Monday, January 7, 2019

Reset and Recharge: New Year Yoga Sequence

During the holiday season, we’re out of our routines, we tend to eat and drink more, and we might be dealing with some cyclical grief that comes up during the darker season. Not to mention family stress, visitors, and the ravages of holiday traveling. All these things can throw us off our center. This gentle yoga practice supports calm, digestive health, and immune function to help you get back into the swing of things. This sequence can be done pretty much anytime, including first thing in the morning or right before bed.
1. Cat/Cow
Come to all fours. As you inhale, tip your tailbone and chin to the sky in a little backbend. As you exhale, round your back and press your belly button to your spine. Continue like that for around ten breaths or longer, and feel free to add anything else that feels good, like moving side to side, forward and back, or in circles. This moves the joint fluid around the spine and helps us check in with the shoulders, hips, neck, back, and belly. 
2. Low Lunge with Side Bend
From hands and knees, step your right foot forward into a lunge. Lengthen your stance enough that your back knee is behind your hip, not right under it, and your front knee is right over your ankle. Tuck your back toes under. Feel free to pad your back knee with a blanket. 
Reach your arms up to the sky. Point your tailbone down to the floor while pressing your hips forward at the same time. Look for a stretch at the front of your left thigh. 
Now bend your left elbow so your hand comes roughly in between your shoulderblades. Hold the elbow with your right hand. Pull your belly in, keep your tailbone down, and begin to side bend to the right. This releases your hip flexor, shoulder, and side, and can open up some space for your digestive organs. Hold for around five breaths, more if you like. 
Gently come back to all fours and then repeat on the left side.  
3. Wide Legged Forward Fold with Shoulder Stretch
Carefully come to standing. If you’re comfortable with downward dog, you can use it as a transition: lift your knees into downward dog, walk forward into a standing forward fold, and then gently roll up. 
Step your feet wide apart on your mat with your feet parallel. 
Interlace your fingers behind your back and squeeze the shoulders together, opening the chest. Carefully fold over your legs, letting your fists rise to the sky. 
Keep a small bend in your knees and press the legs out to the sides. If your shoulders bother you, simply let them come to the ground. Breathe here for five or more breaths. This pose stretches the legs and shoulders and is an inversion, which is healthy for the digestive organs, the brain, and the heart, and is soothing for the nervous system. 
When you are ready to come out, hug the shoulders onto the back, look forward, and keep your back straight as you gently come up to standing again. 
4. Restorative Backbend
Sit down on the floor and find a bolster, a long pillow, or two pillows in a line. Place your prop behind you so you are sitting in front of it. Lay back so that your bum stays on the floor but your head is supported by the prop. Bring your feet together and let your knees open to the sides with support from more props (blankets, pillows, etc.). If that’s uncomfortable, keep your legs straight.

Finding Spiritual Strength in Severe Illness

“Some people awaken spiritually without ever coming into contact with any meditation technique or any spiritual teaching. They may awaken simply because they can’t stand the suffering anymore.” ~Eckhart Tolle
Sometimes in life, we face pain so great that we must focus on surviving one day at a time, or even by the hour or the minute. During these moments, it feels as if our hearts naturally gravitate toward the spiritual, as there is only so much sadness, fear, bitterness or grief a human heart can hold before it cracks.
We long to find the good in the bad situation, the purpose in the suffering, the safety in the unknown. And once we finally let go of our fear and take a leap of faith, we experience that familiar sense of peace and safety that seems to transcend the suffering.
Numerous studies over the years have confirmed the incredible benefits of having strong spiritual beliefs during times of hardship and illness. These findings not only show that spirituality is linked to stronger emotional and mental health, but physical health as well.
A new analysis, published in the journal CANCER, has found that cancer patients with greater overall religiosity and spirituality experienced better physical health, greater ability to go about their daily tasks, and had fewer physical symptoms of cancer.
"These relationships were particularly strong in patients who experienced greater emotional aspects of religion and spirituality, including a sense of meaning and purpose in life as well as a connection to a source larger than oneself," said lead author Heather Jim, PhD, of the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa in a news release.
The research team also found that cancer patients with a stronger sense of spirituality had fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety and distress. In contrast, spiritual distress and a sense of disconnectedness from God was linked to poorer emotional well-being and greater psychological distress.
Greater spirituality in cancer patients was also linked to healthier relationships. The findings show that those who believe in a benevolent God (as opposed to a distant or easily angered God) and those with stronger convictions that a personal God can be called upon for assistance had an easier time maintaining relationships and social contacts. In contrast, those who struggled with their faith struggled more with their social life.