Top 3 Merry Stress Busters: How to Stay Centred and Authentic this Silly Season

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December is my favourite month of the year but getting caught up in the silly season can be a fast track to crazy-making if you let your monkey-mind take over and forget what's at the essence, not only of the celebrations at this time of year, but within yourself.  So to give you a little Yogic helping hand to staying merrily stress-free here’s my top 3 stress busters to help you stay centred and acting authentically this silly season:

1. Remember to BREATHE! 

Three (3) deep breaths can change your life! They definitely change your ability to stay present, rather than reactive in the face of stress or pressure. Deep, controlled, steady breathing actually changes your body and brain chemistry. This gets you out of the 'fight or flight' response and back into 'Yes and Bless' (also known as 'rest and digest'! Fight or flight can be thought of as the Blame and Shame system when it comes to our emotions!). The physical chain reaction that 3 deep breaths give you acts like a circuit breaker - rather than react primarily to a trigger, you gain a little space and can then CHOOSE your actions mindfully.

So when you're driving around on Xmas eve looking for last minute gifts because work has been mental and someone cuts you off in the car park, instead of flipping the bird, STOP, breathe in to your belly and fill your lungs as deeply as you can. Exhale for at least the count of six, ten is even better. Do this three times, then smile, say YES, you're welcome to have the right of way, send them your blessings for a safe and happy Xmas and go merrily and less stressfully along your way. 

Same applies if your Aunt tells you that 'you're looking bigger this year darling' or if you accidentally burn the Xmas tofurkey (yep, it's an actual thing, not a typo) -Breathe, smile, send your blessings and let it go... Often a little circuit breaker like 3 deep breaths lets you let go of the drama, or your 'story' about how things 'should' be and gives you the chance to see the humour in the situation or find some compassion for the other person.

2.Remember the answer is always LOVE

It might sound corny but asking yourself the question "What would love do?" when someone or something is pushing your buttons can help you gain a little perspective, and again a little space, before you react to a trigger. It works REALLY well when coupled with #1! 

This applies equally to your interactions with others as to your relationship with yourself. Often we find ourselves the hardest person to love, accept and treat with respect and this sees us making decisions that don't honour our best selves. This includes our actions such as food choices, the company we keep, and the way we interact with others and our thoughts such as negative self talk, guilt and shame. The perfect seasonal example is drinking too much at the work Xmas Party, taking actions you wouldn't be proud of if you were sober and then guilting on yourself about it all afterwards - sound familiar? 

The trick to preventing this chain of avoidable events is taking the time to consider your options (remember that 3 breath thing above at #1?!) and then asking "What would love do?" and listening in for the answer. If you really, truly loved yourself, what would your honest answer be? There's a trick to listening for the answer to this question too - it won't come from your head, so if you're thinking about it, you won't get an honest answer. 

The real answer will come from your heart, as a feeling, or a sense of knowing and it probably won't be easy to recognise at first, but intuition is like a muscle, the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. Another hot tip is: it probably won't be the easy/popular/people pleasing choice. It might involve saying no in the face of peer pressure, or missing out on something. Yup, FOMO usually keeps you stuck in your same-old behaviour patterns, where it's safe and easy but probably not really what serves your highest good.

3. Remember to practice Yoga DAILY

Yoga is not always about physical asana or learning how to control your breath. Yoga is a myriad of personal and interpersonal practices that you can use to learn to love and manage yourself, and to harmonise your interactions with others. 

Your daily yoga practice may take many forms; physical movement, meditative stillness, intentional breath, devoting time to truly listen to another person or a random act of kindness. It may look like something else entirely. That's the beauty of Yoga - it is personal to you. 

You can practice Yoga anytime you want, wherever you happen to be. Like on the golden sand of your favourite beach or in the seat of your car as you drive cross-country. You could practice in your place in the queue for photos with Santa. Where ever it is, the point is that you have the opportunity to give yourself the gift of presence - being mindful of where you are, who you're with and how you choose to direct your thoughts and energy (remember #2: What would love do?) towards them and yourself. 

Each time you practice it's like a deposit in your spiritual bank account, your energy grows and enables you to invest a little more each time you come back to practice again.

So when you're cruising the shopping centre car park after your yoga class on Xmas eve and cut off that person you could clearly see was waiting before you, maybe if you just took 3 deep breaths and asked yourself 'What would love do?', you might find it within yourself to practice a bit of Yoga right now too? Like the butterfly effect, you'd be surprised how far reaching your simple practice of breath, mindfulness and love  - your yoga in action - can be. 


Keep your spine supple with Yoga this winter!

Yoga Pose! Seated twist: Bharadvajasana

With the winter chill in Canberra seriously setting in, there are a range of that Yoga practices that can help you keep you feeling supple and centred despite the cold.
 
Whether you have sore wrists, achy knees or a stiff back from arthritis, there are still gentle Yoga poses you can make a part of your day to help keep your body feeling elastic and flexible throughout winter.
 
Some Yogis and other health professionals believe that optimal health starts with our spines. So keeping your spine mobile and limber throughout the chill of winter can have benefits from improved posture, reduced pain and an improved sense of mental and emotional wellbeing.
 
Gentle seated twists are a great way to encourage healthy range of motion in your spine and assist with improving your posture, digestion freedom of movement. This seated twist 'Bharadvajasana' doesn't take a lot of time and you can even it them from the comfort of your office chair.

To set up: 

Find a comfortable seat that allows you to sit up straight and tall. You can sit on the floor or on a firm, stable chair that won't limit your twisting movements.

Begin to focus on the rhythm of your breath, noticing your inhale and exhale. Eventually invite a deeper breath in as you sit up taller and as you exhale gently connect into your core muscles.

To twist:

On an inhale breath sit up tall as you exhale twist your chest and shoulders to the right.
try to keep your chin in line with the centre of your chest.

You can place your right hand on your knee and use your left hand behind you for support against the floor or chair back.

Spent 2-3 breaths here, sitting taller with each inhale and gently exploring the twist with each exhale.

On an exhale breath, gently release back to centre. Repeat opposite side.
 
You can repeat this twist as many times as you like throughout the day to help re-set your posture and your reinvigorate your mindset. As along with the physical benefits of flexibility to your hips, spine and chest, breathing deeply helps flush out stale air in your lungs and enliven your mind to bring some energy back to your attitude!  

Be careful to:

Move slowly and gently - if you meet any sharp pain, stop and see your health professional for advice. Sit up tall at all time - this is the safest way to avoid compression in your vertebrae.
Stretch across smile on your dial as well! A little movement and breath can help drop away the winter blues and leave your feeling happier each day!
 
Namaste!

Ramone

Breathing Techniques to help You with Anxiety

Hi Everyone!

I hope you've been enjoying the tips and strategies on natural ways to manage anxiety this month.  Even as someone who works in the health and wellness field, I've loved the opportunity to learn new ways from my incredibly talented colleagues here at Live Well to Manage the Madness that so often seems to get the better of me in daily life. We’re a pretty close family here and we regularly take advantage of each other’s talents and services to help us, walk our talk and look after ourselves, so that we can continue to give our best to you! So when you’re getting a referral to another practitioner you can be sure that we have experienced their healing skills ourselves!

If we haven’t met yet, I'm Ramone and I'm currently Live Well’s resident expert on all things Yoga! I teach yoga, meditation, pre and post natal yoga and also offer Thai Yoga Massage for all ages and during pregnancy. Today I'm here to offer some options for how breathing can change your body chemistry and therefore your relationship to feelings of anxiety.

Are you breathing or thinking about breathing?

You can try this exercise to experience how reflexive breathing works.

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If you take a deep breath in…. then exhale completely and hold your breath out for as long as possible…. you’ll eventually feel a build up of energy that will force you to take your next breath in – this is our reflex to breathe – and live!

There are many ways in which we can consciously regulate our breathing patterns and in yoga we call these techniques and practices Pranayma. In Sanskrit, the ancient language of Yoga, Prana is both the word for breath and for our essential life force. As you experienced in the exercise above, these are quite closely related! If you don’t breathe you die, fairly logical whether you’re a Yogi or not!

Through generations of experimentation the Yogis developed many different Pranayama techniques, and observed their impacts on the body and mind. In modern times scientists have developed instruments that can now measure these changes on our brain function and body physiology that back up what the Yogis had come to find through their experimentation. What spiritual seekers and scientists can both now proudly claim is that the way you breathe can change your body, your mind and therefore your life!

How breathing works and why what you think matters!

Automatic breathing is governed by complex interactions of neural and chemical mechanisms in your body, without you having to think about a thing! But sometimes, what you think can change the way you breathe! When you have thoughts, you usually attach a particular feeling or emotion to each thought through habit or conditioning. Each of these thought/feelings creates a physical response in your body.

For example

Situation:      I'm not going to meet my deadline again today…

Thoughts: 1) I'm not good enough to do this job

       2) I feel bad for letting my boss down

       3) I'm terrified people will find out I'm a fraud and I’ll lose my job

Emotions: 1) Self doubt  2) Guilt/remorse  3) Fear

Response:  Fight or Flight – Particularly when fear is an emotional response or trigger, adrenaline kicks in to set your body up to either fight the threat of not meeting the deadline, or run away and hide yourself in the nearest cave to avoid the threat and humiliation of being fired! Unfortunately when it comes to fear, as intelligent as you are your brain still thinks like the cavemen did! When adrenaline fires you up to fight or flee a perceived danger, it sets off a whole chain of responses in your body including:

-          Increased breath rate (generally this means shallower and shorter breaths)

-          Blood moves to our muscles and away from our digestion 

-          Awareness sharpens

These are all great things when we actually need to defend ourselves or make a hasty retreat but in modern day society there are a whole range of reasons fight or flight isn't the socially appropriate response to a situation, or even possible! This leaves our bodies and minds pumped up for action which, in certain situations is fantastic for getting things done (like meeting that deadline!), but over time exhausts our system of vital energy and essential elements needed for healthy function.

Often quite unconsciously, we create habits of running negative thought loops in our minds. Without realising we are telling ourselves stories over and over again, our bodies respond by getting stuck in a holding pattern of pumping out hormones creating a cascading effect that you’re showing all of the physical responses you need to help you respond to a threat  - that’s not actually there - it’s just something we’re holding in our minds!

How can breath stop the anxiety train?

Well if the fight or flight response triggers short shallow breathing, maybe we could try consciously choosing to lengthen and deepen our breaths to try and trick our body out of it? We already tricked it into thinking there was a threat in the first place so it can’t be that hard right?! The beauty of conscious control of our breathing is that we have an avenue of returning the pace and depth of our breath back into to our personal power of choice. We can choose how long and how often we breathe and therefore begin to change our body chemistry out of fight or flight mode.

The first steps begin with learning to observe our anxiety signs and signals. Once you can identify some of the physical indicators of your fight or flight response, you can start using breath regulation like a circuit breaker. A tool to put in your anxiety management toolbox and use when needed!

From Fight Club to Rest Fest

The body has an inbuilt counter balance to fight or flight known as our relaxation response. Sometimes called our rest and digest system, our relaxation response is a biochemically-controlled response to the feeling of safety and security. It’s what switches on when our body needs to recover and heal; our blood pressure and pulse rate reduces, our breathing rate decreases and our brain activity changes to a frequency associated with feelings of relaxation.

One of the best Yogic breathing or Pranayama exercises for accessing this state of rest and digest is called Viloma Pranayama. In English you might have heard it called deep belly breathing, three part breath or diaphragmatic breathing.  In Sanskrit Viloma means interrupted or against the natural flow. The technique involves taking partial sips of air separated by small breaks in between each one.

It’s one of my favourite breathing techniques to teach because it has such a quick positive impact on people who try it; they are instantly calmer. It’s a simple technique that can be practised by anyone, any time, any place! Viloma breath gets you into a longer, deeper and slower breathing pattern that breaks the fight or flight cycle and sends your body and mind back toward balance with rest and digest.

Here are five simple steps to Viloma breath that you can try anywhere; from your bed when your head won’t stop working and you need to get some sleep, to the car when traffic is making you impatient, to inconspicuously in your office chair when the going gets tough and you need to stay sane and fight off the internal gremlins of self doubt and negative thought patterns!

1)     Find a place where you can sit or lie comfortably with a long, neutral spine. Place both hands on your low belly and close your eyes (if you can – not if you’re driving please!).

2)     Relax your core and inhale into your low belly until you feel it rise and expand under your hands (like a balloon inflating). Exhale and gently squeeze your core to expel all the air from your lungs. To encourage yourself to breathe slowly and deeply, you can count equal numbers for your inhale and exhale. 4:4 is a comfortable count for most people to begin with. Try at least three of these deep belly breaths first.

3)     Begin Viloma breath. On your next inhale, breathe deep into your core and feel your hands rise as your abdomen expands, stop for a moment and hold the first part of that breath in. Then continue to fill your ribcage with breath, feeling your chest expand (you may like to move your hands to the side of your chest to feel the ribs moving upward with breath), pause again. Finally fill the top of the chest with breath until you reach the base of the throat and pause for the final time (again you can move the hands to the front of the chest to feel this if it helps!).

4)     Release your breath as one long slow and controlled exhale. Take a normal breath before trying again if you need to. Repeat steps 3 & 4 at least three times but up to ten, as long as you’re not getting dizzy.

5)     Make sure you keep your breath relaxed and soft, you’ll lose the benefits of the practice if you try to force it. Go easy on yourself! The idea isn't to strive for perfection but to be deeply involved as an investigator of your experience; notice the speed, quality even the temperature of your breath and where and how it moves inside you as you slow down and shift your focus on the different parts of your torso.

Hopefully after a few rounds of Viloma Pranayama you’ll feel much more connected to your body, rather than stuck in the single gear of your mind-chatter! Our bodies are a deep well of wisdom just waiting for us to tap into and listen!

Once you've cultivated the practice of listening to the signals your body gives, you can learn to respond to those messages in healthy, healing ways and take back the power and wealth of wellness in your life! It’s a process and takes practice so remember to be patient and keep on trying even if it doesn't feel like it worked on the first go.

Good luck and please be in touch if you have any questions! 

Ramone

 

 

 

 

What Kind of Yoga is For You?

Yoga is designed to connect your mind with your body and spirit through breathing techniques, meditation and health-promoting postures (asanas).

Not only does practicing yoga tone your body and refresh your mind, it also improves your immune system, helps lower your stress level, and provides so many more health benefits.

 

Types of Yoga

Today, aside from having an abundance of yoga studios, there are many different styles of yoga to consider. Even though they’re all based on the same poses, each style has a particular focus. For example, one style has a purpose to improve flexibility, while another style primarily strengthens your core. So let’s take a look at the different types of Yoga along with their benefits and who would suit each type.

Hatha Yoga- In Sanskrit (an ancient classical language of India) “Ha” means “sun” and “tha” means “moon”. This type of Yoga is relatively slow paced, gentle type of Yoga and is a good place to start if you are completely new to Yoga and don’t know any of the asanas (poses). Like all types of Yoga, Hatha Yoga aims to unite the mind, body and spirit.

  • Purpose: To introduce beginners to yoga with basic poses and relaxation techniques
  • Benefits: Relieves stress, provides physical exercise, and improves breathing
  • Good for: Beginners and people wanting to learn the basics of yoga

Ashtanga Yoga –In Sanskrit it means “eight limbs”. It’s a fast moving, intense style of Yoga practice and is based on a progressive set sequence of asanas, synchronized with the breath. Ashtanga Yoga can be quite physically demanding as you constantly move from one asana in the sequence to the next, so you’ll find that it will improve your stamina as well as your flexibility and strength.

  • Purpose: To help improve one’s spiritual self
  • Benefits: Relieves stress, improves coordination, and helps with weight loss
  • Good for: Fit people looking to maintain strength and stamina, and those who want to get in touch with their spiritual side

Iyengar Yoga – This type of Yoga concentrates on the correct alignment and form of the body. Unlike Ashtanga Yoga, there is an emphasis on holding each pose for a long period of time rather than moving constantly from one pose to the next. Iyengar Yoga uses props such as blocks and straps to help align the body into the different poses.

  • Purpose: To strengthen and bring the body into alignment
  • Benefits: Helps improve balance, speeds up recovery from an injury, and builds up body strength
  • Good for: Beginners who want to learn the correct alignments in each pose and those with injuries, balance issues, and chronic medical conditions like arthritis

Vinyasa Yoga – Much like Hatha, Vinyasa covers basic poses and breath-synchronized movement. This variety of Hatha yoga emphasizes on the Sun Salutation, a series of 12 poses where movement is matched to the breath.

  • Purpose: To link the breath with movement and to build lean muscle mass throughout the body
  • Benefits: Helps improve strength and flexibility, tones the abdominal muscles, and reduces the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes
  • Good for: Beginners and advanced yogis alike seeking to strengthen their bodies

Bikram Yoga – Also known as hot yoga, Bikram is practiced in a 38 degree room. It’s typically a series of 26 poses that allows for a loosening of tight muscles and sweating.

  • Purpose: To flush out toxins and to deeply stretch the muscles
  • Benefits: Speeds up recovery from an injury, enhances flexibility, and cleanses the body
  • Good for: Beginners and advanced yogis alike who want to push themselves and those with physical injuries 

These are only a few of the many styles of yoga. Try one or all of them to figure out which one suits your needs the best.