Posted by: lisagreenbaum | June 19, 2017

Finding Balance with the Koshas

This article first appeared in the March/April 2017 issue of canfitpro magazine. 

As the case with other Eastern based sciences, Yoga looks at the individual holistically. Understanding that optimum health and balance is achieved by taking care of the whole self rather than just focusing on symptoms or specific issues. This is shown in the approach taken for all things mind and body. In the case of mental health and depression, any experience that an individual has that takes him or her out of balance creates a “depression”. Likewise in weight loss, the somatic experience of stress and trauma will keep excess weight on the body despite a person’s best attempt at eating well and exercising. To find balance, we must therefore create harmony in all aspects of self. This is precisely how the kosha’s work.

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The kosha’s, translated to sheath or veil, represent our subtle body. There are five koshas each representing a different aspect of self. Kosha’s have also been described like the layers of an onion, peeling each one back to reveal the bulb, the centre, though the essence of the onion is the onion itself with all of it’s layers together.

Along with this is another important aspect of yoga philosophy, which is the dualistic view of self and Self. Prakriti, (nature) describes the self or what is permeable. Just as nature, we change and this is a good thing. We grow up and grow older. With experience our thoughts and connection to the world around us adapts and changes as well. We spend much of our time with prakriti as this is our interaction with life unfolding. The dilemma is where we get caught thinking of ourselves as only the self. Absorbed in our appearances, stuck in the cause and effect of the past and present. Parusha on the other hand, or Self is impermeable – unchanging. This is our true unwavering light within. When we feel connected to Self we feel in perfect harmony with the world around us. Likewise it is the disconnection of Self that manifests in many dis-eases such as addictions, depression and the symptoms of trauma. In looking at the kosha’s, the innermost layer, anandamaya kosha is this connection to Self. However, as per above we need all the layers working together to be in balance in order to experience our true essence.

The following is a brief description of each kosha and how to bring them into balance. The word “maya” means illusion, reminding us that nothing is locked in stone. We must continue to hone the ability to go with the flow and to surrender. That often what appears as truth is not final.

Annamayakosha/Physical Body: This is how we take care of the bodies we are in. We do this through exercise and movement as well as eating healthy foods such as choosing organic and eating a variety of foods. Just as we seek balance for the whole, each kosha should have it’s own balanced scale. Exercise is extremely important, but too much exercise can cause just as much damage as too little. Eating well without being a slave to our food list. Honouring dietary restrictions is also important here. We know gluten makes us sick, and yet we keep sneaking the bread on the dinner table. Understanding the difference between indulging in a treat and needing sweets after every meal.

Pranamayakosha/Energetic Body: This is our vitality, where our energy comes from. Getting a proper amount of sleep and rest and limiting our caffeine intake so we are working with our own natural energy. Just as finding practices for each kosha is important so to is our understanding of how they relate to each other. By taking care of our physical body with exercise and healthy food, energy naturally increases and we won’t feel the need to reach for that extra caffeine boost during the day, or the opposite, sleep aids at night. Prana is our life force and prana is carried through the body with breath. To shift our energy, practice pranayama breathing techniques instead such as alternate nostril breathing, sinking breath (focus on the exhale) for calming and expanding breath (focus on the inhale) for energizing.

Manomayakosha/Emotional Body: This is where we move a little deeper, where we learn and feel. Taking time for our own self-practice, meditation or journaling. Checking in with how we feel. In our go-go world of trying to get a million things done each day, it is paramount that we carve out time to just be – to let our nervous system settle and to simply observe. Like the domino effect, a couple of weeks without exercising or eating properly will probably lead to issues sleeping, a few days of that and our emotions feel like they are all over the place. Taking care of the first two koshas is paramount to emotional health and well being. Turning off external distractions and moving inwards. This is where the importance of a daily meditation practice fits in. We can find meditation practices in many forms: a walk in nature, listening to a piece of music or a more traditional seated meditation with focus on breath. There are manyexamples of guided meditations online that may work for you as well.

Vijnanamayakosha/Intellect Body: How do we perceive life? Are we able to step back and rationalize our experiences rather than continuously reacting? Do we have the ability to look at our decisions and choices objectively? A regular meditation practice will help us discover these answers, as one of meditations great benefits is clarity of mind. Being involved in “satsang” or philosophical discussions with others, staying inspired reading books and articles and surrounding ourselves with others on the same path as us. Building and nurturing community is important here to help develop our intellect body and also to sense a connection to the greater whole.

Anandamayakosha/Bliss Body: What brings you joy? Do that everyday! You deserve to be happy. Our bliss body, also known as the Self is our true inner light. By taking care of the other koshas we are able to connect to our Self, living our dharma (life path) and enjoying life. Start a happiness journal, including all the things you love to do. Making sure to add practices that fit for each kosha. While you are at it, include your gratitude journal, something that will make your heart swell each time you read it. Honour life, honour love, honour YOU. Practice nourishing and nurturing through self-care.

Understanding that life itself is its own perfect seesaw of light and dark, and we will experience both. What these practices will help us with is finding our way back to the light when darkness, or even a little grey does fall. Whenever this is in doubt, start at the beginning: When was the last time I exercised? What did I eat for lunch? How did I sleep last night? Finding practices that work for us, and that relate to each kosha is an important aspect for balance. The ability to connect back to our Self, to our own inner light, is one of the greatest gifts we can receive.

Namasté (the light in me, honours that same light within you)

 

Posted by: lisagreenbaum | June 9, 2017

Yoga Breathing for Anxiety

Many of us struggle with anxiety, often times behind closed doors and much to the surprise of even our closest friends. Fitness can also be a bit of a tough business with the constant pressures of presenting in our classes or for our clients, of staying ahead of the curve on education and trying to maintain our own personal fitness.

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A regular Yoga practice can offer mindfulness tools that help us stay present and calm when the pressure feels turned up. Certain Yoga breathing techniques in particular can offer immediate relief by connecting us to our parasympathetic nervous system – responsible for calming us in the moment, also referred to as rest and digest, here are a couple to try:

Alternate Nostril Breathing:

Sitting comfortably with a straight spine, take a few centering breaths to start (deep inhales and slow exhales) Using your index and thumb, cover your left nostril while taking a deep breath in through your right nostril and then closing your right nostril to exhale from your left. Inhaling through your left nostril and then closing your left nostril to exhale from your right, this completes one cycle. Repeat the cycle 6-8 times and notice how feel. Alternate nostril breathing helps to balance out our energy and to release pent up nervous energy as well.

3-Part Breath:

This breath can be done anywhere, standing or seated. Take a deep breath and let your belly fill with air (well technically the lower lobes of your lungs pressing on your diaphragm to make your belly push out) continue breathing into side ribs and take the last sips of breath to the top of your chest. Exhale slowly. Repeat as many times as needed. A great trick to use any time you need to find some calming energy, even a great practice to use with your clients before starting their workout so you both feel relaxed and centered.

Namasté

Posted by: lisagreenbaum | May 31, 2017

The Impact of Holding Stress in Our Body and How to Heal

This article was originally published in canfitpro magazine May/June 2017 edition 

It’s hard to deny the impact of holding stress in our bodies. Many of us have experienced tension headaches from a day in front of the computer. We wear mouth guards to protect our teeth from grinding in our sleep. Our digestion is quickly impacted by stress at home or at work, and to top that off once we finally catch a break with a day to rest we end up sick.

Yoga teaches us somatic awareness, creating awareness of sensation in the body and its reaction to emotion and/or stress. A favourite saying at YogaFit: “To listen to the whispers of the body, before you hear the screams.” Through a mindful yoga practice, we learn to pay attention to the subtlety of movement and the impact of breath work. We may also from time to time experience an emotional release from this work, often during deep hip openers like pigeon pose or within final relaxation. Sometimes we know where this emotion comes from and other times it catches us off guard as pent up tension or perhaps years of stored trauma beginning to be released.

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According to Liz Koch and her book: Core Awareness, we need to focus on the hydration of our psoas muscle. In fact she views the psoas not as a muscle at all but as an organ. The psoas muscle inserts on the greater trochanter, at the top inside of the leg, wraps across the ball and socket joint of our hip, continues along the back of our pelvis and inserts into T12, fanning out its fibers on to our diaphragm. Tension in our hips affects the physical surroundings of the joint: front of hip, lower and mid back. However, due to the connection of the diaphragm this tension is also experienced in our ability to breathe deeply, therefore affecting our cardiovascular ability and capacity and setting us up for stress based diseases such as heart disease. As per Koch’s research, the psaos stores unreleased emotions and stress in addition to impacting posture, vitality and ease of movement.

I’m not sure that I’ve met anyone in the fitness industry who hasn’t complained of tight and sore hips. Clearly, looking at what we do, it’s no wonder really. Repetitive hip flexion in squats, running, cycling even in yoga. If you are like me, you’ve probably spent years searching for new stretches and equipment to help release this tension. But what if all this pulling, pushing and stretching to try to open up this locked down muscle was really making it worse? What if what we really needed to do was just let it be? At the risk of being even more controversial to the fitness industry, what if the six-pack abs we have been craving, are doing more harm than good?

I understand how backwards this sounds, especially from a Yoga teacher. However, consider this: our stress response. Our sympathetic nervous system (SNS), responsible for fight or flight, is the involuntary reaction we have to stress. This is hard-wired and luckily so, as it’s the system that fights for our survival. When we experience stress, our amygdala or the smoke detector of our brain doesn’t know the difference between real (being chased by tiger) or perceived (worried about an upcoming job interview) stress. The initial reactions are to speed up the heart rate and breath, stop digestion and tense the body by setting the jaw and stomach muscles, curling in and flexing at the hip in preparation for survival, stand and fight or run. The hippocampus, connected to the amygdala then steps in quickly to determine if this is in fact a life-threatening situation and the final reaction plays out accordingly. Often this physical shift is so subtle we don’t notice as we spend more time here then we do relaxed. Based on this we must consider, is our high stress, go-go lifestyle contributing more to our “tight hips” than anything we are doing physically?

In looking at the impact of stress on the body we have two serious things to consider:

  1. Continuous stress (real or imagined) adds up over time, physically shrinking our hippocampus, affecting memory and compromising our ability to reset our nervous system after the stress has past.
  2. Without properly releasing the physical response from our bodies after the stress has passed, tension or stored traumas begin to accumulate in the body.

A great example of this is seen on nature shows. We watch the gazelle being chased by the lion and subsequently getting away. The camera pans in to the relieved gazelle as we watch it lift its legs and shake fiercely with a final shake through the spine before trotting off. This technique of shaking is now being emulated by bio-mechanists and neuroscientists, such as Dr. Peter Levine and Dr. David Berceli, as well as practiced in the YogaFit for Warriors program in an effort to expel trauma and reset the nervous system.

One of the keys to our continued success in the fitness industry, as fitness professionals, is that in large part we are doing similar work of re-setting the nervous system post-stress through exercise and yoga. And this works, providing the stress is minimal and the recovery practices are ongoing. As we’ve seen from above, chronic stress and deeply held traumas change both our brain and our bodies. We must also consider, in using exercise or yoga as a way to release stress, are we in fact experiencing this release, such as the runner’s high or a long savasana or are we furthering the damage by pushing ourselves through tough workouts we essentially don’t have the energy for? How can we advance or deepen our current practices to address how we are releasing stress before more damage is created?

Our vagus nerve, attached to our cranium or brain stem sends messages from our brain to our body and back up to our brain again. The vagus nerve itself touches many of the important organs of our body including: larynx, lungs, heart, spleen, stomach, liver, gall bladder, kidney, small intestine and colon. According to Dr. Stephen Porges’ polyvagal theory, we need practices that create vagal toning, addressing the vagus nerve directly to bring us back online to what he’s transcribed as our social engagement system, or our ability to connect with others. This is why in times of high stress we often feel isolated, or like the world is working against us. When we work with the vagus nerve we turn on our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) – the opposing system to our stress response, sympathetic nervous system (SNS). PNS is rest and digest. It is only in PNS that we can heal. Why rest and sleep are essential when healing from surgery, or craved so deeply after a stressful time has passed. Also why for those of us in chronic stress, we bounce between utter exhaustion and the inability to actually rest.

Practices to increase vagal toning include:

  • Deep breathing: whether matching breath to movement in yoga or simply sitting still practicing deep belly breaths. Ujjayi breath or whisper breath also practiced in yoga.
  • Chanting: for the vibrations it sends through the body. This can be done by chanting OM or other traditional mantras, or what about just singing in the shower or in our car.

Practices to release the psoas include:

  • Constructive rest position: simply lying on our backs with knees bent at a 45-degree angle with both feet flat on the floor. This is the only position of the body where the psoas is completely at rest. Liz Koch suggests holding this pose for 10 minutes everyday.
  • Let the shake happen: when moving through deeper stretches and our body begins to shake, often in a hamstring stretch, don’t hold back or try to control, but allow the release.
  • Refocus hip work and stretches by reducing the effort. Try only using 50-60% effort over 100% and allow the psoas to quietly soften and hydrate over being pulled and forced into a pose.

If we’ve been doing the same thing and getting the same results, isn’t it time to switch up the routine? If you are interested in furthering your knowledge on releasing stored stress and tension from the body, YogaFit’s Warrior program expands on the information from this article. No pre-requisites required, only an open heart and a willingness to learn.

 

 

Posted by: lisagreenbaum | May 24, 2017

Teaching to ALL levels in a Yoga class

A skill certainly required when teaching, and one that is honed through the years with experience. This is something we all struggle with from time to time. We’ve set up this great class flow we can’t wait to try, and walking in the room rather than the smiling faces of our regular members, in place we have a stream of new faces ranging in ages, male and female and oh yeah the pregnant woman in the corner. How do we teach a class that will satisfy everyone’s needs? Here are the top 5 ways to keep multi-level classes simple:

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  1. Use a basic standard warm-up (or YogaFit Mountain 1 warm-up from the Level 1 manual): This helps you to assess the levels of your participants by watching them go through simple and safe flows while also ensuring that everyone will be warm for the work ahead.
  2. Teach a pregnancy friendly class: When I have new pregnant members join my class I teach the whole class pregnancy friendly. This way I can ensure the safety of mom/baby but also can avoid constant interruptions with pregnancy options – this also works perfectly for the members we suspect, but just aren’t sure – I know you’ve been there too!
  3. Provide options for rest or flow: Standard in YogaFit method of teaching, this works perfectly for all of our students to give them a chance to either power up their class with vinyasa flows between standing sequences or to take a rest in childs pose by focusing on breath.
  4. Empower your students: I teach my students to be their own teachers. Specifically by listening to their bodies as they move in and out of different poses, but also just as important to listen to their breath. Our breath should always be steady and comfortable. If the breath is labored and shallow the pose is probably too intense, likewise if the breath is too easy (and it isn’t relaxation pose) probably they need to build in a little more intensity to the pose.
  5. The beauty of simplicity: There is such beauty in a simple class flow powered by breath. There is little need to create complex flows and chances are this complexity is lost on your students anyways. Choose instead to focus on the feeling you’d like to invoke for your class. Think about the tone of your voice, the pace of your breath and let the movements flow simply but strongly.

 

Over the years I’ve developed my own “standard” flow that I teach every time I sub a new class or found myself in a room with a diverse group with mixed fitness abilities. Using the tips above has helped me win the hearts over of new students and also build my own confidence as a teacher. What I will always say however is, it’s the experience of actually teaching that will make us stronger teachers. Namasté

 

 

Posted by: lisagreenbaum | May 15, 2017

Teaching SAFE Inversions in Our Yoga Classes

 

As Yoga Teachers, we know the incredible benefits of inversions including: improved immunity through lymphatic drainage, balancing emotions with increased blood flow to the brain (particularly the limbic area) which also triggers our endocrine system to release our happy hormones – serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. Inversions also increase cardiovascular health by working against gravity and alternating the regular blood flow and blood pooling that happens in the legs and feet.

We also know there are many contra-indications for inversions that we need to be aware of, in particular when teaching large group classes where we are unable to know the health history of everyone in the class. Also the lack of wall space makes some poses in accessible.

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Whenever I teach more traditional inversions, (shoulderstand, plow, handstand or legs up the wall) and I tend to keep this to my smaller classes, I always introduce with the following statement:

“Today I’d like to play around with some inversions as a way to change up our blood flow, work against gravity and increase both mood and immunity. There are some contraindications we need to be aware of such as high blood pressure, heart conditions, pregnancy and even recent dental work, eye surgery and head colds as it will put extra pressure in our heads. You are welcome to try and see how it feels, maybe only hold for about a minute or to sit this one out completely. Sometimes we just aren’t comfortable upside down so no worries. Let’s play!”

Here is a list of my favourite inversions to teach in my larger group classes when wall space isn’t available:

  1. Forward Fold – Right! We are already teaching this pose about 10x’s per class anyways. When I teach as an inversion, I have my students hold the pose longer, even a few minutes. Always giving options to keep hands on thighs and head either parallel to the floor or even slightly up for those that aren’t comfortable (or shouldn’t be) holding that pose for so long.
  2. Legs Up the Wall – Without the wall. Such a relaxing pose especially for evening classes right before savasana. I cue my class from knees to chest to just lift their legs straight up so that their legs feel suspended and weight less. Cueing to add folded towels or blocks under the sacrum will help relieve strain for the low back. I then invite them to hold as long as they are comfortable. (note: while the picture above is beautiful, most people will find better ease for the pose with the block at the lowest level)
  3. Shoulderstand Prep – For my more advanced students, I will ask them to work from bridge with shoulders tucked back and hands clasped. Next, lifting one leg and then the other testing both the weight moving into their upper body and the flexibility in their legs. Then very slowly I cue them to bring hands to low back and use their core muscles to lift their legs up into the air. In this way, I know they are maintaining all their safe alignment cues for their upper back and neck while focusing on strength over momentum to find and hold the pose.

 

Always interesting to change our perspective on things, seeing the world from a different angle. Have fun playing around upside down!

 

 

Posted by: lisagreenbaum | April 25, 2017

Why Are My Hips So Tight?

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I’m not sure that I’ve met anyone in the fitness industry who hasn’t complained of tight and sore hips, in particular our hip flexors. Looking at what we do, it’s no wonder really. Repetitive hip flexion in squats, running, cycling even in yoga. If you are like me, you’ve probably spent years searching for new stretches and equipment to help release this tension. But what if all this pulling, pushing and stretching to try to open up this locked down muscle was really making it worse? What if what we really needed to do was just let it be?

 

Our sympathetic nervous system (SNS), responsible for fight or flight, is the involuntary reaction we have to stress. This is hard-wired and luckily so, as it’s the system that fights for our survival. When we experience stress, whether life threatening or imagined (our brain doesn’t know the difference) our bodies respond by increasing our heart rate, slowing our breath down, stopping our digestion and by tightening around the abdomen. Curling in so that we are prepared to run away quickly or stand our ground and fight. Often this physical shift is so subtle we don’t notice as we spend more time here then we do relaxed. Based on this we must consider, is our high stress, go-go lifestyle contributing more to our “tight hips” then anything we are doing physically?

 

Try this: rather then stretching our hip flexors to 100% effort, what if we backed off to 50 or 60%? Instead of pressing into a lunge, what about lying on our backs in constructive rest position with knees bent at a 45 degree angle and both feet flat on the floor. What if we tried a restorative yoga class (holding relaxation based poses for 15-20min) over a power yoga class to release our tight hips? If we’ve been doing the same thing and getting the same results, isn’t it time to switch up the routine?

 

Namasté

 

Posted by: lisagreenbaum | January 12, 2017

Sticking to Our Resolutions with Yoga

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The good news is, no matter where you are in your quest for your new years resolutions, we can always hit the reset button.

In YogaFit Level 4 we study The Sutras of Patanjali, one of the oldest texts on Yoga Philosophy. One of the key messages discussed surrounds how to find clarity of mind despite the many and constant distractions. It is also in The Sutras, that the idea behind the 8 Limbs of Yoga is first introduced, in particular the yamas and niyamas that we study in our YogaFit Level 2 Training.

The thing is, even after thousands of years the answers are really quite simple. What we’ve really known intrinsically, even if we didn’t have the words for it is what we need to do to be fully present in the moment, to be in-tune with our own true self.

Tapas – Svadyaya – Ishvara Pranidhana

Our last 3 niyamas, or personal code of ethics, do the work, look within, find peace.

When we set goals for ourselves, we also need a road map on how to achieve that goal. We might not have the specific directions (or need them) but in following this simple format we will be surprised at the shifts that start to happen.

Tapas (Discipline): Do you need to wake up earlier in the morning? Do you need the courage to say NO? What changes do you need to make, and then as best as you can stick to it. Part of discipline is often moving through the discomfort to find comfort.

Svadayaya (Self-Study): Read, journal, meditate, take time for reflection, practice Yoga. When we equally focus on self-study, we are able to constantly re-evaluate our goals to our current needs. This allows us to make shifts along the way and to fine-tune while still staying focused.

 Ishvara Pranidhana (Surrender): Then let it all go. Yes be disciplined, but if you miss one day (or two or three) hit the reset button and get back on track. For us to fully realize our dreams there must be an element of trust that what we desire most in our hearts will come to us in the perfect time. So yes, while we need discipline and self-study, we equally need surrender, to release our attachment to the outcome and trust in the process.

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Learning complex Yoga poses is an exact parallel. Poses like crow (bakasana) or headstand (salamba sirsasana) require strength/flexibility certainly, and if you have the strength to hold crocodile (chaturanga dandasana) you have the strength to hold these poses as well. However, to actually achieve these poses requires the fine-tuning, the dedicated focus and then letting it go. The more we struggle and try to push the pose to happen the more we will continue to fall. In surrendering, we go straight up and just like riding a bike, after that we never forget.

With patience, focus and a dedicated meditation and Yoga practice the possibilities are endless. Open your heart let your inner light shine forth, live your truth.

Namasté,
Lisa

Posted by: lisagreenbaum | February 19, 2016

Yoga + Arthritis

(Originally published: canfitpro magazine, Jan/Feb 2016 edition)

Yoga can be very beneficial for those who suffer from the painful and sometimes debilitating symptoms of arthritis, as Yoga offers both slow and gentle movement that can reduce stiffness in the joints. Optimizing overall joint health and reducing flare-ups, Yoga poses are designed to rebalance our physical body and strengthen the muscles that surround our joints. The result is less pressure in the joints and therefore less pain, more mobility.

 

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a condition that causes inflammation of the joints. There are many types of arthritis, but the two most common are: Osteoarthritis & Rheumatoid Arthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs when the protective cartilage surrounding the joint becomes damaged or worn down and bones begin to rub against one another. Causes can be genetics, old injuries and poor postural habits. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune inflammatory disease that causes swelling and redness of the joint causing joint deformities particularly in the hands and feet.

 

Often those with arthritis feel weak and vulnerable. This can also be accompanied by exhaustion or even depression from the day-to-day life of chronic pain, leading to a decrease in overall health and even a decrease in immune system functioning.

Ensuring that our clients with arthritis are moving in a pain free range of motion is the best way to keep them safe. Taking extra time for a full body warm-up is also imperative.

 

Sitting in the doctor’s office with my mom last week, the nurse says: “if you don’t use it, you lose it!” How refreshing and re-affirming to have someone in healthcare telling patients exactly what we in the fitness industry tell our clients all the time. She went on to say, you have to push yourself when you are tired because if you don’t you will continue to feel worse. This is truly the catch-22 of Arthritis. It hurts to move. Those suffering need to work in that delicate balance of moving without over doing it, but also understanding the difference between mild pain that can be worked through and when it really needs to be a rest day.

 

My mom has had various health issues most of her life. Born with mild scoliosis that has become more severe post 60 as is common. Suffering a broken elbow that wasn’t properly set in her youth, a recent hip replacement and two knee surgeries, a diagnosis of Osteoarthritis was imminent. However, she was also diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis five years ago. An average day is a struggle between pain and general exhaustion.

 

Six years ago I completed the YogaFit Seniors training as part of my compulsory teaching hours with YogaFit. After years of telling my mom that she should do yoga, I was so excited to finally find a program that would work for her! Since then we have worked quite closely together, using the modifications I learned in the Seniors training as well as various other ideas picked up along the way. I’m happy to report today my mom practices almost daily at home on her own, with me checking in every now and then to see how she is doing. Knowing that everyday she feels different, she will begin by simply lying on her mat breathing and then letting her body decide what it needs that day. Sometimes its some light stretching, sometimes a more active practice with standing poses. Practicing Yoga regularly has helped in her pain management, and also to have a more positive outlook on what she can do, rather than focusing on what she can’t. She has also started taking a Chair Yoga class, a gentle class focused on both building strength and flexibility. Practicing Yoga has given my mom confidence. She sleeps better and feels better more often. When she hears me talking about Yoga with someone who is apprehensive to try, she always jumps in with: “If I can do it, anybody can!”

When working with arthritic clients, props such as chairs, straps and bolsters or pillows are helpful. The YogaFit senior strap is ideal as it combines loops down the length of the strap, creating the ability to slide hands inside the loop allowing for easier gripping. Props in general give individuals with hesitancy, stiffness or balance issues the ability to practice with confidence and safety.

 

Here are some key Chair Yoga poses to use with your clients after a sufficient warm-up. Make sure you choose a sturdy chair without wheels. Kitchen or Dining Room chairs work great. Avoid using anything with too much padding such as a sofa as balance will be compromised.

 

Key Poses:

 

  1. Downward Dog with the Chair: Standing facing the back of a chair, place hands on top and slowly walk back until a stretch can be felt through back and arms. Draw the navel in to protect the lowIMG_3712 back and ensure the heels stay on the floor directly under the hips. Knees are bent to support the pose. Stay here for a few breaths or gently flow in and out.

 

 

  1. Warrior 1: Facing the back of the chair and keeping hands on top. Step one foot back, straightening back leg and bending front knee. IMG_3724Using chair for balance, gently move in and out of knee flexion with front leg to build strength. Practice balance by lessening the grip or lifting one or both hands off the chair.

 

 

  1. Chest Expansion: Seated comfortably, walk the hands back on the seat as far as the shoulders are coIMG_3732mfortable, or gently holding the back of the chair. Staying here for a few breaths so that a nice stretch is felt through the chest.

 

 

  1. Chair Pose: Sitting in a chair, with hands on either side of the sChaireat just under the hips, practice hovering off of the seat for 1-5 seconds to build strength in legs. Great functional training exercise. As one gets stronger, stand up and practice sitting back towards the seat and flowing back to standing.

 

 

  1. Relaxation: Practice meditation techniques including deep breathing to relax stressed and tense muscles. Seated with hands resting comfortably in ones lap and eyes closed. BreathingRelaxation in fully through the nose until the belly expands, exhaling slowly and visualize tension releasing from the inside out.

 

 

YogaFit Canada is pleased to be a major sponsor of the Power of Movement, a one-day Yoga National Fundraising event for the Arthritis Research Foundation. Lisa Greenbaum will be teaching the Toronto Yoga class at Ryerson University on March 6th, 2016. This event is happening in 7 cities across Canada including a Virtual Class.

For more information: www.powerofmovement.ca

 

 

Posted by: lisagreenbaum | January 22, 2016

YogaFit for Warriors – A Healing Modality

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(originally published: Optimyz Magazine, July/August 2015 Edition)

At the close of 2015, 39 first responders and 12 military members had committed suicide in Canada, add another 3 first responders 3 weeks in to 2016 (Tema.ca). In addition, Statistics Canada has revealed that between 2004-2014, more military personnel committed suicide (160), than soldiers killed in combat (138) through the entire Afghan mission (2002-2014).

 

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is described by Veterans Affairs Canada as “an anxiety disorder caused by experiencing traumatic events, such as combat situations, physical or sexual assaults, disasters, terrorist attacks and serious accidents.” Veterans Affairs also state that approximately 9% of Canadians and 7.2% of military veterans will have PTSD in their lifetime. Additional research claims that PTSD will affect first responders during their career at a rate of 25% for correctional officers, 22% for paramedics, 16.5% for firefighters, 9-12% for police officers and 5% for military members. These are the people that put their lives on the line for the safety of our communities, cities and country. However, PTSD not only affects the individual suffering, it also impacts those closest to them: their husbands and wives, children, family members, friends and co-workers. In addition to those on the front lines diagnosed with PTSD are those who have suffered trauma; “everyday people” who have experienced tragedy, loss or abuse in their lives.

In an article published by CBC on May 27, 2015, the dispatcher for the Moncton RCMP shooting calls out the Canadian government for more support for those with PTSD. This sentiment is echoed by countless other media reports. There are support groups and resources available where one can talk about their experiences, but what about those who are not ready, or willing, to talk openly about it? What about the memories that are deeply supressed? Or those who believe they will lose their job, their family, their supports due to the stigma of PTSD if they come forward? For those suffering with PTSD or unresolved trauma, there is a loss of connection to one’s true self, the feeling of living inside the mind or emotions, and outside of the body. This disassociation can lead to self-abuse such as unhealthy relationships, substance abuse and in extreme cases, suicide. To move into a state of healing one must experience a union between mind and body, to get back in touch with our own bodies. This is also known as the practice of Yoga. Yoga in Sanskrit means Union. In its simplest terms, just by noticing our breath (Prana, or life energy) moving in and out of our body can lead to a greater mind-body connection. By utilizing the three-part breath (breathing only through the nose, slowing the breath down and then allowing the belly, ribs and chest to fully expand with our inhale and compress with our exhale) we provide an instant way to calm our parasympathetic nervous system. This actively releases our bodies from a state of stress, or commonly known as fight, flee or freeze.

Gaining in popularity in the western world over the last twenty years as a way to release stress, gain strength and flexibility, clarity of mind and empowerment, Yoga has actually been practiced for over six thousand years. Could Yoga, an ancient science of the mind, be the answer? Yoga’s slow methodical flow, linking breath to movement, taking time to feel and listen to the body is being proven by research to be at the forefront of healing trauma. The fact that Yoga can be practiced in any form by anybody, no matter one’s ability or mobility, is empowering and innately healing. In practicing Yoga, we are able to awaken our own inner physician. We learn to listen to the subtle whispers of our body, to acknowledge feelings and movement. We learn to trust ourselves on our journey of healing.

Neurological research is showing that when trauma occurs, we store these memories not only in our mind, but also in our body. Many of us experience stress to some degree in our daily life, and we can often recognize the signs of stress we are carrying in our body through tension headaches, stiff neck and shoulders and sometimes accompanied by digestive upset. As a protection mechanism for the body, trauma moves deeper. Just as memories can either be supressed or rise as flashbacks, the body stores trauma deep in the psoas muscle or hip. The psoas muscle attaches to the femur (leg bone), travels up the front of the pelvis and carries underneath the obliques (side waist) to insert into the lumbar spine. Issues with the psoas muscle can be felt either in the hip itself, it can translate to achy knees and/or ankles, or present as lower back pain. Also interesting to note, in the world of Yoga, this area of our body below the navel and above the pubic bone is our 2nd or Sacral Chakra. This Chakra is represented by our emotional body, the ability to be in touch with our emotions and our kinetic creative life-force energy. As a way to balance this area of the body we want to create flow and ease, hip openers and gentle stretches to get our life-force energy moving again. Essentially, the same focus in a trauma-informed class.

In practicing Yoga as a healing modality we need to focus on HOW we practice. Those who have experienced deep trauma may further increase anxiety by starting class laying still with their eyes closed like in Restorative Yoga, while at the same time a powered-up Vinyasa or Hot Yoga class may be entirely inappropriate as well. To fill this gap, YogaFit for Warriors was created by Lt Col Shaye Molendyke, a 23 year Veteran in the US Air Force and a RYT 500 YogaFit Master Trainer. As Shaye describes, “This deeper, scientific understanding of exactly how Yoga can affect our neurological and neurochemical pathways in the body has allowed us to create a powerful yoga therapy program, YogaFit for Warriors, to truly help those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as well as anyone with unresolved physical or emotional traumas. This advancement of understanding of what makes Yoga efficacious includes: slower mindful movement to awaken the emotional or limbic center of the mind; ujayi breath focus to stimulate the vagus nerve; and a physical focus on psoas and grounding postures to help release the high allostatic energy load of traumas stored in the body. This combination creates the opportunity for organic healing through yoga therapy and provides a new path forward for those suffering from not only PTSD but mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.”

YogaFit for Warriors is made up of 4 workshops that can be combined with YogaFit’s Level 1 foundation course to make up the new 100-hour certification program. These individual 2-day training workshops can be taken by anyone interested in teaching the program, and/or self-discovery and personal learning. Yogafit for Warriors, Balancing Moods, Restorative Therapeutics, Healing Physical and Emotional Trauma, Yoga for Addictions and the new Warrior Kids are currently being offered in Canada and the US along with International military bases including Germany and Italy. Further to that, YogaFit has developed the Warrior Ambassador Program as a way to link Teachers of the YogaFit Warrior program to Students, by placing teachers in Addiction rehab facilities, hospitals, mental health clinics, and military bases among others.

A typical YogaFit Warrior class is a combination of flowing movement along with restorative and therapeutic poses towards the end. After 1-2 minutes of deep breathing to centre the mind and body and become present, we begin a slow flow movement aimed to warm and increase mobility in the muscles and joints. In keeping with this slow pace the focus of the class is on creating rhythmic movement, linked to breath and designed to help discharge energy as well as facilitate the release of deeply held tension. In keeping with the YogaFit Essence of breathing, feeling, listening to our bodies, letting go of judgment, expectations, competition and staying in the present moment, we emphasize that the student is always in control of his or her own practice. A safe and nurturing environment is maintained throughout class. Emphasizing that the student is always in control of his or her own practice effectively connects the mind with the body while releasing trauma stored in the psoas.

 

As Shaye notes: “A mindful yoga practice leads to a healthy balanced body and mind. Over time yoga decreases emotional reactivity as we learn to embrace life more fully. Yoga practice helps us reframe situations so that we find more meaning even from difficulties and challenges. Essentially, yoga helps us to reclaim lost power, which is very important in healing trauma. Yoga teaches us that while we cannot control external events, we can control our reaction. Yoga gives us the tools to activate the innate healer within all of us.”

 

Yoga is increasingly being sought out for its innate healing properties. The practice of Yoga can be followed through many forms including Asana (physical practice), meditation, pranayama (breathing exercises) or in reading Yoga Philosophy. No matter your chosen path, with an open heart and open mind we all have the right to live the life we chose, to release pain and move forward with acceptance, joy and gratitude.

I’m very excited to be partaking in the Warriors Intensive put on by YogaFit Canada starting on Monday, Jan 25th and led by Shaye Molendyke, creator of the YogaFit Warriors program. I hope to have more to share with you soon. If you are interested in taking these trainings or would like more information on this type of healing class or one on one work please email me directly: lisa@yogafitcanada.com

Posted by: lisagreenbaum | January 8, 2016

The Leap of Faith

stock-photo-25291906-woman-leaping-through-the-skyEvery now and then we are faced with a challenge in our life that requires a leap of faith. Standing at the edge of a precipice knowing that change is required and hoping for the best. Whether it’s leaving or starting a new relationship or career, or following our wildest dreams.

 

Starting a new year is like a fresh start, a chance to take a serious look at our life, where we’ve become stagnant or what’s just not working anymore. Are we still holding on because it’s the safe choice, even if we know we aren’t happy? Unfortunately fear of the unknown is what keeps us in this space, spinning our wheels hoping for change but not making any effort towards it. If we want change we must be ready to accept it for better or worse.

 

In Yoga we have the practice of Isvara Pranidhana or surrender. One of our Niyamas, or as I call them personal code of ethics, the Niyamas also include purity, contentment, discipline and self-study and help us to take our Yoga practice off the mat. Isvara Pranidhana asks us to surrender to our higher power, the universe, the unknown. This act of surrender forces us to let go, to take a leap of faith, to sever our attachments and to release fear.

 

Often we have heard the saying, when a door closes another one opens. I have so many examples in my life of having to first close the door myself. This is a struggle and a challenge. To make that decision on your own, potentially without a plan and only a hope for a life raft waiting for us on the other side. This is the leap of faith. Taking the plunge, rising to the challenge, embracing our inner power, to surrender to the unknown. This is also the wonder of life. Seizing the opportunity for change and taking a chance on ourselves, that we don’t sink but instead find ourselves in the middle of our wildest dreams.

 

I often use the cue “dig deep” when teaching, as a way to cultivate our inner strength to face the challenge of the pose or movement. And so I ask you again, dig deep my friends. Find your power, rise up, take the leap. I guarantee you will be amazed by what you find on the other side.

 

In love and light,

Lisa xo

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