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Michelle Kirel

Yoga For Anxiety & Depression: 4 Yoga Poses To Uplift You

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It’s not unusual for someone who suffers from anxiety to also suffer from depression, and vice versa. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability in the United States for ages 15 to 44, affecting 6.7% of American adults 18 and older. On the other hand, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) affects 3.1% of the US population and often co-occurs with major depression.

Yoga has been widely recognized as a way to manage symptoms of anxiety and depression, reportedly helping some practitioners adopt a more positive attitude toward life. Practicing yoga and moving the body has many physical benefits and there are also various benefits that yoga can have when it comes to mental health.

According to a Harvard University publication, yoga has been proven helpful in reducing anxiety and depression by helping regulate a person’s stress response system. With the ability to lower blood pressure and improve the quality of the breath, certain yoga poses in particular may help provide you with the means to cope with and alleviate anxiety and depression.

Here are some fundamental poses that help regulate the stress response system:


1. Child Pose


This basic posture helps relieve tension in the hips and lower back. By resting the forehead down on the ground or on a prop, the parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated, producing a relaxation response.

Find a child’s pose by starting in a table top position, on all fours. Bring your big toes together and your knees apart. Sit the hips back on the heels and rest the torso in between the knees and thighs. Reach your arms out in front of you and take 5-10 deep breaths. With each breath, try to expand the ribcage in every direction, sending the breath to your sides and to your back as well as the belly and the chest.


2. Downward Facing Dog


This is another foundational pose that lengthens the spine, strengthens the arms and shoulders and stretches the hamstrings. This pose is considered an inversion, helping blood circulate to the brain. This inversion of your blood flow is instantly energizing, and counters symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Start on the hands and knees. Tuck your toes under and lift the hips back and up, so your body is making an upside down ‘V’ shape. The feet should be hips-width distance apart but don’t worry if your heels don’t touch the floor. You can even bend your knees if you have tight hamstrings. Suck the belly in, firly press the floor away and relax the neck and shoulders away from the ears. To warm up, peddle out the feet and bend one knee at a time. Then hold steady for 5 deep breaths.


3. Bridge Pose


This backbend and chest opener help open the front line of the body. In bridge pose, the back of the neck, where we naturally hold a lot of tension, is stretched. Holding this pose can relieve that tension and ease symptoms of depression.

Start laying on your back. Bend the knees and place the feet flat on the ground hips-width apart. Reach your hands toward your heels. On an inhale, press into your feet and lift the hips up off the ground. Strengthen the thighs and tuck your shoulders underneath to help you press up higher. The hands can interlace behind your back, reach for the heels, or press into the ground. Hold for five breaths.

4. Standing Forward Fold

Dropping the head below the heart has a calming effect on the mind and body. In a standing forward fold, the body can quickly relax and get a stretch of the entire back line: from the hamstrings all the way up to the back of the neck. The pose may also help ease headaches and chronic fatigue.

Start standing with your feet hips-width apart and your hands on your hips. Bend your knees, hinge at the hips, and fold forward. Drop your hands onto the floor or grab opposite elbows and let your head and neck hang heavy. You can sway the torso from side to side, and try to stay inverted for about one minute.


In summary…

Research suggests that the practice of yoga modulates the body’s stress response and can be helpful for both anxiety and depression. The scientific study of yoga indicates that mental and physical health are not only closely related, but are essentially two sides of the same coin. In addition, the holistic approach and low-risk involved in practicing yoga makes it an appealing option to manage anxiety and depression.





Michelle Kirel aspires to share with as many people as possible the necessary tools to maintain a healthy, strong and resilient lifestyle. Michelle has a lifelong passion for yoga. She was exposed to yoga at an early age by her mother who is a certified Iyengar yoga instructor. It was during college when she started practicing daily and falling in love with the feeling that comes after a yoga class. Following graduation, Michelle completed her 200 hr certification training in Vinyasa Yoga to dive deeper into the ancient tradition. She currently combines her understanding of yoga with Neurokinetic Therapy to help people treat chronic pain, injuries and postural imbalances. She is also a content contributor for YogaRenew

‚Äč5 Common Yoga Injuries And How To Avoid Them

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5 Common Injuries and How To Avoid Them


Over 30 million people worldwide practice yoga regularly. According to estimates, 14 million of those people include Americans who have been prescribed by a physician or other therapist because of yoga. Although the practice of yoga has earned a good reputation for promoting well-being, practitioners should be aware that a number of commonly taught yoga poses (or asanas, as they are referred to in class) can also be risky if done incorrectly. This calls to attention the importance of an experienced teacher, who is educated in the contraindications of each pose and the ability to communicate that information clearly to the practitioners. At the end of the day, that is as far as a yoga teacher can go to protect their students from injury. So are the therapeutic benefits of yoga worth the risk? (Yes, of course they are!)


1. Wrists

Often already aggravated by overuse of computer work and texting, the wrists are vulnerable small joints. Especially if arm balances and inversions are within your scope of practice, the wrists can be at risk for strain or injury if they are not properly prepared or overused.

A proper warm up and the gradual increment of pressure on the wrists before putting your full body weight on them is important to prevent muscular or structural damage. More specifically, you can help prevent injury by avoiding cupping the palms and turning the fingers inward. Yoga wedges, or a rolled up mat/towel, can help take extra pressure off the wrists and are great props. In addition, placing the knees on the ground to modify poses can help alleviate excessive pressure, as you work toward building strength in the wrists and shoulders.

2. Lower Back

Lower back pain is the most common complaint in the yoga community, due to rounding through the spine in poses like downward dog, forward folds, or keeping the legs too straight when getting into a pose. Rounding causes the spine to do the opposite of what it’s supposed to. Overstretching the major muscle groups in your back can lead to an unstable vertebra and poor intra abdominal pressure, a recipe for lower back discomfort.

In addition, the sacroiliac joint (SIJ), which contributes to spinal stability and connects the sacrum to the bones of the pelvis, may be aggravated by improper alignment.

The key to preventing lower back strain is slightly bending the knees in forward folds to allow the lower back to decompress. Keeping a micro-bend in the knees throughout the practice as needed is key. Make sure to slow down during twists and go in and out of them mindfully. Engaging the lower abdominals is also important because core strength and stability protect the spine.


3. Shoulders

One of the main reasons why shoulder injuries are common in yoga is because of the chaturanga- the transition from high to low push up that is often added to classes to make the experience more of a workout. Many students should be should be modifying or skipping chaturangas, but many of those people are looking to get the workout factor from the class.

As a rule of thumb, before the transition you should always keep the four Immaculate Dissection cues in tact: neck long, chin tucked, chest wide, ribs down. Then, shift your weight forward on the toes, bringing the shoulders right over the wrists, and transition to the low push up to a comfortable proximity to the ground, which will vary from person to person.


4. Knees

Tight hips or preexisting injuries can cause knee pain or discomfort around the knee. The common instructions to maintain proper alignment in poses that involve bending the knees are to track the kneecaps over the second middle toe, but that is something that can vary from person to person, depending on their circumstances and goals of their practice.

In many poses you can protect the knees by flexing the foot (like in pigeon pose or figure 4). You can also strengthen the quads and engage them throughout standing postures to avoid hyperextension of the knees. Prolonged hyperextension can lead to injury or chronic pain.


5. Neck

Neck issues often occur as a result of compression, which can lead to issues in the cervical vertebrae. This type of injury is highly intimidating because of the lengthy healing time necessary if they are to happen. Advanced postures like headstand and shoulder stand put a lot of pressure on the neck, especially if done misaligned.

It’s important to only attempt these postures after building the necessary strength to hold them for a few breaths and to go at your own pace, especially if you’re a beginner. It’s also important to warm up and always do a counterpose after advanced postures. A child’s pose after headstand is relieving and fish pose after shoulder stand is important.


A 2012 study conducted in Australia found that 20% of all yoga practitioners claim to have experienced a yoga-related injury at some point throughout their time practicing. Additionally, a 2016 study discussed how yoga-related injuries have nearly doubled from 2001 to 2014. When practicing yoga, it’s important to find a knowledgeable teacher but more importantly, a mindful approach of your own can protect you from injury and pain. Modify your practice as needed, go at your own pace, and take calculated risks when attempting new postures. Take care of your body, and it will take care of you.




Michelle Kirel aspires to share with as many people as possible the necessary tools to maintain a healthy, strong and resilient lifestyle. Michelle has a lifelong passion for yoga. She was exposed to yoga at an early age by her mother who is a certified Iyengar yoga instructor. It was during college when she started practicing daily and falling in love with the feeling that comes after a yoga class. Following graduation, Michelle completed her 200 hr certification training in Vinyasa Yoga to dive deeper into the ancient tradition. She currently combines her understanding of yoga with Neurokinetic Therapy to help people treat chronic pain, injuries and postural imbalances. She is also a content contributor for YogaRenew Teacher Training.Her goal is to continue to learn as much as possible to be able to help others.

5 Physical Benefits Of Yoga Practice

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The benefits of yoga can be categorized into a group of three components: physical, emotional and spiritual. Although all are important to maintain a healthy balance, this piece focuses on the physical and the benefits and of a regular asana practice. Some of the main physical benefits of yoga are increased strength, improved flexibility, better body posture, stronger spinal stability and a greater command of the breath.


1. Increased Strength

Asana, otherwise known as the physical practice of yoga, is only one of eight facets of yoga. Through asana practice, we achieve control of the body by positioning ourselves into different postures that strengthen and tone our muscles and organs. In every pose, we focus on engaging the bandhas, or energy centers in the body. Tapping into uddiyana bandha, for example, requires us to pull the belly in and up, toning and strengthening everything around the abdomen, including the abdominal muscles and organs nearby. By flowing through and repeating yoga poses, the body learns to hold these postures more comfortably and creates muscle memory for the next time we practice. The more we practice, the stronger the physical body becomes.


2. Improved Flexibility

In addition to becoming stronger, we become more flexible with a regular practice. Most yoga postures can be categorized into one of the following: standing, balancing, forward fold, backbend, and hip opening postures. Each one of these categories focuses on lengthening different areas of the body, and therefore increasing the flexibility of the muscles around those areas. Backbends, for instance, improve the flexibility of the front body (quads, abdomen, front of the neck). On the flipside, forward folds lengthen the back body (hamstrings, spinal erectors, calf muscles). Similar to how the body becomes stronger and better at performing a movement the more we repeat it, the same applies to the flexibility of a muscle group. The more we position our bodies into a certain position that stretches a particular muscle group, the more comfortable and deeper we can settle in that position.


3. Better Body Posture

In addition, having a strong and flexible body help contribute to healthy body posture. The spine is comprised of 33 vertebrae. This collection of bones is stabilized by muscles that help keep the upper body straight up. Sometimes after sitting for long periods of time or when our muscles grow tired, these spinal stabilizers don’t do a very good job at securing the spine and we either slouch or rely on the strength of the neck muscles to hold us up. Overtime, poor body posture can produce chronic pain or nerve impingements, like sciatica. Therefore, it’s critical for the spinal stabilizers to be strong and healthy to stay pain free.


4. Stronger Spine

Proper body posture throughout the practice of yoga is important to maintaining a strong spine. Through constant practice, the body learns how to shift its center of gravity to hold different poses. For each pose, the spine is lifting, flexing, extending or rotating. Each of these movements strengthen the different muscles that support the spine helping prevent compressed discs and maintaining the necessary space between each vertebrae. A strong spine is key to preventing many types of injuries, particularly spinal injuries. However, ankle, wrist, knee and hip injuries can also be prevented by maintaining a strong and flexible spine, naturally developed with a regular yoga practice.


5. Control of the Breath

Most importantly, one of the main physical benefits of practicing yoga is mastering a greater command of the breath. It has been said that if you can control the breath, you can control the mind. It’s one of the tools that connects the body to the mind. This connection allows us to access a parasympathetic state, which is the opposite of fight or flight. Practicing yoga helps us control our breath by putting us in a position where we must hold poses, some rather uncomfortable at times, and simply breathe. In Ashtanga yoga, for example, each posture is held for five slow breaths. Not only does each exhale allow us to better access a posture, but the awareness of the breath also brings us to the present moment, which can be difficult to achieve throughout the rest of our day-to-day. By mastering better command of the breath, we achieve a better control of our bodies and minds.


In short…

The physical practice of yoga is incredibly beneficial to the human body. The more we practice, the stronger and more flexible we become, contributing to healthy body posture, a stronger spine and better breathing mechanics. These physical benefits allow us to keep up with our daily activities pain free.


Michelle Kirel aspires to share with as many people as possible the necessary tools to maintain a healthy, strong and resilient lifestyle. Michelle has a lifelong passion for yoga. She was exposed to yoga at an early age by her mother who is a certified Iyengar yoga instructor. It was during college when she started practicing daily and falling in love with the feeling that comes after a yoga class. Following graduation, Michelle completed her 200 hr certification training in Vinyasa Yoga to dive deeper into the ancient tradition. She currently combines her understanding of yoga with Neurokinetic Therapy to help people treat chronic pain, injuries and postural imbalances. Her goal is to continue to learn as much as possible to be able to help people move better, feel better, and stay inspired.

Yoga & Neurokinetic Therapy: The Missing Link

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Yoga teacher training certification courses are available everywhere and at anytime: semester long classes, retreats and online. You can be a certified teacher within a month or even take a crash course in less time than that. As a teacher, it is then your responsibility to continue to improve yourself, add to your toolbox, and expand your teaching horizons. Continued education courses and additional certifications are a great way to brush up on your anatomy, explore new styles, and maybe deviate a little from classic yoga and find a way to integrate what you learn.


Shortly after completing my 200-hour certification, I found a form of manual therapy that focuses on aligning posture, rehabbing injuries and chronic pain. It sparked an interest because a lot of my yoga students often told me about their injuries or chronic pain and their struggle to find more than temporary relief. I felt like I had found the approach that cracked the code to lasting solutions to such cases.


Neurokinetic Therapy® (NKT) is a therapeutic approach based on Motor Control Theory that uses sequenced muscle-tests and soft-tissue releases to restore pain-free movement and eliminate compensation patterns in the body. Simply put, NKT allows you to pinpoint which muscles aren’t working and then tries to figure out why.


NKT changed my life. Thanks to this approach, I began thinking about the anatomy of the human body in a completely new way, understanding not only where different muscles are located but how they might work together to create certain movement patterns. I also began to pick up on typical compensation patterns that occur after injuries, persistent poor posture or simply from a sedentary lifestyle. This was a game-changer to my teaching abilities and to my students.


I restructured all of my classes. I tried to address the most frequent complaints I heard from my yogis. “My back hurts,” “my neck feels tight,” “I have shooting pain down one of my legs,” “I do ab exercises every day and don’t see any results.”


My classes focused on stabilizing the intrinsic core, breathing mechanics and proper alignment. I applied NKT concepts to how I sequenced each class. For example, I like addressing low back pain. People that spend long hours sitting down end up shortening their hip flexors. After those extended periods of time, the hip flexors have a difficult time lengthening back into their healthy length. This creates a tug on the low back that can produce chronic low back pain. It’s crucial that we reverse all those hours sitting down and return the hip flexors to a proper range in order to maintain a healthy lordosis.


With these new sequences, my regular practitioners started noticing a difference. I also started offering treatment sessions outside of my group classes. Those sessions were the most rewarding for the people looking for pain relief and more specific injury rehabilitation.


I had a female student who frequented my evening classes who suffered from a frozen shoulder. She had already tried acupuncture, massage therapy, physical therapy and could not find the relief she was looking for. After all the treatment she had received, she still only had about 30% range of motion.


In the first session, we were able to significantly increase this range to about 50%. She was in shock. She progressed more in a single session than she had with all the other modalities combined. NKT protocol revealed that the internal rotators of her shoulder, especially the pec minor, were not firing correctly, creating compensatory patterns. I assigned her corrective exercises to do twice daily and monitored her progress during yoga. It wasn’t very long before she had regained almost full range of motion and was performing chaturanga transitions instead of skipping them. She was thrilled after almost having lost hope of regaining her shoulder mobility. She put in the work, and the results showed.


Neurokinetic Therapy® is a type of treatment practiced by many professionals who use manual therapy: physical therapists, massage therapists, MD’s, DO’s, acupuncturists, personal trainers, occupational therapists, Pilates instructors and yoga teachers. Practitioners are spread out around the globe and can be found through the official website’s directory. NKT is a three-level course that can transform the practice of manual therapists and help them address issues more specifically and proficiently. As a yoga teacher who practices NKT, I highly recommend finding an NKT certified professional if you’re looking for an efficient, relatively speedy, and therefore cost-effective recovery plan.

Michelle Kirel aspires to share with as many people as possible the necessary tools to maintain a healthy, strong and resilient lifestyle. Michelle has a lifelong passion for yoga. She was exposed to yoga at an early age by her mother who is a certified Iyengar yoga instructor. It was during college when she started practicing daily and falling in love with the feeling that comes after a yoga class. Following graduation, Michelle completed her 200 hr certification training in Vinyasa Yoga to dive deeper into the ancient tradition. She currently combines her understanding of yoga with Neurokinetic Therapy to help people treat chronic pain, injuries and postural imbalances. Her goal is to continue to learn as much as possible to be able to help people move better, feel better, and stay inspired.