Stay Cool in the Heat with this Simple Breathing Technique

Stay Cool in the Heat with this Simple Breathing Technique

When it gets to a certain point in the year, we all start to yearn for summer. Long evenings sat outside, fresh fruit and salads at mealtimes and the knowledge that if you forget your coat, it really doesn’t matter. Yes, summer is wonderful and we can all appreciate it, especially after a long winter – but when it comes to staying cool in the heat, it can get a little tricky.

Sweaty HIIT workouts are a great way to get those endorphins flowing and keep your energy levels up. However, if you’re stuck in a summer heat wave; exercising, or in fact doing anything that gets your body temperature up, can be the last thing you want to do.

There are many ways to help you stay cool in summer. Taking a cold shower, sipping on some ice water or, if all else fails, putting a bag of frozen peas on your face, are all fantastic ways to keep your body cool when the temperature starts to rise. However, there are also various breathing techniques which can be used to help keep you cool – something many people are surprised by! Practicing a breathing technique will not only help your body to relax, it can also cool down your mind – helping you to cope and stay calm if you’re prone to anxiety, frustration or anger. Plus, breathing techniques can be done wherever you are in the world!

What is Pranayama?

In yoga, breathing exercises are called pranayama, referring to the regulation of the breath. While many of the yogi breathing exercises heat up the body through building energy, there are two that help to keep you cool. These breathing exercises are known as Sitali and Sitkari.

“Pranayama is control of Breath”. “Prana” is Breath or vital energy in the body. On subtle levels, prana represents the pranic energy responsible for life or life force, and “ayama” means control.

What is ‘Sitali' breathing?

The name Sitali comes from Sanskrit, with Sita meaning cooling or soothing, and we can assure you that this breathing exercise does both!

  • Sit in a comfortable position with a straight back
  • Begin to focus on your breath, using the diaphragm to breathe. You should feel as if you are breathing from your belly and not from your chest
  • Open your mouth to form an O shape with your lips
  • Fold your tongue at the sides leaving a passage for the air to pass through. Stick your tongue out slightly and open your lips enough to let your tongue through
  • Draw your breath in deeply through your curled tongue and into your mouth. Imagine you are breathing through a straw.
  • You should notice that the air feels cool, especially as it moves over your tongue. Try to continue to focus on the cool temperature of the air
  • Feel your cool breath passing through the lungs and into the abdomen. Try to visualize this cool, fresh air filling your body.
  • To breathe out, bring the tongue back into your mouth and exhale deeply through your nose.
  • Continue to breathe in this way for a couple of minutes, returning to the deep breathing for a little while when you are finished.

How will Sitkari help improve your Health

Much as our bodies try to help us out the best they can, sometimes they simply don’t play ball, and there’s many of us who cannot roll our tongues in the way Sitali breathing requires, no matter how hard we try!

Sitkari is a great alternative, helping to cool our bodies down without the need to fold your tongue in half. Sitkari means hissing in Sanskrit, a sound we are sure you will notice as you practice this method of breathing!

  • Assume the same upright position as Sitali. Comfortably seated with a straight spine and relaxed shoulders.
  • Bring your teeth together – but do not clench them tightly or tighten your jaw.
  • Separate your lips as much as you can without straining yourself. Your teeth should now be exposed to the air and may already feel quite cool.
  • Draw the breath in between the teeth – try to focus on the hissing sound that you will hear.
  • The air should feel quite cool as it flows between your teeth. Try to imagine this cool air filling your body, flowing through your lungs and down into your abdomen.
  • To exhale, close your mouth and exhale deeply through your nose.
  • Repeat up to 20 times

To reap the mental benefits of these breathing exercises, as well as the physical cooling effects, try to maintain your focus throughout. This doesn’t mean trying to block thoughts from your head (this is practically impossible!). Instead, focus on the feel of the cool breath through your mouth or across your tongue, and if you notice your attention has wavered, bring your awareness back to this feeling.

Why Does This Work?

Many skeptics are surprised to discover that both Sitali and Sitkari work extremely well when it comes to cooling you down. But why is this the case? Well, when you breathe in through your mouth instead of your nose, the air stays the same temperature until it reaches your lungs. This air is usually cooler than our body temperature, which is why it helps to cool you down. By forcing the air in across the tongue or teeth, the air is moistened. This combination of wet and cold air does a fantastic job at cooling down our bodies.

Breathing through your nose, on the other hand, heats up the air before it gets to your body. This is why most breathing techniques build heat and energy in your body.

What Are The Benefits to Sitali and Sitkari?

Practicing breathing exercises like Sitali and Sitkari does so much more than just cool your body down. The mental benefits of breathing exercises are second to none, helping to reduce anxiety, stress and make you happier! Combining breathing exercises with physical yet mindful activity such as yoga is the perfect way to keep you happy, present and increase your ability to cope with whatever life throws at you!

There are also many physical benefits to practicing breathing exercises like these. Decreased blood pressure, better sleep, and increased immune system are just a few of the benefits you can expect to see from a regular meditation or breathing practice.

Any Risks?

If you suffer from any respiratory problem, such as asthma or bronchitis, these breathing techniques should be avoided. Likewise, if you have a heavy cold or a chesty cough, and find inhaling deeply difficult. There are plenty of ways to meditate that don’t involve deep breathing, so you are perfectly able to reap the benefits without risking your health. If you are unsure then it is best to consult with your doctor.

If you are somewhere very polluted, it’s also best to give these exercises a miss. Breathing in the heavily polluted air is extremely bad for your health, so we recommend waiting until you are somewhere quiet and clean before you practice!

Finally, do not practice Sitali or Sitkari in extreme temperatures. As the air enters your body at the same temperature it is outside, any extreme temperatures are likely to make you very uncomfortable and could even damage your lungs. This includes air that is both very cold and very hot. While it may feel good at the time, it is simply not worth the risk.

We hope you are feeling inspired to give Sitkari or Sitali a go! With summer well on its way, we’re starting to spend more and more time outside, and these breathing exercises are a great way to keep us cool, present and grateful for the moment. While they may not beat the feeling of an ice-cold glass of water or a cold shower after a heavy workout, Sitkari and Sitali are simple and easy techniques to get your body back to the perfect temperature.


Author bio:

Kosta Miachin is the creator of VIKASA Yoga method – a unique, challenging and effective approach to yoga. He is also the founder of VIKASA Yoga Academy. You can find him online: http://www.vikasayoga.com

5 Ways to Make Stress Not Suck So Much

5 Ways to Make Stress Not Suck So Much

Believe it or not, without stress, we humans wouldn't be around today.

Stress comes from an “ancient” part of the brain called the amygdala. It’s critical for regulating fight or flight situations. It has manufactured our fear response, crucial in keeping us safe from predators and dangerous situations.

While we no longer need to worry about a woolly mammoth barging into our homes in the dead of night, our stress levels still reach critical mass during particularly challenging periods in our lives.

That's why it's imperative to be aware of what self-aid one should apply in these situations. Take care of your state of mind and emotions the same way you would sooth a wound, physical pain. Too much stress, or overwhelming stress, is paralyzing. Not only does it flood our brains with negative thoughts, it can manifest in physical pain.

Lower back problems, stomach aches, and headaches are common complaints of the over-stressed.

How do we control stress before it controls us? There are many coping mechanisms, both positive and negative that could prove effective. But five stand out as tried and true methods to bust stress and restore our peace of mind.

5 Ways to Reduce Stress and Restore Peace of Mind in Your Life

#1. Get Your Body Moving

Exercise is the absolute best way to cope with crippling stress. Endorphins produced by physical activity both relax and energize us, flooding our brain with feel-good chemicals that restore order and lessen stress' grip on our reality. Exercise leads to better sleep, a renewed sense of control and fights fatigue so we are motivated to tackle our problems head on.

Take Michelle Obama as an example!

Exercise is a cornerstone habit, one that influences other habits in a positive way. When stress hits like a sucker punch out of the blue, dust off your running shoes, unroll your yoga mat, or do as Michelle Obama does and go for a long bike ride. The former first lady swears by biking as a way to kill stress.

There's a reason mountain biking is a favorite pastime. It gets you outside, gets the blood pumping and provides enough of a challenge to distract you and give your brain a much-needed break. Get a bike without burning a hole in your pocket. There are great MTB bikes for under $200. If you’re to spend money on something, spend it on what will help you grow, keep healthy, keep your mind sharp.

#2. Practice Gratitude

During times of strife, it's difficult to remember to be thankful, but practicing gratitude is one of the most effective coping strategies for handling stress. Top entrepreneurs, like Tim Ferriss of “Four Hour Workweek” fame and Roberta Perry, President and Owner of ScrubzBody both practice gratitude as a way to keep themselves focused and grounded.

Even when things seem at their absolute worst, try to make a concerted effort to find gratitude. Some examples could include;

  • I have people who love me
  • I have a roof over my head
  • I will not go hungry
  • I am healthy

Gratitude is easy in good times and difficult when things are bad, but finding those silver linings mean the difference between you controlling stress and stress controlling you.

#3. Make Time for Meditation

We don't need a well-appointed yoga studio full of incense and soft music to effectively meditate. As LeBron James, one of the greatest basketball players of all time proves, meditation can happen anywhere. LeBron James has been a proponent of meditation for years, crediting it with helping him get through fast-paced, high-stakes basketball games and becoming a star athlete.

Meditation is the art of mindful practice and we can easily work it into our day. We just have to grab five minutes to close those eyes and clear that head. Make our morning stroll a purposeful walk with meditation. Swimming has been called meditation in water. There is no one way to meditate. Find what works for you and put it into your daily schedule. Even in the most turbulent times, everyone has a few minutes to meditate. You'll emerge with a clearer mind and a better sense of direction.

#4. Phone a Friend

As the Beatles say, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” Our loved ones are willing to listen, support and aid us in a crisis. Sometimes we just need to spill our emotions to a trusted and sympathetic friend or family member. Don't feel as if you're burdening people. Those closest to you want to help and will welcome a phone call when stress becomes unbearable.

One of our most basic needs is a community. We need others to bounce ideas off of and validate us when things are the darkest. If you feel overwhelmed and hopeless, reach for the phone or send an email. The American Psychological Association indicates that phoning a friend is one of the best things you can do in a crisis.

#5. Explore the Great Outdoors

Nature is the great soother of woes. David Strayer a Cognitive Psychologist, hypothesizes that the simple act of being outside gives our brains a break. Whether backed by science or some other force that connects us to the planet, the importance of the outdoors to our psyche and mood can't be overstated. In a world saturated with stimuli, unplugging and finding solace is even more vital, especially during dilemmas.

City slicker? No problem. Every major city has a park or some green space to stretch out in. Some other ideas include:

  • Schedule a weekend hiking
  • Volunteer to walk shelter dogs in the park
  • Go to an indoor botanical garden

Take back your power. When catastrophes, emergencies or the unexpected happens use positive coping strategies and you won't need to let stress stop your life in its tracks.

Conclusion

Experiment to see which is best for your lifestyle and schedule. You might find that a combination of two or three is most helpful. If you find yourself in a state of peace after a long bike ride, try biking a natural trail to get the added benefit of the outdoors. Even better, get a friend to join along for social support!

Perhaps merging meditation and mindful gratitude is what centers you. It’s important to learn to observe your state of mind, to be aware of the fact that we need regular breaks, we need movement and diversity, we need tolerance both towards others and ourselves. Find what’s most relaxing and fulfilling to you and apply that customized remedy whenever you need to! And remember to enjoy yourself no matter what!

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Author bio: Amanda Wilks

Amanda is a regular guest blogger and veteran MTB rider. You can find Amanda’s MTB projects here. She supports the practice of sports arduously because her most difficult life situations have always been dealt head on with a proactive attitude and an eye on exploration and healing. You can show Amanda some support by visiting her MTB website and becoming a Twitter follower.

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What is Heart Rate Variability and WHY should I care

What is Heart Rate Variability and WHY should I care

Do you ever wake up in the morning and something just doesn't feel right? Regardless of the quantity of sleep and how dialed in your lifestyle habits are, you feel lethargic and stressed. Well, you're not alone in this feeling. This begs the question, ‘Wouldn't it be great to wake up each morning, press a magic button and instantly run a self-diagnostics test on our body, mind and spirit?

The short answer, HECK YES!

the self health diagnostic button

The long answer, Heart Rate Variability is the magic button. Yogis, athletes, and students alike are loving a form of high-tech meditation – HRV Training – which is growing in popularity with bio and Lifehackers everywhere. Not only is this emerging science useful in identifying when we are over-tired or under-recovered, it's also training us to recognize when we are overly stressed or anxious, and more than that, providing us with a framework to deal with it in the moment.

Me, along with a lot of people in my circles, absolutely love this idea, and by the end of this article I know you will too.

What is Heart Rate Variability (HRV)?

Heart rate variability is a type of tool that's designed to find out how stress affects your body. It basically measures the time between each heart beat and how it differs when breathing in and out. One of the primary reasons that this metric is tested is that certain HRV amounts can point to good health or bad health, depending on the exact time between heart beats.

By having your HRV tested and measured, you will be able to find how much you should work out and basic changes that should be made to your fitness routine. Using this tool can be exceedingly beneficial to your fitness levels.

How to Measure Heart Rate Variability (HRV)

Heart rate variability is measured by identifying the times between each R spike of your heart beat. The information for these spikes are provided through an ECG, or electrocardiogram trace. The variation of these heart beats can be used to find how stress and fatigue are affecting the body during training. This takes into account both physiological and psychological stress.

HRV rates can differ between people depending on overall fitness level, size of left ventricle, skill, or exercise mode. Such factors as body position, current mood, drugs, altitude, and age all have an effect on HRV. In general, it's believed that a high HRV measurement indicates a good fitness level and good health. On the other hand, a lower HRV can be linked to everything from fatigue to stress. Understanding more about these measurements from apps and monitors like ithlete, BioforceHRV, HRV Plus is basically a small part of the science of recovery.

Screen Shots from HRV Plus App – available in the app store for free.

Your HRV will be measured along with your resting heart rate over a period of several days. While, at first glance, it might seem that this testing would be lengthy and laborious, the test itself is simply administered once each morning and lasts for just one minute. The measurements span several days to ensure that there isn't an anomaly on one of the days and to ascertain your baseline HRV. Your daily readings are directly compared to the established baseline, which helps with identifying if any large changes have occurred.

Why is Heart Rate Variability (HRV) So Important?

Now that you understand what heart rate variability is and how it's measured, it's time to take a look at why it's so important. Without the information provided by these tests, you may continue to under-train or over-train. Both of these can be harmful to your body. When you under-train, you don't actually progress as much as you might believe you are. Under-training can involve anything from not working out as often as you should, performing exercises incorrectly, or simply not pushing to your limits. Achieving a perfect fitness level involves pushing your body to its limits. This allows you to actually increase your limits over time.

However, over-training is very dangerous and is what HRV is primarily designed to help with. Over-training involves pushing past your limits. This can damage your body and limit your recovery. Getting in shape or staying in shape is certainly an admirable goal that you should go about trying to do.

Graph shows same person, actual readings. First half in stress, second in focus,relax situation. Recorded by Stone Biofeedback device.

Graph shows same person, actual readings. First half in stress, second in focus,relax situation. Recorded by Stone Biofeedback device. Image Credit: Wikipedia

However, when you exercise too much and train too hard, you're actually reducing the efficacy of your workouts and possibly causing your body much harm. Over-training can thankfully be caught before you do too much damage, as there are clear signs and symptoms that occur during the recovery process following a workout routine.

One of the more common ways in which over-training occurs is by starting another workout session before you've fully recovered from your previous one. If this damaging cycle is kept up for a lengthy period, portions of your body will stop functioning properly. There are a myriad of long-term effects of over-training, but the most important things to look out for are the first symptoms. Injuries such as stress fractures are common with over-training, as are illnesses that occur due to reduced function in the immune system. You'll begin to experience fatigue on a more regular basis as well as a quick reduction of lean body weight, which is certainly counterproductive when trying to stay healthy.

Effects of Sleep Deprivation

You might also suffer from an increase in your resting heart rate. Basically, this can set you back in many ways. Your body will become weaker and it will simply take you longer to complete your workout goals. Many people believe that training and exercising is the only thing necessary towards achieving a fitter and healthier body. However, it's just one cog in the wheel. For instance, getting a good amount of sleep during your recovery phase is essential if you want your muscles to heal, grow and see your fat lessen.

Studies have shown that athletes that over-train themselves have a lower HRV than athletes that exercise the right way. This is why having your HRV levels tested is so important. Not only will learning about your HRV levels prevent you from over-training now and in the future, it will also help you know more about your body and what it takes to make your training more effective. There are times during the recovery phase where your HRV numbers could be low. However, they should bounce higher as the recovery phase continues. It's only when the baseline remains low that you should consider adjusting the way you approach working out.

getting your heart rate up is great exercise

The Most Amazing Benefits of Using Heart Rate Variability (HRV) when Training

As touched upon before, HRV is an extremely useful metric when you wish to maximize your training potential. Without having this variable tested, you could under-train or over-train, both of which can be very harmful to your body. In fact, over-training on a consistent basis can take a long time to fully recover from, months if the damage was extensive. While it's certainly difficult to find out every effect that training has on the body, HRV is the best tool for determining whether you're training correctly and how to fix the issues if you aren't.

life is like a heart rate

Each time you workout, you start out at whatever your current fitness level is. As your tissue is broken down, your fitness level will lessen throughout your training. During the recovery period, this level will rise. If you're training correctly, it will hopefully rise to above the level it was at before you last worked out.

HRV keeps track of your fitness level and allows you to precisely tune your workout to compensate for over-training or under-training.

To best understand the benefits and advantages of utilizing HRV, it's important to look at the results of studies that have been done with this method. One such study focused on soldiers with PTSD. When using HRV to regulate their training, participants saw substantial improvements in many cognitive functions. Additional health outcomes seen in separate studies displayed improvements in cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and glucose levels. Fatigue and stress were also greatly reduced. Without the use of HRV, you can easily miss the signs of over-training. The loss of any earlier gains you had made can take months to get back. With HRV, regulating your training is easy, allowing you to maximize your fitness levels.

How to Get Started with Heart Rate Variability (HRV)

If you wish to get started with HRV, you can easily do so with a simple heart rate sensor. This can come in the form of a finger sensor or chest strap monitor. When using a program such as ithlete or a similar one, you will be tasked with downloading an app that will record your heart rate and its variability. These apps are intuitive, easy-to-use, and informative, providing you with all the information you need to name current problems with your training and what you can do to fix these problems. Measuring your HRV typically takes around one minute.

To simplify the process, I highly recommend checking out the BioForce HRV kit. These guys practically ‘wrote the book on HRV' and have everything you need to maximize HRV in your life. The Bioforce HRV System includes, compatible heart rate monitor, HRV training guide, and integrated web app that lets you track your workouts, chart your progress, and join the BioForce HRV community. Click on the image below for more info:

BioForce HRV Kit - all you need for heart rate variability testing at home

BioForce HRV Kit – all you need for heart rate variability testing at home

Each morning after you wake, place the finger sensor or chest strap in its position and follow the app instructions. Once 60 seconds have passed, you'll be provided with all the important info from the reading, as well as a training recommendation for the day. You'll know when to train, how to train, and when it's time to rest. The recovery period is just as important as the time you spend working out. Understanding how to best help this recovery period will work wonders with your overall fitness.

Now that you know how to get started with HRV, you can buy a heart rate sensor and take your first measurement.

Next step? Go forward and be awesome! It's that easy.

any form of exercise is beneficial

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Resources and more reading:
  1. http://www.myithlete.com/what-is-hrv/
  2. https://www.heartmath.org/articles-of-the-heart/science-of-the-heart/article-explains-importance-of-heart-rate-variability-for-your-health/
  3. http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/diet-fitness/information/risks-of-overtraining.htm
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25694852
  5. Heart rate variability in healthy subjects: effect of age and the derivation of normal ranges for tests of autonomic function

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How (and Why) Your Brain Needs a Workout

How (and Why) Your Brain Needs a Workout

We all know the body needs routine exercise to stay healthy. Living without fitness has visible consequences as well as a correlation with body shape. Weight gain is something easy enough to notice with the naked eye.

Brain health is not as easy to analyze by the casual observer. A decline in mental stimulation and cognitive abilities has no obvious outward signs. Only later in life do we see effects of an unhealthy brain. Age-related memory loss and cognitive declines, such as Alzheimer’s disease and senile dementia, afflict millions of Americans. Alzheimer’s disease impacts one in every three senior citizens and there is evidence that suggests you can prevent it.

As technology allows humans to live longer, we need to take care of our brain as intentionally as our body. Luckily, there are many ways to get a brain workout and get in shape today.

Meditation: The Ultimate Brain Workout

Meditation comes in many forms. While many meditative practices were founded by Buddhist and other Asian religions, meditation itself has no religious affiliation.

The idea of sitting quietly and observing your thoughts may not strike you as a brain workout, but that is exactly what it does. Harvard researcher, Sarah Lazar, led multiple studies about mindfulness meditation and physical changes within the brain. She wasn’t only interested in how people felt from meditating, but how the brain actually changed. She found that certain parts of the brain increased in size (cortical thickness) within a group who meditated for 8 weeks.

Regions of the brain that were associated with increased empathy were more active according to her research. More recent evidence suggests meditation reduces perceptions of pain and helps treat symptoms of ADHD.

Imagine what happens to your brain over the course of 40 years with a steady meditation practice. Studies of monks in Tibet show that four or more decades of meditation significantly alters brain patterns permanently. With modern neurofeedback technology, famed biohacker Dave Asprey has created a 40 Years of Zen program that reduces the time one must invest to achieve such results.

If you don’t have $15,000 lying around for his program, you don't have to worry. There are plenty of ways to get started with meditation and mindfulness that are free and easy. If you’re a beginner, you can start with closing your eyes and focusing your attention on 5 long breaths.

To get a little more advanced, try meditating daily for 5 – 20-minute intervals or consider a free meditation retreat (such as Vipassana meditation), which is 10 full days of immersion.

Brain Games

My grandmother plays Sudoku almost every day and I’m convinced it is keeping her mentally sharp. Not only that, she thoroughly enjoys the games.

Even though brain workouts are fairly new and unpopular, there are large, growing companies producing a smartphone and online games you may find enjoyable. Luminosity is one of the most popular brain game companies, which has grown 150% every year since founding in 2005. In fact, the games reach approximately 35 million people worldwide, which is no small feat.

Luminosity isn’t the only game in town (so to speak) and there are plenty of free tools you can enjoy. These include games on Cambridge Brain Sciences and CogniFit.

No matter how popular and fun these games are, there is still a question about their efficacy for protecting our most valuable asset long into adulthood. There is ample evidence suggesting that elderly individuals who play mentally challenging games have better cognitive performance than those who do not. Even having more years of education is correlated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

While they are nice, online brain games specifically created to workout your brain aren’t necessary. They may be fun and novel, but even traditional games like sudoku, chess, and bridge can have positive effects on your brain’s long-term health.

Brain Food: When Modern Diets Aren’t Enough

Practices, such as meditation and mentally challenging games, have the biggest impact on the health of our brain in the short and long-term. But just like the body, if we don’t have the right diet and fuel for our brains, no growth will come of it.

In terms of diet, assume your brain needs the same thing our body does: whole foods, not much sugar, and plenty of water. There are some other nutrients the brain needs more.

There are two main nutrients people in the western world lack. One is vitamin D and the other is magnesium, both are important for regulating many brain functions. For magnesium, you can find a supplement, but finding the right one is important. Magnesium glycinate is the most bioavailable form of this nutrient, it is better absorbed and it is superior to citrate (commonly found in stores). For vitamin D, you can either spend more time in the sun (15 minutes of direct sunlight is all you need) or find a supplement – preferably from fish oil.

For an aging brain, there are a few non-traditional considerations as well:

  • Creatine Monohydrate – While creatine might be a popular bodybuilding supplement, it is one of the most well-researched options for improving long-term brain health as well. Creatine is directly correlated with our brain’s ability to create ATP (energy) and this both increases our cognitive abilities and protects neurological connections from decline. Creatine is more than a tool to get stronger physically, but mentally as well.
  • Fish Oil – our brain is made up of around 60% fat and most of it is DHA. Our ancestors had a diet high in fish, which meant lots of omega-3 fatty acids and specifically DHA and EPA. Today, our diets have far less fish and foods with omega-6 fatty acids instead. By supplementing with healthy omega-3s from fish oil, it helps protect neurons and improves blood flow to the brain. Try to get 1000 mg of DHA and 500 mg EPA every day.
  • CoQ10 (Coenzyme10) – another nutrient you’ve probably never heard of, but your body synthesizes it every day. CoQ10 is an important molecule for improving the health of mitochondria, which are considered the energy manufacturers within each cell. By supplementing with CoQ10, you ensure your brain is producing energy on all cylinders.

Supplements will not fix everything, but they can be part of an overall strategy to workout your brain, nourish your neurological connections and boost your mental performance today and in the future.

Physical workouts are incredibly important and worth both the time and energy that you invest in them. Adding a mental workout will also do wonders for the health of your brain. You may not see the difference as immediately as physical exercise, but you will be glad you did when you're older.

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Author Bio: Mansal is an avid brain health enthusiast who has an interest in both practices and tools that can enhance mental performance. He writes on numerous nootropics related topics on his site, Nootropedia, in order to bring accessible, non-biased information to enthusiasts.

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Why You Need to Savasana Like a Boss in Yoga and Life

Why You Need to Savasana Like a Boss in Yoga and Life

Savasana, also known as corpse or relaxation pose, is considered the most important pose in yoga. This soothing pose completely relaxes the body and helps release tension and tightness from all areas.

Dai Manuel - savasana like a boss

I can savasana like a boss – how about you?

The posture is called corpse pose for two reasons.

First, because of the body’s position; in savasana you are lying on your back with arms comfortably resting beside you, legs slightly extended and turned out, eyes closed and long, deep breathing. Second, this pose helps you prepare for the last relaxation – death.

Unlike in western societies where death is considered the end of our lives, in the yogi tradition because of the belief in reincarnation death is one of the most important moments in life. To practice yoga you don’t have to believe in this philosophy, you can simply do it for physiological reasons and savasana truly has many physical benefits.

The benefits of mastering Savasana in Yoga practice (and life)

Savasana helps practitioners lower their blood pressure, decrease heart rate, reduce anxiety, and help tension seep away from muscles. It also boosts your memory and ability to focus, while increasing energy levels. Regular practice helps you sleep better and can bring a general feeling of satisfaction and well-being.

Practicing yoga fundamentally changes the neuromuscular structure of our body. The stillness of savasana is crucial in this process, particularly for the nervous system, because it allows our cells to integrate and accept all that was learnt in the class before entering normal life.

yoga is awesome

When practicing Kundalini yoga, such as, you are putting stress on your nervous system to strengthen it in the same way weightlifting helps us strengthen our biceps. By enhancing your strength and endurance you are better able to cope with real-life problems. But if you leave the class before savasana (since this pose is usually done at the end of the class), you won’t give yourself enough time to integrate all these changes before returning to your normal day-to-day activities. This means you won’t derive the greatest benefit from your practice.

Why it's important take time for savasana

Those who are constantly on the run and never take time to let their body and mind pause are the ones who need savasana the most. Yogi Bhajan, who had mastered Kundalini by the age of 16 and brought yoga to the west towards the end of 1960s, has even joined savasana with Sat Kriya to allow equal amount of time for practice and resting, to make sure all benefits are fully integrated.

With this in mind, it’s unclear as to why most modern yoga classes rush through savasana, cutting the traditional 30 minutes to only a couple. People who practice yoga individually often completely remove this pose from their programs.

Image Credit: TheQuotePedia.com

Image Credit: TheQuotePedia.com

Discussions on this subject mostly blame western culture which values speed, efficiency, and what appears hard to do, particularly regarding difficult poses like bound lotus, wheel or side arm balance. These poses while impressive and beautiful to watch, are out of reach of the majority of yoga practitioners. But hard work and benefits aren’t always directly correlated. In most contemporary societies, we associate success with work like participating in school and judging our minds by their ability to analyze, calculate, compare, and be constantly busy. Savasana is actually among the hardest yoga postures of all as it is the greatest act of surrender. It demands silence and pausing both the body and mind. Such deep relaxation is extremely difficult to carry out.

Ending the yoga class with savasana gives us a sense of ceremony and sacredness as well as an opportunity to more swiftly into deep peace and complete relaxation for ourselves.

5 steps to doing the savasana like a boss

Follow these 5-steps to be a Savasana Boss

  1. Lie on your back with your arms and legs spread at 45 degrees, palms up and feet and ankles turned out.
  2. Slightly adjust your body to find the position of complete physical comfort and become secure in your foundation.
  3. Close your eyes and relax your entire forehead, chin, and jaw. Become aware of your breathing and its natural rhythm.
  4. Concentrate on this feeling of serenity and stillness and try to relax each part of your body. Feel how the earth beneath you supports your body weight, and let go.
  5. Give yourself enough time and don’t rush. Try to stay this way for between 5 – 15 minutes, staying completely present to the experience of savasana to be able to go deep within yourself, thoroughly and consciously.

It’s best to always start your yoga practice with savasana to calm your thoughts and breathing, and then use it throughout the class, particularly after the more dynamic poses, to immediately integrate the changes into every cell and muscle of your body. If your mind is too busy and active and you can’t really quiet it, try counting your breaths backwards from 27 to 0 repeating to yourself “I am breathing in” and “I am breathing out” for each number. If any habitual thoughts or plans start pouring in and your mind wanders away, simply notice them and get back to counting to lead you to full relaxation.

Couples that savasana together stay together

Couples that savasana together stay together

New yoga practitioners may need personal guidance from an experienced yoga teacher to learn how to mentally communicate with each and every part of the body. You can start from your legs and move upwards toward your pelvis, stomach, chest, and back feeling every inch of your fingers, arms, neck and head. Or you can begin with the right side of your body and then repeat the process with your left side. Feel every major body part one by one to make a full connection. You can take this as far and deep as you wish using your imagination to explore in detail every membrane, tissue, blood vessel, and bone in your body. Your imaginative powers will intuitively lead you to knowledge, kindness, and inner wisdom.

Savasana is about finding the balance between the conscious and unconscious. It’s about being aware but not thinking, being relaxed but not asleep, and letting go of all control.

Achieve Life Goals by Tapping Into Your Flow State – here’s how

Achieve Life Goals by Tapping Into Your Flow State – here’s how

Your legs burn, but feel strong, steady. . .powerful. The mixed sounds of stampeding feet, screams of names, and runners' breathy “ooo, ahhh”s  fill the airwaves.  Yet all you hear is your anthem song blaring inside your head (Eminem’s “Not Afraid”. . .it’s so ingrained), and the tempo of your even-paced breathes (two strides, breath in, two strides, breath out). You feel in control of your body and the adrenaline rush around you, within you.

You could go faster, but you know the drill —  keep the even pace at a personal 6 rate, and raise up to 8+ for the hill surge in a quarter-mile. . .and pass up all those overeager starters.  Those novices don’t know the “Hill of Death” like you do. 

I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.' -Muhammad Ali

You've mustered (and mastered) this steep section so many times, you could dominate it in your sleep. The hills are your majestic secret move, the flyby that no other competitor expects. The water station right at the bottom marks the 12.3 mile mark. And the rest is history. 

Time and distance seem to slip away,  and the hill is already here, and now. A mere step or two into the incline, and your legs impulsively start peddling faster, soaring past one person, two, three, four; many of them panting as you pass them, losing wind (and their willpower).  But you feel weightless and on fire, and oh the irony — you see midway up the long hill, that all-too-familiar lean, redhead competitor (that one who beats you by 30 seconds at best — every time). You lock eyes on the fiery bob ahead, channeling all your fiery passion and pains onto this object, which keeps getting bigger the closer you get.  A magical gust of wind comes out of nowhere from behind, pumping an airy lightness to the backs of your calves.  The seconds of time slice away with each push.

Yes, every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears of training is already paying off, in this very moment.  

Alright. Scenario #3 is complete. You take a deep breath in, and out, and allow your heavy eyelids to slowly flutter open. Your mental rehearsal is done. It’s now time for a good night’s sleep.

Wait . . .whaaaat?  If you’ve read this far and are confused. just know this play-by-play race strategy described aloud was run. . .in your head. That’s right — training for your goals virtually inside your brain (along with training your body) is vital to dominating your fitness/development goals. You can train your body to a pulp, but if you don’t have the right attitude or heart behind your goals, you’re doomed to be a step (or three) behind what you’re capable of.  

So let’s dig into why working your mind muscles is just as important as the physical ones.

What Exactly Is Mental Imagery and Visualization?

Mental imagery is envisioning your goal unfolding as though it’s happening now, in present time.

Think of mental imagery as vividly practicing in your head, like a dress rehearsal for a play.  You set up the scene exactly as though it’s “the Big Day,”and actually enact a star-to-end ideal performance,  You imagine yourself going through each move, over and over. Allow confidence, clarity, and relaxation to wash over you as you go through each step, and think of what you’ll do if X, Y, and Z happen — both the good stuff (passing the football perfectly to the quickest offense player) and the ugly (say, shoes untying at a prime time in a race). If something goes wrong though, rest assured. Simply stop the “video” in your mind, and rewind to begin again (until you got it down pat).

You’ve most likely already informally used mental imagery, in scenarios like:

  • Gazing off into dreamland during class (back in the day!)
  • Fleshing out setting/characters/voice subconsciously while engrossed in a book
  • Letting your thoughts wander in the shower,  replaying conversations or incidents that happened throughout the day
  • Watching a well-acted, emotional movie at a theater, and forgetting about the concept of time, packed-in seats of other people, and that these actors are performers, not these characters
  • Rare déjà vu moments (that  feeling that something “has already happened before” as it's happening)

Who Really Uses Mental Imagery and Visualization exercises?

michael phelps quote

  • Many famous Olympians, including Michael Phelps, who envisions how his entire swim rounds will go (from obstacles and successful moves alike, to switching from his own 1st person perspective to a 3rd person, in-the-crowds perspective) and Michael Jordan, who always stated that he was far from the best basketball player, but was strongly determined in his mindset, viewed failure as learning, and claimed that 80% of a game is purely mental)
  • Famous actors/business leaders like Oprah, Jim Carrey, and Will Smith
  • Everyday people who completely flipped their lifestyles (from Dai Manuel himself, to varsity high school athletes, long-time addicts, world travelers, and started-from-the-bottom popular musicians/writers.)  

It all comes down to the Big Question: how bad do you want it? Dream big like these role models  (and start nicking away at the steps to get closer to your goals).

What Can Mental Imagery Do For You?

How many times have you said “if only I wasn’t so nervous, I would have. . .(won/beat my PR/passed that guy ahead of me/felt proud of my outcome)”?  

all about brain and heart

Like the The Law of Attraction suggests, if you bring your A-game mindset to something, that positive energy you feel sends a subconscious message to your body to match that inner light. Doubt does the opposite — trips you up, freezes up your reaction times, and so forth.

9 Ways that Mental imagery exercises can help you

  1. Increase mental endurance, relaxation, and self-confidence
  2. Decrease stress and anxiety
  3. Help you consciously control fight-or-flight response if something goes “awry” during actual performance
  4. Feel familiar with setting/course and patterns you want to perfect
  5. Tap into the internal motivation (the why) behind your goal), and subconsciously allowing the body to and subconsciously giving permission to the body to give 110% effort if you choose
  6. Prepare/prime your body to mimic same motions/choices you imagined (proven multiple times in studies – see next sub topic!)
  7. Help maintain focus and concentration
  8. Break out of negative, belittling mindset'Help you view competition as fuel (and not fear and fumbling)
  9. Keep you in a state of flow during actual performance (feeling “in the zone”)

Come On. . .Does This Visualization/Mental Imagery Really Work?

Perhaps while reading this, you’re calling *bullshit*. This is for dreamers/wannabes. Well, if you’ve read this far (or simply browsed through the post to skim the answer of this question, good (continue on).

Relevant studies time and time again have proven that mental imagery isn’t just News Age positivity or blind optimism.  Mental imagery will not guarantee 100% of the results you want (because no one can win just by thinking about winning…oh, we wish!), but choosing to couple physical training with mental imagery training (vs. choosing to physically train without it) will get you closer to achieving your goal(s).

How? Well, the body (the internal nervous and neurological systems, to be exact) actually can’t tell the difference between a real action and one that is only vividly imagined. Seriously. Put in the physical work (and dream big), and your body will eventually copy the blueprint of success you have cemented in your mind.

rick majerus quote about free throws

Here are just a few of many significant studies that prove the power of mental training:

Study 1) Weightlifting hip flexing study by Shackell and Standing (group that physically just lifted vs. group that only imagined lifting) 

→ Both groups improved after 2 weeks, in very similar way (28.% for physical training only, 23.7% for mental training only)

Study 2) Basketball free throw study by Australian psychologist Alan Richardson

→ (Group 1): practiced free throws everyday for 20 days

→ (Group 2): practiced free throws only on 1st day and 20th [last] day

→ (Group 3): like Group 2, practiced free throws on 1st day and 20th day only, but incorporated 20 minutes daily of mental imagery; if shot was “missed”, person visualized how to shoot/score next time

Overall Results:

Group 1 improved by 24%; Group 2 had 0% improvement; Group 3 (visualization):  improved by 23% (only 1% off from pure practicing group!)

Study 3) Muscles strengthening study  from Ohio Musculoskeletal and Neurological Institute (OMNI) researchers at Ohio University

→ researchers at the Ohio Musculoskeletal and Neurological Institute (OMNI) at  Ohio University

→ (Group 1): healthy adult subjects that had to wear a rigid (elbow-to-finger) hand/wrist cast for 4 weeks

→ ( Group 2): Same as Group 1, but also told to regularly do 5x-weekly mental imagery exercises (picturing themselves contracting wrists for 5 seconds, then resting for 5)

→ (Group 3): did not wear casts (control group)

Overall Results: 

Groups 1 & 2 did predictably lose muscle/limb strength in wrists/arms, but Group 3 that wore casts (and did mental imagery) lost 50% less wrist muscle  than Group 2 (who did not engage in mental imagery).

In general, all these studies prove that the mind is powerful — that even repetitive thoughts can alter your brain, and your body reactions.

Tips To Practice Mental Imagery/Visualization

If you’re familiar with mediation, mental imagery will feel like second nature to you. If not, no worries. Try out various techniques until you find one that works for you. Think naturally about how you think or daydream, and you’ll already be off to a solid start.

Finding your flow state - athlete meditation

Mental imagery is like dreaming, but going a step further; you set up the vivid scene of “The Big Game Day”, and actually picture yourself in action.  Even though you may think of all the things you’ll do “wrong”, you’ll gradually learn to shift to a view where you’re doing everything “right” — even your setbacks will constructively teach you how to redo (and dominate) a move with some practice.

Here's some tips to try:

  • Get into a very relaxed mental state (a restorative yoga-like place); breath deeply, bask in silence or maybe put on light/atmospheric instrumental music; slowly get eyes to a point where they feel relaxed, but heavy, preferably closed
  • Perfect an all-senses, all-encompassing experience in your mind with the PETTLEP model of imagery (Get really detailed with this!):

Physical (your surroundings), Environment (imagine weather and setting, starting line packed with runners, football field, etc.), Task (the moves/demands required of you), Timing (flip-flop between real-time to slow motion), Learning (master a skill with failure, trial/error), Emotion (how you feel, how your body is reacting to emotion; sweat drops on forehead, underarms, scoring the winning point, etc.), and Perspective (flip flop between 1st person (seeing game/race through your own eyes) and 3rd person, like you’re watching a video of yourself)  

  • Imagine a past incident/game where you felt on top of the world with your performance.  Recreate that same emotion. Feel the butterflies in your stomach, hear the cheers, feel the slaps on the back by teammates of pride. Get familiar with that confident feeling, and let it envelope you.      
  • Find that perfect quote, song, or passage that fuels you to the bone. Let that message/sound weave in and out of your internal performance.
  • Add visual metaphors or symbols to your mental performance (i.e., a stream of light reaching down the sky and into your head and each limb).
  • If you want to get really psyched up and make that full mind-body connection physically move your hands, arms, and legs while envisioning your performance moves (i.e., a perfect golf swing, a side-swept soccer kick, raising your legs up as you sprint). This really cements in what your form will feel like (and many Olympians use this method)
  • In general, just get creative! What does winning/performing in your head feel like, and mean, to you?

Fine-tune the mental drills that work for you, and keep doing them, day in and day out. Do this active imagery for at least 10-15 minutes daily, before practicing goal/sport, after practicing and even in bed/quiet space (morning and/or night).

Triple Up on Brain Food: (1) Think It, (2) Write It, and (3) Say It

Once you get down the mental imagery, power up your mental winning performance with written goals and verbal mantras. Just like your mind can trick the body, writing and saying your dreams out loud only deepens that subliminal feeling of success.

goal without a plan is just a wish

Here's some inspiration/ideas to play around with:

  • Write out a personal mantra/motto (“I am excited to run”, I am strong and unstoppable”, whatever calls to you. Even if your phrase seems cheesy at first, it’ll be a true anchor with time.
  • Map out big goal and list out mini goals to get there (try bubble charts)
  • Repeat (or make a recording) of saying mantra 3x when you wake up, go to bed, or before/after you practice. (say it in a mirror if you want to make it über personal!)
  • Cut/print out articles/pictures and make a “dream board” you can look at every morning or night (and either read or say aloud a positive self-affirmation).
  • Write in a daily goal-specific gratitude journal (what today did you do that was great, made you feel empowered?) List 3-5 things, however small or significant.

best project you will ever work on is you

Whatever you do, focus on intrinsic motivation and move beyond the concrete “end” of extrinsic goals (because even a metal trophy is just a thing, not a feeling).  What do you deeply wish for? Do you want to feel physically and mentally healthier? Feel more energized? Earn some self-worth? Think about it, or get inspired with staff blog writer Thomas Hublin’s post about 10 easy ways to find a deeper purpose to your goals.

At the end of the day, we are far from being walking figures of skin — we are body, mind and soul.

Visualize who you want to be, follow through, and you’re bound to succeed (beyond your wildest dreams).

dead last finish did not start quote

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hannah Profile_picAuthor Bio: Hannah Fredenberg

Hannah Fredenberg is a retail copywriter with a passion (sometimes for fashion) but largely for psychology and lifestyle/wellness topics. When she's not writing M-F about clothing and accessories, you can find her running outside, hitting up the yoga studio, or reading a book (or two) for hours on end. Check out her copy-writing portfolio at https://hannahfredenberg.contently.com/ or contact her through Twitter (@Hfredenberg) or email at [email protected]

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