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Archive for the ‘Fitness’ Category


Find out what guys know (and you don’t) about getting in shape
By Brynn Mannino

Not that we’re envious (actually, yes, we are), but guys seem to have a much easier time getting fit than women. Sure, their bodies are different, but what if there’s more to it? After looking at men’s traditional workout habits versus women’s, we found that they have a few tricks up their sleeves. For one thing, strength training burns way more calories than cardio alone, and post-workout protein shakes are more than just an excuse to drink a smoothie. But that’s not all! Read on to find out how you can improve your own fitness routine by taking a few tips from the boys.

 

1. They work multiple muscle groups at once. 

The more muscles you work at one time, the more calories you’ll burn at one time—not only at the gym but during the days following, as your muscles rebuild, says Myatt Murphy, coauthor of The Body You Want in the Time You Have. Compounding exercises, like squats, dead lifts and bench presses, will give you the most bang for your buck, as they engage multiple muscles in your upper or lower body simultaneously. Revamp your routine by including exercises that work more than one muscle group or combine two moves (like doing biceps curls on a stability ball) in order to make the most of your time spent at the gym.

 

2. They leave magazines out of it. 

Reading while on a cardio machine could not only stifle your workout by interfering with your form, but it might also shorten your workout as well. “Looking down can hinder the oxygen flow to your lungs,” says Murphy. “The less oxygen you breathe in, the quicker you’ll exhaust yourself.” If you need a little more mental stimulation than you get from logging miles on the treadmill, Lou Schuler, coauthor of The New Rules of Lifting for Women, suggests doing calisthenic-style exercises, which mix short bursts of cardio with strength training.

 

3. They get their sweat on. 

If there’s one place sweating is socially acceptable, it’s at the gym. Not only does getting a good sweat on mean your body is heating up and, consequently, expending energy (read: burning calories!), it also detoxifies your skin, says Monica Vazquez, personal trainer at New York Sports Clubs. So don’t be afraid to break a sweat and push yourself as hard as you can to ensure you’re burning the maximum amount of calories.

 

4. They flex their muscles.

“When you strength-train, you’re not building muscle—you’re breaking it down,” says Murphy. Contrary to popular belief, the building-back-up part happens over the next 48 hours, mostly while you sleep, he explains. Contracting (a.k.a. flexing) your muscles right after a weight-lifting set continues to break down the fibers, even if only slightly. And the more you break them down, the more they’ll build back up, Murphy says. “In other words, boosting your ego can boost your results!”

 

5. They eat after they exercise. 

After you’ve depleted your energy, it’s important to refuel, “especially after you exercise, when your body is desperate to replace the stored energy it just used and will pull it from wherever it can,” Murphy says. Ideally, you want the energy to come from your stored fat, but your body may also pull from the calorie-burning muscle. By eating a mix of protein and carbohydrates after you train (thus the protein shake!), you can prevent your body from turning on its muscle, since it looks to your stomach first for fuel.

 

6. They hone in on a different set of numbers. 

Rather than fixating on how many calories they’ve burned or how much weight they’ve lost, men tend to focus on how much of a certain task they’ve accomplished—and how much more they should do next time they hit the gym. According to Schuler, steadily increasing speed (cardio) or weight (strength training) in increments contributes to improved strength and energy, and consequently, more muscle and better workouts in the future. Focus on improving your exercise stats (reps, workout time, weight lifted, etc.), rather than the number on the scale. 

 

7. They focus on getting stronger—not thinner. 

If you’ve ever tried to compliment a man by telling him he looks slim only to have it backfire, then you know: Men tend to want to look “big,” which denotes strength, while women usually want to look slim, which suggests a low percentage of body fat. Why is the guys’ way more effective? Strength means more muscle; muscle not only burns calories, but shapes your whole body. “If you’re aiming to change the way you look, you must change the shape of your muscles,” says Vazquez.

 

8. They log their workouts. 

Because of the nature of weight lifting (you should consistently increase the weight you lift) it makes sense that men record their workouts. Frankly, it’s hard to remember all those numbers! But there are other advantages to writing down workout stats that everyone could benefit from, explains Vazquez. “Not only does it keep you honest about how much you’re really working out, but it makes your success tangible,” she says. Figure out a system that works for you, whether that means jotting things down in a small notebook or creating a cheat sheet on your mobile or portable audio device, so you can build upon your improvements each time you work out.

Read more: Fitness Tips – New Exercise Advice at WomansDay.com – Woman’s Day

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http://www.cozi.com/live-simply/10-small-changes-healthier-life.

Get inspired by this guest post from Leah Segedie, a mentor to moms who are trying to live a healthier life and Shape Magazine’s “Mom of the Year.” Here she offers 10 small steps toward a healthier life:

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. –Confucius.

Have you ever sat and thought–I can’t lose weight or get fit or change my life because it’s too hard or takes too much time? We’ve all had those thoughts, but did you know, by making small changes a little at a time, you CAN do anything you want. It’s funny how those small changes slowly add up to big changes over time.

Here’s a list of some small changes you can implement in your life that will make a huge impact on your journey to a healthier life:

1. Cut out sodas. Even diet drinks can make your body latch on to excess weight. Even cutting back can make a huge impact. One can of soda has 140 calories in it. If you only cut out one soda a day, that could equal almost 15 lbs lost in a year. Substitute carbonated water with orange slices for a flavored, bubbly treat or better yet, drink more water. Your body needs it to survive

2. Avoid fast food whenever possible. You can rely on healthier options like Subway when you are on the go and in need of a quick meal. Not only are most fast food meals chock full of fat and excess calories, there is very little substance so in a short amount of time you are hungry and eating again. Eating real food takes longer for your body to digest so you are getting the nutrients you need to fuel your body, and you feel satisfied longer.

3. Order salad dressing on the side and dip your fork in for flavor in each bite. How many times have you said to yourself, “but I’m eating salads and not losing weight!” Chances are you are drowning your healthy salad in unhealthy dressing. By dipping your fork in the dressing before each bite, you get the flavor and taste without the added fat and calories.

4. Time your Internet use. For every 30 minutes you spend online, do 5-10 minutes of exercise. This goes back to the idea that we make time for what is important. If you have time to sit for 30 minutes and play angry birds or surf the net, you have time to do some quick exercises. I used to say that I didn’t have the energy to exercise, but once you start, you’ll find that you don’t have any energy when you DON’T exercise so get your body moving.

5. Instead of sitting and watching TV for family time, go on a walk or play a game of catch in the yard. Getting your family active not only helps prevent childhood obesity, but it will create lasting family memories of fun and adventure. My kids don’t remember what movies we watch together but they can tell you all about going on a hike or heading out for a day of walking at the zoo. Make it fun and everyone will be happier and that makes it easier to stick with it.

6. Switch out your butter and vegetable oil for water, olive oil or coconut oil while sautéing. You absolutely can sauté using only water, but if you must use oil, switch it for a healthier option. Your body does need some fat to fuel itself but you want to make sure you are choosing healthy fats whenever possible.

7. Find the parking spot that is the furthest away from the entrance when grocery shopping or at the mall and walk. Have you ever seen people circle the parking lot for the closest space to the door? It’s especially funny when you see it at the gym or health club. Getting in extra movement is key to any journey to better health. You can fit in hundreds, if not more, extra steps each day simply by parking further away from your destination and walking a little bit more each day.

8. Do squats while cooking dinner. Or leg lifts, or bicep curls. Don’t waste the time you are standing around stirring or watching your dinner cook, you can do many exercises while cooking dinner, talking on the phone, or even when doing housework. The best part is, you kids will probably mimic your exercises and then you’ve created a fun fitness routine for the whole family.

9. Make a workout appointment. Like you would a doctor or dentist appointment, and keep it. You wouldn’t decide that you were too tired to go to the dentist, but yet this is the excuse we use all the time for not getting in fitness. Make an appointment for yourself and keep it. Why notput it on the calendar now!

10. Start small. Don’t take on too many changes at once, but add another step when you feel comfortable. We often start the race at a sprint and then burn out quickly. Take on one new challenge at a time and before you know it, you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come!

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I’m not going to lie. I’m one lazy chick. But bikini season is upon us and I will not be stuck feeling blahh about my un-toned bod. So while I’m watching my favorite TV shows, Woman’s Day Magazine has some easy to do couch exercises that I can get working on. Now, I’ve just tried all of these, and I did break a sweat, but it was not too much for me. So c’mon ladies, let’s give it a go and try to do each of these exercises at least once a day! Beach time here we come!

 

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In the last week, Britney Spears has been all over TV performing songs from her latest album, Femme Fatale. The music is pretty awesome but what really made our jaws drop was her body. She looks better than ever and we just had to know the drill. So we asked celebrity trainer, and author of Ultimate You, Joe Dowdell how to score the pop icon’s slim and toned physique. He says these are the three key things:

By Bethany Heitman

Sleep, a Lot

Dowdell swears that getting enough rest (about seven to eight hours for most people) and drinking lots of water is the first step to getting a slammin’ bod. The reason: Your body needs to be well rested and hydrated in order to burn calories properly.

Mix Up Your Cardio

For maximum results, you’ve got to do intervals—alternating slower with more intense cardio. Studies show the easy-hard-easy-hard pattern encourages your body to refuel throughout your workout, so you keep up your energy longer. Dowdell suggests this routine: Hope on the bike and warm up at a medium pace for 3-5 minutes. Then up the resistance and peddle as hard as you can for a full minute before going back to a medium pace for two minutes. Repeat this 6 times.

Work Your Muscles

According to Dowdell, Brit has such toned thighs, sculpted abs and a great ass all due to resistance training. His three favorite moves:

The Glute Bridge: Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feel planted on the floor. Lift your hips and hold for five seconds while squeezing your butt muscles before coming back down. Doing two sets of ten will give you a nice firm booty.

Push-Ups: You’re probably pretty familiar with this classic. But, here’s a refresher: Facing the floor, keep your hands at shoulder level and your feet together (legs outstretched). Lift your body from a few inches off the floor all the way up until your arms are straight, and come back down. It’s important to keep your back straight. Regularly doing two sets of 10 will work your triceps and your core (giving you great abs!).

The Split Squat: While standing, place one foot in front of your body with the knee slightly bent and the other behind you so just your toes are on the ground (the back leg is for balance only and shouldn’t do any of the work). With your weight on your front heel, lower your body straight down and stop when your knee is an inch above the floor. Raise your knee back up and repeat. Do two sets of ten and then switch legs.

Read more: Fitness Advice On How To Get Britney’s Body – Tips On Getting Celeb Britney Spears’ Body – Cosmopolitan

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Okay, so this is sort of a two-in-one deal post here. The application seems pretty awesome, but we all know you don’t actually need it to be fit and feel great. I really love how Lea Michele speaks about the importance of being fit, and how it should be about comfort, not beauty. I just really admire her attitude here.

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Find out how to get back into your wellness routine—and stick with it
By Amanda Greene Posted February 23, 2011 from WomansDay.com

 

You’ve probably heard of "January joiners"—those eager gym-goers who sign up to get in shape at the beginning of the year, only to fall off the wagon by February. There’s a reason it’s such a common phenomenon: Sticking to health resolutions is difficult, especially when your ambitions are too high or not measurable. So we spoke to the experts to find out about common goal-setting mistakes and how to recommit to more obtainable aims. Read on to learn eight ways to revisit your wellness resolutions––and make them stick this time around.

 

1. Shrink your goals.

One of the most common reasons people fail at keeping their resolutions is because they bite off more than they can chew. "I find that my clients make New Year’s resolutions that aren’t really realistic," says Cristina Rivera, RD, president of Nutrition in Motion, PC. "They’re great for about a week, but people can’t keep them up forever." For example, one of her clients made a goal to give up soda, her favorite beverage. She went cold turkey and lasted about two weeks, then caved when the cravings hit. Rivera coached her to minimize her portions—a mini-can of Coke or a no-calorie Diet Coke––instead of cutting out the drink entirely. Photo: Thinkstock

2. Make your resolutions concrete.

Not only will setting a goal that’s too big derail you, so will making a resolution that’s too vague. "Saying ‘I will eat more healthfully’ isn’t a concrete goal," says Junelle Lupiani, RD, nutritionist at Miraval, a wellness spa outside Tucson, Arizona. "Instead, say something like, ‘I will replace my afternoon coffee and cookie snack with a piece of fruit, some nuts and green tea.’ Being sure that your resolutions are measurable can help you assess on a daily basis if you’re on track or not." Other specific—and doable––health promises that Lupiani recommends are vowing to eat a large salad every day or committing to starting each day with a whole grain and some fresh fruit. Photo: Shutterstock

3. Don’t wait to get motivated.

Many people assume they can’t tackle their goals without motivation. So they wait and wait for that push to get them to the gym, but it never comes. "We have the belief that motivation has to come before action—’I felt motivated so I went,’" says Simon Rego, PsyD, director of Psychology Training at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, "when in fact motivation often follows action." Take the gym, for example. Most people can attest to feeling extremely motivated after a sweaty workout, instead of before. To get yourself to exercise, Dr. Rego recommends giving yourself permission to leave the gym after five minutes if you want. Chances are, once you get moving on the treadmill, your motivation will have kicked in and you won’t want to stop. Photo: Thinkstock

4. Get some sleep!

That’s right—the experts actually recommend hitting the hay in order to accomplish your goals. Why? Because a good night’s sleep can help you achieve virtually any goal on your New Year’s resolution list, says Pete Bils, vice president of Sleep Innovation and Clinical Research for Select Comfort. "Losing weight, exercising or learning a new skill are not human instincts; we have to work at them. You could call a sleepy brain a lazy brain—the human ability of resolve or willpower has been proven to be diminished without adequate sleep," he says. But it’s not just about willpower; the amount of sleep you get affects bodily functions, too. As Bils explains, without enough sleep, ghrelin (the hormone responsible for regulating appetite) is elevated, while leptin (the hormone connected with satiety) is diminished. So, even if you consume enough calories, when you haven’t gotten enough zzz’s, your body will still send signals that it’s hungry, which will likely lead you to overeat. Photo: Thinkstock

5. Set yourself up for success.

Sure, it’s easy enough to resolve to eat more healthfully, but if you don’t implement the necessary lifestyle changes you won’t be able to succeed. "If you’re going to have oatmeal for breakfast instead of your usual doughnut, you have to give yourself five extra minutes to boil those oats on the stovetop each morning, plus more time to eat at home since it’s not a portable food," says Cherylanne Skolnicki, wellness coach and owner of Nourish wellness consultants. "Resolutions are really about finding out how you’re going to integrate new behaviors into your life." So don’t join a gym that you have to drive out of your way to get to—choose one that’s on your route to and from the office. Or if you’re trying to drink more water, invest in a reusable bottle so that you always have it on hand. Photo: Thinkstock

6. Be patient.

"When you’re integrating a new exercise routine, your fitness levels will always change more quickly than your body composition. Fixate on how you feel and how you perform before you freak out about your weight and waistline," says Andrew Wolf, exercise physiologist at Miraval. As Rivera notes, healthy weight loss is only between one and two pounds per week, so give yourself reasonable time to make progress instead of giving up. Finally, Wolf advises implementing ways to monitor your progress that don’t involve a scale or your skinny jeans. Keep track of how many crunches you can do or measure your heart rate while you’re on the elliptical machine to prove to yourself that you’re getting stronger and more fit. Photo: Thinkstock

7. Think outside the box.

Don’t throw in the towel on getting in shape just because you hate the gym. Losing weight doesn’t mean you have to join a fitness club. There are plenty of ways to exercise outdoors—find a hiking trail or take your bike out for a ride, for example. Rivera is a fan of alternative forms of exercise, like Zumba classes. "If you have an active job, wear a pedometer and see how many steps per day you can log; if you hit 10,000 steps in a day, that’s like walking four miles," she says. "Knowing how much you’re walking could motivate you to push yourself even harder the next day." Photo: Thinkstock

8. Find a buddy.

The easiest way to make yourself accountable? Enlist a friend to help keep you on track with your goals. "I’d rather see you walk every day with a partner than run every six days by yourself," says Skolnicki. "If you can, find someone to meet you, whether it’s at the gym or outside your front door. People’s success rates go up dramatically [with a workout buddy]." Plus, she adds, working out in tandem is a great way for busy women to multitask: Not only will you get in a sweat session, but you’ll also have the time to catch up with a friend. Photo: Thinkstock

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When it comes to coping with stress overload, your breath is one of the best remedies there is…and it’s free!

By Richard Rosen

Sooner or later, most of us feel a little depressed or anxious, and certainly all of us know what it’s like to feel tired. There are many different ways of treating these feelings, from exercise to meditation, from medication to a long vacation in Hawaii. But you may not realize that you have a safe, effective, and inexpensive remedy right at hand for each of these conditions. What is this magical elixir? Your own breath.

As yogis have known for centuries—and as medical science is beginning to discover—the breath has amazing recuperative powers. By controlling the breath (a practice called pranayama), the yogis found, they could alter their state of mind. The three pranayama practices described here primarily create their effects by slowing and regularizing the breath. This engages what scientists call the parasympathetic nervous system, a complex biological mechanism that calms and soothes us.

How does slower breathing help? In stressful times, we typically breathe too rapidly. This leads to a buildup of oxygen in the bloodstream and a corresponding decrease in the relative amount of carbon dioxide, which in turn upsets the ideal acid-alkaline balance—the pH level—of the blood. This condition, known as respiratory alkalosis, can result in muscle twitching, nausea, irritability, lightheadedness, confusion, and anxiety.

In contrast, slowing the breath raises the carbon dioxide level in the blood, which nudges the pH level back to a less alkaline state. As the blood’s pH changes, the parasympathetic nervous system calms us in a variety of ways, including telling the vagus nerve to secrete acetylcholine, a substance that lowers the heart rate.

Know Your Breath

Now please note that I’m not recommending that you try to breathe away chronic anxiety, fatigue, or depression. None of these conditions is easily or safely self-treated. In fact, tackling them by yourself, without professional supervision, could make them worse. But your breath can be a powerful ally in coping with temporary physical and emotional states—whether you’re despondent about an argument with a close friend, apprehensive about an upcoming job interview, or exhausted after a tough day at work.

As with any treatment, the breathing remedy must be administered intelligently and judiciously to be fully effective. Each condition responds best to its own special breath. To calm anxiety, for example, you can purposely lengthen your exhalations; to alleviate dullness and fatigue, you can lengthen your inhalations. And to lift yourself out of an emotional pit, it’s most effective to equalize the lengths of your inhalations and exhalations.

If you want your breath to work as an extra-strength remedy, it’s a good idea to do some preliminary practice before you try to apply these techniques. First, spend some time with your breath when you’re feeling in the pink, learning to closely watch its movements and tendencies.

When you first try to look at your breath, the experience may feel akin to that of a fish attempting to describe water. Your breathing is so habitual that you’ve probably never given it much attention, and therefore you have little sense of the subtle and not-so-subtle ways it can change. But if you continue to watch, you will probably begin to notice many different dimensions, physical and emotional, to the feeling of your breath.

You’ll probably notice that watching the breath immediately initiates a chain of changes in it. First, it slows down. As it slows, its ordinarily rather ragged movements smooth out. And as the breath smoothes out, the space it occupies in the body increases.

When we breathe, most of us usually expand only a limited portion of the torso, generally in the front around the lower ribs and upper belly. Often, our breathing is restricted and shallow; ideally, it should be deep and full, so each breath cycle expands and contracts the height, width, and depth of the whole torso.

To experiment with consciously expanding your breath, sit in a chair with your spine erect—or, better yet, lie on your back on the floor. Put your fingertips lightly on your lower belly, just above the pubic bone, and try to direct a few inhalations into this space, expanding the belly each time. Once you can do this, move your fingertips to the spaces below your collarbones, placing your pinkie tips on the sides of the sternum and splaying the rest of your fingers out to the sides.

Then, for a few inhalations, see if you can gently expand these spaces. Be careful to keep your throat as soft as possible as you do this, because there’s a counterproductive tendency to tense it as you inhale into the upper chest.

Once you can move the breath into the lower belly and upper chest, try to awaken your entire back torso, an area that is terra incognita for many people. As much as you can, breathe into your back body, feeling how it balloons and then deflates with each breath cycle. Once you can feel this, experiment with filling all of your newfound spaces with every breath.

Your Personal Prescription

Sometimes just watching and expanding your breath for several minutes can have a surprisingly positive influence on your energy level or mood. You can multiply this effect significantly by using pranayama—breathing exercises tailored to have an effect on specific moods and conditions. Based on knowledge cultivated and refined by the yogis over thousands of years, these exercises intentionally alter the speed, rhythm, and space of the breath.

One brief caution before you begin: Never, ever, overdo it in any breathing exercise. If you begin to feel uncomfortable, go back to your everyday breath. Never force your breath to do anything it doesn’t want to do.

How will you know when your breath is telling you to stop? If the unpleasant feelings you started with become even more unpleasant, that’s your cue. Your breath, believe it or not, possesses an innate intelligence, honed over millions of years of evolution. Learn to trust its messages and all will be well.

Traditionally, the practitioner does pranayama while sitting on the ground, with the spine long and erect. But those of us who aren’t accustomed to extended sitting in such a position often find ourselves aching and fidgeting after only a short while; this interferes with our concentration and the efficacy of the breathing remedy. If this is the case for you, sit in a chair or, better still, try lying on your back on the floor.

If your floor isn’t carpeted, be sure to pad it with a folded blanket, and support your neck and head on a small, firm pillow. Lie with your legs straight, heels a few inches apart, or bend your knees over a yoga bolster or firm pillow; this setup helps release a stiff back and relax a tense belly. Lay your arms on the floor out to the sides, angled about 45 degrees to your torso, and close your eyes. Covering the eyes with an eye pillow is especially helpful. (These are widely available for about $15 at yoga studios and online; you can also make your own by partially filling a sock with rice and sewing the opening shut.)

When you’re comfortably set up, begin watching your everyday breath for a few minutes, fixing it in the foreground of your awareness. Then, for another minute or so, mentally count the length of both your inhalations and exhalations; for example, "One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, and so on (or "One Om, two Om, three Om," if you prefer). Don’t be surprised if your exhalations are slightly longer than your inhalations; that’s quite common. Once you’ve settled into your breath, you’re ready to try one of the specific exercises below to counteract anxiety, fatigue, or depression.

ANXIETY. You can work with anxiety by focusing on your exhalations and lengthening them, deliberately and gradually. For example, if your everyday exhalation lasts six counts, draw each one out to seven for a few breathing cycles, then to eight for a few cycles, and so on, until you find a length that suits you.

Once you’ve comfortably increased the length of your exhalations by a few counts, turn part of your attention to the subtle sound of them. You’ll notice that each one makes a soft "ha," like a gentle sigh. Try to make this sound—and your exhalations—as soft and even as possible from beginning to end. Pause briefly at the end of each exhalation, resting peacefully in the stillness. Continuing like this, watch your breath as steadily as you can for 10 to 15 minutes.

FATIGUE. To work with fatigue, settle into your everyday breath. Then, after it has slowed down and smoothed out, pause briefly after an exhalation. Rest peacefully in the stillness. After a few seconds, you’ll feel a kind of ripple; it’s the swell of your next inhalation, building like a wave approaching the shore. Don’t take the inhalation immediately; instead, allow it to gather and grow for a few more seconds. Then, without effort or resistance, gratefully receive the breath.

Continue to explore lengthening your exhalation retentions for 10 or 15 breaths. Then begin to lengthen your inhalations gradually, just as you lengthened your exhalations in the previous exercise for anxiety. Finally, shift part of your focus to the sound of your inhalations, a slightly whispering sibilance the yogis think of as "sa." Try to make this sound—and your inhalations—as soft and even as possible from beginning to end, and continue to watch your breath as steadily as you can for 10 to 15 minutes.

DEPRESSION. Working with depression can be more difficult than working with either anxiety or fatigue. For that reason, be cautious about how you apply the breathing remedy when you’re feeling blue. Forcing the breath can quickly exacerbate your lousy mood.

As with any breathwork, start by settling into a comfortable position and allowing your everyday breath to slow down and smooth out. Then count the length of your next inhalation. When you release your exhalation, match its length to that of the inhalation.

Continue in this fashion for a minute or so, balancing the length of the inhalations and exhalations. Then gradually—just once out of every three or four cycles—add another count to each inhalation and each exhalation until you reach a number that suits you. The yogis call this equal ratio breathing.

For depression, the effect of the breath on your mood is the best indicator of how long you should continue the exercise. Start out with a particular time goal in mind—say, 10 minutes—but be ready to shorten that by a few minutes if you feel your depression lifting. On the other hand, you can continue on past your goal for a few minutes if you feel you need to.

The Pause That Really Refreshes

How often do you need to practice to make the breathing remedy effective when you really need it? There’s no pat answer; it’s a practice like any other, and the more you exercise your ability to watch your breath, the better you will become at doing it.

If you can, schedule a regular 10-minute breath-awareness practice during a quiet part of the day. (For many people, early morning is best.) But if that seems like too much of a commitment, it’s simple enough just to close your eyes and take 60-second conscious breathing breaks at random moments in your daily routine. You might find that these breaks are almost as energizing as a coffee break—and they have a lot fewer side effects. In fact, you may discover that conscious breathing not only soothes your emotions and boosts your energy; it can also make your life richer and more fun.

Contributing Editor Richard Rosen teaches public yoga classes in Northern California. He is the author of The Yoga of Breath: A Step-by-Step Guide to Pranayama and of an upcoming book chronicling the history of yoga in America to be published by the University of California Press.

source: www.yogajournal.com

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Kick your insomnia for good by creating a simple and restful nighttime routine.

By Nora Isaacs

sleep

Leslie Bradley remembers lying awake as a child, unable to sleep. "I’ve been something of an insomniac my entire life," says the 56-year-old owner of Blue Spruce Yoga in Lakewood, Colorado. But after she contracted West Nile virus in 2004, her sleepless nights became intolerable. "I was in really bad shape," Bradley says. "I couldn’t sleep at all without taking drugs like Ambien."

After the prescription sleeping pills became less effective, Bradley decided to explore an alternative route, making an appointment to see Ayurvedic doctor John Douillard, director of the LifeSpa School of Ayurveda in Boulder, Colorado. He put Bradley on a regimen of herbs, tea, self-massage, and breathwork. He also helped her understand the best bedtimes for her body type and encouraged her to make changes to her lifestyle, such as eating a bigger lunch, and not teaching evening yoga classes.

Drawing on her yoga background, she began doing Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand), Halasana (Plow Pose), and restorative poses before going to bed. Within three months, Bradley was off the drugs. "All those things combined have basically cured my insomnia," she says. "I feel much stronger and more solid, more vibrant."

Insomnia—the inability to get to sleep or to sleep soundly—can be either temporary or chronic, lasting a few days to weeks. It affects a whopping 54 percent of adults in the United States at one time or another, and insomnia that lasts more than six weeks may affect from 10 to 15 percent of adults at some point during their lives. To get a decent night’s sleep, many Americans are turning to pills. Last year in the United States, about 42 million sleeping pill prescriptions were filled, an increase of 60 percent since the year 2000. But as Bradley discovered, drugs aren’t always effective, some have negative side effects, and worst of all, as soon as you stop taking them, the insomnia often returns.

"Sleeping pills are not always a cure; they treat the symptom but not the underlying problem," explains Sat Bir Khalsa, a Kundalini Yoga teacher who’s also an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and a neuroscientist at the Division of Sleep Medicine of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Beneath the symptoms of insomnia are the anxiety, fatigue, and stress that our increasingly fast-paced world seems to be creating. These days, who hasn’t worked long hours without taking a break, binged on too much caffeine, or left the cell phone on 24-7?

You may feel that you’ve adapted to the intense rhythm that modern life requires, but if you’re experiencing sleepless nights, your nervous system is probably rebelling. It may be stuck in a state known as arousal, where your sympathetic nervous system is triggered. In this state your mind will race or your palms might sweat. Your body will secrete more stress hormones, and your temperature and metabolic rates will rise, as will your heart rate. "There is very good evidence that people with chronic insomnia have elevated levels of arousal in general," Khalsa says. "And some insomniacs have higher levels right before they go to sleep." But Khalsa, who is studying how a form of Kundalini Yoga breathing called Shabad Kriya helps people with insomnia, offers good news: "Treating the arousal should treat the insomnia." By creating a routine of soothing rituals, you can bring your nervous system back into balance and transform your sleep patterns for good.

Rituals for Relaxing

Whether it’s yoga to reduce muscle tension, breathing to slow the heart rate, or an herbal massage to calm a racing mind, a simple routine can be the most effective and safest road to a better night’s sleep. There is growing evidence that small behavioral changes can make a big difference in getting some good shuteye. A 2006 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that participants who made modifications like reducing stimuli in the bedroom and learning relaxation techniques improved their sleep more than those who took drugs.

To find out which rituals will work best for you, it helps to understand insomnia from an Ayurvedic perspective. Yoga’s sister science and India’s oldest known system of medicine, Ayurveda is based on the idea that the life force that exists in all of us manifests as three different energies, or doshas, known as vata, pitta, and kapha. Though everyone has some of each dosha, most people tend to have an abundance of one or two.

Vata, ruled by air and ether, governs movement in the body. Pitta, ruled by fire, governs digestion and the metabolism. And kapha, ruled by earth and water, governs your physical structure and fluid balance. Ayurveda categorizes insomnia as a vata imbalance, because vata is controlled by air—and air controls the nervous system. Calming yoga and Ayurvedic rituals reduce vata in the body.

Know Your Timing

The first step to feeling well rested is to institute a regular bedtime. Maintaining consistency will help keep your circadian rhythms—the biological changes that happen every 24 hours—steady. Eventually, your body will naturally understand and crave sleep during these hours.

How do you find that magic time? Ayurveda offers helpful guidelines. Douillard says that each dosha corresponds to a time of day: Vata time is between 2 and 6, both in the early hours of the morning and in the afternoon; pitta time is between 10 and 2, both midday and late at night; and kapha time is between 6 and 10 in the morning and evening. Ideally, you should start your bedtime rituals during the slow kapha hours of 6 to 10 in the evening and head for bed before 10 p.m., which is when the fiery pitta time begins.

Tuck in Early

Although eight hours has long been considered the ideal length for a night’s sleep, Douillard says that it’s not just the number of hours you sleep that matters, but the time of day you go to sleep as well. He insists that our bodies naturally want to arise around 5 a.m., since humans started their day around daybreak before the advent of modern technology. So, if you go to bed at midnight and wake up at 8 a.m. (a lazy kapha hour) you’ll probably feel groggy even though you’ve had the recommended eight hours of sleep. But if you hit the pillow before 10 p.m. and arise before 6 a.m. (during lively vata time), you’ll likely feel refreshed and ready to go.

Create a Wind-Down Period

The next step is to create some space between your busy day and sleep time. "You can’t just work until 9 at night, and then stick your head on the pillow and fall asleep," Khalsa says. So turn off the television, computer, and radio. Cut down on or eliminate evening classes and exercise that leaves you feeling amped up. When you come home, honor this transition by playing relaxing music, lighting candles, or putting on your favorite pajamas. Think of the yoga precept of pratyahara: Withdraw your senses in order to turn inward.

If your schedule allows you to practice yoga only in the evening and you enjoy a vigorous practice, be sure to end your session with a sequence of slow, passive poses. (Go to yogajournal.com and type "Yin Yoga" or "restorative yoga" in the search box for sequence ideas.)

Nosh and Nibble

The diet mantra "Don’t eat before bed" isn’t always the best advice. Some folks benefit from nighttime noshing. "When you sleep, you are repairing your tissues," says Aadil Palkhivala, a certified Ayurvedic practitioner and the founder-director of Yoga Centers in Bellevue, Washington. "The body needs nutrition when it’s going into a state of healing." Depending on your constitution, bedtime snacks might include spelt toast and butter, organic milk, or lentil dahl. And of course, during the day, it’s important to eat healthful fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains to promote rest at night. "Sleep is a yin process, but when food has chemicals in it, it becomes yang and the mind goes into a vata state," Palkhivala says. Douillard recommends eating a vata-balancing diet no matter what your type. This includes foods such as cooked apples, Brussels sprouts, tofu, millet, oats, walnuts, and squash. Also, use common sense: If you want to sleep well, don’t drink alcohol or caffeine after 5 p.m.

Strike a Pose

After you wind down from your day, notice how you feel before doing an evening yoga routine. Are you wired or tired? "These need to be treated differently," Palkhivala says. If you are amped up, he recommends 10 minutes of poses like twists, standing poses, and active forward bends to burn off excess energy. If you are tired, do some restorative poses or breathing until you feel more refreshed and relaxed—and then hit the sack. Though it seems contradictory, it’s common to be too tired to sleep. "Everyone thinks that when you can’t sleep, you have too much energy, but usually people have too little energy: They are too exhausted to get to sleep," Douillard explains. Restorative poses can help.

Massage Away Tension

A soothing massage releases muscular tension and helps the transition to bed. Try rubbing your head, neck, face, and arms with warm, unfiltered organic sesame oil. "This puts a shield around the body and also makes you feel nurtured," says Palkhivala. You can also include someone in your ritual by asking them for a yawn-inducing rubdown: The spine from the neck downward should be stroked for about five minutes with a gentle touch.

Breathe for Ease

Breathwork is another excellent addition to your nightly sleep routine. "Every time you exhale, it slows your heartbeat and that helps calm you down," says Roger Cole, an Iyengar Yoga teacher and a research scientist specializing in the physiology of sleep. Try two parts exhalation to one part inhalation. For example, start by exhaling through your nose to the count of 6 and then inhale through your nose to the count of 3. Do this for 5 to 30 minutes before bed.

Keep a Journal

When it’s time to go to sleep, do you start replaying the day’s events or think of what you need to do in the morning? A great evening ritual is putting your thoughts on paper: Write down the contents of your mind to get all of your worries out before your head hits the pillow.

Get Warm

"When you go to bed, you want your skin to be warm," says Cole. If you’re feeling a bit cool, drink a warm cup of herbal tea or take a bath based on your body type. And remember to stay toasty when practicing passive yoga poses: Have a blanket, socks, and a sweater nearby.

Guide Your Relaxation

After getting into bed, try a body scan as you lie in Savasana (Corpse Pose): Progressively tense and then relax each part of your body. If you have trouble doing this on your own, get an audio CD of meditations, guided imagery, or Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep), to help. "This is good for people who have mental chatter," says Cole. "It takes their mind in a different direction."

Once you’ve chosen your specific nighttime ritual, repeat it every night to cue your body that it’s time for sleep. Khalsa says that after a few weeks of practice, your sleep will improve. "These things don’t work instantly, but over time you normalize arousal and sleep starts to get better." And as opposed to suffering from side effects such as headaches, dizziness, daytime drowsiness, and long-term dependence on drugs, you’ll feel better overall, instead of worse, with your nighttime routine. "It improves individuals on a holistic level, and other problems that they might have had also might start to dissipate," says Khalsa. Now that sounds like a side effect we can all live with.

Nora Isaacs is a freelance writer and the author of Women in Overdrive: Find Balance and Overcome Burnout at Any Age. She tries to get eight hours of sleep at her home in California.

source: www.yogajournal.com

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