Yoga and Gut Health

Yoga and Gut Health

How mindfulness can lead to a healthier microbiome.

 

I am no stranger to stress! And I bet you aren’t either. When was the last time you felt stressed? Was it 10 minutes ago?

I often talk about stress because it’s SUCH A COMMON problem!

In our hectic lives with jobs, social dynamics, family responsibilities, financial difficulties, and small annoying things too, we feel an increased heart rate, lack of patience, and an angry or annoyed mood all too often.

In this mini blog I’ll talk briefly about some of the research linking stress to poor gut health, why this is important, and what this has to do with yoga!

 

A bit about MY Stress Story

Despite being a yoga teacher, I definitely get stressed! Thankfully my yoga practice does help me be a little less reactive, but the stress definitely rears it’s ugly head at times!

One example of how I think my stress shows up on me is this: When my little boy was 6 months old, I started to get redness on my cheeks. I did ALL sorts of elimination diets. I cut out alcohol, chocolate, caffeine and gluten, but none of these made a difference.

Now looking back at this time of my life, I was severely sleep deprived and also felt very anxious and stressed about the weaning process of a 6 month old baby (as well as most other factors about having a 6 month old!)

I’ve spoken to a functional nutritionist since, and they agree with me that it could very well be stress related. Psychosocial stress could be reducing how well I absorb my food in my gut, and potentially it could be leading to more systemic inflammation from a “leaky” gut (more on this later), which shows up as a skin rash on my face!

So, my prescription…. More mindfulness in my yoga practices, and 3 slow breaths before every meal.

 

The Science-y Bit

There is a whole field of research dedicated to the connection between our gut and our brain. This includes growing evidence showing a connection from brain to gut. 

This connection means that psychosocial stress negatively affects the microbiome (bacteria in our gut), the movements of our bowls, the permeability of our gut-lining, and the resulting inflammation in our bodies (Konturek et al. 2011; Bailey & Maddison, 2024).

There is also evidence of a connection in the other direction: form gut to brain. This shows that a dis-regulated gut (microbiome, movements and gut-wall permeability) can have a negative effect on mood and even psychiatric disorders! (Bailey & Maddison, 2024).

But in this blog we’ll focus on the connection from brain to gut – as this relates to how mindfulness practices, such as yoga, could be helpful for our gut health!

 

What is Leaky Gut?

I know, it’s not a very pretty term, is it? You’ve probably heard this phrase, but might not quite understand what it means. 

The barrier between what’s inside our gut and our blood-stream is on only one cell thick. This is called the “gut barrier”. We are meant to absorb water, the nutrients from digested food and a range of other beneficial molecules through this barrier, but it’s important that some things don’t cross this barrier!

When our gut barrier gets “leaky”, this allows other molecules (e.g. gluten) to cross into our blood and can lead to the activation of our immune system. This is an inflammatory response which can lead to a host of other issues in the rest of the body (e.g. rashes, bloating or more serious symptoms such as those form Coeliac’s Disease).

From a review of the science available at the time, Konturek et a. (2011) concluded that STRESS negatively affects the intestinal permeability (“leakiness” of the gut), GI-motility (the movements our bowls make to move everything along) and leads to an increase in pro-inflammatory mediators (an activated immune response).

 

Why Does it Mater?

All this talk about the effects of stress on the gut matters because Konturek et al. (2011) also found that chronic stress is a major risk factor for:

  • Gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), 
  • Peptic ulcer, 
  • Functional dyspepsia, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), 
  • Irritable bowel disease (IBS), 
  • And other functional disorders of gastro-intestine (GI) tract.

 

What’s This Got to do With Yoga? 

Good question. Well, yoga is known to be a stress-reducing activity (Cocciara et al., 2019; Della Vale et al., 2020).  This may not surprise you. Many people who join my in-person and online yoga classes do so in hopes to reduce their stress – and they find that is does!

However, WHAT is it about yoga that helps to reduce stress? This is an even more interesting question! While I love a strong plank pose, arm balance and hip-flexor stretch for other reasons, this is probably not the stress-reducing side of yoga.

But what is?

 

Mindfulness (Not Plank Poses)

I believe (and it is backed by science) that it is the mindfulness aspect of yoga which is the real secret ingredient for stress reduction in the long term.

If you’re wondering, mindfulness is a mental exercise of creating awareness of everything around and within you, and working towards acceptance of whatever you’re feeling or experiencing. 

Yes, any physical exercise will give you “feel good” hormones, and make you forget about your troubles in the short term. But there is a whole field of research dedicated to mindfulness, which suggests that THAT is the aspect of yoga that leads to stress reduction.

If you’ve ever done a yoga class (that was about a bit more than the stretching), then you’ll remember cues such as “Feel the sensations in your body, and try not to judge.” Yoga puts you in uncomfortable positions and then trains you to become accepting of all the sensations you feel in these poses.

After a lot of practice, then this acceptance of discomfort can radiate out into other difficult/uncomfortable aspects of life.

Take heart – this takes practice!

 

Acceptance Seems to be Key

One interesting study by Lindsay et al. (2018),  found that the aspect of acceptance seems to be key in the stress-lowering power of mindfulness.

In this study 153 stressed adults (average age of 32), were assigned to three groups, at random, who received 15 lessons on a smart-phone focussing on:

  1. Guided awareness + acceptance of sensations in their bodies
  2. Only guided awareness of sensations in their bodies
  3. Freely reflecting on sensations in their bodies (this was the control group)

They found that those in group 1) who focussed on BOTH being aware of sensations as well as on the ACCEPTANCE of them, had a greater stress reduction that those in groups 2) and 3). They decreased their level of cortisol (stress hormone) and has a smaller increase in blood pressure after a deliberately stressful speech test conducted by the researchers.

 

The Take-Away Message?

It’s highly likely that there is room for improvement in your stress-response to daily life’s events. (I’m not judging – I’m right there too!)

If you’re open to seeing how mindfulness can help you, here are a few suggestions:

  • Do Yoga Nidra (this is a lying down yoga which focusses purely on mindfulness of the body, emotions, thoughts and intuition). You can find audio-recordings of Yoga Nidra classes on every meditation/yoga app out there! (Including mine. 😉)
  • In your regular exercise / yoga practice / and life: Focus on awareness and acceptance of every sensation, thought and emotion you feel.
  • Before every meal / on the loo: Take 3 very slow breaths!

 

I hope you enjoyed this little deep-dive into the science of health, yoga and mindfulness!

Need a little help?

If you need a little help getting started with 15-20 minutes of mindful yoga at home have a little look at my classes… 😉

Learn more about BendyLife yoga...

I hope you enjoyed this mini blog. 🤓

Please share your views in the comments below!

Jolanthe x


References

Cocchiara, R. A., Peruzzo, M., Mannocci, A., Ottolenghi, L., Villari, P., Polimeni, A., … & La Torre, G. (2019). The use of yoga to manage stress and burnout in healthcare workers: a systematic review. Journal of clinical medicine, 8(3), 284.

Della Valle, E., Palermi, S., Aloe, I., Marcantonio, R., Spera, R., Montagnani, S., & Sirico, F. (2020). Effectiveness of workplace yoga interventions to reduce perceived stress in employees: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of functional morphology and kinesiology, 5(2), 33.

Konturek, P. C., Brzozowski, T., & Konturek, S. J. (2011). Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options. J Physiol Pharmacol, 62(6), 591-9.

Lindsay, E. K., Young, S., Smyth, J. M., Brown, K. W., & Creswell, J. D. (2018). Acceptance lowers stress reactivity: Dismantling mindfulness training in a randomized controlled trial. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 87, 63-73.

Madison, A. A., & Bailey, M. T. (2023). Link Stress-Related Gut Microbiota Shifts to Mental Health Outcomes. Biological Psychiatry.


Self-Care is Not Selfish

Self-Care is not Selfish

Why you can’t give from an empty cup, and how self-care is something you do for others too!

 

At this time of year it’s so normal to feel overwhelmed. (I’m writing this a few weeks before Christmas). There’s presents to buy, work deadlines to finish, parties and other social events to go to…

Even if we really enjoy all these things (maybe not work deadlines), it is still over-stimulating for our brain. If we’re not careful we will feel depleted and emotionally empty come the long-awaited Christmas day!

What I will try to convince you of in this mini blog is this: taking a few quiet and reflective moments to yourself (even in place of doing stuff for others sometimes), will help you be a nicer, more patient and more pleasant person to those around you!

Read on to hear about my personal reflections as well as a little bit of science on yoga and mental well-being.

 

For me personally…

I am very aware when my cup is empty. It happens when I don’t dedicate any time to myself to go for a run, do my yoga practice, or read quietly now and then. (Reading quietly is still on my ‘wish to do list’, but I’ll get there one day!)

When this happens I get irritable, snappy and generally less content in every moment. This was the feeling I had when I had post-natal depression, due to not have ANY time to look after myself. I instantly felt happier when my 7 month old baby leaned to nap in a cot, and have me back 1.5 hours a day!

For me, spending 30-60 minutes a day on moving my body in a mindful way (mostly yoga) makes me noticeably calmer, kinder and more giving to others.

So…. Am I doing yoga for me? Or for others? …..hmmm, interesting question…

 

Some Science on Yoga & Well-being

But this is not just about my personal experience. There’s plenty of scientific evidence showing that a yoga practice increases a range of well-being related outcomes.

For example, a systematic review of 14 studies on yoga and a positive mental health outcomes found that the majority of studies showed a beneficial effect of yoga (Domigues et al., 2018).

In this review, studies comparing a yoga group with a control group found the following health outcomes for the participants doing yoga:

  • Mindfulness: Four studies found higher levels of mindfulness in nurses, nursing students, young adults with rheumatoid arthritis and health care providers.
  • Positive Emotions: Two studies found higher positive emotions (positive affect) in low-active menopausal women and in sedentary adults with arthritis.
  • Emotional Resilience: One study found a significant increase in resilience in adults with anxiety or depression.
  • Mental Well-being: Two studies found increased mental well-being in physically-inactive older adults and in adults with symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Life Satisfaction: Two studies observed improvements in life satisfaction in menopausal women and nursing students.
  • Self-Compassion: Two studies observed significant increases in self-compassion in nursing students health care providers.
  • Self-Esteem: One study found significant increases in self-esteem in sedentary adults.
  • Coping and Relaxation Skills: One study found significant increases in coping and relaxation skills in health care providers.
  • Empathy: One study found significant improvements in empathy levels were found in nursing students.

 

A happier you = a nicer you?

So, after reading the long list above, do you see how spending a little time on your OWN health and wellbeing could actually benefit everyone around you, too?

Being more mindful will help you be PRESENT with your friends, partner or children.

Obviously, having higher positive emotions, mental wellbeing, emotional resilience, coping skills, and empathy are going to help you have fun and fulfilling times with your friends and family.

And then self-esteem, self-compassion and life satisfaction will make YOU feel more worthy, loved and happy!

 

So, is self-care selfish?

If you were to spend 30-60 minutes on a yoga practice on a Saturday (while your partner looked after the kids), what would you feel? Would you feel guilt? Would you feel selfish?

Perhaps you do feel this way. Many of us do!

But have a look at these two scenarios, and think about what would be the best thing for everyone:

  • Having you 100% of the time, not completely present, with lower mental wellbeing, empathy, emotional resilience, life satisfaction and coping skills. Or…
  • Having you 95% of the time when you’re happy, present, with high positive emotions and more empathy and emotional resilience?

Food for thought…

 

The take-away message

I have observed that women with families, especially, find it difficult to choose the option of doing something for their own health and wellbeing. There’s always more washing, tidying and sorting to do, and the kids just NEED you all the time.

(Sorry guys and anyone without children, but this message is especially for the mamas!)

Listen up, lovely women: self-care is NOT selfish.

If necessary, ASK for more help so you can look after yourself. So that you can re-fill your empty cup. With a full cup you’ll be able to give even more love, care and attention to everyone around you.

Happy mama = happy everybody!

Need a little help?

If you need a little help getting started with 15-20 minutes of mindful yoga at home have a little look at my classes… 😉

Learn more about BendyLife yoga...

I hope you enjoyed this mini blog. 🤓

Please share your views in the comments below!

Jolanthe x


Reference

Domingues, R. B. (2018). Modern postural yoga as a mental health promoting tool: A systematic review. Complementary therapies in clinical practice, 31, 248-255.

Strength, Posture & Mindfulness

I’ll help you gain body confidence and contentment

with short, easy-to-follow yoga classes from your LIVING ROOM!

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Check out what I offer!

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Give yourself the gift of self-care for a super affordable price, while supporting an independent, small business!

I enjoy getting to know each and every new yoga student – so can’t wait to meet you!

Love, Jolanthe x


3 Surprises about Stress

3 Surprises about Stress

The surprising ways that Stress hurts you, and how yoga can help.

 

I’m absolutely certain that you already know that stress isn’t that great. You’ve felt it in your own body: the raised heart rate, the jitteriness, the sleeplessness, perhaps the anxiety or emotional eating…

And I am also sure you are aware of the main negative health effects! But just to make sure here is a quick list

  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Auto-imune conditions
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Weight gain and diabetes
  • A reduced immune defence against viral infections

So…. That’s said! Shall I just end my blog there?

Well, the picture is actually a little more interesting, so I’d like to talk about 3 surprises about stress.

These surprises are based a fantastic review of the scientific research by Connor et al. (2021). It’s a heavy read, so I’ll give you a whistle-stop tour.

However, if you’re up for putting your nerd glasses on, then have a look at the reference to the full article at the end!

 

Extremely Strong Evidence

Connor et al. (2021) state that “the cumulative science linking stress to negative health outcomes is vast” (Just think: heart disease, auto-immune disease, obesity, dementia). If this is all that you rake away from today’s blog – then that’s great!

Once we understand how bad mental stress is, then we might be motivated to take steps to help manage our own stress response in everyday life.

However, it’s not as simple as stress = bad, no stress = good.

In fact, it’s all about our own RESPONSE to a stress. Does your body response very quickly and intensely? Does it then release the stress quickly? Or are you not able to adequately response to a stress?

This brings me to the first surprise about stress.

 

1) It’s complicated: The Goldilocks of Stress Response

Being constantly stressed is not good, yet when our bodies have a too low stress response this isn’t good either! A healthy stress response looks a little like the Goldilocks story!

When we have constant work or life stress, then our Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) is always on. (The ‘Fight or Flight’ system).

This chronic activation of the ‘fight or flight’ nervous system is called autonomic imbalance. This is associated with a wide range of mental and physical negative health consequences, including high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes and even psychotic disorders.

Stress shows up in DIFFERENT ways!

Job and life stress can increase the production of the stress-hormone Cortisol. However, people with burnout, fatigue, exhaustion or Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome generally have too LOW levels of Cortisol. Researchers agree that both situations are associated with poor health!

A healthy body ideally is able to produce adequate stress hormones (not too much, not too little – but the Goldilocks amount) when a threat is perceived. Then, soon after the ‘threat’ has gone a healthy body can relax again.

The issue with modern life is that our bodies perceive threats pretty consistently throughout the entire day!

 

2) Playing Havoc on the Immune System!

Stress literally changes your gene expression. Most importantly, the expression of the genes governing our immune system!

Scientists used to think that stress only down-regulated the immune system, but now there is lots of evidence that it can act in two opposite directions! (Both up-regulation and down-regulation).

This is why stress can cause inflammation-related diseases such as heart disease and autoimmune conditions (due to increased activity of the immune system). Yet, stress can also cause impaired responses to viral infections and vaccinations (due to immune suppression).

In fact, scientists believe that when the hormone cortisol is consistently high in response to chronic stress, the immune cells become blunted to the signal to switch off, resulting in a mild but persistent level of inflammation.

Chronic inflammation (an overactive immunise system) is a body-wide problem that is linked to a variety of negative health effects such as problems in your bowls, skin rashes, polycystic ovarian syndrome, tendonitis and joint issues to name just a few.

Yet, in other situations stress can lower the effectiveness of the immune system’s ability to fight viral infections.

So, stress is a real bugbear! It plays complete havoc on our immune system.

 

3) Yoga & mindfulness change gene expression (in the opposite way to stress)!

I realise that the previous sections were a little heavy. So here is the good news… We can do something about it!

Early intervention trials on groups of people especially prone to stress (i.e. breast cancer survivors with persistent fatigue, and carers of family members with dementia) have show to counteract the negative effects of stress on the immune system. (Black et al., 2013, Bower et al., 2014).

Specifically, 12 minutes daily meditation for for 8 weeks by 39 family dementia caregivers, resulted in the up-regulation of genes involved in anti-viral immunity, and down-regulation of genes involved in inflammation in the body. (Black et all., 2013)

Similar up-regulation of genes involved in anti-viral immunity, and down-regulation of genes involved in inflammation was also seen after 16 Breast cancer survivors with persistent cancer-related fatigue participated in 12 weeks of Iyengar Yoga (Bower et al., 2014).

Thats exciting!

 

The take-away message?

If you’ve made it this far… hurrah!! It’s difficult to talk about this topic in an easy-to-read way. So, well done for persisting!

Here are few things that might help you deal with everyday stressors:

1. It’s not stress itself, but your RESPONSE.

There’s no need to avoid stress entirely (and it’s not possible!) The important thing is to work on your OWN reaction. Try to stop and think about whether a stressful event is worthy of a high or low stress response from you.

(Is it life threatening? Then high stress is warranted. If it’s not… then maybe a lower reaction).

If you DO get very stressed, then try to take a deep breath when the moment is over so that you can let goooooo of the stress response, and come out of your ‘fight or flight’ nervous system again.

 

 2. Try yoga or mindfulness!

I’m biassed, I know. But there is also a lot of evidence now that yoga and/or a mindfulness practice is REALLY helpful in helping us change our stress-response (see a previous blog on this here!).

Stressful things WILL happen in life, but the way we RESPOND to them can change. But this takes practice, and I believe yoga can help with this.

I am personally someone who is prone to stress and anxiety, and this is why my yoga practice is something sacred to me. I’m convinced it helps me stay calm in situations where I could otherwise drown in emotional stress. (Not that I keep my cool all the time!!!)

I’d love for you to benefit in this way too!

Need a little help?

If you need a little help getting started with 15-20 minutes of mindful yoga at home have a little look at my classes… 😉

Learn more about BendyLife yoga...

I hope you enjoyed this mini blog. 🤓

Please share your views in the comments below!

Jolanthe x


Reference

Black, D. S., Cole, S. W., Irwin, M. R., Breen, E., Cyr, N. M. S., Nazarian, N., … & Lavretsky, H. (2013). Yogic meditation reverses NF-κB and IRF-related transcriptome dynamics in leukocytes of family dementia caregivers in a randomized controlled trial. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 38(3), 348-355.

Bower, J. E., Greendale, G., Crosswell, A. D., Garet, D., Sternlieb, B., Ganz, P. A., … & Cole, S. W. (2014). Yoga reduces inflammatory signaling in fatigued breast cancer survivors: a randomized controlled trial. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 43, 20-29.

O’Connor, D. B., Thayer, J. F., & Vedhara, K. (2021). Stress and health: A review of psychobiological processes. Annual review of psychology, 72, 663-688.

Strength, Posture & Mindfulness

I’ll help you gain body confidence and contentment

with short, easy-to-follow yoga classes from your LIVING ROOM!

On-demand and LIVE

Check out what I offer!

I’m a Small Business

Give yourself the gift of self-care for a super affordable price, while supporting an independent, small business!

I enjoy getting to know each and every new yoga student – so can’t wait to meet you!

Love, Jolanthe x


Does Yoga Improve Sleep?

Sleep, glorious sleep!

Can yoga improve your sleep?

 

Do you find yourself mulling over all your worries when you’re trying to fall asleep?

It’s annoying isn’t it!? You know that the best thing for you right now is to drop off, but still your brain just won’t let you.

(It’s even MORE annoying if you have young children that wake you up a lot – so that when you have the opportunity to sleep, you really want to make it count!)

Well, I feel you. I’ve had it very often myself.

That’s why I thought that today I’d delve into a few studies to see if yoga can improve sleep! And I’ll go into my personal journey of how I am trying to improve my own sleep.

 

My personal story

I’ve never been a ‘good’ sleeper. There’s been periods in my life when falling asleep was really, really difficult. And the more I got frustrated about it, the worse it got!

I do the usual things like avoid caffeine after 12 noon and am even a little worried that chocolate will keep me awake. So no after dinner chocolate for me! (Plenty before though…)

I have noticed that the times in my life when I’m more mentally stressed definitely coincide with worse sleep. So, it naturally follows in my mind that a yoga practice that can effectively ease my stress might help with my sleep too!

I’m personally a little guilty of doing mostly the physical side of yoga. I love the way it tones my muscles and the feeling of ease it gives in my body. But, one of my aims is to work a little more on the mental relaxation side of yoga as well.

(More on HOW I plan to do this later in this blog!)

But first, let’s delve into a few studies on yoga and sleep…

 

Research on Yoga and Sleep

A quick search on Google Scholar immediately popped up a few recent studies on yoga and sleep!

Here is a quick and dirty summary of a few of them:

  • University students doing 8 weeks of either a slow-flow vinyasa class or a strenuous Ashtanga class 2 times/ week improved in their amount of reported sleep, stress and anxiety, compared with the control group (Street, 2020).
  • Health care professionals attending an 8 week ‘yogic mediation’ course improved their sleep quality compared with a control group. This was proven objectively, using a brain-scan (Guerra et al. 2020).
  • 16 experimental studies on yoga and sleep (out of the 19 studies) showed a positive effect of yoga on sleep in a systematic review by Wang et al. (2020). That said, this effect was only seen for healthy individuals who did not have cancer and were not in a peri-menopausal life-stage.
  • An 11-minute Yoga Nidra meditation (an audio file listened to at home) led to lower stress, higher well-being and improved sleep quality after a 30-day intervention, compared with a control group who did not listen to the meditation. This positive effect was still seen even six weeks after the intervention had finished! (Moszeik et al. 2020)

This is only a whistle stop tour of a few studies. If you’re interested yourself, I’d highly recommend browsing Google Scholar when you search for ‘yoga + sleep’.

 

Which type of yoga?

Yoga is a broad term and it includes a huge variety of movement (and non-movement) types. You might be familiar with a sweaty Vinyasa class, or perhaps a Yoga Nidra practice where you literally lie on the ground with your eye closed. Very different!

What I noticed in the studies on yoga and sleep is that they all focussed on adding the mindfulness aspect to the physical yoga poses or they used a non-physical ‘yoga mediation’ or the Yoga Nidra style (the lying down one).

So, HOW can this mindful side of yoga help with sleep?

 

Bringing back ‘Rest & Digest’

When we can’t sleep it is because our nervous system is fired up! Our ‘fight, flight or freeze’ system is active and it stops us from falling asleep.

The mental stress of the day, our ruminating thoughts, the high energy/violent impressions from the Netflix show we’ve just watched or the caffeine still flowing in our veins are all possible causes.

Even if you’re super tired, this survival drive will keep you up, because, instinctually, your body thinks there might be danger!

(How annoying is it when you’re tired to your bones, but you just won’t fall asleep!?!)

Well, a mindful yoga practice has been shown to help reduce the activation of your ‘fight or flight’ nervous system (the sympathetic nervous system), and increase the activation of its opposite: the ‘rest and digest’ (the parasympathetic nervous system).

 

Benefits not just after a yoga class…

What we aim for with a mindful yoga practice is that we not only get this ‘rest and digest’ benefit immediately after a session, but that at any time in the day it is easier to tap into this restful and peaceful state.

So, when you get stuck in traffic, you might be able to stay calmer by taking a slow breath and, in so doing, avoid a huge spike in adrenaline. Or when you’re watching an action film, you might be able to stay calmer in your body rather than letting yourself experience as much adrenaline as the stunt actors!

Studies on long-term yogis tend to support this outcome, as they show that yogis generally have higher mental wellbeing than a random selection of non-yogis (Morris et al. 2023).

(Have a look at my previous blog about Ashtanga and mental health here for more details about this).

 

How I am going to improve MY sleep…

As I mentioned at the start of this blog, I LOVE a strong and sweaty Ashtanga session! I love feeling my muscles work and that satisfied feeling after exercise.

My regular Ashtanga practice at home, does give me huge mental health benefits already, but recently I’ve been looking for something more.

Specifically… I’ve been reading more and more about Yoga Nidra. (I highly recommend the book ‘Practical Yoga Nidra’ by Scott More). And I’m starting to add this into my own yoga routine.

 

What is Yoga Nidra?

Yoga Nidra is a non-physical form of yoga that is a mindfulness exercise. In a comfortable position, you bring your awareness to either your body, your energy, your emotions or your thoughts in an open and curious way. This is most easily done while listening to an audio recording.

It is translated literally to ‘Yogic Sleep’! And it can last anywhere from 2 minutes to 60 minutes!

And as you might remember, the study by Moszeik et al. (2020) found that 30 days of listening to an 11-minute Yoga Nidra audio recording improved sleep quality!

So this is my newest personal challenge…. Along-side my very physical Ashtanga Yoga practice, I will be adding a short and sustainable Yoga Nidra practice.

Would you like to join me???

 

New Yoga Nidra (Sleep) Challenge coming up!

In this personal Sleep Quest I am creating a series of Yoga Nidra audio recordings. (Guided by Scott More’s book: Practical Yoga Nidra).

And I’ll be inviting you to join me for this challenge when it’s ready! This will be available by Christmas this year (2023), so that you can either do it over the Christmas holidays or start it in January.

This will be a programme of daily 5-10 minute sessions, for which you just need to lie on the ground or sit on a comfy chair, and listen…. Easy! 😉

Watch this space my friends!

 

The take-away message?

If you’re struggling with sleep – then I FEEL your pain! It’s so awful and annoying and frustrating.

But the good new is… a yoga practice (of any type) might help you!

It can be super physical (like Ashtanga) or much more relaxed, as long as you bring in some mindfulness. This looks like including slow and conscious breathing and bringing your awareness to how your body, energy, emotions and thoughts are feeling in the moment, in an open and curious way.

 

We all deserve restful sleep!

Need a little help?

If you need a little help getting started with 15-20 minutes of mindful yoga at home have a little look at my classes… 😉

Learn more about BendyLife yoga...

I hope you enjoyed this mini blog. 🤓

Please share your views in the comments below!

Jolanthe x


Reference

Guerra, P. C., Santaella, D. F., D’Almeida, V., Santos-Silva, R., Tufik, S., & Len, C. A. (2020). Yogic meditation improves objective and subjective sleep quality of healthcare professionals. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 40, 101204.

Morris, B., Jackson, J., & Roberts III, A. (2023). Effects of long-term Ashtanga Yoga practice on psychological well-being. Mental Health and Social Inclusion.

Moszeik, E. N., von Oertzen, T., & Renner, K. H. (2022). Effectiveness of a short Yoga Nidra meditation on stress, sleep, and well-being in a large and diverse sample. Current Psychology, 41(8), 5272-5286.

Street, K. (2020). Effectiveness of Ashtanga and Vinyasa Yoga: Combating Anxiety, Depression, Stress and Sleep Quality. University of Arkansas.

Wang, W. L., Chen, K. H., Pan, Y. C., Yang, S. N., & Chan, Y. Y. (2020). The effect of yoga on sleep quality and insomnia in women with sleep problems: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC psychiatry, 20, 1-19.

Strength, Posture & Mindfulness

I’ll help you gain body confidence and contentment

with short, easy-to-follow yoga classes from your LIVING ROOM!

On-demand and LIVE

Check out what I offer!

I’m a Small Business

Give yourself the gift of self-care for a super affordable price, while supporting an independent, small business!

I enjoy getting to know each and every new yoga student – so can’t wait to meet you!

Love, Jolanthe x


Why Women Need Muscle

Why Women Need Muscle

What’s the point of getting strong and can yoga get me there?

 

It’s not something that many women aim for… yet it’s something we ALL need and would benefit from so much.

Do you want to feel energetic, confident and make maintaining your weight easier? – then build muscle!

In this mini blog I’ll talk about why building strength is so essential, and how one particular type of yoga helps get you there! Hint…. It’s Ashtanga. 😉

(Ps. If you’re a man reading this – I’m aiming this at the ladies today! But it’s mostly all relevant to you too! It’s just that men don’t need as much convincing to work on strength).

 

Why don’t we do it?

It seems to be a cultural norm that men lift weights and women do cardio and/or ‘stretchy’ yoga. Do you agree?

To some extent this has been changing in the last 10 years, thankfully. There are more and more of us ladies that love Cross Fit and Olympic weight-lifting, and to them I say “you go girl!!!”

But, in my experience, the majority of us women find the weights section in the gym a little intimidating! Or we feel that working on strength will make us too ‘bulky’ or that it is essentially a ‘manly’ thing to do.

 

Well… there are two things I’d like to say to that:

  1. You deserve just as much space in that weights section as ANYONE! (So go use it if you’re curious!)
  2. You can build strength OUTSIDE the gym too! Such as squatting with a kettle-bell, or doing planks at home, ooooor doing some strength-focussed Ashtanga Yoga! More on this later…. 😉

 

Why is muscle beneficial?

Muscles are used for so much more than looking ‘beach ready’!!!

They are important for our health in several ways: 1) Avoiding injury. 2) ‘Soaking up’ blood sugar. 3) Increasing bone strength. 4) Motivating movement in general. 5) Aaaaand increasing confidence as you DO look better with some muscle!

 

1) Avoiding injury.

Strong muscles help your body move efficiently, without over-straining your bones, tendons and ligaments. For example, the stronger your thighs, bum, back and core muscles are, the less likely it is that picking up a child or something heavy from the ground will hurt your back!

 

2) ‘Soaking up’ blood sugar.

Your muscles use blood sugar as a fuel. The bigger your muscles, the more they act as a sponge to soak up sugar when it enters your blood stream after a meal. It’s natural and normal for your blood sugar to rise after eating, but how quickly your body can bring this level back down is a marker of how fit and healthy your body is.

If your muscles don’t absorb this sugar… then your fat cells will. This is also OK and natural! But, I’m sure you’d rather fuel your muscles. 😉

 

3) Increasing bone strength

Bones respond to being used. The saying ‘use it or lose it’ also applies to them! For bone density to remain high, it’s important that we lift heavy things (such as weights or our body as a weight). Working on building muscle therefore helps to keep our bones strong too.

This becomes ESPECIALLY important for us, women, when we pass the beautiful 4-0, as it’s normal for bones to start losing density gradually at this stage. (Unless we lift heavy things!)

 

4) Motivating more movement

When you’re stronger all over, everything in life seems a little easier. So the motivation to jump up and go for a walk or run or swim or dance or…. (fill the black) will be higher!

In this way, having more strength will have a knock-on effect on your cardiovascular AND your mental health as well. Few things are worse for cardiovascular and mental health than a lack of movement and engagement with life.

 

5) Body confidence

Muscle makes you look and feel good. I’m no fan of super restrictive eating or of aiming for a very low body weight. So, please don’t miss-understand my message.

In my opinion, building MUSCLE is the healthiest way of changing the size and shape of your body. And you can do this while still eating enough nutritious food!

Without ‘losing’ weight, this will help your body feel firm and capable. And (through the ‘sugar sponge’ mechanism mentioned above) it may just cause a bit of healthy weight loss (if you need it), without you even trying!

 

How can YOGA help me build muscle?

You’re probably thinking “What’s all this got to do with yoga?” Well, let me explain.

The styles of yoga that I love to practice and teach are Ashtanga and Vinyasa Flow yoga. These are strength-building styles which use plank-poses, push-up movements, squats, hand-stands and arm-balances!

It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but for those of you who love getting a sweat on and ‘feeling the burn’ – Ashtanga or Vinyasa Flow yoga is for you!

It’s the way I personally stay strong and toned, and keep my body injury free while picking up a heavy toddler all day long!

But I don’t want you to take my word for it… I’ll show you some science to back it up!

 

A little scientific proof…

Ashtanga, as a specific style of yoga, has not been studied by many researchers yet, but studies are fast being published. (This is very exciting for me!)

To date, the largest randomised controlled Ashtanga Yoga intervention was on 34 women aged 35-50 (Kim et al., 2012). Eighteen were assigned to the ‘control’ group and 16 to the Ashtanga exercise group. Those in the latter group attended 8 months of Astanga yoga twice a week, with each session lasting around 1 hour.

The researchers observed many different health and fitness aspects and whether they would change after the 8 month intervention. However, the one measurement I will focus on today is leg strength.

This increased significantly in the Ashtanga Yoga group compared with the control group!

(For outcomes on Bone Density, have a look at my blog on this: “Yoga Science: Bone Density” )

 

What about upper-body strength?

I find this finding especially significant because Ashtanga Yoga doesn’t actually focus that much on the legs!!

I have been practicing this style regularly for 5 years now, and from my experience, I can say that it strengthens the arms, core and back more than the legs. (I always add EXTRA squats to the traditional sequence of poses!)

The study by Kim et al. (2012) didn’t measure upper-body, core or back strength. However, if they found an increase in leg strength after Ashtanga yoga, then it’s very likely they would have found an even bigger increase in upper-body, core and back strength!

Upper-body strength is also something that women in particular don’t focus on as much as men. I think there might be a lot of limiting beliefs that we hold, which go something like this:

“I can’t do push-ups” or “I have weak wrists” or “I’m just not strong”

And unfortunately, these things will become true if we don’t do the work to strengthen these areas! (Which is the chicken, and which is the egg?)

 

The take-away message?

I’m not being disparaging to women!

I just believe that the vast majority of us CAN (and deserve to) be strong and confident in our bodies. However, many of us are stopped by cultural ideas of what’s a ‘feminine’ form of exercise. Or we are stopped by internalised ideas that we are not ABLE to be strong!

I wish to motivate more of us to lift up a heavy kettle-bell, do some push-ups or some strength-based yoga!

It’s not only about how you look (though it does help!) – but very much about how you FEEL: confident, strong and capable!

Yoga homework

Let’s do a strength-based yoga session this week!

If you are a member of my BendyLife community, go along to the orange strength theme and pick any class.

It could be 15 minutes 30 minutes or 1 hour!


Planning it in

Then, going forwards, plan in at least ONE strengthening activity each week. This could be strength-yoga or a short session of lifting something heavy!


And if you need a little help getting started with Ashtanga yoga, go along an have a look at my classes… 😉

You deserve to feel strong!

Learn more about BendyLife yoga...

I hope you enjoyed this mini blog. 🤓

Please share your views in the comments below!

Jolanthe x


Reference

Kim, S., Bemben, M. G., & Bemben, D. A. (2012). Effects of an 8-month yoga intervention on arterial compliance and muscle strength in premenopausal women. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 11(2), 322.

Strength, Posture & Mindfulness

I’ll help you gain body confidence and contentment

with short, easy-to-follow yoga classes from your LIVING ROOM!

On-demand and LIVE

Check out what I offer!

I’m a Small Business

Give yourself the gift of self-care for a super affordable price, while supporting an independent, small business!

I enjoy getting to know each and every new yoga student – so can’t wait to meet you!

Love, Jolanthe x


Yoga & The Brain

Yoga & the Brain

Does yoga improve our memory, emotional control and ‘ageing’ of the brain?

 

You may not think about your brain much.

It’s just always there, chugging away, thinking thoughts for you and pumping out hormones (yes – it also releases hormones!)

You can just live your life, without ever thinking about this big squishy thing in your head! However…

 

Why think about your brain?

The brain suddenly becomes something people think about when they are getting older. The reasons for this are obvious! But why not start thinking about it a bit earlier???

As I’ll explain later, there’s good reason to look after your brain now, whatever age you are. By doing the right kinds of exercise, we could improve our brain health, and potentially delay or avoid these age-related declines!

Another reason to think about your brain is our EMOTIONS. If you find your emotions are in control of you, rather than the other way around, then there is some work to be done to help you (and your loved ones) get a more peaceful experience in life!

 

Delving into the science

Recently, I’ve been on a journey of delving into the research behind yoga and its effects on our health. This week I found a fascinating, yet mind-boggling (pun intended) review of the literature on yoga and it’s effects on the brain.

The authors reviewed 11 scientific studies; 6 of which compared long-term yogi’s and ‘yoga-naive’ people, and 5 studies that had conducted a yoga ‘experiment’ and had measured their participants before and after a yoga programme (Gothe et al., 2019).

I’ll be highlighting some of the findings of this review study, but I’ll leave out a lot of Neuroscience speak! (Mostly because it makes my brain ache just reading these words).

 

The structure of the brain

You may think of the mindfulness benefits of yoga as being purely ‘psychological’, but one very consistent finding across these studies was that a mind-body practice, such as yoga, changed the PHYSICAL shape of the brain!

This was true for lots of areas such as: frontal cortex, hippocampus, anterior cingulate cortex and insula, grey matter volume, grey matter density, cortical thickness. (Ps. Don’t worry if none of these words make sense to you!)

So, what does that MEAN of how our brains operate?

 

Yoga & Memory

There was evidence that a long-term yoga practice increased the activation of something called the default mode network (DMN) in the brain, and consequently memory performance.

The majority of the studies reviewed also highlighted changes in hippocampal volume following yoga practice. The hippocampus is known to be involved in learning and memory.

The authors noted that this effect on the hippocampus has also been shown after aerobic exercise and after mindfulness programmes. So they suggested that exercise alone and mindfulness alone, as well as a COMBINATION of the two in the form of yoga, have a positive effect on this brain structure.

The exciting thing about this finding, as mentioned by Gothe et al. (2019), is that a yoga practice COULD play a role in preserving the brain structure that declines in age-related neurodegenerative diseases and chronic stress!

 

Yoga & Grey Matter

You may have heard of grey matter. This is an essential type of tissue in your brain and spinal cord. It plays a significant role in mental functions, memory, emotions and movement.

Some of the studies that Gothe et al. (2019) reviewed suggested that yoga practitioners have higher grey matter volume in a number of regions! (I’ll spare you the complicated names).

And the reason that we want to keep this grey matter large and healthy is that it is involved in: cognitive control, inhibition of compulsive behaviours, the contextually appropriate selection and coordination of actions, and reward evaluation and decision making.

In normal-person speak, these describe your logical brain! How to act accordingly and made logical decisions in a context where we might be triggered to act ‘reactively’.

Pretty essential for life, I’d say!

 

Yoga & Emotional Control

Now here comes my favourite – emotional control. It’s my favourite to discuss because I’m absolutely guilty of losing my temper now and then!

Do you loose your cool often with those closest to you? It may be that your ‘emotional’ brain is leading the conversation, not your ‘rational’ brain.

You may have heard that our ’emotional brain’ is the Amygdala and the ‘rational brain’ is the Pre-Frontal Cortex. People all differ in how emotionally or rationally driven they are, but in general it’s quite useful to be able to feel and acknowledge your emotions, while not letting them run the show!

Well, there’s science speak for this too…

Research has found that exerting cognitive (rational) control over emotional processes leads to increased activation in the lower dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC). At the same time this leads to deactivation in the amygdala (the emotional brain).

The studies reviewed by Gothe et al. (2019) suggest that yoga practitioners, when asked to do a demanding task designed to stir negative emotions, appear to activate regions of their pre-frontal cortex that indicate cognitive control (rational control).

Plausibly, these findings indicate that, when in a pickle, long-term yoga practitioners can recruit the parts of their brain that help them avoid negative emotional experiences. Instead, they use more of the rational brain, usually used for memory and the control of impulsive behaviour.

Quite a mouthful!

But basically, long-term yogi’s seem to be better at ‘choosing’ whether or not to react to negative emotions when they appear. Instead of shouting at someone, they may stop and take a deep breath instead.

Sounds useful, doesn’t it?

 

Yoga & Brain Ageing

Of course this discussion is not complete without addressing AGEING of the brain!

Needless to say, the loss of cognitive function (ability to perform normal brain functions such as memory, conversation, movement etc.) can be devastating to someones life and that of their loved ones. Thankfully, not all of us will experience this! (So, don’t let me worry you too much).

However, there will be an inevitable decline in structure and function of our brains as we age, even if the effects on things like memory are only minuscule for many of us.

So, it’s worth finding out what might help keep our brains healthy!

Well, following a yoga intervention, participants had an increase in connectivity of regions in their brain’s default mode network (DMN), and this was associated with improvements in verbal memory recall.

This is important in the context of keeping the brain healthy as we age. Indeed, better connectivity of the default mode network (DMN) has been associated with less age-related brain function decline for both typical older adults, and those with Alzheimer’s disease.

Similarly, other studies reviewed by Gothe et al. (2019) also showed a positive effect of yoga on the grey matter of the brain. As grey matter declines with age, it seems that yoga (through combining physical activity and mindfulness aspects) is a brain-protective activity as we age!

 

The take away message

If you’ve managed to wade your way through all that science-speak, well done!! Now just my final thoughts about how we can apply this to our own lives.

Regardless of your age, it’s beneficial to have a healthy, sharp, emotionally stable brain! (Don’t you agree?)

What I see as the take-away message from this review study is this: Staying active (in any way) AND doing a regular mindfulness practice (whether that is meditation, yoga nidra, or any other form of yoga) is important for your BRAIN!

Science doesn’t yet know exactly which component of being active and mindful is the ‘active ingredient’ in benefitting the brain, but they are pretty certain that these things a GREAT for this big, old squishy thing in our head!

So, however you can fit it into your life, get a sweat on, use your muscles, and regularly find a quiet moment to be mindful: breathing deeply and becoming aware of the sensations in your body in a non-judgemental way.

In MY opinion a fantastic way to do this is… Ashtanga Yoga! 😉

Your BRAIN (years from now) will thank you!

Yoga homework

Plan in 3 short yoga/exercise/meditation session this week!

(Your choice which you choose)


Start small

I’m a big fan of starting a healthy habit by doing SHORT sessions.

If you plan to exercise or do yoga, then start with 20 to 30 minutes!

If you plan to meditate, just start with 5 minutes!


And if you need a little help getting started with Ashtanga yoga, go along an have a look at my classes… 😉

You deserve some YOU time!

Learn more about BendyLife yoga...

I hope you enjoyed this mini blog. 🤓

Please share your views in the comments below!

Jolanthe x


Reference

Gothe, N. P., Khan, I., Hayes, J., Erlenbach, E., & Damoiseaux, J. S. (2019). Yoga effects on brain health: a systematic review of the current literature. Brain Plasticity, 5(1), 105-122.

Strength, Posture & Mindfulness

I’ll help you gain body confidence and contentment

with short, easy-to-follow yoga classes from your LIVING ROOM!

On-demand and LIVE

Check out what I offer!

I’m a Small Business

Give yourself the gift of self-care for a super affordable price, while supporting an independent, small business!

I enjoy getting to know each and every new yoga student – so can’t wait to meet you!

Love, Jolanthe x


Bendy for Life

Bendy for Life

How can we become fit 80 year olds?

 

Have you got a vision for yourself when you’re older?

I do! I want to be mobile enough to do all the things that I enjoy! Dancing, walking, running, yoga, looking after grandchildren… just to name a few! (And I’d love to be doing pretty well mentally too!)

In this mini blog I will write about what we need to be doing NOW to enable that future vision to come true.

I’ll review a few research studies that have looked at data across the life-course to see what people are doing in middle age (or younger) to enable a more active and healthy older age.

This topic is relevant to EVERYONE. The younger you start thinking about your future self, the more likely it is that your future self will be strong and fit!

 

Why think about ageing?

Thankfully, it’s easy to be optimistic about our ourselves when we’re in our 70s and 80s, from our current point of view in younger bodies. (And 30s, 40s and 50s is STILL young!)

“I’ll be like those young-at-heart oldies in California!”

Perhaps ageing is a topic that you’d like to ignore. After all, if you’re in your 30s, 40s or 50s, then there’s still ages left, right? That’s true! However…

The saying “start as you mean to continue” is REALLY relevant when it comes to our physical abilities in older age. How can you expect your 70 year old self to attend a yoga class, if you’re not laying the foundation for this now?

Our bodies inevitably become less able with age. If you start off today with a low level of fitness, strength and flexibility, then this will decline steadily over the next 20, 30, 40 years…

But if you get your mobility, cardio-fitness and strength at a great level TODAY then (despite age-related declines) you’ll be at a MUCH better place in your 80s!

That’s the (quite obvious) theory, but what does the research say?

 

Life-course research

Life-course research uses the assumption that our behaviours (and environmental influences on us) all throughout our life have a cumulative effect on how we will be at the end of our lives.

“Isn’t that obvious?” I hear you ask.

Yes, it is obvious. But even so, not all research uses this perspective! And it is actually quite difficult to study the life-course effect. Researchers need to collect data from the same individuals throughout their whole lives. (This means studies need to be 90 years long!)

Thankfully, there are longitudinal studies that have been collecting data from volunteers for decades. Other studies have interviewed older adults and asked them to recall their lifestyles and physical activity levels in the past.

Researchers have been able to learn some interesting things from these!

 

How can we be MOBILE 80-year-olds?

What can we do NOW to be mobile in older age?

Mobility is not a very sexy term, but it is THE MOST useful thing for when we’re older. Just think: the ability to walk, drive a car, engage in active hobbies, cook, clean, wash and dress ourselves and socialise!

Well, Patel et al. (2006) interviewed 1026 Italian older adults about their past and also assessed their physical mobility at their current age. They found that more exercise in mid-life led to stronger legs and a faster walking pace when participants were in their 70s.

This is NOT surprising, BUT it is nevertheless a wake-up call if you’re not currently exercising!

 

Mid-life is the time to get STRONG!

Strength is also linked with maintained mobility and the ability to have FUN in our older years.

A different research group (Dodds et al., 2013) used a longitudinal dataset of people in the UK (the MRC NSHD study). These volunteers had entered the study at birth in 1946, and were regularly followed-up by researchers until 2010!

Between 2006-2010 (when volunteers were 60-64 years old) 2,229 volunteers were still alive and able to take part.

Volunteers who had done more Leisure Time Physical Activity (LTPA) across mid-life had a better grip strength at age 60–64, in both men and women. Grip strength is closely correlated with whole body strength and many other markers of good health.

This association only appeared in the data after age 53, so the researchers argued that Leisure-Time Physical Activity is especially important in mid-life.

LTPA is a wide term, including any leisure activity that uses the body. So think, walking, running, cycling, golf, yoga, weight-training, other exercise (and more!)

 

But we forget about ourselves!

I don’t know about you, but most people I know in mid-life (or approaching it) are SO BUSY with taking care of their children or their older parents, or with their demanding jobs that they FORGET about their own fitness!

It’s easy to think,:

“oh I’m too busy for this now. I’ll get onto exercise when my kids are older, or when I’m retired, or …. (insert other future time-frame)”.

Another thing I have noticed is that us (women) approaching or at mid-life are also not thinking about building STRENGTH.

However, it is EXTRA important at this age to think about our fitness and strength. It is extra important to get comfortable with swinging a dumb-bell, or to spending some time in plank or down-ward dog!

So ladies, let’s build some strength NOW!

 

What about BRAIN health?

Lastly, do you want a healthy BRAIN in your 80s? (That’s a rhetorical question because… of course you do!)

Well, the evidence points towards the need to be active in mid-life too.

Gow et al. (2017) analysed data from the Lothian Birth Cohort 1921. This is a study that recruited its volunteers at age 11 (they were all born in 1921). Most of them completed a mental ability test at age 11, and the surviving volunteers completed a cognitive test at ages 79, 83, 87 and 90 years.

Volunteers recalled their activity participation for young (20–35 years), mid (40–55 years), and later adulthood (60–75 years), and at the time of the study (average age of 79).

The researchers found that engagement in leisure activities in mid-life was positively associated with having a better cognitive ability (brain health) in later life.

So, this is yet another reason for those of us approaching (or at) mid-life to start valuing and prioritising our own fitness needs!

 

“So, what’s all this got to do with yoga?”

I personally find yoga the perfect mobility and ‘age-proofing’ exercise. The style of yoga that I practice works on flexibility, strength, and balance! These are all aspects that inevitably get a little worse as we get older.

With age:

  • Tendons naturally become stiffer…
  • Muscles start to loose strength (Sarcopenia)…
  • Balance becomes more challenging…

(Sorry to put a downer on your day! But it’s true!)

So, MY view is that establishing a sustainable habit of yoga TODAY (whatever age you are), and aiming to keep this going long-term is a great bet for making your older-age vision come true.

 

What does AGE-PROOFING yoga look like?

An age-proofing yoga routine should include aspects of flexibility, strength and balance. So, just the relaxing kind of yoga (such a Yin or Yoga Nidra) won’t cut it!

I personally LOVE an Ashtanga-inspired yoga style (combined with some squats with a kettle bell and occasional short runs!)

Ashtanga yoga incorporates lots of planks and push-up style movements that really strengthen the arms, back and core. It also uses plenty of balance-challenging poses, and works on hip and shoulder flexibility.

As yoga generally doesn’t build leg-strength that much, adding in some extra squats with a weight is super beneficial for building that lower body strength that will keep you standing, walking and climbing stairs into older age.

 

The challenges of mid-life!

This is THE BUSIEST time of your life! Kids, jobs, parents, pets. etc. etc. etc. (Trust me, I get it!)

Your fitness routine has to fit in to this busy existence. So I don’t expect you to go marathon training!

That’s why I am a big fan of SHORT sessions, REGULARLY. Rather than a one-hour class once a week, I believe three session at home of 15-30 minutes would be more useful! (or even five minutes!!) As long as you’re getting into the habit of doing it regularly.

(For some science behind this idea, see my Exercise Snacking blog).

I KNOW that it is a huge challenge to put yourself first when it feels like you’re looking after everybody…

But, if you can find a way SOMEHOW to work on your strength, flexibility and balance today (even if it’s just a tiny bit)…

…then your 80-year-old self will thank you!

Homework

Take a little moment to visualise your ideal 80 year old self.


What activities do you want to be able to do?

And whatever she/he is doing – think about how you can ‘train’ for this TODAY.

However fit and mobile you want to be at age 80, you need to be TWICE that level right now!


What can you do NOW?

Then, take another moment to honestly reflect on where your mobility and fitness is right now. If necessary, plan to get in some more strength training or yoga!


Three cheers to the fit-oldies!!!

Learn more about BendyLife yoga!

I hope you enjoyed this mini blog. 🤓

Please share your views in comments below!

Jolanthe x


References

Dodds, R., Kuh, D., Aihie Sayer, A., & Cooper, R. (2013). Physical activity levels across adult life and grip strength in early old age: updating findings from a British birth cohort. Age and ageing42(6), 794-798.

Gow, A. J., Pattie, A., & Deary, I. J. (2017). Lifecourse activity participation from early, mid, and later adulthood as determinants of cognitive aging: The Lothian Birth Cohort 1921. Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences72(1), 25-37.

Patel, K. V., Coppin, A. K., Manini, T. M., Lauretani, F., Bandinelli, S., Ferrucci, L., & Guralnik, J. M. (2006). Midlife physical activity and mobility in older age: The InCHIANTI study. American journal of preventive medicine31(3), 217-224.

Strength, Posture & Mindfulness

I’ll help you gain body confidence and contentment

with short, easy-to-follow yoga classes from your LIVING ROOM!

On-demand and LIVE

Check out what I offer!

I’m a Small Business

Give yourself the gift of self-care for a super affordable price, while supporting an independent, small business!

I enjoy getting to know each and every new yoga student – so can’t wait to meet you!

Love, Jolanthe x


Yoga to reduce the Neck Hump!

Let’s Talk About Posture! (part 3)

The Neck-Hump!

 

Do you catch yourself looking at your phone with your head flopped forwards?

This is Forward Head Posture! Or more colloquially called a ‘Neck-Hump’ or ‘Hump-Back’ posture or ‘Dowager’s Hump’.

To really feel what this is, go ahead and let your chin slide forwards. If you put your hand on the back of your neck you’ll feel that this really exaggerates the lump at the top of your spine.

 

Not just about good looks…

Now, this is not only just an aesthetic concern (ps. I think the desire to look good is TOTALLY valid too!)

But with years and years of forward head posture, you’ll actually change the position of your spine and this will become a permanent position, not just a lazy one!

So, what can we do???

 

Why is Forward Head Posture everywhere?

There are several reasons why most of us develop a forward head posture these days.

Basically, we are always looking at something small in front of us!

We look at our phones for 10,000 hours a day… we look at our monitors or laptops at work all day, at night we read books/kindles (don’t get me wrong, I love a book!)

But all this makes us slide our head forwards to get a little bit closer to the tiny words on the screens!

As hunter-gatherers we were really designed to look up into the middle or far distance more often.

So, NO judgement! I do it. You do it. We all do it.

But what can we DO about it?

 

Does exercise help Forward Head Posture?

Well, thankfully, there’s plenty of research out there showing that corrective back and neck exercises help!

Let’s start with a systematic review that selected seven of the highest quality studies (out of 47 potentials) (Sheikhosseini et al. 2018).

These researchers pooled the data on all 627 participants across the studies, and tested whether corrective exercise made a difference on forward head posture (or as they call it: craniovertebral angle).

They found that yes, indeed, there is strong evidence that corrective exercise is effective for improving forward head posture! Woohooo!

Systematic reviews are the most robust type of evidence there is, however it doesn’t give us those nitty gritty details of exactly WHAT the studies DID…

 

Let’s look at WHICH exercises!

So let’s look at one study on forward head posture a little more closely.

Harman et al. (2005) recruited 40 men and women between 20 and 50 years of age, who all had at least 5 cm of forward head posture (assessed with a photograph).

Twenty-three participants were assigned a 10-week exercise programme, with instructions to do the following on 4 days a week:

  1. Chin tucks lying front-down, and lifting the head
  2. Chin drop while sitting
  3. Shoulder retraction using an elastic band (think: shoulders back)
  4. Chest stretches (the pec muscles)

The remaining 17 participants were in a control group that did nothing different form their everyday lives.

 

So, what happened?

At the end of the intervention the researchers found several interesting results.

The neck range-of-motion of the exercise group participants had improved. The authors suggested that the chin drop and tuck exercises were most likely responsible.

The exercise group also stood a little more upright at the end of the intervention, compared with the controls. The researchers called this the ‘shoulder-to-pelvis’ angle. They credited the pec stretches and shoulder retraction exercises for this change.

 

The power of awareness

Now, a funny thing happened with the results of the forward head posture! Both the exercise group and and control group improved!!

The researchers were cautiously confident that the exercise programme had helped the intervention group improve their forward head posture. So, why did the control group improve as well??

They thought that the control group had become more aware of how they were standing simply by being part of a study that was measuring posture.

They concluded that this was a positive finding. It shows that not only is exercise beneficial for forward head posture, but an educational or awareness programme on how to hold ones head in daily life could potentially make worthwhile differences in neck posture as well!

 

Yoga for the Neck-Hump!

Corrective back and neck exercises can be done in many ways. One of these ways is…. yoga!

(Then you also get some lovely additional relaxation and mindful benefits!)

Personally, yoga plays a huge role in how I work on my posture. It’s my main form of ‘conscious exercise’.

From my years of practicing and teaching yoga, these are a few posture tips and poses I find most useful:

  • Double chin! When standing or sitting, give yourself a beautiful double chin by pressing the chin back just a little. This counter-acts forward head posture.
  • Locust pose: This is basically the 1 pose for posture! Lie down on your front, hands palms-up next to your hips, and lift your upper body and legs at the same time. Look down your nose (double-chin!) This is great for strengthening the upper back and neck.
  • Relaxed chest and shoulder stretch: Lie down with your shoulder blades on a yoga block, placing your hands, palms-up next to your head, elbows at 90 degrees. And relax! This is wonderful for counteracting day of forwards computer slumping.

There you are! Just a few tips for a very simple home-based yoga routine, that could improve or avoid a Neck-Hump.

If you’re thinking “That’s interesting, but I don’t know where to start!”

Then read on…

 

Want some help?

Do you want to see if you can improve your posture with yoga? Well, I have something exciting coming up!

In September I will be launching a 28-day challenge called the Posture Doctor Challenge!

This will involve a daily 15-minute class. That’s achievable – right?

Watch this space for the up-coming challenge!

Up for the Challenge?

Would you like to be updated when this challenge is available?

Then please put enter your email address below.

* indicates required

Want to read more about posture?

This mini blog is the third in a 3-part blog series. Why not take a moment to read the other two?

Part 1 went into detail about shoulder flexibility and Part 2 talked about back strength for posture.

Enjoy your reading!

Love,

Jolanthe x


References

Harman, K., Hubley-Kozey, C. L., & Butler, H. (2005). Effectiveness of an exercise program to improve forward head posture in normal adults: a randomized, controlled 10-week trial. Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy, 13(3), 163-176.

Sheikhhoseini, R., Shahrbanian, S., Sayyadi, P., & O’Sullivan, K. (2018). Effectiveness of therapeutic exercise on forward head posture: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of manipulative and physiological therapeutics, 41(6), 530-539.


Yoga for Shoulder Posture

Let’s Talk About Posture! (part 1)

What can we do for the shoulders?

 

I’d like to take you back to a memory…

I remember very clearly a moment when I was sitting at a wedding, years ago. I saw these cute young flower girls walking down the aisle in front of the bride with their naturally super-upright posture.

Out of nowhere my mind started thinking about how my posture had deteriorated over the last few years.

When I was a young girl and teenager I had always done ballet and figure skating, and liked to believe these things kept my posture pretty upright.

However, sitting there, I suddenly became aware that for years I hadn’t done much else besides sit and work in front of a computer screen… And it hadn’t done my neck and shoulders any favours!

I’m recounting this story because I think it’s relevant to almost all adults.

We all have jobs and, for a lot of us, this requires A LOT of screen time!

So, do you ever lament the loss of the naturally tall posture you had as a child?

 

What I’ll be writing about…

I thought it was about time to explore the topic of posture and how it relates to the practice of yoga!

Finding yoga while I was neck-deep in PhD work at the University of Bath REALLY helped me bring some focus back to maintaining a healthy body.

So, in this three-part blog series I will cover some of the things I have learned about movement and posture:

Part 1. What we can do for the shoulders?

Part 2. What we can do for the back?

Part. 3. What we can do for the hips?

Sit back, and enjoy!

 

Why do our shoulders round forwards?

Everyone does have a slightly unique bone structure and tendency for how they hold their body.

So some people just naturally have a more rounded upper back and shoulders than others.

However… Our lifestyle and what we choose to do with our bodies does play a huge role in shoulder posture.

So what are the lifestyle reasons that shoulders might roll forwards?

From my understanding of anatomy and experiences in practicing and teaching exercise and yoga, these are some influences on rounded shoulders:

 

Desk work

You guessed it. I think this might be the number one culprit, in terms of number of people affected by it! When we type on a key board, we sit for long lengths of time with our Pectoralis muscles (especially the Pec Minor) in a shortened position. This will start to pull the shoulder forwards.

Staring at your laptop screen for hours also lets the muscles in the upper back get a little lazy, as they don’t get any exercise. These are meant to help keep the upper back upright and shoulders back as we walk around (which we used to do much more as hunter-gatherers).

 

Caring work

Anyone in a caring, person-centred job will also experience the same shoulder rounding effect, that others get from desk work. For example a GP, nurse or therapist will often hold a forward-rounded posture towards the patient to show that they are listening to their medical issues.

 

Sports

Tennis, cycling and swimming are sports that will strengthen (but shorten) the Pectoralis muscles. I’m not saying that these sports are bad! They are great for your health.

However, if a sport focuses a lot on one particular muscle group, then it is important to do the necessary complementary stretching and strengthening to keep the body in balance.

Can you think of some other sport examples?

 

Holding babies & children

This is a new area that I’ve learned A LOT about in the last year and a half. Before becoming a mum I didn’t fully grasp the physical effect that caring for a child around the clock can have on your body.

Now I know that breastfeeding, bottle feeding, rocking to sleep and pram pushing (as well as MANY other tasks) are ALL rounded shoulder activities. If mums and dads don’t consciously stretch the other way, then they will see some rounded shoulder effects appear over time.

 

What can we do about it?

That’s enough doom and gloom!

The good news is that we CAN do something about it! And this involves strengthening the postural muscles along the back and stretching the shoulder muscles, especially the Pecs!

I found an interesting research study that asked 40 women to do just that for 6 weeks (Hajihosseini et al., 2014).

These women, aged 20-25 years, all had rounded shoulders of more that 52 degrees. They were randomly divided into 4 groups:

  1. Control group (given no exercises)
  2. Strength exercises
  3. Stretching
  4. Strength exercises + stretching

After a 6 week programme of doing the assigned exercises 3 times a week, the researchers saw some interesting results.

Each group with some form of exercise improved shoulder rounding positions significantly compared with the control group. What’s more, the strength+stretching exercise group seemed the improve more than strength and stretching alone.

This difference wasn’t statistically significant, however it was a study with small numbers, which reduced the ability to detect statistically significant differences.

So, it was clear that either or both stretching and strengthening of the back and shoulders was beneficial for improving posture of the shoulders in these participants.

 

What can yoga do?

It’s not a far stretch of the imagination that yoga can tick the boxes of stretching and strengthening of the shoulders!

The stretching side of yoga has got a little more attention in the media generally, but I personally LOVE the ability of some yoga poses to increase core, back and shoulder strength.

Poses such as Sphinx pose and Locust pose are great in increasing upper back strength. These are poses I try to do daily to counter-act my desk work and child-carrying hours.

Reclining with your upper back on one or two yoga blocks, with the arms out to the side, is a wonderful stretch for the pecs. This is something I reeeeaally needed during my academic days at university.

Holding a half-Lotus twist (with one arm behind the back, grabbing the opposite thigh or foot) is also a brilliant shoulder opening stretch.

While these specific poses are great for opening the shoulders, attending ANY yoga will also help. Regardless of what the yoga class contains, reducing the level of stress and tension in the body will help to soften and open your shoulders as well.

So, don’t sweat about the small print! Just do some yoga. 😉

 

Heart opening

According to yogic philosophy, any chest stretching poses also have the benefit of opening the ‘heart chakra’.

I am not well versed in this area of philosophy, however I find it interesting.

If you find it difficult to ‘go for it’, to give fully to others, to express emotions or if you feel withdrawn emotionally, then you MAY benefit from some ‘heart-opening’ stretches.

I am one of these people!!

Before finding yoga, my shoulders and chest were always really in-flexible. This is where I have done the most work in my yoga practice. It may perhaps have helped me become more open emotionally to others as well…?

I invite you to keep an open mind!

 

Want some help?

In September I will be launching a specific 28-day yoga challenge to help improve posture!

This will involve a daily 15-minute class.

Watch this space for the up-coming challenge!

Up for the Challenge?

Would you like to be updated when this challenge is available?

Then please put enter your email address below.

* indicates required

Want to read more about posture?

This mini blog is the third in a 3-part blog series. Why not take a moment to read the other two?

In Part 2 go into detail about back strength for posture and in Part 3 I talk about how we can avoid or correct the ‘Neck-Hump’!

Enjoy your reading!

Love,

Jolanthe x


Reference

Hajihosseini, E., Norasteh, A., Shamsi, A., & Daneshmandi, H. (2014). The effects of strengthening, stretching and comprehensive exercises on forward shoulder posture correction. Physical Treatments-Specific Physical Therapy Journal4(3), 123-132.

Strength, Posture & Mindfulness

I’ll help you gain body confidence and contentment

with short, easy-to-follow yoga classes from your LIVING ROOM!

On-demand and LIVE

Check out what I offer!

I’m a Small Business

Give yourself the gift of self-care for a super affordable price, while supporting an independent, small business!

I enjoy getting to know each and every new yoga student – so can’t wait to meet you!

Love, Jolanthe x


Never too 'old'!

Never too ‘old’!

How to become a strong & flexible 80 year old…

 

Perhaps you feel a few aches and pains, but you haven’t thought seriously about what your body might do when you get older…

That’s OK! It’s great to live in the present moment and not to worry about the future.

However, when it comes to ‘ageing gracefully’, it DOES pay to plan a head a little.

This week, I delved into a scientific research paper that compared an Ashtanga yoga programme for people in three age groups: 20-29 years, 30-39 years, and 40-49 years (Halder et al., 2015).

The result are really encouraging!

But before I review the fantastic results of this study, let’s just briefly talk about what COULD happen as your body ages.

 

What happens as we age?

From around the age of 30 the body starts to age slowly. This might shock you! But it’s true.

By bringing your awareness to this fact, you can start to make choices to COUNTERACT these natural age-related changes.

It’s natural that:

… the body starts breaking down muscles more, and become less good at absorbing protein from the diet. This results in the natural weakening of muscles, a process called sarcopenia.

…our muscles and tendons to get stiffer, reducing flexibility. This is due to increased stiffness and rigidity of the soft-tissues of the joint capsules, muscles, facia, tendons, ligaments and skin surrounding different joints.

…our body fat starts to creep up as the hormones that drive metabolism and energy burning reduce with oncoming age (especially for women).

bone density starts to reduce (especially for women after the menopause), as the hormones involved in storing calcium in our bones reduce as well.

(BUT we can do something about all this!)

 

So what can we do?

If you’re feeling a bit discouraged after reading the list above, then please keep reading!

Exercise scientists have long agreed that weight-bearing and strength training exercise into older ages (as well as eating enough protein), is SUPER important for maintaining muscle strength and bone density.

And now there is also research showing that Ashtanga yoga is beneficial for halting age-related physical declines too!

So let’s review this super interesting study…

 

Yoga for all ages

This study recruited 79 volunteers, whom they divided into 3 groups: 20-29, 30-39, and 40-49 years. All volunteers took part in a yoga exercise regime for 3 months.

The volunteers were given a 1-hour yoga class, 6 days a week, first thing in the morning.

Yes…. This is fairly intense! But I was excited to read this, because other studies usually give just 1 or 2 classes a week, and see limited results.

The yoga style was based on Ashtanga (so lots of sun-salutations), and they also included breathing exercises and meditation.

Similar to my classes! Whoohoo! 🥳

 

‘Reversed’ ageing!

The researchers took lots of measurements: weight, BMI, body fat, and strength and flexibility of different muscles.

They found that for all measurements the oldest two groups, and especially the oldest (40-49 years) improved the most!

After the 12 weeks of yoga:

…The middle and oldest group lost weight, lowered their body fat % and moved their BMI from over-weight to the ‘normal’ category. (The youngest group was already in a healthy BMI category before the yoga programme).

…All age groups increased hand-grip strength and back strength, with the 40-49 year olds increasing strength the most.

…All age groups increased upper-back flexibility and hamstring flexibility with, again, the 40-49 year olds increasing flexibility the most.

So, the participants in the middle and oldest group essentially LOWERED their own ‘biological age’ by reducing their body fat (to a healthier level), increasing strength and increasing flexibility!

 

Applying this to YOUR life?

This study gave volunteers a 1 hour yoga class, 6 days a week in the mornings. So you might be thinking…

“I don’t have 1 hour every morning to do yoga!”

Well, looking closely at the study report, the active part of yoga contained 5 minutes of sun-salutations, and 20 minutes of yoga poses.

(The rest of the time was taken up with breath-work and mediation.)

While I don’t want to reduce the importance of the mediation side of yoga, it is fantastic to see these physical results with JUST 25 minutes of yoga a day!

This suddenly becomes a lot more realistic. 😎

(Most of us spend 2-3 hours a day scrolling social media, so perhaps we can fit in 25 minutes of yoga!)

 

A gift to your 80-year old self!

Today you might not feel the effects of age on your body. Today it is SOOOO easy to choose a chilled half hour, scrolling your phone with a lovely hot cuppa.

Yet… if you are over age 30 you WILL be ageing the tiniest bit every day.

Every bit of muscle strengthening and stretching exercise you do today will top up the ‘health’ bank-account of your future 80-year old self!

So what do you think?

Is it worth getting a little sweaty today for a fit 80-year old you?

Yoga homework

I invite you to pick a yoga practice that includes sun-salutations.

Hint: ALL my online classes do…. 😉 

 

Start saving for the future

Find a class lasting between 10 – 30 minutes, and do this on

3 mornings/evenings a week.

Let’s focus on establishing this routine…. Maybe one day you’ll do more!

 

I can help you!

If you’re not yet a BendyFriend, have a look at my offerings.

Learn more!

I hope you enjoyed this mini blog. 🤓

Please share your views in comments below!

Jolanthe x


Reference

Halder, K., Chatterjee, A., Pal, R., Tomer, O. S., & Saha, M. (2015). Age related differences of selected Hatha yoga practices on anthropometric characteristics, muscular strength and flexibility of healthy individuals. International journal of yoga, 8(1), 37.

Strength, Posture & Mindfulness

I’ll help you gain body confidence and contentment

with short, easy-to-follow yoga classes from your LIVING ROOM!

On-demand and LIVE

Check out what I offer!

I’m a Small Business

Give yourself the gift of self-care for a super affordable price, while supporting an independent, small business!

I enjoy getting to know each and every new yoga student – so can’t wait to meet you!

Love, Jolanthe x