Positive Thinking - a route to wellbeing

Yoga improves our sense of wellbeing in manifold ways. It brings mind and body into greater harmony, improves our physical condition and promotes mental calm and focus. It is also a wonderful tool towards self-acceptance.


Positive thinking is essential to human happiness. The explorer Sir Edmundhappiness Hillary once famously said, 'It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves'.


In a world where physical perfection - or as close as possible - is so prized, it's a thought-provoking sentiment.


It's long been known that the way an individual thinks determines how they behave, and ultimately how happy they are.


Positive (or negative) thinking effects every area of our life - our outlook to work, family, relationships. It encompasses the mind while also having a huge influence on our health and wellbeing.


Negative thinking can also have a detrimental effect on physical health. An American study in 2002 found optimists tend to have happier lives and are healthier, regardless of the degree of stress they experience.


Thoughts determine experience

There is an argument to say the way we think is determined by genes, or upbringing, and this is true to a certain extent; all of us grow up in this world a product of our own past events.


But psychologists and positive thinking experts are the first to point out that a decision to rise above our learnt behaviour and thought-patterns is a matter of choice.


Our brains work subconsciously for 99% of the time, re-playing the same messages and obsessions. It is by changing this deep-rooted thinking that we can learn to make positive changes.


Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), for example, is increasingly lauded as a more natural, effective way to change negative thought patterns.


Yoga, meditation NLP and life coaching are all tools for self-transformation and part of a trend to place the onus for happiness on the individual.


In all cases, the message is that we all have the potential to change the way we think, and therefore feel.


Conventional medicine is waking up slowly to the role of meditation and mind/body therapies such as yoga in helping to re-set learnt patterns of destructive thinking.


The yoga tradition

Positive Thinking is one of the five fundamental points of yoga as taught under the Sivananda tradition - according to the ancient philosophy of Vedanta, the mind can be brought under control by regular practising meditation.


In practice, this meditation is extremely challenging for most westerners, unaccustomed as we are to sitting with our thoughts.


This aside, numerous recent studies have pointed to the benefits of regularpositive thinking meditation - a regular practice helps prolong the body's anabolic process of growth and repair, lowers blood pressure and sharpens concentration.


Many Westerners come to yoga as a way to become lean and flexible - and then get hooked by its ability to cultivate self-acceptance and reduce anxiety.


Forward bending postures (such as sitting forward bend and child's pose) and inversions (shoulderstand and headstand, for example) all help to calm the nervous system and induce sleep.

Yoga breathing is also key - taking five minutes out of your day to breath fully and deeply - what is known as 'yoga breathing' - brings oxygen to the brain and counters anxiety.


Above all, yoga requires focus; there is nothing more calming and centering than escaping from the constant mental chatter in our heads, and fully attending to the present moment.


Body and mind are one
Alyssa Abbey, a UK-based physiologist, coach and author (www.livewithenergy.com) works with people and organisations to help boost wellbeing, positivity and energy levels.


Abbey is clear that negative thinking has a highly detrimental effect on mind, body and spirit, and points out that research is increasingly drawing a link between emotions, thought and health.


She explains: 'Our self-esteem is made of our thoughts and beliefs about ourselves and our abilities. It's about seeing opportunities instead of problems, your good features and positive qualities instead of your not-so-wonderful points.


'Remember to take account of your successes and achievements and see how far you've come in your life.'


Positive affirmations can be a powerful reminder of this. It could be as simple as reminding yourself of how your thoughts are influencing your moods, and whether they are helping you to move forward.


If they are not, that is a sign that your thinking patterns could be improved for the better.


In keeping with much traditional Buddhist and Eastern thought, Abbey draws a strong parallel between mind and body.


She says: 'You do have control of your thoughts; only you can decide what they are. Mind and body are connected, so your negative thoughts can make you ill. They can also reduce your ability to succeed, to be creative, to focus and use your IQ, as well as reducing your capacity to love others.'


Spending time outdoors, and exercise over and above yoga asanas also contribute towards a positive mind-set: brisk walking, cycling or swimming are natural mood-boosters, providing distraction and focus.


Some tips for positive thinking:

* Short, simple positive affirmations can be surprisingly effective. Devote a minute a day to focuses on phrases such as 'I am positive and capable'. Repeat them silently to yourself and let them sink in.

* Physical exercise and daylight are instant mood-boosters: a brisk walk costs nothing and can help calm the mind and energise the body.

* Write down your negative thoughts and challenge them with a more realistic mindset. Would you be quite so critical if you were writing about a good friend? The answer is probably no.

Make a pledge to write down five positive things that have happened at the end of each day. Have you heard from a good friend? They don't have to be earth-shattering: the idea is to gradually train your mind to focus on the upsides.

* Take some long, deep yoga breahs. Breathing slowly and deeply sends oxygen to the brain and round the body, instantly creating a 'feel-good' effect.

* If you feel you could benefit from having someone else to help you feel more positive, look into finding a counsellor, who will offer an impartial listening ear.


By Lucia Cockcroft, editor



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