Thursday, April 2, 2015

5 Yoga Poses to Melt Neck Tension + Ease Tension Headaches

I am the queen of tension headaches. OK, maybe it's more like I'm a slave to tension headaches. Either way. I have a lot of them and they really REALLY suck.

They creep up when I get caught up in the hustle and bustle of things and haven't been taking enough time for myself. If only I could just figure out how to slow down, I think I could prevent most of my headaches. Too bad when I'm busy-busy-busy I'm not usually aware enough to recognize that I need to slow down. Sound familiar?

The good news is this: I've had a lot of luck finding relief from my tension headaches with a few key stretches through the top of the shoulders and sides of the neck. I'll share them with you below. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to breathe deeply in each posture (that means you have to SLOW DOWN!) Imagine that with every breath the muscles soften and the tension lifts just a bit more. (Oh, and read through them first so you can turn off your computer, phone, tablet, or whatever device you're looking at—jutting your chin forward to look at that screen is likely part of the problem.)

And, go!

1. The Cradle
Rest your head on your arm while you lengthen the side of your neck.

2. Chest Opener
Interlace your hands behind your back and sweep your wrists to the right side of your waist. Gently, squeeze the elbows toward each other. For an even bigger stretch, you may drop your right ear toward your shoulder.

3. The Pendulum
Come to Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana) with your feet a little wider than hip distance apart. Bend your knees softly. Interlace your fingers and cup them at the base of the skull. Let your head hang and use the weight of your hands to give some traction to your neck as you gently sway from side to side.

4. Thread the Needle
From hands and knees sweep your right arm under your torso and bring your right should to the floor. Rest the side of your head on the floor and relax your neck. Creep your left fingertips forward creating lots of space through the side body, first. Exhaling, reach your left hand around your back and catch your right hip or thigh. Open the chest by moving the head of the left should back. Take deep breaths. Come back to hands and knees and repeat to the other side.

5. Child's Pose 
Make sure you press the spot between your eyebrows down on the floor and release any tension in face.

Other things that can help:

Peppermint Tea
Peppermint tea can be a good way to soothe a tension headache. The scent of peppermint is known to help ease headaches. Also, since it's a hot tea, you have to slow down to drink it.

Peppermint Essential Oil
Peppermint essential oil diluted with a carrier oil (like coconut) and applied around the hairline and the back of the neck can also be a powerful cure.

Lavender Scented Eye Pillow
A lavender scented eye pillow during Savasana or Legs up the Wall can work wonders for a headache.

Lavender Essential Oil
Also try diffusing Lavender essential oil or applying it topically to the back of the neck.

A Yoga Practice for Confidence + Self Acceptance
10 Ways You're Stressing Yourself Out
5 Ways to Find More Freedom on Your Yoga Mat

What's your go-to remedy when you get a headache?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

10 Ways You're Stressing Yourself Out

I'm used to writing about yoga strategies for easing muscle tension, calming the nervous system, and just, well, learning how to chill out and relax. Yoga and meditation are probably the BEST thing there is to help when we go all crazy pants and stress out over our made up problems (I say made up because if you really think about it most of the things we stress out about are ideas we come up in our own minds—things that haven't actually happened, but we think could happen. For example, If I don't meet this deadline and hit this project out of the park I'm going to get fired. I'm never going to get the house cleaned on time for my house guests, and then my friends will think I'm a slob. If I don't stop eating cupcakes I'm going to die of heart attack. Notice all the future tense words in those sentences?)

But you know what? I've found an even better strategy for reducing stress. Prevention. We can do yoga for half our day, meditate every morning, and stretch every tense muscle to the max, but if we're not willing to make some simple lifestyle changes necessary to help us not get so stressed out in the first place, we're fighting a losing battle. Believe me. I've done it.

Not interested? Fine. Just keep right on doing these things:

Photo by Seth Workheiser, used with Creative Commons license

1. Pack your calendar full of work, meetings, parties, dinner dates, coffee dates, play dates, and family obligations, and never leave yourself one second of spontaneous do-whatever-the-hell-I-want-to time.

2.  Be so laid back and adverse to planning that you put nothing on your calendar. Instead you prefer to fly by the seat of your pants, and realize 2 hours before your deadline that you haven't even started ___(fill in the blank)___ project, there's nothing to eat for dinner, the dishes are piled to the ceiling, and you have no clean clothes to wear for your presentation tomorrow.

3. Compare your life to the perfect, polished appearance your friends share on their social media profiles. Compare your backbend to elite-gymnast girl on the other side of the yoga studio. Compare your lawn to the guy's across the street, your bank account to your colleague's, and your backside to Kim Kardashian's—then beat yourself up for not measuring up, and go crazy doing everything in your power to make your life as good as someone else's. Make sure you're doing it, not because you actually want/need the things they have to be happy, but because you don't like losing. Yup. Knock yourself out.

4. Be too busy to make yourself real food. Eat mostly just "foods" you get from a drive through, a  shiny bag, or out of a tub. (Whatever you do, do NOT plan your meals in advance and stock your freezer with healthy dinners you can grab in a pinch because, after all, you like to be stressed out and frantic, right?)

5.  Avoid sunshine. Stay inside all day, preferably sitting in front of your computer, iPhone, iPad, TV, or other gadget. Put in 12 hours a day of work, spinning your wheels, thinking the same thoughts, and refreshing your email, and wonder why you never get anything done.

6.  Never, ever exercise.

7. Have lots of unrealistic expectations of how your partner, friends, family, and co-workers should treat you. Expect them to read your mind. Then, get really upset and disappointed when they don't actually behave like the characters from your favorite Disney movie, romantic comedy, or sitcom. (Ross would NEVER have said that to Rachel!)

8. File your taxes on April 15, better yet, be late! Also, never contribute to your retirement, don't buy health insurance, and don't even think about negotiating a better salary, business deal, or a raise.

9. Go to the airport late. Let running through airport terminals with a rolling carry-on be your only form of exercise. Oh, and eat lots of airport food when you make it to your gate!

10. Speaking of airports, never take a vacation. Don't take breaks during your work day. Go to bed late and get up early. And always ALWAYS leave before Savasana.

Disclaimer: Before you start thinking I'm all high and mighty, know that I've done (and often still do) everything on this list. But I'm a firm believer that awareness is the first step to transformation—maybe it will be step in the right direction for you, too.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? How do you sabotage your own peace and calm?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Healing after a Miscarriage

Photo by lavendarfields used with Creative Commons license
I'm so pissed off at my body right now.

And, no, it's not about how my body looks. After 10-plus years of practicing yoga, I've learned to accept (and even kind of like) my dimpled thighs, jiggly butt, and that soft squish that will forever be my lower belly after having my daughter. That's powerful stuff, and it's a big reason why I work so hard to share this practice with others, but I'm not sure yoga can help me with the body issues I have now.

I'm pissed off at my body because I don't know where else to direct my anger. About a month ago, it was my body that recognized that my pregnancy I wanted so much wasn't viable. At 9 weeks gestation, this body that I've been learning to love and appreciate, began the process of eliminating a baby that I already loved.

The time of arrival would have been around the end of September. I had already visited the birth center, and begun imagining how this birth would be different than my first. I felt strong and empowered, having so much more information and knowledge than the first time around. I knew how I wanted to decorate the room that would become the baby's room. I made it official with my insurance company. I envisioned trips to the beach this summer, belly big and round as I soaked up every moment I could and played with my almost-3-year-old daughter, just the two of us, both preparing ourselves for how things might change when the baby comes. When I finished reading bedtime stories that mention sibling relationships to my daughter, I would look down at her, smile sweetly, and ask: "Do you think you might like to have a little brother or sister some day?" Of course, she would. And I want that for her so much. Heartbreaking.

I knew that statistically 20-25 percent of all known pregnancies end in miscarriage—I just never thought I would be a part of that statistic. It doesn't make any sense at all. I am not of "advanced maternal age." I exercise. I take my vitamins. I meditate. I put freaking greens in my morning smoothies, for crying out loud! And I've already had one completely normal, healthy pregnancy that resulted in the most amazing little girl. Seriously... What. The. Hell!?

The real kicker? There's nothing I can do to prevent it from happening again.

I feel betrayed... by my own body. I know in my mind that my body did exactly what it should have done. It built the infrastructure to grow a person. My belly, even at just 9 weeks, had already begun to stick out (visible to all observant students in my yoga classes, I'm sure, because there's no hiding a belly in yoga clothes). I know logically that it's a good thing that my body made the call to get rid of that infrastructure and flush everything out (a process that's much more gruesome and physically difficult than I'd ever imagined) because it saved me from having to have a D&C procedure. I know that had the pregnancy continued on for longer, it would have been even more painful, though it's hard to imagine more pain right now. I know all of this, and yet I'm still pissed off.

At the same time, I'm working toward forgiveness—for myself, my body, that one glass of wine I drank the day before I had a positive pregnancy test. I'm spending more time with my daughter, though every time I hug her I ache for the little one I'll never be able to hug. I'm coping with the grief, and trying to learn to love my body again the only way I know how—by spending more time on my yoga mat, feeling my breath, being present in my body, and accepting ALL the feelings that come up (SO many feelings). And I'm writing about it, in hopes that sharing my story will be both therapeutic for me and offer support to others who are in the same place I am: Angry, sad, lost, lonely, hurt, shocked, and slowly—but surely—healing.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Book Review: It's Hard to Make a Difference When You Can't Find Your Keys

Call me a dreamer, or perhaps an idealist. But when I first picked up the book It's Hard to Make a Difference When You Can't Find Your Keys: The Seven Step Path to Becoming Truly Organized by Marilyn Paul, I thought I'd learn tips and tricks to help me manage my time so I'd be able to, oh, I don't know, make a more profound impact on the world.

I'm the type of person who has more ideas than I know what to do with. I often feel like I'm drowning in "someday" dreams, big schemes, and to-do list items that I just can't seem to mark off my list. I'm not lazy. And I certainly have lots of ambition and drive... so why on earth can't I seem to finish so many of the things that I start? The answer is not as easy as Just DO IT (it makes a better slogan than a life philosophy)! (NOTE to potential future employers: This problem only seems to apply to my personal projects, and not to my work projects which have always always been a top priority and get done promptly and efficiently.)

But after I dove in, I realized this book didn't have a ton of advice on time management and getting more BIG tasks done (not directly, anyway), but it did have lots of advice on handling the little tasks that I neglect in an attempt to finish something that I deem more important by a deadline. It offers strategies to help with the big dirty dish pile in the sink, that laundry pile that you never put away, and the toys (So. Many. Toys.) that always litter the living room floor. Frankly, I never would have read a book about household chores, but it turned out to be exactly what I needed to read.)

Paul doesn't just explain all the reasons (and there are many) why you should adopt the discipline of living a simpler, less cluttered existence. She completely shifted the way I think about the mundane household chores that I used to hate so much. When I stopped thinking of doing the dishes and cleaning the floors as things that kept me from doing more important things, and I started seeing them as an act of self love everything shifted right away. You read that right. I now put organization and household chores in the same category as bubble baths, massages, and yoga classes because they really are a way to make me more efficient, less stressed, and more free to tackle those big projects that I really want to work on. (See also Clear Inbox, Clear Mind.)

Staring at piles of things slows me down, makes me anxious, and is simply not the way I want to live my life. Once I had a better system for putting the laundry and the dishes away, it only takes a few minutes to get it done and move on with life. YES!

It's Hard to Make a Difference When You Can't Find Your Keys is a must-read for anyone who's ever struggled with organization, time management, and, yes, clutter. You can do it, too! Don't procrastinate: Read it NOW.

Read more.
Book Review: Money a Love Story Spoiled Yogi's Summer Reading List
Spoiled Yogi's Summer Reading List
Review: Theme Weaver: Connect the Power of Inspiration to Teaching Yoga

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Clear Your Inbox, Clear Your Mind

I did something crazy a few days ago.

I opened up my email inbox, full of nearly a decade of personal and business correspondence that I'd been saving (for what? a rainy day?). I clicked "Select All." My cursor hovered for just a second over the "Archive" link. I closed my eyes. I clicked it.

Just like that, my inbox was empty, clean, clear, a blank slate.

I breathed a sigh of relief. I know that the emails weren't completely gone. I can do a search to pull something up if I really need to, which offers me peace of mind. But I also don't have to look at thousands (nearly 20,000!!!) of old emails every time I look to see if I have a new message.

It. Feels. SO. Good! I don't know why I've waited so long to do it.

The whole scenario reminded me of how amazing it feels to be in a yoga class, in my body, forgetting (at least for a moment) about everything else that might be going on in my life. The to-do lists, the overwhelm, and the noise don't go away because I decide not to focus on them for a bit. Like my old emails, they're still there whenever I decide to pick them up again. It's just that once I realize I can let them go for even just a few minutes, I begin to see that life really does go on. I see how much lighter and more at ease I am without all that "stuff" hanging over my head. It's very much like clearing out all of the clutter in your inbox. And, knowing you're in complete control of what you bring back into your head, and how you'll organize it the next go around is incredibly empowering.

Old habits die hard. So, there's a good chance I'll eventually let my emails build up again. (And, really, does anyone really learn to permanently let go of their life clutter because they took one particularly great yoga class? Nah.) But here's the best part! Now, I know exactly what to do the next time I'm overwhelmed with my email (or my life).

I have the power to hit the Archive button, and so do you.