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3 Yoga Poses to Help You Sleep Better

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Do you have trouble sleeping?

Maybe you get home really late after a super long day between work and shuffling the kids to school and back. You probably didn’t have time to exercise, and you definitely didn’t make it to a yoga class. In fact the very thought of a single Sun Salutation seems so daunting, that there’s really no way you’re rolling out your mat at home for a solo practice.

Moreover, you’ve probably spent the bulk of your day sitting at your desk or in your car, and your hips have literally been trapped in a constant state of flexion.

I’ve been working with yoga students who face similar problems and have come up with a few stretches targeted to release tension, remove exhaustion, and heal your body, so you can fall asleep peacefully and with ease.

These three stretches are inspired by traditional Hatha yoga poses, and incorporate Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) andResistance Flexibility Strength Training (RFST), a system that involves contracting a muscle while simultaneously stretching it.

You’ll also stretch the same line of energy that an acupuncturist would target with needles, to access specific meridian points along the heart, stomach and thymus.

1. Dynamic Child’s Pose

Start on all fours, with your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees hip distant apart and toes untucked.

Press down into your palms and into the tops of your feet. Think of scrunching the earth together between your hands and your feet and energetically squeeze your hands in towards one another, as if your thumbs could touch each other.

Note that nothing will actually move, but energetically, try maintaining these actions with a high-level of resistance throughout this dynamic pose.

Keep pressing down into your hands and then draw your hips backwards towards a Child’s Pose. As you take your hips back, look up. Repeat 5 to 10 times.

Lastly, release all the way into a Child’s Pose — Balasana.

Reach your arms all the way out in front of you, and draw your palms together into a prayer. Bend your arms at the elbows, releasing your thumbs to the nape of your neck.

Walk your elbows forward and towards one another, finding a tricep stretch and a release for your shoulders.

This stretches the heart meridian, which runs across the front of the chest and the fronts of both arms. Your entire circulatory system will benefit from this Dynamic Child’s Pose, aiding in sleep disorders like insomnia.

And since this stretch runs along the heart meridian, you will also tap into that part of yourself that is unconditionally loving.

2. Quad stretch at the wall

Start with a blanket and a bolster (or any cushion) against a wall. Come into a lunge with your knee on the ground and the top of your back foot against the cushioned wall.

Press your back foot into the wall and maintain the 90 degree alignment of your front knee.

Try thinking of dragging your front heel in toward the wall, activating the front hamstrings. Keep these actions in the legs, and then draw your hips back towards the wall. Allow your hips to come forward, and then repeat 5-10 times.

This stretches the stomach meridian, traveling up both sides of the body — from the feet, up the fronts of the legs, through the torso, and up past the jaw.

This stretch releases tension in the fronts of the quads and relieves jaw tension. If you grind your teeth when you sleep, this is an excellent stretch.

Your digestion and metabolism will also benefit from this stretch along the stomach meridian.

3. Spinal roll-downs at the wall

Start laying down with your legs up at the wall and your hips about 4-5 inches away from the base of the wall.

Reach your legs long, and then bend your knees only as much as you need to in order to place the soles of each foot onto the wall. You will probably have a slight bend at your knees.

Place your arms alongside your body and press down into the earth with the backs of your upper arms and shoulders and press forward and down into the wall with your heels.

Keep these actions, and then tuck your tailbone by curling your pelvis upward, lifting your hips above your shoulders.

Keep pressing into your upper arms and heels and think of lifting your hips higher as you slowly start to roll your way back down.

As you lower, place your hands on your quads and press them upwards, adding another layer of resistance. From the top of your spine lower down one vertebrae at a time. Repeat 5-10 times.

Lastly, scoot your hips closer to the wall and release your legs straight up or out in a wide V-shape — Viparita Karani. Stay here for as long as you’d like.

This gentle stretch will work the thymus meridian, which runs from your fingers up the backs of your arms, shoulders, and neck, all the way to your temples.

This stretch has tremendous healing abilities, and can alleviate pain in the upper, mid, and lower back, and in the upper traps and neck as well.

Your immune system will be directly affected, strengthening your ability to recover from various illnesses or infections.

After this stretch you’ll be left with an overall sense of wholeness, which can be incredibly satisfying on multiple levels — physically, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically.

Sweet dreams.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com & Courtesy of the author

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High Blood Sugar Linked to Dementia – NYTimes.com

http://mobile.nytimes.com/blogs/newoldage/2013/08/09/high-blood-sugar-linked-to-dementia/?h=WAQHxo-9C&s=1&_r=1&

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Lifelong Reading, Hobbies Might Help Stave Off Dementia

Lifelong Reading, Hobbies Might Help Stave Off Dementia

Stimulating activities may encourage brain to adapt and create ‘work-arounds,’ study suggests

By Barbara Bronson Gray
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, July 3 (HealthDay News) — Use it or lose it: Doing brain-stimulating activities from childhood — like reading books, writing letters and solving everyday problems — through old age may help prevent clinical signs of dementia such as memory loss, a new study finds.

“Certain things increase or decrease your vulnerability to cognitive [mental] decline,” said Robert Wilson, the study’s lead author. Keeping your brain active seems to help certain brain circuits operate effectively, even if a gradual buildup of brain disease is already occurring, said Wilson, a professor of neurological and behavioral sciences at Rush University Medical Center, in Chicago.

People who engaged in frequent mental activity in later life had a rate of mental decline that was 32 percent lower than those with average activity. Meanwhile, those with infrequent mental activity experienced a decline in mental abilities that was 48 percent faster.

The research, published online July 3 in the journal Neurology, helps explain why one-third of people die in old age with little or no signs of problems with thinking, learning or memory, yet when brain autopsies are done, they actually have clear evidence of Alzheimer’s disease, Wilson said. “They [technically] have the disease, but it’s not expressed clinically,” he said.

That idea that the brain somehow creates a “work-around” to avoid showing signs of Alzheimer’s or other dementia is often referred to as the “cognitive reserve hypothesis,” Wilson said. That concept suggests that people with greater thinking, learning and memory abilities are somehow able to delay symptoms of Alzheimer’s. But proving the hypothesis has been challenging for scientists.

“There’s been this long-term debate in the field about how cognitive activities preserve cognition,” said Prashanthi Vemuri, an assistant professor of radiology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., who wrote an editorial accompanying the study. The question has essentially been: Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

“Does engagement in cognitive activities slow cognitive decline, or are people less interested in doing cognitive activities because they have problems with dementia?” Vemuri said. She thinks the study breaks new ground. “It confirms that whatever is happening in the brain is happening, but the cognitively stimulating activities a person does independently slow down the progression of the disease.”

How do intellectually challenging activities help support brain function?

The brain tries to constantly adapt to the challenges it’s asked to do, Wilson explained. “The brain is experience dependent,” he said. “Activities that are sustained are going to impact its structure and function. And cognitive circuits that are elaborately structured and functioning very well are able to adapt when the inevitable onslaught of aging occurs.”

The researchers conducted long-term follow-up and actually performed autopsies of the participants’ brains after death to confirm the absence or presence of disease, Vemuri said.

The scientists began back in 1997, asking 294 participants — all older than 55 — to report on their lifetime and recent thinking-related activities, from childhood to young adulthood, middle age and the present. They tested participants’ memory and thinking ability regularly, and did annual neurological exams. The participants were about 68 percent women, had 14 years of education and 37 percent had mild thinking impairment when they started in the study.

After each participant died, examiners who had no knowledge of the clinical evaluation data did an independent inspection of the brain, looking for established signs of dementia, called plaques, tangles, infarcts and Lewy bodies.

The researchers then compared those brain findings to the data they had collected, and found that current mental activity slowed the rate of mental decline years before death.

Wilson pointed out that the research doesn’t prove cause and effect. A clinical trial would be needed for that — which involves randomly assigning people to one set of behaviors or another — and that would be unethical and inordinately expensive, he said. But he’s now doing neuroimaging studies to better understand what it is about a cognitively stimulating lifestyle that helps protect the brain.

As for how to best protect your brain, Wilson recommended finding real-world activities — rather than just crossword puzzles or Sudoku games — that include a combination of challenges and the need to focus and concentrate. “Find a hobby that is sustainable: quilting, photography, acting in the theater, even learning Morse code,” he suggested. “Physical activity is also important.”

Vemuri encouraged people to start developing their thinking and memory skills as young as possible. “Parents should know that reading programs at a young age will help their kids have a good old age,” she said.

More information

Learn more about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Robert S. Wilson, Ph.D., professor, neurological sciences and behavioral sciences, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago; Prashanthi Vemuri, Ph.D., assistant professor, radiology, Aging and Dementia Imaging Laboratory, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.; July 3, 2013, Neurology, online

Last Updated: July 03, 2013

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