Lovingkindness for India

I’ve practiced yoga for over twenty years. I started when I was pregnant with my oldest child (now a young woman of 22). Yoga has gotten me through difficult times, as well as life’s daily challenges. It brings me joy, serenity, strength and enhanced physical health. Yoga also led me to become a physical therapist assistant, and without my daily meditation sessions, I would have never made it through school. I don’t believe I’m alone in this. Yoga has the ability to lift people up when they need it most. It is a meaningful, ancient practice that comes from India, a vibrant, diverse culture.

Sadly, this diverse, vibrant culture is hurting under another horrific surge of Covid-19. Even though I’ve never been to India, I find this heart wrenching. The United States is beginning to turn the corner as more people get vaccinated, and there’s even talk of things getting “back to normal.” India’s new normal is that of not enough hospital beds, oxygen, medicine, medical staff, supplies…..the list goes on and on. Yoga originated in India. And since yoga has so enriched my life, I feel that it’s time to give back to this country in their time of need.

India needs help! India needs lifting up….and they need it from us. In an article in the blog Lion’s Roar called “Help India Breathe” the author outlines ways in which we can help. The range from spiritual support, such as a Metta (Lovingkindness) practice, to ways to donate to help India. Give however you are able, either financially or with prayer, meditation or other spiritual practices. However, If you are also able to help financially, here are a few organizations that are helping with efforts in India:

  • Oxygen for India. This GoFundme campaign is trying to raise 1 million USD to deliver 3000 oxygen concentrators to India at a record cost of $350 per concentrator. 
  •  Coronavirus Relief Fund (Ketto): This portal hosts many individual fundraisers for supporting individual families in dire financial need.
  • The Mission Oxygen (accepts donations from non-Indians) initiative under this Ketto Fund was started by a group of respected Indian entrepreneurs who post regular updates on the progress of procuring concentrators for India.
  • Goonj: This respected disaster relief organization is providing essentials (includes food, supplies) for communities across India.Their initiative ‘Rahat’ was started last year. Their immediate and long-term support measures in cities and villages are addressed to families who due to paucity of resources and livelihood options were badly affected by the pandemic.

I am also excited that this weekend there is a yoga and meditation marathon via Zoom to help India with Covid relief. This marathon features yoga teachers from around the world coming together to help the country that has a place deep in all our hearts. You can donate whatever you can to participate. If this interests you, click here to register.

Wishing much peace, health and happiness to you, your friends and family! May you be happy, healthy, and free from harm.

What to Do When You Overdo…

(aka Don’t let DOMS dominate you)

We’ve all been there; sore achy muscles the day after a workout or physical labor. Walking funny, due to overused muscles after “leg day” at the gym, is often worn like a badge of honor. You know you really killed it at the gym if you’re in pain afterwards….right?

I must confess that I’ve never been one who loves working out. I consider it a necessary part of life to keep my heart healthy. I delight in practicing yoga, meditation, and core strengthening every morning. I go to the gym for a little more strengthening, and to really get my heart pumping. Although I’ve had a few muscles that let me know they worked hard, I have yet to be walking funny, or screaming in pain as I sit in a chair after my workouts. As I hear the laments of others post-workout, I sometimes ask myself…..”Am I doing this right?” and “Why doesn’t it hurt more?” But seriously….is muscle soreness and extreme stiffness/pain necessary for muscles to gain strength?

While it is common for muscles to feel sore a day or two after a new exercise program, if there’s extreme pain or loss of function a day or two afterwards, then that’s NOT okay. There’s a name for this phenomenon…..Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS for short. DOMS happens when tissues break down as a result of being overstretched, creating small tears in the muscle fibers. Since this is actually an injury to the muscle, that muscle then needs to recover before any gains in strengthening can be made. You have to start over and progress gradually to achieve your goals. So how can one find relief when DOMS occurs.?

Here are some ways to avoid DOMS during a workout

  • Warm up before resistance training
  • Have consistency in your workouts
  • Don’t try to push through the pain (your body is telling you to back off)
  • Be conscious of your form while exercising.
  • Avoid intense stretches
  • Stay hydrated
  • Consider using compression garments during your workout

If you do “overdo” it, here are some ideas to find relief from DOMS

  • Rest. Give the muscles time to recover.
  • Gentle massage can help (avoid deep massages, though)
  • Use a Foam Roller or self massage with a towel roll
  • Compression Garments
  • Light exercise with gentle movements
  • Hot packs or warm baths can help

As I said earlier, I’ve engaged in negative self talk, when witnessing others pain after workouts. Was my workout effective….even without the pain? True, I will never be a gym worshiper, but I’m confident that I can do what’s good for my heart , avoid injury, AND make gains in strengthening and endurance. So I’m changing the question to myself to, “What am I doing right?” For more tips on pain relief and injury prevention through yoga and physical therapy, sign up for my newsletter here, or follow me on social media on FaceBook @yogalorie, Instagram Wellness_with_Lorie, or LinkedIn yogalorie

How to Have Happy Hips

Hip tightness or pain is a frequent complaint of many. Sometimes this arises from lifestyle patterns, and other times from a previous injury that needs a little TLC. There are indeed many causes of hip pain. If you suffer from any pain that causes you to abstain from activities you previously engaged in, a trip to the doctor is warranted. For many people yoga and physical therapy can help.

The hip joint is an amazing structure. It is made up of the femur (thigh) bone, and the pelvis. The top of the femur has a knobby protrusion on it that fits snugly into a concave area in the pelvis. Muscles, ligaments and tendons all give stability to this joint. The design of the hip joint allows for lots of motion. Additionally, it is able to handle the load of the upper body, even as we carry heavy objects, walk up stairs, or engage in sports. It’s designed to do all this with efficiency and grace as we propel forward through our days on our two legs.

However, as with any fine machine, we need to take good care of the hip joints for them to be at their best. Today’s lifestyle of relative immobility can cause tension and tightness in the hips. Since we sit with our hips bent for hours on end, the hip flexors at the front of the thigh get tight. These muscles shorten which can cause pain in the low back, hips and knees. If you have tension in any of these areas, or feel pain while walking, then you may be able to find relief from movement, stretching, and strengthening. Ideally, you should try to stretch and strengthen all the muscles that attach at the hip….those on the front, back and sides of the thigh.

Yoga can really help create more openness in tight muscles. If you want to try a yoga class to help all your body parts feel better, try one of my weekly offerings. I teach Healing through Yoga (Wednesdays at 5:30 MT) and Unwind the Spine (Fridays at 4:30 MT). To try some postures on your own, some good choices to keep your hips happy and healthy are:

  • Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge)
  • Paraghasana (Gate Pose)
  • Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1)
  • Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)
  • Figure 4 Stretch
  • Vasisthasana (Side Plank)
  • Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) (Also one-legged bridge for strengthening)
  • Gomukhasana (Cow-face pose)
  • Eka Pada Kapotasana (Pigeon Pose)
  • Bird Dog Pose

For more tips on pain relief and injury prevention through yoga and physical therapy, sign up for my newsletter here, or follow me on social media on FaceBook @yogalorie, Instagram Wellness_with_Lorie, or LinkedIn yogalorie

Snow…My Aching Back!

Denver got a big dump of snow this past weekend……2 feet at my house! As a life-long Coloradoan I know that if I want to eventually get out of my driveway, I have to shovel several times before the snowfall ends. NOW I’m even careful and conscientious about HOW I shovel. Shoveling snow always reminds me of my last semester of PTA school. PT and PTA students hear over and over about body mechanics and how NOT to hurt yourself while working with patients. We’re even graded on it! On winter break before my last semester of PTA school I managed to strain a muscle in my back. Mostly I did this by transferring my Dad (who was sick and deconditioned from a long hospital stay) by myself. Then a week later I shoveled the snow in my driveway at breakneck speed ( and bad body mechanics). This sealed the deal….the back pain was excruciating! The PTA Department Head clucked at me when I told her why I had to postpone updating my CPR certification, because after all……I should have known better. P.S. Physical Therapy folks ALWAYS want to know how you injured yourself. It’s so tempting to make up a zany story to tell them.

This experience has brought me a few pearls of wisdom. First, don’t beat yourself up for doing something that you could have done better or differently. In the moment, you did the best you could. Second, shovel snow with mindfulness. Some things to remember are: Don’t rush through it. Be conscious of your movements. Don’t twist your spine as you toss snow to the side. Bend at the knees (don’t hunch the back). As you bend the knees and get snow on the shovel, brace the shovel against your leg and use it as a lever to lift. Take breaks. A great snow shoveling break is to look up at the tree branches covered in snow. After all, why not enjoy the beauty of the snow? Ask for help if it’s available. Rest after you shovel, then do a few stretches. I teach two weekly classes that are well suited to back pain; Healing through Yoga (Wednesdays at 5:30) and Unwind the Spine (Fridays at 4:30). If you want a quick practice to do on your own, a great yoga sequence for your back is:

  1. Supta Padangusthasana (Supine Hamstring Stretch)
  2. Figure 4 (Piriformis) Stretch
  3. Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose)
  4. Apanasana (Knees to Chest Pose)
  5. Cat/Cow
  6. Balasana (Child Pose)
  7. Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (Pidgeon)
  8. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog)
  9. Malasana (Squat) or Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby)

Try to hold each of these postures (except Cat/Cow) for at least 6 breaths. This gives the muscles time to release. If you’d like a personalized sequence or an individual session focused on your health goals, please drop me a line at lorie@wellnesswithlorie.com. You can also sign up for a class or private session by clicking here.

No Pain…No Strains

“Degenerative Disc Disease”…..those words uttered from your doctor’s mouth can make you feel downright ancient. The simple truth is that as we get older, some wear and tear is going to happen. But seriously….do they have to tell us we’re “degenerating?” Are we degenerating? What does this term “Degenerative Disc Disease” (DDD, for short) mean?

First, let’s take a look at the spine. It’s made up of a bunch of vertebrae stacked on top of each other. Between each vertebrae are the intervertebral discs. The discs are squishy structures that are made up mainly of water and collagen. Their job is to help stabilize. cushion, absorb pressure, increase flexibility, and protect the nerves. That’s a lot of work these little squishy wonders do! Unfortunately, over time, the discs show signs of wear and tear. They lose moisture and squishiness and are less effective. Often an individual can have this degeneration without any pain or other symptoms. DDD happens when this normal process of degeneration causes pain or disfunction. For some, the pain can be constant and unrelenting. For others, it is intermittent. DDD most often occurs in the low back or in the neck. In this post, we’ll focus on the low back.

One of the best ways to help alleviate low back pain from DDD (and other conditions) is to strengthen the deep abdominal muscles. Many yoga and fitness classes focus on strengthening these core muscles. Doing so increases support for the low back. Other great activities to practice are walking, swimming, and stretching. Stretching and movement increase blood flow to the disc, and thus facilitates the healing process. Physical therapy, regular yoga practice, and Functional Yoga Coaching can help as well. A sampling of yoga postures that work well to decrease the pain and discomfort associated with DDD are:

  • Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1 Pose)
  • Apanasana (Knees to Chest Pose)
  • Parsva Balasana (Bird dog pose)
  • Jathara Parivatanasana (Supine Twist Pose)
  • Phalakasana (Plank Pose)
  • Setu Banha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
  • Cat/Cow
  • All stretches for the legs and hips

For more information on how to alleviate pain from DDD, check out my website or sign up for Functional Yoga Coaching, or my new Healing through Yoga Class. You can also get some great yoga and physical therapy tips by subscribing to my newsletter.

Is the Weight of the World on Your Shoulders?

It does seem that the shoulders bear more than their share of burdens. And yet…..they persevere through lifting, carrying, sports, and all other manner of abuse we put them through. The shoulders are really a miracle of engineering. The shoulder joint is the most mobile joint in the body. This is great, because it allows us to move our hands freely, thus providing access to all sorts of tasks and activities. It’s also not so great, because this joint is often the victim of injury. To understand the reasons for this, and ways to keep your shoulders healthy and happy, we must first look at the anatomy of this versatile joint.

The shoulder joint is made up of the humerus (upper arm bone), clavical (collar bone), and scapula (shoulder blade). The humerus fits into a cavity called the glenoid fossa, which is on the outside edge of the scapula. Stability of the shoulder joint is mostly a function of four muscles called the rotator cuff muscles. These muscles originate on the scapula and insert on the top of the humerus. They provide movement and support to the shoulder. When these muscles become weak or inflamed, then pain, reduced range of motion, and instability can occur at the shoulder joint. This can lead to increased risk of injury. In addition to the rotator cuff muscles, there are also muscles knows as scapular stabilizers. These muscles reside in the upper back and attach to the scapula. They help with both movement and stability of the scapula. Scapular movement allows the the arm to achieve greater range of motion. It’s important to keep the scapular stabilizers and the rotator cuff muscles strong for optimum wellness of the shoulders and arms.

If you attend a gym, there are many machines that can help you strengthen these muscles. But if the gym isn’t your scene, you can still achieve good results on your own at home. I also offer private “Functional Yoga Coaching” to address individual wellness goals and a weekly yoga class called “Yoga for Healing” (sign up here).

Try the following exercises and yoga postures to help strengthen your shoulder muscles:

  • Alternating from Plank (Khumbhakasana) to Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
  • Half Locust (Salabhasana) with I, Y, and T arm movements
  • Side Plank (Vasisthasana)
  • Bridge (Setu Bandhasana) with hands clasped underneath
  • Fish Pose (Matsyasana)
  • Seated Spinal Twist (Ardha Maysendrasana)
  • Arm Movements during standing postures, such as Warrior 1 & 2 (Virabhadrasana) can increase range of motion

Stay tuned for my next video which will feature a sequence incorporating these postures. Click here to sign up for my newsletter and get this, and other tips, delivered to your inbox every week.

What a Pain in the Neck!

Neck pain and stiffness are common in our society. Sadly, not even old yogis like me are exempt from this persistent malady. The neck is really an amazing body part. This short structure connects the torso to the head and holds the weight of the world. Ok, really it just holds up our world, aka the head, which weighs roughly the same as a bowling ball. It also houses nerves that control the neck, eyes, diaphragm, arms, and hands. This means that tension in the neck can lead to headaches, sinus problems, vision problems, fatigue, and numbness in arms, hands, and fingers. Yes, the neck has really got our backs, and yet we fail to attend to its needs.

So how do things go so terribly, terribly wrong with the neck? Much of the tension we feel is due to our lifestyles. Our body is designed for the parts of the spine to stack in perfect alignment. Our ideal alignment features the ears over the shoulders, shoulders over the hips, and hips over ankles. When we sit in front of our computers or watch TV this is not happening. Often, we lean forward towards the computer, then maybe tilt our heads upward and/or forward to see the monitor. Of course, our posture does not improve when we relax on the couch to binge watch our favorite shows. Then we might slump in our seats, or lay out on the couch with our necks in an uncomfortable and unnatural position. Sometimes even “a good night’s sleep” is not so good for our necks.

If you’re experiencing problems that may stem from neck tension, it’s time to take action. A trip to the doctor may rule out any serious problems. If that’s the case, you can try the following ideas to help reduce any pain, tension, headaches, etc. For more tips on spinal health, subscribe to my newsletter here.

First, try changing your pillow. If you start the day with a headache or neck pain, the solution may be as simple as buying a new pillow. Look for one that offers support, but has enough give to avoid placing the neck at an angle. If a pillow is too firm , it puts the neck in misalignment…..too soft and it does not offer support.

Next, consider your posture as you go about your day. Ask yourself, “Where are my ears?” If the answer is, “My ears are in front of my shoulders,” then it’s time to realign. See my post Don’t Wear Your Shoulders As Earrings for more tips on posture. Now incorporate movement and neck stretches into your day. Try the following:

  • Start with your gaze forward, then move your head to the right. Pause briefly, then come back to center. Do this 10 times on the right, then repeat on the left.
  • Next, look to the right again, and as you exhale allow the chin to come down in a half circle to the chest. Inhale, as you continue this half circle bringing head to gaze to the left. Exhale and repeat towards the right. Do this 10 times. You can also do full neck circles if you do not feel discomfort or pain with them. Many yoga classes are helpful for releasing tension as well. To sign up for my “Unwind the Spine” class on Fridays at 4:30 MT, click here.
  • Now work on scapular movement. With your arms by your sides (elbows bent), or in your lap, squeeze the shoulder blades together. Hold for a breath and release. Repeat 10 times.
  • To stretch your neck, sit up tall on a chair and place your right hand behind your low back, near the sacrum. Let the left ear drop towards the left shoulder. Hold and breathe for 5-6 breaths. Repeat 2-3 times, then switch sides.
  • To strengthen the deep muscles in the neck, lie on your back and gently press the back of your neck down to the surface beneath you. Your chin will slightly tuck. Hold for a breath, release and repeat 10-20 times.

Being mindful about taking care of your neck can go a long way towards releasing tension and alleviating pain. For more ideas on neck stretches or for Functional Yoga Coaching or classes feel free to contact me.

Don’t Worry…I’ve Got Your Back!

Herniated, also called bulging, discs affect a large portion of the population. Symptoms of a disc herniation include low back pain, leg pain, numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s worth a trip to the doctor for a diagnosis. For those who are diagnosed with a herniated disc there are exercises that may help.

So what is a herniated disc anyway? Discs are located between each of the bones (vertebrae) of the spine. They are filled with a gel-like substance which makes them flexible and adaptable. Their job is to cushion the bones, absorb pressure, protect the nerves, and to avoid shearing of bone against bone.

Think of the disc like a water balloon. If you place the balloon between your hands and exert equal pressure on it, it feels stable and supportive. However, if you squish one side of the balloon, then the opposite side becomes tense and tight. A herniated disc is like that squished water balloon. Instead of being supportive it exerts pressure on nerves, thus causing pain.

So what should you do, and not do, if you have a herniated disc? Since my expertise is yoga mixed with physical therapy, I will explore how yoga affects this condition. Yoga can offer many benefits for a herniated disc. However, it is important to note that some yoga postures can exacerbate low back problems, and should be avoided, or approached with caution. One should avoid forward folds that round the spine. These put additional pressure on the discs. Intense backbends should also be avoided, as should deep twists and many inversions.

Now let’s explore the benefits of a carefully structured yoga sequence for low back pain and disc herniations. These benefits include: reduction of pressure on the discs, improved blood circulation, improved range of motion, decrease in muscular tension, increase in core strength, improved posture, stress relief and relaxation. Whew! That’s a lot of benefits! A few yoga postures that can help ease the disc matter back into place and relieve pressure include:

Bhuganjasana (Cobra Pose)
Sphinx Pose
Ado Mukha Svavasana (Downward Facing Dog)
Cat/Cow Asana
Salabasana (Locust Pose)
Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute)

To enjoy some of these benefits with an individualized yoga sequence, contact me for Functional Yoga Coaching. In addition, I’ll have a video with a special yoga sequence to help with this in my next newsletter. Subscribe to my newsletter here for this and other tips for spinal health through yoga.

Yoga for the Sacroiliac Joint

In the last post, I talked about Piriformis Syndrome (click here if you missed it) which causes pain in the buttock and often down the leg via the route of the sciatic nerve. There’s another condition called Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction, SIJD for short, that can cause terrible pain. SIJD is sometimes confused with Piriformis Syndrome or Sciatica. They are all, quite literally, a pain in the butt.

The sacroiliac joint (SIJ) is the area where two bones, the sacrum and ilium, meet. The sacrum is the triangular bony area located just below the lumbar vertebrae, and in between the hip bones. The ilium are the two flat hip bones that, when looking at them from the front, are shaped like ears. The union between these two bones fit together much like a jig-saw puzzle. There are many depressions, bumps and ridges that join perfectly together. The SIJ is not bonded together, so some movement happens. However, there really is only a tiny amount of motion available at this joint. The SIJ depends on the surrounding ligaments to hold it in perfect alignment.

Unfortunately, sometimes the joint does become misaligned, and the ligaments, which are used to holding the joint IN alignment, now hold the joint OUT of alignment. Common causes are trauma, pregnancy and arthritis. SIJD pain is located in the area of the joint, and can switch from one side to the other. Those who suffer from SIJD may experience increased pain when rising up from a chair or bending forward. Sadly, since the joint surfaces fit together in an exact pattern, like a puzzle, it can be hard to resolve this pain.

If you believe that you may be suffering from SIJD, go to your doctor, PT or chiropractor. They may be able to adjust the joint to help relieve the pain. There are also some yoga postures that can help bring relief, and in some cases help work the joint back into alignment. These postures work by easing the the tightness of the ligaments and creating some space for the joint to move back where it needs to be. They also improve body awareness and posture. Try the following yoga postures to help with SIJD:

Janu sirsasana (Single leg forward fold)
Marichyasana (Sage Twist)
Anantasana (Side Reclining Lift)
Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)
Garudhasna (Eagle Pose)

Note that many of the above asanas are twists. To avoid injury in these postures, it’s important ease into the twist. Move your pelvis slowly as you twist. Take care to not use your arms for more torque to crank yourself into a deeper twist. For a sequence that can help with SIJD, sign up for my next newsletter here. In the next issue, I am including a yoga sequence that features some of these postures. For more individualized instruction, try a Functional Yoga Coaching Session, or enjoy my relaxing “Unwind the Spine” class on Friday evenings at 4:30 Mountain Time. Also, don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter for tips on how to keep your spine healthy and your spirits lifted!

How to Heal your Heinie

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A very common problem is excruciating pain in the backside that shoots down the leg. Most of us have heard the term “Sciatica” to describe severe pain in the buttocks, back of leg, and feet. But what is it, and what can be done to help those who suffer from sciatic pain?

Sciatica happens when the sciatic nerve gets compressed. The sciatic nerve is a bundle of nerves that pass through the space between the Ischial Tuberosities (referred to in yoga as the “sits’ bones) and a knobby bump at the top of the Femur (thigh bone). It is roughly the thickness of an index finger, so that’s quite a large bundle of nerves! The piriformis muscle (see my newsletter for a more on this muscle) also passes through this area.

There are a few ways that the sciatic nerve might become compressed, thus leading to pain. First, the piriformis muscle may become tight and start to spasm. This is known as Piriformis Syndrome. Although there are a few causes for Piriformis Syndrome, it is quite common for it to evolve from long periods of sitting. Another cause of sciatic pain is a herniated (bulging) disc in the low back. Herniated discs often cause back pain, but if the sciatic nerve is being compressed, the pain can be felt in the buttocks, and also shoot down the legs, instead of in the low back where the disc is.

So, what can be done to help relieve sciatic pain? First, the extreme pain that comes with sciatic conditions, definitely merits a trip to your doctor to find out the cause of the pain. Treatment depends on whether the cause is Piriformis Syndrome, a herniated disc, or some other cause. Gentle stretching of the piriformis muscle is effective in helping with pain due to tightness and spasm of the piriformis muscle. Stretches should be held for 15 seconds to start, then progress to a 60 second hold. Examples of piriformis stretches are the “Figure 4” stretch or Pigeon Pose. Additionally, twisting postures may help with Piriformis Syndrome by realigning any imbalances in the hips. Examples are Prvta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose) and Ardha Matsyendrasana (Seated Spinal Twist).

For a herniation, it’s helpful to practice gentle back bends. This can assist in easing the disc matter back into the disc, thus relieving pressure on the nerves. Examples include Salabasana (Locust Pose) and Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1 Pose). If you’re unsure of the cause of your sciatic pain, you should practice extreme caution with twists, as they can exacerbate a herniation.

For more information on spinal health through yoga and physical therapy, check out my newsletter, join me for a class, or contact me for a private online Functional Yoga session.