Living in the digital age it’s far too easy to get wrapped up in a busy pace of life, often not leaving yourself time to take a step back and take stock. Often, living in London, I find myself running from work to social events and from work events to social engagements without taking a breath. Recently, in an effort to give my mind and body a rest, I’ve taken up Yoga. Many of those who have found Yoga and developed a love for the practice have an infectious enthusiasm for it – actively encouraging everyone, everywhere to give it a go. While I’m very much an advocate of both the physical and mental benefits of Yoga, I’m fully aware it’s not for everyone. However, I do believe there is something to be gained from giving yourself a regular hour of downtime. We’ve talked about alternative ways to exercise before – but here are some of the best healthy ways to give yourself a break.
Yoga: This relatively well known practice originated in India over 5000 years ago. Though the practices we see today (namely Ashtanga, Kripalu, Bikram and Vineyasa) are evolved forms, each has tonnes of benefits that you’ll notice on your body – even in today’s fast paced environment. Taking part in a regular practice can help you sleep better, feel generally more relaxed and healthy, as well as increasing your flexibility and reducing those all too common aches and pains. It’s also estimated that one single hour of Yoga each week can reduce stress levels by a third. It makes sense that Yoga is great for increasing your core strength, which in turn protects you against conditions such as arthritis and reduces the occurrences of back pain, but it also takes your joints through their full range of motion – something we don’t do often enough. Yoga could help to reduce high blood pressure, while engaging your heart can improve cardiovascular conditioning, which in turn helps to lower the resting heart rate and improve your endurance when you’re doing other exercises.
Pilates: While Yoga aims to take care of mind, body and soul as a whole, Pilates combines strengthening exercises with relaxation, while easing pressure on your spine and correcting bad posture. There’s more of a focus on core strength and body conditioning and less focus on spirituality – but that’s not to say you won’t find it helpful for relaxation. Pilates focuses on deep breathing as well as a strong, poised and lifted posture to enhance feelings of calm and release tension. Gravity weighs down the body every day, but Pilates aims to reduce the stress that places on your spine and joints; all round body awareness will improve your posture, thus reducing the strain created by every day movement. The visible benefits of Pilates are easier to see than those of Yoga. After several weeks it’s easy to see muscle definition in the abs, arms, thighs and buttocks, as well sculpting within your waist and shoulders. The result is a lengthened and toned body.
Tai Chi: This is a different kettle of fish all together compared to Yoga and Pilates. As a martial art believed to have been created by Taoist monk Zhang Sanfeng, this ancient practice is known as ‘meditation in motion’. Much like Yoga, there are many types of Tai Chi, but each shows the same positive effects on balance, fitness and flexibility. Other health benefits of this slow and steady martial art include reducing stress, anxiety, depression and positively enhancing mood. Unlike Yoga and Pilates, there’s very little pressure put on the body during Tai Chi (making it perfect for those with serious aches and pains,) but it has still been proved to increase energy and build muscle strength to combat those niggles. A recent study has also suggested that undertaking Tai Chi just three times a week can increase mental activity, improving your memory and preventing Alzheimers in the future.
Whichever relaxation exercise you feel will suit you most, science says dedicating some time to your body is really worthwhile and the benefits speak for themselves. Are you a fan of Yoga, Pilates or Tai Chi?
Written by Alice-May Purkiss