From Acorns to Oaks
Four Ways to Improve Your Health & Wellbeing
by Michael O Connor
Practicing Yoga can have a very positive impact on your life. Physically your body will be stronger and more flexible as you practice the many different postures. Mentally and emotionally you will become more resilient as you learn breathing and relaxation skills which enable you to better manage life’s inevitable stressors.
The many health benefits of exercise are well documented. Whether it be losing weight, increasing bone density, improving strength, balance and coordination, helping to reduce stress, improving ability to fall asleep, improving self-image and boosting energy. Also, the pleasure and enjoyment that comes from movement can be sufficient reasons in themselves.
- Walk in nature
Mother Nature has a natural ability to heal. Simply spending time out in nature will go a long way towards making you feel good and increase your energy and creativity. Taking in natures soothing sounds, magnificent smells and remarkable sights will have you back on top of the world in no time!
- Be social
These days most people socialise through technology! The benefits of being in the company of others can have a significant impact on our health. Being present and communicating with another person creates a bonding or sharing of a moment which can be felt right to our core and leaves a very positive outcome.
Why get active?
by Michael O Connor – Fitness Trainer
I have worked as a fitness trainer for many years. Recently, I was out of action for a number of weeks due to an operation and I now find myself trying to regain my own fitness levels! I teach exercise and yoga at a mental health hospital in Dublin and each week I teach patients about leading an active lifestyle and balancing that with some relaxation. Personally I like to keep things simple and I find the best way to lay a good foundation is to enjoy what type of exercise you do, watch what you eat, drink plenty of water and be sure to get some rest and recovery in order to reduce burn out.
The national guidelines on physical activity for adults in Ireland are to exercise moderately for 30 minutes a day on 5 days a week. But, of course, it all depends on where you are starting from and what your goals are. Thankfully, we are all unique, one person may love running flat out on a treadmill for one hour, whereas, a daily thirty minute stroll in the park may be perfectly satisfactory for someone else. Setting goals along the way is a great way to keep yourself motivated and on track. Also, as the old saying goes, there is strength in numbers, and so training with a friend can give you that social support to keep you motivated on the days you don’t feel like training. Finally, discovering why you want to exercise is another great motivator and if you need any health reasons…here are 12 health benefits from doing exercise:
- Reduces the risk of heart disease due to improved blood circulation
- Keeps weight under control by increasing metabolic rate
- Improves blood cholesterol levels
- Prevents and reduces high blood pressure
- Reduces diabetes risk
- Resistance exercises promotes bone density
- Helps manage stress and tension by reducing cortisol, adrenaline and lactic acid levels
- Counters anxiety and depression and improves mood
- Improves ability to fall asleep quickly and well
- Improves self-image and boosts energy
- Increases muscle strength, coordination, balance and increases capacity for other physical activities
- For older people, helps delay and prevent chronic illnesses and diseases associated with aging and maintains quality of life and independence
Like all goals it’s best to start off small and take one step at a time, just be sure to start and let momentum guide you.
Enhance the quality of your sleep
by Michael O Connor – Yoga Therapist
How well did you sleep last night? A good night’s sleep is a remarkable thing, that sense of waking up feeling fresh and energised for the day ahead. However, it doesn’t always work out that way and for many people sleep can become problematic. Having trouble sleeping can be exceptionally frustrating and can affect our health, mood, relationships, social and working lives. The modern world is becoming faster, with greater demands and many distractions which keep our minds over-stimulated. In order for us to maintain a healthy level of energy and resilience it’s important to look at ways we can get sufficiently deep and nourishing sleep.
In 2014 I started teaching ‘Yoga for Sleep’ classes at a mental health hospital. During that time I heard many of the challenges and frustrations people experience due to problems with their sleep. The class proves helpful as it aims to calm the mind and relax the body by doing some simple yoga poses and breathing techniques. The pre-sleep yoga poses and breathing techniques are very simple and can be practiced by people who have never done yoga before. It’s important to create an environment of peace and safety and to do this we turn the lights off, light a candle and play some relaxing music. While Yoga may not get rid of sleep problems overnight (no pun intended!!) it can certainly empower you to take positive steps to a better night’s sleep.
The following are a number of simple things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep:
Some questions to consider:
- What are your sleep rituals and how can you practice more positive ones?
- What is your ideal time for going to bed? Preferably go at the same time each night.
Practical tips on how to sleep better:
- Create a wind down routine 1-2 hours before bed time which becomes second nature
- Include 20 minutes of a simple yoga sequence in your wind down routine
- Turn off electronic devices, no phones, TV or laptop in bed
- If you tend to worry in bed write down your to do list for tomorrow and then you can forget about it
- Find a meditation style that works for you and ideally practice daily
- Good nutrition throughout the day plays a big role
- Reduce intake of stimulants – caffeine, alcohol and sugar
- Hydration is very important; drink plenty of water throughout the day
- Build in relaxing activities to your day
- Exercising during the day can help you sleep better at night
If you wake during the night:
- Firstly, it is very normal to wake up during the night
- Don’t check the time as this can make you anxious
- Not being able to sleep can be very frustrating but try to change your mind set to tell yourself that you are going to use this time to rest
- Gratitude: by remembering the small positive things that happened to you today it can encourage you to let go of the day and fall asleep
- Sleep compassion practice: remind yourself that you are not alone; there are a lot of other people out there who struggle with their sleep
Regular practice is essential to see change
Reduce stress with Yoga
by Michael O Connor – Yoga Therapist
Stress is one of the major problems the world is currently facing. We can all relate to experiencing stress at some stage in our life. Stress can have a positive influence, it can motivate us to reach a deadline or even keep us safe when danger looms. However, it becomes problematic when the stress response becomes too much and can lead to a feeling of being constantly “switched on” or “stressed out”. If not adequately addressed, periods of short-term stress exposure can build into chronic stress, which can be harmful to our health, relationships, mood and quality of life. Nevertheless, we can reduce stress by taking some simple steps and Yoga has been known to greatly reduce stress.
The following are three ways Yoga can help to reduce stress:
Physical activity: During stressful times we can feel stuck. In Yoga we perform a number of physical postures which gets our energy moving, as positive hormones are released into the blood stream and elevates our mood. With time, you will begin to feel stronger, healthier and better able to combat the daily stresses of life. By taking the first step to do more physical activity, you can create the momentum you need to lead a healthier life and to be better able to manage future stressful circumstances.
Self-compassion: Sometimes we can be our own worst critics. Yoga is a practice which encourages us to slow down. As we slow down we can become more aware of our own inner thoughts and notice how we judge ourselves, and on occasion, it can be harshly. These days, there are a lot of demands and pressures to succeed and these high expectations can be very challenging. Developing an attitude of self-compassion is a valuable skill and one which can help us cope with the challenges we face. As the old African proverb goes, “if there is no enemy within, the enemies outside can do us no harm”.
Breathing: Breathing is a great tool to reduce stress. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system which encourages the body to relax and unwind. How would you describe your breathing now? Perhaps it is fast, slow, shallow or deep. Whatever it is, you have just taken the first step to becoming aware of your breathing and recognise that you can develop this tool to greatly aid the reduction of stress.
Try doing this breathing exercise now, you can do it standing, sitting or lying down.
- Place the palm of your hand or hands on your abdomen.
- Take a slow deep inhalation, while noticing your abdomen rise.
- Followed by a long slow exhalation, while noticing your abdomen fall.
- You can do 10 cycles of this if you wish; it is a fantastic exercise to let stress fade away!
While Yoga may not get rid of stress overnight it can certainly empower you to reduce its effects on you. Whether it is taking 10 deep breaths, being kinder to yourself or doing some exercise, you will be back on the road to wellness.
Why do Yoga? Four great reasons…
by Michael O Connor – Yoga Therapist
I tried Yoga for the first time about ten years ago. At the time I had chronic fatigue syndrome, and this low point encouraged me to explore ways to regain my health. As my search began, I stumbled across a Yoga dvd, aptly named: Beat Fatigue with Yoga. The dvd arrived, I bought a Yoga mat and readily followed the instructions. Interestingly, and not knowing why, I felt better after each practice session. Fast forward ten years, and I now have the pleasure of introducing people to their first Yoga class.
I would recommend Yoga for these four great reasons:
- Physical benefits: In Yoga, the physical exercises (asanas) allow you to stretch and strengthen your muscles; which lubricate your joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. This physical activity helps to tone the nervous system, improve circulation, release tension, increase strength and flexibility. Yoga is accessible to all, it’s important to start slowly, listen to your body and over time you will notice physical changes in many of these areas.
- Greater sense of calm: Living in the modern world can be hectic. When the mind, body and senses are continually bombarded with stimuli, they have no chance to rejuvenate, and can result in stress and tension. Yoga enables you to set time aside to allow this rejuvenation to take place. Performing restorative poses, while focusing on your breath, can have a profound effect on your mind, body and spirit; leaving you relaxed and rejuvenated.
- Heightened self-awareness: These days, mindfulness is a hot topic in the western world. Scientific evidence has shown it to be a very effective way to reduce stress, enhance emotional intelligence and increase self-awareness. Although mindfulness is only becoming more popular recently, it is an ancient practice found in a range of eastern philosophies, including Yoga. What is mindfulness? It is a practice that encourages you to live in the present; our thoughts generally drift into the future or the past, mindfulness teaches you to purposely bring yourself back into the present moment.
- Learning a new life skill: Yoga is a practical aid that works on your mind, body and spirit, which results in many health benefits. This ancient health system dates back thousands of years in India, and it is as relevant today as it was then. You may even argue that it is more relevant today due to our stressful lifestyles. Learning is a lifelong process and learning a skill which has so many health benefits is a worthwhile investment.
Personally, I find yoga to be very beneficial, extremely interesting and rewarding. The four topics above are just a small and brief selection of what could be discussed! I hope you found this blog interesting and took something positive from it.