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Might Yoga Help Prevent Teacher Burnout?

The pandemic caught most of us off guard and added significant stress to our lives, asking us at times to think out of the box to come up with creative ways to do what we did in the past differently.  In a flash, life went virtual!  Teachers, in particular, who, as a profession rank high amongst those helping professions that are predisposed to mental health challenges due to stress on the job, were asked to convert in-person curriculums to remote learning overnight.  Teachers were already at risk of burnout before the pandemic, with a significant percentage of teachers leaving the profession within the first 5 years.  The pandemic has simply added salt to an already open wound.

Past research has looked at the benefits of bringing yoga into the schools for the students.  This research has shown the positive effects on the developing minds of children, including but not limited to reducing stress and anxiety, improving memory and attention span, enhancing coping skills, and increasing self-confidence and self-esteem.  By building yoga into the students’ curriculum, it was accessible to everyone and was not designated as an optional, after-school activity.  By supporting students in this way, it certainly indirectly helps the teachers.  However, with such a high burnout rate in this profession, it is just as important to look at what might prevent such teacher burnout more directly.

More recent research is now looking at bringing yoga to the teachers at school.  One such recent quasi-experimental study looked at the connection between improving the mental and emotional well-being of teachers through a twice-a-week yoga class, including gentle meditation exercises, and a reduction in burnout.  Yoga, and is contemplative practices, was considered for this research because it is a discipline that has been shown to enhance body awareness and encourages equanimity in the mind.  The design of this research included concern for the need to adapt to the working environment, so that no particular setting would be required, making it easy to replicate.

The research was able to identify a significant, positive effect of yoga on the psycho-physical well-being and resilience response on the job of the teachers.  The program was short, only 8 weeks, and did not identify any risks.  The conclusion suggests that schools would benefit by offering yoga to the teachers to reduce burnout.

If you are interested in reading the full article, click the link below.  If you are a teacher or know a teacher, consider sharing this article with those that might benefit, including the principal of your school.

Can yoga influence the gene expression of your DNA?

I believe so as I personally dove into all of the mind-body interventions yoga had to offer to prevent one of the most important risk factors for cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of mortality. Both of my parents were diagnosed with hypertension, with my mother getting the diagnosis in her 30s, and both went on to develop cardiovascular disease that is managed by multiple prescription medications.  When I turned 40, my physician informed me that I was pre-hypertensive, which sent me on a journey that not only reversed this diagnosis, but changed my life in so many other ways!  Different life experiences can influence your genes and cause subconscious behavioral patterns that are passed on over generations, including trauma.  And now we might be discovering how yoga and all of its contemplative practices can change and perhaps undo the damage of such life experiences.

There is a newer focus of research that is digging deeper into how the contemplative, mind-body practices of yoga impact our genes, especially in relation to the stress response and inflammation.  This body of research is looking at the autonomic nervous system’s response to stressful events, specifically the pro-inflammatory gene expression pattern.  The human body’s autonomic nervous system is made up of two main branches, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic.  When presented with signals and sensations, the autonomic nervous system responds and takes one of three pathways through these two main branches to keep us safe.  The oldest route from an evolutionary development perspective leads to immobilization (think freeze/faint) through the parasympathetic dorsal vagal nerve branch.  The next pathway to develop led to the mobilization response (think fight/flight) through the sympathetic nervous system branch.  The final one to evolve led to social engagement (think safe and social) through the parasympathetic ventral vagal nerve branch, which is unique to mammals.

When danger is sensed, the human body’s autonomic nervous system travels backwards through the sympathetic nervous system’s fight/flight response and then perhaps, if we feel trapped, to the parasympathetic dorsal vagal nervous system’s freeze/faint response.  When the body arrives in the space of immobilization for survival, it can be a long and painful journey back to the space of feeling safe and social.  So anything that might make this journey shorter and less painful is welcome!  That is where understanding how yoga can support such intentions is vital.

Without going too deep into the science (click on the button below to read more if interested in a deeper dive), when the human body encounters stress and triggers the sympathetic nervous system, it increases production of chemicals that regulate how genes are expressed, activating genes to produce proteins called cytokines that cause inflammation.  When these higher levels of cytokines persist over time, the human body is put at a higher risk of a whole range of diseases, including cancer and psychiatric disorders.  This newer research is finding that people who practice mind-body interventions such as mindfulness meditations, yoga or Tai Chi, actually reflect the opposite effect, namely a decrease in the production of cytokines, leading to a reversal of the pro-inflammatory gene expression pattern.  One of the more recent studies considered one of these mind-body interventions, specifically meditation, an emotional and attentional regulatory activity that supports a state of inner quiet.  From this inner quiet grows increased self-awareness which has the power to reduce stress-related symptoms.

To read more about the growing evidence that stress can cause changes in gene expression and how intentionally engaging in mind-body practices can transform the genetic effects of stress, click below:

Can yoga change your brain?

What if we could see inside of our brains when we are practicing our deep breathing, sun salutations, and savasana?  Would you want to see/know what parts of your brain are being turned on and off or growing and shrinking?  Well, this might not quite be reality yet, however, with neuroimaging technology what it is today, it is pretty close!  When I started my yoga practice almost 20 years ago, I didn’t know what the practice did to my brain if anything, I just felt relief each time I left class.  Now, all these years later, it excites me to know that it supported my brain’s own natural ability to heal.

Before discovering yoga, I was a workaholic that was in a constant state of flight or fight with the world around me.  I figured I had inherited my mother’s anxiety and there was nothing I could really do about it.  Boy was I wrong!  My first yoga class spoke to me in a way that I had never experienced before, calling me back to the mat that first year 5 to 6 times a week.  I thought it had become my new addiction, yet it changed me so profoundly that I was finally able to find the long sought after balance I craved in my life.

I believed yoga was a huge contributor to my healing journey, although at the time I might not have fully understood how it worked.  Today, with the integration of neuroimaging and neurophysiological techniques into the study of yoga, research has begun to reveal consistent structural and functional changes in the brain.  With the benefit of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET) and/or single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) scanning, the benefits of yoga are lighting up our brains!

Although the various research studies have looked at different aspects of yoga, such as movement versus meditation as well as styles of yoga, these studies reflect relatively consistent cerebral structural and functional changes.  What this tells me is that you can’t do it wrong!  It doesn’t matter if you practice Iyengar, Yin, Hatha and/or Kundalini yoga, it will help your brain.  It doesn’t matter if you practice movement, breathing techniques, meditation or chant, it will help your brain.  And with all of the different approaches, including Kids and Chair yoga, yoga is available to help our brains throughout the entire life cycle.

Fast forward with the increasing popularity of yoga worldwide, research is still scarce in yogis yet it is expanding with the assistance of neuroimaging.  And this research is showing that yoga effects the brain both structurally and functionally, specifically in areas involving interoception, posture, motivation, and higher executive functions.  Moving forward, more research is needed to reflect the changes in the brain through neuroimaging when the brain is suffering from the effects of anxiety, depression, PTSD and other stress-induced mental health challenges.  I would have loved to see what my brain looked like before discovering yoga and after integrating my practice into my everyday life.  I think the results would have been very validating!

Virtual Reiki-infused Sound Healing and Meditation Class!

This online group gathering will be conducted using Zoom’s video conferencing, which provides an option to turn off the your audio/video at any time, supporting privacy and facilitating a reduction in distractions.  For first-time attendees, signed release of liability/waiver forms will be needed.  Once these forms have been received, along with payment via PayPal, an email will be sent to you with the link and meeting ID to join the class.  We look forward to being of service to you!

Virtual Community Gathering Practice Tips

We understand that this is not the ideal way to come together to practice and how sometimes just the thought of more technology might bring shivers down our spines.  Accepting that it’s OK to feel intimidated is the first step. We are doing our best to make the connection simple and easy.  Harnessing the warrior energy within will help you to face any tech fears you might have and join us!

Once you let us know that you are interested in attending, we will send you an email that will include details around what is needed from you, including:

  • Signed Releases/Waivers of Liability forms (one time, for new students only)
  • PayPal information to facilitate payment
  • Checking your email for the Zoom link to join the class
  • A few minutes before the class, simply clicking the link within the email to be sent straight to our meeting room

To facilitate the benefits of such a virtual community practice at home, below we have provided some helpful hints:

  • Set up your mats at least 3 giant steps from your device.
  • Elevate your device 21-24″ from the floor and have it tilted forward slightly.
  • Have your props nearby.
  • Although not required, having a headset or ear buds to listen when the singing bowls are playing may enhance your listening pleasure.
  • Please know you will not need to have your audio/video camera on during the practice.  If you would prefer to reduce the number of distractions or increase the sense of privacy, we invite you to turn off your audio and video once the class starts.

Restorative Yoga Tips and Props

On the day of the class, here are some additional recommendations to create a more sacred space in advance for your practice:

  • Make sure you’ll be in a space where there won’t be any background noises, distractions or interruptions.
  • Adjusting the lighting in the room to your liking, perhaps turning off any overhead lighting and minimizing outdoor light and instead turning on a room lamp or lighting your favorite candle(s).
  • Wear warm, comfortable clothing including socks.
  • If available, bringing your favorite deck of intention cards and essential oil to your mat.
  • Placing your props (see below) to the side of your mat so they are within an easy reach during the class.

 In home prop ideas:

  • Bolster:  couch cushions or a tightly rolled comforter, towel, or blanket (can be secured with 2 ties, scarfs or belts)
  • Pillows:  couch, chair or bed pillows will do
  • Blankets:  your favorite blanket to cover yourself and either 2 additional blankets or bath or beach towels (no sheets)
  • Yoga blocks: books, either paper back or hard cover, stacked
  • Eye pillow:  hand towel, tie or scarf

Can yoga – and all of its contemplative practices – contribute to a healthier cognitive aging process?

My husband and I try to remember to laugh when we walk into a room and then have to stand there for a few minutes because we realize we forgot why we were heading there in the first place.  And I think a sense of humor is critical in many circumstances, so applying it to myself as I age is putting a value into action!  However, instead of accepting the gradual decline in the neural circuitry of the brain as we age, what if you were to learn that there was a simple way to preserve the connectivity in our brains that contributes to overall health?  Would you be willing to try it?

Well, with the assistance of brain imaging, research studies can see the impact of contemplative – or attentional – practices on very specific areas of the brain, which opens the door to more rigorous studies that shed light on how such practices can support a healthier cognitive aging process.  These brain imaging techniques have shown that there are changes in the functional connectivity of our neural networks as we age.  Now the idea of ‘before and after’ imaging can be applied more broadly in research, beyond the studies that focus on prescription medications.

My experience when I am able to give something my full attention is one in which the memory of the moment is so much richer and stronger, whether it is a conversation with someone or simply sitting outside in nature.  I find that I can more easily recall the details of the experience when reflecting on it, almost as though I am experiencing it again in all of its colors and textures.  So if there is something I can do to help support the health of my ability to maintain my attention, I say ‘sign me up!’

Recent data from studies looking specifically at yoga and other contemplative practices such as meditation suggest that such practices may revert, at least in some part, the effects of aging on the functional connectivity in the brain.  The intention of the research is to look at how using the body and breath as the focus of contemplation helps to preserve cognition and the neural connectivity of those brain areas that typically decline with age.  When we hold the body in one of the shapes of a yoga practice, and bring the mind’s awareness to focus on the experience of the breath in that shape, it supports the parts of the brain that support cognition and brain connectivity.  Sounds pretty good to me for simply moving the body and breathing with intention and attention!

If you are so inclined to read more about the details of a recent research study looking how yoga and other contemplative practices impact specific parts of the brain involved in maintaining a healthier cognitive aging process, click the link below:

What is it about mindfulness that reduces stress – ACCEPTANCE!

In my own personal journey of healing, as well as being a compassionate witness to the healing of others, I have come to realize that suffering comes from rejecting parts of ourselves that we either think or believe are unacceptable to others.  When I first found myself in psychotherapy, I discovered that I was rejecting my emotional parts, because expressing emotions in my family of origin was either not acceptable or was overwhelming.  However, the effort it took to try to reject these emotions from my life was exhausting, created a great deal of anxiety and was completely unsuccessful.  In fact, the more I rejected them, the more my emotions would come out when I least expected!

It wasn’t until my therapist had me befriend my emotions that I was able to regulate them, honoring that they were a core source of my intelligence and would not want to reject them.  Wow, what a concept, ACCEPT my emotions as part of this experience of being human.  When I learned, which was a process, to allow those parts of me to express themselves, they no longer raged (read overwhelmed me).  It was as if giving them air actually dissipated the energy, versus the thought that ignoring or avoiding them, not giving them air (AKA suffocating or stuffing them) would extinguish the flame/energy.  And one of the main emotions I was trying to avoid feeling was fear.  My family did not acknowledge fear and instead taught us to wear many different masks to not reveal such vulnerability.  So the perfectionist and people-pleasing parts of me became overactive, to compensate for the scared little girl part that simply wanted to feel safe and accepted.

Along the way, I gathered some tools to deploy during the process of accepting all parts of myself, such as but not limited to deep breathing, yoga, journaling and guided meditation, as these tools helped me to welcome those parts of myself that I had been trying to avoid.  These tools might be referred to as contemplative science, cognitive practices, or simply mindfulness.  Now, I didn’t really know what it was about these practices that made them so effective for me, yet what I did know was after practicing them consistently for a period of time my anxiety went away.  What I came to realize was that the power of rejection creates long-lasting wounds to the hearts of many and that acceptance is healing.  Acceptance is a basic human need, as we are wired for connection and want to belong.  When we believe parts of ourselves are unacceptable and try to reject or mask those parts, we create our own chronic stress and suffering that manifests in symptoms such as anxiety.

Now the research is helping us to understand the power of acceptance and how contemplative science practices support us in monitoring our present-moment experiences through the lens of acceptance, reducing biological stress in the body through emotion regulation and evidenced by a reduction in cortisol levels and systolic blood pressure reactivity.  In addition, research is showing how Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is becoming an empirically-supported treatment option for anxious youth.  I think this is critical information to share at this time, as no one knows the lasting effects of the fear coming from the uncertainty the COVID-19 pandemic is creating.  What we do know is that social isolation is not a healthy state of being for humans (think solitary confinement in prison) and we will all need tools to heal the traumas of this time.

If you would like to read more of the research on the healing effects of acceptance, click the boxes below:

Online Reiki-infused gentle movement and meditation class!

This online class will be conducted using WebEx’s video conferencing, which provides the option to turn off your camera at any time, supporting your privacy and facilitating a reduction in distractions.  For first-time attendees, we will need to secure a signed release of liability form, which will be sent to you via email.  Once we have these forms, along with payment via PayPal, an email will be sent to you with the link and meeting ID to join us on Sunday, June 28th at 4 pm PST.  We look forward to being of service to you!

Virtual Community Gathering Practice Tips

We understand that this is not the ideal way to come together to practice and how sometimes just the thought of more technology might bring shivers down our spines.  Accepting that it’s OK to feel intimidated is the first step. We are doing our best to make the connection simple and easy.  Harnessing the warrior energy within will help you to face any tech fears you might have and join us!

Once you let us know that you are interested in attending, we will send you an email that will include details around what is needed from you, including:

  • Signed Releases/Waivers of Liability forms (one time, for new students only)
  • Downloading of the WebEx application onto a laptop or device (it’s free!)
  • Checking your email for the WebEx link to join the class
  • A few minutes before the class, simply clicking the link within the email to be sent straight to our meeting room

To facilitate the benefits of such a virtual community practice at home, below we have provided some helpful hints:

  • Set up your mats at least 3 giant steps from your device.
  • Elevate your device 21-24″ from the floor and have it tilted forward slightly.
  • Have your props nearby.
  • Please know you will not need to have your video camera on during the practice.  If you would prefer to reduce the number of distractions or increase the sense of privacy, we invite you to turn off your video once the class starts.

Restorative Yoga Tips and Props

On the day of the class, here are some additional recommendations to create a more sacred space in advance for your practice:

  • Make sure you’ll be in a space where there won’t be any background noises, distractions or interruptions.
  • Adjusting the lighting in the room to your liking, perhaps turning off any overhead lighting and minimizing outdoor light and instead turning on a room lamp or lighting your favorite candle(s).
  • Wear warm, comfortable clothing including socks.
  • We will not be playing any music or instruments through WebEx due to sound quality, so if you prefer to have some music, we encourage you to play your own using a separate device.  Consider choosing something soft and soothing, such as  instrumental music or sounds of nature.  You will be muted once class begins so it won’t disturb the class.

 In home prop ideas:

  • Bolster:  couch cushions or a tightly rolled comforter, towel, or blanket (can be secured with 2 ties, scarfs or belts)
  • Pillows:  couch, chair or bed pillows will do
  • Blankets:  your favorite blanket to cover yourself and either 2 additional blankets or bath or beach towels (no sheets)
  • Yoga blocks: books, either paper back or hard cover, stacked
  • Eye pillow:  hand towel, tie or scarf

Does including music in a yoga class add to the healing benefits?

When I first started taking yoga classes years ago back in New Jersey, the teachers did not play music in the background.  There might have been some chanting, as I do remember learning about chanting “Om” and “Shanti” to start and end classes.  However, it wasn’t until I attended a class where the teacher played the quartz crystal singing bowls while we stayed in comfortable, supported shapes that sound caught my attention!  I left that class sensing that something deep inside of me had shifted, although I could not put it in to words at that time.  After moving to California, I noticed that most yoga teachers included music in their classes, whether it was simply nature sounds or straight up rock and roll!  So once I became a yoga teacher, I began to include music in my classes while setting the intention to manifest a set of those singling bowls so I too one day would be able to offer that deeper experience to others.

After a few years, I acquired a set of Tibetan singing bowls which were made out of metal and generated different sound frequencies depending upon their size and thickness.  The belief was that the frequency of each bowl was tuned to the seven major chakras, or energy centers, in the body, causing the human body to begin to vibrate at the same frequency as the bowls, referred to as entrainment.  The process of entrainment of the body’s frequencies to the sound frequencies of the singing bowls was thought to help the body recover and align with its natural, dominant vibration of wellness (versus illness).  At the time, I didn’t have any evidenced-based research to prove such claims, I only had my own personal anecdotal experiences.  Although I think most of us would not argue how music impacts us, research is now starting to show how these specific vibrations from the singing bowls impact mood and Heart Rate Variability, a physiological measure of health.

Now, you have to understand, that although I love music, I do not have any musical talent.  I sing, but not well and only when I am alone and I have no musical instrument training.  I also avoided group exercise classes (before yoga) because I always felt I was a step behind everyone else – yes, I believed I had no rhythm or coordination, instead of knowing I simply vibrate at a different frequency!  It wasn’t until my yoga practice expanded my awareness to the fact that sound, vibration, rhythm, resonance and dissonance permeate the universe.  Those sounds start for us in the womb, where we hear our mother’s heartbeat, pulse and breathing (and entrain with these vibrations) and we remain rhythmic beings until we take our very last breath.  And not only are we rhythmic beings, but all sentient beings vibrate, especially when we allow ourselves to tune into nature.  In fact, if you would like to experiment with some healing sounds of nature, click here to listen to the sounds of birds and sense how stress and anxiety simply melt away!

The intention behind the physical movement and shapes of a yoga practice on the mat is to soften the mind’s activity, by helping it to focus on the body and breath and releasing the tight grip of the thoughts that keep us distracted.  As we practice yoga, the brain waves of the mind change.  The higher frequency brain waves (i.e., Gamma and Beta) begin to slow down.  These higher frequency brain waves are associated with stress, anxiety, and fear.  When the singing bowls are included in the physical practice of yoga, in addition to the physically felt vibrations, the bowls emit measurable waveforms that sound pleasant and soothe the mind and emotions by promoting the slower, more meditative alpha and theta brain wave states.  So, over 15 years later, I couldn’t be happier that I have manifested a beautiful colored set of quartz crystal singing bowls to include in my yoga and meditation classes!

And I’m also excited to learn that therapeutic sound and music is permeating other healing spaces too.  The recent increase in research on the use of music in healing has shown a strong effect on the brain, including rebuilding neural connections, increasing neuroplasticity, balancing brain activity in the emotional centers such as the amygdala and hippocampus, and enhancing reward (e.g., release of dopamine) circuitry, which helps to regulate mental and emotional responses.  The research is compelling enough that music therapy is being integrated in military treatment facilities, such as the Walter Reed Medical Center, to treat combat-related traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.  So, the next time you are in a movement class and sense the enjoyment of the music, know that the sounds and vibrations are working at a deeper, subconscious level to invite the body to entrain to its natural vibration of health.  Nothing for you to do, simply enjoy!

If you would like to read more about how music is being integrated into military treatment facilities for trauma-induced mind-body dysregulation, click on the link below:

Online Reiki-infused gentle movement and meditation class!

This online class will be conducted using WebEx’s video conferencing, which gives you the choice to turn off your camera to support giving yourself permission to make this practice your own and to facilitate a reduction in distractions.  For first-time attendees, we will need to secure a signed release of liability form, which will be sent to you via email.  Once we have this form, along with payment via PayPal, we will email you the link and meeting ID to join us on Sunday, 26th at 4 pm PST.  We look forward to be of service to you!

Will physicians start prescribing yoga for hypertension soon?

Both of my parents have a diagnosis of hypertension and were put on antihypertensive prescription medication to control it.  I think my mother received the diagnosis in her 30s.  I was turning 40 when I first heard my physician say my blood pressure was “elevated” and wanted it monitored in order to determine if I too would need to be put on some medication.  Boy, am I glad that shortly after that I discovered yoga!

I found yoga while celebrating my 40th birthday in Neversink, NY at the New Age Health Spa.  I recently learned that this place closed down a couple of years ago, which made me a little sad to think that it truly launched me on a path toward holistic health and wasn’t able to sustain itself, unlike the riches the pharmaceutical companies rake it.  The first things I noticed after practicing yoga initially were that my low back pain (from bulging/herniated discs) went away and the chronic tension in my body began to lessen.  The best news though was when I went back to the doctor’s office and was told my blood pressure was back to “normal”.  Now, after many years of practice, my blood pressure is actually considered “low”!

This dramatic change in one of the leading causes of morbidity in my own experience – and one in which prevented the need for a life-long attachment to a prescription medication – was all the motivation I needed to continue to explore the benefits of a yoga practice, eventually leading me to becoming a teacher to offer such healing benefits to others.  Unfortunately, my individual story doesn’t equal proof of a connection, so it has taken many years for the research to show that yoga does have a positive effect on your blood pressure.

In a recent systematic research article review that included 49 clinical trials, the data now show that yoga, when breathing and meditation practices are included, is a viable antihypertensive lifestyle therapy.  It is in moments like these that I would like to say “I told you so”!

If you would like to read more on this recent research, please click the button below: