Thursday, October 27, 2016

Can Yoga Help at Risk Neighborhoods

By Faye Martins

In North America, Europe, and Australia, the stereotypical yoga practitioner is a white middle-class person. They typically have the income required to purchase memberships at a studio or gym, roll out fancy mats, and don the latest in athletic gear. This stereotype does not address the benefits that the practice can have on people that fall outside of our view of the archetypal practitioner.

Yogic practices can have a positive effect on at-risk communities. In areas where there is a large probability that students will drop out of school, go to prison, contract an infectious disease, and face unemployment, using yogic philosophies as a solution to socio-economic issues may seem improbable.

Programs such as "I Grow Chicago" in the South Side neighborhood of Englewood show the promise that yoga can have on at-risk communities. Living in a troubled community is stressful. Asana and pranayama provide an escape for community members. Similar programs, such as the Urban Lotus Project in Reno, Nevada bring yoga to youth centers.

Yoga and meditation have also made their way into schools. Robert W. Coleman Elementary in Baltimore, MD employs the Holistic Me after school program, and they have recently received attention for replacing detention with meditation. Mindfulness practices are having visible effects in the school. Teachers reported that students are better able to self-regulate their behavior, and the school boasted zero suspensions and increased attendance last year. Planting the seeds of a yogic mindset early in a child's life can influence how they make decisions as they grow.

The importance of providing access to yogic practices has been recognized across the spectrum of at-risk communities. The Prison Yoga Project offers yoga to incarcerated individuals as a way to help them move beyond trauma and live in the present. It is this presence and connection to their own humanity and the humanity of others that can serve as a means of healing. The hope is that this project and ones like it will calm inmates dealing with the stresses of the prison environment and reduce recidivism rates. When the incarcerated return to their neighborhoods, they will be able to use yogic practices to stay out of trouble.

Asana practices and meditation can help everyone in an at-risk neighborhood, from children to adults mired in the struggle to those imprisoned. Ensuring that at-risk neighborhoods have access to these teachings could be a catalyst for positive change.

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Yoga and the Power of Healthy Sleep Patterns

remove the stress
By Faye Martins

The importance of a good night's sleep cannot be stressed enough. Your body uses this restful period to repair itself on a cellular level. You should wake up each day feeling refreshed and ready for the day. However, if you are unable to sleep, you will notice that you feel tired and your mind isn't as sharp as it should be. 

If you have the goal of getting well-rested through the night, chances are that you can develop a routine before bedtime to help you in reaching that goal. Incorporating yogic practices into your bedtime routine can help you wind down and relax. Read on to find out which asana practices are best for a peaceful slumber.

Yoga Stretches

The Forward Bend stretches the back muscles. By increasing blood supply, it also stimulates the nervous system. It also increases the flexibility of the spine.

If your mind is constantly racing, you might want to try the Cat and Cow Stretch. It helps blood circulation and relaxes the mind. It also is beneficial because it massages the digestive organs and improves digestion, contributing to a restful night. This stretch also contributes to the spine's flexibility.

The Child Pose is a calming stretch for the back which, in turn, calms the nervous system helping you get quality sleep.

If you spend hours on your feet you might want to try the Butterfly Pose. It allows you to remove the stress caused from long periods of standing or walking. You will be able to rest much easier if you aren't suffering the effects of being on your feet all day.

Asana Practice

Legs Up the Wall Pose has several benefits. It can relieve a mild headache and calm the mind. It is also a great pose for relieving tired legs and feet, and increases blood supply to the brain.

The Corpse Pose, which requires you lie down, after meals helps relax your entire system.

Pranayama Practice

Pranayama or breathing techniques are beneficial in preparing you for sleep. Such breathing exercises harmonizes the body, mind, and spirit. They clear blocked energy channels and boosts the immune system which aid in helping you get the rest your body needs.

Sleep experts agree that you should develop a bedtime routine to signal to your body that it is time for sleep. Therefore, including the aforementioned yogic methods into your bedtime routine will instantly relax you and prepare you for a good night's sleep.

The Yogic Mindset for Healthy Sleeping

How can yoga help you to have healthier sleeping patterns? It is essential for you to have restful sleep at night to feel good physically and mentally the next day. Unfortunately, many individuals have sleep disorders that make it difficult to begin sleeping or to remain asleep throughout the night. Fortunately, with yogic practices, you can enjoy peaceful sleep that helps you to feel fantastic on a daily basis. Most individuals know that mild stretching exercise is an excellent way to regulate the body’s circadian rhythms in order to get to sleep quickly without tossing for hours on a bed.

A Soothing Yoga Routine Can Relax Your Body and Mind

Yogic practices include meditating while sitting in a lotus pose in order to increase inner peace or using stretching asana poses to release muscle tension. At the end of a stressful day, you might have a headache that makes it impossible for you to relax, but if you have a soothing yoga routine, then you can go to sleep quicker. Avoid performing strenuous yoga poses before going to bed because you do not want to increase your energy levels. Select slow and gentle movements to eliminate stress to help you sleep better.

What Yoga Poses Are Good for a Nighttime Routine?

When you create a nighttime yoga routine, select some of these relaxing and stretching poses to reduce insomnia and sleep disruptions:

• Cat pose
• Cow face pose
• Downward dog pose
• Hero pose
• Big toe pose
• Child’s pose
• Supine leg stretch
• Cobra
• Mountain pose
• Upward hands pose

If you can have a routine that ends in the lotus pose, then you are ready to begin meditating before going to bed for the night. Ideally, your nighttime yoga routine will last approximately 15 minutes, making it easy to perform each evening.

Last Meal Before Bedtime

Yogic methodology includes additional practices that are designed to improve your overall well-being. If you are embracing all of the recommended yoga practices, then you might want to avoid eating food that is hard to digest. Your daily diet will include consuming highly nutritious vegetables and whole-grain foods such as brown rice. When you come home after a long day, instead of eating a big heavy meal, you could select a whole-grain bread sandwich that has sliced vegetables and a piece of fresh fruit on the side. By eating easily digestible foods, your sleeping patterns will improve. Allowing one's self time to digest will also help create healthy sleep patterns.

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Teaching Mood Elevating Yoga Classes: Bow Pose

do bow pose at home
By: Virginia Iversen M.Ed. 

As many of us know from experience, a really good workout is one of the best ways to elevate a sour mood. A well-rounded, comprehensive Yoga practice can be even more effective at elevating one’s mood, because of the emphasis on releasing tension, focusing on the positive aspects of life and opening up the entire front of the body, including the heart area. A low mood is often evidenced by rounded shoulders, a lack of “get up and go” energy and tense shoulders. Additionally, painful experiences that remain lodged in the body are often accompanied by a clenched jaw, which can result in the painful condition, TMJ. 

Many different Yoga postures help to release deeply held muscular tension throughout the body. Back bending Yoga postures are particularly good at elevating one’s mood, because these poses help to open up and expand the entire front of the body, including the throat chakra area. When the front of the body is expanded, the flow of life force energy, or prana, is increased. This boost of energy helps to dispel the lethargy that so often accompanies low mood states. When the heart area is open and expanded, it is also easier to release tension in the jaw, shoulders and neck areas. 

If you are teaching Yoga to a diversity of students over the course of the week, do be aware that a number of your students may be struggling with low moods states, including feeling of helplessness and hopelessness, which are often emotional symptoms of depression. Please keep in mind that some of your Yoga students may be contending with unintegrated, painful life experiences, which are lodged in their bodies. Remember to move slowly and gently with these students and to not push them too quickly into back bending postures that they are not ready to practice. 

Even relatively simple back bending Yoga postures can be profoundly effective at releasing the physical tension that is often held around the heart, throat, neck, and shoulder areas. Another area of the body where painful or difficult life experiences are often held is the hips. In all of these areas of the body, it is important to guide your Yoga students respectfully through the practice of these postures and to remind them to slow down or take a break and rest in Child’s Pose, if they need to do so. When necessary, you also can offer your students the option of practicing restorative, supported versions of many of the traditional back bending Yoga postures, if it is more appropriate for a particular student on a given day. 

* Bow Pose or Dhanurasana

Bow Pose is a wonderfully accessible beginning back bending posture, which has an immediately expanding, energizing and mood-elevating effect. This posture is practiced from a prone position on the mat, so it is appropriate for a wide range of Yoga students. Although Bow Pose is generally regarded as a beginning to Level 1 Yoga posture, it can be quite challenging for some students if they are particularly tight throughout the front of the body. Bow Pose elongates the entire front of the torso, expands the rib cage, elongates the quadriceps, and releases tension throughout the sides of the neck, shoulders and thoracic spine.

Bow Pose is usually practiced towards the second half of a Yoga class. It is often practiced after a series of Sun Salutations, standing asanas and balancing postures, so that the students are thoroughly warmed up. When you are ready to guide your students through the practice of Dhanurasana or Bow Pose, have them flow through a final vinyasa and then come to a prone position on their Yoga mats. When they are ready, ask your students to bend their legs and grasp their ankles with their hands and to keep their palms facing the central line of the body. 

With their next inhale, ask your students to exert a gentle pressure against their hands as they raise their bent legs off the mat several inches. Ask your students to be mindful to keep their knees in a straight line with their hips, while they hold the posture for five full breaths. With their next exhale, ask your Yoga students to release Bow Pose and come back to a resting, prone position on their mats. Repeat Bow Pose two more times with your class, and then guide your students into the next Yoga posture. 

Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years. She lives in Woodstock, New York, where she works as a writer and an academic support specialist. She is currently accepting Yoga and health-related writing orders and may be contacted at:

© Copyright 2016 – Virginia Iversen / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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