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Yoga for the busy executive

As a busy executive I’m always on the lookout for health practices and routines that offer a big performance boost for my time spent. Based on research and from my own personal experience yoga is one of those practice that meets that criteria.

Here’s why:

Not just a hippy craze

Yoga is an ancient practice that has been associated with cultural, religious and physical activity for more than 3000 years – you could say that it has stood the test of time. Yoga is now part of the mainstream health movement, but it’s only recently that research has substantiated the benefits claimed by its practitioners.

Improves focus and brain performance

While there are many different types (or schools) of yoga, most sessions include breathing exercises, poses that stretch and flex various muscle groups and a meditative relaxation aspect. Studies have shown that these yoga practices have been associated with positive changes in brain structure and function, especially in areas related to awareness, attention, executive functions and memory.  And, remember, if your brain is performing better then you’re more likely to make better decisions.

Decreases stress

Yoga is a great way to tame the angry tiger within us. In a meta-analysis of studies on yoga, researchers at The Peter McCallum Cancer Research Centre found that practicing yoga was associated with significant improvements in measures of stress including:

  • Reduced evening and waking cortisol (the stress hormone)
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduced resting heart rate
  • Increased high frequency heart rate variability,
  • Reduced fasting blood glucose, and cholesterol

Read Izzy’s blog on how yoga helps promotes a feeling of happiness, calmness and general wellbeing.

Boosts energy

For me, one of the biggest benefits of yoga is its energising effect. The combination of the breathing and the poses helps increases blood flow and improves breathing efficiency (respiration rate) and the oxygen saturation of the blood. And more oxygen and increased blood flow equals more energy.

You don’t need to attend long classes to get these affects. Short bursts of poses and breathing techniques, which you can do in your office, are just as effective.

Drives strength and flexibility

Executives sit a lot, which as it turns out isn’t good for our health. In fact, sitting has been described as the new smoking. Yoga is great for undoing the damage sitting does. It improves the flexibility of key muscles (like hamstrings) and the connective tissue such as fascia, ligaments and cartilage.

Increased strength and flexibility also means better posture (important for focus and concentration) and less pain, which improves mood and energy levels

Aids sleep

Yoga can provide relief from the hustle and bustle of executive life by providing downtime for the nervous system. A by-product of this is being able to sleep better. And, as you know form our previous posts, sleep is the crown jewel of health. When you’re not sleeping well, restorative yoga practices like yoga nidra, can help you recover and still perform at a high level. Nidra, meaning sleep, is a deep relaxation form of yoga, and is like a deep sleep while you’re still awake.

It’s portable and can travel with you

One of the benefits of yoga is that you don’t need anything special to practice it. A yoga mat may help, but it is not essential. For busy executives, this means you can practice it at home, in the office, in a hotel room or in the park. Classes help you get the fundamentals right (in terms of correct form) and introduce you to various poses and practices, but once you’ve got the basics down, yoga is a practice that you can do by yourself.

How I use yoga

I use yoga as the yin of my exercise regime – it’s a counterbalance to the intensity of my HIIT and resistance training. I mainly practice first thing in the morning and have a sequence of about five poses that I go through several times, followed by some pranayama (breathing techniques) like alternate nostril breathing or box breathing. I find this routine helps me wake up the mind and the body, and sets me up for the day by getting me focused and energised. It’s also a good stretch for tight muscles and joints. All up this routine takes me about 10 minutes

I’ll also use yoga practices where circumstances require an intervention, such as yoga nidra if I haven’t slept well. You don’t need anything special for this, just a place to lie down and an instructional app.

From reducing stress to boosting energy, brainpower, mood, sleep and general fitness – yoga covers many bases for the busy executive. And once you’ve learnt it, you can take it with you wherever you go.

Until then, be Powerful.

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