Category Archives: Yoga

How Meditation Affects the Brain

zen rocks pic

I’m facilitating a new class, Monday Yoga /Wellness Class, that starts Monday June 20 at 7pm (space is limited so contact me if you are interested.)

This class is aimed at developing an individual wellness/meditation practice.  We will do yoga postures to let go of any tension and to open the body up for relaxation for the first part of the class.  The rest of the class is focused on progressive relaxation, breathing, and a variety of meditative techniques.   (Props, chairs, and mats are available).

I have many people who come to see me that want a meditation or a yoga practice at home.  I created this class to help with that.  We will be exploring not only how and why to prepare before meditation but also will practice different meditative techniques for students to “try out”.

We will also discuss how meditation affects the brain.

The research is suggesting that a regular meditation practice (15-30 minutes a day) can increase gray matter in the brain, build new connections, clean out plaque that causes dementia, reduce the size of the amygdala which causes the fight or flight response, and increase our resiliency to cortisol (stress hormone).

There are many reasons to work on a meditation practice, especially if you are trying to be healthy and/or reduce stress and its effects.  Of course this should be easy enough, right? Why is sitting 15-30 minutes every day so difficult to maintain (and for some even start)?  One is that sitting in general can be painful and uncomfortable. Two, establishing any new habit or change is difficult. Consistency, consistency, consistency.  The mantra for true success ……Oh if developing consistency itself was easy.

Even if you practice now and then, it is better than none at all.  I would encourage everyone to try for 5 minutes and go from there.  You may surprise yourself that you can actually develop your own practice if you keep coming back to it when you think of it, no matter how long the in-between.

One also does not have to just “sit”.  I’m also hoping this new class will educate students on what is meditation by research standards vs other definitions.

Here are some links that discuss the effects on the brain from meditation and the research behind it:

Psychology today

Mindful.org

Washington Post

How to Start a Breathwork Practice

keep calm and breath pdf

Breath is a powerful connecting force between the mind and the body.  Building and expanding on our breath not only increases vitality and energy, it can also be an amazing healing tool.  Although it is recommended to have an experienced teacher before beginning any significant breathwork practice, anyone can initiate this journey with some simple steps and create a 15 minute practice.  This practice can be added to a regular yoga asana practice or meditation practice.

  1. Identify a dry comfortable area to practice in.
  2. Limit distractions such as turning off or down your cellphone
  3. Wait a little after eating so you don’t have a full stomach. A little water before starting can be helpful.
  4. Avoid coffee before practicing.
  5. Decide on time to practice. Early morning is an ideal time to practice before your money cup of coffee/tea.
  6. Lie on your back or find a comfortable sitting position.
  7. Begin by just observing and tracking the breath as it comes in through your nose and down your windpipe into your diaphragm and track as it exits the body.
  8. Spend 5-10 minutes practicing observing.
  9. Spend the next 5-10 minutes focusing on long slow exhales.
  10. Sit in quiet for 3-5 minutes with normal breath.

At this point the work is on being the observer. Breathwork is not completed by “controlling” or forcing the breath, it is done effectively by observing and “playing” with the breath. If your goal in breathwork is increased vitality and wellness, then the safest way to begin your practice is by observing where you are first.   This takes time and cannot be determined with one breathing practice session but must be observed over time.  Variables like a new stressor or trying something for the first time can alter your baseline habits.  Overtime however one can determine the average count and length of the breath and identify a good goal to work on.  The goal is usually in lengthening both inhales and exhales comfortably without strain.  This will increase vitality.  However sometimes a person may need more help specifically with inhaling or exhaling and a trained instructor can guide the person in their practice.  There are also techniques like holds and various therapeutic practices that can target a particular healing aspect of the breath.  For more information on pranayama, a good book to reference is The Yoga of Breath: a Step-by-Step Guide to Pranayama by Richard Rosen.

Personal Practice Challenge – Self Judgment

The third sections of Judith Hanson Lasater’s book “Living Your Yoga” focuses on Self-Judgment.  She reminds at the beginning of the section of the yoga sutra that says the posture should be “steady and comfortable”.    She then goes into describing how we set certain expectations on ourselves and have certain thoughts in regards to our practice that gets in the way of our personal practice.  She discusses how we are a culture of “No pain, no gain” and how this is not necessarily the focus in yoga.

Her suggestions for this month is 1)Write down your internal dialogue right after your personal practice.  Keep notes brief and do not try to interpret. Keep track and note how the dialogue changes over time. 2) If you find yourself forcing in asana or other parts of your live ask, “is this in the spirit of yoga?” 3)If you notice that someone else is judging you, don’t be quick to agree or to internalize the judgment.  Think about what happened and agree only if his assessment aligns with yours. 4) If you are going into a situation about which you feel anxious, tense, or afraid say to yourself, “I am perfect just as I am” 5) Rather than approaching your yoga practice from an attitude of no pain, no gain, how about no pain, no pain? and 6) Do not criticize yourself, anyone else, or anything for one hour.  If this feels like too much, commit to doing it for the next 5 minutes.

These suggestions or homework feels quite freeing to me.  We spend so much of our time worrying about not meeting expectations that we forget the only real expectations are to grow and learn.  This should be interesting  lesson in letting go.

Personal Practice Challenge – Discipline

The next section of Living Your Yoga is on Discipline or as Judith puts it “practice in action”.  She starts by suggesting in order to begin practicing discipline to keep it simple and achievable.  The disciplined practice should focus on being mindful during the practice.   She discusses making a list of things you always want to do but never seem to have time doing them, such as meditation, exercise, writing, taking a walk, reading a good book.  She advises using a timer and setting for only 15 minutes and to do this every day.  She continues to explore that before each designated activity take a moment to declare the intention of what you are trying to do and afterwards to express gratitude for having the time to do it.  She suggests not going over 15 minutes and doing this for every day until maybe you decide to replace it with another activity.

Other Discipline practices she suggests include:

  • Do one thing at a time.
  • Commit yourself to doing what is possible.  Make a list of what you have to do tomorrow and eliminate activities that are unnecessary, reschedule those that can be and should be postponed.
  • Take a nap every Sunday.
  • Slow down in what ever everyday activity you choose such as driving, speaking or walking to you care.  Begin each activity with one gentle inhalation and follow it with a calm exhalation.
  • Take a lunch break every day.
  • For the next 3 days write down what you do in half-hour increments.  This exercise will help you discover your free time.  Now take a break instead of adding another activity and do something restorative like yoga or painting/artwork.

Importance of living “my yoga”

Judith Hanson Lasater in her book “Living Your Yoga” discusses that in order to develop a personal practice you have to well…make it personal.  She suggests in her first section to develop a list of what is important to you about living your yoga.  Now yoga is not necessarily asanas or poses so “your yoga” really can refer to any of aspect of yoga.  I would go further to say that it refers to any part of “spiritual/wellness practice”.  So whether one does sun salutations in the morning or a daily Christian devotion it is their practice and therefore has importance to the individual that practices it.  So what is important about my wellness and/or spiritual practice?   For me it is consistency. I really need something consistent that keeps me balance.  I also need a practice that helps me maintain mindfulness so that I develop the awareness to know what parts of my body are harboring stress or if I’m am emotionally eating and not just eating for nutrition.  I also need a practice that keeps me strong and healthy.   Finally I need a practice that calms me and provides me a space to be me and connect with my inner peace.  She suggests revisiting this list on occasions to see if anything has changed or needs to be added.

Why I began Practicing Yoga

Okay it’s 5:50am on a Tuesday.  I just said my mantra and did a couple of sun salutations.  Now I’m going to address the next part of building awareness, answering the question of why I began practicing yoga.

I actually started interest in yoga when I was 16 when I first saw Jan practicing yoga on Three’s Company rerun. (i know I’m dating myself.)  It at the time just seemed exotic and new.  My mom was working at a library and would come home with order forms for new books.  I think I built up quite a yoga collection for our small local library…  Well yoga then took on new meaning when I went to college and actually found a well trained teacher.  I always felt so good after the classes that I think it just sealed my quest to do more.

So since college in 1995, I’ve been on my committed yoga quest which has led me to being a registered yoga instructor and working on a yoga therapist certification.  But besides it feeling good I’m not sure I’ve answered the question yet although in my head that could qualify.  However to elaborate a little more,…  Yoga has given me a road map that makes sense.  A road map to being calm, handling life hardships, handling life joys, finding out what I really like, and staying grounded through it all.  It has given me a feeling of connectedness that has changed my perception of where I fit into this universe and has given me profound comfort in knowing I have a place in it all.  Every time I practice or study yoga, I feel I gain another piece to a puzzle.

There’s so much there and it’s fascinating to me that the development of yoga is so old and so way way before me.  Yoga is a practice that has been tried and tested over and over.  You of course get out of it what you put into it so just a few Sun Salutations in the morning and no other study or practice may not  be life changing but the funny thing about yoga is that once you go down the path a few sun salutations could open the door to something life changing.. And let’s face it,  the bottom line is it just feels good.

Personal Practice Challenge – Spiritual Seeking

20150626_160604

 

Blogs are great for personal challenges so why not jumpstart my blogging with one?  I’m always looking for ways to be consistent in my personal yoga/meditation practice so I think I’m going to make the following  challenge to myself:  Work thru book on “Living Your Yoga” by Judith Hanson, Lasater, PhD, P.T.  I’ve been wanting to go thru this book and have not carved out the time or made it a focus, so this challenge will hopefully do that for me.

So her first suggestion is on “Awakening Awareness-Spiritual Seeking.  She suggests a few activities develop this seeking of the spirit.  Here they are:

1) Create a sacred space (check.  My kitchen has turned into my sacred space with my plant window as my little altar to nature),

2)Write a brief account of why you began practicing yoga (I’ve done this before but I think I could expand some on this),

3) Make a date with self each week to spend time alone whether it be to practice yoga or just take a walk (I’ve been using mornings around 5:30am. The men folk in the house do not venture out until around 7am….)

4)Keep a list of what is important to you about living your yoga.  What needs attention? (Will do this.)

5) Think of an aspect of yoga that you want to study further but don’t where to begin and ask fellow student where they began.  (This might take some time.)

6)Begin and end each day with a Mantra for daily living. (I already have 2 Mantras I focus on in the am but will now add the pm to see what effect it has on my practice/day to day.)

So beginning tonight I will do my Mantra and over the next week work on the other 4 that I haven’t fully implemented.

For those of you who read this and want to take the challenge as well please feel free to email me any successes along the way and if you’re ok having them posted.

Take Care and Namaste