How Yoga Nidra Saved Me From A Life Threatening Illness (Brandt’s Story)

namaskar

I was 30 years old, 100 pounds overweight and a very skilled four-pack-a-day smoker.

As a touring musician, this kind of lifestyle was supported. One day I was home doing some renovations and the next I was in intensive care with a rare autoimmune illness that was killing my red blood cells.

I was a mess, and the prognosis was grim. I was well enough to not be in the hospital, so eventually I was sent home—only my doctor expected me back in the hospital within a short period of time. (Read more at Elephant Journal where this was posted originally on February 3, 2016)

Yoga Therapy For Migraine Headaches

migraine

Approximately 28 million people in the U.S. alone suffer from migraines. Migraine symptoms include an intense throbbing headache (often in one spot in the head) and possibly nausea and vomiting. Migraines can last for hours or days making them debilitating for many sufferers. There is debate as to what causes these headaches. Common ideas are blood sugar, hormonal changes, food triggers, and muscle tension.

When a migraine is acute, yoga therapy doesn’t have much to offer. The most common remedy is to be in a dark, quiet space and possibly take pain killers. However, yoga therapy can be a very helpful paradigm as a preventative measure. One way yoga might help with migraines is to release tension in the muscles that contribute to neck and head tension. Releasing the muscles of the chest, upper back, and neck can reduce migraine frequency in some people. Where yoga therapy really shines though, is regulating the pranic system and specifically the pitta dosha. When pitta is regulated, migraines can be decreased.

Pitta in ayurveda is associated with the fire element and finds it’s home in the belly area. When we are balanced that powerful energy circulates around the body and then finds it’s home in the belly. When imbalanced, this process doesn’t go so smoothly and health issues can be created. In this case we can think of it as the pitta getting stuck in the head and causing migraines. (If this description doesn’t work for your brain think of it as a simple metaphor for the thousands of biological processes that are occurring).

In a person where pitta tends to go out of balance, the trick to healing is consistent maintenance. This could be done with various yogic techniques which include movement (asana), breath work (pranayama), and meditation.

I’d like to look at how to balance Pitta with movement practice. (As shown in this practice) migrainesThe idea here is to catch up with that out of control pitta fire. To do this we have to work harder at first by doing sun salutes until we are warm in the entire torso but not in the head. In this way we become more sensitive to our internal fire being able to tell the difference, or stop before it goes to the head. Once we are sensitive to it we can slow down and allow the pitta to circulate properly. We then slow down with some poses that release back and neck tension, finally ending up in an inversion (legs up the wall) completely relaxed and balanced. In this way we teach our system how to use pitta properly and we become more regulated. This leads to reduced pitta deregulation and less migraines.

I’ve used this approach with clients and it has helped them tremendously. The most dramatic example was a young lawyer who went from being hospitalized for a 30 day migraine to using these ideas and being migraine free within months. I offer this example not as a guarantee, but to give hope to those suffering, an alternative approach to their migraines that may bring much needed relief.

Blessings – May we all be free of suffering!
Brandt

Yoga Therapy For That Darn Neck

Untitled drawing (2)I had a couple of “neck” clients in my office today. One came in for his arthritis. He said that he has always had pain in his neck around C7 (base of the neck). The other client has had constant pain in his neck near the occiput (base of the skull). And last week I had a client who was having trouble turning her head without pain. Obviously this neck thing is an issue.

Even though each person had a different story and complaint, they shared one thing: their posture was quite similar. Forward head – rounded shoulders. This is what is commonly referred to as upper cross syndrome. (See illustration)

We have all seen this in people. It is so incredibly common that it seems almost normal really. Computers, driving, etc… can easily leave us with this posture.

When all three of of my client’s postures were corrected, their symptoms diminished or vanished. Most interesting to me is the client with arthritis. He had seen a medical doctor and a physical therapist and was convinced that he was doomed because of his diagnosis. It literally took 2 minutes to correct his posture and get him completely out of pain.

For all of them, we needed to counter upper cross. This requires strengthening the muscles between the scapula. (think cobra pose) but we do this while tucking the chin. This strengthens the cervical flexors and releases the suboccipitals. There are many ways to strengthen those muscles in the back of the body and release the pectorals. The most important point is to focus on strengthening muscles that keep proper alignment without forcing the body into alignment it isn’t ready for.

My general approach looks something like this: moving and breathing then strengthening then stretching. Here is a very simple sequence using this method, keeping in mind that there are a dozen other sequences to achieve the same goal.

upper cross practice scan

As you can see, several rounds of moving and breathing prepare the joints for the static cobra (strengthening). We then spend 16 breaths stretching the pecs so that they get the message to lengthen. And that’s it. Keep it simple, clear and concise.

When we are using asana to help with physical problems, my opinion is not to get fancy. Better to be economical and clear. As yoga therapists, we work with our clients to empower them to fix their issue. I’ve seen this type of approach help hundreds of people suffering with neck issues. Yoga asana is really helpful and elegant if we let it be. If you are trying to help others or yourself, go for the most obvious remedy no matter how simple it might seem, and work from that place.

If that doesn’t work, call a Breathing Deeply Yoga Therapist and we will take it from there. 🙂

May we all find balance in ourselves,

Om Shanthi
Brandt

The Vagus Nerve

rsz_vagus-nerve

In this month’s New York Times health issue there was a really interesting article about current research being done on a medical device. This device physically goes around the vagus nerve and stimulates it. The vagus nerve is a part of the nervous system. When it is stimulated it turns on the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the part of our nervous system which is responsible for all things restorative including our healing, repair, and immune systems.

Researchers were initially surprised to find out that one can promote healing in this way. Yogi’s on the other hand have been working with this for centuries. It turns out that deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve. This in turn promotes proper sleep and good health. The yogic science of pranayama works with this fact to not only reduce anxiety and promote well being, but to actually heal conditions. In my yoga therapy practice, I regularly teach pranayamas for a wide range of conditions and I’m often questioned about why and how breathing can make problems better.

Of course we will never have as much funding for breath work as we might have for a medical device but I think it’s great for yoga therapy to be able make these connections to current research. Maybe when we see the price for these devices we will be more likely to take the cost effective route of visiting a Yoga Therapist for some breath instruction.

Brandt

Yoga and Arthritis

Yoga-for-Arthritis-Loosening-Tight-Joints “Can you tell me in layman’s terms why yoga might help with arthritis?”  

Yoga can be a particularly good choice for arthritis sufferers. The combination of gentle movement with strengthening and stretching muscle structures around joints can be really beneficial. In several studies about this, yoga has had a beneficial effect. Of course, all yoga isn’t the same so there are a few things to keep in mind.

 

Generally, moving is better than not moving when it comes to arthritis. There really isn’t a benefit to resting a joint. We are not made to be still. Not enough movement causes muscles to shorten and weaken which puts more stress on an already inflamed joint. The other side of this is that pounding on joints that are lacking cartilage, are inflamed, or otherwise unhappy is probably not the best idea. Therefore, a gentle to moderate yoga practice will help in finding the balance between these two extremes.

 

In my yoga and massage therapy practice, I have found it to be most effective to move in and out of yoga poses at first allowing the joint to be properly prepped for holding static positions. A difficult thing about exercising with arthritis can be striking the balance between being mindful of pain levels and working just enough to achieve a positive benefit. As you work in this way you are giving the mind plenty of opportunity to perceive levels of discomfort without immediately reacting. This will encourage proper muscle reactions and reduce the secondary problem some arthritis sufferers have with spasming and bracing muscles.

arthritis

I hope this helps – while you may not be able to “cure” your arthritis you certainly can change your experience and reduce pain significantly.

Brandt