Shifting your perspective

Inothim

Yoga has many different benefits and it can also be described in many different ways. However, one thing always returns: yoga changes your perspective.

Yoga has a great influence on how we perceive our body, what we believe we can do with it and how we look at things. We often think we are not flexible enough, or we can’t do something that requires silence / sitting still. It is these ideas and perspectives that are on the surface that we can work on immediately.

When we go to a class we realise that our bodies are stiff in one part and more flexible in others. We learn that many poses have to do with strength or a combination of the two. You learn how to play with your body, with the perspectives and beliefs about ourselves.

If we go more in-depth into our practice it opens a whole new world. Towards who we are, but also towards the outside world. We get different ideas on how to feed ourselves, we get different feelings about the nature and animals around us, and we learn to deal with daily struggles in a different way. And above all we learn to literally see things from a different perspective: through inverted poses.

Seeing the world upside down helps to see things differently, see people differently, the room you’re in from a different view point. But also putting the pressure on your head instead of your feet will create a completely different perspective on what you carry around on your feet every day. And if you are able to find your balance and be stable, you can find a peace, which is different, then any kind you can experience.

What this meant to me is that I changed my food habits completely. I tested which foods were not beneficial to my body and tried to cut them out as much as possible. I also learned more about how I perceived the outside world. A good example is traffic, either being on my bike in a busy street in Amsterdam or being in my car in traffic in São Paulo. The moment I realized I personally cannot change the traffic, I realized it was me that could make different choices: go into the busy street and face the traffic as calm as I could or I could try to avoid it by going at different hours or with different routes.

Also the perspective of who I am on this planet and why I am here have changed completely. The world I grew up in has a very strict determined path for young people, at least, that’s my perspective. It took me a while to realize that it is an idea that lives in my mind. Once I was able to let it go, I was able to come closer to who I am.

Simple things you can do in your daily live that can help you see things from a different perspective:

  • Switch your fork and knife when you eat.
  • Brush your teeth with your other hand.
  • Take a different route home (on your bike, in the car, in the train).
  • When taking the same route, look out for something you have not seen before.
  • Practice yoga (or any sport) in a different spot then you normally do.
  • Start a conversation about something that is bothering you (or something you’re stuck in) with somebody you do not know, or normally do not talk to about these subjects. They might have new and interesting insights.
  • Try to stand on your head (if you have never done this, please only do it with a certified teacher!) and see the world upside down.
  • For one day only give compliments to every one who crosses your path.
  • Smile to everyone you pass by in the street.
  • Download the app Cucalu. It will help you look differently to your environment
  • Don’t eat meat for a whole week (or any other thing that you can skip from your diet)
  • Write down 10 positive thoughts about your day – every night, for at least 7 days.

Try at least one action from this list and see if that changes anything and if so, what has changed, what did you discover. If nothing changed, pick another one and take the challenge again. Get out of your comfort zone, because that is the only place where we get to learn more about who we truly are.

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Yoga for stiff guys

Yoga for stiff guys sequence

“Yoga is not for me, I am not flexible”. This is probably the sentence I hear the most from male clients.

Let me first clear up the biggest misconception about yoga. Yoga is not about being flexible; it is about your state of mind while performing the poses. Yoga is training your body left and right, bottom and top and in different challenging postures while trying to keep your breath steady and calm. It is training your mind to not give in when it becomes challenging and it is training nurturing your soul because we try to deal with emotions that come on our way. By practicing this, we get to know our body, the boundaries of our body, but most of all, we get a calm mind. And that is what yoga is all about, calming the mind.

So for all these guys who feel like yoga is not for them, because they are too stiff, I’ve set up a yoga sequence especially for you. This sequence will help you get more flexible in your hip area, shoulders and lower back. You can do the postures by looking at the photos, going from left to right and down (as if you read a book). If you have any doubts about the postures, here are some basic rules and/or explanations.

Basic rules for yoga for stiff guys

  • Make long, deep and controlled breaths through your nose. Focus on your breath going in and out while being in a posture. Try to make your exhale slightly longer then your inhale.  Stay in a pose for at least 3 cycles of inhales and exhales.
  • Let your breath initiate a movement. Inhale is a movement upwards, exhale is a movement downwards or a twist.
  • Work both sides of your body. Do every posture on the right side and then switch to the left.
  • While you’re in a standing pose always check your front knee. When one is bent, it makes a 90 degree angle with your ankle, however, it should never go over your ankle.
  • There is NO pose in yoga where we have our shoulders close to our ears. So when you are settled in a pose, always pay attention to your shoulders. Roll them backwards and down.

If you need some guidance for the poses, below you can find the main adjustments per picture

  • Picture 1: If you sit down make sure your knees are not higher than your hips, that will become very uncomfortable quickly. Preferably, use a block, blanket or pillow to sit on. Make sure your back is straight and your shoulders are low. Breathe in deeply to your belly and breathe out slowly.
    If you want to know more about meditation, read this blog entry
  • Picture 2: Mountain pose: Use a block between your legs to make sure your legs are active. If you don’t have a block, pull up your toes, which will have a similar effect. Roll your shoulders back and down and contract your abdominal muscles, feel both your feet on the mat, your weight is equally divided over both feet. Stand firm.
  • Picture 3: Standing forward bend pose. Hang forward with your knees slightly bent while holding your elbows. Feel how, due to your head hanging down, the vertebrae’s in your neck are getting some space. Stay in this pose for at least 5 cycles of inhales and exhales.
  • Picture 4: Plank pose, so make it look like you are a straight plank. Have your hips aligned with your body, so not high in the air or close to the ground. Shoulders are 90 degrees over your wrists. Contract your abdominal muscles. Try to stay here for 5 cycles of breath.
  • Picture 5: Cobra pose. When you come on the mat, first lay down your whole body. Place your hands next to your chest and with an inhale you press yourself up. Arms are still slightly bent.
  • Picture 6: Locust pose. Start by having your whole body on the mat. Bring your arms back. On the inhale take both your arms and legs up. If this is too much to begin with, then start with only taking your chest of the mat. Second time only the legs. And third time both the chest (arms) and the legs.
  • Picture 7 & 8: Catpose. Come to your hands and knees. Knees in a 90 degrees angle with your hips, shoulders with the wrists. Inhale, look up and arch your spine. Exhale, look down and round your spine. Do this with a minimum of 5 times.
  • Picture 9 and 10: Thread and needle pose. With an inhale take one arm up, look towards it and then bring it through the hole of your knee and hand. Shoulder and ear to the ground. Try to keep your hips aligned.
  • Picture 11: Warrior 1 pose. Come to the front of your mat, standing. Step backwards with one leg.  Knee is 90 degree over your ankle, hips point forward, arms are up, shoulders are down.
  • Picture 12: Warrior 2 pose. Turn your back foot to a 45 degree angle. Open your hips towards the side. Roll your shoulders down and back. Look over your front hand.
  • Picture 13: Side angle pose. Both feet are pointing straight forward. Place your hands under your face. Inhale, lengthen your spine, exhale fold forward. Stay here with a minimum of 5 cycles of breath.
  • Picture 14: Tree pose. Put all the weight on one leg. Place the other one in your thigh or on your lower leg. Never on the knee!! Focus on a point in front of you and don’t let it go. Stand up tall. Hands in prayer in front of your chest. Minimum of 5 cycles of breath.
  • Picture 15: Sit on your knees. Have them hip-distance apart. Take one leg to the side. Place your arm of the bend knee onto the mat, other arm over head. Feel the side stretch of your body.
  • Picture 16: Bridge pose. Lay down on your back, knees are up, feet are hips distance apart. Measure the size of your legs by bringing your arms next to your body and try to touch your heel with the tip of your middle finger. Then interlace your fingers behind your back. Push your hips up as far as you can, roll your shoulders together. Breathe into your chest.
  • Picture 17: The crow pose. Bend your knees and come as far down with your hips as possible (butt not touching the floor). Place your hands on the mat, open your fingers as wide as you can. Bring your knee in your arm pits or on the outside of your upper arm (not below the elbow). Push with your knees against your arm. Contract your abdominal muscles. Come to the tips of your toes and move your body weight forward. Try to lift one foot, then the other and then both. Balance on your arms as long as you want.
  • Picture 18: Child’s pose. Sit on your heels. Take both your arms up. Bring your hands in front of you on the mat. Rest your forehead on the mat. Breathe deeply into your belly. Let your body come to a rest.

 

 

How does yoga benefit you physically?

Benefits-of-Yoga-Infographic

Yoga, as a movement and lifestyle, has really grown in the past 10 years in the Western world. It went from an almost women-only activity to a common good for both men and women. It went from fluffy and hippie to hip and a necessity for our mind and body. Basically it went from underground to mainstream. To me it feels great to realize that so many other people have seen and felt the benefits of yoga.

However, I still often get the question: what is different about yoga when compared to other sports? Or: How is yoga better for you than sport X? To be honest, I prefer not to answer this question. For the simple reason that yoga is no better than any other sport, just like no person is any better than another person. What I can answer are the known benefits of yoga and how it helps me.

There are different categories to answer this question: mind, body and spirit. In this blog I focus on the body and how that works technically, where possible I will share my own experiences.

Body
As I started doing yoga I noticed that my body transformed. It got more lean and fit. In yoga we spent a lot of time stretching, flexing and strengthening our bodies. We always put an equal effort on the left and right side of our body, as well as to the top and bottom.

Flexibility
Most beginners tell me, I won’t be very good at yoga, because I am not very flexible. First of all, yoga is not about flexibility, but about your state of mind while performing your poses, or when you meditate. Having said that, when I started doing yoga the first improvements I noticed were in my flexibility. The first class I found it a struggle to touch my toes, or even worse, do a backbend. Doing these stretching exercises weekly quickly showed me progress. My body was loosening, because I was able to breath to the discomfort and therefore able to let go of the tensions in my body (mainly my hip area). The pain and aches were diminishing as I was gradually becoming more flexible. Nowadays we don’t stretch and flex our bodies often. We spend our days behind our computer, shortening our muscles around the hip, we then get into a car, or on our bikes, to then sit down behind the tv or to have dinner. We need to deliberately stretch our bodies, we need to put in the effort. A great thing is that we can exactly feel where we need the most attention. As soon as we start stretching, our body hurts and aches, in that moment and the days after. It also gives quick results, giving us the energy and power to continue.

Strength
In yoga we strengthen our bodies with our own body weight. Usually I see women having an easier time with the flexibility, men have more strength. Same goes for me. Building strength is still my main focus. In life we need both, strength and flexibility – this needs to be equally developed. If you only have flexibility you are like a twig, fragile and easily imbalanced. With only strength you are like a Michelin doll, pumped up with no space to move your body.

I am part of the first category, I have too much flexibility. And even though that allows me to elegantly do the poses (asanas), I really learned that I often need to take a step back and simply squeeze. The squeezing helps to build strength and because of that I have become a lot stronger. I am better in balance poses, headstand, handstand and poses on one leg. This is due to my core muscles (the muscles around your hips, belly and sacrum).

Healthy joints
In yoga we go through a full range of movements: forward bends, backward bends, twists. All movements are being done on both the right and left side of our body.  Not a single part is neglected. By moving the joints you keep the joint cartilage elastic and lubricated, this is the only way for your cartilage to take in the nutrients it needs. This is extremely important to ensure that your cartilage will not wear out, which prevents bone-on-bone action. This counts for every joint: ankle, knees, hips, elbows, shoulders, neck and the vertebras of the spine.  Doing yoga on a daily basis, for me means a lot of joint movement and a lot of possible injuries.  To warm up my joints before a class I do a rolling the joints session (credits go to my beloved teacher David Lurey), to prevent myself from getting hurt.

Circulation of blood and oxygen
Yoga helps to improve your blood circulation and it increases the amount of oxygen to our cells. By making a forward-bend, we rush blood to our head, which helps us to release headaches and sinus infections because the ‘old’ blood is replaced by new oxygenated blood once we come back up and we are able to release the built up pressure.  By twisting we wring out venous blood from our organs and by releasing we allow new, fresh oxygenated blood in. Inverted poses reverse the direction of all the fluids in our body. Blood from the legs and the pelvis makes it way to our heart, which in turn has to work harder to pump the blood the other way around, and to get new fresh, oxygenated blood into our lungs. Because the oxygen in our blood cells helps against blood cloths swelling, yoga helps to decrease the risk of heart attacks, swelling in your legs and kidney problems. My direct experience with the circulation in my body is that the circulation in my fingers and feet improved tremendously. I used to always have very cold fingers, especially in wintertime they sometimes turned blue and seemed almost dead. This problem has completely disappeared.

Immune System
Yoga helps to boost immunity at a cellular level. It helps to boost our overall health, since we increase the amount of oxygen in our body, we take good care of our skeletal system (bones and joints) and we improve the circulation of our body, which helps the organs to function at its best. I used to be sick at least 3 times per year. Flu, fever, cold, you name it. Good years 3 times, bad years countless times. Now, I am hardly ever sick. Obviously I have days where I can clearly feel my body is fighting a flu, but it rarely happens that I actually get it, and it usually doesn’t last longer then a day.

Changed nerve system
Back in the days, when offices did not exist, we 0nly had two responses to stress: fight or flight. Nowadays, we cannot fight against our boss, neither can we run away from them. By focusing on your breathing while doing challenging yoga poses, you can learn to slow down your breath and to remain focused and present. This lowers our heart-rate, blood pressure and increases the blood flow to our intestines and reproductive organs. In other words, you create a mechanism in your body to calm down and restore your body. My reactions in stressfull situations have changed a lot. When I notice I get stressed, I also notice I need more meditation and yoga. Which sometimes proves to be more difficult, less time available means less time to do my practice. But these are the perfect practices to work on my nervous system and to calm myself down. In Vipassana it is said that when you get into stressful and difficult situations you cannot do it all good in once, but what counts is the time you get stuck in your emotion. You work on decreasing that time. And that is what I am doing, decreasing my moments of stressed and intense emotions.

Lymph drainage
Drainage of your lymph nodes is caused by the contraction and stretching of the muscle and by massaging our internal organs through twisting the body. This helps your system to fight infections, to drain the toxins in our body and to destroy dangerous (cancer) cells.

 There are many more physical benefits to describe, but these are the once I know of and am able to explain and describe. The next blog I will go more in-depth in the benefits for the mind and spirit.