Archives for January 2014

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!


The evidence for yoga improving various health problems is deep and varied.  I recommend the website 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!