Real yoga is totally transformative. And I am not just talking about the way it can transform your thighs or make your skin glow (which it can btw). Yoga is the oldest self-help system in the world, and it can deeply improve your life on all levels. Health, wellness, happiness, productivity, serenity – yoga offers you the whole package. The ancient yogis had a profound understanding of our essential nature and what we need to live in harmony with both ourselves and our environment. I mean, these yogis spent thousands of years meditating on this system and perfecting it. This is important stuff.
After 20 years of daily yoga practice and one devastatingly amazing weekend retreat, I am excited to share Swami Sivananda’s 5 Secrets for a long, healthy and inspired life:
- Proper Relaxation – Real, deep relaxation enables your nervous system to transition from the ‘fight or flight’ sympathic nervous system to the ‘rest and digest’ parasympathetic nervous system, which is our natural state of being. The body can only heal and thrive when we are in the parasympathetic nervous system, which is why real relaxation is so important. And watching Netflix with a glass of wine does not count. Instead try savasana (corpse pose) and the breathing exercise described in #3.
- Proper Exercise – The yoga asanas have been perfected over thousands of years to systematically stretch and tone all the muscles and ligaments in the body, keeping the spine and joints flexible and improving circulation. Not into yoga? The point is to move your body with your exercise of choice, alternating weight-bearing exercises with cardiovascular exercise 4-5x per week.
- Proper Breathing – Most of us breathe through our mouths in shallow breaths. This is a sign of the sympathetic, or ‘fight or flight’ nervous system being in control. Lie down on your back, place your hands upon your abdomen and breathe through your nose. With every inhalation allow your abdomen to expand. With every exhalation, allow your abdomen to contract. As your breathing becomes deep, slow and full three things happen: 1. Oxygen is sent to your brain 2. Increased energy circulates through your body 3. You transition to your sympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system. Practice for 10 minutes per day.
- Proper Diet – The ancient yogis suggest a vegetarian diet, but after 10 years of naturopathic practice, a ton of study and the personal experience of being a very ill vegan for 5 years, I don’t completely agree on this one. Some people, usually with Type O blood, simply need a small portion of organic animal protein to be healthy. What I do agree with is that 60-70% of the diet should be fruits and vegetables, combined with a small portion of protein and starchy carbs.
- Positive thinking and meditation – When you remove negative thoughts and start practicing mindfulness all sorts of magical things start to happen. How do you do this? Practice, practice, practice. Download Headspace (a meditation app) and use it daily. Surround yourself with inspirational quotes and people. Connect with the present moment and notice sounds, smells and tastes. Go for a walk and notice the trees, the sounds of birds and children. Like a muscle, the mind needs to be excercised for change to happen.