Yoga & Meditation and its Positive Effect on Brain Health

meditation for brain health
meditation can have a positive effect on brain health

We already know that as we age we will be exposed to, and may experience, many diseases which impact us physically such as arthritis and cancer.  But just as importantly we need to consider our brain health.  With dementia in its many forms making that list of age related diseases,  our mental health will also affect our wellbeing as each new Birthday comes by.


In recent years various neuroscientists have studied the benefits of yoga and meditation on the brain and the positive affects of the practice.  Through recent research, I discovered that some studies have shown that yoga and meditation is thought to have an effect on the physical make up of the brain.

take advantage of the short and sweet daily meditations which are available online for free

It is worth finding a dedicated meditation class to attend or, alternatively, use one of the online meditation apps that are readily available.  Take a look at Headspace.  It is a great resource that you can pay to subscribe to or simply take advantage of the short and sweet meditations available for free.   You can start by committing to just 5 minutes a day and build up from there.

find a yoga teacher who incorporates a meditation portion to their classes

Another option would be to find a yoga teacher who incorporates a meditation portion to their classes.  Give your local studio a call to find the best class to suit you and go meditate.  Your brain will thank you 🙂

 

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Yoga Stuff – All The Gear…..

Yoga mat – $10 or $100?

In recent years yoga has been described more and more frequently as an ‘industry’.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with that as it does a great job of extending the appeal of yoga and interest in the practice but at what point is all the yoga ‘stuff’ just too much?


There is so much yoga stuff out there.  Whether it be the clothing and books or the props and accessories, the choice available to us is vast.  It’s nice that everything is so readily available but there comes a point when you have to stand back and ask ‘is the $90 yoga mat is really worth it?’ What part of yoga couldn’t you do without it?

When I first started practicing yoga in drafty community centers and schools you were required to bring along a large bath towel or floor mat to practice on.  It worked.  The towels did the job of providing a clean dry surface to stand on and I’m pretty sure it did a great job of cleaning the floor too!  Then, along came the eighties, when yoga became the in thing, growing more popular by the day and,  Ta-da!, out of the yoga ether appears the ‘sticky mat’ and the birth of the yoga mat industry.

“there comes a point when you have to stand back and ask is the $90 yoga mat is really worth it?”

I recently celebrated completion of a training by treating myself to a new mat even though I already own two.  One is my very, very first mat – several years old and well used – and the second one was bought for less than ten dollars from a local consignment store.  I still use them regularly as they both do the job but, for some reason, I felt compelled to buy a new one.

The justification for this investment was that I had worked hard during the training which had taken all my free time and I’d had plenty of opportunity to peruse the retail delights of the studio I was spending so much time in.  I deserved a treat for my new, inspired yoga practice but how was a mat really going to change anything?

“no amount of ‘the right gear’ is going to change my practice.  I’m either practicing yoga or I’m not, right?”

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really nice one.   Cost $50, even with the discount, and the manufacturer has a nice commitment to planting a tree for each mat purchased which appeals to my sense of environmental responsibility.  It’s a great color too – a calming lilac blue with good texture for grip and a comfortable thickness.  However, I never use it!  I still go to class using my consignment store mat which continues to serve me well.  It is a practical weight, super sticky and a dark turquoise color that disguises the feet markings from many a downward facing dog.

What made me spend so much on a new yoga mat when I already had two?  I tried to analyze my logic and over time concluded that the marketing had worked.  I’d been seduced by the yoga ‘industry’ to buy into the yoga lifestyle and, even though the brand is well known and respected, no amount of ‘the right gear’ is going to change my practice.  I’m either practicing yoga or I’m not, right?  The sporting of trendy leggings or a pair of designer yoga blocks are not going to change that.

So, with this tale in mind, think twice before being swayed by the label on the mat under your arm or the logo printed on the back of your t-shirt. Ultimately, yoga is in the practice not in the product.

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Building a Home Yoga Practice

 

The building blocks of a yoga practice

Remember when you had your exams at school.  The paper was placed in front of you and you’d have a few moments to organize your pencils, eraser, ruler, calculator or whatever other items you needed.  Then you would open the paper, read through it and decide in a moment of panic that you don’t know the answers and then proceed to organize your stuff again.

It’s not dissimilar to starting a home practice.  You lay out your mat and stack your blocks.  Fold your blanket neatly and roll your yoga strap into a tidy coil.  You sit on your mat, take a breath and then say to yourself ‘now what?’ and go back to rearranging your props.

When you come across articles about home practice it often appears to involve a whole heap of organization and commitment to finding the right spot with the right amount of time and at the right time of day but the key to actually building a home practice starts with just doing it.

Simply roll out your mat or just find a space on the floor in a place you feel comfortable in.  It might be your spare bedroom, your kitchen, your balcony or your local park.  If you need them, place your props close to hand and then do the pose or the handful of poses that you know.  Just that.  It doesn’t have to be a fancy sequence full of clever flows and interesting series of inversions, twists and standing poses, it just needs to be a pose.  One pose repeated on both sides and there begins your home practice.

The biggest obstacle to a home practice is in your head.

Forget the need to reproduce what your favorite instructor or dvd does for an hour and simply step up and start.

It may be only five minutes squeezed in while a kettle boils or thirty minutes snatched in the evening in place of the TV show you would survive without seeing anyway.

If an active, physical practice doesn’t appeal try a relaxing restorative pose.  Restorative yoga offers a great deal of positive benefits and when practiced on a daily basis is as beneficial as a full on vinyasa flow sequence.

Here’s a suggestion on how to start……

  1. Say to yourself – today I’m going to spend ten minutes doing yoga.  Making the decision to do it is often the difficult bit
  1. Find a space or roll out your mat and step on to it.  A little effort involved here but don’t overthink it.  It will take a minute
  1. Do a pose you like or can easily remember.  Doesn’t have to be sophisticated – mountain pose (tadasana) or childs pose both work.  It’s still yoga.  There,  you’ve done it
  1. Step off the mat and repeat the next day.  Takes will power to commit to the next day but you know you can do it because you just did it!
  1. When the next day comes say to yourself – today I’m going to spend ten minutes doing yoga.  As step 1 and then repeat

The biggest obstacle to a home practice is in your head.  You’ll notice that the list starts and ends with the mental commitment and nothing more.

Every journey starts with the first step so make the decision, carve out the time no matter how small, roll out your mat and step on it!

Book Review – Your Middle Years

Your Middle Years
Your Middle Years

Not every woman’s favorite topic, I know, but the menopause (eek! there, I said it) is an inevitable phase of any woman’s life.


Culturally, here in the West, we are so conditioned to value youth and beauty above everything else that the menopause is considered a taboo subject not to be discussed in polite conversation.

Have you every looked for a book on the topic of the menopause?  If you have then there is a good chance you are familiar with the array of lackluster choices out there.  The covers for many are jam-packed with too many words in a dull font and accompanied by the stilted photo of a menopause expert or flower.  (What is it with the flowers?)  So many of them have the same kind of text book appeal you get from a computer programming manual.

Not that the content isn’t relevant and probably very helpful but does it really have to be presented in such an uninspiring way?

Each topic is discussed in a fun and informative way with a bunch of contemporary colorful illustrations, lots of easy to read bullet points and simple to understand charts.

So, in my desperate search I resorted to some internet digging and unearthed ‘Your Middle Years’ written by the author partnership of Paula Mee and Kate O’Brien.

Paula, from a health, beauty and spa background and Paula from a nutrition background have partnered up together to create a book about menopause that is unlike any book on the topic I’ve seen so far.

Broken down into 12 chapters it delves into topics from food to bone & heart health to beauty, sleep, stress and sex issues.

Each topic is discussed in a fun and informative way with a bunch of contemporary colorful illustrations, lots of easy to read bullet points and simple to understand charts.

If you’re looking for well researched information presented in an easily digestible and upbeat way, I can’t recommend this book enough.

Embrace the changes and “love them, live them, own them”.

It approaches the topic of menopause in a very ‘self care’ oriented way.  All of those important things we already know about including diet, exercise, mindfulness and sleep.  Full of sensible, down to earth and achievable tips that will help with the myriad of menopausal symptoms that arise, Your Middle Years also includes a bunch of easy to create recipes – even for the non cook like me.

I love this book.  What else can I say?  It is a down to earth, practical and fun read covering a big topic in a very positive way.

As Paula and Kate say in the book – embrace the changes and “love them, live them, own them”.


You’ll find the book at in printed and digital format at all of the usual online booksellers!

The Value of Practicing Yoga with an Experienced Yoga Instructor


A recent report by the Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine discovered a rise in yoga related injuries for older students

 

Yoga is popular, it’s as simple as that, and today more and more older people are embracing the practice attracted by the wealth of health and self care benefits it offers.


However, as the number of yoga students has grown, so too have the number of yoga related injuries being treated.  Bad news whichever way you try to spin it.

A recent article published on the leading website yoga journal.com has found that there has been a marked increase in yoga injuries, particularly for those in the age categories 40 and upwards.  This could be seen as a reflection of the growing number of older students led to yoga on the advice of healthcare professionals or following many years of other exercise disciplines or, for some, very limited exercise habits.

The study by the Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine examines injuries over thirteen years starting in 2001, a period of time that also coincides with a large increase in yoga teacher trainings and in the number of opportunities to study and teach yoga.

Although most trainings cover a spectrum of yoga topics, in many cases, only around 20 of those hours are dedicated to anatomy study.

This growth is great news for everyone as it increases choice and accessibility along with employment and experience for yoga teachers. However, currently, the only criteria that needs to be met in order to teach (in most cases) is the completion of a 200hour training.  There are many 200hour yoga trainings around which, like most things in life, can differ in style and quality.  Although most trainings will cover a spectrum of yoga topics, in many instances only around 20 of those 200 hours are dedicated to anatomy study.

Even for an experienced teacher, a class that provides safe sequencing for a large group of students with an array of physical & medical issues can be challenging.

It is unfair to suggest that any brand new teacher would intentionally cause anyone harm but it takes experience, study and understanding of the physical body and a broad range of conditions to safely and effectively lead a class.

With aging bodies comes the inevitable wear and tear of joints, weakening of connective tissues such as ligaments and other musculature changes as well as the range of physical conditions that spring up in later life.  These are all important aspects to consider when teaching an older group of students.

Even for a very experienced teacher, a class that provides safe sequencing for a large group of students with an array of physical & medical issues can be challenging.

This is not to say that a recently qualified teacher does not have the ability to teach a class well, but older students need to be mindful and responsible for their own self care too.

Listen to your own body and be selective about the classes you attend particularly when starting out.  Yoga is all about losing the ego so don’t let your own ego dictate that you attend that fast moving, level 2 class.  Take time to build up your practice with a well informed, experienced teacher making gradual progress to the faster, stronger classes if that appeals.

From a student’s perspective, the more yoga experience and study that a teacher has, the more it will also benefit their own learning. Doing some research to find a class that combines your choice of instructor with the appropriate level is important.

 Inexperience or little knowledge about a condition could unintentionally cause injury.

Although it may be uncomfortable for you to ask an instructor directly, you can take a look online to find out more or chat with other staff and students at the location where you attend class.  Most yoga teachers, regardless of their experience, welcome questions as no teacher would want to knowingly hurt a student but inexperience or limited knowledge about a condition could unintentionally cause injury.

Depending upon the yoga school or tradition the teacher follows, many 200hour graduates may also go ahead and continue in their studies with an additional 300hour teacher training.  These trainings provide practicing teachers with an opportunity to study the whole topic of yoga in more depth including aspects of injury management and yoga therapy.

So take a little time to research further and consider experience, qualifications and ongoing study to find your perfect yoga match.