In the awakening era of the #MeToo movement, should yoga teachers offer hands-on adjustments in a group class setting? And should studios be concerned that a yoga teacher’s touch, however well-intended, could foster an unsafe atmosphere?
How the #metoo movement is affecting yoga studios.
Ask any devoted yogi, and they’ll probably liken their practice to a form of therapy; they’ll head to the mat to work through the stresses of day-to-day life. Anxious about an upcoming presentation? A few deep breaths in warrior 2 might just snap you out of it. Feeling defeated after a bad work week? Nailing crow pose will bring out your inner badass real quick. Brokenhearted? Go on, cry in pigeon. (There’s probably somebody on the other side of the room doing the same.)
But while yoga is really effective at clearing intense emotions from the body, its physicality can also unexpectedly dredge up lots of uncomfortable feelings from the recesses of our minds. “When people are coming into the yoga room and they’re moving their bodies and working with the breath, they’re inevitably opening up psychological material, whether they realize it or not,” says Ashley Turner, LMFT, a licensed therapist, yoga teacher, and creator of psychology-led yoga training program Yoga.Psyche.Soul. “Many times, people will have memories surface or just have an emotional release, and they may not even know what it’s attached to.”
When the news cycle is packed with stories of sexual harassment and assault, as it has been in the 15 months since the #MeToo movement first took off on social media—and especially if these stories mirror your own experiences—these memories or feelings are often bobbing just below the water line, ready to rise up at any moment. In this way, yoga can feel like both a refuge and a trigger.
Yoga can feel like both a refuge and a trigger.
What’s more, if a student has been on the receiving end of unwanted touch or creepy comments (or worse) in the studio, getting an innocent adjustment from a teacher or being told to “stay calm within the discomfort” of a pose can be straight-up distressing. And the traditional hierarchy between yoga teachers and students can make it hard for students to speak up for themselves if something doesn’t feel right.
In response to this new era of awareness, many yoga teachers have started making gentle shifts in the way they run their studios and classes. Their goal is to help yogis feel as comfortable as possible in a time when we’re all thinking more about the boundaries around our bodies. “It’s important for teachers to understand how to help [their students] move through [their traumas and emotions]… to hold a very compassionate space where they can start exploring this material, or give them other resources to help them further off the mat,” says Turner.
Teachers are indeed doing this in a variety of ways—and the changes they are making might just leave a lasting imprint on this ancient practice’s future.
The language in some yoga classes is changing
When I first started seriously practicing yoga about 10 years ago, my teachers talked a lot about the importance of pushing our bodies to realize what we’re capable of, and learning how to breathe through discomfort. You know the drill—directives to stay a little longer in a muscle-burning pose or try one more time to kick up into handstand. But more recently, some teachers have started to stress a different narrative that’s subtly linked to the Me Too conversation: Don’t do things with your body that you aren’t comfortable with.
“With verbal cuing, I’m not throwing demands at people,” says Dominick Cole, a trauma-informed instructor at The Yoga Collective in Los Angeles. “[Instead, I’ll say things like] ‘If this feels good in your body, you might try this variation,’ or, ‘If you want to take it here, this is an option.’ My goal is to assist people in feeling into their own bodies.” Cindy Godell, who teaches at LA’s One Down Dog studios, takes the same approach. “I encourage students, ‘If the pose we’re doing doesn’t feel good in your body, you don’t have to do it. If you want to take a child’s pose, do that,’” she says.
One Down Dog founder Jessica Rosen, a former therapist, says that this kind of messaging is really powerful when Me-Too-related news makes headlines and students might be triggered by memories of times they hadn’t said no in situations—sexual or otherwise—that they weren’t comfortable with. “It’s about advocating for ourselves, taking care of ourselves, and getting to know ourselves better so we can strongly stand in our own power,” she says. “Learning to connect with ourselves—what’s okay and what isn’t, what feels good and what doesn’t—can help so much, on and off the mat.”
According to Turner, acknowledging when upsetting events are in the news can help students process them on a deeper level. “I think it’s important for yoga teachers to name what’s in the collective field,” she says. “Take the Brett Kavanaugh [hearings] for example—at the beginning of class, we could simply state: ‘Today, we’re in a really volatile situation. You may notice that you’re feeling irritable or charged right now. I invite you to just grieve through it. This practice is a way to observe what’s coming up in your body, in your heart, and in your mind.’ A lot of people may or may not be aware of [the way the news is impacting them], and just naming it might bring their awareness to it.”
That said, she adds that it’s important for teachers to also have a list of mental health professionals on hand for referrals if a student shares that they need help navigating their emotions. “Unless a yoga instructor is a licensed therapist, that’s not their scope of practice,” she stresses.
Other teachers are choosing to more explicitly address things happening in the public sphere that might be affecting their students, sexual misconduct included. “We’ve had workshops themed around trauma—for women only, or for people of color only,” says Chloe Kernaghan, co-founder of Sky Ting Yoga in New York City. One Down Dog has offered similar programming, holding a women’s empowerment-themed class a few months ago to raise money for the Me Too movement.
Teachers are backing off the physical adjustments
If you’ve ever noticed a teacher gently lengthening your spine with their hands in child’s pose, or guiding your hips into a square position in warrior I, they’re doing it to help you feel the correct alignment for that posture. Pretty much every style of yoga includes these kinds of hands-on adjustments, because they can help you understand the experience of a pose in a way that isn’t always possible through verbal instruction alone. “Manual assists can be so informative,” says Kernaghan. “They can really bring somebody to the next level with their practice.”
And while the vast majority of teachers have only good intentions when they put their hands on someone, many yogis have received an adjustment at some point that felt a little sketch—instructors included. “I never had any ‘bad’ experiences, but I have definitely felt yoga teachers using adjustments and their bodies to flirt with me in the past,” says Sian Gordon, co-founder of Love Yoga in Los Angeles. “I think in light of today’s atmosphere, it’s not something that I would so readily accept or brush off anymore.”
“I have felt uncomfortable in adjustments that are aggressive or really intimate, usually given by the opposite sex,” seconds Yoga Medicine founder Tiffany Cruikshank. For her part, Cruikshank has always encouraged Yoga Medicine teacher trainees to think of physical adjustments as a last resort, focusing instead on verbal cues. This is especially beneficial in the Me Too era, when some students may be feeling extra sensitive to touch. “One of the reasons we use them as our last form of helping a student is because in a group class, where you can’t really talk or interact [with individual students], it’s impossible to know what a student is feeling,” she says.
The same is true in One Down Dog’s teacher trainings. “I encourage teachers to use their voice and presence to adjust, rather than physically touching people,” Rosen says. “There are a lot of ways to help somebody without physically touching them.” Taking this idea a step further, she introduced consent cards to the studio last year: Students can grab one to set next to their mat, displaying for the instructor whether they want physical adjustments or would prefer not to be touched. Many teachers will also ask students to raise their hands at the beginning of class if they don’t want to be touched, usually while they’re relaxing in child’s pose, so that no one besides the instructor can see their preference.
At some studios, however, physical adjustments are key to the style of yoga being taught. Sky Ting is one example: Its classes are based in Katonah Yoga, which incorporates lots of touch as a means of going deeper into poses and creating connection between people. But over the past year or so, Kernaghan and her co-founder Krissy Jones say they’ve started moving in a more hands-off direction. “Definitely since the Me Too movement, there’s been a general shift in how people accept and receive manual assists,” Kernaghan says. Instead of instituting their own form of a consent card practice, she and Jones have chosen to stop adjusting students that they don’t know well, and they’re asking new teachers and subs to do the same. “In group classes, I’m only adjusting the students that are regulars in our community, so I know they’re comfortable with me going in and [touching] them.”
Even if a teacher executes a perfectly professional adjustment, it can still be triggering for a student who’s experienced some kind of unwanted touch in the past.
As you can probably imagine, male teachers, especially, are having to rethink the way they’re approaching adjustments in their predominantly-female classes. “You can get away with all sorts of different adjusting if you’re a 70-year-old woman or even a 30-year-old woman, but not as much if you’re a 25-year-old straight man,” Kernaghan points out.
Cole, for one, isn’t doing as many adjustments now as he was a few years ago. “Something in me has stayed away from them a little bit more,” he says. “Maybe I’ve naturally responded to being a little more hands-off in the yoga room to give even more space to people there I don’t know. I don’t want to step over people’s boundaries or make them wonder if I was hitting on them.”
Sky Ting instructor Patrick Foley says that he’s always avoided physically adjusting students until he’s built a relationship with them over time, but the need to do so is magnified now. “It’s something I’ve been acutely aware of since my first 200-hour training—if anything, Me Too has made me a bit more careful and methodical in building that rapport before making adjustments,” he says. “I think the Me Too movement has shed light on the fact that intent is not enough. I think a lot of men believe themselves to be well-intentioned, but you can’t disregard the impact of your actions on someone else, whether they be a student, friend, or family member.” Because even if a teacher executes a perfectly professional adjustment, it can still be triggering for a student who’s experienced some kind of unwanted touch in the past.
Yet, despite the fact that many teachers are starting to think twice before making adjustments, it’s unlikely physical touch will be phased out of yoga altogether. Turner points out that some people are kinetic learners, and touch can be the way that a pose finally clicks for them. “But still, it’s very important as yoga teachers to ask before touching, since we are working with the body, and there’s trauma held in all of our bodies,” she adds.
The playing field between teacher and student is leveling out
Of course, we can’t really talk about the Me Too movement without mentioning that the yoga community itself has seen its fair share of sexual abuse allegations over the years. In the past decade alone, Bikram yoga founder Bikram Choudhury was sued for sexual assault and harassment by six of his former students and his one-time lawyer; Anusara yoga creator John Friend stepped down from his post amid allegations of sexual misuse of power; Pattabhi Jois, the late founder of Ashtanga yoga, was recently accused of sexual misconduct by several of his former students; and many women, like Yoga Girl Rachel Brathen, have come forward with stories of sexual misconduct at the hands of instructors, photographers, and businesspeople in the yoga world.
So why is this kind of behavior so prevalent in yoga, specifically? “There are a lot of power dynamics at play in the yoga room [between teacher and student],” explains Turner. Adds Cruikshank: “You want to please the teacher, especially in a guru sort of lineage like Ashtanga, where there’s this reverence for the teacher and there’s a big power differential. Like Pattabhi Jois—no one’s gonna say no to him.”
This power differential is something Rosen has always tried to minimize at One Down Dog. “I’ve always made it a really important part of the business that neither the teachers nor the staff are put on a pedestal,” she says. “That’s something that was very common in guru culture—teachers are put up high, and whenever someone’s put up high, someone else is put down low.”
“Never be shy to tell the teacher what you’re dealing with or what your preferences are, because we’re flexible and open to all different types of people.” —Krissy Jones, co-founder of Sky Ting Yoga
When she introduced Ashtanga classes to the studio’s schedule, for instance, the team spent a lot of time considering whether to even call it by its given name, because of the recent scandals involving its founder. “It’s that tricky, fine line of, ‘How do we honor and respect those that are doing wonderful and amazing work with those teachings and not taking advantage of students, and also acknowledge that this stuff happened and is not okay?’” she says. In the end, the studio kept the name “Ashtanga,” but now describes the class on its menu as “a new take on an old practice, with a fresh perspective and evolved understanding that embraces a culture of consent and empowerment.”
At Sky Ting, teachers make it clear to students that they are their own gurus. “I think across the yoga communities all over the world, that’s the vibe—never be shy to tell the teacher what you’re dealing with or what your preferences are, because we’re flexible and open to all different types of people,” says Jones. And this climate is leading students to be more outspoken when something doesn’t feel right, adds Kernaghan. “Within the last year, we’ve gotten emails from students that are new to the studio who have said ‘Hey, just so you guys know, the adjustment I received in class yesterday was a little bit alarming.’ It wouldn’t have necessarily been an adjustment that was extreme in our eyes, but people are starting to openly have a dialogue around these kinds of things and to feel more comfortable voicing how they feel. Which is great!”
And it’s important to remember that yoga teachers, themselves, aren’t immune to sexual misconduct in their classes, directed towards them from their students. It’s happened to Gordon from Love Yoga, and she’s also become more vocal about speaking up for herself in recent months. “In yoga, the feeling of threat can go both ways,” she says. “Because of the Me Too movement, I felt empowered recently to tell a male student who made me uncomfortable not to come to my class anymore. I don’t think I would have done that before.”
And the more we can draw boundaries and advocate for ourselves—especially in the safe container of a yoga class—the better off we’ll all be. “I think one of the great teachings of the Me Too movement is that it’s helping all of us, but particularly women, to find our voice,” says Turner. “As a collective, we found our voice, and we’re not taking it anymore. We’re [discovering] all of these micro-ways that we can create our own empowerment and boundaries.” And yes, taking savasana in the middle of a sweaty flow totally counts.
Valerie Knopik, Yoga Medicine® Instructor, discusses the “Depth Year” and how you can use these concepts to re-invest in your yoga practice.
“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was, in me, an invincible summer.” – Albert Camus
With the holidays behind us and winter weather in full swing, many of us experience feelings of being let down during the months of January and February. Do any of these thoughts and ideas sound familiar?
• Now what? • Is it time to do a New Year’s Detox? • New Year’s resolutions? • I’m going to get back into my normal workout routine. • What can I buy with these gift cards? • This year will be the year I do weekly meal prep every Sunday! • I commit to moving for 30 minutes every day this year.
How can we fill the dark days of winter and still fulfill some of those normal desires to do something new?
Recently, I read an article by author, David Cain, about something called a “Depth Year.” Back at the end of 2017, this author had suggested the Depth Year with the original intent of taking a year where we don’t acquire any new possessions or start any new hobbies. The idea caught on, with many people deciding to try this idea of ‘going deeper instead of going wider’. The author decided that, since he had suggested it, he should actually do it too. Instead of doing what he himself had suggested – i.e., one full year not acquiring anything new or starting any new pursuits – the author decided to keep depth at the forefront of mind whenever he made any decisions. His follow-up article discusses how his Depth Year changed his life – offering him more creativity, more opportunity for mindfulness, in fact, he stated that depth was a “new lens for looking at the tools and opportunities that were already there.”
I look at this concept of the Depth Year as an extension of some of the rituals and traditions tied to Winter Solstice – the shortest (and darkest) day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, which took place on December 21, 2018. The time surrounding Winter Solstice asks us to reflect on our whole selves, including those parts we hide from others. We might then go further to ask ourselves what we can leave behind (symbolically) ‘in the dark’. This self-reflection can be done, at least in part, through journaling, meditation, and introspective yoga practices. The Depth Year concept asks us to consider, among other things, why we’ve let certain projects go unfinished, why we’ve given up on certain pursuits, why we’ve not invested in certain relationships, and why we constantly need more. Both approaches invite us, in simple terms, to go deeper…to check in with ourselves, with our blockages, with our fears, with our fall back habits of procrastination or lack of motivation. And, then each approach asks us to confront (and actually sit with) the reasons why.
I feel inspired by the idea of a Depth Year, but to be honest, it also feels a bit daunting. If you aren’t ready to jump into the Depth Year in all aspects of your life, one idea is to start small and apply these Depth Year concepts to re-invest in your yoga practice, even if you have been practicing forever. I am a believer that how we treat ourselves on the mat is reflective of how we treat ourselves (and others) off of the mat. If you feel as inspired about this Depth Year approach as I do, here are some simple ways to start to play with this concept in your yoga practice:
• Go back to the basics. Spend quality time with the foundational poses of your yoga practice. Revel in the principles of alignment. Be fascinated with thoughts about what muscles are working and which muscles are lengthening. Use these investigations as a way to stay focused and present on your mat.
• Approach decisions about your practice with depth in mind. This might involve decisions about what kinds of classes to take or what options you choose during class. For example, if you always take the ‘up-level’ or more challenging option, consider dialing back and just sitting in the depth of the base option/pose.
• Bring breath to the forefront. I wrote a piece for Yoga Digest last year about going back to the breath and well, it’s hard, but it just might be a game changer for your practice. Approach your practice as if your breath is the peak pose. Instead of thinking about what you look like in each shape, focus on your breath instead. Notice how a shift in mental focus might stir things up.
• Bring mindfulness and meditation into your daily practice. Starting with just 3 minutes a day and building to 10 minutes over time can add a layer of depth to your day that is virtually indescribable. Before I started meditating regularly – primarily because I was convinced I didn’t have the time (insert eyeroll here) – my teacher would tell me that meditating would actually give me more time. She was right. I don’t know how to explain it, but meditation can leave you feeling as if you have more time in your day.
• Journal about new breakthroughs in your yoga practice as you practice these ideas of going deeper instead of going wider. What did you feel after focusing on nothing but your breath? How does it feel to sit in the depth of foundational poses and sequences (such as sun salutations)? What did you learn about yourself? About your habits? About your thought patterns? About anything? Write it down so that you can look back and recall how this Depth Year approach has changed you and your practice.
“There are vast amounts of untapped value in what you already have. We just need to cultivate it.” – David Cain
Prioritizing your health is no easy feat — especially when the internet and media flood us with conflicting advice on what works. For many of us, trying to get healthy means committing ourselves with gusto to bold plans with big promises. Whether it’s a Spartacus-inspired boot camp with daily 5 a.m. sessions, or an intense diet that cuts out all but two food groups to mysteriously induce some fat-burning chemical, or something in the murky in between, extreme transformation strategies are usually not the best path for most people.
That’s why we’ve spent years researching real ways to get it right and finding products that can actually help you achieve those health goals. Our team has been consulting doctors and nutritionists, vetting ingredients, taste-testing bars and powders, assembling treadmills, sweating it out on yoga mats, and keeping up on the latest training tech to give you the inside track on all things health and fitness.
To get a pulse on the health goals of our readers, we surveyed over 500 people on their goals for the new year. Over 40% of respondents said they stick to their health and fitness goals for just a few months. We also learned more about what kind of health goals people prioritize (spoiler: it’s exercising more), and discovered that 50% of people in our survey said their fitness and health goes are the same as last year. For those of us struggling to stick to goals, or finding ourselves setting the same goals time after time, we dug into how to set effective goals.
If one of your goals for the year is to be healthy, we can help you define that goal and map out a plan for success. But what does it actually mean to be healthy?
According to most of the experts we spoke to, exercise and nutrition are obvious cornerstones, but mental health is also a vital component. Anna Larsen, CPT & Fit Body Boot Camp Owner, told us mental wellbeing is intertwined with fitness and diet, “if you are under sustained stress, you may start to find relief in over-eating, over-drinking or even over-exercising.” Exercise and a good diet produce hormones that improve your mood and mental health, while a healthy mental state can better equip you to maintain positive eating and exercise habits.
We’ve done 40 hours of research, dug into countless studies, consulted over 50 experts, and rounded up our 23 favorite wellness products. This health guide will help you understand the importance of health and start setting achievable goals.
Fitting in Fitness
Exercising and losing weight are pretty familiar New Year’s resolutions so we weren’t surprised that over 70% of our goal-setters listed one of these as their most important health goal for 2019.
Why is exercise so important?
Exercise eases stress, builds muscle, burns fat, and supports many of your body’s systems. Regular exercise is essential for long-term preventative health as it reduces the risk of serious health issues. A strong body is also better at fighting off minor illnesses. Running, weight training, walking, dancing — anything that gets your body moving is great for your health.
Exercise helps with weight management and weight loss, too. In order to lose weight, your body must burn more calories than you consume. And because muscle cells need a lot of energy, the muscles you build during exercise will continue to burn more calories than fat cells would, even when you aren’t exercising.
Another major benefit of exercising is endorphins. Physical activity, anything that gets the heart rate up, will release hormones called endorphins. Endorphins reduce your perception of pain and trigger positive “morphine-like” feelings in the body. This leads to more energy, improved sleep, and a positive effect on your mental health.
“A lot of times people think of exercise as ‘punishment’ for eating or drinking certain things, but exercise is really just a way to get your body moving, strengthen your muscles and activate the mechanisms in your bones that repair and strengthen them.” – Anna Larsen CPT & Fit Body Boot Camp Owner
How much exercise do you need?
The Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) reports that only one in three adults are doing the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. While it might seem daunting to add two and a half hours of exercise to your week, it could be as simple as walking for 20 minutes each day, or doing an hour of strength training or a workout class a few times a week.
Don’t feel pressured to sign up for that marathon straight away. Start slow and build on your progress. Once you’re accustomed to that daily walk, step it up and add some hills, or try to walk your same route a little faster. As your muscles get used to a fitness routine, introducing a variety of challenges to push your endurance, speed, or strength will help you continue to make progress.
Goals to get you started
Though you may feel inspired to tackle an ambitious new fitness goal to kickstart your journey, it’s more important to set a goal that you’re confident you can maintain. Larsen advises that consistency is essential, even if your goal seems too easy at first, it’s important to develop a regular routine before you ramp up the intensity.
For example, rather than pushing for an hour of exercise every day, Larsen recommends, “start with three to five days a week of a 20- to 30-minute routine that you enjoy.” If you hate to run, don’t force yourself to suffer through a sweaty treadmill session. Opt for a different activity like pilates, yoga, or a sport you enjoy. Ask a friend to join you for a swim, take your dog for a long walk, or go on a hike. What matters most is that you’re moving and you’re feeling good about it.
There’s a lot of conflicting information out there about what it means to “eat healthy.” The International Food Information Council Foundation’s (IFIC) 2017 Food and Health Survey found that most people find conflicting advice about what to eat or avoid, causing many to doubt their food choices. Sometimes we’re told to completely cut out carbs, but we also hear carbs are a primary energy source. One authority claims that coffee is carcinogenic, while another suggests it prevents diseases like Parkinson’s. Though defining it may be complicated, 19% of respondents in our own survey ranked “eating healthier” as their most important health goal.
Why is eating healthy so important?
The entire purpose of eating is to fuel the complex systems that function in your body — so feeding it the best nutrients possible is essential. Those nutrients, like calcium and potassium, directly influence bodily tasks like hormone creation and heartbeat regulation. Though vitamins and supplements are sometimes helpful, a balanced and healthy diet is the best way to ensure you’re getting the minerals your body needs.
The perks to eating healthy are abundant — it lowers your risk for health issues, improves confidence, increases energy, aids in weight management, and sets a good example for family and friends. The World Health Organization reports that if people ate healthier, stopped using tobacco, and exercised more — 80% of all cases of heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes could be prevented. This staggering statistic is reflected in nearly every major health disease — cancer, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, and even depression are all less likely for people with a healthy diet.
Which nutrition plan is best for you?
So let’s get back to what it means to “eat healthy.” A good place to start is USDA’s MyPlate. Basically, the ideal plate for each meal contains a balance of essential food groups. Half your plate should be fruit and vegetables, and the other half should be whole grains and protein. Add a small side of low-fat dairy and you’ve got a balanced meal.
Just like with exercise, drastic changes upfront are hard to maintain when it comes to eating healthy (that’s why diets don’t really work for most people in the long term).
While the goal is a balanced plate at every meal, you can start by making small changes to slowly modify your diet. Keeping track of what you’re eating and drinking to help you understand your eating habits. Be aware of portion sizes and don’t over-eat. Try to limit excessive sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Choose grilled food over fried, opt for fat-free dairy products, and try cooking with herbs and spices instead of salt. Drinking lots of water in place of soda and juice is another simple switch that will benefit your health in many ways.
But know that you don’t need to be overly restrictive or perfect with your eating habits to see success. Making small measured changes over time and striving for balanced nutrition is key to reframing your eating habits. “Eat healthy for 80% of the week and allow for unhealthy choices for about 20% of the week,” Diane Malaspina, Ph.D, Yoga Medicine® Therapeutic Specialist advised. “This is called the 80/20 rule. This approach teaches the skill of moderation and doesn’t call for complete food restriction so that less healthy food can be enjoyed in moderation.”
“Remember that fad diets aren’t easily maintainable, so it’s best to just adopt a healthier lifestyle that you can carry throughout your whole life.” – Dr. David GreunerCo-founder of NYC Surgical Associates
UCLA research found that the majority of people on diets will regain more weight than they lose within five years. Diets, especially overly restrictive ones that eliminate entire food groups, can be hard on your body, make eating at social gatherings complicated, and if they involve exotic ingredients or subscribing to a food plan, can become pretty expensive. Both the USDA and our experts agreed that general moderation and a balance of food groups is the most effective way to achieve long term healthy nutrition.
Goals to get you started
To start eating healthier, just one or two intentional changes can go a long way.
Some great products and services for better nutrition
A healthy mental state helps us cope with the stresses of life, work productively, maintain loving relationships, develop self-confidence, improve physical health, and ultimately live a happy life. But good mental health is not simply the absence of mental illness, just as being in good physical shape is about much more than not being sick. It’s possible to invest in and optimize our mental health and doing so can yield positive effects in every aspect of our lives.
In our survey, 57% of respondents that chose “improve mental wellbeing” as their most important health goal were men. Culturally, when talking about the idea of self-care and mental wellbeing, men aren’t always included. But it’s clear that this aspect of health isn’t a gendered issue. Taking the time to focus on your mental wellbeing on a regular basis is important to everyone’s health.
Addressing your mental wellness doesn’t have to be complicated either. Simple steps like getting more sleep, journaling, disconnecting from electronics, and exercising can make a big difference.
Why is mental health so important?
A positive state of mind will increase motivation, renew your energy, and help you make good choices. It also improves your ability to handle the inevitable stresses of life and maintain positive relationships with those around you.
“[Mental health] affects our emotional, social and psychological well-being; how we deal with others, handle stress and make choices.” – Dr. David GreunerCo-founder of NYC Surgical Associates
Your emotional disposition and outlook will affect how your body feels, too. Fatigue, cravings, irregular appetites, and weakness can all result from a poor mental state. “The mind-body connection is clear,” explains Malaspina. “Our thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and attitudes can positively or negatively affect our biological functioning.”
Goals to get you started
Most people will benefit from simply taking time to practice self care. What exactly self care means to you will be highly personalized. But simply put, give your mental wellness a boost by doing activities that help you feel relaxed and joyful. For some, that could mean spending time in nature (known as shinrin-yoku, or forest therapy). For others, it could be a lively family game night. Whatever helps you feel rejuvenated and balanced.
Setting goals is hard. So it’s no surprise that half of our survey respondents are setting the same health and fitness goals as last year. In our enthusiasm for self-improvement, it’s all too easy to design unattainable goals — e.g. “I want to run a marathon next weekend” or “I want to lose 60lbs by Valentine’s Day” — or keep things too general — e.g. “I want to eat better” or “I want to lose weight.”
While there are a large number of factors that can make reaching health goals difficult, we have some suggestions and a few tips from our experts for setting better goals.
According to the HSS, there are four stages to changing a health behavior:
It can be helpful to journal your progress through these stages as you instill new healthy habits. If you find yourself listing the same goals year after year, take some time to think about why you’ve struggled to reach this goal in the past, and then reflect on how you can change it to set yourself up for success.
Steps to setting better goals
*Make it a habit. Most people can form a habit in about three weeks. This is usually enough time to start experiencing the benefits of your new habit. So instead of setting huge goals for the whole year, try setting incremental goals for one month, three months, six months, etc. Successfully hitting these milestones also motivates us to keep up the habit to hit the next one. *Set SMART goals. SMART is an acronym for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Use this goal structure to craft an achievable and targeted goal. For example, refine general goals like “lose weight” or “exercise more” into “lose 20 lbs in six months” or “walk for 30 minutes five times a week.” *Track your progress. There are many ways to keep track of how well you’re sticking to a new goal: journal daily, check-off micro-goals, set specific mile-markers, or take photos. Larsen’s a big fan of this last idea, “take a photo of everything you eat during the day. You may think you’re only having a couple of treat meals a week, but photos may show that you’re actually having one or two a day —this way you can monitor that. Taking weekly full-body photos and comparing them each week or month can show you the progress you won’t see on the scale or in the mirror.” *Reward yourself. Whether it’s with a day of rest, a movie out, or a cheat meal. “Reward yourself by feeling proud of yourself,” Malaspina recommends. “The more you feel good and rewarded for your efforts, the more likely you are to repeat your behaviors.”
In this session they discuss how Tiffany transitioned from an acupuncturist to yoga, Yoga Medicine®, how she blends Eastern and Western modalities together, and she even gives some credibility to goat yoga.
Click here to listen to the podcast on Danni’s website.
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Allie Geer, Yoga Medicine® Registered Therapeutic Specialist, helps you take charge of your health and wellness with this quick five minute meditation and breath sequence.
Meditation and breathing techniques to keep you grounded.
We all know that the holidays are busy and our time tends to get stretched thin. This can leave us feeling frazzled, lacking focus, stressed, and even depleted, which in turn can impact our health. Take charge of your health and wellness with just a few minutes a day to not only improve your overall wellbeing, but to shift your perspective and stay grounded this holiday season.
Retreat from the hustle and bustle with this quick five minute grounding meditation and breath sequence. The nice thing about this practice is that it can be done anywhere: in a bathroom at a party, in bed before you get up, on the chair lift at the ski resort, in the parking lot at the mall, there is always an opportunity to check in with your internal environment.
1. Find a comfortable seat anywhere: in the car, in your bed, on a meditation cushion, or in your closet. Wherever it is, to begin, take a moment to check in and be an observer to the experience in your body. Notice your breath enter and leave through the nostrils. Notice the rise and fall of your chest and abdomen with each breath. Notice any tension in your shoulders, neck, jaw or anywhere else.
2. After taking a few moments to arrive, take three grounded breaths with a full breath in though the nose and an audible sigh out through the mouth. With every exhale, allow your sit bones to ground deeper into the support underneath you. Continue for two more rounds. Inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.
3. Now deepen your awareness of the breath with a pranayama exercise referred to in some traditions as Anuloma pranayama. Take your right hand and fold in your index & middle finger to place your thumb and fourth finger on each side of the bridge of your nose. Place your fingers just below the cartilage on the nostrils. Before putting any pressure on the nose take a full breath in and out. Begin by gently closing off your right nostril as you inhale through the left nostril. Then close off the left nostril and partially close the right nostril as you exhale through a partially closed right nostril. This action should mimic the sound of a bicycle tire deflating (think deflating tension and stress). Continue through this cycle of breath for 5-10 rounds. Inhaling through the left nostril, and exhaling through a partially closed right nostril to stimulate the parasympathetic or relaxation response.
4. After your tenth round, release the hands to a comfortable position by your sides and bring back the observer’s mind. Notice the ebb and flow of your natural breath once again, and notice the effects of this practice on your body and mind. Take a full breath in and exhale through the mouth. You are now back on your way to a grounded holiday season.
Enjoy all that is around you and allow yourself to be in the moment, present with those who surround you. Most importantly, allow yourself to appreciate the fullness of the season!
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