Restorative Napping

Restorative Yoga- we could all use a little nap

We could all use a little nap. It seems that many of us just keep going until too much stress upsets our normal balance.

According to the American Psychological Association, a third of us are living with extreme stress that can lead to high blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, heart disease and a host of other health problems. We worry, plan, over-schedule and maybe not pay enough attention to what’s going on inside ourselves. Maybe we are simply exhausted. Restorative yoga is a way to help you relax deeply for a few minutes a day. And no, it’s not an infomercial.

Here is where modern science and the ancient practice of yoga merge. B.K.S. Iyengar, author of the classic book “Light on Yoga,” first introduced props and blankets to his students who had difficulty holding specific yoga poses. He then discovered that he could help them recover from their illnesses and injuries with supported gentle yoga poses that not only stretched the spine in healthy ways but also enabled students to rest deeply in the poses.

Iyengar taught that to relax is to cut tension, and as you practice restorative poses you feel harmonious and balanced. This works by returning the nervous system to its natural state, a state in which the body has the ability to heal itself. The goal when doing the poses is to be aware and passive, not falling asleep. (The sleep state is different from the state of deep relaxation).

The Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center studied restorative yoga and looked at its positive impact on emotional wellness in ovarian cancer patients. Imaging studies show significant increases in left-sided brain activity when one relaxes or meditates, which is associated with healing positive emotional states.

In her book “Relax and Renew,” renowned yoga teacher Judith Lasater suggested thinking of restorative poses as taking a short holiday right in your home that it adds to one’s energy rather than subtracting from it. It’s particularly helpful when you feel tired or weak, during big life-changing events, or recovering from an illness.
Race To The Top

“Twenty minutes of restorative yoga is the equivalent to a one-hour nap,” Lasater wrote.

And that’s just the energy benefits. The healing benefits abound.

Here are two simple poses to try: one at home, and the other at the office. The first one is Legs–Up-the-Wall–Pose. It refreshes your legs, especially swollen jet-lagged legs, enhances the health of your circulatory system by the mild inversion and gently calms the nervous system. (Don’t do this pose if you’re pregnant or if you have sciatica.) From a seated position on the floor, swing your legs up onto a wall, so that your tailbone and butt are not lifting off the floor. Your back should be completely supported by floor. If your chin is lifted towards the ceiling put a small pillow under your head to support your neck. Your chin should be slightly lower than your forehead, not strained. Keep your legs straight and relaxed with your arms comfortably out to the sides, palms turned up. Relax and take several long, slow breaths. Feel like your back is completely supported by the floor and your chest is open and free. Stay here for five to 10 minutes, and take your time when you come out of the pose.

The second nap is Desk Forward Bend, nice for a break at the office, at your desk. Lasater likens it to school days when she would simply lean forward and rest her head on her desk. Place your chair near your desk so you can lean forward, feet flat on the floor, and then lean forward and place your folded arms on the desk. Let the desk support your arms, head and worries, and relax completely for three to five minutes. When you’re ready to come up, inhale, and use your arms to sit up. Sit for one more long breath before carrying on with your day, refreshed.

Connie Aronson is an American College of Sports Medicine-certified, ACE Gold Level status-certified, and an IDEA Elite Level-certified personal trainer. She works at High Altitude Fitness and the YMCA in Ketchum.

Originally published in the Idaho Mountain Express – Friday, February 15, 2008

Training Muscles to Excel for Life

Sometimes I get in my car and wonder how much longer it will hold out. I’ve had my car awhile and it’s reliable. All it really needs is an oil change, some gas in the tank and a look at the owner’s manual now and then.

Some of us may feel that way about our own bodies. We don’t want to get injured or hurt. You’ve probably heard that strength training increases muscular strength and endurance, bone mass, connective tissue and lean muscle mass, and reduces the risk of osteoporosis. Strength training makes everyday tasks easier. It also develops the quick reactive muscle actions necessary to avoid falls. All ages benefit, even people over 90 years old, and in particular, postmenopausal women who may experience a more rapid loss of bone mineral density. As the new year unfolds, here are some convincing facts about why and how you might want to do some strength training for some of the 430 muscles in your body.

Moderate-intensity strength training has many health and fitness benefits. The term covers a broad range of resistive loads and modalities, from light manual resistance to plyometric jumps, weight machines, barbells, dumbbells, elastic tubing, medicine balls, stability balls and body weight.

In each example, the exercise causes the muscle to work against a resistance that will lead to muscular adaptations and strength gains. Both men and women respond very similarly to weight training. Women shouldn’t worry about getting “big.” Men have 10 to 30 times more testosterone than females, which causes muscle build-up. In fact, you just may become leaner. Typical increases in lean muscle mass in up to six months of training range from 1 to 4 pounds. However, muscle is more metabolically active than fat, and we lose muscle as we age—two important facts.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a minimum of eight to 10 exercises that train the major muscles of the lower body, upper body, abdomen and back, on two to three non-consecutive days per week. The range of movement should be comfortable throughout the full, pain-free range of motion. If it hurts or feels wrong, the exercise needs to be modified to suit your particular muscular or skeletal bio-mechanics.

Beginners will experience adaptations with just one set of exercises, mostly attributable to neurological adaptations than to bigger muscles, but as experience progresses, the sets and repetitions vary. Generally eight to 12 repetitions of an exercise are recommended, but you can vary the reps within the week also.

For example, on Monday try 12 to 15 reps, on Wednesday eight to 10 reps and on Friday three to five reps. That type of undulating system builds in a recovery that allows for better muscle tissue adaptation. Recent studies have shown that women predisposed to osteopenia or osteoporosis build bone better by lower repetitions (six to eight) and heavier weights for site-specific bone improvement, as in a single-arm shoulder raise, or weighted step-ups. Everyone should make sure to warm up for five to 10 minutes beforehand to increase muscle temperature and blood flow. Remember to breathe normally in the lifting and lowering phases of all exercises.

Originally published in the Idaho Mountain Express – Friday, January 11, 2008

Connie Aronson, an American College of Sports Medicine Certified, ACE Gold Certified, & an IDEA Elite personal trainer, works at the YMCA and High Altitude Fitness in Ketchum.