I’m loving this roundup of information from HuffPo on how yoga improves health and well-being. Click on the infographic for more information!
books: Healing Back Pain Naturally, by Art Brownstein November 14, 2012
My father has had three spine surgeries to date, and as a yoga teacher, I’ve wondered what I could do to help him while at the same time fearing to damage his back further. My friend Kyle recommended this book. Dr. Brownstein’s program is one that a yoga teacher can really get behind, focusing not just on recovering from physical injury, but on the mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of healthy living as well.
Dr. Brownstein begins the book by telling the story of his own struggles with debilitating back pain and his journey to recovery. His experiences give him a special understanding of what those with back pain are suffering. Because of his own search for healing, Dr. Brownstein has a unique perspective on how to heal from a back injury and prevent future problems.
Dr. Brownstein’s program for healing is based on his concept of the mind/body connection, described in chapters 2 and 3. According to Dr. Brownstein, mental and emotional stress can result in an increase in muscle tension and tightness, leading to injury. Dr. Brownstein urges the reader not to overmedicate, or to leap ahead to treating back problems with surgery and other invasive techniques; rather, he advocates spending some time with the pain, to understand what’s wrong and what the body is trying to communicate. It’s important to understand how the back works physically, and chapter 2 describes back anatomy in detail so the reader will understand the structures and terminology and know how back pain can result from weakness, imbalance, or strain elsewhere in the body. But sometimes the best and most permanent solution to a back problem is to make changes to lifestyle and behaviors that cause stress.
This book covers the full lifestyle spectrum in Dr. Brownstein’s approach to healing the back. Chapters 4 and 5 discuss the physical body. Chapter 4 includes a wide variety of stretches for the back; most of these are taken from yoga asanas, and may are simple and gentle enough to be done in the midst of back pain and can lead to some relief when done properly. Dr. Brownstein outlines how to use these stretches, in the order he lists them and over time, to regain mobility and reduce pain. Once the back has been fully stretched and the pain is gone, the reader can move on to strengthening the back as described in chapter 5. Back muscles that are both flexible AND strong are less likely to be pulled or strained.
Chapters 6-10 cover stress management, healthy eating, work, play, and spirituality as they relate to back care and overall health. Dr. Brownstein takes a holistic approach based on his mind/body concept: since anxiety and stress can affect the body, causing muscle tension and contributing to injury, it’s important to heal not only the body but also the mind, heart, and spirit to truly recover from a back problem. By reducing stress, reducing caffeine intake, improving one’s outlook on work, opening the heart in personal relationships, and cultivating a sense of humor and fun, the reader can improve her overall health and happiness and remove many of the stressors that can lead to future back pain and injury.
I’ve never suffered from a chronic pain condition, so I can’t comment on the book’s usefulness for those actively in pain. However, as a yoga teacher, this book helped me to understand better the perspective of someone in that kind of pain and gave me some tools to help those future students. I plan to buy a copy of this book for my dad as well.
Yoga for Great Sex, Part 1 October 26, 2011
It should come as no surprise to my readers here that yoga can improve your sex life (after all, it improves just about everything else!). But what might be surprising is just how many of yoga’s many benefits do translate to the bedroom. It’s not just about flexibility and physical fitness: there are a myriad of other physical benefits, along with mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits. The truth is that all the things in yoga that prepare us for meditation also prepare us for great sex and for connecting deeply with another person. This blog series will discuss the many benefits of yoga for sex and examine how some familiar yoga poses can pay off in the bedroom.
First, let’s look at the physical benefits.
- We all know that yoga improves the body’s strength, flexibility, coordination, muscle control, and overall health and physical fitness. People who are physically healthy, strong, and flexible will be able to perform better and have more stamina in the bedroom.
- In addition to overall fitness, yoga specifically targets core strength and works the muscles of the pelvic floor, which are the muscles used during sex (see my recent post about the pelvic floor to learn more about how these muscles work and why they’re important). Having strong, flexible pelvic floor muscles will lead to a good sexual experience for both partners!
- Doing yoga also gives you more energy. When you’re holding a difficult yoga pose, powering through it even though you’re struggling, you’re using tapas, which builds heat and energy in the body. Also, yoga opens and balances the chakras throughout the body, which leads to a better flow of energy. And more energy equals more passion!
- The flip side of having more energy during the day is getting better sleep at night. Studies have shown that people who practice yoga do sleep better. Getting the sleep your body needs means that you’ll be well-rested and ready to do other things in the bedroom besides sleep.
- Yoga also promotes self-knowledge, including a better knowledge of your own body. There are two consequences of this:
- First, you become more aware of physical sensations in the body, which can lead to just plain enjoying sex more!
- You also develop a better understanding of subtle physical movements. When we learn how to make tiny adjustments in the body in order to perfect our alignment in a yoga posture, we can then use that knowledge to make the same sorts of small movements during sex, which can turn a good sexual experience into a great one!
Next time, we’ll start talking about the mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits of yoga and how they apply in the bedroom (or, as was suggested to me during my presentation, wherever you might choose to get frisky!).
Yoga and the Pelvic Floor October 10, 2011
I keep seeing the pelvic floor muscles come up throughout my research on yoga and sex. We rarely think about these muscles, and don’t use them often (although they sure come in handy on an emergency run to the bathroom). However, the pelvic floor muscles are incredibly important for sex, for childbirth, and just in general for keeping our internal organs where they’re supposed to be.
The pelvic floor is just that: the muscles at the bottom of the torso, supporting the internal organs and the spine. These muscles control the passage of waste matter out of the body; they also include the muscles lining the vagina, so having a healthy pelvic floor can increase pleasure during sex for both partners. A healthy, strong, flexible pelvic floor can also really help a woman during childbirth. As women age and enter menopause, the hormone balance in the body changes, which can cause the pelvic floor to thin and weaken, which is why June Allyson sells Depends. This is why it’s important to keep the pelvic floor healthy throughout your lifetime!
The best plan is to keep the pelvic floor muscles in good shape, so you don’t ever have to worry about incontinence or the health problems that could occur if these muscles are weakened or torn. This means not just toning and strengthening, but making sure the muscles are flexible. However,the pelvic floor can be stretched out, weakened, or torn during childbirth; it could also be affected by a variety of other issues like obesity, hysterectomy, or even just constant straining on the toilet. Whether your pelvic floor is healthy or not, exercise can really help to get it in shape or keep it that way.
Most of us have heard of Kegel exercises. Named for Dr. Arnold Kegel, these are simple exercises in which you squeeze and relax your pelvic floor muscles. You can read more about Kegel exercises here or here. An even simpler exercise to work your pelvic floor is just squatting. The action of squatting is great for these muscles.
Of course yoga and pilates both include exercises and stretches that really help the pelvic floor. In yoga, the mula bandha or root lock can be employed to strengthen and stretch the pelvic floor. In a pose like Goddess or Chair, for example, if you’re doing the pose properly you’ll probably be activating your mula bandha, and it can be used in many other poses. To learn more about mula bandha, this book is a pretty exhaustive review of the topic, covering the benefits of employing mula bandha along with several techniques for doing so.
One simple pose that’s good for the pelvic floor is Cobbler or Bound Angle pose. Sitting on the floor, bend your knees, bring the soles of your feet together, and cup your hands around your feet. Just sitting like that is good, or you can bend forward. This pose stretches the hips and soothes menstrual or urinary problems, and helps with anxiety and fatigue too.
For more information on the pelvic floor, check out the wikipedia article or this really informative article written by a midwife. Or check out this excellent post on finding and moving your pelvic floor, complete with a video, over at anytimeyoga.