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

The great work of your life : summer reads

Stephen Cope is the director of the Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living (and who I had the pleasure of meeting and listening to at the NPF/Kripalu Parkinson’s yoga retreat in June!). His book The Great Work of Your Life is a guide to help you on your own life’s journey to find and embrace your true calling, or dharma (click on link to read more).

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Each one of us has gifts and has to trust in our own gift: “it is better to fail at your own dharma than to succeed at the dharma of someone else“. Bring every action into alignment with your dharma.

We have responsibility to our gift, and are responsible to give it in the way it is called for, and release all outcomes: “do your work with the welfare of others in mind“.

… in the  words of the one-and-only Dolly Parton, “Find out who you are, and then do it on purpose”.  much love.

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a yoga/wellness retreat for parkinson’s

This past week I attended “A Wellness Retreat for People Living with Parkinson’s and Their Care Partners“. This retreat was sponsored by the National Parkinson Foundation and hosted by Kripalu, health living program.

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We attended sessions on integrating yoga and meditative practices into your life.

DSC_0312We learned about disease/symptom management, exercise, communication and care planning.

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We practiced yoga together.

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We learned how to integrate some of this knowledge and make sustainable transformation in our lives.

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And we spent as much time as we could exploring the Berkshires (which was very limited by the rain all week!).

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I was so excited to be back and assisting the faculty, thank you to Kripalu and especially NPF for making this happen for me! If you want more information, check out this link or contact NPF. much love.

p.s. read about my Kripalu experiences last year, in Living Your Yoga with Parkinson’s disease!

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Tutorial: meditation 101

Being in the present moment is a meditation practice.

There is a challenge in sitting still in meditation and watching the activity of the brain/mind. Anytime you sit with the intention and willingness to be mindful, transformation will happen. At first, you want to bring stability to the mind, perhaps by focusing on one thing, such as the breath (note: you can count your breaths in groups of 10; restart once you reach 10 or lose count). Eventually expand your focus/awareness to encompass bodily sensations and thoughts. Typically the first insight meditators have is, ‘Holy crap! I think all the time!’ By practicing meditation, you start to observe the way your thoughts move and change, and you can develop a more subtle awareness of your experience.*

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Health benefits of meditation primarily focus on increasing the relaxation response (parasympathetic nervous system) and allows us to  “rest and digest.” … and this leads to boosting the immune system, improving digestion, improving sleep, and increasing cognitive function. This helps your relax more throughout the day. Meditation decreases the likelihood of reacting negatively to stress… for example, you might stop overeating/drinking.

More Reasons to meditate:

  1. Dull the Pain! Meditation training cuts pain perception in half (J Neurosci 2011) and makes pain less unpleasant because brains are busy focusing on the present moment, and anticipating the pain less, blunting its emotional impact (J Pain, 2010).
  2. Improve your sex life! Meditation helps bring thoughts into the present moment, and can enhance a woman’s sexual experience (less self-judgemental chatter!) (J Psychosomatic Medicine, 2011)
  3. Problem-solving! Meditations helps apply switching strategies for problem-solving and getting out of habitual patterns… it breaks the cycle and enables you to look at things with a fresh perspective (PLoS One, 2012).
  4. Boosts mental toughness! Regular meditation improves mood and working memory, which allows for short-term retrieval and storage of information. Meditation helps individuals stay alert and in the moment without becoming emotional (J Emotion, 2010).
  5. Emotional regulation! Meditation improves feelings of empathy and benevolance (PLoS One, 2008).
  6. Improve your attention span! Meditation practitioners are better able to make fine visual distinctions and sustain visual attention during a demanding tasks (Psychological Science, 2010).
  7. Get a bigger brain! Long-term meditators have larger amounts of gyrification (i.e., folds) of the brain’s cortex than people who don’t meditate. The extra folds may allow faster processing of information (Neuroimage, 2011; Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2012).

How do you find ways to bring meditative moments into your day? Share some of your meditation experiences in the comments below. much love.

*Adapted info from: Kripalu Thrive Blog

“A Pranayama a day…”

Prana is the breath of life of all beings in the universe.” B. K. S. Iyengar Light on Pranayama

Pranayama lies at the heart of yoga and is defined as the control of the breath, or life force.

According to the Bhagavad Gita,  prāṇāyām is made from 2 separate Sanskrit words,  prāṇ and āyām, and translated to “trance induced by stopping all breathing”. Pranayama is the fourth ‘limb’ of Ashtanga Yoga (8 total limbs, including yoga Asana) and mentioned in the Yoga Sutras.

the basic mechanics of breathings (cartage.org.lb)

The combination of movement and breath in your yoga posture increases your awareness and the potential for healing and growth (Shobhan Richard Faulds, Kripalu). According to Swami Karunananda, a senior Integral Yoga teacher, “Asana is meditation on the body, pranayama is meditation on the breath and subtle energy currents within us, and then we work with the mind directly, with the ultimate aim of transcending body and mind and experiencing the higher Self.

Research has demonstrated the physiological benefits of pranayama to include stress relief (Brown & Gerbarg. Altern Compl Med 2005), improved autonomic function (Pal, Velkumary, Madanmohan. Ind J Med Res 2004), asthma (Vedanthan et al. Allergy Asth 1998), lowered systolic blood pressure and respiratory rate (Upadhyay Dhungel et al. Nepal Med Coll 2008).

Yogis report practicing pranayama develops a steady mind, strong will-power, sound judgement, extended life and enhanced perception (Iyengar, Light on Pranayama).

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As a teacher trained in the Kripalu tradition, I use yoga to develop sensitivity to the body to learn about what makes us tick (or our unconscious drives). Breathing is integral part of our unconscious because “we choose how much we’re going to feel by how much we breathe. When we breathe more deeply, we feel more”. So it’s a good opportunity to slow down and focus on what you are feeling. (Yoganand Michael Carrol)


“With encouraging scientific evidence and positive reports, the prescription for a “pranayama a day” might get just a little bit closer”
 (kripalu.org).

Hope you enjoyed this introduction… I want to present a few different pranayama techniques this week to help encourage curiosity into your breath! much love.

PS. Want more on the breath? Check out Breathe through your nose AND Breath of Joy! for depression in Parkinson’s

References:

http://kripalu.org/blog/thrive/2013/01/12/the-science-of-breath/

B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Pranayama

yoga for depression in Parkinson’s – part 1

Depression is common in Parkinson’s disease, but is not easily distinguished.

The implications of depression in someone with PD and their caregiver(s) can be as grave as physical symptoms, especially since there is a reluctance to admit you are suffering from depression.
In Parkinson’s, depression is less about guilt and self-reproach, but is more focused on the symptoms of irritability, anxiety, sadness, and concern with health. Especially in later stages of the disease, it can be difficult to identify depression among the progressing symptoms (see chart below, Calne 2003).

It is really important to support depression in Parkinson’s by having an advocate, who can speak up about the symptoms if the persons with Parkinson’s and/or caregiver does not feel comfortable. An advocate can help get appropriate counsel, treatment and provide positive reinforcement for both person with Parkinson’s and caregivers.
The practice of yoga can help manage depression. Specially, LifeForce Yoga for depression is a yoga practice that is intentionally designed to work with and manage mood. Amy Weintraub is the founding director of LifeForce Yoga and author of Yoga for Depression. She recovered from her own battle with depression through her meditation and yoga practice. She is also part of the Kripalu family!
Breath of Joy! is one of my favourite ways to get my body moving and bring some joy into my day… and the best part about it is that it is so accessible to anyone! You just need to move with your breath… and feel the love!
P.S. for a more detailed description of Breath of Joy see HERE
Here’s a great video demo by Amy Weintraub
 So, take a moment each day and lean toward joy!  expand your heart, and your capacity to nourish yourself. Identifying signs of depression in Parkinson’s early gives you the best chance to seek the care you need… and yoga is a wonderful tool to help you feel the joy! much love.

living your yoga with Parkinson’s disease

I had an inspiring experience June 4-9 at a Wellness Retreat for People with Parkinson’s disease and their Care Partners at the Kripalu Centre for Yoga & Health, located in the beautiful Berkshires, Massachusetts.

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A couple years ago, I did my Yoga Teacher Training through a Kripalu affiliate studio in Kelowna BC (http://www.trinityyogacenter.com/), so it felt almost like a homecoming for me to be at the Kripalu Centre.

I was at Kripalu to help with a retreat for People with Parkinson’s disease and their Care Partners. We had 57 people registered for the week! We participated in lectures held by physicians, yogis, nutritionists, nurses etc. There were also some great in-depth discussion groups, a delicious cooking-demo. Finally we had lots of opportunity to be in our bodies with yoga, tai chi and dance classes! It was a jam packed week!

Here are some things that I want to share as “take home messages” from the week…

1. lean into JOY! make decisions in order to increase the amount of joy in your life.

2. be RESILIENT. resilient people know that have control over themselves in the present moment. However, everyone needs a “choir” full of people to truly be there for you (like a circle of support). Who is in that choir for you?

3.conscious COMMUNICATION. speak and be heard, mindfully; but mostly, lean into listening. have intentional conversations.

4. caregivers should think of themselves as a SMALL BUSINESS. For example, caregivers need to have a board of directors (i.e., circle of support, choir), hold regular meetings, have a mission statement, take scheduled/regular time off to allow respite, recreation, and relaxation!

5. “what do you do to procrastinate?” honour those things that keep us back, acknowledge them, then move forward.

6. move from your CORE. whether it be your physical core (spine, abdominals), or emotional core (follow your heart!). this will keep you balanced (literally, between both feet) and help you lean into joy.

at the end of the week, participants chose ONE thing to bring home with them… “when I go home, I will…“. to sustain this change and those experienced during the week, we were encouraged to:

a) be AUTHENTIC (i.e., change needs to be true to you)

b) give yourself permission to be FULLY HUMAN (i.e. ups and downs, have self-compassion)

c) take it ONE STEP AT A TIME (i.e. doing and integrating one thing opens yourself up to other positive changes)

d) start IMMEDIATELY (i.e integrate the change right away!)

e) take it ONE DAY AT A TIME (*remember; resilient people are in control of themselves in the PRESENT moment).

Lord Ganesh, the remover of obstacles.

If you are interested in being involved in the next session you can find out more information here: http://kripalu.org/healthy_living/806/… hope to see you there!

 I’m so grateful to the National Parkinson Foundation, Kripalu, and the amazing participants for being involved in this inspiring week, uniting movement-mind-breath for wellness in persons living with Parkinson’s disease.

jai bhagwan, namaste.