By Ameera Steward
For the Birmingham Times
2020: New Year, New You
The new year signals a new start, making resolutions popular for many. The goals people set range from learning new skills to giving up bad habits, but the most common ones usually involve health and wellness, whether through exercise or diet. Here are some words of wisdom from a Birmingham metro area wellness expert to help you improve your physical and mental health in 2020 and beyond.
At one time Rob Ginwright had a pinched nerve in his spine, a bursa sac in his shoulder, and a few tendons stressed out.
“Nothing really worked those things out,” he said. But that changed when Ginwright started practicing yoga. “Once I worked on [my injuries] through yoga, that sold it for me,” he said.
Ginwright, 33, is now an instructor who teaches yoga in the Avondale, Shades Valley, and downtown areas of Birmingham.
Having those past ailments helped develop Ginwright’s style of teaching once he became an instructor: “I’m very big on anatomy and the alignment of the body, which gives you more benefit in the postures.”
Prior to getting his certification in 2015, Ginwright had been doing yoga for years—his mother used to practice yoga at home—and studying the practice.
“I remembered a lot of the things I’d gone over and a lot of things I’d read, and I implemented those things when I had the injuries,” he said. “That sold me on the fact that with yoga, and the body really makes its own medicine.”
Ginwright has always been health conscious, but yoga was “the icing on the cake,” he said.
Yoga is “union, balance, vitality, knowledge of the body, knowledge of the mind, … and it’s an ongoing practice,” Ginwright said.
To be successful you have to “make the practice fit to you instead of you fitting to the practice,” he said. “Focus on what you need out of it, and this will also help you become more disciplined.”
Getting started with yoga shouldn’t be tied to a particular day—like New Year’s, he said. Just start and figure out what you want to do and need before you begin. Just don’t go too fast, he said, because “you can injure yourself if you’re not being honest.”
Someone who is trying to lose weight should do more poses that move the body, such as vinyasa (a style of yoga characterized by stringing postures together, so you move from one to another seamlessly) and sun salutations. If someone is looking to calm down a little or if they have a busy schedule, they need to do more pranayama, or breath control.
“You wouldn’t tell somebody who can’t touch their toes that they need to fold all the way down; they’re going to tear stuff up,” Ginwright said. “Instead they need to either hold their ankles or bend their knees a little bit. … In time, the legs will lengthen, the muscles will lengthen, and then they’ll be able to go further.”
When practicing yoga, eating habits are important, as well: moderation and light foods are key. In yoga, the body needs to be light, so heavy and dense food will weigh your body down and make your practice harder.
“Your practice eventually needs to become more blissful versus being a task,” said Ginwright, adding that breathing awareness is also essential.
If you’re aware of your breathing, then you’re aware of your body. When you’re aware of your body, it will help prevent a lot of injuries, Ginwright said: “The more you do that, the more that adds to how you breathe and how you act in your everyday life.”
Another vital aspect of yoga is meditation. Because our brains race, many find it hard to meditate. Ginwright said, “Focus on the now and whatever you can use to anchor yourself—whether it’s the breath, whether it’s the sounds, whether it’s what’s around you, whether it’s what you’re seeing in your head. Be present and in the now. That is the beginning aspect of meditation.”
Meditation helps people calm their minds, helps them explore deeper aspects not only on the physical level but also on the spiritual level, and each level is different for each individual. People should try to meditate for an hour but at the very least for 10 minutes, he said.
Yoga postures are not for looks; each one has a benefit and a purpose. Many of them were named for different insects and animals, as well as different sages, or wise people, in history.
“Each one of those animals and insects has a particular quality to it, so the ancient yogis pulled that from their surroundings from nature and incorporated it into their postures to help try to get the benefit of certain things,” said Ginwright, noting, for example, the forward fold pose (with the legs straight out and grasping the feet) that mimics a lot of animals.
“Several animals … are positioned so the spine is above the heart, so they have a lot of vitality and agility because the heart isn’t as stressed,” he said. “Human beings are more vertical, so the heart has to work a little bit harder. Not saying we can’t be agile or can’t have a lot of vitality, but it’s a lot harder for us.”
“Manipulate and Mimic”
To rest the heart or build vitality, a human being needs to fold forward and place the heart beneath the spine.
“That’s how you manipulate and mimic not only the insects and animals that a lot of these things were named after but also the hormones in your body to get to a certain state mentally and physically,” Ginwright said.
If someone is mentally tired, for instance, they need to get blood to their head and get hormones (pituitary, pineal, throat, thyroid, etc.) secreted in the upper regions. So, they would need to invert their body and change the dynamic. When that happens and they hold the position for a certain period of time, glands release those hormones into the bloodstream and calm the mind.
“Once you get that aspect, yoga becomes something totally different. You’re doing it for scientific reasons. You’re doing it so you can have longevity and bodily strength and know how to change your mind when you feel a certain way, up or down,” said Ginwright, who suggests that you do the forward fold pose to calm yourself down if you feel anxious or excited.
Physically, yoga helps you build strength and bodily control. It also gives you a certain health boost “that you normally wouldn’t get from doing a lot of other things, like weightlifting, Ginwright said. “Yoga really does have its own avenue and its own benefits.”
Yoga also gives you control over things going on with the body, such as injuries. Being able to do postures can help provide relief, and “that puts health back in [your] hands,” he said.
Ginwright recommends doing yoga every day, but it depends on the person’s lifestyle; at the very least, it should be done three days a week. Understanding the why of doing yoga, changes it from a chore to something you want to do.
The duration of your practice depends on the day, but the minimum should be 15 minutes. If you can make the time, an hour is sufficient. Ginwright suggests targeting all the major positions the body needs to be put in: sun salutations, standing postures, sitting postures, and inversions. Try to include no less than four or five of those in your routine. At the very least, do sun salutations because they warm up the body, increase blood flow, induce sweating, and lubricate and make the muscles elastic so you can do more strenuous postures without injuring yourself.
Fit Your Lifestyle
In addition to doing yoga to live healthier lifestyle, people should do activities they enjoy. For Ginwright, it’s swimming.
“You can have one disciplinary practice and one fun practice, but they both give you exercise,” he said. “Don’t make it boring. [Find] something … that’s fun for you, so it’s not such a burden when you have to revert back to your disciplinary practice. It helps balance it out.”
Still, it all goes back to what fits your lifestyle, Ginwright said.
“I just want to stay healthy. … I want to feel good,” he said. “I don’t want to feel draggy all the time, and I don’t want any more injuries. I want to [avoid] injuries, … [and] yoga does that for me. … As soon as I get my practice, I’m ready to face the day.”
Ginwright said yoga has given him healing and a steady mind when it comes to working and caring for his two boys, ages 2 and 1.
“Yoga helps me keep both my mind and body stable,” he said. “I want to be able to do things with my family and … be able to continue to teach multiple classes a week”—and yoga gives him the endurance to do so.
Rob Ginwright teaches classes at Beacon Yoga in Avondale on Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m., at the YMCA in Shades Valley on Sundays from 3 to 4:30 p.m., and at the downtown YMCA on Fridays from noon to 1 p.m. Visit beaconyoga.love for more information.
For more tips from experts on health and wellness going into the new year, click one of the links below.