Every day this week we’ll have a little think about the benefits of finding something to feel thankful about…
Gratitude can be defined as the ‘appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself’. So it is unique to you. Gratitude need not only be applied when we receive a gift but in response to positive actions or feelings.
Research indicates that the gratitude is associated with our overall sense of well-being. Being healthy not only relates to our physical fitness but our mental health and ‘well-being’. So it stands to reason that there are some fairly simple actions we can take to increase our overall health and well-being? I know I am in pursuit of become a healthier more well being!
One simple technique to enhance our experience of gratitude can be to keep a simple gratitude diary and write down the things we have or should feel grateful for that day. Rumour has it that doing so may even lead to a better night’s sleep. Not a hard task to reap some excellent benefits I’d say.
Ah. Savasana (Sha-vahs-ana). Savasana also known as corpse pose. We lie back on the mat, hands by the hips with the thumbs facing up, we shut our eyes and relax. Seems easy doesn’t it? You just lie down and shut your eyes… Except we want to stay awake and we want to stay aware. We aren’t just losing consciousness like we do when we are going to sleep. we are trying to relax the body, trying to release tension in the muscles, in the face in; in the jaw; in the neck; in the legs; in the feet… Anyway you get the idea! So the act of lying on the mat with the eyes closed might seem simple (and aren’t the simple things often the most difficult?) but there is a lot more going on behind those closed eyes.
As our bodies slow down that’s when the mind becomes most active. You have nothing to distract yourself from the thoughts, or feelings, or tasks you’ve been trying to distract yourself from. You have no choice but to sit with them. Suddenly the brain is buzzing and all sorts of things pop into the head. Who am I? Did I leave the straighteners on? What just happened to me in that yoga class? I don’t think I deserve that? This feels nice? I;m hungry!
Rest assured that this is completely normal and just like our bodies protest when we exercise them in a new way, the mind does the same thing. And don’t be fooled – Savasana is very much an exercise.
Why would we torture ourselves like this?!
The benefits. The benefits of Savasana are enormous and especially pertinent in our modern day lives where our brains are constantly bombarded with stimulus. Screens and more screens, ever growing responsibilities, societal pressures, busy home lives, depression, illness and anxiety disorders, work and more work, global warming! There is always something to worry about and our caveman brains are excellent and devising life threatening scenarios that we simply must save ourselves from. This sets that nervous system on kill, rather than stun, and results in cortisol (stress hormone) flowing round the body for extended periods of time. This sets us on edge, even if we don’t think we are on edge.
Savasana is an excellent way to counter these effects. Savasana is a time for rest, not sleep. Savasana helps us hit the reset button, Control, alt, delete. The physical benefits include:
reduced heart rate
reduction in blood pressure
calm the nervous system
reduce cortisol in the body
develop respiratory system
quieter state of mind
It takes practice, and it can take a lot of practice, so be patient, be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself. Think of surrendering the body to the mat, perhaps you can surrender in your other postures as well. Perhaps you can surrender some of those extra duties in life that make you unhappy…
Mudra are symbolic gestures that we make with the hands and fingers also known as a ‘seal’ or ‘mark’. Traditionally they were used to facilitate the flow of energy round the body but I use them to engage different muscles in the hands, arms and upper body and to bring a little variety to the practice.
Below you will see a simplified nervous map of the body. There are nerves that run from the spine and body down the arms into the fingers. If reflexology is your bag then stimulating these nerves brings about stimulation in other parts of the body.
In any case setting an intention and repeating it to yourself while you carry out a defined hand movement creates a pathway through the nervous system and into the brain reinforcing the desired behaviour. This is great for brain health for all but can be especially beneficial for those wishing to prevent or reduce the decline in cognitive function due to aging (lavretsky, UCLA).
Here are a few to get you started:
Bring thumb and index finger together
slightly stretch the remaining three fingers
symbolizes the unity of universal and individual consciousness
practice for concentration, creativity and as a gesture of knowledge
palms face up when you feel receptive of face them down to feel more grounded.
Bring middle finger and thumb together
slightly stretch the other three fingers
practice for patience, discipline and a feeling of stability
So perhaps a term you’ve heard in passing or in a comedy sketch and you’ve probably seen something similar to the images in this post. The word Chakra comes for the sanskrit word for wheel and refers to the energy in the body (prana) which, in yoga, travel through channels or ‘nadis’. There are 7 major chakras in yoga and tend towards major glands along the spine and in the skull that secrete hormones that regulate various bodily functions.
The chakras are thought to be spinning vortexes of energy and each one is responsible for different behaviours or values in life. Each also has it’s own colour and mantra as well. If our prana becomes depleted or our nadis become blocked due to poor life habits or pattern behaviours it is said to cause problems in out physical, mental and emotional well-being. By practicing yoga we revitalise the chakras and allow the prana to flow freely again.
Root chakra – muladhara – base of spine – red – security