Approachable Fitness & Physical Therapy

The Science behind Yoga (and other exercise programmes)

The Science behind Yoga (and other exercise programmes)

I recently shared an article about science and yoga.  It was interesting as it focused on changes within the brain brought about through yoga practice.  What I found most interesting was that these changes are brought about by the focusing of the mind rather than the performance or achievement of yoga poses.  This means that the benefits can be gained by any mindful exercise programme which encourages you to focus on breath, link your mind to your body and gain relaxation. 

Much of the benefit yoga is proven to provide is associated with the management of stress.  The article claimed that 90% of all the illness we suffer is stress related.  I haven’t been able to verify that figure but stress certainly has a big impact your health and your ability to recover.

Do you suffer any of these basic symptoms of stress:

  • High resting heart rate.
  • Repeated headaches.
  • Stiffness in your neck and/or tight shoulders.
  • Back pain.
  • Periods of fast shallow breathing.
  • Increased perspiration (e.g. sweaty palms)
  • Repeated stomach upset, nausea and/or diarrhea.
Or any of these which are more likely to develop over a longer period:
 •             You’re often off sick
•              You have high blood pressure
•              You suffer chronic neck, shoulder, or low back pain
•              You suffer reflux disease or IBS
•              You have low fertility, problems during pregnancy, or painful menstrual periods.
•              Your arthritis, asthma or other chronic conditions worsen
•              You have skin problems such as acne and psoriasis.

If any of these sound familiar then the regular practice Yoga, or a programme with the same benefits, could certainly help you to better health.

The main elements in Yoga that have been found to improve a person’s stress levels are: breath, movement, mindful attention and relaxation.

Breath is a particularly powerful tool and can be used to control the stress response of the body. By filling the lungs, taking fewer breaths, making them deeper and longer you control the breath and lower blood pressure and stress response.  By focusing your mind on each breath, you regulate your thoughts, give yourself space and empty your brain.  In research, focus on breathing has been shown to change the way in which the brain (prefrontal cortex) behaves. Particularly in reducing depression and changing behavior to be more positive.  Neurotransmitters work more effectively and the interbrain links are improved giving a variety of benefits to the body.

By combining breath, movement, mindful attention and relaxation we can change how we feel and in time even change how our bodies behave.

In fact you can get all these benefits from most of our classes at the Studio.

·        In IMF Pilates we spend time training our brains to consciously connect to different muscle groups and to identify and engage specific muscles we want to work.  This connects the mind to the body in a practical way.  By having to concentrate on each position the mind is forced to empty other thoughts.  In this way you can achieve relaxation and stress relief through simple movement.

·        In Yoga For Healthy Backs we use the power of breath and relaxation techniques to reduce specific back pain.

·        In All Woman IMF Pilates we additionally focus on the relaxation of each part of the body. This helps you to connect more fully with your body and to enable complete relaxation.  Brilliant for pregnant clients, particularly useful through labour, and menopausal women suffering from stress and anxiety.

·        In Janey’s Yoga, using classic poses, she has an approach she calls ‘help yourself to find yourself’. She positions herself as a facilitator to help you find yourself rather than a teacher of Yoga,  The article I mentioned earlier used the line ‘Use yoga to find out who you really are’, this is clearly aimed at the type of Yoga Janey practices.

The image of yoga, often shown by the media, and presented by Yogis themselves is of skinny flexible, capable people adopting difficult and complicated positions.  In reality, the benefits can be obtained by almost anybody.  If you are busy, stressed, unfit, overweight, inflexible, not used to exercise or not sure about joining a class, whatever your age, we can still help you.  None of these are a valid excuse for doing nothing.  Movement is vital if you are to improve any of the above conditions.


Come into your body and reconnect!

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Exercise - Benfits more than just your body!


When you think about ‘exercise’ you probably think about the benefit to your muscles and cardio vascular system, that it may hurt, you may ache afterwards but you’ll feel better for it and you’ll spend time with a group of likeminded people at your class or in the gym.  The first few statements relate to the physical benefits, but the latter are the extra benefits you may not have considered as being so important.

NHS Choices has this to say about exercise and mental wellbeing:

“It has long been known that regular exercise is good for our physical health. It can reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and strokes. In recent years, studies have shown that regular physical activity also has benefits for our mental health. Exercise can help people with depression and prevent them becoming depressed in the first place. Dr Alan Cohen, a GP with a special interest in mental health, says that when people get depressed or anxious, they often feel they're not in control of their lives. "Exercise gives them back control of their bodies and this is often the first step to feeling in control of other events," he says.”
see : http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/pages/exercise-for-depression.aspx for the full detail.

So, if you are feeling down, generally tired, depressed or lonely, why not try a regular exercise class?

If you’re not used to exercising particularly in a class, you may think of a number of reasons why exercise is not for you.  Often, these reasons are based on misunderstanding or misinformation.  I have listed a few common feelings here along with an explanation of what actually seems to happen.

I have never been sporty, so I don’t do physical activity.
In fact many of our class members are not sporty in the slightest, and they still find the classes are easy to do.

I always feel tired so class will simply exhaust me further.
Many exercises or movement in classes can be made easier or harder by the way you do them.  Simply do as much or as little as you feel you can.

Exercise has to hurt to be beneficial, I don’t want that.
The more recent thinking by exercise professionals is that “no pain, no gain” is not, in fact, true.  In reality we have seen plenty of people who have improved their fitness and personal wellbeing, through exercise, and have not felt any pain in the process.

When I get there everyone will know everyone else, consequently I will be left out and feel awkward.
Whilst some classes can be a bit insular, in our experience most class are actually very inclusive.  New people are joining all the time and are very soon embraced by the class camaraderie.  As an alternative why not take a friend with you?

I have tried yoga/pilates/circuits/whatever and I found it painful/just didn’t like it.
Actually, pretty well every class is different in one way or another.  The content is usually created by the person giving the class so there are as many different forms of pilates, yoga, circuits, boot camps, meditation, etc. as there are teachers.  It is worth trying a number of different classes until you find the ones that suit you.  Almost always there is at least one out there.

I have never done any exercise, there are so many different classes I don’t know where to start.
In this case, go for pilates or yoga.  Look for a class where the instructor tailors content to fit peoples’ ability. Talk to the instructor, or other class members to find out about other classes in your area that may suit you.  Then just go along and give it a go.  It is normally easy to have a trial at any class and move on until you find one you like. But it is always worth taking to the instructor about any aspect that you didn’t like because it may be that it could be change to suit you.

The fact of the matter is that almost everyone can benefit from joining a class.

If you continue to be inactive you are more likely to suffer from low mood, depression, tension, stress, anxiety and worry.

By taking more exercise you will feel better about yourself, be less depressed, less anxious, have improved sleep and better concentration, not only this, but you will improve your physically capabilities.  All great reasons to be more active, particularly the older you get.

Looking at the technical side of why we benefit mentally from being more active there is a combination of reasons, some of which are not fully understood.  The simplest factor is that exercise stimulates the release of mood enhancing chemicals, dopamine and serotonin. On top of that the social aspect of common goals and camaraderie have a positive effect, as does the realisation of achievement.  Also your support network can be extended, we have found that classes are very good at support and often bring together common experiences and solutions to life’s difficulties.

The key to gaining a benefit is in finding an exercise programme which suits you.

It needs to be enjoyable and an escape from the pressure of ever day life.

It may not be hard work and you should feel able to rest during the class when you feel that you’ve done enough.

There may be a strong social element with interaction with others in the group.  The companionship you feel from your fellow class mates can be as important as the actual exercise.

Choose a form of exercise that you can keep up on a regular basis.
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Thinking about taking up Yoga?


THINKING ABOUT STARTING YOGA?

Before you do you should understand the potential benefits and dangers (yes dangers) of practising Yoga.

Yoga has been criticised for being potentially dangerous by causing injuries and aggravating existing conditions such as arthritis.  Some authors of critical articles have themselves been injured in a Yoga class, others get their information 2nd hand by talking to participants in Yoga classes. Research can be difficult to verify as there have been no specific clinical trials so information is usually taken from surveys.

An extensive survey of yoga practitioners in Australia showed that about 20% had suffered some physical injury while practicing yoga. In the previous 12 months 4.6% of the respondents had suffered an injury producing prolonged pain or requiring medical treatment. Headstands, hand stands, shoulder stands, lotus and half lotus (seated cross-legged position), forward and backward bends, produced the greatest number of injuries. Respondents commonly took the blame for the injury on themselves, citing reasons such as ‘pushing it too far’ and not warming up, along with being too competitive. Read the source document here

The same article also asked the participants for the effect that Yoga had had on a range of over 500 specific medical conditions from which they suffered.  The results were positive:

• Much better 53.3%
• Better 29.3%
• Little better 12.5%
• No change 4.5%
• Little worse 0.3%
• Worse 0.0%
• Much worse 0.4%

In my opinion there are many health benefits for both mind and body to be gained from taking up yoga.  The relaxation element is good for sufferers of depression as well as in rehabilitation from cancer and the management of heart disease.  The flow through a succession of poses can help with stress management and improved posture

Injuries seem to come from beginners pushing themselves beyond their ability and instructors with little training, or experience, who cannot evaluate each participant’s ability and offer alternative positions.  Looking at the list of positions which incurred most injuries, head and shoulder stands should only be performed under close supervision by those working at an intermediate level.  Lotus and half lotus positions place the knees in positions which will aggravate any existing damage to ligaments or cartilage whether originating from an injury or wear and tear. Forward and backward bends put load on the spine which can aggravate any degenerative conditions and potentially cause back pain rather than ease it.

Ensure that you choose an instructor who has experience and a class which works at your level.  Watch out for exercises which may not be suitable for you (see injury section above) and listen to your body.

As an exercise professional I am keen to see everyone partake in some sort of exercise, it’s a question of finding what suits you and for many Yoga will be ideal.  Give it a try, but carefully.
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