This term we have been reflecting in class ‘what is underneath us’. Learning to accept ourselves for who we are and forgive and love all our little foibles goes a long way to enable our enjoyment of life and to see the good in all those around us too. This poem is a lovely bringing together of these ideas.
Here is my past–
what I’ve been proud of,
and what I’ve pushed away.
Today I see how each piece
was needed, not a single
step wasted on the way.
Like a stone wall,
every rock resting
on what came before-
no stone can be
suspended in mid-air.
Foundation laid by every
act and omission,
each decision, even
those the mind would
label “big mistake”.
These things I thought
were sins, these are as
necessary as successes,
each one resting on the
surface of the last, stone
upon stone, the fit
the rough, uneven
face of these rocks
in the sunlight.
pg. 26, Go In and In: Poems from the Heart of Yoga
Yoga keeps the mind and body young, 22 clinical trials show
(Reposting of Article Published Tuesday 4 June 2019 in Medical News Today)
A review analysing the results of 22 randomized clinical trials has found that yoga practice can improve many aspects of physical and mental health among older adults.
Yoga can be an effective option for older adults who want to maintain good physical and mental health.
Yoga refers to a series of mind-body practices that originate in Hindu tradition.
However, they are growing in popularity across the world as an alternative well-being practice.
Statistic show that in 2015 in the United States alone, as many as 36.7 million people practised yoga, and by 2020, estimates suggest that this number will have increased to over 55 million people.
People who practice yoga often share anecdotes regarding its beneficial effect on their mental and physical health. Intrigued by such reports, some scientists set out to verify whether the benefits are real.
Indeed, some studies have found that different yoga practices are able to improve a person’s general sense of well-being, as well as various aspects of their physical health.
For example, a series of studies from 2017 suggested that people who joined a yoga program experienced lower levels of anxiety and depression.
A study from 2016 found that practising yoga correlated with a lower risk of cognitive impairment in older adults, and research from earlier this year concluded that 8 weeks of intense yoga practice reduced the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Now, investigators at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom have conducted a review, analysing the findings of 22 randomized and cluster-randomized clinical trials that assessed the benefits of yoga practice for healthy older adults.
The trials considered the effects of varied yoga programs — with program durations between 1 and 7 months and individual session durations between 30 and 90 minutes — on both mental and physical well-being.
‘Yoga has great potential’ to improve health
In the review, which features as an open access article in the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity, the researchers conducted statistical analysis to assess the combined findings of the 22 trials. They compared the benefits associated with yoga with those of other light physical activities, such as walking and chair aerobics.
The team found that among people with a mean age of 60 years or over, practising yoga — compared with not engaging in physical activity — helped improve their physical balance, flexibility of movement, and limb strength. It also reduced depression, improved sleep quality, and boosted their vitality.
Also, the researchers noticed that older adults who practised yoga perceived their own physical and mental health to be satisfactory.
When compared with other light physical activities, such as walking, yoga seemed to more effectively improve older adults’ lower body strength, enhance their lower body flexibility, and reduce their symptoms of depression.
“A large proportion of older adults are inactive and do not meet the balance and muscle strengthening recommendations set by government and international health organizations,” notes Divya Sivaramakrishnan, the review’s lead author.
However, yoga can be an easy, adaptable, and attractive form of physical activity, and since the evidence suggesting that it can be beneficial for health is building up, joining a yoga program could be a good option for older adults looking to stay in shape — both physically and mentally.
“Based on this study, we can conclude that yoga has great potential to improve important physical and psychological outcomes in older adults. Yoga is a gentle activity that can be modified to suit those with age-related conditions and diseases.”
A professor stood before his philosophy class with a few items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large, empty jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.
The professor then picked up a box of small pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly and the pebbles rolled into the spaces between the golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed it was.
Next the professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked again if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous ‘yes’.
The professor then produced two bottles of beer from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar – effectively filling the space between the sand. The students laughed…
‘Now’, said the professor as the laughter subsided, ‘I want you to recognise that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things – your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favourite passions – and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car. The sand is everything else – all the small stuff.’
‘If you put the sand into the jar first,’ he continued, ‘there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for your life.’
‘If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you.’
‘Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.’
‘Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit your grandparents. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18 holes. There will always be time to clean the house and mow the lawn.’
‘Take care of the golf balls first – the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.’
One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the beer represented. The professor smiled and said, ‘I’m glad you asked that – the beer just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of beers with a friend.’
Do you get anxious or angry when things don’t go just as you want them to? Do you feel you have to take charge of ‘everything’ or nothing would get done?
Feelings such as these really do cloud our enjoyment of life. They are often termed as ‘control issues’. Sometimes the simplest things make you irritated – say going for a coffee with a friend and the service being a bit slow or on a walk with a loved one and the moment being spoilt by a one-sided diatribe of complaining. These experiences feel like they are so far from the ‘perfect’ idea that you had in mind. But this is life.
Sometimes things don’t go as we planned – but it doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it. I’ve been learning ballroom dancing over the past couple of years – and it is the most fun when we learn something new and make a few mistakes in the process.
When we complain and are dis-satisfied about ‘inferiority’ or ‘mediocrity’ then we are only letting ourselves down and allowing our perception to cloak a situation in a pessimistic way.
Isn’t every aspect of our lives a matter of perspective? “Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.” ANNE FRANK, Diary of a Young Girl
We can alter our perspective on situations if we want to –
Don’t think MESSY – think LIVED IN/RELAXED
Don’t think SLOW SERVICE – think CAREFUL LOVING PREPARATION
I read Pollyanna (Eleanor H. Porter) recently – if you haven’t read it, well worth a look – and that has the thread of finding something positive about every situation you face. In fact Pollyanna makes it into a game – which is sometimes fun and often a challenge. Why not give it a go next time you feel like moaning?
LETTING GO OF CONTROL – A MEDITATION PRACTICE
1 Write about 3 recent occasions where you felt anxiety and wanted to take control of a situation or someone else’s behaviour.
2 Now come to a meditation space – seated on a cushion or in a chair. Take a moment to be still and watch the breath for about 5 minutes.
3 Chose one of the situations that you listed. Recall it in detail – especially the feelings. Perhaps a family member moved some cushions and didn’t replace them exactly as you wanted (small things can really get our goat) – what were your feelings?
4 Ask yourself why having things the way you want them is so important… Are you afraid of something? Do you feel that if you lose control you may become powerless? Alone? Abandoned?
There is no right answer – explore the feelings, even if you feel a bit silly now looking at them like this.
5 Let those thoughts go and commit to yourself to ‘letting go’ just a little bit at a time. See that by relaxing your grip (usually) nothing terrible happens. Look for a positive outcome when things are different from your expectations. Be kind and patient with yourself. Most people will have these thoughts at one time or another – you are not alone.
One final thought…
“All that we are is a result of what we have thought.” Buddha
If you are missing your weekly yoga class, why not sign up for the Side Plank Challenge?
I’ve created 3 short video yoga practices to strengthen the arms and the core ready for the Side Plank posture. The first was released yesterday – to get the next 2 please subscribe to the YouTube channel using the red button below the video. You will then get notifications as soon as they are uploaded!
More will be released over the next term… so get signed up!
Although we will be taking a break from our weekly classes over the summer, there is no reason to stop your yoga practice. In fact this is a good time to make a resolve (in yoga we call this a Sankalpa) to do a bit of practice on your own. This will test your memory and motivation!
To help you I have made handouts for the Sun Salutes you have done in your class (if you haven’t got one, be sure to collect one this week) Plus I’ve filmed the following 2 videos -one is the Simple Sun Salute – best for beginner students and one is Surya Namaskara – more suitable for those that have got a couple of years experience. You can follow along anywhere you have WiFi – so no excuses 🙂
Please ‘like’ your favourite Sun Salute – and subscribe to the channel with the red button to see more videos later in the summer…
I recently read a compelling tale about Alfred Nobel – he of the Nobel Peace Prize. The story touched me so much that I can’t seem to get it out of my mind. The story goes (and I can’t say how much of it is absolutely true) that Alfred Nobel was born in poverty but became very rich as an inventor, chemist and engineer. He created dynamite and had many factories making ammunitions thus amassing a great fortune during his lifetime. Sadly his brother died in 1888 and the media at the time got things a little confused and thought it was Alfred who had died. The obituaries in the papers were brutal ‘The merchant of death is dead’ and similar headlines appeared. Despite many other inventions and his vast wealth creation, the main thing Alfred was remembered for was the dynamite and the destruction it caused. This is said to have incentivised Alfred to set up the Nobel Peace Prize. He left his whole fortune to be invested and each year prizes given to those who contribute the most to society.
What does it all mean?
The ancient Sages suggested that to live a happy and fulfilled life it’s important to have a purpose and to consider what you might be remembered most for…
– great abs?
– fast car?
– amazing teeth?
In our increasingly time-deprived lives we can get caught up in minutia and drowned in emails missing the big picture of what we are actually doing here. Spending weeks, months and years doing stuff that makes us miserable and just wishing we were some place else.
Perhaps there’s another way? To take time to think about…
– what makes us tick?
– what do we care deeply about?
– what do we want people to remember about us?
Though the answers may change from time to time, our life on this planet is short – so we should make it count. I doubt anyone’s last words were ‘I wish I could have spent more time at the office’.
One of the great things that yoga teaches us is that we are not our thoughts. Thoughts are just thoughts – they are invisible and intangible and yet have great power over our lives. When you gain control over your thoughts you can change them at will – it is easier said than done – but recognising negative thoughts when they arise can go a long way to prevent ourselves from spiralling off in a negative direction.
“When obstructive thoughts arise, practice the opposite thought.”
(from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 2:33)
Meditation on the Opposite (read through a couple of time and then try a practice)
Sit in a comfortable meditation position. Watch the breath for a while – feel the softening of the body with each gentle exhalation.
Allow a thought (something that is bothering you) to come into your mind and feel the accompanying sensations in your body – eg ‘ I should have done that differently’, ‘I’m not good enough’, ‘I’m powerless’. Notice where and what you feel in your body – tightness in your tummy, heart, throat? Heaviness? Sadness?
Now consider a thought that would be opposite – eg ‘I did my best’, ‘I’m OK as I am’, ‘I am capable’. Bring into your mind a time or incident when this was how you felt. Review your physical sensations now – how does that feel? – relaxed? open? excited?
Take your time and don’t dwell for too long. It’s enough to begin with to appreciate the affect of a negative thought on our body/being. Spending time cultivating the opposites in this way affirms a positive approach to thinking and dealing with our thoughts as if they are separate from us. SMILE to end the meditation and be grateful that you have taken a little time to spend on this work for yourself.
This is a beautiful little book that I got for Christmas. The authors spent time interviewing people (mostly over 100 years old and still leading active lives) to find out what keeps them going. It seems that having a purpose in life is one of the most common themes in these long livers. Finding what makes you happy and throwing yourself at it wholeheartedly! Doesn’t sound like a bad idea does it?
I’m quoting an excerpt here to give you an idea – but totally recommend reading the whole book – it doesn’t take long 🙂
“The ten rules of Ikigai
1 Stay Active; don’t retire. Those who gave up the things they love doing and do well lose their purpose in life. That’s why it’s so important to keep doing things of value, making progress, bringing beauty or utility to others, helping out, and shaping the world around you, even after your “official” professional activity has ended.
2 Take it slow. Being in a hurry is inversely proportional to quality of life. As the old saying goes, “Walk slowly and you’ll go far.” When we leave urgency behind, life and time take on new meaning.
3 Don’t fill your stomach. Less is more when it comes to eating for long life, too. According to the 80per cent rule, in order to stay healthier longer, we should eat a little less than our hunger demands instead of stuffing ourselves.
4 Surround yourself with good friends. Friends are the best medicine, there for confiding worries over a good chat, sharing stories that brighten your day, getting advice, having fun, dreaming… in other words, living.
5 Get in shape for your next birthday. Water moves; it is at its best when it flows fresh and doesn’t stagnate. The body you move through life in needs a bit of daily maintenance to keep it running for a long time. Plus, exercise releases hormones that make us feel happy.”
For the remaining 5 rules you’ll have to get the book and read them yourself!!