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Anxiety and Yoga

Anxiety sucks. It stinks when everyday stuff gets you so worked up and worried that you can’t sleep, can’t focus, and can’t function. It happens sometimes to most of us.

When a prevalent state of anxiety persists for at least six month, it can be diagnosed as an anxiety disorder. Life becomes fear and uncertainty. For some, living becomes unbearable.

And it’s common. Eighteen percent of the population suffers from debilitating anxiety at some point in every year.

Anxiety doesn’t always make a lot of sense. Often, people realize they are anxious way out of proportion to the situation. Intellectually knowing something isn’t a big deal just doesn’t make a difference. They can’t relax. Tension builds. They may startle easily, feel fatigued, and have headaches and tension in the muscles of the neck and shoulders. Some even tremble, twitch, sweat, throw-up, pee all the time, feel short of breath, get lightheaded or have hot flashes.

Anxiety is usually treated with drugs, ones that are pretty addictive like the class of medicines called benzodiazepines. Valium is in that category, and so is Ativan. They work by modulating the GABA system. GABA stands for gamma-aminobutyric acid, and it’s the main “downer” neurotransmitter that balances the brain’s natural “upper” neurotransmitters.

 

In August of this year, a study done at the Boston University School of Medicine showed for the first time that a behavioral intervention, Yoga, appears to increase the level of GABA in the thalamus of the brain, and the increased GABA was associated with reports of lower anxiety levels by the study participants. The Yoga sessions were 60 minutes long and were attended three times per week for 12 weeks1.

Older studies have also proven Yoga’s beneficial effects when it comes to treating anxiety2,3,4,5,6,7. One even showed that Yoga worked better than benzodiazepines (the tranquilizer drugs)2.

If you’re feeling overly anxious and worried about everything large and small, then please give Yoga a try before resorting to medicine. It’s a beautiful, natural healing method that beats drugs any day.

If you’re already on anti-anxiety medicine, then add an hour of Yoga at least three times a week. If you give it a good try and are consistent with your practice, then you’ll likely be able to taper down on the dose of drugs (in consult with your physician). You may even be able to stop them altogether – and that means stopping their side effects, both the known ones and the occult.

 

Reference:

  1. Streeter CC, Whitfield TH, Owen L, Rein T, Karri SK, Yakhkind A, Perlmutter R, Prescot A, Renshaw PF, Ciraulo DA, Jensen JE. Effects of Yoga Versus Walking on Mood, Anxiety, and Brain GABA Levels: A Randomized Controlled MRS Study.J Altern Complement Med. 2010 Aug 19.
  2. Vahia NS et al. Psychophysiologic therapy based on concepts of Patanjali. A new approach to the treatment of neurotic and psychosomatic disorders. Am J. Psychother. 1973 Oct;27(4):557-565.
  3. Vahia NS et al. Further experience with the therapy based upon concepts of Patanjali in the treatment of psychiatric disorders. Indian J Psychiatry. 1973;15:32-37.
  4. Harrigan JM. A component analysis of yoga: the effects of diaphragmatic breathing and stretching postures on anxiety, personality and somatic/behavioral complaints. Dissertation Abstracts International. 1991;42(4A):1489.
  5. Platania-Solazzo A et al. Relaxation therapy reduces anxiety in child and adolescent psychiatric patients. Acta Paedopsychiatr. 1992;55(2):115-120.
  6. Michalsen A et al. Rapid stress reduction and anxiolysis among distressed women as a consequence of a three-month intensive yoga program. Med Sci Monit. 2005 Dec; 11(12):CR555-561.
  7. Kabat-Zinn J et al. Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Am J Psychiatry. 1992;149:936-943.

Yoga Helps Asthma

A reader’s recent question:

“I suffer from asthma every winter. Last year I tried yoga for 5 weeks. I tried various styles, but it did no good. Have you heard of any success in treating asthma with yoga?”

Asthma is a chronic disorder in which the airways and lungs become inflamed. With inflammation, the smooth muscles in the airways constrict causing decreased air flow (NHLBI, 2004). Asthma attacks can cause a multitude of symptoms including wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and coughing (NHLBI, 2004).

Avoiding contact with environmental “triggers” can control asthma. Tobacco smoke, dust mites, cockroach allergen, outdoor air pollution, pets and mold are considered important triggers of an asthma attack (CDC, 2003, 2004; U.S. EPA, 2005, 2007).

Yoga can also help to control asthma.  Specifically, the technique of neti can help one to avoid inhalation of environmental triggers and infectious microbes which exacerbate symptoms.  Please see our in-depth article on neti.

Beyond neti, Yoga has been shown to alleviate asthma through asanas, pranayama meditation, and relaxation with stress reduction.

Here’s an article published in the reputable British Medical Journal about Yoga and asthma.  The authors found a positive effect. Note that they included relaxation therapy (10 minutes in savasana daily), pranayama, and neti.

Below is an abstract from the Journal of Asthma:

J Asthma. 1986;23(3):123-37. An integrated approach of yoga therapy for bronchial asthma: a 3-54-month prospective study. Abstract:  After an initial integrated yoga training program of 2 to 4 weeks, 570 bronchial asthmatics were followed up for 3 to 54 months. The training consisted of yoga practicesyogasanas, pranayama, meditation, and kriyasand theory of yoga. Results show highly significant improvement in most of the specific parameters. The regular practitioners showed the greatest improvement. Peak expiratory flow rate (PFR) values showed significant movement of patients toward normalcy after yoga, and 72, 69, and 66% of the patients have stopped or reduced parenteral, oral, and cortisone medication, respectively. These results establish the long-term efficacy of the integrated approach of yoga therapy in the management of bronchial asthma.

Heres a link to another article supporting the efficacy of Yoga for asthma.

Although savasana is a great asana to help control symptoms, practice of Yoga for asthma should include bhujangasana, the cobra pose, as it also is a good one for symptom reduction.  It helps to expand the chest.

 

To round out a natural approach, consider the effects of food on asthmatic symptoms. There are indications that up to 15% of asthmatics have a dietary component to their disease.  The milk protein, casein, is the biggest culprit.  A trial of avoiding it in milk, cheese, yogurt, semi-sweet chocolate, etc for at least two to three weeks might be worth a go.  If that doesnt help, a similar trial of excluding eggs or wheat from the diet might be of benefit.

A daily practice of Yoga for asthma includes neti, bhujangasana, meditation, at least 10 minutes in a progressive relaxation sequence in savasana, and at least five minutes of pranayama will help to reduce the frequency and severity of asthma symptoms.

Yoga For Chronic Low Back Pain

“I had thought my life would never be the same again after my back condition was diagnosed, but I cannot say how much this has helped.  I have a new lease on life and have no back pain now.”   trial participant testimonial

In my mailbox last week was the latest edition of Annals of Internal Medicine, the premier publication of the American College of Physicians, an organization for internists of which I am a member. Glancing at the table of contents on the outer cover, I was thrilled to see the leading article was one about Yoga, Yoga for Chronic Low Back Pain. A Randomized Trial. (you can view it online here)

After a chilly fall walk down my long country lane back to the house, I settled into a comfy chair to warm up and read the latest report.

In the United Kingdom, a group of researchers at the University of York and the University of Manchester teamed up with some British Wheel and Iyengar Yoga teachers to study 313 patients with chronic or recurrent low back pain. At several centers across England, Yoga teachers taught a program of 12 classes, each 75-minutes in length. During the one class each week, participants were instructed on a philosophical theme (like steadiness) before beginning a series of calming, standing, chair-seated, lying, and relaxation postures.

Asanas incorporated into the program were held for 10 to 15 seconds and included:

Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

Modified Ardha Matsyandrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes)

Makrasana (Crocodile)

Bhujangasana (Cobra)

Pavana muktasana with both knees to chest (Wind Releasing)

Supta bhadrasana (Reclining Bound Angle)

Shalabhasana (Locust)

Savasana for 5 – 20 minutes (Corpse)

Of course, a Yoga class wouldnt be Yoga without addressing the mind as well as the body, and participants were encouraged to increase positivity and self confidence in daily life. Mental focusing and awareness were required.

This carefully constructed program for low back pain included encouragement and instructional tools for participants to continue at home. A manual with four home sequences and a relaxation CD were provided, and they were given the goal of practicing twice per week forever.

The study findings?

The Yoga group had better back function at the end of the 12 weeks than a control group receiving usual care, and the improvement remained a year after the program began. There was no significant change in subjective reports of pain between the two groups. Four subjects in the Yoga group reported increased pain compared to none in the control group. None of the pain was deemed medically serious.

Pain scores remained unchanged according to statistical analysis, and the Yoga group was better able to function and to deal with daily life than the group who received no Yoga training. According to the authors, Yoga seems to be a safe and effective activity that clinicians could consider recommending for patients with a history of low back pain.

Lose Weight Gradually It is All in the Math

To lose weight permanently is like the tortoise and the hare, slow and steady is better than speedily shedding a large amount of weight. When you lose weight gradually, over a period of time, you are more likely to keep the weight off. To do that, you need to be committed to a healthier lifestyle on a long-term basis.

The Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, OH, which specials in weight loss and in treating obesity, encourages you to keep a positive attitude. You can lose weight, but it takes determination, awareness and commitment.

The Math Behind Weight Loss – Calculate Your Maintenance Weight
A large part of the science behind weight loss boils down to simple arithmetic. If you start with 2,100 and subtract 2,300, what is the result? Negative 200. This is the goal in weight loss, to take in less calories per day than you burn off. If your daily diet totals approximately 2,100 calories, but you burn off 2,300 calories daily, then your calorie deficit is 200 calories. You will lose weight. By contrast, if you burn off less calories than you ingest through food, then you will more than likely gain weight.

For weight loss, then, for example, a typical daily maintenance diet for the average non-dieting population is approximately 1,700 to 2,200 calories, depending on your height and current weight. For a five-foot ten-inch tall 40 year old male who weighs 180 pounds, maintenance weight can be maintained on a diet of approximately 2020 calories daily with a light activity level. With moderate exercise, with the same scenario, maintenance weight would be slightly over 2,300 calories.

In this example, if the 40 year old male were to maintain his 2020 calorie a day diet, and increase his activity level to a moderate level by engaging in thirty minutes of exercise daily, he would likely start to lose weight, as the calories he burns off would increase to 2,300 daily. Consult a weight loss chart for your particular physical profile, gender and activity level and for the specific number of calories needed for maintenance weight.

Increase your Daily Activity Level – Initiate an Exercise Regimen

A second step in your weight loss plan, in harmony with the above, is to step up your activity level. Engage in moderate daily exercise to increase the number of calories you burn off. Especially if your job or daily activity level borders on sedentary, that is, you work on a computer or office all day, with little physical activity, then exercise needs to be incorporated in your daily routine. Brisk walking, aerobic exercise at home or at the gym, biking or riding a stationary bike, or using any number of aerobic machines typically at the gym, are excellent ways of burning off calories. To have value, it is best to engage in exercise at least 20 to 30 minutes daily. 30 minutes of riding a stationary bike, as an example, might burn between 100 and 200 calories, depending on the level of intensity with that you are able to maintain.

Some other simple ways of upping your daily activity level are, walk to work, school or to the store rather than driving your car. Walking 30 minutes a day to work or school, rather than driving, is enough to increase the number of calories you burn off daily by 100 or more. You’ve effectively increased your activity level from light to moderate. Take the stairs rather than the elevator if you work or live in a building with multiple floors.

Calculate the Your Daily Caloric Diet and Plan Your Diet for Weight Loss

Start to count calories. Based on your maintenance weight requirements, calculate and monitor the number of calories you need to eat in order to maintain and lose weight. Your calorie intake should be at least 100 or 200 less than what you burn off daily. If you want to lose a pound a week, which is a significant amount of weight, then your daily calorie deficit must be approximately 500 calories. To lose a half a pound a week, your calorie deficit needs to be approximately 250 calories. Avoid high calorie foods such as found in foods with high sugar content and added refined sugar. Avoid refined carbohydrates such as found in pastries, cakes, cookies and ice cream, etc. Substitute these with low calorie foods such as fruits, carrot and celery sticks for snacks, and drink water rather than soda and fruit juice. There are other ways to help curb your appetite as well.

Do your research, make your calculations, stick to your plan, and you will lose weight. It is all in the math. You can do it. Keep a positive attitude and be determined. If you find yourself backsliding, get back on the track again. Don’t give up and consider weight loss a long-term project.

How To Lose Weight Fast

There are dozens of ways to lose weight quickly. Some of them are dangerous crash diets and others are safe ways to jump start a healthy lifestyle.

If you’re looking to drop a few quick pounds to kick off a new healthy lifestyle I have a few ways to help you lose 5-10 pounds in about 2 weeks. If you’re lucky it’ll happen even faster. Let’s start off with the simplest thing you can do to lose a few pounds in just a few days.

Drinking Water To Shed Weight

Most of us are walking around in a constant state of dehydration. Since we are not drinking enough water our bodies are storing it for when it needs it most. A gallon of water weighs 7 pounds and a lot of people are holding nearly a full gallon of water in our bodies as excess bloat.

 

If you want to convince your body to release that water you have to give it a constant supply of it. You’ll see a lot of “experts” recommend that you drink ice water or that you put lemon in it to speed up fat loss. This is small potatoes stuff and advice that’s built upon pseudo science. Don’t bother wasting your energy on anything other than drinking enough water to let your body know that there will be enough water coming in that it doesn’t need to store it under your skin for later.

Stop Eating Flour

You’re going to find a lot of people recommending that you try a gluten free diet to lose weight. Unless you have celiac disease, and few people actually do, there is no reason to cut out gluten. Most of us however are eating way to much flour, and that does include whole wheat, and it’s making us fat. Try cutting them out of your diet completely for a couple weeks and see how you feel. Usually two weeks of being flour free is enough time for your body to release a few pounds.

It’s also likely that your energy levels will sky rocket by dropping wheat. Large carb heavy meals, especially wheat based ones cause your blood sugar levels to spike. As your body fights to bring those blood sugar levels down you’ll become lethargic and want to take a nap.

The hormones that are involved in stabilizing your blood sugar will also cause your body to store fat. By controlling these hormones you’ll not only begin to feel better but you’ll burn fat very quickly.

Drop Sugar Completely

Don’t make the same mistake that so many other dieters make. They replace what they believe are unhealthy foods with processed “diet” bars, meals, and shakes that are made with low quality ingredients with sugar alternatives that spike your blood sugar just as much as regular sugar.

Don’t eat “Power Bars”, 100 calories cookie packs, Nutri-Grain bars, and similar products. They won’t help you to lose weight and they definitely won’t help to make you healthy. Opt instead for fruits and vegetables when you’re between meals.

 

Peter Pan Syndrome and Weight Loss May Stem From Creator Himself

A journal article on psychology and eating disorders suggests that the Peter Pan Syndrome and weight loss parallelism may stem from Peter Pans creator himself: James M. Barrie. The article explores the possibility that author James M. Barrie might have been anorexic during his childhood and adolescent years.

Peter Pan Syndrome and weight loss

Peter Pan Syndrome is a metaphor used to describe men who refuse to face adulthood. In terms of weight loss, the same metaphor also applies. Peter Pan Syndrome refers to people with anorexia who, much like Peter Pan, refuse to grow out from a tight self-perception. Anorexic individuals are also said to possess the fantasy of flight and an idealization of weightlessness. This idealization is related to Peter Pan’s ability to float or fly in the air, which seemingly assumes the figure of a sylph or a weightless ballerina. Most psychologists describe anorexics as being possessed with such narcissistic fantasy and idealization.

James M. Barrie- Possibly Anorexic

The sole character of Peter Pan might not be the only metaphor we can relate to weight loss; the author of this fictional character may also contribute to the comparison. Psychologists and researchers speculated that Barrie might have suffered from anorexia during his childhood years and that he might be expressing this (though indirectly) through his stories or writing. Experts who probed on this possibility suggest that his physical status and condition when he was a child was suggestive of anorexia nervosa. As a child, Barrie was described to be poorly clad and frail, this suggests that Barrie might have appeared extremely thin compared to other children. In his twenties and thirties, Barrie was described to look like an adolescent wearing a fake moustache. Although one physician believes he might have suffered from delayed puberty due to glandular deficiency, psychologists, however, have another take. According to them, it is possible that Barrie’s condition is undetected anorexia nervosa. His small or thin stature and the seemingly delayed maturity of his body is said to be attributed to childhood and adolescent onset of anorexia. Psychologists say that this type of anorexia may cause irreversible physiologic changes such as stunted growth, and delayed puberty and sexual maturation.

Further evidence is the psychological history of Barrie. At age six Barrier’s older brother (13 years old at that time) died from a skating accident. The death of his brother led to an immense mourning reaction from his mother, who refused to eat and just stayed in bed for almost a year. This event sparked an intense desire from Barrie to replace his brother David. But the replacement occured in an odd way: Barrie seemingly became David exactly the way he was until the day he died. That is, he became the fourteen year old David, the boy a couple of years from puberty who was deeply attached to his mother. Experts suggest this strong motif and attachment might be a strong psychological drive to remain youthful and eventually “not to grow up at all”.

No Conclusions Yet

Although psychologists probe on the possibility that Barrie was anorexic and that his psychological history might be the primary motif for why he wanted to remain in a “delayed growth state”, experts who proposed this concept are not conclusive. Diagnosing an eating disorder from written stories and psychological history do not serve as heavy evidences. But they are conclusive with the fact that these reveal a common theme which can be related to weight loss and anorexia.