Self-Care Series: Part One

I know, I know, you really don’t need another person telling you how prioritizing self-care has a truck-ton of benefits for you and your life. You’ve heard it, your mom’s heard it, we’ve all heard it. But if you’re picturing self-care as an all-out Instagrammable spa day or tropical yoga retreat, you’ve got it all wrong. Okay, maybe not ALL wrong, those things are blissful and still totally count as self-care, but they’re not necessarily realistic examples of how the general population is able to reap the long-term benefits of self-care in their daily lives. A few of the rituals I’m going to discuss may be new introductions to your days, but I’m willing to bet that you’re doing most of these things already. So why should you bother keeping up with a series about it anyway? Because, more than introducing new self-care to your already packed life, I want to help you make minor changes primarily to the way you consider and approach the rituals already present in your life. The concept for this series started out as one blog, but as the blog got longer (and longer… and longer…), I realized that the “minor changes” I had made has affected A LOT more aspects of my life than I had realized! All that said, here is part one of our Self-Care Series (at least 7 more parts to come!) to help you add mindfully beneficial self-care rituals to your daily routine and, hopefully, help adjust your feelings toward activities that you may not yet be thinking of as self-care.


Part One – Exercise

No, wait! Don’t leave me yet! If exercise isn’t already a part of your daily routine, you probably think I’ve made a huge tactical error (if my intention is to get you to keep reading this series) by coming right out of the gate referring to exercise as “self-care”. Exercising when you don’t enjoy it can feel laughably far from self-care. I promise I truly know this from experience, as I’ve fallen off and gotten back on the workout wagon more times than I remember (and probably more times than I would admit even if I did). I grueled away hours of my life on weight benches, stair climbers, and treadmills, hating almost every single moment of it. Not surprisingly, I never stuck with anything and never really reached a point where I was satisfied with how I felt or looked. Sound familiar?

But then, something freaking magical happened – I found my yoga home. A term like “yoga home” may sound like an eye-rollingly crunchy term, but all I really mean is that I finally found a yoga studio close enough to my home with a gloriously wide range of yoga styles (yin to hot vinyasa), flexible class times, in-house childcare, and a handful of teachers I truly adored. Basically, I switched workouts, gyms, and studios for years until I finally discovered a place that made it as hassle-free and enjoyable for me to get a workout in. That enabled me to commit to my practice and a healthy body in a way I never had before, and eventually to start learning about and applying other tenets of yogic practice as well (we’ll go into those other tenets later – back to the exercise alone for now!).

If yoga truly isn’t your thing, THAT’S OKAY! If nothing you’ve tried so far is your thing and you’ve lost count of how many times you’ve stopped/started, that’s also okay. It doesn’t mean that you’re a failure or that you’ll never be able to approach exercise in a loving way, it just means that you haven’t found your niche yet. Try new things. Keep trying new things until you find the new thing that just makes you pause and think, “You know what, I wouldn’t hate to do that again.” I’m not kidding, that’s all it takes to start.

Your next (and really, it could be considered last) step here is to make it a priority to do it as much as possible. When I finally found an exercise I enjoyed doing, prioritizing exercise became prioritizing self-care. I was making it a point to spend an hour doing something that was solely for the benefit of my own mind, body, and soul. Talk about empowering! I watched other pieces of my life begin to benefit – changing the method and mentality surrounding my daily exercise caused me to change the method and mentality surrounding almost every aspect of my life. And here we are, at the very beginning of a whole series about each of those aspects. Stay tuned for part two next week!

*The photo of the cat wearing workout gear was shamelessly added to make you like me and want to read more. There may be an internet clause somewhere that says I have to disclose this.

Free Yoga Phoenix: Free-Flow Nights at Mountain Shadows

Because I believe that everyone should and more importantly can make yoga a consistent part of their life, I’m a sucker for a free yoga class. Because I currently live in one of the most beautiful places in the country – with some of the best weather that autumn has to offer – I’m an even bigger sucker for an outdoor yoga class. But you offer me a free, outdoor yoga class presided over by Camelback Mountain at a newly remodeled and oft-discussed resort in Paradise Valley, AZ? Clear my calendar! I had high hopes for the Thursday night “Free-Flow” at Mountain Shadows resort, and though a few things were shaky, will definitely be giving it another shot as soon as possible.

What: a complimentary outdoor yoga class with gorgeous mountain views, with $5 drinks and appetizers at The Living Room for post-savasana socialization

Where: Mountain Shadows. 5445 E. Lincoln Dr, Paradise Valley, AZ 85253. While the class was advertised as being on a large lawn with views of Camelback and Mummy Mountains, our class was held by the pool with a great view of Camelback.

When: Thursday nights at 6:00 pm for the rest of November. Our class started a few minutes late due to some parking issues.

Why: Practicing yoga outdoors with views of nature has been shown to heighten breath awareness (thanks, fresh air!), release endorphins through visual stimulation, build confidence by practicing in a new environment, replenish depleted energy by allowing your body to “recalibrate” in its natural environment, and help calm the “fight or flight” response that prevents so many of us from being fully present in our practice. Plus, its free yoga – when the Universe gives you a gift like free yoga, it may be considered downright rude not to accept. Just saying.

Of note: parking. While the event advertised free and convenient parking at the resort, I have to say that I did not find that to be the case. Evidently, there were simply too many events taking place on the evening I was there, as evidenced by the moving practice space and the fact that we were directed to park in a neighboring lot which turned out to be full. Yogis then had to attempt to find parking along the street and a nearby construction area. When you arrive, drive straight up to the valet and he/she will direct you to wherever you need to go. I recommend arriving 5-10 minutes early, in case you end up having to trek from your car.

In summary… While the view and the waterfall sounds at the pool were lovely, I was bit disappointed in the decision to move the practice from the grassy lawn I had seen in photos. For one thing, we were practicing on concrete, and I had brought my thinnest mat in anticipation of a practice on grass. For another, we were right outside the patio of one of the resort’s restaurants, which made for a practice with a bit more background discussion than I typically prefer. Honestly, I just love a practice with a more direct connection to the earth, so I was a little let down when I discovered that wasn’t what I was getting. That coupled with the lack of parking for yogis (and subsequent late class start to allow for the extra headache time) left me feeling a bit like the yoga class was in the backseat compared to everything else the resort had going on – though I suppose that actually was the case, considering the “free” price tag! Overall, I would definitely visit this practice again to flow on the grass, but the concrete yoga experience probably isn’t for me.

7 Reasons Why Everyone (Yes, Everyone) Should Practice Yoga

When you think of yoga, what comes to mind? A serene monk in the Himalayas chanting mantras on one toe, having given up all of his worldly possessions? An impossibly slender Instagram model clad in a bikini contorting herself into a hazardous-looking pretzel on a Bahamian beach? Or a healthier, more peaceful, better version of yourself? Yoga can mean each of these things. By now you’ve probably heard from at least once person that you should try practicing yoga, and I’m here to emphatically back up that advice with the why behind it.


 1. It’s good for your mental health

Though many early studies regarding the impact of yoga on mental health were poorly managed and small, many more recent studies have centered around randomized controlled trials, which is considered to be the “most rigorous standard for proving efficacy”. The results of these studies are finally leading science to back up what yogis have known for centuries – that those who practice yoga experience a reduction in depression, anxiety, and a multitude of other mental health issues. One likely reason behind this is that yoga has a profound effect on the endocrine system via the reduction of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, as well as the increase of “feel-good” hormones like serotonin and melatonin. A group of Vietnam veterans experiencing PTSD in Australia were subjected to a randomized controlled study regarding the effects of a yoga and breathing program. The veterans were all on at least one antidepressant and were all daily drinkers. One group practiced yoga, breathing techniques, and meditation each day for six weeks, while the control group lived their lives as usual. After six weeks, the group that had been practicing yoga and breathing dropped their CAPS (Clinician Administered PTSD Scale) scores from an average of 57 (moderate to severe symptoms) to 42 (mild to moderate) – and these results persisted at a 6-month follow-up. The control group showed no improvement. Considering the recent estimate that 20% of veterans come home from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan experiencing symptoms of PTSD, these results and the idea that there could be assistance outside of (and in addition to) medication is incredibly heartening.


2. It’s an excellent way to keep physically fit

Look, it’s completely understandable that some are skeptical of yoga as a viable means of building muscle and shedding fat. Many are trained to believe that unless a workout leaves us red-faced and struggling for breath, it must not be effective. But the secret is getting out – yoga’s benefits as a workout are on par with (and in some cases greater than) what immediately comes to mind for many of us when we think of a “good workout”. A study from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that, over the course of four years, a group of middle-aged adults who practiced yoga at least once a week gained three fewer pounds than a group who practiced other forms of exercise. The same study found that overweight adults who began practicing yoga lost five pounds, while a group who did not practice gained thirteen pounds; those results remained true even when accounting for differences in eating habits. Though most forms of yoga aren’t going to give you the most efficient calorie-burning workout of all time, it’s difficult to find another form of exercise that is so effective at working so many different muscle groups at once, while also normalizing the hormone levels that are responsible for how our body retains and carries weight.


3You’ll sleep better

A study by researchers at Harvard Medical School found that after 8 weeks of a regular yoga practice, sufferers of both primary and secondary insomnia experienced marked improvements to sleep efficiency, total sleep time, total wake time, sleep onset latency, and wake time after sleep onset. Another study of 410 cancer survivors found a link between a regular yoga practice and reduced fatigue, reduced use of sleep medication, and an overall sense of increased quality of life. So the research makes it clear that yoga helps you sleep better, but how is that possible? For reason number one, let’s circle back to this blog’s reason number one – it reduces stress and anxiety. Number two, many yoga poses also work directly with the nervous system to help it decrease its activity at crucial times. And number three, since yoga in the most basic sense is breathing, a regular practice over time can train your body’s breathing to decrease snoring/hitched breathing and increase oxygen levels, contributing to a much more peaceful night of sleep overall.


4. You’ll be less at risk for heart disease

Though the American Heart Association does not count yoga towards the 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity per week that they recommend for optimum heart health, they do acknowledge it as a means of helping prevent or even reversing existing heart disease. By lowering blood pressure, decreasing cholesterol levels, and decreasing stress, yoga helps keep your cardiovascular system in tip-top working order.


5It increases balance and reduces fear of falling

For younger readers, it may or may not have crossed your mind that balance and a fear of falling is a very real issue for many of our population, especially seniors. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have determined that 11 different studies show a regular yoga practice increases balance and reduces fear of falling. Combined with its relatively low-impact nature and its ability to be adjusted to fit the practitioners’ needs, the benefits of yoga to seniors can hardly be overstated.


6. It can help prevent and heal injuries

It stands to reason that having better balance and flexibility would help prevent many common injuries such as sprains, pulls, and broken bones. What may be more surprising is that trials seem to indicate that yoga can even be used to accelerate healing for injuries, wounds, and even after major operations. One randomized control trial looked at two groups of 15 patients with relatively simple “long bone” fractures. Both groups received standard medical treatment for their fractures, but one group practiced yoga and visualization during two 30 minute sessions per day, while the control group did not. After 21 days, doctors compared the two groups’ healing based on an assessment of pain, swelling, and bone density – in every case, the group that had practiced yoga daily fared dramatically better. Another randomized control trial focused on a group of women with stage II and stage III operable breast cancer pre- and post-operatively. One group practiced yoga with regulated nostril breathing and relaxation techniques, while the control group received social support counseling sessions and rehabilitative shoulder exercises. Respective treatments were given at the hospital beginning post-op and continuing for 30 minutes per day for 3 weeks after the women were discharged. When doctors looked at factors like duration of hospital stay post-op, time to drain removal, time to suture removal, and post-op systemic inflammation, it was clear that the yoga group had fared much better, sometimes reaching these milestones in half the time it took the control group.


7. You’ll probably get sick less

Feel like you’re getting sick all the time? Yep, there’s yoga for that! If you look back at the past few times you caught a bug, there’s a good chance that they occurred when you were burning the candle at both ends. More and more, science seems to support the idea that the fatigue, hormonal imbalance, and poor sleep caused by high stress levels can compromise the immune system; asana practice provides a manageable, natural way to support it daily. It helps lower stress hormones that can trigger illness, conditions the lungs and respiratory tract, stimulates the lymphatic system to eliminate toxins, and brings a better flow of oxygenated blood to each organ, ensuring their peak performance. Certain poses can even be used to target the systems that need help the most, with poses that specifically support the thyroid, thymus, sinuses, and many other areas.


Yoga can mean absolutely anything you need it to mean. It can be a fast and vigorous hatha, it can be a slow, deep stretch, it can be deep breaths while lying comfortably on your back. After any amount of time away, your mat is always waiting. It will never judge you for any time away or physical limitation. You can devote as much or as little time to it as you have, but I promise*, after just a few weeks of learning how incredible you can feel, you will catch yourself finding more and more time.
*This claim is unsubstantiated-ish and can be proven only through the experiment of Life