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BikramT

I gave a talk in 2003 at Bikram’s one time Yoga Expo, “Why Do We Practice Yoga, Firm Buttocks or Self Realization?” And I of course say “Yes” to both.  In a recent article on MSN/health, “10 Reasons Your Belly Fat Isn’t Going Away” I realized that I could now give a talk entitled: “Why do we Practice Yoga: Flat Belly!”

The List

“Your sweat sessions don’t involve sweat [ Make sure your cardio intensity is high enough so that you sweat.]

You’re on a low-fat diet [Add healthy plant based fats such as olive oil or avocados to your diet.]

You’ve been feeling blue for a while [Depression is linked to poor eating habits and limited physical activity.]

Your food comes from a box [Carbohydrates can spike insulin levels.]

You’re skimping on the miracle mineral [Eat foods rich in magnesium.]

You’re hooked on diet soda [Think you are saving more calories than you are?]

You love Burgers [Eat more salmon.]

You think girls don’t get beer guts [Wine or beer can cause belly fat.]

Can’t recall when you last said ‘Om” [See explanation below.]

Your meals are beige” [Eat a rich pallate of color for a skinny mid section.]

This is a good list and worth your consideration.

However, Sheila Dugan, MD was cited suggesting, “Not a fan of Sun Salutations? Take an hour to do something nice for yourself, which could help control your stress hormones.”

I am suggesting that a regular hatha yoga practice can positively affect your belly fat and your mood. This online article went on to say,   “Menopause-related hormonal changes (which typically begin in your 40s) make it harder to shed stomach pudge——but vigorous yoga can help offset the effects. A 2012 study found that postmenopausal women who did an hour-long yoga session three times a week for 16 weeks lost more than 1/2 inch around their waists.”  Even though this study cited women, yoga for streamlining the torso applies to men as well.

I would say that it is not just sun salutations, the yoga practice warm-up preparing your muscles and your spinal column for the demands of other postures.  It is rather the gentle squeezing and releasing action of the yoga postures that contribute to a flat belly.  Various postures put a tourniquet on the muscle, organ or gland.  The release increases circulation.  This increase in circulation is beneficial and allows the glands to release their hormones directly into our systems.

These five asanas are at the top of my list for reducing and utilizing the middle section of our body.  Sitting at desks, driving, checking our devices has us in forward facing, none twisting positions most of our day.  Twisting and backbends reverse this habit pattern.

IMG_3163IMG_3164Use Warrior one…

with the focus on lifting the arms, pulling them back and stretching through the whole Rectus Abdominis (RA). Breathe in through the nostrils and exhale deeply feeling the spot where your ribs split, where the diaphragm lifts and deepen the breath into this spot.  Do 3-5 breaths here. Then, add a twist by lifting the back heel, bringing your palms together and twist over your front bent knee. This is a spinal twist, a bit of a balance since your back heel is lifted.   Bring the bottom of the rib cage as far around as possible by squeezing the heels of your hands together. Look up and back.

FullSizeRenderUse Plank Pose…

which asks the Transverse Abdominis (TA) as well as (RA) to hold the contents of your abdomen up and away from gravity.  If straight arms are an issue, go to forearm height.  I like holding plank for 8 to 10 seconds and repeating several times.  It is easy to move into a side plank using a front, right side, front, left side plank sequence.

FullSizeRenderUse Carmel…

which is a backbend extraordinaire.  It is not necessary to put your hands on your heels.  Camel can be done with your palms on your mid back.  Lift your chest and press your hips forward in this pose.  Again, use your breath to deepen into and stretch your abdomen.

FullSizeRenderFollow with Rabbit…

by gently folding forward and taking hold of your heels.  Inhale and as you exhale open your mouth breathing as much of your breath out as possible.  Feel your (TA) and (RA) lift, hollowing out your abdomen.  You are facing your knees; avoid looking up at your navel.  This is contraindicated for your neck.

FullSizeRenderEnd with a Seated Spinal Twist…

holding the twist focusing on a deep exhalation and the crown of your head lifting.  Perform on both sides.

These postures are probably already a part of your yoga classes.  Be mindful while you are performing these 5 postures of their inherent benefits to your trunk, abdominal area.

(Thank you to my yoga class participants for allowing me to capture them in a pose.  And to yoga teacher, Laura Burkhart for her beautiful plank.)

From Ananda Marga’s yoga teachers’ manual, “The entire human organism is controlled by the hormones. Every system, every organ, every tissue, every cell is guided in its functioning by hormones. The proper growth and functioning of the various parts of the body is possible only when there is a balanced secretion of all these hormones.

Asanas balance the hormonal secretions from the various glands. The twisting and bending positions of the asanas, held for specific periods of time, place continued and specific pressure on the various glands of the body, thus stimulating them in various ways and regulating their secretions.

In the Shoulder Stand, for example, the contraction of the neck muscles combined with the pressure of the chin on the chest squeezes blood out of the thyroid and parathyroid glands. In the Fish Pose which immediately follows the Shoulder Stand, the glands are stretched and flooded with blood. The combination of these two poses effectively massages and stimulates these two glands, thus greatly improving their functions.”

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Whispers of the Breath Diva:

“In this moment I can fully exhale and feel my diaphragm.  I can fully feel the wave of my breath moving through my core.”

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MikeI recently took a ‘Hot Pilates’ class. The format begins with one minute of continuous bicycle abs followed by a minute of mountain climbers.  We repeated this combination 6 times. So, 12 minutes later I was hoping this exact segment would not be repeated during this hour of exercise! What I did notice is that my mind was grasping for the next mountain climber segment, since this was easier to perform than the bicycles. I wanted relief from the demands of the bicycle exercise. You know what I am talking about: lying on your back with your elbows bent and palms holding your head, knees bent in table-top position, you alternate right elbow to left knee, left elbow to right knee. Your legs scissor back and forth. The object is to lift from your respective sides employing your oblique muscles, the muscles responsible for twisting and rotating our spinal column. This is a demanding process; done properly it is a very demanding process. A mountain climber is executed starting in down dog position, lift your knees to your chest repeatedly for the minute.

Question is, “How do we employ mindfulness during these demanding exercises?”  Our mind is actively processing the comfort or lack there of during each repetition. The instructor is reminding you of proper alignment and execution. Our self-talk is noting, “Am I lifting and twisting my chest high enough?” “Am I being precise enough?” “This is uncomfortable!” “How much longer will this go on?” There is relief when one segment is completed. Then the possible self talk when we have completed all 6 segments of each. “Wow, I did it!” “I want to do this class again!” “I am getting stronger.” Is this not mindfulness? It is not the quiet mindfulness when we pay attention to one breath. This is not the quiet mindfulness technique of counting our breath, four counts in, pause, four counts out, pause.
I would suggest that it is the same mindfulness expect for the physiological response of exercise. During the bicycle and the mountain climber exercises our breathing is increased, we are sweating, our heart rate is increased and we are moving our body.  During a simple mindfulness moment we may be stationary, not moving. Our physiological responses are going in the other direction. Herbert Benson termed the phrase, Relaxation Response. Heart rate slows, positive hormones increase and breathing slows. The combination results in feelings of comfort, ease, i.e. ‘relaxation’.

Like a boxcar on a roller coaster track, I had to corral my thoughts into a positive direction during this demanding class. I didn’t want to be negative; I wanted to inspire myself to perform as well as possible on that given day. It helped to keep me going. I often remind myself that, “What I focus on, expands”. So by ignoring the unpleasantness of the workout, I was able to have success. I left feeling better than when I entered the class. I felt as if I had accomplished something demanding.

In our mindfulness practice we can apply the same principles.  Choose a time of day or a routine event like walking to your car. Make it a practice to look around. As you walk this familiar path, notice everything around you. Employ all of your senses:  look at the sky, feel yourself in the outside world, smell the air and just generally be mindful in the present moment. This requires a type of endurance.  This focus will put you in the moment so that other mundane or disturbing thoughts are replaced. By practicing this sensory awareness focus, mindfulness will be enhanced. Perhaps gratitude will become part of the mix!

Whispers of the Breath Diva:

real face.2

 

In this moment I can fully focus and be present!