Better Sleep through Massage, Yoga, and Mindfulness

Sleep is a complex biological process that is vital to our overall wellbeing. There are now 85 different recognized sleep disorders that affect almost 70 million Americans, and the long-term consequences of sleep loss are associated with a long list of chronic and sometimes very serious health conditions. In addition to being linked to increased risk of heart attack and stroke, poor quality sleep is also related to chronic musculoskeletal pain, specifically osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and low-back pain.

Massage, Yoga, and Mindfulness are all drug-free ways to improve quality of sleep.

Massage: People who receive massage experience deeper, more restorative, less disturbed sleep. It doesn’t matter which modality of massage or what time of day; studies consistently report that massage contributes to a more organized sleep pattern, where the various stages of sleep happen in consistent order and duration. The positive effects of massage on sleep also contributes to a reduction in pain-sensitizing neurotransmitters, which lowers pain levels. (Source: Ruth Werner, Massage Bodywork)

Yoga: There have been several studies recently that show yoga can improve disrupted sleep. A Harvard Medical School study showed that yoga can help chronic insomnia, making it easier to fall asleep, stay asleep, feel well-rested, and wake up after sleeping. A study of cancer survivors linked yoga to better sleep quality, less fatigue, and improved sense of quality of life. In general, yoga seems to increase sleep efficiency, enhance quality of life, and decrease insomnia. (Source: Michael J Breus, PhD, Psychology Today)

Mindfulness: Like Yoga and Massage, Mindfulness is a way to invoke the Relaxation Response, which is a deep physiological shift in the body that is the opposite of the stress response. For many people, sleep disorders are a reaction to stress. Spending 20 min a day in a mindfulness practice helps create a reflex to bring forth a feeling of relaxation. Then it is easier to access that feeling of relaxation at night to assist in falling asleep and maintaining better quality of sleep. A study on a mindfulness awareness program showed results including less insomnia, fatigue, and depression. (Source: Julie Corliss, Harvard Health)

Sleep is crucial to our health, and Massage, Yoga, and Mindfulness are all effective tools for improving the overall quality of our sleep without using pharmacological drugs. They help with insomnia, fatigue, pain levels, sleep pattern organization, and sleep efficiency. Getting enough high quality sleep is a cornerstone of a healthy life, and there are many ways to improve your sleep and your sense of wellbeing.

Central Sensitization & Pain That Gets Worse

by Chelsea Henry

Pain can modify the way the nervous system works, making the body more sensitive to less stimulation, in a process called Central Sensitization. This happens mostly through changes in the brain and spinal cord, and means that little things hurt worse than they should, and that it takes longer for the pain to fade. We found this wonderful article, Central Sensitization in Chronic Pain by Paul Ingraham, which is a jargon-to-English translation of rock star pain researcher Clifford Woolf’s published paper.

As explained in the article, it is hard to know when a person is feeling more pain than they should, because we do not yet have a test we can run to show how much pain someone is feeling. That means that we only have our own experiences to go by, and without a defined “normal”, it is easy to not know that we are in more pain than we should be.

Central Sensitization is very well-documented and easy to create in lab settings. It also shows up so often as a complication of painful problems that some researchers think it might be a common denominator. It could be what puts the “chronic” in chronic pain.

Though we know that Central Sensitization exists, we do not yet know why it happens to some people and not others, and we do not have a good way to diagnose it. It could be a part of any case of chronic pain, but it is not clear how to separate the pain that comes from a problem in the tissue from the pain that comes from Central Sensitization.

When a person has Central Sensitization, it basically means they have a hyper-active warning system and the body is no longer giving useful, sensible pain signals. On a fundamental level, pain is about your brain’s assessment of safety: unsafe things hurt. Therefore we can treat Central Sensitization by being kind to our central nervous system. We can decrease stress and increase a feeling of safety and ease. Yoga, yoga therapy, massage, meditation, and mindfulness can all help create the felt experience of wellness the body needs in order to start turning off the alarms. Feeling safe and good, and having therapeutic experiences that are pleasant, easy, and reassuring, can go a long way in calming the nervous system and bringing the body back out of excessive pain.

The Magic Muscle: the Psoas

from Kaaren Engel

The psoas (pronounced so-az) is the one muscle that attaches the upper body to the lower body. It allows locomotion by allowing you to lift your legs to actually walk. It is the filet mignon of the body, the tenderloin, and is actually very delicate. It needs to be treated with sensitivity, so that it becomes juicy and full and soft. When it is juicy, you walk like a dancer, with legs that just swing from your body.

It is also the emotional core of the body, holding massive amounts of emotional information. It is where we hold birth and childhood trauma, or any other trauma, because it is directly a part of our flight or fight response. This makes sense because you are either running or curling into a ball, which are both primarily psoas reactions. When you’ve been traumatized and just want to curl up, that is the psoas acting as a protector, and when you release that, you can stand up straight, face the world, and approach it with ease.  It can also hold good stuff if you create that. A relaxed and juicy psoas leads to full body orgasms that flow through your whole body.

One of the best things you can do for your psoas is Constructive Rest Pose, where you lie on your back with your knees bent and feet parallel to each other at the width of your hip sockets, about 12-16″ away from your buttocks. You can also put your feet up on a chair. This pose allows the psoas to drop and lengthen. A fetal curl also allows it to soften and relax. These simple relaxations are so important. They not only change the body physically, but you can feel yourself moving more deeply into the floor. Your sympathetic nervous system gets a break and the body gets soft, bringing us a treasure trove for the body, mind, and spirit.

You can also work with balls to soften and hydrate the feet, standing up and pressing and releasing the foot onto a ball. This hydrates the tissues all the way up to the psoas, which is why we do a lot of it in class.

The psoas is fascinating because everything lands there, all your emotional issues, everything, and it works best when it is soft and relaxed. We can play with it, approaching it with a childlike curiosity of how things move. And when the psoas is juicy, we will all walk like dancers, with an easy flow.

Health Tips for Jet Lag and Travel

The keys to taking care of your body while traveling are hydration, combating insomnia, and body comfort. We’ve asked some of our expert team how to best support the body through travel. Here is what they said:

Acupuncture AppleKatherine Casey, Acupuncturist: These three acupressure points will help support your body through jet lag and travel weariness:

Stomach 36: Stretch legs out in front of you and place a pillow under your knees. Place the fingers of your right hand directly under the left kneecap. Just under the little finger, about a thumb’s distance from the shin bone you will find a little hollow place. That is S 36. Apply gentle even pressure for about a couple minutes and repeat on the other side.

Xin Bao 6: Find the wrist crease on the palm side of the left hand. Measure 2 thumb widths from the crease. The point is located between the tendons. Apply gentle pressure with the tip of the thumb for a minute or so. Repeat on the other side.

Ren 6: Lie comfortably on your back. Place the first 3 fingers of your left hand directly below your navel. With your right hand, place your index finger directly below your navel right next to your 3rd finger. Massage this point for a couple of minutes.

 

Woman On Yoga BolsterJane House, Yoga Teacher:  When you come back from a trip, remember that there are 2 parts to a really good yoga practice: the physical, and what I call telling the truth. Physically, prioritize getting sleep, listen to your body, and allow a couple of days on either side of the trip to settle back in and recalibrate before you go back to your usual schedule.

A yoga posture that is especially helpful is a gentle forward fold, where you stand with your sitting bones on the wall, walk your feet forward 12-18 inches from the wall, and then bend forward. This has elements of child’s pose as you lay along your thighs, allowing you to breathe into your back a bit. Also helpful are gentle twists, inversions, downward dog, and cat-cow for spinal releasing.

For the second part, Telling the Truth, find a person that can hear you and is present for you where you are. Have a conversation about your trip and anything that shifted, or realizations, or experiences. Trips can often rearrange us a little and it is very grounding to connect with your people when you come back.

 

Various spices and herbsLiz Workman Mead, Ayurvedic & Nutritional Counselor:

Take Ashwaganda, which is a rejuvenate and helps with the way travel throws off the body’s biochemistry. Take it the night before and then while traveling, especially to help sleep. (available at HaLe’)

Take Triphala, which helps fix constipation, assists with detoxification, and regulates the bowels. (available at HaLe’)

Drink lots of water, and in summer, put things in the water like cucumber or mint to help cool your body.

Do dry massage: take a dry washcloth before you get in the bath and start at your ankles, brushing up toward the heart to get circulation going. This is especially good for when you’ve been sitting a long time.

 

zen stones jy wooden banch on the beach near sea. OutdoorJanice Cathey, Bodyworker: Biochemical processes don’t move as fast as we can travel, so the body needs support in catching up.

Help reset your sleep cycle with exposure to natural sun for at least 20 min. Using a natural sleep aid such as melatonin can also help.

Balance the hips and release the neck and shoulders because those can get compacted during travel.

We need to stay more hydrated than usual. Coconut water and bottled spring water are especially good. 

Diet-wise, eat bananas and maybe some nuts. Avoid fatty foods, spicy foods, dairy, and caffeine.

Take an epsom salt bath with a little lavender or something in it that rejuvenates to help with travel weariness. 

Voice Release Therapy: Be Heard Again

from Adie Grey MacKenzie

Voice Release Therapy is a combination of bodywork and self care techniques that has been seen in many cases to improve vocalization. The specific technique was developed by a physical therapist at Vanderbilt at the request of The Voice Center. It is based on a variety of techniques and uses a lot of myofascial release.

This therapy is helpful for people who feel it takes a lot of effort to produce volume or to be able to get through a performance or lecture. Sometimes teachers can’t project or get volume and end up with very tired voices, and singers can feel like a performance or recording session is too much and they struggle to get through it. Sometimes people have a change in their voice where it doesn’t work as well as it once did. Even abdominal surgery can cause deviations in function that eventually effect the structures that allow the voice to function. Our voices are susceptible to many kinds of emotional and physical changes, even when those changes seem like they should be unrelated, or are on distant parts of the body.

The technical term for these changes is called muscle tension dysphonia, which is a diagnosis only a doctor can make, but what it means is that muscle tension is affecting the function of the voice. This tension can come from postural habits, overuse, and/or emotional stresses, and Voice Release Therapy has been seen to be extremely effective at returning normal or near normal function of the voice; in some people their voice got better than it had ever been!

Treatments work best if people plan to come about once a week consistently for 6-8 weeks. We recommend coming to one session first to see if it is something you want to pursue, and then continuing from there. Each session is 1 hour, and includes hands on work, exercise, and education. We can achieve everything we need to achieve in the visits, whether it takes five or ten or however many your body needs, but there is a tendency for any fascial release to return to a tight state and so maintenance is important. This can happen through self care using exercises you learn and other techniques, or you can come back for regular maintenance sessions with the therapist.

Yoga, especially the kind of yoga taught at HaLe’, is also a great way to maintain results gained in Voice Release Therapy because it works on core stability, anterior stretching, and connecting with the breath in a way that is different from voice lessons. Most of us do so much in our lives that bring our torsos forward into a flexed position, and 99% of the time these vocal problems are caused by postural deviations that end up damaging the capacity of space around the vocal chords. Yoga helps people learn to relax the body into postures that enhance the fascial release done in therapy sessions.

Breathing is also hugely important, since most of us don’t breathe properly. Yoga helps with breath training and reinforces the breath training done in therapy sessions. Some people are good and know how to breathe and that is not the issue, but a lot of people don’t know how to connect to the diaphragm. A lot of us use our neck muscles that attach to the scalenes to breathe, using the neck muscles to lift our upper rib cage. We can learn this through emotional stress, trouble breathing, or any number of places, but when we keep doing it, those neck muscles tighten up drastically which then means the vocal folds (they are more folds than chords) don’t have room to vibrate easily.

Voice Release Therapy is a very effective treatment for many voice issues, and it is also pretty pleasant to receive. It can sometimes get uncomfortable, but most people look forward to their sessions. They find it enjoyable, enlightening, and the results feel good.

Recovery Yoga

from Andy Coppola

It is surprising how much people are recovering from stuff, and not just AA, not just addicts and alcoholics, but more people are given prescription drugs because of a car accident or an injury at work or something like that, and then they slip into a way of living that they are not used to, and it comes with strange behaviors. I have been in AA for 17 or 18 years, and I used to think alcoholics and addicts are different, but the more I interact with people in recovery, the more I see people being susceptible to addiction because of the way the medical practice uses prescription drugs.

 

One of the big things in Recovery and in Yoga, particularly the yoga tradition I work with, is the idea of relationship, and that’s what’s been interrupted. Often the doctors that prescribe these drugs don’t have enough time to spend with people and so instead of getting help, people just get medicine, and that breaks down the relationship. It is through relationship with people that we understand ourselves better.

 

The basis of our yoga is what is my mind doing, what is my heart doing, what is my breath doing. This is not the basis of most yoga, which is more about stretching and getting farther along in some capacity. Instead of trying to get toward a goal, we develop relationship with the body and with the teacher, and then the body begins to trust itself a little bit more, letting go of what holds you back and removing obstacles in your body, in your mind, and in your heart. This approach can be hard for people who haven’t been in a really difficult place to comprehend, because it goes against the norm to say, “I’m not going to push my body too far, I’m not going to work overly hard, I am just going to take care of myself.”

 

It is counterintuitive, but my body responds better to starting with slow, simple movements, simple breathing, and mental focus on things that are not complex. These are small steps that help your body trust your decisions again. You have broken your body’s judgment when you think you have to turn to a pill or some kind of chemical. Those chemicals work so that they change your body so that your body needs that chemical, so it’s a downward spiral, chaining the body, so that it is no longer addressing what it was originally addressing, and it is just this chemical relationship. When you get to a very difficult place in life and experience and you say this is no longer working, then you are willing to say, “I’m looking at what’s going on, and it’s hard to come out of it.” But simple practice, simple breathing, simple movements all build this idea of trust so that your body starts to respond to your judgment again.

 

Rebuilding this trust doesn’t happen over a week or a month, but over time, which is why the relationship is so important. Start with a teacher for guidance, and then work with yourself so that when you sit still with your mind, breath, and body, you can inquire, “What does my body need at this moment?” Rather than provide the solution, you are just constantly asking, and through that process of asking, the answers come; you don’t have to seek them. The body instinctively knows I shouldn’t move this far or hard in this pose because it is causing strain in my back or in my shoulder. Over time, as I become more sensitive to that, my body starts to open up its physical capacity. I’m not trying to do more, but because I am listening to what my body says, my body will open up and allow more to happen because it knows I am listening. I can do more now in my 40s than I could in my 20s.

 

The difficulty with this practice is that it is a process. We are used to paying for something, getting it, and leaving. We are not used to someone saying, “Just be here, stay here for a few minutes and be at peace.” But this is how we rebuild these broken relationships, especially the trust we have broken with our bodies.

The Benefits of Yoga at Any Age

from Nancy Kirkland

People derive different kinds of benefits from a yoga practice. Yoga and other eastern practices differ from most western forms of physical activity because you really have to incorporate the mind into the practice. With aerobic oriented activity like running or swimming, you can just let your mind drift off. With yoga, the mind focus brings a greater benefit in addition to the physical benefits of greater strength, flexibility, and balance. A lot of people sleep better, feel calmer, and breathe better. You don’t have to go in with the intention to get those benefits, they just result from doing a good yoga asana practice.

Yoga also helps people find what is challenging for them, be it physical, mental, or emotional, and helps find a way to address it. People often do yoga positions way too quickly. They will say their shoulder hurts, and I’ll say give it 6 months. Give pain time to resolve. Pain is a very good teacher and yoga is not a pain free practice. When people come to class with pain, they need to recognize that yoga is not an immediate cure all but that there are great benefits to a regular practice.

Yoga is a practice for people of all levels. HaLe’ has students ages 20 to 80, so don’t let fitness or age keep you away. Find a teacher that resonates with you and then stick with them. Don’t try for a lot of variety; go deeper instead of wider. Allow your class to become a community that develops over time. That’s a very supportive group to be in.

Also, don’t avoid props and don’t underestimate restorative yoga. Props like blocks, straps, and chairs make yoga much more accessible to people and allows them to achieve a comfortable practice with a properly aligned body. Restorative yoga is key to improving breath, awareness, and observations skills, even though a lot of people really resist it when they are new to yoga practice because they feel restless, want to exercise, and don’t see the value. It is an important part of a yoga practice; don’t ignore it.

A yoga practice, because it incorporates mind and body instead of being just body, comes with a lot of benefits. A good asana practice should be both convenient and enjoyable, and doing the yoga postures properly has different benefits for everyone. Most of all, though, don’t take it too seriously. It should also be fun.

 

Nancy Kirkland has 45 years of yoga practice and has been teaching yoga for 17 years.

No Sweat Yoga for Runners

from Liz Trinkler

A lot of runners don’t know the two types of stretching that help running: Pre and Post. Pre-run stretches need to be focused on warming up the area, especially legs and hips, and creating blood flow and some flexibility. Stretches should not be held for very long, only two or three breaths, because you can overtax a muscle by stretching it and if you do that before you start, it will make you feel weaker during your run. Pre-run stretching should be about 5 min and focused on getting heat and blood flow into the areas you’ll be using.

Post-run stretches are different from pre-run stretches. They should be held for longer, about 6 or 7 breaths, and will help work out any tightness. It is important to really focus on the breath, taking nice deep breaths with full exhales to help clear the body of lactic acid. There also is no concern about over stressing or tiring the muscles through stretching because this is when you want them to relax.

A regular yoga practice is also of great benefit to runners. If you think you’re just running with your legs, you’re not going to run very long. Beyond the usual focus on the legs and hips, the calf muscles, hamstrings, and the flexibility of the hips allow the whole pelvic area to work efficiently. Ultimately what you are trying to achieve is the strength and flexibility to allow your body systems to work together and avoid injury.

Yoga is about balance and teaching our bodies how everything is connected and how it all works together. All movement comes from the core, and so strengthening the core and teaching the body how to move fluidly without overstressing one particular part of the body will allow you to run faster, longer, and to avoid injury, so that running can become a lifelong adventure.

 


Liz Trinkler has been running for 40 years without injury and has completed 5 marathons. She teaches a class at HaLe’ called No Sweat Lunch on Mondays and Wednesdays 12:00-12:50.

A Feminine Practice of Health

From Jane House

We all have weird things that come up for us in our bodies. Sometimes they are constant symptoms, and sometimes they just show up periodically. Usually, we try to fix them, or to medicate them. Sometimes they are concerning enough that we find ourselves running around to various doctors so they can do the fixing or the medicating.

The practice of yoga can help us reclaim the knowing and power that we lose when our health is being approached from the outside in. When we drop into our bodies, and breathe, we can turn inward.

The body is always talking to us through symptoms, texture, light, pain, and more. We can learn this new language. We can use bodywork, or yoga, or meditation in order to turn to our bodies and to sit with them, to talk with them. This is a feminine practice, just sitting with what comes up.

When we sit for long enough and listen for long enough, we get information from the body up instead of from the head down. An image or an intuition will come through. For example, my left knee swells up for no reason, and it pulls me inward and downward into my body. So I respond to that and listen to it instead of trying to fix it. I read the symptoms and signs that crop up from the inside.

Recently, sitting with my swollen knee, after a month of slowing down, I got the intuition to work with Adie, who does lymphatic massage at HaLe’. I had never met her or tried her work. But the prompt kept coming from the inside, and her work, her particular healing, got into my body and moved something, and my knee got unswollen.

Other times, I’ll get an image, something that comes up from the past that I need to work with psychologically, and it comes from the ground up, an intuition.

When we drop into our own bodies we can become our own advocates, and it’s a really new and different experience, this not getting something from the outside in. It empowers us. The feminine practice is about honoring the body instead of controlling the body.

The Purpose of Yoga

Yoga is for self-fulfillment.
Yoga practice is about self-awareness.
It serves a purpose to balance misunderstandings and misperceptions.
It develops the knowing, the clarity, and the being, increasing accuracy in knowing yourself.
Yoga is a view or perspective, and it can help change your perspective.
Yoga can be your greatest self-help guide as you learn how to reduce your suffering and come out of suffering.

Yoga is also movement, and it gives attention to the direction you are headed.
It is about yoking together and bringing together the elements of self-control that direct the activity of the mind, bringing us a more peaceful and more balanced feeling.
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