#atozchallenge: Value of altruism

Did you know that doing good has health benefits?

According to James Doty, director of the Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University, when we care for others and engage in activities that help, it results in lowering our blood pressure and heart rate. Research actually shows that in the long term, it can help us live longer. On top of that, the good deeds we do can inspire others to do the same.

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Source: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201212/the-evolutionary-biology-altruism

“We’re adapted to recognise suffering and pain. For us to respond is hard-wired into our brain’s pleasure centres. After we lend a helping hand, we receive oxytocin or dopamine bursts that result in increased blood flow to our reward centres. In short, we feel good when we help,” added Doty.

For example, Peggy Callahan is a documentary producer covering social justice issues and a co-founder of two non-profit organisations that help people who are enslaved or caught in human trafficking. What she does is not easy, but it brings her happiness. Thanks to neuroscience research, she understands why.

“When you do an act of good, you get a neurotransmitter ‘drop’ in your brain that makes you happy,” Callahan said. Also, there is a multiplier effect. “Someone who witnesses that act also experiences the same thing, and remembering that act makes it happen all over again.”

She wanted to leverage on that. The result was Anonymous Good, a virtual community and website where people post stories or photos of acts of kindness they’ve carried out, observed, or received. For each act posted, website sponsors make a donation to feed the hungry, free people who are enslaved, plant a tree for cleaner air, or dig a well for clean water.

“One act of good is much more than just one act of good,” says Callahan. “It’s part of a much bigger force.” A force for good.

Sources:

This article was adapted from ‘Altruism: Individual Serving‘, which was written by Carol Hart Metzker and published in the June 2016 issue of The Rotarian. 

The source of the image featured in this article is ‘The Biology of Altruism‘, which was written by Christopher Bergland, and published in 2012 in Psychology Today. 

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#mindfulmonday: Mindfulness in yoga

My journey in yoga started on 26 September 2006. It was an important day, that day I signed up at a small yoga centre with my friend in Sea Park, because prior to that, I had never been seriously interested in fitness and exercise. Walking was something I did to get from point A to point B. Running was something foreign to me. Swimming was a hobby, and the closest thing to an interest in exercise in my whole existence at the time.

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Most people started playing sports rather early in life – from childhood, to their teenage years, and their 20s. I heard from quite a number of people that they kind of get sidetracked after that. Exercise sort of took a back seat to work, social and family life, and relaxation time.

I was 30 when I started yoga. No spring chicken, but optimistic and hopeful nonetheless. It is never too late to try yoga. Of course, I had trouble touching my toes and all that in the beginning, but I refused to give up. After weeks and months, my body got used to it, and I began to enjoy the practice.

Yoga is a Personal Journey

There is presently a wide selection of classes available for students of various levels and capabilities. Hatha yoga, widely available in yoga centres throughout Malaysia, offers basic yoga training for all levels. Ashtanga is a series of graceful yoga postures synchronised with the breath. Some practice prajna paramita, where the focus is on the breath – practising various breathing techniques and meditation. There is also mindfulness yoga, which I have not had the good fortune to experience yet.

Yoga means different things to different people. To some, yoga is a challenge to be conquered – to master difficult poses such as inversions and arm balances. To others, yoga in a hot room is great to work up a sweat to detox the body after a whole day of sitting in a cold air-conditioned office. To a few, yoga is a form of stress relief and therapy for aches and pains from past injuries, as well as sore back and limbs.

To me, yoga is a personal journey, and each of our journeys is special and unique. Due to anatomy, not everyone can master the same poses, and not everyone can master all poses. Certain people will find certain poses easier than others. Some may be flexible, so they can be good at poses that require bending, stretching and binding. Others may possess good upper body strength, hence they can be good in arm balances.

Tulipmania @ Flower Dome, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Mindfulness in Yoga

To me, mindfulness is an important aspect of yoga. We usually begin our yoga practice with sitting meditation – it is a centering exercise, where we focus on the breath to help us calm down, empty our minds of all thoughts and concentrate on the present. We take deep breaths, fill our lungs with oxygen to energise our body, and we settle down into the class. Our heartbeat slows to a relaxed rate. Then, there is only the here and now in the yoga class for an hour.

Over the years, I have cultivated mindfulness during the yoga class as well. I focus on the yoga instructor, his or her voice and demonstrations, and I focus on my own posture, the poses and the sensation in my limbs and body. To balance, I clear my mind of thoughts and gaze softly at a single static point in front of me in the room. In this way, I cultivate a semi-meditative state throughout the one-hour class. In doing so, I not only build strength and flexibility, have a good stretch and a good workout, but I also come out of the class with a relaxed and calm mind.

Most people think of meditation as a static practice, where people traditionally sit quietly on the ground or on a chair, or even lie down. However, there is also a form of meditation known as dynamic meditation, where there is movement involved. For example, even walking can be a form of dynamic meditation. In this dynamic form of practice, the movement is frequently repetitive or rhythmic, and so I have brought the essence of this idea into my yoga practice. I find BodyBalance most conducive for this, where the class incorporates repetitive Tai Chi, Yoga and Pilates moves.

Tulipmania @ Flower Dome, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Yoga for Life

To me, yoga is something that can be practised by people of all ages throughout their lives, according to individual abilities. Just do what is suitable and holistic, rather than force ourselves to achieve impressive poses through pain and suffering. At the end of the practice, we should feel good – our body should feel good, and we should feel good about ourselves. 🙂

Further Reading

1. Bring More Mindfulness onto the Mat
2. Hatha Yoga
3. Ashtanga Yoga
4. Prajna Paramita
5. Yoga & Mindfulness for Kids