Mind-Body

Yin Yoga for Deep Relaxation and Mental Clarity

Yin is a style of yoga in which students hold postures for long periods of time. It contrasts with the more fast-faced, dynamic Yang practice typically known as Vinyasa yoga, which has been popularized in the Western world. 

The deeply meditative and restful practice of yin yoga is vital for creating balance in our lives. As we spend more time sitting at desks, staring at screens and driving cars, it is important to stretch and move our bodies. That said, adding a high-intensity workout or cardio vinyasa class to your routine may only work to spike your cortisol levels. A yin practice is a great way to turn on your parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for slowing your heart rate and aiding in key processes like digestion and hormone regulation. 

A 2018 study found that incorporation of yin yoga for five weeks reduced both the physiological and psychological risk factors known to be associated with non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. “Yin yoga could be an easy and low-cost method of limiting the negative health effects associated with high stress,” read the report. 

A key component of yin is targeting the deep connective tissue between the muscles and the fascia throughout the body. By doing so, you can increase circulation in the joints and improve flexibility. 

Yin is accessible to everyone, almost everywhere. While props and blankets are nice to have, there is no equipment necessary for a yin practice. There are countless videos and resources online, both free and premium, that will guide you into different postures. 

As self-care moves more into the mainstream, we are starting to understand why it is so important to cultivate a positive relationship with ourselves. Yin yoga gives us the space and time to connect with our breath and send gratitude to our bodies. Sitting in poses for up to ten minutes at a time, we feel what it’s like to just pause for a moment without the distractions of social media, calendar deadlines, and to-do lists. 

Like other forms of meditation, it supports a practice of acceptance, one of the most helpful tools for a happy, healthy, low-stress life. Instead of running away from challenging poses or situations, yin reminds us that sitting with discomfort will help you grow. Throughout class, the mind will want you to leave the pose. Students are encouraged to listen to that voice, let it go, and observe our own thoughts and reactions from a place of non-judgment and calmness. 

For anyone feeling disconnected with their bodies, yin is a perfect practice for reconnecting. Yin emphasizes listening to the body, playing close attention to the sensations in each pose and how they change throughout the class. This gives us the opportunity to be present and authentic. 

 When strong sensations come up, invoking memories, anxieties and tension that we store deep in our tissues, yin gives us the opportunity to let it go. While these memories and emotions can be tough to deal with at the moment, there is a long-lasting benefit. 

For people who want to start meditating, but can’t seem to get themselves to sit totally still for a length of time, yin yoga may be a great introduction. In the process, you may find more ease in your body, benefiting your other workouts. Best yet, you will likely find that you are less reactive to stress, more joyful, and find it easier to connect with your heart and practice compassion for yourself and others.


Why Positive Self-Talk Improves Athletic Performance

At any given moment, chances are we are experiencing some form of mental dialogue. Most of us wish we could shut off the voices in our head, which is why more and more people are beginning to embrace mindfulness practices intended to quiet the mental chatter, such as yoga and meditation. 

That said, not all self-talk is bad. In fact, cultivating a better relationship with that voice inside our heads can improve our mental health, sense of emotional and spiritual wellbeing, and physical performance. This is why positive self-talk has become a pillar of sports psychology, although it remains one of the hardest skills to master.

For athletes, negative internal messages and thoughts can cause debilitating pre-race jitters and performance anxiety. The first step in cultivating positive self-talk is to flip the script with positive messages. For example, if you are running a long-distance race, instead of telling yourself “I’m tired,” you may replace the phrase with “you’ve prepared for this and are strong enough to finish this race.” 

These seemingly inconsequential thoughts you whisper to yourself become self-fulfilling prophecies. It turns out that your brain has the power to alter your physical limitations. 

In a 2013 study, four self-chosen motivational phrases led 24 volunteers to last an average of 18% longer in a cycling test to exhaustion. The self-talk group also felt that the exercise was easier -- based on the fact that the rating of perceived exertion on a 10-point scale increased at a slower pace than the control group. 

A newer study shows that motivational self-talk, particularly when it is in the second person, can improve athletic performance, as outlined by Runner’s World

Researchers at Bangor University measured the time it took 16 cyclists to complete 10-kilometers, as well as their power output and rating of perceived exertion. During the first trial, they talked to themselves in the first person (“I”), and in the second race, they talked to themselves in the second person (“you”). 

When addressing themselves in the second person, the cyclists completed the 10K time trial an average of 2.2% faster (17:48 versus 17:24). Their perceived level of exertion was the same in both trials. 

To explain why the cyclists performed better with the second person mental dialogue, James Hardy, Ph.D., lead researcher, told Runner’s World that the advantage could be attributed to “self-distancing.” This distancing perspective helps one “stand back and observe what is going on, akin to being in the balcony looking down on the dance floor rather than on the dance floor itself. This promotes clearer thinking, better choices, and enhanced performance.” By taking a step back and assuming the perspective of a supporting onlooker, athletes gain a better self of willpower and self-control. 

The researchers added that individuals with bigger egos, or those who score high for narcissism, user more first-person pronouns, and may not benefit from the self-distancing perspective. 

Mitchell Greene, Ph.D., a sport psychologist in Haverford, Pennsylvania, recommends that athletes prepare a list of second person statements, and have a game plan for when to use them. 

“The more prepared you are for the physical and psychological dips you will experience, the more quickly you can go to your self-statements, the less possibility that you will let physical fatigue, the performance of other runners, self-doubt, and negative thoughts slow you down,” he added.


How to Reset Your Internal Clock and Reboot Your Sleep Cycle

As much as we love adventure and novelty, most of us crave a sense of groundedness in routine and the certainty that comes with a predictable cycle. Much of this can be attributed to our cyclical nature as humans, with science just now starting to uncover the meaning behind why we sleep for roughly one-third of our lives.

We all know how rejuvenating a good night’s sleep in our own bed feels, and conversely, how off putting a terrible sleep can be for our mood, productivity, motivation and lifestyle choices. One bad night’s sleep can serve as the first domino, throwing off a circadian rhythm that enables your body to automatically wake up and go to sleep, without the aid of an alarm clock, prescriptions, or widely used over-the-counter sleep medications.

Your Body’s Internal Clock

The circadian rhythm is a biological mechanism that not only controls the sleep-wake cycle, but also the hormones that are released for ovulation and digestion. Your “master body clock,” made up of roughly 20,000 nerve cells known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), greatly influences the circadian rhythm.

The SCN is affected by natural light from the sun, as well as unnatural light sources like blue light from digital screens. During the day, the SCN picks up the cue that it’s daylight and time to energize, while at nighttime, when the sunlight dims, it sends a signal to the body to produce and secrete more melatonin hormone, which aids in sleep.

When we add unnatural light before bed, regardless of how tired we were prior, the SCN will inhibit the production of melatonin, keeping us awake and unable to undergo the vital functions that occur during sleep, such as cell repair and detoxification.

Alongside putting down your phone and laptop before bed, there are various things that you can do to reset your clock, helping you lock in deep sleep and go throughout your day with ease.

Get natural light first thing in the morning.

Opening the blinds or stepping outside right when you wake up will help signal your body to halt the production of melatonin and signal the adrenal glands to start producing cortisol, according to Susan Blum, M.D., MPH, assistant clinical professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, as cited by Mind Body Green.

Research has also demonstrated that morning or not, prolonged exposure to natural light can help reset your internal clock. A study from the University of Colorado showed that one weekend camping trip reset the body’s internal clock, and debunked the idea that some of us are “night owls.”

Daylight simulation alarm clock.

As an alternative to natural light, the next best thing could be a natural light alarm clock. These daylight simulation clocks kick into gear a half hour before wake up time, emitting a soft glow and steadily growing to full brightness by your indicated wake up time. This is a great option for those with non-traditional work schedules, or those who live in a room without easy access to natural light.

Consider stress reduction techniques and exercises.

Cortisol, nature’s built-in alarm system, elevates in times of stress. Chronically high levels of cortisol can lead to sleep disorders and other detrimental health issues.

There are countless ways to reduce stress, from simply breathing and going outside throughout the day, to getting more creative with activities that suit you personally, such as practicing an instrument or gardening.

While high intensity workouts are effective in reducing stress, they are best performed in the morning or early afternoon, as they increase cortisol and can, therefore, disrupt your natural sleep cycle.

Go light on dinner.

Eating a heavy meal before bed may not only lead to indigestion, but can get in the way of your body’s natural process of producing serotonin and melatonin. Meals particularly heavy on fats and sugars should be avoided late at night. 

Melatonin-rich foods, such as cherries, are good options for a night-time snack, as well as tryptophan-containing foods like beans, oats and pumpkin seeds.


Go Simple

From Psychology Today |  By Linda Esposito, LCSW

Excerpt:
 "The voices in your head reminding you of the Friday deadline. Your spouse saying there’s a last-minute get-together with friends. Your kid crying because the book report is due, and he needs help.

Most of us live with some form of mental chatter or another. But how do you mentally declutter? In short, clear your mind of the obsessive thoughts which can overwhelm you and keep you mired in avoidance, indecision and procrastination. The extreme example is OCD, although more commonly, we struggle with mindless, automatic, negative thoughts, which cause brain drain. Either way, too many of us are living our fears and not our dreams.

The problem is exacerbated by mental hoarding. Or when every third negative thought, bad memory, and personal slight fills the memory bank, collecting interest.

Accumulating unhealthy thoughts takes a toll. Your mind is a mental battlefield, your days wasted with one psychological arm wrestle after another. Compounding the problem is physical exhaustion.

Regardless of your situation, or DNA, your mind will not become calm, confident, and clear if you do not pay attention to paying attention:

  • You can’t stop boredom from creeping in if you don’t realize you’re checking out in the first place.
  • You can’t overcome avoidance if you don’t recognize you’re dreading reality this very moment.
  • You can’t practice steps to feel calm if you don’t listen to your body’s stress signals.

Awareness is everything to anxiety. Too often, energy is squandered between two mental states: rehearsing the future or rehashing the past.

While no shortcuts exist to get rid of unwanted thoughts, the following minimalist mindsets can help set the tone for a cleaner psychological slate.

  • Tis Better to Donate Than Accumulate
  • Love People Not Things
  • Simplify, Simplify, Simplify
    • Be more with less.
    • Stress less.
    • Drive less.
    • Text less.
    • Talk less.
    • Eat less.We have a finite amount of mental energy every day. Unused minutes do not roll over to the next month. Choose your thoughts, actions, and relationships wisely."

For the complete article, click here.


Mindfulness Meditation and Inflammation

From sciencealert.com |  By Fiona MacDonald

Excerpt:
 "Mindfulness meditation has been linked to a whole lot of health benefits over the years, from altering cancer survivors' cells to improving heart health. And while it sounds pretty new-age, research has shown that meditation really can change the shape, volume, and connectivity of our brains. But until now, no one's known how those brain changes can impact our overall health.

Now new research could help explain that link between mind and body, with a study showing that stressed-out adults who practiced mindfulness meditation not only had their brain connectivity altered, they also had reduced levels of a key inflammation biomarker, known as Interleukin-6, four months later. That's important because, in high doses, Interleukin-6 has been linked to inflammation-related diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer's, and autoimmune conditions."

For the complete article, click here.


Productivity, Intelligence, Immunity: 3 Overlooked Benefits of Yoga

The ever-increasing popularity of yoga around the world has transformed the practice into something once thought to be reserved for yogis of the Far East or hippies of the counterculture into a widely-accepted workout routine.

According to a recent survey by Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journal, the number of Americans practicing yoga increased by 50% from 2012 to 2016, to a whopping 36 million people.

While most people become hooked on yoga because of its ability to stabilize and enrich one’s mental, physical and emotional lives, there are various side effects of a regular yoga practice that are lesser known.

Yoga increases workplace productivity.

Research demonstrates that yoga practices in the workplace can increase the well being of employees and as a result, boost productivity.

A National Survey found that more than 55% of people who practiced yoga reported improved sleep. Better sleep often translates to more clarity and focus. Meanwhile, 85% of yoga practitioners reported reduced stress levels, helping them better manage their time and work.

Yoga also rids the body of productivity-harming aches and pains and gives individuals the ability to focus for longer periods of time without getting distracted. More positivity and kindness exchanged with co-workers doesn't hurt either.

Yoga makes you smarter.

A study published by the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that yoga exercise boosted cognitive performance by leading to superior reaction times, and increased accuracy for practitioners when compared to others who had done another aerobic exercise or no exercise.

"While most exercise gives you a choice to either zone in or zone out, yoga encourages you to return to the present and pay attention," explains Dr. Zimmerman, M.D., a physician and Sonima meditation instructor, as cited by Shape. "This mindful awareness has been correlated with structural changes in the brain, including growth in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region associated with executive function, working memory, and attention."

Research from Harvard Medical School on the benefits of mindfulness, a meditative state aimed for in a yoga practice, backs this point. Scientists compared brain scans of long-term meditators with those of a control group and found that the former “had more grey matter in the frontal cortex, which is associated with working memory and executive decision making.”

Yoga boosts your immunity.

According to WebMD, up to 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints. Negative emotions and chronic stress are known to manifest in physical ailments and disease in the body. Yoga reduces stress while increasing positive emotions countering the negative health effects of anxiety and tension.

One study out of Norway found that by influencing gene expression, yoga can strengthen the immune system at the cellular level.

In particular, cancer patients who practice yoga are said to gain strength, raise red blood cells, experience less nausea when going through chemotherapy, and have a better overall wellbeing, as noted by MindBodyGreen.


Meditation Strengthens This Key Skill for Stress Management

As mindfulness and meditation practices continue to emerge in mainstream culture, a growing number of individuals are experiencing the multitude of benefits that come from incorporating them into a daily, or weekly routine.

At the same time, as our lives become more complex and interconnected with technology, stress often manifests in harmful ways. Stress is one of the leading causes of mental and physical disease, and is estimated to be behind more than 75% of all physician office visits, per the American Psychological Association.

A recent study, outlined by MindBodyGreen and published in the Psychoneuroendocrinology, has shown that people who meditate also possess a vital skill in dealing with stress, due to particular emotional regulation strategies that are strengthened through meditation.

The study looked at 29 individuals who had been meditating regularly for a minimum of three hours a week over the course of three years, and 26 individuals who did not meditate at all. A stress-inducing test, described as a “social-evaluative threat,” was given to both groups, and researchers found that the long-time meditators responded better on both a psychological and physiological level.

The time it took for the cortisol hormone to drop down to normal levels was faster for meditators than non-meditators. Cortisol is nature’s built in alarm system, flooding the body after a threatening or stressful incident. High levels of cortisol can lead to anxiety, high blood pressure, fatigue, poor sleep, intestinal issues, migraines, and other harmful side effects.

The researchers attributed cortisol recovery from stress to an ability to regulate emotions. In comparison to the meditation naive control group, meditation practitioners experienced fewer self-conscious emotions after the social stress. The long-term meditation practitioners also scored higher on adaptive cognitive emotion regulation strategies, such as acceptance and positive reappraisal, and lower on maladaptive ones, such as catastrophizing.

The most important skill in managing stress that the meditators possessed was acceptance, according to the researchers.

“These results suggest that meditation practice is associated with faster recovery from stress due to the employment of adaptive emotion regulation strategy of acceptance, delineating a pathway underlying the positive effects of meditation on stress,” read the report.

Liudmila Gamaiunova, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Lausanne and one of the study’s authors, describes acceptance as “non-judgment and receptivity towards our experiences.” Acceptance is resisting the habit of labeling things as good or bad, treating ourselves and broader situations with compassion, and letting go so that we can move forward without hindering ourselves by replaying a past scenario over and over again in our minds.

One of best ways to practice self-acceptance is to stay present, instead of comparing or worrying about the past and future, and acknowledging where we are now. Given presence is a pillar of meditation, it’s no surprise that a steady practice can help sharpen this key strategy for dealing with stress.


Acts of Kindness and Your Health

 

Did you know there are scientifically proven benefits of being kind?  Among its many benefits, kindness decreases pain, stress, anxiety, depression and blood pressure, as posted by Dartmouth University, citing research published by Random Acts of Kindness.

Here are some of the facts they report:

  • Engaging in acts of kindness produces endorphins, the brain’s natural painkiller.
  • Perpetually kind people have 23% less cortisol (the stress hormone) and age slower than the average population.
  • A group of highly anxious individuals performed at least six acts of kindness a week. After one month, there was a significant increase in positive moods, relationship satisfaction and a decrease in social avoidance in socially anxious individuals. University of British Columbia Study
  • Stephen Post of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine found that when we give of ourselves, everything from life satisfaction to self-realization and physical health is significantly improved. Mortality is delayed, depression is reduced and well-being and good fortune are increased.
  • Committing acts of kindness lowers blood pressure. According to Dr. David R. Hamilton, acts of kindness create emotional warmth, which releases a hormone known as oxytocin. Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide, which dilates the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure and, therefore, oxytocin is known as a “cardioprotective” hormone. It protects the heart by lowering blood pressure.
  • “About half of participants in one study reported that they feel stronger and more energetic after helping others; many also reported feeling calmer and less depressed, with increased feelings of self-worth”  - Christine Carter, UC Berkeley, Greater Good Science Center
  • Like most medical antidepressants, kindness stimulates the production of serotonin. This feel-good chemical heals your wounds, calms you down, and makes you happy.
  • “People who volunteer tend to experience fewer aches and pains. Giving help to others protects overall health twice as much as aspirin protects against heart disease. People 55 and older who volunteer for two or more organizations have an impressive 44% lower likelihood of dying early, and that’s after sifting out every other contributing factor, including physical health, exercise, gender, habits like smoking, marital status and many more. This is a stronger effect than exercising four times a week or going to church.” Christine Carter, Author, “Raising Happiness;  - In Pursuit of Joyful Kids and Happier Parents”

 


The Benefits of Daytime Napping

While taking a midday snooze may get a bad rap, a growing amount of research suggests that the Spanish may have hit the nail on the head with the “siesta.”

Not only has napping been shown to serve as a mood and energy enhancer, but new research demonstrates that it can also lower blood pressure. Given roughly half of American adults have high blood pressure, this simple, costless method to improve it could serve as a groundbreaking finding for many.

A recent study presented at the American College of Cardiology found that “midday sleep appears to lower blood pressure levels at the same magnitude as other lifestyle changes.” For every extra hour squeezed in midday, a person’s blood sugar levels have been shown to decrease by 3 mm Hg. The average systolic blood pressure for nappers versus non-napper was 5.3 mm Hg lower, suggesting that a simple day-time snooze could be just as effective as medication, exercise, less salt and alcohol.

Manolis Kallistratos, MD, cardiologist at the Asklepieion General Hospital in Voula, Greece, and one of the study’s co-authors, noted that, “for example, salt and alcohol reduction can bring blood pressure levels down by 3 to 5 mm Hg.”

“These findings are important because a drop in blood pressure as small as 2 mm Hg can reduce the risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attack by up to 10 percent,” Kallistratos added. “Based on our findings, if someone has the luxury to take a nap during the day, it may also have benefits for high blood pressure. Napping can be easily adopted and typically doesn’t cost anything.”

There are countless other reasons to nap, including its ability to reduce brain fog, stress and irritability and prevent weight gain. According to Psychology Today, a short nap can increase the brain’s right hemisphere, the side associated with creativity and insight, as well as enhance communication between the left hemisphere, the analytical brain, and the right. With more time to restore, naps can provide an energy boost for enhanced physical performance, as well as sharpen memory, concentration and accuracy.

"We obviously don't want to encourage people to sleep for hours on end during the day, but on the other hand, they shouldn't feel guilty if they can take a short nap, given the potential health benefits," said Kallistratos.