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TCM: 5 Adaptogenic Herbs for Immunity, Energy and Stress Relief

If your daily to-do list seems to lengthen while your energy levels diminish, this may be the time to try adaptogenic herbs.

Certain herbs called adaptogens are particularly helpful in restoring and maintaining positive homeostasis. This is due to their ability to help us adapt to change, in particular to the challenges associated with aging. Many people who follow traditional healing systems (think Chinese, Tibetan or Ayurvedic) have incorporated these herbs and remedies into their lifestyles and even their cooking.

Derived from plants and plant parts, these herbs reduce stress and correct imbalances in your system. With the right regimen, you'll sail through winter in good health. Adaptogenic herbs increase your body's resistance to physical, biological, emotional, and environmental stressors. All adaptogens help regulate the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitaryadrenal) axis, meaning they can adjust imbalances related to immunity, hormones, and stress. Each one also offers unique benefits; peek some of our top 5 below:

Ashwagandha (Fatigue & Insomnia) The roots of this nightshade plant, also known as Indian ginseng or winter cherry, have been used in parts of Asia and Africa to treat various ailments, including lower back pain, arthritis, sexual dysfunction, and stomach upset. A review of scientific studies published in Alternative Medicine Review concluded that the herb fights stress and has a positive effect on the central nervous system.

Reishi (Emotional Balance) Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners use this herb to calm the mind and restore emotional balance. A study in the Journal of Medicinal Food found eight weeks of treatment with reishi reduced fatigue and improved wellbeing in 123 Chinese patients diagnosed with fatigue. The mushroom has polysaccharides, carbohydrates that boost disease-fighting cells.

Schisandra (Mental & Physical Ability) These berries can be both calming and stimulating. TCM practitioners use the fruit to remedy diarrhea and boost lung and liver health. Schisandra also stimulates the central nervous system, enhancing physical and mental abilities. A study in Phytomedicine showed that athletes who took schisandra before training had improved exercise performance and enhanced recovery when compared with athletes not given the herb.

Panax Ginseng (Vitality) One of the more stimulating adaptogens, Panax (or Asian) ginseng root (shown) improves cognitive function and strengthens the body. In TCM, it's used to restore energy, boost a depleted immune system, and improve vitality. Winston recommends Panax ginseng for people who have chronic fatigue or who are frequently cold or sick. A Journal of Nutrition review says ginseng's anti-inflammatory properties may thwart damage to DNA.

Eleuthero (Stamina) Occasionally called Siberian ginseng (though it doesn't belong to the same plant species), eleuthero was traditionally used in Chinese medicine to treat swelling and spasms. Evidence shows eleuthero improves endurance and strengthens the immune system, reducing the incidence of colds and other common infections.

Little Yogis: 5 Tips to Support Shavasana for Kids

Little yogis say namaste! Children derive enormous benefits from yoga. Physically, it enhances their flexibility, strength, coordination, and body awareness. In addition, their concentration and sense of calmness and relaxation improves. Doing yoga, children exercise, play, connect more deeply with the inner self, and develop an intimate relationship with the natural world that surrounds them. Yoga brings that marvelous inner light that all children have to the surface.

Whether you are sharing yoga with your kids at home, teaching a yoga class for kids, or taking a break in the classroom, these 5 tips will help you facilitate a restful and rejuvenating experience for your children. You will find that once it becomes familiar, the children will ask for it often.

  1. Let them choose their position. Lying spread out on the back can feel vulnerable and awkward. Children are often more comfortable lying on their side or stomach. This helps them feel grounded and limits their sensory input. Over time kids will get comfortable in the classic posture, but let them find it for themselves. In a school classroom, where space is at a premium, simply have the children sit in their chairs or up against the wall.
  2. Create quiet conditions. Dim the lights, reduce sounds as much as possible, and give each child a blanket. The weight of the blanket is soothing to the nervous system and muffles sensory input to the skin. Eye pillows are also nice. The kids may fidget with them or place them on their tummy—that’s fine. Some kids need a fidget toy to help quiet their mind.
  3. Relax the body.  It’s hard to be still when there is frenetic energy in the body. A strong yoga practice is the best prerequisite for deep rest. Another technique is to have children pretend they are a dead bug: “Lie on your back with your legs and arms in the air. First slowly wiggle and then shake your limbs like a bug on its last legs. Then flop—let your arms and legs fall to the ground.” Children find this hilarious and it helps quiet the body.
  4. Relax the mind with a story. Leaving a kid to lie still with no guidance is unlikely to evoke deep rest. Guided visualizations are wonderful for children, as these engage their mind in a soft and soothing way.
  5. Check your expectations. This is perhaps the most important part. Set your expectations for a positive outcome. Beliefs and intentions have significant impact on our experience. If you think the kids are squirrelly and won’t relax, you’re right. If you think the kids are developing a life skill that will serve them well over the years and they just need some guidance and time to become familiar with it, you’re right. It’s very helpful to sit down and get quiet yourself. Allow the experience of stillness and peace to flood your awareness, and notice how that affects the children. Set your expectations for a positive outcome. Beliefs and intentions have significant impact on our experience.
Katie Silcox Shares: How To Break the Cycle of Feeling ‘Tired and Wired'

Katie Silcox, author of the upcoming book, “Healthy, Happy, Sexy – Ayurveda Wisdom for Modern Women” is a vinyasa yoga teacher, and Ayurvedic practitioner. Silcox explains in Yoga Journal that there is a new experience sweeping through our collective culture called “tired and wired” — a really uncomfortable sensation where you feel totally exhausted but also on-edge and unable to relax. It’s like your mind and body have one foot firmly entrenched on the break, and one foot firmly planted down on the gas.

"Ayurveda can help us get out of this totally unproductive cycle. But first, it may be helpful to admit that many of us use stimulants like caffeine to get going (and keep going) throughout the day," Silcox says. "Then, to slow down at night, we eat too much, drink too much wine or rely on other 'depressants.' This combo keeps us in tired and wired mode." Silcox shares her 6 ways to immediately begin to reverse this pattern:

  1. Be okay with feeling the feelings that may come up as you begin to get off the adrenaline wagon and start relaxing. Initially, relaxing can feel really scary, particularly if we have been in go-mode for a long time. On a spiritual level, we may have been actually keeping ourselves busy as a way of avoiding our experience.
  2. Slowly reduce your intake of both stimulants and depressants like wine and coffee. You will begin to regain the natural vitality and relaxation capacities that these substances kill off.
  3. Eating a whole foods diet can dramatically reduce the symptoms of “tired and wired.” When we are out of balance, our tissues tend to dry up and burn out. Emphasizing warm and wet foods can help re-moisten the dried-up system. Examples include foods like sweet potatoes, avocados, peas, ghee, cooked vegetables, and whole grains.
  4. Say no. So many of us are doing too much because we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. You don’t have to answer every email immediately or accept every invitation. Learning to lovingly say no will leave more room in your life for down time.
  5. Turn off all screens after 8 p.m.
  6. Breathe. Deep belly breathing — done for just 20 minutes a day — can dramatically re-wire your nervous and endocrine system.
What Are The Benefits Of Yogic Breathing?

Yogis breathe free! You can help alleviate stress through the simple practice of yogic breathing techniques. Among other things, yogic breathing loads your blood with oxygen, which, by nourishing and repairing your body’s cells, maintains your health at the most desirable level. Shallow breathing, which is widespread, doesn’t oxygenate the blood circulating in your arteries and veins very efficiently. Consequently, toxins pile up in the cells. Before you know it, you feel mentally sluggish and emotionally down, and eventually organs begin to malfunction.

One of the 'Five Principles of Yoga' is called Pranayama which is a breathing exercise that promotes proper breathing. Pranayama is now known as the science of breath control that consists of a series of exercises intended to meet these needs and to keep the body in vibrant health. Beathing is important for two basic reasons: It is the only means of supplying our bodies and its various organs with oxygen which is vital for our health. Additionally, breathing is one of the ways to get rid of waste products and toxins from our body.

Why Oxygen is so vital?

  1. Oxygen is the most vital nutrient in our bodies. It is essential for the proper and efficient functioning of the brain, nerves, glands and other internal organs.
  2. We can survive without food for weeks and without water for days, but without oxygen we will die within a few minutes. If the brain does not get proper supply of this essential nutrient, it will cause degradation of all the vital organs of the body.
  3. The brain requires more oxygen than any other organ. If it doesn't get enough, the result is mental sluggishness, negative thoughts, depression and, eventually, vision and hearing declines. Oxygen supply in our body, however, declines as we get older and if we live a poor lifestyle.

Take a peek at Yoga Journal's simple tips to get started on yogic breathing here.

De-stress Yourself At Your Workplace With Yoga

Doing yoga in the office can be fun, innovative and relaxing with many long term benefits. Office yoga comprises of a sequence of simple exercises you can perform quite unobtrusively at your desk, at any time of the day.

Making office yoga exercises a part of your routine can work wonders as they wipe away body pain, fatigue and tension and increase overall muscle strength and flexibility, keeping you fresh and revitalized through the day. The exercises don’t demand much time, and can be done in spurts throughout the day, sparing you from unnecessary discomfort in the long run.

Don't assume there isn't enough space in your office for a regular yoga or meditation practice. Lauren Coles, Founder of Daisy Yoga shares her top five spots to do yoga at your workplace below:

Office lounge. In many new offices, especially at tech companies, there is desk-free space. Perhaps it's the section in the center of the office with couches. Maybe it's the room where the ping pong table lives. Even the kitchen/lunch room area can be used during off hours. Furniture in these spaces is easy to move, and a cheap divider or folding screens can be put up for added privacy if the space is open to the rest of the office.

Entryways, foyers. Though this space isn't ideal during business hours, the open entrance area of an office is perfect for yoga before the workday begins. If it's big enough, it can be used during after-work hours, as long as people aren't too distracted by their colleagues leaving the office. This is a good place to use a folding screen for added privacy.

Corners, perimeters around desks. Once again, this space isn't ideal during business hours. However, it can work when the office is empty. A yoga mat really doesn't take up much space, and you'll be pleasantly surprised by how little space seated meditation requires. Believe it or not, this space can work really well at the right time of day!

Conference rooms. Don't overlook the effectiveness of chair yoga. Often, a conference room can seat 20 or more people. A yoga or meditation session can be done here, allowing space for many participants. Bonus: People won't have to change clothing to do yoga in this kind of setting.

Your desk. Believe it or not, your desk can become a refuge! Try a short meditation or desk yoga pose at regular intervals during your work day. A solo practice is a powerful thing, and you will be amazed by how refreshing even one minute of meditation can be. 

As you can see, office yoga is possible in your work space. Just look around and be creative. If your office has a budget for it, find a teacher who is experienced working in offices spaces. Soon, you'll be enjoying the benefits of a regular yoga practice!

The Beginner’s Guide to Home Yoga Practice

One of the most beautiful and liberating aspects of yoga is that you don’t need any fancy equipment or a designated building or field to practice. Yoga is accessible. The practice meets you where you are – as long as you are willing to approach it.Sometimes it’s just not possible to make it into a studio for class. Perhaps this is because of financial or geographical restrictions or simply a matter of preference. Regardless, developing a home yoga practice and committing to it is a profound tool for deepening into your own personal relationship with yoga.

Creating a home yoga practice is easier than you think. If you want to build a consistent home practice, start by choosing four or five poses that feel great, so you'll feel compelled (rather than obligated) to roll out your mat. Kate Hanley from Yoga International puts together some guidelines to help you overcome the biggest hurdles we all face: complacency (how to make yourself actually do it) and fear (what to do once you commit to start).

4 Reasons to Start a Home Practice

Self-knowledge. Practicing on your own helps you learn to self-regulate and self-soothe. It’s like driving your own car versus being chauffeured—when you’re driving, you have a greater responsibility to pay attention and to choose where you’re going and to respond to what happens as you travel along.

Self-help. The more you practice, the better you’ll get at assessing how you feel, so when you first come to the mat, you can choose a practice that counterbalances whatever’s going on—mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Self-indulgence. How many other endeavors allow you to do whatever you darn well please? “Practicing on your own is so indulgent,” Crandell says. “You can take anywhere from 2 to 90 minutes and do whatever you want at whatever pace, tone, and intensity you choose.”

Exponential growth. When you practice regularly, the effects of each session don’t have a chance to wear off before you come back to the mat. That consistency offers benefits that double and then double again. Not bad for something you can do in your living room without spending a dime. Yet even the biggest dose of inspiration won’t make your home practice a reality if you aren’t also armed with a few guidelines to dispel the fear that you won’t be doing it right.

How to Design a Home Yoga Practice

These six tips can help you chart a course for your home practice and give you the confidence that you do, in fact, know what you’re doing. They also provide the means to keep your practice fresh, so that you don’t have to resort to doing the same handful of poses over and over (unless you want to, of course—it is your home practice, after all).

Start with quiet. Before you dive into a sun salutation or a specific pose, start in a comfortable seated position or even in corpse pose. When you begin with stillness, you can see how your body and mind feel and then decide what to do based on that.

Pick a direction. This should depend on how you feel. If you’re tired and pressed for time, choose a short restorative practice. If you’re raring to go, opt for a more vigorous practice. If you need grounding and stability, focus on standing poses. If you need energy, incorporate backbends. If you're tired and pressed for time, choose a short restorative practice. If you need grounding and stability, focus on standing poses.

Set an intention. This simple suggestion ensures that you’ll use your time—no matter how short—constructively. Sample intentions Pearce-Hayden suggests include creating a sense of spaciousness in a specific part of the body, working on a specific practice or pose, or noticing (and letting go of) any emotions that arise—without judgment.

Choose poses you love. There’s a common perception that you should use a home practice to work on the poses that truly challenge you. Throw that idea out the window. Start by choosing four or five poses that feel great, so you’ll feel compelled, rather than obligated, to roll out your mat.

Pay attention in class. You could start taking mental notes in class: "I really like when we do down dog, low lunge, down dog again, and pigeon, I’ll do those three at home."

Move in all directions. Choose at least one pose for each direction the body moves—leaning side to side, forward and back, twisting, and turning upside down (which could be as simple as downward dog or a standing forward bend). If you incorporate all the directions, you create a complete practice.

Happy National Yoga Month!

Namaste Yogis! September is the official National Yoga Month (a national observance designated by the Department of Health & Human Services) designed to educate about the health benefits of yoga and to inspire. Celebrate with millions of health conscious yogis around the globe by the following:

Try One Week of Free Yoga: Get the 'Yoga Month Card' for one week of free yoga at a local yoga studio and experience the proven health benefits of yoga. Learn more here.

Participate In Yoga Month Events: Hundreds of community events are organized each year in celebration of National Yoga Month every September. Search for events near you here.

Not convinced to try yoga yet? Read on for our top 10 reasons to start your practice today!

    1. To live in the present. Most of us spend the majority of our time with our phones in our hands, pockets or purses. We rush to and from the office, checking emails and texting as we go. Research shows that we spend almost half of our time thinking about things aside from what we're actually doing -- even though there is happiness to be found when we live in the moment. Yoga offers the opportunity to completely unplug and focus on exactly what's right in front of you.
    2. To sweat. You don't have to practice Bikram in a 100-degree room to break a sweat. Depending on the type you're doing, just one hour of yoga can burn nearly 500 calories.
    3. For gratitude. Many yogis begin and end their practices by dedicating their time on the mat to someone or something important to them. Can't we all agree that the world could use a little more gratitude?
    4. For your brain. Hit the mat to clear your mind. Yoga has been shown to increase brain function right after a practice as short as 20 minutes. It can improve memory and help you maintain focus, too.
    5. To stress less. Yoga's a top-notch stress-buster. Those who practice deep yoga breathing report feeling less stressed. Plus, exercise itself is a known stress-reducer.
    6. To gain some flexibility (on and off the mat). Just six weeks of regular yoga practice can significantly increase flexibility, according to research published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. Plus, for many, yoga increases flexibility in perspective by prompting us to master new poses, breathing styles and meditative thoughts.
    7. It does the heart good. Yoga may help lower cholesterol and blood sugar, in turn lowering risk of heart disease.
    8. For your bones. Research shows that yoga can help increase bone density in older adults.
    9. To spend some time solo. Even though you may make friends before and after class, yoga itself is generally an individual practice. Spending time alone allows us a moment to reflect, evaluate and observe. What better place to do it than in Child's Pose?
    10. To rejuvenate. There's nothing quite like coming out of Savasana. You feel stronger, taller, stretched and relaxed. It's like hitting the refresh button on both your body and brain. Namaste to that.