Depression and Inflammation

The traditional view of depression is that it is caused by a dearth of neurotransmitters in the brain – this in turn leads to lowered levels of serotonin and endorphins in the body (the feel good hormones) – hence depression.

However there is an increasing body of evidence that suggests the chronic depression may be linked to low grade inflammation in the body.  Inflammation is essentially chronic over stimulation of the body’s immune system.  Inflammation can be caused by low level infection, smoking, excess alcohol, chronic stress, medication, poor sleep, reduced physical activity and a poor unbalanced diet.

Studies have linked depression with higher level of inflammatory blood markers compared to people who are not depressed. A marker of inflammation called CRP (C reactive protein) is typically noticeably elevated in depressed people.  Also it has been found that people given proinflammatory cytokines, people experience more symptoms of depression and anxiety.  Moreover imaging of patients with depressed often show neuroinflammation.

However there a number of clinically proven ways we can reduce our inflammation levels –

  1. Reduce stress levels – try to find ways to take more care of yourself – slow down and ensure you get into a pattern of healthy, restful sleeping (8 hours per night).  No one benefits from poor/short sleeping despite what famous people may say!!
  2. Eat less inflammatory food – fried food, salt food, sugary food, animal fats/transfats, processed food and red meat.  Increase your levels of fruit, vegetables, good quality plant oils/fish oils, nuts/seeds and fibre.
  3. Try to exercise 3 to 4 times per weeks -anything is better than nothing.
  4. Take up a mind body exercise – Yoga and Pilates are brilliant at relaxing the stressed.
  5. Practice meditation and breathing exercises, these have a massively powerful impact on bodily inflammatory markers.

The Importance of Neutral Spine

As a Pilates and Yoga teacher, the alignment and use of the spine is central to my teaching.  Also a personal trainer the use of the spine is important in helping clients work the correct muscles and avoid injury.  Neutral Spine is the alignment of choice for a healthy spine.

A quick definition of neutral spine would be –

“Maintenance of the 4 natural curves in the vertebral column”. 

When correctly aligned, the spine can be safely loaded and pain free movement facilitated.

Finding Neutral

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Your spine should have two areas that do not touch the mat underneath you: your neck and your lower back.

To check slip one hand under the lower/lumber spine – you should just be able to get your fingers under!  Then place both hands on the pubic abdomen – this should be flat!  Another way to check standing up is to align the – earlobe > shoulder joint > greater trochanter (hip) and outer ankle bone.

Congratulations you have found neutral.  This means that the shock of standing, walking, running and jumping can be safely absorbed by your spine.  The say that when you are in neutral lying on your back, you should be able to balance a cup and saucer safely on the lower belly.

However please remember the spine is meant to flex, extend, rotate and move laterally – don’t feel you have to become a robot.  However neutral is the safely position for the spine when it is loaded (ie weight placed through it), such as when lifting a heavy weight (this includes your own body) or when engaging in a high impact activity (eg running).

 YOGA/PILATES EVENTS AND WORKSHOPS

If you have enjoyed our blogs you may also be interested in the events and courses we offer as day, weekend and longer Yoga and Pilates workshops in the north west and north Wales.  If you are interested please click on our Yoga and Pilates Events flyer.

Blankets and Blocks for Shoulderstand and Plough

Many Yoga students have difficulty with getting into and maintaining a comfortable shoulderstand (shavangasana) and plough (halasana).  Often there is a feeling of heaviness, the body drops and there is compression/pain in the neck.

The major reasons for these inversions challenging Yoga practitioners lies in the upper spine, neck and tight shoulders.  Most healthy adults can only flex their neck to between 70o to 80o, this forces the upper back to round even more when in plough or shoulderstand.  If we add in tight shoulders that reduce the ability of the arms/hands to lift the spine, we get the classic “droopy” shoulderstand or plough.

So what can we do?

First check do you need help.  Dog pose is a good “indicator” pose, so ask yourself this question, “when in dog pose is my upper back straight or obviously rounded”.  A rounded upper back in dog pose suggests you need help … so read on …

First we need to prepare

Folding two or more blankets/mats or use 5 blocks creates a raised surface for the shoulders to rest on – the head should rest off the lift.  If the shoulders are very tight a looped belt may help.

Entering the Pose

Lie on the lift with your shoulders supported and head off the lift, then bend your knees and set your feet against the floor with the heels close to the sitting bones. Exhale, press your arms against the floor behind you, and push your feet away from the floor, drawing your thighs into the front torso, coming into plough (halasana) or half plough (ardha halasana).  Take your hands to your mid or (preferably) upper back and begin to lift the skin towards the kidney area.

Either stay in plough or continue by lifting the legs to vertical for shoulderstand.  Keep the elbows shoulder width wide or less.  Press the tailbone forward and thighbones backwards.  Relax the face and tongue.

Stay in plough or shoulderstand for up to 3 minutes.

Exiting the Posture

To come down, exhale, bend your knees into your torso again come into halasana/half halasana for 30 seconds before rolling down OR just roll your back torso slowly and carefully onto the floor. Rest on the shoulder lift for at least 30 seconds.

Contraindications – high blood pressure, neck injury, glaucoma, menstruration, detached retina.

Cautions – diarrhoea, headaches, lower back pain, RA, balance disorders, degenerative disc disease and pregnancy.

Benefits 

  • Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression.  Stimulate vagal tone.
  • Stimulates the thyroid and prostate glands and abdominal organs
  • Stretches the shoulders and neck
  • Tones the legs and buttocks
  • Improves digestion
  • Helps relieve the symptoms of menopause
  • Reduces fatigue and alleviates insomnia
  • Therapeutic for asthma, infertility, and sinusitis

YOGA/PILATES EVENTS AND WORKSHOPS

If you have enjoyed our blogs you may also be interested in the events and courses we offer as day, weekend and longer Yoga and Pilates workshops in the north west and north Wales.  If you are interested please click on our Yoga and Pilates Events flyer.

 

Quick Upper Body and Arm Workout

Many people think that whilst not happy with the tone or look of their arms or upper body – there is nothing they can do about it because –

  • They don’t want to bulk up and end up like muscle bound geek, or
  • Women (or older men) cannot effectively strengthen their arms and upper back

Both of these beliefs are mistaken and myths and EVERYONE can and should exercise their upper bodies regularly.  Not only is an upper body workout good for the body, there is some evidence that it may even help with low mood.

Go on give it a go!  Attached is a quick easy workout suitable for all – if you have any health concerns always consult your medical practitioner first.

Upper body workout – click here

Caffeine and Sleep

Of all the drugs available in the modern World, none is more available, cheap and potentially damaging as caffeine.  We consume caffeine in coffee, teas, energy drinks/soft drinks, over the counter and prescription medications.  Yet little is known of the long term effects on our physical and mental health of caffeine!

What we do know is that in a 24 hour World, caffeine can seem like a friend and harmless “pick me up”.  However there is scientific evidence that caffeine is a major disrupter of our sleep patterns – a disturber or poor sleeping patterns is linked to a much higher risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

Why is caffeine so potentially damaging

  1.  Caffiene has a “half life” of between 5 and 7 hours in the average adult – that means for example 7 hours after you have that double expresso, at least half of the original “dose” is still in your body.
  2. Caffiene binds to adenosine receptors in the brain – preventing the hormone adenosine locking onto these sites.  During our waking day adenosine is produced by the Pineal Gland and accumulates until we sleep – this build up drives the desire and ability to sleep.  If adenosine cannot bind to it’s target cells in the brain SLEEP IS IMPOSSIBLE OR DIFFICULT (think of caffeine as the “cuckoo in the nest”).
  3. Adenosine is only cleared with quality sleep of sufficient length (normally about 7 to 8 hours for most adults) – so fractured sleep patterns mean that adenosine residues are always present in the brain of poor sleepers – leaving us feeling drained and tired during the day.
  4. To make matters worse we often deal with the tiredness caused by the incomplete flushing of adenosine from our brain by taking more … yes you’ve guessed it … CAFFIENE.

For a restful night’s sleep, try to take your caffeine fix before 12 noon or switch to non caffeinated alternatives.  At first abstaining from this drug can cause quite a withdrawal – but stick with it and your sleep (and general health) will improve.

 

Why Are We Unhappy – A Yoga Perspective

It can be argued that the mind is chief arbiter of all that happens to us – real and imagined.  Indeed it is often said that the whole of an individual’s life journey is a mental journey.

So why do so many appear to suffer so much mentally in their lives – this is a subject that concerned the earliest sages and rishis of Yoga, the majority of whom saw the mind as the chief source of life’s challenges.

In the East the study of the mind the first references are to be found in the Vedas and Upanishads (works developed by Rishis/seers) in the Indian subcontinent up to 5000 years ago. Later the great sage Patanjali spoke of these matters.

Mind (manas) exists as the most gross or physical level of consciousness and is a product of the nervous system and in it’s developed conditioned form could be called ego. However the higher level of mind or consciousness or “buddhi” is said to exist as pure awareness and is said to be the lens through which we glimpse our soul. The consciousness has no energy of it’s own, but through the practice of Yoga is purified so that the ego or mind can “remember” it’s itself! When the ego or lower self perceives the soul through the reflection of consciousness the PERMANENT AND IMPERMANENT ARE NO LOWER CONFUSED. It is said that all our suffering is due to us identifying with our minds and bodies!

The Vedanta philosophy has considered mind as the subtle form of matter where in the body and its components are considered the grossest forms. Consciousness although still part of mind allows connection to that which is deeper.

All mental suffering ends by getting rid of the ignorance (Avidya) that ‘I’ am different than the universal consciousness (Asmita) which is a perceptual error generated by attachment to the world by Raga (attachment) and Dvesa (aversion), which also results in Abhinivesa (fear of death or clinging to life).

Sage Patanjali an ancient seer had enunciated as early as 500 BC the practical steps of such introspection in his 196 aphorisms in the form of sutras. Patanjali maintains that the goal of existence is liberation from this ephemeral world of existence. This is trans egoic state going beyond the phenomenal world of smaller self which is at the periphery of awareness. This realisation of our true nature is revealed diving deep in to the self in the process of absorption (Samadhi). In Samadhi fear of death vanishes as this is linked to identification with the body and then frees the individual.

 

 

Eccentric Exercise for Tendon Pain

Tendon pain (tendonitis) is a very common condition of both younger people who exercise on a regular basis and older people who live a more sedentary life.  Essentially tendonitis is caused by minor rips, tears and disorganisation of the tendonous tissue.  These injuries can occur as the result of sudden trauma (eg lifting a heavier weight than normal) or over a long period of time due to repetitive movements.

Typical areas of tendonitis includes the achilles/lower calf, the elbow, knee and shoulder.

Tendonitis is usually a dull ache that is made worse on movement.  Often there is a cracking or grating sound.

What are the tendons?  Well tendons are the anchors at the end of muscles that connect them to bones and have high levels of collagen to provide strength – unlike muscles which have low levels of collagen, but far more stretch.

Fixing the Problem

One of the most effective ways to treat tendonitis, after initially resting, icing, compressing and elevating (RICE) is the use of ECCENTRIC exercises.  Eccentric muscle action is an overall lengthening of a muscle as it develops tension – typically putting down a load with control.

Eccentric exercises work on the tendonous part of the muscle-tendon unit (concentric exercises work on the muscular part).  Muscles are divided into two sections, 1. the contractile (red) muscle belly and 2. the (white) tendon and non-contractile components.

Active muscle lengthening (eccentric contraction) stresses and thereby strengthens the (white) tendon tissue more.

Attached is a list of Eccentric Exercises for Tendonopathy, however please note all serious pain or debility should be seen by a qualified medical practitioner.

Yoga and Ayurveda

Ayurveda is the ancient Indian science and wellbeing and is often seen as the sister discipline of Yoga (Ayurvedic practitioners often see Yoga as the exercise arm of their own therapy!).  Ayurveda has much to say about wellness, disease and how these affect the different constitutional or dosha types.  Ayurveda offers lifestyle advice, dietary advice, herbal prescriptions, surgery (very few modern practitioners offer this now!!!) and of course Yoga

It could even be argued that Yoga therapy began as an arm of Ayurveda.

Ayurvedic physicians often prescribe the practices of Yoga to both maintain health or treat illness or disability.  An Ayurvedic physician will often prescribe Yoga both for the illness AND the constitutional type of the patient – so let’s have a quick look at the general principles of Yoga as Ayurvedic therapy.

If you don’t know what your constitutional type is why not take our quick dosha quiz? Without knowing a person’s dosha it is said to be almost impossible to use Yoga as a healing tool.

Yoga for the Doshas

In Ayurveda there are three basic constitutions (we all have a mixture, but one or two doshas tend to predominate) – these being vata (wind), pitta (fire) and kapha (earth).  All the doshas benefit from a good balanced Yoga practice, however when we feel our mental and physical balance is being lost the following tips may be of help in fine tuning our practice.

Yoga for Vata

Vata is the dosha that is most easily disturbed mentally and physically, but also tends to recover well from imbalance.  A typical vata person tends to be long and slender – just the type of student who is often seen in a Yoga studio.  This constitution often suffers from mental disorders and problems with the joints.

All postures relating to the pelvis, asanas which involve pressure to the abdomen and balancing postures are recommended.  Vata Yoga practitioners should feel grounded all the time and should avoid extremes of temperature when practicing.

Classic posture for vata = trikonasana

Yoga for Pitta

Pittas love intensity and fire and are often drawn to an intense heating practice or one done is a hot environment.

However as pitta is situated at the navel, Yoga practice should look at keeping their digestive in good health and the navel area calm.  Spinal twists, inversions, meditation postures and meditation all ease pitta.  Benefit may also be obtained by resting between postures or even practicing with the eyes closed.

Classic posture for pitta = Matsyandrasana

Yoga for Kapha

The innate sluggishness of this constitution mean that the more energising postures and practices are brilliant to balance kaphas – such as backbends, sun salutations, inversions and the forceful pranayama of kaphalabhati and bhastrika.  Practicing in a heated room may be very advantageous to kaphas.

Classic posture for kapha = Matsyasana

 

Swara Yoga

Yogis thousands of years ago discovered two kinds of energy within the human being – a positive solar (male) energy and a negative lunar (female) energy – together they govern the whole of our being and when in balance, they provide for harmonious functioning of our mind and body and all its systems.

Energy and consciousness, permeate the whole of our being through the network of energy channels, called nadis which converge into two main channels ida and pingala which travel up the body on either side of the spine, – the lunar energy flows through ida and the solar energy through pingala, and they move upward through the body from the perineum to the crown of the head.

When the flow of energy in ida and pingala is in harmony with each other, a third channel opens within the spinal canal in the centre of the spinal cord, called sushumna, manifesting as an equal flow of breath in both nostrils. An active sushumna expresses itself as a state of deep harmony in body, mind and spirit promoting health and well being.

A pranayama technique called Nadi Shodana (alternate nostril breathing) may be practised and used as a tool for rebalancing the nervous system as it is one of the simple, safe pranayama (breathing) exercises with numerous health benefits.

To live life fully and evolve in a harmonious way we must practice, achieve and maintain balance between the right and left brain, between ida and pingala, as this will have very real implications in our daily life, in the way we function, interact, grow and evolve.  The science and practice of working to balance the energies of Ida and Pingala is known as SWARA YOGA.

Ancient Yogis noted that every 60 to 90 minutes one of the channels becomes dominant and the other passive (this is called NOSTRIL DOMINANCE) – the dominant nostril becomes clear and the passive nostril becomes partially or fully blocked.  Certain attributes, characteristics  and traits are traditionally associated with nostril dominance and these would affect the behaviour, desire and abilities of the Yogi.  Below is a short list of the effects of the changing balance of energy in the body as seen via nostril dominance –

LEFT NOSTRIL DOMINANCE        

  • Receptiveness
  • Body Coolness
  • Elimination of Toxins
  • Thirst
  • Expending energy in a slow sustained way
  • Nourishing
  • Imaginative pursuits
  • Playing music and singing
  • Reciting mantras
  • Initiating sustaining relationships
  • Drinking liquids
  • Intuitive, holistic thinking
  • Subjective decision making

RIGHT NOSTRIL DOMINANCE

  • Activity
  • Increased body heat
  • Strength
  • Hunger
  • Eating and digesting food
  • Short term intense effort
  • Expending energy in a vigorous way
  • Aggressive, negative acts
  • Intellectual pursuits
  • Deductive rational reasoning
  • Hunting and fighting
  • Attention to detail

What is Ageing?

Aging is not a simple business.

After all – if it were that simple – humankind would have already worked things out and average life expectancy would be around 200 years and rising.  Understanding why we age is a question that keeps some of the best scientific brains in the world fully occupied – and there is still no definitive answer.

Why do you need to know?

If your concern is looking good as you get older – you may wonder why you need to make your brain ache with ageing theory.

More and more scientific studies are discovering promising new skin care ingredients, warning us about dangerous lifestyle choices, focusing our attention on what to eat and drink for protection from premature aging.  Sometimes the theories seem to contradict one another or offer too many choices.

Simplified Theories of Ageing

  1. Free radical theory

The oldest (since 1956) and most well known and accepted theory of aging – most of us by now have heard of free radicals and the damage they do. The simple explanation of a free radical is a molecule with a free electron which then reacts with healthy molecules in a destructive way producing disease, cell aging and death.

You must have read lifestyle advice based on free radical theory – poor diet, alcohol, smoking, sun exposure – cause free radical build up in the body and result in ill health and premature aging. What you may not have known is that apart from the bad choices you make – just breathing in oxygen and generating energy to move or eat produces natural free radicals which are equally as bad for you.

What we all need is plenty of “free radical scavengers” – or as we now call them antioxidants – which include vitamin C, vitamin E, Betacarotene, green tea catechins and others.

Antioxidants are freely promoted in products like supplements and as anti aging ingredients in skin care based on this theory of aging.

  1. DNA and genetics

Based on the fact that we all have a pre-determined genetic tendency to function in certain ways including how and when we age. Research around this theory shows that genetics isn’t everything. In spite of DNA – rates of aging can still be greatly influenced by our lifestyle choices and by pollutants and toxins we encounter (as in the Free Radical Theory above) – these affect what is called “gene expression”.

  1. Rates of cell division or the Hayflick Theory

Named after the scientist who first outlined the theory in 1961 – Dr Hayflick. The suggestion is that human cells are limited in their ability to divide and reproduce themselves. Hayflick estimated that after 50 cell divisions they die leading to ill health, decay and eventually death. Longer life (anti aging) depends on slowing down the rate of cell division. The way we do this is largely through diet and lifestyle choices as described in the free radical theory before although some drug interventions are being studied.

One discover to emerge from this line of study is that over fed cells divide quicker and restricting calories extends life in lab experiments with mice. As a result calorie restriction (CR) has emerged as an anti aging programme in its own right closely connected to the Hayflick theory.

  1. Cross-linking or glycosylation

A relatively new (1990’s) theory which is becoming increasingly accepted with the work of Dr Robert H Lustig and others. Cross-linking theory is based on the damage to health caused by the presence of simple (added) sugars in the modern diet. Simple sugars bind to proteins in a process called Glycation which results in the formation of AGE’s (Advanced Glycation End Products). Resulting health problems include: Alzheimers, diabetes, cancer, sight loss, deafness and heart failure.

Fructose in the form of High Fructose Corn Syrup or HFCS emerges as the main villain in this theory largely because in many ways it acts as a toxin in the body and has ten times the glycation activity of glucose – the body’s main fuel source.

Glycation is also directly linked to collagen deterioration and skin aging.

Recommended antidotes to AGE’s include vitamin E, Alpha Lipoic Acid and flavonoids (plant chemicals in highly coloured fruit and vegetables) used in both diet and skin care.

  1. Mitochondrial decline

Mitochondria are the powerhouses of cells where energy is produced for everything we do, say and think in the form of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) which cannot be stored and has to be continually renewed.

The mitochondria make use of some essential nutrients to produce this energy including: CoQ10, Acetyl L Carnitine and B vitamins. Both mitochondria and ATP production decline with age and this is linked in part to free radical damage.

This theory of aging focuses on the need to protect and increase ATP production by repairing mitochondrial damage. Antioxidants play a part in limiting free radical damage but supplementation with the key nutrients needed to form ATP – in particular Acetyl L Carnitine, CoQ10 (idebenone) and CoQH (ubiquinone).

Summary – what matters?

Free radical damage is a common theme and the role of antioxidants is key. Focusing on lifestyle choices – boosting your diet with antioxidants (vitamin C, E, Betacarotene, green tea catechins, omega 3) and cutting out the damage from smoking, photoaging (UV) and alcohol will make a real difference to how well you age. Some supplements emerge as winners – CoQH (ubiquinone), Acetyl L Carnetine are two to focus on.

For the future – The movement is rightly focussing on sugar damage (from fructose in particular) as a significant cause of disease and premature aging. Cutting down on added sugar and eliminating fructose is something you can start doing now if you value your looks and health.