Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Travel Abroad to These Incredible Yoga Retreats

Traveling to embrace a passion has become more popular than ever, and many yoga practitioners visit locations around the world both to relax and to improve their practice. Many yogis choose to go to India, where yoga originated. If you want to engage in fulfilling, authentic practice with luxury accommodations, you may want to investigate Shreya Yoga Retreat in Bangalore. Owned by the Relais & Chateaux group, the retreat center offers a number of amenities beside regular practice, including vegetarian cuisine made from locally grown, organic produce.

Another popular destination is Amansala on the beaches of the Riviera Maya in Tulum, Mexico. Visitors enjoy morning Vinyasa sessions followed by meditation and time to relax on the beach. You can also explore the unique Tulum culture or investigate nearby Mayan ruins.

A great European getaway is Silver Island in Evia, Greece. This retreat, run by two sisters, brings practitioners to a private island just a few miles from Athens. The simple, comfortable accommodations overlook amazing cliffs where you can practice yoga as the sun comes up over the Mediterranean Sea.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Virasana Offers Challenges for All Students

A seated pose that requires flexibility in the knees and quads, virasana, or hero pose, doesn’t look like it would be all that difficult upon first glance. To enter this unassuming pose, begin by kneeling with the knees gently touching. In this position, the shins and the tops of the feet are flat against the mat and the feet are hip-width distance apart. With the hands, roll the calf muscles outwards and then slowly begin to lower down, settling the buttocks between the ankles.

Beginners and less-flexible individuals (or those suffering from knee or ankle injuries) can support this pose by placing a blanket or block beneath the tailbone. From this upright version of virasana, students can introduce gentle arm and shoulder stretches. Those seeking a deeper sensation can begin working toward supta, or reclined virasana. Once the buttocks reach the floor, if the knees don’t reveal any major strain, students can lower backwards onto the elbows before relaxing completely onto the floor. More advanced students can add an additional challenge by raising the arms above the head rather than leaving them beside the body.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What is Swedish Massage?

Swedish massage, the most well-known kind of massage in the Western world, is, for most people, a good introduction to the world of massage therapy. The technique addresses the whole body with the goal of relaxing its joints and muscles. A Swedish massage therapist may alternate kneading, vibr
ation, tapping, long strokes, and deep circular movements as he or she works.

As a tradition, Swedish massage grew out of Western physiology and anatomy, rather than the energy-based traditions used in some types of Asian massage. Swedish massages usually last an hour or so, but longer sessions can allow the therapist to achieve better results.

During the massage, the therapist will typically begin by spreading oil on the skin and then use a series of strokes to warm up the muscles and break up knots or adhesions of other tissue. Massage therapists will ask about injuries or other conditions that may affect the massage, and patients can tell their therapists about preferences they have.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

How Yoga Teaches Us to Be Kinder to Ourselves

In yoga, as in life, it's easy to start making comparisons. Not only do we compare ourselves to others, we also compare our performance on a given day to how we performed last week, last month, or last year. In some situations this can be a helpful and even necessary exercise, but when measuring our abilities in yoga, it quickly becomes detrimental. Although some people make the physical aspect of yoga the central focus of their practice, we can deepen our relationship with yoga and with ourselves if we instead approach yoga as a way to achieve mental, emotional, and spiritual growth.

Even a student who has been practicing yoga only for a short time has probably noticed that some days his body blesses him with great balance or deeper flexibility, and some days he just can't reach his toes no matter what. Rather than getting frustrated when your practice fluctuates, you can use these changes as opportunities to learn to accept your body and live in the present moment. Adopting this approach, rather than comparing yourself to previous classes or even other yogis, can help you cultivate a practice of being kinder to yourself, both in yoga and in everyday life.

Monday, September 22, 2014

How Seniors Can Enhance Their Well-Being through Yoga

An increasing number of older adults are discovering the numerous benefits—both physical and emotional—of practicing yoga. The nonprofit group Yoga Across America is one organization focused on bringing the discipline to people of all ages and backgrounds, with classes held in senior living facilities, recreation centers, public parks, and other venues.

For seniors, yoga can enhance flexibility, muscle tone, bone strength, and stamina. It can alleviate minor aches and pains and the effects of some of the physical conditions associated with aging. In addition, yoga has the potential to calm and focus the mind and to help restore mental agility. It can even take the edge off the discomforts associated with menopause. Because yoga promotes a positive mental attitude, it can also help seniors navigate some of the stressful situations of today’s fast-paced world.

Yoga has earned its reputation as a safe, individually paced practice. An older beginner should search out local classes that offer a gentle introduction, rather than jumping into an intense hot yoga workout. Many classes are specifically designed to meet the needs of senior adults, who may have to deal with some initial physical hurdles, such as tightened hamstrings or mobility issues. A gentle hatha yoga practice can be an excellent introduction. A class focused on the Iyengar style, with its use of props to accommodate special physical and structural needs, may also be a good fit. In any practice, an experienced instructor should be able to guide older beginners through a series of poses and practices that take the students individual needs into account.                          

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Role of Yoga in the Treatment of PTSD

A group study conducted in 2009 under the auspices of Major Jon Greuel involved 70 military personnel stationed in Kirkuk, Iraq. Using randomized experimental and control groups, the study looked at the impact of hatha yoga on the symptoms of combat stress in deployed members of the military. The study concluded that hatha yoga significantly reduced anxiety when compared to the control group. The yoga practitioners experienced less irritability, had more of a desire to socialize, and struggled less with concentrating and performing daily tasks. At the same time, they slept better, attended to their self-care more readily, and demonstrated improvements in mood.

Participants who regularly practiced yoga had the opportunity to share feedback about the experience. Many felt calmer and more relaxed and more than half reported an improvement in sleep patterns. More than a quarter of yoga practitioners noted other physical benefits.

This study shows the significant promise of yoga as part of a treatment plan for people struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While more research needs to be done on the direct link between yoga and the treatment of PTSD symptoms, yoga holds a great deal of promise as a real option for veterans and other people with PTSD.                            

Monday, September 8, 2014

Yoga Helps Adolescents Build Coping Skills

In today’s world, virtually all adolescents live with stress, whether from school, family, friends, or their living environment. Even small children often have a large amount of stress in their lives. Unfortunately, many children do not have the tools necessary to deal with stress in an effective manner. This inability to process stress could manifest in inappropriate, violent outbursts or steer children toward the use of drugs and alcohol. In Parker, Colorado, a yoga instructor has envisioned a different scenario. She sees yoga as a primary way of teaching coping skills. Through yoga, these children learn how to develop their sense of inner peace and discover the value of creating and maintaining quiet time devoted only to themselves.

In addition to learning how to manage stress in the present, yoga can teach children and adolescents a number of valuable lessons that they can apply in various other parts of their lives as they grow older. Through yoga, individuals can learn how to let go of stress and channel it into something productive.

On a more practical level, yoga instruction helps children and adolescents perform better at sports and avoid certain injuries because of greater flexibility.                            

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Is There a Link Between Meditation and Joyful Laughter?

A recent study conducted by researchers at Loma Linda University suggested that joyful laughter, caused by humor, elicits brain-wave frequencies that are similar to those seen in people while they meditate. The study involved 31 individuals who watched 10-minute video clips while attached to an EEG monitor, which measures brain-wave frequency densities. The videos had humorous, spiritual, or distressing tones.

When participants saw humorous videos, their brains produced high-amplitude gamma-band oscillations. Gamma frequencies are the only type of frequency found in every part of the brain, which means that humor engages the entire brain. Researchers have found similar gamma frequency patterns in people who meditate. This finding may fuel further inquiries into exactly how meditation and joyful laughter produce therapeutic effects on a biological level. Previous studies have linked laughter with lower blood pressure, better immune function, and decreased stress.

While watching spiritual videos, participants’ brains produced alpha brain bands similar to those found in individuals at rest. Distressing videos resulted in flat brain waves, which are most commonly seen in individuals who are detached or anxious.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Why Expectant Mothers Should Consider Regular Yoga Practice

Several studies have emerged on the benefits of yoga practice for expectant mothers. These studies show how yoga reduces labor pain and delivery time while preventing pregnancy complications and promoting mental health. About 10 percent of women experience mental health problems during pregnancy that can increase the risk of delivery problems and low birth weight. By combating stress, anxiety, and depression, yoga helps reduce the risks caused by mental health issues.

A randomized study published in Preventive Medicine found that yoga prevented complications in high-risk pregnancies. In the study, which involved one hour of prenatal yoga three times weekly, participants experienced significantly fewer complications than women in the control group. Another benefit, according to the study, was the reduction of pregnancy-induced hypertension and gestational diabetes.

Thai researchers conducted a study on the relationship between prenatal yoga and pain. The study, published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, found that women who practiced yoga in six one-hour sessions experienced reduced pain during labor and after birth, as compared to the control group. Additionally, the yoga group had a shorter average total labor time, especially in the first stage.

Monday, August 18, 2014

How to Maximize the Relaxation from a Massage Therapy Session

Most people do not receive massages on a daily basis. For that reason, they should treat the massage as a special occasion and take steps to maximize the feeling of relaxation that the massage provides. On the day of the massage, individuals should avoid distractions that could spoil their mood or introduce new stresses, such as e-mail, computers, and smartphones. If possible, they should free their day of other appointments and schedule the massage for a time when they can escape work and other stressful activities.

Some people may want to nap after a massage, which is actually a great way of complementing massage’s therapeutic effects, as sleep allows the body to recharge. Experts often recommend a 30-minute nap following a massage for the full rejuvenating benefits of sleep, but individuals can sleep for longer if they wish.

Massage therapists often recommend drinking water following a session. By helping the kidneys eliminate waste products more efficiently, water facilitates the removal of toxins released by the body during a massage.                            

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Yoga Linked to Reductions in Blood Pressure

In recent years, researchers have become more interested in testing the effects of yoga on various medical conditions through randomized controlled trials. Studies have shown that yoga may be a useful tool in treating irregular heart rhythms, post-traumatic stress disorder, and several other conditions. Additionally, a review conducted at the University of Duisburg-Essen by the Faculty of Medicine found that yoga might prove very beneficial for individuals with hypertension.

The team published its finding in the American Journal of Hypertension. The review looked at seven previous studies and concluded that practicing yoga reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in people with elevated blood pressure by a significant amount. Individuals with higher blood pressure realized greater benefits from yoga practice.

The seven studies approached their definitions of yoga differently and examined a variety of styles and techniques. Some of the studies focused more on yogic breathing than a physical practice. Thus, drawing concrete conclusions will require more research and large trials designed according to modern standards in biomedical research.

Individuals who attempt yoga for medical reasons should always consult with a physician and find a qualified instructor.                            

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Role of Yoga in the Daily Lives of Athletes

Yoga continues to increase in popularity throughout the United States among various populations, including athletes. Valorie Kondos-Field, a gymnastics coach at the University of California, Los Angeles, has identified yoga as one of the primary means of maintaining health for student-athletes under great physical and mental stress. Additionally, University of Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has cited yoga as a major means of relieving the pressure of the sport. Teams like the Utah Jazz and Philadelphia Eagles have employed yoga instructors, and sports stars like LeBron James and Vernon Davis to speak openly about the adoption of yoga as part of their regimen.

Many athletes have such a demanding schedule that they have little time to relax. Yoga forces them to slow down and pay attention to their bodies, which can significantly aid in the restorative process. Many athletes have also recognized the benefits of Bikram, also known as “hot” yoga, which individuals perform in a room set at about 105 degrees. The high temperature not only helps to loosen the muscles and mitigate soreness after games and practices, but also offers a mental challenge that many athletes enjoy.                            

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Two Shoulder Openers You Can Do at Your Desk

Many of us sit at a desk, hunched over a computer for the majority of the workday, and our posture suffers. Considering this, it’s no wonder that shoulder openers feel so good in yoga class. Here are two simple poses that you can do at home - or even at your desk - to open your shoulders and achieve better posture.

Eagle arms: Instead of doing the full eagle pose, simply focus in on your upper body. Bringing your arms in front of your body, wrap your right arm under your left and then if you can, bring your palms to touch. For a deeper stretch that will reach across the shoulder blades, start to lift the arms higher. Once you’ve gotten a good stretch, unwind your arms and repeat on the opposite side.

Reverse prayer: Generally, we hold our hands with palms together in front of the heart for prayer pose. In reverse prayer pose, aim for the same hand position, but behind your back. This is an intense opener for the front of the shoulders, so it may be wise to slowly build up to the full pose. Eventually, your pinky fingers will rest vertically along the spine, and the forearms will be parallel to the ground.

In both of these poses, be sure that you are sitting or standing up straight and remember to breathe deeply. Adding the meditative breath will help to bring additional tranquility to your day.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The History and Benefits of Transcendental Meditation

A relatively new type of practice, transcendental meditation teaches individuals how to avoid distracting thoughts and enter into a state of calm and abiding awareness. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who derived the practice from the deep study of the Indian Vedas and the traditions that surround them, brought the practice to the United States in the 1960s. Since his passing, several other teachers have arisen to provide instruction in the practice in areas around the country. The teachers generally supply their students with a mantra, a sound from the Vedic tradition that has no meaning. Practitioners silently repeat the mantra while seated in a comfortable position with their eyes closed. Individuals direct their attention to the mantra during the practice.

Transcendental meditation has been linked to a reduction in chronic pain, anxiety, cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Several studies have demonstrated these connections, although scientific debate persists. Devoted practitioners achieve a state of stillness and stability that is free from normal mental boundaries. This peacefulness often has a direct effect on an individual’s quality of life.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Dr. David F. O’Connell Encourages Medical Meditation with New Book

Dr. David F. O’Connell, a distinguished licensed psychologist, will soon release his new book, Prescribing Health: Transcendental Meditation in Contemporary Medical Care. In the book, Dr. O’Connell encourages physicians in a wide range of fields to recommend meditation as part of their patients’ treatment plans. He explores the health benefits of regular meditation practice for a number of serious and chronic physical and psychological health problems.

The motivation for writing this book came from a supposition that most people still do not believe that real health benefits, including the more effective management or treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, hypertension, and various addictions, can be derived from regular meditation. Dr. O’Connell has already published two books about the role of meditation in the treatment of addictions.

The book specifically addresses transcendental meditation, a form developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1950s. During the following decade, Dr. O’Connell encountered transcendental meditation, which has since had a major impact on his life. In this form of meditation, individuals focus on a mantra to invoke refined states of awareness.

Monday, July 7, 2014

How Mindfulness Meditation Can Help American Students

Based in Emeryville, California, Mindful Schools has trained more than 2,000 teachers from 48 states on implementing mindfulness practices into their daily classroom routines. The teachers often report that mindfulness helps with focus and attention. Additionally, meditation provides children with tools to relax themselves when they experience overwhelming emotions or are exposed to a great deal of pressure. In modern American schools, children deal with the stress of tests and standardized exams, which can create a high-pressure environment. Mindfulness allows more children to flourish in these environments.

In recent history, schools across the nation have begun to focus more on social and emotional education, especially as issues such as bullying have made major headlines. An increasing number of teachers are discovering mindfulness meditation as one of the best means for tackling this new sort of education.

Mindfulness in American schools also helps adults to deal with the stress of teaching. Teachers cannot instruct their students on mindfulness meditation unless they themselves have a developed practice. Such a practice could ultimately make them better teachers as they handle pressure and frustration more constructively.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Origins of Vipassana Meditation Practice

The oldest form of Buddhist meditation, Vipassana derives from the Satipatthana Sutta, an ancient text that is traditionally attributed to Shakyamuni. Through Vipassana, practitioners cultivate mindfulness, an abiding awareness of the present. Students spend years practicing this form of meditation, during which time they generally examine various aspects of their existence, such as their hardwired reactions and emotional sensitivities. Ideally, practitioners become more receptive to the basic experiences of life and begin to pay attention to their thoughts and feelings without becoming lost in them.

Mindfulness leads to a greater understanding of the self. Individuals project an ego image. Through mindfulness, they begin to realize who they really are beneath that projected image.

At its heart, Vipassana meditation teaches individuals how to fully pay attention without any divided attention. While this may sound simple, it is far from easy. In reality, people pay very little attention to daily experiences. Instead, they devote their attention to reminiscing about the past or planning for the future. Without focused energy, people rarely pay complete attention to the present.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Why a Number of Executives Are Turning to Meditation

Billionaires like Paul Tudor Jones, Ray Dalio, and Daniel Loeb start their days by sitting on a meditation cushion. In fact, a number of the most successful executives on Wall Street and beyond have embraced meditation. Ray Dalio, who has practiced meditation for more than 40 years, attributes much of his success to the discipline. Just as exercise trains his body, he explains, meditation trains his mind and prepares him to make the best business decisions possible.

Bloomberg reports that meditation classes at Goldman Sachs have waiting lists with hundreds of names. Today, many budding business professionals see meditation as a competitive edge that is integral to their future success.

Much of meditation’s popularity derives from recent studies published on how meditation actually affects the brain and body. A study from the
International College in Thailand released this year showed that people who meditate better cope with job-related stress and experience lower rates of burnout. Similarly, a study from the University of Amsterdam connected meditation practice to improved creative performance and greater attention to detail.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Growing Role of Mindfulness Meditation in Sports Medicine

In recent years, mindfulness meditation and its role in physical fitness has become a hot topic among sports medicine experts. Living in the present remains a critical aspect of an athlete’s focus and peak performance. Since meditation develops this skill, an increasing number of athletes are discovering the benefits of this practice.

A study recently appeared in Psychological Science that demonstrated the efficacy of 15 minutes of focused breathing and meditation in helping athletes make better choices while performing.

Beyond the sports field, meditation may even help individuals exercise more effectively. Athletes and non-athletes alike often avoid exercise because they feel that it is boring. By learning how to focus on the present, exercisers gain the ability to overcome boredom and pay closer attention to their bodies as they exercise.

Jessica Matthews, a fitness consultant to the American Council on Exercise, has explained how exercise may reduce stress, but finding time to work out can actually increase stress. Meditation helps people focus on the present and increase productivity. Instead of wasting time planning for the future or remembering the past, individuals can concentrate on the task at hand and more effectively manage time. As a result, meditation may help individuals exercise more regularly and effectively.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Get the Most Out of Your Half Moon Pose

A challenging pose, “ardha chandrasana,” or half moon, tests balance, strength, and patience. If you are just starting to incorporate this pose into your practice, consider this advice:

Think of the process as an “unfurling.” Enter the pose by first grounding in the forward foot and gently kicking the back foot up as you lean forward. If your right foot is forward, place your right finger tips on the ground or on a block and bring your left hand to your left hip. Once you have your balance here, slowly begin the unfurling process by opening the left hip and side body to the left. If you’re still stable here, raise the left hand toward the sky, balance again, and then lift the gaze.

Be kind to yourself. Even some yogis who have been practicing half moon for years can’t tilt right into half moon with their arm raised and their eyes looking skyward. As you move through the “unfurling” process, be patient with yourself, especially if your balance is not on par with an earlier practice; instead, simply accept where you are and soak up the strengthening and clarifying benefits of this pose.

Channel your energy. No matter where you are in your half moon practice, you can appreciate the beautiful feeling of suspension that this pose provides. Visualize drawing energy up through the roots of your grounded foot and fingers. Eventually, as you’re able to lift the hand and the gaze, you can send that energy skyward, allowing your body to serve as an energy rod.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Two Habits to Make Your Yoga Practice More Fulfilling

Many Americans practice yoga as a form of exercise; however, yoga encompasses so much more than great abs and superior flexibility. Looking into yogic philosophy, we learn that yoga evolved as a way to cultivate a union or oneness with the world around us. Some yogic scriptures also recognize yoga as a path to bliss. Whether your next yoga class is more spiritual or it’s a boot camp class filled with yogic push-ups, consider incorporating these two habits into your practice.

Develop an intention. Many yoga teachers start class by inviting students to choose an intention, such as peace, love, or balance. The intention serves as a personal theme to which students can devote energy and compassion. Students can also think of an intention as a sort of prayer for themselves, their loved ones, or the world at large. Integrating an intention into your practice will help you calm your mind and connect more deeply with yourself and others.

Focus in on gratitude. The next time you’re in chair pose and your thighs start burning, consider adopting a more grateful mindset. Be grateful that your legs are strong enough to hold you in this uncomfortable pose; be grateful that you showed up to care for your body through yoga. Once you start turning the challenges in your yoga class into opportunities for gratitude, it quickly becomes easier to incorporate gratitude into your daily life.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Yoga Can Bring Couples Together

Forget a movie and popcorn: An evening—or an afternoon—spent doing yoga together can make for a great date while keeping both of you fit and healthy. More and more yoga studios are offering couples programs, and not only for romantic pairs, but for parents and children, friends, and workout partners. In many of these programs, prior knowledge of yoga is not even necessary.

However, for romantic partners in particular, yoga can offer a distinctive bonding experience. The focus is on communication, letting your partner know how the various bends and stretches feel, and on remaining aware of and sensitive to one another’s needs and limits.

If you’re both already seasoned practitioners, here are a few ideas to try next time you want to charge up both your fitness routine and your personal connection:

One of you assumes the downward dog posture, traditionally called the adho mukha svanasana. Then the other partner positions his or her feet on the outsides of the first partner’s hands and lowers to rest flat along the first partner’s back, with arms stretched back over the head. Hold the position for a few breaths, and then switch places.

Alternatively, try sitting on the floor back-to-back in a cross-legged pose. Each person stretches back to put his or her right hand on the partner’s left thigh slightly above the knee. Then both partners position their left hands on top of their own right knees. Synchronize your breathing, and try to lengthen and extend the stretch while inhaling, then to increase the amount of the twist while exhaling the breath. Go from one side to the other in this way until you are both limber and energized.

When two people have to work together to achieve correct alignment and optimum stretch, cooperation takes precedence, thus bringing them closer together physically and emotionally.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Getting Started with Yoga Meditation

In today’s busy and often harried world, yoga meditation can offer a meaningful way to recharge your energy and reconnect with feelings of calm and tranquility. It can also increase your mind’s ability to concentrate and stay focused on your everyday goals. While many people understand yoga’s benefits where physical fitness is concerned, they forget that the centuries-old practice is traditionally as much about the mind and the spirit as it is about the body.

Regular practice is the key to getting the full benefit from your yogic meditation. Set aside a time and place where you will be free of other distractions. Learn to let go of worries about the past and nagging mental to-do lists for the future as you focus on being fully present in the moment.

Experts emphasize that yoga meditation is an active state of mind, that ideally a practitioner will be fully alert while maintaining a sense of calm, a steady, rhythmic breathing, and an inward focus.

Assume a relaxed posture for your meditation, whether that involves sitting in the traditional cross-legged pose on the floor, indoors on a sofa, or in a garden chair. You may want to use sound to assist you in concentrating: You may listen to recorded music, the lyrics of nature in a waterfall or flowing stream, or an affirmation you chant softly to yourself.

Beginners may find it helpful to start their meditative practice by focusing on one single thing, whether it’s a candle flame, a piece of art, an object in nature, or their own breathing. Allow for the fact that your thoughts may drift, and be prepared to gently guide them back again.

Start out with only a few minutes the first few times and gradually work your way up to longer periods of meditation as you become comfortable and experienced in the discipline.