Dr Terrell: “Women 40+ Need Yoga!”

This post is brought to you by  our own Yoga HotDisher, Top Doc,  and now,  Minnesota Monthly CoverGirl,  Dr. Carrie Ann  Terrell, MD, University of Minnesota (UMN). Thanks Carrie for contributing to our blog!

DrT

The evidence for yoga improving various health problems is deep and varied.  I recommend the website nccam.nih.gov for an overview of the benefits of yoga as presented by the National Institutes of Health.  The evidence is solid as is my experience.

My most common patient scenario presents with a litany of concerns that reads something like this:

  • Fatigue, low energy, difficulty completing the umpteen tasks before her
  • Low libido
  • Inability to focus, memory loss, distractedness
  • Mood swings, irritability
  • Weight gain, digestive problems
  • Dissatisfaction with life

These women are 40-60 years old, often partnered with a significant other of varying participation in the relationship/housework/child rearing/care taking/cooking/shopping, have busy/successful/demanding careers, are the primary caretaker of the house/parent(s)/children/pets, and have unwieldy expectations for what they “should” be doing to take care of themselves.

These patients are essentially working every hour of their lives.  If and when they sleep it is erratic and interrupted and they wake without having rested. Or they “rest” while watching TV, iPading, gaming, texting, Facebooking. These activities are not restful, rejuvenating, nor replenishing. As if this isn’t enough they are also constantly talking to/bombarding themselves with negative or expectant commentary that translates as “not enough or not good enough.” In fact, the incessant loop of streaming thought these women live with is exhausting.

These women often come in seeking a magical hormonal cure.  They read that estrogen or bioidentical hormones or compounded hormones will resolve all of their issues; that their issues must be related to menopause or perimenopause. Now, I’m not underestimating menopause. Estrogen deficiency causes hot flashes.  Hot flashes can disrupt thought, the work day, the physical body. When hot flashes occur at night, sleeplessness results and irritability, mood swings, memory problems can follow suit. However, in many many cases, estrogen deficiency is not the problem. These women need a break, a time out, a mini-retreat, a respite.

Many women have found their solution. Some have found it in running, others in meditating. However, for many the potential solutions are untenable, unreachable, or add to the never-ending list of shoulds. Or, the options are so overwhelming women cannot begin to decide what to do or how to perform self care.

For me, this is where yoga comes in. When taught well, with attention to the philosophy and teachings, Yoga provides peace, quiet and a chance to observe ourselves.  Some know yoga to be an exercise; a physical activity leading to fitness, improved health, increased heart rate, etc etc. The secret is that asana practice (the poses are called asana) is solely meant to allow us to sit comfortably enough,quietly enough to see and feel clearly. Undoubtedly, the physical practice feels good. “Doing” yoga feels good, but, what feels even better is being able to look at my thoughts and see, ‘huh, those are my thoughts. I am not my thoughts.” Or, “look, this awful thing happened to me or someone said this awful thing to me and gee, I don’t have to be affected by that. I can still be me.” Or, “This pose sucks. I hate this pose. My muscles are shaking. This is dumb. I’m way too important for this pose. Why did I come? I have better things to do.” Which over time can become, “This pose sucks. I hate this pose. I’ve gotten through this pose before. I am stronger. My resilience is better.”

After 14 years of practicing yoga I can honestly say it makes me a better person. I build better relationships. I think more clearly. I know my limitations and know what I need to care for my self. I can separate myself from my wrongdoings, my suffering, my awards, my rewards, my family and my thoughts. With this ability I am able to set my work and personal goals in alignment with my deepest beliefs. I am able to achieve lifelong goals and hold positions of leadership with a sense of love and responsibility. I get to choose how I will react to incoming stimuli (if at all) and I can readily access a place of peace and serenity within myself.

CorePower Comes to Santa Barbara, Coke Machines on Mt. Fuji

fuji-vending-machine

Coke machines atop Mt. Fuji.  A go-cart park on the Great Wall of China.  And now: CorePower enters the indie yoga environment of Santa Barbara.  Maybe it was bound to happen. The Santa Barbara crowd put up a good fight. Word on the mat is, when some local yogis got wind CorePower was looking to buy the beloved Santa Barbara Yoga Center, they bought it first.   Of course, that can only go on for so long.  CorePower was finally successful and recently opened its Santa Barbara location.

In my talks with local yogis, instructors and business owners, I’m not sure they know what’s hit them.  I’ve noticed that class sizes are down– some by a third.   What is conspicuously missing:  the younger students, the 20-somethings (and no, it wasn’t Spring Break).   Perhaps they want to be able to buy their Lululemon where they yoga, then check their outfits in the mirror during class.  I wonder… if I had never experienced yoga in Asia, had a pierced belly button on my 20-something body, maybe I’d think CorePower was slick and sexy too?

So you lose a few college kids, so what?  The problem is, you also start to lose control of the media messaging.  With their huge budget, CorePower starts to redefine what yoga is.  They start to slowly change the criteria for what constitutes “yoga”  and what makes a “yoga teacher.”  The 20-somethings become 30-somethings and think that a 60 minute class with music so loud you can’t hear your breath is “normal.”  That said, there is no doubt many students are in superb shape, able to  perform  advanced postures–and postures are the essence of “Hatha” yoga. Advanced breathing and meditation is really the realm of “Raja” yoga.   The chaotic environment of these studios full of mirrors and ringing with new age music isn’t conducive to these deeper practices.  What concerns me is that these students may not develop an appreciation for the more meditative side of yoga and trying to “sell” it in the marketplace of ideas is difficult for the independents.

I’ve found that many CP at Fitness Yoga  students  don’t realize the importance of yoga nidra, as they only get a few  minutes of before the next class starts snapping yoga mats and moving into the space. Students may feel like they’ve “gone deep” in the near 100-degree heat, but  is it just a short cut to turn the room over faster?  All that heat, while helpful to stretch muscle,  isn’t great for the joints; and,  besides,  the heat is supposed to come from within via pranayama breathing, for which there’s little  time in a typical 60 minute class.

In spite of the mass marketeering,  the CP price tag is pretty steep ($13-20/class for 2-3 times/week), when you consider the brevity of both  the classes and typical teachers’  training. There are some groups in Minneapolis and St. Paul who do use a large/short class model with affordability in mind.  When you pay $12 for a drop-in, you expect part-timers or teachers-in-training.  CorePower, while charging top-dollar, has many teachers of under 5 years’ experience who probably can’t make enough to quit their day-jobs.

So where does the money go?  Management, marketing, advertising, interiors, inventory.  The deeper practices of yoga drop off while yoga merchandising takes off.  If you’re on FB, check out the CorePower posts–not a lot of thought leadership, but sure a lot of shop leadership.  Sure, some of the better teachers will break out and break away.  This doesn’t trouble the organization–there’s a whole new crop every few  weeks to take their places.  They’re all taught the same sequences and “cues” or scripts, so teachers become interchangeable.

Of course, many of  independent teachers won’t want to speak ill of a competitor.  Many of them got into yoga to avoid “Corporate Power” and don’t spend their time thinking about market positioning.    Nor does CorePower need to take on traditional yoga –it’s just easier to drown it out,  to  eclipse it  with “mass and flash.”    Seasoned teachers may even underestimate how enticing a convenience-oriented “fast food” yoga is to the up and coming… at first. There were probably cooks and grill masters a plenty who wondered, “How could a place like McDonald’s ever catch on?”

Sure,  we’ve all hit the drive-thru in a pinch.  I  still feel the need to “sneak” my kids some fiber and veggies when we get home–usually a shot of carrot juice alleviates my guilt.  No doubt, they’ll make fun of me when I’m long gone for the roar of my juicer.   Similarly, when I pick up a one-hour fitness yoga class at the gym, or  a place like CP because it’s my only option, I feel like I have to go home and stretch, meditate and breathe–for real.  CorePowers, LifeTimes and the fitness yoga style they perpetuate are here to stay in our convenience-oriented society, that’s for sure.  At the end of the day, it’s a great workout. The thing with yoga though, it’s all about the work-in so don’t forget the veggies!

Women Over 40 Need Yoga!

This post is brought to you by  our own Yoga HotDisher, Top Doc,  and now,  Minnesota Monthly CoverGirl,  Dr. Carrie Ann  Terrell, MD, University of Minnesota (UMN). Thanks Carrie for contributing to our blog!

DrT

The evidence for yoga improving various health problems is deep and varied.  I recommend the website nccam.nih.gov for an overview of the benefits of yoga as presented by the National Institutes of Health.  The evidence is solid as is my experience.

My most common patient scenario presents with a litany of concerns that reads something like this:

  • Fatigue, low energy, difficulty completing the umpteen tasks before her
  • Low libido
  • Inability to focus, memory loss, distractedness
  • Mood swings, irritability
  • Weight gain, digestive problems
  • Dissatisfaction with life

These women are 40-60 years old, often partnered with a significant other of varying participation in the relationship/housework/child rearing/care taking/cooking/shopping, have busy/successful/demanding careers, are the primary caretaker of the house/parent(s)/children/pets, and have unwieldy expectations for what they “should” be doing to take care of themselves.

These patients are essentially working every hour of their lives.  If and when they sleep it is erratic and interrupted and they wake without having rested. Or they “rest” while watching TV, iPading, gaming, texting, Facebooking. These activities are not restful, rejuvenating, nor replenishing. As if this isn’t enough they are also constantly talking to/bombarding themselves with negative or expectant commentary that translates as “not enough or not good enough.” In fact, the incessant loop of streaming thought these women live with is exhausting.

These women often come in seeking a magical hormonal cure.  They read that estrogen or bioidentical hormones or compounded hormones will resolve all of their issues; that their issues must be related to menopause or perimenopause. Now, I’m not underestimating menopause. Estrogen deficiency causes hot flashes.  Hot flashes can disrupt thought, the work day, the physical body. When hot flashes occur at night, sleeplessness results and irritability, mood swings, memory problems can follow suit. However, in many many cases, estrogen deficiency is not the problem. These women need a break, a time out, a mini-retreat, a respite.

Many women have found their solution. Some have found it in running, others in meditating. However, for many the potential solutions are untenable, unreachable, or add to the never-ending list of shoulds. Or, the options are so overwhelming women cannot begin to decide what to do or how to perform self care.

For me, this is where yoga comes in. When taught well, with attention to the philosophy and teachings, Yoga provides peace, quiet and a chance to observe ourselves.  Some know yoga to be an exercise; a physical activity leading to fitness, improved health, increased heart rate, etc etc. The secret is that asana practice (the poses are called asana) is solely meant to allow us to sit comfortably enough,quietly enough to see and feel clearly. Undoubtedly, the physical practice feels good. “Doing” yoga feels good, but, what feels even better is being able to look at my thoughts and see, ‘huh, those are my thoughts. I am not my thoughts.” Or, “look, this awful thing happened to me or someone said this awful thing to me and gee, I don’t have to be affected by that. I can still be me.” Or, “This pose sucks. I hate this pose. My muscles are shaking. This is dumb. I’m way too important for this pose. Why did I come? I have better things to do.” Which over time can become, “This pose sucks. I hate this pose. I’ve gotten through this pose before. I am stronger. My resilience is better.”

After 14 years of practicing yoga I can honestly say it makes me a better person. I build better relationships. I think more clearly. I know my limitations and know what I need to care for my self. I can separate myself from my wrongdoings, my suffering, my awards, my rewards, my family and my thoughts. With this ability I am able to set my work and personal goals in alignment with my deepest beliefs. I am able to achieve lifelong goals and hold positions of leadership with a sense of love and responsibility. I get to choose how I will react to incoming stimuli (if at all) and I can readily access a place of peace and serenity within myself.

Resolve to reclaim your health in 2014 and prepare to disappoint!

Ah the Resolution Ritual… T’is the season for journaling, promising, and pep-talking.  For many, the resolutions are the usual suspects: exercise more, eat healthier, or, in my case, get organized!  I can’t tell you how to best file your paperwork or stock your fridge for easy cleaning; but, I can tell you  how to carve out space to be successful in regard to your health and wellness, a.k.a. get your backside to yoga in 2014.  It’s pretty straightforward.   To borrow the phrase of a former First Lady, “Just say ‘no,’”  to which I’ll add “to Other People’s Urgency (OPU).”

After teaching yoga for over a decade and seeing the difference between those that “succeed”  (read: come to class regularly and reap the benefits) and the yoga drop-outs, I may have some insight to offer.  The ones that come to class, well… they come to class. Basically, they treat it like a doctor’s appointment.  And why shouldn’t they?   The  health benefits of  a moderate yoga meditation practice will keep you away from the doctor’s office; this isn’t hype , it’s fact.  Less lower back pain, improved mood, boosted immune system (10,000 participant- study showing yogis create more antibodies to a flu vaccine  faster), better sleep, less arthritis and joint pain, better cognitive function — the list goes on and on.

So, why wouldn’t you be just as serious about showing up to yoga on the prevention end as you would about showing up to the doctor’s office after the fact?   Think about what a doctor’s appointment costs you in terms of co-pays (if you’re lucky), out-of-pocket if you have a huge deductible. Add in driving time, missed work,  waiting and waiting and waiting around in close quarters with all those sick people…

What if you started treating yoga like a doctor’s appointment and even told people wanting your time during class that you had  “an appointment”?   Say it with a slightly hushed, serious tone that implies some sort of  life threatening situation.   Here’s the thing: friends, family, bosses, co-workers and society at large respect (doctor’s) appointments.  No one is going to ask you to skip a doctor’s appointment to babysit or make a deadline at work.  A doctor’s appointment… it makes people afraid to ask, “What for?” lest they invite some unbearably awkward health issue into the light.

On the other hand, when you say you have “yoga” here’s what happens: in spite of the reams of research and all the lip service paid to wellness by employers, insurance companies, etc., chances are, the person inquiring will deem whatever they need you for as  More Important Than Yoga.  This I can only chalk up to the general ignorance of the uninitiated.  It’s the same sort of ignorance yoga instructors everywhere struggle with– newbies looking at their i-gadgets in class, people walking by (or even through) class who don’t know enough to lower their voices–probably figuring the music just went out during Zumba– and surely whatever  they’re  discussing trumps silence. I am here to tell you from the from the leading edge of wellness  that society still considers noise and multitasking (including jumping up and down and calling it progress) far more important than anything involving silence, stillness and introspection.

Given that yoga is still very counter-culture in many areas and among many subsets of the population, if you want to succeed at yoga and have a healthier and fitter ’14, then you’ll have to be both committed and crafty.  You’ll also have to be willing to disappoint those close to you in the short run, so you don’t disappoint yourself  in the long run.  The ability to ascertain between your own urgency and other people’s urgency will be useful.   Before you drop everything to miss class and  “put out a fire” ask yourself some questions:  “Is it really my fire to put out?  Does it really have to be put out during class? What happens if I don’t respond? –this last question was driven home for me  by my former boss as key to running a successful small office with limited resources.  You simply have to get used to not doing everything everyone asks of you.

Now, shall we practice a bit to make sure you don’t choke under the pressure?  Look in the mirror and practice saying “No, I’m sorry, I have an important appointment then” –sell it with the expression of a seasoned news anchor.  A slightly furrowed brow helps and again, the hushed tone. Maybe even look over your shoulder and move in a little closer, implying an air of confidentiality.  Good luck and see you at your next appointment!  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yoga Sutras 101: what are The Sutras and is yoga a religion?

here and now

The Yoga Sutras are considered the  basis for Classical Yoga as we know it today and were written down some 2000 years ago by an author cited as Patanjali.

There is much controversy as to the author’s (or authors’) identity and even the date of the manuscript, so for convenience, we’ll go for Patanjali, 2000 years.

What is generally agreed is that the author was not the founder of yoga; but, rather a scholarly consolidator and codifier and recorder of an existing oral tradition.

The Sutras were not meant to be a comprehensive ‘how-to” guide; instead,  think of them as “Clff’s Notes”  based on teachings that passed for generations from Guru to student.

Each sentence is an aphorism, concise and loaded with meaning. They begin simply enough, “Now, the study of Yoga,” but  even the word “Now”  means more than you might think. Many a swami has lectured on the Sutras without making it past the definition of “Now”! [Read more...]

Hot Yoga : Hot or Not?

Hot Yoga

Hot Yoga : Hot or Not?

Hot yoga is a major trend  in which participants practice in a hot room, often 90-100+ degrees.  Mass marketers of yoga love the “passive heating” approach of hot yoga, as  it gives the perception of flexibility and a deeper workout in a shorter period of time.  More classes per day = more revenue.

Great for your muscles, but what about your joints? Extreme heat, while making muscles temporarily more flexible, makes the tensile strength of connective tissue and  joints weaker.  Injuries arise because your “heat goggles” make you feel so bendy, that your judgement  may be off.  So, just like yo-yo dieting isn’t the answer,  YHD says “no” to yo-yo climating–don’t we already get enough of that here in Minnesota?

Yoga HotDish classes will warm your body and make you flexible, but keeping with yoga philosophy. Yoga takes time, and you can’t just crank the furnace to force to body into submission! Also,  hot yoga  is contra-indicated for numerous conditions, from heart and respiratory issues to being over weight or sleep deprived, YHD is a more accessible form of yoga.

[Read more...]

Dharma: “The Great Work Of Your Life”

Cope-CoverSmallThis book could be the What Color is Your Parachute? for a new generation. It’s inspirational for anyone of any age going through a period of transition–maybe you’re finding out your parachute has a few holes in it?  But, what does a book on finding one’s true calling have to do with yoga?

Stephen Cope’s The Great Work of Your Life looks to the 2000 year-old yoga text, The Bhagavad Gita, an allegory about the path to dharma (true calling in simple terms), told through a dialogue between the Warrior Arjuna and his divine mentor, Krishna.  Arjuna is riding  “shotgun” (ok, “archer?”)  in the  chariot, piloted by the diving Krishna who is extolling advice over the course of an epic battle.  Cope shows us how Arjuna’s military career and moral dilemmas aren’t so different from our own or from luminaries like Walt Whitman, Susan B Anthony and even Beethoven.  We learn that Krishna’s advice is timeless and relevant to all of us looking for fulfillment in the modern world.  BTW, the “The Gita” is probably one of the most accessible yogic texts and has influenced people like Ghandi and Martin Luther King.

[Read more...]

Protein smoothies a great recipe for greater work/life balance

Picture

What should I eat before yoga?” I am often asked this vexing question by new students. As a classical yogi, I feel compelled to advise students doing a morning practice to do so on an empty stomach, so they get the full benefits of digestion offered by the poses without discomfort. However, as a 6-footer with blood pressure on the low side and a metabolism on the high side, I myself don’t fare well sans food.The middle path: protein shakes and smoothies. You get all your nutrients without skipping a meal, and most importantly, you give your digestive tract a much-needed reprieve.  Think about it:  is stuffing ourselves full of carbs, gluten, and meats three times per day really a good longevity strategy? No wonder 40% of Americans are constipated while obesity and diabetes are on a sharp rise.

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Lose a Job, Find Yoga and “SEVA”…

So many of my students are engaged in volunteerism for as many reasons as there are people.  In yoga philosophy, the belief is that service helps improve one’s karma.  The world “SEVA” means “selfless service.”  Should you ever make it to Kripalu in Western Massachusetts, you’ll find the kitchen and cleaning functions staffed by yogis signed up for 6 months of SEVA.  Is it really selfless? At Kripalu, Seva yogis may partake of the great yoga and live in the Berkshires.  I think all of you whom volunteer feel like you get more back than you give. If you’d like to share your story, please send it to me in an email. I wanted to kick off with Mary Jo’s story, as she, like some of you, came to yoga and seva, in part, through loss.  We’ve all heard the cliches,” when one door closes, another door opens” or ” the glass is half full,” but true stories help bring them to life and give us hope. Thanks for sharing, Mary Jo! Also if you know anyone in need of meeting/event planning services, tap in to the YogaHotDish network –I’ll put you in touch. What’s better than a CMP who knows how to breathe deeply and stay calm?!

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“Flow What?” Vinyasa Flow and Hatha Yoga

The most common question I get out and about as a yoga teacher is, “do you teach vinyasa flow?” Wait, I suppose that’s the second most popular question after, “do you teach hatha yoga?” I’m always perplexed as to how to answer these questions.  Clearly, the inquirer has an interest and some experience with yoga and I want to be encouraging and  I don’t want to scare them off of ever speaking to another yoga teacher at a party again by subjecting them to a soliloquy on yoga. So perhaps I can avoid awkwardness by answering the questions here.

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