Here is the tenth of my 50 Mindful Practices from my upcoming book. Please sign up for my weekly emails if you want to get the rest automatically in your email box. I welcome your feedback and please pass along to your friends!
MINDFULNESS MADE EASY – 50 PRACTICES TO REDUCE STRESS AND CREATE CALM – FOR HOME, SCHOOL AND WORK
Practice 10: Practice yoga
“Meditation relaxes the body, brings clarity and steadiness of mind, and opens the heart.” Jane Hope
What it is. You have probably tried yoga or perhaps other body movements like NIA , Tai Chi or QiGong. What you may not know is the importance of these practices to your state of mind and sense of well-being. Growing up, we all learned about the importance of getting exercise (recall Participaction?), not truly knowing how these various exercises work and how they impacted everything we do.
Although most people know yoga and other movements as stretching regimes or sets of exercises, many are based on thousand-year-old practices and are designed to move your body in such a way that energy (also called chi) is able to move more freely. You not only loosen up muscles and strengthen joints, but activate the chakras or energy points so that you actually feel an energetic boost. By moving your bodies in these fluid ways, you not only activate your body, but your mind as well.
Your body consists of millions of muscles continually expanding and contracting – from the tip of your head to the bottom of your feet. The more we move, the more these muscles and joints say alive and fluid. Each muscle movement activates some sort of energy in our body so if we do not move, our energy levels stagnate and even deplete – both mental and physical.
Unlike Western thinkers, Eastern societies do focus solely on the brain when diagnosing and dealing with things like anxiety and depression. Eastern medicines prefer a whole body perspective. They see the human body and all its parts as deeply interconnected and then physical aspects as just as important as the mental aspects. In Eastern medicine the idea of chi, or life energy, is critical to understanding illness. This life energy moves through us at all times. It ebbs and flows both naturally as well as in reaction to external circumstances.
How to do it. You can start yoga right now by doing some basic movements. Here are a few to try: Stand up and reach up into the air and gently roll your body down to touch your toes. Lie down and stretch your whole body from fingers to toes. Do gentle body twists and rollups (like sit ups) and dangle your arms and legs to improve movement and circulation. There are lots of other simple demonstrations in books and on the Internet.
I recommend signing up for a free introductory yoga class at a local studio or community center. Speak to the instructor to learn more about how yoga works and the different kinds of yoga practices. You can then decide if you prefer to do body movement alone at home (perhaps with the help of a video) or to join a regular group. One example of the power of a body movement is a simple smile.Thich Nhat Hanh recommends practicing “smile yoga,” a slight but authentic smile, many times during each day. As he says, “A tiny bud of a smile on your lips nourishes awareness and calms you miraculously.” A smile can send a physiological message to our mind that we are safe and free from harm.
What to notice. If you gently reach your arms up or roll your shoulders back you will feel your lungs expand and energy move down into your entire body. You may notice that you release energy that is trapped in your head and neck. If you slowly roll down and touch your toes you will notice tingling all the way down your neck and spine. As you let your body hang down you can stimulate your legs and feet. Every small movement has the possibility to open up closed joints or tight muscles. After any body movement you will feel more flexible, fluid and calm since you are freeing your body to move in the way in which it was designed.