I'm a product designer with a passion for user centered design. I am also an advocate of creative thinking approaches and design thinking.
I specialize in experience design for software. I've worked on lots of websites, web applications, mobile and social media products, applying principles and techniques from psychology and social sciences, human factors, human-computer interaction, visual design, accessibility and usability. My Ph.D focused on natural language generation and human communication with machines, a combination of AI and HCI.
I have a strong drive for innovation and have designed, envisioned and created new products for different market places and industries from scratch, as well as the strategy for bringing them to market and gaining user adoption. I bring the power and energy of design thinking to both startups and big companies. I like to focus my efforts on large-scale industry disruption.
I love to draw, take photos and skateboard. I'm a student and teacher of Yoga. I'm always exploring new things.
Yoga and Meditation are not really separate, yet they are. You can think of Yoga as the entire practice that prepares you for meditation. Before you can run, you must walk, and Yoga prepares you to meditate profoundly. Many people these days have heard great things about meditation and want to learn techniques so that they can be even more effective in their work. They want to optimise their minds so that they can learn faster think more effectively...Certainly meditation can help with this, but it's all a little bit more complicated than sitting quietly for 30mins. You didn't think it was going to be that easy did you?
Here's a little clarification from Master Desikachar:
"Mind is synonymous with experience: mind is always something other than itself. Through the practice of Yoga, one comes to see how the form of the mind is the same as its object. By projecting itself onto its objects, the mind becomes shaped and molded by them to the point where the impressions of the objects begin to hinder the clarity of perception.
The point of Yoga is to keep the mind clear of the build up of impressions. Once we understand that the mind assumes the form of its experience, we have the opportunity to choose the objects that shape our minds. Yoga is the practical application of this ancient yet simple insight." (Desikachar)
This is incidentally why you are what you do repeatedly. What is it that you do every day? Is this who you want to be?
Before you can meditate, you must have these 3 qualities:
- Curiosity about who you really are (Yogana)
- Go through a cleansing/purifying process (Sadhana)
- Have a positive attitude (Bhavana)
A consistent Yoga practice will give you these 3 things, and give you a good framework to work on all of them. The work is not purely physical but also mental, so you need to purify and cleanse your body as well as your mind before you are ready to meditate. This takes most of us quite a few years. It's a well worthwhile journey though, and improves people lives in staggering ways. Never underestimate its effects.
I often hear people say that the spiritual aspect of Yoga isn't for them, which is really like going to a therapist and saying as Brene Brown did "Here's the thing: no family stuff, no childhood shit. I just need some strategies". You have to do the work and in this case it's getting to know who you really are. This is the spiritual aspect of Yoga. There's a lot of confusion with Hinduism and Buddhism, and lets face it most western Yoga studios propagate the confusion. Yoga and meditation are not religious practices unless you make them so, that's up to you. Getting to know yourself: not optional.
What do you do when you meditate?
You don't have to sit, you can walk, whatever is comfortable, but sitting with your eyes closed is really easiest to begin with for most of us. Meditation is a practice of the mind, so you are focusing your mind on an object, whatever it may be. You may pick an image, a thought, a sound, an idea...whatever works for you. Most of us sit still and quiet because be we're so concentrated and its easier to keep concentrated this way. Other meditators can focus whilst walking or chanting. There are different practices for different minds. Keeping that kind of unwavering focus on something for a long time is very very hard at first. For most of us just sitting still is hard enough.
You can think of meditation in 4 stages:
1. Come to a stop
2. Work towards clearing the mind
3. Refine it
4. Direct it
It takes a lot of work on yourself and in your life to get to through the 4 stages. There are really no shortcuts here, and believe me I explored many different routes. I was a very reluctant meditator, because I always wanted to do things and became frustrated. I wasn't ready. I started Yoga and began by loving the gymnastics, and that's all it was for me. Until of course the practice did its magic on me and broke me down to reassemble me. A wiser, more compassionate, kinder and gentler me emerged. Some days I still struggle just to sit still and come to a stop. Most of the time I can clear my mind and focus it. On rare days I break new ground.
What's up with your mind?
Everything that happens to you is dependent on the role of your mind. Everything you see and experience is filtered by the mind. Your mind can be the source of freedom or imprisonment. Everything can either be neurosis or sanity. It depends how your mind is trained to see things. Yoga is there to help you untangle things, and meditation to help you train your mind afresh. This is why we say that Yoga is about undoing rather than doing.
What's up with your body?
It is said in the old texts "As is the food, so is the mind" for example. Mind and body are meant to work in unison. Yoga helps your body and mind remember that, because many of us have forgotten. When you eat junk food, it affects your body and it affects your mind, and not subtly. Once you are in the process of purifying both, the numbness drops away and you become much more sensitive to these things. To everything. When you say "I have a gut feeling", it really is in the gut. The body and the mind together are capable of so much. The first rung of the ladder is to reconnect them.
Ultimately, as Krishnamacharya said "You learn by being with people, by taking responsibility for them". If you think you will end up somewhere new, you may be surprised. I came back full-circle, but far better equipped to be with people and take responsibility for them, and the learning continues.
There are so many styles of Yoga to choose from, and so many studios and teachers, that finding your sweet spot in the Yoga landscape can be tough. For many it is a gamble, where you pick a class at random and see where it takes you. That's not a bad option to be very honest, but being aware of a few facts might help you find your way a little easier.
A little history:
In truth, there is no "style" or any particular tradition of Yoga. There is just Yoga. Yoga is defined in many ways but the way I like to define it is "equanimity of mind". The Yoga Sutra is the book at the side of my mat, and it mentions nothing of religion, sweating, core strength, vegetarianism...it's just all about Yoga.
The first thing you need to do before picking a class is to figure out why you want to begin (or return to) a Yoga practice. Have five reasons and try to prioritise them for yourself. Use that list to guide you through the forest of possibilities, so that you stay true to yourself and are not seduced by advertising, or something other than what you are after. Don't judge your reasons either, there is no bad reason to start a Yoga practice. If you want to lose a few pounds and that's top of your list, then that's where you begin. If you have no interest in meditation, in philosophy, in chanting, and you just really want a strong stomach for the first time in your life...that's ok. Desikachar says that taking up a Yoga practice does not require you to give up smoking, become a vegetarian, becoming a Hindu or a Buddhist or changing anything else about yourself. Come as you are and work from there.
Hatha Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Vinyasa, Viniyoga, and more all really at the heart all the same thing. Even within the styles of Yoga you will find that there is a variance in how it is taught according to the teacher that you have. Really, all Yoga is essentially Ashtanga Yoga anyway, because the eightfold path is at the heart of the practice of Yoga. If you go to an Ashtanga class though, you will experience a beautiful sequence taught to you one Asana (pose) at a time. If you go to a Yin Yoga class, it'll be different each time and amazingly gentle and inspiring. I often see Vinyasa Yoga on timetables, and "Vinyasa" means "the correct placement" or "to place in a special way". It basically means that we're not just hanging out in postures and dropping into one from another. It's accurate, careful and done with great awareness. In that sense, then again, all Yoga is Vinyasa yoga.
There is no right or wrong here in terms of what you pick to do, just be honest with yourself and be sure that it's what you need right now in your life. If one class hasn't worked for you, try another teacher, a new studio, a different style. Your teacher is out there somewhere.
I have my own ideas of what I think Yoga is and also how I like to teach Yoga to students. I don't however think that my way is the only way. I personally loathe Bikram, but know that many others get a lot of benefit from attending those classes. There is no right and wrong, and as you grow as a Yogi, your views will change. You will be plenty flexible enough to change your mind when you need to. Try not to judge the styles you try or the teachers, but focus on what is working for you and be honest when it's not. If it isn't, walk away and try somewhere else. It's nobody's fault, it just isn't what you need right now.
You must be able to breathe calmly and evenly. If your breath is staggered or laboured, what you are doing is too hard. You will not achieve Yoga by doing whatever it is. You also won't achieve a strong and flexible body either, because you leave yourself open to injury. Ask for a modification or go to a different class. Ideally the teacher should be able to modify the posture for you, until you are ready to open yourself to it in its entirety. This is not you being defeated by the practice, but rather one of the first lessons of Yoga: compassion and humility.
Yes, you do need a teacher. Buying a DVD to learn Yoga is the same as buying a DVD on Skydiving to learn how to jump out of plane. In the same way as a skydiving instructor will be able to guide you through all the safety requirements, through the technicalities, through the necessary training, and through the fear, a Yoga teacher does much the same for you. You can really hurt yourself physically and also emotionally by doing these practices in the wrong way. You do need help, believe me.
When choosing your teacher, the most important thing is really your connection with them. I have studied with some very famous and wonderful teachers who I felt I just didn't connect with. Find the right teacher for you by trying as many as you need to until you are satisfied that you have found the right person for you. You should respect them and you should feel respected by them in return. You should feel a connection to them. A connection is the feeling that they understand you and your needs, and that you also trust them completely to guide you. Know also that you will perhaps need a change of teacher at some time. That's ok too, and don't be afraid to chat about that with your teacher. I'm not the right teacher for everyone, and I know that I am for some.
"The teacher within" is something you will hear about at some point. At the end of the day you are the hero of your own life, and your can have many guides...but you will discover that there is a teacher inside of you. Even for those who have discovered the teacher within, a teacher from the outside is useful too. Brene Brown says that a therapist who sees other therapists is just a therapist with a higher BS monitor. My Yoga teachers are very much like this for me.
There are many teacher training courses out there and there are no real standards either. This makes it harder for you to pick a good teacher, but on the flipside it opens you up to many different types of teachers. I know some courses will put someone through a teacher training program when they have less than a year of Yoga practice under their belt, and will do so in a matter of weeks. There are no shortcuts though, and you will see the quality of the teaching will be affected. Trust yourself to sense that. If something doesn't feel right or sound right to you, ask. If you are really not satisfied with the answer, seek it elsewhere.
These days I tend to attend workshops more regularly that I do classes, but when I do I appreciate it when the studio is local so I don't have to travel far, and it's important to me that it have a light and easy going atmosphere. Like everyone I appreciate good customer service and I think that a Yoga studio especially should be walking the talk.
You will have your own ideas about what you want and don't want from a studio. Keep in mind though that it doesn't necessarily reflect the quality of teachers who teach there. Many teachers work at more than one studio, and in most places I have found teachers that I loved going to and others that I just didn't. Try a few different things and see what works for you.
I have attended classes in school halls, on beaches, in churches, in community centers, in parks, in ashrams, in plush studios and very austere ones. It doesn't really matter to me so much, I have appreciated them all immensely.
Buy a good quality mat of your own, because it's hygienic to have your own and environmentally responsible to buy one that will last you. Bring a hand towel, it will be useful for mopping up any sweat, or tears. Bring a water bottle, but don't have a tummy full of water before practice, and only drink if you really need to during the class. Drink plenty afterwards if you feel you need it. We are usually working on building some heat into the body, and by drinking cold fluids you extinguish it. Wear comfortable clothes that you can move in. You do not need to buy any specialist clothing from any specialist Yoga clothes supplier. Shorts and t-shirts work pretty good. I've even practised in my PJ's and they work fine too.
Introduce yourself to the teacher when you are new to a class. Let them know how much experience you have and if you have any injuries questions or concerns. Ask someone else which way the class faces if you are unsure, or where you should place your mat. Usually this is made pretty clear, some studios have tape that indicates a mat space. Be open minded. You may be invited to chant, or to do some other thing that breaches your comfort zone. Give it go, you might like it. If you don't like something, talk to your teacher about it at the end. Ask yourself why you didn't like it. Do not judge other students, the teacher, or yourself. Take it all in one breath at a time and let it all out again. Don't look around the room and compare yourself to other people. This is totally unproductive. You are working with a different body to everyone else. There can be no competition here.
You should question things though. If something doesn't ring quite right with you, enquire, do some research, read, learn and make up your mind. It's ok to disagree with something, this is your journey. Be respectful in your disagreement, but be honest and true to yourself. I have many friends from many different walks of Yoga and I count myself lucky to have them in my life, although we don't agree on everything.
My friend Maria says "don't wait to find the perfect studio, the perfect teacher, the perfect equipment, the perfect time...to start going to a yoga class. So many times it happens to me that...and I never start doing what I want-need to do. Simply...just drop in. Then if you don't like something you can always change it. And after trying one and another class, yoga style and teacher, if you are open enough, you will realize that everyone has given you something useful for your practice...in or out of your yoga mat."
Things I wish I'd known before I started:
The postures don't really matter in the long run, but in the short term they will help
The Yoga practice I need will change as I change
Practice, practice, practice...just for the sake of the practice
Using props is not being defeated
The practice is embodied: you have to walk the talk to feel it
Being flexible and strong is not a prerequisite
Neither is being calm
I will look silly sometimes and that's ok
Some postures will take me years
The breath is where it's at
My compassion must include myself
I wish you a lot of heart on your Yoga journey. It is worth the time, it is worth getting up for, it's worth sharing, it's worth all the effort, and all the resources invested in it. You will eat humble pie and you will learn to savour it each bite at a time. You will love the things it unlocks for you, and how shiny your life becomes as a result. I wish you courage, and many wonderful supportive teachers. Enjoy!
Here is Philip Askew, who never fails to inspire me (and no, after 10 years, I still can't do it all!):
photo credit: 68photobug
Yoga and creativity has been a trendy topic recently in the innovation space. The thinking is that if you do Yoga then you will have more creative ideas and therefore be better placed to innovate. This isn't wrong, but maybe just a little simplistic. You may well have an awesome idea whilst in Pincha, but doing Pinch isn't the way to have one. What helps is simply calming down and through that, being in a space where you have the chance to really look at the world and yourself. It's peeling back the layers of judgment, opinion, likes, hates, loves, should/shouldn't, he did/she did,...all that stuff doesn't matter. When you get into a state of Yoga, I don't think even innovation and creativity are a goal anymore. Sometimes it can be a side effect.
What defines Yoga?
Yoga is not about bending yourself into a pretzel and doesn't really have anything to do with flexibility. "Asana", they physical postures, are but one of the 8 branches of Yoga. The full eight are listed in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, and they are:
- Yama: your ethical standards, or how you conduct yourself. There are 5 Yamas (Non-violence, truthfullness, non-stealing, contience, non-covetousness).
- Niyama: Self-discipline. There are 5 of these too (Cleanliness, contentment, austerity, self-study, surrender to something bigger than yourself)
- Asana: The physical postures
- Pranayama: Gaining mastery of the breath
- Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the senses
- Dharana: Meditation
- Samadhi: Basically, the experience of great peace
You have to be practicing all 8 (or at least have the intention to), regularly, to really say that you are practicing being in state of Yoga. Sharon Gannon says:
"You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you where you are resisting your natural state".
Going to a Yoga class every day and then shouting at people while driving, drinking wine in the evenings and feeding yourself a ton of sugar through the day is not going to help you be more creative. If you are working stupid hours every day ask yourself why? Is it really for the joy of the work? Or is it to get promoted, to get a raise, to afford more stuff that you don't need? Yoga really is about everything you do in your life. Not just that hour you spend at a Yoga studio. It's about what you eat, what you say, how you treat people, your actions, their consequences, your intentions, your focus.
The most important thing to learn: Breathing properly
Breathing is very important. If you stop doing it, you will die. If you do it very badly, you will become ill. Can you think of a few people in your current meetings who have their shoulders up around their ears? It's impossible to get a full exhale by doing this, and they are often in a constant state of inhalation. This causes the body to be flooded with C02 and triggers the adrenal system. These people are unsurprisingly tense and anxious, or even angry. Can you think of people who hold their breath on the inhale in conversations, while they wait for you to finish? How do these conversations typically go? In my experience not so well. Encouraging people to hold the breath on the exhale (if they absolutely feel they have to hold their breath) is very useful.
When we focus on our breath and practice long slow smooth inhales and exhales we allow the body to shift into a state of homeostasis, that is, an ideal balance between stress and relaxation, alert but comfortable.
Our central nervous system is designed to cope with 2 natural states of being:
- Sympathetic nervous system is triggered by stress “fight or flight”
- Parasympathetic nervous system is indicative of a relaxed state “rest and digest”
When we are stressed, taking long slow breaths, particularly on the exhale, we are reducing the effects of the sympathetic nervous system.
Yoga is a state of mind.
It is about developing the ability of the mind to remain focused on that which we choose to focus on, rather than on that which the mind tends to focus on. I often say that the mind is like a big puppy, very excited, difficult to control and potentially hazardous, as it jumps around sending vases and whatnot flying all over the place. When you try to meditate (like in seated meditation practice), it's as if you have put the puppy out on the balcony so you can get some peace. The problem is that it will bark, scratch at the door, whimper, anything it can do to get your attention, it will try. Yoga exercises are like throwing the dog a bone to play with. It soon forgets about you and you can get some peace finally.
To reach a state of yoga we need to calm down. There are many methods in Yoga practice to lengthen the exhale, so that the body and the mind can calm down. The body is a good way to the mind, but it's quicker to reach it through the breath. It takes seconds to begin to feel different. Incidentally this is why some say that "the postures are empty". They're just there to serve a purpose, to calm you down, to enable to come into yourself, free of self- judgment, free of self-punishment, free of self-opinion. Just you being you.
Once you get into that place, you can focus the mind on whatever you like. William James said "Our lives are the sum total of what we choose to focus our attention on".
There was an infographic in Mashable this week, linking to a number of articles, saying that "sitting can kill you". The articles all reference a medical journal article (but none of them link directly to the data). The line common to all of these articles is:
"A recent medical journal study showed that people who sit for most of their day are 54% more likely to die of a heart attack." (the Journal is Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise)
That is an attention grabbing stat if I ever saw one! The team analyzed the lifestyles of 17,000 people over the age of 13, and found that out of those, 54% were more likely to have a heart attack. The common thread was that these people sat all day long. I assume that they all sat in chairs, although it isn't explicitly mentioned in the article. There's a growing body of evidence that suggests that sitting all day is quite bad for you. For example, the journal of Epidemiology states that sitting for 6 hour stretches makes you 18% more likely to to die from diabetes, heart disease and obesity than those sitting less than three hours a day.
Notice that none of the studies say that "sitting down will kill you", or that "sitting is bad for you". Sitting constantly is obviously not good, as the research shows. This Mashable article goes on to say that standing up all day is therefore better for you, and suggests you get a standing-desk. This is actually not a great idea.
"Scientists in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine examined 17 studies on occupational sitting and cancer, and found little to no connection. And some experts in occupational health worry that hours of uninterrupted standing could be bad for your body." (Time magazine)
Standing all day is bad too. In fact, I reckon not moving all day is pretty bad for you, whatever position you're in, assuming you're a healthy individual to begin with.
I find it interesting that none of the articles or the research differentiates between sitting on the floor and sitting in chairs. In the Hatha yoga tradition, the postures that are considered the most important (see Hatha Yoga Papridika) are 4 seated postures.
Sitting & Yoga
- Asana: Every posture is called something+asana. "Asana" literally means "seat". Even standing postures like Tadasana, are considered to have a seat. It doesn't explicitly mean that you are sitting, but rather that it is a relaxed and balanced place to be.
In all the seated postures, the spine is tall, the chin is tucked in, the shoulders sink down the back, the knees are lower than the hips and it feels comfortable. If it hurts to sit like this (i.e. knee injury), don't. The most important part of any yoga posture is the breath. If you are not breathing well (as in with awareness) you are not doing yoga.
(The following links are so you can see how the posture looks, instructions would vary according to the individual)
- Siddhasana: "When siddhaasana is mastered, of what use are the various other postures?" (Hatha Yoga Pradipika)
Of course, to be able to sit in any of the above postures for any amount of time, you need to have a strong and flexible body. This is why there are 84 postures (i think) described in Hatha yoga, all intended to prepare your body to take the seated postures. This can take years and years, and it usually does. There is also an array of other seated postures like Virasana, for example.
Why is sitting so important?
Seated postures allow you to comfortably focus on your breath, and also meditate. Sitting with awareness allows you to open the hips, keep the spine tall (thus giving you ample space to breathe fully) and a whole host of other things I am sure my fellow yogis will add. The thing is that every posture has a counter-posture. After sitting in one posture for a while, it's good to move and sit in a different way, that allows for your body to recover. For example, after sitting in Padmasana for a while, it might be nice to do a seated forward bend.
The real issue:
If you stay in one posture all day and don't ever move your body into other positions, you will not stay healthy. It doesn't matter if you are standing, sitting or upside down. You need to move around and mix it up. I have heard it said that "Chairs are the cancer of the west", and it is true that sitting in a chair or a comfy armchair may not be the best seated posture for you. Chairs make it hard to shift into other seated postures. In fact sitting badly is as bad as standing badly, I would argue. Additionally, sitting all day in a mental state of stress, anxiety and whatever else is also very harmful. It's not just about how you're sitting physically, but also mentally.
If you learn about yoga, you will notice that the yogis don't only pay attention to postures (asanas), but to Pranayama (breathing),and meditation but also to nourishment and cleanliness (Kriya) and a whole host of other things like not harming (Ahimsa). Sitting in Sukhasana alone is unlikely to keep you well. There is a whole system in place that makes Sukhasana work for you.
Sitting is not dangerous, and it won't kill you. Health is all about how you sit, and everything else you do in your life too.
A few weeks ago, my friend Mark Pollard wrote a cool little post called "3 simple ideas that will change your life". In this post he talks about food and exercise and how you can improve your life pretty easily by following a few simple rules. I've worked with Mark in the business of having good ideas for a year, and wanted to explore a few things we can all do to promote those on a daily basis. I'll share with you a cool doodle, some of the science, something called "Neurobics" and why yoga works.
We've all been in situations where we need to come up with a good idea for something, but we just keep hitting a wall and not getting anywhere. As a strategist and a computer scientist, I rely on my ability to have interesting thoughts and innovative ideas to make a living. The level of creativity required to do this on a daily basis is fairly high. Once an idea has been hatched, there is a serious amount of work required to refine it and make it great, but the initial burst of inspiration needed at the beginning is sometimes the hardest part.
In order to have a good idea, it sometimes feels like the planets need to align and something out of our control needs to happen for us to produce something truly new and original. The truth is that there's a lot of things we can do to make circumstances very favourable. Frank Chimero has a really lovely doodle explaining how to have a great idea. The main takeaways from that are:
- Good ideas come from allogical connections, not logical ones (like in a computer)
- Do something (don't just sit and wait for inspiration)
- Find associations between ideas and do research if necessary
- Have lots and lots of ideas
From a scientific perspective, our neurons need "Elasticity" and "Plasticity". Elasticity is the physical drive that powers your muscles giving you strength and balance. Plasticity is the mental drive that gives you cognition and memory. Elasticity will enable you to be graceful, flexible, mobile and plasticity will ensure you are adaptable, versatile and fluid. Throughout our lives, our neural networks reorganise and reorganise themselves in response to stimuli. The body-mind interaction stimulates the brain cells to grow and form complex connections. A healthy neuron is linked to thousands of other neurons making up trillions of connections. Neuroscientists found that learning new things uses long-term potentiation (LTP) to produce changes between the synaptic connections between your brain cells, allowing for new information to be acquired and stored.
Neurons not only connect with other neurons, but also with skeletal muscles at the neuromuscular junction. Here, the brain uses a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine for memory and attention to communicate with your muscles, while dopamine regulates fine motor movement. When acetylcholine is released, it crosses the synapses that separate nerves from muscles, and binds to acetylcholine receptor molecules on the muscle. This puts in motion a chain of events that leads to muscle contraction. Scientists found that muscle activity is crucial to keeping synapses stable. If you lose activity, you lose synapses, but if you become active again, you regain them.
Strong brains lead to good ideas:
The science tells us that we need to have strong, active bodies as well as stimulating ourselves with new things in order to have a strong brain. Physical exertion is as important as mental stimulation. Lawrence C. Katz, Ph.D., a professor of neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center, has invented a series of exercises called "Neurobics". Although your brain is stimulated by everyday activities not all novel activities lead to strong enough nerve cell stimulation to activate new brain circuits. To be neurobic, an exercise must:
- Involve one or more of your sense in a novel context
- Engage your attention (stand out from the run of the mill daily activities)
- Break routine activity in an unexpected, novel way
Things to do to promote a strong brain:
1) Close your eyes
Try to do something you normally do with your eyes closed for a change. I don't suggest driving or crossing the road with your eyes closed, but rather getting dressed, opening the front door with your key, washing up the dishes,...They key here is to use all of your other senses instead of your vision. Take the time to appreciate how it feels, enjoy it.
2) Break your routine
Go to work via a different route, get off at a different bus stop, write with your other hand for a day, go barefoot, rearrange your office, anything that makes a marked difference to your day. Try and do this at least once a week, picking a new thing each time. You are bound to feel a bit uncomfortable, this is good, it's your brain adapting to something new.
3) Do something new
Try a new sport, learn a new skill, visit an art gallery to expose yourself to new experiences and feelings. Challenge yourself and more importantly, have fun doing it.
Nothing stimulates us like going somewhere new. If you can try and get a completely immersed in a new country and culture once a year at least. Choose places you would never have considered going before, be brave, be nervous, be excited. If you can't do that once a year, consider simply going away for a weekend once in a while to a new place, even locally. Maybe go camping or boating. The important thing is to fully experience a new environment.
5) Combine things
Listen to music with your eyes closed whilst playing with blutack. Lie back and watch the clouds whilst smelling coffee beans, feel for different textures around a room whilst humming. Combine just about any two things and see how it feels.
"Yoga" comes from the word "yoke" which means to "unite" body and mind. This is in line with our science facts, and having given it a fair go for 8 years, I can recommend that you give it a go. There are lots of different traditions of yoga, so if you don't like one class, just try a different style till you find what's right for you. If you listened to Bob Dylan and hated it, it wouldn't mean that you didn't like music, just that perhaps Deadmau5 is more for you. Yoga places strong emphasis on the breath: breathe first, move next. This focus allows the mind to remain still, and the breath itself creates heat in the body which is detoxifying and nourishing. The various asanas (postures) require your brain and body to adapt to new things, and learn new skills like balancing on your hands or on one leg. The body grows strong and flexible as does the mind.
Yoga is about working on yourself. Stephen Cope said that the point of it is really just to be yourself. Not who you think you are, not who you think others think you are, not who you think you should be...just you. To be able to have the clarity to see that there is no war within you.
Sharon Gannon says "You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you where you are resisting your natural state".
Being able to do an advanced pose is handy if your brain and body are already very used to all the other postures, because it allows you to learn something new and be challenged yet again. The pose itself isn't very important or interesting. Your experience of that pose is where it's at. Every single one that I have in my "yogic repertoire" comes with a long history. Most of them were seemingly impossible to begin with, some frustrating, others I dreaded. The thing is that they served to expose something that was already there: frustration, insecurity, anger, expectation,...Each of those poses has allowed me to cultivate kindness, patience, contentedness and all of these things towards myself.
When you are kind with yourself, you are kind with others. Voltaire was right when he said we needed to cultivate our own gardens. I noticed throughout the course of this last year especially, that when people are unkind with others or harsh with them, it's sadly a strong reflection of how poorly they treat themselves. It's hard to feel angry towards them once you realise that.
So, practising yoga will allow you to tick off all of those scientific factors to promote good brain activity and growth, and it'll help you understand yourself and others a whole lot better. It can take as little as 10mins a day and the results are pretty immediate. I recommend finding a teacher who you like to begin with, but you can have a go at sun salutation A to get a feel for it on your own.
To summarise, don't allow anything to get stagnant. Nature doesn't like stagnant things, it thrives on change. Challenge yourself daily both physically and mentally, use all of your senses, experience as many new things as possible. Never pass up an opportunity to do something new.