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Archive for the ‘Yoga’ Category

PostHeaderIcon Release Neck and Shoulder Tension

Today, I’d like to address a subject that I see a lot in people, shoulder and neck tension. Many have told me that this is getting in the way of their fitness goals. I also see a large amount of shoulder injuries due to lack of strength and flexibility in the rotator cuffs. Another cause of injury is that many people use bad form due to lack of posture awareness or muscle imbalances that have not been addressed. Lack of core strength ’causes people to overcompensate by straining their neck and shoulders. Lifting weights adds stress to an already dislodged area, aggravating the issue. Another reason this has become such an epidemic is because people simply do not know how to relax. Living in a “no pain, no gain,” society has made us tense up, thinking that holding on to stress will somehow get us somewhere.
How did this happen and how can we address these issues?

Unfortunately, many of these problems start in elementary school where children are forced to sit in chairs for long periods of time. These chairs are rarely created to fit their size. They are also forced to carry heavy back packs. Sadly, I see many teenagers enter my classes with the kyphotic hunch of an older adult. To make matters worse, children grow up to be adults who live sedentary lifestyles, often making a living by sitting at a desk, hunched over a screen. A reliance on texting and portable devices has developed a society of people who spend more time hunching over a screen than they do anything else, not to mention the fact that we drive this way as well. If you watch a a toddler or pre-schooler crawl, walk, squat, lunge and pick things up of the floor, you will find they use perfect form. The imbalances start when television, video games, and forced chair sitting creep into their everyday lives.

Until recently we have evolved to move our shoulders, to hunt, throw and dig with our upper bodies. In our modern society, a lack of proper movement has caused the muscles that support our scapulae to weaken and become inflexible.
An average sedentary American doesn’t lift his hand higher than his desk. This lack of movement leads to inflexibility and weakness in our core muscles. Also, many people work in awkward positions, spending all day with their head thrusted forward to read the screen. This puts the alignment of the spine out of balance. The weight of the head (about ten pounds) causes the spine to fuse in an unnatural position.
The tightness this brings to the shoulders and neck can cut off nerves that run down the arm and into the fingers, causing pain and numbness in the wrists. Often, neck impingments are misdiagnosed as carpel tunnel or tendonitis of the wrists.
Shoulder tension can also lead to lower back pain. The misaligment of the upper spine, can cause the lower spine to curve unnaturally. So pain that starts in the neck can radiate into the arms and lower back. Tension in the neck and shoulders cuts of circulation to the brain, causing headaches. As you can see it is absolutely imparative that we address this part of our bodies. Fortunately, with proper movement and awareness, we can reverse this damage. I will be teaching all of the methods below in my upcoming Shoulder and Neck Release Workshop on March 3, 2013
Click here for more information:

How do we address imbalances in the neck and shoulders?

Since most imbalances and chronic pain are caused by things we do everyday, we have to look at how we move when we aren’t exercising. Are we contorting our bodies unnaturally in order to fit into our work spaces? We need to make sure that we can lean back on our chairs without curving our backs or stressing our shoulders. Our keyboards should be close enough to us so we don’t have to reach our arms out to type, causing tightness in the front of our shoulders. Are we hunching forward in order to read the screen or do we make the characters on the screen larger so we can see them while balancing our head on our neck where it should be?

Myofacial Release:
There is a sheath of tissue surrounding our muscales and organs known as “fascia.” This tissue gets tighter the more we move in the same ways. If we hold our posture in an incorrect position for too long, the fascia hardens in that position and it is very hard to release it. Also, our muscles can get swollen. This makes it very hard for blood to circulate. We start forming “knots” in our shoulders and neck that can only be released through myofacial techniques such as massage. Fortunately, we have found many ways to use self massage by using foam rollers and small balls so we don’t have to pay for a regular weekly massage. Once we have softened our fascia and reduced swelling in our shoulders, we are more able to move this area.

Add Mobility:
Seeing how our greatest problem is lack of movement, we should start releasing tension by moving this area. This brings energy currents, circulation and neuromusclular connections to a once dormant area. Over time, we start achieving more ease and mobility

Strengthen rotator cuffs and core:
The weaker we are, the more likely we are to get sore. The smallest things will ’cause pain. Most people have weak rotator cuffs (the muscles that surround and protect the shoulder blade) Due to lack of movement, these muscles lengthen and get weaker, making it hard for us to sit straight,with our shoulders back and down. In order to fix this imbalance, we must strengthen our upper back and the back of our shoulders by rowing, pulling down, or just drawing our upper back muscles down. It is imparative that we strengthen these muscles that protect our shoulders if we have trouble standing straight with our shoulders back. Doing advanced weight training with weak rotator cuffs can cause injuries in the lower back and shoulders.
Also, our dependence on chairs and machines has made our core muscles completely dormant. Often, people strain their necks to make up for lack of strength in their torso.

Learn how to relax:
Living in a “no pain, no gain” society has made us create pain for ourselves. Our subconscious belief that pain will lead to gain has caused many people to hang on to pain, thinking it will lead to success. In reality, this tension is an obstacle to health and freedom. Fortunately, there are meditations and stretches we can do to change this pattern.


Poor posture can constrict the muscles that allows us to breath deep into our diaphram. Since our body needs oxygen, lack of proper breathing can cause more lack of circulation and anxiety. This leads to more shallow breathing. Instead of using the diaphram, shallow breathers use muscles that lift the shoulders, causing even more strain.
For more information on how and why to breath properly, check out this link:

During my NECK AND SHOULDER RELEASE workshop, we will learn how to address these issues without relying on a massage therapist or chiropracter. This workshop is designed for people who suffer from chronic tension in the shoulder and neck while at work or during exercise. It is not geared to people who have an accute injury that may require a specialist or surgery.

During this workshop, we will learn to assess our own imbalances by applying techniques using ergonomics, mobility movements, myofascial release, core strengthening, relaxing stretches, breathing and meditation that teach us to let go of our stess and prevent us from being stressed out by others.

I will be providing the best information on this subject after many years of being a personal trainer, pilates and yoga instructor. I will also offer mind/body techniques I have learned from studying the Alexander Technique and chi kung.

If you are interested, please click here: RELEASE NECK AND SHOULDER WORKSHOP

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:


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:


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:


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

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