Feel sharper, smarter and more supple this season with these expert hacks
If you’ve been fighting the urge to hibernate for the past few months, you’re not alone. Scientists have discovered that the brain actually works differently throughout the year, with some parts far more active in summer than in winter. Not only that, but colder months can leave our muscles feeling stiff and tight. It might be cold, dark and wet outside, but with a few small lifestyle tweaks you could shine as brightly as your summer self.
Research shows meditation can reduce stress, improve sleep, generate kindness and even improve age-related memory loss. “When you meditate, you wake up the parts of the brain used for imagination and creative thinking,” says yoga elder and founder of Yogabellies, Cheryl MacDonald. “Meditation can provide both short and long-term benefits including better sleep, faster healing, less anxiety, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and a stronger immune system.” You can meditate at any point during your day, simply find a quiet place and sit in a comfortable upright position with your spine straight. Set a timer for 10 minutes and close your eyes, focus on your breathing or repeat a phrase or mantra. Try Cheryl’s Full Moon meditation for free at anchor.fm/ yogabellies. For more information on Cheryl, visit yogabellies.co.uk
“Your brain uses about 20 percent of your total energy every day,” says registered nutritional therapist for Gosh! food Fiona Lawson. “That vital energy comes from the food you eat. Not only does this provide the fuel to keep your brain’s processes ticking over, it also affects the structure of the brain. For a sharp mind and an impressive memory, your diet should include a good mix of: oily fish like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring – these contain a special type of omega 3 fat that forms strong cell membranes and neurons; dark green, leafy vegetables that are rich in vitamins A, C and K, which are fantastic for memory; colourful berries which contain antioxidants to help to fight cognition imaging oxidative stress, and pulses and legumes which are rich in brain-supportive B vitamins.” Try devising a weekly meal plan to incorporate a variety of these foods into your diet. To find out more, head to fionalawsonnutrition.com
“Muscles can only work well when they are not overly tense,” says massage and healing expert Beata Aleksandrowicz. “As the temperature drops, this causes our muscles to contract which creates extra tension in the body.” Try Beata’s simple self-massage technique for the neck and shoulders. Sit comfortably with a straight back, hands on your lap and feet touching the floor. Close your eyes and take five deep breaths. On the out breath relax the tension. Then place the palms of your hands on both sides of the shoulders, kneading and squeezing the muscles between the fingers and the palm. Next, use three fingers, (index, middle and ring finger) and place them directly on the knot in the muscle or the spot that is the most painful. Breathe in and out. On the out breath begin to press into the knot using slow circular movements. You can use a similar technique for the neck, working your way all the way up to the base of the skull and out towards the ear. For more information, visit beata.website
“Anointing the body with pure oil is a huge part of ayurvedic philosophy,” says ayurvedic medicine practitioner, Sonja Shah-Williams. “Sesame oil, known as the Queen of ayurvedic oils, balances all three doshas, reduces tension, penetrates deep into the tissues, is anti-inflammatory and improves blood circulation. Try my two blends containing sesame oil: Anala Morning improves focus. It contains essential attar of rose, which pacifies Sadhaka Pitta in the brain. This subtype of Pitta Dosha is responsible for feelings, and because rose oil cools a heated mind, it improves focus and clarity. It also contains frankincense oil, which calms tension and nourishes all the tissues. Anala Evening contains amongst others, jasmine oil, which relieves stress, tension, headaches, and depression, as well as balancing all three doshas, and French lavender, which is renowned for its stress-relieving and calming abilities. For more information, visit anala.co.uk
“To feel at its best and to function properly our body needs about 20-30 percent of daily calories to come from healthy fats,” says functional health coach Lisa Irving. “We need healthy fats to be able to absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Fats are also important for the development and function of the brain and retina, they maintain healthy cell membranes, provide cushioning and insulation to our internal organs, and play an important role in hormone synthesis. Fatty acids (long chains of lipid-carboxylic acid found in fats and oils) work as signalling molecules and can decrease or increase oxidative stress in the body. That’s why a correct combination of essential Omega- 3s, Omega-6s and Omega-9s is critical for our health. Sources of healthy fats include: extra virgin olive oil, butter, ghee, coconut oil, fish oil, or algae oil for vegans, fresh unroasted nuts, ground flaxseeds, chia seeds and coldwater fish like salmon, sardines and trout. For more information, visit firstname.lastname@example.org or find her on instagram @lisaromanova
“It’s easier to move our body than it is to change our mind once we have a thought,” says Laughter Yoga master Lotte Mikkelsen, “so the simple act of simulating laughter, as we do in Laughter Yoga, starts changing the way we feel, and we become more resourceful in coping with life’s ups and downs. Our regular breathing tends to be shallow and leaves our lungs full of old air with an excess of carbon dioxide and toxins. When we laugh, we exchange air deeper into our lungs and increase the net-supply of oxygen we circulate to our organs and our brain. In turn, we feel more refreshed, motivated, alert and alive.”
In Laughter Yoga, playful laughter exercises are interspersed with breathing exercises to get those giggles flowing. 20 minutes of laughter is enough time to reap the physiological benefits. To find a Laughter Yoga class near you, visit laughteryoga.co.uk
“Just one bad night’s sleep affects our mood, concentration and alertness,” says sleep advisor Lisa Artis, “while long-term sleep deprivation has far more serious consequences such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and stroke. During good restorative sleep we grow, make sense of our day and detox. A good night’s sleep plays a significant role in healing and repairing the heart and blood vessels. It also gives the immune system and the cardiovascular system a rest and allows other organs to be restored. We sleep in cycles (around four to five a night) and within each cycle we go through four stages of sleep. However when we wake in the night, or we don’t sleep enough, we disrupt the natural sleep rhythm and it may mean you do not reach the most restorative, deeper phases of sleep.” Try adopting a simple bedtime routine to help ease into sleep; this could include a bath, de-cluttering your sleep space, applying handcream or listening to soothing music. For more information, visit sleepcouncil.org.uk
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