4 Breathing Exercises to Help with Stress

Jobs are no cakewalk these days, even if you work at a confectionary.

Long hours with few breaks, stressful targets to achieve, and the peering eyes of your boss are just a few reasons working professionals are reporting more and more instances of work-related anxiety. If you have noticed, whenever you get agitated, angry or highly emotional the breathing becomes shallower and your reactions become less measured.

Breathing, while an involuntary action, can definitely be controlled and should be calm if one wants to get through the day with minimal stress.

Deep breathing helps stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, or PNS. This system is responsible for all the activities that happen in our body when it is at rest. It functions in a manner opposite to that of the sympathetic nervous system, which generally controls the primal instincts of fight-or-flight.

Doctors believe that by voluntarily changing the depth, pattern and rate of breathing you can change what signals are being sent to the brain. The breath, according to the yogis of old, is the vehicle of praan or the essential life force, we draw it in with every breath we take. Research even shows that changing the breathing pattern can help you access the autonomic communication network of the body, which can have powerful effects on ones thought, emotions and behaviour.

Here are some simple breathing exercises that are not time-consuming and yet very rewarding.

Equal Breathing

One of the easiest breathing exercises, sama vritti, or equal breathing is something you can do for a few minutes anywhere, be it at work, at home or even in the park.

To start, inhale for a count of four and exhale for the same count. Yogis were said to be able to increase this count by many minutes, but you can still aim for six to eight counts per breath. This exercise calms the nervous system, increases focus and reduces stress. If there’s any difficulty breathing, try this exercise before sleeping. It is very beneficial and effective.

Pythagorean pattern

This might sound a little challenging, but it is rather simple. Inhale slowly for five seconds, hold the breath in for three seconds and finally exhale slowly for four seconds. You may need a clock to ensure you are doing it for the right span of time, and do not try to unnecessarily prolong the duration. This exercise is known to keep yourself grounded in the present moment and help bring your panicked mind back on track. Try and hum a low sound when you are exhaling.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

Nadi Shodhanam, or alternate nostril breathing, is considered to be one of the most potent relaxation techniques out there. It infuses a sense of calm and centred awareness in the individual when practised regularly.

To do this exercise, first sit comfortably. Hold your right thumb over the right nostril and inhale through your left. At the peak of the inhalation cut off the left nostril with your ring finger and exhale with your right nostril. Continue for a few minutes. People have reported feeling as if they have just had a coffee after doing this exercise. This is a good way to calm down and for balance. Try this before an important meeting or a sales pitch and see the difference in your performance.

Abdominal Breathing

One of the easiest breathing exercises that can be performed, abdominal breathing can help you reduce blood pressure and stress. To do this exercise, put one hand on your chest and another on your stomach.

Take six to ten breaths a minute, long and deep, enough to ensure that your lungs expand and stretch your diaphragm. Do not allow your chest to rise and fall, make sure you are breathing from your diaphragm. Doing this exercise for about ten minutes every day can cause a palpable difference in your heart rate as well as blood pressure and leave you feeling calm and relaxed. While it may be difficult to control your breath at first it will get easier with time.

Do not discount breathing as being merely an involuntary activity. As far as your well-being goes, how you breathe has a lot to do with it. So make sure you are breathing right every day and making the most of every breath you take.

How to Incorporate Desktop Yoga into Your Workday

Long hours at work can be gruelling, not only because of the mental fatigue caused by performing demanding tasks, but also because the way you sit or stand at work can result in a body that’s achey, tired, sore, or even cramping.

Dangers of Desk Work

Desk workers, in particular, run the risk of damaging their health from too much sitting. CNN reports that “[t]here’s a direct relationship between time spent sitting and your risk of early mortality of any cause, researchers said, based on a study of nearly 8,000 adults. As your total sitting time increases, so does your risk of an early death.

Yikes. Somehow that desk chair doesn’t feel quite so relaxing anymore! Luckily, this same study found that getting up to move every thirty minutes or so reduced the negative side-effects of sitting significantly.

So, for a few simple movements that can help get that blood flowing, increase mental clarity, and stretch out tight muscles, read on!

Desk Yoga

You’d probably feel a bit odd performing a Downward Dog pose in your cubicle, or a Tree Pose behind the till – we would, too! But incorporating a bit of yoga into your workday doesn’t need to involve a wardrobe change or even a yoga mat.

Here, we share with you a few exercises excerpted from Elena Brower’s Office Yoga Sequence for Yoga Journal.  Brower is an experienced Yoga Teacher and author, and she’s put together several simple stretches that can easily be performed at your desk to loosen, lengthen, and relax tense bodies.

The Exercises

Sit: Begin by sitting with both feet flat on the floor, hands in your lap. Spend one or two minutes just being present and noticing the sounds around you.

Stretch: Still sitting, straighten your arms and raise them above your head, palms touching each other. Reach your fingertips toward the ceiling and imagining your spine lengthening, for five breaths.

Chair Pose: Slowly rise to stand, your feet hips width apart. Widen your hands to shoulder width and gently bend your knees as though you were going to sit down into a chair. Keep your weight in your heels and stay for three breaths.

Forward Bend: Stretch back up to standing, then gently fold forward to touch your toes (or as close as you can get!). Keep a slight bend in your knees and take 3-5 deep breaths into this posture.

Seated Cat and Cow: Return to your seat, feet flat on the floor and hands in your lap. With each inhale, gently round your back, bringing your chin into your chest – this is cat. With each exhale, arch your back, bringing your chin to the ceiling. Repeat 3-5 times.

Seated Simple Twist: To loosen a tight spine, sit tall in your chair and gently twist to the right, with your left hand on your right armrest, and your right hand behind you. Hold for 3-5 breaths before switching to the other side.

Sit: Finally, return to the beginning sitting pose. Sit for a few moments and notice any changes in your body. Are your breaths slower? Can you feel your heart beating? Does your neck feel looser? Absorb the feelings within your body and the environment around you. 

A True Quick Fix

This simple set of movements will only take a few minutes, but it can have immense benefits for your wellbeing. A quick desk yoga session can help to reset your sense of calm and focus, increase blood flow to your extremities, and loosen stiff muscles, too.

It may seem counterproductive but taking this kind of break every half hour to move your body can actually make you more productive at work, by helping to stave off the dangerous side-effects of work-related injuries.

Prioritise yourself and your wellbeing, and everyone wins!

Namaste.

Yoga Demystified: The Art and Science Behind an Ancient Practice

If you aren’t one of the millions of people globally who have taken at least one yoga class, you’ve almost certainly heard of it. Yoga, which blends stretching poses with mindful breathing, has exploded in popularity over the past decade. It’s gone from a little-known traditional practice to a mainstream pastime, with devoted practitioners and dedicated studios popping up in virtually every city.

But where did yoga originate? And why is it so effective at reducing stress, increasing fitness, and boosting mental health? In today’s post, we’re going to dive into the history of yoga, the art of practising, and the solid science behind its efficacy.

The Birthplace of Yoga

Yoga Basics explains that some scholars believe yoga originated almost 10,000 years ago in Northern India. “The word yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred texts, the Rig Veda,” they explain. “The Vedas were a collection of texts containing songs, mantras, and rituals to be used by Brahmans, the Vedic priests.”

Over the next few thousand years, yoga shifted, evolved, and gained in popularity, with the practice eventually making its way to the West in the late 1800s. And although thousands had been practicing yoga for centuries, it gained popularity as a pastime in mainstream culture when a Russian-born woman and yoga devotee, Indra Devi, opened a yoga studio in Hollywood in 1947.

Devi was one of the first women to practice yoga and many now refer to her as the Mother of Western Yoga.

Yoga Explained

The practice of yoga involves moving through a series of postures, called asanas, often with guided breathing. Some types, like Vinyasa yoga, ask you to move through postures fluidly one after the other, while others like Ashtanga yoga ask you to hold postures longer and move through a set of movements repetitively.

Bikram yoga is performed in a heated room, which is thought to increase muscle flexibility and help participants sweat. There are also variants of yoga practice for relaxation (often called yin yoga) and prenatal yoga classes specifically designed to avoid risk to pregnant yogis.

All you need to practice yoga is comfortable clothes (many choose fitted leggings and tank tops for ease of movement) and a yoga mat to increase the traction of your palms and feet with the floor. If you’re doing a fast-paced or challenging type of yoga, you may also want a small towel and water bottle.

Yoga Body

The physical benefits of yoga are hard to ignore, especially if you’ve ever taken a class. It’s common to emerge from a class experiencing that blissful post-yoga feeling of loose limbs, stretched muscles, and a light sweat. But how exactly does yoga benefit our bodies?

Vox Magazine analyzed over 50 studies to establish whether there are proven, measurable physical benefits of a regular yoga practice. Their analysis discovered that the popular practice works to “help alleviate lower back pain, improve strength and flexibility, and reduce inflammation in the body — which, in turn, can help stave off chronic disease and death.”

Among the most important studies they analyzed were:

2005: The Annals of Internal Medicine established that yoga was an excellent treatment for chronic lower back pain and began to be recommended as a course of treatment for those suffering from low-back pain.

2013: The Journal of the American College of Cardiology states that yoga can have a positive effect on conditions like atrial fibrillation, which is a pattern of abnormal heartbeats that worsens over time.

2014: The Journal of Clinical Oncology established that yoga can have health benefits for women undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

Given these studies, it seems that a lovely relaxed feeling is just the beginning of the many health benefits of yoga – and there are also significant benefits for your mind, too.

Yoga Mind

One of the reasons yoga has jumped in popularity in recent years is that it offers a meditative, mindful quality missing from many other exercise routines. Along with strengthening your body and stretching your muscles, yoga can also calm the mind and ease stress.

In fact, the Harvard Medical Journal states that yoga can “reduce the impact of exaggerated stress responses and may be helpful for both anxiety and depression”.

By working to harness the power of mindfulness, yoga can calm the arousal system – lowering heart rate and blood pressure. That feeling of calm after a good yoga class isn’t just in your mind!

A Powerful Combination

When you blend the mind-body benefits of yoga together, you’re looking at not just another way to work out, but a powerhouse practice that can have lasting benefits for your physical and mental health.

Choosing to establish a daily 30-minute yoga routine means that you’ll be able to work towards easing lower back pain, reducing stress and tension, increasing muscle tone, and helping to manage anxiety and depression. It’s one of the best habits you can choose to adopt!

If you can’t shell out for a yoga studio membership, don’t worry. While the class atmosphere can definitely help motivate and create a feeling of community, there are thousands of free yoga class tutorials readily available for you to follow along with online.

With yoga, wellbeing is literally at your fingertips.

These Tasty Sugarless Vegan Muffins are for Real

Who doesn’t love muffins, those small, dome-shaped spongy cakes made of eggs, baking powder and sugar? But, for the health conscious soul, this is a recipe for disaster since sugar or the ‘white poison’ is something best avoided. So, usher into your life the sugarless vegan muffin.

In this particular recipe, all you have to do is replace sugar with a tasty combination of bananas, unsweetened apple sauce, and soaked raisins to give the sweet buzz.

To Make the Apple Sauce
Peel two apples and boil them in water till they soften, and then blend them until smooth.

To Soak the Raisins
Put them in a jar of filtered water and leave them in the fridge to soak for at least 12 hours. Don’t throw away the water used to soak the raisins because it can be used to making tea or almond milk, and there is no add sweeteners since raisins have done the job.

Sugarless Vegan Muffins Recipe

Ingredients

3 bananas (the riper the better)
¼ cup of applesauce (unsweetened, as per instructions above)
¼ soaked raisins
½ cup of vegetable oil
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup flour

Instructions:

  1. Blend the bananas, applesauce, raisins and oil together.
  2. Mix well with the dry ingredients.
  3. Separate the dough in small portions and fashion them into the shape of cupcakes (add some raisins on the top of each cupcake shape if you like).
  4. Bake in a preheated oven for 20 minutes at 180 degrees.
  5. Enjoy with a cold glass of fresh juice.

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!

Vegetables or Vegetable Juices? The Daily Dilemma

We rely on vegetables for a wide range of nutrients and benefits like vitamins, minerals, fibres and antioxidants. But the confusion starts with deciding how to consume them. Eat them or drink vegetable juice? This is especially true when we need to balance our busy schedules, availability of ingredients, likes and dislikes among other factors.

3 Reasons to Consume Vegetables in Their Original Form

  1. Fibre is best available when vegetables are consumed as they are.
  2. Nutrients made available. Bite and chew on the veggies very well because adequately chewed food release nutrients.
  3. See how veggies go easy on the teeth and tummy using a simple trick. For people who have a compromised digestive system or dentition issues, the process of steaming/ pressure cooking/ boiling vegetables help maximise fibre intake. It is a common myth that cooking vegetables will take away its nutrients. That’s not true unless the vegetables are exposed to air, extreme heat (due to frying/ overcooking) for a prolonged period.

3 Reasons to Consume Vegetables Juices/Soups
You don’t need a chef or nutritionist to tell you to include 3 to 4 cups of vegetables in our daily meals. However, most people find it difficult to include more than one vegetable in their daily food schedule. This can be encouraged by adding vegetable juices/ soups in their day to day menu.

  1. A perfect mid-meal is unstrained vegetable juices/soups, which are known as negative calorie foods. They make the body spend more calories to digest than the calories they offer. No pain no gain – you work more to make a juice/ soup, but it is worth the effort. Vegetable soups/juices are low-calorie beverage choices which offer satisfaction as well.
  2. Hydration. Some find it difficult to adequately hydrate themselves due to low water intake habits. People working in an air-conditioned environment tend to drink less water. Those with fever, cough, or colds generally tend to lose more water than they consume. This, coupled with additional fluid requirements, becomes a task for them to attain optimum hydration. Well, coming to the rescue are vegetable juices/soups, which help achieve superior hydration.
  3. Antioxidants are little fussy creatures if they have to ‘work’ to the best of their capabilities for us. At any time, it depends on the vegetable chosen and the antioxidant considered – whether consuming a particular vegetable raw/ cooked/ souped or juiced will give us maximum antioxidant (E.g. – Lycopene is best available in tomato juices/ soups/ other processed food products versus a raw tomato.)

 

For best tolerance, raw vegetables might be better for the body during the day, and cooked vegetables and juices/soups might be better digested during the later part of the day.

A word of caution, however, avoid frozen/ preserved vegetables and ready to drink juices/ soups for they are high in sodium and preservatives.

To cut a long story short, a good blend of raw vegetables as salads, cooked vegetables as savoury food options and vegetable juices/soups as hydrants boost the total vegetable intake every day.

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