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

What is mindfulness meditation?

mindful of mind full

“Mindfulness practice is simple and completely feasible. Just by sitting and doing nothing, we are doing a tremendous amount.”

In Buddhism, practicing mindfulness enables us to live peacefully within our own minds.  We know our minds run amok like spoiled children without discipline, but it’s never too late to reign it in.

I used to think that I wasn’t meditating unless my mind was completely free of any activity, but that’s not quite right.  Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche from the Shambala Sun makes a wonderful point that may help many of us put the concept of what it means to meditate into perspective,  “An important point is that when we are in a mindful state, there is still intelligence. It’s not as if we blank out.”

So what exactly is mindfulness meditation?

Mindfulness

For a nicely detailed, yet digestible article on mindful meditation, visit The Shambala Sun.
Live deliberately, mindfully, honestly.
Namaste,
– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo: Unitarian Universalist Church of Fargo)

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‘No’ is a complete sentence

No

If you’re like me, you’re a people-pleaser.  You’d rather avoid disappointing someone, so you say yes to more than you should.  You’re afraid someone might think you’re not a good friend, employee, sister, aunt, yoga teacher, etc. if you say no.  The reality is, you can’t be everything to everyone.  And if you think you can. you’re probably not truly ‘being there’ for anyone, especially yourself.

A while ago, I had a conversation with a friend about a situation in which I felt guilty for saying no.  I decided to put myself first for once, and said no to substituting a yoga class. The person who asked gave me some “not-so-subtle” non-verbal cues to let me know of their disappointment.   I found myself trying to justify my decision, when in reality it was the other person’s issue, not mine.  They were upset that they’d be inconvenienced, and yet I somehow took on the responsibility and the guilt (my issue).  WRONG.

What my friend said to me when I told her the story was, “No, is a complete sentence.”  It was so simple, and it made me start to think about how many times I’ve felt incredibly guilty for saying no or putting myself first. How many times did I rehearse a conversation in my head or replay one to see how I could say no with the least amount of hurt feelings? There were a lot.

So, how do we walk the line of being charitable and giving of ourselves without depleting our energy? What I’ve found out is that the people in your life who really care about you, don’t love you because what you can do for them.  They just love you.  The art of saying no will also reveal who really is in it just for them.  Saying no recently led me to lose someone as a friend which tells me they weren’t really much of a friend at all.

In yoga, bramacharya is often — mistakenly — thought of as ‘chastity’ or a preservation of one’s sexual energy.  But it’s really about moderating all of our energetic resources; allocating them consciously.

Many of us need to learn to conserve our personal energy as much as we try to conserve the electricity in hour homes. When we do, our personal energetic battery has a chance to recharge.  Then we truly CAN be there for others in a deliberate, complete, loving way.  When you are at your most joyous and fulfilled, you will bring that light to everyone you meet.

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

Photo: Ecosalon

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What’s your yoga style?

Solar eclipse yoga (and a new moon too)

solar eclipse

Today, we’ll experience the annular solar eclipse.  The moon will block part of the sun today for a sensational celestial sight for those who can see it.  So what does this mean for yogis?

Like during a full moon, energies fluctuate greatly during solar and lunar eclipses . Emotions can be heightened, and we can feel overwhelmed or even drained — even for several days before and after the eclipse.

We, ourselves, may feel these shifts intensely or we may simply feel the effects of everyone and everything around us in heightened states. Like full moon yoga, there are many different interpretations of what, if any, yoga to do.

For me, I’m often so full of energy that I’m buzzing like a kid on sugar only to crash from the overwhelming build up within me.  So, I tend to get on the mat and practice a steady vinyasa flow FULL of breath linked with movement.  This both helps to release and draw on some of the amazing energy circulating at the time in a healthy, productive way.

It’s also a great time to experience connectedness, and with the new moon, it’s a great time to shed what’s no longer serving you mentally and spiritually, and start anew.

Here’s a practice you can do for the next few days in celebration of the solar eclipse and new moon.  I recommend focusing on your breathing, flowing from each pose to the next on an in breath and out breath.  Feel free to sneak a vinyasa or your favorite transition in between the standing poses and inversions.

1. Kapalabhati Breathing – Here’s a video for those unfamiliar with the practice

2. Gentle warm-up – Whatever creatively moves through you to get the energy flowing.  Perhaps some cat cow, or hip circles or even some meditative, child’s pose to release tension.

3. 3 – 5 Rounds Surya Namaskar A Sun Salutations – There’s  a chart within this post if you need a reminder of the poses.

4. 3 -5 Rounds of Chandra Namaskar (moon salutations) – Here’s a post with a chart if you’re unfamiliar with moon salutations.

5. Tree pose – Hold for 5 breaths on each side.  Don’t be surprised if you’re wobbly, just stay with it. If you topple out of the pose, just get back in and laugh.

6. Child’s pose – Hold for as long as you need

7. Inversion of choice – You may want to pick something like headstand or shoulderstand.  If you’re energy is off and you’re feeling weak, go for supported shoulderstand with a block under your sacrum

7. Gomukhasana Cow Face Pose – Hold for 10 – 15 breaths, and switch sides

8. Savasana – Give yourself 10 minutes to integrate your practice

9. Meditation – If you have a meditation practice already, try doing 15 – 20 minutes.  If not,  you may choose simply to sit still and allow yourself to be present; you may choose to silently repeat a mantra or send an intention out with the new moon.  Or you could try this Solar Eclipse Kundalini meditation by CatalystYogi.

Enjoy your practice whatever you do, and take time to observe the energy swirling around you and within you.

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo: Colleen Pinski / Caters News) 

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Worry about your Self

Know thyself bhagavad gita

When I was little and I was too invested in what someone thought of me, or what someone else did in comparison to myself, my mother would say “Just worry about you.”

Often, this was said when I was concerned that my brother had an extra Oreo or was able to get away with something I previously hadn’t, but the saying still plays out in my mind — often.

If I catch myself pontificating about why someone isn’t meeting an expectation, I parrot her words to myself, “Just worry about yourself.”  We are the only ones we can control after all, and even that is questionable. We can control our own actions and how we respond to situations, but not the situation itself (unless directly caused by our actions).  As Thich Nhat Hanh once said, “My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand.”

It might initially sound very ‘un-yoga’ to suggest that you worry about yourself, but I’m not talking about becoming self-centered, without regard for others.  But, rather focus on knowing your Self by acting with love for others, and not allowing your mind or ego dictate your worth.

The Bhagavad Gita talks, in length, about the “Self,” particularly about getting to know the infinite self — the self that is beyond thought, beyond change.  Through meditation and living a sattvic life (a life of goodness and purity), we will know the self that transcends manifestation and destruction.

Sounds ethereal and unattainable, but I like to break it down into individual moments.  How can I know myself?  I can become aware of my emotions, actions and reactions.  I can attempt to observe these actions as a witness.  I can do my best to act with purity of heart.

We can also become aware of when we experience ‘want’ and compare ourselves to others.  On the yoga mat, for example, worry about yourself — really.  Don’t worry about what your neighbor is doing or what you think your practice should be.  Just focus on your breath, your SELF.

I came upon a YouTube video recently that reminded me how much I use this method of quelling desire.  It’s of a little girl named August who’s trying to get her seat belt buckled all by herself. It’s hilarious.  You’ll watch it over and over like I did.

When we truly know our own ‘Self’, we transcend reaction and suffering.  And, we become infinite.

Namaste.

Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo: Uplifted Vibrations)

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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

Liberation is a truck stuck in the mud & a yoga mat

Yoga freedom quote

I’m going to admit something publicly that very few people know.  While I typically avoid reality television like the plague, I’ve succumbed to the fantastic spectacle that is ‘Duck Dynasty.’  I don’t know how it started, but the friends that know me find it quite amusing because my ideologies and theirs couldn’t be more different.  Or are they?

I don’t own a firearm (we’ll steer clear of this argument for now), I don’t hunt or kill anything for fun, and I’m not exactly conservative.  That said, there have been some (dare I say insightful) quotes to come out of that show that have made me think.  We all of the same basic needs and desires; at our inner most core, we act from a place of love; and we all want some sort of freedom.

In one particular episode, the characters have an argument about becoming ‘too corporate’ which leads to an ‘off road’ tantrum of mud bogging only for their truck to get stuck in the middle of nowhere.  The parting quote made me laugh out loud, “If you are going down the road and see a truck stuck in the mud you know what happened… liberation.”

We all want freedom.  Freedom from obligations, freedom from constraints whether it be work, health, finances, dependence or family. Liberation can take on any form, and is different for everyone.  For some people, liberation is jumping out of an airplane.  For others, it’s sending the family on vacation and curling up alone with a book for the weekend, and for others, it’s getting a truck stuck in the mud.

While I’d love to go ‘off the grid’ at some point, for now, I find freedom in other ways. For me, time on my yoga mat always creates space for liberation within.  Even if it’s only 5 minutes, I find liberation from thought, obligation and time.

“Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you,” -Jean Paul Satre

Where do you find liberation?

Namaste.

– Your charmed yogi

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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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