Guest Blog: Why Yoga Improves Your Mental Health

Yoga requires a few things that impact and reduce your stress level, says CHERYL MACDONALD, and the first stress-reducing component is breathing.

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When we become calm, this stabalizes the functioning of the mind. Many yoga styles have a structured breathing protocol. When you focus on your breathing, it automatically lowers cortisol (a stress hormone) and it lowers your heart rate.

Additionally, yoga requires great focus. Some poses not only ask you to hold your body in a balanced position, they also ask you to pay attention to your body and make slight adjustments to improve the pose. You’re looking inward and focusing solely on your body and the very moment you’re in. This focus reduces stress. It’s akin to meditation and it’s wonderful for the health of your body and your mind.

Top Yoga Tip: Take 10 minutes at the start of each day to focus only on your breath. Close your eyes and focus on the cool inhale and the warm exhale. If any thoughts come into your mind, acknowledge them and then let them go.

There are numerous other yoga health benefits: improved breathing, better posture, and weight loss are just a few more to consider. If you’re looking for a new fitness program to try, you just can’t go wrong with yoga.

Cheryl MacDonald is a yoga elder and founder of YogaBellies women’s yoga school. She has been practising yoga for 20 years and has trained hundreds of yoga teachers across the world. YogaBellies specialize in yoga for women of all life stages from puberty to post menopausal.

For a yoga class near you please visit www.yogabellies.co.uk/findaclass

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Hearing Voices: suffering, inspiration and the everyday – a review

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Hearing Voices (the exhibition and supporting website) and Hearing the Voice (the interdisciplinary research project which produced the exhibition in collaboration with Palace Green Library) charts the phenomena of voice hearing. The Hearing Voices supporting website (and also at the exhibition) are a detailed and empowering take on an archaic mystery that left me feeling like there’s more to schizophrenia than pills.

Although diagnosed with a psychotic illness, schizo-affective today, I rarely hear voices. I have done in the past, though, but they have always felt a world away from the psychiatric wards on which I’ve spent a little time. For me, the voices I’ve heard have been shared by my mother and have always felt otherworldly, spiritual, like a dream. The idea that these voices are more than just disturbing thoughts for the few is explored in full both at the exhibition at Durham University and on the online portal at hearingvoicesdu.org.

A series of 10-15 minute podcasts, which have a feel of Radio 4 about them, explore voice hearing in every plausible context apart from the gutter press headline-grabbing crime stories in the local paper. Tracing all voices from God speaking to Adam & Eve, to literary greats developing their characters with the added auditory for which novelists are often renowned. All is blended into the study’s plot channelled through predominately academic narrators, with stories from people of the International Voices Movement hemmed into the rich tapestry for good measure.

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Many people can find the voices they hear distressing but the spiritual aspect of the study is especially fascinating for me and it’s been helpful locating unusual experiences (less the voices and more the tactile hallucinations) in a holistic context. For instance, I keep a dream journal to help with making the next day’s decisions and for inspiration. I’ve also used the Tarot cards to try and bring new perspectives on tricky problems. And I regularly use Buddhist meditation and Traditional Chinese Medicines for relaxation.

A paper published in Schizophrenia Bulletin this month, looked at the voice hearing experiences of non-help-seeking voice hearers and diagnosed patients with auditory hallucinations. It says that those with negative voices are more prone to a negative reaction or stigma from others and concludes that much can be learned from those hearing voices who don’t have the diagnosis.

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[Image courtesy of Rai Waddingham on twitter]

A shift in others’ perspectives on what voice hearing means would be a welcome one. Freelance trainer, consultant, writer, public speaker and trustee for the National Hearing Voices Network, Rai Waddingham, is involved in the Durham exhibition, too. She’s Vice Chair of ISPS UK, Chair of Intervoice and an Executive Committee member of the International Society for Psychological and Social Approaches to Psychosis. From 2007 – 2015 she managed Mind in Camden’s London Hearing Voices & Distressing Beliefs Projects (including Voice Collective youth project and the London Hearing Voices Prisons Project). She also happens to hear voices. Rai, however, today rejects her psychiatric label and considers herself a ‘survivor’. It’s always great to see co-production in action and for this project she facilitated workshops for young voice hearers.

“No one understands if you try to explain … so you just put up with it”                                         Workshop participant

While this online study and exhibition fully acknowledge how terrifying voice hearing and hallucinations can be, it also looks at the lesser-known and more welcomed attributes to the phenomena. Most of the podcast material is mannered, but this is undoubtedly the correct sane and measured response the voice hearer deserves. I don’t want to be afraid of voices or hallucinations, delusional or otherwise. I might have preferred Radio 5 to Radio 4, but what refreshingly different, distinctive and thorough study this is.

  • Hearing Voices: suffering, inspiration and the everyday is on show at Durham University’s Palace Green Library until 26 February 2017. Details of the associated events programme are available at www.hearingvoicesdu.org, and information on Durham University’s interdisciplinary voice-hearing research can be found at www.hearingthevoice.org.

Forget the church! Here are 10 more imaginative ways to get married

In case you haven’t already got the memo, you don’t have to get married in a white dress in a church.

Fancy flying to the moon for your wedding?

What about a traditional Thai blessing like Kate Moss and Madonna?

Or perhaps the ocean is a good metaphor for the depth of feelings you share with your fiance?

Whatever takes your fancy, there’s a weird and wonderful nuptial package to make your wedding album stand out from the rest and give your guests a day to remember.

From balloons and Vedic ceremonies to medieval hand-fastings and Buddhist blessings, here’s a round-up of some imaginative ways to tie the knot and celebrate your love for one another.

1. Balloon brides

An increasing number of couples are getting hitched in hot air balloons and there’s some stunning backdrops to choose from like in New Mexico.

The balloons can host up to 12 passengers and a small party might even spot cupid up in the clouds.

Just be sure to bring your minister and your witnesses.

 A couple of lovers sit on hot air balloon at Pablo Ecological Valley in Zhuzhen, Liuhe district
(Picture: Wang Xin/VCG)

2. Hand-fasting and jumping over the broomstick

For centuries, couples have ‘jumped the broomstick’ and promised each other friendship and fidelity in a hand-fasting ceremony that was traditionally Pagan.

It’s a fun way to celebrate your love and is still offered as a non-legally binding ceremony in the UK, such as at Tutbury Castle.

3. Vedic wedding

Don your best robes and flower garlands for a Vedic wedding, a traditional Hindu ceremony, at places like Bhaktivedanta Manor.

With water and fire blessings, these are tremendously opulent and will see the bride and groom together for several lifetimes (if you believe in that sort of thing).

Maharashtrian Indian Bride And Indian Bride Groom Perfoming Mangalshutra Vidhi In Wedding Ceremony.
(Picture: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)

4. Tsok Puja

Celebrate the Tibetan Buddhist way with a social gathering, a Lama’s blessing and offerings of plenty of food.

A ‘Tsok puja’ takes up to about an hour and consists of chanting, and a little quiet time for some mantra recitation in the middle.

You can also enjoy the ceremony without the wedding, like at the Kagyu Samye Dzong in London.

5. Wedding on the slopes

Combine your love of skiing with your nuptials and hope to God your marriage doesn’t go downhill too soon!

Companies like Wed ‘n’ Ski offer packages for snow enthusiasts, with ceremonies taking place while they’re skiing or snowboarding.

There’s even an option in Switzerland to wed in an igloo. Go on, melt a heart.

Kelley McGhie , left, Sander Wyjad , both 30, of Nederaland, kiss together after attending a mass wedding ceremony at the top of Loveland Ski Area
(Picture: Glenn Asakawa/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

6. Prisoner of love

Give a whole new meaning to the term ‘ball and chain’ by getting married in a former prison.

The Malmaison Oxford is based in a medieval castle and used to be a prison.

But it is also, I’m told, a beautiful venue for weddings.

7. Cabaret kisses

Fancy being a burlesque bride and a groom with glowsticks?

Then dance on to Cafe de Paris, a notoriously decadent London nightclub and cabaret spot that can be hired for wedding receptions, too.

Burlesque diva performing burlesque show act.
(Picture: Getty)

8. Cave wedding

The path to love doesn’t always run smoothly, so why not have your wedding among the Slovenian mountains?

Predjama Castle is set against the rocky backdrop of a towering cliff and is the largest cave castle in the world.

And, you can host your wedding inside the enormous cavern of its cave.

9. Thai long drum parade and a water blessing ritual

Kate Moss and Madonna both had Buddhist blessings to show their affection and cement their relationships.

The best place to go to have your own is Thailand.

There are a number of all-inclusive packages, including for a traditional Thai wedding at the Manathai Koh Samui.

10. At sea

Cruise lines often offer weddings at sea.

Norwegian for example, offers an itinerary featuring the exchanging of vows at the summit of an Alaskan glacier, helicopter ride, sparkling wine, flowers, and a wedding certificate and cake.

Go on, sail off into the sunset together.

See the original in Metro UK here!