Labor Day is the perfect time to unwind and RELAX completely – the bittersweet farewell to summer. This Labor Day, take a few moments to enjoy this article/Interview with Jivamukti co-founder Sharon Gannon from Crazy, Sexy Life.
CSL: If someone only has 10 minutes each morning for a yoga routine, what poses would you suggest, and can ten to fifteen minutes a day really make a difference?
SHARON: YES, most definitely. Practicing asana for ten to fifteen minutes a day can make a huge difference! Five minutes a day can make a huge difference…doing anything on purpose for even one minute a day can make a huge difference.
Here is a simple yoga asana routine which I do every morning (it takes a little more than five minutes):
“The Magic Ten”:
1. Downward dog—10 breaths
2. Standing forward bend—10 breaths
3. Squat—10 breaths
4. Teepee twist—5 breaths each side
5. Half seated spinal twist—5 breaths each side
6. Table top—10 breaths
7. Handstand—25 breaths
8. Standing Posture alignment—5 breaths
9. Standing side bends—1 breath each side 4X
10. Standing spinal roll—16 breaths
CSL: What advice do you give work-a-holics for integrating mindfulness and spirituality into their day?
SHARON: Every morning before you get out of bed ask God (or if the god word is not to your liking, ask your own “higher power”—what you feel is your best guide—be it intuition, love, higher intelligence, nature, what is good and beautiful, etc.) to make you an instrument. Personally, what I say is: “Make me an instrument for Thy will –not mine but Thine be done, free me from anger, jealousy and fear—fill my heart with joy and compassion.” I try to remember to say that, silently, often during the day, especially when I feel overwhelmed, under pressure or in a time crunch.
CSL: How is spinal flexibility directly linked to our youth and vitality? How can we make sure that we care for this integral part of our anatomy?
SHARON: Suppleness of our bodies is associated with youth and vitality. As children we naturally explore all kinds of ways to move our bodies, but when we become adults, we tend to limit our movements to what is culturally accepted. The definition, after all, of an adult means one who has stopped growing. Clothes can affect our physical movement. Fashion can influence the actual shape of our body as we fall victim to high-heeled shoes or tight jeans, skirts or dresses or even baggy clothes. Over time the clothes we wear can actually altar the physical shape of our bodies. As young children we aren’t so much interested in the status quo or judging ourselves and others by our clothes. But as we get older our outer appearance becomes more and more important and we can get stuck in the syndrome of “never having a thing to wear.” Often we try to remedy this dilemma through shopping (if we have the money for shopping). And those who don’t have the money for shopping often wish they did or envy those who do.
When we practice asana, however, we have the opportunity to uninhibitedly explore our bodies much like we did as children—we get back to exploring the many varieties of shapes and movements that our spines, and in fact, our whole bodies, are capable of. In a typical yoga session one might: curl up like a ball, roll around on the floor, touch their toes to their ears or nose, bend backward, bend forward, and/or stick out their tongue. This physical playfulness can be very freeing psychologically as it provides us with a direct experience of the mind/body connection.
The best way to care for our spines, or any part of our anatomy for that matter, is to use it for higher purposes: for service. Flexibility—physical, as well as mental, emotional and spiritual—enables you to be of more benefit to others and the world around you, and that ultimately brings profound happiness. An inflexible spine reflects an inflexible mind—a mind that is stuck, stubborn, set in its ways.
CSL: Can you help us understand more about the importance of inversions?
SHARON: Of all yoga asanas, inversions are the most potent, because they bring about the most transformational results for us physically, energetically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. A regular inversion practice can yield youthfulness and increase mental capacity, performance, endurance, energy, beauty, and overall well-being, confidence and calmness.
Turning upside down stimulates the master glands—the pineal, pituitary, thyroid and parathyroid. Ordinarily these glands operate sort of like on a thermostat set on a feast or famine trigger. So when the hormonal level gets low, a signal is sent and the gland is flooded with a new chemical dose. The problem with that is that at times when the levels are very low or very high, there can be all kinds of behavioral changes, including mood swings, PMS and even compulsive behaviors like binging on chocolate or junk food. When you do inversions regularly, you provide the glands with regular stimulation, so the hormonal levels are kept more at a balanced state of equilibrium. This helps prevent mood swings and other undesirable effects.
Inversions reverse the effects of gravity on all the systems of the body. They give the internal organs, the skin and the muscles a lift (as we all know, with age everything starts to drop down toward the earth). Inversions can provide a natural face-lift! They invigorate our circulation, helping revive our legs and feet where blood can pool, so the tendency toward varicose veins is diminished.
Inversions also have a mind-expanding effect. When we turn upside down, we can access our own pharmaceutical laboratory, stimulating the release of certain chemicals in the brain that generate feelings of calm, creativity, well-being and expansiveness which allow you to let go of the “small stuff.”
The length of time you spend upside down is important. Spending at least 5 minutes a day in a position in which your heart is above your head is necessary in order to get the benefits of inversions, but the longer the better. The most effective inversions are headstand and shoulderstand (because they involve direct contact between the ground and the head), but other alternatives are good as well, like handstand, bending over from a standing position, downward dog or any other passive inversion.
CSL: For those struggling with insomnia, are there certain lifestyle practices that would be especially helpful?
1. Sleep in a dark room
In order for your brain to be able to make adequate amounts of melatonin, your body has to be in the dark—light must not be present. Sleep in a completely dark room. Do whatever it takes to block out all of the light that might come in during the morning. Use heavy drapes or black-out shades over the windows. Never sleep with a night light on in the room. Make sure that there isn’t a light emanating from an alarm clock, computer, television etc. If you find yourself in a situation where you are unable to block out the light, then wear an eye mask as the next best thing, because when light enters into your body via your eyes (left, right and third) it is the most direct route into the pineal gland. But also keep in mind that light can be absorbed into your body via your skin.
2. Don’t drink coffee (or any caffeinated beverage), or at least try to cut down your intake to only one cup per day and drink it only in the morning.
3. Prepare yourself for bed as if you were embarking on a peaceful journey:
*Take a bath
*Put on a comfortable nightgown or pajamas
4. Quiet your mind
*Accept that you will never be able to complete all of the projects you have going on or think through all the thoughts or resolve all the issues you are dealing with in your life and the best thing to do is to take a break once a day and go to sleep for several hours.
*Do not sit in front of a computer before bed and definitely don’t work on emails before bed
*Reserve your bed for horizontal activities like sleeping–Don’t read in bed and don’t watch television in bed.
*Do not watch television before bed. Definitely do not subject your mind to violent movies or television shows and expect to be able to sleep well at night.
*Don’t leave a radio or television on
* Be a vegan—do not eat any food that has been obtained through violent means, because you will absorb the intense fear and degradation that was experienced by the animal whose flesh or milk or eggs you are eating, and over time, that will cause deep unsettledness inside of you.
*Meditate for at least 5 minutes everyday—in the morning or at night or whenever you can find the time. The practice of meditation will help you to begin to come to terms with your thinking mind so that it doesn’t keep coming at you when you want to go to sleep.