Yoga: Science From the Motherland

Each one of us is responsible for our choices, actions, and, in turn, our health. What we fail to understand is that health is not merely the absence of disease. It’s a state of physical, mental and social wellbeing. But, deep down at the grassroots of Indian philosophy, health has another meaningful dimension of spiritual wellbeing as well.

Yoga is a perfect blend of philosophy and health science. One who practices yoga could open up to a whole new perspective towards the way of living life.

What is Yoga?

The origin of Yoga dates back to ancient India, around 26,000 years ago. It has survived the test of time and has adapted itself to modern civilization. The power of Yoga is so commendable that it has marked its presence all across the globe.

Yoga is an art of controlling the activities of the mind. The word itself exudes peace and tranquillity. The underlying philosophy is that mind, body, and soul are connected. It is believed that the mind is the link between all sense organs and soul. A union between all the three would yield a blissful state of mind. In a nutshell, Yoga aims for a healthy mind in a healthy body.

Although originating in India, it is widely practised abroad. With expanding disposable incomes and waistlines, yoga seems to be a booming business, particularly in Europe, America, and Australia and of late in China too. It is the most sought-after path to live a happy and contented life. A path to strike a balance between mind, body and soul.

Why Yoga?

It’s a fact that our balance is often disrupted by our lifestyles. Choices about diet, exercise, profession, and relationships all have the potential to create physical, emotional, or spiritual imbalances. Such imbalance causes a lack of harmony and makes us more vulnerable to diseases. While people abroad realize the potential of yoga, Indians often tend to overlook this miraculous healing philosophy right at their door step.

Inside-Out Healing: Yoga Science from India

While asanas work on the body, meditation works on the mind – the origin of all thoughts, positive, negative, or grey.

Meditation helps channel such thoughts in the right direction, while Asanas enable physical fitness. The mind does not just think, imagine, judge or analyze but is also immersed in subtle qualities such as peace, calmness, and knowledge.

Yoga helps to enrich these aspects of the mind while moderating aspects such as aggression, lethargy, idleness, and apathy. Mastering yoga would essentially be a qualification to live a wholesome life. Because, no matter where we are, our thoughts are reflected in our actions and actions reflect our personality as:

  •  Harmony within the self, connection with our essential nature
  •  Harmony within the family and society
  • Interconnection with the entire humanity
  • Interconnection with all of the creation

So, undoubtedly, Yoga is universal. It is possible for anybody who really wants it. But, it is 99% practice and 1% Theory. One who practices treads on a path of rightful living- steady, wise, calm, and healthy.

Why Yoga Should be Part of Your Life

A regular yoga practice can benefit you physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. While some practice yoga for weight loss, to manage hypertension, lower cholesterol, or for other physical reasons, many people adopt the practice to enjoy a peaceful life. Whatever is the reason, those who include yoga as a quintessential ingredient of their lives report enjoying a higher quality of life.

So why should you adopt Yoga? Here a few reasons!

Helps with Weight Management

Through the twists and bends and cleansing practices, yoga stimulates detoxification, the preliminary requirement for effective weight loss. Also, it promotes better metabolism and fat burning potential. A regular practice of yoga also helps to reduce stress, thereby lowering cortisol, the primary culprit behind the dreaded belly fat.

Yoga also improves muscle mass and tones and shapes up the body. In short, it helps you eliminate the excess fat and gives you a wonderful shape.

Stronger Bones and Joints

The various balancing postures of yoga improve bone density and strengthen the joints and bones. This cuts down the risks of osteoporosis, fractures, and arthritis through bone loss.

Improves Muscle Tone and Strength

Asanas strengthen the muscles and encourage muscle definition. The increased oxygenation through conscious breathing patterns also ensures that the fascia remains flexible, thereby improving muscle tone and strength.

Corrects Postural Imbalances

Sitting in front of the PC for longer durations, improper standing, and sleeping postures, and lifting weights the incorrect way disrupts the posture. Studies reveal that people who practice yoga regularly have better posture and less pain. Yoga poses help to make the spine longer, stronger, and more supple. This also helps to ease postural troubles, including back pain and cervical issues.

Helps with Menstruation and Menopause Issues

Yoga may help to ease menstrual woes including water retention, bloating, dysmenorrhea, amenorrhea, and irregular menstrual cycles. Various restorative and balancing poses are also known to help with menopausal symptom management, including hot flashes and osteoporosis.

Helps Keep Diabetes Under Control

Various yoga poses and Pranayama techniques could help to improve insulin sensitivity, lower anti-diabetic drug usage, promote weight loss, and curb spiralling sugar levels. Yoga also helps to lower stress, one of the primary contributing factors to Type II Diabetes. Yoga, when practised regularly, gives diabetic patients a chance to enjoy a better lifestyle.

Therapeutic for Stress and Anxiety

Lower stress and anxiety are two reasons why many people opt for doing yoga. And, yes, studies have proven that yoga poses, especially inversions and restorative poses do lower cortisol. Simultaneously, various asanas and Pranayama techniques uplift the mood by triggering the secretion of feel-good hormones, dopamine, and serotonin.

Good for Healthy Digestive System

Yoga poses ease digestive woes including hyperacidity, bloating, and flatulence. Certain poses like Pavanamuktasana work directly on the abdomen, offering immediate relief. Regular practice of Vajrasana, the Thunderbolt Pose, is known to boost digestive fire. In addition, the yogic twists ensure that toxins are expelled, thereby offering relief from constipation.

Helps with High Blood Pressure

Conscious breathing practices promote better oxygen intake, thereby improving circulation and keeping the blood pressure under control.

Gifts a Good Night’s Sleep

A 15-minute gentle yoga session before bedtime helps you sleep better. Studies suggest that yoga is therapeutic for insomnia as well.

Last but not least, regular practice of yoga could help you lead a better life. So take your pick of reasons, and make yoga a part of your life!

Why Cardio is Worth More Than a Workout

The internet is the unwitting vehicle for a lot of misconceptions about cardiovascular exercises. A particularly damaging one is this frequent retort of many iron pumping worshippers: “Cardio kills gains, man!”

This myth has been demystified several times, but it still keeps doing the rounds of body-building forums and gym locker rooms. Added to the idea that cardio lessens muscle tone is the notion that you need cardio only when you wish to lose weight. This is not just untrue, but also undermines a lot of the work researchers and doctors have put in studying and understanding the benefits of cardiovascular activity.

Our goal is to not only clear cardio’s name but also prove to you that it can be one of the most effective weapons in your fight for a healthy body and a happy mind. Here are four reasons why cardio is worth more than just the calories you expend while doing it.

Cardio Helps the Body Heal
Inflammation is a natural part of the body’s healing process, but not all inflammation is good. The inflammation accompanying rheumatoid arthritis, for instance, is just pointlessly painful.

A recent research in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that even low-to-moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise was far better for inflammation than resistance training. The best results could probably be achieved through a combination of resistance training and aerobics, but this study validates much of what cardio-bunnies have been saying for ages: cardio helps alleviate pain.

Cardio is Good for the Heart
This should be a no-brainer. It is in the name, after all! Not to mention the fact that doctors have been telling us this for ages.

But the shrouds of misinformation have muffled these well-meaning voices too. The heart is one of the hardest working organs of our body. Exercising it the right way improves its endurance by strengthening it and also reducing the bad cholesterol that impedes its work.  This effect might not feel as immediate and palpable as seeing your “guns” pop out, but it is equally important.

Cardio Helps with Depression and Anxiety
Anecdotally, cardio lifts your mood –  the runner’s high is not a wishful myth. But it has proven to have a deeper positive effect for people suffering from depression and generalized anxiety disorder when used in conjunction with the relevant medication.

While the exact pathways are unclear, researchers say this improvement could be the result of an increase in the levels of endorphins or neurotransmitters.

Cardio Improves Bone Health
Research has shown that rigorous and regular weight-bearing exercises like walking, running, and resistance training have a marked effect on bone tissue, both strengthening and reinforcing it.

Bone health is crucial for higher quality of life. Cardio also helps maintain higher than average bone-mass throughout life, preventing early onset of osteoporosis and other bone-related diseases.

The results of any physical activity are optimized by knowing and adhering to best-practices, also remember that your cardio routine should not be a static thing. You should plan to diversify your routine by incorporating different varieties and intensities of the exercise. But be assured that any well-planned cardio routine will keep you strong, lithe, and healthy.

The Princely Benefits of Fresh Air

While we grew up frolicking through fields, swinging at the park and cruising along on our bikes, as adults, many of us spend most of our time indoors. But all of those hours spent outside were actually good for more than using up our unlimited childhood energy.

Even though it doesn’t take Einstein to know that fresh air is good for the health, science has some solid evidence about the benefits of a lung full of fresh air.

A Breath of Fresh Air

People often tend to forget about the importance of spending time outside and underestimate the health benefits it brings along. If you are spending most of your time inside an air-conditioned office or home, you are forcing your body to use stale air. By doing so, you are making it harder for your body to stay healthy and fresh.

Breathing polluted air makes the body work harder to get the oxygen it needs, so individuals with high blood pressure benefit from avoiding unclean environment. White blood cells need oxygen to fight bacteria and kill harmful germs. 20 percent of the body’s oxygen is dedicated to helping boost brain activity. Fresh air assists in clearer thinking and improved concentration. It helps airways in the lungs dilate fully and expel airborne toxins.

The Best Medicine

High oxygen levels in the body have also been shown to prevent cancer and decrease the growth rate of cancer cells. Indoor and outdoor air differs in quality. Indoors, there is a higher concentration of pollutants, so unless the air is regularly exchanged, it lacks the freshness needed to benefit the body.

Breathing fresh air increases the efficiency of body reactions and is a key component in getting a good night’s sleep. And while it is important to hit the outdoors within the city you live in, spending some time outside of the city can give some bonus points to your life.

Fresh Air for Digestion

Fresh air helps in food digestion. That is why it is advised to take a small walk outside after meals. From all the health benefits of fresh air, this one is really important if weight loss is your agenda.

Improves Blood Pressure and Heart Rate

If you have a problem with high blood pressure you should avoid polluted environments and try to stay in surroundings that have a good supply of fresh air. Dirty environment forces the body to work harder to get the amount of oxygen it needs.

Happier Personality

The amount of serotonin in the body depends on the amount of oxygen inhaled. Serotonin can significantly lighten your mood and promote a sense of happiness and well-being. Fresh air will leave you feeling more refreshed and relaxed.

Strengthens Your Immune System

White blood cells kill and fight bacteria and germs. They need enough oxygen to work and function properly.

Cleaner Lungs

Fresh air helps the airways of your lungs to dilate fully and improve the cleansing action of your lungs. When you exhale and breathe out through your lungs, you release airborne toxins from your body.

More Energy and a Sharper Mind

Fresh air helps you think better and increases energy levels. Your brain needs twenty percent of the body’s oxygen. More oxygen brings greater clarity to the brain, improves your concentration, helps you to think more clearly, and has a positive effect on your energy level.

So, leave the closed confines of your air-conditioned home and workspace behind once a while, head out into the wild and take a few fresh breaths every now and then.

Neck Exercises for the Workplace

When you’re working in an office all day, it can be hard to hit the gym for a workout session. Sometimes, this lack of movement can have negative effects on the neck, back, legs, eyes and arms. Short bouts of aerobics, strength exercises, and stretching in between conference calls and Skype chats can help improve fitness levels and heart health.

Here are some neck exercises you can do at your workplace and get rid of that nagging ache.

Shoulder Movement

Apart from giving that occasional shrug to your colleague’s question at work, there is not much shoulder movement that any of us do in the course of a normal workday. But many of us carry our heavy laptop bags on the shoulder every day to work and back home, which may cause shoulder strain. This is an easy to do exercise and does not require much effort.

You may either stand up for a moment or if you are in a comfortable position, where your hands and legs are relaxed, you can continue sitting while doing this exercise.

  • Place your hands on the desk, parallel to each other.
  • Move your shoulder in a circular motion.
  • Do two sets clockwise and two anti-clockwise.

Chin Roll

Along with your back, your neck is the worst hit body part while you sit in a crouched position on your desk. To relax your neck and give it a break from that dropped position, do the following.

  • Gently drop your neck to feel a stretch at the back of your neck, and close your eyes.
  • Place your hands in the same position- on your desk, parallel to each other, with palms facing the table.
  • Gently move your neck to create a circle with your chin.
  • Two sets clockwise and two sets anti-clockwise.

Side Neck Movement

This is one of our favourite exercises while on my desk. Few things give more relief than the diagonal neck drop.

  • Relax your shoulders
  • Bring your hands closer to your body and take a deep breath
  • Gently drop your neck on the left shoulder to feel a subtle pull or stretch on your right
  • Repeat the same by slowly dropping your neck on the right, to feel a gentle stretch on your left
  • While performing this exercise, you need to take it slow and ensure that you don’t sit with ‘drooped’ or ‘dropped’ shoulders.

Up and Down

You look down in desperation and up for help! But here we’ll be looking both up and down for help. Again, while performing this exercise, you need to be very gentle on yourself and not rush through it.

  • Move a little away from your desk.
  • Place your hands on your lap, with palms facing downwards. This helps give your shoulder a comfortable position and back is relaxed too.
  • Slowly drop your neck to feel a stretch or pull at the back.
  • Lift your chin until when your neck appears to lie in between the shoulders and gives you a gentle stretch in the front.

What is Anxiety, and How Do You Treat it?

Anxiety is not an unknown phenomenon in today’s world, where everyone and everything is focused on achievement at all costs. Lucky is the person who remains untouched by the haunts of anxiety.

Most of us have had those sleepless nights before an exam that we weren’t well prepared for, or felt down in the dumps on what felt like the worst day of our lives. But the question remains, is it normal to feel this way? Or is it a psychological disorder?

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome. It is the human body’s natural response to danger, an automatic alarm that goes off when you feel threatened, are under pressure or face a stressful situation.

Causes of Anxiety

We are all aware of the butterflies that flutter in our stomach at the thought of taking an exam, attending an interview, starting a new job, moving away from home, having a baby, or before any event that tends to have a big impact on our lives.

Different people have different anxiety triggers. Even though anxiety is a normal human condition, it’ is sometimes hard to know when a normal feeling is turning into a bigger problem. Remember, if your anxiety is very high, or the feeling lasts for a long time, it can signify something larger than a temporary feeling.

You might find yourself worrying all the time, perhaps about things that are a regular part of everyday life, or about things that aren’t likely to happen – or even worrying about worrying.

There are chances that you might regularly experience unpleasant physical and psychological effects of anxiety and may face panic attacks. However, depending on the kind of problems you experience, an expert might have given a diagnosis of a specific type of anxiety disorder.

Anxiety Symptoms

Depending on the type of anxiety disorder, the following are some general symptoms you may face:

  • Panic, fear, and uneasiness
  • Concentration issues
  • Sleep problems
  • Feeling tense and jumpy
  • Anticipating the worst
  • Cold, sweaty hands or feet
  • Breathlessness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Watching for signs of danger
  • Not being able to be still and calm
  • Dry mouth
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Stomach upset or dizziness
  • Frequent urination or diarrhoea
  • Tremors and twitches
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Hyperventilation
  • Hot flashes or chills
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Nausea or stomach cramps
  • Feeling detached or unreal

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Different people suffer from different anxiety disorders. Some common ones include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): It is a condition wherein a person feels anxious on most days, worrying about health, money, family, work or school, but they have trouble both identifying the specific fear and controlling the worries for a period of six months or more. Their fear is usually unrealistic or out of proportion with what may be expected in their situation. Those suffering expect failure and disaster to the point that it interferes with daily functions like work, school, social activities, and relationships.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): A person has ongoing unwanted/intrusive thoughts and fears that cause anxiety. Although the person may acknowledge these thoughts as silly, they often try to relieve their anxiety by carrying out certain behaviours or rituals. For example, a fear of germs and contamination can lead to constant washing of hands and clothes.
  • Panic Disorder: This is a type of anxiety characterized by brief or sudden attacks of intense terror and apprehension that leads to shivers, confusion, dizziness, nausea, and difficulty in breathing. Panic attacks tend to rise abruptly and peak after 10 minutes, but they may last for hours. Panic disorders usually occur after frightening experiences or prolonged stress, but they can be spontaneous as well.
  • Specific phobias: A person feels very fearful about a particular object or situation and may go to great lengths to avoid it, for example, being administered an injection or travelling on a plane. There are many different types of phobias.

How to Treat Anxiety
Panic attacks and panic disorder are curable conditions. Any person suffering from these disorders can be effectively treated with self-help strategies or a series of therapy sessions.

Self-help: There are various changes you can make to your life to help reduce feelings of anxiety. Doing some regular physical activity, cutting down on caffeine and eating a healthy diet can also come handy. Learning some relaxation techniques or reading self-help books may improve your symptoms too.

It might also help to contact and talk to other people who have anxiety disorders through charities and patient groups. They may be going through something similar to you and be a good source of support and advice.

TIP:  Avoid smoking and caffeine; learn how to control your breathing; Practice relaxation techniques; meditate on a regular basis.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy: This is generally viewed as the most effective form of treatment for panic attacks, panic disorder, and agoraphobia. It focuses on the thinking patterns and behaviours that are sustaining or triggering the panic attacks. It helps you look at your fears in a more realistic light.

With these approaches and the support of family, friends, and medical professionals you’ll be able to tackle the root cause of your anxiety and begin to live worry-free.

Ashtanga Yoga Poses and Asanas, and Their Benefits to You

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, or simply Ashtanga Yoga, is the modern form of the traditional Hatha Yoga and forms the basis of almost all vinyasa, power and flow style yogas that are popular in the west today. Its roots go back to the early 1900s to an ancient text called Yoga Korunta, written by Vamana Rishi. The text was then passed on down from teacher to disciple and by 1927, it was imparted by Krishnamacharya to the then 12-year-old Sri K Pattabhi Jois. By 1948, Pattabhi Jois had set up the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore where he propagated his drive to promote and popularize this specific form of yoga.

Ashtanga Yoga: The Eightfold Path
Ashtanga Yoga literally means “eight-limbed yoga”; that is, the eight-fold path towards the attainment of peace of mind (ashta= eight, anga= limbs, yoga= peace of mind).

According to Patanjali, author of Yoga Sutra, the quest for inner peace involves an eight-phase journey:

  • Yama (moral codes)
  • Niyama (self-purification and study)
  • Asana (posture)
  • Pranayama (breath control)
  • Pratyahara (sense control)
  • Dharana (concentration)
  • Dhyana (meditation)
  • Samadhi (contemplation)

The first four limbs- Yama, Niyama, Asana and Pranayama – are considered as external cleansing practices while the next four- Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi – are internal cleansing practices.

According to Pattabhi Jois, any defects incurred during any or all of the external practices can be rectified but defects in the internal practices cannot, and is dangerous for the mind if the precise method of Ashtanga Yoga is not followed.

How (and Why)  Practice Ashtanga?
The term ‘vinyasa’ refers to the alignment of movement and breath, creating a dynamic flow to the transitions between asanas, wherein more attention is given to the breath and the journey from each asana to another, rather than on merely attaining the perfect body alignment.

The breathing technique in Ashtanga is referred to as ‘free breathing with sound’ by Sharath Jois, Director of the K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute. Each breath is relaxed and aligned with every movement, while a sound like that of the ocean resonates in the throat. Vinyasa and this breathing style together produce internal heat which leads to proper blood circulation and perspiration, thereby cleansing the body in the process.

Bandha, or muscle locking, is another important principle of Ashtanga which assists the practitioner in maintaining an asana position and also moving in and out of it.

There are basically three main Bandhas, namely the Mula Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha and the Jalandhara Bandha.

The Mula Bandha, or root lock, is the tightening of the pelvic and perineal muscles.

Uddiyana Bandha is the contraction of the lower abdominal muscles. It is considered to be the most important Bandha as it supports your breathing and strengthens the core muscles.

Jalandhara Bandha is performed by extending the neck and elevating the sternum (breastbone) as you lower your head till your chin touches your chest, while your tongue pushes against the palate. It prevents pranic energy from escaping and also stops any pressure build-up in the head while holding your breath.

Drishti (focused gaze) is where you look at while in an asana. Its primary intention is to develop concentration and focus. The most commonly practised Drishti is Urdhva, or upward gazing, where the eyes are lifted while the body is perfectly aligned from crown to tailbone. Apart from Urdhva, there are eight other Drishtis which instruct you where to direct your gaze during each asana.

Ashtanga Away!
When practised diligently, Ashtanga Yoga brings physical and mental afflictions to rest, and you are able to experience vibrant health and sharp self- awareness.

The mind is brought under control and subsequently, the six poisons as per the Yoga Shastra that surround the spiritual heart- kama (desire), krodha (anger), moha (delusion), lobha (greed), matsarya (envy) and mada (sloth)-  are burned away and the light of your inner peace shines forth!

5 Yoga Poses for a Leaner You

Strength training and cardio do wonders when it comes to weight loss and body toning. But what if you could get the benefits of both in one place?

This is where yoga steps in. The style of Vinyasa, or flow yoga, gives you the benefit of both strength training and a cardio workout. The fast-paced transitions get your heart rate up, and when you hold the poses for at least 60 seconds, you will feel the burn and reap the advantages of strength training.

Here are five poses that you could practice daily to gift yourself a leaner, toned body!

Utkatasana – The Chair Pose

It works on your core, arms, back, legs, and glutes. All you have to do is to sit on that imaginary chair.

  • Stand with your feet together. Let the hands rest on your waist, fingers pointing toward your chest. Inhale, and as you exhale, engage your core and thigh muscles.
  • Take a short inhalation and while breathing out, push your hips back and sit as if there is a chair. Stack your knees over your ankles in such a way that your toes are visible.
  • Pull your navel towards your spine and angle your torso slightly forward to lengthen your spine. Take a breath in through your nose and swing your arms over your head, aligning them with your ears.

Initially, you might find it tough to bring your thighs parallel to the floor but just aim for that. If you have a knee injury, keep your hips slightly higher.

Do not forget to breathe as you hold the pose. Start with 7 seconds and increase the time to 2 minutes.

Want to deepen this pose? Lift your heels off the floor and balance yourself on the balls of your feet.

Trikonasana – The Triangle Pose

This pose works on the entire body. Along with burning fat from your love handles and abdomen, it tones up the thighs and calves. Just make sure that you are lengthening the spine as you get into the posture.

  • Keep a micro-bend in your front knee, if you have any injuries.
  • From Utkatasana, inhale and straighten your legs and release your arms on either side. Exhale and step your left feet about 3 feet away from your right feet. Let the left toes point sideways. Keep the hips squared to the front. Inhale and stretch the hands at shoulder level. With the next exhalation, lean to your left and bend, moving the left hand towards the floor.
  • Let the right hand and chest open to the ceiling. Allow your left hand to rest inside your left foot. Straighten your tailbone and keep your core engaged. Keep the knees should be straight. Fix your gaze on the ceiling.
  • The aim is to open the chest to the ceiling. So, if you are not able to touch the floor, it is fine. Rest your palm against the shin of your calf.
  • Hold the posture for five deep breaths. Inhale and come up with the starting position. Repeat on the other side. Aim to hold for 60 seconds to feel the burn.
  • Deepen: Try coming into a bind. Bend your front leg. Bring your bottom arm through under the knee of the front leg. Place the top arm behind your back so that your chest opens up. Clasp the fingers.

Padangushtasana – Hand to Big Toe Pose

Stress is a major culprit when it comes to obesity, especially around the abdominal area. This pose helps to relieve stress and helps tone your abdomen, calves, and thighs.

  • Join your feet after your complete Trikonasana, and separate them as wide as your hips. Inhale and swing your arms over your head. As you breathe out, fold forward from your hips.
  • Rest your abdomen on your thighs. If your abdomen is not on your thighs, keep your knees bent, Hold the big toes of your legs with your thumb, index, and middle fingers. The thumb should rest on top of your big toe.
  • Inhale and look up, lifting your chest up. With the next exhalation, bend forward completely, pushing your hips up and lengthening your spine. Bend your elbows to the sides to create length in the spine.
  • Hold the posture for five breaths.
  • Deepen: Place your palms beneath your feet in such a way that your toes are resting on your wrists. Repeat the rest as mentioned above.

Navasana – Boat Pose

Tone your core and strengthen your abdominal area with this powerful pose.

  • With the last exhalation in Padangushtasna, release your arms and legs. Sit down and stretch out the legs. Take an inhalation and lengthen your spine. As you exhale, lean slightly backwards and lift your legs away from the floor.
  • Engage your core muscles and roll your thighs inward. Balance yourself on your hips. Align your torso and legs at an angle of 45 degrees for the best benefits. Lift your hands parallel to the floor.
  • Engaging the navel in, hold the posture for five deep breaths.
  • Keep your knees bent till your core becomes stable.
  • Deepen: Do a Boat Vinyasa alternating between low and high boat. Exhale and lower your torso so that lower back rests on the floor while the chest is still up. Lower the legs and feel your lower abs reacting! Hold for five breaths before coming back into the Paripurna Navasana. Repeat three times.

Paschimottanasana – Seated Forward Bend

This pose massages your abdomen and spine while stretching your hamstrings and calves. Here too, ensure that your spine is long and not rounded. Use a cushion to lift your hips slightly up to prevent the spine from rounding.

  • On the final exhalation in Navasana, slowly release your legs and arms.
  • Stretch the legs out and sit with the spine straight. Inhale and sweep your hands above your head. Exhale and bend forward from the hips and hold the feet with your hands.  Keep the knees slightly bent so avoid exertion on the spine. Let the headrest close to the shin. Hold the posture for five deep breaths.
  • Inhale and release your arms and legs from Paschimottanasana. Shake out the legs and arms to relax. Take five deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. This breathing exercise will help you repeat the sequence one more time.

Aim to exercise at least five times a week. Along with exercise, a healthy, balanced diet, 8 hours of sleep, and 2 litres of water a day will gift you your dream body.

5 Natural Remedies to Treat Varicose Veins

Although we tend to classify them as a woman’s problem, both men and women develop varicose veins –  those bulgy veins that appear lumpy and dark in colour (usually blue or purple).

In fact, according to the Department of Health and Human Science, about 50-55 percent of women and 40-45 percent of men suffer from some sort of problem with their veins, with varicose veins affecting about half of all people 50 years and older.

They’re a common problem among older or pregnant women due to hormonal influences, and they tend to develop over time as we age and our veins lose their natural elasticity due to rising levels of inflammation.

Women are at least twice as likely than men to develop varicose veins, but people of any age and gender can be affected. They’re usually most noticeable on – and therefore the biggest concern for –  people with light skin.

Treatment

There are a number of different ways to prevent and treat varicose veins, ranging from expensive surgeries to using natural essential oils. Before turning to irritating prescription creams or expensive laser surgeries – which aren’t always effective and should really be considered last-resort options – it’s a good idea to try varicose vein home remedies first to lower the visibility of bulging veins without much risk involved.

Natural Treatment for Varicose Veins

Varicose veins are always a symptom of an underlying venous insufficiency disorder. This is true whether or not you experience other symptoms like pain and swelling.

If you visit a dermatologist or doctor to talk about treatment options, you’ll likely be advised to make certain lifestyle modifications first, before surgery or other treatments are even considered. These can greatly help decrease blood pooling in your veins, while also offering many other perks like more energy, clearer skin, better heart health and improved digestion. And the best part is that natural remedies pose little to no risk and are far less expensive than surgeries too.

Exercise: Regular physical exercise is one of the best things you can do to improve blood flow and lower inflammation, which you can add to the extensive list of exercise benefits.

The National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute states that sitting (especially with poor postures – like forward-head posture or with your legs crossed) or standing for long period of time without moving around much is associated with an increased risk for varicose veins and other forms of blood pooling.

When you stay stagnant for too long, it’s harder for your veins to pump blood efficiently back to your heart and fight the effects of gravity. Exercise is also a great way to help balance hormones naturally, lose weight or maintain a healthy body weight, and lower blood pressure, which can all contribute to varicose veins.

Low-impact exercises, such as walking, swimming and bicycling, are also ideal for varicose vein patients since they alleviate pressure. If you experience pain when starting to exercise, take it slowly and try icing or heating sore muscles after a workout. You can also elevate your legs to help decrease swelling and pain, or try wearing compression stockings to create gentle pressure up the leg that keeps blood from accumulating.

Maintaining a Healthy Weight

People who are overweight are more likely to develop varicose veins, especially overweight women. Carrying excess body weight puts higher amounts of pressure on your veins and can contribute to inflammation or reflux, especially in the largest superficial veins, such as the saphenous vein in the legs.

Essential Oils for Balancing Hormones

Various essential oils are beneficial for improving blood flow, while also lowering inflammation and hormonal imbalances. One of the best for specifically treating vein problems is cypress oil, which has the ability to increase circulation and support the circulatory system. Try rubbing five drops of cypress essential oil on the problematic area twice daily for several weeks.

If you experience muscle aches, swelling or skin blisters, try using other diluted essential oils like peppermint, tea tree and lavender oil in small amounts to soothe problem areas.

An Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Certain foods can help reverse inflammation and improve blood flow, making it possible to heal varicose veins faster and prevent future ones from forming. A poor diet – high in things like trans fats, sugar, caffeine, alcohol and processed foods – can contribute to arterial damage, low circulation, blood pressure problems, hormonal imbalances, and weight gain. Many of these foods are also high-sodium foods, which is dehydrating, and contain toxins that can worsen swelling in varicose veins.

Some of the best anti-inflammatory foods for reducing the appearance of varicose veins include:

  • High-Fibre Food: Fibre helps improve heart health and is also necessary for healthy digestive functions. Eating 30-40 grams of fibre-rich food every day is a great way to prevent constipation, which can cause bloating and increased pressure on the veins around the abdomen and legs.High-fibre foods to eat include chia seeds and flaxseeds, (which are also omega-3 foods, which are anti-inflammatory), vegetables, fresh fruit, and soaked/sprouted legumes and ancient grains.
  • High-Antioxidant Food: Antioxidants, such as flavonoids (present in berries), vitamin C and vitamin E (both present in green veggies and citrus fruits), help strengthen veins, fight inflammation and improve arterial health. Vitamin E is known to help prevent blood clots, acts as a natural blood thinner and is tied to heart health. Vitamin C is a powerful anti-inflammatory and beneficial for skin health.
  • Natural Diuretics: Doctors sometimes use diuretic pills to help increase urination and reduce water retention or swelling. You can get the same effect safely by consuming things like fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro, basil), fennel, dandelion greens, cucumber, asparagus and celery.
  • Magnesium-Rich Foods: Blood pooling, blood pressure problems and leg cramps (like restless leg syndrome) are warning signs of deficiencies in electrolytes like potassium and magnesium. To overcome these symptoms, increase intake of things like leafy greens, avocado, bananas, cruciferous veggies and sweet potatoes.
  • Spicy Foods: Foods with spices such as cayenne pepper or curry help heat up the body and gets blood flowing, adding to healthy circulation and even appetite/weight control.
  • Wild-Caught Fish: Fish and seafood like wild salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and tuna provide omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for proper blood flow.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV): ACV improves circulation in the vein walls and is an effective anti-inflammatory. Many people find that using ACV along with witch hazel on varicose veins helps lower swelling and improves their appearance within a few weeks.
  • Natural Herbs Including Bilberry and Horse Chestnut: Bilberry and horse chestnut, two plants that are thousands of years old and included in many popular folk remedies, have been found to be both effective and safe for treating varicose veins. Both have been studied for chronic venous insufficiency that causes pain, ankle swelling, feelings of heaviness, itching and night-time leg cramping. They’re also beneficial for lowering water retention, circulatory problems, swelling, diarrhoea, PMS cramps and other skin-related conditions.

Unable to Focus? Meditation May Be the Key!

If you often find yourself easily distracted, unable to focus, or rapidly flipping between several tasks at once, you’re not alone. Experts say that our ability to concentrate is at an all-time low, with many studies blaming social media, fast-paced TV shows, and increasing pressure to multi-task.

How Bad Is It?

One study found that we might have a worse attention span than the lowly goldfish, with UK paper The Telegraph reporting that “[r]esearchers surveyed 2,000 participants in Canada and studied the brain activity of 112 others using electroencephalograms. The results showed the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000, or around the time the mobile revolution began, to eight seconds.”

The attention span of the average goldfish? Nine seconds.

Yikes.

Why Does Focus Matter?

Being able to focus and concentrate on the task at hand is a vital skill, one that will serve you in virtually every aspect of your life, including your education, career, and personal relationships.

Huffington Post reports on research from Neuroscientist Russel Podrack, which found that our memory function suffers when distracted. The article explains, “[o]ur short-term, or working memory can’t handle too many bits of information, and it can only hold information for about 10 seconds. If you overload this short-term memory by responding to a text…you will interrupt the flow of information from your working memory to the long-term memory area of your brain, where copious amounts of data are stored, processed, and made ready for retrieval by your conscious mind”.

Essentially, a lack of focus means that your brain will be unable to transfer information from your short-term memory to long-term memory. There’s not much use learning someone you won’t be able to remember later!

How to Increase Focus with Meditation

Most advice about how to increase your mental focus includes meditation because its one of the best tools to retrain your brain.

Fast Company reports, “[a] study from Emory University found that 20 minutes of daily meditation is associated with activity and connectivity changes in the region of the brain that controls attention, allowing you to disengage from distraction”.

Research also shows that increasing your ability to focus through meditation can do far more than just help you learn and retain information. A study by Italian neuroscientist Giuseppe Pagnoni demonstrates that those who meditate regularly are less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, explaining “by controlling the brain regions responsible for letting the mind wander to gloomy thoughts, someone with the blues may be able to keep their mind trained on the positive.”

If you’re looking to improve your focus, a daily meditation practice is one of the best ways to go about it.

Mental Muscles

As you embark upon your meditation journey in search of increased focus and improved concentration, it’s important to be patient with yourself.

Think of your mental focus as a muscle that you’ve allowed to atrophy over the course of years (sometimes decades) of distraction. It’ll take some time to strengthen it again, too! Begin small with two minutes of meditation each day, and slowly work up to twenty minutes.

Over time, meditation will become less of a struggle for your distracted mind, and you will be able to regain control over your focus – lengthening your attention span, improving concentration, and eventually far outperforming that little goldfish.