LET'S TALK, YOGA MEDICINE

Athleisure - - News - PHOTOS | Bethany O

More and more, the worlds of science and nat­u­ral reme­dies and prac­tices con­tinue to work in tan­dem with one one an­other. We took some time to chat with Valerie Knopik who works with Tif­fany Cruik­shank, the founder of Yoga Medicine that blends these prin­ci­pals to­gether.

ATHEISURE MAG: Tell me about your back­ground and how you came to work with Yoga Medicine.

VALERIE KNOPIK: I have a PhD in Psy­chol­ogy and I am cur­rently an aca­demic re­searcher/sci­en­tist men­tor­ing post­doc­toral fel­lows and junior fac­ulty at Brown Univer­sity and will be mov­ing into an en­dowed pro­fes­sor­ship in the De­part­ment of Hu­man De­vel­op­ment and Fam­ily Stud­ies at Pur­due Univer­sity this sum­mer. In ad­di­tion to this ca­reer in science, I also teach yoga and have been a stu­dent in ad­vanced train­ing with Yoga Medicine since 2014. In late 2016 at a mod­ule in Se­dona, Tif­fany Cruik­shank (founder of Yoga Medicine) and I started talk­ing about the pos­si­bil­ity of a re­search pro­ject and that was the ex­cit­ing be­gin­ning of the Yoga Medicine Re­search In­sti­tute and my role as the Di­rec­tor of Re­search for Yoga Medicine.

AM: What is Yoga Medicine and why is this a way to blend science and na­ture to­gether?

VK: Yoga Medicine is a thor­ough, anatom­i­cally-based train­ing sys­tem that trains teach­ers across the globe to work more pow­er­fully with their stu­dents. Yoga Medicine teach­ers are trained in the fu­sion of East and West to blend the best of anatomy and phys­i­ol­ogy with the tra­di­tional prac­tice of yoga, in­clud­ing pranayama, mind­ful­ness and med­i­ta­tion. It is this foun­da­tion that makes Yoga Medicine the per­fect venue for build­ing a re­search pro­gram that fo­cused on the com­bined ap­pli­ca­tion of yoga, med­i­ta­tion, and mind­ful­ness to im­prove health and the hu­man con­di­tion. Our vi­sion is to ed­u­cate and em­power our global com­mu­ni­ties to use yoga ther­a­peu­ti­cally based on a deeper un­der­stand­ing through pur­pose­ful and well-de­signed re­search. Through this ef­fort, I have the honor of men­tor­ing and train­ing our Yoga Medicine com­mu­nity of teach­ers in the nu­ances of con­duct­ing re­search and to de­liver pur­pose-driven yoga, med­i­ta­tion and mind­ful­ness in­struc­tion as a way to ro­bustly ex­am­ine its ef­fects on var­i­ous health out­comes. In my view, this con­tin­ues the push, al­ready started by Yoga Medicine, to raise the bar on what it means to be yoga teacher. Ed­u­ca­tion. Ex­pe­ri­ence. Re­sults.

AM: How can one ac­cess Yoga Medicine?

VK: To learn about all things Yoga Medicine, you can start by vis­it­ing the web­site. On this site, you can find in­for­ma­tion about our mis­sion, the Re­search In­sti­tute, the Seva (or ser­vice) arm of Yoga Medicine, train­ings, ar­ti­cles writ­ten by our teach­ers and con­trib­u­tors and so much more. Our Find a Teacher plat­form is also avail­able via the web­site or di­rectly. This is a free ser­vice that Yoga Medicine pro­vides to con­nect you di­rectly with a Yoga Medicine trained teacher in your area. Through this ser­vice, you can find all teach­ers in your area and you can see what train­ings they have com­pleted with Yoga Medicine so that you can find a teacher that meets your needs.

AM: With Spring be­ing upon us, what is a detox that one can do to get their sum­mer body prepped?

VK: A detox is a process where one ab­stains from or rids the body of toxic or un­healthy sub­stances. Spring is syn­ony­mous with the idea of spring clean­ing and that doesn’t have to mean strictly of the house or closet va­ri­ety of spring clean­ing. There are sim­ple ways to par­tic­i­pate in a detox or cleanse (for more

de­tails, check out Tif­fany Cruik­shank’s book: Op­ti­mal Health for a Vi­brant Life). Here are some sim­ple strate­gies that you can do to get a jump start. If you can stay on this detox for about three weeks (the amount of time they say it takes to break a habit), you will no­tice some sig­nif­i­cant changes in how you look and feel!

• Elim­i­nate cof­fee and al­co­hol. If pos­si­ble, elim­i­nate all caf­feine, but if you must keep a small amount of caf­feine in your rou­tine, con­sider sub­sti­tut­ing green tea for cof­fee – the caf­feine in tea is gen­tler on your sys­tem

• Elim­i­nate added sugar – be­come an avid la­bel reader – sugar hides ev­ery­where

• Eat fresh and or­ganic veg­eta­bles and foods

• Start your day with a large glass of wa­ter with the juice of one half of a lemon. Drink a lot of wa­ter through­out the day.

• Drink herbal, de­caf­feinated tea – not only will this in­crease your fluid in­take and hy­dra­tion, but the an­tiox­i­dants in tea are ben­e­fi­cial as well

• Be aware of al­ler­gens and pol­lu­tants in your en­vi­ron­ment and add skin brush­ing and the neti pot to your daily rou­tine.

• Con­sider elim­i­nat­ing dairy and wheat for the three-week pe­riod

• If you eat meat, try eat­ing only lo­cal, free-range, or­ganic, and grass-fed of­fer­ings. Find a lo­cal farm so that you are aware of where you are get­ting your meats from and (bonus!) you are sup­port­ing lo­cal busi­nesses

• If you eat fish, try to find wild caught of­fer­ings

• Move your body! Yoga, ex­er­cise, whatever it is will in­crease cir­cu­la­tion to all sys­tems to help move tox­ins out • Sweat – though ex­er­cise or the sauna – reg­u­larly!

AM: For those that have kicked into their work­out meth­ods of choice, how can we keep our bod­ies in­jury-free and what can we do when we have strained mus­cles in our arms, butts and legs when we start a new work­out rou­tine?

VK: To keep your body in­jury-free, it is im­por­tant to make the time to re­store the mus­cles that you chal­lenge dur­ing your work­out of choice. This can be some­thing as sim­ple as tak­ing the time to stretch be­fore and af­ter phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity. Other ways to make sure you re­store your sys­tem in­clude my­ofas­cial re­lease, mas­sage, mind­ful­ness, wa­ter in­take, sleep, and nu­tri­tion. A mus­cle strain im­plies dam­age to the mus­cle and can be a re­sult of fa­tigue, overuse, or im­proper use. The most im­por­tant strat­egy for mus­cle strain is a pe­riod of rest, fol­lowed by light stretch­ing or my­ofas­cial re­lease to en­cour­age cir­cu­la­tion to the area.

AM: Stress tends to creep in from time to time - what are three things that we can do in terms of breath­ing tech­niques and move­ments to man­age it?

VK: Here are three tech­niques:

1. Ba­sic Breath Aware­ness

Lay on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor and at least hip-dis­tance apart. Once com­fort­able, place a hand on your ab­domen. Be­gin to just no­tice your breath. Does your breath feel strained or smooth? Just ob­serve your breath with­out judg­ing whether or not you’re do­ing it right or wrong. Grad­u­ally be­gin to make your breath as re­laxed as pos­si­ble. In­tro­duce a slight pause af­ter each in­hale and af­ter each ex­hale. Now be­gin to bring your aware­ness to your hand on your ab­domen. No­tice that with each in­hale, your ab­domen rises, and with each ex­hale, your ab­domen con­tracts.

With­out be­ing force­ful, just be­gin to gently try to ex­pand the ab­domen on the in­hale and con­tract the ab­domen on the ex­hale to sup­port the nat­u­ral move­ment of your di­aphragm. Con­tinue for 6-12 breaths.

2. Long Ex­hale

The long ex­hale is a 1:2 breath­ing prac­tice that in­volves grad­u­ally in­creas­ing the length of your ex­hale un­til it is twice the length of your in­hale. Start with ba­sic breath aware­ness as out­lined above. With a hand on your ab­domen, men­tally count the length of both your in­hale and your ex­hale for sev­eral breaths. Start to grad­u­ally make the in­hale and ex­hale the same length. Once your in­hale and ex­hale are of equal length, then grad­u­ally in­crease the length of your ex­hale un­til it is up to twice the length of your in­hale. If you start to feel stressed, back off to a ra­tio that is more com­fort­able for you. It’s im­por­tant to note that an ex­hale that is even slightly longer than your in­hale can have pro­found re­lax­ing ef­fects on the ner­vous sys­tem. Con­tinue for 6-12 breaths.

3. Chan­dra Bheda – Lu­nar/Moon Breath

In this breath prac­tice, you in­hale only through the left nos­tril and ex­hale only through the right nos­tril. In Eastern tra­di­tions, the left side of the body rep­re­sents the moon, or more yin and calm­ing en­ergy, while the right side of the body rep­re­sents the sun, or more yang fiery en­ergy. There­fore, in Chan­dra Bheda, we en­cour­age the lu­nar, calm­ing en­ergy to en­ter the body, and we en­cour­age the fiery yang en­ergy to de­crease – which will help bring the body back into bal­ance. To try this breath: Sit in a com­fort­able po­si­tion.

Al­low your left hand to rest in your lap. Look at your right hand. Fold the in­dex fin­ger and mid­dle fin­ger into the palm. For this breath prac­tice, you will only use the right thumb and the right ring fin­ger. With your thumb on your right hand, close off the right nos­tril and in­hale through the left side of the nose. Then use the ring fin­ger to close off the left nos­tril, re­lease the thumb and ex­hale though the right nos­tril. Start with an in­hale and ex­hale that are about a count of 5-10 and are equal in length. Re­peat for 3-9 rounds.

AM: What are 3 stretches that we can do when a short travel ex­pe­ri­ence be­comes a longer one due to flight de­lays, missed con­nec­tions etc?

VK: One of the most im­por­tant things you can do is to make sure you move around dur­ing these de­lays. We have a ten­dency to just sit and wait, but adding some gen­tle move­ment can have sig­nif­i­cant ef­fects on mood, anx­i­ety, and just the feel­ing of ten­sion that ac­cu­mu­lates in the body. Even just a walk around the ter­mi­nal can help. Here are a few spe­cific stretches that you can do to ease travel ten­sion and anx­i­ety:

1. Neck Re­lease – Sit in a com­fort­able po­si­tion with a tall spine. Al­low the right ear to drop down to­ward the top of the right shoul­der. Keep­ing the head in this po­si­tion, try to send the top of the left shoul­der away from the left ear so that you cre­ate a lot of space on the left side of the neck. From here, think of your chin like the rutter of a boat and gently shift the chin to­ward the right shoul­der (keep send­ing the left shoul­der away from the left ear as you do this). Move the chin slowly to find ad­di­tional ar­eas of neck ten­sion. Stay for 5-10 breaths. To bring your head back to neutral, place the right palm on the right cheek and gently as­sist the head back to cen­ter. Re­peat on the left side.

2. Stand­ing (Or Seated) Side Stretch – reach the arms high to­ward the ceil­ing. If pos­si­ble, clasp the hands over head. Imag­ine that you can lift and lengthen the torso out of the pelvis. Find this by reach­ing up to­wards the

ceil­ing, then side bend to the right. Think about wrap­ping the right armpit to­ward the wall that you are fac­ing so that you are less likely to col­lapse in the chest. Stay for 2-4 breaths. On an in­hale come back to cen­ter and then side bend to the left.

3. Legs Up the Wall – Find a de­serted or less busy part of the air­port with a bit of wall space. Lay down on your back and send your legs up the wall – try­ing to scoot your sit­ting bones as close the wall as pos­si­ble. Al­low the back of the skull and the en­tire spine to rest on the floor. Al­low the legs to rest on the wall. Find a com­fort­able po­si­tion for your arms. Stay any­where from 5-30 min­utes.

4. For­ward Fold (Seated in a Chair, Stand­ing, or on the Floor) - Get­ting the head be­low the heart can be an ex­cel­lent and ac­ces­si­ble way to re­duce anx­i­ety and stretch the lower back mus­cles that tend to get tight when we sit for too long.

AM: Do you think that more doc­tors and prac­ti­tion­ers are re­al­iz­ing that it is es­sen­tial for new and old medicines to come to­gether and where do you see that in the next few years?

VK: I do be­lieve that there is a move­ment to­ward a more col­lab­o­ra­tive and blended ap­proach to health and self­care. For ex­am­ple, I work with a client who has been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing chronic low back pain and, with his per­mis­sion, I have worked along­side his acupunc­tur­ist and chi­ro­prac­tor to de­velop a plan for him. I think that both doc­tors and prac­ti­tion­ers are open to this blended ap­proach, but at this point, I be­lieve it is still pri­mar­ily on the shoul­ders of the prac­ti­tion­ers/pa­tients/clients to seek out ways to bring to­gether Eastern and Western modal­i­ties for re­lief from any­thing as sim­ple as the com­mon cold to more com­plex sit­u­a­tions such as low back pain. How­ever, there are more and more ini­tia­tives for bring­ing mind­ful­ness into the tra­di­tional Western med­i­cal set­tings, such as hos­pi­tals and doc­tor’s of­fices. These ef­forts lead me to be­lieve that, in the near fu­ture, we will see more of the tra­di­tional Eastern modal­i­ties of Chi­nese Medicine, acupunc­ture, pranayama, and mind­ful­ness be­ing more for­mally in­cor­po­rated into ap­proaches to health care and self-care. With in­for­ma­tion and ed­u­ca­tion comes the pos­si­bil­ity for more com­pre­hen­sive ap­proaches to health.

Valerie Knopik, PhD, is a Yoga Medicine in­struc­tor, Di­rec­tor of Re­search for the Yoga Medicine Re­search In­sti­tute, a Se­nior Re­search Sci­en­tist & Pro­fes­sor of Psy­chi­a­try and Hu­man Be­hav­ior at Brown Univer­sity, and a yoga teacher in Prov­i­dence, Rhode Is­land.

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