Manage Your Stress

The word on the street is that yoga can help to reduce stress in your life. But stress is a complex topic, and there are a lot of different kinds of yoga out there. So you may wonder, how does it all work? 
 
Stress is caused by the release of a hormone in your body called cortisol. 
 
When life circumstances become difficult to manage, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) kicks in and releases cortisol to heighten your awareness, pump blood to your limbs, and focus your brain to get the task done. Later your parasympathetic nervous system (PSN) is supposed to help you recover by bringing you back to a state a relaxation. If you spend a lot of time in a state of stress, it is common for the PNS not switch on, and when you don’t fully recover stress is compounded.
 
To find the most effective tool to manage stress and triumph in your life you don’t have to look any further than your breath. Each inhalation is inherently up-regulating while each exhalation is down-regulating. When your heart-rate differs on inhalation vs. exhalation it shows you have a more flexible nervous system that can more easily go from an energized state to a relaxed state.
 
Some people are overwhelmed by stress and have the tendency to shut down and disconnect when life gets stressful. Disengagement and avoidance can lead to depression. For someone like this to combat stress, they need to develop the energy to tackle the situation and the mental stamina to stay present with it. 
 
Other people get stuck in an activated state which can lead to anxiety, headaches, insomnia, and other difficulties. This person needs to train their PSN to put the brakes on stress. They can learn how to down-regulate by relaxing, letting go, and quieting the mind to bring balance back.
 
Do you know which is your tendency?
 
Your respiratory diaphragm is the muscle that controls your breathing. It works automatically, but you also have control over it and can regulate it. Yoga practices that work with the breath are called Pranayama, which has to do with regulating and expanding your life force energy.
 

I am a big advocate of stretching and strengthening your diaphragm, just like you would any other muscle in your yoga practice. This gives you access to a healthy breathing pattern. You can start by resetting your breath. It is your first tool to manage stress. I have created a 3-minute video to help do just that.

In addition, a regular yoga practice can help you manage stress further. Here’s how it works.

When you perform an asana (yoga pose), it is meant to take you out of your comfort zone. It becomes the stressor. You can’t ignore or escape it; you have to be with it, breathe in it. And with your breath mechanism working properly, over time the uncomfortable spot becomes more bearable, until maybe you actually even enjoy the pose! 

It’s important to realize that I am not just talking about twisted pretzel shapes here. You may find laying still in Savasana (relaxation pose) is the most uncomfortable pose! Either way a regular yoga practice prepares you to meet any stressor your day may unexpectedly bring, with skill and grace.

So here’s what you do: Study yourself. Pay attention to which poses bring on the most discomfort. Then, don’t try to fight yourself there, find your edge. Focus and use your breath to both expand your boundaries and learn to let go. Before long you will see an increase in your ability to manage stress.
 

15 Things You Can Do To Make Earth Day EVERYDAY

  1. Turn off the water while brushing you teeth, shaving, or another time-consuming task.
  2. Bring your own grocery bags to shop for food and other items.
  3. Ditch plastic water bottles, disposable coffee cups, and straws.
  4. When making a purchase choose items with little or no packaging.
  5. Reduce the amount of take out food you consume. Even one less meal per week makes a difference in the trash you make.
  6. Refill containers of laundry soap, dish soap, etc at a place like Rainbow Grocery or Green 11.
  7. If you live where there is a place that carries bulk items, commit to filling bottles rather than buying new. In the Bay Area you can get cooking oils, vinegars, syrup, honey, nut butters, dry foods, and much more.
  8. Use cloth napkins instead of paper.
  9. Bring your own cutlery instead of using disposable. To-Go Ware is a great option.
  10. Buy local and close to home whenever possible to reduce your carbon footprint.
  11. Switch all of your bills and statements paperless and pay your bills online.
  12. Compost your food scraps.
  13. Recycle paper and packaging.
  14. Make your own cleaning supplies. Vinegar, tea tree oil, baking soda, and essential oils are great cleaners.
  15. If you drive bundle your errands and carpool whenever possible.

Please share your additional ideas in the comments below. Thank you!

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The Yoga of Life – Five Steps to Being In the Flow

Do you believe that everything you do is infused with the energy you do it with? If you are frantic and stressed in your life then your life will be frantic and stressful. If you are peaceful and calm you will have more peace and ease in your life. This DOES NOT mean that difficult things won’t happen to you or that you won’t be challenged. But, there is evidence that your internal state determines your external state.

Yoga holds the potential for you to approach everything in your life with peace and calm in your heart. The physical practice on the mat is just the beginning. There is more to learning how to confront fear and step past limitation besides doing a fancy arm balance, a graceful backbend, or a crazy contortion.

Do your efforts on the mat support you in your open eyed Sadhana – that thing we call life? Especially when things get tough? The physical practice has the capacity to wake up your body and increase your awareness. But what you do with that awareness is up to you. How do you act/react when discomfort arises, when things don’t go your way, or when you get bad news? This is the real proof of yoga. It takes practice to sit with things like emotional pain, physical discomfort, uncertainty… These are the most difficult asanas in life.

Finding the opportunity in the face of a challenge is a high yoga. It is possible to use our difficulties to cultivate mental strength, emotional balance, and spiritual fortitude for your life off the mat. That sounds great right, but how? Being present with what is, relaxing and accepting it, and allowing it to shift you are all like building a muscle, increasing flexibility, or trying to nail a posture. It takes practice.

At Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health  a process called BRFWA is taught to practice being in the flow of what is happening. These five steps will help you develop a relationship with yourself and with your life. After all you cannot choose, force, or control what happens to you only how you respond to it.

Breathe. Take several breaths inhaling into your belly and exhaling slowly until the breath is extinguished. This turns on your parasympathetic nervous system.

Relax. Scan your body to find where you are holding tension. Invite it to release by bringing the breath there and softening. Increase tension in the places that are most challenging to let go of and then soften. The contrast often helps.

Feel. This is an emotional body scan. Notice feelings, sensations, and be present with the experience without trying to change it, ignore it, or stuff it down. Let yourself feel fully.

Watch. Be the witness of the experience. Observe it, create spaciousness around it, and offer it compassion.

Allow. Continue to be present with the experience and cultivate acceptance. Relax into what is.

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You may find that you will need to go back to step one and start again. Some situations you will move through quickly while others may take some time. Keep this tool with you and use it faithfully. Let me know how it goes.

* For more explanation on BRFWA read here, here, and here!

Relief From Standing

It’s been fun making the Yoga Anywhere! Take Five and Stretch Videos and I appreciate the positive feedback I’ve  been hearing from you. I am so glad the videos are helpful!

Some of you have reached out and said that you stand all day, and asked what you can do to ease the discomfort and pain that results.  This week’s post is for you. If you’re a teacher, retail worker, doctor, nurse, waitresses, cashiers or other stander, here are some tips for you!

A few of the consequences of standing at your job all day are; sore feet, varicose veins, stiff lower back, locking the knee joint, and just like our seated friends, stiff neck and shoulders.

Here are some ways you can relieve these symptoms.

1. When you get home each evening take your shoes off and don’t wear them around the house. After removing your shoes use your hands to give yourself a foot massage bringing circulation back to your feet.

2. Give your feet and legs a rest by putting your legs up the wall. Here’s how! While you are there point and flex your feet and roll your ankles in circles in both directions, then rest for at least 10 minutes. In addition to being rejuvenating and boosting to your immune system, this posture is wonderful relief to tired legs and helps to combat varicose veins.

3. Invest in a pair of YogaToes® toe stretchers! I bought these 14 years ago when I was on my feet all day as a schoolteacher and I still love them! They may not be comfortable at first but work up to wearing them for an hour each day. Not only does it feel like having a foot massage but these funny looking things will prevent and even reduce bunions. I don’t profit from your purchase, these are just something I really believe in.

4. Stretch your thighs with a standing quad stretch and use this supine yoga sequence to open your hamstrings and hips. Both will free your lower back.

5. Sit in Virasana (kneeling on your knees) with a rolled up yoga mat or blanket  between your thighs and calves. Start in the knee joint and gradually move the roll back towards the ankles. Sit in the juicy spots longer! Opening your knee joint and giving it traction allows circulation. As you move the roll down you mash your calves and hamstrings releasing tightness in these muscles. This posture is especially important if you wear heels and/or hyperextend your knees.

6. Invest in a foam roller and roll out all sides of your legs. You can also lay over it both parallel and perpendicular to your spine to open the front chest.

Other Tips:

• Change your posture often.
• Notice if you tend to stand thrusting one hip forward or to the side. Practice being aware of standing evenly on both feet. If that is not realistic for  you switch sides often and teach yourself not to favor one leg.
• Be aware of your knee joint and avoid hyperextending or locking your knees.
• Make sure your core is engaged to support your lower back. When I say core, I mean your lower abs and deeper postural muscles which are your funcional support. HERE are a few ways to increase support and stability there.
• Invest in a pair of comfortable and supportive shoes. Thank goddess they make fashionable comfort these days! I often put pair of SuperFeet in my shoes.
• Avoid standing on hard surfaces. Ask your company to buy a rug or a rubber mat or cushion for you to stand on.
• Use the Yoga Anywhere! videos stretch your neck and shoulders while standing up.

YogaToes

 

 

Live On The Edge

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Earth Day

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Five Tips To Thrive This Holiday Season

The holidays are upon us. It’s a time when the world around us is festive but the body needs more rest.  Here are some tips to conserve your energy and enjoy this time of celebration.

1. Go to bed 1 hour earlier each night you are home.  That way you will be well rested for the nights you are out celebrating.

2. Make a big pot of soup or stew and roast some root vegetables.  Eating nourishing and grounding foods, rather than grabbing what is fast and easy will help you stay healthy and balanced this season.

3. Commit to your yoga practice and get to the mat each day. If  you can’t make it to class, here are some short home routines to help get you started.

4. Take a 5-20 minute break each day. Turn off your computer, put down your phone and check out!  Dance, draw, put your legs up the wall, have a cup of tea, take a walk, stare into space….

5. Start the day with 2-4 glasses of warm lemon water each day and continue to drink warm fluids throughout the day.

Wishing you a blessed holiday season!

Live Vibrantly – October

Asana:  Ground yourself and build inner and outer strength by practicing wide squat, aka “Goddess Pose.”

Goddess Pose – courtesy of alisontaggartbarone.com/NPS

Alignment technique:
• Take a wide stance and turn your toes out
• Be sure your knees and feet point in the same direction
• Reach your feet down into the earth as you bend your knees
• Only lower as far as you can without moving your torso forward
• Breathe and hold until fatigued  – then repeat
• Practice until you can lower your thighs and pelvis parallel to the earth

The Planet:  Reduce the landfill. Reuse whenever possible, otherwise recycle, compost, or give it to someone who can use it!

Inspiration: “Perhaps the secret of living well is not in having all the answers but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company.” Rachel Naomi Remen

Live Vibrantly – September

Asana: Go to a public yoga class 1-3 times a week.  On the days in between practice what you love and one thing that is challenging for you. Share your progress on my Facebook page.

The Planet:  Come on out for California Costal Cleanup Day. Join me for free yoga and cleanup on Ocean Beach or help out on another water way near you!

Inspiration: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Harold Whitman

 

 

Live Vibrantly – August

Asana: I have been working on building strength and holding plank is really helping.  How long can you hold it? Practice every day and increase by 10 seconds or 2 breaths. Let the community know how you feel by posting on Namastacey Yoga San Francisco!

The Planet: Reuse containers by refilling your household cleaning products.  In San Francisco check out Rainbow Grocery and Green 11.

Inspiration: I am inspired by all of the stories our friend, Jeannie Page is collecting in The Yoga Diaries.  Check them out and contribute one of your own!