1. Being Natural: Naked Yoga and its Psychological Benefits

    February 26, 2014

    Naked Yoga and its Psychological Benefits

    by Daniela Aneis

    Yoga: Everyone knows about it and many practice it on a regular basis. But naked yoga? As in, in the nude, no clothes, au naturel, exactly like you came into this world? Yep, that’s right. If this is the first you’ve ever heard of then keep on reading and discover why it is gaining so many enthusiasts all over the world. And the most amazing of it is that people are actually going to group classes to practice naked yoga, not just at home or when in nature.

    It started as a part of Indian yoga philosophy were members would undress themselves both physical and spiritually from all material possessions, sexual desires and anything physical of this world. Could there be anything more freeing than not having anything on you?

    Naked yoga then travelled to Europe through naturist movements in Germany and Switzerland and to North America in the 60’s taking a ride from the hippie movement. It has been depicted in several 1960’s and 70’s movies.

    Its modern roots and recent success I might feel tempted to attribute it to the “Sex and the City” culture of one’s sexual liberation. In the 90’s and early 2000 several groups for distinctive audiences came along (all men classes, all women, homosexual, for children). It seems that despite modern’s society idea of selling nudity and sex being displayed in every movie or advertisement you see, there is no freedom in enjoying our own nudity, whether in public or in private. And these classes seem like the perfect opportunity for it.

     

    What drives someone to be naked in a group class?

     

    Or to practice yoga naked for all that matters, in public or in private? People’s motivations are quite different and we will explore some of them from a psychological point of view.

    Here are some motivations for practicing naked yoga:

    • Feeling free. When you dispose of everything (and isn’t yoga about releasing your mind from all the clutter to obtain enlightenment?) and present yourself fully to the world aren’t feeling free? And you might also feel free from liberating yourself from social restraints against nudity.

     

    • Feeling good about your body. Body and image acceptance are key important aspects in one’s self-esteem. Which might be hard to achieve when your mind is flooded with Photoshopped images of non-real bodies and society calls that beauty. What if you could find the beauty within you and feel pretty about it?

     

    • Leaving embarrassment and other negative feelings outside. Did you know that feelings like embarrassment and shame are socially constructed emotions? As in, we were all taught about the things we should be embarrassed about? What if you could not be embarrassed about your body and person? Wouldn’t that be a sensation worth having?

     

    • Getting in touch with Nature. With human nature for all that matters. Yoga is about paying attention to the here and now. How can you do that if you’re still attached to mundane things? How can you enjoy the beauty of Mother Nature’s work if you’re not paying full attention?

     

    • Re-connecting with others humans in a naked mind-body-and-soul way. We all know that most of the time we wear identity masks either to shield and protect us or to keep others away. And is there anything else that expresses our fragility better than nudity? What if the walls that prevent reconnection to others come be tumbled down and we could feel a deep sense of bounding to other humans?

     

    A few psychological benefits of naked yoga.

     

     

    • Working on your self-esteem. As mentioned above, a good-real body image and body acceptance are key parts of self-esteem. And accepting one’s body as it is, is half-way into accepting one in overall and valuing the amazing person that you are.

     

    • Feeling good about your sexuality. Meaning that you feel good about your sexual identity – being a man or a woman. You will not only accept your social part as a man or a woman but feel comfortable “being in your own shoes”.

     

    • Freeing yourself of too much sex. Seems like counter intuitive? Don’t confuse sexuality with sex! Sex is a very important part of our nature but it is taking too much space of our significant relationships. Naked yoga can help you regain intimacy with your partner, a far greater component in successful relationships than just good sex.

     

    • Having fun! Do you remember how you were as a child? Do you remember running in your backyard or at the beach barefoot and fully nude? Didn’t that just feel great? Practicing nude yoga can bring that wonderful feeling back. And no sexual restraints attached to it!

     

    Please remember that before practicing naked yoga you should be comfortable about it and it should be a pleasurable activity for you. So, if you’re up for it, give it a try!

    Image source: Cutcaster.com (purchase order #57281)

     

     


  2. 7 Most Notable Benefits of Yoga

    August 15, 2013

      benefits of yoga

    Do you frequent the gym and you are looking to expand your fitness horizons?  Are you an exercise newcomer struggling to find a place to start? Are you a yoga skeptic and have never taken the plunge to actually try a class? The truth is, yoga has many benefits and has the potential to bring a whole new level of health and wellness to your life.  Read on to discover seven significant benefits yoga can bring to you and has already brought to countless others. Let’s move past the stereotypes that say yoga is for hippies, people without any sense of athleticism and individuals with the ultimate skills in flexibility.  The fact of the matter is, and has been proven, that yoga is for everyone.

     

    • Optimism Yoga has a natural ability to increase levels of GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, a neurotransmitter present in the brain which lowers anxiety and gives people a sense of calm and general well being. If you are naturally a more stressed and anxious person, yoga has the potential to truly change the quality of your life by helping you to relax and go about your days more calmly. In a sense, yoga can be a natural form of antidepressant.  Just as depression medications increase GABA levels, so does yoga.

     

    • Pain Relief When you are in pain, the last thing you are likely thinking about is exercising.  But wait! Incorporating yoga into your life as a part of your daily regimen can actually lower chronic pain.  How? There are “markers” in your body called Cytokines which indicate you are holding inflammation in that area.   After practicing yoga regularly, these cytokines decrease and you are left with less pain. Yoga has also been shown to lessen arthritis and fibromyalgia pain.

     

    • Quality of Sleep Regular yoga practice is known to cure several conditions, some of which include insomnia or abnormal sleeping habits. Yoga helps people to unwind and de-stress at the end of the day. When you feel more relaxed and have a clear mind, getting a quality night’s sleep is much easier.

     

    • Calmness Yoga is often times considered an alternative medicine practice offering a refreshing mind-body healing approach.  Yoga combines physical and mental disciplines to help yogis achieve peacefulness of both body and mind.  Post yoga, you are left feeling relaxed and better able to manage stress and anxiety.

     

    • Posture Poor posture can be attributed to the presence of many undesirable health conditions such as varicose veins, pinched nerves, heart strain and belly fat.  Many problems related to posture are caused by long hours spent each day at one’s workplace, hunched over a computer.  The good news is, many yoga poses help to counteract your tendency to slouch, increase your body awareness and, in turn, improve your posture.  There was once a (false) belief that yoga actually makes people taller.  While this is not exactly true, yoga can noticeably improve your posture, making you appear taller and thinner. Talk about a nice, simple confidence boost!

     

    • Strength Can yoga build muscle? During a yoga class, you are required to hold your body in positions in which you must support yourself for considerable lengths of time. You build muscle tone by holding and supporting your own body weight, much like you do during conventional strength training exercise. Practicing yoga can lead to improved balance, flexibility, strength and range of motion. With this, you’re at a much lower risk for injuring yourself in other physical activities or in your daily life.

     

    Depending on what you are looking to get out of Yoga, there are many variations of yoga practices that can provide you with the specific benefits you are looking for.  All in all, yoga can be a great addition to any physical fitness routine no matter your fitness level or goals.

     

    This is a guest post by Strauman Chiropractic based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  As the premier Minneapolis chiropractor, Strauman provides auto accident treatment, treatment for herniated discs, holistic care, kinesiology, physiotherapy and whiplash care. 

    Image Credit/Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/yogamama-co-uk/3794867064

     


  3. Yogaspire: A Practice of Positive Psychology and Yoga

    July 12, 2013

    yogaspire

    by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar and Megan McDonough

     

    Yoga and positive psychology are not usually used in the same sentence. Positive psychology is, after all, a science—and a recent one at that. It uses research and data to come to conclusions about what makes people flourish. Yoga is a practice that is thousands of years old and although some would call it a science, it is not defined as such in western academia. Like positive psychology, the practice is meant to elevate. What would it look like to combine the body-centered approach of yoga postures with the science-based approach of positive psychology?

     

    Defining Yoga

     

    The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit root yuj, which means “to join” or “to yoke.” Basically, the practice is an integration of all aspects of self.

    A great definition of yoga came from Amrit Desai, a yogi who said, “The practice is when what you think, say, and feel are aligned.” Interestingly enough, this is similar to how Gandhi described happiness when he said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

    This connection of aligned thinking and action is very important, and we’ll come back to it in a bit.

    As for yoga, many equate it with the physical practice. The word conjures images of extremely flexible people in amazing postures. However, classical yoga describes an eight-fold path that spells out guidelines for living a meaningful and purposeful life. One of those eight paths is “Asana”, the Sanskrit word for physical postures. These postures are designed for physical well-being and are used for developing concentration, attention, and awareness in preparation for meditation.

     

    The Effects of Yoga

     

    You can see in magazines today the popular image of the very flexible yoga practitioner. Yet, the physical flexibility is nothing compared to the mental flexibility that yoga builds. There are two aspects of yoga that cannot be captured in a fancy photo: being mindful of experiencing the posture, and expanding your awareness beyond what first captures your attention.

    In the physical practice of yoga, one focuses attention on the very real and tangible body (Where are my arms and legs in this posture? Am I holding unnecessary tension in my neck? What is that strange sensation in my shoulder?) Then the practitioner expands awareness into even finer layers, perhaps being aware of the breath, of attitudes and thoughts, emotions arising, the interplay between the ground and the feet, or the relationship to the teacher or other students. In this way, the practitioner connects body and mind, consciously paying attention.

    We can expand this directed attention to focus on our psychological state in addition to our physical state. At Wholebeing Institute, we call this practice Yogaspire.

     

    Yogaspire

     

    Let’s come back to the idea of aligning thought and action. Research in psychology points to a reciprocal relationship between attitudes and behaviors, and it seems clear that attitudes affect behaviors. We usually seek the company of those we find engaging and avoid those who fail to excite us. If I like self-help books and find cooking tedious, I am more likely to gravitate towards one section of the bookstore rather than another. A deep love of golf is likely to take me to a driving range, whereas fear of rough physical contact is likely to drive me away from the football field.

    The relationship between attitudes and behaviors goes beyond our likes and dislikes, influencing the course of action we choose. Psychological research and observations point to a reciprocal relationship between attitudes and behaviors: not only do our thoughts affect our actions, what we do also affects how we think.

    Attitude (in the mind) and behavior (through the body) creates a self-reinforcing loop. Yogaspire makes the link between the two more explicit by being mindful of what one is doing (physical postures) while consciously cultivating a desired state of mind (psychological state).

    For example, in the mountain pose in yoga, we can be aware of our physical body standing strong and tall, feeling our heart lifting up, and we can extend that sensation to include our psychological state by mentally repeating “I am grounded and strong.”

    How you sit, stand, walk, and use your physical body has an impact on your psychological state. Does your physical position right now give you some clues to your psychological state? What happens when you change your posture, purposely picking a position that for you epitomizes the desired state?

     

    Research

     

    What does research say about how a yoga pose like mountain affects our psychology? According to Amy Cuddy, a researcher at Harvard University, even a quick two-minute pose has a direct impact on you—both in terms of hormonal changes (attitudes in the mind) and on the subsequent behavior (actions through the body).

    In this study,* participants’ mouths were swabbed at the start of the protocol to test saliva for the hormone testosterone, which is associated with power and confidence, and cortisol, the stress hormone. After the swab, they were asked to strike either a low-power pose or a high-power pose for two minutes. As you may have guessed, the low-power posers took up less space by crossing arms and legs protectively and curling the spine. High-power posers, in contrast, took up lots of space. Think of Wonder Woman with her legs wide and hands on her hips, or the big executive with feet on the desk and fingers intertwined behind the head.

    At the end of two minutes, the saliva was tested again and participants were asked if they wanted to make a bet with the $2 they were given. They could keep it (a safe bet), or gamble with a roll of the dice (riskier, but with a good 50/50 chance to double their money).

    After only two minutes, the high-power poses caused an increase in testosterone compared with low-power poses, which caused a decrease. High-power poses also caused a decrease in cortisol compared with low-power poses, which caused an increase.

    In other words, taking up lots of space with your body increases the power hormone and decreases the stress hormone. It changes—at least for the duration of this experiment—your physiology. These changes affect decisions, actions, and behaviors. High-power posers were more likely than low-power posers to focus on rewards—86.36 percent took the gambling risk while only 60 percent of the low-power posers took the risk.

    Finally, high-power posers reported feeling significantly more “powerful” and “in charge” than low-power posers did. As the researchers state, “Thus, a simple two-minute power-pose manipulation was enough to significantly alter the physiological, mental, and feeling states of our participants. The implications of these results for everyday life are substantial.”

     

    For more information on yoga and positive psychology, including a free 7-day Yogaspire course, visit www.yogaspire.com

     

    *Carney, D.R., Cuddy, A.J.C. & Yap, A.J. “Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance.” Psychological Science 21.10 (2010): 1363-368.

     

    About the Authors:

    Dr. Tal Ben Shahar Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, CLO of Wholebeing Institute, is an author and lecturer. He taught the largest course at Harvard on “Positive Psychology” and the third largest on “The Psychology of Leadership”—with a total of over 1,400 students. Author of Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, he consults and lectures around the world to corporate executives, the general public, and at-risk populations on topics that include happiness, self-esteem, resilience, goal-setting, mindfulness, and leadership.

     

     

    Megan McDonough Megan McDonough, CEO of Wholebeing Institute, is the award-winning author of Infinity in a Box: Using Yoga to Live with Ease and A Minute for Me: Learning to Savor Sixty Seconds. Mastery of “how to get from point A to point B” is Megan’s trademark, whether it’s leading the entry of Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health into online learning, speed-launching a first-of-its-kind worldwide virtual conference, or teaching thousands of people to live with ease and clarity based on their own internal compass.

     

     

     

    Image Credit: Marketing-Deluxe


  4. Yoga Brings Positivity in You

    March 7, 2013

    More and more people are doing the downward dog than ever before. But just what are the benefits of yoga on positive thinking? And how can you incorporate yoga into a healthy holiday? Matt Lindley gives you the lowdown here…

    Img4: Psychological and physiological benefits of Yoga

    The psychological and physiological benefits of yoga

     

    Yoga to keep fit: For a lot of people, yoga is one of the very best things that you can do to feel good. The physical benefits are obvious. Yoga can help you relieve back pain, increase physical fitness, lung capacity and flexibility. Because yoga is all about deep breathing and stretching, it increases the oxygen supply to different parts of the body, which helps to ease tension and improve circulation.

    To relieve stress: But more than that, yoga is accepted by most psychologists as an effective complimentary therapy for all kinds of stress-related disorders. Psychological conditions like depression, anxiety, cardiac disease and high blood pressure can be alleviated with regular yoga practice.

    How, you may ask? Yoga encourages you to focus on your breath and your body, which brings you back to the present moment and stops you worrying about the past and the future. Yoga makes you feel more comfortable in yourself, more motivated and less affected by the outside world. It helps you focus on positive aspects of life and is a major contributor to your psychological well-being.

    Yoga and psychotherapy: In the US, psychologists and psychotherapists have been using yoga as a compliment to talk therapy. The idea is that it’s not only the mind but also the body that needs to be worked on. “Talk therapy such as cognitive-behavioural therapy  can be helpful in finding problem-solving strategies and understanding your own strengths and what’s happening to you, but there are times when you just need to kind of get moving and work through the body,” says Melanie Greenberg, PhD, a psychologist at Alliant International University.

    To be part of a group: Taking part in group yoga sessions can foster a sense of belonging and of being a part of something much bigger than just yourself. This is really positive. It’s a collective experience of everyone moving together, breathing together and in the end relaxing together that is rarely experienced elsewhere.

    A yoga-informed outlook: Simply incorporating the principles of yoga into your everyday life – compassion, non-judgement, spirituality and the connection between all living things – is likely to make you feel less stressed and improve your mental health.

    Enjoy practicing yoga at a yoga retreat?

     

    If you practice regularly, going on a yoga retreat could be the perfect healthy holiday to recharge your batteries.

    Practising twice a day in a new environment will help you break free of old patterns and familiar routines, at the same time as deepening awareness of your body.

    Spending time away from the distractions of modern society will help you find peace with yourself and inspire you to live a healthier lifestyle when you return home.

    Here are five great yoga retreat ideas around the world:

    Tilton House, UK

    Img3: Psychological and physiological benefits of Yoga

    Set in the idyllic rolling hills of the South Downs in Sussex, Tilton House (www.tiltonhouse.co.uk) regularly hosts weekend Hatha sessions for all in their yurt. Included in the package is comfy accommodation, food, massages and country walks. Its close proximity to London makes Tilton House an excellent addition on a trip to the capital. See HotelClub for London accommodation (www.hotelclub.com/United-Kingdom/London-hotels).

    The Yoga Farm, Costa Rica

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    Yoga retreats don’t come much more picturesque than The Yoga Farm (www.yogafarmcostarica.org) near Pavone, Costa Rica. As well as yoga sessions on a deck overlooking the ocean, the centre offers surfing lessons and two healthy vegetarian meals per day. Yoga Farm is completely off grid with solar panels, a garden for growing their own food and eco-friendly accommodation.

    Les Passeroses, France

    Img1: Psychological and physiological benefits of Yoga

    Les Passeroses (www.passeroses.com) near Angouleme in south-west France is the perfect retreat for anyone wanting to practise Iyengar yoga in a rustic, rural setting. The light and airy converted barn yoga space has been voted by some teachers as their favourite place to take classes. A typical day will involve two sessions of yoga, meditation and as many philosophical discussions and cups of chai tea as you wish.

    Yoga Barn, Bali

    Img 5: Psychological and physiological benefits of Yoga

    In the mountain village of Ubud, Bali, visitors can enjoy a spiritual retreat in one of Asia’s most enchanted hideaways (www.theyogabarn.com). The centre runs seven yoga classes per day – ranging from Yin Yoga to Ashtanga – in two mud-walled studios overlooking the rice paddies. You are free to pick and choose the ones that suit you. An on-site café serves mainly raw-vegan foods, ensuring you’ll eat well and feel healthy on your trip.

    Lotus Yoga Retreat, Goa

    Img 6: Psychological and physiological benefits of Yoga

    Situated right on Goa’s beautiful Patnem Beach, Lotus Yoga Retreat (www.lotus-yoga-retreat.com) is the perfect getaway for ocean lovers looking to unwind in a natural, peaceful setting. The retreat contains at least two yoga classes per day, along with accommodation in bamboo huts and vegetarian buffet meals. Guests are encouraged to book a massage or explore Goa’s sacred temples and colourful markets in their free time.