Go away – I’m busy relaxing!

Do you find it almost impossible to relax because you feel guilty when you’re not busy?

We increasingly live under constant pressure to be productive – doing something every moment of the day; multi-tasking; maximising every second.

The increase of mobile phones means we have messages coming at us 24/7 – there is never a quiet moment!  And when there is we seem to worry – is the phone working?  No one wants me – and the ‘Fear Of Missing Out’ on anything our friends are doing.

The stress that we are continually putting ourselves under will eventually cause a problem.  According to statistics from the Government’s Health and Safety Executive 85% of serious illnesses are caused by stress.  It costs our country £7 billion per year in lost work days and NHS services.

We all know the signs – heart rate goes up, sweaty palms, breathing increases and so on.  This is due to hormonal changes within our bodies described as the ‘fight or flight’ response.  The body reacts by instinctively preparing to run away or face down the problem.  Internally this means that our oxygen and blood supply are totally diverted to get the muscles ready to run or fight.  Our pupils also enlarge to take in as much information as possible and other unnecessary bodily activities shut down – digestion, metabolism, sex drive.

Does this ring any bells with you?

When we take time out to relax all the functions described above reverse.  Our heart rate reduces, the oxygen in our blood is regulated, the muscles relax, and digestion, metabolism and sex drive are all improved.

Yoga offers a great way to relax and unwind the body and mind.  A typical class will offer 1/3rd of the time in relaxation practices.  A guided relaxation can take many forms – seated in a chair or laying on the back of the body.  A teacher will use a variety of methods to help you to relax your body and mind.  Visualisations, muscle tense and release, breathing exercises, meditation and music are some methods I use.

The benefit of a regular class means that you learn techniques and tips to stop you from doing your mental ‘to do’ list and allow you to simply be and relax.  Giving yourself permission to relax is the most important and difficult thing to do.  But given the benefits, don’t you think it’s your job to get busy relaxing?

The Durga Gallery

Over the last half term our Yoga class students have been working with the Warrior and Goddess postures to strengthen our legs and improve our lungs. We have also looked at images of the Goddess Durga with her 8 arms and thought about how fantastic that might be at this time of year to help with all of our jobs at Christmas.  Mental images of empowerment like this can be used as a coping strategy and help us to combat stress in our lives. Stress happens when we feel overwhelmed or unable to cope – Christmas is a prime cause of stress, especially as one year closes (where has the year gone?/another year older!) and a new one begins (fear of change and uncertainty). So just imagine if you had 8 arms to help you out with all of your jobs and deal with whatever is to come next year!!!

Just for a bit of fun and to immerse ourselves fully in our yoga practice – we have made a ‘Durga Gallery’ – I hope that this inspires students to feel empowered (maybe enlist an extra pair of hands? or maybe reduce the amount of tasks you set yourself? you do only have 1 pair of hands really!)

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Immune Boosting Yoga

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New research published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine (Feb 2018) suggests that yoga can be a helpful way to boost your immune system and decrease inflammation in the body.
Psychological stress can impact many systems in the body, including weakening the immune system and increasing chronic inflammation. Inflammation is natural part of the immune response and in the short term can be helpful to heal wounds, injuries, and infections, but chronic inflammation can do more harm than good.
Researchers collectively reviewed 15 randomized controlled trials that examined whether the regular practice of yoga postures could strengthen the immune system and reduce chronic inflammation. The average sample size of the trials was 70, and sample sizes ranged from 11 to as many as 140 participants. The majority of studies used Hatha yoga, a general term that indicates a style that includes postures.
Scientists in these yoga trials examined the immune system response by measuring blood or saliva levels of circulating pro-inflammatory markers such as cytokines, a protein called C-reactive protein (CRP), as well as immune cell counts, antibodies, and markers of gene expression in immune cells.
Researchers found an overall pattern that yoga reduces pro-inflammatory markers, with the strongest evidence for the reduction of a cytokine called IL-1beta. There are mixed but promising results regarding other types of pro-inflammatory markers. One study found that yoga increased levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines such as IL-10. Another trial found that yoga could mediate inflammation at the genomic level, changing levels of proteins that control the DNA transcription of proinflammatory cytokine genes.
Overall, the collection of research trials indicate yoga has a promising anti-inflammatory effect in the body.
How often and how long do you need to practice yoga to get this effect? So far researchers do not have a conclusive answer, but most of these research studies implemented yoga programs that lasted from 8 to 12 weeks with a frequency between once weekly to daily. Yoga classes in the research studies range from 30 to 90 minutes. As with most mind-body practices, regular consistent practice yields the most promise.

Originally posted by Marlynn Wei M.D., J.D.

Stepping Off the Christmas Merry-Go-Round

 

With the count-down to Christmas now in full swing – juggling who’s going where, what to buy for so-and-so and fitting everyone in over the festive period – things get frantic for the body, mind and soul.

At these times our heads are jam packed with to-do lists and our bodies are tense holding onto every breath.  The build up of anxiety is everywhere – ahhhhhh Black Friday panic…..   Just when we need to relax and enjoy the season of goodwill to all men – we are more tired and worried than ever. Now is the perfect time for yoga…

YOGA? HOW CAN I FIND THE TIME FOR THAT?

But this is when we need it most – simply take a moment out, step off the Merry-Go-Round for one minute and read this mini-meditation-

Sit in any comfortable position…….

Breathe in and open up in the heart space, sit tall and beautiful.

Expand from the inside out, become more spacious  – open up to the breath.

Gently soften the eyes and feel your skin; feel the clothes touching your skin, feel the hair on your head, feel a smile on your face.

Feel beyond the skin to the Vijnanamaya Kosha – the astral or wisdom body – our aura that surrounds us.

Lean back a little and feel the support of the cosmos that surrounds you.

Breathe in and draw from the abundant well of air that we live in and lives in us.

Take heart that you are not some isolated thing battling single handedly against the world.

You are the world – and what will be will be.

Invite your breath to become smooth as silk and quiet as a whisper.

While here in this place now, feel gratitude to the earth for the sunshine and air we breathe.

Drink in each breath and be grateful for all that you have.

Be grateful for your challenges for they allow you to interact with the world and demonstrate your passions.

With this gratitude in your heart take your current experience and think of how they might be in the future.

Plant a seed for your future.

Invite the pace of your life to flow smoothly and easily, see yourself as you would like to be.

Breathe in peace, breath out love.

Yoga Classes – September 2017

Our focus for this year will be Anahata – the heart chakra. Anahata colours our life with love, compassion and beauty. Through our yoga pracite we’ll fill our hearts with love and generosity – give ourselves the time and space we deserve to feel loved and give love with joy and radiance.

In our asana this term we’ll be opening the chest area with back bends and twists, creating space to breath and for the heart to beat. Following a warm up we’ll steadily increase the complexity, strength and duration of postures to ensure that a gradual opening of the body is achieved.

We’ll be working with Mudra and Bandha for relaxation and the relief of stress and anxiety.  Our aim will be to develop compassion for ourselves, those around us and the wider world. Many of the readings and practices will come from the Radiance Sutras by Lorin Roche – you may like to get your own copy for inspiration of your home practice, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

 

Yogic Breathing (3 Part Breath)

Yogic breathing (or 3 part breathing) combines abdominal breathing, thoracic breathing (chest) and clavicular (lower throat) breathing. In class I call it the ‘3 part breath’ – it can also be call the ‘Complete’ breath – but of all the names I like ‘3 part’ because it reminds me of the 3 stages.

 

This breathing exercise is used to maximise inhalation and exhalation. Its purpose is to gain control of the breath, correct poor breathing habits and increase oxygen intake. It is a worthwhile practice to do every day as the body takes a long time to make corrections and needs continuous effort. With most of us leading a sedentary (seated) lifestyle plus the pressure of gravity upon us the 3 part breath helps us to avoid a slouching posture.

 

It may be practiced at any time and is especially useful in situations of high stress or anger for calming the nerves. However, while its inclusion in a daily yoga programme will correct and deepen natural breathing patterns, yogic breathing itself should not be performed continuously.

 

Yogic (3 Part) Breathing

 

Sit in a comfortable seated posture with the spine upright or lay in semi supine.

Relax the whole body, begin to watch your natural breath.

Inhale slowly and deeply, allowing the abdomen to expand fully.

Try to breathe so slowly that little or no sound of the breath can be heard.

Feel the air reaching into the bottom of the lungs.

At the end of the abdominal expansion, start to expand the chest outward and upward.

When the ribs are fully expanded, inhale a little more until expansion is felt in the upper portion of the lungs and around the base of the neck. The shoulders and collar bone should also move up slightly. Some tension will be felt in the neck muscles – but no strain.

The rest of the body should be relaxed.

Feel the air filling up the upper lobes of the lungs.

This completes the inhalation.

The whole process should be one continuous movement, each phase of breathing merging into the next without any obvious transition point. There should be no jerks or unnecessary strain. The breathing should be like the swell of the sea.

Now begin to exhale.

First relax the lower neck and upper chest, then allow the chest to contract downward and then inward.

Next, allow the diaphragm to push upward and toward the chest.

Without straining, try to empty the lungs as much as possible by drawing or pulling the abdominal wall as near as possible to the spine.

The entire movement should be harmonious and flowing. Hold the breath for a few seconds at the end of exhalation. The breath should flow naturally in and out of the nose and not be at all forced.

This completes one round of yogic breathing.

Begin with 5 – 10 rounds and slowly work up to 10 minutes a day.

Learn to Relax

Our relaxation exercises in the Beginners Yoga last term were inspired by the book ‘Learn to Relax’ by Mike George. It is a very readable book interspersed with exercises to help reduce stress, live in the moment and relax. As you go further into the book there are sections on finding harmony in the relationships in your life, finding time for meditation and letting go of the past. I thoroughly recommend it to everyone as it has something to offer on those days when you may not feel like a physical or spiritual practice – perhaps you may be a bit down in the dumps, and it brings some perspective to your circumstances. Sadness, fear and anxiety all lead to stress and a physical tightness in the body. In turn this can lead to reduced breathing capacity denying your body and brain the vital life source (prana) which comes from oxygen. The result is illness and disease and we want to avoid that as much as possible.

5 Reasons To Put A Smile On Your Face!!!

Did you know that there are many health and psychological benefits of smiling, laughter and a good sense of humour?

We are greatly influenced by the expression we hold on our faces – smiling actually uses less muscle and energy than frowning, so it really does make much more sense to smile.  By smiling you are actually kidding your brain into thinking you are happy and this has the knock on effect of telling the rest of your body ‘hey everything is ok!’.

Smiling is an effective, free way to boost your mood and lead a much healthier life…

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REASON 1 – REDUCE STRESS & ANXIETY

Studies have shown that smiling reduces stress and anxiety – even when you smile for no reason, the health benefits are fabulous, it lowers your heart rate, calms frayed nerves and slows down the breath because it relaxes the throat and upper chest muscles.

REASON 2 – BOOST IMMUNITY

The smiley face muscles send signals to the brain to release endorphins making us feel good. This in turn helps to make your immune system stronger because the body produces more white blood cells when it is relaxed and happy.

REASON 3 – BE MORE APPROACHABLE

Smiling makes us look more approachable, attractive and inspires confidence. Research has shown that people who smile more often make better leaders and are surrounded by more happy people. This is largely due to the fact that smiling is highly contagious – just one person smiling can actually lead to a chain reaction – which in turn leads to less stress and anxiety and all of the above benefits.

REASON 4 – FEEL POSITIVE

Having a good sense of humour helps to create a realistic balance in our lives – it means we can laugh at our mistakes and not take ourselves or our lives too seriously. When we get too serious we can get bogged down and feel morose which will lead only to negative thoughts, worry and stress.

REASON 5 – EXERCISE THE DIAPHRAGM

The action of a good belly laugh is excellent exercise for the diaphragm, it means that the muscle of the diaphragm gets a good work out – both tensing and relaxing which in turn is great for the lungs. Laughter yoga and laughter therapy stem from the teachings of the Buddha, it is not only good for the physical self but also for our minds in understanding that our lives are a small part something much, much greater.

Autumn Leaves Meditation

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Meditation has been practiced for many thousands of years because people know that it reduces stress, calms the mind and increases inner peace. During the 1970s medical researchers at Harvard University studied meditation in depth and found that during the practice the body has what they call the relaxation response, which gives the body deep rest that is deeper than the rest we get from sleep. They also discovered that through regular meditation that deep rest builds up in the body over time, and it is that deepening reservoir of rest that the body and mind draw on in times of need such as to fight disease and get us through traumas in life.

 

Why not give it a go? What do you have to lose? The following audio guides you through a simple visualisation with a focus on Autumnal leaves – something which I think everyone appreciates no matter how busy! With this exercises you can lie down on a flat surface (yoga mat on the floor is best) or seated in a meditation position or in a chair. Whatever you do, don’t listen to it while you are driving or doing anything else. Meditation is something which you have to dedicate your whole mind and body to, close your eyes to shut out interference from the outside world but resist the urge to sleep.

 

 

Recycled Soothing Eye Pillow

Why not have a go at making this eye pillow and including it in your yoga bag? The halls I teach in (Preston Village Hall in Rutland and Ryhall Village just outside Stamford, Lincolnshire) offer variable lighting so I always adjust it when we come to relax.  However, an eye pillow – particularly with a fragrance – can add another dimension and aid your relaxation even further.

You can recycle an old t-shirt into a this useful item or use some soft fabric you have available – remember to use double thickness. This is ideal for your yoga practice or keep it under your pillow and use as general sleeping aid.

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This eye pillow is very simple to make and uses stuff that you are most likely to have around the home.

Using an eye pillow has a very calming effect on the nervous system – just the weight over the eye lids and forehead can work wonders. If you add a soothing aroma such as lavender or chamomile you will also be tapping into the benefits of aromatherapy. Be sure not to use essential oils or other perfume as this may affect your skin and eyes – I used dried lavender flowers from my garden but you can use the leaves from a chamomile tea bag if you don’t have any.

Perhaps you can dry some of your favourite flowers this summer and save them for making a pillow??? You do need to make new eye pillows regularly as they can harbour dirt and grime and the eye area is delicate so never share or use dirty eye pillows.

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First find a t-shirt that you no longer want.  If it has been washed lots of times, that’s great, it will be nice and soft.

Cut the t-shirt horizontally across just under the sleeves.

 

 

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Fold the double layers over and measure 9cm up from the fold.  Pin a line 20cm parallel to the fold. Sew your oblong shape now, either by hand with small, tight, stitches or by machine. Up one side (9cm) – turn, along the long edge (20cm) – turn and then half way down the other side (about 5cm).

 

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Cut around the oblong stitching leaving a seam of 0.5cm

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Turn the oblong inside out through the gap you left down one side.

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Prepare your filling – I used some lavender that I dried last year – you just need the flower heads not the stalks. You can buy dried flowers – chamomile might be nice – or you can use the contents of a tea bag.  I mixed the lavender with pearl barley otherwise it would have been too strong.  You only need to fill it up a bit – it’s not like a stuffed toy – just so that there is some weight over your eyes and forehead which helps to calm the mind.

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Now take a rolled up piece of paper to make funnel and insert it into your sewn oblong shape.

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When full to your own liking, turn in the seam allowance and sew up by hand with tiny, tight stitches.

Hey presto – a useful item out of stuff you would probably throw away.

The life of an eye pillow is fairly short. I would suggest making a new one every 6 months or so. Your eyes are delicate and the pillow, like it or not, will collect germs and bacteria. It can’t be washed so – do yourself a favour and put it on the compost bin after 6 months and make yourself a fresh one.