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The benefits of Yoga

A year ago I began a series of newsletters/blogs about the wellbeing courses that have inspired me. I wrote quite a few articles about the benefits that I received from studying Positive Psychology and Emotional Intelligence courses

In this newsletter I take a look at Yoga. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get around to this because of all the courses I’ve taken over the last 15 years it’s the thing that’s been the most beneficial to my physical and mental wellbeing.

One of the reasons that I’ve left it so long is the sheer complexity of Yoga. I teach about 15 hours every week and often find myself trying to encapsulate its usefulness. Each time I try, different words come out. The narrowest possible view is that it makes you more flexible. This is true but of equal importance is the increased physical strength, the improved balance and ease of movement.

However the physiological benefits derived from practicing the Asanas (physical postures) are just one part of the practice of Yoga. Yoga is a complete wellbeing system. The physical and psychological tools it provides you with enable a diligent practitioner to move towards mastery of the body, thoughts and emotions. In Yoga there is no delineation between the body and the mind. The body is trained to benefit the mind. The mind is trained to benefit the body.

 

Whether or not you attend Yoga classes in gyms or in Yoga centres we can begin to introduce a Yoga practice into our lives. It is not a religion and does not require a special place to practice. It is based on 4,000 years of human observation of the complex relationship between the body and the mind.

If you are interested in improving your wellbeing but have little interest in attending Yoga classes then this newsletter provides three simple techniques for bringing the practice of Yoga into everything you do:

1. Be aware of your physical essence – For example, if you are exercising a particular part of your body focus on that body part. In past newsletters I’ve set out research which indicates that when you focus attention on the muscle group you are exercising, the muscle develops more strongly than when your attention is scattered – energy flows where your attention goes. As another example, notice how when you are commuting or driving, your energy levels improve and thoughts become brighter when you sit up straight and focus on your posture.

2. Be aware of your breath – Observe your breathing in a dispassionate way (ie. not directing the breath to make it fast or slow). When you do this the act of observation has the effect of focusing the attention and engaging the parasympathetic nervous system. If you focus on your breathing, your attention is diverted away from anxiety stimulating thoughts. Thoughts have a consequential physiological impact. We find it difficult to multi-task and by focusing on our breath we learn to sharpen our attention and enable a feeling of centered calm to reside. By feeling calm and centered inside we are less likely to pay attention to our own internal thoughts and prejudices and more likely to observe the fine detail of the world around us.

In Yoga breath is Prana or energy. In addition to breath there are other forms of subtle energy. If we allow ourselves to observe the present moment we can tap into a limitless supply of universal energy. In my last sentence I’m not repeating what I’ve read in a book about Yoga. It’s what I’ve observed in my own practice. The more you practice, the more you observe the complex relationship between thought, energy and matter. Yoga is a about practice and personal observation of cause and effect.

3. Observe your thoughts and emotions – As you move through the world, continue to observe your thoughts and emotions as they flow through your mind. Become the observer of yourself. In Buddhism there is no delineation between thoughts and emotions. They are bundled together. One does not precede the other. They emerge blended. Through the practices of Yoga you charge your energy levels by allowing a universal energy to flow through you. You feel light, connected and balanced. As you feel connected you feel less isolated and more confident in the world around you and your place within it. Once you cease to observe your thoughts they can wander and become scattered. This scatters the energy you have built up. Even worse than this is that in an absent-minded way your thoughts may drift to a situation that causes you anxiety. Immediately the energy that you have built up seeps away – energy flows where attention goes.

When you focus on your physical presence, your breathing and subtle energy as well as remaining aware of your thoughts, you charge your body with positive energy. In yoga you focus first on your own wellbeing. From this position of confidence and strength you can then choose to help others.

Hope you found this useful

Andy

New things at the Breathe Centre

Sara is practicing Chiropractic care 6 days a week at the centre now

 

Lindsey is now practicing Holistic Massage on Fridays 12 to 5pm and all day Sunday

 

Zoe does sports massage on Fridays 5 to 7pm

 

Pawel is focussing on Craniosacral, Mysofascial release and Reflexology on Tuesdays 5 to 9pm

 

 

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Positive Psychology – barriers to happiness

“When you arise in the morning think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think to enjoy, to love”  Marcus Aurelius

 

As a race humans are, in general, optimistic about the future.  When asked how satisfied we are with our life now the average response is approximately 7 out of 10  and when asked how satisfied they think we will be in the future most people say they will be more satisfied then than now. At the same time research suggests that we have a tendency to focus on our deficits rather than our strengths, our failings rather than our successes and what we crave rather than what we have. So on the one hand we are satisfied whilst at the same time restless and feel incomplete.

The power of restlessness can be a motivating energy that drives us forward and helps us to achieve great success in life.  It moves us on, thrusting and conquering.  It can be a force for great good, for example when scientists and philanthropists diligently apply their energy, passion and knowledge to overcoming the challenges we face.  It can also be the most destructive force on the planet destroying individual wellbeing, global wellbeing and the environment.

So lets consider the barriers to happiness and why we may feel this underlying restlessness:

The hedonic treadmill – When we enjoy a new material possession, for example a car or a house, our minds quickly adjust to the heightened experience.  Research suggest that at first when we enjoy a new thing we feel “happier” but within no time at all we are back to where we started, restless and seeking the next thing to consume

We are more alert to danger and our defects rather than our opportunities and strengths – From an evolutionary perspective this makes perfect sense.  In the 19th century life expectancy in the UK was 35.  Prior to the 20th century it was often a violent and dangerous world and we needed to be on our toes. As Steven Pinker noted in “A history of violence” despite all its carnage the 20th century was statistically the least violent century there has been and the trend is continuing to improve in the 21st century.  There are many challenges facing us now but in general we’ve never had it so good.  However brains change slowly and training the mind to be receptive to the positive as much as to the negative influences around requires tenacity and heightened awareness.  There are many wonderful exercises arising from Positive Psychology research which remind us to cherish what we have and remind us to count our blessings.  When we are aware of our evolutionary bias, which tends to focus our minds on problems, we can re train our minds to focus on our strengths and those of colleagues and friends. A positive mental outlook goes hand in hand with positive emotions and a healthy body.  With positive emotions and a healthy body we are better equipped to overcome the inevitable loss and suffering which inevitably will come into all our lives

Our ancestors – Studies indicate that when we respond to a survey about how happy we are, the answer that we give is likely to be highly pre determined by heritable factors.  Whether you are a 5 or a 9 out of 10 is determined by three main key factors: your ancestors, the circumstances in your life (for example how much money you make) and lastly the choices that you have made that day to influence your mood state. 50% of the variance between your answer and the average for the population is determined by heritable factors.  In psychology that’s a huge percentage and suggests that the view that we have of our own happiness and how happy we think we will be in the future is fairly well determined at birth.  And as a reminder of why this self evaluation of happiness is important – the more satisfied people say they are with their lives the longer they are likely to live and the healthier they are likely to be.

On the flip side studies indicate that just 10% of our self reported happiness levels are down to the circumstances in our life (eg how much money we earn) and a further 40% is down to the choices we make on a daily basis.  That’s a great positive message.  With this knowledge we can remind ourselves each day that although we have a tendency to have a certain level of happiness which is influenced by our ancestry, it is not fixed.  We have the power to re-write a new future for ourselves and our children.  The key to this may be to raise awareness about the tools that we have been born with – the tendencies that we are born with that propel us towards success or destruction.  When we are able to observe these tendencies in ourselves, our parents and our grandparents it makes it easier to create new positive habits and rituals. This is similar to the karmic tendencies that Hindus believe we inherit from past lives.  They also note importantly each day we are given the opportunity to start again, begin afresh and rewrite the present and the future.  They call this Aagami karma – the karma that you are creating at this moment with your thoughts, emotions and actions.

So today Positive Psychology seems to confirm some aspects of 4,000 years of Vedic teaching – that through the power of positive thought it is possible to manifest a beautiful mind and life.  Buddhist and Vedic scholars remind us that life is over in a flash and that true happiness comes from being authentic, compassionate and kind. Ignorance is when we forget to reflect on the marvel of being alive.  Here’s that quote again:

“When you arise in the morning think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think to enjoy, to love”

Marcus Aurelius

Over the last five years I’ve been lucky to have been asked to run positive psychology and emotional intelligence workshops for some great organizations including Amerada Hess, The House of Commons, Global Capital, KPMG and the training arm of the NHS.  If you think your organization could benefit from a bit of Positive Psychology forward this mail onto your colleagues or contact Andy Roberts to find out more details about our workshops.

 

Positive Psychology, religion and ancient traditions – Maori sayings

Positive psychology is the relatively new area of social science that investigates factors which contribute to thriving people, organizations and communities.  This is the first of a series of blogs examining the link between Positive Psychology and ancient traditions and religions.  In the weeks to come we will look at Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism and Polynesian traditions .  We are keen to get here your ideas so let us know what you think.

In this newsletter we share with you some New Zealand Māori proverbs and their English translations drawn from an inspirational book called Earth, Sea, Sky written by Patricia and Waiariki Grace and (Craig Potton  Publishers) .  These sayings developed through people being in tune with their surroundings over millennia.  They reflect a respect for the environment that many traditional cultures share.  They speak of what it means to be human.   Their beautiful interpretations have been assorted by us into “Positive Psychology” categories.

We hope you enjoy these and use the wisdom in the proverbs to navigate and rejoice in life.

1. Appreciate life’s beauty and magnificence

Korihi ake ngā manu

Tākiri mai te ata

Ka ao, ka ao. Ka awatea

Tīhei mauri ora

The birds call

The day begins

I am alive

2. Be resilient

He taru kahika

Walk on, as it is only summer rain falling

3. Be optimistic about the future

He iti hau marangai e tū te pāhokahoka

First comes the light wind carrying the rain,

Then comes the rainbow

4. Be confident in yourself

Kimihia te kahurangi;

ki te piko tōu matenga, ki te maunga teitei.

If you bow your head,

Let it be only

To a great mountain

5. Everything is interdependent

Tangi kau ana te hau

Ki runga o marae nui

O Hinemoana

The wind sails across the vast ocean plaza of Hinemoana

(Hinemoana is the ocean spirit that carries the messages of the universe)

6. Play to your strengths

He toka tū moana, arā he toa rongonui

Your strength is like a rock that stands in raging waters

7. Make plans for the future –  a cautionary tale

I hea koe i te ao o te kōwhai

Where were you when the kowhai was in bud?

(The Kowhai tree flowers in the Spring and this is a warning that you need to work hard and sow in the Spring to reap the benefits before the Winter comes)

8. Strive to be the best you can

Te tāpaepae o te rangi

See there, to the place where the sky reaches down

9. Connect to your traditions

Piki atu au ki te taumata o tōku maunga,

Ka kite au i te mana, it e ihi o te whenua nei nō ōku tipuna

I climb to the summit of my mountain to see the land of my ancestors

10. Use your difficulties

He ua ki te pō, he paewai ki te ao

When it rains at night, eels may be caught in the morning

11. Listen to your emotions and act

Tangi ana ngā tai

Rū ana te whenua

Listen to the raw of the sea

Feel the land tremble

12. Be prepared for change – life is uncertain

Ka whaimata te tapuae o Tangoroa.

Tangaroa. Ka haruru

He strides to and fro, Tangaroa

Hear him roar

(Tangaroa is the god of the sea)

13. Be vigilant for ignorance and intolerance

Ka parangia nei te aotūroa

I te pō kerekere

Intense night envelopes the world

14. Learn from those with experience and be respectful

Tirohia ki a Aorangi

Ka kākahutia e te huka rere

Look at Aorangi clothed in snow

(Aorangi is New Zealand’s highest mountain.  This refers to appreciation of the achievements of others and of the time and tenacity it takes to achieve our highest goals)

15. Be aware of your limitations

He manga wai koia

Kia kore e whitikia

It is a big river indeed that cannot be crossed

16. Important changes happen suddenly

Tīhore ana te rangi

i te uira

Lightening splits the heavens

17. We leave you with our favourite!

Whakataka te hau ki te uru

Whakataka te hau ki te tonga

Kia mākinakina i uta

Kia mātaratara i tai

Kia hī ake ana te atakura

He tio, he huka, he hauhunga

Tīhei mauri ora!

Let the cold winds from the west and from the south, that assail the lands and the seas, desist.

Let the red tipped dawn come with a touch of frost, a sharpened air, the promise of a glorious day.

Behold we are alive!

If you are interested in learning more about Positive Psychology, visit our website: www.breathe-london.com/positive-psychology.

We also offer a 30 day Wellbeing plan available to download now in which you will gain awareness of habits and routines that may nourish or drain your energy, and practice using new tools that enable you to build a more positive life.  www.breathe-london.com/positive-connections.