A yoga student told me how happy she was when she walked her dog and her grandson was riding on scooter. Then her grandson decided to walk the dog and she had to ride on his scooter. I am glad she is able to manage it and thanks to her for sharing this funny story.
Balance exercise is one of the four types of exercises along with strength, endurance and flexibility. If we don’t use it, we lose it. Yoga helps improve balance and it’s quite fun to do balance poses. With good balance, we are able to maintain the capacity to do things we enjoy. It also prevents falls and avoids severe injuries. Falling over can cause disability or death.
Balance is all about falling the center of gravity within the base of support. When we come into all fours, we increase the surface of support. Our body weight is more likely to equally distribute between hands, knees and toes. When we stand on the feet or one foot (walking), surface of support is smaller. However, when we learn how to shift body weight (center of gravity) to the base of support, we can balance with one foot, two hands, or even one hand and hold for a few seconds. Stability is enhanced by center of gravity, which means body weight is equally balanced and distributed in all directions.
The base of support
Examine your feet if there are any inversion (turning sole of the feet inward) or eversion (turning sole of the feet outward). Do you lift a few of your toes up when you stand on the ground? Feet being so far away from central nervous system require you to bring awareness to your toes to connect to the earth. The first step to balance is to equally distribute body weight to four corners of the feet. Press the toes down. This is to increase the surface for balance. The more surface we get, the more balance we have.
The center of gravity
The center of gravity of our body depends on different body movements. When we stand on the right leg, we need to shift the body weight to the right. Strong abdominal muscles help falls the center of gravity within the base of support (right foot).
For example, in tree pose, stand on right leg, shift body weight to the right side so center of gravity falls to the surface of right foot. Press down right foot, crown of the head reaches towards the ceiling. Hug everything in, press left foot firmly against the right thigh. Do it slowly.
Half moon pose
How about half moon pose? It’s one leg on the ground and torso is held horizontally. We still need to find the center of gravity and how it falls to one leg. In this case, When standing on right leg, we need to rotate the left hip. Opening up the left side of the body allows the center of gravity falls within the right hip, right leg and right foot.
In some cases, we are worried about falling over rather than poor balance. You may find it easier to balance next to the wall even you are not actually touching the wall. Practicing balance pose also helps us learn how to manage fear and stay focused. Both yoga for grownups and chair yoga for seniors involve balance poses in each class.
Do you have good balance? Is balance exercise in your regular workout routine? If you have any questions or comments, I would love to hear from you.
This year I read a lot, from human biology to psychology, from yoga to entrepreneur stories. It seems irrelevant to each other yet a combination of my yoga dream. Reading is one of my hobbies that make me feel content and stay away from negativity. I really love the story about Penguin Publishing so I start with this. It was a revolution back in 1920.
Revolution in 1920 - Penguin and the Lane Brothers
Back in 1920s, under the Barwell Boys scheme, Richard Lane lived in rundown shacks with no books as an indentured farm laborer in Australia. He became determined to carve out a literary life back in England. He took on Australia’s unpretentious, egalitarian outlook and applied it to traditional grand publishing in Britain. From nice hardbacks to cheap paperbacks, suddenly, people on low incomes could afford to buy books for the first time. The bright orange covers made Penguins looked different and almost wonderful to buy in the grayness of Depression Britain. It was a general lifting up of the population. Penguin publishing is regarded as a “poor man university”.
Resolution in 2019 – Be content
The Penguin story is very inspiring! Be part of something what your core value is. What do you care about most in life? For Richard Lane, he is a book lover and he delivered great literature to the widest possible audience. For me, I want to restore people health through yoga and help people build strength to face practical aspects of life. Yours may be plastic free for environmental sustainability. I believe we can make a change. Everyone has a place in the world. When you pour your heart into something bigger and be part of a revolution, you will feel fulfilled inside and outside. Keep exploring within and the world. Keep this in mind and I think it is really good for my mental health.
Resolution in 2019 - Manage negativity
On the other hand, life is tough. Sadness is unavoidable. I found out cancer came back to one of my yoga students while she has been trying so hard to follow a healthy lifestyle and fight against a cancer battle. When I taught chair yoga at a dementia unit, a lady in my class talked joyfully to a baby doll for one hour. A few ladies were not very kind to each other. One yelled at another and said she didn’t do yoga with me and just like a statue. I knew she wanted to move. It’s sad.
Last October, a 20 year-old Swiss girl came to Perth to learn English and stayed with us. In Switzerland, she works in emergency services. She told me basically Swiss people have all necessities but some of them want more, they become unhappy. Some people are diagnosed with depression and come to emergency services because they want quick fix.
Although sadness is unavoidable, working towards my goal and manage negativity help me live a happy and content life. Yoga helps me structure my day, and my life. I won’t be too sad as yoga practice breaks the state of sadness and I am not involved in any draining activity. Roll out the mat, stay focused, and I don’t have room left for sadness. Regular yoga practice keeps me well physically and mentally. When there is some turbulence in life, I can apply the yoga practice. Stay focused. Do not let emotions run over my head.
I wish you a Happy New Year. Have a fantastic 2019!
From moving around on all fours to standing upright, human evolution allows us to free our hands to make and use tools. Standing and walking upright also keep us cool as only head and shoulders get exposed to direct solar radiation, rather than the entire back and neck. However, there are a few downsides of human evolution causing body pain.
When our hominid ancestors still moved around on all fours, the feet ad hands were absorbing force. Pressure created by gravity was more evenly distributed along the spine. 4 million years ago, when we started walking upright, our spine gradually lengthened and became more S-shape in order to balance our torso over our hips and feet. Standing upright and having a curved spine increase stress on certain points of the column, such as back pain and neck pain.
When we know which part of the body gets stressed, we can choose yoga poses that will de-stress it afterward. 3 chair yoga poses strives to balance opposing parts of the physical body along the spine, the front and back, the left and right. It is essential to keep our bodies pain-free and function properly.
1. Forward bend
Directions: Place four corners of the feet on the ground. As you Inhale, lengthen the spine; as you exhale, bend forward. Slowly walk your hands towards the shin or ankles. Feel the weight of the head.
By hanging your head upside down and bend forward, you take the pressure of gravity off your spine, increase the space between the vertebras, taking pressure off nerves and relieving pain.
Directions: interlace the fingers and place your hands behind the head for gentle support. As you inhale, lengthen the spine; as you exhale, present the heart to the sky. Bring your awareness to the upper back, rather than the lower back.
This opens up the shoulders and chests. As we have a lot of forward-facing movement in our everyday life, hunching over a keyboard, then steering wheel, then cutting board, this is a great counter pose of our daily life to increase mobility of the spine, improve postures and alleviate back and neck pain.
3. Twisting pose
Directions: Place four corners of the feet on the ground. Then take your right knee over the left. There are two options. 1. Open twist (more gentle), put right elbow on right knee; close twist; 2. Close twist, put left elbow on right knee. Place your palms in your heart centre.
Twisting pose helps realign the shoulder girdle and the spine, as well as the pelvis and the spine. When twisting your body to the right, your right shoulder blade moves closer toward the spine, contracting the muscles that bind it to the ribcage and spine. At the same time the left shoulder blade moves further away from the spine, stretching the muscles that bind it to the rib cage and spine.
Chair yoga is great for seniors who are looking to gentle exercise. It is also great for busy executives sitting too long everyday. In modern lifestyle, we don’t climb trees anymore, and we lose the flexibility and strength of climbing trees. Spinal health takes the same approach. If we don't use it, we lose it. Forward bend, backbend and twisting are essential to our spinal health.
Download a printable version of chair yoga poster at Etsy.
Daniel Lieberman, (2013), The Story of the human body, the Penguin Group
Blogger - Rachel Lau
Yoga brings me physical strength and inner strength to face practical aspects of life while working in the corporate for over 10 years in Hong Kong. My passion for yoga encouraged me to leave the banking world and completed a Certificate IV in Yoga Teacher training in Byron Bay.
VAI YOGA has established in Perth since 2016, aiming to promote active lifestyle to grownups and seniors through yoga. As a Yoga Teacher and a Social Entrepreneur, I have had the opportunity to help people who live with injury, illness or disability. While VAI YOGA is at a humble beginning, I see the opportunities in helping people with chronic conditions at high quality and low cost wellness programs and getting the business off the ground in near future. I plan to blend two powerful healings together, yoga and occupational therapy.
First, VAI YOGA aims to restore people health through yoga, particularly middle aged and elder age. Specialised yoga programs help them build physical and inner strength to face practical aspects of life. Not long ago, while climbing up the corporate ladder, I discovered I had lost body strength and flexibility, and suffered serious neck and shoulder pain. I was unable to hold a hair dryer for more than 2 minutes. That was a wake up call for me to make a change of my workaholic lifestyle. Yoga helped me restore my strength, agility and flexibility. That happens to many middle age that we are busy with work and family, then forget to take good care of ourselves. The body runs down. It’s important to build a habit to keep us well. We learn to brush our teeth twice a day for teeth and oral health. It becomes a habit. We also need to learn to stretch the body regularly (minimum 3 times a week) for muscles and joints health. It has to make it as a habit. If we don’t use it, we lose it. The yoga program focuses on counterposes against our body movements in everyday life. In modern lifestyle, we spend lot of time on forward-facing movements, such as reading, driving, working, etc. The yoga program strives to balance opposing parts of the physical body, the front and back, the left and right and the top and bottom. In addition, this approach will be applied to seniors over 55 years old. Chair yoga program allows seniors to stretch every part of the body while they are seated. My 80 year-old student gave me a testimonial, ‘Although I have done yoga for 15 years I really enjoyed Rachel’s Chair Yoga sessions. Her gentle manner and clear instructions made the moves really easy to follow. It is a great workout and I would recommend it to anyone who is unsure of the balance or has restricted mobility. It is also extremely relaxing. Go for it.’ I am a huge believer that we are able to restore our health physically and mentally, by stretching the body and mind through yoga.
Second, in a mid-term goal, VAI YOGA aims to blend community-based yoga with evidence- based occupational therapy solutions to help people with special needs. Occupational therapy includes a range of therapeutic interventions that enable people to participate in activities that are important to them including self-care, productive occupations and leisure. I am particularly interested in how chronic conditions and ageing affect individual’s wellbeing, and how occupational health and management including prevention and rehabilitation programs enhance their quality of life. This integrative wellness approach will help seniors at aged care facilities, as well as inpatient/outpatient at hospitals. Some of my current yoga students live with arthritis, osteoporosis, mental health illness, brain injury, dementia, degenerative disease or Parkinson's disease. The holistic yoga and occupational therapy approach allows them to get the most out of their practice.
Third, in a long-term goal, I want to open a yoga studio, creating a space that invites middle age to elder age, with or without special needs, to practice yoga regularly. This will be an integrative wellness space that community focused, yet holistic and professional. As a social entrepreneur, we run low cost or free chair yoga programs for seniors. We welcome other yoga practitioners to allocate their capitals to align with their core values – We are capable, we are dedicated to others by supporting chair yoga programs for seniors.
I did my Bachelor degree in Government and International Studies in Hong Kong in 2001 and Master degree in Broadcast Journalism in England in 2002. That equipped me with excellent communications skills to connect with a wide range of people, from individuals to corporate professionals and government officials. After completing my studies, I worked with advertising agencies and banks in Hong Kong for 12 years. I managed end-to-end marketing processes, including drafting marketing proposals and agreements, and evaluated marketing campaigns. I demonstrated the skills and knowledge to manage complex projects with many internal and external stakeholders involved. I then made a U turn in life and completed a Certificate IV in yoga teacher training and Kids/Family yoga teacher training in 2014, Chair Yoga teacher training in 2018. I started up VAI YOGA in Fiji in 2015. Yoga programs included corporate yoga in the Embassy of the United States of America, kids yoga at international school, teen yoga for elite swimmers (national team). After I moved to Perth, I decided to help people restore health through yoga because of my personal experience. I will study postgraduate in occupational therapy at Curtin University in January 2019.
The scholarship will assist me in obtaining an extra layer of knowledge of medical, psychiatric and neurological conditions that affect the health and wellbeing of individuals. I will become an occupational therapist with in-depth knowledge of human development within the life cycle. That would assist me to find a new approach with the combinations of both occupational therapy and community- based yoga to help people. I am also able to expand my network to other registered health professionals working at hospitals, government and not-for-profit organisations.
I believe the mentorship program will give me enormous support to get the business off the ground. For example, I build VAI YOGA website by myself and I know a strategic user-design plan is missing. B2B and B2C user experience could have improved. In addition, a financial expert will give me insightful ideas of what to invest with limited resources, how to create value of services and how to raise capital. Time is money. Time management is crucial to success as an entrepreneur. I want to focus on creating service value and customer experience, rather than marketing and finance-related work. It’s important to know what to outsource.
I am delighted to participate in this interesting yet challenging Toptal Scholarships contest. These scholarships provide assistance to women from around the world and help empower us to follow our passion and become leaders. There will be only one winner for each region, Africa, Oceania, Asia, Europe and Americas. The selected recipients will receive US$10,000 and one year of one-on-one mentorship from a Toptal leader.
It’s embarrassing I can’t remember most of the names in class. Sometimes it’s gone after a second. It’s scary when I can’t remember. It seems my memory is unreasonably bad. I wonder if I can do something to improve my memory. I am reading a book about brain power and I am studying an unit relating to memory. It’s encouraging. I can do something for that through yoga.
1. Activate different parts of the brain
When we can activate different parts of the brain at the same time, it helps our memory. For example, when you hear the cues of the yoga poses, it is a verbal task of your brain activating the left temporal cortex. When you see the movements of the yoga teacher, it is a visual task activating the occipital and parietal cortex. When we complete both tasks at the same time, regions of the prefrontal cortex become active. We are able to hold the information temporarily in mind. We hold and then manipulate information, such as repetition, grouping things together, etc. Then we can bring it to our long-term memory. I know why I can’t remember names, because I am not familiar with Aussie names (including so many different cultures). I start remembering names when I hear of it from greeting, then read it from attendance sheet and meet the student a few times.
2. Stretch the mind
Yoga (exercise) stimulates the growth of new neurons, especially in and around your hippocampus, which plays a key role in your memory. It’s the quantity and quality of neuron connections that appears to determine your mental performance. Brain development is ongoing throughout adult life. I’ve realized my brain is actually still developing, not just declining, and I am so happy. All the links between your hippocampus and all the other parts of your brain require the formation of many new neural pathways. If these many new neural pathways are then used repeatedly, then the initial connections between the neurons become much stronger. Physical and mental exercise is important to build new neurons. When we take new information, it helps makes connections between neurons for better memory. There are many levels to stretch, sink, strengthen, relax, inhale, exhale,…on the mat. Travelling to the heart through yoga keeps bringing me new experiences and stretching the mind.
3. Create space in mind
We have 50,000 thoughts a day. When we have too much information in mind, we can’t retrieve the information from the long-term memory. Yoga helps give yourself time to slow down, stay away from distractions and focus on yourself (body, mind and breath). It helps create space in mind and take new information. Are you able to stop thinking something you don’t want to think of, say the person annoying you? Do you have the mental strength to direct your mind? When emotions run over your head, change your posture, or change the scenery, or start practicing yoga straight away. That’s how we create space for the mind. Also, don’t feel bad when you forget things. Forgetting is one of the 7 sins of memory according to psychologist Daniel Schacter. It’s important to forget so we have space in mind. In adult life, we do not only learn, but also un-learn, then re-learn.
If we remember everything, our mind is full of unnecessary information. It’s important to forget so we have space. The only thing is we need to pay some effort to keep us well. Activate different parts of the brain and stretch the mind. If we don’t use it, we will lose it.
I am teaching the following classes.
Yoga for grownups
Chair yoga for seniors
Burton, L., Westen, D., & Kowalski, R. (2015). Psychology (4th ed.,). Brisbane,
Australia: John Wiley & Sons.
Wootton, S., Horne, T., (2015). Build your brain power. Hodder Education
Rachel is the founder of VAI YOGA. She follows her yoga journey from Hong Kong to Fiji and Australia. She is now sharing the joy of yoga and continues down this path in Perth.