Well, that was odd!

Can I ask you a question? Have you ever had something happen to you that was really amazing but then you didn’t want to tell any of your friends about it in case they thought that you were a few sandwiches short of a picnic? You know, not the usual ‘what’s she done now’ accompanied by a fond, if slightly patronising smile, but a real ‘OK move away from the crazy lady’?

Can I ask you a question? Have you ever had something happen to you that was really amazing but then you didn’t want to tell any of your friends about it in case they thought that you were a few sandwiches short of a picnic? You know, not the usual ‘what’s she done now’ accompanied by a fond, if slightly patronising smile, but a real ‘OK move away from the crazy lady’ sort of thing?

Inner peace 2Yes? Oh thank God for that, I’m glad it’s not just me! Anyhoo back to the point. I had my Sunday morning yoga class yesterday; 9am sharp at the beach, slightly bleary eyed (that’s early for a Sunday) but ready to become the manifestation of a bird or a cactus (you had to be there!). Now, I’ve always loved yoga because I love exercise but I’ve always struggled a bit with the spiritual side of it; I have om’d and ujjayi’d with the best of them but nirvana was always just something that happened to other people.

I think the problem is that I’m not that great at sitting still and the inside of my head is often like a washing machine on a spin cycle (do you know what I mean?). I’ve had the odd moment of mental stillness but then I’ll go back to thinking about what I’m going to have for lunch and wondering whether trees actually do make a sound when then fall down even if I’m not there to hear it.

Lisa, stop thinking about trees and concentrate! Where was I? Oh yes, our yoga teacher was telling us that the next pose would help with ‘hormonal problems’; as someone suffering from the torture of menopause I was very grateful but also wondering if we were only doing it because my face looked like a profusely sweating beetroot and she felt sorry for me…….

fish-pose.jpgWe maneuvered our bodies into ‘fish’ pose (see helpful picture), which is less painful than it looks, and the teacher came behind me and put her hands under my back to lift me slightly higher (I was right about the hot flush being the motivator wasn’t I?) . From nowhere, came this huge smile and a sense of ‘relief’, I can’t think of another way to describe it. That in itself wasn’t so weird, as there is a huge connection in yoga between the emotional and the physical, it was what happened at the end of the class….

As is traditional, we all lay on the floor in Shavasana (or corpse pose) and closed our eyes. Now, normally at this point, I will start fidgeting, trying to remember where I parked the car, that sort of thing but yesterday something completely unexpected happened….

I felt completely, totally and utterly ecstatic!!! I was literally crying with happiness and it was as though I was somehow separated from my body in some way – it was there (obviously) but I couldn’t feel it. It was as though the universe itself was just giving me a great big hug. The feeling only lasted a minute or so but afterwards I felt almost drunk (in a good way), nothing mattered, I had no problems and nothing at all to worry about, it was wonderful :O)

It didn’t last unfortunately and I’m back to being my slightly neurotic and dippy self. I don’t know, maybe I’m losing the plot but, I tell you one thing, I am definitely going back to that yoga class next week!

Have a fantastic day everyone whatever you’re doing and please let me know if anything like this has ever happened to you as I’d like to reassure myself that I’m not about to have a stroke or something ;O)

Lisa xx

 

If It’s Rigid All the Time, It’s Gonna Hurt!

I won’t say that I never have back pain now – I work out a lot and occasionally get aches and pains as a result but I know now how to deal with it and it’s not by reaching for a pill bottle or taking to my bed for a few days.

Do you suffer from a bad back? Do you find yourself half scared to move in case you bring on another ‘twinge’? Have you found that, if you stay rigid and in one position your back doesn’t feel so bad….for a few minutes and then it gets worse and you have to find a new position? How long is it before you reach for the pain killers?

If you have a muscle spasm then an anti-inflammatory like Ibuprofen can work well but a pain killer will only mask your symptoms for a while, enabling you to carry on working but also allowing you to exacerbate the problem if you’re not careful.  You will also find that pain killers will have less and less of an effect over time as your body becomes tolerant to them and so, to keep the same amount of pain relief, you have to up the dosage or opt for a stronger product.

I suffered from back pain for years after being in two car crashes and several horse riding accidents and I was told, at the time, stay in bed for a few days and you’ll be fine. Did this advice help? No. I wasn’t sick, I didn’t need to sleep for hours on end during the day so just lying about in bed meant that I focused more on the pain which got worse as the muscles around the affected area tensed up as well. After one particularly horrendous episode, almost all the muscles in my back went violently into spasm and I was prescribed Diazepam and co-codamol and more bed rest. On this occasion the spasms eased off because the Diazepam relaxed my body to the point that I was completely away with the fairies. After that I had numerous appointments with Chiropractors and then the doctor again, who gave me more pills and told me to rest and then, thank God, I discovered Yoga.

I won’t say that I never have back pain now – I work out a lot and occasionally get aches and pains as a result but I know now how to deal with it and it’s not by reaching for a pill bottle or taking to my bed for a few days. I simply perform these stretches, each one for a few minutes at a time:

knees one side yoga
This pose will stretch your lower back; if you find that the position is too strong, you can keep both knees bent and roll them first to one side and then the other
catandcow poses_550x131
Cat stretch and cow stretch is a wonderful combination of stretch and extension and will give you increased spinal flexibility. Start in a neutral position and then alternately arch and round your back nice and slowly
knees to chest
Lying flat on your back and then hugging your knees to your chest is a fantastic way to release tension in your lower back. Breathe throughout, keeping your back flat to the floor and slowly and gently bring your knees closer and closer to your chest
childs pose
Child’s pose will gently stretch the muscles in your back and sides and is wonderfully relaxing. Start in a kneeling position and then gradually ease your arms forward with fingers outstretched until your forehead is resting on the floor and then just breathe

I’m not a doctor and, if you have back pain you need to get a diagnosis from a professional but my personal experience has taught me that movement is far more beneficial than rigidity!

Perfect Harmony

Keeping your joints and muscles supple and flexible will offer you protection from injury, allow your muscles to recover more quickly and give you an increased range of movement.

I’m a huge fan of yoga and have been for many years; I first discovered the stretches (or postures) on an obscure TV channel in the UK, I then attended a class at a Buddhist centre (which also then gave me a huge respect for that particular religion) and now I practice at home when I feel the need to relax or to relieve aching muscles. I do a lot of exercise: 2 hour long Pilates classes, spend between 3 and 5 hours in the gym and walk around 20km every single week; I love all of it but nothing leaves me feeling quite so peaceful and at one with the world as yoga. Not only that but the stretches enable me to do as much exercise as I do without succumbing to injury.

Our bodies are amazing, especially in the ways that they try to protect us. A prime example is when we have been working out hard, repetitive exercises which make our muscles tighter and tighter, and our bodies decide to bring in other muscles to help us out. Really kind of them isn’t it? Well, actually, no because if you are using under-trained ‘helper’ muscles you could find that you’ll end up tearing one of them which will leave you in a lot of pain and unable to workout for a while. This is where yoga comes in. Keeping your joints and muscles supple and flexible will offer you protection from injury, allow your muscles to recover more quickly and give you an increased range of movement.

As we get older and our bodies start to get a little stiffer many of us turn to the gym to increase our fitness levels and to keep trim. This is great! Cardio vascular exercises like walking or jogging on a treadmill, using a stair master or an elliptical machine are all great for keeping our hearts and bodies in shape but there’s no point in doing all this if we can’t train 3 weeks out of every 6 because of injury. Yoga, combined with your normal workouts, will enable you to train better and more effectively with the added benefit of making your respiratory system more efficient. The short video below explains how yoga breathing can relax your mind and body allowing you to free yourself to work more dynamically.

By opening posture, yoga significantly increases respiratory capacity; in fact, many have overcome asthma and other respiratory conditions through regular practice. Obviously, this is invaluable to athletes. Yoga has also been proven to dramatically enhance circulation, digestion, and efficiency of motion, which all further improve energy and endurance. [Source]

Whatever forms of exercise you enjoy, whatever sports you like to play, yoga can help both in terms of protecting your body from injury and improving your performance – it’s not just for lycra clad lovelies with long blond hair ;O)

Slower and Deeper

Anyone who has ever had the horrible experience of a panic attack will know exactly what I mean!

Faster and more shallow won’t, necessarily, bring you the peace that you’re looking for whereas deep, slow breathing will calm the mind and the body.

The foundation of your yoga practice is Pranayama or ‘yoga breathing’, techniques which allow you to control your breath whilst you move through the various postures. Most of us think about exercise in terms of cardio vascular – running, jogging, aerobics etc. all of which tend to leave you out of breath and sweaty at the end; yoga is different. With yoga, the idea is to create a relaxed mind and body and holding your breath or taking short, sharp breaths whilst you are in the poses will just lead to stress and tension in the body i.e. the opposite of what you are trying to achieve. There are many different styles of Pranayama but here is a basic explanation of one of the most common known as Dirga Pranayama:

Dirga Pranayama is called the three part breath because you are actively breathing into three parts of your abdomen. The first position is the low belly (on top of or just below the belly button), the second position is the low chest (lower half of the rib cage), and the third position is the low throat (just above the top of the sternum). The breath is continuous, inhaled and exhaled through the nose. The inhalation starts in the first position, the low belly; then moves to the second position, the low chest; then to the third position, the low throat. The exhalation starts in the low throat, moves to the low chest, and finishes in the low belly.Rest your hands on the individual positions to feel the breath rising and falling through each position. breathingWhen you start practicing, you may want to individually isolate the movement in each position, using the hands. When you have a good feel for the breath moving in and out of each position, practice without the hands. Eventually relax the effort of the Pranayama and breathe into the three positions gently, feeling a wave of breath move up and down the torso. [Source]

So, whilst this is all very interesting, how can it help you in your day to day life? The answer is pretty simple really. Stress is known to be a contributor to a number of health problems such as anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes. When you are stressed your breathing becomes shallow and rapid which can then make you feel short of breath which only serves to make the problem worse. Anyone who has ever had the horrible experience of a panic attack will know exactly what I mean! With the breathing techniques that you learn through yoga you can, very effectively, reverse these symptoms because you will be activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve which will slow down your heart rate and calm your body and your mind. In addition, with deep breathing, you engage the abdominal muscles and diaphragm instead of the muscles in the upper chest and neck. This conditioning of the respiratory muscles results in improved efficiency of oxygen exchange with every breath by allowing more air exchange to occur in the lower lungs. If you practice yoga regularly you will find that, as your breathing techniques improve, you will have more energy because your body is becoming less stressed and therefore more efficient and as Krishnamacharya said “If you can breathe, you can do Yoga”

Breathing techniques are also used in meditation which can be hugely effective in reducing chronic pain or any other affliction which is made worse by stress. This video explains meditation techniques – we could all do with less stress in our lives so why not give it a try?

I started meditating about a year ago and although, at first, I found it difficult to just sit and relax, after a time I found that I craved the peace that it afforded me. Initially I had dozens of thoughts rushing around my head but gradually I realised that, if I just accepted that those thoughts were there rather than acknowledging them or engaging with them, the meditation process became much easier and a great pleasure.

 

 

Not Big but Long…

…wearing lycra is not obligatory…

If you’d like to be long, strong and lean…….

Many yoga postures, or asanas involve supporting body weight with our arms or legs much in the same way as press ups or squats. Poses are held and the muscles involved gradually become stronger so that we are able to support our weight for a longer period of time which also builds endurance. You may think that yoga cannot possibly have the same effect on muscles as pumping iron at the gym but you’d be surprised at the strength required to hold some of the poses.

images (1)

There is no doubt that this guy is extremely strong; to support your entire body weight on one hand like this takes years of dedication and practice. However, even yoga novices will notice a big difference in their strength and also endurance after just a few week of practice. With yoga you also work out your entire body in one go; it’s not like going to the gym where you have to wait around for equipment or move from piece to piece – you just need you!

Practically all yoga involves you having your core muscles engaged as they are needed to stabilise your body as you move through the various postures. If you have core strength you will greatly reduce your risk of suffering from back pain and you will also find that your posture improves and all physical activity becomes easier.

At the university of california researchers carried out trials, over a period of 8 weeks, in which participants did 4 sessions of yoga each week. at the end of this time musclar strength had increased by as much as 31% and muscular endurance by 57%

Although yoga will not make you bulk up like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his hey day it will improve muscle tone and definition; the ‘yoga body’ is traditionally defined as ‘long and lean’ which is a look that I think most of us would be happy with.

These postures are all strength building and range from novice to intermediate to expert and demonstrate what is possible with regular practice:

Yoga is for everybody  and wearing lycra is not obligatory so why not give it a try? Even if you regularly play other sports and don’t feel the need to add in something that may seem so ‘low impact’, give it a go for a month and just see how it improves your performance. If you have any existing sports injuries, tell yoga teacher and she or he will work out a programme for you which will be designed to strenthen the muscles needed to support you in your recovery. Have a look here to find a yoga class near you

If it’s stiff, oil it!

…it’s the same effect as a squirt of WD40 on a sticky hinge

Yoga is considered by the National Institute of Health in America as a form of complementary medicine because it combines muscular activity with an internally directed focus on the self. Regular practice of Yoga promotes strength and flexibility; you were born flexible but a sedentary lifestyle leads to our bodies getting lazy, our muscles atrophy and our joints settle into a limited range. When you were a toddler you would have thought nothing of tucking your legs behind your ears but could you do it now? I guess that the word no springs to mind but you could……

Yes, I know what you’re thinking, these guys have been doing yoga for years!! They probably have but they’re no spring chickens are they? The stretches that they have been doing are, effectively, reducing the natural aging process; our bodies dehydrate and get stiffer with age but yoga slows this process by stimulating the production of tissue lubricants – it’s the same effect as a squirt of WD40 on a sticky hinge. The side benefit of this increased suppleness and flexibility is that our bodies are less prone to injury. How many times have you bent down or leaned over and felt something twinge in your back? Yoga increases range of movement for your muscles and joints which means that, after a few weeks, those twinges will be a thing of the past.

Your image of yoga devotees may be that they are all skinny minnies who can move so easily because they have absolutely no fat on their bodies – not true. Yoga is beneficial to everyone no matter what their size and the increased flexibility and strength that it gives means that other, cardio vascular exercises, become easier and more enjoyable.

Anyone can enjoy yoga so why not give it a try and, please, let me know how you get on.

Can you go Without?

we would not suggest that you move to a 12 foot high platform or sit inside a tree

Do you really need a car? If you absolutely had to could you live in one room? Could you live without holidays? Do you really need so many clothes? How about food? Could you live without that? This man did:

devraha barba

Devraha Baba was a famous sadhu who was believed to be 250 years old when he died; he never ate food and drank only water from the river. His home was a 12 foot high wooden platform and he spent his days in a state of extreme meditation.

As he didn’t eat his body was free of toxins and his meditations ensured that his metabolic rate was very low which meant that his body did not suffer the wear and tear sustained in ordinary, everyday life.

Such was the power that he had over his own mind and body that he rarely wore anything at all , even when the temperatures were freezing!

He’s not the only one who has gone to extremes to escape from the outside world in order to find inner peace and tranquility:

This video puts a western perspective on the story of Ram Bahadur Bamjon who apparently remained in a state of meditation, without food or water, for a period of 10 months. He drew the attention of many, many visitors and this boy, who was only 15 when he began his meditation eventually left his chosen spot because he could no longer find peace there.

There are many such examples of people who appear to have extended their lives and enhanced their physical well-being through yoga. Whilst yoga-medi for months on end, there is a great deal of evidence to support the benefits of a vegetarian diet, regular meditation and regular exercise so perhaps we have much to learn from ancient wisdom.

 

Not Just Bend and Stretch

There are people in the world who appear to have found ways to slow down the aging process……..

There are people in the world who appear to have found ways to slow down the aging process; one group are known as sadhus. They can slow down their heartbeat, slow down their breathing and live for weeks and even months on end without food. They meditate to distance themselves from their surroundings and to turn their focus inwards; they empty their minds so that they are free from all emotional and mental disturbances. Their bodies are not subject to the stresses that are caused by anxiety or depression and their life energies are retained within and therefore not expended.

They practice yoga, not the bending and stretching in lycra that we all know as yoga, but something far more ancient and spiritual. It’s believed to date back to the 5th or 6th century but was only introduced to the West in the late 1900’s by the Indian mystic Swami Vivekandanda. Yoga means ‘unite’ and the practises are designed to lead to the joining of the body and the mind in perfect harmony so that the practitioner can live in a state of complete freedom; free from all sufferings.

 

This video demonstrates traditional Hatha (meaning force) yoga; a series of physical exercises which allow the practitioner to master their body, whilst at the same time, focusing on their breath which will enable them to clear their minds.

swami_yogananda

The picture shows Swami Yogananda who, at 99 years old, shows the power and flexibility that the body can retain through the practice of yoga over many years.

The mix of deep meditation and movement brings a profound sense of peace to practitioners and has a very positive impact on the body.

Yoga combines the physical, spiritual and emotional and the absolute best part about it is it’s available to everyone: