Making a healthy habit.

#MummyMonday question:

Hi Rehana, 

I used to be so fit before I got pregnant. Your yoga classes throughout my pregnancy kept me aware of the changes I was going through my body. But since my baby has arrived, I have found it very hard to exercise and eat healthily. I have now gained more weight and I am feeling a bit down about it all. Nothing I can’t hide when I am in the presence of others, but when I am on my own the dark clouds of my lack of healthy habits start to crowd in on me. 

How can I find some time to be healthy, eat well and exercise with so many things demanding my attention all the time? 

(Via personal chat, the above is a gist of that conversation).

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My answer:

Hello xxx,

Please don’t be so harsh on yourself. I can talk about all the healthy foods you can eat or the perfect exercise session that will help you lose your mummy wobble and achieve that elusive six-pack. That post will look and read so inspiring, and as you read it you will want to just get up and get going. But you know by past experience that it doesn’t work like that…if only. Such inspiring posts are everywhere. You probably just finished reading one if you are on a health-seeking journey. Then what stops us? 

The cornerstone for any permanent change has three elements – patience, discipline and compassion.

 The most important thing about starting a new habit is that it takes time to incorporate it into your daily life. Be patient. Be ready to fail. Don’t count the times you fail, just get up and restart. The number of times you fail has nothing to do with when and how you will succeed. And remember; success doesn’t always look like you imagined it to be before you started. Be open.

The interesting thing of incorporating healthy choices into one’s life is that once you familiarise yourself with its principles, you realise it’s everywhere. Opportunities to live a balanced life are ever-present. It is this initial appreciation that is crucial. Mindfulness of your activities is thus key. When you are then presented with an option to do something in a healthy way as opposed to not, choose the former (for example: walking on the street and deciding to pay attention to your breathing as opposed to walking in a mindless manner).

 If regular meditative walks become your priority (this should happen almost organically) then try to fulfil this high priority task earlier in the day. The earlier, the better. Do the most important, not the most urgent jobs of the day first. You will be able to tap into your determination with maximum will-power as it has not yet been eroded by all of your daily demands.

 But be easy on yourself when you can’t get to the gym or have a salad lunch. This will allow you to come back without dread or judgement. Judgement is our deepest fear and thus, if you judge yourself for not fulfilling your intention, you will dread coming back to your habit. Simply move on to the next day. There will come a time, slowly but surely, when the number of times you succeed will overrun the times your fail. Funnily, by the time a practice truly becomes habit, you will have stopped noticing it. This is indeed the true nature of “habit”. So, don’t obsess over “achieving”; just concentrate on the day-to-day.

 Facilitate a few things towards your intention. Don’t make things hard for yourself. If you have a spare room/area then mark it for your exercise, and this sense of physical space will not only allow you to cut time in finding an ideal spot but will also strengthen your resolve to come to the exercise daily. Don’t underestimate the power of physical space over your mental space. When you have the physical space to do something, it is more likely you will do it. But remember, there is no such thing as a perfect space, so don’t get too bogged down with what it looks like and how it sits with the rest of your lifestyle. This idea of an ideal “exercise space” will constantly change as you get more and more involved with your practice. Allow room for this change, otherwise you risk resisting the physical space when you have mentally outgrown it. You are unlikely to know when this will happen and, more importantly, these two aspects may not always neatly align themselves with each other.

 Also, don’t tie down your intention to form a good habit with other unnecessary hooks and shackles, such as the length of time or the intensity of the exercise. Appreciate that a sprint to catch the bus is as powerful as a 90 minute session at the gym when it comes to forming a habit. It is showing up that counts. Keep showing up. Be grateful for each and every session that you achieve, and don’t dwell in the success of it, just as you should not dwell in the failure of yesterday’s lack of show.

 This journey lasts longer than we do…we pass these habits to our children by living examples, not by dictation.

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Hyper mobility and pregnancy

Every now and then I get questions from MummyYoga attendees that are perhaps relevant to many of you. So I thought sharing these conversations as blog posts might have a wider appeal. 

This morning, a lady sent me an email after her visit to her physiotherapist. 

She said,

Hi Rehana,

I wondered if you might help me out a bit??? 

I had a physio appointment a couple of weeks ago because my lower back and hips are very sore and I’m starting to cease up after activity i.e. after walking home, after the relaxation element in yoga – there’s been a few times I thought I might need to ask for help getting off the mat for example. I’m hyper-mobile, which I new already, but with pregnancy this has started to impact my hip joints, as I’m sure you can imagine. My physio has suggested less walking and that I give up the yoga. I really don’t want to give the yoga up, as I think the breathing exercises and the core body strength poses we do are really good for me. I also really benefit from the upper body and hamstring stretches etc. So basically, I’m asking for a second opinion from you if possible? I’m happy to take direction during in class to ease off, don’t try this etc. but would much rather do that than give up completely.

Any guidance on this would be much appreciated!

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Soreness that comes from hyper mobile joints is not uncommon and my suggestion in this scenario would definitely be a lot less dramatic than giving up the very things that keep you physically, mentally and emotionally well. 

This is what I said…

Hello XXX

I am glad you asked before giving up yoga. My opinion would differ from your physiotherapist. 

You are right about increasing strength with your practice. A lot of people are unaware of how yoga builds strength as well as flexibility. One of the first things people say to me when they join the classes is, “I am not flexible”. Now, they never say, “I am not very strong, and I don’t know if I will be able to do this practice!”. It doesn’t occur to them that they will also require and build strength with yoga. 

I hate this misconception. After years of being in the weight training/body building world, I can tell you yoga indeed makes you very strong. More importantly, unlike “weights at the gym” it makes you functionally and dynamically strong (like bendy grass) rather than simple muscular hypertrophy (like a big tree trunk). 

The issue with hyper mobility is partly exaggerated by lack of muscular strength. If your tendons/cartilages and muscles can stretch beyond the normal range of motion then it will need to be strong to counter that stretch. If you can’t “reign” them in with strong muscles you are in danger of injuring yourself. That injury does not always occur at the hyper mobile joint. It occurs at your weakest link in that movement. 
So, your gut feeling of continuing your practice is probably the better option, both for your pregnancy weight load distribution and postnatal joint health (pregnancy and postnatal hormones can have quite a destructive impact on joint health if not taken care of). 
There are plenty of variations we can try in class to limit the joint pain, particularly at the pelvis. One of the first things I would suggest as a blanket care is to not go too deep into postures simply because you can. We will work on foot positions and stance to build strength through the load bearing joints and muscles. 
The one other thing you can do is also not be static for long particularly after the practice. Use a seated position for the meditation element at the end. 
We can do a lot to manage your hyper mobility and ceased muscles without having to take drastic measures such as simply cut out one of the most beneficial things you can do in a pregnant state.
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So if you suffer from your muscles ceasing up after physical activity, don’t just give up. See where the issues lie and if there are simple modifications you can make to improve management. 

Impact of meditation in pregnancy – some scientific data.

योग चित व्ति निरोधं: ।। २ ।।
Yoga citta-vritti nirodhah

Yoga is the stilling of the changing states of the mind.

– The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Edwin Byrant commentary1)

Without stillness in thought, action and overall being much of the benefits of asanas will only be rudimentary and superficial. In order for pregnant women to gain all the benefits of her yoga practice, incorporating a vehicle that will influence calmness of mind and emotions becomes essential. Meditation techniques should therefore be introduced as early as   possible during threlaxation responsee course of the prenatal yoga practice.
There are distinct physiological advantages to meditation that may benefit both mother and child in the womb. In the influential The Relaxation Response2, Herbert Benson in 1975 showed that meditation (particularly he researched transcendental meditation) decreases various stress causing physiological responses (Fig. 1) such as heart rate, breathing rate, sympathetic nervous activity and other metabolic activities. Pregnancy rates at 44/100 in scale of impact of stress in a woman’s life, well above change in financial status (38) and death of a close friend (37).2 This means that active management of stress and anxiety during pregnancy will be of great benefit to both mother and child.
Apart from stress management, meditation and in general yoga practice has significant benefits in childbirth and management of pregnancy related issues. Many techniques involved in meditation will also be useful during birthing itself, which may explain to a certain extent why women adept in yoga and meditation manage labour and childbirth better than their otherwise unprepared counterparts (fig.2).

fig2

Fig.2: The sequential effect of the pathways of yoga on outcomes in pregnancy. (source: Chuntharapat et al. 2008)

There have been a number of studies in the literature recognising the impact of meditation and yoga in pregnancy. One such recent study4 examined the effectiveness of two relaxation techniques (progressive muscle relaxation and diaphragmatic breathing) during pregnancy. The results of the study demonstrate significant benefits from the use of the techniques in the psychological state of the pregnant women. The systematic implementation of the proposed relaxation techniques contributed in the reduction of perceived stress and anxiety and increased the sense of internal control. They also found changes in many lifestyle factors associated with stress during pregnancy (Table 1)

table 1

Despite all the mounting scientific evidence, one of the main reasons to prepare pregnant women with techniques in meditation is to empower them to take control of arguably the biggest situation in their lives. Women can only feel in control when they know how to respond to situations in a non-reactionary manner. But the even more important point to empower women with is in the knowing that giving birth is perhaps the greatest meditation technique we will ever have and thus to embrace it with all its power and humility and pure beauty.

References:
1. Bryant, E., F (2009) The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali: A New Edition, Translation, and Commentary. North Point Press: New York.
2. Benson, H. & Klipper, M. Z. (1975) The Relaxation Response. William Morrow and Co. Inc.: New York.
3. Chuntharapat, S., W. Petpichetchian & U. Hatthakit, (2008). Yoga during pregnancy: Effects on maternal comfort, labour pain and birth outcomes., Complementary therapies in clinical practice 14(2), 105–15.
4. Tragea, C., G.P. Chrousos, E.C. Alexopoulos & C. Darviri, (2014). A randomized controlled trial of the effects of a stress management programme during pregnancy., Complementary therapies in medicine 22(2), 203–11.