Saturday, October 17, 2009

Injured? Stressed Out? Try Yin Yoga

While planting my organic dye garden today, I banged my little toe. Ouch. Probably not broken, but my first thought was, “What about my rockin’ yoga habit?”

What to do when injured? From healing injured shoulders to little toes, yin is the answer.

Practice Yin Yoga. Check it out.

Yin yoga developed in the Taoist lineage in Ancient China. It’s based on passively-held yoga asanas, usually seated, that work the trunk, hips and legs. You hold these poses for 5-10 minutes. And you will be amazed at how these asanas unblock your chi flow through the meridians of your body, which happen to run through the connective tissue of your body. Connective tissue is where the action is -- it's what is worked, nourished and hydrated by Yin Yoga, and it's where injuries are healed by the action of fibroblasts and your immune system.

Local Abundance: Sarah Powers. We’re blessed in the Bay Area with Sarah Powers, a leading yoga teacher who lives in Marin. She teaches a combination of yin and yang practices and finds that yin prepares the body optimally for more invigorating yang practices. Check here for an interview with Sarah on Yin Yoga, and here to see her schedule. Sarah is a busy mama yogini, and teaches all over the world. Go work with her at Esalen or Jakarta, or go local at her newly opened Insight Yoga Institute in Marin - click here for more info on the local offerings.

At Gottfried Center for Integrative Medicine, we offer Sarah's DVDs and audio CDs for sale as well as workshops on Yin Yoga for healing particular conditions and aging optimally. The CDs, DVDs and workshops will help you establish a home practice of Yin Yoga.

But I have no time!
Sarah recently taught at her series in Deer Run that if you are short on time, sit in baddha konasana (see my photo by Angela Lang, above) with the bottom of the feet together, and bend forward over your feet. You should rest your forehead on a block (unlike the photo), a pillow, or make fists, stack your hands and lean your head on your fist tower. This works most of the meridians and helps your flow of chi.

Further north, in Ashland, Oregon lives another great contributor to the field, Paul Grilley. Here are his thoughts on Yin or Taoist Yoga:

Yin Yoga is not “yet another” brand name of Yoga postures, it is part of a larger conception of Yoga that can be called Taoist Yoga. The fundamental tenet of Taoism is that all things can be described by their mutually complementary Yin and Yang aspects. Yin and Yang can be used to describe all things we are capable of experiencing whether they are clouds, stars, forests, our thoughts or our bodies.

And here's a little more. Basic examples of Taoist analysis would be: There is always a front and a back to a coffee cup but we can never experience both at the same time. The exposed part of the cup is Yang, the concealed part is Yin but both are necessary to form the cup. Or consider the fact that inhaling and exhaling are opposite movements. Inhaling is Yang, exhaling is Yin but together they are the “Tao of Breathing.”

A Taoist analysis of Yoga practice emphasizes the critical difference between Yin and Yang tissues of the body. Muscles and blood are Yang, connective tissues and joints are Yin. Yin and Yang tissues do not respond to training in the same way and a student’s practice becomes more effective when the difference is understood.

Go on... Most forms of Yoga practiced today are Yang, they emphasize muscular movement and contraction. By contrast Yin Yoga targets the connective tissue of the hips, pelvis and lower spine. Yin postures are held three to five to ten minutes at a time. This type of practice complements the more muscular styles of Yoga and is a great aid for learning to sit in meditation.

Paul has several helpful DVDs, which are available on his website as well as sold at The Gottfried Center.

Try Yin, especially when injured. I especially recommend Yin for adrenal dysregulation. Your bones, joints, tendons, ligaments, fascia, and other "yin" elements of your body with thank you with abundant healing.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Yoga: Proven Benefits for Anxiety, Depression & Adrenal Dysregulation

If you practiced yoga daily, you wouldn’t need us doctors at the Gottfried Center to help you feel optimized. Yoga will change your life, for the good, but only if you commit deeply. You cannot proceed casually and expect transformation. Part of my job is to provide evidence to you – evidence that, in this case, yoga heals and transforms. What follows is the science supporting yoga for anxiety, depression and adrenal dysregulation, conditions that affect 100% of you. Please also keep in mind the wise words of BKS Iyengar:

“Words fail to convey the total value of yoga. It has to be experienced.”

Anxiety. There is 100% incidence of anxiety in our culture. There is a broad spectrum here from a little worry to the more debilitating problems such as obsessive thinking, insomnia, migraines, panic attacks, shortness of breath and palpitations. Excessive worry blocks healing. Simple tools such as deeper, belly breathing can help. Specifically, deep, slow breathing activates the Parasympathetic nervous system and releases the body’s own valium – GABA. Generally, we know that yoga increases our GABA levels. Other scientific evidence? Two studies show that yoga is as or more effective than tranquilizers such as Xanax or Ativan. In Germany, a group of 24 women with anxiety were randomized to two 90-minute yoga classes per week for 3 months or a waitlist. Significant reductions in both anxiety symptoms and salivary cortisol levels were found in the yoga group. Also interesting was that the women who reported headaches or back pain noted marked relief from pain.

Depression. Don’t co-opt the message from your conventional doctor that the answer to your sluggish mood and lack of joy can be found in a pill. Here’s the science: (1) A randomized trial from UCLA of 28 women with mild depression were treated with yoga twice/week compared to a control group placed on a waitlist. The yoga group had significant improvements in mood and anxiety, after only 2.5 weeks in class. (2) Another study of 80 people found that yoga for 3 to 6 months was as effective as a older treatment for depression – a tricyclic antidepressant (TCA), imiprimaine. Both yoga and the TCA raised serotonin and resolved symptoms, and while yoga took a little longer to have a significant effect, the effect lasted longer when patients stopped the therapies. Another randomized trial of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction showed it cut the recurrence rate for depression in half.

Adrenal dysregulation.
If you have high cortisol levels, yoga has been shown to lower cortisol. High cortisol can cause depression, bone loss, poor memory and thick waistlines. Yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which balances our chronically-activated sympathetic nervous system, or “fight or flight.”

Many of us look for a quick fix for depression, anxiety, fear, insecurity, stress, relationship problems, feeling numb, and emotional immaturity. Go with the long view: figure out what's not working for you and slowly manifest what would suit you better. Yoga helps you cultivate joy, peace, radical self-acceptance and vibrant health. It's proven.

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I'm an organic gynecologist, yoga teacher + writer. I earn a living partnering with women to get them vital and self-realized again. We're born that way, but often fall off the path. Let's take your lousy mood and fatigue, and transform it into something sacred and useful.