Thought for the Day

Many young people are preparing for exams now – whether it is end of year, GCSEs, A Levels, or Uni exams. Yoga is well known to combat stress. In one study we did together with the CBeebies, cortisol (the stress hormone in the body) dropped by 30% at the end of the class, but more interestingly, the whole class started with a 20% lower cortisol rate than the control groups. This means that week on week, your stress is reducing and the benefits are cumulative.

1 – when we stretch our body, we are indicating to our brain that we are relaxed as a stressed body is a tense body.

2 – when we breathe deeply, we activate the baroreceptors in our lungs which tell the body to relax

3 – when we turn ourselves upside down, the heart gets to relax as it no longer needs to pull the blood back up from the bottom of the body

4 – we focus on one thing, the breath or a mantra, in order to train the brain to be strong and not wander or ruminate, which is the basis of so much anxiety. To be able to focus, brings success in any field.

5 – Philosophically – we distinguish between what is real and what is unreal. We look at our lives and we see it in a philosophical perspective, where we are no longer at the centre, but just someone who is learning lessons, whatever they are – this brings us into a more detached mode of thinking.

So when you get home, lie down and pop your legs up the wall and breathe deeply. Make sure your outbreath is longer than your in breath for about 15 to 20 minutes and you will soon feel a difference.

Good Luck!

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Why are young people ‘disembodied’ and how can we help?

As I was training a group of secondary school teachers, psychologists, social workers and psychiatrists last week to share yoga and mindfulness with teens, it became more apparent than ever that poor mental health of our young adults is not showing any signs of abating. As the group shared the reasons for coming on the course, many mentioned how the young people seemed disconnected from themselves.  The psychologists used the term disembodied.

Many young people, they felt, were disconnected from their bodies, viewing their own bodies as objects, to be controlled or punished with food or exercise, but not to be listened to or respected. Many live their lives as it were, outside themselves, viewed through the lens of the Instagram or snapchat conversation.

Our bodies are wise temples of information, prompts and intuition, our bodies never lie. When we practise yoga, we get in touch with our bodies and we feel into pleasure, as well as aches and pains, to discover and listen to underlying emotions.

When we ignore messages from the depths of our bodies, we are more likely to live in our minds – our minds were never meant to be our masters, they are the servants of our intuition, our knowing. But when the mind runs riot, it plays havoc with our lives and we end up out of balance.

We concluded on the last day of the course that we need to bring young people back in touch with their own bodies, so they might be less likely to fall foul of the vagaries of shifting mood states, emotions and destructive thought patterns that can lead to anxiety and depression.

We need to connect the body with the mind and recognise a third, even wiser dimension, which can guide us towards a more fulfilling life, some call it the soul or the spirit. Yoga opens us up to this possibility.

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Update on the APPG on Yoga in Society

The APPG on yoga in society was inaugurated in the House of Commons on the 22nd March. This a historic moment as it is the only government to introduce this kind of initiative, it follows in the steps of the very successfully APPG on mindfulness and it heralds a new era in acceptance of yoga among the general public.

The aims of the APPG will be thrashed out among the MPS in the coming weeks. The consultants to the group suggest interventions in schools, the NHS, the prison service and the workplace as a salutogenetic intervention that builds health among the British population to alleviate pressures on the strained NHS and schools.

Westminster university are busy measuring interventions and comparing the outcome of mindfulness vs yoga in school settings as well as undertaking a nationwide survey of 2500 yoga practitioners in the uk. The results of these papers will influence how we move forward. Warwick university and Harvard have come together to measure outcome of yoga in the workplace together with the pharmaceutical giant GSK. Currently it is estimated that 7% of the UK population practise yoga and 26% of schools offer it as an after school club or as part of PE. In a trial run by Bangor university it was shown that sick days dropped by an astounding 70% when yoga was introduced to the workplace. It seems that yoga is the magic pill that might finally drive out county towards a compassionate healthy and collaborative future.

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Present Gift

Last week I had the privilege of spending time with 23 students and 7 teenagers in the South of Spain. There was no Wi-Fi, TV or other distractions. It was a good 20-minute uphill hike to the nearest village. We all found the daily meditation and yoga practise a beautiful reminder of how to slow right down and be present.

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Yoga vs Christianity among parents

“Yoga cannot open people’s hearts to God” says Pope Francis. There seems to be some confusion, which cannot be ignored.

Is yoga a religion? Is it contrary to my Christian faith? Does the word God even feature in yoga classes?

Lets be clear! Yoga is a philosophy, a science of well-being, pre-dating Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism (and definitely Christianity!) and deeply influencing them all. Yoga has existed and flourished for thousands of years (maybe 7000). However, in no text or system does yoga require you to have a belief or faith. Rather, it is a system, a science of well being, very different from religions, since yoga incorporates practical applications on how we exercise, breathe, think, relax and eat.

The definition of religion is one of faith and ritual. Yoga, however, is about experience and practise.

For many Christians, particularly Catholics,  mentioning controlling the mind can be a massive trigger. Many parents are scared that the yoga will “control the mind” of their child. We could, instead, talk of calming or stilling the mind, in order for it to be more positive and focussed.

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The end of Sportivate?

Sport England have funded 1 in 7 active graduates of Teenyoga, either by paying for the course or by grants for teaching yoga classes to young people.

However, this is changing. Sportivate was a fund set up after the Olympic Games running for 6 years, to support more interest in sport among young people in England.

2017 sees the end of the Sportivate funding. Last week, I had a meeting with several managers of Sport England. It is clear, that although the funding has come to an end in half of the regions, there is still some funding for Year 7 in 27 regions. These applications need to be in by around the 17th of February.

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Christmas lesson for teens

This time of year, it can feel like we are working against our own bodies, pushing ourselves up out of bed when its dark, taking vitamins, supplements, coffee, chocolate or pro-plus to keep going until the mid-winter feast which pushes us even further into activity and consumption.   I have had the benefit of slowing down almost to a halt this past few weeks and I watch how the teens are pushing themselves to fill in UCAS forms, preparing for Mocks, getting on buses in the dark and coming home in the dark.

As yoga teachers, we are in such a privileged position, we can nourish and care for these precious souls, offering them solace in this frantic time, teaching them to slow down completely. Their bodies are telling them to sleep (91/2 hours per night between 13-19) yet most of our teens sleep on average 6 hours per night.

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Report on NTNU conference in Norway, next steps in research in yoga in schools.

It was an honour to be invited to spend time in the presence of a very small and select committee consisting of the father of Yoga research in schools, Prof. Sat Bir Khalsa, PhD from Harvard Medical School as well as his esteemed colleagues; Dr Shirley Telles from the Patanjali Institute in India, Professor Usha Nayar from Tata Insitute in Bombay, Professor Ingunn Hagen and Associate Professor Gunvor from NTNU, Trondheim Psychology Dept., Antoinetta and her husband Eros from Bologna University as well as research students in the field of yoga and psychology.

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