Discover Yoga's Healing Power
There are several medical conditions that can be improved by practicing yoga. It can be used to lessen the negative effects of infertility, lung disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, insomnia, cancer, high blood pressure, and joint pain. The beneficial effects of yoga practices are well recognized not only by the yoga community but also by medical doctors.
One of the main elements that lead to an illness is stress. Being responsible for a huge number of sicknesses, this item, which we develop in our minds, can be reduced through a good usage of yoga techniques. Here are just some of the problems that are related to an over active stress response: depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, some types of diabetes mellitus, cardio-vascular disease, several autoimmune diseases, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, reproductive problems, and an aggravated suppression of the immune system.
The response of the sympathetic nervous system can trigger stress in our metabolism. The reaction to various outside stimuli is also known as the “fight or flight” response – the mind and body, faced with an endangering or disturbing element, prepare for one of the two options. Physically, this is manifested through an instantaneous heart rate increase, together with a high ascent of blood pressure. Breathing gets shallow and the muscles tense in anticipation to the following action. Internally, this response reduces the blood flow to internal organs and processes that are not essential in that particular moment (such as digestion and elimination) are shut down. This state of increased awareness and readiness is beneficial on a short term, preparing our body to react to the outside interventions and stimuli. Both in a “fight” and in a “flight” situation, the body is physically and mentally prepared to act. The problem arises when long-term exposure to similar stress takes place. This “fight or flight” response is only meant to help on short periods of time – the longer it is activated the less resources will the body have to function normally.
There is a natural countermeasure for the “fight or flight” response. It is called the parasympathetic nervous system or the “relaxation response.” It is automatically activated when the elements that caused the stress are gone but it is also possible to increase its effects by breathing deeply and relaxing your muscles. By increasing the length of this process we allow our body to recover faster, enabling it to eliminate the harmful effects of stress in a prompt and efficient manner.
Yoga highlights the idea that by using breathing and relaxation techniques you can reduce the harmful effects of stress factors on your body. A lessened “fight or flight” response can also be achieved by looking at adverse factors as challenges rather than threats. This approach allows your mind to focus on finding a solution, rather than creating an abrupt response. Another concept employed by this technique is that of acting versus reacting, of taking initiative versus responding to outside factors.
The positive effects of yoga during a healing process are undeniable. However, these techniques should only be used as a form of support and the healing shouldn’t rely solely on them. The best results are achieved by combining yoga with traditional and modern medicine and by addressing a problem both from a mental and physical point of view.
Overcoming Obstacles In Practicing Yoga
Anyone embarking on the journey of yoga will face a series of obstacles, difficulties and detours. You will need to remove all of the following difficulties, noticed by yoga practitioners for a long time, in order to be able to fully benefit from the positive aspects of yoga. Here is a quick look at the nine major obstacles:
1. Vyadhi – This obstacle refers to physical or mental illness. Practicing yoga si even more difficult when you are not in great health. A balanced, healthy life style ensures victory on this obstacle, by preventing any form of sickness. 2. Styana – The second major difficulty related to yoga refers to an advanced state of apathy, which interferes with you willingness to commit to your responsibilities. We neglect and avoid practice by procrastinating and this, in turn, leads to coming up with excuses for not doing our work.
3. Sanshaya – One other major interference in the practice of yoga is related to the issue of doubting the benefits of practicing it. This problem also arises when faith in your own capabilities is low. This leads to a deviation from the original goals, making you more susceptible to outside interference.
4. Pramada – When lack of persistence and will is notices, the 4th yoga obstacle comes in place. Yoga requires a unique approach, as it is a combination of arts and sciences. If you practice yoga without the proper emotional and mental states, you may turn its positive aspects into negative ones.
5. Alasya – A lazy and inert state of mind and body will prevent you from receiving yoga’s full benefits. Most people have a hard time dealing with their own will power, creating the perfect conditions for this obstacle to appear. The road to success is hard most of the times and a strong will power can support your ascent. A passive approach, on the other hand, will almost certainly lead to a slow and ineffective advance.
6. Avirati – Physical objects hold a magnetic attraction to the majority of people. Yoga needs you to let go of these ropes that tie you to the material world and make progress in the realm of the spirit. Removing the weight of physical things is vital while practicing yoga.
7. Bhrantidarshan – Misunderstanding the path you are taking while practicing yoga can lead to disappointment. Avoid this by keeping your hopes in good contact with reality.
8. Alabdha-bhumikatva – We are often victims of our own discouragement. When a failure occurs we fall into a state of self-depreciation and low optimism levels. Failing to reach a step on your road to achieving your ideal can lead to aggravated forms of this obstacle.
9. Anawasthitatwa – Poor yoga practice may also lead to the incapability to reach and hold a higher level of consciousness. This can be frustrating and result in disappointment.
Overcoming these obstacles is possible by helping your mind to focus on single elements a one time. Do not allow any of these obstacles to increase in power, as the others will soon follow. The passing of time and a strong will and commitment is usually very effective in dealing with the 9 yoga obstacles.
Meditation For Deep Relaxation
Yoga is probably best known as a comfortable form of relaxation, both on a physical and mental level, but it involves a lot more than that. Relaxation is only the first step.
It is easy to practice Yoga Nidra. You lie completely motionless on yourback, and listen to the instructions given. The technique is used by people who need an effective relaxation. Many use the Yoga Nidra tape or CD without having any other knowledge of yoga or meditation.
Sometimes a person will come to me and say: "I have tried relaxation and it does not work for me. I just cannot relax." It always turns out that the person has used a form of relaxation, where you have to try to imagine that you relax. So instead of deriving benefit from the relaxation, the person concerned gets irritated and worried from making so much effort.
In Yoga Nidra you are never asked to relax - and my experience is that even those people who have previously experienced problems relaxing, find benefit from Yoga Nidra.
Yoga Nidra is equally popular with school kids and senior citizens, and is highly valued in many work places. For beginners, it is an easy way to experience a state of meditation.
Some years ago I taught at a school for young people. The teachers were very surprised when they saw the boys lying completely still on their backs with their eyes closed for twenty minutes.
You can practice Yoga Nidra anytime you want, to improve your concentration, get better rest and renewed energy - and if you sleep poorly at night, to improve your sleep.
Listen to the instructions without making effort or using your willpower. Just follow the instructions with interest and awareness, and let the rest happen by itself.
In the beginning when you practice Yoga Nidra, you may fall asleep - and that is okay - even though the purpose is to stay awake and aware. If for a moment you don't hear the instructions, you may have an experience like you are deeply asleep - but at the same time you know that you are conscious. Generally falling asleep completely is a transitory stage. Gradually you become increasingly present in the deep state.
When you practice Yoga Nidra, it is best to lie with your head towards the north. Your clothes should not be tight. Do not lie on anything too soft, but preferably on an even floor, maybe on a rug, with a light cover over you. If you are prone to falling asleep, keep your hands and feet uncovered or lie without a cover altogether. If you still fall asleep, then let your elbows rest on the floor with your forearms pointing upwards. Each time you are about to fall asleep, your arms will drop down, and you will wake up.
The essence of Yoga Nidra, as with all kinds of real meditation, is awareness - consciousness resting in itself. During Yoga Nidra thoughts, states and dreams may surface. You may have impressions of experiences and emotions from that day or from earlier times in your life. All this you experience, but you don't cling to any of it - and you don't judge it (after all, you also experience when you judge). You let the impressions and thoughts come and go without trying to control them, and you reach not only a relaxed state, but a state where the mind empties and frees itself of all that it does not need. You let the thoughts flow by and disappear like clouds in the sky, making room for inspiration again.
Getting Slim and Trim With Yoga
Yoga’s power to create a state of mental and physical well being may also be put to good use for taking off excess weight. Yoga promotes a healthy and balanced life style and when combined with a calorie burning program may show exceptional results. Practicing yoga will also increase your metabolism, increasing the calorie burning process, but you should not see it as an immediate results method. By following the rigors imposed by yoga you will gain a holistic, long term solution to balance your life style and keep off any excessive weight. In addition to loosing weight you will also experience an increased ability to concentrate and focus, higher resistance to stress factors and an all round healthier way of living.
Metabolism is regulated by the thyroid, a component of the endocrine system. It is responsible for the chemical processes in your body that transform food into energy. Yoga uses a series of twisting poses that stimulate the work flow of the internal organs, thus boosting metabolism to burn more calories and reduce your body weight. Improved local circulation is another direct effect of using yoga postures and this leads to a healthier, more energetic body. When the calorie intake is lower than the calorie output your body will start burning fat cells to acquire the necessary energy. A perfectly healthy and strong metabolism takes this process even further and you will see better results than traditional weight loss formulas.
Different back bends, combined with forward bends, are used to stimulate metabolism. Poses that affect the neck area, where the thyroid gland is situated, are especially useful is the weight problem is caused by a hormonal imbalance. These poses can be those of the camel, rabbit, plow, bridge and shoulder stand. Moving quickly between a series of poses can accelerate the process. For people who are significantly overweight some of the bends may prove to be a difficult task to accomplish. They should gradually increase the difficulty of the postures until they are confident enough to go to more complex exercises.
Muscles can be strengthened by using standing poses, such as the warrior. A higher endurance and increased caloric output will also result from using standing poses. Energize the body and increase your metabolism even more by using Kapalabhati and Ujjayi Pranayama.
A proper diet should also be followed to support the holistic weight loss system. Try to consume food rich in fiber, vegetables, whole grains and less high fat and processed food items. Balance is essential in all maters concerning your food and no excess should be made. Do not totally eliminate certain food items from your menu and remember that diversity is the key to an equilibrated and satisfactory diet.
A gradual approach is essential with all yoga practices. Results may not be spectacular and immediate, but this is one of the best long term weight loss methods available. In addition to weight loss you also benefit from an increased protection against adverse factors as well as a general feeling of well being and inner peace.
Overcoming Eating Disorders Through Yoga
Over 10 million women and a million men are affected by different forms of eating disorders in the United States alone. Most of them are teens and the common illnesses are represented by anorexia and bulimia. The physical factors related to these illnesses have only been recently acknowledged as only mental factors were previously thought to be responsible for these conditions. Eating disorders are triggered by a complexity of factors including social, biological, psychological and behavioral items.
A calm and focused mind has a better chance of reducing the harmful effects of eating disorders. Yoga has been proven to reduce depression and recreate a state of balance and well being. Different yoga practices encourage heightened levels of self esteem and promote a positive view of your own body. This is a crucial factor in eating disorders and has been shown to significantly increase recuperation and healing. By eliminating self judgment, yoga establishes a strong connection between mind and body, allowing the two elements to work together in decreasing any negative effects. Anorexia affects your body’s energy levels and reduces the bone density, creating unwanted negative effects at a physical level. Regular yoga practice also increase the overall fitness level of the body, giving it a good chance of fighting against illnesses.
The yogic system identifies eating disorders as a problem related to the first chakra and different poses are used to balance it: crab, full wind, pigeon, locust, staff etc. Strengths and courage can be increased by using grounding postures such as mountain, goddess, standing squat and prayer squat. The postures reestablish the strong mind-body connections and help overcome most physical obstacles. Most back bending poses help reduce depression and forward bends usually calm the spirit and reduce the effects of anorexia.
As the mental component plays an important role in eating disorders, meditation can reduce harmful thoughts and feelings. An active, specifically targeted meditation practice will prove to be very effective. Less obvious results can also be obtain by using a general mediation technique. The yoga poses work best when the exterior elements are left aside and concentration focuses on inner aspects of yourself. Paying special attention to breathing and inner sensations will take you to a state of calmness and increased awareness. This new state will allow you to go further an explore new concepts that will enable you to achieve goals that proved problematic in the past.
Being aware of the problem and showing a constant and strong desire to change that is a great method to reduce the effects of bulimia and anorexia. An early adoption of yoga practices would make the patient more aware of the problem, thus contributing to an early cure. However, these yoga techniques are usually used in the recuperative stages of the illness. Most people suffering from anorexia or bulimia go through a strong denial stage, which aggravates their condition even more. As with all illnesses, yoga works best in the prevention stage of the problem, when the negative effects are still low and easier to eliminate.
Taking The Sress Out Of Vacations With Yoga
Even during vacations we are still attacked by outside stressful factors which can ruin a very promising vacation. Vacation stress is a rather antagonistic expression but it is real and it can cause serious upset. There are countless reasons to get angry during your vacation: poor services, bad weather, high prices, noisy tourists, annoying insects and the list can go on an on. Yoga offers several methods of reducing the effects of such negative elements in the form of meditation, sakshin, pratyahara and pranayama.
Meditation is also a recommended practice when vacation stress factors become active. Meditation helps you prepare for any potential stressful situations and is invaluable during and after these obstacles are gone. A detached state of consciousness that allows you to get a better understanding of the realities around you is referred to as sakshin. Pratyahara is a state of peace obtained by reducing to a minimum all outside intereferences. The mind gets calm and relaxed, focusing towards the inside of your own body. By using pranayama you are able to calm yourself in almost any difficult situation by regulating your breathing and thus harmonizing the energies in your body.
Being prepared for any stress factors is vital for a successful vacation. Anticipating a potential problem doesn’t mean worrying about it before hand. It means that when the problem does occur you should already have a good understanding of why it happened. You will always get much better results by addressing an issue with a clear and calm head, rather then acting on an impulse.
When a situation occurs try to “step out” of your body and see yourself in that particular setting. Objectivity is hard to reach, especially when it comes to your own self, but it helps to get a neutral perspective on things. Directing an action by the guidelines of an objective mind will prove more successful than jumping in head first into a situation. Concepts like “I couldn’t help myself” should be constantly discouraged from your own vocabulary and thoughts. Take control of your inner self and you will have better control of what’s outside your body in the surrounding world. You should first feel you body’s reaction to an outside element and only react afterwards, when a clear judgment dictates what to do. Breathing techniques are of great help when it comes to relaxing an impulsive spirit and bringing calm to a particular event or situation.
You need to interrupt the actions of your subconscious mind before you are able to take control of a situation. Initial responses are hasty and often very hard to avoid, but it is essential that, through practice, you get a constant feeling of control over your reactions. The first reaction to a negative element can be either that of fighting back or that of fleeing. In any of the two cases a considerable amount of tensions fills you body, and it could be days or weeks before you manage to get over this unfortunate event. A calm and balanced response has chances of eliminating any sort of tension before it even gets a chance to start growing. Remember that most vacations are short and you can’t afford to spend half of your stay in a negative mood. After all, you are there to try to recharge your energy, not to try to waste it on meaningless tensions.
Yoga Breathing For Better Health
The respiratory system is an amazing process by which the body takes air from the environment into the body to feed the blood and cells with oxygen, and then expels air containing carbon dioxide and toxins back out into the atmosphere. This process is called gaseous exchange. This takes place in the lungs. The complete process involves the nasal passages, the pharynx, larynx, trachea, bronchi, lungs and muscles; diaphragm, external and internal intercostals, transverse abdominal, scaleni and sternomastoids.
Inhalation: The diaphragm contracts and flattens; this reduces the pressure in the chest cavity thus increasing the volume of the lungs. Air is drawn in to equalise the pressure. Inhalation comes as a natural result of a full exhalation.
Exhalation: The diaphragm relaxes and rises, the pressure in the chest cavity reduces and the air is forced from the lungs.
In yoga, the breath is the vital link between the mind and the body. Basic breathing does not contain ratios or restrictions, the purpose behind basic breathing is to establish a practice for life; using the breath to manage your response to situations, particularly in challenging or stressful situations, and to help relaxation.
These practices include; simple breath awareness, nostril breathing, linking breath to movement, lengthening the breath, the complete yoga breath.
The Yoga Breath
In yoga a complete breath has 3 physiological phases;
Clavical (upper chest/collar bone)
These phases need to be experienced independently. When this skill is achieved, the breath needs to move in one smooth wave.
Inhale – abdominal – thoracic – clavical
Exhale – clavical – thoracic - abdominal
Yoga Guide for Day-to-Day Practice
This is almost a complete outline of the essentials of the practice of Yoga. But, when you
actually begin to practice it, you will find it is very difficult. So, you have to be very honest in your pursuit. Swami Sivananda taught us that Sadhana has three prongs, like a Trisula (trident):
A Daily Routine of Practice. Have a fixed procedure of practice every day. One must keep fixed hours and discipline his personality. In daily routine, three items should be very important:
(a) JAPA - chanting some Mantra over and over to maintain the same consciousness (this is often useful when meditation is difficult);
(b) STUDY - reading scriptures or texts on Yoga, e.g. Upanishads, Bhagavadgita, The
Sermon on the Mount, The Imitation of Christ;
MEDITATION - should be performed at a fixed time and in a fixed place every day (you should not change the place); face the same direction daily (either the East or the North) and sit in the same Asana (i.e. posture) every day.
An Annual Resolve. Vow to give up bad habits like harming or hurting others, telling lies, and incontinence; these three must be given up (slowly) by degrees. Ahimsa, Satya,
Brahmacharya are to be practiced. If you break this resolve, you should fast one day.
Because of the fear of fasting, you will be careful not to break the vow.
A Spiritual Diary. When you go to bed every night you should review what you have done since morning. This diary may consist of questions you may ask yourself, e.g. “How many times have I forgotten God today?” “Did I get angry today?” etc.
With these methods, you can take to serious Sadhana, or practice of Yoga. And when your efforts are followed with earnestness of purpose, you shall achieve success in this very life.