Quality of life. Everyone wants it. What is it and how can we improve ours? Read on for 7 key life markers and ways yoga can improve your quality of life.
Quality of life is subjective, as each individual person creates their own personal scale of what they value. But overall, society and psychologists generally agree that quality of life is determined by factors such as physical and psychological health, level of independence, social and family relationships, home life, education, financial stability, religious beliefs, and a sense of hope and optimism, just to name a few. Here we’ll look at a handful of physical and psychological health markers and some actionable steps you can take to improve the quality of your life.
The Digital Age has offered an explosion of information and new experiences, but let’s face it …. It has not been kind to our healthy sleep cycles. Between being available for work 24/7 and taking our phones and tablets into the bedroom, the stimulation and blue light that our devices provide are keeping us awake!! An NIH study showed that 10%-15% of Americans suffer from insomnia, so if a good night’s sleep is often beyond reach, you are not alone.
So what can we do to set ourselves up for a great night’s sleep? Incorporating these three simple things into your nightly routine will have you dreaming no time.
- Be consistent with your bedtime and wake time.
- Turn off electronic devices at least one hour before bedtime.
- Incorporate restorative poses before bedtime.
Many yoga poses are ideal to wind down the body and mind before bedtime. Try these 7 yoga poses for sleep that will take you from wide-eyed to shut-eyed in no time. If you’ve ever been to a Sunday night yoga class, you may have been guided through a Yoga Nidra. This relaxing experience is like none other. Try this at home at night when you want to shake off the day and wind down. Improved sleep is one of the best ways yoga can improve your quality of life. Using Yoga Nidra for sleep preparation is really one of the best ways to shift your mental state from the buzz of the day to the zzzs of the night.
Get comfortable and drift away with this Yoga Nidra from Dan Ward.
FLEXIBILITY, BALANCE & STRENGTH
When we think about how to promote healthy physical longevity we think of three key markers – flexibility, balance, and strength. There are several modalities that work on one or maybe two in this list, but there is one modality that works on all three – Yoga.
Practicing yoga to stretch the entire body produces many physical benefits, such as increased flexibility and a greater range of motion. These two attributes are so important throughout our lives because they provide the basis for the ability to respond to the unexpected. This is the difference between a shoulder injury or just another day walking the dog as he pulls a bit harder on that leash while spotting a squirrel in the distance. There are many reasons to practice yoga, but practicing yoga for flexibility will create ease of movement long into your golden years.
So for all you multitaskers out there who want to maintain flexibility, balance, and strength throughout the duration of your wonderful lives, Yoga really does it all. Try these 7 yoga poses for flexibility and you’ll find yourself doing them every day.
MOOD & DEPRESSION
‘Are you in a bad mood?’ If you’ve ever wanted to punch someone for asking that question, you might have been in a bad mood. Moods are based on emotions and emotions ebb and flow, so yes, they will change. But if yours are swinging a bit too wildly there are many things you can do to move into a more consistent, content state of mind.
Many of our lifestyle choices ultimately affect our mood. These include exercise, sleep habits, nutrition, and the use of drugs and alcohol. All of these things can have a big impact on our mood, not only in singular moments but with time these moments blur together to have an overall umbrella effect on our lives and cause feelings of depression.
Serotonin and dopamine are brain chemicals that play a role in our mood, motivation, and concentration. To increase the flow of these chemicals, it’s as easy as eating lean protein, and complex carbohydrates, and avoiding processed foods.
At the top of the list of lean proteins are:
- Fish, Chicken, Turkey
- Tofu, Seitan
- Eggs, Plain Yogurt
- Hemp & Chia seeds
Mix those with complex carbohydrates such as:
- Potato, Yams, Squash, Pumpkin
- Beans, Lentils
- Quinoa, Millet, Brown Rice
And for an extra boost of happiness, add in a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. Increased feelings of happiness are at the top of the list of how yoga can improve the quality of your life. Implementing and keeping to a clean diet of natural, unprocessed foods is the best way to make an immediate impact on your mood. And while we are focusing on increasing these mood-boosting foods, we should avoid energy-draining and mood-crushing foods like flour-based items and sugary drinks and snacks.
Another effective mood-booster is regular exercise and movement and there is no other more well-rounded modality other than yoga. The benefits of a regular yoga practice are many and at the top of the list is that it improves your mood and increases feelings of well-being. Practice Sun Salutations every morning and experience just how good you can feel.
The sciatic nerve is the longest and thickest nerve in the human body. Specifically, it contains five nerve roots – two from the lower back area aka the lumbar spine, and three from the lowest section of the spine aka the sacrum. These five nerve roots merge to form a right and left sciatic nerve.
Sciatic pain can be caused by any irritation, inflammation, pinching, or compression of the lower back nerve. Roughly 40% of Americans experience sciatic pain at some point in their life, but it’s rare that someone with sciatica pain needs to resort to surgery, as there are many stretching and strengthening exercises to soothe the problem. Again, yoga steps in to save the day with a array of helpful poses like Bridge, Cat ~ Cow, and Child’s.
LOW BACK PAIN
One of the main causes of low back pain is being overweight. The CDC estimates that 73% of Americans are overweight or obese. 73%!!! And those in that group are 33% more likely to experience low back pain. When carrying extra weight the spine begins to tilt and curve. The lower back, or lumbar spine, is the most vulnerable to the effects of obesity. A big stomach will pull the pelvis forward, which strains the lower back.
Another main cause of back pain is bad posture and a weak core from sitting for too long. We’ve all heard that sitting is the new smoking. So what can we do to find some relief? Practicing yoga is great for increasing flexibility, building core strength and stability, and improving your posture. And these are some of the building blocks of a healthy back.
The discomfort of constipation is not only maddening, it’s unhealthy!! Bowel movements are the body’s method of ridding itself of waste, so when you can’t go, that backup is no bueno. Constipation is the body’s garbage strike! If this goes on for too long you are at risk of organ damage. So what are some common causes of the dreaded backup? Poor diet, food intolerances, certain medications, stress, and travel.
If you aren’t going at least three times a week you might increase that frequency by:
- Increasing your fiber intake
- Increasing your water intake
Just like an abdominal massage performed by a therapist, many yoga poses massage the abdomen and digestive system. This, in turn, can inspire movement. Typically we look at twisting poses for this effect, but there are also other poses to add to your yoga for digestion repertoire.
BETTER FOCUS & CONCENTRATION
When we think of better focus we often think of how this skill benefits us in areas of work and study, but it can also be the key to a deeper appreciation of art and beauty, and therefore a richer life. Without the ability to shut out intrusive thoughts and truly focus on what is in front of us, our trip to an art museum is a mere shell of what it could be, as we go through the motions. How can we really appreciate the beauty and wonder of nature with eyes darting from one thing to another, thoughts racing, pulling us out of our surroundings?
The two biggest causes of poor focus and concentration are sleep deprivation and stress. Next in line are diet and exercise. Clear thinking and streamlined cognition are valued ways yoga can improve the quality of your life. Through movement and exercise, we stimulate the heart rate and blood flow, sending more blood and oxygen to the brain. This is like super food for the brain and increases alertness, focus, and energy. So, when you are in a mid-afternoon slump, try replacing the ‘I need some coffee’ thinking with some ‘I need some blood and oxygen’ thoughts, and get up and get moving. Using the tried and true modality of yoga for focus is a winner every time. Inversion poses (where the head is lower than the heart) will allow blood to flow freely to the brain and provide you with an infusion of the goods that will lift you up and get you moving.
We’re all in this life together so let’s heighten our quality of life because all those feel-good vibes are infectious.