Day 1 (12/20): Sleep Your Way to Success
Day 3 (12/22): This is Where We Break With the Vegetarian Crowd–Eat Meat!
Day 4 (12/23): An Eggstra-ordinary Addition to One’s Diet
Day 5 (12/24): To Dairy or Not to Dairy… A Paleo Question
Day 6 (12/25): Nuts About Seeds and Nuts
Day 7 (1/5): Sprint!
Day 8 (1/16): Yoga and Meditation
On the Eighth Day of Christmas, the caveman brought to me eight yoga poses… “The Twelve Days of Caveman Christmas” is a series exploring the major health benefits and challenges associated with living a primal lifestyle, and offering suggestions to help city-dwellers overhaul their lives in time for the new year.
**Note: This will be the last of these posts. I’ve gotten bogged down with life-stuff and gone way past my self-imposed deadline for finishing the series. So, I’m just going to call it. The final four “days” will likely make their way into future posts.
The Smartest Things Ever Said About Yoga and Meditation
“Yoga is the glue, yoga is the magic. If joints and connective tissue are crap, you can’t perform with speed and agility and balance.” – Tony Horton, the P90X Guy
“Meditation is the life of the soul: Action, the soul of meditation. and honor the reward of action.” – Francis Quarles, Poet
“Sleep is the best meditation.” – Dalai Lama
“Yoga is a great thing and meditation is also great to get connected to yourself more.” – Ziggy Marley, Musician
“If you want to find God, hang out in the space between your thoughts.” – Alan Cohen, Writer
I am grouping two big subjects together here because, in my experience, they relate to each other well. In the interest of full disclose, I am nowhere close to being a yogi. My pigeon pose is pathetic and quieting my mind for any space of time is hard for me. Even so, my yoga practice makes me fitter, both mentally and physically, and it can be a great addition to any urban caveperson’s life.
**Note: When this article refers to “yoga,” I mean hatha yoga, the system of yoga practiced in most American yoga studios, focusing on physical poses, breath practice, and meditation.
I don’t think that our paleo ancestors ever consciously attempted to meditate. Perhaps, though, they lived most of their lives in a kind of meditative state and modern meditation is simply striving to get in touch with a paleolithic way of being. Regardless, men and women have been actively meditating and/or engaging in yoga practice for thousands of years. From Buddhist monks, to Jesuit priests, to Stoic philosophers, meditation has played a major role in the shaping of our civilization. For more information about the tradition and history of meditation, check out Jason Marshall’s great piece over at the Art of Manliness.
I had originally planned to separate this section into “mental” benefits of yoga and meditation, and “physical” benefits but it occurs to me that this distinction is complete nonsense. Body and mind are inextricably tied together. I could classify stress reduction as a “mental benefit”, but that would ignore all the ways that reducing stress levels makes us physically healthier.
Speaking of stress reduction, the stress response (fight or flight) creates havoc in our bodies if it fires too often. It elevates cortisol levels which leads to weight gain. This cortisol release forces our immune system to shut down temporarily, affects digestion, and impairs normal function of the endocrine system. Effectively managing stress, then, if important for our health.
Yoga is a stress reducer, first, because it is a great form of exercise. The link the between exercise and effective stress management is well-documented. Other aspects of yoga or meditation practice that might help to reduce stress include:
- support from and social interaction with the teacher and classmates.
- a sense of improving the self
- calm and relaxation of practice and/or meditation give us a chance to escape stressors of everyday life and to restore our bodies to working order
- the practice of yoga and meditation have been shown to reduce cortisol levels
- The slowing and deepening of breath activates the body’s parasympathetic system, creating a relaxation response
In addition to reducing stress, yoga asanas (poses) decrease inflammation by increasing lubrication of joints, ligaments, and tendons. Learning, improving on, and striving toward perfection of various asanas will improve flexibility, balance, range of motion, and strength. Improving these areas of fitness makes us look and feel better while simultaneously reducing the potential for catastrophic injury in our other daily exertions.
Finally, meditation provides us with an opportunity to un-plug, de-screen, and absorb all of the input we take in on a daily basis. It allows our thinking mind to process and chew on problems. There is a ton of anecdotal evidence of extreme creativity coming after meditation.
When you imagine mediation, you probably think of a bearded man in the classic lotus pose, murmuring a mantra to himself with eyes closed. This is one way to meditate, but it is not the only way. Anything where you shut off the thinking mind for a period of time will work. Some people do exercise as meditation. I understand how those might serve, but my mind is usually very active when I’m lifting weights or sprinting up steps. Yoga gets me closer, but I still get distracted. What works best for me (after sleep), is shooting free throws at a park near my house. I bend my knees, rise up, and follow through. The net swishes as the ball drops trough. I retrieve the ball and walk back to the line to shoot another. Lather, rinse, repeat, and my whole focus is on controlling my body in a way that will create another beautiful swishing sound.
I’ll let my friend Adam Lyons take this one:
- Try a yoga class. It might click with you or it might not. For my money, depending on the instructor and type of class, it is the best hour’s worth of exercise there is.
- Find a way to carve out thirty minutes, twice a week, to decompress through meditation. Do something that absorbs your focus completely and shut off your thinking mind.