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Yoga is so much more than a wellness trend. While the ancient practice is often touted as a strengthening workout for those with an affinity for Lululemon gear, it boasts more than just the ability to tone your arms and core. Yoga offers both physical and emotional benefits and no one understands this more than the founder of Thyroid Yoga Fern Olivia and Los Angeles-based instructor Nicolette Ficchi.
Take lower back pain, for example. According to Olivia, discomfort in this area can be related to everything from insecurity to anger. Additionally, daily routines like sitting at a desk all day or being stuck in the car during long commutes can contribute to back problems, Ficchi points out. Because yoga tackles both emotional and physical factors, the practice can be used to alleviate lower back pain.
“Yoga can be very beneficial for the lower back because it will help to stretch and strengthen the muscles that support the back and spine,” Ficchi explains. Not only can doing yoga help to ease lower back pain, but it can also help to prevent injuries in the future, she adds. This is done through a variety of specific poses that work to release tension in the lower back while strengthening muscles that support the spine, like your abs.
Of course, yoga is like any other workout routine in many ways and you shouldn’t jump into a new practice with the hopes of curing pain without first consulting your doctor and taking necessary precautions. Ficchi advises easing into new movements and listening to your body during the process in order to avoid injury. “If something feels ‘off’ in your body, stop doing it and utilize modifications as opposed to just jerking your body into a shape you think it needs to be in,” Ficchi says. You can also use props like blocks, straps, blankets, and bolsters to help you transition into new postures.
If you’re ready to try yoga for lower back pain, start out with this flow designed by Ficchi to target your back and help soothe pain while strengthening important muscles. Here’s how to get into each pose and exactly how it will benefit your back.
- Come into a tabletop position on hands and knees with the wrists stacked under the shoulders and the knees stacked under the hips.
- Inhale and press your chest forward as your head looks up and spread your sit bones apart.
- Make sure to keep the core engaged and to not “dump” into the lower back, which may cause pain.
- From cow pose, exhale and press the earth away from you.
- Allow the head to come into the chest and round out the spine, coming into a dome shape.
The Benefits: The movement between cat and cow pose is known as spinal flexion. This frees up the spine to release tension in the back, Ficchi explains.
Downward Facing Dog
- Begin in a plank position to measure the correct distance for your body.
- Pressing down evenly through each finger, lift the hips to this sky.
- Keep the heels lifted and leave a slight bend in the knees, especially if your hamstrings are tight.
- If the shoulders are tight, turn the hands out.
The Benefits: “When the heels are lifted and knees are bent, this allows for the torso to move towards the thighs, articulating the natural curve of the lower spine,” says Ficchi.
- Make sure your feet are hips distance apart.
- With bent knees, hinge at the waist and maintain length in the front body.
- Allow the head to hang and weight to shift to the fronts of the feet.
The Benefits: “This cooling posture allows for stability in the lower back while stretching the
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Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, helping you build strong bones and stave off osteoporosis. It’s also important for your immune system and your muscles. Typically, the sun helps your body produce all the vitamin D you need, or at least close enough that you can get the rest through your diet.
But if you live in the Pacific Northwest, there’s a good chance you aren’t getting enough of it in the fall and winter months, says Heather Tick, M.D., a family medicine doctor at University of Washington Medical Center-Roosevelt.
This is a problem, because vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a whole host of health issues from heart disease and depression to Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. And if you’re diagnosed with breast cancer or prostate cancer, your chances of survival may be lower than someone with normal vitamin D levels.
So how can you tell if you need more vitamin D—and if you should stock up on supplements to make it through the next few months? Here’s everything you need to know about the sunny day vitamin.
Sun, sardines and supplements: How your body gets vitamin D
The sun emits two types of ultraviolet rays that reach the earth: UVA (long-wave) and UVB (short-wave). UVA rays penetrate your skin more deeply. UVB rays, on the other hand, help your body make vitamin D. But getting the vitamin D you need isn’t quite as simple as stepping outside.
That means that from about September to June, you can’t rely on the sun to give you the vitamin D you need, she says. Plus, if you wear sunscreen in the summer, as you should, you can kiss your vitamin D production goodbye.
Sunny days aside, you can also get vitamin D from food, but the options are limited. Fatty fish like salmon, swordfish, tuna, mackerel and sardines are all sources of vitamin D, as are egg yolks. Some cereals, orange juice, milk, cheese and yogurt are fortified with vitamin D, too, meaning it’s added in during production to make it easier for people to sneak in vitamin D.
How much vitamin D do you need?
Unless you are really vigilant about tracking vitamin D in the foods you eat, it can be hard to know if you’re getting enough. Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency can be vague, says Lucille Marchand, M.D., a family medicine doctor at UW Medical Center.
Many people who have lower-than-normal vitamin D levels don’t realize it. Your doctor may suggest a blood test to measure your vitamin D level if you have fatigue, muscle aches or bone aches that can’t be attributed to something else, she says.
“If they correct the deficiency, chances are, they’re going to help that person feel better,” says Marchand.
How much do you need? The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommended dietary allowance is 600 international units up to age 70, and 800 IU for people who are older. Both Marchand and Tick agree these recommendations are conservative.
Know that feeling of your heart beating faster in response to a stressful situation? Or perhaps, instead, your palms get sweaty when you’re confronted with an overwhelming task or event.
That’s anxiety — our body’s natural response to stress.
If you haven’t recognized your triggers yet, here are a few common: your first day at a new job, meeting your partner’s family, or giving a presentation in front of a lot of people. Everyone has different triggers, and identifying them is one of the most important steps to coping and managing anxiety attacks.
Identifying your triggers can take some time and self-reflection. In the meantime, there are things you can do to try to help calm or quiet your anxiety from taking over.
If your anxiety is sporadic and getting in the way of your focus or tasks, there are some quick, homeopathic remedies that could help you take control of the situation.
If your anxiety is focused around a situation, such as being worried about an upcoming event, you may notice the symptoms are short-lived and usually subside after the anticipated event takes place.
Question your thought pattern
Negative thoughts can take root in your mind and distort the severity of the situation. One way is to challenge your fears, ask if they’re true, and see where you can take back control.
Practice focused, deep breathing
Try breathing in for 4 counts and breathing out for 4 counts for 5 minutes total. By evening out your breath, you’ll slow your heart rate which should help calm you down.
The 4-7-8 technique is also known to help anxiety.
Whether they’re in oil form, incense, or a candle, scents like lavender, chamomile, and sandalwood can be very soothing.
Aromatherapy is thought to help activate certain receptors in your brain, potentially easing anxiety.
Go for a walk or do 15 minutes of yoga
Sometimes, the best way to stop anxious thoughts is to walk away from the situation. Taking some time to focus on your body and not your mind may help relieve your anxiety.
Write down your thoughts
Writing down what’s making you anxious gets it out of your head and can make it less daunting.
These relaxation tricks are particularly helpful for those who experience anxiety sporadically. They may also work well with someone who has generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) when they’re in a bind too!
However, if you suspect you have GAD, quick coping methods shouldn’t be the only kind of treatment you employ. You’ll want to find long-term strategies to help lessen the severity of symptoms and even prevent them from happening.
If anxiety is a regular part of your life, it’s important to find treatment strategies to help you keep it in check. It might be a combination of things, like talk therapy and meditation, or it might just be a matter of cutting out or resolving your anxiety trigger.
If you’re not sure where to start, it’s always helpful to discuss options with a mental health professional who might suggest something you hadn’t thought of before.
Identify and learn to manage your triggers
You can identify triggers on your own or with a therapist. Sometimes they can be obvious, like caffeine, drinking alcohol, or smoking. Other times they can be less obvious.
Long-term problems, such as financial or work-related situations, may take some time to figure out — is it a due date, a person, or the situation? This may take some extra support, through therapy or with friends.
When you do figure out your trigger, you should try to limit your exposure if you can. If you can’t limit it — like if it’s due to a stressful work environment that you can’t currently change — using other coping techniques may help.