Tips for using yoga, meditation and mindfulness to help boost and maintain your overall well-being.
According to the Global Wellness Institute, “wellness” is defined as the active pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health.1 On a more personal level though, everyone may define it slightly differently in their own lives — it may include any number of facets such as fitness, nutrition, sports, self-care, social and spiritual practices, enjoying nature or hobbies, for example.
Wellness-focused activities and their associated health benefits have gained increasing visibility over many decades; the past year in particular has really brought to the forefront the importance of making well-being a priority.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has definitely been increased awareness around the value of establishing a practice of self-care, whatever that may be,” shares Tanya Porter, Living Arts Director at The Inner Space. “Whether earlier on in the pandemic or overall, many people have found themselves without a sense of routine, or needing to create a new one, and that can be a jarring experience.”
With this in mind, creating a sense of structure through a wellness practice can offer a range of benefits. Research shows that consistency and routine can play an important role in overall mental and physical health.2 More specifically, regular practice with an activity such as yoga, for example, can help reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, improve concentration and memory, boost energy, provide pain relief and improve sleep.3
As Porter notes, “For some individuals, making a commitment to an established routine can be difficult, for a number of reasons. What’s important to remember is that as a starting point, the amount of time you dedicate doesn’t have to be significant. Even a few minutes a day will make a difference. The main goal should be choosing a regular time and establishing that as a self-care moment on a consistent basis.”
Watch this panel discussion as experts discuss lifestyle tips for brain health.
If you’re a parent of younger kids, pre-teens or teenagers, helping your younger family members develop and adopt a self-care routine can play an important role in establishing long-term healthy habits. As Porter explains, “At earlier stages of life, as the brain continues to develop, practices such as yoga and mindfulness help to create a stable foundation for managing emotions and self-regulating.” Studies also indicate that these practices can improve motor skills, spatial awareness, strength and flexibility; boost self-esteem and body image; improve focus and school performance; and encourage creativity.4
“And specifically in the context of current and recent times, yoga and meditation can be a great ‘worry-buster’ for kids, helping them feel a sense of connection and support no matter what’s happening in the outside world,” notes Porter.
With the realities and restrictions of the pandemic, and what that’s meant from a human and social connection standpoint, many individuals have faced strong feelings of separation, loneliness and a sense of being compressed or trapped. The sense of not knowing what may be ahead can also create the uncomfortable feeling of uncertainty.
“The mind can be very busy, especially in times like these. By leaning on a wellness practice such as yoga, meditation or mindfulness, it can help individuals feel comfortable with being in the present and that experience of not knowing,” Porter explains. “These self-care practices can also be a powerful tool for bringing awareness inward, and creating a sense of calm in whatever that moment may be.”
“Say, for example, you’re experiencing a distressing thought. When that takes place, there’s an emotional and physical response to that thought, and the result is often a limitation in breathing. For both yoga and meditation, the breath is key,” says Porter. “Practicing proper breathing creates connection between your thoughts and feelings, and establishes a stronger connection to body awareness, which may better equip you in coping with certain stressful situations.”
However you choose to make wellness and self-care part of your routine, pursuing it in an outdoor setting whenever possible may serve to amplify the benefits. Various studies and research have found that people who participate in exercise and physical activities in natural settings experience enhanced mental well-being and better sleep.5 Improved cognitive performance and a range of physiological benefits have also been associated with fitness that takes place outdoors.6
“Getting outside every day, even for fresh air and a walk, is important for everyone,” emphasizes Porter. “From a self-care standpoint, I often encourage people to take a walk in nature, or even around the block, and pay attention to their breath. Be present in that moment, and with each step, allow each foot to fall so you can get a sense of the ground underneath you. This can be an effective way to find clarity and calm in your day.”
To maximize the benefits of health and well-being, studies suggest you should spend two hours a week in natural environments such as parks, woodlands or beaches, or 20-plus minutes a day.7 One particular study noted that it didn’t even matter how the two hours were spent — the positive results the study’s participants experienced were simply from being outdoors, in any form.8
When it comes to healthy living and lifestyle habits, it’s important to find what works best for you and your family. If self-care activities such as yoga or meditation aren’t something you’ve pursued before or you’re not sure if they’re the right fit, start by incorporating small things into your day-to-day.
Taking into consideration the recent current environment and the tendencies towards virtual activities, and depending on your comfort level and circumstances, options to consider may be signing up for a virtual class, using a wellness app, scheduling a lunchtime walk, writing down your wellness goals, or choosing an activity you can enjoy with a family member or those in your household.
“Even if you carve out just five minutes a day to devote to focused and conscious breathing or a relaxation practice, you’re investing in yourself,” emphasizes Porter. “Regardless of the form of self-care you pursue, by making a commitment to put yourself first, this can be the foundation for creating lifelong wellness habits.”
Whether it’s an end-of-day practice to decompress and reset after work, or a positive way to start your day, even a five-minute relaxation practice that you do routinely may be helpful for stress reduction and improving mindset.
Put whatever is in your hands down (especially a cell phone!).
If you’re sitting, rest your hands in your lap.
Close your eyes or softly gaze at a single point ahead of you.
Bring your full attention to your physical form, and notice the sensations in your body.
Allow your body to feel exactly as it does in this moment.
Notice and feel the sensation of your feet connecting to the ground.
Notice your body being supported by the chair if you’re sitting.
Invite your body to soften and release down to the earth beneath you.
Let gravity support your weight.
Notice your breath, and invite your belly to soften.
Receive your next breath, allowing your belly to round and fill.
Exhale fully, allowing the navel to retract back towards your spine.
Continue to observe as you receive each breath fully and then release it completely.
Find yourself here — embodied, supported and present in each moment, as it comes and goes, with the breath.
Note: The above guidelines should be considered as a general recommendation only. Prior to beginning any new wellness practice or regimen, it’s important to consult with your doctor or health professional.
Note: The content of this article is intended for general information purposes only. As individual needs differ, it is crucial to discuss your personal situation and health with a qualified healthcare practitioner.
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