Sep 282011
 Comments Off on Pain During Yoga Practice? Know When to Back Off!

A student of mine with a recent back injury asked me how to know the difference between pain related to her injury versus tightness or soreness she needed to push through in her yoga practice. The key word that stood out for me was “push.” After almost 14 years of yoga practice, 11 of which have been Ashtanga, and having managed several injuries myself, my advice is to never push through anything- soreness or pain. If you push a sore or tight muscle it might tear. If you push an injury you’ll exacerbate it. It may sound cliche but “listen to your body.”

Whether or not pain is ok during asana practice is a subject up for debate depending on your interpretation of “tapas” from the Yoga Sutras, and surely you’ll get differing opinions from different yoga teachers. But my wonderful teachers always taught the no pain, no pain method and this approach has worked for me.

Yoga asks that we tune into a deeper, more subtle state of ourselves. This process begins when we step out of our thinking mind and into our feeling body. We develop awareness through conscious listening to our body’s innate wisdom and language, and part of that language is pain. Consider it a gift as our body’s natural means of communication. Hear it, pay attention to it, and honor it. If you do, it will also educate you on how to make it better. If you don’t, it grows from a  whisper, to a nudge, from a shout to a shriek!

There is a big difference between intensity in practice and pain. You can be challenged and work hard, but you must also work intelligently. Intensity usually feels like you’re exploring new territory. It’s difficult and requires you to deepen your breath. Pain on the other hand, whether mild or strong, usually feels like something’s just not right.

Find a way to practice pain-free. This might mean you need to modify certain poses or even omit them until your body tells you it is safe to return. And trust that it will tell you. Why not back off and practice gently for a few days, perhaps even weeks or months? At least you can keep practicing! If it is an injury you’re managing then it will heal. If it is soreness, then gentle movement will work it out.  Conservative? Yes, but it is a smart approach that will help keep you healthy and keep you returning to your yoga mat safely.

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In peace.

Sep 072011
 Comments Off on Yoga for Insomnia

Insomnia involves difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or both. Over 60 million Americans suffer from insomnia. There are two main types: primary insomnia, in which the insomnia is not associated with another health problem; and secondary insomnia, in which the insomnia is the result of another health problem, medication, or substance, like alcohol consumption (which interrupts the ability to enter the deeper stages of sleep). Most people with insomnia experience secondary insomnia.

Yoga had been found to be beneficial for people with insomnia. Specifically, a regular practice combining pranayama, asana, meditation, relaxation techniques, and even yoga philosophy teachings, can help reduce what are known as cognitive and physiological arousal-states of mental and sensory stimulation, or excitability. Think about the last time you had trouble falling asleep. Likely, your mind was thinking, thinking, thinking-about anything but the present moment (except for those random moments of anguish upon realizing that you are still awake).

In one study funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in 2004, 20 young adults were randomized into one of three groups-yoga practice, relaxation technique, and sleep hygiene practice groups. Participants followed their practice for eight weeks, recording their sleep habits in a sleep-wake diary. At the end of eight weeks, significant improvements in sleep efficiency, total sleep time, total wake time, sleep onset latency (having trouble falling asleep) and wake time after falling asleep were noted in those participants practicing yoga, but not the other two groups.

These findings are telling. Sleep hygiene practices and relaxation techniques are regularly recommended for people with insomnia, but this study found that yoga was more effective than both techniques. Yoga practice helps to address many facets of insomnia-the racing mind, an uncomfortable body, unchecked emotions and even poor health.

Other studies on yoga for insomnia have been done, including one investigating yoga practice for insomnia in elderly participants. With age, sleep patterns change, making it more difficult to sleep well. A regular yoga practice (60 minutes per day, six days per week for three to six months) was found to increase total hours slept, and the feeling upon waking of being well-rested in 120 residents in a home for the aged.

These recent Western studies only highlight in modern science terms what yogis have known for thousands of years-yoga benefits health. If you find yourself tossing and turning from time to time, take up a regular yoga practice. You will find that it calms the areas of your brain and body that tend to shift into overdrive come bedtime. The following asana, pranayama and relaxation techniques will be helpful for insomnia:

Tadasana (Mountain pose)

Padangustasana (Hand-to-big toe, standing forward fold)

Padahastasana (Hand-to-foot pose, standing forward fold)

Ardhakatichakrasana (Lateral arch pose)

Ardhachakrasana (Half wheel pose)

Paschimottanasana (Seated forward fold)

Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulder stand)

Halasana (Plow pose)

Matsyasana (Fish pose)

Sirsasana (Head stand)

Balasana (Child´s Pose)

Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-wall pose)

Savasana (Corpse pose)

Pranayama (Nadi shuddhi – alternate nostril breathing)

Guided relaxation

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