Cotswold wellbeing: The benefits of yoga and meditation
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Do you want to feel amazing inside and out? Then look no further, says yogi Jo Fellows
Looking at your wellbeing from a holistic point of view means understanding that all parts of your body are intrinsically connected. It’s not enough to focus on your physical self - you also need treat your mind and inner self the right way too. Traditional yoga is a really enjoyable way to bring all this together in one neat package to nourish your life.
Yoga is well-known for not only strengthening the mind-body connection and as a non-invasive treatment for anxiety, grief or other conditions of the heart, mind and soul but also for improving overall fitness. In the West, we tend to think of yoga as just a physical practice, but meditation is also an important element of this ancient Indian tradition.
Combining breathing exercises, called Pranayama, is essential too. When we are happy, our breathing is deep and rhythmic. But, when we are stressed, our breathing becomes shallow, fast and irregular, fueling feelings of anxiety and panic. An important component of all three elements is focusing on the present - mindfulness. When you are practicing yoga, meditation and pranayama your mind is fully present in the moment.
The many benefits of yoga – lower blood pressure, increased strength, higher bone density, better balance, greater flexibility and reduced anxiety – should be enough to get anyone on the mat. Studies show that regular yoga practice improves coordination, reaction time, memory, and even IQ scores.
Yoga has been shown to help with depression, stress and anxiety - the most common psychological disorders in the western world. One study compared levels of the amino acid GABA, which is vital for a properly functioning brain and central nervous system, in those who practice yoga regularly with people who do the equivalent amount of walking. The study found that levels were significantly higher in the yogis. Another study discovered that the deep physiological state of rest induced by the three elements of yoga - postures, breathing and meditation - produced immediate positive change in immune function, energy metabolism and insulin secretion (which triggers the secretion of the happy hormone serotonin).
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Strong evidence has been found too that yoga can be helpful for treating sleep disorders. Yoga poses (asanas) stretch and relax our muscles, breathing exercises slow our heart rates to help prepare for sleep, and regular meditation keeps us from getting tangled up in the worries that keep us from falling asleep.
Heart disease remains a huge killer. Its development is influenced by high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and a sedentary lifestyle - all of which can be reduced by yoga. A review of more than 70 studies concluded that yoga shows promise as a safe, effective way to boost heart health.
Throwing shapes on the yoga mat might be the last thing you feel like when you are going through the menopause – suffering from hot flushes and sleep deprivation, but it could be just what the body needs. Research by the University of Washington shows that many menopausal symptoms can be improved with regular yoga practice.
Meditation is a simple relaxation technique for resting the mind. Anyone can meditate – it’s just a case of finding the method that suits you. There are many different methods of meditation but they all require an inner state that is still and one-pointed, so that the ever-busy mind can become silent.
More than 3,000 scientific studies prove the benefits of meditation. Evidence shows that it not only improves general wellbeing but our happiness as well. It helps us to deal with stress, depression, anxiety, addiction, insomnia and pain. It can reduce the heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure and muscle tension. It increases Alpha waves in the brain, helps keep us looking younger and can help us to lose weight. Spending even a few minutes in meditation can restore your calm and inner peace and therefore promote happiness.
Stress is one of the biggest harmful conditions of our era. Currently one in five people in the UK are suffering from work-related stress. When we are stressed the body becomes full of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. If we don’t learn to relax, this makes us ill. Meditation can have a significant impact on reducing stress levels and has been shown to increase productivity, reduce absenteeism, boost morale, help people work better and increase job satisfaction.
Cancer Research UK recommends meditation as a useful form of complementary therapy, as it helps people to cope with pain, difficulty sleeping, tiredness, nausea and high blood pressure. A 2011 study from University of Missouri-Columbia found that breast cancer survivors’ health improved after they learned a type of mindfulness training that incorporates meditation and yoga.
Meditation can also help to prevent memory decline. Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania discovered that meditators have significantly greater blood flow in their brains - a sign of robust brain activity, and that training people who have signs of memory decline to meditate increased their cerebral blood flow and memory.
It’s amazing what moving with your breath, and sitting still in a focused state, can do for your mind and body. So, why not start yoga and meditation for a better future today? Look for classes that combine yoga, meditation and mindfulness for a great all-round wellbeing boost.
Jo Fellows is a Yoga teacher, Meditation teacher and Reiki master/teacher. Visit her website here.
She offers one-to-one sessions and holds regular yoga and meditation classes at the Isbourne Holistic Centre in Cheltenham, and for Cheltenham Pilates and Yoga Studio. She is the co-founder of Prana Adventures yoga retreats. Visit www.pranaadventures.com for details of upcoming retreats.