Body Positive Yoga and PCOS

Body positive yoga

All bodies are yoga bodies. Photo courtesy of Lydia Mann, Flickr Creative Commons.

Why Body Positive Yoga Matters

I wish I could write that all yoga programs are welcoming to all body shapes and sizes. The reality is, though, that many yoga programs cater to a thin body standard and narrow view of what constitutes health and wellness. And sometimes they do not offer the modifications or recommendations that help make all yoga poses comfortably accessible to larger bodies. Or they over-emphasize poses and, however well-intentioned, single out larger students for special assistance or treatment even if none is needed or desired. In short, not everyone feels comfortable in a conventional yoga class. If these words resonate with you, please read on:

Body Positive Yoga: recommended event and resources

As a body positive naturopathic physician, I want all my patients have access to yoga instructors whose teaching caters to their mind, body and spirit as they are, not as they should be. And when it comes to instruction and personal practice, nothing quite compares to being able to see a body that looks like your body do yoga.

This is why I am delighted to tell you about an upcoming event with body positive yoga instructor and author Jessamyn Stanley at the Seattle Central Library on April 21 from 7 – 8:30 pm. She will be discussing her body positive approach to yoga and her new book “Every Body Yoga”

“Jessamyn Stanley is known for combining a deep understanding of yoga with a willingness to share her personal struggles. Now she brings her body-positive, emotionally uplifting approach in a book that will help every reader discover the power of yoga. Jessamyn will appear in conversation with local writer and yoga instructor Nicole Tsong.

As an internationally recognized yoga teacher and Instagram star, Jessamyn Stanley conducts yoga workshops across the country, teaching students of all shapes, sizes, and colors how to make yoga a permanent part of their lives.”

If you have ever wondered whether yoga is for you, or if you have ever wanted to try a yoga class but were worried that you wouldn’t fit in or feel comfortable participating, please check out Jessamyn’s website and go see her speak in Seattle.

Where to find in-person or online body positive yoga instruction:

A benefit of living in or near Seattle is that we have some great body positive yoga studios for in-person classes and instruction. A benefit of the internet age is that it is increasingly easy to start a home yoga practice. Yoga instructors from around the world offer online videos and tutorials, many of them free or available by monthly subscription.

Here are several resources to get you started:

  • Whole Life Yoga: a Seattle-based body positive yoga studio located in the Greenwood neighborhood. They have drop in classes 7 days a week and regularly offers a Yoga for Round Bodies series of 4-6 classes.
  • Tiger Lily Yoga: a Seattle-based yoga body positive yoga studio located in the Columbia City neighborhood. They offer in-person classes 7 days a week, including pay-what-you-can donation based classes.
  • Curvy Yoga: online yoga videos that are searchable by length, energy level, pose type and body part. Free and paid memberships are available.
  • Body Positive Yoga: online yoga classes, tutorials for pose modifications. She also offers helpful advice for other yoga instructors on how to incorporate body positive language into their instruction and how to present pose modifications that keep students safe and prevent injury.

For writing on body positive yoga, I highly recommend Vancouver, BC-based Lisa Papez’s blog and manifesto. I took a workshop from her at the 2013 Realize Your Radiance conference in Seattle and was so inspired by her approach and instruction.

If you are a body positive yoga instructor or know of body positive yoga resources in Seattle or the Eastside, I would love to know about them!

Yoga, Body Positivity and PCOS:

80% of women with PCOS experience hormonal and metabolic dysregulation that leads to insulin resistance and weight gain, which can be closely tied to experiences of body dysmorphia, a challenging relationship with body image and anxiety.

A 2012 study of adolescents with PCOS showed that a 12 week holistic yoga program was better for reducing anxiety than a traditional physical exercise program. The teenage girls recruited for this study practiced yoga and meditation for 1 hour per day for 12 weeks, while their study counterparts in the control group participated in a 1 hour daily of traditional exercise (e.g. leg lifts and crunches) and group lectures on healthy diet and lifestyle. Researchers believe that the benefit that yoga had for reducing symptoms of anxiety was both neurological, by reducing activity of the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous system, as well as psychological by enhancing mindfulness and stress resilience.

This same group of teenage girls with PCOS was also seen to have better glucose metabolism, measured by fasting insulin and fasting glucose, and lower cholesterol levels than their counterparts in traditional exercise programs.

About the author:

Hello, I’m Miranda Marti, ND, LAc, a body positive naturopathic physician and acupuncturist specializing in the holistic treatment of PCOS. I started doing yoga to support my stress resilience and stabilize my neck and back muscles to help alleviate my migraine headaches. What began as a very goal-oriented experiment (wildly successful, btw) with yoga has blossomed into a regular, self-sustaining practice.

Why Am I So Tired: Movement

From simple lifestyle habits to complex medical problems, why we lack energy can have many causes. In this series, I’m tackling some of the lifestyle factors associated with fatigue that lend themselves to home troubleshooting. This week’s topic is:

Movement: replenishing the energy that stress steals

Stress takes it toll on us in a number of ways, a major one being mental and physical exhaustion. Stress can rob us of the energy we need to do the things we need and want to do, and cause serious health problems such as cardiovascular disease, anxiety and depression.

One of our best ways to reclaim lost energy from stress is through exercise. This is illustrated in a 2015 article published in the peer-reviewed journal BMC Psychiatry. This 18-month study of individuals diagnosed with stress-related exhaustion found that increasing physical activity reduced symptoms of fatigue, burnout and depression .

Surprisingly, study participants did not need to meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity to report benefits. As long as they regularly increased their physical activity above their pre-treatment baseline,  they reporting feeling more energetic and experiencing a better mood compared to individuals in the study who maintained their sedentary habits.

How much movement do I need to fight stress?

Walking for 10 minutes improves stress levels and mental acuity. Image by Peter Blanchard.

The American College of Sports Medicine’s guideline for cardiorespiratory excise, which was used in the study referenced above, is 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week.  Though remember that even people who didn’t meet this goal still reported significant improvement in their fatigue and burnout. All movement benefits the body and the brain!

Movement is more than just formal exercise. Any activity or movement that engages large muscle groups and raises the heart rate for at least 10 minutes at a time can help fight fatigue. In addition to formal exercise, this can include chores, sports, playing with kids or pets, gardening, physical labor, and walking.

Movement and Exercise guidelines for supporting mental and physical health:

  • 20-50 minutes of moderate intensity exercise 5 days per week
    • practical definition: you can talk but not sing while moving or exercising at this level
    • max heart-rate: 60-70%

OR

  • 20-60 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise 3 days per week
    • practical definition: you can string together 2-3 words  but not talk in full sentences while moving or exercising at this level
    • max heart-rate: 70-80

Max heart-rate is a commonly used measure of physical exertion, representing the upper limit of what a person’s cardiovascular system can handle. The basic formula for calculating your max heart rate is:  220 – (your age), or you can use this calculator.

In addition to the guidelines above, which treat exercise as an event, I also recommend a daily movement habit I call:

The  10 minute walk away from stress

What is a 10 minute walk going to do for stress? Reverse it.

Stress, particularly it’s chemical mediator adrenaline, decreases blood flow to our prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain most responsible for critical thinking. This leads us to more easily feel distracted, overwhelmed and prone to short-sighted or bad decision-making.

We can reverse this with 10 minutes of light-moderate exercise, such as walking, which increases blood flow to the prefrontal cortex.

Though stress often tricks our mind into thinking we can’t afford to step away from the problem we’re working, the reality is that 10 minute break will reward you with increased energy and motivation, improved concentration and a greater problem-solving capacity.

Words of motivation

My go-to inspiration for movement & exercise to benefit the mind and body.

As Dr. Ratey, a psychiatrist specializing in how exercise changes the brain, states in his excellent book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain: 

Exercise is the single most powerful tool you have to optimize brain function…When people ask me how much exercise they should do for their brain, I tell them the best advice is to get fit and then continue to challenge themselves. The prescription for how to do that will vary from person to person, but the research consistently shows that the more fit you are, the more resilient your brain becomes and bet better it functions both cognitively and psychologically….Does that mean I have to look like an underwear model to enjoy the brain benefits of exercise? Not at all. In fact, many of the most convincing studies use walking as the mode of exercise.

If you are looking for inspiration to start a new exercise practice or revive an old or tired one, I highly recommend reading Spark. It is my go-to reading every time I start to get a little bored with my movement habits or start to be swayed by that voice in my head that tells me I don’t have time for walking, yoga, running or whatever it is that I’m doing to keep my mind and body fit.

Want to know more?

This is the third of a series of blog posts providing the Whole Life Medicine community with reliable information about important health topics. Check back with use for future posts or follow our Facebook page.

About the author: Evaluating causes of fatigue affecting physical and mental health is a specialty of Miranda Marti, ND. For information about scheduling a free 15 minute consult or making an appointment, please contact us or call our front desk at 425-398-9355.