Sunday, April 25, 2010

Yoga For Menopausal Symptoms

I know this topic isn't useful to many segments of the population, but some of you will be very interested in this information!

I just finished another online yoga page on, Yoga For Menopausal Symptoms.  (See side bar for more of my yoga pages on Squidoo.)

It gives an overview of the common symptoms that women experience during menopause, and the kinds of yoga poses that can help ease these symptoms.

In general, restorative poses and inversions are the most useful poses to alleviate uncomfortable symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings (irritability, depression, agitation), and insomnia and fatigue.  

Restorative poses (quiet, supported, nurturing poses) soothe our jangled nervous system, and help to balance the endocrine system.   These poses are cooling, and give us much needed rest for the body and mind.

Inversions, either supported or unsupported, also help to balance the endocrine system and calm the mind.   For those who have already been practicing headstand and shoulder balance, these continue to be key poses for our health throughout menopause.   For those who are newer to yoga, simpler inversions such as "Legs Up the Wall" pose will be very beneficial.

We can still maintain our active yoga practice during menopause, but our physical and mental health will benefit from the addition of more restorative work.

In my experience, my practice doesn't eliminate my menopausal symptoms, but it does ease them significantly, and I'm not distracted by them.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Comfort and discomfort in poses

I've been thinking recently about the feelings of comfort or discomfort while practicing the yoga poses.   I'm fairly sensitive to the temperature while I'm practicing -- I may fiddle with space heaters or fans (or both) every few minutes, or slow down my practice until my body temperature is "just right".

That's not what I need to be focusing on while practicing.   Of course some comfort is good -- I don't want to be shivering in a 57F. room in quiet poses, and I don't want to sweat in my standing poses in a 95F. (or hotter) room (although either is fine for those who prefer those temperatures!).   But I don't need to fine-tune the temperature as much as I often do.   I don't need to work so hard to avoid discomfort.  

I'm guessing that most of us practice some sort of avoidance techniques when we're uncomfortable.  In yoga (practice or classes) many of us want to get away from this discomfort as quickly as possible, whether it's from temperature, or from working hard and stretching more than we're used to, or from boredom, or from worry that we'll be uncomfortable in the future if we hold our poses for any longer.  

But if we shy away from this discomfort, we don't change; we don't grow in our practice!  If we always strive to be "comfortable" then we slide back in our progress!   We have to go through discomfort to improve. 

I know it's easier in class not to "run away" from discomfort when the teacher is there watching you and telling you what to do.   I tell students that they can always come out of poses if they hurt or if they get really tired, but for the most part people try to hold the poses until I tell them to come out.  It's harder to do this in our home practice when it's so easy to stop if we're feeling tired, hot, hungry, or bored.

What can you do to work through the discomforts you feel in class?
  • Focus on keeping the breath easy.   Don't breathe heavily, but keep your awareness on smooth inhalations and smooth exhalations.   Don't gasp the breath.
  • Watch your feelings of discomfort.   Where are you feeling discomfort?   What can you do while still in the pose to maintain the integrity of the pose, but with more ease?  Do you need to work harder in some areas, or relax certain areas more?  (Focusing on the breath is always useful.)
  • Sensation is different than pain.  You will feel sensation (maybe intense sensation that is uncomfortable) when you're stretching and working the muscles.  If you shy away from most sensation (i.e., from the feeling of stretching, or tiredness in the muscles, or heat or boredom), you may not be working hard enough to progress.   Again, go back to focusing on the breath, but without giving up the integrity of the pose. 
So, if you're in Triangle Pose, and your arms are tired -- before deciding that you have to rest your arms, take a few extra breaths first, and see if you can hold them in place a little longer. Take your shoulder blades in more firmly and stretch more fully, while relaxing the shoulders down, and practice keeping your face relaxed and your breath relaxed. 

And in Head Balance -- observe what's happening when you want to come down.   Is it because you're tired?   Stay another couple breaths.   Or bored?   Stay a few more breaths.   Or starting to feel a heaviness in the pose?   Lift the shoulders, press the shoulder blades, lift the legs, don't give up on the active aspects of the pose!  But if there is pain, and not just discomfort, come down, and let me know.

It is fine to work hard!   It is okay to be hot and sweaty!  It's fine to have some soreness in the muscles the next day or two!   Don't shy away from discomfort, but analyze it and decide what you can do to work through it.   If it is pain, then you need to stop!  But discomfort often is not pain.

Part of the work of yoga is to learn more about ourselves -- this is svadyaya, or self-study.    We observe in ourselves how we react in uncomfortable situations in yoga classes, and we learn to work through the discomfort rather than run away from it.   We can take this practice into our daily lives, and learn to mindfully work through our discomforts in our daily lives.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Coming back to the breath

I've been feeling scattered lately -- I have many tasks I need to get done, and many more activities that I'd prefer to be doing, and I've been jumping from one activity to another without being particularly effective at any of them.

There are all of the daily "domestic" jobs I need to do -- cooking, cleaning, buying groceries; all of the day-to-day "business" activities I need to do (luckily I don't mind most of these!), as well as long-term planning for sessions and new classes.   Then there was income tax preparation -- that took over a large chunk of my life last week!   And all of the other activities I want to do just because I want to do them -- read novels, blog (yes, I enjoy this a lot!), photograph our spring flowers (the daffodils were glowing in the sun yesterday), go birding or just walking along the Huron River with my husband, keep up with what my sons and daughter-in-law are doing,  write more Squidoo lenses,  do my online puzzles, maybe watch some videos with my husband. 

And of course I need my yoga practice!!

I have notes to myself stuffed in my purse and all over my desk to try and keep track of all I hope to accomplish during any particular day or week.

It's all good, but I'm realizing that lately I'm always thinking about the next few jobs on my to-do list before finishing what I'm currently doing.   Even during my yoga practice,  I too often stop to write a note, or check my email, or add to the grocery list.

So, what to do?  Well, I should take my own advice, for starters, and take time to be quiet, practice being present, and pay attention to my own breath.
This week in class we've been doing quiet restorative work.  All of you who've been in class this week have done supta baddha konasana (see picture) along with practicing simple breath awareness while in this pose.

Those of you with more experience did a bit more work with the breath -- deepening the inhalations and exhalations (ujjayi breath), and in a couple classes, we practiced an interrupted inhalation (Viloma inhalation).

I could see after you came out of these poses, especially after working with the breath, that most of you were very quiet and calm.

Paying attention to the breath is a powerful way to bring us back to the present moment.   The focus on the inhalations brings an alertness to our minds, and the focus on the exhalations is very quieting and relaxing.   Practicing our breath awareness helps us to let go the "scattered busy-ness" of our minds, and to bring us to a state of calmness.   Maybe you're taking a few easy relaxed breaths right now as you're reading this.  Can you feel the calmness that it brings?   Go find a place to sit or lie down quietly for 5 - 10 minutes today, and do more!

I did my pranayama (breath) practice this morning after a few days of neglecting it, and I've been much calmer and more focused today than I have over the past week.       It brought me back to the feeling of "Oh yeah, I'm here now, and it's a good place to be."

Friday, April 9, 2010

Finding better balance in our standing poses

As we get older, our sense of balance diminishes, which increases our risk of falling and injuring ourselves.   If you're a yoga student, you've undoubtedly heard that the practice of yoga can help us develop better balance....but you may also have experienced that finding this balance in the poses isn't necessarily easy!

It gets easier if you can focus on a few key points to help you with your balance.  I think the following three points are the most important to begin with:
  • Balanced weight under feet.   All four corners need to press evenly while lifting the arches.  This is the most important point!   The foundation of the pose needs to be strong and firm.  The feet are the foundation of the standing poses, and if they're not working properly then the rest of the pose won't work as well.  The weight needs to be evenly distributed on each foot -- between the heel and the ball of the foot, and between inner and the outer foot.   Or you can think about the "four corners of the feet":  base of the big toe, base of the little toe, inner heel and outer heel.   
  • Extended spine and lifted, open chest.
  • Steady, quiet gaze.
Also important, but what I consider secondary points are:
    • Strong, extended legs in poses where the legs are straight.
    • Stable pelvis
    • Strong, extended arms in poses where the arms are straight.   
    Tadasana (mountain pose)
      We learn these key points first in Tadasana.   Finding your balance is simpler in this pose since we're standing on two feet and the body is upright and symmetrical.  (If balance is difficult, stand with the feet hip width distance apart.)  Start observing where the weight is under each foot.   Is there more weight on the outer edge of the foot or the inner edge?   Or more weight under the toes rather than back in the heels?

      Often we take the weight forward when we stand upright, and our toes grip the floor.   Take enough weight back into the heels so that you are able to lift the toes.  But do this while still keeping the base of the big toe and the inner heel pressing.   Lifting the toes while pressing down the four corners of the foot will help you to find the lift of the arch of the foot.   Keep the arch lifting, and let the toes release back to the floor.

      Now as you press down evenly through your feet, lift and broaden your chest, keeping your gaze steady and level.  If your chest isn't lifted or your gaze wavers, there's less steadiness in the pose even if your feet are working well.

      For the secondary points:  the action of pressing down through the feet starts to bring about the proper extension and stability of the legs.   When the legs are working well, then there's more stability in the pelvis.   Firm, or grip, the outer upper thighs into the bone, and lengthen the buttocks to bring the pelvis into a stable upright, neutral position.    Extending the arms, with shoulders rolled back, will assist you in lifting the chest.

      Note the strong vertical extension of the whole body -- rooting down into the floor through the feet and the extension upward through the lifted chest and the crown of the head.

       Now take the information that you learned in Tadasana and apply it to the following poses.

      Vrksasana (Tree pose)

      There's the tendency for many of us to roll to the outer edge and front of the standing foot in Vrksasana.     To bring the weigh evenly under the four corners of the foot, press down through the base of the big toe while lifting the arch.   Don't grip the toes down, but take enough weight back into the heel to let the toes rest down.  Strongly lift the chest and keep the gaze steady and calm.

      The foot of the lifted leg also presses evenly into the standing leg thigh.  Stabilize the pelvis by pressing the standing leg thigh back into the lifted foot.   Keep the buttocks down as you continue to lift the chest.

      The strong upward extension of the arms will help with the lift of the chest.   You've seen people doing this pose with the arms over the head, palms together and elbows bent.   This is still a "pretty" looking pose, but unless the arms are extended (i.e. "straight"), they won't assist in the balance of the pose.   That's why we often do this pose with the arms separated -- because it's more likely that we can straighten the arms.

      Utthita trikonasana (Triangle pose)
      In triangle pose, again the weight needs to be distributed evenly over the four corners of each foot.   The tendency, however, is to collapse to the outer edge of the front foot, and the inner edge of the back foot.    There's also usually more weight on the front foot than the back.

      So, two good points of awareness to bring more stability to this pose are to press the base of the big toe down on the front leg, while still completely turning the leg from the hip socket, and press back and down through the outer heel on the back leg.   From this stable pressing through the feet, extend the legs and firm the outer upper thighs into the thigh bone.   Lengthen the buttocks away from the waist, and lengthen the chest in the opposite direction.  The strong extension of the arms help open the chest as well as give more stability to the trunk.

      Ardha chandrasana (Half-moon pose)

      Similar actions here, of course.   Again, help keep the weight distributed evenly on the standing leg foot by keeping the base of the big toe down while lifting the arch.   Don't neglect the lifted leg foot!   Even though it's not pressing into anything, extend through the four corners as if you were pressing it into a wall (that's a good way to practice the pose too -- moving so that the lifted leg foot can press into a wall!).   Again, stabilize the legs and pelvis, keep buttocks moving away from low back, and chest extending in opposite direction.

      Virabhadrasana I (Warrior pose 1)

      We've been practicing this pose in class this last week.   Those of you in class hopefully experienced how much more stable this pose is when you can keep the outer edge of the heel of the back leg pressing firmly back and down while strongly lifting the arms up to help the chest lift.

      Without this awareness of the back foot pressing, the arch of this foot collapses, and the leg doesn't give us much stability.    Without the lift of the arms and chest, the low back collapses.

       Practice the awareness of these points in other standing poses including balance poses such as Garudhasana, Virabhadrasana III, and Utthita hasta padangusthasana (your homework also includes figuring out what these poses are!).  Start with the base and work up through the legs, lifting the chest, and keep the gaze steady.

      And do practice!    You can intellectually understand how these points will help you balance better, but the poses still won't come until you do practice them!

      Friday, April 2, 2010

      My Favorite Online Yoga Videos -- "Lens of the Day" on Squidoo

      Earlier today I was working on a more "serious" informative post for this blog, but....found out that my Squidoo lens, My Favorite Online Yoga Videos, has been named Squidoo Lens of The Day for today, April 2, 2010.

      I am tickled by this!!

      One of my recent hobbies has been writing informational pages, or "lenses" for Squidoo.   It's a weird name, but a fun website community to work with.  Squidoo is a "community website that allows users to create pages (called lenses) for subjects of interest."  (from the Wikipedia entry)   People write about anything they want to on Squidoo, usually about subjects that they're passionate about.

      The "Lens of the Day"  "highlights a lens that stands out from the crowd, a lens that is unique in topic, approach, personality, tools or timing. Or, you know, just a lens that made [the selector's] day."

      Most of my lenses are informational pieces about yoga or health (I haven't written many yet), but I created "My Favorite Online Yoga Videos" just for fun.   The "research" was enjoyable -- searching through YouTube videos (mostly) and choosing short videos, mostly related to Iyengar Yoga, that inspired me in some way or made me laugh.

      I've placed links to my yoga-related lenses on the side of this blog, if you're interested in looking at more.

      It is a "commercial site" and includes online ads, which I know some people are adverse to.   While I love teaching yoga, I can't really contribute much to our household income this way.   So I'm exploring other alternative ways to supplement my income.   Maybe "too much information" here -- but that's one of the reasons I've decided to give Squidoo a try (not that it would ever be a huge money-maker, is supplemental...maybe I can buy a couple extra veggie pizzas every now and then!).

      Anway,  if you're interested, check out the lens and enjoy.   Some of the videos I've already included in other posts on this blog.   Here they're compiled in one place.

      And now, back to writing more about the original post I've been working on (stay tuned).