!

Here are 5 things to know if you or someone you know experiences persistent pain.

1) Pain is real to the person experiencing it.

2) Pain is a protector. Pain acts as a warning from the brain of what it thinks you might do if you keep going.

3) There are many contributors to pain. There is lot of research that shows pain can come from all over your life – people, places, things external to you can be a trigger, as well as thoughts and beliefs.

4) The good news is we are fundamentally adaptable and recovery is possible. We can train our systems to be less protective.

5) The less good news, it’s not easy BUT everyone has the resources. It’s doable but it’s a journey.

In health,

 

Lindsay

 

My next post will be about neuroscience researcher Tasha Stanton who discusses the complexity of pain…

Corporate Yoga the Best Investment You Can Make

If you were guaranteed a 300% return on your investment would you sign on the dotted line? Absolutely. What about when it comes to your health? Despite the research and statistics that are out there, we continue to play Russian Roulette with our health. We work hard to make money so we can live the life we desire. But what is all that money worth if we are not healthy enough to enjoy our lives the way we want to?

When our health declines, it doesn’t happen overnight. It is a slow and steady descent that is often difficult to recover from and usually results in one or more losses in our lives. We are proactive with our finances: we save; we invest for the future. Now is the time to also start being proactive in our health and the path to better health can begin at work.

Companies want employees with unique specialized skills: people who go above and beyond expectations. They anticipate challenges and respond to opportunities that create growth and value for the company. Whether it is sales, marketing, finance, law, or something in between, companies want their employees to be at the top of their game and to be productive all day, every day. Unfortunately, the reality is that our bodies are not physiologically designed to withstand the demands and stresses we impose upon ourselves during long busy days at the office.

You don’t wake up one day and decide to be sick or unwell. Unless you are in an accident, there is likely something happening over time that causes the body to break down and become ill. Stress has become normalized in the workplace; many people don’t even realize that they are stressed. General busy-ness, hurriedness and day-to-day chaos place our bodies in a constant state of fight or flight for extended periods of time. Our natural state should be one of rest and repose, which is now becoming the exception rather than the rule.

Burnout rates are higher than ever. Sick leave, stress leave, and mental health leave are becoming regular occurrences. These conditions aren’t only a cost to the health of the person afflicted but they also cost that person’s company time, money and manpower.

So what are smart modern proactive companies doing about this? Leading companies are working with health and wellness service providers who offer solutions to these problems, health and wellness providers like me. Companies expect a lot from their employees. Workers likewise give a lot of their time and effort to be successful and productive. So why not invest in yourself and your people? When companies invest in their employees’ wellness they can expect three dollars in cost savings and benefits for every dollar spent.

Corporate Yoga is a wonderful proactive approach that companies are bringing on board to help keep executives and their employees healthy, happy and productive. Often times when someone hears the word yoga, they immediately think of hyper-flexibility and fitness. Yoga is so much more than that and it doesn’t require any flexibility whatsoever. Yoga is an adaptable system that affects the body, the mind and the spirit in profound ways that literally change how we think, act, and feel.

Companies can help workers improve their mental clarity, boost creativity and sharpen their problem solving skills. The beauty of yoga is that it extends itself off the yoga mat and out of the yoga class into your day-to-day work and activities. You learn mental and physical skills that you first apply with some effort, but that will become second nature.

Looking for a long-term solution to improving the bottom line, cultivating healthy workers and maintaining happy bosses?

A good corporate yoga teacher is your trusted advisor who will work to understand your company’s needs and provide solutions that are customized and unique to your workplace and its people.

To learn how you can energize your workplace from individuals to teams to departments email me at lindsay@innergycorporateyoga.com for a complimentary onsite consultation. Customized. Informed. Educated. Wellness for life.

Breathing for Stress and Anxiety

Yoga_Photoshoot_Hany_easy pose 2Wouldn’t you love to live in a world where you could flip a switch and all your stress and anxiety would just go away? There are many different strategies we can employ such as going to a yoga class, getting a massage, meditating, being in nature or exercising. These are all wonderful things that we can do that will help. These all require finding time and going somewhere to do it. However, there is one more tool that we can use at any time no matter where you are. That is your breath.

Many of us who practice yoga or any of the above activites have gotten a glimpse of the switch that leaves us feeling, calm, relaxed and at peace. Unfortunately these feelings are fleeting, stressors find their way back into the limelight and it leaves us wanting without knowing how to get it back.

The answer lies not just in our breath, but how we breathe and the mindfulness that arises from this awareness. After years and years, dare I say decades of stress, years of being on anxiety medication and then the death of my mom, I stumbled across a doctor who told me I wasn’t breathing. I was holding my breath. I was certainly taken aback by this observation and it was turning point for me. Albeit slow, the process brought me to where I am today and now I want to share the skills with you so you can reap the benefits now and not years down the road.

Breathing is important for two reasons. One, it brings oxygen to our blood and two, oxygenated blood helps to heal our tissues. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way we have unconsciously learned a disordered way of breathing that is fast and shallow, that limits the flow of oxygen into our bloodstream. As a result, we are not taking in sufficient oxygen or able to expel sufficient carbon dioxide. Reduced lung function reduces our vitality, ages us prematurely, lowers are immune function, etc. So not only does breathing impact our cardiovascular system, but it also effects the respiratory, neurological, gastrointestinal, muscular and psychic systems. So you can see how important optimal breathing is for our overall functioning.

When we re-learn how to breath optimally we begin the healing process and improve our ability to cope with stressors.

We can also begin to experience these benefits for the long term:

  • Less respiratory problems, stronger heart by reducing it’s workload
  • Relaxes body and the mind
  • Improves the health of the nervous system, including brain, spinal cord, nerve centres and nerves.
  • It has an effect on your sleep, your memory, energy level and concentration.
  • Aids in digestion and elimination. Assists in weight control. Oxygen helps burn up excess fat more efficiently.
  • More oxygen in the blood means better complexion, fewer wrinkles, more energy, clarity for the mind, positive thinking, supports vision and hearing.
  • Rejuvenates muscle and organ functioning. Lack of oxygen to cells is a major contributing factor to cancer, heart disease and strokes

Why Do We Breath Fast + Shallow?

Let’s face it, our lifestyles often dictate that we are in a hurry most of the time. Our movements and breathing follow this pattern. Perhaps you have noticed in your yoga practice how your mind and body mirror each other. The increasing stress of modern living makes us breathe more quickly and less deeply. Other reasons could be related to negative emotional states, reduced physical activity,  environmental pollution and even our culture (the desire for an attractive flat stomach results in gripping and holding of the abdominals. This interferes with deep breathing and gradually makes shallow “chest breathing” seem normal, which increases tension and anxiety.)

Medical journals suggest that fast, shallow breathing can cause fatigue, sleep disorders, anxiety, stomach upsets, heart burn, gas, muscle cramps, dizziness, visual problems, chest pain, and heart palpitations.

Disordered Breathing Patterns

In addition to fast, shallow breathing, you might resort to chest breathing which is a habitual pattern failing to fully exhale and inhale. Other disordered patterns include mouth breathing, breath holding and hyperventilating.  When the sympathetic nervous system is switched on all the time, it can lead to changes in anxiety, blood pH, muscle tone, pain threshold, to only name a few. Overuse of accessory breathing muscles can lead to neck and shoulder pain/dysfunction and could even mimic cardiovascular and gastrointestinal problems.

Typical symptoms of disorder breathing can include:

  • Frequent sighing and yawning
  • Breathing discomfort
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Erratic heartbeats
  • Feeling anxious and uptight
  • Pins and needles
  • Upset gut/nausea
  • Clammy hands
  • Chest Pains
  • Shattered confidence
  • Tired all the time
  • Achy muscles and joints
  • Dizzy spells or feeling spaced out
  • Irritability or hypervigilance
  • Feeling of ‘air hunger’
  • Breathing discomfort
  • Back pain. Research suggests there is correlation between breathing pattern disorders and low back pain.

Our reactions to stress is also known as the “fight-or-flight” response because it evolved as a survival mechanism, enabling people to react quickly to life-threatening situations. The carefully orchestrated yet near-instantaneous sequence of hormonal changes and physiological responses helps someone to fight the threat off or flee to safety. Unfortunately, the body can also overreact to stressors that are not life-threatening, such as traffic jams, work pressure, and family difficulties.

The stress response suppresses the immune system, increasing our susceptibility to colds and illnesses. The build up of stress can lead to anxiety and depression.

We can learn to use our breath as one tool to down-regulate the sympathetic nervous system and up-regulate the parasympathetic nervous system that helps the body rest, digest and recover.  The body is designed to spend the majority of its time in the parasympathetic nervous system.  Ideally, it only uses the sympathetic nervous system for true life-threatening emergencies.

To learn how to optimize your breathing to reduce stress register for my Breathing for Stress and Anxiety workshop May 20, 2017 at Leslieville Sanctuary. These are skills that you take with you in the car, at work and play. This workshop is appropriate for kids, teens and adults. No yoga experience is required.

To find out how you can host a Breathing Workshop for Stress and Anxiety at your workplace contact me for details.

Yoga Rehab

yoga rehab photoPain doesn’t have to be a normal part of everyday life. When we learn how to effectively improve the function of our shoulders and hips we perform better in our athletic endeavours, we can chase after our kids with more ease and life becomes more enjoyable.

After the success of my first two Pain Clinic Workshops for hip and shoulders I’ve decided to offer a combo class specifically for yoga teachers, fitness instructors and students to learn the skills to get out of pain, improve the function of their hips and shoulders so they can feel great and get back to the activities that they love or even to excel at the activities they already enjoy.

Often times as a teacher, we see our students or clients struggle or hit a road block in their progress due to pain, injury, or lack of range of motion. As a teacher do you notice your clients cringing in pain? Struggling to breathe or holding their breath in a posture or exercise? Finding excuses? Cancelling appointments? Afraid to re-injure themselves?

Learn the skills to move better without pain, nurture relaxation and move optimally with stability and ease.

When we move better, we feel better and we can enjoy life more.

My next workshop is called Yoga Rehab and it will be held Saturday, March 25th at Leslieville Sanctuary 1:30-3:30pm. Cost is $45 + hst. Participants will receive a handout and free practice video.

Contact me to register or ask a question.