BODY: The Benefits of Yoga

Yoga is an ancient practice with origins in India stretching back thousands of years. Many practitioners find that it helps them achieve a sense of calmness and tranquility, along with numerous physical benefits. While yoga studios are still common everywhere, given our current situation it is much easier to start getting into a routine using apps or videos online.

If you’re on the fence about starting a new regime, read on for some of the benefits of a regular yoga practice!

1. Yoga can improve your overall health.

If you are new to yoga (5 classes or less) it is best to try out different styles of and flows to see which one works best for you. The speed and intensity of yoga classes will vary; with apps such as Down Dog you can choose the type of class as well as the focus, whether it is on strength or flexibility.

Improved flexibility is one of the immediate benefits of yoga. In the beginning it can feel like your body is tight and clunky, but after a consistent regime you should notice your muscles start to loosen and it becomes easier to move through the practice. Aches and pains may start to disappear as tightness in parts of the body can manifest elsewhere.

During your practice you will contract and stretch muscles, move organs around, and come in and out of yoga postures; as you do this you increase the drainage of lymph (a viscous fluid rich in immune cells). By encouraging lymph drainage you help your lymphatic system fight infection, destroy cancerous cells, and dispose of toxic waste. Consider yoga your detox exercise!

Along with detoxing your system, yoga has been shown to lower cortisol levels in practitioners. Many people deal with low-level stress in their day to day lives which is healthy, but consistent stress can cause the adrenal glands to secrete cortisol in response to perceived crisis, which serves to temporarily boosts immune function. A problem will occur if your levels stay elevated even after a crisis and your immune system will end up being compromised. Excessive cortisol has also been linked to depression, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance. Through yoga you can help your body and mind relax and create a state of calm, hopefully lowering your stress hormones to more sustainable levels.

The health benefits of yoga are vast; some advanced yogis have been recorded controlling their bodies via their nervous system. Some have been able to create unusual heart rhythms, generate specific brain-wave patterns, and using meditation techniques, they have been able to raise the temperature of their hands. Consider the multiple health benefits available if you learn to calm your body and mind at will.

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2. Yoga increases self-awareness and mind-body connection.

During your yoga classes your body is put through a series of postures and stretches designed to increase strength and flexibility. In the beginning it can be discouraging to not feel your body “responding” as easily as you may have expected, but with more practice you will find you are able to flow through the postures smoother than before.

Lunges and stretches will increase your leg and core strength, as well as engaging every muscle in your body; meanwhile the exercises force you to focus on the moment, and during meditation you will be encouraged to clear your mind, which helps alleviate stress and will improve your mental stability. Even if you are physically capable of completing a yoga practice, the goal is to be able to silence your mind as you focus on moving your body.

Meditation doesn’t need to be cloaked in the New Age sage-chanting vibe. It doesn’t have to be sitting in a cave working through Tibetan chants (though it can be, if that’s what you’re after). Meditation has built up a following in recent years and now through YouTube videos and apps such as Headspace it’s easier than ever to incorporate it into your lifestyle.

Meditation can improve the quality of your life by giving you time to slow down and process what is happening. While it can be arduous in the beginning, the more you practice the easier you’ll find you slip into a zen-like state. It’s incredibly important to incorporate this into your yoga practice as it helps you achieve calmness and tranquility.

3. Inhala, Exhala!

Yoga focuses heavily on breathing paired with movement (or lack thereof) which can improve your lung capacity (volume of breath and efficiency of exhalation). Many poses and breaths work in tandem to open your lungs and “create space” in the body, allowing you to decompress and destress.

Devoted yogis tend to take fewer breaths of greater volume, which is both calming and more efficient. In 1998, The Lancet published a study where a yoga breathing technique known as “complete breathing” was taught to a group of people who suffered from lung problems. After one month of practice their average respiratory rate fell from 13.4 breaths per minute to 7.6; they also found that their exercise capacity increased.

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4. Yoga can improve the quality of your sleep.

Yoga can be done at any time during the day, but if you incorporate a practice before bed you will find your mind and body relax more efficiently, allowing you to achieve a more restful night’s sleep. Doing any light physical activity or stretching before bed is beneficial, and yoga will help you relax; I’ve been guilty of occasionally dozing off during Savasana (aptly referred to as “Corpse Pose”) at the end of my practice.

While excitement and stimulation are great in life, too much will cause excess stress on your nervous system. Yoga will help your body find some relief through poses aimed at giving much needed downtime to your body. Many studies suggest that yoga will help you achieve better sleep, thereby affecting your stress levels and making you more productive in your daily life.

5. Yoga can improve your posture. 

As you move into different poses you will notice you’re encouraged to be aware of the flatness and curvature of your spine. After a few weeks of consistent practice you should notice that your posture improves without much conscious effort on your part.

Your head is like a bowling ball: big, round and heavy. When it’s balanced over a straight spine it takes much less work for your back and neck muscles to support it. However, once it’s moved slightly forward, you will start to strain muscles and create fatigue. Poor posture can cause back, neck and muscle problems and the worse your posture is, the more your body tries to compensate, creating a ripple effect of stress and possible fractures on other parts of your body. (1)

Getting into yoga doesn’t have to be an expensive or daunting endeavour. I’m currently using the Down Dog app, which is available for free or via a paid yearly subscription if you’d like more control and variety in your classes. The app is incredibly user friendly and can be used by people of all levels of skill.

I like to practice a couple times a week to check-in with my body and see which areas feel like they need more stretching and attention. It can be frustrating to start a new exercise but yoga has multiple health benefits that will help you now and make your body more supple and toned as you age. Good luck and namaste!

Source:
1. Haigh, Chris. “7 Reasons You Should Start Doing Yoga Immediately.” Lifehack, 10 Sept. 2013, http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/7-reasons-you-should-start-doing-yoga-immediately.html.

BODY: Ameliorate

It is inevitable that every time a New Year rolls around we get sucked into the marketing vortex of “New Year, New Me” and all the health supplements, workout clothes and gym memberships that are sold as the complete package of health.

I guess, “New Year, Same Lazy Piece of Shit” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Saying that, while it is noble to implement health goals at the start of each year, more often than not we set ourselves up for disaster. More than half of people who set New Year’s goals backslide within the first month, sometimes giving up on themselves altogether. While roadblocks occur in the pursuit of any dream, I think it is crucial to stay focused on the bigger picture.

Personally, I think setting highly specific goals, while initially effective, can become the bane of your existence, especially for weight loss. Focusing steadfastly on a “goal weight” will make you more likely to cut calories (or entire food groups) and resort to over-exercising and under-eating. Less emphasis should be placed on the number and more on the quality of your health and the way your body feels. Aches, pains, inflammation and rashes are all signs that your body is off-balance and through a healthy diet and exercise you can often alleviate or even eliminate these symptoms.

As I get older and more in tune with my body, I start to realize how sensitive my system is and the importance of good nutrition. While in my early party days I was able to indulge in all manner of vices (i.e. booze, party candy, and post-party Cora’s trips) without feeling too much damage the next day. Now… A few drinks and the next morning I can feel my body running at a sluggish pace. As such, I’m looking to significantly cut down, and by all means eliminate, my alcoholic intake over the next few years. As my Brit preaches ad nauseam, “Every extra drink robs you of happiness the next day.” I’ll cheers to that.

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Happy New Years Eve = Not So Happy Morning

Looking forward to the rest of 2016, I’m taking note of how I feel more self-aware of my body than in previous years. As such, my goals for this year are to give my body the nutrients and self-care it needs, while also setting and reaching the new goals I want to put into place. One huge drawback to working in Canada during the winter is that I find it is typically too cold to run outside, however I’ve substituted my long running route in Spain for a membership to IAM Yoga and Wynn Fitness, both of which are located quite close to my office. Having a pre- or post-office workout gives a bit of a jump start to each day.

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Exercise Gives You Endorphins = Endorphins Make You Happy

I’ve swapped my carb-heavy Spanish breakfast of olive-oil on thick whole wheat bread for a super-charged “Green Smoothie” (complete with spinach, flax, mango, banana, dates and a splash of chlorophyll) to start my day. My lunch is now more than half pure vegetables, as is my dinner. As a perpetual vegetarian and sometimes vegan, I have the tendency to lean towards carbo-loading every meal. By planning my meals at least a day in advance (and including some fresh fruit for snacks) I eliminate the risk of becoming hangry or splurging on something sweet.

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Lean, Mean… Green?

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Cold Pressery in Mississauga, ON. Easily One Of The Best Places For Vegan Food!

In the next few months I will have to adjust yet again to living in a new country (!!!!) and being 100% accountable for my budget and lifestyle choices. I think getting accustomed to a regime where I incorporate healthy eating, consistent workouts and a full-time job will make the transition a bit easier. I hope to run my first half-marathon by the end of the year, and what better place to accomplish that feat than Europe?

Good luck & good workout.

AS

 

BODY: Review of BeHot Yoga Toronto

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Location: 43 Colborne St, Toronto, ON
Website: http://www.behotyogatoronto.com

One of the perks about living in the GTA is that there’s no shortage of yoga enthusiasts. Much like the ever-present Starbucks, throw a rock (or a yoga mat) in downtown Toronto and it’s more than likely you will hit a studio.

I started doing yoga in my early teens and after a bit of research into different practices I decided to branch into Bikram Yoga. Non-heated yoga has never held much appeal to me and there’s a masochistic pleasure derived from watching rivulets of sweat pour down your body. To each their own, though – any yoga style is an excellent way to ensure athletic longevity as you age.

Bikram Yoga, created by mega-douche Bikram Choudhury, is a practice that incorporates a series of 26 postures and two breathing sequences for a total of 90 minutes in a climate-controlled environment of 105 degrees. It’s sweltering and often painful, but it does yield results.

Bikram Yoga, not to be confused with “hot yoga” is essentially trade-marked and therefore incredibly costly to practice. As it is I was lucky enough to find BeHot Bikram in downtown Toronto with an offer to new students for $49 for 30 days of unlimited yoga. Considering a drop-in class costs $25 all you have to do is go to TWO classes in one month to get your money’s worth.

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This studio is right in the downtown core and is approximately a five minute walk from King Subway Station. The studio has been running for 10 years and the owner Paul McQuillan has not only literally written the book on yoga (seriously, check it out HERE) but he has also created a welcoming atmosphere for yogis of any skill level to practice in. During my month of classes I was instructed by several different teachers and by McQuillan himself; all of whom were knowledgeable, encouraging, and some were even able to make me laugh while I was contorted and praying for the sweet release of death.

While the benefits of Bikram are a source of heated debate, I did notice that I shed a bit of weight (which may be contributed to expelling a gallon of sweat at each class), my flexibility and posture improved, and my mood was better. The list of potential benefits will vary from each practitioner but the detoxifying benefits are a guarantee.

For first-timers, be forewarned that the heat will get intense. Drink a litre of water in the hours leading up to your class, hydrate during the practice and make sure you have water afterwards! Avoid eating a heavy meal beforehand and dress prepared to sweat. Lots of the die-hard yogi’s will be rocking speedos and not much else so don’t feel embarrassed about shedding layers – you’ll sweat through everything anyway.

BeHot rents out mats and towels, and sells water for a nominal fee; they also offer small lockers to store your valuables during class. The changing room gets busy quickly so getting there early is in your best interest. The doors to the studio are unlocked half an hour before each class starts.

I encourage anyone in Toronto who is looking for a change in their fitness routine to take advantage of this offer!

“Yoga is not a religion. It is a science – science of well-being, science of youthfulness, science of integrating body, mind and soul.”
// Amit Ray

SOL: Shall We Dance?

I started taking dance classes when I was 8 years old. I was a precocious child from an early age, so instead of pirouettes and pas de bourrées I hit the floor and started out with hip-hop, then later branched out to street-style dancing, belly dancing and even break-dancing. Throughout my adolescence it remained an after-school hobby that boosted confidence and kept me in touch with my body.

Unfortunately, throughout my early 20’s my integrity fell by the wayside and I became more focused on shallow endeavors rather than actually improving myself as a person. As a result until this October it had been roughly five years since I had attempted choreography or entered a studio.

As part of my resolution to enjoy my life outside of work, when I returned from France I purchased a Groupon for 16 dance classes at O.I.P Dance Centre in Toronto for a steal of $18. The studio is located at 190 Richmond St E, a happy 1KM walk from my office. The first class I went to was taught by the owner himself and it was amazing. I figured I’d aim low and take a beginner class so as to spare my ego and I am so glad that I did. While the teacher was incredibly skilled at pacing the moves, I still found myself hauling ass across the floor and scrambling to remember what came next. The teacher was yelling “Muscle memory! Dance FULL OUT!” and I was on the verge of dislocating my shoulder as I attempted to nail each move. I was not even close to being the best in the class, but I had a lot of fun.

The thing I love about dance is that I find more so than any other activity I do (running, intervals, weights, yoga) it pulls me very much out of the typical fog I operate under and plunks me into the NOW. Akin to monk-level meditation, for one hour my mind was filled with nothing except counts of eight and the occasional muttered curse as I learned the choreography. The teacher insisted that the class was not meant as a workout, it was strictly a dance class, but I still left with a sheen of sweat on my skin and a smile on my face.

I recommend O.I.P dance studio and the pursuit of anything that makes you smile – but dance is a great place to start.

Health benefits from dance include:

  • improved condition of your heart and lungs
  • increased muscular strength, endurance and motor fitness
  • increased aerobic fitness
  • improved muscle tone and strength
  • weight management
  • stronger bones and reduced risk of osteoporosis
  • better coordination, agility and flexibility
  • improved balance and spatial awareness
  • increased physical confidence
  • improved mental functioning
  • improved general and psychological wellbeing
  • greater self-confidence and self-esteem
  • better social skills.

Health Benefits info from: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/

BODY: Workout Review

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I mentioned in an earlier post that since I’ve been at my second placement I’ve been doing a lot of running. I initially started up with an easy 5KM per day, but I’ve slowly increased to a 8KM to 10KM loop. I like running; I’ve always enjoyed it and the numerous health benefits it bestows upon me.

That said, cardio is not enough.

I like workout videos because they’re easy to pop in at home without having to trek to an expensive gym or aerobics studio. I’ve been purchasing workout videos for years (because I prefer having the physical DVD, most are easily downloadable these days) and some are worth the money while others are downright cheesy or impossible to follow.

I brought along a few workout videos with me on this trip, one of which being Jillian Michaels “Banish Fat Boost Metabolism.” I noticed that after a few weeks of solely running, I wasn’t getting the muscle mass or toned look that I wanted. I popped this DVD in on a whim – and instantly regretted it.

The first time I did this workout my chalet was approximately 30 degrees. Jillian’s circuit training absolutely murdered me; I was dripping with sweat and swearing like a sailor by the second circuit. This woman means business.

The workout is 45 minutes long, plus a warm-up and cool-down and consists of seven circuits. Every muscle on your body will be targeted throughout the workout and there are variations for every move depending on your physical ability. The first few days after starting this workout I noticed my legs were tighter, my abs more defined, and my upper body ached as muscles were being formed. I felt amazing!

I’ve also noticed that since supplementing my fitness regime with strength exercises, my cardio has improved drastically. My legs and hips are stronger during my running route and I am able to run longer, faster and better.

I highly recommend trying this workout!

Namaste,
AS

SOL: Bodies

1. Even the models from magazines admit they don’t look like that in real life.

2. The media will point out your flaws so that you buy more products to help you assimilate to their idea of beauty. I want you to step away from technology for a day and then look at yourself in the mirror and say, “I’m beautiful.

3. Your ass might have a few dimples. Your upper arms might jiggle when you wave. Your thighs might even, heaven forbid, touch when you stand with your feet together. These factors do not determine the quality of your life or the beauty of your soul.

4. When you’re an old, frail, saggy woman I bet you’ll be wishing you ate that cupcake or had that second glass of wine when you were out with friends. Indulge in moderation and you will not gain a pound.

5. Even if you do gain a pound – who cares? All it means is that there’s more of you to love and I love you more than anyone in the world.

6. Be in love with yourself (every inch of it) and your life (every second of it).

7. Please please please maintain a healthy relationship with food. Praying to a porcelain god will only leave you full of regret and empty of feeling and people tend to glamorize starvation. You know who I admire? Someone who glows with health and feasts with relish. Don’t compromise the simplest joys of life.

8. If you have food available throughout the day, EAT IT. The majority of the world struggles to find clean water and food to eat so I hope you understand how blessed and privileged you are.

9. Do not ever compare your body to someone else’s. Stress less about your neighbour and appreciate yourself. You have been made differently. Women come in all shapes and sizes and all of them are beautiful. Strive to be the best version of yourself, but keep your goals realistic and healthy.

10. You. Are. Beautiful.

11. Embrace your imperfections; bear-hug them until they suffocate because if you don’t face them now someone else will try to wield their power over you. I want you to be able to look anyone who dares comment on your body in the eye and tell them to fuck off.

12. If anyone ever tries to bully you, call me. I’ll take care of you as long as you need me to.

13. I have spent 16 years loathing my body, and I am only now acknowledging its value. I aspire to a better fate for you sweetheart.

14. Take care of yourself. We take our health for granted under the misguided notion that it will always be there. You have hands, arms, legs, feet and a heart that want nothing more than to support you. Support them too. I’ll be here to fill in the cracks.

15. Exercise for your endorphins. Stay active and fit. Sweat once a day because you can. Learn to love the feeling of being strong and capable.

16. It is more socially acceptable to hate your body than it is to love it. Let that sink in.

17. Remember that I love you, always and forever, no matter what you look like.

3AM Thoughts // AKA “Things I Will Teach My Sister About Body Confidence.”