Tag: Stress Relief

So, What Is Acupuncture?

Around 10% of the world’s population have a fear of needles. Being a member of that 10%, I have to admit the idea of acupuncture seemed like some kind of twisted joke to me. Who would want to be stuck with more than one of those awful needles? And people enjoy this? Turns out, most of what I knew about acupuncture was made up of common misconceptions of the practice. Turns out, the needles used for acupuncture are incredibly small and the benefits are huge.

The first system of acupuncture dates back to China in 100BC. Since then it has since gone through periods of great interest and complete disregard, however in relatively recent years scientists have redirected their attention toward the practice. Originally acupuncture was said to help balance Qi (pronounced chee) throughout the body. For most modern practitioners, acupuncture is focused on nerve endings and stimulating the body. While these ideas sound unrelated, they both focus entirely on what needs to be done to keep the body in balance.5-acupuncture

How it Works

Acupuncture works by the insertion of tiny needles into the top layer of skin in select acupuncture points. There are around 400 of these points on the body. Each of these points is home to nerve endings connected with different systems and organs in the body. Inserting the needles at these points stimulates the nerves and so affects the body. The acupuncturist will decide which points to focus on based on what you need.

By stimulating the different organs and systems of the body, acupuncturists are basically reminding the body of what it needs to do to heal itself. If you’re looking into acupuncture in order to increase your overall wellbeing, the acupuncture points chosen will help to balance your body’s interconnected systems. Basically, any problem you are suffering that has an internal source can be lessened by acupuncture.

Benefits

Most often acupuncture is a treatment sought by those dealing with pain of any sort. It helps with back pain, headaches, neck or shoulder pain, postoperative pain and pretty well any other sort of pain. However, there are many ailments that can be relieved by acupuncture treatments such as digestive issues, allergies, insomnia, asthma and more. The most common benefits, seen by anyone who seeks out acupuncture treatments, are better sleep, higher energy levels, lower stress levels, and better digestion.

What to Expect

Acupuncture doesn’t serve as a quick fix. It needs several treatments to make a difference. Think of it this way, you don’t expect one day of antibiotics to kick your sinus infection to the curb. It takes days before you feel normal again. The same goes for acupuncture. For general maintenance, patients will have one treatment a week, or every other week. For injuries or other ailments, you might need to go in more often.
acupuncture-needleThe needles used during acupuncture come in different sizes. If you have a fear of needles, all you have to do is mention it and they’ll use the smallest needle size available. When the needles are inserted in the acupuncture points, it’s described as a heavy feeling rather than any sort of pain. A lot of people don’t feel the needles at all.

Once the needles are inserted, the acupuncturist will leave them in and let you relax. The average acupuncture treatment lasts between 45 minutes and an hour. Once the treatment is over, some people leave feeling energized others leave feeling relaxed.

Finding an Acupuncturist

If you’re ready to jump on the acupuncture bandwagon, make sure that you check with

your insurance. Many people make the mistake of assuming it isn’t covered, but a lot of insurance companies are adding it as the practice gains traction.archana-ram-acupuncture

There are sites out there that will help you find an acupuncturist in your area, but the best way to find a great acupuncturist is through word of mouth. Ask friends, co-workers or family members who have tried acupuncture if they have someone they would recommend.

Keep in mind that certified acupuncturists have completed between 2,000-3,000 hours of training and have passed the board exams given by the National Certification Commission of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.

So no, acupuncture isn’t some kind of torture, it’s a kind of healing. And with more and more people, even those who are scared of needles, turning to it every day, this practice of balancing the body is going to be around for thousands of years to come.

Ten Ways To Add Mindfulness To Your Day

In our busy lives, sometimes it’s hard to commit to a firm meditation routine. If you’re looking to dip a toe into the waters of mindful living, check out these ten mindfulness exercises that are short, sweet and to the point.

  1. Take 3 – Take a moment and notice three things you can hear, then three things you can see, and finally three things you can feel.
  2. Make a Fist – Grasp your hands really tight and hold for 5-10 seconds. When you release notice the feelings in your hands and focus on these for as long as you can.
  3. mindfulness-exercises-studentsThe Inside of a Smile – Take a moment and smile to yourself, closing your eyes if you want. Notice how the smile feels on your face. What feelings does smiling evoke in you? You can try this with a small smile or a wide, excited smile.
  4. Stop and Smell the Roses -Take a deep breath and smell something strong such as coffee beans, flowers, or perfume. Notice the sensations in your nose and the feelings that the scent provokes.
  5. Mindful Watching – Next time you sit down to watch a movie, pay attention to the process of becoming engrossed in the plot. Notice how the story affects your emotions as it plays out. Remember, the point of being mindful is to observe without judgment.
  6. Eating Meditation– If you plan on eating at some point during your day, you have the perfect opportunity to be mindful! When you sit down to eat, try to really notice the smell, color and look of your food. When you take a bite focus on how the textures feel in your mouth, the taste of the food and your body’s reaction to it. You don’t need to do this for the entire meal, but really being in the present for one or two bites gives you a few minutes of mindfulness.
  7. The Candle – Take a few minutes in a darkened room and focus your attention entirely on a lit candle. Notice everything about it. When your mind wanders, bring it back to the candle.
  8. Take a Hike -If you have 10-15 minutes to walk during the day, this exercise is great for you. As you walk, take the time to really notice your senses. Notice how it feels when your feet touch the ground, what the leaves on the trees look like, the sound of birds or cars passing by. The trick is to keep your mind on the present. If and when your mind drifts to the problems or triumphs of the day, gently bring yourself back to the present.
  9. One Breath– Take a moment to notice the feeling of just one breath, or more if you’re up for it.
  10. Body Scan – Starting at the top, slowly work your way down your body, tensing and releasing all of the muscles. Really notice how your body and mind react when you do this.

Ideally, to build your mindful lifestyle, small mindfulness exercises like these would be used alongside the more formal meditation. Think of it as formal meditation being your workouts and these small exercises being your healthy diet. Just like when you adopt a healthy lifestyle, you need continual dedication to your goal for living mindfully. Even if you don’t have the time to devote to formal meditation, taking up small mindful habits can make a difference in your life. Try out these short mindfulness techniques, mix and match them, or combine them to create a mindfulness habit that’s entirely your own.

 

Wonderfully Wacky Yoga

Since yoga came to the western world, it has seen hundreds of different styles and modifications. While a basic Hatha yoga class will never fail in helping you get healthy and calming your mind, sometimes it’s even more beneficial to switch things up. This might mean trying out a different instructor’s class, jumping from Hatha to a Vinyasa class, or maybe something a little more…out there. If you’re looking to break out of your routine, would you give any of these wacky yoga classes a try?

Foodie Yoga

Love food? Who doesn’t? Check out this foodieawesome style of yoga. David Romanelli founded Yoga for Foodies, Yoga + Chocolate, and Yoga + Wine. Imagine munching on chocolate during your workout and the instructor is totally fine with it! While wine and chocolate are great during a yoga workout, think of a chef prepared meal awaiting you afterwards. Talk about motivation!

Paddle board Yoga

If balance is your biggest concern, you might want to stick with the other options on this list, options that stay on dry ground. This style of yoga involves entire workouts done on a stand up paddle board (SUP). Connecting with nature and the calming effect of being on the water aside, this style of yoga has fantastic benefits. Because of the SUP’s movement, you can see exactly where you’re placing the pressure of your body in the poses. If you lean more to one side, the paddleboard will lean. It’s a great way to learn to center your balance. Don’t live near an ocean? No worries, these classes can take place on any kind of body of water whether it be an ocean, lake, pond or (if you’re desperate) pool.

Yoga with Cats and Dogs

A cat café in New York has started a new trend of including feline friends in our yoga workouts. This kind of workout involves cats prowling around the room during yoga classes. Some of the cats sit back, others hang out on your mat while some join in the yoga fun. Some people have gone so far as to incorporate their cats into their actual yoga poses.

dogaDoga combines meditation and massages for your K9 companion. This style of yoga emphasizes union and connecting with others like the dogs, who are pack animals. Some believe that Doga is just a fad, others (myself included) can’t imagine getting their dog to go along with them to yoga class, while devotees believe that Doga is beneficial to both the dog and their human counterpart.

Broga

Broga was founded in 2011 by two guys who wanted a space for yoga that was more inclusive for men. In these classes, the poses are focused more on the naturally strong areas for men such as the back and arms. These classes tend to focus less on flexibility or spirituality. Probably the coolest part of this trend, they also have a site brogamats.com with fantastically guy-oriented products such as army men in yoga poses and yoga bags that look like burritos.broga

Tantrum Yoga

Have you ever wanted to throw a massive, toddler level tantrum? Tantrum yoga gives you that opportunity. These classes include traditional yoga, breathing and meditation and incorporate dance and vocal techniques. The thought behind this practice is that, just like when you were a kid, throwing a fit helps you release the negative emotions. Practitioners are encouraged to scream, stomp, yell or pound their chests. After a tantrum yoga class practitioners always find themselves ready to laugh and relax.

Rave Yoga

This style of yoga brings the spiritual element back to celebrations. These workouts last for around 4 hours, and are proud to be in a completely drug, smoke and alcohol free environment. The party starts with yoga to warm up, then an easy guided meditation, which leads into the music portion of the evening. The whole night ends with another meditation. There’s also a nonalcoholic bar serving drinks and vegetarian food all night.

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Depending on where you live, you might find more wacky yoga styles, such as mommy & me yoga, nude yoga, and aerial yoga. So if you’re looking to break from your routine check out the wacky yoga classes in your area and see if any of them would be a perfect break for you.

Meditation: The Basics

Meditation is a simple practice that gives us insight into how our minds work and allows us to relax. It is a practice you can do anywhere for any length of time to reap it’s many rewards. Even just a few minutes a day can make a huge difference in your life.

No one knows for sure when this practice began, but historians mostly agree that the practice of meditation goes back at least 5,000 years. It evolved into the meditation we know today through the teachings of the Buddha. While the practice of meditation thrived in Asia for all that time, it didn’t grow in popularity in the Western world until the 1960’s-1970’s. Today, with all of the stresses of modern life, meditation has never proved more invaluable.
The benefits of meditation have been researched in numerous scientific studies. Scientists have found that meditation, if practiced regularly, can

  • Reduce age related brain atrophy
  • Improve memory and concentration
  • Reduce anxiety and ease depression
  • Boost the immune system and
    energy levels
  • Boost overall creativity and happiness

How to Meditate

While there are as many ways to meditate as there are practitioners of meditation, here is a very simple guide on how to meditate for beginners.

  1. Sit or lie comfortably
  2. Close your eyes or focus on a single point
  3. Breathe naturally
  4. Focus on your breathing and how your body moves with each inhalation and exhalation.
  5. Any time your mind wanders don’t worry, just bring your focus back to your breathing

Focusing on your breathing is a great way to pull yourself into the present moment. Once you have practiced this for a week or so, you can start to spend time with the thoughts or feelings that arise while you’re immersed in the present moment.

We want to learn about ourselves and how our minds work. Bringing our concentration and focus entirely to the present moment, allows you to step back and notice what your mind does. By watching your mind wander, get excited or frustrated, or avoid tough feelings, you can learn a lot about yourself.

Five Tips For Better Meditation:

  • Commitment– Meditation isn’t something you can test out for a couple of days. If you want to give meditation a try, you’re going to need to lock in for at least a month of daily meditation. It’s easy to push meditation off until “later.” Actually taking the time to practice meditation each day is half the battle. If you struggle to make time for meditation, there are a lot of ways to work around that. Try making it a part of your morning routine, set a reminder on your phone or write a note and put it somewhere you’ll see. This will help you bring meditation into your routine and start your day on the right foot.
  • Restless mind– If your mind keeps wandering while you’re trying to focus on the present, try counting your breaths. Count one when you inhale and two when you exhale. When you get to ten, or when you notice that your mind has wandered, start back at one.

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  • Don’t worry about the how – Over focusing or trying to control your thoughts actually ends up tightening your mind and having the opposite effect of meditation. Just relax in a place you feel comfortable and follow the steps above.
  • Love yourself – When you’re meditating try to bring a loving attitude to everything you experience. Having trouble concentrating today? That’s perfectly okay, we all have those days. Are feelings coming to the surface that you’re not sure about? Stick with them for a little bit and see what’s happening there. As you see these feelings and watch how your mind works, get to know yourself as you would a friend. Don’t let your inner critic hijack your meditation time.
  • Guided meditation – Some people find these great tools to help them with their meditation practice. Guided meditation is when you have someone talking you through your meditation for a specific purpose, such as self-discovery or relaxation.

If you’re like me, sitting still for five minutes is a challenge and focusing in on meditation for that long seems impossible. However, if you start small, say two minutes a day, you can work yourself up to a place where you’re comfortable and start reaping the deep emotional, spiritual and physical benefits of meditation.

 

 

Aerial Yoga

It’s trending on Instagram, being practiced by celebrities and increasing in popularity across the world. What is it you ask? Aerial yoga. This form of yoga takes circus acrobatics and turns them into a fun and surprisingly beneficial yoga workout.

The Basics

Aerial yoga started gaining popularity over ten years ago. Basically, an aerial yoga class contains many of the same asanas that a standard yoga class contains, but most or all of them have been modified in some way to utilize the soft, fabric hammock that looks something like a really long scarf, only this scarf can support over 2,000 pounds.

This yoga workout is available for all skill levels. It’s also zero impact. Those suffering from knee problems you know how fantastic those words are.  If you’re like me and can’t stick with the same workout routine for long, this is also a great option to combat boredom.

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The Benefits

It’s not surprising that Aerial Yoga comes with all of the benefits of a typical yoga workout. However, here’s what Aerial Yoga is known for.

Flexibility

You know how astronauts come back from the space station a little bit taller than when they left? That’s because the lack of gravity allows their spines to decompress, making them taller. Aerial yoga also allows for a similar decompression. Being suspended in the air allows you to release more tension in your muscles to deepen your stretch and increase flexibility.

Strength

By taking yourself off of the ground, you’re losing your normal point of stability and so you can utilize your core muscles to balance and stabilize yourself during the poses.

Another change is in the muscles in your arms that you’ll use. In a normal yoga workout, the arm muscles are used for pushing rather than pulling. In Aerial yoga you have to pull yourself up to maneuver within the hammock. This changes what part of your arm you’re working and increases your overall strength.

Overall Improvement

Let’s say you’ve been struggling to get that headstand just right, this type of yoga is a great teaching tool for finding better alignment and learning what those difficult poses should feel like. With the help of an aerial yoga hammock, we can more easily practice things like the head stand so that our overall abilities in general yoga classes will improve.

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The Risks

The risk of injuring yourself during an aerial workout is actually pretty minimal. The hammock is only about three feet off the ground so a fall isn’t a devastating blow. However, there are some things that might make you want to save that aerial yoga class for another day. If you’re pregnant, have an eye disease, vertigo, heart disease, bone disorders, blood pressure issues (high or low), prosthetic hips or any condition that blocks the nasal passage such as a cold or the flu, you might want to hold off on practicing aerial yoga until you talk to your doctor.

 

With Aerial yoga’s growing popularity it’s pretty likely you’ll find a gym where it’s offered near you. Check out these awesome studios

  1. Studio Vibe, Raleigh, NC
  2. Define, Atlanta, GA
  3. Spark Yoga, Washington DC

If you’re looking for a way to perfect your form, switch up your workout routine or just join the Instagram trend Aerial yoga might just be perfect for you.

De-stress Now: Yoga In the Work Place

Work throws people off balance. Office workers sit at a desk for long hours, skipping lunch breaks and taking shallow breaths. Corporate yoga opportunities help people see their work in a new way. While our culture tells us we should feel that our jobs are a burden, yoga teaches us to see our work as the way we connect to our community. Corporate yoga is a great opportunity for businesses to help their employees maintain a healthy lifestyle and increase productivity.

Wellness Programs

Corporate wellness programs can take many forms. The program can offer employees yoga classes at allotted times during the work day. Or, on a smaller scale, a company might offer a recorded guided meditation for employees to access any time they feel they needed to. Yoga for the office specifically focuses in on connecting yourself to the present, being in tune with your surroundings and learning ways to cope with job-related stress.

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Mindfulness

Taking a yoga break during your work day creates a mental break from the stress of an impending meeting or a quickly approaching deadline. Yoga’s focus on breathing and movement allows you to mentally disconnect from the world for a while.

Improved concentration, decision making skills, multitasking, and productivity are just some of the benefits for both the employee and the company. Some companies found the environment around the office so improved that they had less employee turnover and better customer service.

Outside of taking a break from stress and improving the office environment, corporate yoga helps practitioners to focus on the present. This helps by giving you control over your reactions to stressful situations. If your meeting takes an unexpected and unpleasant turn, you can get past your immediate stress reaction and focus on solutions and keep the meeting moving forward.

 

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Overall Health

The benefits of yoga to our overall health are innumerable. We know that working, even at a desk job, can be hard on our bodies. Head, neck and back strain, carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, high blood pressure and work related injuries from repetitive motion are all issues that are can be caused by our desk jobs. The asanas stretch the muscles and give our bodies a break from from our desk and alleviate these problems we might be facing.

Another one of the big components in yoga’s value as an addition to a healthy lifestyle is its role in stress reduction. High levels of stress weaken our immune systems and leave us susceptible to colds, headaches, insomnia and more. Basically, stress causes sick days, so providing yoga at the work place will lead to healthier employees. Healthier employees means fewer sick days which means lower overall health insurance premiums

Yoga At Work

Corporate yoga is a growing trend all across the United States. You can find it all over Silicon Valley. Google funds classes as an employee benefit. Twitter offers both yoga and Pilates classes to their employees for free. General Mills has infused most of its corporate culture with mindfulness and meditation. These massive businesses have tried the corporate yoga path, tracked its effect on employees and noticed that it saved them thousands of dollars in health care costs.

If you’re suffering from the work day blues and think that corporate yoga can help your company, start the change by talking to someone in Human Resources. They’re the ones looking for ways to create benefits for employees. Or if you’re looking for a quick yoga session to get you through, check out this video on yoga at your desk. Enjoy!

Yoga for Stress Relief

Between rush hour, workday overload, family crises, friend drama and who knows what else, stress is a huge part of our every day lives. If you’re feeling worn out a little yoga can go a long way. In fact, dedicating just a few minutes a day in the morning, at lunch or in the evening can do wonders for minimizing stress and increasing productivity.

Here’s how it works. If you were to talk to your doctor about strategies for managing your stress or anxiety, they would probably talk to you about one or all of these:

  • Controlled Breathing
  • Mental Imagery
  • Meditation
  • Physical Movement & Stretching

These strategies have been medically proven to help with stress and anxiety levels, and they are all used in the different types of yoga. On top of drawing upon these de-stress techniques, yoga teaches you to utilize the mind/body/spirit connection and access your inner strength.

Controlled Breathing

Breathing exercises are the most commonly recommended relaxation techniques taught to those with clinical anxiety. Yoga teaches very specific breathing patterns (called pranayama) that help us to coax our bodies from high alert into that “resting” state. For example, the Complete Breath is a yoga technique that allows you to fill up with oxygen in a very deep and calming breath. This breathing technique can be utilized to take a step back during a tense moment or to de-stress after a long day. To learn more about how to practice the Complete Breath, check out the video below.

Mental Imagery

“Go to your happy place,” might be the best way to describe this stress reducing technique. Mental imagery is taking a moment to picture a place, person or time that makes you feel relaxed or happy. This practice does, however, utilize more than your sense of sight. Let’s say you draw up memories of the beach in order to relax. In mental imagery you’re not just looking at the waves, you’re hearing them crash against the rocks and breathing in the salty sea breeze. One of the ways yoga utilizes mental imagery is by guiding you through images of stress leaving your body or of your problems being “put away.” Picturing a place or action that quiets your mind allows you to settle your body and de-stress.

Meditation

The practice of meditation is all about quieting the mind, reducing negative emotions and gaining perspective. Yoga’s inward focus makes all types of yoga meditative in nature. Kundalini is one of the spiritual types of yoga and consists of a large variety of meditation techniques. Check out the video below for more on how to practice meditation.

Physical Movement & Stretching

Getting your body moving releases endorphins and allows you to shed your daily stressors. Whether you enjoy swimming, running or boxing the resulting stress relief will be the same. In Yoga the poses and movements are called Asana. Whether you want to focus on the meditative side of yoga or get in a physically demanding workout, there is a type of yoga to suit your needs. In Hatha yoga you will be holding the poses for a short time while a faster paced Vinyasa yoga class has you flow through the movements.

Let’s look at it this way. Your nervous system has several branches, but the sympathetic and parasympathetic are directly involved with your stress levels. You might remember from school that the sympathetic system is the home of the fight or flight response and the parasympathetic system is utilized when the body is at rest. Our bodies read stress as a reaction to emergencies and so it amps up into fight or flight mode even when it is something less than life threatening, such as preparing for an interview or rushing to meet a deadline.

The parasympathetic system is your body at rest. When we go through our lives and things are moving smoothly and stress is at a minimum, we are in the parasympathetic state. So, in order to minimize stress we just have to spend more time in the parasympathetic state. Problem is our bodies shift between these two states automatically and we can’t control it. However, we can use the techniques described above in order to relax into a parasympathetic state and live happier lives.

If you’re stressed out and desperate for a solution, try just fifteen minutes of yoga a day. Even that small commitment will decrease your stress levels and help you live your life to the fullest.