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Wherever you turn at the moment, you can't escape the buzzword "mindfulness". It leaps off magazine front page headlines and dominates wellbeing features. This is a very positive and welcome development and an inevitable natural response to the relentless pace of modern life. However the reality is that far from being a passing trend, the human desire and need for mindfulness has always existed. Indeed, it has been fulfilled for millennia by the original structured form of mindfulness practice - Hatha Yoga. What Is Yoga? Yoga is an ancient science, art, philosophy and physical practice which aims to unite the body, mind and spirit. In the 2,500 year-old classic text Yoga-Sutra, Pantanjali defined Yoga as “chitta-vritti-nirohdah”, or the “cessation of the turnings of the mind” – in other words, the stilling of the mind and achieving absolute focus regardless of any distractions. Modern day yoga is the term used to describe yoga from the 18th century onwards, when  Indian philosophes and beliefs spread to the Western World following the invasion of India by the British Empire.  However, the classical schools of Yoga teaching meditation and self-study were not very compatible with busy Western lifestyles. So a form of Yoga which emphasised physical effort, known as Hatha Yoga or “forced” Yoga, became more popular in the West.  Hatha Yoga became synonymous with yoga generally in the West, even though in reality it represents  just a small subset of yoga practices.  Physical yoga poses, known as asana, were originally intended merely as a means to the ultimate end of achieving “Samadhi”, a state of bliss achieved via meditation. Modern day practice of Hatha yoga has evolved over the last few centuries from its origins as a branch of Tantric yoga. It emphasises the aspects of Yoga which are more acceptable to Western mindsets and busy modern lifestyles. In particular it focuses on physical asana practice. However, it also includes elements of pranayama (breathing techniques), guided  relaxation and sometimes meditation.  These complementary elements satisfy our growing desire for a form of relaxation and mindfulness to relieve the stress of excessively busy modern lifestyles. Pranayama literally translates from its two component Sanskrit words, life-force (“prana”) and restrain or control (“yama”).  Commonly defined as “breath control”, it is a collection of techniques designed to intentionally alter the breath to produce specific results. Such techniques involve specific combinations and styles of the three components of pranayama – purak (inhalation), rechak (exhalation) and kumbhak (retaining or holding) the breath. Pranayama has a broad multitude of physical, mental and spiritual benefits. The practice of deep abdominal and full yogic breathing enhances the oxygenation of the blood compared to normal shallow breathing. This fuels the muscles more effectively and improves concentration. Mentally, the slowing of the breath boosts the parasympathetic nervous system which helps to lower blood pressure, reduce stress and anxiety with a whole host of associated health benefits. Concentration on the breath calms our thoughts and can even help to unite the subconscious and subconscious mind. Our Yoga classes also feature “mudra” which translates as “gesture” or “attitude”. In the widest sense, mudras are body positions which are thought to have an influence on the energy of the body and mood.  The most recognised mudras are hand gestures and are an extremely simply yet powerful way of focusing concentration thereby aiding relaxation and slowing of the breath. An example of a simple mudra that we use in our Yoga classes in Swindon is Chin Mudra, a symbolic gesture of unification. The thumb is used to represent the divine and the index finger represents the ego.  In chin mudra, the thumb and index finger are joined at the tips to make a circle, with the thumb over the index finger. This symbolises both the union of the conscious and subconscious minds and also the surrender of the ego to the divine. It is a deceptively simple mudra which can powerfully focus one’s intention as one begins a yoga practice. The practice of asanas have many benefits which are physical, mental and spiritual. Physically, asana improve muscle strength and flexibility, endurance, proprioception and balance. Mentally, the performance of asanas provide a focus for our concentration, calming the mind and relieving stress. Spiritually, the ability to comfortably maintain meditative postures is a stepping stone to higher forms of yoga practice such as Dharana, Dhyana and ultimately achieving Samadhi. The first chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika describes how asanas are integral to Hatha Yoga practice: “Being the first accessory of Hatha Yoga, asana is described first. It should be practiced for gaining steady posture, health and lightness of body.”  (Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Svatmarama, CH 1, vs. 19)  As with any form of physical exercise class, a yoga class should incorporate suitable dynamic warm-up, main section and cool-down phases. This has been proven scientifically to be the safest class structure which reduces the risk of injury. For example, it is therefore appropriate to incorporate Surya Namaskar at the beginning of the class as it provides an excellent full-body multi-joint dynamic warm-up. Main phase asanas which focus on strength will tend to shorten the length of the main muscle groups involved. It is therefore important to balance such asanas with those which focus more on flexibility, in order to ensure flexibility is maintained or improved overall.  This will also reduce the risk of injury. A combination of postures of varying intensities is also beneficial mentally for the participants and enables a smoother transition into other sections of the class such as pranayama and meditation. Counterpose asanas are very important to provide balance to yoga practice. The use of counterpose ensures that opposing muscle groups stay balanced in terms of both their flexibility and strength. This is crucial for the prevention of injury. They also provide mental and spiritual balance. So if you feel the need for an oasis of mindfullness in your hectic everyday life, look no further than Hatha Yoga and prepare to restore some harmony to your mind and body. Whether you are joining a Yoga class or practicing at home, we can all benefit from this ancient but increasingly popular practice!  

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One of the great things about HIIT workouts such as Metafit is that it is always possible to adapt each exercise to suit your own individual fitness level.  For example, you may be just starting out with exercise in general, or keen to complete some form of resistance exercise a couple of times a week as recommended in the latest NHS Exercise Guidelines. In this case, to begin with you can start with the basic versions of each exercise - for example a plain squat rather than a squat jump. This will enable a low impact form of workout which will still get your heartrate elevated but with a much reduced risk of injury.

Once you are comfortable with the basic versions there is tremendous scope to progress if you want more of a challenge. Incorporating plyometrics is an extremely effective way to burn more calories in the same period of time. It is also essential for anyone who wants to maximise their explosive power to improve performance in running or other sports.

Here's an example plyometric exercise from the Ape Shapes Metafit workout - the Tuck Jump, slowed down. The knees should be lifted high towards the chest, rather than the heels coming up towards the bottom with the knees staying lower. Notice how increased dorsiflexion at the ankle joint releases all that free elastic energy from the Achilles' tendon, helping me get higher. If you thud heavily on landing, make sure you are bending sufficiently not just at the knee but also at the ankle. If you struggle, then devote time to work on your ankle flexibility and you will notice a big difference.

Alternative 1 - Squat Kicks (low impact)

If you aren't quite ready for the full version of this exercise, then there are a couple of alternatives. One is to "Squat Kicks" in which you complete a squat by kicking in front of you with one leg on the way back up, alternating sides. Keep the toes pointed during the kick and make it explosive! Both feet should be in contact with the floor at all times.

Alternative 2 - Squat Big Knees (higher impact)

The second and more intermediate option which IS plyometric is "Squat Big Knees", in which you complete a squat by lifting one knee up towards your chest on the way back up. The momentum created by this movement will also lift the other foot off the ground at the same time. Both feet should be on the floor before starting the next repetition.

In our Metafit classes, we encourage beginners to start with Squat Kicks, progress to Squat Big Knees and if and when they are ready, to give the full Tuck Jump a try. A good transitional strategy is to complete a few tuck jumps at a time, then complete the rest of the interval with squat big knees. Remember the key is to progress gradually and only when you are ready!

 
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Since founding Run JB five years ago, by far the most rewarding part of the journey has been watching hundreds of our beginner runners finish their first ever Parkrun. We are fortunate to live close to what must be one of the most scenic Parkrun routes in the country. Lydiard Park in Swindon has played host to the unforgettable culmination to our Couch to 5K beginners course since 2012. It is always an emotional experience, with tears of joy and relief not uncommon afterwards, amid a wonderful atmosphere of camaraderie and an overwhelming sense of achievement for those who doubted whether they would ever be capable of completing the course just a few months prior.

However, they always do themselves proud and often surprise themselves in the process. It is largely because the hard work has already been done in training, and they follow our advice in how to prepare for the big day. Here are my top 10 tips for anyone approaching their first Parkrun.

Before the Run

1) Eat a decent breakfast - e.g. porridge or another wholegrain cereal ideally at least an hour beforehand. Avoid protein (e.g. traditional cooked breakfast) as this takes longer to digest and may leave your belly feeling heavy and unsettled whilst running

2) Make sure you bring your barcode! You've worked so hard to get here, you want your name on that results list!

3) Get there early to avoid stress, to give yourself plenty of time to go to toilet and familiarise yourself with the course set-up and of course, warm up properly!

4) Warm-up properly with gentle dynamic exercises which mobilise the whole body with added emphasis on the lower body. At Run JB we do this as a group so there is one less thing to worry about.

5) Position yourself at the right place in the starting group - there are time pacers - don't go to far forward or you will spend the first few minutes being overtaken which can be intimidating and annoying. If your main aim is simply to finish, then to play it safe position your self towards the back, which will also help with your pacing at the start.

During the Run

5) Don't go off to fast. Repeat - don't go off too fast! It is very easy to get carried away with the atmosphere, the crowd and those running around you.  It is very important to stick to your normal steady pace (at which you can maintain a conversation). Go off too fast and you will regret it as the lactic build up in your legs will return to haunt you later in the race

6) Relax - aim to keep the EFFORT steady throughout. This means you should expect to go slower on the uphill sections and faster on the downhill sections - but that your breathing should remain as constant as possible throughout.

7) Enjoy it! you have done the hard work over the last couple of months in training, and have every reason to be confident.  Relax and enjoy the atmosphere and your big moment!

After the Run

8) At the finish, don't forget to collect your place token and take it with your barcode to get them scanned. This ensures your time will correctly appear in the official results.

9) Go for a coffee with your fellow runners and share stories of your amazing achievement!

10) Make sure you take a photo with your fellow runners after crossing the finish line and share it on social media. Some of our ladies have never had as many likes for a photo as the ones they took after their first Parkrun. Remember it's not about showing off - it's all about inspiring friends and family to follow in your footsteps. You can become a positive role model and your influence can be very powerful on those around you.

 

 
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How are you going to remove the barriers and the fears?

When I talk to the women that I train they all have the same fears. The same barriers holding them back.

What if I'm too big? Will I be able to keep up? What about just turning up on my own? It's a big deal!

These barriers are holding you back. How long are you going to wait before you make changes? How much is your weight going to increase? How unhealthy are you going to become?

I'm not saying it's easy but I see the changes in the women that we train and how their confidence grows. Some of these women hadn't exercised since school! They told themselves they didn't like P.E. classes and didn't fit into a team. You may be in your 40s or 50s - this was over 30 years ago! You have to move on and let go.

Starting tomorrow, what are you going to do differently?

When you do and your confidence, self-esteem and fitness grows, you are going to feel amazing.

So don't just sit and say "I can't", "What if?". Have the courage to take action and ask for help.

Sign up for a class. We help women every single day. We have an amazing support network of women with the same hopes and fears.

Otherwise, you'll look back in a month or a year's time in exactly the same place.

Small change, small steps. Start tomorrow.

 

 

 
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How much do you get outside? Looking at the blue sky - wonderful, isn't it? How much do you stop, even for five minutes, and appreciate what you have?

Gather your thoughts and just see the world. See the trees. Listen to the birds. It's good for the soul to have space, quiet and peace.

We all need peace sometimes - we need to find our own calm. That means different things to different people.

Personally I just love the outdoors, the open spaces.

When life sometimes is getting on top of you, the simple things can make you feel happy, and make you feel appreciative.

So just stop, have a look around and breathe in the fresh air.

Just get out there and enjoy it!

 
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