Yoga for Respiratory Health
Breath is life and our quality of breathing determines the energy and vitality we feel. Whether you have a respiratory condition such as asthma or simply feel you grasp for breath and don’t quite feel your full breathing potential, supporting how you breathe through movement and exercise can help you thrive, body and mind.
Put most simply, breathing inhales oxygen into the body and exhales carbon dioxide out. This happens on a large scale through the lungs, but also for each and every one of the cells throughout your entire body. It is the respiratory system that provides the means for vital oxygen to enter bodies via our lungs, into the blood stream and ultimately through the whole body. The carbon dioxide excreted is the by-product of each cell’s breathing or ‘respiring’ – much like the body’s exhaust fumes.
Healthy lungs working optimally take in about ½ litre of air roughly 12-15 times each minute. They meet...
First published in What Doctor's Don't Tell You Magazine.
There are pros and cons to standing upright, yes our arms and hands are free to use as tools and to help us communicate with others, but the pay-off for bipedal living is inherent weakness in the lower back and neck. This often means that holding ourselves up from gravity translates into tension into the upper back, shoulders, neck and jaw.
When we get locked into work or stress postures (or even feeling protection in cold weather), our natural range of motion through the shoulders and neck can become compromised. Lack of flexibility in the neck region is associated with pain (BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2015; 16: 56) and the more we can simply move, the less tension has a chance to build up.
The effects of stress on the shoulders, neck and jaw
Stress is expressed in body tissues as tightness, holding and viscosity. We can feel its physical, emotional and psychological effects most keenly through the state of our breath,...
We humans are wired to have neurological changes to the differing substances that can enter our bodies. Whether that is a dopamine rush from a sugar high, a glass of wine, an opioid medication, cigarette or stronger substance, these are varying degrees of changes in biochemistry that can have us coming back for more.
Whether our habitual and often compulsive behaviour patterns and use of food, drink, drugs (or behaviours like gambling, shopping, TV, excessive exercise or sex) wander into addictive territory can be subjective. When is a passion for good wine a mask for an alcohol problem or when does a cycle of pain create a dependency on pain medications for example? There is much debate whether sugar is addictive, but those caught in its thrall certainly struggle to give up and feel acute symptoms of withdrawal when they avoid it.
The definition of addiction (Miriam-Webster) states that addiction is “Compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming...
How to Maintain Energy Levels
It is a basic truth that the modern world is highly stimulatory. For many of us, the amount we have to do, to watch, to read, to scroll about can be overwhelming, but even if we don’t find the barrage of information seemingly too much, we can become desensitised to how much this steals our energy.
With any action or reaction, we need time and space to rest and recover. This is mirrored in our breath, with the basic pattern of the energising inhalation followed by the releasing exhalation. Accessing states and movement where we are fully able to breathe out and have recovery and energy support within the practice, can also help us feel where can restore, rather than deplete energy resources.
Energy states governed by the nervous system
We have similar active and resting states within the nervous system. This is our complex system of nerves (from brain to outer body) that coordinates all body activity and sensory information by transmitting...
We know intuitively that when we move around, we feel clearer, sharper. When we don't move around enough, then we can feel more mentally sluggish, memory can become little harder to access, and reactions slower.
We can divide cognitive process into six types – attention, perception, memory, language, learning, and higher reasoning. These can both can occur simultaneously and independently, they rely upon each other and intertwine for that orchestration of how we think, feel and move our way through life. Learning new skills and new ways of thinking are supported when we also learn new movement patterns eg a new dance, type of movement to increase our cognitive fitness and longevity of our mental processes.
When we get moving, we increase circulation, we exercise the blood vessels themselves and this helps to prevent neurodegenerative conditions known to create cognitive impairment (Journal of Internal Medicine, 2011; 269(1): 107-117). Exercise also helps to control blood sugar...
The Benefits of Walking on Uneven Ground
As humans, we have evolved to have certain patterns of physical activity that are necessary for health.1 In fact, we’re built for long-distance walking, and it’s estimated that our hunter/gatherer ancestors covered daily distances in the range of 6–16 km (3.5–10 miles). While walking may be our most natural form of exercise, humans learned this unusual mode of transport on rough surfaces—far from the predictability of pavements and man-made flooring.
All of our ancestors’ walking and running was done on natural surfaces like grass and rocks, and often over uneven ground. Our upright two-legged (bipedal) walking style evolved alongside a nomadic lifestyle that was not just for walking to new camps, but also for getting to and from sources of food, water and wood.2 It’s even theorised that part of our large brain growth was to address the various challenges of bipedal upright walking on naturally uneven...
Movement to help your body naturally move through trauma
The term trauma is used to describe the state an individual is left with after a shock or prolonged danger or distressing event has passed. Its prevalence in society has grown from the recognition of the symptoms war veterans were experiencing in the 1980s with the diagnosable condition Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
This has also opened up to recognise that trauma does not just stem from large, traumatic events but can be as a result of Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs) and the definition extended to anything that overwhelms to the point where we can’t cope, on an individual basis.
The medical world has long viewed trauma as a purely psychological issue, although recent research shows it to be a full physiological response; a reliving in this moment of an event or felt state that came before. For those with trauma, this is the only way more primal, instinctual responses can make sense of the continual.
Stretching can be something we look forward to or dread within our exercise regimens, so understanding its purpose and effects can create more depth and motivation, however we feel. Messages can be conflicting, so some simple basics can help us navigate confusion towards following your body’s needs.
Stretching for sports is not the same as in yoga; rather than looking to improve flexibility alone, static (still) stretching after exercise is designed to lengthen muscle shortened through use back to its normal range of motion (ROM). This is why dynamic (moving), rather than static is recommended for warm-ups. More flexibility ie more range through muscle and around joints may actually impede the action and strength of specific movements needed for sport.
We can’t actually lengthen muscle – this is already determined by its insertion and origin ie where it is attached and leads to in terms of bones and tendons – but we can lessen resistance to a stretch, where...
We are always going through phases of change, whether we notice them as substantial or not. This January one can often seem like the motherload though, with high expectations and suggestions coming at us from all angles.... whether it's giving up something, doing something else or fixing that thing that is 'wrong' with us, there is a sense of this ideal, other self that we should be.
There is a phrase doing the rounds at the moment that is particularly pushing my buttons; "be the best (or better) version of yourself" - eh? What on earth does that mean? To me, there is an implication that if all the boxes are not ticked, I am simply not good enough. I guess it's the word version I react to there - we have so many facets to our beings that to judge some as good and others not so much adds in to our cultural norm of self-criticism.
I do believe in constant awareness of which unmet needs I am playing out for sure, but have learnt that I need to be mindful of looking at the unconscious...
Whilst original yuletide feasts were designed to celebrate coming together as communities to nourish and fuel for the coming deep winter months, human’s love of the sweet stuff seems to get a free pass at Christmas. It can even seem conspiratorial when, if you politely decline the stollen cake, you can receive a sideways glance that makes you feel like you’re Scrooge.
Personally, a few years back I reached the limit of feeling like c*&p after each Christmas Day finally arrived – sluggish, head-achy, tetchy and with raging sugar cravings – and longing for when all the so-called ‘Christmas food’ was finally gone. I have a tendency to want to hoover up sugar just to get it out of the way, so this can seem endless with so much around!
For those of us with sugar-addictive tendencies, constantly having it around can be a major source of stress.
Many of my clients get pretty agitated going to meetings where there are always biscuits and the...
It's easy to lose our sense of satisfaction and need-over-want at this festive time, but finding ways to stay connected can make the whole shebang leave a better taste in our mouths in the aftermath...
So the big question is, can we retain a sense of 'enough already' in the face of excess? The lead up to the main event is a good time to step back, take stock and see how Christmas is permeating our lives and our expectations.
Are you dizzy as a child at the thought of Santa’s touchdown or feeling the heavy burden of endless present-buying or relatives descending? Personally, I tend to feel quite different each year… BC (Before Child) I used to be able to get full-on festive one year and then positively ignore its existence the next, just enjoying some holiday time without the razzamatazz.
Now I’m swept up in the childhood vision of it all, it’s a time to experience with my daughter what I wish it to be; not about buying and getting yet more stuff, but...
Running without shoes or in shoes that allow us to feel the ground is part of a primal movement trend, where greater anthropological understanding has created a shift across many exercise systems. This return to physical activity that honours our inherent design has taken up a more natural approach to our bodies by many, but what is thinking and research behind it?
“Shoes do no more for the foot than a hat does for the brain.” - Dr. Mercer Rang, orthopaedic surgeon and researcher in paediatric development.
This subject came into public awareness in a big way following the release of Born to Run: The Hidden Tribe, the Ultra-Runners, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (Profile Books 2010), the best-selling book from journalist Christopher McDougall, who after years of repeated running injury, successfully changed his running style to model that of the reclusive Tarahuma Indian Tribe in the Mexican Copper Canyons. They run over 100 miles at a time, at incredible...