Why Yoga At Home Is Better For Your Health Than Studio Yoga

If you think that you have to spend years doing yoga or go to a led yoga class 5 days a week to get all the benefits of yoga think again!  The latest research tells us that developing a simple home yoga routine is the biggest yoga-related predictor of better health and all of these benefits are FREE.  
 
 
In a seminal study of over 100 yoga practitioners in the US, it was found that home practice not only predicted how good people felt but also if made them more likely to practice mindfulness, have lower BMIs (smaller waistlines), eat more fruits and veggies, have better sleep and less fatigue than those without a regular home yoga routine.  They looked at home yoga as including asanas or physical postures, breath work, meditation and yoga philosophy or ways of living, like eating a healthy mostly vegetarian yogic diet. The really interesting part is that having a home yoga practice predicted all these health outcomes better than how many years they had been practicing or how many studio classes per week they went to. This means that to get all the health benefits of yoga, it is most important to practice yoga at home and you don’t have to be a yoga expert.
 
I know for myself that when I started doing yoga at home as part of my daily routine, it really did start to have a way bigger impact on how I felt, how I looked, my food cravings, energy levels etc because suddenly I was in control of it and could always find at least 20 minutes to do a short practice, even if I couldn’t fit in an hour and half every day.  I also found that my monkey mind found less excuses over time do not do it, because I couldn’t use the old ‘there is no class that I can make today.’ line with myself.   Yoga became part of my daily habit rather than this activity that I ‘went to classes for’ only when I could fit it in.  I also use yogic breathing practices in my everyday life, like when I need an energy boost or when I start to get a cold, I do 5 minutes of kapilabhati in the morning. I wasn’t doing this until I really developed a home practice regularly. 
 
So, at home, My yoga mat is always waiting for me, and after it became a habit, which takes our brain 30 days to solidify, the amount of mental resistance for whipping out my mat really faded away.  I still have days where it’s hard to get moving but I get over the resistance my reminding myself that I have never ONCE regretted making time to practice, but the days where I didn’t do it, I do regret lots of those because I just FEEL so much better afterwards and it’s always worth the time and effort spent.  
 
The best way to make sure your home practice is a success is to try to set aside 20 minutes at the same time each day to practice, at a time where you are most likely to be able to stick to it.  So if you are a terrible morning person, getting up 30 minutes or more early to do yoga before work isn’t likely going to stick, if your circadian rhythm is just not set up for 6 am starts!  If that’s the case and you are going to do your yoga after work, I recommend starting with a gentle hatha or yin series to wind down the nervous system and have your yoga time do ‘double duty’ to help bust problems falling asleep too. I find that doing too many backbends in the evening tends to really wake me up, so I try to avoid lots of those if I practice after 4pm.
 
So, even though I have a daily home routine, I still LOVE going to classes and being a student and having the community of practicing with other people.  I try to get to one studio class each week with a great teacher and I find I always learn something new to take back to my home practice.

The Brain Benefits of Holotropic Breathwork

Breathwork and something called pranayama, or yogic control over the prana or energy in the breath, is a key part of the traditional system of yoga and even if you don’t do yoga, breath work by itself is one of the most practical and quickest ways to tap into parts of your brain nervous system that are normally out of your control, or not under conscious control.
 
And as it turns out, it’s not fluffy stuff, it has tons of research for proof of how it can bust stress, aid in recovery from buried trauma, help recover from chronic anxiety and panic attacks. 
 
If you don’t have any of those issues it is also one of my favourite ways to hit the ‘reset’ button, and re-energize after a stressful day or week and release tension that you don’t even realize you are holding onto until it’s gone! 
 
 
Dr. J. Allan Hobson, a psychiatrist at Harvard University, and leading brain researcher, sums up why breath work is so powerful.  It is the one physical thing in our bodies that we can access easily that links what he refers to as our ‘bottom up’ processes in the brain or  autonomic processes and those processes in the brain that are under our voluntary control called “top-down” processes.  The breath is the link between the ‘bottom up and top down’ uncounnsouc and conscious processes in the brain.
 
Various styles of breath work span an entire spectrum of uses and effects on the nervous system, on one end of the spectrum you have breathing to relieve stress and induce calm (such as the healing breath) and on the other end, you have specific breathing to produce a catharsis and intense emotional release, such as something called Holotropic breath work also known as rebirthing therapy and transformational breathing.
 
Holotropic Breathwork also uses music as a catalyst to access deep emotion and unconscious thoughts, feelings and emotions and tensions along with deep circular breathing.  This practice was coined and studied by Dr. Stansilov Groff in the 1960’s as a powerful therapeutic tool and this is the practice I am going to focus on in this video.

Hyperventilation Syndrome

A question I have had from my doctor colleges in the past about some forms of circular breathing or holotropic breath work, is about something called hyperventilation syndrome.  This is where the carbon dioxide levels decrease in the blood and can cause constriction of blood vessels, including those in the brain and the heart in extreme very rare cases.  In milder forms of hyperventilation, feelings of dizziness, agitation and strong emotions, tingling in the hands and feet, and muscle spasms can happen, which are harmless in most people.  If you have severe asthma or any heart issues you should always do breath work under the coaching a qualified practitioner to be on the safe side.  But the good news is that there are no reported cases of heart attacks, stroke or other serious ill effects from breathwork reported in the research literature, so appears to be quite safe in general for most healthy people.

The Difference Between Circular Breathing And Hyperventilation Syndrome

THere is one theory about the difference between circular or holotropic breathwork and hyperventilation syndrome, in the extreme medical sense, where very low levels of CO2 in the blood and brain lead to a deceased drive to breath in again.  This could be because in the technique of circular breathing, you inhale consciously right at the end of the exhale, without waiting for your carbon dioxide levels to rise above a certain level first, avoiding some of the negative effects of hyperventilation syndrome. 
Another theory is in clinical hyperventilation syndrome (HVS), there is lots of Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) activation or fight or flight mode activation vs. much less sympathetic activation in breath work if its done right and with a qualified coach.
Based on preliminary research, both HVS and breath work may actually activate similar regions of brain and lead to mild decreases in CO2 and increases in O2 and activation of parasympathetic dominance to reach altered states without ingesting any substances— pretty cool stuff!  
Studies have now shown that Holotropic breath work actually improves hRV or heart rate variability and state anxiety level, which both are known to significantly decrease the chance of ever having a heart attack or stroke! 
Speaking of substance induced trance like states, Dr. Stanislof Groff,  one of the modern pioneers of breath work actually started to experiment with breath work after working with LSD became illegal in the 1960s. He started off using LSD in his research to help people to process trauma and help the brain integrate painful or really emotional memories, buried memories and also to gain access to intuition and creativity in altered states of consciousness.   What he found was that he could help people reach similar states without any drugs using specific breath work.  
In fact, if I look at a brain EEG recording of brainwaves when someone is doing holotropic breath work, the delta and theta patterns are similar to the shamanic state of consciousness, in other words, the trance-like state where slow waves dominate the brain wave patterns.  One study also found that when someone was in this breathwork induced trance state and they had an emotional experience, flashback or accessing emotional past memories or working through strong emotions, their brain EEG pattern changed to show ‘bursts’ of higher voltage, related to emotionally intense subjective experiences they report. 
Another question I get about this type of stimulating breath work is can it cause a panic attack?  In most cases, even in people who have had a panic attack in the past, the answer is no.  If you start to feel breathless or like you can’t catch your breath during a circular breath work session, it means that you need to relax the breath more and not force it, and you can simply stop anytime it becomes too overwhelming. But feeling breathless is not a usual experience with this type of breath work even for people who suffer with physical symptoms of anxiety in daily life.
I can tell you from personal experience with this practice as well as the research evidence that it can be extremely powerful and it is one of my favourite mind body practices, especially when it is done with a skilled facilitator to coach you properly throughout a session and provide support if you need it.  I was recently at Bali Spirit Festival and was able to take part in an amazing breathwork workshop with our friend Christabel Zamor, founder of Breath of Bliss, and for anyone new to breath work I highly recommend checking out her retreats.  

Karma Yoga: The Brain Science of Yoga for Happiness

So when most people think about yoga, they think about sweating it out in short shorts in an urban yoga studio. But the traditional system of yoga that was created in Ancient India was an entire system of living designed to keep people mentally and physically fit and prevent illness of the brain and the body because this was the best way to live a long healthy life, before there were things like emergency medicine, antibiotics and anti-depressant pills!  
 
 
Karma yoga is the term yogi’s developed for selfless service.  Of course you don’t have to be a yogi to get the benefits: helping a friend, caring for your pet, making soup for your loved one when they are sick, giving a massage or just lending an ear to a friend in need, all count—you don’t have to volunteer in a formal setting hours each week to get the benefits.
 
The reason Karma yoga works to help bust anxiety, blue moods and stop worry loops in the brain is that it actually changes what areas of your brain are turned on when you are helping others. When we have time to ruminate about our own problems and worries, specific brain areas get turned on, specifically the medial prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex. These brain areas are part of the Anterior Default mode network of the brain. The job of these parts of your brain is self-referential and emotional processing related to yourself and thinking about yourself. These parts of the brain are lit up more than normal in people who have high anxiety and depression traits. Because modern city life is quite self focused and “individual-achievement” focused, it can predispose your brain to overusing these self-referential networks in the brain, leading to more unhappiness.  
 
I find that sometimes when I feel stressed and really busy, it can be easy to think that I don’t have time to help out a friend or spend the extra mental effort to do something thoughtful and spontaneous for my hubby or my mum… BUT the amazing thing is that when I push myself to carve out a few extra minutes to do something nice for them, it always makes me feel happier and able to put my own worries into perspective, especially after a bad day or when I’ve just got disappointing news. It’s something I am constantly working on because it really makes a difference to how I feel day to day.  

How To Meditate Properly: Why Binge Meditating Does Not Work

Research is now showing us that it doesn’t matter how many years you have been meditating or how long each day you practice.  What matters is consistency—doing a bit every day!  

How Meditating Ever Day Just A Little Bit Starts To Change Your Brain

And the reason this works so well is that we have to gently remind our brain each day to make the changes to those neural networks that we want, but the brain is pretty smart once it gets onto something that is good for it—meaning that once you have found your practice, whether it is yoga and breath work, a mantra meditation, a guided recording you listen to,  or vipassana  or zen meditation, just doing that same thing every day for 10 minutes will start to change your brain over time in a profound way.     

Researchers at Harvard university taught total beginners a simple meditation for 20 mins/day for 8 weeks and their brains had changed on MRI and they had increased grey matter in key brain regions associated with resiliency and positive mood. And you don’t have to worry about getting up an hour early or giving up your evening social life to make it happen—because it is JUST 10 minutes! That is only 2 commercial breaks from your favourite TV show, if you watch TV, or 2 of your favourite songs played back to back.
So, let’s just get one thing out of the way: I am not a meditation snob. I do not believe there is one and only one way to meditate that beats all the other ways that is the same for every person. However, no matter what meditation type you choose, there is universally one thing that is now proven in the research not to work. And that is ‘binge meditating.’

What do I mean by ‘binge meditating?’ Well, it usually starts with a you doing a course or going away on a retreat where you get taught to meditate (which I highly recommend). Learning to meditate in nature while you are “zenning” out from the world at a retreat is a fantastic way to get your feet wet.

The issue isn’t starting to meditate on an amazing retreat from the world, it’s thinking that you have to go home and do a sitting meditation for at least an hour a day to ‘make it work.’ Then, when you get home to your packed schedule, you find it hard to fit in a whole hour every day and start to feel really guilty.

You get up an hour earlier and push through for the first little while until you are exhausted by lunch from the lost sleep and can’t keep up the hour in the am any longer with your current schedule not on a retreat. There is a little voice that tells you that 5 or 10 minutes doesn’t make any difference so people tend to just stop altogether for a while. Then, when you are approaching an anxiety ridden overwhelm stress crisis, you may start up again and force yourself into the hour a day again for a few weeks to help just get through the stressful period, but then once things are going well, the hour a day is too much of a commitment.

So if that is sounding familiar, first of all don’t worry, you are normal. I don’t do a sitting meditating an hour a day. But I DO have a daily mind body practice that I fit into my packed schedule no matter how busy I am, because I tailor it to how much I actually have that day. Some days, that is only 10 minutes. Sometimes it’s 1.5 hrs (but that includes yoga and guided relaxation/visualization which I find more effective for me!).

Why Yoga for Digestion Heals Stomach Problems, Constipation and Diarrhea

In this video I’m going to tell you the best yoga poses for digestion, give you a five minute series you can do anytime to help digestion and also tell you why they can help to restore balance to your digestive health.

Yoga For Constipation

The best yoga poses for digestion are practices that help tone and rebalance the autonomic nervous system, since this is the central control switch in the brain for or all of your digestion. It relays messages to the digestive system via the brain gut connection and also to the ‘brain’ in the gut or the Enteric Nervous System (ENS). If you suffer from constipation, yoga poses and breathing to improve the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system are great, such as such seated and lying twists and ground series yoga that flex and extend the spine. Sun salutations are great, depending on your level of fitness, taking 5 slow deep breaths in each of the positions before moving on. Another yoga pose called the flying goose, from the 5 elements series from India taught by Peter Clifford, is perfect for helping to stoke the digestive fire in the morning and get things moving through the intestines to help with constipation.

Yoga For Diarrhea

If you suffer more from diarrhea, poses that tone and balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system are useful, but sometimes it’s a bit tricky because if you have diarrhea some poses are harder to do without triggering a bathroom emergency! For all digestive issues, a breathing exercise called Nadhi Shodhana is beneficial as it helps to tone the autonomic nervous system to create balance between the sympathetic and and parasympathetic nervous system. After you’ve practiced Nadi Shodhana some gentle knees to chest poses done lying down, along with just practicing constructive rest can help calm bowels and prevent them from moving too quickly.

If you want a step by step system to help you heal your digestion for good, then click here to try my Digestion Relief program for free.