Zen Body Yoga + Wellness

Spreading the Zen to Tulsa!

Strengthening the Mind-Body Connection

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Written by: Amy Miller

IMG_20151001_152808One of the greatest benefits of yoga is strengthening the mind-body connection.

You have probably heard your yoga teacher say “listen to your body,” which is often interpreted as “don’t hurt yourself!” whether or not that was the sentiment being expressed. A more powerful and truer interpretation of your teacher’s words are to listen to your body, and to really hear the message, to quiet your thinking mind and be present with the sensations you feel. That is definitely easier said than done, but yoga practice is, in my opinion, the most certain way to achieve this ability to understand the body’s signals.
Our bodies often send subtle signals, and sometimes, when we don’t heed the subtle warnings, aggressive signals. With a calm mind, we become more open to hearing the messages before we experience a negative outcome from ignoring the body’s whisper.

For example, when practicing yoga, you might notice that you are holding tension in your shoulders even when you try to relax. You might decide to spend some additional time breathing deeply into shoulder and neck stretches to ease the tightness.  If you didn’t notice this gentle tension for many days, you might begin to ache. Then a few days later, the aching shoulders have caused significant tension in the upper back. This creates a discomfort when moving freely, so you become stiff throughout the torso, creating a new pain in the lower back…and pretty soon, it’s time to take some Ibuprofen and a trip to the chiropractor. Again.  In other words, learning to hear and feel the signals early, before they become a problem, offers the opportunity to make an adjustment and defuses the potentially catastrophic outcome.

Additionally, you may notice your body sending you early warnings of mental or emotional harm. Have you ever had a “gut feeling” or a “lump in your throat”? These are physical reactions to thoughts, whether conscious or unconscious. We typically notice these physical reactions once the emotion or mental anxiety is acute. What if we were to notice the onset of a reaction earlier, before the anxiety-producing thought came to our conscious minds? This is a form of intuition, and it can be very beneficial in avoiding unsafe situations (such as a threatening person or place) or overwhelming emotional responses (such as outbursts of anger or sadness).

Practicing yoga regularly can bring about the body awareness that allows us to avoid physical injury as well as help us balance and respond appropriately to emotions. Through mindfulness, pranayama and asana, this early consciousness can improve our self-regulation and our understanding of who we are.


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Finding Your Life’s Purpose

Diagram

Written By: Amy Miller

I’ve seen this diagram in the past, but it’s making its way around social media again and it still resonates with me.  Part of what I do as a Life Coach is to help people find their “Purpose.”

Spiritual Wellness is one of the 8 dimensions of well that I cover in 21 Days to Well and as a Life Coach.  Spiritual Wellness involves having meaning and purpose and a sense of balance and peace and may or may not include Religion.

Some elements of Spiritual Wellness include prayer, meditation, or personal reflection as well as understanding other’s beliefs and values. There should be a direct relationship between your personal values and your daily actions. Ultimately, we are talking about the self-awareness and understanding of your place in the universe, your purpose in life, your true passion.

Often, we are not immediately aware of our “purpose in life”.  Maybe you even think there is no such thing as a “purpose,” but it is here, in your purpose, that you will find true fulfillment.  Your purpose in life may not be something profound like “to heal others” or “to teach the next generation” or “end war.”

One purpose may be “to love” or “to be happy” or “to take care of my pets” or “to find and share my gift.” We may get so caught up searching for our Life’s Purpose, that we forget we may have many purposes.  But how do we find them?

We find our purposes by following our hearts and intuition and trusting ourselves to make the right choices. Listen to the thoughts that occur to you during or after meditation.  During meditation, we open the channels of communication between our mind and our unlimited awareness.  Listen carefully, as it will often be as quiet as a whisper and it might be overshadowed by the voice of the world – what you have been nurtured and enculturated to believe.

Try this exercise.

  1. Keep a notebook and pen just for writing down your plans for your future.  I like to have a pretty notebook and a special pen that I don’t use for anything else.  I keep mine in my bedroom because it is a calm space where I feel safe.  You might have a special meditation room or an office that makes you feel at your most comfortable.  Keep your notebook and pen in the place where you most often meditate.
  1. Practice meditation daily, even if only for 5 or 10 minutes.
  1. Once your meditation has become easier and you are able to let the mind and body relax for 5 minutes or more at a time, begin occasionally saying to yourself “reveal to me my highest calling” just before you begin to relax.  Then forget about it; don’t start thinking about what your calling is or should be.  It will only be revealed to you when you stop thinking and listen.
  1. During your meditation, if a thought pops into your mind, quickly write it down and then go back to meditating.  Don’t explore the thought now; that will close off your connection to your all-knowing spirit and set the human mind to work.  You can take care of that later.
  1. Remember that not every thought that comes into your head during this time will be an answer to your question, but it is usually placed in your mind for a reason.  Listen!

Don’t get discouraged when life doesn’t seem to be moving in the direction you want.  Sometimes, when things don’t happen in our lives exactly the way we planned or on the time frame we imagined, we think all is lost.  However, we ultimately have the knowledge of the way life is meant to unfold and while it doesn’t always meet our conscious expectations, if you listen to your heart and soul, the path you are on will not fail you.

Set-backs on your path are there to teach you something.  The sooner you learn from these trials the sooner you can get back on track to fulfilling your purpose.  As you explore your purpose, don’t be afraid to let it evolve and change.

Within each of us is a deep understanding of our values and through allowing our conscious minds to uncover these values, we can apply our personal strengths and abilities to create our purpose, our goals, our legacy.  Through this process we become the author of our destiny.  Every choice you make is a part of your life story but your story progresses in any way you choose.  Whatever you want with all of your heart, you can make happen.


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Blood Sugar Imbalance

spoonful of sugarBlood sugar imbalance is a condition in which your body does not handle glucose effectively. Throughout the day, blood glucose levels may fluctuate outside of the body’s desired blood glucose range. Your energy can swing from being high after a meal to being low if you skip a meal. Insulin is a hormone responsible for keeping the blood sugar levels in the nor-mal desired range. Insulin works by opening channels on cell membranes, allowing glucose to travel from the blood into body cells. During times of blood sugar imbalance, insulin can become a little out of control.

In some situations, like after a carbohydrate- or sugar-rich meal, too much insulin is produced. When insulin is high, lots of cell glucose channels become open, which results in the blood glucose level dropping too low. During insulin resistance, the cell membranes have difficulty recognizing insulin and too few channels are opened. In this situation, both insulin and glucose remain high in the blood and some cells stay deficient in glucose. Cells in the pancreas secrete insulin into the blood stream. These cells can often become exhausted after long periods of producing excessive levels of insulin. Once tired, these cells can no longer produce adequate amounts of insulin to achieve perfect blood sugar balance. Low insulin production also leads to blood sugar imbalance.

Blood sugar imbalance can be a precursor to diabetes mellitus and it is therefore important to address the contributing factors before the condition develops further.

Signs your blood sugar may be out of balance:

  • Cravings for sweets, sugar, or bread products (This is almost a guaranteed sign that your blood sugar is out of balance.)
  • Fatigue after eating a meal or a “food-coma”
  • Lightheadedness if meals are missed
  • Eating sweets does not relieve the cravings for sweets
  • Dependence on coffee to keep yourself going or get started
  • Difficulty losing weight


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Food Intolerance

Written By: Amy Miller 

intolerance-mainDo you have a favorite food that you HAVE to have or can’t stop eating? Do you feel tired, bloated, and drained ALL the time? These may be signs of a food addiction or food intolerance. And if you’re thinking, “Okay, so what’s the big deal,” then you should know it takes only ONE food to wreak havoc on your health and your ability to maintain a healthy weight, immunity, and more.

Many times, the foods we think we LOVE the most are actually the foods our bodies have a sensitivity to or intolerance to, keeping us from losing weight and making us feel tired and depressed.

When we eat a food we have an intolerance or sensitivity to, it causes an inflammatory re-action and floods our body with chemicals. And it’s the chemicals our body releases that we can become addicted to and could be keeping us from losing weight, causing us to be tired and starting a cascade of other symptoms. One reason is our immune system can attack the food much like it would attack a germ, taxing your whole body and draining your energy.

Food allergies and intolerances are much more common than most people realize.

Millions of adults and children suffer from allergic reactions to food and do not know it be-cause the symptoms can be hard to diagnose. The reason a food intolerance is so difficult to identify is that there are so many different symptoms and the symptoms are different for everyone. Also, there is often a delayed reaction from eating the food, so you may eat wheat one day and feel fine, but then the next day you feel bloated and tired.

More common allergies are really more like food sensitivities and because the symptoms are bloating, poor digestion, headaches, lethargy, depression, and weight gain, most people don’t think they’re caused by the food they’ve been eating their entire lives. They just think, “There must be something wrong with me.” The most common foods people have a sensitivity, or intolerance to, are dairy, wheat/gluten, and soy. (Gluten is the portion of the wheat that causes the problems, and it also found in other gluten grains.) These are the foods that often end up being trigger foods for people, along with sugar.

When people don’t know that a food intolerance is the root cause of their health issue, they usually blame it on their slow metabolism or their bad genetics and they just live with it. Once you have eliminated these reactive foods from your life, you will be amazed at how quickly your energy and health will increase and, if needed, weight will effortlessly fall off. Your body will thank you for returning it to its natural state of radiant health.

Symptoms caused by food intolerances:

  • Acne/skin breakouts
  • Anxiety
  • Gas/bloating
  • Slow metabolism
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Lethargy
  • Weight gain
  • Digestive issues
  • Cravings for food
  • Binge eating


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Toxin Elimination Bath

bath

Written By: Amy Miller

Place 2 cups of Epsom salts and one cup of baking soda into a tub, run the hottest water you can stand and add 8 drops of lavender oil. Soak for 20 minutes and allow yourself to sweat. When you are finished bathing, wrap yourself up in towels and go under the covers and sweat some more. You should feel very relaxed and sleep soundly.

There are thousands of different dietary recommendations and philosophies, and new ones come up every day. The very best way to figure out your personalized diet is to begin to pay attention to how you feel as you explore different ways of eating and being. In the process of cleansing, you will begin to recognize which foods may not be serving you, despite what you have read or been told.


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Using a Yoga Block

Written By: Margaret Wish

Yoga BlocksDo you use a yoga block in your practice? Personally, I always grab a block for every practice because you never know if and when you may need one. Some days my body will be fully open, other days I may be tight and need a little support.

When I first started my yoga practice, I didn’t realize the importance of using this prop. I thought that since I had a dancer background that yoga would be no problem for me, and that I would be able to do everything with ease. That was my ego talking. Once I became more serious about my practice, I realized that having a block is not a sign of weakness, but rather acknowledging that it is okay to need help and support.

Lately, I have learned several different ways that you can use your yoga block, and I thought it would be fun to share that with you! Here are 2 of my favorite ways that you can use your yoga block to improve your yoga practice:

1) Feeling Grounded
If you have used a yoga block during your practice, you probably already understand this tip! The yoga block has three ‘settings’: high, medium, and low. These ‘settings’ simply mean the way in which you are holding the block.

As you start your practice, you may need to use the high setting in your extended side angle or triangle pose until you are able to slowly move your hand to the floor. The block brings the ground to you, and can bring ease into a posture that would otherwise be uncomfortable.

2) Improving Technique
Alignment is key in your yoga practice, and your block can help you better understand how to properly hold your arms and legs.

Here is a great way to learn and practice engaging your shoulders in downward facing dog:

Holding the block long ways in your hand, press your hands into the side of the block while trying to make your pinkies touch. You should feel an internal rotation in your arms, similar to being in downward facing dog. Next, try holding downward facing dog and applying this technique to the posture. Do you feel the difference?

Next time you step onto your mat, don’t be afraid to grab your yoga block and use it to further your practice.


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Breathing Exercises for Kids and Teens

Bubble MountainWritten By: Laura Brown

Breathing exercises are a great way to reduce anxiety, agitation and stress, feelings which manifest in children and teens differently than in adults. Children are often taken to therapy for anger management issues, ADHD, autism spectrum disorder and many other cognitive disorders. Breathing techniques have been shown to help in all of these diagnoses.

When we are anxious, our bodies are in a state of “fight or flight,” activating our Sympathetic Nervous System. By increasing the heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension, this stress response to a perceived threat provides the strength and stamina we would need in a physically challenging situation (IE: being chased by a mountain lion).

Today’s young people are much more likely to experience a perceived threat such as a difficult test in school, social anxiety or even negative self-talk, but the physical response is the same. When children replay negative scenarios in their minds, these kinds of emotional stressors can cause long-term physical effects such as chronically high blood pressure, digestion disorders and decreased immunity.

One immediate and noticeable physical response to a stressor is quick, shallow breathing. This type of anxious breathing can actually make the feeling of anxiety worse and can even lead to hyperventilating.

Each of us has the power to overcome this stress reaction by using calming breathing techniques, which in turn lower heart rate and blood pressure. When we teach these skills to our children, we not only give them a sense of relaxation and control but we also give them a lifelong tool to manage the effects of stress.

These techniques will be tools that your child can use any time, especially in situations when you are not there to help him or her through stressful situations. By making the breathing methods fun to learn, your child will be more likely to remember them and use them when needed.

Children 1 to 6:
Blow a Pinwheel
With this simple toy even very young children can learn the power of breathing. Remind your child to inhale slowly and deeply before blowing the pinwheel, causing it to spin. Although the younger child may not fully understand the correlation between this game and reduced stress, she will experience the calming effects of the deep breathing, as well as the calming visual stimulation of the colorful wheel.

Children 4 to 12:
Bubble Mountain
photoA fun way to teach your child how to breathe deeply is by creating a “bubble mountain.” Fill a small bowl with an inch or two of water and a teaspoon of dish washing soap. This exercise is best for those 4 or older as they will need to pull the straw away from the lips to inhale to avoid sucking in the liquid.

Have the child blow into the soapy water using a straw. Long exhalations will create a “mountain” of bubbles.

Make sure to explain that this type of deep breathing with long exhalations is useful in creating calm during times of anxiety. This is a fun way for kids to actually see the results of deep breathing.

Belly Balloon
Since calm breathing involves taking slow, controlled breaths from the diaphragm, the belly will expand as your child inhales. Have him lie on his back, closing his eyes and placing a hand on his belly. As he inhales slowly through the nose, ask him to pretend that he is inflating a balloon inside his belly. As he slowly exhales through the mouth, he pretends he is letting the air out of the balloon and the tummy deflates.

Smelling a flower
Find a rose or other flower with a pleasing aroma. Have your child smell the flower by inhaling deeply through the nose. After she exhales slowly through the nose and repeats the exercise a few times, take the flower away and have her inhale just as slowly and deeply as when she was smelling the flower.

Ages 10 to Adult:
Fogging up a mirror
For older children and teens, this is a great way to teach a common yogic breathing technique called Ujjayi. This type of breathing can be learned by holding a mirror up to the open mouth and exhaling with a closed throat and a “huh” sound to fog the mirror. After noticing the way the throat feels when exhaling, she can now keep her lips closed and try to make the same sound, with the back of her throat restricted. Continue the practice by inhaling deeply through the nose, gently close off the back of the throat and, keeping the lips sealed, exhale slowly.

Tips to Remember

Teach these techniques to your child during a time of calm. Bedtime is often a nice time to learn and practice restorative breathing. Until your child is comfortable with this skill, practice it at least once per day using 10 calm breaths in a row.

During these practice session, begin to discuss the benefits of breathing with your child. Good questions to ask are:

  • When was the last time you felt anxious?
  • What does your body feel like when your mind is anxious?
  • In what situations might this breathing technique be useful?

Once your child is comfortable with this technique, he or she can start using it in situations that cause anxiety. With practice and persistence, you will notice a positive adjustment in your child’s ability to manage her reactions to change and other anxiety-producing circumstances.