04 Nov Mens Health Month – How Can Yoga Poses Help?
Every November, the world celebrates Mens Health Month. This is a time to bring awareness to health issues that affect men disproportionately and focuses on getting men to become aware of problems they may have or could develop, and gain the courage to do something about it.
Our fathers, partners, brothers and friends face a health crisis that isn’t being talked about. Men are dying too young. We can’t afford to stay silent.
Mens Health Month is the only charity tackling men’s health on a global scale, year round. This year they are addressing some of the biggest health issues faced by men: prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and mental health and suicide prevention.
Carrying fat on your belly will increase your risk of illnesses such as heart disease, and type 2 diabetes, and some cancers, such as prostate cancer. Yoga alone won’t eliminate body fat, but when combined with other exercise and a diet free of junk food and harmful additives and chemicals, it can help to boost your body’s metabolism and strengthen your core to eliminate stubborn belly fat.
How Yoga can help with 5 easy (ish) poses
Apanasa (Wind Relieving Pose)
This asana helps in alleviating various gastric problems, including indigestion and constipation. Since your knees exert pressure on your tummy, holding the position for more than a minute helps in triggering the burning of fat in the region.
Lie down in the supine position (face upwards) with your arms beside your body and feet stretched out, heels touching each other.
Bend your knees.
Take in a deep breath, and as you exhale, gradually bring the bent knees towards your chest, with the thighs applying pressure on the abdomen. Hold the knees properly in place by clasping your hands underneath the thighs.
Inhale again, and as you exhale, lift your head, allowing your chin to touch your knees.
Hold the position for 60 to 90 seconds, while breathing deeply.
Exhale slowly, and release your knees while allowing your head to rest on the floor. Bring your hands onto either side of your body, palms facing the ground.
Repeat the asana 7 to 10 times, leaving a 15-second interval between repetitions.
Variations – Those who are new to yoga can practice the pose with a single leg.
Benefits – Strengthens the back and abdominal muscles, Helps in digestion and release of gas, Tones the muscles in the legs and arms.
Cautions – People suffering from spinal problems, and people with blood pressure and heart issues must refrain from performing this pose.
Navasana (Boat Pose)
This is one of the most sought after yoga postures that will guarantee you a flatter belly with regular practice. While holding the posture for more than a minute helps in contracting the abdominal muscles, the posture, when done in a boat-like movement, helps in toning your abs.
Lie down on the yoga mat in the supine position, legs stretched out, toes facing the ceiling, and palms resting on either side of your body facing the ground.
Inhale deeply. As you exhale, lift your body (the head, chest, and legs) from the ground.
Stretch out your arms so that they form a parallel line with your legs.
Your fingers should be in the same line as the toes. Gaze towards the toes.
As you hold the position, you should feel the abdominal muscles contracting.
Breathing normally, hold the posture for 30 to 60 seconds to start with.
Inhale, and then exhaling deeply, slowly relax and come back to the supine position.
Repeat this asana five times to begin with, working up to 30 times gradually. Relax for 15 seconds after each repetition.
Variations – You can also perform Boat with your fists closed as if you are holding the oars of a boat.
Benefit – Strengthens the abdominal muscles and helps remove belly fat, Improves the health of digestive organs, Strengthens arms, thighs, and shoulders.
Cautions – people suffering from blood pressure issues, heart problems, diarrhea, headache, and insomnia must refrain from performing this pose. Also, pregnant and menstruating women must not practice this pose. As a beginner, I would recommend bending the legs at the knee while in this pose.
Kumbhakasana (High Plank)
This is the simplest yet most effective pose in yoga to reduce belly fat. Not only does it reduce belly fat but it strengthens and tones your arms, shoulders, back, buttocks and thighs.
Begin on your hands and knees, hands resting directly under the shoulders and knees under the hips.
Tug your toes under and step the feet back one at a time, extending legs behind you.
Inhale and look slightly ahead of your palms so that your neck is aligned with the spine.
Hold your abdominal muscles in.
Your body should form a straight line from heels to the head. Make you’re your hands are flat and fingers are spread.
Hold this posture for 15-30 sec or longer for better results.
Release the pose by dropping the knees to the floor on exhalation.
If you have back or shoulder injuries or have high blood pressure avoid doing this pose.
Repeat this for at least 5 rounds with relaxation for 15 secs after each round.
Variations – After coming into the position, inhale and lift one leg parallel to the floor.
Benefits – Strengthens the arms, wrists, and spine, Tones the abdomen.
Cautions – Carpal tunnel syndrome.
This gentle twist is a tonic for the spine and the abdominal organs.
Sit on the floor and swing your legs to the left.
Lay your feet on the floor outside your left hip, with your left ankle resting in the right arch. Make sure that the pelvis feels even and you are not falling across to your right-hand side. If you are, you can use a block underneath your right hip.
Inhale and lift through the top of your sternum to lengthen your front torso. Then exhale and twist your torso to the right from your tummy, keeping your left buttock on, or very close to, the floor.
Lengthen your tailbone toward the floor to keep your lower back long. Soften your belly.
Place the skin of the knuckles of your left hand to your outer right knee and bring your right hand to the floor in line with your spine behind you. Always keep the extended arm straight. Pull your left shoulder back slightly, pressing your shoulder blades firmly against your back even as you continue to twist to the right. You can turn your head in one of two directions: continue the twist of your torso by turning it to the right or counter the twist of your torso by turning it left and looking over your left shoulder at your feet.
With every inhalation, lift a little more through your sternum, using the push of the fingers on the floor to help. With every exhalation twist a little more from the tummy.
Stay in this pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Then release with an exhalation, return to the starting position and repeat to the left for the same length of time.
For an easier variation of this pose, sit sideways on a chair with the chair back to your right. Bring your knees together and your heels directly below your knees. Exhale and twist towards the chair back. Hold on to the sides of the chair back and lift your elbows up and out to the sides, as if you were pulling the chair back apart. Use the arms to help widen the upper back and move the twist into the space between the shoulderblades.
Benefits – Improves digestion, Massages the abdominal organsm, Stretches the spine, shoulders and hips, Relieves lower backache, neck pain and sciatica, Helps relieve stress.
Cautions – Diarrhoea, Headache, High blood pressure, Insomnia.
This gentle backbend opens the heart and lungs, stimulates abdominal organs and helps relieve stress and fatigue.
Lie at on your front on the floor. Stretch your legs back, with the tops of your feet on the floor.
Spread your hands on the floor under your shoulders.
Press the tops of your feet and thighs and your pubis firmly into the floor.
On an inhalation, draw your chest upwards. Imagine your upper chest is a sail that has just caught a gust of wind. As you inhale, that sail rises, broadens and oats with ease. Maintain a connection through your pubis to your legs. Press your tailbone toward your pubis and lift your pubis toward your navel. Narrow your hip points. Try not to harden the buttocks.
Firm the shoulder blades against your back, puffing your side ribs forward. Lift through the top of your sternum but avoid pushing the front ribs forward, which only hardens the lower back. Distribute the backbend evenly throughout the entire spine.
Hold the pose between 15 and 30 seconds, breathing easily. Release back to the floor with an exhalation.
If you are very stiff it might be better to avoid doing this pose on the floor. Brace a metal folding chair against a wall and do the pose with your hands on the front edge of the seat, balls of your feet on the floor.
Benefits – Strengthens the spine, Stretches chest and lungs, shoulders and abdomen, Stimulates abdominal organs, Helps relieve stress and fatigue, Opens the heart and lungs, Soothes sciatica, Therapeutic for asthma.
Cautions – Back injury, Carpal tunnel syndrome, Headache, Pregnancy
Sarvangasana – Shoulder Balance
Shoulder Stand is a very effective posture when it is practised properly. If you haven’t done this pose before I recommend learning it under professional guidance before you try it at home. For our purposes this pose is important in detoxification for its effects, when you are inverted, of bringing the blood back to the heart. This inversion encourages the return of blood through gravity to remove toxins and revitalise the blood, and help tone the abdominal muscles.
Fold two or more firm blankets into rectangles measuring about 1 foot by 2 feet, and stack them one on top of the other. OR use blocks. You can place a sticky mat over the blankets or blocks to help the upper arms stay in place while in the pose.
Bend your elbows and draw them toward each other. Lay the backs of your upper arms on the blanket and spread your palms against the back of your torso. Raise your pelvis over the shoulders, so that the torso is relatively perpendicular to the floor. Walk your hands up your back toward the floor without letting the elbows slide too much wider than shoulder width.
Inhale and lift your bent knees and straighten your legs toward the ceiling.
As a beginning practitioner stay in the pose for about 30 seconds. Gradually add 5 to 10 seconds to your stay every day or so until you can comfortably hold the pose for 3 minutes. Then continue for 3 minutes each day for a week or two, until you feel relatively comfortable in the pose. Again gradually and 5 to 10 seconds onto your stay every day or so until you can comfortably hold the pose for 5 minutes. To come down, exhale, bend your knees into your torso again, and roll your back torso slowly and carefully onto the floor, keeping the back of your head on the floor.
Modifcations and props
Rolling up into Shoulder Stand (Sarvangasana) from the floor might be difficult at first. You can use a wall to help you get into the pose. Set your blankets up a foot or so away from the wall (the exact distance depends on your height: if you are taller you will be further from the wall; if you are shorter you will be closer).
Benefits – Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression, Stimulates the thyroid and prostate glands and abdominal organs, Stretches the shoulders and neck, Tones the legs and buttocks, Improves digestion, Helps relieve the symptoms of menopause, Reduces fatigue and alleviates insomnia, Therapeutic for asthma, infertility, and sinusitis
Cautions – Diarrhea, Headache, High blood pressure, Neck injury,
Practice the above poses on a daily basis and you will soon start to feel their benefits.
Try to find a time of day to suit you, and always finish with a moment or two of silence sitting or laying on the floor to give the body and mind time to absorb the effects of the poses before you start your next daily task.
For more tips on how to live a healthier lifestyle, check out my new book, which is available on Amazon, and all leading bookstores, including Waterstones and Borders.
‘Mind Body Cleanse’ by Chris James (Penguin Vermilion, £14.99). Available from here: https://www.chrisjamesmindbody.com/product/mind-body-cleanse-by-chris-james/https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mind-Body-Cleanse-Plan-Re-Energise/dp/1785040804
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