legs up the wall pose

Yoga for tired legs

Yoga teachers stand a lot. Like, a LOT. On a busy day we might teach between four and six hours of yoga, and walk in between classes - so add an hour or two of walking to all that standing, and you have a recipe for very tired legs! 

Some nights, my feet feel so tender that I find myself hobbling, my ankles are puffy, my calves are in spasm. Sound vaguely familiar to any of you who are teachers/ librarians/ retail workers/ hospitality workers/ physiotherapists/ massage therapists? And all the myriad other people who stand in the course of your work? Then there are those of you who are transitioning to sit/stand desks. Them pins gonna be tired in the beginning!

So I thought I would share my 'magic two' poses for tired legs. (I'm quite a fan of magic-seeming solutions to pain)

Magic Pose 1: Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose)

Oh, the joys of sitting on your heels. This just relieves so much tension in my ankles and feet, de-puffs them, and stretches my quadriceps out a bit too.

vajrasana - yoga for tired legs

I sometimes practice Virasana (Hero Pose) instead, sitting between my heels on a flattish foam block. When my knees allow it, of course.

Virasana (hero pose) - yoga for tired legs

What, you ask, about those of us who can't kneel like this because it hurts our ankles/knees? Aha, I have an option for you, too:

Cakravakasana

Which refers to the sequence below: inhaling to all fours, and exhaling to  release your buttocks towards your heels. It gives a similar kind of relief but without the sustained pressure on your joints that holding a pose would exert.

cakravakasana - yoga for tired legs
balasana - yoga for tired legs

And then there is Magic Pose 2: Legs up the Wall

Is there any ailment this pose can't help? I doubt it.

This is the ultimate langhana (releasing, soothing) pose. I find it helps the muscles and tissues around my damaged SI joints relax, it allows blood and lymph to drain from my tired and puffy legs, and, with my arms out as pictured, also stretches my chest to relieve the hunch-asana that develops over a day of reaching forward to adjust students, working on the computer, etc. Sometimes I even meditate in this postion, when sitting is too uncomfortable.

viparita karani - yoga for tired legs
Yoga For Tired Legs

Sweet relief!

Also check out: Alignment, Anatomy, Geekery. 

How to boost your immunity this Winter (plus a giveaway)

Winter is coming... 

(Okay, maybe it's already here)

And with it the cold and flu season. Ick. But yoga can help give your immune system a little extra ammunition against the dreaded lurgy in the colder months. We made a little infographic to show you how.

Instructions for:

Down dog here

Child's pose here

Tadasana (Mountain pose) here

Legs up the wall pose here

And we have a giveaway!

We have five copies of the 'Salute the Desk' app for iPhone and iPad to give away.

It's a really cool app - it reminds you to take regular stretch breaks, and you get little goals to work towards (see image below). It's awesome too that the person who finally, finally made a non-sucky yoga app is a local Melbourne lady.

To enter, just leave a comment below, or reply to the newsletter saying 'yes please'.

You have until midnight Sunday 11 May to enter and winners will be announced on Facebook on Tuesday 13 May.

Building a yoga habit

Morning yoga has become a ritual for me. 

I roll out of bed and do a few yoga poses on my bedroom floor in my pjs. I do this every day, sometimes just for ten minutes. It doesn't always feel good, but it tunes me in to how I feel, and I am usually calmer afterwards. 

This habit has a significant impact on the rhythm* of my day, my productivity in my work, and how stressed I do or do not feel. 

Rituals and habits are closely related. 

I think of rituals as habits that give us a little space to find meaning, or to remind ourselves of it.  

The dictionary definition of ritual is “any practice or pattern of behaviour regularly performed in a set manner”, and there’s plenty written on how rituals can give meaning to events (even a study that showed that performing a short ritual before eating food increased the enjoyment of eating it!), and how the things we do repeatedly are who we become. 

(These two, on the relationship between personality and habit, and on how long it takes to form a new habit, are particularly interesting.)

What does this have to do with yoga? Well, yoga is a tool both for noticing our habits (in posture, movement, thoughts, emotions) and for changing our them so we spending more time with the ones that help us.

And, of course, yoga itself can be a habit or ritual. 

Do you want to build a yoga habit?

I’ve written here before about how a home yoga practice can be an antidote to Busy. It’s also a way of noticing things about ourselves and how we are in the world, and, potentially, to begin to build more helpful habits in other parts of life.

But how to start?

I’m going to give just one piece of advice.  

Start small. 

A small change is easier to do regularly, and to form a habit we need regularity. (There's a great post here on the Zen Habits blog about forming habits.)

So perhaps start just by standing for a minute (yes, just a minute) each morning or evening in tadasana with your feet at hip width apart, spine tall, face muscles softening.

Or, you might like to try just a minute each day of any of these simple postures:

Build a yoga habit

Pick a time of day, and do it each day at (or roughly at) that time. Be flexible though. If the time doesn't work, change it until you find a time that does. Then stick to it. And that one little change may lead to bigger ones. After all, from little things big things grow.

*A note: I prefer the word ‘rhythm’ to ‘routine’ because it’s a little more flexible and a little less mechanical (and hey, life isn’t always predictable).


A home yoga practice is an antidote to Busy

I’ll be upfront. This is a post about being busy. And it is, um, particularly timely for me. When I wrote this, I needed to work on about five different things that day (sound familiar?).

I was Busy. And I felt it.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about this thing we call Busy; finding out what it does to our bodies and brains and how it messes with our body's basic rhythms and cycles. Some of the reasons it's problematic are outlined in more detail in more detail in this 2012 article from the New York Times, and this one from 2013, in Australian magazine Dumbo Feather.

What concerns me most about ‘Busy’ is its close relationship with chronic stress and anxiety.

There are countless studies that show the impact of chronic stress on the body and the mind, and not much of that impact is good. Stress is supposed to be a short-term thing. 

Essentially, the antidote is to slow down. 

The body and the brain need downtime (or ‘rest and digest' mode) as part of a regular rhythm to keep them from falling apart. Yoga, especially a simple home practice, can be that. 

Being Busy is not, in itself, a bad thing. But for most of us it would be more useful to see it as an sign to pay more attention to how we're spending our time.

The What:

If you're Busy, chances are you won’t be able to get to a yoga class, or, if you can, you’ll only be able to go to one a week, maybe two. But to balance out the stress mode, your body really needs more downtime than that. This is where a home practice comes in. 

A lot of people get (understandably) nervous about the idea of practicing yoga at home. The trick, really, is to keep it simple. (Incidentally, simple yoga is often exactly the kind that’s needed if one is feeling Busy.)

My tips for starting a home practice:

  • Start small: commit yourself to ten minutes in the morning or the evening — if you feel like doing more you can, but regularity is ultimately more helpful; you’re trying to create a habit
  • If you know sun salutes, just do that. One round on each leg. Then lie down for a few minutes. 
  • If you don’t know sun salutes, do two or three poses that you do know. Start with the ones you feel confident enough with from class. Perhaps downward facing dog or a warrior pose or two. Perhaps the much-loved (ha!) chair pose or high squat. (You can always add more later. You don’t have to do it all on the first day.) Then lie down for a few minutes.
  • If you don’t know any poses at all, just stand with your feet at hip width apart, let your spine lengthen, then watch your breath. Then lie down for a few minutes.
  • Lie with your legs up the wall for a few minutes. Listen to this guided relaxation:
Grab a restorative yoga guide sheet   here .

Grab a restorative yoga guide sheet here.

Make sure your buttocks are far enough away from the wall that you’re not feeling a strong stretch in the legs, then just let yourself relax. Watch your breath. Resist the urge to do anything.

  • Have I made it clear enough that at least part of your home yoga practice, especially if you’re feeling Busy, should be just lying on the floor doing nothing?

Often the yoga I personally do at home is more complicated than this, because that’s what I feel like on the day, but at least once a week, sometimes more (usually when I’m feeling Busy), my yoga practice is just one of the points I’ve listed above. 

Honestly. 

Some days I just stand still for a few minutes. Other days even that’s too much and I just lie of the floor for a few minutes. This is a good way to lie:

Image courtesy   MoveWell Studio

Image courtesy MoveWell Studio

Yes, really. Some days I make time to do nothing. This is yoga.

If you want to do more than this (and I suggest perhaps waiting until a time when you’re not feeling so Busy to introduce a more complicated home practice), you can ask your yoga teacher to help you come up with a sequence that works for you. Or grab this download.

The Why:

To be honest, the ‘doing nothing’ kind of yoga is often far more challenging for me than the stuff that’s stronger physically, especially when I’m feeling Busy. The urge to “be productive” with all my time is strong. I suspect many people would notice the same thing.

The thing is though, different types of activity affect us in different ways, and downtime is productive, not just for the physical body, but also for the brain. This bit is especially important for those of us who work, probably at a desk, in a job that uses the brain but not so much the body.

Here's how different types and levels of activity affect our brains:

Aerobic exercise — something that gets your heart rate up — encourages the growth of more neurons and a better blood flow in the brain. This seems to improve the ability to focus in the face of distractions; it improves planning, scheduling, working memory and the ability to switch between tasks. All pretty good reasons to step away from the desk and move around, yes?

Anaerobic exercise — stretching or strength training that doesn’t necessarily get the heart rate up — appears to increase activity in the part of the brain that helps us to resolve conflict and to distinguish between confusing or disparate sources of stimulation. Again, helpful.

And then there’s doing nothing. Physically, doing nothing (or at least very little) allows the body to rest, restore and digest. But mentally, doing nothing is important too. Resting allows the mind time to wander, and to start sorting through all the stuff. It’s in allowing the mind to wander that we’re more likely to suddenly realise, say, that the answer to the problem at work can actually be solved using the something from some other part of our lives. Neurologists call this analogical thinking.

Here's the clincher: what we do with the physical body seems to be more effective than cognitive exercises for improving brain health and cognitive function.

The different benefits of the various types of activity (or non-activity) for the mind and body really need to be part of our daily rhythms, but they're especially important when we're Busy. So how about we all just have a little lie down now?


More restorative yoga, yeah baby!

Does it seem like a bit of a theme round here right now? It's probably because it's been (more) on Teamm...Yoga's minds since Sophie gave us her talk about autoimmune disorders and how yoga can help. As you may recall if you hang with us on Facebook or get the newsletter, the main takeaway was: slow the heck down to stay well.

legs up the wall

One really interesting study that Sophie quoted in her talk started out saying:

Yoga has been used in the treatment of such diverse health problems as asthma, type II diabetes, fatigue in breast cancer survivors, irritable bowel syndrome, sleep, depression, and anxiety. Mechanistic explanations for yoga's mental and physical health benefits have highlighted reductions in sympathetic nervous system (SNS) tone, and increases in parasympathetic (vagal) activity, both of which could have favorable immune and endo- crine consequences by reducing stress-related responses. However, surprisingly few studies have attempted to relate endocrine or immune function to yoga practice, even though some hatha yoga pos- tures are characterized as immune enhancing or restorative.

To address yoga's impact on inflammation, one key facet of immune function, we compared novice and expert yoga practitioners' inflammatory responses [13]. Despite the fact that novices and ex- perts did not differ on key dimensions including age, abdominal adiposity, and cardiorespiratory fitness, novices' serum interleukin 6 levels were 41% higher than those of experts, and the odds of a novice having detectable C-reactive protein were 4.75 times as high as that of an expert. Differences in stress responses between the groups provided one plausible mechanism for their divergent in- flammatory data; experts produced less lipopolysaccharide- stimulated IL-6 in response to laboratory stressors than novices.

Inflammation is a robust and reliable predictor of all-cause mortality in older adults. (emphasis added by me)

You can read the whole thing here. Basically, learning to calm your fight-or-flight response (reduce sympathetic nervous system tone, in the science-speak) will reduce inflammation, chronic and otherwise, and thereby drop off the severity of many autoimmune symptoms as well as, like the study says, reduce your risk of all-cause mortality. Otherwise known as early...retirement.

The study talks about the endocrine (hormonal) effects of yoga practice, specifically the kind that clams your body. Not the kind that amps you up.

That, friends, means more child pose, and more lying around on the floor. Or in bed, actually.

So, here are four more ways to do that.

Did you download the PDF yet? No, but seriously, you need to. Click here.

Have a lovely, restorative week folks.

Nadine & the mm...Yoga! team.