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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enlightenment for idiots : summer reads

In Enlightenment for Idiots, by Anne Cushman, at the command of her editor, Amanda heads to India to write a guidebook on Enlightenment. To her enlightenment is defined as;

“As I understand it, enlightenment is a state of blissful awareness that’s not dependent on any external circumstances… It’s the understanding that you’re not separate from anything else in the universe; the trees, the sun…”

On opening your body in yoga postures:

“Don’t force yourself open… Hear your body start to sing… Your body is made of stories and with every breath, you will learn that the present is made of the past.”

What it is about yoga that appeal to her:

“It’s a feeling – just for a moment – that I belong somewhere, even if it’s just inside my own skin”

She meets people along the way, like an India hotel owner who, despite his business doing very poorly, teaches her about what it means to be happy:

“Oh yes, madam, I am always happy. It is like this: What happens to us in life is for God to decide. But whether to be happy or not – that is our choice.”

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Amanda, accompanied by her new-found sadhu friend Devi Das, works her way through India and spiritual teachers, like Mr Kapoor, Hari Das, Sri Satyaji, and finds herself in a variety of situations with the purpose of “being enlightened”; yoga classes, silent meditation, being blown on by female avatars, watching death ceremony’s at the foot of the Ganges, tantric gatherings, at the bodhi tree of the buddha’s enlightenment, and caves in snowcap mountains.

… a fun, summer read that helps you realize that enlightenment is here too, all around you, and everything’s ok. much love.

meditation benefits neurological disorders: patients AND caregivers

There is growing evidence that even brief (5 days −8 weeks) meditation programs may improve neuropsychological, metabolic, and clinical profiles in a range of populations. Studies show meditation reduces stress [26, 30, 33], anxiety [28, 31, 33], and depressive symptoms [33–35], enhance quality of life [30, 34], decrease sleep disturbance [32], cognition [35], reduce sympathetic activation, and enhance cardiovagal tone [27, 36].

(futurity.org)

(futurity.org)

Most recently, 10 people with mild cognitive impairment or early-stage Alzheimer’s disease and their live-in caregivers meditated for 11 minutes, twice daily for 8 weeks. Results of this study showed decreased perceived stress and depression. Also, improved mood, sleep, retrospective memory function, and blood pressure were demonstrated. This supports meditation programs as effective self-care strategies for BOTH persons with neurological disorders and their caregivers.

The benefits for sleep and mood are especially important, given the high prevalence and negative impact of chronic stress, sleep disturbance, and mood impairment in these populations. What I love best about this study is that is benefits BOTH patients and caregivers… and is something you can do TOGETHER. Strengthening not only self-care strategies, but also perhaps relationship quality and shared experiences.

See the original study here (Innes et al. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Vol 2012 (2012), Article ID 927509, 9 pages)

What are you waiting for? And for some tips on how to begin a meditation practice, check out this Tutorial: Meditation 101 (click on link). much love.

References:

26. R. Bonadonna, “Meditation’s impact on chronic illness,” Holistic Nursing Practice, vol. 17, no. 6, pp. 309–319, 2003.

27. K. E. Innes, C. Bourguignon, and A. G. Taylor, “Risk indices associated with the insulin resistance syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and possible protection with yoga: a systematic review,” Journal of the American Board of Family Practice, vol. 18, no. 6, pp. 491–519, 2005.

28. R. H. Schneider, K. G. Walton, J. W. Salerno, and S. I. Nidich, “Cardiovascular disease prevention and health promotion with the transcendental meditation program and Maharishi consciousness-based health care,” Ethnicity and Disease, vol. 16, no. 3, supplement 4, pp. 15–26, 2006.

30. T. K. Selfe and K. E. Innes, “Mind-body therapies and osteoarthritis of the knee,” Current Rheumatology Reviews, vol. 5, no. 4, pp. 204–211, 2009.

31. L. C. Waelde, L. Thompson, and D. Gallagher-Thompson, “A pilot study of a yoga and meditation intervention for dementia caregiver stress,” Journal of Clinical Psychology, vol. 60, no. 6, pp. 677–687, 2004

32. L. E. Carlson and S. N. Garland, “Impact of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) on sleep, mood, stress and fatigue symptoms in cancer outpatients,” International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, vol. 12, no. 4, pp. 278–285, 2005.

33. J. D. Lane, J. E. Seskevich, and C. F. Pieper, “Brief meditation training can improve perceived stress and negative mood,” Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 38–44, 2007.

34. R. Jayadevappa, J. C. Johnson, B. S. Bloom et al., “Effectiveness of transcendental meditation on functional capacity and quality of life of African Americans with congestive heart failure: a randomized control study,” Ethnicity and Disease, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 72–77, 2007, erratum appears in Ethnicity and Disease vol. 17, no. 3, page 395.

35. V. K. Sharma, S. Das, S. Mondal, U. Goswami, and A. Gandhi, “Effect of Sahaj Yoga on neuro-cognitive functions in patients suffering from major depression,” Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, vol. 50, no. 4, pp. 375–383, 2006.

36. J. P. Manikonda, S. Störk, S. Tögel et al., “Contemplative meditation reduces ambulatory blood pressure and stress-induced hypertension: a randomized pilot trial,” Journal of Human Hypertension, vol. 22, no. 2, pp. 138–140, 2008.

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

Favourite Things – Yoga Props

After all the sitting and visiting I did over the holidays, my hamstrings ache at the sight of a forward fold! … this is why I LOVE yoga props! With a little extra love & support, I can safely start stretching those pesky hamstrings back out!

shophalfmoon.com

shophalfmoon.com

1. Bolster … this is my go-to! It’s useful underneath your pelvis to tip it forward when seated on the floor (helps with tight hips/hamstrings!) and I especially love laying on my back length-wise along the bolster to open my chest (see image #1)!

2. Strap … there are like “arm-extenders”! I use this especially when lying on my back to stretching out my hamstrings; I just have to lasso my foot and it relieves any strain on my lower back (see image #3).

3. Block … the floor is instantly closer! It can also be used to support your knees in reclining cobblers pose (see image #1).

4. Meditation cushion … it has a bean-bag like fill and is oh-so-comfortable for seated meditation or just regular-floor sitting (we even sit on these instead of chairs and eat dinner at our coffee table!). Elevates my hips and helps me to settle in to a comfortable meditation practice.

Props are a great way for beginners to safely get into a pose, or for those more experienced yogis to deepen their practice.

Happy Yoga-ing! much love.

p.s. all props shown here are from Halfmoon, a Canadian company passionate about yoga that I personally support.