As the days become shorter and nights get colder, we come into hot yoga season. Not only does it feel nice to be in a warm room but coming to your yoga mat is also a great way to boost your immune system during cold and flu season. A yoga practice that includes inverted poses and compression postures, will increase lymph circulation. Lymph is the clear, watery fluid that moves through the body picking up bacteria and viruses and filtering them out through the lymph nodes.
Our blood moves around our bodies as a result of our heart pumping. Lymph moves by muscular contractions. So physical exercise, such as yoga, is essential for keeping lymph flowing. The movement of lymph is also affected by gravity, so anytime you do an inversion where your head is below your heart, lymph moves into the respiratory organs, where germs often enter the body. When you come back to an upright position, gravity drains the lymph which cleanses your lymph nodes. Child’s pose (Balasana), Legs up the wall pose (Viparita Karani), and Downward-facing dog pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana) are some examples of inverted poses that will drain your lymphatic system.
Some other techniques that you can use to boost your immune system would be compression or twisting postures. Poses that involve a twist or compression hold, then release, will also drain lymph. In eagle pose (Garudasana) you create a tourniquet effect by cutting off the flow of lymph so when you release the pose, the lymph floods through the nodes to cleanse. Twisting postures like Half Lord of the Fishes pose (Ardha Matsyendrasana) can help to stimulate energy around the spine and massage the internal organs. Twists compress everything in your abdomen to wring out the old, stale blood and lymph in your organs, to then flush those areas with fresh fluids when you release.
Don’t wait until you have a stuffy nose or head cold to come to your mat. Inversions can sometimes be uncomfortable if you feel ill, adding extra pressure to a head cold. Instead, use these postures to boost your immunity throughout the cold season as a preventative measure. Take care of yourself to stay strong and keep your energy up all winter long.
There are many yoga postures that focus on opening the hips–specifically to release the psoas. The psoas is the deepest core muscle, originating on the spine near the solar plexus and inserting at the top of the femur. This muscle affects our structural balance, muscular integrity, flexibility, strength, range of motion, joint mobility, and organ functioning.
In animals, the psoas equivalent is known as the ‘tenderloin’. It is the only muscle that attaches the spine to the legs so it is responsible for holding us upright, walking, flexing and rotating the thigh, and flexing the pelvis. The psoas is the first muscle to contract and the last muscle to relax during the ‘fight or flight’ response that arises with fear and stress.
People have the instinct to protect themselves when stressed out. When faced with a fearful or dangerous situation, the strong psoas muscle is tensed to give us the burst of speed when we need to get away. It is also connected to the diaphragm which affects our breath and fear reflex. Low grade stressors of everyday life chronically cause tightness in the psoas that gets stored there until you practice deep release exercises. If we constantly contract the psoas from stress, the muscle shortens which can lead to low back, knee, sacroiliac, and menstruation pain, sciatica, disc problems, scoliosis, hip degeneration, infertility and digestive problems. A tight psoas also constricts the organs, puts pressure on nerves, interferes with fluid movement, and impairs diaphragmatic breathing. When you find a deep release of the psoas through yoga asana practice, you can relieve a range of physical symptoms including back, hip, knee, and leg pain, poor posture, menstrual cramps, sleep difficulties, misalignment of gate, and improper foot rotation.
Often, you hear yoga instructors saying that the hips are where we store tension, fear, and past emotions. This junk drawer of emotions refers to the tightness in the psoas. Emotionally, the psoas release can ease the emotional restraints still present from deep-seated fears and trauma. Because the psoas is a deep and protected muscle, it is a perfect place to store emotions from trauma. The hormones and neurotransmitters released by the brain when we have the fight or flight response are often stored here. During deep release of the psoas, it is common to refire these neurotransmitters and experience the old emotions buried in the hips. Next time you practice a deep hip-opening yoga posture, notice what comes up to help cultivate the awareness of your psoas. A released and healthy psoas can ground you and allow subtle energies to flow through your body. After the release, you may experience a deeper awareness of self, freedom from old barriers, and a greater sense of peace.
We have all heard how yoga offers great benefits. But what is the science behind it? Meditation and yoga have been known for offering a wide range of immediate and long term effects on a person and now researchers are delving deeper into the metaphysical evidence. These practices have been shown to reduce stress, increase happiness, enhance learning, memory, and boost immune system functioning. However, the understanding of how exactly these changes occur has been elusive. Research has just come out that tells us practicing yoga actually changes you down to your DNA.
Researchers found that people, who do just three 60-minute sessions of semi-vigorous yoga per week, were 9 years younger on average than non-exercisers. These results showed much more than just a glowing face. The study found that these exercisers had much longer telomeres, or the aspect of DNA that acts as a marker for aging, than people who did not move as much. These results held for any type of exercise, but yoga goes a step farther than most, by detoxifying the body more efficiently, and stimulating and balancing the endocrine system, which among other things regulates aging, healing, metabolism and immunity.
In another study, participants were monitored before and after meditation, mantra (repetition of ‘sacred’ sounds), and mindful yoga practice. Participants were given blood tests immediately before and after 20 minutes of self-directed practice. Researchers looked at 22,000 different gene sequences to measure any changes. All participants showed measurable changes in the genes that researchers have identified as being responsible for relaxation (reduced cell energy production), aging, metabolism and insulin response. This initiation in telomere maintenance genes means that meditation and mindful practice may actually be repairing DNA. The data suggests that yoga and related practices result in rapid gene expression alterations, which may be the basis for their long-term microbiological and higher-level health effects.
This is just some of the groundbreaking research out there about yoga’s dramatic effect on the human body. It demonstrates that yoga has instantaneous and long-term positive effects on how our genes work and express. To feel these effects yourself, just step onto your mat and the Yoga by Degrees team will guide you through ongoing growth and improvement in health and well being.
This heart-opening pose is featured this month so we can all take a step back to appreciate. Find some gratitude this month for big and little things alike: yourself, your yoga practice, loved ones, leaves on the trees, moments of joy.
Benefits: physically and emotionally opens the heart space, opens chest, lung and shoulders, opens the front of the legs and hip flexors, builds strength in shoulders and upper back, stimulates throat and heart chakras, energizes the body and mind, combats mild depression, and improves sense of balance
Directions: Begin in Downward-facing Dog. Bring your weight into your right hand and roll onto the outer edge of your right foot. As you inhale, lift your hips and dig into the earth with your right hand. Exhale to step your left foot back behind you with your left knee bent. Curl your head and your upper back into a backbend, lift your hips higher, and extend your left arm from your heart to express your gratitude and freedom. Then return to Down Dog carefully, and move through the other side to even out.
Spider Pose 1
Spooky variation of: Prasarita Padottanasana
Hip opening, ankle and quadriceps strength, shoulder and upper back stretch, strengthens back muscles that improve posture, lengthens hamstrings, offers a fun, seasonal variation of a common pose
Spider Pose 1: Come into a wide leg stance, feet parallel. Bend your knees deeply, sink your hips in line with your shoulders until your spine is parallel to the ground. Cross one arm in front of the other. Lengthen your spine, gaze forward, make a scary face!
Spider Pose 2: For a more challenging variation, widen your stance, point your toes out, lift your heels, and round your back, tucking your chin.
Spider Pose 2
Yoga by Degrees is opening in the City of Elmhurst bringing the highest quality of instruction in a warm, open, and beautiful new studio setting. We would like to welcome the public to take a first look inside.
After a successful start in Wheaton, nearly three years ago, and the unprecedented success of their second space in Western Springs, the owners of Yoga by Degrees set out to find a third location in an area that they felt could benefit from a Hot Yoga Studio.
Ken Jones will be the Manager of the Elmhurst location. After starting his journey as a student with Yoga by Degrees in August of 2011, he opened the Western Springs studio as the Studio Lead in the fall of 2012. Kara Pluth came to Yoga by Degrees as a student in 2012 and has been the Studio Lead for the Wheaton studio since early 2013 and will be assisting Ken as the Studio Lead of Elmhurst.
Yoga by Degrees classes are heated from 80º F to 105º F and classes range from beginner through advanced levels.
Heat during yoga practice has numerous benefits. It allows for a deeper cleanse of the body and boosts the body’s circulation. It also loosens up the muscles and detoxifies the organs and allows for greater range of motion in joints, muscles, ligaments and other supporting structures of the body. Besides that, heat has a calming effect on the mind and when the mind slows down and the heart rate picks up you have the perfect combination for a yoga practice.
The public is invited to come take a look at the heated yoga studios, sign up for a free week of yoga, meet the teachers and enter in a raffle. There will also be food, refreshments and much more.
The Open House takes place at Yoga by Degrees located at: 1042 S. York Rd., Elmhurst, IL 60126 from 10 A.M. – 4 P.M. on Saturday, October 19th and 12 P.M. – 4 P.M. on Sunday, October 20th. Classes start Monday, October 21st.
Visit: http://www.yogabydegrees.net for more information and a complete schedule of classes for Elmhurst, Western Springs and Wheaton locations.