Practice yoga for your body and your mind

triangle_webWhen I was growing up, there was a lady who taught a yoga class on what is now our local PBS station (back then it was Channel 11). She wore a long-sleeved leotard and tights every day. My mom and I tried to follow along, and we did pretty well, except for the really hard arm balances. Lilias spent 27 years on PBS and is still practicing and teaching yoga online. And she’s the norm for yogis. People who regularly practice yoga just seem to not age. They seem healthier and happier than the population as a whole. Why is that?

For starters, yoga is great exercise. The physical benefits include increased strength, endurance, flexibility and balance. And some flow classes can really get your heart rate up too! And now studies have shown that yoga provides mental benefits as well.

Real Simple’s “Getting Fit For Life” blog 1/19/16 (http://www.realsimple.com/health/fitness-exercise/stretching-yoga/yoga-brain?xid=soc_socialflow_facebook_realsimple) cites new research published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice that suggests that yoga can help people manage bipolar disorder.

And it makes sense that yoga can help everyone de-stress. “The Mayo Clinic boasts yoga’s power to fight stress and improve moods for all. And the practice can offer a moment to escape from our busy lives. Research shows that mindfulness-based stress reduction, like that at yoga’s core, can help lower anxiety and stress. In a study at the University of California, Los Angeles, participants who practiced yoga for just 12 minutes every day for eight weeks showed a decrease in their immune systems’ inflammation response. When we’re overstressed, our bodies lose the ability to regulate our inflammatory response, which can lead to a long list of health problems, including a greater risk of depression. By lowering our stress levels, we can also lower the risk of depression.”

A study from the University of Illinois has shown that even brief (20 minute) sessions of hatha yoga can improve focus and information retention.

And yoga helps us live in the present moment, which tends to make us happier. So – let’s keep practicing yoga!

Some days are easier than others

No doubt about it – some days are easier than others. One day you’ll do a workout and it’s a piece of cake. A couple of weeks later, I’ll do the same workout – same time of day, same conditions – and it’s really, really hard! I don’t know why, that’s just the way it is. It’s always been that way for me.

And some days I can balance on one foot really well and can hold the position for quite a while. And the next day I can hardly hold it for 2 seconds! I don’t know why – that’s just the way it is. I get the same amount of sleep. My diet is about the same. I usually practice my balance at about the same time every day. The weather is about the same. No reason! And some days after a particular workout my knees are fine. And after I do that workout again, my knees are killing me! Nothing is different – everything is the same and yet my result is totally different. I’m still getting the same fitness benefit, I’m sure, but the immediate physical effect is different. If I ever figure out the reason for this, I’ll pass it along!

Who helps you work out?

booker_helpDoes anyone “help” you exercise? Is it your dog, or your cat, or your kids? It can be a challenge! Of course, we’d all like to be able to exercise without distractions or interruptions, but that doesn’t always happen in real life. With dogs, at least, it’s possible to train them so that they find a cozy bed and take a nap until it’s time for something fun for them. Cats – I’m not so sure. (We had a cat for 17 years and I’m still not sure that he even knew his name! We loved Merlyn and spoiled him rotten, but we figured out pretty quickly that we’re dog people. We just couldn’t figure him out. ) And with kids, I guess they’re trainable too after a certain age. And before that, parents take advantage of nap time. And when they understand the benefits of exercise, maybe they’ll join you in your work out!

But dogs will leave you alone. You just have to make sure that they see more value in lying in that bed than in licking your face when you’re doing exercises on the floor. It takes a while. (Interrupted workouts and lots of dog treats!) But Booker sometimes still has an uncontrollable urge to get in on the action!

Incorporate exercise into your daily life

toe walkThe best way to exercise is to do it and not even realize you’re exercising! Many day-to-day activities can incorporate exercise. So you’ll get a double benefit. You’ll do the task you had to do, and you’ll exercise while doing it! This idea is especially useful when your schedule is so busy you can’t fit another thing in it!

For example – you have to walk to the garage to get in your car, right? Incorporate some toe-heel walking. Place the heel of your foot directly in front of and against the toe of your other foot. You’ve taken a step (okay, a small step) and you’ve exercised your balance. This is actually harder than it might seem, and it really does train your balance.

Another good functional exercise is to get up out of a chair without using your hands. Also harder than it might seem, and you’re strengthening your legs. Try it on one foot, and you’re doing all that and practicing your balance!

Try standing on your tip-toes and leaning to the side. Ever reach for something in a cabinet? That’s what you’re doing with this exercise.

Of course, no matter how you exercise, practice good posture – suck in your stomach and lengthen your spine!

Assess your pain

What kind of pain do I have today?

091215_rtangleI worked out today, but I sure didn’t feel like it. My knee hurts. My hips hurt. But I powered through it, and I’m not sorry.

But, sometimes, we really have to ask ourselves if we’re pushing too hard. Working out 3-5 times a week for me is plenty. Some weeks 3 times, other weeks 5 times. And we really have to be in tune with our own bodies and ask ourselves how much is too much. Working out for the sake of working out, just because it’s on our schedule, sometimes defeats the purpose of that workout.

If I really had an injury to my knee, then I would have to ask myself if doing a regular workout would hurt that knee more. Should I just skip the workout and put ice on the knee? Today, I knew that I was on my feet a lot yesterday and the knee was just feeling that. And the hips always hurt from bursitis. So, I put the pain to the gauge from 1 to 10 – if it’s a 10, maybe I’ll skip the workout and put the heating pad on.

But today was just normal achiness so I worked out. And now I get to feel virtuous!

Don’t sit too long!

A great day for a short walk outside at work!
A great day for a short walk outside at work!

I have bad knees and bad hips. When I sit too long I stiffen up. Do you? I’m feeling fine – working away and then when I get up, the knees lock up and I stumble. Not a pretty sight. And painful.

So I make a point of trying to get up every 15 to 20 minutes or so and take a little walk. Not far – perhaps just to look out the window at the traffic. Or the sun shining on the leaves, or the wind blowing those same leaves. And I try to drink enough water that I have to get up periodically for a washroom break!

I’m lucky enough that I can bring my dogs to work a couple days a week. When they’re with me, I have a terrific excuse to get up – I have to train my dogs! Or take them outside. If it’s nice out, my sister and business partner totally understands if I take them for a short walk.

Another benefit of taking breaks is that I feel fresher and more productive after changing the scenery for just a few seconds. I’m able to get more done without feeling tired.

So taking breaks is good for my work as well as my knees!

Why Exercise?

tango_triple_sd
Tango jumping

The Mayo Clinic will tell you all about the clinical benefits of exercise:
No. 1: Exercise controls weight – no secret there. The basic rule of weight loss is that if you use more calories than you take in, you’ll lose weight. Exercise boosts calorie usage. The harder you exercise, the more calories you burn. I like to eat, so I exercise!
No. 2: Exercise combats certain health conditions and diseases – Exercise can help lower your blood pressure and boosts good cholesterol (HDL). Blood flows more smoothly, decreasing the risk of heart disease. And regular physical activity can help prevent or manage many health concerns, like stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, certain cancers, arthritis and can help prevent falls, which is a great concern to those of us over a certain age. (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2/5/14)
No. 3: Exercise boosts your mood – After a hard workout, I just feel better. I’m nicer to my family and coworkers, and I feel better knowing that I did something good for my body.
No. 4: Exercise boosts energy – Exercise increases endurance and muscle strength. So walking up a flight of stairs or vacuuming the den won’t make you winded.
No. 5: Exercise promotes better sleep – Regular exercise can help you fall asleep faster and deepen your sleep. But, make sure you get your workout in well before bedtime, otherwise you’ll be too energized to fall asleep.
No. 6: Exercise can be fun – Any continuing exercise is good for you. Just make sure that you enjoy your workout, otherwise you won’t stick with the program.

But I exercise because it helps me do what I want to. I’m able to wake up in the morning and run with my dogs, practice agility and obedience with them. When I exercise there’s less pain. And that’s a good thing!