Happy Holidays everyone! Christmas has been and gone for another year, and hopefully you’re enjoying some great new yoga gifts from your loved ones. Now it’s time to start looking forward to the year to come, but before you start to make any New Year’s Resolutions, here’s a roundup of the month’s yoga news.
All Bodies are Beautiful
The theme on Zen Monkey this month has been accept yourself, and practice contentment. Little or large, bendy or stiff, muscle-bound or flab-tastic, yoga is suitable for absolutely every-body. Although some people might look more picturesque doing it, the important thing is what’s going on on the inside. Sally Schofield reminds us to: ‘love your body and work with your shape’, and gives the fuller-figured among us some genuinely helpful, practice advice on how to get the most out of yoga poses.
Yoga in the Curriculum
There is more and more evidence emerging that proves the physical, mental and emotional health benefits that practising yoga can bring, and a school in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, believes that these benefits should be given to our children too.
From next September, private secondary institution Hebden Bridge School, will be offering its pupils daily meditation sessions, morning yoga and vegetarian lunches. Anil Sarna, the school’s founder, says they are aiming to “foster optimum receptivity to learning through yoga and meditation, democratic decision making, cross-subject learning and community service.”
See Also: How Yoga Can Create Magic For Children
Accept the Here and Now
How many of us are on a hamster wheel of striving to find the perfect life? We tell ourselves that if we can just “drop a dress size,” “get on the housing ladder” or “get a promotion,” that we’ll get to our happy place. Mel Skinner is here to tell us that, “the life you may be striving for doesn’t exist.”
Yoga can help to show us the way. As we start to bend in ways that we would have once thought impossible, or start to feel the freedom of movement within a pose we thought we hated, we realise that the other limitations we set ourselves are unreal too, as Mel says:
“We do things with our body that we didn’t believe we could do, we find peace in our breath, and we start to feel more comfortable with our lives exactly as they are because we realise that not everything that happens in our heads is always quite as real as we thought.”
Yoga and Late Pregnancy
There are various schools of thought on whether yoga should be practiced in late pregnancy, but a very small study in the U.S. seems to show that there is little risk in continuing with your practice right up to the birth.
Indeed, maintaining yoga can have many benefits during pregnancy, including increased flexibility and muscle tone and developing breathing techniques that may be useful during labour. Late in pregnancy, however, women are often warned against poses that require them to lie on their backs, such as happy baby, savasana and even inversions like downward facing dog.
Researchers monitored foetal heart rate while a group of 25 healthy women in the final weeks of pregnancy tried 26 common yoga poses. “Foetal heart rate remained normal through all of the poses, and none of the women reported decreased foetal movement, contractions, fluid leakage or vaginal bleeding in the 24 hours after their yoga sessions,” researchers report in the journal Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
Of course, the advice is always to go to a yoga teacher specialising in antenatal yoga, approach any pose with due caution, and don’t attempt any pose you wouldn’t usually try!
Getting the Balance Right
Food is a big part of this time of year. Most of us overeat to some degree, with the feeling that if we can’t indulge at Christmas, when can we? Elisa Pineda, our in-house nutrition specialist, agrees with this sentiment as she says: “balance includes enjoying yourself, and it’s important to be able to enjoy family meals without feeling guilty.”
Instead of getting down on yourself for that extra mince pie, use her tips to get back onto the dietary straight and narrow, including controlling your portion size, eating more vegetables and less carbs and protein and eating mindfully in order to really savour the food you eat, rather than eating mechanically.
Proof That Yoga Changes Our Brains
Yoga is great for the physical body, but as we progress in our yoga practice it becomes clearer that it’s good for the mind too, and the latest news is that the “mind-body connection plays an important role in transformation.”
There have been numerous studies that show that “cognitive function (the intellectual process that includes awareness, thinking, reasoning, comprehension and remembering) is improved with physical activity. When we exercise, BDNF, the protein that encourages the growth of new neurons, is released. In essence, we can rewire the brain while we are physically active, such as in a yoga asana (posture) practice.”
In practice this means that our thoughts and intentions are just as important as our poses, alignment, and breath. “When we commit to our intentions during practice, we are reprogramming our bodies to respond to new thought patterns.”
Because yoga strengthens the mind-body connection, it’s a highly effective tool for long-term change. Attention and observation through mindfulness makes us aware of our automatic patterns, while intention and practice reinforce new desired behaviour. Whether it’s a New Year’s resolution or something you want to improve any time of the year, yoga and meditation provide the means to make change and stick with it.