An amazing superpower we humans possess is free will. It’s enabled us to transform the darkest challenges into inspiring miracles, like when poet friend and guest speaker at our retreat, Marshall Jones, chose at the last moment not to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge and take his life but instead transformed his words into inspiration to uplift thousands of lives on TEDx and more. When we train ourselves to utilize our free will, we can surpass others’ and our own limiting beliefs and create the so-called impossible.
What are the limiting beliefs that get in the way of using our free will to realize our potential? “I’m too old” influences our choice to not pursue something we love or take a risk that will empower us. “I don’t have time” can lead us to choose to deprive ourselves of what we know inside is more important use of our energy. “They’ll think badly of me” directs our choices to muting our self-expression and undermine others’ capacity to be compassionate.
What are we here for if not to use our free will to elicit our fullest expression of our uniquely talented and gifted selves to help raise the vibration of our planet so that we all thrive together?
So, how’s yoga related to free will?
The Yoga Sutras describe yoga as the calming of the fluctuations of the mind. It also delineates the obstacles to peace and self-realization that cause humans to suffer:
In our asana (physical posture) practice, we train in steadying the fluctuations of the mind by focusing on our breath and the present moment constantly. We seek to study our self and limiting beliefs we all have that blind us of our superpower--free will. We practice discernment from our ego mind in choosing when to modify a pose by honoring what’s honestly good for us. We attempt challenging physical feats to let go of our attachment to fear, familiarity or comfort and practice endurance with our free will. Lastly, we use our free will to view ourselves with loving kindness and compassion as we remember we’re on a journey of learning and not everything comes at once. Sometimes a lesson needs to repeat itself until we fully integrate it into our being. By repeatedly awakening to our superpower, we can align our actions, thoughts, words and everyday being with our highest, and resiliently peaceful, Self.
This past June, I had the honor to actualize my dream of creating a space where diverse individuals could come together to let go of their separate conditionings—as we all have—and simply play and be. The physical location I chose for this is where I learned how to reconnect with my own inner freedom while living there years ago and where a childlike innocence still pervades a culture that deeply values harmony—having no military and living with respect for Mother Earth: Costa Rica. In my eyes, travel is about opening your perspective and cross-cultural sharing of our loves, values and gifts to bridge gaps in our understanding as humans who together inhabit one home—this planet. While this past month completed the fifth consecutive year of our Costa Rica Yoga Retreat, I’m inspired and invigorated like it’s the first.
The itinerary that’s evolved through the years included group gatherings of all sorts: horseback riding to magnificent waterfalls, practicing Hike + Yoga at waterfalls and the beach, zip lining over the rainforest, mingling through silly and more reflective games and activities, sharing meals both home-cooked and restaurant-hopping to connect with locals, walking on safari at the national park and much more. After rural village eco-living in the mountains the first two nights, we landed at our second home for the week in Manuel Antonio beach town, where our traveling tribe unleashed more independence to live like a local choosing activities for their free time, like riding a bus to the local Farmer’s Market, lounging and dancing at the beach with Costa Rican locals, taking a surf lesson, parasailing in pairs, or rafting down the local river. As nature in the tropical jungle showered heavy rains intermittently, we learned to adapt to whatever circumstance arose and literally go with the flow of life, pure life, or as Costa Ricans call it, pura vida. That is the essence of freedom, living in a state of inner calm no matter the situation.
And, as we learned to live together as different personalities under one roof for a week and as global adventurers visiting another culture’s home, we practiced peeling layers from the illusion that we are separate from each other. Sharing the massive heart of Source or Divine Intelligence or Higher Consciousness (or whatever you like to call it), we all celebrated joyfully to witness our tribe members’ marriage proposal at the waterfalls and our group’s escalating boldness while braving one longer and higher zip line after another. Tears blessed the earth as we connected, soul-to-soul, sharing our memories and wishes for each other on our last night in Costa Rica. What’s truly amazing to realize is that the freedom and love we filled our cups with in one week overflows into the next chapter of our daily life journey, whether seeking happiness abroad or sitting in our cars driving to work and choosing happiness within. Every moment we are breathing, we have a choice to free ourselves to live in the present and see the beauty of our interconnectedness, that gifts us the free will and responsibility to live in joy and spread love.
Retreat or not, remember you always have a choice to be free.
(Highlights from the PBS documentary, Happy for No Reason, with brief commentaries by Michelle Chua)
Our common human goal of happiness is a choice we make through daily habits. The following are seven habits of happiness evidenced through research by experts in psychology, spirituality and neuroscience in the PBS documentary, Happy for No Reason. I've added a personal elaboration of each. See what resonates with you.
1. Take responsibility for your own happiness.
Let go of myths that make your happiness contingent on something or someone else, as exemplified by the self-talk , “I’ll be happy when/if…
2. Practice forgiveness.
In forgiveness, you release yourself from the anger, resentment and holding to allow peace of mind.
3. Focus on gratitude.
Genuinely feel appreciation as a state of being. Transcend feeling grateful because you have this or that or because your life situation isn’t “as bad as” the other. Without condition, feel the beauty of your existence.
4. Don’t believe everything you think.
Remember that you are the one who thinks, and thus, are not your thoughts, as much as the ego may want to identify itself as the mind, in all its worries, fears and fluctuating tendencies. When we think about a possible situation, whether it’s joyful or petrifying, our bodies feel it as reality, affecting our heart rate, breath quality and sensations. We can empower ourselves by dis-identifying ourselves with thoughts that do harm, and choose those that are of service to our highest good.
5. Practice meditation and mindfulness.
Meditation enables us to connect with ourselves as witness to the mind and have control over it. Scientific studies of the brain during compassion meditation have shown activation of the insula, the deep center of the brain connected to emotions and attributed to linking body and mind. Through mindfulness, our whole being rests peacefully in the moment, savoring it without anxiety of multi-tasking, worrying about the future or feeling stuck in the past. In this practice, we free ourselves from judgmental thoughts.
6. Live a life inspired by purpose.
Believing in something greater than ourselves that we are an essential part of empowers us to unwrap our unique personal gifts to this world, knowing that our existence is of great value.
7. Cultivate nourishing relationships.
We take on the habits and mindset of those we are frequently near, so choose which environment and levels of vibration you want to affect you. Honoring your values, engage in relationships that support your living in alignment with your truth.
Here on Root 2 Rise Yoga we recently looked at 18 benefits of yoga that can dynamically improve one's health and well-being. In the article we noted that one facet of your health that yoga enhances drastically is the quality of sleep. For this post, we put the limelight on how practicing yoga not only leads to better sleep and rest, but also helps your body recuperate more effectively.
Yoga Can Relieve Insomnia
Ditch the sleeping pills and go for something that's totally safe and organic. Very Well claims yoga can help you reinstate a normal sleep cycle as there are certain poses you can execute that will make you slip into deep sleep faster. For example, the happy baby (a.k.a. Ananda Balasana) is a move that can release tension in your lower back and hips that will make you feel looser for bedtime.
Yoga Can Soothe Your Senses
It can't be stressed enough that breathing is one of yoga's most important aspects. Yoga can help you feel more relaxed as it dispels tension in your muscles as you inhale and exhale while maintaining the poses. John Hopkins Medicine concurs and even provides a tip to maintain focus on your breathing. As you breath, imagine yourself watching a beautiful car pass by as you stand at the side of a highway. Your instincts will tell you to just keep still and watch the car. Apply the same instincts to your breathing.
Yoga Can Clear Your Mind
For many, restful sleep becomes impossible because of too many mental distractions before bedtime. If you want to work some of your issues out to achieve quality sleep, Leesa advises you to get a piece of paper and jot down all your concerns before climbing into bed. Couple this with a yoga move that will help you hit the reset button and squash distractions before you sleep, and your sleeping habits will improve. ZME Science notes that you can opt to do a child's pose just before you go to bed as this will help you relax your mind and put your whole nervous system at ease. Keep the pose between 5 to 10 breaths for the best results.
Yoga Betters Blood Circulation
Doing the corpse pose not only reduces tension throughout your body, but also rejuvenates your mind and encourages better blood flow. This pose makes sleeping easier because it keeps your head and spine at a neutral position. You don't want to feel unwanted pressure on different parts of your body that may impede blood flow to the rest of the body.
Yoga Regulate Your Blood Pressure
Not only does regular yoga practice ward off illnesses like diabetes and obesity, it also can bring down your blood pressure which will make you feel more relaxed for sleep. M. Mala Cunningham, Ph.D, of the American Heart Association underlines that sustained yoga workouts can also increase exercise functionality and decrease cholesterol levels.
Yoga Can Help You Get into A Sleep-Better Routine
When you've locked down a regimen that works, more often than not you will stick to it. Performing yoga every night will get your body into a good bedtime routine. When you have a dependable habit, you can almost guarantee that you'll get the much-deserved rest and sleep you need every night.
Yoga Puts You in A Great Mood for Bed
There's no doubt that yoga eradicates feelings of negativity and you couldn't ask for a better demeanor before you go to bed. Yoga can definitely work as a holistic approach to preparing your mind, body, and spirit for quality sleep. In turn, you are able to maximize the full benefits of sleep as your memory strengthens, your muscles heal faster, and you feel more energized for the next day.
A bright smile in our Root 2 Rise Yoga community since 2013, Tanya Cohen, shares her perspective through her 9-year evolving yoga journey, “I thank myself a thousand times that I did something for me. I learned to listen to myself and remember that I have a choice.”
Yoga has not always been a happy place for Tanya, as she reminisces why her physical therapist, doctor and caring friend adamantly prescribed it for her healing in 2009. She woke up one morning and literally couldn’t get out of bed. She suffered a badly injured spine and a plethora of accumulated medical issues. It was her body’s protest after enduring 11 years of rigorous physical labor in multiple jobs to sustain her family after her relocation from Uzbekistan while caring for her husband who was suddenly left paralyzed after a stroke. In the early years of yoga, her practice was a necessary medicine, which Tanya swallowed reluctantly because she knew it was somehow helping her body. She admits that her approach was diligent, competitive and sometimes forceful to the point of pain. From 2-3 times a month then, to several times a week now, she shows up to her mat in class. She reveals in our interview, as we sit in her warm car on the gym parking lot:
I don’t know when it started that I wanted to go (to yoga class). After, I feel freedom in my body. Small details make a big difference. You bring people to believe in themselves. You teach us how to listen to ourselves. If it’s uncomfortable it’s okay. But if it hurts, don’t push. I feel full of life, a lot of energy after yoga.
Laughing playfully about her body’s inflexibility as a young child of 3 or 5, she proclaims, “I believe it doesn’t matter what age. I’ve never been stronger and more flexible (than I am now). Now I know to breathe and my body listens to me.” Smiling radiantly, Tanya reminisces her first Root 2 Rise Yoga community event she attended outside of our weekly classes in 2013-- a Candlelight Yoga + Live Music + Wine at a studio in Northridge. She says she fell in love with her practice and joined other community events, exploring hikes for her first time ever during our yoga-in-nature excursions in Malibu. She claims, “ I started to enjoy myself completely. Yoga became not just exercise, but it helped my mind, soul and body. A new world opened for me.”
When not practicing yoga in class or sharing her lightheartedness at our community Hike + Yoga events, Tanya works full-time as a Special Education Teacher in LA and treasures her family time. As a former professional piano teacher in her native country and fashion designer during her early years in Los Angeles, her heart and style continue to revel in creativity, infusing passion into her yoga practice of self-kindness and human connection.
The following was my submission to a photo story contest on Facebook to share my story of a time when I felt "unsettled," that is, embracing the unknown by traveling afar and out of my comfort zone. I share the following as a testament of how yoga opens the boundaries of our perceived possibilities, then having explored my personal yoga practice for 7 years.
My mind was terrified with endless what-ifs and my body had stopped menstruating for months from stressing over the decision, but I took the leap anyway because my soul was calling.
For over 5 years, everything felt so safe; At age 30, my retirement and health benefits were secured in the career I had passionately trained for and studied since childhood—being an elementary schoolteacher.
While I still loved teaching, a pulsating inner truth drew me to displace myself into unknown territory and take on the challenge of living outside the comforts of my lifelong conditioning and many attachments. I needed to grow in ways I didn’t even know I could. I needed to feel more connected to the world beyond my daily routes and privileges and experience life more deeply and expansively.
In July 2008, I landed in Ghana, West Africa, where I spent a month volunteer teaching in a rural village. There I lived and learned how to take an outdoor shower with one small pail of water, to let go of my fear of the outhouse restroom (after 7 days of constipation, literally scared sh**less, LOL), to love all the children aged 2 to 16 that I taught in our one-room schoolhouse, and to celebrate life at a funeral through dance and drums. I sat with smiling strangers for long conversations in front of their partially built roofless homes as we exchanged our views on life philosophy, values and love, despite the fact that their next meal was not guaranteed or even known. True presence and being happy, with very little possessions, are what they taught me by example, that is, learning to savor the moment and connecting, soul to soul.
In this photo, I was invited to express myself through dance, with the support of the community drums, igniting my heart to feel so ALIVE. I feel this is the beauty of being “unsettled.”
So, let's turn the story around to you. How do you embrace the unknown and trust what some call "gut instinct," "multi-sensory perception" or "intuition?" Here's an encouraging 16-minute TEDx video of renowned Life Coach Jo Simpson, giving her 2 cents about listening to your inner "nudges."
Yoga is becoming more mainstream in western cultures as those who practice it realize the numerous physical, mental, and emotional benefits that come with the ancient art.
Science has proven that yoga can have a transformative effect on the body, resulting in everything from lowered blood pressure to disease prevention. Here are some of the many health benefits of yoga, as proven by science.
1. Regular Yoga Practice Relieves Stress and Anxiety
Almost every benefit that comes from regularly practicing yoga stems from the activity’s proven stress-reducing properties.
Stress has become the norm in our everyday society. With high-pressure careers, children’s demanding schedules, and little time to focus on self-care, more adults than ever are experiencing dangerously high levels of stress.
Those who experience frequent stress and anxiety are at a higher risk for clinical depression, high blood pressure, chronic disease, insomnia, and a host of other problems. When the body becomes regularly anxious or stressed, it may never get the signal to return to normal functioning.
This can lead to a prolonged ‘fight or flight’ response that is incredibly draining on the body and the mind.
Preliminary research shows that practicing yoga can have the same stress-reducing effects as exercise and relaxation techniques, which makes sense because it is essentially the combination of the two.
The controlled breathing that is inherent in practicing yoga is probably the biggest factor in reducing stress. When focused on breathing, participants have little room to engage in irrational fear, worry, or other obsessive thoughts, many of which are contributing to their stress levels.
Yoga also helps increase mindfulness and the focus on gratitude, both of which help to ease anxiety.
When we take the time to practice yoga, we are taking time to care for ourselves. This has taken a back seat in our current culture, and yoga can teach us to get back to basics.
Focusing just 20 to 30 minutes a day on the self-healing practice of yoga can then lead to other beneficial activities. It can be a gateway to a more calm, focused life.
Bottom Line: Yoga can help reduce stress and anxiety by focusing on breathing and increasing mindfulness and focus on gratitude.
2. Practicing Yoga Improves Cardiovascular Health
Heart health is crucial to our overall wellness. Hypertension and coronary blockage leads to hundreds of thousands of deaths every year.
Relaxation is incredibly helpful when it comes to heart health as it relaxes the blood vessels and reduces blood pressure while increasing blood flow to the heart. Because of its combination of breathing, meditation, and slow controlled movement, yoga is one of the most relaxing exercises on the planet.
Yoga, especially the more energetic forms, also increases the heart rate. This makes it as beneficial to your heart as any other form of exercise. In fact, yoga may actually lower the risk of heart disease as much as traditional exercise such as brisk walking.
Those who are interested in the cardio benefits of yoga should try out the more active forms such as ashtanga yoga, which provide more of a bump in heart rate than other forms. They might also consider pairing a vigorous form of yoga in the morning with a relaxing form in the evening to provide more stress-reducing and sleep benefits.
Individuals who have suffered a heart attack or are recovering from other heart-related issues also benefit from yoga. Because they are unable to perform more strenuous exercises such as jogging or bicycling, the low-key and less strenuous poses of yoga give them the exercise they need without taxing their already strained heart muscle.
In addition, those who have suffered a cardiac event also benefit from the stress-reducing effects of yoga. Having a life-threatening heart attack or stroke can induce acute emotional stress, which continues to have a negative effect on the heart even after the event is over.
Those who have heart-related illnesses often have to face the fact that they have a life-altering condition. This can often cause grief or depression, both of which are proven to be eased by yoga.
Bottom Line: Yoga improves cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure, offering relaxation benefits, and increasing blood flow to the heart. It’s also beneficial for those recovering from a heart attack.
3. Yoga Strengthens Brain Activity
As we age, our brains change. Certain parts, such as the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, shrink. Because these areas are crucial to our learning, memory, planning and other mental activities,
This can lead to frustrating memory lapses, inability to focus, and a struggle to retain new information. In extreme cases, in can even lead to neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Not surprisingly, yoga promotes a more focused, calmer mind through its controlled breathing and focus on relaxation. What may come as a surprise, though, is that yoga can actually change the physical makeup of your brain matter.
Using MRI scans, scientists have detected more cells in certain brain areas of those who practiced yoga regularly. Yoga practitioners had larger brain volume in their somatosensory cortex, visual cortex, hippocampus, precuneus and posterior cingulate cortex. These areas are in charge of visualization, concept of self, and directing attention.
Scientists attribute these benefits to the focused breathing in yoga, which maximizes oxygenation and blood flow to the brain. These benefits also led to fewer depressive symptoms and increased memory performance in practitioners.
The happier and more positive thoughts that flow from yoga can also help change the chemical composition of the brain and ‘rewire’ it to focus more on positive thoughts.
When we break the habit of reacting to stressful events with anxiety and negative thoughts, which yoga helps us do, we encourage the mind to embrace more beneficial thinking. This helps us embrace the present moment and let go of harmful anxiety.
Bottom Line: Yoga helps increase brain matter in various areas of the brain, leading to better memory, less depression and more focus. It also helps rewire the brain for positivity and promotes a calm mind.
4. Practicing Yoga Can Lower the Risk of Cancer
Cancer remains one of the leading causes of death in the United States. In fact, one of four deaths in the U.S. can be attributed to some form of cancer.
Practicing yoga may prevent the genetic mutation from expressing in those who have a family history of cancer. This means that it can have powerful cancer prevention properties. It can also help reduce fat stores in the body, which reduces the likelihood of cancer developing and spreading.
Chronic stress, which yoga helps to reduce, weakens your immune system and leaves you more susceptible to diseases like cancer. It can also enable cancer cells to grow and spread as it increases negative hormones and certain growth factors.
The stress-busting quality of yoga can boost your immune system and regulate hormones, both important cancer-fighting tools.
In addition to cancer prevention, a regular yoga practice with the soothing music from yoga playlists can also help those who are battling cancer by lowering inflammation, boosting energy, and lifting the mood. One study showed that regularly practicing yoga for three months was effective in improving the negative moods of those undergoing treatment for breast cancer.
Cancer treatments can also cause fatigue and zap strength in those undergoing them. Yoga has proven beneficial in combating these symptoms and can improve range of motion in patients and help them stay limber and active.
Bottom Line: Yoga can help prevent cancer by reducing fat stores and preventing genetic mutation expression. It can also assist those undergoing cancer treatments by keeping them limber and boosting energy.
5. The Deep Breathing and Poses of Yoga Improve Digestion
Devotees of yoga believe that all health begins in the gut. If we are digesting food, air, water, and energy properly, every other part of the body and mind suffer.
Yoga improves our body’s internal rhythms, which assist in how we digest and detoxify. Even if you don’t currently suffer from any outward signs of impaired digestion, increasing our body’s ability to remove toxins is extremely beneficial.
Many people suffer from poor digestion and constipation. Not only is it uncomfortable, but it can also lead to colon cancer and other diseases.
Still others have developed chronic digestion disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease. These disorders can have a serious impact on our quality of life.
Relying on laxatives or other interventions is not a good way to combat digestive issues, and many find that a high fiber diet is not enough to resolve their issues. That’s where yoga can come in handy.
Deep breathing, the cornerstone of all yoga practices, is like a mild massage for the digestive tract. Breathing brings life force into the body, and helps cleanse it of dangerous toxins.
There are also a number of different poses, such as the peacock and nauli, that are designed specifically to get waste moving through and out of your body. Many of these are best done in the morning on an empty stomach and after a glass of warm water with lemon.
In addition to being helpful for improved digestion on its own, the practice of yoga also encourages individuals to take care of themselves with a healthier diet, more rest, and fewer processed foods and beverages.
The increase in self-care helps not only with digestion, but with feeling good as a whole.
Bottom Line: Yoga helps move toxins through the body with deep breathing and specific poses aimed at improving digestion.
6. Those Who Practice Yoga Are More Aware of What’s Going on in Their Bodies
The term ‘body awareness’ can take many forms, each of which can be enhanced by the practice of yoga.
As we grow into adults, most of us start losing touch with our bodies as matters of the mind take over. We focus so much on our thoughts and feelings, we forget about the mind-body connection and how powerful it is.
This can lead to a reduction in the enjoyment of simple pleasures such as the feel of the sun on our face, or the warm breeze across our skin.
It can also lead to a disconnection between ourselves and our bodies. As we age, this disconnection becomes more pronounced, which is why we often hear of seniors experiencing more falls and accidents than their younger counterparts.
When we’re aware of and connected to our bodies as we step into our yoga pants, we’re able to better enjoy the present moment and understand what impact it has on us both physically and mentally.
Yoga brings body awareness to the forefront. Each pose is focused on one or more body parts and as we breathe in and out, we are only only aware of that breath but also of the part of the body we are currently stretching.
Yoga is also based on being aware of what your body is and is not capable of. Because no pose should be forced, those who are practicing yoga must listen to their body and make adjustments based on what it is telling them.
Bottom Line: Yoga helps increase the mind-body connection. This enhances enjoyment of the present, and also encourages us to be more in tune with how our bodies move.
7. Yoga Practice Lowers Sugar Levels in the Blood, Decreasing Diabetes Symptoms
Diabetes is an epidemic that is becoming quite common in the United States. A condition that is triggered by high blood sugar, either due to lack of insulin production in the body or the body’s lack of response to insulin, diabetes can lead to a dependence on medication, amputations, or even death.
Type 1 diabetes tends to develop in childhood or early adulthood and is usually genetic while type 2 diabetes usually develops in adulthood and is often a product of an unhealthy lifestyle.
Along with lowering blood pressure and keeping weight in check, yoga helps with diabetes by reducing the levels of sugar in the blood, all of which help slow the rate of progression and lessen the severity of complications.
Though it’s a more gentle form of exercise than most people are used to, yoga still provides a workout. The boost in heart rate experienced by yoga practitioners can improve glucose metabolism and increase insulin sensitivity, both beneficial to diabetes sufferers.
Cravings for sweets is a common symptom of diabetes, and the ensuing consumption of sweets only aggravates the problem. Deep breathing, yoga positions, and meditation can help reduce these cravings.
When we become more aware of the mind-body connection through the practice of yoga, we can identify what our bodies really need and make healthy decisions about what we put in our body.
Bottom Line: Regular practice of yoga can decrease blood sugar levels, keep weight in check, and reduce stress, all of which help improve diabetes symptoms.
8. The Practice of Yoga Can Help Regulate Your Adrenal Glands
Adrenal fatigue syndrome can cause lack of energy, disrupted sleep, anxiety, and a number of other symptoms that are triggered by a sustained ‘fight or flight’ response in the body. This can result from prolonged levels of stress, a traumatic event, or a stressful living situation.
When your adrenal glands are not functioning correctly, too much cortisol is released into your body and it compromises your immune function. Those who have adrenal fatigue syndrome get sick more often and have a lowered level of energy to deal with the sickness. They are also more susceptible to osteoporosis and high blood pressure, and tend to gain more fat in the abdomen area.
Mastering the breathing that is the center of all yoga practices is a key element in managing stress levels. Because high stress is the main contributing factor to adrenal issues, it makes sense that this type of breathing will lower cortisol levels and lessen the symptoms of adrenal fatigue syndrome.
When we practice yoga, we also give our minds a chance to quiet down and take a break from any negative our repetitive thoughts that often take over when our adrenal glands are overwhelmed.
This can be a beneficial time to check in with ourselves and identify how we’re feeling. Those experiencing high stress often put themselves last, which only leads to more stress.
Yoga encourages us to to take some time for ourselves. When we look deep, breathe, and practice self-care, we can often deal with negative emotions and the situations that are causing them.
Bottom Line: The regular practice of yoga can reduce stress and lessen the release of cortisol, helping to combat the symptoms of adrenal fatigue syndrome.
9. Yoga Strengthens Bones
Weight-bearing activities have long been known to strengthen bones, which is why many of those who are at risk for osteoporosis are encouraged to begin a strength-training workout regimen. Yoga training, with its many positions that put pressure on different body parts, can be considered weight-bearing and has shown the ability to build bone mass in scientific studies.
In contrast to other, more intense cardio exercises like jogging or weight training, yoga does not damage cartilage or stress the joints. Instead, it lengthens and holds muscles, which creates tension on the bone. This helps to build bone strength.
The release of cortisol, the hormone triggered by stress, is another factor in osteoporosis. Yoga, with its relaxing and stress-calming nature, can reduce the amount of cortisol that is released and therefore lessen the impact it has on the bones.
As few as a dozen yoga poses held for 30 seconds each, if done on a daily basis, can be enough to ward off osteoporosis and strengthen bones in the spine, arms, and legs.
Bottom Line: Performing weight-bearing exercises, including various yoga poses, can reduce calcium-destroying cortisol and build bone density.
10. The Healing Powers of the Breath Aid in Improved Respiration
Yoga is all about harnessing the healing powers of the breath. Though all of us must breathe to live, most of us do not breathe efficiently.
Experts agree that to feel your best, you should breathe approximately 5 to 6 breaths per minute. However, most of us take anywhere from 14 to 20 breaths per minute, which is three times faster than what is healthy.
Breath changes depending on emotion, and vice versa. When we get panicked, upset, or angry, we tend to breath more shallowly and at a faster rate. When we get used to breathing this way because of chronic stress, our body gets used to it and we develop the habit of breathing quickly even in normal circumstances.
When we breathe at a slow and relaxed pace, we are signaling to the brain that it can rest and that no dangers are present. This reduces stress hormones, turns off danger warnings, and allows our body to recover.
Not only do we turn off the ‘fight or flight’ response of our nervous system when we breathe deeply, but we also increase chest wall expansion and lung volumes. This is beneficial to all who practice yoga, but can be especially important for those dealing with a respiratory illness or condition such as asthma.
Everything in yoga is based on the breath. Pranayamic breathing exercises can be performed anywhere when you are in need of stress relief or relaxation. Make sure the air quality in your practice environment is good, however - consider getting an air purifier if that is not the case.
All other forms of yoga, from the extremely gentle restorative yoga to the more intense vinyasa and ashtanga practices, also rely on a basis of breathing deeply and being aware of how your breathing affects every part of your body and mind.
Bottom Line: All forms of yoga are based on breathing. The regular practice of yoga teaches us how to pay attention to the breath and can improve lung volume and chest capacity, helping those who deal with respiratory issues.
11. Chronic Pain Can Often Be Managed Effectively with Yoga
Chronic pain, whether caused by a disease like fibromyalgia, an accident, or a side effect of treatments for other conditions, can easily impair quality of life. If bad enough, it can also trigger brain structure changes that are linked to impaired cognition, anxiety, and depression.
The regular practice of yoga can help those with chronic pain manage it on a number of levels. If pain is due to muscle or joint issues, such as the case with arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, or back pain, the simple act of regular stretching with a yoga ball chair and range of motion exercises can be enough to significantly reduce pain.
The increased flow of oxygen to brain and muscle tissues that results from the breathing and movement of yoga also help improve energy levels and general feelings of well-being, making it easier to deal with physical pain.
This breathing, combined with the physical movements of yoga, can help release muscle tension held in your body. This often decreases pain or, in some cases, relieves it entirely.
The benefits of yoga as it relates to pain management do not stop there, however, Yoga also appears to increase gray matter in your brain through a process called neurogenesis. There are also indications that it can strengthen white matter connectivity. Many researchers believe that reduction of gray matter and weak connectivity are the most significant factors in chronic pain.
Yogis dealing with pain can also benefit from the stress reduction and decrease in cortisol release the practice brings. This not only helps with tension, but can also help them cope with the anticipation of pain. Instead of having a ‘fight or flight’ reaction to pain, those who have practiced yoga may be able to form a more gentle reaction that does not trigger additional stress.
Bottom Line: The breathing and movement associated with yoga can help those suffering from muscle or joint pain. Regular yoga practice can also trigger changes in the brain that can help chronic pain sufferers deal with and lessen pain symptoms.
12. Those Who Practice Yoga See Fewer Allergy Symptoms
Do you deal with the misery of itchy eyes, scratchy throat, fatigue, and congestion that comes with allergies? Millions of people suffer from allergies brought on by pollen, grass, dust, pet dander, or other substances to the point that it affects their work, their social life, and their sleep.
How do allergies develop? Many scientists have studied the phenomenon and found that an allergic reaction occurs when your immune system over-responds to an otherwise harmless substance. Your body mistakenly treats this substance like a dangerous invader and releases histamines.
Histamines are a faulty immune response, and they can condition the body to display symptoms that start to resemble a disease. Many argue that, to be susceptible to allergies, sufferers may have a compromised immune system, weak digestive system or be experiencing toxic overload.
Yoga addresses many different levels of wellness that can lead to a reduction in allergy symptoms. Stress is a leading cause of a poor immune system and digestive problems, and can also be a toxin that makes the body weaker.
As we’ve already addressed many times in this article, the regular practice of yoga is one of the best stress reducers on the planet. Of the many benefits of stress reduction, an improvement in allergies is just one.
Kriyas, or cleansing practices, are another element of yoga that can help with allergies. These practices range from rapid breathing exercises to gentle cleansing of the nasal passages with salt water, which can remove viruses and pollen from the nose.
Studies have also found that regular yoga practice may reduce inflammation in the body. Another harmful effect of stress, inflammation can worsen allergies and cause attacks to be more severe.
Bottom Line: Those who practice traditional yoga or engage in cleansing kriyas can reduce their susceptibility to allergies and also improve the symptoms associated with them.
13. The Increased Blood Flow and Reduced Stress Associated with Yoga Can Increase Fertility
Couples who have struggled with conceiving a child often turn to fertility drugs or even more intensive measures of in vitro fertilization to realize their dreams of having a baby. Before turning to costly and sometimes side-effect laden treatments, couples should first explore the more gentle treatment of practicing yoga.
Yoga enhances fertility in the ways one might expect: by reducing stress that can often harm the chances of conceiving. Stress can lead to the release of an enzyme, called alpha amylase, which can impact a woman’s fertility. Many women who have problems conceiving are stressed to begin with, then become more stressed as they fail to conceive. This can lead to a vicious cycle where stress continues to increase each month, making it more and more difficult to get pregnant.
In addition to stress reduction, yoga can also increase blood flow to reproductive organs, which not only improves their function but also improves hormone function.
All regular yoga practices can help with fertility, but those who are actively trying to conceive may benefit from the more targeted fertility yoga practice. This is aimed specifically at nurturing, supporting, and strengthening the endocrine and reproductive system.
Fertility yoga incorporates specific poses that re-balances the system and strengthens muscles and organs that are used during pregnancy and childbirth. This helps make for a healthy pregnancy once a woman conceives.
Bottom Line: The stress reduction and rebalancing benefits of yoga can help women who want to conceive. Those struggling with fertility issues may want to practice targeted fertility yoga that helps with both conception and a healthy pregnancy.
14. A Consistent Yoga Practice Can Lead to a Balanced Metabolism
Your metabolism is the basic biochemical process that converts the food you eat into the energy you need to live. A sluggish metabolism can mean weight gain, low energy, and problems with regularity.
Though long thought to be a practice focused mostly on relaxation and stretching, yoga can actually be a moderately strenuous workout that increases muscle, increases heart rate, and revs up the fire of your metabolism.
In addition to increasing heart rate to boost metabolism, the practice of yoga also affects digestion, circulation, and muscle tone, all of which have an impact on how efficiently your body creates energy.
With the majority of your digestive tract located in your core, the yoga positions that engage the abdomen, especially those that involve twisting or bringing the knees to the chest, can wring out toxins and encourage waste to pass through your body.
Circulation is another factor important to your metabolism. If your body has poor circulation, your organs suffer from a lack of nutrients and oxygen, which slows metabolism. The deep breathing inherent in yoga helps open up arteries and release pressure, all of which help with proper circulation.
Many people make the mistake of thinking yoga is not strenuous enough to build muscle mass. However, the weight bearing features of many of the poses target large and small muscle groups, building them in size and density.
When we build muscle, we not only increase strength, but we also burn more calories. Muscle burns more than fat, and the more calories we burn, the more our metabolism rate increases.
Bottom Line: Yoga has an effect on digestion, circulation, and building muscle, all of which positively affect your metabolism.
15. Practicing Yoga at any Time of Day Helps You Sleep Better
Sleep is crucial to our energy levels, mood, concentration, and ability to be happy and successful in our everyday lives.
Those most sleep experts recommend that adults get 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep per night, most of us get far less than this. Even if you are in bed for the necessary hours, inability to get to sleep, waking up frequently, or tossing and turning can turn those hours into less-than-quality rest.
Insomnia or reduced sleep quality can be the product of stress, underlying illness or disease, poor sleeping conditions, vitamin deficiency, or hundreds of other factors. This often makes it difficult to identify what issues are at play.
Though every person may have a different reason for not sleeping well, yoga can have a beneficial effect on everyone’s sleep quality. Because the nervous system is responsible for a restful sleep, yoga’s calming effects are especially helpful.
A calm mind leads to a calm body, both of which play a part in how easy it is to get to sleep and how restful that sleep is. Many people are bothered by a ‘busy mind’ that simply cannot shut off at the end of the day.
Yoga teaches us how to breathe deeply and disconnect from our worries and from those distracting thoughts that tend to keep us up at night. By giving ourselves the tools to put thoughts aside and instead focus on our breath, we give ourselves an excellent tool for the perfect night of sleep.
Although a regular yoga practice done consistently at any time of day will undoubtedly affect your sleep, those who really struggle may benefit from poses done at night that are specifically aimed at helping you sleep more soundly.
These poses include uttasnasana, halasana, and savasana and should be done as close to bedtime as possible.
Others benefit more from a Kundalini yoga sequence before bed that incorporates long, slow breathing and meditation. It’s best to try out both methods to see what leads to a better night of sleep for you.
The Bottom Line: The stress-relieving benefits of a consistent yoga practice can help improve your sleep quality. Those with sleeping problems can also benefit from a bedtime routine that includes specific poses or deep breathing paired with meditation.
16. All Forms of Yoga Work Wonders on Your Range of Motion
Range of motion is important to our overall quality of life, and it decreases as we age. Important for injury prevention as well as as our ability to do daily tasks with minimal discomfort, range of motion can be increased with regular yoga.
Why does range of motion decrease as we age and how can yoga combat this? As we get older, the tissue around joints tend to thicken and cartilage decreases. The knees and hips are especially susceptible to these depletions, making them more prone to injury in older individuals.
As muscle mass decreases, this also affects our range of motion as we age. Our ease of movement decreases, and general fitness levels tend to drop.
When range of motion decreases, it often triggers a snowball effect. Movement becomes more difficult, so individuals tend to move less often. This, in turn, triggers more movement impairment.
Yoga is based on controlled, prolonged stretching. This type of movement is still comfortable for those who are experiencing a lack of flexibility or injury that restricts range of motion.
Not only is yoga a practical exercise for those in this situation, but it also tends to reverse the lack of flexibility that they experience.
A daily practice of prolonged stretching that is inherent in any yoga program elongates the muscles and enables joint flexibility.
The slow, deliberate process of gently stretching muscles over a long period of time is both beneficial and achievable for those of all ages. It can be done throughout the lifetime and rarely needs to be suspended due to injury or other ailments.
Bottom Line: The gentle and prolonged stretching that makes up the core of yoga helps increase range of motion and preserve it throughout the lifetime.
17. Practicing Yoga Can Help Treat Arthritis
Arthritis is an excruciating affliction that severely impacts quality of life. Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, can occur at any age, and is triggered by a faulty immune system. Osteoarthritis, or OA, is a degenerative disorder that usually takes place as a person ages. It’s estimated that there are over three million cases of OA in the United States per year.
While medication can greatly help both those suffering from RA and OA, exercise is always recommended as well. Because arthritis is characterized by painful swelling in the joints, many forms of traditional exercise may be unbearable.
Yoga is incredibly easy on the joints and is usually a comfortable activity for even the most severe arthritis sufferers. The gentle stretching of yoga can ease joint discomfort and the focused breathing can help those in pain distance deal with the chronic distress.
The muscle-building and energy-boosting effects of yoga can also help those with arthritis. OA and RA tend to zap energy, which leads to a sedentary lifestyle and muscle atrophy. Those who practice yoga tend to be more active, which lessens arthritis symptoms.
The psychological benefits of yoga on those suffering from arthritis are also to be noted. Those with arthritis who regularly practice yoga suffer from less depression, improved coping abilities, stress reduction and an enhanced sense of well-being.
Bottom Line: Yoga is a safe and effective form of exercise for those suffering from both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. It helps ease joint discomfort and boosts energy and a sense of well-being.
18. Practicing Yoga Leads to a Healthy Lifestyle and Enhanced Self-Care
Bad choices lead to more bad choices. A lack of exercise can easily lead into bad eating habits, which leads to weight gain, which leads to even less exercise.
A sedentary and unhealthy lifestyle results in a depressed mood, low energy levels, and an overall pessimistic attitude.
Sometimes, it just takes one thing to start turning it all around. Yoga can be that one thing.
Because it can be practiced by individuals at any age and in any shape, yoga is a practice that can be adopted by virtually everyone.
Yoga increases our awareness, which often leads practitioners to start making changes in every part of their lives. As they develop more self-awareness, they often make changes that include healthier food choices, fewer toxic relationships, and more time to take care of themselves.
Over time, these choices add up to a much healthier and happier lifestyle. The increase in overall quality of life can even equal more years on your life.
Bottom Line: Yoga increases self-awareness, which leads to other healthy choices and overall increase in wellness and happiness.
About the Author Jen Miller is based in New Zealand and is the writer at: www.JenReviews.com. She graciously offered to share her yoga research with our Root 2 Rise Yoga Community.
Here's How to Use Mindfulness Meditation to Sleep BetterSleep is essential for health and wellbeing. When you don't sleep enough, you feel stressed. Stress can also make it difficult for you to sleep. When you're stressed, you may find it hard to relax at night. You may stay awake with anxious thoughts, or wake up in the middle of the night feeling stress or worry.
With sleep deprivation, stress only gets worse. You show more signs of stress and your body and mind struggle to recover from the stress of the day. With mindfulness meditation, you can relieve the effects of stress and get better, more restorative sleep.
Why You Can't Sleep When You're Feeling StressedStress stimulates your mind and body, which is the opposite of the relaxation you need to calm down and drift off to sleep. When you're feeling stressed, your mind and body are in a state of hyperarousal, and higher levels of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline are released, while production of serotonin, a hormone that helps you feel tired, is reduced. You may feel agitated, find it difficult to control your thoughts, and experience anxiety, all of which can make it hard to sleep soundly.
How Meditation Can Help You Sleep BetterMeditation can be used to trigger the relaxation response. When you trigger the relaxation response, your mind and body feel calmer. It can counteract the effect of stress on your body, reduce psychological distress, decrease oxygen consumption, and reduce blood pressure. The relaxation response can also be used to mitigate the effects of insomnia.
You can support healthy sleep habits with meditation, using it as a calming practice during the day or before bed. Practiced regularly, mindfulness meditation can help to improve sleep quality while reducing insomnia, fatigue, and depression.
Using Meditation to Sleep Well and Relieve StressMindfulness meditation can be used to promote relaxation and healthy sleep. It should be practiced regularly, but meditation is particularly helpful when you're feeling especially stressed or sleep deprived.
About the Author
Sarah Johnson represents Community Relations for Tuck Sleep, a non-commercial community devoted to improving sleep hygiene, health and wellness through the creation and dissemination of comprehensive, unbiased, free web-based resources. Tuck has been featured on NBC News, Lifehacker, and Radiolab and is referenced by many colleges/universities and sleep organizations across the web.
1) When and how did you begin practicing yoga?
I was born in India and was instructed by my dad to do a headstand every day to help keep my eyes strong at a very young age. I dutifully did stretching every day and didn't know that all these were yoga exercises. I came to US at the age of 12.
Many years later when I started to take yoga classes in the US did I realize what yoga was and that I had done parts of it my entire life.
2) How has yoga benefitted you?
I find that the stretching built into yoga postures keeps my spine, neck and shoulders aligned. When I stop practicing yoga postures, my body gets tense and stiff very easily.
3) Tell us about yourself, i.e., your interests, inspirations, passions, etc.--anything.
Along with yoga, I practice tai chi, hiking, mindfulness and healthy eating. At the core of these activities is the fundamental basis of living a clean and healthy lifestyle. When I'm cooking, I am mindful of how this is going to taste and who my audience is and how I want to excite their taste buds and make them happy eating this. With that motivation I am excited to cook or create a new item with the end in sight. With yoga, my goal at the end of the session is to fully nourish my body and strengthen it.
4) How do you practice yoga beyond asana (or postures) and into daily life?
Every morning as soon as I get out of bed, the first thing I do is sun salutation, side bends and back bends to wake up my body. I practicing mindful breathing as I am standing at the train station, sometimes doing leg extensions and twists. As I run up and down the stairs getting to the next train, I am practicing mindful breathing so I am able to recover quickly. I practice half downward dog as a mid-day stretch or sometimes before I go to bed.
5) In what ways are you involved with Root 2 Rise Yoga community?
I have participated in activities organized by Michelle, one of them was the Costa Rica trip in 2014 which I highly recommend!! I also participated in musical events, potlucks, hiking, lunch and dinner outings. I enjoy meeting like-minded people and our R2R community is a wonderful group of people.
6) Anything else you would like to share with our community, such as insights from your practice, words of inspiration, etc.
I am very fortunate to have found Michelle. Over the years, I have taken numerous yoga classes and once I attended Michelle's class, I was hooked. Michelle has mastered the art of teaching and incorporating the principles of yoga. I have occasionally subbed for Michelle and taught impromptu yoga in Fiji and I ended up copying her teaching style. People would come up to me and say, "Are you a yoga instructor?" and I would say, "No, but I have a really wonderful yoga instructor whose style I copy naturally!!"
Practicing yoga and stretching is a way of life. Once it becomes a natural part of yourself, you don’t think about it as a class-only activity.
The Planet is Tridoshically Provoked (Self-Care Tips for Detoxing from Big-City Life) by David McConaghay
The original intent of this article was to provide seasonal self-care advice from an Ayurvedic perspective. As I sit down to write, however, I am struck with the awareness that “seasons” as we’ve known them no longer exist.
I currently live in Colorado, where more than once this autumn we’ve had two inches of snowfall followed by 80 sunny degrees the next day. California, after years of “ridiculously resilient” drought, flipped into El Niño-induced flooding and now devastating fires.
As a practitioner of Ayurveda, I am trained to adjust treatment protocols in accordance with the climate in which my patients live. This is becoming an ever more tricky task as otherwise reliable weather patterns disintegrate into apparent randomness.
Observing through an Ayurvedic lens, it is simple enough to diagnose Gaia (the living being also known as Earth, of whom humans are a part the same way there are billions of living bacterium in our bellies that perform vital duties, or sometimes don’t) with a trīdoshaja condition. Which is to say, all three doshas — vata, pitta and kapha — are malfunctioning.
The three doshas describe how the five great elements (ether, air, fire, water, earth) take form and act out the play of creation.
Vata (ether, air) is the principle of movement, activity and variability. It is associated with fear and anxiety, electrical energy and rajas guna.
Pitta (fire, and a bit of water when healthy) represents the transformative power of heat, the “fire in the belly” that feeds the ambitious visions of great leaders and tyrants alike. It is associated with radiant energy, eyesight and anger.
Kapha (water, earth) is the principle of structure, stability and form. It is associated with tamas guna and can be reassuringly reliable and/or infuriatingly stubborn. Kapha governs mechanical energy and relates to conditions like obesity and diabetes.
The frantic pace at which modern live moves is universally vata-provoking. The endless stream of information available and intruding on us through TV, radio and the internet is enough to scramble even the most vast of minds.
This flood of information arrives in our awareness mostly via screens, which have become pervasive. As electric points of encoded light enter the eyes, vata enflames pitta the way a gust of wind sparks a forest fire. Vata pushing pitta can result in frustrated rage or exaggerated inspiration; it can also manifest as skin rashes and sharp headaches.
Fires fed by swirling wind burn hot and fast, quickly consuming all available fuel. Pitta burnout leads to kapha hibernation. Overwhelmed, afraid and angry, kapha survival strategies involve sleep, overeating and all forms of numbing the senses.
Of course, the sense organs themselves are inherently neutral, and the world we experience is the result of our collective choices. As integral actors influencing the relative health or disease of our planet, we must apply intelligent means to resolve the myriad maladies we’ve until now let fester.
“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”
— attributed to Mahatma Gandhi
“The only way to change society is like changing a cotton cloth to a silk one — by changing each thread one by one.”
— Swami Vishnudevananda
When considering the vast scope of the problem, it is easy to feel insignificant and slip into despondency. Indeed, certain of the issues we as a species face are beyond the influence of single individuals and require mass movements of coordinated action to overcome.
We are already participating in “mass movements of coordinated action” on a daily basis, but mostly without conscious awareness. Without conscious application of our best intelligence, human beings become like cancer cells in Gaia’s body, rather than the vital organs we are meant to be.
So what can you do? These suggestions can apply to anyone anywhere anytime who is feeling any of the symptoms described above.
For a week-long self-care and detox from big-city life, join us for FREEDOM TO FLOW on June 20-27, 2018, our 5th Nature, Culture & Yoga Adventure Retreat in Costa Rica! Find details here.
David Telfer McConaghay is an Ayurvedic Practitioner and Vedic Astrologer based in Boulder, Colorado. He expects to graduate from Alandi Ayurveda Gurukula as a Doctor of Ayurveda in May 2018. His work and play is collected at VedaDave.com.
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