Arthritis friendly yoga – uniting movement and mindset with breath for better overall health.

Hi Lovely Live Well-ers!

After last week’s solstice we are well into the chilly winter season that means feeling regularly stiff and sore for some of us. If you suffer from arthritis - whether mild or severe, seasonal or chronic - I’ve got a few tips here on ways that yoga can help you improve or manage your condition in healthy, supportive ways.

What is arthritis?

There are almost as many types of arthritis and related diseases, as there are yoga poses and ways to practice.  This is lucky because that means that within all the many options there will be something that’s suitable for you!

Characterised broadly as an inflammatory response, predominantly of joints that causes pain, Arthritis sufferers can present with a wide range of symptoms from isolated pain, swelling and reduction of movement in one joint, to much broader loss of mobility, wider organ and nervous system involvement, and debilitating loss of physical function.

What is yoga?

Yoga is an ancient science that blends movement, breathing and mental concentration and contemplation exercises into a powerful self-care practice.

How can yoga help arthritis sufferers?

Physically, the practice of yoga postures (asana) can help build strength, develop balance and improve flexibility when applied safely. Gentle exercise that doesn’t inflame joints or aggravate pain has been shown to help improve joint health and prevent worsening symptoms that result from a sedentary lifestyle in people with arthritis.

Psychologically, the breathing (pranayama) and mindfulness (meditation) aspects of yoga can have hugely beneficial impacts in helping cultivate a positive mindset, managing pain, improving immunity and reducing feelings of stress and frustration that can be helpful for people managing a chronic condition like arthritis.

Move your body, change your life!  

Even when restricted, movement is so important to our overall physical and psychological health. Arthritis sufferers, regardless of the extent or severity of their condition, can benefit greatly from incorporating some of yoga’s movement techniques into their regular wellness routine.

Despite what you may think, not all yoga requires you to turn your body into a bendy pretzel, or being able to touch your toes! There are plenty of ways a physical yoga practice can be adapted to your individual needs so that you can stretch, strengthen and relax in ways that are comfortable and accessible to your specific condition.

If you’re suffering from arthritis and looking to begin yoga, you can practice gentle variations in each of the families of poses - forward bends, backbends, twists, balances, standing, sitting and lying – within the bounds of your pain tolerance and range of movement. Incorporating supportive tools such as blocks, straps, blankets, cushions and chairs are an excellent way to help modify and assist your practice.

Where do I start?

-       Talk to your doctor first. If there are any specific movements they recommend you avoid, have them write them down so you can pass them on to your yoga teacher.

-       Find a qualified teacher who you can talk to about your specific needs (pick me!). Individual sessions are an ideal place to start if you’re new to yoga. I’m available on Wednesday afternoons for private yoga consultations where I’ll create a program tailored specifically to you.

-       If you prefer a group session, choose a beginner’s yoga class, a chair-based yoga class or a slower, prop-supported practice where you can begin learning what feels right for you.

-       Always listen to your body’s signals and never push yourself into pain.

Breathe yourself to freedom

The way we breathe can change our body chemistry and how our brains and nervous system function. The beauty of a moving practice of yoga is that it is usually paired with the deep, controlled breathing. For arthritis sufferers, even if you’re very movement limited, breathing is a powerful self care practice you can do anytime, anywhere to help create a state of calm and relaxation…or even increased energy if you feel like it too!

Through breath we can create states of calm or states of anxiety. Learning to know what your breathing patterns are and creating for you and finding new ways to produce peace and balance through focussed breathing can help you transform your state of mind, manage feelings of anxiety or overwhelm and cultivate states of calm and relaxation - by choice when ever you want to.

Where do I start?  

-       Deep belly breaths are the fastest way to calm your nervous system. They help switch off our stress ‘fight, flight, freeze’ response that’s triggered in times of stress and help bring your back to a calm, healing, restful state of body and mind.

-       You can bring your attention to your breath anytime, driving your car, sitting or standing at work, or lying down in bed! Ideally you have good posture and an even, neutral spine.

-       First start to notice the quality of your breath; is it deep or shallow, fast or slow, laboured or easy?

-       Then on an exhale squeeze out as much air out as possible, including squeezing your belly and ribs down tight. Try to hold your breath out for one or two counts is you can.

-       As you inhale let your low belly relax and fully stretch out, followed by letting your ribs fully expand up and out.

-       Take another slow, deep exhale for the count of at least four. Continue making your inhale and exhale equal length, repeat for as long as you feel comfortable.

-       Return to normal breath and notice how you feel.

-       Be mindful to stop if breathing exercises make you feel anxious, dizzy or nauseas.

Cultivate a positive mindset

Some people call mediation the ‘art of attention’. Mindfulness meditation helps provide a pathway for creating a new relationship with your self by paying attention to where your feelings and thoughts begin, how you get caught up in them and whether, in fact, your thoughts are really true, or just bad habits you’ve become used to repeating and eventually believing.

Learning to flex our attention muscle can lead to positive psychological benefits such as reducing symptoms of stress including - importantly for arthritis suffers; inflammation, reducing the incidence or severity of anxiety and depression, assisting with conditions including insomnia, and of specific interest to arthritis sufferers, helping change your relationship with pain.

Living with pain can be both physically and psychologically debilitating and practicing meditation has been shown to create measurable improvements in quality of life for arthritis sufferers.

Because pain science has found that the experience of pain is both physical and emotional, sometimes meditation can help where medication can’t by teaching you to become aware of your feelings, manage your emotions moment to moment, be compassionate towards yourself, practice acceptance and choose positive thought patterns that can help you create a more contented life with your condition.

Learning meditation is a wonderful way to start actively changing your mind, and therefore your relationship with yourself, and your condition.

Where do I start?

-       Download a free app such as Head Space or One Giant Mind and listen to guided meditations.

-       Enrol in a 6-week Managing the Madness course with Live Well.

-       Book in for a private consultation with me and I’ll set you up with a simple and specific meditation to practice on your own at home.

-       Start paying attention to when your thoughts start to spiral into negativity. Invite them back to the positive by thinking about something that you’re grateful for. A daily practice of gratitude has been proven to improve your outlook on life.

Convinced that yoga might have something to offer you?!

Whether you’re an arthritis sufferer, a regular yoga practitioner looking to deepen your practice or just yo-curious, I’m available for private yoga consultations here at Live Well every Wednesday afternoon and would love to work with you to create a tailored Yoga program that can help you achieve your wellbeing goals.

You can also join me on my upcoming Yoga and Wellbeing Retreats:

Spring Yoga Boot Camp - September 9-11

The Paradise Retreat Sri Lanka - September 18-24

Yoga Big Day Out Canberra - October 23

Namaste and be wild, be wise, be well!


Pre-Natal Yoga

Somehow, in the wonderful way the western world has of taking an ancient teaching and morphing, modernising and making it their own, yoga has become a form of 'exercise' and quite recently something that women take up for the first time when they become pregnant. Prenatal yoga has become 'the thing to do' if you want to have a peaceful, healthy pregnancy.

I am all for more people participating in yoga but I'm also passionate about promoting the fact that yoga is far more than a physical activity performed in a room under the guidance of a self proclaimed modern guru.

So... With that out of the way!

What is it that yoga can offer pregnant women?

1. Space - whether you already have kids at home or you just need some time to yourself that's not at work or at home, prenatal yoga classes offer an opportunity for 60-90 mins of dedicated 'me time'. You get to be completely self- focussed, self-absorbed and self-centred in a fully sanctioned and supported way!

2. Rest - again, similar to the above, whether you're already a working mum of one or more or working while navigating the new territory of your first pregnancy, there are times you can feel completely exhausted. Prenatal yoga classes can offer you an opportunity to restore your energy

3. Strength/power - labor can be long. You need not only physical stamina but mental focus as well. Prenatal yoga can help build your physical strength and teach you skills to help direct your focus either towards calm when it's necessary or for commitment to tapping into your internal reserves of strength, stamina and determination in the face of fear and challenge.

4. Peace - the internal working of our minds and be loud, busy, hectic and chaotic - just as sometimes our lives are as well. Just because you're pregnant doesn't mean what you worry about stops or that the rest of your life and its demands stop either. Prenatal yoga is a place you can learn tools and techniques to manage the madness - whether it stems from internal stories and habits, or external forces and circumstances of your life. Practices such as pranayama and meditation are excellent tools for cultivating inner peace as they develop concentration, disciplined mental focus and help promote calming of the nervous system.

5. Connection - to others to your body/yourself to your baby. Especially in a transient town like Canberra, where many people may not have family or close friends available to support you through or talk to about your pregnancy, sometimes it can feel quite isolating. Prenatal yoga classes can be a great place to meet and connect with people who may be experiencing similar things to you! A good prenatal yoga class should feel like a safe space where you can share what's going on for you physically and emotionally and feel supported by your teacher and the group to hold space for you to express what you're feeling. Connecting with people is a great way to not feel like you're bearing the load or feeling fears, insecurities all on your own. Sharing and sometimes even just hearing others share how they feel can be so helpful in understanding you're not on your own.

During Pregnancy your body undergoes significant changes in physical, hormonal and emotional ways. Prenatal yoga can help you build a deeper understanding of how your body is changing. This knowledge of your mind/body connection can help you be aware of the changes your body undergoes in the stages of labour. Being present during the process - and applying some of the techniques of breath modulation, focussed mental commitment and physical stamina also learned in prenatal class - can help get you through your labor successfully.

Finally, the meditation, visualisation and breathing techniques you learn in prenatal yoga class can help build a closer, deeper connection between you and your baby. Energy flows where intention goes and Cultivating a relationship between you and your baby can begin long before you get to meet them face to face!

There are many more ways that prenatal yoga can be beneficial during your pregnancy and also how postnatal yoga can help you recover and return to physical and mental balance and health post pregnancy.

If you've got questions or would like to experience pre or post natal yoga if love to hear from you!

Stress Free with Yoga

Hi everyone, last week Wes introduced us to our health focus for the month- ‘Banishing Stress’ with a great blog on the different ways in which we might both express or supress our symptoms of stress.

I loved the way Wes talked about this as I believe that getting to know yourself well is one of the most important ingredients in learning to manage your health and wellbeing effectively by taking full responsibility for yourself.

As a Yoga teacher I’m slightly biased, but believe that Yoga is a powerful tool for learning about yourself on the physical, emotional and soul levels. Yoga also offers many practices and techniques that you can use to bring you back from the edge of stress or the full blown consequences of it if you pass your tipping point and find yourself in a health crises that requires extended care.

Below I’ve outlined three simple techniques that come from Yoga that you can apply if you’re feeling like the wave of stress is cresting, that might help prevent you from wiping out once again! There’s one that’s suited to each of the ‘stress types’ Wes mentioned last week but I encourage you to explore and experiment with which one works best for you!

Meditation for the ‘Stoic’ on the go – Make space to help listen to your intuition.

Live a busy lifestyle? Does your world revolve around helping others or being the ‘responsible’ one?  Meditation is probably the last thing on your busy mind but incorporating even just five minutes a day could reap you profound benefits in your ability to manage and recover from stress.

Simple, short meditation practices are a wonderful way to create space in your body, mind and day. One of the easiest ways to start a home meditation practice is to set your alarm 5 minutes early each morning and sit quietly for those five minutes in simple observation of your breath.

Yogis believe that cultivating the ability to concentrate is the first ingredient in moving towards meditation and eventually enlightenment. That’s why we give the mind the job of holding focus on one simple thing at a time - to develop our ability to resist distractions - and the breath is a great place to start given it’s always right there with us!

To Practice:

•    Find a quiet place and sit comfortably. It can be a chair with back support or a cushion on the floor – just try not to lie down as you might just fall asleep again!

•    Set a timer so you know how long you’ll be there for and can relax into the experience. Try a soft gentle tone to rouse you – not something that will shock your nervous system!

•    Breathe deeply and use your power of visualisation to connect with the path of breath in and out of your body, eventually imagining it can travel all the way to your toes.

•    Observe if these few minutes of space at the start of your day help you manage all of your tasks in a more effective and calm way.

Pranayama for the ‘Dramatiser’ – Let breath be your conduit to inner calm.

Does your mind move a million miles and hour trying to keep up with all the things you’re overcommitted but unable to say no to for fear of letting anyone else down? Are you stuck in a cycle of negative talk and thoughts about your current life circumstances?  Stop! Take a deep breath. And another one. How do you feel now?

It’s no secret that our bodies and minds are connected. When we have a thought it influences our bodies in hormonal, emotional and physical ways. Luckily for us humans, we also have the power to rewire our brains by using our physical bodies to bring our consciousness back into balance if we’re feeling the signals or symptoms of stress.

Different types of breathing alter our physical and psychological state.  Generally deeper breathing patterns encourage our bodies away from the fight/flight/fright response of adrenaline-fuelled stress and towards a calmer body-mind state of relaxation (rest/digest). It’s a simple circuit breaker you can use when you notice you’re feeling anxious or a regular practice you can incorporate into your day repeated times to help you maintain a sense of calm serenity in the sea of drama queens out there!

To Practice:

•    As I mentioned above…Take a deep breath! Repeat.  As many time as required to reconnect to your body and your sense of internal peace.

•    Generally focusing on breathing deep into your low abdomen, almost puffing out your belly with each inhale can help bring your stress levels back down to earth.

•    Allow the muscles around your jaw to slacken as you breathe out through your mouth. This will help relax tension around your shoulders as well.

•    The beauty of breath is that you can do it anywhere and no one needs to know you’re doing a self-management technique!

•    Observe if these few moments of breath give you some emotional space between your runaway thought train or some clarity on what’s within your power to change, and what’s not.

Somatics for the ‘Secret Stress-head’ – Let your body tell you how you feel.

Got a secret buried so deep even you’ve forgotten what is was? Got a myriad of health challenges but can’t quite pinpoint why or where they come from?

Welcome to the secret society of the masters of internal suppression! It’s a global club way bigger than you’d imagine and you walk through society quietly ‘saving face’ not knowing who else might be one of your secret club members.

As Wes mentioned last week exercise is your friend. But probably not the kind of exercise that you’re used to. Often certified members of secret club stress use exercise to punish themselves or to suppress any feelings that come up, because feelings are too scary/unfamiliar/overwhelming/inconvenient to ‘deal’ with. Life must go on, so you do what you do best and suppress – in any way possible.  

Beginning a relationship with your feelings is tricky, sometimes scary stuff. A lot of us aren’t well versed in the language of emotions but our bodies store up all of our feelings in our tissues until we’re able to express them. Suppressed emotions manifest as physical symptoms.

Beginning a Yoga asana practice that’s kind to your body and mind is a way to unlock and explore some of the emotions that are stored up within you in a gentle way. Restorative Yoga is also a great way to calm a very stressed out nervous system.  

To Practice:

•    You can do your own practice at home or outdoors, take in a local Restorative Yoga class or make an appointment with me at Live Well for a private session and take-home program.

•    If you’re practicing at home, keep any movements you do no faster than one full breath per movement to really help slow you down.

•    Investigate what it’s like to hold poses for longer periods of 10 breaths or more and notice what kinds of feelings arise for you through this challenge.

•    The more you can soften and surrender into the longer held poses, the more your mind and nervous system will relax and you’ll eventually be able to cultivate a sense of connection and calm with your emotions.

•    Make sure you don’t hold anything back. Give yourself permission to feel. Ask questions and notice what answers bubble up from your body and deeper levels of consciousness. This is how you begin to tap in to your intuition!

Overall be patient with yourself. Yoga is not a practice of cultivating perfection, it’s a process of being nice to yourself while you learn new ways of looking after yourself and interacting with the world.

If you can make a commitment to incorporating just one of these practices into your days, weeks and eventually life, you’ll notice the benefits flowing off your mat or meditation cushion and into your daily life in the way you more consciously and kindly act and interact with others.

Have fun exploring your stress-free yoga journey and please feel free to book in for a session with me if you have any questions!


Yoga for Insomnia

There are a myriad of reasons for interrupted sleep. Whether you suffer chronic insomnia or find yourself having a hard time getting back into a healthy sleep routine after travel or a change in stress levels or life circumstances, Yoga offers a range of techniques to calm your busy mind and relax your tired body so that you can do what you're meant to overnight; recover and restore. 

The forward bending family of poses are a great place to start for calming an outwardly focused mind and tuning into the natural internal rhythms of your body to prepare for a good night's sleep. 

Forward folds come in all shapes and sizes from standing to seated and wide leg to one leg at time. Generally in Yoga, forward folding postures are credited with encouraging mental rejuvenation and stress relief by bringing stillness to an overactive mind, physical release along the back side of the body including hamstrings, upper and lower back and balancing us energetically by asking us to look within, rather than without for the answers to all we may seek to find, to stop running away from pain or chasing the next high and instead rest in that which we are experiencing right now and finally with listening to our hearts, instead of getting caught up in the melodrama of our minds. 

If you struggle with getting to sleep or with getting back to sleep after waking in the night, a simple sequence of floor based, restorative forward folds paired with deep, intentional breath can help prepare you to reenter 'rest and digest' as soon as your head hits the pillow. 

There are plenty of forward folding poses you can try from simple child's pose, seated forwards folds with straight legs, wide legs, crossed legs and folding over one extended leg at a time. Have a play with what feels good for your body and use as much support as you can such as pillows, cushions or blankets to support the front side of your body. This support will help you really relax into your chosen forward fold. If you suffer sciatica or have other lower back or hamstring injuries, please be careful that your forward folds don't aggravate your condition. 

Spending at least 5-10 deep breaths in each position will allow you to gain some of the benefits of mental quiet and emotional space from each pose. A helpful mindfulness tool to pair with each pose is to visualise breathing right down to the soles of your feet and working your awareness back up the body, piece by piece, breath by breath. This is a great way to get out of your head and back into connection with the grounding energy of your lower body. 

So next time you find yourself fighting to find sleep, take five minutes out of bed and set yourself the intention to surrender to the still place inside your body, through a series of simple forward folds. Hopefully you'll reset your system to find peace and have a new tool to add to your personal wellbeing toolbox! 

 Namaste and sweet dreams!