Autumn is here! With it, challenges to our overall health. But we can take some measures to protect ourselves. Or at least be a bit more proactive. Let’s look at self-care to help you take control of your health.
According to Wikipedia…
Self-care is the individual practice of health management without the aid of a medical professional. It’s under individual control, deliberate and self-initiated, for the purpose of the maintenance of health and wellbeing.
It means that we look at our life and our needs, physical, mental and emotional and decide what can we do to improve and manage our health without the need of a healthcare professional. We, and only we, can decide to take action towards a better self-care routine.
So clearly, not just going out for a pedicure or having a luxurious bath. Self-care can do for you much more if understood properly.
Let’s go back to Autumn then.
One of the biggest changes that affect us all, is the changing of the seasons. We might be feeling a bit more susceptible to colds, sore throat, infections as well as anxiety and depression among others.
But on the other hand, a new season and especially Autumn, often brings on new beginnings of various kinds.
It’s the perfect time to explore change, growth, and self-reflection.
What healthy habits could we cultivate ‘for the purpose of the maintenance of health and wellbeing’? Basically, what new self-care routines could you adopt, or re-start again?
There are many different self-care habits you can adopt and try, and it’s up to you to find what suits best your current needs. Do you need to slow down, reduce anxiety, find more motivation and energy, or perhaps you want to eat healthier or not be out of breath when running for the bus!
Yoga can help you with all the above.
You just need to find the type of yoga that suits you.
Let me be very clear, Yoga is not a substitute for help from a professional, if you experience some serious mental or physical issues, please find some help. But… it’s a great complementary self-care practice to improve and regulate all aspects of your health.
Personally, I find that yoga tools can help, not just maintain health but thrive emotionally, physically and creatively.
Let’s start with yoga’s contribution to our physical health.
There are many physical health benefits of yoga ranging from building your muscle strength and releasing joint tension, to boosting your immune system and improving your heart health.
Builds Muscle Strength
Through holding poses, you will be using your muscles to lift your body. If you practice yoga regularly your muscles will build up naturally.
Poses that use the full body are the most effective to boost strength and endurance, such as dog, warrior and tree.
I use to have a terrible posture, especially around my shoulders. And not just me, we tend to slump and slouch as we spend our time sitting at desks or in cushioned chairs. Yoga promotes good posture and over time, you will become more aware of how you stand, sit and walk.
Now, even when I’m just walking to the shops I keep a higher level of awareness of my body and posture.
Boosts Your Immune System
Inflammation is a natural part of the immune response and in the short term can be helpful to heal wounds, injuries, and infections, but chronic inflammation can do more harm than good. Researchers found an overall pattern that yoga reduces pro-inflammatory markers. As you flow from one pose to another, your muscles contract and stretch; this will help move the lymph around your body which can reduce inflammation. You can read more about it here.
Helps You to Breathe
During yoga classes, you will be encouraged to breathe deeply, extend the length of your breaths and maybe even pause during breaths. Breathing exercises can help improve lung function, strengthen your diaphragm and calm your nervous system.
Improves Heart Health
Movement and flow sequences get the blood pumping around the body. Not only will this help provide oxygen to your muscles, but it will also help your circulation.
Breathing, relaxation and meditation can help relax the nervous system and lower blood pressure. If your blood pressure is too high, it means that your heart has to work harder to pump blood around the body. The heart is a muscle too and can be overworked.
Increases Flexibility and Balance
When you begin yoga, you may feel stiff and rigid but with practice, patience and perseverance you will notice that it becomes more comfortable to be in the postures as your muscles loosen up, your breathing slows and your mind calms.
Increasing strength and flexibility in the muscles and joints directly relates to balance. Through movement and focusing your attention on posture, your balance and coordination will improve.
Just be patient with yourself, and don’t use the excuse of ‘I’m not flexible’ to not practice!
Releases Tension and Prevents Joint Breakdown
Every time you practice yoga, your joints go through a range of motion. If your joints are not used regularly, cartilage can eventually wear out, causing pain and reducing your range of movement.
Particular styles, like Yin yoga, work especially around the joints, cartilages, fascia, bones helping you improve flexibility and mobility and even increase bone density.
Eases Chronic Pain
A good way to reduce chronic pain is to reduce stress by learning relaxation techniques.
Yoga uses the mind and body connection to help manage chronic pain. Through meditation, relaxation and breathing exercises, you can begin to feel less stressed, more content and better equipped to cope with life’s challenges.
I hope this list helps you make up your mind about using yoga as one of your self-care priorities.
Not enough yet? oh sorry, you are right, I talked about the many mental and emotional benefits of yoga. In fact, that’s the area the fascinates me and interests me the most!! It’s where I’ve noticed the biggest shifts in my life. So let’s go for it.
Let’s see Yoga’s contribuion to our mental health
Please notice that when I talk about yoga, I’m referring to the holistic practice of movement and postures, breath, meditative awareness and even yogic philosophy and ethical principles.
So, why do we feel better after a yoga practice?
There are already many studies demonstrating that a sustained meditation practise produces changes in the brain structure, which in turn affect the whole of our nervous system and physiologic balance.
“Changes in brain structure may underline some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing” –
Reduces Stress, Improves Relaxation
Through relaxing your body, controlling your breath and focussing your mind, yoga helps you to soothe the central nervous system.
A yoga practice can activate the release of dopamine and serotonin, which help you to feel happier. As these hormones increase, cortisol and adrenaline levels decrease so after a session, you will find it easier to wind down and relax.
Mindfulness is about living in the present moment. It helps us to become more aware of our feelings and to better manage our thoughts.
Using techniques to bring awareness to your physical activity, yoga asks you to focus your mind, encouraging you to be conscious of your body helps you become more aware of yourself.
Offers Relief from Depression and Anxiety
People with depression and/or anxiety may find that yoga can offer respite from these conditions. Practising yoga can be a safe and natural way to better manage your symptoms, using the mind-body approach.
As a mind-body practise, yoga allows people to become aware of the link between their minds and bodies, increases mind-body awareness, as well as offers a form of relaxation which can replace unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Boosting your confidence may not be a mental health benefit you expect from yoga, but it really does help build your self-esteem. This is how I feel about it.
It helps bring difficulties into perspective. Working up to mastering certain poses will give you a feeling of empowerment and ultimately boost your self-esteem.
On top of this, improvements to your posture and physical benefits will help you to feel happier and healthier. The healthier you are, the more confident you will feel.
Mood swings can be caused by many factors including hormonal imbalances, stress or lack of sleep. By decreasing your stress, reducing feelings of overwhelm and helping you to become more self-aware, yoga will provide you with a sanctuary during difficult times.
Giving yourself time to focus on your own wellbeing will help you to see greater improvements in your overall mood.
Increases Brain Processing
Another structural change in the brain is that yoga can increase the folds on the surface of your brain. These folds contain your brain cells, so more fold means more brain cells.
Regular yoga practice can not only cause certain areas of your brain to increase in size, but it also affects how you process your emotions, stress, and anxiety.
Boosts Your Productivity
Yoga practice will help you to clear your mind and improve your concentration. Techniques you pick up from classes can be used during a hectic day to help you reset and refresh your thinking.
Check this meditation to reset your mind between tasks for higher productivity
As well as this, the boost to your confidence and happiness will help motivate you to get things done. Stress and low mood can be a catalyst for poor productivity.
So yes, as you can see, yoga tools can be used to take control of your wellbeing and therefore your health.
Do you start to believe me? Are you going to start making changes and adopting new self-care habits?
Start slow and enjoy the process!
You do not have to push your limits with yoga as gentle movement is encouraged. Have an open mind, try different styles, and even though you will start feeling some benefits immediately, the deeper and more significant changes will come after a sustained and regular practice. Start small and build the habit.
You can try yoga for free on YouTube or you can find a teacher you connect with that will guide and offer you support in a more personalised and intimate way.
In my classes, I focus on breathing well, creating awareness of the body, being playful and curious, and always start and end with some meditation or gratitude to ground us and help us create a more balanced life. You can try a class for free from my ever-growing online library
If you have any particular need I’d strongly encourage signing up for private classes so the teacher can create a programme specifically for you. Private classes are not a luxury but a more efficient way to get the results you desire. Most teachers will be happy to talk to you about your needs before committing to a programme.