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The “outcast” – Calf Muscles & What stretches are good for them

It is true, we do not really think about stretching our calf muscles that often, compared to our hips or hamstrings. How often do you walk in to a yoga class, hearing the instructor say “we will be focusing on hips in today’s class…”

As I teach more students throughout the past 5 years, I came to realise that I should pay more attention to the calves because tight calves will eventually led to many other aspects such as accessibility to a yoga pose, body pain etc.

Taking my personal experience as an example, I used to dislike the pose – Malasana (squat pose).

Header-GAIA_CAVEMANCOLLECTIVE-190-squat-pose-750x441

Picture Credit: Gaia.com

For the longest time, I thought my tight hips was the main reason why I had a hard time trying to flatten my entire feet down on the floor or I could not stay long in it. Doing more hip opening poses did help a bit, but I also forgot to stretch my calves which is crucial in a squat form.

Aside from accessibility to yoga poses, our calves play a big role in leg movement and tightness will often lead to pain in other body parts eg. lower back pain

Often when we have lower back pain, it is true that tight hamstrings and hips do play a big part. But what if after stretching our hips and hammies out, we still feel the pain? Maybe it’s time we think about the calves in this case. For some people, they probably do not even know they have tight calves, because they do not feel ache or pain in the calves at all, yet their lower back pain could be caused by tight calves. Pretty amazing yea? There is probably an anatomical explanation behind it but I will leave it to the experts to explain it. This is why every “body” is different and we all need our own kind of yoga – there is no “one size fits all” in yoga.

If you wear heels regularly or sit at a desk for the whole day, daily calf stretches will benefit you in the long run. You do not need to have any body pain to start stretching your calves.

Here you will find an article on 5 good calf stretches which I personally do and include in my own classes. My recommended daily dose will be 2 sets of 30s for each sets. Feel free to increase the sets when you do not feel much stretch after a while.

How to Calm Anxiety and Stress

I was reading this article a couple of days back and I feel these are useful pointers to manage anxiety and stress in  this world – where perfection is overrated in social media, and almost everyone is glued to their digital devices. And you don’t have to spend a fortune using these pointers. I will recommend to head over to the link to read more as I will only be putting the main points here.

  • Take a Techno-Detox – so that we can sleep better. Singaporeans are the 2nd most sleep-deprived people in the world!

 

  • Find Your Own Way to Exercise –  No matter what is your choice of exercise. Getting some forms of physical activity a few times a week is known to relieve stress

 

  • When in Doubt, Breathe – Take deep breaths, and exhale out slowly. Shallow breaths will cause more anxiety

 

  • Embrace a Relaxing HobbyAny activities (like yoga or meditation) that require extended periods of concentration – sometimes known as getting into the “flow” state – may just be the antidote to anxiety. Find something you love so that you will be more enticed to continue doing it.

 

  • Fuel Up on the Right Food – I am not sure about you, but this is the hardest for me when I decided to cut down on sugar and carbs. I will suggest one step at a time, and never total elimination until you are comfortable. Eg. If you are used to ordering 100% sugar in bubble tea, for the next 2 weeks u may opt for 75% and then subsequent 2 weeks 50%. If it gets tough at the 50%  point, give yourself more time (maybe give it 4 weeks at 50%) to get used to the taste. The goal is not to give up and persevere no matter how long the journey is. After all, it takes time to cultivate a habit / lifestyle. It took me about a year to get used to 0% sugar, and once in a while I still indulge myself in sugar drinks.  Find the way that works for you :)

Self-Care Tips

I learnt a lot about self-care last year. Although I am a yoga teacher, I admit that I may not have been practicing much self care over the past 10 years and perhaps even using yoga practices as an escape to my daily stress, avoiding it instead of facing my emotions.

So what is self care? I chanced upon this article on facebook and find that this is one of the best articles which explains self-care in a clear and simple way for most people who understand. Sometimes, when you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed, the last thing you want is to read a long article on how to relax – the words will just make your brain spin more. The linked article breaks it down easily for you. From the article, I also pulled out some main points below which I resonate with and allow you to understand self-care in a nutshell. Enjoy :)

What Exactly is Self-Care?

Initially I  (Author) had a lot of misconceptions about self-care; I thought it was about being eternally happy all the time. Then I realized it’s actually impossible to be happy all the time and suffering is a necessary part of life that is required for personal growth.

True self-care strengthens and deepens our connection with ourselves so we can understand how to meet our needs from a mental, emotional, and physical standpoint.

Self-care builds your connection with who you are at the core of your being so that when the tides of life get rough, you are anchored and don’t get swept away.

It helps you to not sweat the small stuff and prevents burnout and exhaustion. Ultimately, a self-care practice will allow you to understand yourself, find your passion and purpose, and take you on the path to live a fulfilled life.

It’s not easy to break bad habits, especially if you’ve spent years putting other people’s needs before your own. Here are some tips on how you can start to treat yo’self!

Self-Care Ideas for Mental Health

  • Relax and allow yourself to do nothing (no cellphones allowed!)
  • Meditate
  • Read an educational book with a focus on personal growth
  • Listen to an educational podcast (news is not included as educational)
  • Play with your pet
  • Cuddle your significant other
  • Do something that makes you smile
  • Create something artistic or play an instrument
  • Listen to music you love
  • Practice gratitude with a gratitude journal

Self-Care Ideas for Emotional Health

  • Forgive someone you have been holding a grudge against
  • Do something that’s scared you that you’ve always wanted to do
  • Focus on your own needs and goals instead of comparing yourself to others
  • Practice compassion for yourself
  • Take a break from social media
  • Allow yourself to feel your feelings instead of running from them or distracting yourself
  • Read a fictional book that lifts your spirits
  • Take a break from technology—unplug
  • Help someone and don’t expect anything in return
  • Practice positive affirmations (Example: You are enough just as you are right now in this moment.)
  • Write down a few things you appreciate yourself

Self-Care Ideas for Physical Health

  • Practice deep breathing
  • Move to music you love
  • Get adequate sleep
  • Lift weights
  • Walk
  • Play a sport
  • Go outside—get some sunlight on your skin
  • Try yoga or another mindful movement practice (also good for your mental health)
  • Eat healthfully (i.e.: fruits and veggies, unrefined foods)
  • Look in a mirror and love your body as it is right now, without judgment

Yoga’s Beneficial Effects on Body and Mind

Recently I read this article on Facebook writing about how Prince Charles in UK is urging medics to use THERAPEUTIC YOGA to treat medical illnesses.

Prince Charles: ‘This not only benefits the individual, but also conserves precious and expensive health resources for others.’

This reminds me of an essential oils workshop that I went few months back in Singapore. The speaker is a friend of my sister, and she was sharing about how the way medicinal drugs are prescribed does not prevent nor treat the root of the illness, but more to  treating or relieving the symptoms of the illness. Which got me thinking, yes that is actually true – and that is how humans become reliant on a certain type of drug that they cannot live without it, or that the dosage of the drug just becomes higher as time passes because the body is so immune to it.

The saying goes “Preventive is always better than cure”. So if there are alternative healing methods aside from medicinal drugs, I would recommend one to give it a try or try both at the same time to achieve the best healing effects.

“The NHS website already suggests yoga is ‘beneficial for people with high blood pressure, heart disease, aches and pains – including lower back pain – depression and stress’.   

Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Public Health England, said some of the additional funding pledged under the NHS Long Term Plan – announced by Health Secretary Matt Hancock last month – would be spent on yoga classes.”

Hopefully one day our little red dot will recognize the benefits of yoga and incorporate it as part of the national health funding like how UK is planning :)

 

Yoga helps Depression

Finally an official study which proves that yoga helps in managing depression!

Yoga may not cure depression entirely, but it definitely helps to improve a person’s mental well-being, cope with anxiety attacks through proper breathing techniques.

Being also a physical exercise,  it releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain. Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine.

You may read more in the article source HERE or feel free to read through some of the main points I find it useful below :)

“The study, which was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, included 30 people from ages 18 to 64 with clinical depression, who either were not taking antidepressants or had been on a steady dose for at least three months. Half of the participants were assigned to take a 90-minute Iyengar yoga class three times per week, as well as four 30-minute sessions at home each week. People in the other group took two group classes and three at-home sessions every week.”

“After about three months, most of the people in both groups had lowered their scores on a depression-screening questionnaire by at least 50%. Not surprisingly, more yoga was better; those who took three classes per week had lower depression scores than those who took two per week.

But since many participants mentioned that the larger time commitment was challenging, the researchers actually recommend two classes per week, saying that the regimen still comes with meaningful benefits.

That yoga seems to be effective is good news for people struggling with depression. Lead author Dr. Chris Streeter, associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, says that the practice has far fewer side effects and potential drug interactions than mood-altering medications. The most common complaint reported in the study was a small one—temporary muscle soreness”

“Some people who haven’t responded to traditional treatments might do well with yoga, because unlike antidepressant drugs, yoga and deep breathing target the autonomic nervous system, Streeter says. “If your autonomic nervous system is balanced out, then the rest of the brain works better,” “

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