Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Research has shown that the level of cortisol, our major "stress hormone", are generally elevated during pregnancy, to help us cope with the stress of pregnancy and childbirth. That level plummets after the baby is born. Some women have shown to have extremely elevated levels of cortisol late in pregnancy, which leads to a much more drastic drop after the baby is born, and this drop in cortisol is definitely linked to depression.
The amazing this is that yoga, and especially the deep breathing associated with yoga practice, can actually correct those hormonal imbalances, thereby improving your mood. The combination of gentle, thoughtful exercise (which helps strengthen the parts of your body which need it most after childbirth), relaxation and deep breathing exercises make yoga the perfect activity for the new mom. If you can get to a yoga class without the baby, that is ideal, for then you can really focus on yourself. But there are many "mom and baby" classes out there which allow you to bring your baby and bond with him/her through yoga. To take it a step further, you may want to explore yoga therapy, which gives you a chance, on a 1-on-1 basis, to use gentle yoga and dialogue to help you connect with your feelings and release them, healing body and mind at the same time.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Take a minute to pay attention to your breath. Put one hand on your stomach, and the other on your shoulders. Which hand rises when you inhale? If your belly rises, and then contracts when you exhale, then you are probably using diaphragmmatic, or deep belly, breathing. This is the healthiest, most efficient way of breathing - filling the lungs, engaging the core muscles, and oxygenating the blood. If your shoulders rise, then you are probably engaging in shallow, chest breathing. This type of breathing is much less efficient for your body. It can lead to decreased lung capacity and even high blood pressure.
When we're frightened, we typically engage in chest breathing - it's a natural, primal reaction. But the fear usually passes quickly and we return to our normal, healthier breathing pattern. But, when you are stressed out or anxious, shallow chest breathing persists, exacerbating the anxiety (because with this type of breathing, you usually feel like you can't get enough air) and creating a vicious cycle.
So try this: take a few minutes to lie on your back, with one hand on your stomach and the other on your shoulder. Breathe in deeply through your nose for a slow count of 3, feeling your belly puff out, and keeping your shoulders down. Then exhale for an equally slow count of 3, allowing the mouth to fall open, feeling the belly contract in toward the spine. Try this breath for 10, slow deep breaths. Try to focus your mind on nothing but your breath.
How do you feel? It's amazing how much better we can feel after just a few deep, correct breaths.....and how easy it is to neglect this vital link to our health, wellness, and happiness.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Friday, June 26, 2009
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Deep breathing in a cross-legged position
To try some simple relaxation, pull up a comfortable piece of floor or carpet (you can always sit on a big pillow), and sit in a cross-legged position that is comfortable for you. Place your hands gentle on your knees and sit up tall, imagining a string pulling through the center of the top of your head up to the ceiling. If you can see yourself in a mirror, make sure you are not leaning forward. Now, squeeze your shoulders up by your ears, then roll them back and down. Finally, tuck your chin ever so slightly in toward your chest. From here, take some nice deep breaths. Once you’ve read through this and are familiar, you can close your eyes. With each inhale your stomach should puff out a little, and with each exhale it should contract in. Your shoulders should not be moving up and down (this leads to shallow breathing and tends to increase anxiety). Take at least 5 slow, deep breaths – try to inhale for a count of 3, then exhale for a count of 3. Try to quiet your mind, focusing only on the sound of your breath. If other, distracting thoughts enter your mind, don’t get upset – just gently blow them away with your next exhale.
Cross-legged side and forward bends
Once you’ve established your breath, try to maintain it for the next few poses. On your next inhale, lift your arms out to your sides, then up over your head, stretching your fingers wide and reaching toward the sky. Make sure your shoulders don’t creep up toward your ears. Take a few deep breaths here, then on an exhale, reach both arms to your right side. When you can’t comfortably reach any further without your bottom coming up off the floor, set your right hand down by your behind, and stretch your left arm across, over your head toward the right side of the room. Stay here for 5 breaths, feeling a nice, deep stretch on the left side of the body. Repeat on the other side, stretching the right side of the body. When you’ve spent 5 breath on each side, bring both arms back up overhead, and then slowly, with a nice, flat back, reach them in front of you, keeping your bottom on the floor. When you’ve reached as far out in front of your as you can, set your hands on the floor as far out as you can reach. You should feel a nice, deep stretch in your mid- and upper back and shoulders. After 5 breaths, sit back up and set your hands back on your knees.
Staying in that same cross-legged position, sitting nice and tall, take your right hand and set it down behind your back, as close to your behind as possible. Take your left hand and reach across your body, placing your left hand on your right knee. Using your left hand as leverage, gently turn you’re your stomach, then your chest, then your head to the right toward the back of the room as far as you comfortably can. You should feel a nice, deep stretch all along your spine, especially in the mid- and lower back. Stay here for 5 slow breaths, then repeat on the other side. Twists are wonderful for your spine, and are also said to massage your inner organs, but they should be avoided if you are pregnant.
Seated forward bend and backward stretch
Stretch your legs out in front of you, again, being sure to sit up straight and tall. Roll your shoulders back and down again, and tuck your chin in just slightly toward your chest. Flex your feet, and set your hands down by your sides very close to your hips. Stay here for 5 deep breaths. On your next inhale, stretch your arms up overhead. On your next exhale, reach forward with a flat back as far as your comfortably can toward your feet. When you can no longer maintain a flat back, let you hands fall wherever they can reach – shins, ankles, feet (if very flexible, you can wrap your hands around your feet). Be sure your legs are straight. Stay here for 5 breaths for a deep stretch in the calf muscles (and a little in the upper back and shoulders as well). When you release the stretch, set your hands a little further back than your hips, roll your shoulders back, think about lifting your chest toward the sky and lift your chin, raising your eyes toward the ceiling. This is a nice counter stretch for your chest, and usually feels very invigorating as well.
Gentle core exercise and stretch (Cow/Cat poses)
Come onto your hands and knees. To check your position, be sure that your knees are about hip distance apart, and your shoulders are directly in line with your wrists. On your next inhale, arch your back down, dropping your shoulders and ifting your head and behind up toward the ceiling (cow pose). On the exhale, curl your back up, dropping your head down and lifting your shoulders (cat). Repeat with the breath at least 5 times, slowly. This exercise is wonderful for increasing back flexibility and core strength, and ideally should be practiced every day.
This is the way to end your yoga practice, whether it’s 10 minute long or 2 hours. It is meant to serve as an integration, sort of a bridge from your yoga practice to your daily life, to quiet your mind and reconnect with your breath. Lie on your back somewhere comfortable (but on the floor, not on a bed). Stretch your arms down by your sides a little away from your body. Bring your feet about 1-2 feet apart from each other, letting your heels come toward each other and your toes rolling away to the sides. This seems very simple, of course, but the goal is to have your arms and legs stretched out nice and long, and to take at least 20 deep breaths here (you don’t have to count, but stay in the pose for at least 2 minutes), trying to focus completely on your breath in a relaxed way. Truly relaxing is not an easy thing for most of us to do, but it does get easier with practice.
To expand your yoga practice, I encourage you to visit a yoga studio, purchase a yoga video, or make an appointment for a yoga therapy session. I hope you enjoy your practice!
Monday, April 27, 2009
Are you ready to change?
Many people seek therapy because some kind of change, usually negative, has been thrust upon them – the end of a relationship, loss of a job, loss of a loved one, a physical illness, etc. Many others seek therapy because they want to make some kind of major, positive change in their lives (maybe a new relationship, new career path, etc.), but they feel “stuck” and need some help to get there. Or maybe they want to make some changes within themselves – to be more content, less irritable, more accepting, etc. But of course, this is easier said than done. So…how do you know if you are really ready to make that change?
Think about something in your life that you’d really like to change. Something relatively serious, like quitting smoking, changing your diet, exercising, drinking less alcohol, etc. Be honest with yourself – pick something that you really want to change in your life, but you haven’t yet done so. Now, read the following descriptions about the stages of change. Can you identify which stage you are in regarding that thing you’d like to change?
Precontemplation: You really have no desire or intention to change. In fact, you don’t see your behavior as a problem at all. Note: chances are, if you’d identified something you’d like to change, you are not in precontemplation.
Contemplation: You’ve been thinking about wanting to make a change, but you’re not really committed to the idea yet. Maybe you’re hemming and hawing the pros and cons of making that change vs. keeping things the way they are. This is a critical step in the change process. Take your time to fully think things through. A good exercise would be a “decisional balance” sheet – actually write out the pros and cons of changing your behavior vs. keeping things the same.
Preparation: You’re ready to make a change in your life, you just haven’t quite hit the ground yet. But you’ve been seriously thinking about it, making plans, and getting ready to get started. If you’ve gotten to this point, congratulations! Now is the time to think about the following: what is keeping me from taking action? What would have to happen in my life in order for me to decide to take that action?
Action: This is it – you’re implementing your plan for change. Perhaps you are changing your diet, beginning to exercise regularly, moderating your drinking, quitting smoking, or even making changes to relationships in your life. This is a wonderful step, but also a challenging one, as it isn’t easy to break old habits, and to turn new behaviors into habits.
Maintenance: If you’re in this stage, then you’ve already implemented your plan for change and things are going well. Your plan is working, and hopefully you are beginning to see some positive results. Chances are, if you are in this stage, you are not looking for help through counseling, because you are already doing it on your own – unless you have concerns that you will have difficulty maintaining the new behavior.
Relapse: Relapsing, or reverting to old behaviors, is often part of the process of change. If you’ve been working to change a behavior and have relapsed, it’s okay. It’s a completely normal part of the process. It’s important to not beat yourself up about this, because that will make it harder for you to pick yourself up and try again. Oftentimes, it can be helpful to seek the support of a therapist at this time, someone who can help you identify the factors which led to your relapse and help you find the motivation to try again.
So, have you determined where you fit along the continuum? My guess is that if you have come to this page, you are likely in either contemplation, preparation, or relapse. If so, try asking yourself these questions: On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being “not at all motivated” and 10 being “absolutely gung-ho”), how motivated are you to make that change? What would have to happen for that number to be higher? On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being “not likely at all” and 10 being “extremely likely”), how likely do you think it is that you will succeed in changing the behavior? What would have to happen for that number to be higher? And lastly – what would be the downside to changing my behavior?
All of these questions, and more, are wonderful topics to explore in brief therapy. A counselor who is trained in Motivational Enhancement can help you to identify the factors which prevent you from making changes, find your inner strength and motivation, and make that change.
Please check out my website at www.mindandbodytherapy.com, or call 407-701-5414 for a free 15-minute phone consultation to determine if I am the right therapist to help you make that change!