Stay Healthy...during cold and flu season
People have commented on how I seem to be able to stay healthy while others around me are sick with the cold or flu. I’ll let you in on my secret...
I believe that proper breathing is the key to staying healthy. When we are stressed our body has difficulty moving out of the sympathetic nervous system (the “fight or flight” or stress response) and into the parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest and digest” or relaxation response). Stress taxes our body’s immune system which makes it hard to fight off the cold or flu bugs. One of the simplest ways to release stress and bring the body into relaxation is through the breath.
In a well-rounded yoga practice, we include “pranayama” which are breath exercises. There are many different breathing techniques, such as the Kapalabhati breath and the Four-Count breath, among others. Even simply focusing on conscious breathing will help relax the body and stimulate the immune system.
By remaining connected with and aware of your breath, you will begin to notice your breathing patterns. The breath is intrinsically linked to the body and the mind, so when you’re stressed, your breath changes. Practicing various breathing techniques will release stress and restore harmony and health to your body and mind.
Other tips for staying healthy during the cold and flu season:
Wishing you a happy and healthy 2016!
Building strength in the body
It’s a common misconception that in order to build strength in the body you must push yourself to “go deep” or “find the edge” in a pose, sometimes holding a pose until you’re just about to collapse. Unfortunately, that’s when people often experience pain or cause injury.
When you’re in an active (yang) pose, the muscles will contract becoming shorter. It’s that contraction that creates strength in the body. However, when building a strong body you need to remember to work within your physical abilities. Also, gradually increase the intensity and ensure your breath continuously flows. In a strong muscle contraction the natural tendency is to hold the breath. But, to maintain a healthy muscular contraction in a pose and to become physically strong, our body needs oxygen. The only way out of that Catch-22 is to remain conscious of your breath throughout the pose.
Working within your range of physical abilities is important to prevent injury. My rule of thumb is that you always want to maintain strength, stability and control. Move into the pose, hold the pose and move out of a pose with strength, stability and control. Your stamina and strength will increase with practice and time. When you push yourself to hold a strengthening pose longer than you can and are unable come out of it with control and stability, you increase the risk of injury.
Another important component to building strength in the body is to rest! Your muscles need an opportunity to rest and allow blood flow, oxygen and natural hydration to repair the tissues. Even a momentary rest between yang poses can go a long way to helping you build physical strength.
The benefits of "rolling"
If you’ve been to some of my yoga classes, you may have had the opportunity to experience rolling on Yoga Tune Up® therapy balls.
Rolling has many benefits that include: releasing stress and tightness from the body, breaking down scar tissue, easing physical pain and discomfort, increasing range of motion, and gaining greater body awareness.
The Yoga Tune Up® therapy balls are specially designed to grip the skin and get into the nooks and crannies of the body, allowing for myofascial tissue release that other tools can’t achieve. Some people use tennis balls or lacrosse balls to roll, but both are ineffective. The tennis balls don’t roll well on the skin and can break; lacrosse balls are much too hard to roll over bones and sensitive parts of the body. Even foam rollers only work on the surface tissues.
Rolling is only one part of a balanced routine, but, in my opinion, it’s the best part! Rolling is like giving yourself a wonderful massage – at a fraction of the cost. The therapy balls are very affordable and portable so rolling can easily be done before and/or after any workout anywhere. Personally, I like rolling out my entire back before playing hockey. When I roll I am pain-free on the ice and remain pain-free after the game. It’s amazing!
Join Christie in March 2016 for four Yoga Tune Up® classes at the Hunt Club-Riverside Park Community Centre. In these specialty classes you’ll experience therapeutic movements, poses and therapy ball rolling techniques to help you release tension, build strength and flexibility, and gain greater body awareness.
The importance of grounding
In yoga you’ll often hear about grounding oneself, but not many people understand what that really means.
The need to ground is primal. And it becomes even more important in a society where we tend to spend more time indoors and focused on mindless “entertainment.”
The Earth’s gravitational pull is what keeps us, literally, grounded. In yoga we focus our awareness on our body to consciously feel our connectedness to the ground beneath us. Setting our foundation in various asanas (poses) helps us sense the body’s solidity and stability. Another way of grounding is by imagining roots growing downward from our feet, our sitting bones, or whatever part of the body is connecting with the ground, and anchoring our physical body to the Earth.
Though one of the best ways to ground is to spend time outdoors in nature, grounding is relatively simple to do. It really only requires intention and consciousness. But it has a profound effect on the body and the mind. Grounding puts us in touch with the subtle (and not so subtle!) sensations of the physical body; it helps stabilize and strengthen the body; it replenishes and revitalizes our energy levels; it gives us a sense of being nurtured; it brings us clarity of mind; and it even helps us find calmness and peacefulness regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Explore the process of grounding in your own way and begin to feel the benefits of being more connected to the Earth and to yourself!
Q - I'm injured...Should I go to yoga class anyway?
The decision to attend a yoga class, or not, when you’re injured or experiencing discomfort of any sort is a very personal one, and a decision best made in consultation with your doctor.
Depending on the nature of the injury and how recent it is, your body may need rest more than anything else. However, sometimes we can favour an injury to the expense of our recovery, strength and overall health.
Be sure to speak with your doctor or other healthcare practitioner to ensure you’re well enough to do yoga or any other activity. Also ensure you speak with your yoga instructor before class to inform her/him of the injury or discomfort you’re experiencing. The instructor will be able to make suggestions on how to modify poses (or perhaps even leave some out completely!) and how to support your body based on your immediate needs.
Back in the Winter of 2015 when I tore a ligament in my left knee, I continued to teach yoga and do my own practice, with the blessing of my doctor and physiotherapist. In addition to my weekly physiotherapy sessions I did a very gentle, and very modified, yoga practice that supported the recovery of my left knee while keeping my body active, strong and healthy.
The key to physical wellness is to always remember to work within your body’s abilities, respect your limitations and listen to what your body is telling you (sensations you experience). Your body knows what it’s ready to do and when it’s ready to do it.
Are you thriving or surviving?
Am I thriving in life or simply surviving life? This isn’t a question we tend to ask ourselves. To be able to distinguish between the two requires an honest look at one’s life.
Are you caught in the perpetual cycle of reaction mode and comfort zone patterns? Are your days filled with “same old, same old” experiences? If so, you’re surviving life.
Thriving means being able to experience something new in the same old patterns, to see life through a different lens, or to live moments with presence and mindfulness.
It is difficult to always be present and mindful, but the more you practice bringing awareness into your life, the easier it becomes. It’s as simple as taking a moment to smell a flower, to feel your breath come into your body and then be released, to listen to what your partner is saying rather than thinking of what you’re going to say, or to truly taste and savour the food you’re eating.
Presence, mindfulness, awareness, consciousness: different words that describe the state of being that brings us out of our loop of survival and into a life where we can grow and expand our experiences. Begin to take notice of what you are doing, thinking and experiencing, even if it’s just for a moment. That’s when you know you’re starting to thrive!
Breathing in the Sun
The Sun provides nourishment to our planet, but have you ever stopped to consider that it also feeds all life? The Sun nourishes our physical body, as well as our mental-emotional and energetic bodies. We absorb the Sun’s UVB rays and convert them into vitamin D which contributes to our overall health.
One of the most powerful ways to absorb the Sun’s healing properties is to breath in the Sun. Stand outside in the sunshine and intentionally inhale the Sun’s light into your body. Feel the Sun’s warmth and energy flow through your entire being. As you exhale, feel the Sun’s energy radiate outwardly from your body.
This simple exercise, done for just a few breaths, can immediately bring a sense of peace and balance to your body and mind. It can lift your spirits, increase your sense of compassion toward others and yourself, and heighten mental clarity and alertness.
Breathing in the Sun can be done at any time of the year. Experience the healing and uplifting properties of the Sun now, this summer, and continue your practice throughout the winter months whenever the Sun is out. You’ll notice how this life-enhancing pranayama (breath exercise) can make a powerful difference in your health on so many levels!
Mindfulness is a word we hear quite often, but what exactly does it mean?
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present in your activity regardless of what it is. Most of us go about our day, and our life, without really paying attention to what we’re doing, who we’re with, how we’re feeling and what our experience is.
When we’re mindful, life’s pace slows down. We become less stressed, more relaxed and much happier. We become more engaged in listening to the other person rather than thinking about our response while they’re talking. We stop multi-tasking and we become more focused on the experience of completing one task. We enjoy a special meal by chewing and savouring each bite. We feel our connection to nature more strongly and innately when going for a walk.
Mindfulness is a skill that takes practice and offers a wealth of life experiences that otherwise go completely unnoticed.
Whatever task, activity or situation you find yourself in, consciously take a breath and make a point of slowing down. Allow yourself to become fully immersed in all of your five sense (sight, sound, smell, taste and touch) and be fully present in the moment.
Re-energize in 30 seconds!
Do you suffer from the “mid-afternoon crash”?
Instead of reaching for the caffeine or junk-food snack to boost your energy, reach for oxygen by deepening your breath.
We often feel tired when we lack oxygen, so give this quick energizing exercise a try the next time you feel that afternoon lull. Take a conscious breath by slowly counting (to yourself) to five as you inhale and gently exhale as you slowly count to five. Do that two more times and you’ve naturally re-energized your body and mind in just 30 seconds!
Everyone CAN do yoga!
So often I hear people say that they can’t do yoga because they’re not flexible. Or that they can’t do yoga because they have difficulty moving due to injury or illness. My response is always the same: Yes, you can!
The main purpose of yoga is to move the body in a way that generates inner awareness of sensations, and creates a sense of over all peace and well-being. This can be done in a many number of ways! The most effective and sustainable way is through gentle movements and yoga poses that are within your personal range of motion.
Our society has conditioned us to push beyond our physical abilities, to force our muscles and joints, and to believe that if it doesn’t hurt we’re not working hard enough. Well, those days are gone!
More and more studies are showing that people are regaining their mobility and proper physical alignment, as well as healing their body from injuries and alleviating discomfort due to illness, simply by doing gentle movements and yoga poses within their physical capabilities. By respecting your limitations and supporting your body with the use of various props (block, chair, cushion, etc), over time you will feel your body change. And even your mood will change!
Ask me how you can modify your practice to best suit your personal needs. I guarantee you’ll feel the difference!
(As a skilled and experienced therapeutic yoga teacher, Christie can help you adjust your yoga practice to ensure you are moving safely and within your individual abilities. All you have to do is ask!)
Your glutes hold all the power
Most of us have been taught to do Powerful Pose, a.k.a. Chair Pose (a high squat), by putting most of our weight into our quadricep muscles. But did you know that when you load your quads in a squat, you’re actually straining your knee joints?
The safe way to do a squat is by engaging the gluteal muscles rather than the quadriceps. Start in Mountain Pose (neutral standing posture) with your feet pelvic width apart and toes pointing forward; engage your core muscles and squeeze your glutes. Then bend forward from the hips while keeping your glutes contracted, back flat, core on and pelvis in a neutral position. Keeping your glutes tight, begin to slowly bend your knees, angling each knee out toward your fourth toe.
It may sound simple enough, but when you’ve trained your body to move a certain way, it can be quite difficult to change your patterns of movement! Practice keeping Powerful Pose in your glutes. Your knees will thank you!
Breathing for Wellness
During the holiday season, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Did you know that your nervous system will change depending on how you breathe? You can begin to release those feelings of overwhelm simply by changing your breath!
The breath can affect your nervous system by either helping to calm and relax you or by stimulating you. Over-stimulation can lead to feelings of anxiety and stress.
The breath is directly linked to the function of the lungs and the heart by way of the diaphragm which is a thin, dome-shaped muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen. When you breathe primarily in the chest area, the nervous system becomes over-stimulated and keeps you in stress mode. When you can get the breath to move into and out of the belly (abdominal breath), the nervous system has the opportunity to relax and move into regeneration mode.
Place your hands on your belly and gently direct your breath into your abdomen as you inhale. Feel your abdomen inflate. As you exhale, feel your abdomen naturally release and deflate. Take a few more conscious abdominal breaths and notice how you begin to feel more calm and centred.