We all know that yoga does wonders for the mind. Even novices of asana, pranayama, and meditation report feeling increased mental stability and clarity during and after practice. Now, thanks to sophisticated brain imaging technologies, neuroscience is proving what teachers and practitioners have known for ages—that yoga and meditation can literally change your brain. But what exactly is going on up there? Take a peek inside—a basic understanding of brain anatomy and function can serve as a handy road map for your inner journey.
There are many reasons why having a flexible body is essential to our health and well-being. As a young child I was very flexible because I was a gymnast and dancer. Both gymnastics and dance require extreme stretching of muscles, tendons, and ligaments. They also work aggressively on the mobility of joints. I could do the splits every which way amongst many other things.
When I went to college I focused only on cardio. I ran, did the elliptical, jumped rope, and rollerbladed. Sometimes after my workouts I stretched mildly but not often enough. By the time I graduated at twenty-two, I noticed I was far from being able to do the splits. Then over that summer, not quite clear about the meaning of my newfound flexibility deficits, I attempted a back handspring. The back handspring was successful through completion, but I cracked my right elbow when my hands hit the ground. Though my brain recalled exactly what to do, I had neither malleable enough muscles nor mobile enough joints to absorb the shock of the trick.
Three years later, when I was twenty-five, I took my first yoga class. As a novice to yoga I was quick to learn thanks to my gymnastics and dance backgrounds. Low and behold however, I soon discovered that I could neither do cow face arms nor double lotus. My body was imbalanced. While perfectly capable of doing many simple and complex postures, I was also unable to do many asanas.
At that juncture, I realized that flexibility is one of the first things to go as our bodies enter adulthood and continue to age (assuming we are not dealing with an illness). In order to remain flexible, we constantly need to be on top of stretching via yoga and/or other body opening efforts. Athletes especially need to be conscientious about stretching to avoid injury, which is why so many pros like Lamar Odom, Hope Solo, LeBron James, Baron Davis, Blake Griffin, J.L. Lewis, and Justin Gimelstob are now doing yoga. As a yogi for the past fifteen years, I have conquered many of my former flexibility limitations but not all them. Maintaining and enhancing one’s flexibility is a life-long process.
Flexibility Helps To:
1. Prevent everyday injury including: muscle and disc strains that occur when turning over in bed or getting out of bed; shoulder tweaks that result from doing tasks on the job that involve lifting or reaching; back aches due to transitioning to standing from sitting, bending down to pick something up, or even walking up and down the stairs.
2. Improve your posture
3. Lengthen your muscles for a longer leaner look.
4. Make playing with your kids and babies easier and less injurious (remember that touch football game during which you overstretched you hamstrings?)
5. Allow you to feel more free, open, calm, content, and confident from the inside out.
6. Spread prana (life force) into your cells, which invigorates your spirit.
7. Make cardio activity a lot lighter and easier
8. Enhance sports performance (i.e. better arm and shoulder extension and rotation for swimmers and basketball players, longer strides for runners, deeper knee bends and hip flexion for skiers) as well as to parry blows that come with strong athletic endeavors
9. Travel more comfortably because of the ability to sit in many different positions and do things with your body in confined spaces you otherwise could not do
10. Need I say get through the Kama Sutra?
By Julie Wilcox
Three very easy tips on using yoga to de-stress your hectic life
By Selena Keegan
Many people miss out on the benefits of yoga because they think these benefits are only accessible to a few lucky people. If you think yoga is only for people who are younger than you, or to those lucky enough to have loads of free time, or only for individuals with naturally slender and flexible bodies, think again. Yoga offers de-stressing, healing benefits to everyone. If you can breath, you can do some form of yoga and you’ll be surprised how easy it is, and how much it can minimize both mental and physical tension
Many people move through their daily lives taking several short, quick breaths every minute. This type of breathing leaves you vulnerable to stress factors in your life and may cause chronic muscle pain, headaches, insomnia, depression and/or irritability. Learning to breathe better can dispel these symptoms.
Count the number of inhale-exhale cycles you take per minute. Then take some time to practice slowing your breath down. Slowly inhale, thinking of filling a three-quart container (the air capacity of the human lungs) from bottom to top. Then slowly exhale, emptying the lungs from top to bottom. As you practice breathing more slowly and deeply on a regular basis, you will become accustomed to using your full lung capacity. Gradually, you will find you take fewer breaths per minute. You will also find yourself becoming more resistant to the tension triggers in your life. Breathing practice is very healing on its own and it also forms the perfect foundation for the two suggestions below.
Mini-breaks of adapted stretching
Even if you are temporarily trapped in a seated position — whether an airplane seat or an office chair in a cubicle — you can still do some gentle stretching so that the time spent sitting does not leave you with muscle tension. Extend your left leg straight out in front of you, heel on the floor gently pointing your toes back toward your knee so that the back of your leg stretches. If there is space available, exhale and gently fold your upper body forward to increase the stretch, then inhale and slowly lift your upper body back to seated position and bend your knee, returning the sole of the foot to the floor. Perform this on each side.
To stretch your torso, keep your shoulders pressed to the chair back and your buttocks firmly in contact with the chair seat, then gently slide your upper body to the left until you feel a lengthening of the right side of your body. Only go as far as you comfortably can, then inhale and return to an upright position. Repeat to the opposite side. Simply taking five-minute stretch breaks a couple of times during a regular work day to do gentle stretches like these can ease the tight muscles and chronic back pain.
Practical meditation: re-setting your tension meter
Even if the demands of family and job mean you do not have time to sit in meditation for an hour, you can get some of the benefits of that practice by shifting your perspective. For example, traffic noises from the street or the sound of neighbors playing loud music can aggravate many people. Try combining some wisdom from the Serenity Prayer (“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can”) along with a bit of imagination.
Most of us do not become angry when we hear noises we accept as natural — birdsong, thunder, raindrops, etc. Practice reacting to traffic noises as if you were hearing the sound of waves rolling onto a beach. If you have to deal with situations or people you dislike, try suspending your judgment. Pretend that you are an anthropologist sent to observe another culture as objectively as possible. Try to take note of the situation with fresh eyes each time, observing new details, but letting go of any temptation to form opinions.
It will be easier to take this kind of flexible approach to daily life if you prepare yourself with at least 10 minutes of breathing practice each day, and use the breath throughout your day to help dispel any tendencies to waste emotional energy on situations you cannot alter. This kind of intelligent emotional economizing will also leave you with more energy to change the things on which you can improve.
Wishing you a beautiful weekend.
Guys are discovering that yoga isn’t for wimps.
By Fernando Pagés Ruiz
Jay White, a University of Nebraska professor, tried yoga to relieve back pain; Karl Schiffmann, of Santa Barbara, California, thought it would help him manage his anger. Mike Shaw, a trainer at Gold’s Gym in Lincoln, Nebraska, after years of bodybuilding, turned to yoga for flexibility. Three men, three different backgrounds, but all came to yoga with one thing in common: an interest in yoga sparked by the women in their lives. In fact, many American male yoga practitioners are led to yoga this way, and most men who give it an honest effort get hooked.
White was 50 when he took his first class. He’d been a runner until an injury forced him to quit. Bored with exercise bikes and treadmills, he asked a trainer at his health club for advice. She recommended yoga. “I was skeptical,” he says. “When I walked in, there was only one other guy and a room full of women.”
But he removed his shoes, thinking, “What the heck, I’ll try it.” Four years later, he’s still at it. “When I’m doing yoga,” he says, “my cares disappear.” Outnumbered six-to-one in most classes, the men who try yoga, like White, often get more out of it than just a good workout. “Yoga showed me that I can be both strong and very loving,” says Schiffmann, who dabbled with yoga until his wife encouraged him to take it up seriously. Now a certified yoga instructor, Schiffmann says the practice is central to his personal growth. “It’s my form of warriorship,” he explains.
Schiffmann’s experience is telling, says Richard Miller, psychologist and meditation teacher: “First men see their bodies changing, then their focus.”
Steve Dwelley, who leads Ashtanga classes in Santa Barbara, California, thinks “yoga has been toned down for Western consumption, losing men in the process.” Yoga is taught differently in India, says Dwelley, where it was cultivated for thousands of years by Brahmin men—and it’s anything but gentle. “We’ve adopted yoga on a feminist model,” he says, “but yoga has plenty to attract men.” The Indian masters aren’t softies, Dwelley claims, “They’re fierce.”
But San Francisco trial attorney Ike Lasater, who started yoga in college, says being more “open” has allowed him to take risks and made him feel more powerful.
The numbers are still small, but many yoga teachers, like Noll Daniel of New York City, say more men are coming to class lately, and “a few are even starting to bring their wives or girlfriends along.”