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We think relaxation is very simple, just sit back and close your eyes, however the brain may still be active, churning over the problems of the day, emotions, to do lists. We know that the mind is bombarded every day with thousands of thoughts, these thoughts may create a physical response, muscular, mental, and emotional, so when we think we are relaxed, we may not indeed be fully relaxed, even when we sleep... Which is why Yoga Nidra, (Yoga sleep) is well worth exploring.

The practice of Yoga Nidra, or Yoga sleep is normally at the end of a yoga class where practitioners enter a deeper state of conscious relaxation, moving awareness from the external world to the internal.

Yoga Nidra can be practiced by anyone. It holds immense benefits for all those who struggle to let go or suffer from lack of sleep, trauma, burn-out, and even anxiety. As a result, this powerful yet gentle practice is gaining popularity all over the world as more and more people experience its healing powers.

This practice involves a progressive movement of your awareness as you scan through different parts of the body. As you do this you will mostly likely experience and promote a sense of physical, emotional and mental relaxation. Yoga Nidra relaxes the mind at the same time as relaxing the body and helps us to clear out the nerve pathways to the brain. Through regular practice, we can counteract the effect of stress and hyperactivity in the frontal cortex by accessing different parts of the brain that can help us regulate awareness, supporting a harmonious, restorative state and a greater balance between the different layers of body and mind.

When you start Yoga Nidra, your brain is generally in an active state of beta waves. You then start to transition into relaxation and the meditative practice then takes you into an alpha state, the brain wave frequency that links conscious thought with the subconscious mind.

In alpha state, serotonin is released, which helps you to reach a transformational experience of inner calm, fluctuations in the mind start to decrease and you begin to feel more at ease. The body moves into stillness and a deep feeling of tranquillity and relaxation occurs. Continuing deeper into the practice the brain will then begin to emit delta waves, mimicking what happens when we enter a deep restful sleep. The difference between deep sleep and Yoga Nidra is that you stay awake during this final phase and you are able to access your subconscious thoughts and process past memories in the present moment. Repressed and unprocessed grief can loosen their hold, tension, and grip, whilst we can learn to find a little more freedom and detachment from unhelpful habits and thought patterns.

When you practice regularly, you might make a determination to do something in your life or become something, planting this seed into the now soft soil of your receptive subconscious, and as you end the practice, reaffirming your commitment to this determination. This can have profound affects for some practitioners.

Yoga Nidra is a subtle, yet very powerful practice that can help us deal with everyday stress and triggers. We develop a deeper awareness of our physical self and improve our powers of concentration.

Try for yourself, there are plenty of resources online of join a yoga class and learn the basics. Quite often I am told it is the best part of the yoga class, we all want to relax after all.

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Many of us spend our waking time sleepwalking, we perform our daily activities on autopilot and we are unaware of what is happening around us. Every day our minds are flooded with a constant stream of thoughts ranging from mundane and boring tasks to more deeper thoughts about life in general. According to popular research, there could be a many, or more than 60,000 thoughts each day, and these often-repeating day after day.

Each of these thoughts will stimulate a response, we will determine if it is a good thought, a neutral thought or an unpleasant, uncomfortable thought. This assessment with then set up a chain reaction in the physical body, particularly the nice and unpleasant thoughts, often quite subtle, but occasionally obvious. Many of us carry around a lot of physical tension, simply because we are continually processing these uncomfortable thoughts.

We may be a passenger in a car, for example, and thinking about the past, we may not notice the scenes around us, the weather, the environment we pass through, the colours and the activities before our eyes, as we are so absorbed internally. Mindfulness helps us to reclaim each moment, to live in the present so that little passes us by and most importantly, to decouple our minds from the noise in our head.

A certain amount of automatic activity isn’t bed though, it allows us to remember things, and to plan. However too much dwelling on the past or future means that our most valuable time, the present, is lost.

Cultivating mindfulness or learning to develop mindfulness is the act of keeping yourself anchored in the present moment, noticing every sensation and every detail of what is going on around you and in your space.

If you are writing a letter mindfully, (as I am writing this article) you will notice everything about it. The words as they appear on your screen or from the pen, the smell of the fresh sheet of paper before you start writing the sound of the keyboard as you press the keys or the resistance of the pen as it glides across the paper. You feel the pressure of your fingertips on the keys and the sensation of typing or the feel of the pen in the hand and the grip between your fingers. The more you engage, the more you connect, and nothing escapes your immediate attention. You develop a deeper sensitivity to real time and awareness. You see everything, feel everything and your immediate senses are primed, you develop a sense of peaceful detachment. You don’t need to analyse, judge or fix anything, you simply watch and feel.

When we live in the present moment everything takes on a new meaning. Colours are brighter and more vibrant, objects appear in striking detail and the sounds you hear sounds become clearer, our sensations are intensified. Mindfulness can be cultivated with mindfulness meditation, try this whenever and wherever you can:

Pull your mind away from wherever it is and concentrate on what you are doing in that moment, it doesn’t matter whether you are standing up, walking, or sitting down. Whatever you are doing, walking home, to work, eating, showering, start doing it with al of your senses engaged.

Smell the fragrance of the air around you, taste every mouthful of food you are eating, feel the sensation of water against the skin as you wash. Ask yourself what you are doing and what you are experiencing and feeling in that moment.

After a short while, you will probably find your mind trying to distract you as thoughts surface. Just notice these thoughts, you may not recognise this at first but be patient. When you find yourself drifting and thinking, gently bring your mind back to the present moment. This will draw the mind into the ‘alpha state’ where we are more passive and open to our feelings.

Stay here as long as you are able and come back here as often as you can.

Yoga is a mindful activity, the origin of yoga was simply to calm the busy mind. This process has stood the test of time and is as relevant now as it was 5000 or so years ago.

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Historically, people with joint pain and swelling were advised by doctors not to move, the rationale was "If it hurts, don't move it." We now know that inactivity is one of the worst responses for someone with arthritis.

Arthritis restricts movement, whereas yoga increases range of movement, Fact.

Osteoarthritis is the leading cause of pain and disability in the UK and an estimated 8.75 million people over the age of 45 have sought treatment for this condition.

Osteoarthritis, a painful and often debilitating condition caused by decades of wear and tear on the joints, is considered to be one the side effects of living longer. By the time we reach age sixty-five, X-rays for at last a third of us will show some signs of osteoarthritis, the most common of a group of diseases collectively referred to as arthritis.

Arthritis is so common in our culture that most people consider the pain and discomfort it brings to be a normal part of aging. Arthritis makes normal activities increasingly painful and difficult.

The word arthritis means "joint inflammation, which may include pain, stiffness, inflammation and damage to joints. Joint weakness, instability and visible deformities may occur, depending on the location of the joint involved.

Arthritis is classified into two main types. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder, resulting in stiffness in the joints and muscles, joint erosion, and pain. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disorder that erodes the cartilage in joints, which leads to bones rubbing together. Osteoarthritis frequently occurs in people who are overweight or whose joints are painful from extreme overuse.

In spite of the prevalence of arthritis, be careful not to jump to the conclusion that your achy joints are necessarily due to it. Overuse and injuries can also result in tendonitis, bursitis, carpal tunnel syndrome and other fairly common conditions that are unrelated to arthritis.

To remain healthy, muscles and joints must move and bear weight or they will lose strength. This weakness, coupled with joint swelling, will make the joints unstable. Joints in this condition are vulnerable to dislocation, increased injury and pain. Thus, regular gentle movement helps to reduce pain and to maintain mobility.

Physical movement promotes health in many systems of the body. It increases circulation, which in turn reduces swelling and promotes delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the tissues. With immobilisation, a cycle of deterioration begins.

Because movement is crucial to so many physiological processes, the arthritic person's overall health tends to deteriorate without it. The normal functioning of the immune system declines, infections and illnesses occur, and the person often becomes frustrated and depressed. This cycle is self-perpetuating.

When someone comes to me with arthritis, and they have the green light from their medical practitioner, I teach them how to practice yoga with the support of yoga props, (objects, such as a wall, a sturdy table or a chair, a folded blanket, a firm pillow, a strap or other items that makes practicing yoga safer and easier). Yoga props are especially helpful for older beginners who may have balance problems.

Medical professionals are increasingly advising regular gentle exercise for people with arthritis because it tones muscles and reduces stiffness in joints. Yoga is an ideal form of exercise for this because its movements are fluid and adaptable. Yoga loosens muscles that have been tightened by inactivity, stress and tension. In yoga, we progress gradually, beginning with simple stretches and strengthening poses and advancing to more difficult postures only as we become stronger and more flexible.

If necessary, you can begin with gentle movements while sitting in a chair or lying on the floor. You can gradually add weight-bearing standing postures, with the support of a wall, counter or table, wall ropes, chairs, blocks, and other props.

The weight-bearing yoga standing poses are among the key poses for safely increasing range of motion in all the joints as well as increasing strength and flexibility. Yoga standing poses are valuable for strengthening the quadriceps without wear and tear on the hip and knee joints.

Practicing yoga can help improve respiration throughout the day. Calm, slow, rhythmic breathing helps to release both physical and emotional tension by flooding the body and brain with oxygen. The regular, daily practice of deep relaxation is restorative to every cell of the body.

I encourage those of you with arthritis to seek the help of an experienced teacher who can help you learn to distinguish between good pain and bad pain and to make yoga part of your daily life.

My own popular chair yoga classes are helping many people that are restricted in their movement, to feel better in themselves.

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