Infant Massage Benefits You and Your Baby

Some of the most important communication that flows between a parent and a child happens through the medium of touch: a gentle hug to brighten spirits, a relaxing cuddle at bedtime with a storybook, a high-five acknowledging a chore well done. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that infant massage can promote restful sleep, maintain your baby’s health, and enhance the bond of love and trust between the two of you.

Promoters of infant massage say that it helps babies to feel relaxed and at peace and demonstrates to them that they are loved. Experts also believe infant massage can boost a young child’s undeveloped immune system, aid digestion and elimination, improve blood circulation, ramp up production of the calm-inducing hormone oxytocin, and even help minimize the agony of teething.

Through the practice of infant massage, a parent can learn more about how his or her baby reacts to other people and to the environment, as well as how to best respond to the baby’s signals. Fathers and mothers who learn infant massage additionally report feeling more comfortable in their roles as caregivers and say that the practice has expanded their repertoire of techniques for soothing their children.

Experts advise parents interested in practicing infant massage to set aside a regular time of day for it, ideally at an hour when you are not juggling errands and chores and your baby is neither too hungry nor over-full. Choose a location where you know your baby will not be or become cold. You may want to use a food-quality, unscented, fruit- or vegetable-based oil. Practice a variety of movements, such as gentle up-and-down motions along your baby’s sides or the playful motion of drawing of a smile along both your baby’s cheeks.

Kundalini Yoga: Combining the Physical with the Spiritual

The name Kundalini describes the untapped energy, also known as prana, that rests at the bottom of the spine. Through Kundalini yoga, practitioners focus on pulling this energy upward into the seven chakras. The ultimate goal is to bring the energy to the crown chakra at the top of the head. In order to bring the energy upward, Kundalini yoga combines asanas, or poses, with specific breathing techniques. The series of poses, known as kriyas, combine mindful periods of holding a specific asana with rapid, repetitive motions and specified breath patterns.

Developed by Yogi Bhajan in the 1960s, Kundalini yoga derives from ancient practices. Yogi Bhajan founded the Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization (3HO) in 1969 to bring this form of yoga to the greater public. Since then, it has become popular in the West among yoga practitioners who seek to boost the mind-body connection. The style often involves periods of meditation, usually accompanied by a gong and chanting.

Most Kundalini yoga studios offer a wide range of different types of practice that vary in terms of physical demands, making it an ideal style for individuals seeking a full-body workout, as well as those who seek a more relaxing experience.

Hints on Choosing the Right Type of Yoga

For individuals who want to start practicing yoga, the large number of styles offered can quickly become overwhelming. Nearly all types of yoga offer the same benefits, ranging from increased strength to greater flexibility. The right style of yoga largely depends on three primary factors.

First, is fitness your primary goal? Styles like Power yoga, Ashtanga yoga, and Bikram yoga offer a more vigorous, athletic approach and a total-body workout. If you want to develop a mind-body connection, another style may prove more effective.

Second, do you have a chronic medical condition or serious injury? Slower styles of yoga like Iyengar or Kripalu yoga, as well as Viniyoga, may provide a safer environment to test the limits of your body and develop strength in a controlled way. These three styles, which focus on alignment and require you to hold the pose for a prolonged period of time, may prove ideal for older people.

Third, is meditation a key goal of your yoga experience? Several styles integrate meditation and mindfulness, such as Kundalini yoga.

A Few Moves for New Yogis

If you’re thinking about adding yoga to your exercise routine, you’re not alone. Many physicians and fitness experts recommend the age-old practice for its capacity to increase flexibility, muscle tone, stamina, coordination, and endurance. Studies indicate that yoga also offers a great program for decreasing stress and anxiety through its calming, focused breathing techniques. Moreover, it’s a gentle way to gradually get into better overall health for people of all ages and levels of physical ability.

However, for those just starting out, any new fitness challenge can be intimidating. Ease into the physical benefits of yoga by hitting the mat with these simple movements:

The traditional yogi’s pose of sitting on the floor with legs crossed, hands upward and resting on the knees, is called sukhasana. Keeping your eyes closed, concentrate on breathing in and out while feeling the stretch. Focus on relaxing and just assessing how your body feels in the unfamiliar configuration. This can give you a baseline idea of your current level of flexibility and your ability to stay calm and attentive.

The tree posture, in which you stand up straight, move your hands palms together over your head, and balance on one leg, is great for stretching your entire body and increasing balance. While balancing, bend your other leg and bring that foot to rest against the inner thigh of the leg you’re standing on. After holding the position standing on your right foot for a few seconds, change legs and repeat.

To perform the invigorating downward dog pose, rest on all fours, with legs and arms parallel. Walk forward slightly with your hands, spread out your fingers for added balance, and push your hands firmly into the mat. Slowly thrust hips up, so that you end up bent into the shape of an upside-down “V.” You should have space between your shoulders and ears, and your knees should be bent a little, with your feet apart to about the width of your hips. Hold the posture for a few seconds as you take three full breaths.

Advice for Integrating Mindfulness into Your Everyday Life

Mindfulness meditation has a number of benefits that range from reducing stress and anxiety to boosting cardiovascular health. You may think that mindfulness is reserved for meditation. However, mindfulness can be integrated into even the most mundane activities, such as taking a shower. People may tend to let their minds wander during their shower while thinking about events from last night or worrying about the coming day. Mindful individuals focus on the sensation of the water on their skin and the smell of the soap.

Individuals can use mindfulness to relieve some of the more stressful parts of their day, such as the commute to and from work. Whether a person drives or takes public transportation, the commute can prove irritating and tense, causing individuals to let their minds wander. However, by remaining mindful, individuals can recognize that everyone around them – both on the train and in other cars – are having similar feelings of annoyance and discomfort. This newfound compassion can transform the entire experience.

Create a Great Yoga Class through Intuitive Sequencing

After attending a wide variety of yoga classes with a range of teachers, most people can start to tell the difference between a great class and one that needs some improvement. It’s often more difficult to put your finger on what exactly makes a yoga class truly stand out.

Great classes generally stem from great sequencing. Some schools of yoga like Ashtanga or Bikram incorporate the same series of postures in every class; however, other schools, like Jivamukti, rely on teachers to create inspiring and engaging sequences that challenge their students. Taking into consideration their students’ ability levels, many teachers begin their classes by choosing a “peak pose” and designing a practice that builds up to the pose. For example, if a teacher chose “bird of paradise” as a peak pose, he or she might prepare students for this challenging asana by incorporating a series of balancing poses, binds, and hamstring stretches. This strategy helps students feel mentally and physically prepared to try the peak pose. In this practice, the teacher will likely integrate both seated and standing asanas, all while encouraging students to stay in touch with their breath. Combining the mental, even spiritual, focus on the breath with the physical challenge of building the poses helps create a more meaningful yoga practice.

Frequently Overlooked Health Benefits of Practicing Yoga

Many individuals choose to practice yoga for its well-known health benefits, including reduced levels of stress and increased flexibility. Outside of the health benefits, several others exist. A recent Norwegian study demonstrated that regularly practicing yoga causes changes in gene expression that boost immunity, even at the cellular level. On a larger scale, improved circulation and breathing also lead to a stronger immune system.

Individuals with insomnia may also benefit from regularly practicing yoga, according to a recent Harvard study. Another study focused on individuals who had survived cancer and found similar results. Regularly practicing yoga promoted better sleep patterns and reduced feelings of fatigue throughout the day.

University of Washington researchers have linked regular yoga practice with more mindful eating. Yoga helps individuals to become more in tune with their emotions and physical cravings, which leads them to make better dietary choices.

In addition, yoga may help to control migraine headaches. Although the cause of migraines is still a mystery, regularly practicing yoga over the course of three months has been shown to reduce the number and intensity of migraines.