om gam yoga

Melbourne yoga instruction by Sophie Langley

Category: meditation

Stress hormone linked to frailty

More reason to do yoga: reduced stress linked to greater stability in old age

More reason to do yoga: reduced stress linked to greater stability in old age

Reducing stress levels is possibly part of the reason you go to yoga, yes? It certainly is for me. A new study into the long-term effects of the stress hormone cortisol has found that lower morning and higher evening cortisol levels contribute to frailty in older individuals. Another good reason to get on the floor for a yoga practice — or meditation or anything else you can do to reduce overall stress levels, I reckon!

Frailty confers a high risk for institutionalisation and increased risk of mortality and is characterised by unintentional weight loss, feelings of exhaustion and fatigue, physical inactivity, slow gait speed and low grip strength. Neuroendocrine function, including cortisol secretion, is thought to be involved in the etiology of frailty, but until now the underlying biological mechanisms have not been well understood.

“Cortisol typically follows a distinct daily pattern with the highest level in the morning and the lowest basal level at night,” said Karl-Heinz Ladwig, PhD, MD, of Helmholtz Zentrum München in Neuherberg, Germany and an author of the study. “Our findings showed dysregulated cortisol secretion, as featured by a smaller morning to evening cortisol level ratio, was significantly associated with frailty status,” he said.

Study method

In this study, researchers conducted a cross-sectional analysis of 745 participants between the ages of 65 and 90 years. Cortisol levels were measured using saliva samples at three points: awakening, 30 minutes after awakening and evening. Participants were classified as frail if three or more of the following criteria were met: exhaustion, physical inactivity, low walking speed, weakness (measured by grip strength) or weight loss (loss of more than 5 kilograms in the past six months).

“Our results suggest a link between disrupted cortisol regulation and loss of muscle mass and strength, as the underlying pathophysiology of frailty,” said Hamimatunnisa Johar, a PhD student at Helmholtz Zentrum München and an author of the study. “In a clinical setting assessment of frailty can be time-consuming, and our findings show measurements of cortisol may offer a feasible alternative,” she said.

Other authors of the study include: Rebecca Emeny, Barbara Thorand, Annette Peters and Margit Heier of Helmholtz Zentrum München, German Research Centre for Environmental Health in Neuherberg, Germany; and Martin Bidlingmaier and Martin Reincke of Klinikum der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München in Munich, Germany.

The study, “Blunted Diurnal Cortisol Pattern is Associated with Frailty: A Cross-Sectional Study of 745 Participants Aged 65 to 90 Years,” has been accepted for publication in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM) and will appear in the March 2013 issue.

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Article based on materials provided by the Endocrine Society. Founded in 1916, the Endocrine Society is the world’s oldest, largest and most active organization devoted to research on hormones and the clinical practice of endocrinology. Today, the Endocrine Society’s membership consists of over 17,000 scientists, physicians, educators, nurses and students in more than 100 countries. Society members represent all basic, applied and clinical interests in endocrinology. The Endocrine Society is based in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

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Yoga, writing and keeping active

In a few weeks’ time, I’ll be involved in some sessions at the Emerging Writers’ Festival, which I’m really excited about.

This year, the second weekend of the festival will be held at the beautiful Abbortsford Convent, which is one of my favourite places to wander around on a weekend anyway. That weekend, The Writers’ Retreat, is focused on wellbeing for writers, and the program includes events on parenting and writing, health and writing, balancing writing with life, and nature writing. You can view the full list of events here.

I’ll be involved in two events on the weekend.

Workshop: Yoga and Writing
11am-12.30pm, 1 June 2013
The Salon, Abbortsford Convent
Tickets $15, $12 concession

I’ll be running a workshop on yoga and writing on the Saturday morning. I can’t even begin to articulate how excited I am about running this. For me, yoga is an absolutely vital part of my writing practice. I use it in all sorts of ways, from a remedy for the physical ills that come with sitting hunched over a desk, to supporting and enhancing (I hope) the intellectual and emotional wrangling necessary to get words on a page.

The workshop will be an opportunity for me to share some of the ways that I use a yoga practice to help my writing, but I also want it to be a pretty open format. I’ll be running the class through some of the yoga postures and other practices, but questions and discussion will be most welcome.

I always hope in my yoga teaching to help people develop sovereignty with their own bodies (and minds, for that matter), so that they can begin to use on their own the tools yoga offers for whatever it is that they need. This workshop is no exception. So come along and ask me as many questions as you like!

Seriously. I love it when people ask me questions about yoga.

Symposium: Keeping Active in the Arts
2.30-4pm, 2 June 2013
Rosina Auditorium, Abbortsford Convent
Admission is free

I’ll also be involved in a symposium-style event on the Sunday called ‘Keeping Active in the Arts’. In this session we’ll be talking about the benefits of staying active, and how to actually do that.

Having recently gone back to a job that keeps me at a desk three days a week (as opposed to teaching yoga full-time, like I was in Sydney), I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few weeks mulling over exactly these questions. I’m really looking forward to discussing some of the ideas I’ve had, and getting some new ones from others.

But honestly, the whole weekend sounds like it’s going to be wonderful, so even if you can’t make it to my events, do come along. Here are some pictures I took on a recent visit to Abbortsford Convent — it’s worth coming just hang out in the place.

~

This is cross-posted on my writing blog.

Lying on the floor

Walking home from teaching one night, on the phone to my Mum, I rounded a corner to find a woman and her tiny dog, waiting to cross the road.

That dog’s on a long leash, I thought.

“Watch out for my dog, lady.” the woman said.

“It’s okay, I can see him.” I said, probably impatiently.

“Yeah well, how would I know? You’re looking down.” She snapped, and crossed the road.

“Yes,” I said, “Down. To where the dog is.”

And all of a sudden this woman and I were yelling at each other across the street, until she stormed into her apartment building and the door slammed, and I became aware of my Mum, on the phone I still held to my ear, saying “Sophie, who are you talking to?”

As I told her the story, and as is often the case for me, my indignation turned to guilt. “I can’t believe I yelled at her,” I said to Mum.

“Don’t worry,” she said “You’ll never see her again.”

And it’s true. I’ll probably never see that woman with her tiny dog on a stupidly long leash again. But it’s highly unusual for me to yell at strangers in the street. If I am, it’s a pretty good sign that there’s something not so great going on for me. Anger, frustration and grumpiness are usually an indication that I’m feeling overwhelmed by or stressed about life—often I don’t even know why.

I’m pleased that this is something I know about myself. It means I can make some little adjustments to how I organise my days, so I get enough downtime or rest. Because rest is usually the answer to stress. But it’s not always easy. In this recent piece, one of my favourite yoga writers, Yogi J Brown, discusses the ways we should (and usually don’t) deal with stress. Intimacy with ourselves, he says, is the best antidote—that is, spending time with ourselves in a way that allows us to see what’s going on. Noticing the anger or frustration is the first step.

When I was a teenager, I used to spend a lot of time lying on the floor or my bed, just listening to music. One afternoon, my Mum came into my bedroom to find that I’d actually fallen asleep on the floor, my head just centimetres from a speaker that was blaring music. It’s easy to be dismissive, to say that I could afford to do that then because I didn’t have the responsibilities I do now. But that’s a load of crap. Yes, I do have more responsibilities now, but surely that just makes it all the more important that I get some downtime, so I’m able to deal with those responsibilities… well, responsibly.

In my essay for The Emerging Writer, I explored some of the benefits for writing of doing nothing (well, almost nothing—listening still counts as something, really) with the physical body. To briefly summarise that part of the essay, doing nothing allows the body and the mind to process stuff, and potentially to make links between things that might not be immediately obvious, or that the brain might not have made otherwise.

Obviously, this can be good for writing. But it’s also just good for us on a more general level. Rest—waking rest, as well as sleep— is really important. (And ‘rest’, by the way, is just as metabolically active as activity—it just uses energy in different ways.)

In this piece on the benefits of the yoga pose savasana (which translates as ‘corpse pose’ and basically involves lying on the floor doing nothing), Sydney yoga teacher Brooke McCarthy writes in detail about what happens when we relax deeply—and how to do it. After reading this piece I decided I needed savasana to make an appearance in my life every day. I haven’t quite managed that yet, but on the days when I do get to it, everything seems just a little calmer. Honestly, lying on the floor for ten or fifteen minutes when I’m really busy makes the world of difference to my state of mind. And, really, if I’m feeling overwhelmed anyway, what am I really going to get done in those fifteen minutes?

And while I’m on the subject of ‘busy’. That words makes me cranky. I’d never really thought about why until I read this piece about the trap of busyness (interesting: my eyeToy autocorrects busyness to business). Writer Tim Krieder suggests that being busy is an avoidance tactic—if we’re busy, we don’t need to face ourselves, and all those things that are worrying us or upsetting us. And the more I teach yoga, the more I realise that everyone has at leat some of that kind of baggage. Facing it is hard, so makes sense that we don’t want to do it. But avoiding it doesn’t make it go away. For me at least, avoidance often makes the worry warp into something else—like yelling at a woman and her dog on the street.

My response lately to the question ‘how are you?’ has been ‘busy’. And after I’d said it a few times, I realised that it, along with the crankiness I was carrying around, was an indication I was doing too much.

All of this is a very roundabout way of saying that, once again, I’m returning to that teenage habit of lying on the floor listening to music on a regular basis. I’m trying to get some nothing into each if my days. It’s amazing. I feel instantly less busy.

Too many things

Last week I finished a masters degree that I’ve been doing on and off now for four years. It’s a degree that I’ve enjoyed immensely at times, and loathed at others, but that, overall, I’m so glad to have done.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of myself when I finished. I guess I expected some relief, and maybe some sadness. But actually what I’ve ended up with is a kind of confusion about what to do now, and about a million suggestions from within my own mind about how to manage that confusion. Since Thursday (the day of my last class), I’ve had this odd excitable (bordering on manic, actually) energy.

“Energy”, when your day job is teaching people yoga, is a troublesome word to use. When I say it, people sometimes look at me strangely, thinking, I suppose, that I might start talking to them about hippy-dippy energy healing or something. I do know (and respect) people who work in that kind of therapeutic field, but when I use that word, I’m aware of those links, but that’s not really what I mean. I’m just talking about the feeling that tells you whether you’re tired or sluggish, or likely to burn through a long To Do list in five minutes flat. And for the last few days, my energy has been the latter. Well, it would be if I could only pin it down long enough to focus on something.

Yesterday morning I half-made myself three separate breakfasts because I couldn’t focus long enough to decide what I wanted. I made plans for some exciting stuff happening later in the hear, I did some reading for some writing work I’m about to start, and i planted some new green-leafy stuff in my garden. Today I made pies for some friends for afternoon-tea-lunch, but I also made a loaf of bread and a bunch of other small things. And walked around in circles in the kitchen because I kept forgetting what I was doing. Tonight I’ve started no less than four writing projects, some small, others not so. I’ve started reading about three different books since Thursday.

As I wonder which of these various projects I’ve started will actually get off the ground, I’m reminded of this talk on the paradox of choice. Because right now I feel a little like that’s what finishing uni has left me with—too much choice (yes, I know: first world problem).

I worry too that at some point I’ll crash, because that’s usually what happens for me. In fact, I’m a little surprised it hasn’t already. What I would love to learn is how to sit still with this energy and just watch it, but I so often feel like I need to use it while it’s there. I wonder how much that feeling is dependent on the pattern of energy-burn-crash-energy-burn-crash, and if I could learn to even it out a little.

This is why I do yoga. Focus. Learning to sit still. Learning to do nothing. (Which, incidentally, is what my essay in this lovely book is about.) Or, at the very least, to be aware of what’s going on and try to work with that. I wonder if it’s something I’ll ever be good at.

~
This is cross-posted on my writing blog.

New Beginners’ Yoga Courses Sydney

I’ll be teaching two new beginners’ yoga courses in Sydney, starting next week. The classes will be held at the Yoga Factory in Camperdown, and will run for 8 weeks. The cost is $140.

Mondays
(starts Monday 11/06)
6-7.15pm

Wednesdays
(starts Wednesday 13/06)
7.45-9pm

If you’ve never done yoga before, or have taken a few classes but feel like you’re not entirely sure what you’re doing, beginners’ yoga courses are the way to go. Over the 8 weeks, we’ll learn the basics of yoga breathing, as well as some of the most common yoga poses, and hopefully by the end of the course you’ll feel more comfortable heading into a general class. You don’t have to be flexible to do yoga — I sure as hell couldn’t touch my toes when I started. The practice will help you build flexibility and strength, of course, but it will also teach you the way you a lot about your body and your mind work, and help you to manage the inevitable stresses we come across in general life.

I love teaching beginners’ courses. It’s such a wonderful opportunity for me as a teacher to see new students beginning to understand how their bodies work. And beginners often come up with the most interesting questions, because they’re coming at it with fresh eyes — and this means I learn a lot too.

Bookings are essential for these courses, so if you’re interested, you can book here. Alternatively, send me an email (sophie@omgamyoga.com), and I’ll book you in.

A city’s intricacy

It’s the city’s crush and heave that move you; its intricacy; its endless life.

    ~The Hours, Michael Cunningham

I’ve been trying for months now to articulate exactly this sentiment. I miss the open space of my country upbringing, I miss the clean air, I miss seeing the stars in the sky at night. But this, this layer upon later of human intricacy, is what I’d miss about the city were I to move to the country.

An example: in a house around the corner from mine lives a man who practises his operatic singing in the middle of the day. Sometimes I happen to be walking past, and it never fails to make me smile—there he is, just the thickness of a wall away from me, singing beautifully.

~

Cross-posted on my writing blog.

Home

A few days ago, my friend Sam posted this essay about his impending move away from Adelaide. He’s moving to Sydney (which means I’ll see more of him — hurrah!) sometime in February.

Although it’s about different places, the essay quite aptly describes my own struggle to figure out where to call home. I’ve lived in Sydney now for as long as I lived in Melbourne. In between the two, I lived in Canberra for a few short months. Growing up, I called Forbes, a small town in Central West New South Wales, home.

In a way, all of these places are still home for me. It’s like they contain different versions of me — almost as if, visiting, I might run into myself. And in a way I miss all of these places. Or maybe I just miss those versions of me. Nostalgia is a funny thing.

When it comes time for me to bid Sydney farewell, I’m not sure how I’ll feel about home.

~

This is cross-posted on my writing blog.

Meditation doesn’t have a reason…

“We could say that meditation doesn’t have a reason or doesn’t have a purpose. In this respect it’s unlike almost all other things we do except perhaps making music and dancing. When we make music we don’t do it in order to reach a certain point, such as the end of the composition. If that were the purpose of music then obviously the fastest players would be the best. Also, when we are dancing we are not aiming to arrive at a particular place on the floor as in a journey. When we dance, the journey itself is the point, as when we play music the playing itself is the point. And exactly the same thing is true in meditation. Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.”

Quiet time

I wrote recently about how lots of things were shifting, lots of things were up in the air, and I was hoping they’d settle soon. Yeah. It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anytime soon. In fact, things seem to be picking up, rather than settling down.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s all exciting stuff. But I do feel like I’ll be in desperate need of a very quiet holiday sometime soon.

While I wait for that opportunity, I’ve been rising ten or fifteen minutes earlier than usual most days, and just letting myself sit in the quiet for a bit. There is, of course, a whole lot of research about the benefits of meditation (and, being a yoga teacher, it’s not like I’m new to the idea that it’s beneficial), but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by just how much of a difference to my day ten short minutes of sitting still and quiet can make. Doing this with some kind of regularity (my meditation practice has always been sporadic, at best) makes those benefits even more noticeable.

Of course. It’s obvious. And I knew it already. It makes me wonder why it is that we avoid doing something even when we know for sure that it’s good for us — or, even more than that, that it will make us feel better immediately. Not some time down the track, not even in an hour, but straight away. Why avoid it? It’s very strange.

~

This is cross-posted over at my writing blog, avocadoandlemon.

Sitting still

I’m a fan of action. I like to move, to do things. I’m often impatient.

And so I often need to be reminded that sitting still, not running around like a madwoman, is sometimes the quickest way to achieve something.

I teach both vinyasa and yin yoga, and I firmly believe that finding a balance between action and inaction is vital. Stupidly, even though I strive for this balance in my teaching, I often forget about the sitting still in my personal practice.

Over the last week or so, I’ve been struggling to work out some emotional uncertainties. The last two days in particular have brought with them a rollercoaster ride of feelings: sadness, anger, despair, shame, relief. And I’ve spent much of my time moving. At times it’s been my mouth moving, talking through all the emotions; at times it’s been my physical body, cleaning and rearranging my environment.

Finally, this afternoon I got on my yoga mat and took some time to sit still. I got out my jitters with a brief vinyasa sequence, before spending the majority of my practice on yin poses. Yin poses are passive; the idea is to relax the muscle tissue, find the point in the pose where the body just begins to resist, and just sit there breathing. On the edge.

Sitting still here, just at the edge of discomfort, forces you to look at what’s really there, be that physically, emotionally or mentally. I got a surprise; I found myself looking at someone who was doing okay, really. And I found I already knew the answers to some of the questions I’ve been agonising over.

Yin Yoga teacher Sarah Powers says that emotions are like clouds passing in the sky. Yes, they’re real, and sometimes they seem to have replaced the sky, but they can neither be pushed away nor clung to. They will pass, and the sky will remain.

Sitting still on my yoga mat today, I saw through the clouds and found the sky, just for a moment. But sometimes a moment is all it takes to remember that the sky is always there.