Thursday, March 30, 2017

Yoga and Meditation for Memory Care

Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet...the colors of the rainbow; our theme for yoga and meditation with the residents of an assisted living facility specializing in memory care. Yoga and meditation help keep the body and mind strong, improving overall health, increasing relaxation and instilling a sense of general well-being, and research has shown that yoga improves the quality of life for seniors in assisted living facilities. 

A sensory sequence for these sassy seniors was planned, a tactile experience with joyful sound, movement, color and touch. Rainbow colored scarves waved in the air as we came into the present moment with the song "Colors" by Kira Wiley. Chair yoga pose variations that promote circulation and flexibility were practiced as well as deep breathing techniques while traveling "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" with IZ, loosening up the neck, shoulders, arms and hips. Relaxation with a Kirtan Kriya Meditation connected us to the Sun, Moon, Earth and Sky by way of finger taps. Before long we were remembering "What a Wonderful World" we live in!

Kundalini Yoga Kirtan Kriya Meditation has been the subject of study for many years. The outcomes suggest it can actually help preserve memory and slow Alzheimer's disease and related dementia. Results show yoga and meditation reduces stress and strengthens the brain. Yoga and meditation are not a cure but the science points to one conclusion; yoga and meditation help slow the progression of Alzheimer's and dementia.

Participants in the studies experienced reduced stress, improved mood and resilience, reduced depression and anxiety, improved verbal memory skills as well as improvements in visual-spatial memory, which is the ability to navigate and remember locations. In addition, grey matter and protective tissue increased, benefiting decision making. Regardless of your current age or cognitive abilities these are things we can all benefit from. 

Here is a link to the technique of Kundalini Yoga Kirtan Kriya Meditation found at the Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation if you'd like to give it a try.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Yin and yang...A balancing act

You are probably familiar with the yin/yang symbol. Yin and yang represent opposite energies, the symbol represents bringing these energies into balance. This is what our yoga practice aims to do, bring us back into balance. Calming us when we are overstimulated and energizing us when we are sluggish. Yoga offers us different tools and practices to achieve balance but first we need to understand the difference between yin and yang energy. 

Yin energy is feminine. It is associated with the earth and the moon, it is calming and cooling. It is the ease we feel in a yoga posture. The opposite is Yang male energy; the sky and the sun, activity and warmth. The effort we put forth in our practice is yang. We consider these energies as opposites but in reality they are interrelated, each contains aspects of the other. 

Being out of balance leads to dis-ease in our life. When we are overstimulated and stressed out there is too much yang energy in our life. If we are feeling sluggish we have too much yin energy. Everything in life has either a yin or yang quality, finding a balance between yin and yang brings us a sense of harmony. 

Hatha yoga is a balanced practice, a little bit yin and a little bit yang. We seek to balance ease and effort. We begin with slow postures to warm up and get flexible. The practice then becomes more yang as we focus on strength and endurance. Once we cool down, stretch and relax in Shavasana we often notice a feeling of balance, of harmony. 

This month we concentrated on balancing poses. Our story for the month; My body and mind are in balance. Balancing has both yin and yang qualities; the poses require effort and ease, steadiness and subtle movement to stay upright. Feel the play of opposites, have fun and remember, when you wobble you are learning to balance! 

Tree pose; begin in mountain pose, bring the sole of one foot up to the inner calf or upper thigh, not against the knee, the bent knee should be pointing out to the side, press into the leg with the foot and into the foot with the leg, balance. Bring the hands together in prayer or you can slowly reach the arms overhead it you would like, hold the pose as you gaze forward. Repeat on the other side. 

Warrior III; begin in mountain pose, reach back with the left toes touching the earth, balance on the right foot, look down at the ground. Inhale and bring all of your weight onto the right foot, exhale and lift the left leg back while extending and reaching the torso forward, arms can reach forward or towards the toes. Keep the core engaged and the muscles of both legs working to bring the torso parallel to the ground. Gaze at the ground, breathe and balance. Gently return to upright and repeat on the other side. 

A guided relaxation for Shavasana

Get comfortable...the relaxation will help you to become aware of the yin and yang aspects of the breath. Balancing these energies brings health to the body and the mind. The inhale is yang; masculine and warming. The exhale is yin; feminine and cooling. Begin scanning your body, take your attention to your toes and feet, relax your toes and your feet. With each breath move your attention upward slowly and gently relaxing the body. On the inhale the belly rises and on the exhale the belly sinks. As you inhale imagine the sun warming you, filling you and lifting you, you expand and float upward. As you exhale the moon cools you, you become empty and soften, contracting and sinking. Imagine yourself floating and sinking, expanding and contracting. Stay here as long as you'd like and feel the peace of this balanced harmony. 

Mahalo, we serve.


Saturday, March 4, 2017

5 Minute Yoga Breath Breaks

Mel and I had the privilege of empowering 30 teachers from Breaux Bridge Elementary School during a Professional Development workshop. We were asked to put together a presentation of yoga and breathwork the teachers could learn and take back to their students. 

Research suggests that yoga and breathwork cultivate mind-body awareness, self-regulation and physical fitness. All leading to greater health and well being. Numerous studies have proven that teaching kids stress relieving exercises such as yoga greatly improves test scores as well as classroom conduct.

Since testing was soon to begin, we came up with several 5 Minute Yoga Breath Break exercises. The aim of which is to empower teachers by recharging and refocusing young minds, these stretching and breathing exercises soothe the nervous system, allowing the muscles to relax, enriching the blood supply and feeding the brain, as well as develop focus and calmness. Exercises that will benefit the teachers too, making it a win win for sure. They can be done before testing, between testing and anytime students or teachers need a 5 Minute Yoga Breath Break.

Breath awareness connects us to our bodies and our minds. The breath can calm us or energize us. The following exercises contain an energizing and a calming aspect. Each exercise takes about 2 minutes; combined they create a 5 Minute Yoga Breath Break that will help to bring the body and mind into balance.

You too can take a 5 Minute Yoga Breath Break!  Below are a couple of exercises for you to try. 

All exercises begin with Standing or Sitting Mountain pose. Feel the feet or seat firmly rooted to the ground; the body is stable, steady and secure. The back is straight, spine is tall, head lifted high. The belly and chest expand on the inhale and contract on the exhale. 

Energizing Breath of Joy

Begin standing in mountain pose with a gentle bend in the knees, arms are alongside the body. Inhale through the nose and swing your arms up in front of you in line with the shoulders. Exhale through the nose opening the arms out in a "T" feel the shoulder blades coming together in the back as the chest opens to the front. Inhale and swing the arms overhead, fingers to the sky. Exhale with an open mouth "ha" and swing the arms down towards the ground letting the torso fold forward. Slowly round up to standing. Repeat 7 times. 

Calming Peace Breath

Begin in sitting mountain pose. Bring one hand to the belly and the other hand to the heart, close the eyes. Sit tall but relax the body. The breath is slow, in and out through the nose. Breathe in and feel the peace inside you, notice the belly and chest expand. Exhale and send peace out into the world, notice the belly and chest contract. Repeat 7 times. 

Mahalo, we serve.