The Importance of Flexibility:
Over the years I have seen first hand the importance of exercise. Most people think exercise is important because it helps us lose weight and keeps the heart healthy. While this is true, it is important on so many other levels, including healthy brain chemistry and a strong immune system. It is also a fact the function of the body depends on movement. When we lose movement in the body, our overall health decreases. Decreased motion in the joints of our bodies is the cause of most arthritis and other aches and pains.
Years ago while working in a nursing home I would see elderly people arrive in the home somewhat mobile and very cognitive. Sadly, within just a few months of not being encouraged to walk and move, the physical health of these people would diminish and their mental capacity would also decline very quickly.
Over the last few years I have an increased focus on flexibility in my practice. Most of the patients that come through my door with chronic back pain have significant decreased flexibility. I also see that there a direct correlation to flexibility and recovering from injuries. While everyone has heard that stretching is important, I cannot emphasize enough it’s importance. In order to stay healthy and young, we must all stay flexible!
Importance of Bends and Twists:
A big part of staying healthy is keeping our spine healthy. In order to do so, bending and twisting are extremely important. In between each of the vertebrae (bones in back) there are gel filled discs. These discs allow us to move and bend our spines. They also create space for the nerves from our spinal cord to travel out to the rest of our bodies. When discs start to degenerate, the space for those nerves decrease in size. This is often called, Disc Degeneration, Degenerative Disc Disease or Arthritis in the spine. To prevent this from happening everyone should incorporate regular bending and twisting into their routine. The discs in the spine are one of the very few things in our bodies that have no blood supply. To keep
them healthy we need to move. The bending and twisting of the spine actually pump nutrition in to the discs and waste out. As motion in the spine decreases, the discs slowly degenerate. This is why a yoga practice that includes traditional sun salutations and additional bending and twisting poses, is so good for the body. In fact, bending and twisting exercises should be a part of all exercise programs.
Yoga & Stress Management:
It is a popular misconception that doing yoga will remove all the stress from your life. Yoga is not a magic pill, because we always have a choice about how we respond to things. Yoga does
however have many benefits to help us deal with stress better, and can provide you with a new skill set to prepare you for when the stress shows up.
Yoga has shown to have calming affects on both the body and mind. By learning to consciously move and breath through the challenging parts of yoga or life, we are able to change our body and brain chemistry. Through deep stretching of muscles and joints, we are able to remove built up tension and stress stored in the body.
In Yoga we use a form a breathing called Ujjayi (pronounced oo-jai) breathing. It is a conscious breathing in and out of your
nose. It is not a natural way to breath for most people. It takes effort and concentration. Learning to slow down our breathing in times of physical stress (i.e. holding chair pose) we learn to better control our mind.
Our breath and mind are like a horse and it’s rider. Where the rider goes, the horse follows and where the horse goes, the rider follows. Where our breath goes, our minds follow and vice-versa. If we are anxious and breathing fast and shallow, our minds tend to be rapid and shallow. When our breath is long, deep and calm, our minds are calm. Therefore if we can calm our breath in times of stress, we learn to calm our minds in times of stress. Thus creating situations where we choose how we respond to things in life, rather than automatically reacting to everything around us.
While Dr. Todd practices and teaches Power Vinyasa Yoga, it may not be the answer for you. There are many different styles of yoga. It is important to listen to your body. Dr. Todd has created various Pod Casts for all types of levels and injuries. If the style feels too fast, or your body is just not agreeing with it, look into other more gentle styles of yoga. The most important thing to remember is that you don’t have to do it all and you can always modify or take rest. Yoga is not about “getting it all.” There is nothing to “get.” Yoga is about moving, stretching and experiencing your body and breath in a way that increases your overall health and awareness.
Be easy on yourself. If something does not feel right, don’t do it. There is a fine balance of pushing yourself and feeling a little discomfort and pushing your self and feeling an unhealthy pain. Only you know the difference.