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Posts Tagged ‘rest’

PostHeaderIcon Recovery–Why Corpse Pose (Shavasana)

When taking care of ourselves, we often become obsessed with punishment. No pain, no gain right? We know that stress will develop us and make us stronger, but we often forget that recovery is equally important in fitness.

Stress breaks down the body. Recovery rebuilds the body, creating larger muscles, more blood vessels, greater flexibility and more mitochondria in the cells. Without recovery, we are just breaking ourselves down, making ourselves weak, fatigued or injured. There is a a lot science behind this phenomenon.

Part of recovery is getting enough sleep, which I’ve blogged about in the past: https://heroestraining.com/?p=694

Breathing properly also helps with recovery as oxygen plays a huge roll in providing us the energy we need to grow and survive. You can read more about breathing here:https://heroestraining.com/?p=318

Eating proper foods at the right time also help with recovery as food is the fuel that energizes and repairs us. https://heroestraining.com/?p=1284

On top of that, merely learning how and when to relax can not only aid in fitness, but can reduce anxiety, tension and cardiovascular disease.

No other yoga pose symbolizes the many benefits of recovery more than Shavasana or corpse pose. This pose is loved by some and dreaded by others. Today, I’d like to explore what makes this pose so important at the end of a yoga class and why some choose to avoid it altogether.

The Posture (Asana)

Corpse pose is very simple. You lie on your back in a neutral position and do nothing. If you have back problems or tight hip flexors, it might feel better to bend the knees or put a pillow under the knees. If you have kyphosis or hunched shoulders, it might feel better to put a pillow under your head. If you are further along in your pregnancy, you may have to lie on your side. Either way, get comfortable.

This pose is traditionally held for five to ten minutes at the end of a yoga class. Seasoned yogi’s can stay in this pose for as long as they desire. Master yogi’s use this pose to help them reach Samandhi, or a state of oneness with the universe. Some yogis practice this pose in order to overcome the fear of death.

While the physicality of the pose is very simple, there are many underlying characteristics that make some people uncomfortable, especially if you were taught that lying down and doing nothing is only for the lazy who have nothing better to do.

Why Shavasana?

We’re just lying there. What’s so important about that? So many people just don’t understand the purpose of corpse pose. Yet, if shavasana is so meaningless, why does almost every style of yoga implement a mandatory corpse pose at the end of every class?

One of the best reasons for performing shavasana is to heal and prevent injuries. The best explanation of this was given to me by a great massage therapist who was explaining the role of fascia. Fascia is the connective tissue that sticks everything together. It sticks muscle to other muscle, bone and skin. It surrounds our organs, nerves and blood vessels. There are thick tissues of fascia that travel through our bodies, such as the thoracolumbar fascia that travels down the entire back and into the buttocks, connecting and protecting all the points in our body.

Tons of research is being done on fascia which is changing how we perceive fitness. It’s not just about strengthening bones and muscle anymore. It’s about healthy fascia that functions better.

Our fascia is full of nerves. It can tighten and relax. It can be trained to move in many directions or to become stiff and hard so it can’t move at all.

Whenever we feel stress or injury, our fascia can harden or get inflamed, causing symptoms such as frozen shoulder, whip lash or muscle knots. Essentially, it turns into a splint or a cast so we can no longer move the muscles it surrounds. While this is a rational survival mechanism to protect ourselves, when the facia overreacts it can cause lack of blood flow and flexibility, slowing down the healing process. There is a psychological element at play as well. If the body suspects future trauma, the fascia can react with tightness years after the injury has healed

I was told that if you get into a car accident, face some other kind of trauma or feel tremendous pain, the best thing you can do is lie down and do nothing. Let your body be vulnerable. Let it know that you are not in a dangerous situation and the body won’t seize from the stress. So long as the body feels it is in danger, it will harden. The healing process doesn’t start until we finally relax.

One of the biggest reasons our fascia may harden is because we over stretched. While I always advise people not to force a stretch in yoga class, it can still happen. Our connective tissue reacts to this by hardening itself, creating that natural splint. In case of overstretching, shavasana is applied at the end of a yoga class to help alleviate this reaction.

Many people start a yoga practice due to past injuries or pain. Sometimes they are recovering from real trauma like a surgery or illness. Other times, they realize that they have been over training which has led to muscle or joint pain. Pain and tension is felt most by those of us who can’t relax. When it’s time for corpse pose, these type A personalities stress that they really should be doing something. Shouldn’t I be stretching my pain or rolling it out? What they don’t realize is the best thing they can do for themselves is relax. We do an hour or two of yoga in order to align our bodies so we can finally reach that state of relaxation, clarity and healing.

Sometimes mental stress is all that is needed to harden the fascia. Our nerves don’t always know the difference between physical and emotional trauma. Shavasana helps us to ease this stress. Allowing ourselves to just melt into the mat is one way to let the body and mind know that things will be okay.

But what if I can’t stop thinking?

Some people hate Shavasana because they can’t stop thinking. In my opinion, not thinking is not a requirement of shavasana. The idea is to physically do nothing so that nothing is distracting you from what is important.

How many times do we put off making the right decision or having to find a solution to a problem by always giving ourselves something else to do? When we’re in Shavasana, you can’t do that. You are forced to face your true self. That thought you have been avoiding will manifest and if it does, I believe you should face it. Examine it. Be brave. Remember, meditation isn’t a hiding from reality but a confrontation of reality:https://heroestraining.com/?p=206

Stress, Anxiety and Insomnia

Once, I was taking a heart opening yoga class. While in shavasana, I felt this tremendous amount of grief that I had been harboring for far too long. Tears welled up in my closed eyes and I was finally able to let that grief go and open my heart again.

We live in a time where it’s almost impossible not to be distracted. We are overwhelmed with pop ups, ads and notifications. New media sources are rewiring our brains, changing how we think and interact. This makes a disciplined yoga practice more important and more difficult than ever.

Some of us hide in these distractions. If we are always stimulated by external forces, we don’t have to be comfortable in our own skin. We can avoid facing our dreams, our conflicts and our true selves.

Shavasana is your time to turn it all off and take a vacation from it all. It’s your time to truly connect with who you really are while everyone and everything around you is competing for their influence on you. As scary as that sounds to some, once you take the time to unwind and get comfortable, you’ll wonder why you waited so long to do it. It’s when we take a moment to find clarity that all the answers appear. We all need to take time out of every day to connect with our deepest selves. Remember, if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything:

https://heroestraining.com/?p=438

Sometimes we fall asleep during corpse pose. This only means that you are probably sleep deprived or that you need more rest. As mentioned earlier, some of us forget that we need to recover and this is a good time to connect with what your body truly needs. Rest calms us, which is why we breath and sleep better after yoga.

Fear of Death

One of your favorite sayings is, “I’ll get enough rest when I’m dead.” You suddenly find yourself in corpse pose. That means you’re resting. Is this what its like to be dead? Suddenly, an asana that seemed peaceful starts to create anxiety.

Fear of death may or may not be a conscious thing. Its something we all deal with as we all die eventually. Corpse pose literally means the pose of death. Legend has it that Indian soldiers did corpse pose to help them deal with their fear of death so they could be brave in battle. This is not an easy thing to face, so its understandable why someone would want to skip this pose altogether.

Yet something profound happens when we face our fear of death. The possibility that we will die becomes very real to us. Suddenly, we are more willing to live. We are more grateful for what we have and we are more aware of what is truly important. To me, facing the fear of death means finding a true appreciation for life in all its glory. What is important to you? Don’t put off what you genuinely love because nothing is temporary.

Not all yoga practitioners are warriors. but we can all learn to be brave enough to live a full life. Deep down inside, we are all fighting a hard battle.

Samandhi or Enlightenment

Shavasana can also be called Samandhi which means unification. Some yogis believe it is that acceptance of universal peace that comes right before death. So when they lie still, they are trying to calm their mind so fully that nothing can distract them from reality. They become an embodiment of universal truth. Samandhi is traditionally thought of as the highest and final level of yoga, another reason why its done at the end of the class.

This illustration, is a great example of samandhi. When water is still, you can notice the smallest ripple. A mind full of waves and fluctuations is confused and undisciplined.

Awareness and Respect

Life happens. We can’t always fit a yoga class into our schedules and sometimes we have to leave early. We must realize, however that the tenants of yoga are non-violence, respect and awareness.

If you must leave yoga early, check the time. Go into shavasana on your own, then sneak out quietly with as little disruption as possible. Yoga etiquette dictates that if you leave class early, to do so before the rest of the class has started corpse pose. That way, they don’t have to hear you scrambling for your stuff and shutting the door on your way out while they are doing their best to relax.

Keep in mind that relaxation and being still is very difficult for most people and that any small distraction can frustrate them. Once everything has stopped moving, the slightest noise can sound as loud as a tree falling. The rustling of bags as you get ready to leave can be extremely irritating.

If you have to fidget during corpse pose because that helps you stay calm, I suggest you find an item that makes no noise. Maybe a rubber part of your mat. This way, you are not distracting the rest of the class.

And of course, please keep your cell phones on silent. ;)

With much respect and compassion,

Namaste

In September, I will be doing a workshop on applying the concepts corrective biomechanics to improving yoga poses. This workshop will focus on yoga alignment with more detail than is possible in a regular yoga class. For more information, click below.

Photo credit:
Photo by Amy Treasure on Unsplash

Photo by Hamza Bounaim on Unsplash

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

Photo by Linus Nylund on Unsplash

PostHeaderIcon Should I Sacrifice Sleep for Training?

Over the years of being a trainer, I have noticed a marked difference between people who achieve the results they want and the ones who have a much harder time. Much of it has to do with how people eat and sleep on top of how they train.

Today I am bringing up the subject of sleep because I heard a motivational speaker say that you should sacrifice sleep in order to get the things you want. As a health professional, I do not agree with this statement due to the evidence I have collected over the years. You can sacrifice mindless television watching, video games, negative thinking and junk food, but one thing you should not sacrifice is sleep. A large number of studies have linked lack of sleep with obesity.

Proof of How Lack of Sleep Can Make you Fat

According to a study from the University of Chicago, people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to indulge in candy, cake and other sweets than they are in eating fruits and whole grains. Another study that appeared in “The Annals of internal Medicine” measured hormonal levels in people who do not get enough sleep with those who do. They found that sleep deprivation decreases levels of leptin, a hormone that tells you that you are full. It increases levels of ghrelin, a hormone that makes you feel hungry and makes you crave sweets. Additional studies followed how many snacks people who aren’t getting enough sleep eat. The conclusion was that people who are sleep deprived are twice as likely to eat unhealthy snacks.

Lack of sleep also causes stress, releasing the hormone cortisol which also causes us to crave high-fat foods. Cortisol also triggers survival mechanisms in the body that causes us to store fat in our abdominal area.

For more information on how stress leads to belly fat, check out this post:   https://heroestraining.com/?p=417

A study from Case Western University tracked the weight fluctuations and sleep habits of 680,138 women for sixteen years. They found that the women who slept five hours or less per night were more likely to become obese and the women who only got six hours of sleep a night were more likely to be overweight than women who got seven hours of sleep.

Researchers from the University of Warrick, England followed thousands of children and adults and found that sleep deprivation almost doubles the risk of obesity for adults and children. Another study from Stanford University found that people who sleep less have higher BMI (Body Mass Index) levels. In conclusion, there are a huge number of studies that show that lack of sleep can make you fat.

What is just as remarkable is a study conducted by Glamour Magazine to see if sleeping more will help you lose weight.  They enlisted seven female readers and asked them to sleep at least seven and a half hours each night for ten weeks. They were not allowed to change their dietary habits for those ten weeks. All of these women lost weight.

It is very difficult to train clients who are sleep deprived. They have absolutely no energy. I usually train them as a lesson and tell them that they need to get more sleep if they want to get results. When they experience how poorly they perform and how much they struggle, they realize how important sleep really is.

Sleep is Nature’s Steroid

Some recent studies are being done on HGH (human growth hormone) and how this helps people recover, stay young and gain muscle. When we sleep, human growth hormone is released. This is when injuries are healed, when children grow, when cells in the body are restored and when muscles are repaired to gain strength. If athletic performance or strength gains are your goal, then sleep should be on the top of your priority list. Sleep has also been called “nature’s steroid” by many health professionals for this reason. Before you start your intake of experimental HGH, see if you’re getting enough sleep first.

Sleep Increases Athletic Performance

Mah, Mah and Dement studied college swimmers. They tested their athletic performance for two weeks during their usual sleep-wake cycles. Then they tested them after they extended their sleep to 10 hours a day for 6-7 weeks. The results showed that the swimmers swam the 15-meter sprint 0.51 seconds faster, reacted 0.15 seconds sooner off the start blocks, improved turn time by 0.10 seconds and increased kick strokes by 5 kicks.

They also did a study on 11 male college basketball players. After extending their sleep for as much per night as they could, their timed agility sprint improved by 0.07 seconds; their free-throw percentage increased by 9%; and their 3-point field goal percentage improved by 9.2%.

They also studied seven Stanford University football players. They were tested before and after the sleep extension and their 20-yard shuttle run times decreased by 0.10 seconds. Forty-yard dash times also decreased by 0.10 seconds and daytime sleepiness and fatigue scores fell significantly.

Sleep also helps with memory, strengthening the immune system and alertness. This increases athletic performance, work performance, school performance, and wellness. It also makes you less cranky which should help with your relationships.

How Can I Get More Sleep?

–One of my favorite cures for insomnia is exercise or yoga. This helps release stress and burns energy that can lead to a better night’s sleep. Excess exercise can lead to burn out and insomnia so make sure you are getting just the right amount

–Get your life organized. Set aside time for checking emails, spending time with the family, eating dinner etc. so that everyone can get to bed on time.

–Take a warm bath or shower

–Try chamomile tea, which is known for its ability to calm the body, before going to bed

–The smell of lavender is known to calm the senses and release stress, making it easier to go to sleep.

–Instead of sacrificing things that are good for you, such as sleep, how about cutting out things that are bad for you such as excessive alcohol. Though it can make you feel tired, too much alcohol can mess with your sleep cycles.

–Tobacco is a stimulant that can make it hard to sleep

–Too much caffeine is a stimulant that messes with your sleep-wake cycles.

–Overeating can make it hard to sleep so give your digestive system a break. Also, don’t eat too much processed carbs or sugar right before bed

–Sometimes it is hard to sleep while hungry so a healthy snack like a fruit might help. Just don’t overeat.

–Too much television or video games can also lead to inability to sleep. Try reading a book before going to bed, meditating or listening to soft music. Even cuddle with a loved one.

–Take power naps if sleeping at night is not possible. If you have a hard time sleeping at night, limit nap times.

–Make sure your bed and pillows are comfortable

–Turn out the lights. Bright lights can fool the hormonal system into thinking it is still day time so avoid the television and other lit screens. Let your body know that it is time for bed.

–If you feel your inability to sleep might be a medical issue, check out AASM (the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.) Here is their website:

http://www.aasmnet.org/

How Much Sleep Should I Get?

These are the sleep guidelines according to the National Sleep Foundation:

AGE DAILY SLEEP NEEDS
NEW BORNS (0-2 months) 12-18 HOURS
INFANTS (3 to 11 months) 14-15 HOURS
TODDLERS (1-3 years) 12-14 HOURS
PRESCHOOLERS (3-5 years) 11-13 HOURS
SCHOOL –AGE CHILDREN (5-10 years) 10-11 HOURS
TEENS (10-17 years) 8.5-9.25 HOURS
ADULTS 7-9 HOURS