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home : insight & opinion : guest columns
January 18, 2019

1/2/2019 11:00:00 AM
A yoga approach to stress: Breath and movement
For the Daily News

As a member of this community for most of my life, I have been able to give in different ways over the years. Many of you knew me through church and school functions in the early years. After college I moved back to this area to open The Garden Shoppe, which I ran for nearly 20 years. As a landscape architect and garden designer, I was happy to help people create spaces where they could enjoy the outdoors and their families.

As time went on I found myself needing more. Through efforts to improve my own health, I gained knowledge that I felt could help others. I started doing wellness education in 2011 as I was struggling with some anxiety and other physical health issues of my own. I realized through detoxing my environment and boosting my nutrition as well as adding regular exercise, not only was my physical health improving, I also experienced better mental wellbeing.

In 2011, as I started my wellness journey, I met Brenda VanAsdlen. Brenda and I became fast friends as we had many common interests. As I grew to know her I also knew that whatever she had, I needed more of! She had a peace about her that I craved. I realized I felt that peace as I practiced yoga. I had always had trouble falling asleep at night but during a yoga practice as I lie quietly in savasana (corpse pose or final resting pose) I could fall asleep in a room full of people with the lights on!

In March of 2016 I began my 200-hour yoga teacher training. In December of 2016 I graduated and became a Yoga Alliance certified teacher. Some really big changes occurred in my life at that time and I knew my new path would be to help others deal with their health and wellness goals. Physical, mental, environmental and financial wellnesses are combined for complete wellness!

For today, let's focus on one piece of wellness: mental clarity and focus through breath paired with movement. You might realize that after you exercise, you feel a calm come over you. You might also notice that a deep breath will calm you down and reduce anxiety. When you combine movement with breath you will not believe the impact it can have on your mental peace.

As you breathe, most of us do not think about what is really happening. Breathing just is. But when you break it down through the eyes of yoga, an inhalation naturally expands the belly and ribs and, with proper alignment, will lengthen the spine and encourage expansion. An exhalation naturally contracts the abdomen and torso and encourages retraction. These principles of breath can be used with very simple movement to accomplish something great in your mind and body!

As a busy day ensues, try this simple exercise as you sit at your desk.

Sun Breath: Sit in a chair with your feet planted on the floor directly under your knees and arms down by your sides. Press your sitting bones into the seat as you lengthen up through your spine. Turn your palms upward, and take a slow inhale as you circle your arms out to the sides and overhead, connecting your palms. On an exhale, slowly lower your connected palms behind your neck while lifting your elbows toward the ceiling. On an inhale, bring your palms back up over your head. As you exhale, separate your palms and turn them downward as you slowly lower your arms back to your sides.

This dynamic stretch lifts the rib cage, allowing for a deeper breath. It also stretches the chest, which is typically contracted into a protective posture when anxiety is present. The postural change may reduce worry and fear since the physical sensations we feel in the body can affect our emotions.

In Sanskrit, "Prana" is the word for "breath," considered as a life-giving force. "Yama" is the word for "restraint," or the practice of it. Therefore Pranayama is the regulation of the breath through certain techniques and exercises.

There is so much to be gained through this simple practice that actually is life. Learning how to use your breath with your movement is a lifesaver in today's crazy, "go, go, go, sleep" world.

Peace in our body, peace in our mind and peace in our hearts, Namaste.

Shandi Lemmon is a certified yoga instructor. These occasional guest columns are provided by Crawford County LIFE, a new local non-profit that "exists to liberate residents of preconceived ideas and addictive behaviors by educating to improve understanding of themselves and their needs; to facilitate community resources with the goal to empower residents toward better emotional, physical and mental health." For more information, check out Crawford County LIFE's Facebook page.

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