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by Charlotta Martinus, TeenYoga

“All of my friends smoke a spliff every day and/or take medication, either to help them sleep, or to combat anxiety or depression or for ADHD. Those drugs get shared around and sold, especially during exams.”

Niall, age 17

In an uncertain world, young people are turning to coping strategies that are available to them. The medications that are designed to support those with anxiety and depression are not licensed for use among those under 18 years old and even if they were we are not clear how these might affect young minds and bodies going forward. Moreover, 85% of psychosis in adolescence is as a direct result of illegal drug use. 

In my own experience, young people have a very particular set of stressors, unlike any generation before them.

These involve most recently a set of political and economic uncertainties together with a bombardment of information on cell phones and tablets 24/7, which cause a level of anxiety unlike any before. Moreover, in the personal sphere, young people are constantly being exposed (physically and mentally), judged and “informed” on how to be cool, good looking, smart and popular. This is happening from toddlerhood onwards. This trend, according to sociologists, is set to continue at a rapid speed. (we are using social media at 10% of the rate to which it will be used in 10 years’ time). This has created an outward-looking, vigilant and anxious generation, who do not know how to switch off, with their mobile phones in their beds next to them.

Many young people have also been effected by trauma, which renders them almost helpless in the face of adversity, as they have a learned response of defensiveness and vigilance. We are seeing a rise in: chronic fatigue, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, obesity, ME, suicide and depression among young people across the world as a direct result of these social and personal changes and the lack of resilience which accompanies these changes.

Yoga offers a move in the opposite direction.

In yoga, we are continuously guided and invited to move inwards, on a journey that intelligently navigates our thoughts, emotions (including fear and anxiety) into a place of stillness. The magic and beauty of this practise is that it engages our body and uses this as an entry-point into stilling our minds and finally into the majestic silence of the soul. 

The physical practise is designed specially to engage all muscles and then release them, in turn. It also accesses our inner organs, squeezing and releasing, to ensure proper digestion, excellent muscle toning and balancing of the glands in the body that organise and secrete hormonal activity. It stretches and releases collagen fibre in the body, to support quick healing from injury. It also works on raising the bone density, which is connected to positive mental health.

The breathing, in turn, is an excellent way to slow down the hectic mind and bring focus and clarity, allowing the heart rate to slow down, regulating high blood pressure also raising HRV (heart rate variability), which is connected to positive mental health.

Many of the practises in yoga (breathing and physical) also impact the vagus nerve, which is the initiator of the parasympathetic nervous system( relaxation response). In mental health hospitals across the world, vagal stimulation has been one of the most successful treatments for deep and long lasting depression. In yoga, we stimulate the vagus nerve through backward bends and certain breathing practises in a gentle and non-invasive manner, slowly raising health.

Moreover, the practise is often done in a small group where the leader has been trained to create a “safe space” where emotions can be shared or felt openly without judgment. This creates community and social cohesion (Morgan 2014). Reported benefits have been a sense of release, connection and joy.

Yoga has also been attractive to schools and youth organisations, wishing to look at conflict resolution. The way this works, is simple. When we teach practises to manage our own emotions and we manage to embody and model these practises as teachers and adults, we become emotionally literate and able to meet tricky situations with balance and harmony within ourselves, dampening and managing anyone else’s anger simply with our own techniques for self-efficacy.

Scientifically we can point to a number of interesting studies, namely Dr Chris Streeter’s paper on the apparent increase of GABA (Anti-anxiety receptors) and yoga, 2007.  There is also Dr Shirley Telles’ work on the impact of yoga on adolescents (2013) where she took a medical model of research and measured the impact of yoga vs PE on a group of young people, found that the yoga had more all-round benefits on stress levels. And there’s Peter Morgan’s qualitative research (2014) on a young group of yogis, showing increased social cohesion and pain management among 10 other results.

Yoga is a science of wellbeing. It is designed to take the student from a place of lethargy and disengagement to a place of optimal wellbeing through 8 steps:
  1. Ethics/ civic attunement
  2. Mindset/positive thinking
  3. Exercise
  4. Breathing practise
  5. Inward reflection
  6. Focus
  7. Stillness
  8. Balanced and sustained joy

This system was designed around 7000 years ago and has always been important as a guide to optimal wellness ever since.

About Charlotta Martinus

Mother of two teenage boys, expert in yoga for young people, Charlotta started working as a school teacher at the age of 19, as a supply teacher for I.B. Swedish literature, then later on French and Swedish O’Level and working in Sweden for a year, then back to the UK to teach languages. She has a degree from UCL in modern languages. Charlotta worked as a TV Production Assistant, Researcher and Producer between 1993-2000 at BBC London. She became a yoga teacher in 2003 within the Sivananda tradition, followed by several years of training with Mukunda Styles, Dr Krishnamurti, Bangalore University and then took the 350 hour Minded Institute Yoga therapy for Mental Health course with Heather Mason. She started TeenYoga in 2004, supported and encouraged by Jo Manuel of the Special Yoga Foundation. Together with many colleagues within medicine, osteopathy, psychiatry and psychology as well as steeped in the yoga tradition, the TeenYoga course was born and developed in the subsequent years. It now has 3 trained teachers who deliver the course worldwide and 650 alumni.

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By Donna Farhi,

My colleague and co-teacher Ayurvedic Clinician Melissa Spamer tells me that the most common reason that women come to her for consultation is that they “want more energy”. Poor digestion, insomnia, high-stress levels, and dramatic hormonal and metabolic shifts with accompanying weight gain, are all conditions that respond well to simple Ayurvedic practices.

In this article, you’ll learn how implementing one of the golden rules of Ayurveda can radically improve your energy levels.

As some of you know I’ve been an enthusiastic advocate of Ayurveda as a common sense approach to good health and well-being. This has strongly influenced the direction of my Yoga retreats in that I believe a retreat can be an opportunity to install seemingly simple habits that can have remarkable effects. I don’t believe that “suspended reality” vacations where people lay around having caviar slathered on their faces, or endless beauty treatments lasts much beyond the flight home. Yet living a practical routine during a retreat that can be replicated when you get home can be life transforming.

What I want to share in this little article is very simple and in some ways not. It has to do with the subject of freshness.
Apples from my farm…

In Ayurvedic philosophy preparing fresh food daily is considered the best practice for ensuring the preservation of both maximum nutrients and maximum prana, or life force. What’s this esoteric thing called prana you ask? Well, it’s something that your grandmother and anyone who still shops daily for their produce will know about. It’s fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains and legumes that have been recently harvested with minimum transportation, refrigeration time, and shelf storage. Ideally, it’s food that came out of your own garden.

Here on the farm my partner and I have an extensive vegetable garden and small orchard and we never cease to be amazed at the vitality of fresh-picked produce. Guests to the farm often ooh and aah over simple fare like roasted beets or shaved fennel salad because there are so many flavors packed into every bite. Potatoes harvested straight from the rich earth glow like opals; juicy strawberries picked while the dew is still on the ground appear to be lit like neon signs behind their thick foliage, and lettuces cut ten minutes before they appear in a salad bowl brim with crunch and juiciness. And might I proudly add the photographs accompanying this missive are of produce lovingly grown by yours truly. Check out the apples on steroids!

Now I know not everyone has the resources or time to have a garden. But consider this: prana is what gives food its vitality and this vital life force begins to diminish the moment a vegetable is removed from the ground or the longer a prepared dish is left to take up residence in your fridge.
….and strawberries. Easy to grow, they don’t take up much space.

Yes, that Thai takeaway that has been in the fridge for three days is . . . fermenting and decaying. So whenever possible, Ayurveda tells us to avoid leftovers, and at most to eat for lunch what you made for dinner the night before. Unfortunately, this simple common sense approach to eating has gone the wayside with most of our supermarkets filled with packaged, processed, canned, frozen and prepared food. Ditto that for a plethora of takeaway options and you have a recipe for a prana deficient diet.

Here are some ways you can incorporate the wisdom of eating fresh into your daily life:
  • Avoid buying from buffet counters and delis. Just because it’s at a “health” food store doesn’t take away the fact that some of that stuff has been sitting there for hours if not days. Make your lunch in the morning and bring it to work with you in a container. On tour, I make a salad for lunch but wait until right before eating to cut up the vegetables. A simple dressing of flaxseed oil, lemon juice and Ume Boshe vinegar can be stored in a small bottle. Add protein such as nuts, seeds, a boiled egg, goat cheese, olives, hummus or a small piece of chicken or fish and you have a protein-rich yet light meal. You’ll be surprised how much money you save.
  • Stop buying prepackaged vegetables. Those lettuce greens and salad mixes in plastic bags are often going moldy and rusted even before you open the bag. Why not buy your greens fresh and whole then wash and dry them thoroughly in a salad spinner? You will be amazed at the difference in flavor.
  • Shop for fresh food often rather than a big shop once a week. Whenever possible incorporate your trip to the market as part of your fitness regimen – walk or bike and take your own carry bags. I like to use bags that are lined with insulating fabric to preserve nutrients.
  • Start a garden. If you don’t have much space consider a small raised bed or even several pots on a verandah or kitchen ledge. You’ll be amazed how many salad fixings, herbs and greens you can fit into a small area.
  • Invest in Good Kitchen Equipment. Having a good blender, food processor and sharp knives that are a pleasure to use can radically speed up food preparation time and open up your options. With a blender alone you can make smoothies, pesto, hummus, bliss ball mixes… the possibilities are only limited by your imagination. I’ve recently invested in a Vitamix (the Rolls Royce of blenders) and it has been worth its weight in gold for opening up ultra-fresh options (think freshly made rice or quinoa cereal, ground seeds for tacos . . . and even raspberry sorbet!). When you have efficient gear you’ll want to…
  • Spend more time in the kitchen. Preparing food can be a wonderful way of settling and grounding yourself at the end of a long day. If you don’t have lots of energy after work see if you can do a little prep work the night before, or in the morning before you go to work. Putting a bowl of mung dal to soak in water takes a minute in the morning but can reduce cooking time by half in the evening. Being organized by having the ingredients you need and thinking through your menu plan for the next few days is half the battle.
  • Change your way of thinking. It really doesn’t take much time to make a fresh pot of creamy delicious porridge versus the microwaved packages of oat gunk. For that matter, it can take minutes to whip up a batch of guacamole in the blender or to throw together a batter for buckwheat pancakes. Once you commit to fresh you’ll find you become faster and more efficient in producing what you need for each meal.
  • Share Meals. Don’t have time to prepare a fresh meal each evening? Join forces with a few friends who would like to get fresh with you! Commit to one night a week or every fortnight when each of you makes dinner to share. Or make some new agreements with your partner or housemates to share in the preparation of meals.
  • Prepare your food with love. Be fully present when you prepare your meals. Take time to enjoy the colors, texture, and fragrance of the ingredients. Then present the food with care and love. It makes a difference.
Donna demonstrating some of the delicious Ayurvedic menu options at the Women’s Retreat, Suryalila, Spain.

And the next time you say you don’t have time to prepare food, just remember the old adage:

Those that don’t have time to practice a healthy lifestyle will need to make time for sickness later.

Bon Appetite!

Donna

Sacred Self-Care: A Women’s Yoga & Ayurveda Retreat, May 25-June 1, 2019, is now open for registration. Ayurvedic clinician, Melissa Spamer and I will be sharing simple and accessible Ayurvedic practices that foster good health combined with gentle, nourishing Yoga practice. We chose the Suryalila Yoga Retreat center, not just because it is in beautiful Andalusia, Spain. The team at Suryalila source as many of their foods from local organic farms, or from their own permaculture garden. The food is not only wonderfully fresh, it glows with love. Click here to find out more and to register.

About Donna

Donna Farhi is a Yoga Teacher who has been practicing for over 40 years and teaching since 1982. As a post-lineage pioneer, Donna has been at the forefront of generating a new model for teaching and practice that fosters self-inquiry through the cultivation of each person’s inner reference system. Going beyond the archaic pedagogic model that is characterised by “Simon Says” mimicry and rigid formulaic methodology, her approach is to create a safe learning environment where her students can investigate, adapt and evolve their practice to honor their individual needs.

Incorporating the rigorous backing of anatomical principles for safe and sustainable practice, Donna offers progressive levels of engagement that allow people of all levels of experience and from all traditions to build their own authentic Yoga practice. Considered the “teacher of teachers” students return to Donna’s intensives year after year to be a part of the inspiring evolution of Donna’s own practice and teaching.

Donna is the author of four contemporary classics: The Breathing Book, Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit: A Return to Wholeness, Bringing Yoga to Life: The Everyday Practice of Enlightened Living, and Teaching Yoga: Exploring the Teacher-Student Relationship, which is a curricular text for teaching trainings worldwide. Her fifth and most recent book, co-authored with Leila Stuart, Pathways to a Centered Body: Gentle Yoga Therapy for Core Stability, Healing Back Pain and Moving with Ease is becoming the go-to text for Yoga teachers, therapists and somatic practitioners.

In April 2017, Donna fractured her pelvis in two places as a result of a serious riding accident. Her lengthy rehabilitation has given her extraordinary insights into how to restore pelvic stability. Her latest online tutorial courses on Anatomy of a Centered Body and Yoga for Lower Back Pain: Keys to Sacroiliac Stability and Ease of Movement is making her expertise more accessible to teachers and students worldwide.


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“Exuberance is Beauty” ~ William Blake
By Donna Farhi
All my life I have had a dream that I would live in a house with a long winding driveway lined with oak trees.

In my early forties, I bought thirty acres of bare land in the South Island of New Zealand with no water, electricity, septic system or house. Over a period of seven years, the task of building a house and putting in the infrastructure of power, electricity, fencing and a water recycling system was all consuming.

Once the house was built my first priority was to plant shelterbelts so that my horses and the sheep that grazed my land would have protection from the elements. Later, with the help of friends and students, large sections of landscaping and native habitat were planted. An extensive vegetable garden was created with raised beds and a small orchard to provide fresh produce.

Little by little as areas of plantings matured the farm began to feel like home. Yet in my mind, one of the most urgent projects was to plant a long line of Algerian oak trees along my drive.

This involved digging deep holes, driving supporting stakes, and tying each sapling to secure it against the strong prevailing winds. I had been warned that while this particular species of oak could weather drought and strong winds, it would also take several years before the tree would lay down a strong taproot. It will seem, I was told, as if nothing is happening, or that the tree has died.  I was warned not to make the mistake of cutting down in impatience these slow-growing trees. Only when the taproot was firmly established would the tree begin to thicken through the trunk and extend its energy into its branches. It did seem forever before the delicate saplings started to look like full fledged trees, and now as I walk down the drive the branches are almost long enough to form a shade canopy. The larger and more mature my oak trees become the more beautiful they are to me.

Now in my early fifties, on days when I linger a little too long in front of the mirror, noting the changes that time has etched on my own face and body, I call forth the image of two trees: the delicate sapling and the mature oak.

When I seek comfort and refuge it is under the boughs of a long-lived tree; its bark thick and creased with weather; its branches offering shelter from both heat and cold, and its fully formed majestic structure an inspiration even in the depths of winter. We would think it folly to want a sapling never to mature into a tree, yet how differently we view our own aging?

There is much to be learned from the intelligence of Mother Nature. For if we can learn to see our own maturation process with the same sense of satisfaction, we can move into our elder years with dignity and pride. We can learn to see that maturity has its own incredible beauty worthy of admiration. For just as the sapling becomes strong through surviving the buffets of the elements we also come to maturity having learned lessons from our mistakes as well as from our achievements. If we can gather the resources we have gained from our experiences we can move into “the change” able to reap the fullest harvest from our lives and able to be a harvest for all who come within our domain.

Perimenopause (the years leading up to the cessation of menstruation), menopause and post-menopause are years of a women’s life that can be fulfilling and rich with potential.  Unfortunately, this is rarely the way Western women view the transition

The Misconstruction of Menopause Over a decade ago a group of women approached me during a Yoga intensive inquiring as to whether I would be willing to lead a discussion on Yoga, aging and spirituality. That evening about twenty women of all ages gathered to share their experiences, questions and stories and the impressions of that gathering remain indelibly etched in my memory.

As the evening progressed I was disturbed to hear the overwhelmingly negative stories the older women shared about their experience of going through menopause.  Turning to the younger women they cautioned: “You won’t understand (how bad it is) until you’ve experienced it.” More than one woman related that the experience of emotional instability, lack of sleep and debilitating hot flashes caused her to consider taking her life. There were few words spoken about the positive side of aging apart from one cryptic comment about “the alternative.”

This was not to be the only occasion that I heard women speak in such a disheartening manner about menopause. While there was no doubt in my mind that these women had had a very difficult time during their menopause, it concerned me that the younger women present (myself included) were being set up to expect menopause as an inevitably terrible experience much as one woman might relate the pain of her own difficult childbirth to another. Having myself been fortunate to have a healthy, regular and mostly pain-free menstruation history through adapting my Yoga practice and lifestyle during my moon cycle, I was determined that my transition into menopause might be different.

Like many women, in my late forties, my menses began to change, becoming lighter and spaced a little closer together. Although I noticed some degeneration of my vision during this time, I remained otherwise symptom-free and my energy levels were excellent.  Then one night a few months after my fiftieth birthday I awoke feeling a little hot and flushed.  This episode was really quite mild compared to the stories of drenched sheets related to me by friends and students. My reaction, however, was anything but mild. I felt panic-stricken that this was happening to me, doyenne of over thirty years of Yoga practice! Even though these mild hot flashes were not happening during the day and were not even strong enough to significantly disturb my sleep, I observed a dreadful feeling of fearfulness and to my surprise . . . an emotion that took some time to put my finger on . . . shame.

As I observed my thoughts and feelings, I realized that I equated menopause not just with the cessation of my menses, but the cessation of my being a woman.  

It seemed to me that these symptoms were the harbinger of decline, decrepitude and the end of my attractiveness, sexiness and worth as a feminine entity.  But was this really how I felt about myself? Or an idea that had been implanted over a long period of time through the osmotic process of cultural conditioning? Clearly, my emotional reaction to menopause was far more damaging than the actual experience of it. When I objectively assessed myself, I felt that I had never been stronger or more balanced in my physical body; my energy levels, on the whole, were exceptional and I felt more mentally and emotionally skilful than at any other time in my life. Why then the intense fearfulness?

I believe that I am not alone in my initial reaction to this change. From the moment we are born female we are conditioned to believe that our ultimate worth is inextricably linked to our physical form and our sexual desirability. This emphasis has only become more extreme for the present generation of girls who sadly are being divested of the sweetness and innocence of their childhoods through the disturbing pressure of early sexualization. The idealized physical forms that we are exposed to on billboards, in magazines, on television and now over the internet, consist of faces and bodies that have been so cosmetically altered and digitally manipulated that they bear little resemblance to every day women. Viewed with more discerning eyes these radically altered visages seem like grotesque flash-frozen caricatures of youth. If you were to sit on a busy city street and carefully observe the women you see around you it is unlikely you will see anyone that looks remotely like these images. And yet these images have become deeply embedded in the collective female psyche as “real.”

Even more damaging and insidious is the unrelenting media bombardment urging women to spend her time, energy and hard-earned money on fighting the “ravages of age,” as if aging, and by aging I mean a chronological advancement of the years, were something that anyone, man or woman, could or would want to prevent.  

We can no longer buy sunscreen to avoid life-threatening skin cancer; we now purchase “age shield” and “age-proof daily defense moisturizer.” And even though recent randomized control trials show that the benefits of hormone replacement therapy are less than previously thought and the risks—especially of invasive breast cancer, coronary artery disease, dementia, stroke and other life-threatening diseases—are greater(1), many women may feel compelled to take HRT for cosmetic rather than medical reasons. Unfortunately, the jury is still out as to whether the latest rage; bioidentical hormone replacement is any safer in the long term(2). I respect any women’s educated choice to take medical measures if her menopausal symptoms are making her life a living misery. There are certainly instances where short-term use of hormone replacement when supervised by a knowledgeable health practitioner is an intelligent and compassionate option. However, the most basic truth is that our bodies are going through a perfectly natural process of transition—not a medical condition or a disease. Becoming addicted to hormone replacement therapy may delay this transition indefinitely, which is born out when women go off hormone replacement and their symptoms return, sometimes even more dramatically than before medical intervention.

Embodying Fitness on all Levels
How can we assist our bodies to go through this transition gracefully?  

For the bigger story as to how we can move through menopause with ease may have less to do with medically altering the fluctuation of particular hormones and more to do with creating optimal health; not only physical health but mental, emotional and spiritual “fitness” that will stand us in good stead during this powerful time. A time in many respects that is no less bumpy and unfamiliar than puberty, yet no one considers puberty a medical condition requiring drug treatment. Through improving all levels of our fitness we create an environment where the body has the resources it needs to find it’s own neuroendocrine balance. For it is not just a matter of how much of any given hormone one has in the body but how the hormone receptors work and whether the orchestration of our hormonal symphony is creating discordant or harmonious music. This is not just a question pertaining to menopause but is relevant to preventing illness and disease as well as increasing longevity at all stages of life.

Solutions to creating optimal health are rarely to be found in quick-fix drugs, isolated nutrients or sachets of freeze-dried antioxidants.  

Rather, basic and simple lifestyle changes such as getting adequate rest, reducing excessive work and stress loads, taking sufficient pleasurable and preferably weight-bearing exercise, having harmonious and life-enhancing relationships, doing meaningful work, eating nutrient-rich natural whole foods, and addressing preexisting health problems such as obesity, smoking, or alcohol addiction, not only give us a better chance of having an easeful menopause they give us a better chance of remaining fully functional into our later years. While each of these aspects of health is outside the scope of this little article, I encourage you to consider some of the simple and more obvious lifestyle changes you can make that would support your optimal health and well being. Paradoxically it is often common sense lifestyle changes such as eating and sleeping at regular times that make the most difference to our overall health. Yet these simple changes can seem far more challenging because they call into question the fundamental way in which we live our lives.

It is also worth considering the possibility that the severity of symptoms that many women experience during this time relate to imbalances within her overall health and lifestyle that existed long before menopause but are no longer tolerable within the new hormonal fluctuation that is taking place.  

After years of bulldozing her way through “to do” lists, many women wake up one morning realizing that they not only have less “push” than they had in their thirties and forties, they no longer want to push themselves to live in an unnatural rhythm of relentless activity and pressurized productivity. I believe it is this profound yearning to return to a rhythm that is in sync with her deepest feminine nature that impels women to make dramatic shifts during this time. I am struck by the sheer number of women in their forties and fifties who arrive at my Yoga retreats having recently jettisoned exhausting corporate careers, empty marriages, and unhealthy lifestyles, seeking instead a way of living that is in harmony with their natures and aligned with their personal values.

Fear of Aging and Menopausal Experience
While it is important to consider how preexisting unhealthy habits and lifestyle choices may be creating less than conducive conditions for a smooth menopause, it can be even more crucial for a woman to look closely at her thoughts and feelings about aging and how this is affecting her sense of self.  

One of the questions that I have both as a woman and as someone who has practiced Yoga for almost forty years is whether deep-seated fearfulness and insecurity about aging fuels an ongoing state of chronic sympathetic arousal.  

It’s no surprise that we are experiencing a pandemic in postmodern societies of chronic stress in which our very body chemistry is altered with high levels of stress hormones. This has been widely researched by the medical and alternative health community and the jury is in that it is not good for us.  But what is less obvious is the pernicious way in which a women’s self-worth can be eroded by the toxic messages she receives about aging. I do not think we can underestimate the detrimental effect of living in a culture that degrades, disregards and disrespects older and elder members of its community.

In cultures where elders are respected, valued and continue to play an active role within the community, aging is celebrated rather than feared(3).  

Growing older in these cultures is experienced as a time of harvest, fruition and abundance and for many, an increase in social status.  In modern industrialized countries, however, women over the age of forty often describe themselves as “invisible”, no longer acknowledged or appreciated as persons of value. So while it is not difficult to extrapolate that high-stress levels caused through factors such as lack of sleep and poor diet undoubtedly contribute to extreme menopausal symptoms, I am suggesting that stress is two-pronged. Stress can come from more objective sources such as overworking but it can also come from mental and emotional negative self-talk that is happening in the substratum of awareness eroding the foundation of a women’s psyche. Regardless of the source of stress, chronic sympathetic arousal is not a bodily environment in which the neuroendocrine system can function in a balanced way.

What is sympathetic arousal and what happens when this becomes an ongoing experience rather than a momentary reaction to a perceived threat?  

Fear is the basic building block of the stress response, which is activated to ensure our survival. The crack of the branch, the shadow seen from the corner of our eye or the vibration underfoot all alert us to the presence of a predator or imminent danger. In reaction, the body readies itself to fight (defend) or take flight (flee), flooding the body with adrenaline and redirecting blood flow from the internal organs to the external layers of musculature. This diversion of blood flow is key to understanding why living in a high-stress state undermines health.  Each organ in your body has it’s own blood supply and each organ must nourish itself before it can do its unique job in concert with all the other internal organs and bodily systems. When we are chronically in a state of red alert the organs do not receive this nourishment and they become depleted, unable to do their jobs efficiently.

When bombs are being dropped and all residents have moved into bomb shelters for protection, all normal production ceases: food is not harvested or transported, the supermarket shelves are empty and garbage remains on the street. Similarly, when our bodies are under siege, important bodily processes are suspended or altered.  rocesses such as digestion and assimilation of our food as well as prompt removal of waste are impacted. Inflammation sets in.

Chronic arousal of the sympathetic nervous system, in short, creates ideal conditions for disease.  

Additionally, when fear is experienced as a subtle, ongoing subconscious event with no particular source that we can pinpoint our feelings and thoughts about menopause may ultimately affect our experience of menopause.

Consider this: A study by Suzanne Woodward and Robert Freedman showed that slow, deep breathing alone would result in a significant reduction in menopausal hot flashes(4).  In a pilot study prior to their own research, progressive muscle relaxation exercises and slow, deep breathing reduced the incidence of hot flashes by an impressive 50 percent(5).  More recent research by Erik Peper and Katherine Gibney at San Francisco State University led them to “strongly recommend that effortless diaphragmatic breathing be taught as the first step to reduce hot flashes and PMS symptoms”(6).

Enter Restorative Yoga
One of the reasons that Restorative Yoga can be so helpful during the potentially topsy-turvy time of menopause is that restful supported Yoga postures held for longer timings could begin to dismantle chronic states of sympathetic arousal and literally reset the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.

Redirecting blood flow from the superficial layers of the body back to the internal organs helps to support the internal organs to do their jobs such as filtering blood, balancing hormone levels, activating strong immune responses, digesting and assimilating nutrients and removing toxic waste products from the tissues so that they can be excreted regularly from the body. This not only ameliorates many of the symptoms of menopause, it builds stronger health.  And it doesn’t take long for this re-balancing act to reap rewards.  In as little as a few days or a week of eating a healthy diet and getting sufficient deep rest, I see women on Yoga retreats start to bounce back. Many arrive looking bloated, uncomfortable and exhausted yet after a week of daily Yoga practice depart the retreat center looking and feeling svelte and energized.  As one retreat participant related: “I was amazed by the body’s ability to naturally heal itself when surrounded in an environment of peace and tranquillity combined with the support of women and the practice of Yoga . . . it’s one of the best investments I’ve made.”  But you don’t have to go on a Yoga retreat to feel better: you can create your own “retreat-like” conditions at home through doing regular practice.

The second reason why Restorative Yoga practice can be so healing is that it allows women time to enter a deep state of relaxation and calm where she can perceive that part of her that is all enduring. . . her spirit.  

In this silent place, she can begin to restore a sense of her intrinsic worth; the part of her that remains eternally youthful and vibrant regardless of whether there are wrinkles on her face or her waistline has thickened.  Learning to shift her identification away from the impermanent and changing physical body towards the eternal identity of her spirit gives women an internally derived sense of self that can not be taken away from her through circumstance or through aging.

The third reason why Restorative Yoga and practices such as sitting meditation and Yoga Nidra(7) can be beneficial is that by creating a deliberately simplified space we can heighten our perception both of the content of our thoughts and emotions as well as the pristine field of awareness that lies just beneath the surface.  

When we learn to practice detachment we start to see that both pleasure and pain are transitory experiences.  If we are occasionally buffeted by uncomfortable symptoms such as night sweats or unstable emotions, we can use these practices to witness the maelstrom of changing physical sensations, feelings, thoughts, and emotions for what they are: transient experiences.  We can learn to view “the change” from the part of ourselves that is unchanging. In this way it is possible to find stable ground even when we feel shaky.

Although thus far I have been fortunate in only experiencing several 3-4 week episodes of nocturnal hot flashes and sleep disruption, I have observed a phenomenon that may be of usefulness to other women. Although always sensitive, my body is now a veritable Geiger counter for stress. Whenever I notice myself feeling rushed and hurried, I can literally feel an instantaneous chemical change in my body.  When watching an emotionally disturbing news report on television, my heart begins to pound and stress chemicals flood my system so that my skin tingles.  I can literally feel my blood move to the surface of the body creating a strange and disquieting sensation. Drinking red wine has never been agreeable to my body, but now the moment I take a sip I can feel my entire body recoil from a substance that it now registers as poison. When I spend time with someone whose company I do not enjoy the precursor symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome begin to simmer just under the surface. In short, all of the triggers that throughout my life have shown themselves to be non-conducive to my health are now illuminated immediately by the heightened sensitivity brought about through perimenopause.  

I see this is as a powerful and positive change in which anything: animal, vegetable or mineral that is not supportive to my well-being is immediately brought to my attention. I suspect that many women experience heightened sensory perception at this time, which they can use to aid their discernment in making choices. Rather than viewing this heightened sensitivity as a downer we can choose to view it as an invaluable tool of awareness.

The transition into the second half of our life can be an opportunity or it can be an obstacle.

Menopause has the potential to be a powerful experience in which we as women become more sensitive and adept in perceiving subtler resonant fields of physical, energetic, mental, emotional and spiritual phenomena, within ourselves and around us. In short, we have an opportunity to purify our perceptions and to live our lives at a higher resolution. For women being initiated into elderhood, this high-resolution living offers a more satisfying experience of life. It is also a way of living that casts a light around her so that she may be an inspiration and guide for others.

Join Donna for Sacred Self-Care: A Women’s Yoga & Ayurveda Retreat, May 25-June 1, 2019 in Spain. Now open for registration.

Resources
  1. Humphries, K.H. & Gill, S. (2003) Risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy: The evidence speaks. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 168 (8), 10001-10.
  2.  “Oprah’s “Crazy Talk”–– Bioidentical Hormones–– Helpful or Harmful? (Part 2), Byron J Richards, board Certified Clinical Nutritionist.
  3. For an exceptional explication on the cultures in which longevity is a norm read Healthy at 100 by John Robbins.
  4. R.R. Freedman, and S. Woodward, “Behavioral treatment of menopausal hot flushes: evaluation by ambulatory monitorings. American..
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Ali presenting historical & contemporary insights into how NZ’s yoga trends
have changed over time.
by Ali Hale Tilley,

Perhaps the biggest highlight of my year in 2018 was presenting at the Hauora Yoga Conference, held at AUT’s beautiful North Shore campus. Thanks to the energy and efforts of Persephone Singfield, Richard Beddie and the Exercise NZ team, the Haoura event gave yoga presenters like me a chance to contribute to the Aotearoa yoga community.

During the pōwhiri, our AUT hosts welcomed presenters. Throughout the hongi, the feeling of electricity and mana flowing through the marquee made me realise the significance of this event. Members of the yoga community (sangha) sat before us. Each person looked beautiful, strong, diverse, and radiant.

Beside me stood fierce yoga warriors. Each one thoughtful, dedicated, and armed with wisdom that comes from decades of experience.

Over the weekend, I formed close connections with some funny, upbeat yogis. In between lectures, we sat and exchanged views, enjoying the vibrancy of the event. Like them, I attended talks and presentations offered by yoga teachers from all around the country. Some presenters also came from as far afield as America. Hearing their wide-ranging viewpoints reinforced my belief that the Haoura Yoga Conference is an event not be missed.

Fierce yoga warriors practicing together.
What I learnt from the conference is just how devoted my fellow teachers are, particularly those who use yoga to help address social issues.

These yoga teachers see yoga as a means to support mental health awareness, childhood education, stress-management programmes, and environmental concerns. As yoga strengthens our communities of need, the country grows stronger and more resilient.

My presentation, which was held at the same time as popular keynote speaker Donna Farhi, attracted a select group of people who were mainly interested in yoga as a cultural phenomenon. During my talk, I claimed that yoga adapts to the expectations and ideals of local populations. Therefore, by balancing the 4 dimensions of wellbeing (physical, mental, spiritual, and community), which are intrinsic to the Haoura philosophy, we are able to support our local communities. I also showed that along with the physical, mental, spiritual, and community aspects of yoga, we need to carefully engage with rapid changes in new technology, business ethics, and post-globalised environments.

In order to appeal to the next generation of yoga-goers, yoga must stay relevant. I do not believe it is enough just to promote the physical aspects of yoga.

Rather, by rebalancing the physical, mental, spiritual, and community dimensions of yoga, we can make profound differences in peoples’ lives. The concept of Yoga and Hauora are a perfect match. Physical wellbeing, mental health, spiritual awareness, and community responsibility are important for the growth of New Zealand. Yet, I also argue that yoga’s future extends beyond these four pillars.

Moving towards 2020, I want to explore yoga in relation to new AI (artificial intelligence) trends, technological developments, ethical responsibility, and environmental issues. My job as a spokesperson for the Aotearoa/NZ Yoga Community is to stay well informed and share my perspective. I was honoured to be asked to present at Hauora and hope the opportunity arises again in 2019.

About Ali

Ali Hale Tilley is a Yoga Industry professional who qualified in 2004, and has run Sadhana Yoga full time since 2007. As an academic, Ali is a Religious Studies major and Master’s graduate at Victoria University of Wellington. Ali’s unique insider-outsider perspective provides an interesting look at New Zealand’s booming yoga market and how New Zealanders’ perceptions of yoga have changed over time. Along with teaching and studying about yoga, Ali also takes groups to India for authentic practice and deeper spiritual experiences. See http://.sadhanayoganz.com for more information

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By Sonya Simpson,

Interoception, sometimes considered the 8th sense, is the felt sense or mindfulness of the body, and Interoceptive awareness is the ability to process the signals you receive from your body.

Some examples of this are; levels of energy and how to respond, pain and what to do with it, and sickness and its interpretation. Well-developed interoception has been shown to increase resilience [1], help with emotional regulation [2], improve health and wellbeing [3], support pain sufferers [4], and reduce anxiety [5].

A quick search on Google gives the impression that the world of researchers is becoming quite excited that this sense could bring about greater health and wellness. Yet at the time of writing this I can confidently say that spellcheck doesn’t even recognise the word.

From a Yoga perspective, interoception encompasses many of the integral Yogic teachings or beliefs.

Practice with integrity, awareness of self, remove ego, be compassionate, content… move, feel, listen – repeat… so we’re OK because of course we’ve been teaching, practicing, and living with interoception in mind… right?

A couple of years ago I assisted a friend at a corporate conference on wellness. There was a range of speakers and presenters at the event and a large audience seated at round tables, in an airconditioned room, illuminated with fluorescent lights. Scattered across the space to assist with the presenters were yoga teachers, physiotherapists and other body healers.

The conference ran from 8am till 6pm so it was a long day. The attendees sat dutifully and listened, nodding at the presenters on stage at appropriate intervals, squirming in their seats occasionally and sipping glasses of water until they were released for toilet breaks, and at 12:30 (just the right time to luncheon) they were given a healthy lunch which they ate at their tables.

The yoga teachers and body healers by comparison sat on the floor, lay down every now and again for a stretch… some even took a quick nap. Every now and again – without warning – they would stroll straight out of the door and stand on the balcony in the sun, face to the sky, eyes closed in rapture. Then back in they’d walk and continue to listen with keen interest to the speaker. The contrast was fabulous to observe.

After lunch an energetic and enthusiastic man made his way to the stage to talk and point to a bright power-point presentation about a miraculous gadget that could be used to measure the needs of the wearer’s body and then report to the user what to do. It let them know when they needed to walk, drink, eat, sleep and even breathe!

I looked about the room and imagined each person in the audience wearing one on their wrists, noticing the mechanical vibration as it signalled they’d ignored their body for too long and then dutifully switching it off so that they could continue to sit in silence, wrapped in their uncomfortable clothes, feet bound, bladders full and bodies aching to move.

Amongst the body healers, the occasional eyebrow raised floating a sweet WTF above the horizon of their heads. Glances were exchanged… but in honesty, we’d all been there. Sit still, listen, don’t wriggle, ask to go to the toilet, it’s not time to eat, finish your dinner, it’s not time for bed, don’t nap; all these outside instructions from people in power that negate the body’s communication.

Can you remember when it started? I can’t… in fact it’s only in babies or very young children that I observe a natural reaction to the body’s needs, even toddlers often wait for instruction on when to eat, drink or go to the loo.

So how can we claim back the freedom of our body? How do we strengthen our sense of Interoception and interoceptive awareness?
Start right

Take a moment when you wake up in the morning to notice. You are thirsty, you want to stretch, you’re not hungry just yet. Then act on these cues. Stretch in bed, yawn and take some nice deep breaths, then get up and grab a tall glass of room temperature water, squeeze some lemon juice into it and maybe a pinch of salt. Why not take that glass of water outside and spend 10 minutes in natural light?

Use your commute

Your reality might be that you need to commute to work and that’s ok. Instead of this time being wasted ‘dead-time’ why not set an intention? Be kind, let people come in to the stream of traffic, smile at someone crossing the street – be aware of the reactions, carpool and take someone to work so that you get the chance to chat, or maybe use the time alone to practice some mindfulness. This might just be breathing deeply or really noticing the things going on around you. When all else fails though it’s sometimes just as good to listen to an audiobook or music you love.

Step away from Tech

I know, I know! You hear this a lot but at intervals during your day step away from tech and reconnect. Even if at first you set a schedule; each hour I will take time to be mindful of the sensations in my body, I will move or rest or talk to another human, not on social media but in real time. Walk over to a colleague’s desk or ring someone (it counts).

Nap

There I said it. Take a nap when you need it instead of another caffeinated drink. Talk to your employer if you need to about a space where you can kick back or take a blanket outside for a moment. Sometimes 10 minutes is all you need. Remember when you do this that if you nap longer than 45 minutes you run the risk of falling into slow wave sleep which can leave you groggy unless you have 90 minutes set aside, which most employers aren’t so keen on. Between 5 and 20 minutes is a good stretch for both you and the boss.

Eat mindfully

Avoid those ‘al desko’ lunches. Instead take the time to see your food, smell your food and enjoy your food, and whenever you can, eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. You could even combine 3 different suggestions on this list and eat outside, away from tech with another human!

Reflect

Take time to reflect and connect with how you are, regularly. This might be during your yoga practice or in any part of your day. Taking a moment every now and again to ask yourself some questions. These could be; how is my breath? Am I feeling any discomfort or pain? If so can I ease these sensations? How is my energy? Am I okay? Initially, there may be things that you need to leave as they are, but perhaps over time it will become second nature to resolve areas that need some attention.

So, start at the beginning, a gentle return to self through exploration. Let me know how you travel.

Mauri Ora
Namaste
Thank you

About Sonya

Sonya Simpson is a yoga teacher, content writer, business director and mother of two small boys. She lives with her partner in Auckland and teaches a style of yoga that is based around kindness to self, inquiry through movement and freedom to explore. Sonya is passionate about yoga and exploring the ways that cultural and societal expectation has affected wellbeing. Having experienced the benefits of returning to self through yoga during over 20 years of practice, she is passionate about continuing to research and explore how it can help others both inside and outside of the yoga community, sharing her findings wherever she can. More information can be found on her websiteFacebook or Instagram.

Reference list:
  1. Haase, L., et al., When the brain does not adequately feel the body: Links between low resilience and interoception. Biol Psychol, 2016. 113: p. 37-45.
  2. Webb, T. L., Miles, E., and Sheeran, P. (2012). Dealing with feeling: a meta-analysis of the effectiveness of strategies derived from the process model of emotion regulation. Psychol. Bull. 138, 775–808. doi: 10.1037/a0027600
  3. Farb, N. A., Daubenmier, J., Price, C., Gard, T., Kerr, C., Dunn, B., et al. (2015). Interoception, contemplative practice and health. Front. Psychol. 6:763. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00763
  4. Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. New York, NY: Dell Publishing.
  5. Paulus, M. P., and Stein, M. B. (2010). Interoception in anxiety and depression. Brain Struct. Funct. 214, 451–463. doi: 10.1007/s00429-010-0258-9
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By Kylie Rook,

New Zealand’s first Yoga Conference, Hauora, far exceeded my expectations.

It was really great to see that the New Zealand Yoga Community is already on the G-O S-L-O-W wagon in terms of building interoception, improving vagal tone and allowing students to find what feels right for them.

In many cases, this means letting go of the arbitrary alignment cues and even ‘classic poses’ to guide the students into a more felt experience and a deeper understanding of their own bodies.

I was excited to see so many of the presentations (including my own) were addressing these topics and that the people who attended were eager to learn more about this.

Neuroplasticity, vagal tone, heart rate variability and interoception are all areas I have a keen passion in particularly since I have used this to heal myself both physically and mentally.

I came away thinking that NZ is by in large already adopting the slower more mindful approach to group classes.

It seems that many studios have moved away from the ‘Power Yoga fast and furious classes with killer soundtracks’ that seem to still be the norm in places like the USA as J. Brown alluded to and I have experienced over there.

I missed the discussion panel on Yoga Therapy as I was conducting my Vagal Tone session when it was on. However, I did listen to the podcast J. Brown posted after the conference. I found this discussion very interesting and it highlighted the fact that its extremely hard to put into words what Yoga Therapy actually is let alone try to govern it through either Yoga Alliance or Yoga NZ.

I teach both public classes but the bulk of my classes are actually private clients. For me Yoga Therapy is really the one to one scenario vs the group class. In the one to one scenario I am generally working with specific injuries or conditions that mean its difficult or even impossible for the student to attend a public class. The goal is to set them up to be able to do this one day or to develop their own personal self practice.

I think the big take away from this discussion was something that both J Brown and Donna Farhi both said – that all Yoga should be therapeutic, whether it’s in a group setting or privately.

In order for this to happen we need to continue this movement towards slowing down, creating more somatic awareness and embodiment within the student and ultimately empowering them to find what is right for them.

About Kylie Rook

Kylie Rook is a Yoga Medicine Registered Therapeutic Specialist® RYT-500. E-RYT200.  She has more than 1000 hours of training and almost 20 years of personal practice under her belt. Her experience, training and knowledge is evident in the classes and workshops she leads.With a teaching style totally her own, Kylie understands the body from a Western perspective and fuses that with the tradition of yoga to enhance the lives of her students.Her classes bring an intelligent understanding of anatomy, physiology, and the human condition, paired with classical yogic philosophy and Chinese Medicine.She also holds a Bachelor of Nursing, Bachelor of Dance and has completed more than 20 individual yoga trainings with some of the worlds preeminent Yoga Teachers and Training Schools.She has also spent more than 10 years working as a Post Production Supervisor in Film and TV so she has an understanding of how yoga can help stressful office environments, improve focus, productivity and the health of employees.Kylie delights in teaching and is a natural born teacher able to lead both beginners and advanced practitioners safely.  She also has a passion for neuroscience and how yoga can assist with conditions such as anxiety, depression and other psychosomatic conditions.Her warmth, enthusiasm for yoga and guidance will inspire you to keep coming back to the mat.

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The Yoga Lunchbox | Nourishment for Your.. by Vignesh Murugan - 1M ago
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by Sonya Simpson,

When Donna Farhi was mentioned as a speaker at the Hauora Yoga conference I knew that I would move heaven and earth to attend. She is a teacher from my yoga lineage, she wrote the book Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit that I carry around all dog eared and tatty (the book not me… well, sometimes me as well) and I feel that it is a rare thing that brings her out of her cosy place of residence to speak with us in Auckland.

The Hauora Yoga Conference was just that rare thing; surprising, connecting and mind opening.

In the forum of this conference, I was able to question speakers about things that had been preying on my mind for a while. Jase Te Patu told me how to use Te Reo Māori to end my practice so that now I close with Namaste, Mauri Ora and Thank you. My students who are speakers of Te Reo Māori looked at me with gratitude when I added this simple aspect to my teaching, and I encourage all New Zealand yoga teachers to honour Te Reo Māori as one of New Zealand’s official languages and try it out.

I was able to voice my concerns about how the teaching of yoga is regulated now and for the future and was treated with not only dignity but compassion by our New Zealand group of leaders in this initiative.

I have always known that here in New Zealand our yoga community strives to nurture and support and that we are blessed to have close yoga connections in part due to the size of our country and small population but also due to the presence of strong yoga Elders.

Hauora highlighted this fact for me in the findings and information presented around yoga, its benefits and its safe practice.

From Persephone with her passion for this community, Keishana who never seems to utter a word that doesn’t have a powerful impact on the listener, Heather who unexpectedly stilled my mind during a mediation that was utter bliss, to Donna who stayed true to the nature of yoga by approaching a crowd, holding each set of eyes and then submerging them in a blanket of calm quiet stillness, the weekend was varied, interesting and unexpected.

The mood of the weekend changed like the weather; there was sunshine, torrential rain and never a dull moment.

Kylie’s discussion on vagal tone was informative and knowledgeable, Sam Loe delivered her content effortlessly, the lovely practice by Amy Green transported me to her ‘Aha’ moment by the sea, Sandra Palmer‘s interesting thoughts about trauma generated powerful conversation, Kara-Leah shared her inspiring thoughts on business… there were so many interesting discussions to be had.

I couldn’t listen to all the speakers, but it was obvious the conference organisers really had carefully considered their offerings. Each was a nugget of gold. Each seemed free of ego and judgement. This was an event of connection, where hiccups were forgiven, where seasoned speakers were honoured, and newer ones held with heart and kind words to ease the occasional nerves.

Did you miss it? Don’t worry, it’ll be back. It might not be the same, but I suspect it’ll have just as much wonder.

About Sonya

Sonya Simpson is a yoga teacher, content writer, business director and mother of two small boys. She lives with her partner in Auckland and teaches a style of yoga that is based around kindness to self, inquiry through movement and freedom to explore. Sonya is passionate about yoga and exploring the ways that cultural and societal expectation has affected wellbeing. Having experienced the benefits of returning to self through yoga during over 20 years of practice, she is passionate about continuing to research and explore how it can help others both inside and outside of the yoga community, sharing her findings wherever she can. More information can be found on her website, Facebook or Instagram.

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