Each week in my yoga classes in Bristol, I see people come in to class feeling tired, perhaps agitated by their day, and usually more than a little lack lustre. When they leave, there is a noticeable difference in how they are. They are usually settled, calmer, and more comfortable in themselves. A better version of themselves. They have changed.
During the class we move the body, opening, expanding, stretching, challenging, engaging and working the entire body in some way. We breathe deeply for the full class, slowing and extending the breath where possible. And we try to focus on ourselves and our breath.
I came across a fascinating talk by Amy Cuddy recently called 'Your body language shapes who you are'.
Amy is a social psychologist. She researches body language at Harvard Business School and she was interested in researching how body language not only effects other people's perceptions of us, but how it actually effects our own body chemistry.
In her research she concluded that by standing up tall with the feet apart and with the arms raised and open for only 2 minutes daily, we can raise our testosterone levels (dominance hormone supporting a confident outlook), and reduce cortisol levels (stress hormones). Simply by changing our body position in this way, we are altering our hormones and brain chemistry. We are changing ourselves to not only feel but become more powerful, confident and laid back.
In yoga classes it is very likely that you'll do a lot of arm raising like she describes, standing with the feet apart, reaching up, opening up. Also combining this with bending forwards, twisting and so on. So her research suggests that we are actually changing ourselves and our hormones in a very real way by doing this.
I took two things from Amy Cuddy's inspiring talk
- firstly, that yoga postures seem very aligned to the body changes she talks about, and that by doing them you'll actually become more confident and laid back.
- and secondly, that only a little practice, taken regularly, can make a big difference!
Pass it on...
I love TED Talks
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After being asked about it for ages by some of my male friends, we've finally decided to start up a men's yoga class at YogaSpace on Saturday mornings (9.30am, all levels of fitness and stiffness welcome!).
Fiona is a fab teacher who is both dynamic and knowledgable and will break down each of the poses to make them accessible and inspire you to challenge yourself. She is also great at anatomy and working with stiffness and injury so you'll be in safe hands. Men's yoga isn't different necessarily, but it is nice to be in a group where you feel comfortable and men tend to be stiffer in women, particularly in the legs and back, and in need of better core strength, so the classes will be taylored to focus on this. Traditionally yoga was only for men and it is only the last 50 years or so that it has been opened up to women by pioneers such as Krishnamacharya and Iyengar. So tell your friends and blokes who would benefit from a bit more strength, flexibility and de-stressing in their lives!Back to YogaSpace homepage
A common complaint - stiff shoulders, limited mobility in the neck and discomfort in the upper back, shoulder, neck area. Accumulated tension, often caused by working at a desk, poor posture, cycling etc. all contribute to tension and stiffness related pain. There are some great yoga postures that gently get to the root of the problem and release blockages and free up the area. And without them, or regular massage, it doesn't resolve by itself. We don't really do any natural movements that will release that part of the body, unless we make the extra effort. So it just gets worse over time. So
many of us hunch our shoulders and have a rounded upper back as a result. It is good to see yoga being clinically researched to demonstrate how it can help. I see benefits in my students and anecdotally hear how it helps them regularly. I currently have two yoga therapy students who are greatly benefitting from the gentle releasing of the shoulders and neck. You need to work carefully and gradually, but gentle stretching and movements will help. See more on the research here:Journal of Pain Research paper
Yoga Journal Articlehttp://blogs.yogajournal.com/yogabuzz/2012/12/yoga-for-neck-pain.htmlGet in touch to find out more about how yoga can help you if you suffer from neck pain. email@example.comBack to homepage >
Jill Bolte Taylor is a Harvard Brain Scientist who had a life changing experience: a stroke in the left side of her brain. This offered her the extraordinary experience of analysing the progression of left and right brain function first hand as her left brain function subsided. She describes her intermittent experiences over four hours during the stroke, experiencing moments of pure stillness, fascinating insights and being an energy being connected to the universe. The chatter of the brain turns off as her left brain function is hampered, and she experiences the purity and wholeness of what we really are as her right brain comes to the fore. An interesting and inspiring experience which is worth seeing in her 20 minute TED talk.Watch the video here >>
The tools and techniques of Yoga could be described as aiming to allow us to quieten our left brain, to bring it under our control by training and discipline, to allow us to experience and tap into the right side of our brain. Being in the present, letting go of the baggage that our years of living have left us with, and becoming fully aware of our sensory experiences, being a witness, completely at peace with ourselves and the world.
She says 'the more time we choose to run the deep inner peace circuitry that is the right brain, the more peace we will project into the world and the more peaceful the world will become.'
Yoga movement and body work, breathing, sensory experience, and meditation are all tools that help us to still the left side of the brain and run our deep inner peace circuitry and find our own freedom.Back to homepage
I'm enjoying a good book by Tim Parks at the moment, 'Teach us to sit still: a sceptics guide to health and healing'
. It's a brilliantly honest account of a middle-aged academic's journey to overcoming chronic health issues through relaxation and meditation. I highly recommend it, a good read (perhaps skipping the literary references if not your thing) with amazing descriptions of what it is to struggle with the process of meditation. And he really is a sceptic so one I'll be passing it on to a couple of people who might be able to relate!
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There are many inspiring stories of how practicing yoga has helped to support people with serious health problems back to full health. Here is a wonderful account of an NBA basketball player struck down with a serious kidney condition which resulted in a kidney transplant, and how his dedicated practice of yoga helped save his life and his career as a professional athlete...Read more in this inspiring post by Trevor Kearney...Back to homepage >
I'm biased I know, but I think most people could benefit from yoga practice! I work with a lot of mums, especially in my private yoga therapy
work, where women come to me without much time or space for themselves, and have a range of physical, mental and emotional issues such as stiffness, aches on one side from carrying children on one hip, stress through the shoulders, poor sleep, over-eating, worrying, and an over-active mind that refuses to slow down at the end of the day.These are common complaints but particularly so for mums whose days aren't their own anymore and who struggle to find time to take care of themselves. Yoga doesn't have to be a weekly class, although this is often the best way to ensure you actually make it on to your mat at least once a week and spend a good hour doing a full yoga practice. Yoga can also be fitted in to your busy schedule, requiring perhaps as little as 15-20 minutes a day to help keep you physically, mentally and emotionally supported. Think of how you might tend to a garden - keeping it tended to little and often is as good, if not better, than a big session every now and again to keep it all under control.A practice that is customised for you is ideal, incorporating some physical postures to help energise the body, stretch and release tension, strengthen the posture to help alleviate aches and pains. Plus perhaps some breathing work to settle the mind and restore balance, and perhaps even meditation if interested (which has well known stress-relieving and healthful attributes). All of these practices will help you create and maintain some well-earned space for yourself, and can be fitted in to those small pockets of time once the kids have gone to bed, when they are napping, when they are watching tv, or before you go to bed. In my group classes I always encourage students to try some yoga practice at home if they are interested. Part-way through the term, I'll often offer them a small handout with a short practice to try for themselves at home. Sometimes students keep it up and come back weeks or months later reporting how much more benefit they get from yoga once they have started regular practice at home. Of course a daily healthful practice doesn't just have to be yoga, there are other things that you might find you enjoy that keep you motivated to continue with it. But what better way to nurture your health and wellbeing than by giving yourself the gift of a short yoga practice a few times a week to help maintain balance and health in your life.
Worth sharing, the Guardian website has just published their 'How to Meditate' series. They have some step-by-step guides, videos and podcasts designed to support people wanting to meditate. Worth trying if you have wanted to give it a go or tried and found it hard in the past. Enjoy here:http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/meditation
According to a news article last week on the BBC
, one in five schools now teach yoga as part of the physical education provision.
There is a current trend
is for schools to move away slightly from more traditional, competitive sports. Yoga can help students get the physical benefits of getting active and moving the body, improving their posture and physical strength. And also they could learn useful skills to help them develop better concentration, keep them de-stressed and able to handle life-stresses and exams better, and be more in touch with themselves during adolescent change.
Yoga can be great both as a group class where they take a yoga practice as a PE class, but also shorter practices can be used less formally. For example teachers can start off a class with some focusing work such as a short stretch or chant to help settle the class and get them focused on the lesson ahead. Lots of useful possibilities!Back to homepage
It is that time of year again. We're back from holidays, feeling pretty chilled out, and facing an Autumn of work with shorter days and dipping temperatures. There is a need to try and keep the summer-time relaxed feeling for as long as possible while the warm weather lasts.
The yoga courses starting next week
at YogaSpace try to encourage that feel-good feeling with regular yoga practice and even personal home practice for those who are interested (my students often take home handouts with little stick men in yoga poses offering a short 15 minutes yoga session to try at home - not homework, and by no means compulsory!).
Nothing beats a regular yoga practice for helping you feel good. The once-a-week de-stress in a group class is great, but keeping it up and taking even 10 minutes a day can really help cultivate that feel-good-feeling all through the week. All you need is a space on your carpet in a quiet part of your home and an uninterrupted 10 minutes (hard for some I know!). But an investment worth making.
Morning stretch anyone!