A Guided Meditation and Body Inquiry for Physical Discomforts

The following guided meditation was inspired by recent unfortunate events in the United States. Many of my students and clients have been impacted directly or know people who have. 

During times of distress like this, you can definitely feel the heaviness and weight in a yoga room. 

I spontaneously guided my class in the following meditation and body inquiry last week, and I saw a shift in my students' bodies—from tense, agitated, nervous, to relaxed, soft, and at ease—after this 10 minute intervention. 

Because it worked so well, I decided to share it with all of you. 

If you are feeling particularly tense and wound up the past few weeks, I invite you to try the following guided meditation and body inquiry exercise. The following script is not only great for grief, but also for bringing body awareness to your day-to-day physical discomforts as your own invitation to explore these tensions with curiosity rather than denial, frustration, or dislike. 

I have included an audio clip below so you can follow along while you lie down in a comfortable position. 

 


A Guided Meditation and Body Inquiry for Physical and emotional Discomforts

Lie down in a comfortable position, with your knees propped with a bolster so your back can rest easily on the floor. Allow yourself to be fully supported by the Earth. Let yourself be heavy and effortless. Lay quietly with natural, easy breaths. Nothing forced. Nothing strained. 

Slowly scan your body, from your toes all the way to the crown of your head. Notice your toes and your feet. Notice your lower legs and your knees. Notice your thighs and your hips. Notice your lower back, mid-back, and upper back. Notice your belly and chest. Notice your shoulders and arms. Notice your hands and fingers. Notice your neck and throat. Notice your cheeks, jaw, and forehead. 

As you scan these areas of your body, do you feel any particular area that is holding tension, that is gripping, that is uncomfortable? Where are these areas? Bring your attention to these areas. If you like, you may place your hands over these areas. 

Continue to breathe quietly and naturally without changing your breath as you bring your attention to these uncomfortable, tense areas. 

Breathe in and out easily. 

Notice all the sensations and qualities of one of the uncomfortable spots. Does it feel dull and throbbing? Is it sharp and piercing? Does it feel cool, cold, warm, or hot? Can you feel a pulse there? Is this sensation new, or has it been there for a long time? Is the sensation localized or does it spread? Can you feel your breath in that spot? 

Now, let's take a deeper look at these physical sensations and discomforts. Take an easy breath in, and an easy breath out. Look again at the uncomfortable area you are focusing on. Is there a memory, thought, or story behind the physical sensation? As you focus on that spot of discomfort, does it evoke any imageries or emotions? If it does, let them come. Let them come. Let the emotions fill your entire being. Let your emotions move and flow through you. Keep breathing in and out easily. 

Continue to explore your body with these same questions if there is another area in your body that is experiencing discomfort. Try to keep your attention on the sensations and qualities. 

Breathe in and out easily. Allow the sensations and emotions to keep flowing and moving. 

Oftentimes, our physical discomforts stem from more subtle manifestations of our emotions. Emotions create physical manifestations in our bodies. We need to let these emotions play out physically without suppressing them, without holding our bodies tightly in. 

Breathe in and out easily. Nothing forced. Nothing strained. 

Direct and channel your breaths to the surrounding areas of your bodily discomforts, where your emotions are playing out their physical manifestations. With gentle, nurturing, and healing breaths, can you soften the edges around these physical discomforts? 

Bring your breath, so gentle, nurturing, and healing, to these areas of discomforts, and soften around the edges of these discomforts. Do not attack it, do not pierce straight into their centers, but breathe around their edges. 

Continue to soften the physical and emotional tensions with your nurturing breaths. Breathing easily in and out. 

Stay for another minute, and continue to send your soft, nurturing, healing breaths to the surrounding edges of your physical discomforts. 

When you are ready to return, take a deep breath in, and let a cleansing breath out. Bring your attention back to your whole body. Your whole body that is supported by the Earth underneath you. Still lying down with your eyes closed, explore this: Is there a shift in your body? Is there something different with the way you hold your body now? Do you feel more relaxed? Do you feel less physical sensations and discomforts? Do you feel warmer or cooler? Do you feel heavier or lighter? Notice any shifts in your physical, mental, and/or emotional bodies. 

Take another deep breath in, and a cleansing breath out. Then, very slowly, bring your knees in towards your chest and hug your arms around your shins. Roll to one side and curl up into a fetal position with your head supported by your bottom arm. Give yourself another few breaths here. When you feel ready, use your arms to press yourself up into a seated position. 

This is the end of our guided meditation and relaxation. You may stay seated quietly for as long as you like or return to the course of your day. 

1:1 Yoga therapy vs Group Yoga Class

If you live in a large city, you most likely have noticed that you walk or drive past a yoga studio just as frequently as you walk or drive by Starbucks. 

There is a reason for this: an exponentially increasing demand. 

More and more people are looking into yoga as an alternative way to get fit or a complementary approach to overall well-being. According to recent survey by the Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journal, 36.7 million Americans practice yoga in 2016, which is up from 20.4 million in 2012. That is approximately a 50% increase nationwide in just 4 short years. Yoga today is a 17 billion dollar industry, compared to $6.1 billion just in 2012. 

The same survey shows that 61% of those practicing yoga regularly do it for improving flexibility, and 56% for stress relief. 

While attending classes at yoga studios definitely do have its benefits in the forms of exercise, fitness, and stress reduction, and many seek sanctuary in yoga studios, in these social media days, yoga seem to have become synonymous to handstands at the beach. 

I am by no means discrediting the immense sense of confidence and empowerment a handstand or headstand can instill in a person (which, in itself, can be therapeutic, and has its time and place), but it does create an illusion that yoga is an acrobatic performance that only the flexible and strong can do. Naturally, as human beings, we prone towards the aesthetically-pleasing. No doubt there is grace, power, and awe of the human body in a perfectly held scorpion pose, but it does close the door to those who can seek sanctuary in the other forms and other limbs of yoga otherwise. 

It therefore is increasingly important for properly trained and certified yoga therapists to step in and provide the benefits of yoga appropriately for the senior population, for the cancer patients and survivors, for chronic pain patients, for those with chronic illnesses, and anyone who seek to reclaim their own health and well-being under the guidance of a yoga therapist. 

Yoga therapy is the process of empowering individuals to progress toward improved health and well-being through the application of the teachings and practices of Yoga.
— International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT)

In the following sections, I highlight why seeking a certified yoga therapist is important if you are looking to improve your ailments and dis-ease. 

 

Customized, Personalized, Specialized

While technology and globalization have somewhat redirected how yoga is transmitted between teachers and students in the modern world (large group classes for increased profit and demand, Skype sessions, YouTube videos, etc), there is still a need for specialized 1:1 yoga class. 

As the popularity of yoga continues on the rise, so does the number of students per class. Some studios and classes hold up to 100 people or more in the room, and while there most often will be a couple of assistants in addition to the teacher, this still means approximately 97 blindspots while the teacher and the two assistants watch over of three students in the room at a time. Furthermore, the pace of most yoga classes nowadays is faster to match the demands of people wanting to sweat and build strength. This leaves a wide, vulnerable gap for a new student or a student with previous injuries  to injure herself. 

Let's say a student with herniated disc walks into a class because her doctor told her yoga is good for her back. Little did she know, she just signed up for a vinyasa class full of deep forward bends, twists, and back bends. She hobbled out of class with more pain than she came in with, and she wondered what the fuss was about with yoga. 

Yes, she could have called ahead and asked to see if a vinyasa class is suitable for her injured back, or inform the teacher beforehand so that the teacher can modify certain poses for her. However, most 200-hr registered yoga teachers are not trained to deal with injuries, especially not in a big group setting. 

In contrast, an IAYT yoga therapist is trained with additional 800 hours to work with individuals with injuries and/or chronic illnesses. The yoga therapist takes into consideration both the Western and Eastern medicine approaches to the client's injury and/or disease, and with thorough understanding of the anatomical, physiological, psychological, and energetic benefits and contraindications of yoga poses, breathing practices, and meditation techniques, she is able to create a protocol that is specific to the client's conditions. 

 

Yoga for the mind

At the root of it, yoga is essentially a practice for spiritual growth rather than fitness growth. 

yogas-citta-vrtti-nirodhah
”Yoga is the cessation of mind-fluctuations.”
— Yoga Sutras of Pantajali, Book 1, Verse 2.

Simply put, the aim of yoga is to be the master over our mind-waves—thoughts, stories, emotions, fear. This is not to say that we should have NO thoughts or emotions, because it is impossible for the mind to be empty, but that we shouldn't identify with these fluctuations or get entangled in them. We step beyond these thoughts and emotions and realize that there is a higher mind-space we, the Self, live in, that is untouched by thoughts and emotions, and that they are as fleeting as a hummingbird. 

One of my teachers always say: The mind is like a drunken monkey, stung by a scorpio, riding on the back of a wild horse. 

If you identify your mind with the drunken monkey, then welcome to the majority. 

Through specifically designed asanas, pranayama, and meditation practices for the ailments that cause additional disturbances to the mind (physical pain, mental pain, frustration, fear, anxiety, depression, etc) under the guidance of a skilled teacher, one can more effectively learn how to resolve pain and bring ease to both body and mind. Then, when the body and mind are at ease, the connection to the higher Self can be experienced with more clarity. 

 

The sacred traditions of teacher and student

Unlike the crowded rooms of yoga studios nowadays where the instructor's next cue for caturanga is drowned out, yoga was traditionally taught in a 1:1 setting. It was a sacred privilege for a student to be able to learn from, live with, and serve his teacher, or guru. The student humbly bowed at his teacher's feet as a way to absorb the wisdom and knowledge that would be imparted upon this young student. Instead of teaching asanas, however, the teacher recites sacred scriptures and imparts his own wisdom about living harmoniously with oneself, with others, and with the heavens, to the young student. 

Perhaps another way to think of this relationship is that of young Skywalker and Yoda. As with their relationship, trust must be established between teacher and student first before learning begins. 

That is not to say the you won't gain anything from a group class, but in a 1:1 context, the teaching is more concentrated and focused to ensure that knowledge is not lost to the student. It is the teacher's duty to train the young student to become fully capable of passing this knowledge on to the next generation.

This is the sacred tradition of parampara, or the succession of teachers and students in the Vedic culture. 

Today, in a 1:1 setting where there is less distraction and more sense of safety, security, and sanctuary, the yoga therapist can more effectively guide her client towards a deeper understanding of oneself. Using gentle movements, breathing and meditation practices, and yoga lifestyle guidelines, the client becomes more grounded and centered in her own skin. She starts noticing how some of her daily habits, which may seem completely harmless and trivial to her before, may have contributed to these downstream symptoms she is currently experiencing. She starts noticing her own posture and alignment throughout her day, her mindset when she tackles stressful situations, her breathing pattern or the lack of it. She becomes aware of areas in her life that have been draining her energy and depleting her body, mind, and spirit. With more clarity and with the personal guidance of a teacher, the client discovers on her own how to change certain courses of her life by plugging energy leakages and harnessing her own energy.

As the client becomes a more vitalized being, the effects continue to spread outwards to her immediate community. Her aliveness becomes contagious to those around her, and in that way, the legacy of the teachings continues. 

 

Empowerment

Empowerment can come in many different forms. Empowerment can come from nailing that handstand, but empowerment can also come from the client realizing that Yes, I do have a choice about the outcome of this chronic pain and/or illness, and I can most definitely do something about it. 

In a world and time when most people are out of touch of their physical bodies, the also lose command of themselves. Some ignore or deny the dis-ease that is brewing within them. Others look for quick fixes and magic pills. 

We have given up the most elemental and innate birthright we have as human beings, and that is to honor, respect, and take care of this sacred body that is given to us by Nature. 

We feel powerless when we lose this responsibility; we feel meaningless. 

As yoga therapists, we help our clients understand that their bodies are built for health and not for disease, and illuminate what is disrupting the body's homeostasis and healing processes. We educate our clients on their body's innate healing abilities, and once the clients can embrace all of that, the body (physical, mental, and emotional) will thrive once again. 

Ultimately, 1:1 work can not only complement the individual's current allopathic protocols for her injury/illness, but can additionally accelerate an individuals healing process by bringing about a sense of empowerment, of stepping in their own power and rights to thrive. 


"My back cramps up when I stand" and Core Anatomy Intro

Have you ever sat on a chair, sofa, car seat, movie theater seat, etc, for a couple of hours, and when it comes time to stand up, your back suddenly shoots a sharp pain? You might cry out in pain, or the sensation might travel down your leg causing your legs to buckle under your weight, or your back might feel locked up.

If your answer is yes, then you're definitely note alone!

Now, your next question is, why does it do that? Why isn't my back supporting me the way that it should be? What causes my back to become so weak?

But, is it weak? Or is your back just extremely tight?

You see, when most people think of weak muscles, they think of a set of muscles that they have not used in a long time, causing the muscles to atrophy slightly. In the case of your back muscles, however, more likely than not, they are overworked, causing them to become weak. 

Before we dive too deep into how sitting can possibly tighten and weaken your back muscles, let us take a quick look at the anatomy of the core. 

 

A Quick Look at the Core

Take a look at the front and back muscles of your "core" in the image below: 

Your first impression may be: These constitute ALL of my core muscles? I thought my core was just my six-pack muscles! 

Yes, in fact, your core consists of many team members that extend beyond your "abs," and they all work together to (1) protect your organs, (2) initiate movement, (3) stabilize movement, and (4) transfer force from one extremity to the other.  Each has its strengths (e.g., your external and internal obliques allow you to turn your torso and bend sideways; your gluteal muscles play an essential role in stabilizing the curvature in your lumbar spine and sacrum, as well as provide power with each of your stride), and your job is to use each member's potentials wisely. For simplicity, let us group the anterior (front) core muscles as one team member called The Core, and the posterior (back) core muscles as second team member called The Back. 

 

How Muscles Work

Now that you have a general idea of what the core is and what it does, let us explore how muscles work together to support our body and initiate movement. Open and close one hand repeatedly a few times. A healthy muscle fiber should be able to do exactly that: contract (hand closes in a fist), stretch (hand opens wide), and relax (hand relaxes). Now, hold your hand in a fist and gradually clench tighter and tighter until you cannot clench any further. After awhile, your hand and forearm may even start to feel fatigued, sore, numb, and tense.

Do those words feel familiar to you and your back? 

Imagine that the tightness of your clenched fist resembles that of The Back. When you stand, sit, and perform daily activities or exercises that do not use each team member of The Core and The Back wisely, the consequence is an imbalance in your muscle groups. Think of how you stand and sit on a daily basis: shoulders slumped forward, The Core disengaged, and The Back rounded. The Core and The Back should work together as a team. Therefore, when one slacks off, the other team member has to pick up the slack. In most of our cases, The Core tends to slack off, and The Back is doing back-breaking work to pick up the slack, overtime clenching more, more, and more. 

To put things in perspective, this particular sitting posture puts a significant amount of load on your spine and your spinal muscles than when you standing properly with your spine in a neutral position. Forty percent to 85% more, to be exact. Think of what that means to your poor spine when it takes that much more than it should during most of your waking hours every single day. No wonder The Back becomes so angry at you! 

 

So, let's say you have been sitting with The Back rounded and The Core disengaged for a couple of hours. You decide you'd like to get a glass of water, so you stand up, hauling yourself with The Back because The Core has forgotten how to cooperate. That initial haul causes The Back to clench even more, and while you may be able to get away with it for some months and years, at some point, The Back won't take it anymore and starts screaming (read: shooting pain) at you. 

It is tired, beaten, abused. The Back screams at you so loud and "locks up" because it knows that if you start moving about again, you will abuse it. 

Other scenarios where this may happen are: when you bend down to tie your shoes and try to get back up, when you sit up from bed in the morning, when you stand up after a period on the sofa, when you straighten up after you've been bending for awhile. 

 

How to Relieve The Back Before Standing Up

Luckily, you can practice preventative measures against The Back throwing a tantrum at you. You may already know this: It is to awaken and train The Core to play as a team member again. The video below is a short practice that can help ease tension in The Back and awaken The Core so that when you are ready to stand up, they are both working together to support the movement and the transfer of weight. 



 

Is Anxiety Inherently bad?

What is anxiety?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting up to 40 million (18%) of the population aged 18 and older, while lifetime prevalence affect up to 28.8% of the US population (1). 

In Ayurveda, a sister science of yoga and what can be considered as Traditional Indian Medicine, anxiety is an imbalance in one's constitution. In particular, it is an imbalance of the air and ether elements in one's body, causing a whirlwind of emotions, sense of instability, and restlessness.

However, being anxious occasionally is part of everyday life. Anxiety, characterized by "uneasiness of mind or brooding fear about some contingency" (2), is a very primal physiological effect that helped hunter-gatherers decide whether an area is safe to venture in. Our heart rate increases, our pupils dilate, blood sugar rises, our stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin increase, and our muscles tense all in preparation to tackle the potential threat. Anxiety allows us to anticipate, and therefore prepare, for difficulties ahead of us (2). 

Today, the effects of mild anxiety keep us on top of deadlines, prepare us for the job interview, guide us to walk on well-lit streets rather than dark alleys, and maintain our alertness as we bike down a busy road. Being anxious is a survival mechanism that is built within our system, and it is not inherently bad. After the deadline or the potential danger is over, the body returns to a state of homeostasis where heart rate and blood sugar levels drop back to normal, muscles relax, and less stress hormones circulate the system. 

 

Sympathetic vs Parasympathetic Nervous System

The problem is with anxiety today is that the body doesn't always get the chance to return to a state of homeostasis--the body literally does not get a chance to take a breath. 

Instead, we are constantly being fed situations that require the effects of anxiety: we need adrenalin, higher blood sugar, and increased attention to get us through the mountain of tasks each day. With technology, it is almost impossible to disassociate from work, even right up till the minute before we hit the bed. To put it more scientifically, our nervous system is constantly in the sympathetic state, or more commonly known as fight-or-flight. 

As mentioned above, being in fight-or-flight is not inherently good nor bad. There always comes a time when we need it, and frankly, it can very much save our lives. Problems arise when we don't give our nervous system the chance to switch over to the parasympathetic state, or more commonly known as rest-and-digest. The parasympathetic nervous system plays a huge role in aiding muscle relaxation, digestion, salivation, sexual arousal, urination, and defecation (3), all of which are crucial in maintaining a healthy body and healthy reproduction of offsprings.   

 

Symptoms of elevated sympathetic activity

To be balanced individuals and to sustain good mental health, we need a healthy mix of both the fight-or-flight state and the rest-and-digest state. However, the list of downstream effects due to long-term activation of the sympathetic system and the commonalities of these symptoms tell us that the state of our nervous system as a general population is almost always tipped towards the sympathetic mode. Some of these downstream effects are:

  • Anxiety 
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Increased heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Restlessness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Hyperventilating 
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension (note: muscular pain in the body is due to chronic muscular tension)

 

How yoga therapy helps

Now that you have an idea how on earth anxiety survived evolution, since to most people, it seemed like an unwanted, inconvenient, and perhaps even life-altering condition, let's explore how yoga therapy can help. 

1. Asanas (Postures)

Specific yoga postures and techniques are gentle and slow enough to not cause additional exasperation of anxiety, while invigorating enough to relieve tension and restlessness from the adrenalin build-up. Certain yoga asanas, breathing, and specific use of props are designed to help the body and the mind feel grounded. Examples of these are supine poses with heavy-weighted blankets, standing poses with longer holds, and the practice of long exhalations. Additionally, the practice of yoga requires mindful movements, which can help bring an individual's focus from worrying to the movements of her physical body. When comparing the effects of yoga for anxiety verses other activities (aerobics, walking, and social games), yoga participants experienced the most benefits over the course of intervention (6).

2. Pranayama (Breathing practices)

Yes, we breathe everyday, but most of us breathe unconsciously and improperly. The practice of pranayama, or yoga breathing techniques, is said to increase one's life force, or prana, help balance one's constitution (remember that anxiety is an imbalance of the air and ether element), balance mental activity, and improve communication between the left and right brain hemispheres. In one Tedx Talk given by radiation oncologist researcher Sundar Balasubramanian, he discusses his findings that after pranayama practice, nerve growth factors, along with many other enzymes and hormones, are found with increased saliva production. These nerve growth factors are proteins that "help the neurons, the nerve cells, to grow, survive, withstand stress, and live longer (5)." Furthermore, controlled and conscious breathing practices have been shown to decrease heart rate and respiratory rate, while increasing parasympathetic activity (7).  

3. Relaxation

As mentioned above, true relaxation is something only a handful of individuals experience, especially when the state of busyness is praised in our society. Fortunately, the combined effects of gentle asana practice and pranayama is relaxation -- a state of reduced sympathetic activity and increased parasympathetic activity.  In addition, guided awareness and guided meditation are some of the wonderful yoga relaxation techniques that can also help manage anxiety. 

 

Conclusion

If you occasionally experience feelings of anxiety around deadlines, public speaking, going out with a new date, starting a new job, etc, rest be assured that these sensations are a normal part of daily living. If you experience chronic anxiety, please consult with your physician if you haven't done so already. Whether you experience occasional anxiety or live with it, specific yoga, breathing and relaxation techniques are not only practical, but are tremendously beneficial, for managing symptoms. If you would like to speak with me further on how yoga therapy may help and develop a specific protocol for your symptoms, you can set up a free consultation with me

While yoga therapy can help manage our woes, aches, and symptoms, it is helpful to remember that the purpose of yoga is to remove any obstacles standing in our way of finding that equilibrium in which our body and mind are at ease. When the body and mind are aligned and at ease, then we can present our best selves to our family, friends, and community. 

 

References

  1. "Anxiety Disorder." National Institute of Mental Health. Mar 2016. Web. 16          May 2017. <https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-              
         disorders/index.shtml>.
  2. "Anxious." Webster-Merriam Dictionary. Web. 15 May 2017.    
         <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anxious>.
  3. Grohol, John M. "Anxiety Disorders." Psych Central. Web. 18 May 2017.  
         <https://psychcentral.com/disorders/anxiety/>.
  4. Hansen, Fawne. "Fight or flight vs Rest and digest." The Adrenal Fatigue
         Solution.
    24 Jun. 2015. Web. 18 May 2017.
         <https://adrenalfatiguesolution.com/fight-or-flight-vs-rest-and-
         digest/>.
  5. Sundar Balasubramanian. "The Science of Yoga Breathing." Tedx
         Charlston. 
    Youtube.com. 19 May 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/
         watch?v=aIfwbEvXtwo>.
  6. Bonura KB and Pargman D. "The effects of yoga versus  exercise on stress,
         anxiety, and depression in older adults." International Journal of Yoga
        Therapy. 
    No 19 (2009): 79-89. 
  7. Upadhyay DK et al. "Effect of alternate nostril breathing exercise on
         cardiorespiratory functions." Index Medicus for South-East Asia Region. 15        Mar, 2008. <http://imsear.hellis.org/handle/123456789/46689>.
     

4 Steps to Feel More "In Sync" This Autumn

If you're in San Francisco, you probably know for a fact that we don't feel the effects of the different seasons much, but I know you all felt the following phenomenon - the days are shorter, night comes faster, and waking up in the mornings seems to be a little harder than usual. 

Our bodies are set to cyclical natures, much like the cyclical natures of day and night, the waxing and waning moon, the incoming and receding tide, summer and winter. In fact, almost all metabolic processes within our bodies are cyclical, working in feedback loops that are triggered or stopped by internal and external (environmental) cues. 

Trees and flowers follow the cyclical patterns of Nature, animals follow the cyclical patterns of Nature, and even in agricultural cultures, the cyclical patterns are observed. However, those of us living in more urban environments seem to want to defy the forces of Nature. In late autumn and winter, a time for rest and reflection of the year, most people push themselves harder and harder to finish projects before the year's end. In addition, festivities that require output of energy that are placed closely one after the other - Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year - put further stress on the body and the mind when it is a time for withdrawing and conserving our energies. 

The Yogic sciences place great emphases on following these internal and external cycles. The ancient scriptures detail specific times to rise, to meditate, to eat, to sleep, and even to engage in sexual activities. Diseases arise when we become out of sync with these patterns - when we continue to work and exercise hard when the body wants to rest, when we consume a cold juice on a chilly, windy day, when we sleep at 2am and rise at 10am, and when we eat a large, heavy meal at 9pm. 

If you've been feeling "out of sync" of some sorts recently, I suggest you consider the following steps to help you come back "in sync." Even when seasons are not as clearly defined here in the Bay Area, our bodies ingrained wisdom still follow a pattern, and these practices will help guide you back to the beat. 
 

1. Go to bed between 10pm-11pm. I can already hear some of you saying, "But that's impossible! I have to do X, Y, and Z before bed. There is no way I can get to bed before 11pm!" Well, I urge you to look a little more closely at your evening routine. How much of it is spent aimlessly browsing through social media or replying to emails that are not important? How much of it is spent watching 2, 3, or even 4 episodes of your favorite TV shows? I enjoy TV shows and social media browsing just as much as the next person since it gives my brain a time to be "switched off" or change focus, but I have a hard-stop for all screen-related things by 9pm, an hour before my usual bedtime (so if you are aiming to sleep by 11pm, switch off your TV and phones by 10pm). Yes, that might mean I am sometimes left in suspense after one episode of a TV show, but I never regret it after I switch off my TV and opt for some quality down-time. Usually that means a book, some journaling, a long shower, a mini facial, and/or light stretching/restorative yoga. Give yourself at least 30 minutes to an hour to get back in touch with your body and your body's internal clock to help you get into a deeper, restful sleep. 

2. Opt for soups, stews, and lighter fares for dinner. One of the biggest mistakes people make is having their largest meals at night. Having a large meal at night is not inherently "bad," but the bigger mistake is having a large meal way too late. Ideally, you'd want to finish eating at least 2-3 hours before bedtime to give your body time to digest your food. When you sleep, your body should NOT be predominantly focused on still digesting your last meal. Rather, your body should be focused on digesting and eliminating your emotional and mental imprints from the day. If you've seen the movie Inside Out, you would have seen that during sleep, our brain is actively processing the experiences and memories of the day - keeping ones that are important and eliminating those that are not. In addition to this "brain cleansing" activity, the rest of your organs are being repaired and maintained in preparation for the next day. Therefore, if for the first 2-3 hours of your sleep your body is still trying to digest physical bits of food, you are inherently taking away precious organ repair time. Soups and light stews are great in that a) they are easier to digest, and b) they are grounding in nature, which can help put the body into a more relaxed mode. 

3. Balance your intense workouts with grounding practices. I know many people feel obligated to workout more around the holiday season to "make up" for the large quantities of food and calories consumed around this time of year. However, as I've mentioned above, the body and mind are not primed for intense output of energy in late autumn and early winter. Excessive exercise and activities can ultimately burn you out at this time of the year when your body and mind crave more rest. So if you want to keep up with your workout regime, I highly encourage you to balance that with restorative yoga practices and meditation

4. Reflect and express gratitude. Last and final step that I think everybody should practice all the time regardless of time of the year is to reflect on your accomplishments and express gratitude. The human brain is wired to focus more on faults and negativities, which can bring on a whole 'nother baggage of problems with overall well-being when left unchecked. Whether you want to spend 5 minutes before bed to mentally list your top achievements and grateful moments of the day or physically write them down, you'll be amazed that all this time you haven't been giving yourself the credit you deserve! If you're looking for a more structured approach to starting and ending your day with gratitude, I highly recommend the Five Minute Journal

As with all goal attainments, the most important thing is to take small steps at a time. Try just ONE THING from the list above for at least 3 weeks and observe how that feels in your body and mind. Do you feel more rested? Do you feel more connected with your energy? If not, try another suggestion from the list and repeat. Once you find one thing that works and that you feel really good about, you'd naturally want to continue with this new habit and perhaps even try another one. 

If you'd like some help establishing a home yoga, nutrition, and lifestyle routine, you can set up a complimentary consultation with me to see how we can work together to help you create a life and body that you feel confident and connected with. I also invite you to attend my upcoming Holiday De-Stress Restorative Yoga Workshop to help you get started on a grounding autumn/winter routine.