Geeky wellbeing favourites: December
Winter, nature and the usual dose of yoga science stuff
In the winter, there is a massive temptation to hibernate. When it’s dark and cold and rainy outside, there is nothing more challenging than dragging your body outside unless you really really have to.
And yet, you do have to. You have to go outside and spend time in nature, breathe in that icy air, smell the grass, touch a tree. Connecting with nature, in some form or another, it’s really important for our mental health – especially now and for those of us who get so little sunlight in the winter. There is nothing I am more grateful for from the awful pandemic than how it forced me to spend more time outside, to take daily walks, to sit on grass and hug my favourite tree.
Let me tell you a story. You may already know that I am a reluctant runner, ie I would love to be a runner but I can’t motivate myself to do it more than infrequently. Last week, I dragged myself out for a run early in the morning. Everyone knows that the first part of a run is pretty painful, so much so if you have to run up a hill like I do to get into the park. I was struggling along, cursing myself for doing this, dreaming of my comfortable sofa where I can actually breathe properly.
And then something happened. Somewhere between the quiet of the morning, the trees and the spectacular views (see photo) across the city, I felt happy. I paused to savour the moment, and then put on ‘Dancing in the dark’ and started dance-running back home, probably looking like a crazy person but not caring at all. By the time I got home, I was singing along to ‘Africa’, one of my happy songs, feeling like a completely different person to when I left the house.
So, this winter, practice yoga, breathe, meditate and don’t forget to go outside in nature (even better if you are by the water).
PS. Did you recently sign up to the blog and newsletter? Did I forget to send you the ‘Science of pranayama’ taster? Do you actually want it?
My yoga for immune balance programme is live! Check it out on Wellness TV, find out more about it, and tell me what you think.
Here’s what inspired my post this month – check out this episode of the New Humanist “With Reason” podcast to find out why connecting with nature is good for our mental health.
The episode is based on “Losing Eden” by Lucy Jones, who has reviewed the scientific research on why spending time outdoors, in nature, is crucial for our wellbeing. I have not read the book, so cannot comment on it, although from the podcast alone I am definitely intrigued (especially because it was described as a thorough review of the scientific literature, which as you know I value a lot!).
I’ve been eagerly anticipating this TED talk by Elizabeth Bachrad (who I know from the behavioural design world) ever since we met a few months ago – not just because I was mega impressed with the fact that she was doing a TED talk, but also because I personally really need to be by the water for my mental wellbeing (even now I try and go for walks by the lake or the reservoir just to see the water).
Check it out for insights on how such deep emotional connections can help to drive pro-environmental behaviours in us.
I recorded a new yoga nidra! Well, I recorded the yoga nidra that I led in my workshop a couple of weeks ago, and the quality is not too bad. Check it out for ~25 minutes of softening.
But if you want to stick to the nature theme, maybe you’d like to practice with me by the sea, with this yoga nidra from last year (recorded in a beautiful beach, with waves in the background).
Yoga science highlights
Yoga delivers on interoception vs indoor cycling – You know how much I love an active control study (aka when yoga is compared with something else), especially one that compares yoga to exercise. Here, the researchers found that 12 weeks of yoga was better at improving interoception than 12 weeks of indoor cycling. There were no differences in how participants metabolised glucose or in their brain structures (as measured by brain imaging). Exciting, but, as ever, small study, only female participants.
Yoga shows prostate cancer benefits – This study found that yoga improved self-reported quality of life among patients with prostate cancer (consistent with findings from other studies). But, excitingly, yoga also led to changes in the immune system that may be helping it to kill the tumour cells. I love the implications of this but this was a very small study so hopefully someone will repeat it in a bigger sample.
Yoga for wellbeing in cancer – Another cancer study, this time looking at oncology more broadly and newly diagnosed patients in particular. In a set of co-creation sessions looking at improving the experience of diagnosis, yoga came up as an essential wellbeing tool that patients would like to know about sooner.
Highlights from the blog
The past month has been a little hectic for me so I haven’t been able to make time to write as much as I would like. But here are articles from this past month plus highlights you may have missed.
Can yoga help to live better with rheumatoid arthritis? – What we know from the research is that practicing yoga is linked with reducing the levels of molecules that drive inflammation, aka an ‘excessive’ immune reaction. But does that translate to an actual improvement in disease activity?
Diffusion – Speaking of nature, here’s a poem I wrote about the power of walking in nature for my mental health. I just submitted it to a competition, wish me luck!
5 reasons why you should start a breathing practice today – Everyone is talking about breathing these days but what does the research tell us? Why should you stop what you are doing right now and spend 5 minutes on your breath? (and on that note, ask me what I thought of the popular “Breath” book – perhaps a topic for a blog post soon)
Knitters! Yoga sequence to unravel the wrists and shoulders – Have you been furiously making gifts for your loved ones? Me too (but ask me about my new knitting machine). Here is a short sequence that may help to relieve those achey wrists and shoulders.