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PostHeaderIcon How To Prevent Injuries and Maintain Longevity

Now that the New Year has started, some of you will be coming out of a hiatus due to holiday stress or illness. Others will be setting New Years goals by starting up a new fitness routine or athletic endeavor for the first time in a while. This puts you at high risk of getting injured. During my career as a fitness professional, I have many students and clients tell me about their injuries. Most of these injuries could have been avoided. A few years ago, I wrote an article about what to do in case of an injury. If you already have an injury, see a doctor and read this article by clicking the link below:

WHAT TO DO IN CASE OF AN INJURY

Today I am writing an article about how to prevent getting injured in the first place. If we can prevent injuries, we will achieve our fitness goals faster because injuries often cause us to stop our routines or exercise with less intensity. While planning out your fitness goals, keep these injury prevention tips in mind:

Leave your ego at the door:

Before you start your work out, resolve to leave your ego at the door. I’ve seen the ego monster trick many people into getting injured. Humbly ask for help if you don’t know how to use a piece of fitness equipment. Do the safer modification in a group fitness class if your gut tells you that the other move is too advanced, even if it hurts your ego. Don’t pile on more weights than you can lift just because you want to impress a sexy woman who is in the same room. Trust me, she’s not looking at how much weight your lifting. Don’t compromise form in order to get the fastest time in the crossfit class. All of these things can get you hurt. The truth is, people don’t care what you are doing. They are worried about their own workout, so put your ego in her place and use common sense.

Always use proper form, especially when dealing with weights:

I have a rule that keeps me safe: If I can’t lift a weight with proper form, I don’t. Bad form puts your spine and joints in a weak position and adding weights to bad form will exasperate muscle imbalances, causing chronic stress and injuries. If you can’t squat with proper form, work on your muscle imbalances first, before you add weights. Find out why you can’t do it with good form. Maybe you have to achieve more flexibility in your shoulders. Maybe you can do a squat with good form, but once you add 100 pounds, your knees start to go way over your toes. That’s when you know that you’ve reached your limit. Give yourself time to get stronger before you add more weight. Maybe you can do 10 squats with good form, but after 11, you start to slouch. Then you know that it is time to take a break at 10. As soon as you lose your form, your muscles have given up and your joints will start experiencing wear and tear.

Achieve mastery one step at a time:

We learn to walk before we can run. When implementing fitness into your life, don’t attempt to run five miles on your first day, if you’ve never walked a mile in your life. Take into account what you are capable of doing and gradually add to that. If you are smart, your goal is to get fit for life. Set long term goals and take it one step at a time. This will prevent injuries and burn out. It will also make you more likely to stick to a fitness lifestyle permanently. After all, if you do it for only three months, you will go back to being unhealthy as soon as you stop. Add a bit more every two weeks to one month at a time.

Always warm up and cool down:

Years ago I got injured because I was a receptionist at a small yoga studio. I was allowed to check everyone in and take the last yoga class, but I had to walk in a few minutes late. I got an adjustment to my down dog before I had even warmed up. I got hurt. It may not seem like a big deal, but jumping into heavy weights or high intensity moves before your body is ready can get you hurt. If you don’t understand the science of warming up, please read my post on proper warm ups here:

WARM UP FOR INJURY PREVENTION AND ENHANCED PERFORMANCE

Balance–Always work the opposing muscles:

Our muscles tense up and get shorter in order to move our bones. For example, our biceps will shorten in order to flex our elbows in a bicep curl. When this happens, our triceps will lengthen and relax because it is on the other side. If we keep doing bicep curls without doing triceps extensions, we will have short and tight biceps and weak and long triceps. This is why we should work both muscles. If you do bench presses without doing rows, you will have short and tight pectorals which will cause your shoulders to turn in and may lead to a hunch back. Therefore, always do rows in order to strengthen your upper back and provide flexibility to your pectorals. If you always do abdominal crunches without working out your lower back, you will have tight abdominals which can cause your lower back to round excessively due to having a long and weak lower back. These imbalances can cause chronic pain and injuries, so always strengthen and stretch the opposite muscle groups.

Balance your fitness:

Speaking of balance, make sure that you aren’t overdoing it in one area of fitness and completely slacking in another. Our bodies need stability in order to protect our ligaments and joints. Therefore, only stretching without strengthening and stabilizing can cause loose ligaments and weak joints. However, only strength training without stretching can cause muscle stiffness and stress. Cardio and aerobic fitness helps circulate our blood, increasing our ability to recover. It also gives us stamina and strengthens our heart. In order to stay balanced and healthy, we need to balance out our fitness.

Learn to differentiate muscle pain from joint pain:

A gold medalist once said that our muscles protect our joints. Once you feel that your joints are in pain, stop. This means that your muscles have given up and you are just putting stress on your joints. If you run without overdoing it, the cartilage in your knees will actually get stronger. However, if you push through joint pain, you will hurt yourself and wear out the cartilage in your knees and hips. I have been applying this rule to my life for years. This is also a great tip because most of the complaints I hear from students regarding injuries are joint injuries due to overuse. Overuse injuries can be avoided if we stop when we are supposed to.

Vary your training:

I stated earlier that we achieve mastery one step at a time. Try not to stop at step one or two. If you do the exact same exercise for many years, you could still get hurt. Maybe the first time you did a particular routine, you felt massive changes in your body, so you kept doing it for years. Then one day, there is an emergency that requires you to move in a different way. Since your body has been programmed to move the exact same way for years, you get injured. The brain and the body are connected by a vast system, but habit can cause some connections to disappear completely.

I also suggest you practice functional moves so that you can use them in everyday life, such as learning proper technique for picking things up off the floor so you don’t hurt your back. Learn to use your muscles in different planes of motion because you just might need to move that way during an emergency. I have had students thank me many times because the moves I taught them have helped them in emergency situations. As I get older, I become more reliant on cross training because my body can’t handle doing the same moves everyday. Moving in different directions gives some of my muscles opportunities to rest while I work out others. Remember, the fitter you are, the less likely you will be severely hurt during an accident. So in order to keep from getting hurt, stay fit.

Weigh the risk of competition:

Many people get hurt during competition but some will say that it was worth it. Before you are about to break your ankle while crossing the finish line in tenth place, weigh the risk of competition and know how far you are willing to go to win. A professional athlete makes millions of dollars putting his body on the line and has the best orthopedic surgeons at his disposal. You have to ask yourself if finishing that marathon or getting beaten up in an amateur cage match is worth the risk of injuring yourself and being out of commission . Ask yourself why you are competing. If you join a marathon to lose weight but break a leg and gain all the weight back, is it worth it? Maybe winning a competition is a life long dream that you are willing to sacrifice everything for. Only you can decide what is best, but definitely premeditate on the risks before you go in the field. Then you will know if it is okay to risk it all and when to ease off and let someone else take the spotlight. Of course, if you want to reduce your chance of getting injured during competition, train smart. Strengthen your muscles so they are ready for the abuse they are about to take. Don’t compete without practicing and training like an athlete. I’ve seen many weekend warriors break bones or wreck their bodies because they competed without training for the event.

Don’t forget recovery:

Make sure you are getting enough nutrients for growing muscles and for recovery. Make sure you are giving your muscles adequate rest and time to adapt, and that you are getting enough sleep in order to avoid overuse injuries or fainting episodes caused by fatigue or low blood sugar.

For a short post on recovery, consistency and why some people practically kill themselves but still don’t improve check out this link:

WHY AM I NOT IMPROVING

PostHeaderIcon Be Kind, For Everyone You Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle.

Today, I took a yoga class with Chaz Russ and burst into tears in happy frog pose… again. The first time this happened, I was taking a hip opening class with Vinnie Marino at the Wanderlust Yoga and Music Festival.

The trauma I hold in my hips, thighs and lower back stem from abuse, fear, poverty, anger and athletic injuries in the past. Some of these issues go back years and are invisible to me until I focus all my attention on those areas. When I indulge in my own practice, and experience my own pain, I become more compassionate towards everyone else living in this world who ever had to suffer. I become so grateful that I found the yoga path and that I share the same room with people who are going through the same thing. Years ago, I thought I was alone.

There is a famous quote that has been attributed to Plato and John Watson (aka, Ian MacLaren) that goes: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

This quote is my mantra of teaching. It is also the hardest part of teaching. I know that people come to class expecting to suffer. I know how hard it is to have a body that might have been neglected or traumatized by injuries, aging or disease. The courage that it takes to focus on something that most people choose to ignore is immense. When we challenge ourselves with any fitness regimen, we have to face our greatest weaknesses. We have to fight the demons and the shadows that put us down because we aren’t as energetic as athletes, or strong as superheroes or beautiful as supermodels.

When I say, “isn’t this fun?” while teaching a class. It’s a bit of a Zen koan. I am poking light at our suffering. After all, I wouldn’t want to make things worse. Also, I’m sending you a subliminal message that will hopefully make you want to come back. Yes, I know it’s not always fun but if I can shift your awareness for a moment by saying this, sometimes your grimace turns into a smile and when this happens, it makes my day. I think there is a reason why the pose that makes me cry is called “happy” frog. These funny names are chosen to make light of our struggles. Even though we have to face ourselves and our suffering, we don’t necessarily have to dwell on them.

A woman once told me that she was cycling up a mountain and really struggling to get to the top. She said that when she reached the peak, she heard my voice in her head saying “wasn’t that fun?” I was so pleasantly amused by this story. I am happy that she heard me say this over anything negative.

That being said, I still understand that we are all fighting our own battles, whether mental or physical, outward or inward, in public or in private. When you come to me with your questions and ask me about the trauma you experience in your body, I am grateful because it makes me realize that I am not alone in dealing with my own trauma.

Ian MacLaran expressed this state of compassion well when he said:

This man beside us also has a hard fight with an unfavouring world, with strong temptations, with doubts and fears, with wounds of the past which have skinned over, but which smart when they are touched. It is a fact, however surprising. And when this occurs to us we are moved to deal kindly with him, to bid him be of good cheer, to let him understand that we are also fighting a battle; we are bound not to irritate him, nor press hardly upon him nor help his lower self.

I shall put my heart on my sleave share an excerpt from my diary. This was written a couple of years ago, after experiencing a huge crying fit during Vinnie Marino’s hip opening class:

He had us sit with one leg bent back and the other straight to the side and we had to fold into the center.  I don’t know why it hurt so much.  Probably ’cause I actually hurt myself a while ago, long story.  I found myself adjusting myself a lot and then it happened.  This uncontrollable sobbing just spewed from me.  It wasn’t sorrowful.  I hadn’t just dealt with loss.  I honestly can’t say what it was that made me cry but I cried and cried and continued with the class.  I’ve cried before in yoga. I cried once during shavassana after doing a heart opening workshop.  But this was half way through an hour and a half class, and the funny thing was, I couldn’t stop crying.  I was in a class of a hundred, in a huge tent overlooking the mountains.  Everyone was in their own world on their mat.  I didn’t stop crying until the end of class.

The teacher just gave us the poses and let us experience them.  He played very specific folky music with very significant lyrics.  Almost as if the songs were guiding us through.  I remember lyrics that dealt with letting go, with being okay with who we are.  One song said, “I know you’re in love.  I can see it in you.”  He didn’t have to explain anything.  The crying didn’t stop and I was okay with it.  I was breathing deeper than I ever did in my life as I struggled through the poses, yet I wasn’t struggling.  I was letting go of something that had wanted to be released for a long time. I once wrote in a blog that we are in love with everyone we have ever been and change is hard even if we are changing for the better, but its okay.  We’ll change when we’re ready.  I would deepen my poses, then ease off, then deepen them.  I kept breathing and experiencing everything and I felt that nothing else mattered than that moment and the crying was ecstatic almost.  I couldn’t be happier.

At some point, the teacher made us do happy frog and Danny started sobbing too.  I don’t know if it was because I was.  At the end of the class, I learned that other people had cried and Danny also didn’t know why he cried.  It just happened.  This was one of the most profound yoga experiences I ever had because it was completely out of my intellect.  It was pure acceptance and experiencing.  The only thoughts that went through my head was that I’m okay and that everyone is okay.  It was complete non-judgment and I loved everyone in that moment and it was okay if they were ready or not ready and it was good enough if they tried and I thought of my friends who were struggling with one issue or another and I thought, “they’re okay.”  No one was at fault for anything.  I also thought that we could all put our energy towards self destruction or doing things that would lead to growth, like yoga.  I felt cleansed after that.  That was the true beginning of my vacation, a real shift from my everyday tasks.

PostHeaderIcon Yoga and the Art of Letting Go

Last week, I took a yoga class with Chaz Russ for the first time. Chaz quoted Joseph Cambpell in the beginning of class by saying, “we must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”

Chaz explained that a caterpillar must, one day, shed its skin in order to become a butterfly. If we are to mature and grow in life, we must “shed our old skin.”

We tackled poses such as eagle or cow. We crossed our legs tight and bound our arms; so when we finally opened up and let go, it felt so good. I could feel myself shedding my skin, not just the trauma and stress I hold in my hips and shoulders, but the silly restrictions I have put on myself by planning out my life.

At a young age, I created an identity for myself. I was to be an edgy artist. After many years of hard work, I realized that the lifestyle of an actress didn’t suit me at all. This was my decision, yet I have found myself beating myself up for never making it.

I guess I’m at that midlife crisis age when we realize that we aren’t the person we always thought we were.  All the creative visualizing that I have done in the past, regarding who I was going to be in the future got shattered by the lessons I learned along the way. I’m so much more now, than the person I ever thought I could be.

I never knew I would grow up to be a fitness professional. I never imagined the growth and contribution I have achieved from completely re-inventing myself.

So, I ask myself, does it matter if I become a successful billionaire if all I cared about was that goal and learned nothing along the way? Or is it the quality of the journey itself that matters?

How did I love? Did I appreciate life? Did I enjoy the view or was I so preoccupied by my plans for the future that I missed out on all the little moments in between?

Do I bind myself to identities and expectations the way I bind myself in my poses? Do I sometimes forget to release the bind, let go and open up?

Am I so set on sticking to one path that I lose my sense of the adventure, forgetting that other paths may open up?

I am reminded to enjoy the feeling of my yoga practice, to appreciate the serenity and peace that it brings me, and not to beat myself up just because every pose isn’t perfect.

PostHeaderIcon Don’t Hold Your Breath

“Fatigue… muscle aches and pains, sighing and yawning, poor concentration, headaches, insomnia, chest pain, dizziness, feelings of panic or loss of control, gastric reflux, pins of needles, bad breath, bloating, anxiety etc.  If you look at these things, think of the drugs that are being sold for those symptoms on a daily basis.  It’s in the millions and millions and millions, potentially billions of dollars potentially a day just due to the symptoms of faulty breathing.  Remember breathing is chi cultivation and breathing is the most primal form of movement there is so learning to breath is the first step of learning to move.”—Paul Chek

When I was a young girl and I played my Jane Fonda aerobics tape, I would laugh whenever she said the words, “don’t forget to breath.”  It seemed like such a simple and automatic thing.  After working in the fitness industry, I have learned why she always says this.  People hold their breath all the time and this can lead to hyperventilation.  The worst thing we can do is starve our body for oxygen.  How we breathe determines how much energy we get and therefore, how much energy we have.

Studies have shown that only 50% of people use their full lung capacity.  When the body is starved for oxygen, it goes straight into flight and fight mode, otherwise known as stress.  When we are too tense to breath deep or when we are gasping for air during a workout, studies have shown that free radicals enter the body.  These toxins speed up the aging process.  This is counterproductive.

Below are some reasons why most of the population does not breathe properly:

--Improper posture: Our spine moves with our breath and our posture determines how much oxygen we intake.

Tense muscles around the back and lungs: When our ribs, abdominals and shoulders are tight, air becomes unable to fill in our lungs.  Our muscles and organs are designed to move flexibly and expand as air enters our body.  Muscle imbalances from bad posture or strengthening some muscles more than others can cause this.

Stress: Stress causes us to panic and start breathing through our mouths, making our breath quick and panicky.  This causes the breath to become shallow so it doesn’t reach the deeper receptors in our lungs.  Most amateurs breathe through the mouth when they try to run fast or workout hard.  However, if you watch the fastest athletes in the world, you’ll see that their breath is controlled and smooth, allowing them to intake more oxygen so they can move efficiently.

For some of us, it is difficult to think of how to breathe while moving.  For these types, taking extra time to understand the breath is crucial. Just understanding how to inhale and exhale while lifting weights means the difference between having enough oxygen and energy to fuel our workouts and not having the energy to make massive improvements.

By learning how to breathe properly, we can cure ourselves of anxiety, stress and fatigue.  On a higher level, by learning breath control, we can use the breath to control the subconscious mechanisms of our body such as heart rate, blood pressure, and the autonomous nervous system.  This can bring us incredible power and self-healing and athletic abilities.

Try these exercises at home to test your breathing capacity:

Lie down on your back and relax.  Let go of any need to control your breath.  Just rest your hands right below your belly button and feel how naturally the breath rises and falls in your belly.  If your belly does not rise and the breath is in your chest, you are a shallow or reverse breather.  Most people will have the breath rising in their bellies.  Now stand up and put your hands on your belly and see if the breath still rises in the same area.  At this point, many people stop breathing in their bellies because they are not as relaxed while standing.  The key is to ease unnecessary tension in your body.  You might have to do some exercises or yoga poses to help relieve this tension.  You can also try deepening your belly breath while lying on your back and then imitating the feeling while standing.

Some people are reverse breathers.  This is a disorder that is caused by sucking in your abdominals while you breathe in.  The abdomen should expand as you breathe in so the air has room to enter.  Reverse breathers do not allow air to travel to their diaphragm and get less oxygen than they should be getting. If you are a reverse breather you may have to learn some exercises to free the energy blockages in your body so you can breathe naturally.

This second exercise helped me tremendously in regards to applying proper breathing to cardiovascular exercise.  Many people deal with poor breathing during intense exercise due to nervousness or unnecessary tension while working out the heart.  To help cultivate your breath while active try this:  While you walk, count how many steps you take while inhaling and exhaling through the nose.  Try to increase the number of steps per one complete breath.  If you can take one full breath over 18 steps, you have great respiratory fitness.

This month, I will be holding a workshop on mastering the breath.  Click the “events” section above for more information

By Rhea Morales

PostHeaderIcon What To Do In Case of an Injury

In all my classes, one of the the most frequently asked questions is what to do after an injury.  Today I am addressing this question with 3 basic steps:

Step 1: RICE:  When an injury has first occurred, the protocol we are all taught to use is R.I.C.E.  This stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation.

Step 2: Restore Mobility:  When swelling subsides and most of the tissue has healed, we start to move that area again in order to retrain the damaged tissue.

Step 3: Restore strength, stability and flexibility to the area and scar tissue.

On step 1: Often a person might over do it. They hurt their muscle and want to fix it right away.  They wonder if they stretch it, would it get better?  If you had a torn rubber band and you stretch it, would that heal the tear?  The best thing to do when you feel you might have torn a muscle is absolutely nothing.  Movement can aggravate an injury and we must give the body a chance to heal.  This is why REST is the first step.  We ICE the area for no longer than twenty minutes on and off to reduce swelling.  Sometimes we COMPRESS the area by providing a brace or wrap to prevent the area from moving and aggravating the injury.  ELEVATE the area if you can to restrict blood flow and swelling.  For example, if you sprained an ankle, put your feet up.  The first stage can last from one day to many months depending on the severity of the injury.

On step 2: The next step is to restore mobility.  Understand that the body is made to heal.  However we need to help it along.  When a muscle is injured, often the neurons that send messages to the brain become damaged.  We need to move that area to restore our reflexes.  Also, movement brings blood flow and energy back to the area which will assist in healing.  In general, if the movement hurts, don’t do it.  You may still be damaged and you do not want to aggravate an injury.

On step 3: During the final step, take some time out of our week to restore strength, mobility, stability and flexibility to the area.  If we do not do this, our damaged tissues may have healed but they will stay weak.  Because they are weak, they will be more likely to get re-injured.  Also, babying one area of the body may cause muscle imbalances as we over compensate by making our healthy muscles and bones work harder.  This too, can lead to more injuries.  A good physical therapist should work with you and provide you with proper exercises to bring strength and mobility back to your injured area.  This may include massage (to soften inflexible scar tissue), weights (to bring strength back to weakened areas), balance poses (to restore stability and balance and to help protect joints), static stretches (to restore length to muscles and tendons), and movements (to restore mobility).

If injuries do not get better, the cause could be one of four reasons:

Reason 1:  The injury ‘caused major damage such as bulging discs that pinch on nerves, a muscle that tore completely off or  a dislocation that needs to be corrected.  This may require the attention of a medical specialist or surgery.  It is always smart to get testing done such as x-rays or an MRI right away so that you know exactly what is wrong.  If you know what is wrong, you and your doctor will have a more solid idea of what to do about it.

Reason 2:  Not giving the injury a chance to fully recover or coming back too strong.  Some injuries take longer to heal than others.  Returning to a fitness routine too quickly will not give the body a chance to heal.  Overuse injuries are caused by never giving your body enough rest.

Reason 3:  Improper alignment.  Doing an exercise improperly, such as squatting and lunging while letting the knees bend over the toes, can exasperate a condition.  Talk to an expert and make sure you are doing all of your movements correctly.

Reason 4: Failure to effectively warm up and cool down.  warm ups lubricate the joints and send blood to the area you will be exercising.  Some warm ups are necessary to recruit more muscle fibers.  Cool downs gradually take blood out of the area to avoid cramping, swelling and stress to the muscles and heart.  Starting and ending an intense work out too suddenly can be dangerous.

By Rhea Morales

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PostHeaderIcon Turning Stress Into Strength

With her permission, Ellie Miraftabi, MFT. Ph.D. has been gracious enough to allow me to post her article on my website.  Ellie is a licensed psychotherapist and coach.  Thanks for contributing, Ellie!

Turning stress into Strength

By: Ellie Miraftabi, MFT. Ph.D.

Today I want to discuss self-care and turning stress into Strength. More psychologists recognize that self-care helps them be better caregivers.

There are self-care basis –eating right, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly – and more luxurious ones. Using them all

If you do just one thing, make it exercise.   Psychologist’s research and clinical experience show the critical importance of weaving exercise into your life. Research on the topic overwhelmingly points to its physical and mental benefits: Not only does regular exercise improve physical problems such as diabetes and high cholesterol, but it has distinct mood and cognitive advantages as well, including ability to combat depression and anxiety. Treat yourself to a massage and /or learn to massage your neck, shoulders, and feet.

Do any one of your favorite sports, especially one that involves a pretty setting such as skiing, sailing, or horseback riding on scenic trails. As you engage in the physical activity, pay special attention to the sensory experiences that are involved. Be conscious of every sense –sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.

Cultivate your mind, bodies and spirits through exercise, meditation, a balanced diet and self directed thinking, instead of reacting to outward pressures to advance professionally. This approach comes from various aspects of Buddhism, including:

  1. Nonjudging. Get beyond thinking of people and situations as good or bad. Achieve a more neutral, observant state, often with the help of meditation.
  2. Patience. Set a steady pace. Think before acting, Avoid quick or automatic reactions.
  3. A beginner’s mind. Open your mind. Listen to and learn from others.
  4. Trust. Start by trusting people. Only distrust them when you have valid reason to.
  5. Acceptance. Recognize that some people and things will be as they are.
  6. Letting go. Know when to rest, to withdraw or to stop, and allow yourself to do. Nonstriving. Focus less on the future and more on the present moment and the job at hand.

Here is a collection of simple, common-sense strategies for transforming mental and physical tension in energy that is creatively and efficiently expressed.

    • Take time to be alone on a regular basis to prioritize your activities, reevaluate your goals, check your intentions, and listen to your heart.
    • Take a deep slow breath often, especially while on the phone, in the car, or waiting for something or someone. Use these moments to relax and revitalize yourself.
    • Do something each day that brings you joy, something that you love to do and that leaves you refreshed.
    • When you’re concerned about something, talk it over with someone you trust, or write down.
    • Say no when asked to do something you really don’t want to do.
    • Appreciate how everything changes from moment to moment. Welcome changes as an opportunity and challenge to learn and grow.
    • Take yourself to a beautiful natural setting such as a park, the beach, a lake, a river, or mountains. Focuse your eyes on the beauty around you. Pay attention to the array of colors in nature.
    • Visit a public garden. Let your eyes roam over the flowers and exotic plants. Go up very close to the flowers and examine the petals and leaves. Look for the intricacy of design which is the hallmark of natures’ work.
    • Go to a movie or rent a video that has been praised for its cinematography. Pay particular attention to the scenery, the costumes, and the technical mastery of the film.
    • Go to a concert of your favorite music. Close your eyes and marvel at the blending of sounds and rhythms.
    • Learn a variety of relaxation techniques and practice at least one regularly.
    • Become more aware of the demand you place on yourself, your environment, and others to be different than they (you) are at any moment. Demands are a tremendous source of stress.
    • If your schedule is busy, prioritize your activities and do the most important ones first.
    • When you read your mail, act on it immediately (e.g., files it, send it back, toss it, etc.)
    • Create and maintain a personal support system –people you trust and feel as ease with.
    • Take a soothing bath by candlelight. Bring a portable radio or tape player and play your favorite music softly. Perfume the bathwater with warm, scented bath oil or bubble bath. As you immerse yourself, focus on the pleasurable sensations you are experiencing
    • When sleeping, keep the room as dark as possible.

You don’t need to wait until you are in the mood to do these activities. Stimulate your sensory path ways precisely when you are not necessarily in the mood –when you are feeling down. By putting the behavior first, your mind and your mood will follow.

Get psychotherapy if you need or want it.

Dr. Ellie Miraftabi is a licensed psychotherapist who works with individual adults and couples in California. Her office is located in Moorpark. She also serves as a personal coach, assisting clients both inside and outside of California via phone in generating and reaching goals to improve their quality of life.
(805) 357-6855
elliemiraftabi@yahoo.com
www.moorparkcounseling

PostHeaderIcon Meditation (A Running Into Reality)

I’d like to address a common misperception I have heard from the public in their attitude towards meditation or people who meditate. This misperception is that practitioners of meditation are escapists. They meditate in order to escape reality. They escape to the mountains or to retreats in order to get away from things because they cannot handle life. This misperception is contradictory to the true meaning of meditation. To Quote Psychologist and Mindfulness Expert, Larry Cammarata, “meditation is not an escape from reality but a running into reality.”

Meditation is not worrying about what we said or what other people said in the past nor is it thinking so much about the future that you ignore what is happening in the here and now. It is not escaping reality by becoming addicted to a substance, cause, person or mindset. It is a running into reality. Meditation is focusing on one thing with utmost clarity. It is being aware of the present experience with acceptance.

Why is this important? Have you ever had a hard time focusing on one thing? Practitioners of meditation call this “suffering.” Often, we dwell on matters we have no power over. We dwell on our anger and insecurities. We can’t stop thinking about what this or that person said. We worry about our future and what needs to get done when we should be doing what needs to get done here and now. As a result, nothing gets done. Because of this, we feel guilty. This leads to more suffering. Meditation helps us end this suffering.

All meditation is, is focusing on the present moment without judgment. It is important that we do not judge ourselves or others because our “ego” can lead to suffering. In yoga class, if we take the focus away from our bodies or breath and focus on how the lady next to us has a much prettier pose than we do, we will suffer. This suffering will diminish if we focus only on our own breath and feel the workings of our own body. Putting extra focus on our yoga practice and not on our egos will lead to a more fulfilling practice and a sounder mind.

If we take some time out of the day to focus on something as simple as our breath, the mind will clear itself from other worries that cause us suffering. Studies have shown that sixty percent of our population does not breathe properly. Shallow breath can lead to many diseases such as high blood pressure, anxiety, and other stress related disorders.   By focusing our mind on something as simple as our breath, this can calm our physical anxiety. Our minds will also find stillness as we have taken our focus away from our worries.

If you have a problem that just keeps bothering you, meditate on that. It is amazing how running into reality can help us solve the root cause of the dilemmas that cause us so much suffering. During my yoga teacher’s training, we had an assignment to write about several meditations. Some of us meditated specifically on a problem that bothered us. Those of us who meditated on a problem either found the solution to the problem right away or learned that we never had a problem to begin with. Taking a few minutes out of the day to run into reality, saved us countless hours of worrying and suffering.

Another benefit of meditation is cortical thickening in the brain and growth of neurons. This shows that meditation strengthens the activity of the brain, creating mental hardiness. In terms of physical meditation, focusing on the present moment leads to physical hardiness. A great athlete is focused on nothing but the moment when he is scoring that winning goal. Future success is a byproduct of his ability to focus on the moment.

The best advice I have received on how to balance motherhood with my career was to focus on the present always. When you are with your family, put all your focus on them. When you are at work, put all your focus on your work. When you are relaxing, focus on relaxing. Organize your time so you know exactly when and what you should be focusing on. This philosophy worked for the successful woman who told me this and it has been working for me. Worrying about your job when you should be spending quality time with your kids is futile. Worry about your job when you are doing it. This is the key of living a fulfilling and stress free life.

As far as escaping reality goes, if you need to take time to yourself to sort things out, I can see nothing wrong with this. Sometimes our environment can be toxic and removing ourselves from it in order to find clarity can be an intelligent step to take. I have done this in my past and the experience has changed my life as it has helped me to know my true purpose.

So if you are brain fried from clutter, take one thing — anything, and focus on it. Try it and let me know how it goes.

By Rhea Morales

PostHeaderIcon Exercise for Stress Relief


Exercise for Stress Relief

Stress relief through exercise is not a new trend.  It may seem this way with all of the mind body movements that have made their way into the industry such as yoga, pilates and tai chi.  Keep in mind, however, that yoga and tai chi have been around for thousands of years.  Although, incorporating mindful awareness and breath to physical activity seems new to westerners, exercise has always been a form of stress release.  The mere act lifting weights requires much focus and breath work.

One does not need to be consciously meditating during exercise for it to be successful in relieving stress.  It happens naturally.  Stress is caused by our fight and flight responses.  Throughout our lives, we are bombarded by situations that make us want to fight or run away.  This comes from our primal instincts to run away from predators or fight them if need be.  However, the things we fear in modern society are not lions or bears so we suppress our instinct to run or fight.  The adrenalin that is released to help give us the boost of energy in order to react remains stagnant in the system and leads to stress.  Physical exertion allows us to use up the pent up energy that our adrenaline has released.  Most people feel refreshed and  relaxed after a workout.

Exercise also makes us less susceptible to stress.  How?  We  put stress on our body when we exercise. As a result, our muscles and heart get stronger.  When we are stronger, we can handle more.  We feel more confidant, and more capable.  The things that once winded us or made us sore such as walking up a hill or lifting a baby or become easier.

The downside is that sometimes we over train which can lead to burnout or injuries.  It is important to rest a muscle the day after you train it for strength so the muscle can heal and get stronger.  Also, it is important to eat a nutrient dense, balanced diet in order to give the body energy and provide it with recovery nutrients so it may heal and get stronger.  Sometimes we need to rest.  Sometimes we just need to take in some deep breaths and get away from the hassles of our lives.  If pushing yourself to the limit on the weight floor or the cardio machine becomes more of a chore than an escape, try a fun dance class, a relaxing yoga class, or maybe just a relaxing nature jog or walk.  Knowing how to relax is just as much a part of fitness as strength and aerobics training.

It is my belief that exercise is the greatest tool to help release stress.  Many people release stress through drinking or smoking.  Unlike these unhealthy escapes, there are countless benefits to exercise.

By Rhea Morales

PostHeaderIcon Seven laws of success


I was so inspired by Deepak Chopra’s Seven Law’s of Success that I broke down the laws for my students to read:

Law 1:
The law of Pure Potentiality:
“We are, in our essential state, pure consciousness. Pure consciousness is pure potentiality; it is the field of all possibilities and infinite creativity… When you discover your essential nature and know who you really are, in that knowing itself is the ability to fulfill any dream you have, because you are the eternal possibility, the immeasurable potential of all that was, is, and will be.”

Practice silence: water ripples example. “In silence, even the faintest intention will ripple across the underlying ground of universal consciousness, which connects everything with everything else. If your mind is like a turbulent ocean, you can throw the empire states building in it and you wouldn’t notice a thing”

Practice non-judgment. Judgment is the constant evaluation of things as right or wrong, good or bad. This constant classifying causes turbulence and can interfere with the stillness of pure awareness. Focus on your poses,

Wherever you go in the midst of movement, carry your stillness with you. Best way to do this is to clear out judgment.

Law 2:
The Law of Giving:
“If you want joy, give joy to others if you want love, learn to give love; if you want attention and appreciation, learn to give attention and appreciation; if you want material affluence, help others to become materially affluent.
Give to your yoga practice, what you wish to receive from it.

Law 3:
The Law of Karma or “Cause and Effect”
Karma is both action and the consequence of that action; it is cause and effect simultaneously, because every action creates a force of energy that returns to us in like kind. Be aware of your choices and responsible for them

“There is a very interesting mechanism that the universe has to help you make spontaneously correct choices. The mechanism has to do with sensations in your body. The body experiences two kinds of sensations: one is a sensation of comfort. The other is a sensation of discomfort. At the moment you consciously make a choice, pay attention to your body, and ask your body, ‘if I make this choice, what happens?’ If your body sends a message of comfort, that’s the right choice. If it sends a message of discomfort, then it’s not the appropriate choice.

Learn from your mistakes (from the karmic results of your actions)

Law 4:
The Law of Least Effort:
“When we harness the forces of harmony, joy, and love, we create success and good fortune with effortless ease”
This is the principle of least action and no resistance.

Observe the effortlessness of nature. “Grass doesn’t try to grow. It just grows.”
Do not fight nature. Take responsibility for yourself without becoming defensive or blaming others. Desist from defending your point of view. When you have no point to defend, you do not allow the birth of an argument.
Experience the present completely. “Only then will you be lighthearted, carefree, joyous and free.” Approach your practice from the level of happiness, not from the level of anxiety and fear.

Law 5:
The Law of Intention and Desire:
Refer to the first Law, the law of pure potentiality. Slip into your silent awareness.
While in this state, set your intentions and goals.
Let them go.
“Releasing your intentions and desires in the gap means planting them in the fertile ground of pure potentiality, and expecting them to bloom when the season is right. You do not want to dig up the seeds of your desires to see them growing, or get rigidly attached to the way they will unfold. You simply want to release them.”

Relinquish your attachment to an outcome. This means giving up your rigid attachment to a specific result and living in the wisdom of uncertainty. It means enjoying every moment in the journey of life even if you do not know the outcome.

Let the universe handle the details.

Law 6:
The Law of Detachment:
Relinquish your attachment to the known. Step into the unknown, and you will step into the field of all possibilities. Be alert and open to surprises, to problems and chaos. Understand that these are all opportunities. Good luck is nothing but preparedness and opportunity coming together. When you step into the field of all possibilities, you will experience all the fun, adventure, magic, and mystery of life.

Law 7:
The Law of “Dharma” or Purpose in Life.
Everyone has a purpose in life… a unique gift or talent to give to others.
And when we blend this talent with service to others, we experience the ecstasy and exultation of our own spirit, which is the ultimate goal of goals.

By Rhea Morales

PostHeaderIcon Demystifying the Chakras (from a hormonal perspective)

The practice of opening the chakras is a great mystery to many people who are curious about yoga. Most people are told that the chakras are spiraling energies or bright lights that run up the spine or the shashuma. In western medicine, we do not think of the body as a series of energy passages or meridians. We see it as a biological machine that is run by protons, electrons and energy reactions. In this article, I will attempt to explain the biological, physical and emotional significance of the chakras. I hope this will help demystify their reputation. Learning about the chakras was very enlightening for me and it truly helped me understand many things about my own personal spiritual and emotional blockages.
The Endocrine System:
The chakras are directly linked to the endocrine system which is the system in the body that controls the hormones. This is very important to note when we meditate on our emotional and spiritual blocks. Our hormones are chemical messengers that travel through the body, regulating the reactions that can affect everything from growth, metabolism, and emotion. Our hormones are created by the glands of the endocrine system and each chakra is like bioenergy that interacts with these important glands. We’ve all heard the saying, “she’s hormonal,” meaning, she is uncontrollably emotional. Our hormones need to function properly in order for our emotions to function properly. This physical link is important in our spiritual growth. Our physical, mental and emotional states are all interrelated as our mind, body, and hormones work together to create a healthy bio machine. Many of us have heard of the famous “seven chakras”. Some of us are taught that opening these chakras will lead to enlightenment. In trying to keep this subject easy to grasp, I’ll just say that once you understand how the chakras relate to our personal cycles, habits and repressions, it is easy to see why unblocking them can lead to higher awareness and a greater control of our destinies.

Chakra 1 Basic earth chakra (adrenal glands)
This chakra is located at the base of the spine where the adrenal glands reside. The adrenal glands are responsible for our flight and fight responses. When we are faced with a scary situation, our adrenal glands secrete hormones that make us very agitated or energetic. The purpose is to fuel our system so we can fight or run when danger is near. This chakra is blocked by fear. People who are blocked in this chakra are in a constant state of fear that they will not survive. Stress is a form of constant fear. It happens when the adrenal glands release hormones due to fear but those hormones are never put to use. The person does not fight or fly. So the stress stays in the body. This hormonal imbalance can put stress on the body and lead to high blood pressure. The best physical remedy to unblock the first chakra is to run or fight. Running, jogging, or martial arts help release the stress that the adrenals produce by doing what the hormones intended your body to do. Also, doing difficult yoga poses such as warriors, or balancing postures help teach us to be calm during difficult situations. It is important to breathe deep and steadily during these poses so the body understands that there is nothing to fear. This way we teach ourselves to stay calm in life and to only activate the adrenals when it is a true emergency. Breathing erratically or through the mouth is an example of fear breathing, an indication that you are more stressed than you think. The simple act of shallow breathing can cause stress hormones to be released as a survival mechanism due to lack of oxygen.
Emotionally, we need to meditate on our fears and learn to face them. We need to ask ourselves if the things we worry over are really worth worrying over. We also need to look at the things that traumatized us in the past. When similar things happen again, the body automatically overreacts. For example, if you had an abusive parent, meeting someone who reminds you of that parent might activate the adrenal glands and you might subconsciously over react due to past conditioning. Hip openers help to release fear because when we are afraid, we put our tail between our legs and our hips tighten in preparation for fight and flight. We hold our memory for survival in our hips and opening them helps to release these subconscious fears. Meditating on the first chakra can be very scary but it is important. Constantly living in fear will never help us reach our full potential. After all, there is more to life than mere survival.  Also understand that the emotion of anger is synonymous with fear.  We either respond with fear or anger (fight or flight) to our stressors.
When our earth chakra and adrenal hormones are healthy, we are calm, secure and grounded.

Chakra 2 water and sex chakra (testicles and ovaries)
This chakra is located in the abdomen, lower back, and sexual organs. The hormones that are released from this gland are responsible for the creation of life and the propagation of our species. All biological organisms have the need to survive. Once we have found a way to survive, we must procreate. So the first two chakras are known as the lower or instinctive chakras. They represent our most animalistic reactions and desires. When we think of the second chakra, we also think of creation and creativity. When this chakra is blocked, we feel stagnant and inflexible. We are afraid of change. Often, we are blocked by shameful dogma about sex and propriety. This chakra can also be blocked by past sexual abuse.
A great physical exercise for unblocking this chakra is Latin dancing, belly dancing, hula dancing or any kind of exercise that moves the hips and lower abdominals. This helps release passion or creativity. This helps to spiral the energy of the second chakra. Hip openers and lower spinal twists are important in keeping this area from becoming stagnant. People with a healthy water chakra can achieve great sexual fulfillment in their intimate relationships and tap into their creative resources when times get tough.

Chakra 3 The solar plexus or fire chakra (The pancreas)
This chakra is located in the solar plexus. This chakra is known as the “seat of the soul” or the power chakra. It is connected to the pancreas which releases insulin and glucagon. When this chakra is blocked, it can lead to diseases such as diabetes and high cholesterol. Overindulgence in carbohydrates and the typical American diet has lead to a great rise in these diseases. Emotionally, this chakra represents ego, self confidence and power. When this chakra is balanced, we feel self confident and strong in our identities. It is no wonder that in a country full of people with pancreatic disorders that we also see a problem with insecurity and people not being sure of whom they are. This chakra is our fire, the light that keeps us going. When it is dim, we turn to other people to find this light. We might feed off of the energy of others and become very impressionable to their influence. We might act overly confident in order to compensate for an imbalance in our personal fire. When this chakra is clear, we feel worthy and true to ourselves. The power chakra is blocked by doubt.
We can physically strengthen this chakra by doing abdominal work and core strengthening exercises such as Pilates and power lifting. Also, exercises that increase our stamina such as long distance running, bicycling, aerobics or iron man training help to strengthen our inner spirit. Yoga postures such as boat pose help to strengthen our abdominals and help us find inner strength. Cutting out excess sugar and processed carbohydrates help us balance this chakra as this kind of eating is toxic to the pancreas.
Emotionally, we can strengthen this chakra by meditating on our inner light. bellows breath helps to heat up this area as does any kind of deep diaphragmatic breathing. Mentally, we need to ask ourselves who we are, what we want and what our purpose is.
This third chakra is the transition between our lower instincts and our higher states of awareness. Our lower chakras help us deal with survival but when we start to open up higher chakras, we begin to rise above our need to get by and start to live up to our greater purpose.

Chakra 4, the heart or air chakra (Thymus Gland)
This chakra is located in the sternum and is associated with the thymus gland. This chakra represents how we accept ourselves and others. The thymus gland is responsible for releasing t-cells. T-cells are responsible for regulating our immune system. When this chakra is blocked, it can lead to weakened immune system and poor circulation. Emotionally, this chakra is blocked by grief and disappointment. If you’ve ever been through grief or disappointment, you know how this can greatly impair our immune responses. Illness often follows. A person with a blocked fourth chakra is afraid of opening his heart to others. Often, a hunchback can develop due to a need to keep the heart chakra protected. A person with a weak fourth chakra can say cruel things just to keep others away and might make the mistake of assuming the worst of people and of themselves.
People with strong heart chakras tend to stand tall. They are accepting of people’s follies and are quick to forgive. Rather than judging others for being crabby etc., they are good at lifting other people’s spirits no matter who they are by flooding them with compassion. They love deeply and have a great sense of peace and serenity.
We can stimulate this chakra physically by strengthening our upper torso. Pull ups and rows are great at strengthening the back so we can stand tall and keep our heart chakra open. Stretches that open the heart such as cobra or upward facing dog help to keep the shoulders from deteriorating. It helps to breath into the ribs to help keep that part of our bodies soft and pliant.
Mentally we can open our hearts by meditating on our loved ones. We must learn to accept our grief and understand that the power of love is infinite and does not die when our loved ones are gone. Living a life without love due to fear of being hurt is no way to live. We all have a responsibility to others and to the universe. When dealing with disappointment, we must meditate on forgiveness. Meditate on using what you’ve learned from those you loved and accept them. Accept the fact that no one is perfect and that we can only do as much as we can with what we know at this time. This is a painful experience, but it is an important step in accepting ourselves and others.

Chakra 5, Throat and sound chakra (thyroid glands)
This chakra is located in the throat and is associated with communication, experiencing the world through vibrations and how we speak and listen. Although it is located in the throat, it is strongly associated with the ears. It is associated with the thyroid glands which releases hormones that regulate the metabolism, bone growth and body heat. People with a blocked throat chakra tend to feel “choked up”. They have a hard time expressing themselves and saying what they mean. They have issues with what they say and are afraid of being judged for being who they are. This can lead to jaw and neck tension. This tension can travel to the shoulders and produce shoulder pain. This chakra is blocked by lies. A person with a blocked sixth chakra might have a hard time being honest due to their fear of judgment.
People with a healthy throat chakra are very aware of the power of words. They speak eloquently and listen intently. They are in tune with subtle vibrations, so how a person speaks is just as important as what they say. They have a resonant quality about them. They are honest and trustworthy and upfront about their actions.
Physically, we can strengthen this chakra with neck stretches. It helps to loosen the jaw, face and neck with massage. Tongue stretches such as lion’s breath help to stimulate our articulation. Shoulder stand and fish pose help stimulate the thymus gland. Chanting ohm or any mantra and focusing on their vibrations help to stimulate this chakra. Ouijai or throat breathing wakes up this chakra
Mentally, we need to listen to how we express ourselves. We must ask ourselves if how we speak is working. If it isn’t, are we approaching what we say properly? Are we listening carefully to others? It helps to listen and think before we speak and ask what this person is really trying to say. Face your fear of being ridiculed and understand that being afraid of expressing ourselves is no way to live. Being understood and having the power to influence others with what you have to say is a great and powerful gift.

Chakra 6, the third eye or light chakra (Pituitary gland)
This chakra is also known as the famous third eye. It is responsible for sight. Its main gland is the pituitary gland which is located at the base of the brain and is also known as the “master gland” as it helps regulate the entire endocrine system. It is responsible for many functions such as growth, blood pressure, breast milk production, water regulation and metabolism. Also, the sixth chakra regulates all of the other chakras. Being aware of our other chakras helps us see the big picture. People with a strong third eye are intuitive and have great foresight. They also have the ability to see the big picture and are not blocked by their own ego or the obstruction of other blocked chakras. This chakra is blocked by illusion. One illusion is that everything is separate and this illusion can block our ability to connect with the universe and with nature. People become deluded when they judge people and concepts by race, creed, color or culture. We must learn to use our sight by looking deeper and seeing people for who they are. By understanding human nature and nature in general, we are more aware of the true workings of the universe. This can give us the appearance of being psychic.
You can stimulate this chakra physically by doing child’s pose. If your forehead doesn’t touch the floor, you can put a pillow or block under it so it may feel stimulated. Any kind of inversion that brings the blood to the brain helps to stimulate this chakra. Symbolically, inversions turn us upside down and help us see the world through a different perspective, thereby increasing our sight.
Mentally, we can open this chakra by closing our eyes and meditating on a light on our brow. Clearing our minds help to unblock our perspective. Reading is a great mental exercise as are games such as chess that help us to think out of the box. Any kind of philosophy or contemplation helps us to see the big picture and it is always good to ask many questions.

Chakra 7, the crown or thought chakra (The Pineal Gland)
I’ve heard people say that the aura of the seventh chakra looks like a halo. In paintings, we see great saints depicted with a halo over their head showing us that their seventh chakra has been activated. The saints of the past all did something of great significance. Keep in mind that opening the seventh chakra does not mean that you will have so much understanding of the universe that you will no longer care about anything. In contrast, you will understand your place in the cosmos and will fulfill your destiny happily and conflict free. This chakra connects us with the cosmos in its entirety. When strong, it brings us spiritual understanding, wisdom, purpose and bliss. It is related to the pineal gland which is responsible for our sleep wake patterns. It regulates our biological cycles and how they relate to the seasons. When this chakra or gland is weak, we feel out of sync, have problems sleeping and have a weakened immune system. We might have problems with our brain and suffer from hallucinations. This chakra is blocked by our attachments. When we attach ourselves to people, things, places, memories etc. we find it hard to flow with our cycles and do what it is we were put in this earth to do. We might attach our self to an addiction for fear of seeing things as they are. Once we let go of these attachments, our blindfold is taken away and we see the universe for what it is. This is a beautiful sight to behold. We must not be afraid of it.
Physically we can strengthen this chakra by doing inversions. Head stand or forward bend with crown of the head on the floor stimulates this chakra.
Mentally we can stimulate the seventh chakra by asking ourselves big questions about our place in the cosmos. Studying time and quantum physics and finding ways to compare them to mundane aspects of life such as family, health and governing helps us to understand the oneness of everything. Meditating on our attachments and asking ourselves why we think we need the things we do help us to see the difference between addiction and true love. Let go of the need to find an end to your journey by entertaining ideas such as enlightenment as a final goal. Understand that the cycle of life and the energy that makes us what we are is infinite and eternal.  This chakra is associated with “Samandhi” The state of pure bliss, a step above deep mediation.  In this state, we are one with the universe.  We let down the boundaries of the ego.  We do not just see or understand.  We know.

When meditating on the chakras, start from the bottom up, making sure that our survival and biological needs are met and moving on to our higher purposes from there.  I hope that this information helps you to understand others and why they may not be as enlightened as you. Sometimes we are born with a perfectly functional system but it is disrupted by illness, injuries, abuse or other kinds of trauma. You might have had an open heart chakra at one time but it became damaged due to the betrayal or loss of a loved one. So opening the chakras can often be an ongoing practice. I’m hoping this information can be something people can keep for reference in times of change. I find that when we are lost, meditation can bring us back to a place of stillness and I like to give people the kind of knowledge that can help them help themselves.

By Rhea Morales

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