4 Things Seniors and Caregivers Should Know About Yoga and Meditation

Caregivers and seniors are exposed to so much unique stress in their everyday lives. So, it makes sense that you need similarly unique ways to relieve that tension. Yoga and meditation can be the self-care combo that melts away that stress. Here are some reasons and tips for getting your own practice started.   Yoga Benefits Your Gut as Much as Your Mind  For caregivers and seniors, the primary purpose of meditation and yoga practice is improved mental health. If you get started with yoga, however, you may also be boosting your gut. The flow and work you do through yoga practices can actually encourage healthy processes throughout your digestive system, and that regular movement can help those healthy gut bacteria thrive too. As an added benefit, balancing out your microbiome can also help balance out your mood. So yoga really can be good for your body and brain in many different ways. But if you really want to promote a healthy gut and digestive system, adding fermented foods like yogurt is another way to up the ante. Try a refreshing smoothie that includes yogurt for a pre-yoga workout snack or even a healthy breakfast.   A Home Practice Space Can Enhance Your Habits  Ask any seasoned yogi and they will tell you one of the biggest challenges of practicing is actually stepping onto your mat. It’s important to practice regularly to really get yourself into the habit of using yoga and meditation so you can derive the full benefits. One way to encourage your practice is to dedicate a space in your home. All you need for a relaxing space is an area to stretch out and some basic supplies, like a mat, a block and a full-length mirror. Those items won’t take up too much space, but it’s still a good idea to clear away any clutter.  Consider this the perfect opportunity to remove items that are taking up both emotional and physical space. Give yourself time to decide by transferring anything you don’t need to a storage unit (a 5’x10’ unit rents for only $109 a month at Storage Etc-Los Feliz). Whether it’s temporary or long-term, having that extra space can make a difference for your mental well-being.   Morning Meditations May Provide More Benefits  Setting up a dedicated meditation and yoga space is a wonderful first step to encouraging a regular practice. Finding the time to practice, however, can be a challenge for seniors and busy caregivers. One method for making your meditation habit stick is to practice in the morning. By meditating as soon as you wake up, not only are you getting it out of the way, but you’re also setting the tone and mood for the day. If you tend to have a hard time remembering to wake up and meditate, you can also use a handy meditation app to set reminders. The guided meditation that apps like Headspace and Insight timer provide are helpful for caregivers who [...]

2019-03-26T19:25:27-07:00 By |

How Yoga Can Help an Empath

I am an empath. Sometimes I wish I weren’t, but most of the time it is one of my greatest gifts.   Empathy is, “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” – dictionary.com Unlike its sister term “sympathy”, feeling sorrow for another, empathy means to experience the feelings of another, from the inside. As you can imagine, going inside the experience of another being is often very unpleasant. When the object of your empathy is experiencing sorrow, you experience sorrow. When she is elated, you are elated. The teachings and techniques of yoga are meant to bring us closer to perfect union with the omnipresent consciousness that underlies all things. In a way, this is perfect empathy. The difference between yoga and empathy is that the former seeks to unite with the pure divine consciousness that all things are made from, bliss, while the latter seeks to unite with the experience of the person, place, or thing in question. But, empathy is a tool for the yogi and one that is naturally cultivated through the practice of meditation. Toward the end of my teacher Swami Kriyananda’s life, many noted the heightened sensitivity he showed toward the suffering of others. Mostly, he choked on tears of joy, but suffering too made itself known in his face. The great yoga master Paramhansa Yogananda once exclaimed, “Can you not feel its pain?!” when a disciple was carelessly moving a potted tree as he prepared to plant it in the Lake Shrine gardens. As we meditate, we experience increasingly subtle energies in our body. It should be no surprise that the result is often a heightened sensitivity to the world around us when we step off the yoga mat. In my new job at March of Dimes, I’m listening to stories of tragedy and loss a lot. Stories of injustice and the extreme suffering of losing a baby or mother. If you are black or brown in the United States, you are at high risk of experiencing complications in pregnancy and childbirth for a myriad of reasons, all of them avoidable and rooted in inequity. The stories break the heart of an empath. So, how does an empath cope? How do we develop these keen sensitivities in meditation and still move in the world with joy? Here is what works for me: Lean into the pain. For Siddhartha, the young Buddha, the pain of seeing aging, disease, and death propelled him on his spiritual search. Do not shy away from the pain you experience if you are an empath. Lean into it and you will find, after the waves of suffering subside, that it awakens your latent desire for truth. Release self-righteousness. The great trap in suffering is to give into the idea that you are right and someone else is wrong. That feeds separation consciousness, which leads only toward more suffering. Dr. Peter described it best in a talk last summer when he explained that [...]

2019-03-13T17:32:05-07:00 By |

13 Incredible Benefits of Yoga

Yoga is a practice that can transform your life, from the inside out. Yoga isn’t only a physical workout; it is a holistic practice that strengthens the body, mind, and spirit. If you are considering implementing yoga into your workout routine, these incredible benefits just may convince you to immediately head over to the studio for your first class.   1. Decreases Stress and Anxiety: Stress and anxiety relief is one of the top reasons people keep coming back to their yoga mat. Studies have shown that yoga can help in the decrease of cortisol, which is one of the main stress hormones. If you find that your life is putting an abundance of stress on your mind and body, or causing higher levels of anxiety than you can cope with, yoga may help you work through those feelings.   2. Increases Flexibility: Can’t touch your toes? Yoga can help. As you consistently dedicate yourself to a yoga routine, you will start to notice the changes in your body, and see yourself (literally) reach for new limits.   3. Strengthens and Tones the Body: People may associate yoga with stretching more than strengthening, but the practice requires a lot of body weight muscle work and balancing, which over time tones and builds your muscles.   4. Boosts Metabolism: Yoga has been found to help people improve their metabolism, which, with a dedicated practice, over time can help you lose weight.   5. Improves Posture: Say goodbye to slouchy shoulders. Yoga brings awareness to your body, helping you to keep your shoulders back and head up high.   6. Reduces Pain in the Neck and Back: If chronic pain in your neck or back is affecting your day to day life, yoga can help you stretch and strengthen your way to feeling better and mitigating the pain.   7. Decreases Headache Frequency: People who suffer from routine headaches have found that a consistent yoga practice can help lessen the frequency of headaches.   8. Encourages Better Sleep Quality: Yoga has been frequently studied as a tool for people suffering from sleep issues, including insomnia. If you find yourself unable to turn off your brain when your head hits the pillow, yoga may be the sleep aid you’ve been looking for.   9. Promotes Blood Circulation: Yoga helps to get your heart pumping, and as a result improves your circulation. Twisting poses also help to release oxygenated blood back into your system, and inversions encourage blood flow to your brain.   10. Improves Lung Capacity: Yoga without focused breathing isn’t yoga at all. The focus on breath, or pranayama, in a yoga class (in conjunction with the physical activity) can help to expand the capacity of your lungs.   11. Boosts Memory Function: Yoga can help you keep your brain functioning in top shape. Researchers found that regular yoga practice can improve memory performance.   12. Makes You Happier: A consistent yoga practice leads to an increase in serotonin, which is often referred to as the “happy hormone.” A [...]

2019-01-02T16:34:40-08:00 By |

Twist Your Way to Spinal Health with Marichi’s Pose

One of the most significant and long-lasting benefits of regularly practicing yoga is that it can help maintain the health of the spine. Twisting poses in particular help to improve the mobility of the spine by encouraging flexibility and strength. Even if you don’t have a dedicated yoga practice, working twisting yoga postures into your stretching routine can help you preserve the health of your spine so that it is functioning at its full potential. Marichi’s Pose, or Marichyasana, is a twisting posture that is fairly gentle, but impactful enough to both stretch and strengthen the spine, while also providing benefits to the entire body. It is accessible for people of all flexibility levels, and easily modifiable.  Performing Marichi’s Pose  Start in a seated position, with your legs extended out in front of you. Relax your shoulders. Extend through your spine and lift through your ribcage so that your torso is upright. Bend your right leg and bring your knee into your chest, with your foot flat on the ground and your heel as close to your right glute as possible. Maintain length through your left leg with your toes flexed up, and rotate it slightly inward.    Place your right hand behind your right glute, with the palm fully on the floor for support. Extend through your spine, and on an exhale, begin to twist your torso over to the right. As you twist your torso, extend your left arm up, and then bend at the elbow and place it on the outside edge of the right knee. The left hand should be pointing up, with the fingers fully extended. If you are unable to reach your bent elbow to the outside of the opposite knee, you can simply grab hold of the knee with your hand.    Ensure that your weight is placed evenly on the outside and inside edges of the right foot, and that your knee remains upright, rather than tilting in or out. Your weight should also be evenly distributed between your two sitting bones. Avoid making your hips unleveled by shifting more weight onto one side. Keep your torso upright, and avoid leaning forwards or backwards.    As you remain in this posture, on your inhales, extend through your spine. On your exhales, continue to twist your torso to the right, but do so slowly and gently. Your inhales and exhales should be deep and long. Hold the pose for about 30 seconds to a minute, and then slowly release by bringing your left hand to the ground and extending your right leg out in front of you. Repeat on the opposite side.    Benefits of Marichi’s Pose  The twist performed in Marichi’s Pose provides a wealth of benefits to the body, including the following:  Massages the abdominal organs, including the kidneys and liver.  Improves digestion.   Releases tension and mild pain in the back and hips.  Stretches the shoulders and upper back.   Both strengthens and stretches the spine, helping to increase flexibility.   Opens [...]

2018-12-26T16:25:02-08:00 By |

The Calming Effects of Restorative Yoga

Taking the time to slow down, focus inwards, and give your body and mind the attention it needs is necessary in a world where we are constantly on the go. Stress and tension have become the norm, rather than an occasional affliction, and many of us aren’t doing enough to combat it. Thankfully, restorative yoga allows you to do just that. Yoga that is more movement-centered tends to be more popular in amongst modern day yogis in the West, but restorative yoga touches on techniques that allow you to fully relax—something many of us neglect to do on a regular basis.   Restorative yoga generally includes a majority of seated and reclined postures. It heavily incorporates yoga props, such as blankets, blocks, bolsters, and straps, to make poses accessible and comfortable. The classes are slow paced, generally focusing on just a few postures and holding them for an extended amount of time without force or strain, and very focused on breathing, or pranayama. The combination of slow, gentle stretching and intentional breathing allows for a rejuvenating and healing experience that we so desperately need in this fast-paced world.   Benefits of Restorative Yoga  Increases Flexibility: Holding yoga postures for an extended period of time allows you to increase your flexibility, so long as you stay dedicated to a consistent practice. The poses in a restorative yoga class rely on props and gravity to reach the pose, rather than overstretching and potentially causing strain, so you’ll be safely increasing your flexibility. Balances the Nervous System: Restorative yoga helps to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for feeling calmer and more relaxed. The gentle postures and deep breathing help your heart rate and breathing rate slow down, as well as lower your blood pressure, helping you to reach a healthier and more blissful state. We are often over-stimulating the sympathetic nervous system, which leads to an excess in release of cortisol (also known as the stress hormone), so restorative yoga can help to balance out those two sides, leaving you healthier and happier. Releases Stress and Tension: Restorative yoga not only calms the mind, but also lets you focus on where you are holding physical tension in your body. By doing a practice that brings a high level of awareness to the physical state of your body, you’ll be able to focus in on different areas and see where you need to relax and let go. Encourages Deep Relaxation: A restorative yoga class allows you to reach a level of relaxation that you may not be able to attain when taking a class that is more physically demanding. The gentle pace and focus on breathing will encourage you to truly let go and relax. Increases Mindfulness: Mindfulness has become a hot topic in recent times, but regular restorative yoga practitioners have been aware of it for quite some time. The practice allows you to bring awareness to your body and mind, and encourages you to fully focus [...]

2018-12-21T13:52:19-08:00 By |

Challenge Your Athletic Abilities with Downward Dog

Anyone looking to enhance their physical workout routine can benefit from incorporating yoga into their practice. Even if you don’t feel like going to a class at a studio is the right choice for you, practicing a few select poses that strengthen, stretch, and tone can help you work past your physical boundaries and explore the many capabilities that you didn’t even realize your body has.   Downward Facing Dog, or Adho Mukha Svanasana, is a foundational yoga pose that most people are familiar with, even if they’ve never stepped into a yoga studio. The pose is central to most yoga classes, due to the benefits it has for the entire body. It’s the perfect posture to try out because anyone can work it into their routine, as it is easily modifiable for people of all flexibility and athletic levels. It is great for building up strength and power in the legs and arms, while also stretching out the hamstrings and back.   Performing Downward Dog  Start from a tabletop position, with your hands below your shoulders and knees below your hips. On an exhale, engage your core, curl your toes underneath your feet, and lift your knees off the ground, working towards straightening your legs. Stretch your tailbone back and up towards the ceiling.   Your head should remain active, with your gaze focused in between your legs, rather than down at the ground or ahead of you. Continue to focus your weight on the inside edges of your palms, pushing through your index fingers and thumbs. If you tend to hyperextend your elbows, you may want to bring a slight bend to them.   Before settling into stillness, allow yourself to focus the stretch on the back of your legs by bending one knee and then the other. You may also choose to bend both knees at the same time, and then push back through your heels towards straight legs. Both of these movements will help gently open up your hamstrings and warm up the body. Once you have reached stillness, hold the pose for 30 seconds to a minute, and release back down to your knees.  One of the great things about Downward Dog is that it is easy to modify for all levels and physical limitations. If your hamstrings are tight, you may choose to bend your knees to make the pose more accessible. If you find it difficult to put a lot of pressure on your arms or wrists, you can bring the ground closer to you by using a chair and placing your hands on the seat for elevated support.   Benefits of Downward Dog  Since Downward Dog works the entire body, there are a variety of wonderful benefits, including the following:   Energizes your body and mind.   Works to eliminate back tension and stiffness.   Strengthens the arms and legs.   Stretches the hamstrings, calves, and back muscles.   Builds bone density.  Boosts circulation by placing your heart above your head, which can help regulate blood pressure [...]

2018-12-21T13:37:03-08:00 By |

The Incredible Benefits of Cat/Cow Pose

Regularly practicing yoga does wonders for your overall wellbeing. It is an effective way to stay in shape, explore and expand your physical limits, bring your focus to the present, and calm the mind. Even those who don’t head to the studio on a regular basis can reap the benefits of the practice by working on yoga poses on their own time. Cat/Cow Pose is a great stretch to implement into your physical practice, as it is the perfect posture to warm up your body before getting into a yoga flow—or any other physical activity.    Cat/Cow Pose is the combination of two yoga asanas—Marjaryasana (Cat) and Bitilasana (Cow)—into a flowing vinyasa. This foundational warm-up pose is often practiced at the beginning of the class, as it helps to bring movement to the spine. It is performed breath to movement, so it is great for getting centered at the start of class and bringing your focus to your breath. Cat/Cow is perfect for beginners and experienced yogis alike, as it is easy to perform, yet full of incredible mental and physical benefits.    Performing Cat/Cow Pose  To practice the posture, start in a tabletop position with your hands and knees on the ground. Ensure your palms are stacked directly underneath your shoulders, and your knees underneath your hips. The arms should remain straight in order to focus the movement in the spine, rather than the elbows.    On an exhale, move into Cat (Marjaryasana). Round your spine up towards the ceiling while tilting your tailbone down and driving your pubic bone forward. As you do this, tuck your chin down towards your chest. While your head is tilting down, elongate through your neck to ensure you still leave space between your chin and chest.    On your next inhale, move into Cow (Bitilasana). Raise your head and face forward, and tilt your tailbone up, letting your back curve. Ensure you don’t tilt your head back too far or over arch your back, as it can result in strain.    Continue slowly alternating between Cat and Cow, connecting one breath to each movement. Practice the posture for at least 30 seconds, but continue as long as feels fit for your needs. Give yourself time to fully feel the stretch in your back, abdomen, and neck as you breathe through the pose. The movement should be slow and gentle, so be patient and fight any urges to quickly shift between the two postures. The pose is safe to practice if you are pregnant, but ensure you are not contracting your abdomen too forcefully while moving between the two poses.    Benefits of Cat/Cow Pose     Practicing Cat/Cow Pose promotes a wide range of benefits for your body and mind, including the following:  Centers your focus on the present and connects you to your breath.  Warms up your body to prepare for more intense movement.   Improves flexibility in the spine.  Releases tension in the back and neck, helping to relieve pain in those areas.   Provides [...]

2018-12-21T19:02:19-08:00 By |

Find Your Strength and Power with Dolphin Pose

While yoga is often viewed as a gentler form of physical activity, many variations of the practice can actually be used to build up strength and endurance, while also stretching and toning the body. For people looking to strengthen and tone, many poses in the practice of yoga can be implemented into a workout routine to help reach fitness goals in a fun, challenging, and unique way. Dolphin Pose, or Ardha Pincha Mayurasana, is a great pose to turn to for inexperienced and advanced yogis alike. It is especially impactful when it comes to building up strength in the upper body, and also helps to stretch out the legs and back.   Performing Dolphin Pose  Start in plank pose, with your palms pressing firmly into the mat. Gently lower down onto your forearms, keeping them parallel on the ground and should-width distance apart. Begin stepping your feet forward in small steps towards your arms, allowing your hips to raise. You should eventually make an upside-down ‘V’ shape with your body.   Keep your head aligned between your upper arms, with your gaze looking back towards your feet, and be sure to keep your neck active. Bring awareness to your spine, keeping it straight as you reach your tailbone up and back. Actively press your heels towards the floor to fully feel the stretch in the back of your legs.   Remain in this position for about 30 seconds, focusing on keeping your breath deep and flowing evenly. After 30 seconds, release back through plank, or by simply coming forward to a kneeling position.   If you would like to take the pose further, you can do so by walking your feet closer to your hands, to create more of an intense stretch. You can also play with the pose by lifting one leg off the ground at a time and pointing it up at a diagonal. This will help you build strength in the core, arms, and shoulders, helping you to eventually work on challenging arm balances.   If you have any shoulder or neck injuries, practice caution when performing this posture. Move into it gently, and release back down if anything doesn’t feel right for your body. If your hamstrings feel too tight to practice the full variation of the pose, you can bend your knees to make it more accessible.   Benefits of Dolphin Pose  Over time, practicing Dolphin Pose regularly will powerfully impact the entire body, as well as help bring your focus inward and remain in the present. The benefits of Dolphin Pose include the following:   Strengthens and stretches the shoulders, back, and core.  Opens up the hamstrings and calves.   Increases overall flexibility, especially in the legs and spine.  Releases tension in the upper back and shoulders, and helps fight against chronic pain in those areas.  Improves digestion.  Improves circulation and increases blood flow to the brain.   Therapeutic for certain health conditions, such as asthma, high blood pressure, and sciatica.   Relieves insomnia.  Helps reduce headache frequency and [...]

2018-12-21T11:56:50-08:00 By |

New Twists on Yoga

Did You Know Yoga Can Reduce Food Cravings?   Fitness trends come and go, and time will tell if the latest craze is here to stay: goat yoga. That's right, yoga sessions with goats. The CBS News video above features some of the instructors and enthusiasts of this unusual pairing. At Laughing Frog Yoga studio in Santa Monica, California, pygmy goats Floyd and Rosco are part of the ensemble. According to Michelle Tritten of Hello Critter Care, goats have the uncanny ability to "bring out the best in people." Many others agree. Lainey Morse, one of the first to introduce goat yoga to the world in 2016 at her farm in Albany, Oregon, tells CBS "it's impossible to be sad and depressed when you have goats around you." Since then, goat yoga has spread around the country, with a number of celebrities testing it out and spreading the word on social media. Writing for Viva Glam Magazine, actress-writer Malorie Mackey writes about her goat yoga experience at Laughing Frog, saying:1 "As the goats enter, giggles and happiness ensue. Roscoe enjoys jumping and climbing on people while Floyd enjoys walking under them. Together, they move around the class jumping on yogis and having fun under the supervision of Michelle. Perhaps it isn't the most calm, meditative yoga class, but it breaks up the norm and adds lighthearted fun to your yoga routine." Yoga Is a Powerful Mind-Body Practice While I believe anaerobic exercise such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is key for optimal health, there's no doubt yoga can be an important part of a comprehensive exercise program. And research reveals potent mental and physical benefits from yoga, regardless of your current state of health or fitness. Yoga has been around for about 5,000 years, and while many regard it as just another form of exercise, it's really a comprehensive lifestyle practice that integrates mental, physical and spiritual elements. With regard to the latter, yoga can be viewed as a form of meditation that demands your full attention as you move from one asana (yoga position) to another.  As you learn new ways of moving and responding to your body and mind, other areas of your life tend to shift and change as well. In a sense, you not only become more physically flexible, but your mind and approach to life may also gain some much-needed flexibility. A report2 by the Institute of Science in Society details how meditative practices such as yoga, tai chi and qigong, just to name a few, can actually alter your genetic expression through their impact on your mind. Indeed, thousands of genes have been identified that appear to be directly influenced by your subjective mental state. Examples of genetic effects obtained through yogic- and other meditative practices include the down-regulation of cellular stress response genes and genes associated with the pathway responsible for the breakdown of proteins, while expression of heat shock proteins and immune function are increased. One study [...]

2018-09-04T17:50:30-07:00 By |