Wine and a wall

Legs up the wall with a glass of wineOur flat in Munich is a ways out of the city and U-Bahn construction at the closest station means that cycling is the most efficient method for getting around. It’s been a long time since I’ve done any pedalling and my leg muscles are struggling with this newfound exertion.

Thankfully, our flat has a lovely open wall that’s perfect for my favourite restorative yoga pose – legs up the wall. Pair the leg-relaxing posture with a glass of wine and the strain in my lower body disappears!

The pose itself is super-easy (see my how-to in a previous post) – the most difficult part is managing the glass! I’m careful to make sure the wine is safe coming into and out of legs up the wall and set the glass within easy reach for the 10-15 minutes I’m laying on the floor.

Sipping while supine is challenging, but the relaxation is well worth it!

The nose knows

NoseSurgeryThis time last week my nose was bleeding profusely, the result of septoplasty surgery some hours before. The surgery went exceptionally well; the surgeon was delighted, I had no adverse reaction to the general anaesthetic, and a recovery room nurse even called me “bright as a berry.” Everything from waking up at 5:30am that morning and not eating to pre-op prep through to walking out of the hospital was almost effortless – much easier than I thought it would be.

The recovery, however, was not as smooth as I had anticipated.

While there wasn’t much pain, there was a lot of blood. I didn’t clot quickly and, even with the packing the surgeon left in my nose to sop up the bleeding, I spent the first couple days changing the gauze underneath my nose regularly and wishing for thicker blood.

Thankfully, the bleeding stopped after a couple days and I was left with discomfort, wooziness, and the continued joy of sleeping without fully lying down.

After a solid day without bleeding, it was time to get the packing out. The packing is great for controlling blood flow and keeping tissues separate so they don’t fuse together while healing (particularly important as the point of the procedure was to give my nasal passages more space), but it does introduce greater potential for infection and it’s damn uncomfortable.

I wasn’t sure if the crusty strings dangling from my nostrils would come out with the packing or if they were part of the stitches. Turns out “packing” is code for “tampons” and the surgeon used those strings to pull them out.

Getting the packing out was brutal. All blood and saline and mucous and Otrivin. Without the general anaesthetic of the surgery, I didn’t have the luxury of drifting off into oblivion while thinking about my favourite vacation spot and having the surgeon do all the messy work without me seeing or feeling it.

I left the hospital much less bright than after surgery and continued to ooze blood from my nose through the night. The next day I started experiencing head-splittingly painful sinus congestion, which didn’t get any better when I burst into tears. Turns out crying doesn’t make sinus congestion any less painful… but decongestants do 🙂

Equipped with Benylin (not my usual cold-fighter Advil Cold & Sinus as the ibuprofen wouldn’t play nicely with the antibiotics and also acts as a blood thinner… not helpful when I’m trying not to bleed!), plenty of fluids, saline nasal spray, and lots of naps, I’m feeling much better. I’m still tired, but my nose hasn’t bled for three whole days and the soreness is manageable.

I’m reminding myself to take it easy and not to expect that I’ll be entirely well yet – the surgery was just a week ago!

While it’s too early to say if the surgery has been a true success, I am already finding it easier to breath through my nose. Even with the congestion (along with the sutures and scabs that must still be there), there’s an ease of movement through my nasal passages. The surgeon said he took a lot of bone out of my right nostril, so it’s no surprise that things are clearer.

I’m hopeful that recovery will proceed smoothly and that within a few months I’ll be breathing easy… any that maybe I’ll even have stopped sleeping with my mouth open!

Healing from the heart

I have a couple friends whose mothers are going in for surgery today… and I’m thinking of them.

Loved ones with health problems are one of the many circumstances where we feel powerless to have any kind of impact. We can worry all we want but deep down we “know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum,” to quote Baz Luhrmann in Everybody’s Free.

I’ve started using meditation to channel my energies towards whoever is having health issues and away from my own fretting. I like doing the Kundalini healing meditation, which uses the Ramadasa mantra and an easy mudra (hand or body position).

The mantra is Ra ma da sa; Sa say so hung and all you do is repeat it. There are lots of recordings to chant along with, my favourite is by Snatam Kaur, and I usually chant for 11 or 31 minutes.

To come into the mudra, sit cross-legged (or in easy pose) and bend your elbows into your body; let your forearms fall open over your thighs, with your inner arms facing up. Your palms are flat and facing upwards with your fingers together and thumbs stretched outwards. The mudra is a gesture of receiving.

KundaliniYoga.org has full instructions if you want more details, including an illustration of the position.

I did Ramadasa as a 31 minute meditation with my dad when he was in atrial fibrillation (a-fib), which is persistently elevated heart rate. He had been in a-fib for a few days and medication was not helping his heart convert to its normal rhythm.

I was thrilled that he was open to meditating together, although immeditately after we were done his heart rate was even higher. While I was on my way home from my parents’ place a couple hours later, though, dad called to let me know that his heart had converted back to a normal rhythm and the a-fib had passed.

I’m hesitant to say that the meditation is the reason my dad’s heart reverted to its normal rhythm, but I don’t think it hurt! And at least it made me feel like I was doing something and let dad know that I love him.

So today I’ll send the love and energy from my Ramasada meditation to my friends and their moms… letting them know that I love them ♥

Beyond a good night’s sleep

Laura in corpse pose for yoga nidra

One of my few positive memories of summer camp is of a counsellor quieting us down at night by doing a guided relaxation. I remember feeling peaceful and weightless; letting go of all my tensions and forgetting any stresses of the day. Given that I didn’t like summer camp much, the comfort and security of the guided relaxation was very welcome!

I had no idea that the counsellor instructing a cabin-full of girls to relax from their toes to their earlobes was actually doing a form of the ancient practice of yoga nidra – or yogic sleep. Yoga nidra isn’t really sleep as the intent is to stay conscious, but it is deeply relaxing. Making a choice to release tension from all of your muscles and surrender to gravity is powerful and profound.

It’s a different feeling from sleeping as every moment of yoga nidra is a conscious decision to relax rather than giving in to the unconsciousness of sleep. It can be even more restorative than a nap of the same duration and some studies show that half an hour of yoga nidra is equal to two hours of sleep.

Sometimes students do fall asleep in yoga nidra and that’s okay, too. I see being comfortable enough to drift off in a yoga class as a huge compliment for the teacher 🙂

I love the way I feel after doing yoga nidra – relaxed, refreshed, and calm. I also love leading yoga nidra and I end all of my yin classes with at least five minutes of guided relaxation to help settle students into savasana (the relaxation period at the end of class).

Join me at Bound Lotus tonight at 8:15pm for Yin Yoga and check my schedule to see when I’m teaching and join me for a class – including a yoga nidra-infused savasana!

The strength of stillness

Laura relaxing at Prana

At the end of this morning’s meditation, one of my favourite teachers at Bound Lotus encouraged us to find the power in the relaxation that comes after 11 minutes of Sat Kryia.

That struck a cord with me. So much of my life (and I suspect yours, too!) is filled with rushing and running around that it’s easy to miss the profound satisfaction of being still. Not being vegetative or twitchy, but being consciously relaxed and tuning into the body.

Sitting or lying still for any longer than a couple of minutes (and not falling asleep!) is a challenge for me. My mind wanders… thoughts stray to what needs to be done and where I need to go. My body suddenly discovers itches and small discomforts that weren’t there moments ago… I invent reasons for moving.

But when I get past that first bit of twitching and let my brain clear, I start to feel the strength of stillness. Not doing or worrying or wanting… just being. The stillness brings calmness, relaxation, and a sense of rejuvenation.

Come join me at Bound Lotus for yin yoga and a bit of stillness on Mondays from 1-2:15pm and Fridays from 6:30-745pm.

If you do only one yoga pose…

Legs up the doorIf you only ever do one yoga pose, make it legs up the wall. It’s one of the easiest postures and is the foundation for many restorative yoga practices. It’s fabulous after a hike, run, long-walk, cycle, or anything that works your legs.

All it takes is nestling your bum next to a wall and swinging your legs up; once your legs are up the wall, relax and let your back body sink into the floor. That’s it!

It was immeasurably helpful for me after an accidental 8-hour hike in China this fall – luckily the hostel bed was tucked right against the wall so my back was well-cushioned!

I’ve included step-by-step instructions below.

Legs up the wall pose

Why it’s good

  • Encourages healing throughout the body by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system
  • Slows the stress-induced sympathetic nervous system – our fight or flight reflex
  • Activates the body’s relaxation response; lowering the resting heart rate, slowing breathing, and decreasing the production of stress hormones
  • Brings fresh blood and lymph fluid into the abdomen and internal organs
  • Relieves tension in the lower back and sacrum
  • Reduces swelling, tension, and stress in feet and legs
  • Raises the feet above the heart; reversing effects of gravity, improving heart function, and allowing the heart to rest

How to do it

  • Sit on the floor with the side of your hip against a wall or a closed door
  • Swing your legs up the wall, pressing your bum into the corner where the floor and the wall meet
  • Lower your back to the floor and lean your heels against the wall
    • If keeping your legs straight is too much for your hamstrings, slide your bum away from the wall and bend your knees slightly
    • Your spine should be perpendicular to the wall with your back on the floor
  • Rest your arms alongside your body, lengthen them out in a “T” shape, or extend them over your head for more of a chest and back stretch
  • Let go of the tension in your legs and pelvis
    • Make it even easier by  strapping your ankles together (try a bathrobe belt or an elastic exercise band if you don’t have a yoga strap) so you don’t have to work to keep your legs close together
    • Add a folded blanket under your hips or head if you need more padding to be comfortable
  • Breathe into your belly and relax everything
  • Hang out in this posture for 5-20 minutes – try to relax for at least five minutes

To come out of legs up the wall:

  • Bend your knees and slide the soles of your feet along the wall towards your bum
  • Remove anything you’re using to hold your legs together and press your lower back into the floor for a couple breaths
  • Squeeze your knees into your chest and roll from side to side on your back to release any tension in your lower back
  • Roll to one side and slowly come up to a seated position
  • Breathe deeply for at least three breaths to allow the blood to settle back into your body and prevent getting a head rush when you stand up

Yoga as recovery

Laura laughing while sitting on her mat at the 2011 SOYA retreatIntense physical activity, such as running or training for endurance sports like triathlons, can be very hard on your body. Yoga can help you recover. Read other posts about recovering.

Taking a meditative approach to yoga and flowing through postures, rather than quickly jumping from pose to pose, helps shift your nervous system from fight or flight reactions (sympathetic state) to a restorative, healing modality (parasympathetic state). You’re capable of making better decisions when your nervous system is more relaxed and you’ll generally feel happier!

The controlled movements of a yoga practice encourage circulation in your endocrine and lymphatic systems. Gently stretching your muscles re-distributes lactic acid and reduces oxidative stress generated by free radicals.

Perhaps most importantly, the relaxation portion of a yoga class helps your body recover from activity. Taking time out of your busy schedule to focus on your body helps you connect with your physical being and pay attention to what it’s telling you.

Yoga can also help undo the damage of a late night and flush out toxins. Backward and forward bends squeeze and release your internal organs, which brings fresh blood into your liver and kidneys and encourages toxins to clear more quickly. Specific yoga poses can also help relieve headaches and soothe sore muscles. Additionally, a long version of guided relaxation called yoga nidra slows your brainwaves, which can help heal your body more quickly and may feel more restful than napping for four times as long.