what happens to your body when you exercise?

exercise changes you.

Neuroscientist Judy Cameron, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Tommy Boone, Ph.D., a board certified exercise physiologist, and Edward Laskowski, M.D., co-director of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center take us through what happens in the body when we exercise.

Increased blood flow during exercise benefits the brain: brain cells function at a higher level, increasing alertness, focus and awakeness. This may be neuroprotective. Neurotransmitters are released: endorphins (“runners high”), dopamine and glutamate (smooth, co-ordinated movements), GABA (slow), seratonin (mood). Exercise facilitates brain cell growth in hypocampus (memory, learning),

Muscles use glucose and ATP for the energy required to contract and create movement. When there isn’t enough oxygen to create ATP, lactic acid is formed. Tiny tears form from exercise that encourages muscle growth and strength as they heal.

Lungs need up to 15x more oxygen when you exercise. Your breathing rate will increase until the muscles surrounding the lungs just can’t move any faster (named “maximum VO2 capacity”).

The diaphragm (a muscle!) can fatigue (side stitch!). Practice deep breathing (pranayama!) and stretching (yoga!) to  alleviate the discomfort.

Heart rate increases to quickly circulate more oxygen. This becomes more efficient with exercise experience, so you can work out harder and longer (lowers resting heart rate). Exercise increases new blood vessel growth (decreases blood pressure).

Movement and absorption in stomach and intestines is paused during exercise because oxygen is diverted to the muscles.

After exercise, the kidneys allow more protein into the urine and trigger water reabsorption… keeping you as hydrated as possible. Cortisol is released to help energy stores turn into fuel for the body. Adrenaline increases heart rate to deliver blood to muscles.

The blood vessels in the skin dilate, increasing blood flow to the skin. The heat then dissipates through the skin into the air. Sweat glands produce perspiration (water+s alt+electrolytes and/or odor-causing) onto the skin’s surface. When this sweat evaporates into the air, your body temp drops.

Capillaries in the face dilate to release heat = red face!

Joints take 5-6 six times more than your bodyweight during exercise. This can cause wear and tear on the cushioning tissue (cartilage), soft tissue and lubricating fluid.

… 10+ more reasons to “do your body good” and get moving! much love.

other resources:

Sarah Klein, Sept 4/13 Huffinton Post Healthy Living


“this is your brain on the couch”: inactivity changes the brain

We know that the brain retains plasticity, or the capacity to be reshaped, throughout our lifetimes. And that exercise is particularly adept at remodeling the brain, prompting the creation of new brain cells and other positive changes. I posted previously about the dangers of sedentary time (HERE).

Now it seems that inactivity can also remodel the brain. A study (Mischel et al. J Comp Neurol 2014) conducted in rats demonstrates that sedentary time changes the shape of certain neurons that significantly affect brain AND heart function. 


After 3-month of resting, neurons in the brains of sedentary rats developed branches that made them likely to overstimulate the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The SNS directs blood vessels to widen or contract as needed to control the flow of blood. Overactivity of the SNS contributes to increasing blood pressure and possibly the development of heart disease.

All the more reason to get off your couch or chair and get moving! much love.

Other References:

Mischel et al. Physical (in)activity-dependent structural plasticity in bulbospinal catecholaminergic neurons of rat rostral ventrolateral medulla. J Comp Neurol. 2014 Feb 15;522(3):499-513. doi: 10.1002/cne.23464.

Reynolds, Gretchen. How Inactivity changes the Brain. Well blogs, NY Times. January 22, 2014.

Applications of Yoga in Parkinson’s disease (Roland, 2014)

It’s published!

FINAL (Roland, 2014)

You can access the FULL article here. It is a systematic review summarizing all the available published research on yoga for Parkinson’s disease (which wasn’t much…).

Preliminary data suggested modest improvements in functional mobility, balance, upper- and lower-limb flexibility, and lower-limb strength. The presented evidence also showed improvements in nonphysical factors, such as mood and sleep.

This is important because improved mobility, balance, and lower-extremity function can reduce the fear of falling and functional declines related to inactivity. Also, upper-body flexibility supports postural stability and daily living activities, such as reaching for items on the top shelf.

While the evidence is limited (meaning there’s not a lot of studies, and the study quality is not high), it does suggest that there are some benefits, both physical and related to well-being, that deserve greater investigation. But we still have a long way to go with respect to quality scientific research supporting the the benefits of yoga…

This article represents my passion in life. I hope to encourage other scientists (and hopefully myself in future projects, if the grant-gods agree!) to examine yoga with the same scientific standards we do other randomized controlled exercise trials, and give scientific backing to all those benefits us yogis feel within us.

I’m so happy to share this with you and would love to hear your thoughts on the evidence presented, or if you have any questions! much love.

MINDFULNESS on TIME magazine cover – but is it the whole story?

Look at the cover. What do you see?


The author (Kate Pickets) discusses the resurgence of mindfulness practices and the growing amount of new science to back up the benefits. The article starts by discussing mindfully eating a raisin, according to the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) principals developed in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn (full article HERE).

Pickets asks WHY, at this point in our tech-riddled, fast-paced, stress-filled lives, mindfulness is gaining popularity? And, HOW is it helping to break through the noise and bring our focus back from multi- to single tasking with focus and full concentration?

(NOTE: read more on my 2012 “mono task” challenge HERE, on MEANINGFUL CONVERSATIONSEATING and MY TEETH)

I whole-heartedly support the ideas and think it’s a big deal that it is becoming so mainstream… yet, something about the way it is presented seems off.

Joanna Piacenza, at the Huffington Post, discusses the problems with it. “They’re selling Buddhism to a crowd that thinks they need to buy it… This new definition of Buddhism is perfect for those who want to dabble around spiritually without fully committing to a set of moral or ethical rules”

Woman: When is mindfulness marketed towards men?

Beauty: Is this an accurate portrayal of the American woman that is a practicing Buddhist?

Race: What about cultural diversity?

According to Piacenza, “this cover, taken at surface-newstand-value, reveal that when it comes to mindfulness & Buddhism in America, you’re not getting the whole story.”

… what do you think? much love.


Huffington Post

Yoga Dork

Yoga for sleep

We’ve been discussing sleep issues… why sleep is important (here) and sleep disorders in Parkinson’s disease (here)

“Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.” M. Ghandi

A little yoga before bed can be a great way to wind down the body, and mind too, and prep for a good sleep. Here are three poses for a relaxing bedtime sequence.

Next time you find yourself counting sheep, try these poses instead! much love

1. a) Figure 4 / Eye of the Needle



lying on your back, cross one leg over the other with the outside of the ankle resting on the opposite knee. Either place our hand on the knee to create pressure OR reach your  arm through the triangle between your legs and clasp your hands around the back of your leg of the non-bend side. Keeping your shoulders on the ground and a long spine, gently pull the hamstring towards your belly and feel a stretch to the opposite side. Repeat other side.


1. b) One-legged Pigeon (Kapotasana)

DSC_0097 DSC_0046

Come onto hands and knees. Bring your left knee forward and place it near your left wrist, with your shin on a diagonal and your left heel pointing toward your right frontal hipbone.

Maintaining a square hip alignment, shimmy your right toes back until your right thigh releases to the floor. Move your left foot and shin toward the front of your mat, aiming for your shin to be parallel to the front edge, and flex your foot to protect your knee. If you wish to go deeper: using your arms for support, walk your upper body to rest your forehead on stacked fists or on the ground. Repeat other side.

2. Stacked Ankle to Knee / Firelog (Agnistambhasana)


Sitting tall with your knees bent, feet on the floor. Slide your left foot under your right leg to the outside of your right hip, and lay the outer leg on the floor. Then, stack your right leg on top of the left. Be sure the right ankle is outside the left knee (i.e., sole is perpendicular to the floor). If you are more flexible, slide your left shin forward directly below the right; otherwise, keep the left heel beside the right hip. If you’re tight in the hips, simply sit with your shins crossed in Sukhasana (Easy Pose). Repeat other side.

3. reclining twist


Lie on your back and draw both knees into your chest. Open your arms to the side like wings and drop the knees to one side, turning your gaze to the opposite side. Place hand onto of outer thigh to add more resistance to your twist. If your shoulder/hips begin to float up, place a blanket under the shoulder or a bolster along the spine. Repeat other side.

happy hips = happy sleep! much love.

… more great yoga pose ideas at: http://tarastiles.com

Sleep in Parkinson’s disease

Last week, I posted about a recent scientific understanding of WHY we need sleep (see post HERE).

There are all kinds of benefits to getting enough sleep:  It’s good for your heart, it may reduce stress, and even prevent cancer.

More importantly, sleep is good for your brain – especially working memory… the kind essential to daily function.

People with Parkinson’s have difficulty sleeping; including difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, restless legs and vivid nightmares. However, the link between sleep disorders and Parkinson’s has yet to be scientifically determined.

Peeraully et al. (Mov Disord 2012) report a higher prevalence of subjective sleepiness, increase in daytime sleepiness, rapid eye movement behaviour disorder in persons with Parkinson’s compared to controls

If you’re interested in learning more about sleep disorders in Parkinson’s, the National Parkinson Foundation and Tanya Simuni, MD have a great video about the topic… you can watch it below. Sweet dreams and much love.

For more on sleep and Parkinsons:

Michael J Fox Foundation

Mov Disord. 2012

bits and pics 1/12

since life is full of things not all necessarily related to “informative” blog topics, i want to add a monthly post sharing some of my favourite moments from the past month.

we spend a lot of weekends at the beach or exploring the island, and i’m trying to take my camera out more to capture it all. enjoy! much love.

the snuggliest!

the snuggliest!

paddling out

paddling out in the sun

exploring witty’s lagoon

the storm rolls in

the lineup

the lineup

watching the surf

watching the surf

the one-and-only Levon

the one-and-only Levon

victoria yoga conference: a recap

Today, I want to recap some of the amazing experiences I had at the Victoria Yoga Conference. Much love to Carolyne Taylor and the wonderful crew of volunteers who made it all happen!


my bag packed - conference badge, yogadopa handouts, moleskin, and snacks!

my bag packed – conference badge, yogadopa handouts, moleskin, and snacks!

welcome to the Victoria Yoga Conference!

welcome to the Victoria Yoga Conference!

Friday night started with inspiring stories of extraordinary living!


I did a great session on shoulder stability from Fiji McAlpine; I learned a new way of approaching the downdog-chaturanga-updog-downdog sequence that requires more strength but less strain on the shoulders and low back (which is always good!!) and a few new shoulder stretches (which I so desperately need!)

I followed that up with deep back bending with Suzanne Faith Slocum Gori … and did some great partner assists that brought my foot to my head in full Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (or one-legged king pigeon… yes!). Some really deep chest opening is a great way to start the day!


the view from my mat.

My Yogadopa: yoga for people living with Parkinson’s disease session went really well and I had a great diverse group of yoga therapist, yogi with PD, interested yogi, healthcare worker, yoga teacher and caregiver. We did a general overview of Parkinson’s, some of the symptoms and specific yoga poses that can address the rigidity, bradykinesia, weakness, asymmetry and fatigue.

Rachel Scott did an amazing job of summarizing a trillion years (ok, I exaggerate!) of yoga history in 75-minutes… I can really geek out on vedic history, the upanishads and the bhagavad gita. And Madhuri offered a wonderfully grounding Ayuvedic yoga practice for the winter (vata) season.

setting up to release our psoas.

setting up to release our psoas.

I learned a lot about releasing the psoas from Jules Payne (Ajna yoga) and that by keeping our hip flexors/groin relaxed and “supple”, we increase parasympathetic activation and reducing our stress response. It felt so good to work on relaxing the front of our hips (modern stressors – i.e. sitting, driving keeps them so tight!) through some great releases (slow-mo ball rolling with our pelvis and spiky ball rolling of our feet – amazing!), box squats and alternate limb super mans (to build gluteus max) and legs-up-the-wall pose with some resistance.  This is one session I may have to blog about more… because who doesn’t love the psoas?!

Finally, Ryan Leier (from One Yoga) led a morning Ashtanga class with a twist … and offered some great teachings from P. Jois – reminding us that our physical practice needs to be grounded in the yoga sutras, yamas (right/ethical livings), niyamas (restraints/observances) and breath.

yogis setting up for the morning "ashtanga with a twist"

yogis setting up for the morning “ashtanga with a twist”

It was an incredibly FULL weekend, in all senses of the word. Much gratitude to the yoga community in Victoria (and those yogis who travelled to be here). much love.

Also, see CHEK news coverage  of the conference (and a mention of my workshop at 00:45!)