This is your brain on coffee

For hundreds of years, coffee has been one of the two or three most popular beverages on earth.

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In a large scale epidemiological study (National Cancer Institute 2012), men who reported drinking two or three cups of coffee a day were 10 percent less likely to have died than those who didn’t drink coffee, while women drinking the same amount had 13 percent less risk of dying during the study.

Other studies have linked three or four 5-ounce cups of coffee a day with more specific advantages: a reduction in the risk of developing:

And, most importantly (?), animal experiments show that caffeine may reshape the biochemical environment inside our brains in ways that could stave off dementia. In a 2012 study, caffeinated mice regained their ability to form new memories 33 percent faster than uncaffeinated mice. This might be related to adenosine, which both provides energy AND can be destructive under stress; leading to inflammation, disruptive neuron function and neurodegeneration. And in a 2012 Florida study with humans, persons with little or no caffeine circulating in their bloodstreams were far more likely to  progress from MCI to full-blown Alzheimer’s than those whose blood indicated they’d had about three cups’ worth of caffeine.

However, we still have so much to learn about the effects of caffeine. “But a cup of coffee “has been popular for a long, long time,” Dr. Freund says, “and there’s probably good reasons for that.” much love.

Adapted from: Reynolds, Gretchen. This is your brain on Coffee. NY Times, June 6 2013.

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Tutorial: Forward bend

Forward bends can be done both sitting AND standing. Forward bends create length in the spine, relieve any compression, and can promote introspection.

But, tight hamstrings and physical patterns, such as rounded shoulders (hello, sitting in front of a computer for hours! check out some great info on “un-rounding” your shoulders HERE) can make forward bends challenging!

Forward bends also provide us an opportunity to break these patterns: a fresh perspective!

Senior Kripalu Yoga teacher Cristie Newhart shares these tips for getting the most out of your forward folds:

Alignment is key.

  • The action of forward bends, is to fold at the hip crease, bringing the top of the pelvis forward.
  • Also, think about lengthening the front of the body as you fold, keeping the neck and jaw relaxed, and engage the quadriceps so that the muscles around the knee are stabilized and protected.  Use the support of the abdominal muscles below the navel allow for greater flexibility in the lumbar spine. And, until the hamstrings are sufficiently open, Cristie says that it’s best to practice forward bends with a slight bend in the knees.

Props are your friends.

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  • Standing: Use blocks to help you lengthen your spine if your hands don’t reach the floor easily.
  • Seated: Place a folded blanked, cushion or bolster under your seat to tilt your pelvis forward. Grab a strap (belt, tie, towel!) to help reach your feet.
  • Use props to prevent over-rounding the back, release tense shoulders, and ease locked knees.

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Don’t force it.

  • Forward bends are not about how deep you can go but rather how deeply you can release. Less is more. 
  • Surrender to the present moment, notice the experience, and settle into the breath. As Cristie reminds us, “Honor the body where it’s at—let it unfold at its own pace.”

So, fold inward and find introspection and release. Much love.

Reference:

kripalu.org/blog/thrive/2012/12/10/the-benefits-of-forward-bends?utm_source=Thrive&utm_medium=post&utm_campaign=121012ForwardBend

yoga breathing 101

“…something that is really very poorly recognized in the medical or the yoga literature: that moving your joints is one of the strongest stimuli to breathing properly and deeply. There are little movement receptors inside all of our joints, and they send signals that go directly and indirectly to the apneustic center, one of the centers in the brain that regulate breathing.” (Dr. Fishman)

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Proprioceptors, nerve receptors in the muscles, tendons and joints, affect breathing. Proprioceptors tell the brain where your body is in space (movement of joints, tendons, muscles), speed and direction and  stimulate part of the brainstem that regulates breath, “apneustic center“.

The “apneustic center“, located in the pons (brainstem), stimulates our “in breath.” Physical movement stimulates an increased depth of breathing, “hyperpnea”.

This connection between bodily movement and improved depth of breathing is important for people who have been previously inactive and notice that their breathing does not respond well to physical stresses (i.e. work load on their body). Systematic movements of joints and limbs in beginner yoga classes, stimulate greater freedom and depth of breath… illustrating body-to-brain connection of the proprioceptors and the brainstem.

Just one more reason to keep moving your body! much love.

Other resources:

Tutorial 3-pt breath

Tutorial alternate nostril breathing

Nina Zolotov (Jan 14/14) Yoga for Healthy Aging

Loren Fishmen Can Yoga Preserve Freedom of Movement?

Mind, Mood and Parkinson’s: Headway Conference

Last month I attended Headway’s annual conference on cognitive aspects of Parkinson’s disease.

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The event was wonderfully organized and had a great lineup of speakers!

The event started with watching Jillian Carson‘s video submission on her experience with Parkinson’s that won the people’s choice award at WPC 2013 in Montreal. You can watch her video HERE

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Dr. Gheis did a great job of discussing depression and anxiety in PD. He highlighted how common those are experienced and differentiated their symptoms from those of PD.

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I was honoured to lead a guided meditation/relaxation after lunch. We had a packed room; it is always nice to meditate in a group and share that supportive energy with each other. I hope everyone enjoyed their experience and will be able to integrate some mindful time into their daily schedules.

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THANK YOU to Moksana Yoga for lending us the props, so our participants could get extra comfy and really relax.

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Dr. Henri-Bhargava and Dr. Sira finished off the day by discussing cognitive aspects of PD and how we can manage those. Headway plans to post videos of the speakers presentation on their website/in their library.

Thanks again for including me in this day and bringing attention to the oh-so-important “non-motor” aspects of Parkinson’s. much love.

yoga for rounded shoulders

To address tight and rounded shoulders, something commonly seen in our society, we can use the serratus anterior and middle trapezius to balance and stabilize the shoulders.
In our body, muscles work in pairs – one contracts, and opposing one relaxes (i.e. think about how your biceps and triceps work when you bend your elbow). This means that we need to exercise muscles in pairs.
In rounded shoulders, you can feel your serratus anterior (side rib, pulls scapulas forward) by creating a big bear hug action; you can feel your mid trapezius (middle of shoulder blades) by bending your elbows at side and squeeze your shoulders together.
To realign back to a neutral shoulder, we need to work out tension in the serratus and strengthen the trapezius.
Try the following sequence to bring your shoulders back to neutral:
Crocodile (makarasana)
Lie flat on the floor on your stomach. Your arms should be in front of you, with your elbows just in front of the shoulders. Widen your legs mat width. Squeeze your buttocks together and press into the floor. Lift up in your chest and bend your elbows to clasp each elbow with the opposite palm. Tuck in your chin and gently rest your forehead on your arms. Reposition your body if you need to for comfort. Hold the pose for several breaths and release on an exhale.
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Heartbed
Place a rolled up blanket lengthwise along your mat. Place your hips and lay your spine along the rolled up blanket to open your chest. Bend your elbows and place the back of your palms on the ground (“cactus”).
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Downward dog (ardo mukha svanasana)
Starts on your hands and knees and lift up into downward dog (see “Teaching an old (downward) dog new tricks” for more instructions). Open up front of armpits, press through pad of index fingers, draw your belly in, life through sits bones, ease through side ribs, slide your shoulders down your back, relax your neck (I need to relax my neck in this picture!) and jaw.
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Cobra (bhujangasana)
Lie face down on the floor on a yoga mat with your palms flat, placed beneath your shoulders. The tops of your feet should be flat on the floor. Engage your abs by tilting your pelvis and drawing your belly button toward your spine to protect your lower back. Spread your fingers and press your palms into the floor. Rotate your shoulders back and down – away from your ears. Push your upper body off the floor and straighten your arms as much as is comfortable while keeping your hips, legs and feet planted on the mat.
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Bridge (setu bhandasana)
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Extend your arms along the floor, palms flat. Roll your shoulders back and underneath your body and bend your elbows to 90degrees. Press your feet and back of upper arms firmly into the floor. Exhale as you lift your hips toward the ceiling. Draw your tailbone toward your pubic bone, holding your buttocks off the floor. Keep your thighs and feet parallel and press your weight evenly across all four corners of both feet. Lengthen your tailbone toward the backs of your knees.
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Regular practice will help strengthen and stretch those muscles (traps, serratus) to help you greet the world with a more open chest, deeper breath and fuller heart. much love.
For more info, watch “Trapezius and Serratus Anterior” by Sara Guglielmi on Yoga Internation.

make time for your mat

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Sometimes, for me, it feels like the last thing I have time for today is yoga… and I know I’m not alone in this! Some great advice from Sadie Nardini: Life won’t make space for your yoga practice unless you take it.

Making yoga a “regular” part of your life can help strike a healthy balance between energy and exhaustion, overworking ourselves and just-plain-laziness.

But, what is “regular“? Every body is different and there are many factors that influence our practice on a day-to-day basis. For me, I hop on my mat every weekday morning… I sit and meditate for 5-10mins and everything else is gravy. Some mornings I practice 45minutes of asana and some mornings I lie on my back and struggle to stay awake/aware for 5minutes. I also take a stronger practice ~3 evenings a week.

Any yoga is a victory. I aim for consistency and to challenge myself, in whatever way – mental, emotional, physical – feels right that day. Encouraging growth, one breath at at time. Your mat is waiting! much love.

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bits and pics 2/12

catching the sun

catching the sun

morning yoga practice

morning yoga practice

first signs of spring

first signs of spring

morning dock

morning dock

morning on the gorge

morning on the gorge

that morning you realize you don't need a headlamp on your walk anymore

that morning you realize you don’t need a headlamp on your walk anymore

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coastal hike

coastal hike

from east spoke park to the olympic mountains

from east spoke park to the olympic mountains

 

looking out over the juan de fuca

looking out over the juan de fuca