5 ways singing is good for your health

Singing is good for your health - singing squirrels

I’ve always been a fantastic singer…in the shower or car.  In the privacy of my own home or vehicle, I happily sing at the top of my lungs. When I need an energy boost or catch myself getting into a mental loop of some sort, I’ll throw on some of my favorite tunes to switch my thinking and mood. Singing helps me pass the time during a potentially stressful commute, and helps me to regulate my breathing when I’m stressed or anxious.

As it turns out, there is some actual science to how singing can improve our body and mind.

There are hundreds of research studies on how singing and music therapy can help treat everything from chronic pain to attention deficit disorder. Singing creates vibrational frequencies that have been found to have a direct effect upon physiological systems.  All you have to do is Google it.  When is Google going to be able to understand when I sing my questions into search anyway?

Here are 5 ways singing is good for your health:

1. Singing is good for your heart. According to a study in the Journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, music structure determines heart rate variability of singers.  In fact, singing demands a slower than normal respiration, which may affect heart activity and be beneficial for cardiovascular function. According to researchers, the controlled breathing used in both activities may have positive long-term effects on heart health and blood pressure.

2. Singing improves your mood & helps you cope with stress. A study out of the U.K. on choral singing and psychological well being found the benefits of singing include: experienced focused attention; deep breathing; social support; cognitive stimulation; and regular commitment.

 3. Choir singing creates social bonds. A project called, “The Sound of Well-Being” in Norway showed how shows how cultural activities like choir singing positively impacts work environment and improves the psychosocial health of employees who participate.

4. Singing improves pulmonary function. According to a study from Canterbury Christ Church University in Kent and the International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, singing may ease symptoms of COPD, improve lung function and quality of life in people with chronic respiratory illness.

5. Singing can help you cope with pain. According to a report published in the Journal of Music Therapy in 2004, help patients cope with chronic pain. A joint study by Harvard and Yale Universities in 2008 went one step further, claiming that choral singing in a Connecticut town had increased residents’ life expectancy.

So take a cue from Buddy the Elf…

Stop crashing and change your mental diet

If you’ve ever gone on a ‘diet’ you know that it’s typically about removing something. Something a doctor or society has deemed ‘bad.’  And those diets inevitably fail because they aren’t sustainable. But, when you decide to make a lifestyle change that involves replacing or ‘adding’ good foods instead of just removing the bad ones, you shift your perspective about food and it becomes a gradual path to success. It’s the same thing when it comes to our thinking.

When you start to notice your thought patterns and what drives your suffering i.e. fear, guilt, worry, shame; you can then begin to find ways to replace those patterns.

In the past three days, I’ve read several passages, social media posts, and had conversations about this very topic. So, it seemed like something I should write about.

I can say from personal experience that when I decided I wanted to find peace and freedom from fear, I tried my hardest to ‘let it go’.  But, that didn’t seem to be enough, and I found myself somehow lacking.  It’s because I’d lived with the fear for so long, just like someone struggling to give up sugar lives with donuts as part of their diet.

Then I read a passage from a teacher about shifting perception by replacing unhealthy or unhelpful thoughts with their opposites.  For example, if you’re feeling angry at someone, try to find something positive about them to be grateful for.  If you’re worried about something, replace that thought with something that you trust or are certain about. Like when I’m nervous about going to a doctor’s appointment, I try to replace that worry with trust. Trust that the doctor has my health in mind.  And acceptance that my body is going to do what it is going to do. Replace that self-judgement by celebrating you.

When I feel lost in a thicket of thoughts, I try to step out of the trees and see the whole forest. For me, the serenity prayer often helps, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

The process is slow, just like a successful dietary change.  So, I try to celebrate and acknowledge even the smallest progress.  Crash diets never work.

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo: Pinterest/Merchant Mechanics)

Related post: Have yourself a thought-b-cue

You are bigger than your wheel of emotions

wheel of emotion

Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions

Lately, I’ve incorporated a new ritual into my morning practice.  As soon as I wake up, even before I’m out of bed, I recite a set of affirmations from A Journey into Wholeness given to me by Benita Esposito.  One of those affirmations is, “I find myself big enough to contain my emotions, and know that I am larger than they are.”  It’s an interesting approach to bringing awareness to emotions as part of our being.  Similar to Rumi’s guest house.

Understanding our emotions helps us process them on a conscious level, so our bodies don’t have to experience them on a physical level.

Robert Plutchik, a psychologist and professor at the University of Florida developed an evolutionary theory of emotion supposing that emotions have an evolutionary history. He believed there to be eight primary emotions – anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise,anticipation, trust, and joy. Like natural selection, he believed that our emotional responses adapted overtime, and were passed on as part of the psychoevolutionary process.  Think the psychological version of Darwin. He even developed a ‘Wheel of Emotions” graphic to illustrate how nuanced our emotions can be.

He suggested 8 primary bipolar emotions: joy versus sadness; anger versus fear; trust versus disgust; and surprise versus anticipation. Additionally, his circumplex model makes connections between the idea of an emotion circle and a color wheel. Like colors, primary emotions can be expressed at different intensities and can mix with one another to form different emotions.

The theory was extended to provide the basis for an explanation for psychological defence mechanisms; Plutchik proposed that eight defense mechanisms were manifestations of the eight core emotions.

I find the theory fascinating, particularly how he incorporates the light and the dark aspects of emotions like surrender.  Even though it’s quite colorful, it’s still a little two ‘defined’ for my taste.  It would have been great (if he were alive) to see a collaboration between he and Eckhart Tolle.

The point is, no matter what emotions you experience, you can ride them out by being bigger than they are.

“Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them.”

– Eckhart Tolle

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo/Quote: Wikipedia)

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Yoga for lower crossed syndrome

yoga for lower cross syndrome

Got low back pain?  It might not be your back. It might be your glutes – or lack thereof.

If you work in an office, chances are you sit a lot, maybe even all day.  Chronic sitting can lead to muscle imbalances and even cause some muscles to go completely dormant.  If you’d noticed that you suffer from chronic lower back pain, but haven’t been able to pinpoint the cause, your lower back pain may be due to lower cross  or lower crossed syndrome.  The good news is, you CAN recover with some exercises throughout the day, and a yoga sequence designed to fire the muscles that have gone night-night.  Continue reading

How to let go so you can sleep

woman looking at the clock with sleep problems

If you are human, chances are you have, at some point in your life, had trouble sleeping. But, if you regularly have trouble sleeping, you may want to look into what’s causing it and chances are you can do something about it. Without getting too much into the physical, medical causes of insomnia, there are some things you can do to improve your quality of sleep.

According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 30% of adults suffer from some form of insomnia (difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up too early, and in some cases, non-restorative or poor quality of sleep.)

Here are some common causes for insomnia:

  1. Stress
  2. Anxiety
  3. Depression
  4. Certain medications
  5. Caffeine, nicotine, alcohol
  6. Medical conditions
  7. Change in your environment or schedule
  8. Poor pre-sleep habits
  9. ‘Learned’ insomnia i.e. worry about not being able to sleep
  10. Eating too late

Barring any physical or medical causes for insomnia, there are a few controllable factors that may contribute to your inability to fall or stay asleep, and there are some ways you can give give your brain the night off.

Here are some things to do to help improve your ability to sleep:

  1. Recognize your need for sleep.  If you need to cut corners at night, give up that last activity rather than short yourself on sleep.
  2. Cut out chocolate, and caffeine they overstimulate the adrenal glands which causes an overproduction of hormones which leads to adrenal fatigue or exhaustion
  3. Maintain a regular sleep schedule and stay in sync with your circadian rhythm
  4. Exercise.  An overabundance of energy can lead to anxiety and sleeplessness, which leaves you feeling sleepy and depleted. While it might seem like you’re too tired to exercise, give it a try.
  5. Have a healthy pre-sleep routine comprised of hygiene and winding down
  6. Write down your worries. If you capture your list of worries (early in the day), your mind will consider it accounted for and can help you to let go.
  7. Only use your bed for sleeping (and intimacy). You’ve heard this before, but it’s true.  Don’t use your bed for television watching or gaming as they stimulate your brain and make associations with the bed for NOT relaxing.
  8. Make your bedroom a sleep haven. Keep it cool, and dark.  Any amount of light or fluctuation in temperature can interrupt your sleep.
  9. Pre-sleep yoga.  Poses like forward folds and child’s pose relax the nervous system.
  10. Meditate. If you find your mind wandering during meditation, try a guided meditation that’s timed to go off automatically so you can drift off into sleep.
  11. Breathing. Often, we breathe only in the chest in ‘fight or flight’ mode making it impossible to relax. Exercises like alternate nostril breathing or taking slow deep belly breaths with controlled exhale can help calm the mind.
  12. Give your mind something else to do.  When all else fails, and your mind is still racing when you hit the pillow, focus your brain on something else like a good memory or thinking of fruits with a certain letter.

If none of these things work, you may want to consult a sleep specialist to find out if there’s more going on.  Here are a couple of videos that you might find helpful in your quest for sound slumber.

Yoga for Bed Time with Tara Stiles

Guided meditation to sleep


Give your brain permission to stop working so you can get some sleep.

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo: My Healthy News Daily)

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Use what you have

use what you have

Every few months I take inventory of my ‘stuff’. I peruse my closet for clothes and shoes that are better served as donations;  I take a trip down ‘expiration date’ lane and go through vitamins, prescriptions, lotions, makeup, etc.; and, I take inventory of my physicality. That is, what am I not using very much that I SHOULD, what am I afraid to let go of, and what should change?

Let’s face it, when you hit 40, your body changes.  The exercises that used to come easy, may be the ones that could now cause injury.  And the workouts we shy away from, might just be what cures an ache or pain.

Not too long ago, I was a die-hard Surya Namaskar (sun salutation) junkie.  My mornings consisted of an asana practice that featured a lot of sun salutations with standing, balancing, twisting and inversion poses mixed in, but I noticed that injuries were creeping in.  “Is yoga bad for me?” I wondered?  No, my practice had become, in itself, a samskara — a pattern that wasn’t serving me anymore.

After some assessment, I found that I was gravitating to poses that were easy much to the demise of other parts of my body.  I also noticed that I was avoiding poses that caused pain — and rightly so. But, I decided to investigate the root cause rather than give up altogether.  I’ve since made adjustments to my practice that are specific to my body’s needs, and try to mix it up regularly.

While yoga IS very beneficial for everyone, it’s not once size fits all.  We all can’t be Kathryn Budig (God love her), but like she says, we can “aim true.”

Take stock of your life — physcially, spiritually, emotionally, and posessions-ally. Get rid of what no longer serves you, and use what you have to your fullest (safest) potential.

Namaste,

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo: A Lifetime of Wisdom)

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Yoga when you can’t do yoga

sick teddy bear yoga when you're sick

Time and time again, a yoga practice of asana and meditation have proven to help people get healthier in mind and body. But having and keeping a healthy body sometimes means recognizing when it’s time to modify our yoga practice. If you’ve ever had a migraine, the flu, an injury or something else, you know that it can be hard to keep up with a yoga practice and that’s an important message to receive from your body.

As the song goes, you gotta know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.  When we get a nice momentum or groove going it can be frustrating to take a step back for rest, but rest is important — especially when you’re sick. And then comes the dreaded ego sneaking in with messages like, “You can do it, it’s all in your head” or “If you take a break now, you’ll never get back into it” or even “If I want to look like Jennifer Aniston, I have to push myself.” None of which are factual or helpful.

I like this post from Mary Catherine Starr, yoga instructor &  studio director in Arlington, VA.  She writes about her own struggle with maintaining a yoga practice during a sinus infection, and has some great tips on how to practice when you can’t practice.

This inability to do exactly what I love when it comes to asana and the abundance of sick or sniffly people around me got me thinking, how do you still “practice” yoga when your’re under the weather? I have a few ideas, pulling from what I’ve actually done over the past week, and thought I would share them with you today. But let me also say that these tips are for people who are struggling with seasonal allergies or sinus infections–for people who, like me, can still go about their day, albiet uncomfortably, but are just under the weather enough to be unable to practice–not those who are so weak that they’re stuck in bed or unable to do much of anything.

Read the full post ‘Yoga for when you can’t do yoga‘ on her blog, Starr Struck.  And, here are some great yoga poses for when you have a cold from Yoga Journal. When all else fails, approach your practice like a beginner.  Once your’e feeling better, take it back to square one. Allow your body to re-experience the newness of yoga and get reacquainted with the poses.

The most important thing to remember is that yoga ISN’T just about physical poses.  When you’re sick or rundown, expand your meditation and pranayama practice (if it’s accessible).  Perhaps it’s the universe’s way of reminding you that there’s more to your practice than asana. Try some guided meditations or transcendental meditation in place of asana (or shorten your asana practice and opt for a longer meditation.)

It is better to perform one’s own duties imperfectly than to master the duties of another. By fulfilling the obligations he is born with, a person never comes to grief. ~ Krishna from The Bhagavad Gita

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo: Suddenly Susan)

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Get your system back to neutral with Kitchari

kitchari

Chances are you over did it during the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve at which time you resolved to eat better, exercise more, get your finances in order, volunteer, and save the world.  All of which are amazing, and I wish you all the will power in the world to sustain you on your journey.  But, let’s start with something digestible (pun intended).

I’m not a fan of starvation cleanses or all-or-nothing detox regimens, and I don’t believe that every ‘cleanse’ or ‘diet’ is one size fits all.  If you follow an Ayurvedic system, and you’re a Vata like me, you know that a fasting cleanse/detox is not for you.  Particularly juice cleanses.  Now, I love fresh juice more than anyone, but what I’ve learned both intuitively and through study is that regular raw juice disrupts my system with some nasty side effects.

There can, in fact, be too much of even a ‘GOOD’ thing.  Every food has the ability to be medicine or poison to the person ingesting it.  There are literally dozens of cleanses out there, but I’m going to stick with a basic clean Indian dish integrated into a diet of whole, clean food.

Kitchari also spelled a grillion different ways is a staple in the Panchakarma diet. It’s the ‘chicken noodle soup’ comfort food of India.  Panchakarma means five actions, and it’s a cleansing and rejuvenating program for the body, mind and consciousness. It is known for its beneficial effects on overall health, wellness and self-healing. It’s a way of reversing the effects of daily living. Kitchari is balancing to all doshas (Kapha, Pitta and Vata), and it’s one of the most balanced and detoxifying foods.

Kitchari is a complete protein and incredibly easy to digest. The main ingredients are rice and mung beans or lentils and the spices are measured precisely to cleanse and balance the system without being overwhelming.  You may choose to add seasonal vegetables, but a bland Kitchari may be where you want to start if you’re looking to reset your digestive system.

My friend Amita (with whom I went through yoga teacher training) provided this recipe.  It’s fulfilling, delicious, and I can tell you first hand my body feels so much better after this dietary reboot.

Khichadi Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup rice
  • 1/2 cup moong dal (split green gram)
  • 2 tbsp ghee
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp chopped ginger
  • 3 tsp chopped garlic
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tsp coriander powder
  • salt to taste

Method:

  1. Clean, wash the rice and moong dal together and soak in enough water for an hour.
  2. Drain and keep aside.
  3. Heat the ghee in a pressure cooker and add the cloves and cumin seeds.
  4. When the seeds crackle, add the ginger and garlic sauté for 30 seconds.
  5. Add the rice, moong dal, turmeric powder, coriander powder, salt, and 5 cups of water and mix well.
  6. Cover and pressure cook for 3 whistles or till cooked.

Note: If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can use a deep pot and boil until the water is absorbed and the flavors have merged.

Enjoy and may your body thank you.

Special thanks to my friend, Amita for the recipe.  ❤

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo: Pinterest)

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Vata you mean, you don’t know your Dosha?

dosha-icons

Ayurveda is a Hindu system of traditional medicine (in the U.S., Ayurveda is considered alternative medicine) that began in India during the Vedic period (between 1700 and 1100 BCE).  Ayurveda is the science of life and art of healing as a lifetime practice of wellness and healthy living. Adopting the physics of the elements and belief that all beings are connected, Ayurveda is about balance inside and out. There’s a lot to Ayurveda, so this is by no means comprehensive, but an intro into the most common practices.

One of the most familiar and widely used concepts in living a balanced life according to Ayurveda is that of the Doshas or the three elemental energies. It’s believed that our Prakruti or constitution is made of up a balance of these energies.  Our Prakruti or Prakriti is determined at the moment of conception and relates to our genetically inherited physical and emotional qualities.  Ayurveda stresses a balance of these energies or ‘humors’ Vāyu / vāta (air & space – “wind”), pitta (fire & water – “bile”) andkapha (water & earth – “phlegm”). If it helps, think of them like hormones (except their not) in that when there’s an imbalance you feel off, and that imbalance can manifest itself in any number of ways from mental to physical, and even karmic.

We’re made up of this mix of energies that can change throughout our lives; it can even change with the seasons.  Tapping into centuries old medicine to learn about your individual Prakruti and what dietary/lifestyle changes you can make to balance your dominating qualities might be just the change you’re looking for. Prakruti specifically relates to those qualities, characteristics and tendencies that are stable. For instance, while you may experience temporary changes, like gaining or losing ten pounds, feeling nervous or irritable, developing a cold or flu, etc., in the natural course of life you will never gain or lose five inches on your height or experience a change of eye color. Prakriti is enlivened and described by three main doshas or forces: Vata, Pitta and Kapha.

Personally, I believe in integrative medicine that brings together philosophies and practices from the east and the west.  I love seeing what the body can do to heal itself, and how the foods we eat and things we do impact our health.  But, I’m also eternally grateful for Western medicine and how it’s saved my life.

I’ll dive more into the various Doshas and where to take your personal practice during Vata season, so take the Dosha Quiz on the Chopra Institute Website to learn more about your energetic makeup.  For in depth information or to study Ayurveda, visit the Ayurveda Institute’s website.

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

Related Posts: Life is like a box of Chakras

(Photo: Ayurvedadosha)