I came upon this article (below) on the website for National Yoga Month and had to share it in full! If you’re interested in Yoga’s benefits for the listed or other ailments/injuries, get in touch!  We’ll talk about how Yoga can help you, and/or we’ll develop a routine that’s ideal for your body and situation.  (The great thing about MergeYoga? You don’t even have to be local!)

Health Benefits of Yoga – Overview

Using Yoga to Relieve Stress

To combat stress, many people turn to meditation or other mental stress reduction tools. But stress also creates physical response in the body and, as such, can be managed with exercise — in particular, with yoga.

“Stress sends the entire physical system into overdrive,” says Garrett Sarley, president and CEO of the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Lenox, Mass. “The muscles tense, the heart beats faster, breathing patterns change, and if the cause of stress isn’t discontinued, the body secretes more hormones that increase blood sugar levels, raising blood pressure. Yoga is one of the few stress-relief tools that has a positive effect on all the body systems involved.”

Recognizing the detrimental effects of stress, especially in the area of heart disease, the preventive and rehabilitative cardiac center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles began offering yoga to their patients more than 10 years ago.

“Over the years, yoga has become one of our primary therapies for stress management,” says C. Noel Bairey Merz, M.D., director of the preventive and rehabilitative cardiac center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Some research suggests yoga can reduce depression symptoms.

DepressionLow brain levels of the neurotransmitter GABA are often found in people with depression; SSRIs, electroconvulsive therapy, and now yoga, it seems, can boost GABA. Preliminary research out of the Boston University School of Medicine and Harvard’s McLean Hospital found that healthy subjects who practiced yoga for one hour had a 27 percent increase in levels of GABA compared with a control group that simply sat and read for an hour. This supports a growing body of research that’s proving yoga can significantly improve mood and reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Yoga could help lower some heart disease risk factors.
Heart DiseaseSeveral trials have found that yoga can lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and resting heart rates, and help slow the progression of atherosclerosis—all risk factors for heart disease, says Erin Olivo, PhD, director of Columbia University’s Integrative Medicine Program.

While almost any exercise is good for the heart, experts speculate yoga’s meditative component may give it an extra boost by helping to stabilize the endothelium, the lining of the blood vessels that, when irritated, contributes to cardiovascular disease. Since the lining is reactive to stress, and meditation can lower stress hormones, yoga may be causing a cascade of events that could reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Women who do yoga during treatment experience less stress.
Breast CancerResearch is becoming clear on this: Women who do yoga during and after treatment experience less physical discomfort and stress. Earlier this year Duke University scientists reported results of a pilot study in which women with metastatic breast cancer attended eight weekly yoga sessions. The doctors found that the women had much less pain and felt more energetic and relaxed.

Studies find that yoga can help menopausal women.
MenopauseA preliminary study at the University of California, San Francisco, found that menopausal women who took two months of a weekly restorative yoga class, which uses props to support the postures, reported a 30 percent decrease in hot flashes. A four-month study at the University of Illinois found that many women who took a 90-minute Iyengar class twice a week boosted both their energy and mood; plus they reported less physical and sexual discomfort, and reduced stress and anxiety.
Studies find that yoga can help menopausal women.

Chronic Back Pain

When doctors at the HMO Group Health Cooperative in Seattle pitted 12 weekly sessions of yoga against therapeutic exercises and a handbook on self-care, they discovered the yoga group not only showed greater improvement but experienced benefits lasting 14 weeks longer. A note of caution: “While many poses are helpful, seated postures or extreme movement in one direction can make back pain worse,” says Gary Kraftsow, author of Yoga for Wellness, who designed the program for the study.

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(Continued from Oct 1)

I often encourage beginning students to imagine that the breath is massaging their tight muscles. Perhaps they can’t stretch their muscles quite yet, but the breath can — at least on a subtle level.

I do this imagining in my own practice from time to time, when muscles are cold and stiff, and when the body seems to want to curl up under a blanket rather than open up to the wild world.

Inhale, Exhale.

But I’ve never personally had to rely this much on the breath.  Being in generally decent physical health I haven’t had to apply to myself what is, essentially, a faith in the practice of Yoga:

A faith that if you express an asana [pose] however your body can in the moment, and that if you then breathe – mindfully, purposefully, imaginatively even – then the breath, the pose, and the focused attention will create a healthy and productive change.

After a few days of gently exploring how my body could (and couldn’t) move with my new injury, my lower back began unfolding.  But not without a lot of breath and patience.  And not without a couple significant lessons:

1. The practice of Yoga is more than a sweaty fitness routine.  (I knew this of course, but I needed a reminder!) Yoga is a way of coming home to one’s own body, of accepting it where it is and asking it, gently and compassionately, to strengthen, to unfold, and to support your life with grace.

2. Similarly, The Daily Mat isn’t about squeezing in a daily workout.  It’s about showing up, every day– And finding an asana, breathing, paying attention.  The length of practice time isn’t important, the chosen posture isn’t important, the location isn’t important.  The attention and the breath– That’s Yoga.

Unearthing from the Difficult some kind of gift– That’s also Yoga.  I’m thankful for the lesson.

Have you been knocked out of a healthy routine or commitment by unexpected circumstances?  How did you maintain your commitment, or begin anew?

Commitment


I’ve been so excited about re-upping my commitment to a daily Yoga practice… In fact, in the midst of a chaotic tour I began The Daily Mat blog and started tweeting pics every day on Twitter.  (Join in!!)

So there’s a lovely bit of irony in the back injury that came to visit in September, right in the middle of our tour.  We’d driven 13 hours to Minneapolis, played on the morning news there at 8am, then played a show in town that night.  Then we woke at 5am the next day to drive to Wisconsin for a 9am radio show.  While setting up my gear, I leaned over  to move my keyboard just a bit to the left and– OMG.

A powerful shift in the muscles of my lower back, crazy pain, and then instantly: frozen. I couldn’t move my back at all– Couldn’t twist, bend over, reach out, couldn’t lift anything heavier than a big book.

I turned to what I know for muscle pain: Yoga.  I locked myself in the venue bathroom and did a modified down dog against the sink.  I worked timidly through cat and cow, but the muscles were frozen, knotted, and getting worse.

Um... PAIN!

I played the radio show, blinking back tears and trying to hold myself stiff as a board; every small movement was painful.  And besides the physical pain, I was growing more panicked with every passing minute.

Why the panic? This kind of thing is for… “other people.”  I don’t “throw my back out” or sit down and stand up in painful jerks, as if my body is made of crumbling brick.  At least, I didn’t, before…

When we finished I make frantic calls to local chiropractors and massage therapists, finally landing appointments with one of each.

Both men were apologetic.  The chiropractor identified my injury as solely a muscle issue.  He adjusted me as he was able, but he didn’t go near those knotted and frozen muscles.   As for the therapist?  “There’s not much I can do,” he said.  “I can massage the rest of you, and hopefully that bit of relaxation will help the lower back heal more quickly.

“But you’re going to be down for the count for at least a couple days; those seized muscles have to ease up over time.”

So much for The Daily Mat?!

Their theory is that our long drives – with me stuck in ergonomically questionable seats – fatigued my lower back muscles in such a way that the smallest twist and lift was suddenly more than they could handle.  I’m buying their theory, because the van seat is the one place where, 3 weeks later, it’s still unbelievably painful to sit.

So we snagged a couple ice packs, packed blankets around me in the van, played our show that night and then drove the next day to Madison, where I rolled out my mat in the hotel room.

I wanted to move, to do any bit of Yoga that I could. I was scared that if I lay still the muscles would just knot up more and more–

So I climbed off the bed, and noticed that if I was very gentle, and if I moved very, very slowly, I could work my way into Child’s pose. In that slow-motion movement, breathing & crying, the stretch through my lower back felt right.  It was difficult, but it wasn’t painful.  It was simply more  (a lot more!) sensation than I’m accustomed to.

Child's Pose

The weak, injured muscles in my back were the very ones being gently pulled in Child’s, willing themselves to unfold.  And of course they couldn’t, not yet.

But I was breathing into them, imagining them loosening, imagining that I could breathe some peace and suppleness into them.

(continuing…)


:: Continued from Tuesday September 8 ::

Though I took in the practice’s significance that July morning, I was on a course.  I had designed a strict fitness regimen for our month away, and I confess that the idea of altering it to include more Yoga didn’t even cross my mind.a

In mid-August, for no reason in particular, I began integrating Yoga more and more often into my routine.  While this wasn’t a planned or even conscious decision, it took only a few days to notice the effects:

Yoga…was helping the depression.

This was not news; I’ve long practiced for this benefit.  I’ve spent long days and nights poring over research involving Yoga and Depression; I’ve even taught students with depression.

But I also practice for stress relief, for physical fitness, for strength, for development as a teacher.  In my long list of “reasons-to-practice-Yoga,” Depression had simply fallen toward the bottom.  While my struggle with depression hadn’t lessened, the idea of Yoga as a source of healing had trailed off.

Its rediscovery, as one might expect, was rather uneventful.  Yoga was helping, and that was that.  Of course it was helping.  At irregular intervals, it hadn’t had an effect. But as a daily practice, it was breathing something into me.  One had to notice.

It wasn’t helping with flash or magic or mystical revelations.  I didn’t – and don’t – leave my mat with some kind of deep self-love that suddenly makes the world more livable.

Rather, each pose simply feels mercifully familiar, a coming-home.  Each pose offers an opportunity to truly sense my body, rather than ignoring it, pushing it, stressing it.  Because I’ve practiced for a long time, I can trust myself to work to my physical edges and beyond; and self-trust, for the depressed, is no small treasure.  In addition, I feel light, but strong.  I feel kinder toward myself: the poses requesting rather than demanding exertion; my body gently acquiescing rather than desperately straining.

And you know, I do still strain.  I often find myself clenching my jaw or furrowing my brow.  I feel knots of frustration when I can’t successfully  jump through from Downward Dog to Staff.

But the Practice itself, the principles and goals of Yoga, ask me to consider a different approach.  Thus, when I strain, I hear the urging of various teachers: Relax where you can.  Let go.  Find where your body can go today; notice and appreciate it.  See if you can go further.  Do not demand.  Do not harm.

Even when I can’t take this advice, I hear it; I know it.  The repetition of this wisdom, even as I defy it, is itself a discipline — one that plants seeds that bear fruit after many days and months.

And so I write today from the throes of depression.  The wild, whirling ache of Life, dreams, and vast Uncertainty is deafening.

But over the last few weeks, Yoga has offered a bit of a home.  It’s a place where my feet touch the ground, both literally and figuratively.  I feel a little more space around my heart, a little lifting of this furious weight, a bit of room for my soul.

I’m reminded that I can still feel: I can feel my body and breath, my lightness and length;  I can feel kindness and gratitude, a sense of possibility; I can experience the fruits of a disciplined practice.

Thus my prescription for this aching, weighty, despairing season is – (surprise) – a daily practice.  Not a wired, zealous commitment to a daily 90-minute practice, though such sessions are incomparably helpful.  Rather, it can be a single pose, perhaps even Savasana.

The point is, regardless of the length of one’s practice, Yoga is a potent – and patient – teacher.

And even when I can’t sense it as such, a daily dose of Yoga is a gift, a seed, a small bit of faith, a small glimpse of home.


:: Continued from Monday September 7 ::

There are few certainties in my life.  A very, very, few.  And I confess that it strikes me as odd that Yoga is one of them.  (It’s had a nearly absurd longevity considering my background and random inclinations… But it keeps proving itself, so I keep listening.)

As I fought against weight gain this Spring (another symptom of Depression I failed to recognize as such), I traded in my regular Yoga practice for strength training and more cardio.  I hustled and challenged and sweat.  I caught up with Yoga once a week, and threw it in again here & there for a post-workout stretch.

But again, I have no regrets about this.  In fact, such things help depression: The sweat, the half-wild release of energy, the fatiguing of muscles when lifting weights– All can soothe the spirit.  And if not, they at least demand a great deal of exertion from someone who finds it difficult simply to wake up.

That exertion serves as a symbol of what’s possible; it’s a small bit of hope.

Exercise like running can even edge toward euphoric.  If nothing else, it requires one to breathe, and breathe, and breathe.  One remembers, if only for a few miles, that she has a heart that pumps, lungs that expand, legs that propel, skin that reddens and sweats.  Vitality: that dear opposite of Depression.

(And of course there is something to be said for feeling badass, if only on one’s own small level in one’s own small world.  Running and weight-lifting are great for this.)

But I caught a glimpse in July of the unique role that Yoga has come to play in my life:

In the midst of our recording, in the tumult of displacement and anxiety, I woke one morning and yawned my way into some Sun Salutations.  The idea was simply to do a few before moving on to another workout.  But the salutations were beautifully familiar – a sense of home – and so I continued into the Standing Sequence of the Astanga practice.

My body opened up as I went, and somewhere below the mess of Workaholism and Worry I began feeling a timid gratitude.  Vague and quiet, impossibly small, it nevertheless made me want to continue.

I went through the entire Primary Series that morning, feeling more and more expansive, each pose grounding me with a sense of home and with a gratitude for my Yoga teacher (and her teachers before her).

The practice was reminding me that I did in fact know gratitude.  It was reminding my body that it did in fact know how to let go.

As I left the mat that morning I felt long, strong, grateful, even easeful.  It was the smallest taste of renewal; a patient foreshadowing.

–Continuing–


The Daily Mat.

09Sep09

As a celebration of rediscovering a daily Yoga practice, I’m taking a daily picture of my Yoga mat – wherever my travels (and my practice) find it.

As a touring musician my practice is squeezed in wherever I can make it work: Someone’s living room, a hotel room, outdoors, in the van.  Sometimes our schedule makes a traditional practice impossible… (Show ends at 11pm, in bed at 2am, waking at 5am to get to a 9am radio show four hours away)…

But the lesson for me is that a daily Yoga practice is simply that: a practice of doing Yoga daily– However it makes sense; however it can be worked in.

So here’s the first installment from Labor Day Weekend, with more to come.

And here’s to your daily practice; whatever it may be.


The last many months have swelled by, demanding a return to the MergeYoga-sphere with a blog in three parts.

So here we are friends, and here we go:

This Spring we toured and wrote for a new Ellery record; in the Summer we recorded it.  The month of August was then a strange gestation period: The recovery from long studio days and their accompanying emotional turmoil; the business talks with music industry personnel, the exploration of ‘alone-time’ after many weeks of couple-dom and strangers; and wrestling with a lengthened and deepened Depression.

In mid-August, Ragweed rears its beastly head throughout the Midwest – and for those who are severely allergic, depression is a common symptom. (Thanks, nature.)  This is of course truly ill-timed, because in addition to the severe ragweed allergy, it’s been for us, as for many others, a difficult year.

Perhaps more accurately, it’s been a difficult many years… So that as more and more emotional crises piled atop one another this year, my weakened spirit took one too many tumbles.  By the Spring, life was feeling like a swirl of fog and storm and unbearable Uncertainty.

Unfortunately, making a record is no place for recovery from such a feeling.  It does, blessedly, give the tumbled spirit a place to call out and make itself heard.  But the calling out – along with the pressures and anxieties of working with a Grammy-winning producer on a project that’s supposed to “launch one’s career” – serves mostly to intensify the sense of swirl and storm.

I have no regrets about this.  In fact, in my best moments, I’m grateful to it, and grateful even to the month of August and its weighty, whirling ache.  If nothing else, I’m paying attention now:

Hello, pain.  Hello, Loss.  Hello, mortality and the groan of Change.

Hello, body – worn and fragile.  Hello, Lover – vulnerable and patient.

Hello, anger.  Hello, despair.  Hello, Longing: I hear you now.

Wresting myself from the tempting siren of Sleep (often the Depressive’s escape of choice), I began asking what path to choose at this point: What path of healing, spirituality, discipline, therapy, exercise… What path of livelihood, music, wages, validity.  Most of this is a jumble to me; a disappointing mess of defeated experiences and leveled dreams.

“When we thought we lost the Way,” I wrote in April, “It woke us shaking, convulsing, sweating from our sleep.  Leaves one hesitant to walk it–“

Indeed.

So I’m not writing today because I’ve come up with any answers.  The closest I’ve come to an answer is waking up one August day with a vague, barely noticeable sense of determination:

“I am depressed,” I said.

Then, “I have Depression,” I offered alternatively, granting to no one but me the more politically correct version.

And then, “So.  What now?”

The answers that once worked for me have mainly served to create out of me a reluctant cynic.  What I’m left with is experience: the sense of expansion and possibility I’ve seen, if only briefly and irregularly, in poetry, melody, laughter, family, story, song, and yoga.

–Continuing–