Sunday, August 29, 2010

Yoga as a Health Practice

By Sabrina Smith

Yoga has been revered for centuries by many countries of Asia for its ability to heal and promote health and wellness. Some of the countries have derived medical practices that revolve around the key concept of yoga: balancing the mind body and spirit to achieve their goal of health and wellness. India, one of the Asian countries that has been at the heart of yoga for many years, developed the practice of Ayurveda. Yoga and Yogic practices such as meditation, and postures are key to its medicines. Aside from this form of traditional medicine Yoga has been proven to be very beneficial in modern day, curing such ailments like depression, decreasing the risk of heart attacks, stimulating irregular bowls and creating healthy eating habits, helping to release your body from addiction, as well as promote a healthy physical, mental and emotional body.

Ayurveda has been very much a common medicinal practice in India working hand in hand with yoga and it has most recently been made popular by Deepak Chopra, M.D. Chopra explains the methodology of Ayurveda, and its view of the human body as a quantum mechanical device, that is not easily fixed through the prescription of magic pills. But can return back to a balanced state once the body’s energies begin to function in harmony. He explains Ayurveda uses Yogic techniques of mediation to heal the emotional issues such as depression. In his book Perfect Health, Chopra tells a story of a young man whose parents had divorced causing him to fall into a deep depression. When he went off to college the symptoms worsened, causing him to suffer from blindingly severe headaches, acute pain, dizziness and vomiting.

He dropped out of college before the end of the first semester, his father sent him to see a therapist that prescribed him an array anti-depressants. But nothing worked very good or for very long. After a few years of dealing with the depression and thoughts of suicide he had heard about meditation from a friend. The young man began to employ the techniques he learned. He began to find the place deep down inside of him where the headaches and the depression did not dwell. Through continued meditation his small island of awareness slowly became larger, and slowly he began to see his true self that had been hidden underneath the depression and pain (Chopra, 160-63).

The yogic practice of meditation can also reduce the risk of heart attack among those who suffer from borderline hypertension, and high cholesterol. A study conducted at Harvard medical School in 1974 studied twenty-two hypertensive patients. The study showed that the average reading dropped from150/94 to 141/88 it was enough to bring the diastolic pressure (the bottom number) down from borderline to a normal range. However the systolic pressure (the top number) was not lowered enough to be considered normal. However any elevation in blood pressure for an extended period of time can take years off one’s life. So, one might consider the experiment a success (Chopra, 164). Similar experiments to this one have been done regarding patience with high-cholesterol.

Meditation has been used in a study done by two researchers in Israel, M.J. Cooper and M.M. Aygen showed that employing meditation could lower cholesterol. The researchers took a group of 23 patients with elevated cholesterol, twelve were taught meditation and eleven were not. At the end of eleven months they screened their cholesterol again. The twelve that meditated dropped their levels from an average of 255 to an average 225 (the expectable number in the U.S. is 200). This same team did the same study with patience that had normal cholesterol numbers as well. The study showed that cholesterol could be lowered in people who had a normal cholesterol number (Chopra, 164-165). The mind is a powerful device in Yoga and meditation is a showcase of its power at work. However it is not the only device that is activated through yogic practices.

The postures used in Yogic practice as well as the Yogic diet can help to stimulate irregular bowels. Yogic postures give a gentle message to the abdominal viscera, postures like the cat and the plow help to correct constipation, aid in digestion and bowel action (Hewitt, 222 & 244). In regards to the yogic diet, “overeating and underrating are alike detrimental to success in Yoga. A Yogic rule is that one should finish a meal feeling that a little more could have been taken,” (Hewitt, 398). A Yogic diet is considered lacto-vegetarian, not eating meat for ethical as well as health reasons. The yogic diet is further broken down in smaller food groups.

There are particular food groups in the Yogic diet that are considered to influence the human personality, sattvic “pure” food, rajasic “stimulating” food, and “tamasic” impure food. The “pure” foods consist of milk, butter fruits, vegetables and grains. “Stimulating” foods are foods that are stimulating to the nervous system like, spicy, strong tasting foods, meat, fish eggs and alcohol. “Impure” foods are foods that have been putrefied, overripe, rotten or impure in some way (Hewitt 154.) Much of the modern diet consists of these “impure” foods, especially for those who consume meat and processed food.

Have you ever wondered how come meat is not hard and stiff due to rigor mortis, it becomes tender again due to putrefaction, or the decaying process. Much of all food that comes pre-packaged will fall into the category of “impure” due to the additives and preservatives that grace the ingredient list.

According to the Bhagavad-Gita these “impure foods make a person dull and lazy. Their thinking capacity diminishes and they sink almost to the level of animals or bushmen. They have no high ideals or purpose in life; on a physical side, they suffer from chronic ailments of the body,” (Swami Vishnu-devananda, 209). Throughout the practice Yoga one opens themselves up to a new level of awareness in regards to what they put in their body and how it affects them.

“Pure” foods are said to bring purity and calmness to the mind and are soothing and nourishing to the body. Rajasic or “stimulating” foods arouse the animal passion in man and brings a restless state of mind (Swami Vishnu-Devananda, 209).

Beyond the food that we put in our body there are substances that are not only physically harmful to our bodies but are very detrimental to our Being. For instance drugs and the addiction that accompanies them, ranging from nicotine to narcotics cause not only physical harm but disrupt the chemical patterns in bodies. For many, addiction is a hard pattern to break free from. Addiction is like when you manually over ride a program to make it do something out side of its memory. The body has a memory of how the body is suppose to work in a healthy pattern, but the addictive pattern has taken over. Yoga can be used to help restore and remind the body of what the healthy pattern is.

When one begins to practice yoga they begin to open up the chakras in the body, freeing up the energy flow within the body. Yogic postures that are specific to the particular chakra where the addiction is held can be extremely helpful in freeing the body from the addictive pattern. For instance if the addiction rest in the Root Chakra or Muladahar, one would want to practice an asana that would ground them, consisting of seated postures, supine, as well as prone. It is good to have a well rounded set of asana’s so that the chakras do not become over or under stimulated but when you have areas that need focus it is good to give them the attention that they need.

This attention does not only have to be in the form of the physical asana, as mentioned before the mind is a very powerful device and through meditation addictions pattern can be broken as well. This can happen unintentionally. A study done in 1972, by physiologist Robert Keith Wallace, showed that a group of 1,860 mostly college students that began to practice meditation decreased their drug use significantly. After twenty-one months of practicing their drug dependency in the areas of narcotics, barbiturates, hallucinogens, marijuana and amphetamines decreased so much that most had stopped using all together.

Marijuana was still used by about twelve percent and all the others ranged from one to four percent of users. The most interesting part is that they were not part of a rehabilitation program, they were not asked to quit, and the researcher did not follow their progress, nor reward them for abstaining (Chopra, 201-202). It was the mediators’ body coming back into sync, and no longer being part of the addictive pattern.

Yoga as a whole promotes a healthy lifestyle. Yoga makes you more aware of what you are putting in to your body, how you are. Whether you are exercising or not exercising, healthy and un-healthy habits that you have developed in your life, or habits that you hope to develop. Yoga can be used to encourage healing within the body whether it is physical, mental or emotional. This is often through meditation but not limited to meditation. Yogic postures and diet play an integral part in Yoga as a “health practice.”

Work Cited

Chopra, Deepak M.D. “Perfect Health.” New York, Three Rivers Press; 2000.

Hewitt, James. “The Complete Book of Yoga.” New York, Schocken Books; 1977.

Vishnu-Devananda, Swami. “The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga.” New York,

Three Rivers Press; 1988.

Sabrina Smith is a certified Yoga teacher. She teaches classes in the Oakley, California area.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Teaching Hatha Yoga – Two Yoga Poses for Stress

By Sanjeev Patel, CYT

It is slowly nearing the beginning of fall in North America. Officially, the fall season will begin on September 22nd, but for some who dislike cooler temperatures, anxiety or stress may follow the summer season. The following two Yoga asanas are easy to practice and help students to release stored energy, which can create bad moods.

Half Spinal Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)

This posture is sometimes called “Half Lord of the Fishes pose.” The name can be traced to Sage Matsyendra. Ardha Matsyendrasana can be confusing to some, but it releases physical tension within the entire body. Physical tension stored at a desk, in a car, and on the couch is a recipe for stress overload.

Directions: Sitting, bend the right knee and place the right foot with the heel against the left buttock. The sole of the left foot belongs on the floor on the outside of the right knee. Bend the left arm behind the back and look out over the left shoulder. The right arm presses on outside of the left thigh and knee, the right hand grasping the inside of the left foot. The twist begins and the sacrum and climbs gradually up the spine to the head. Butt stays firm on the ground, feet stay flat on the floor, toes spread. Spine is straight. Then, alternate sides.

This twisting posture prevents backache and keeps the spine flexible and young. It massages the internal organs, aiding in digestion and detoxification. Like all twisting postures, it has the mental benefit of reminding us that we have the power to unravel ourselves in all kinds of unhealthy situations.

Lion Pose (Simhasana)

Sometimes this asana is called, “Roaring Lion Pose.” For many people, the lion is a favorite Yoga pose. You can perform it silently, but I like to be loud and roar. Sitting with spine straight in Thunderbolt Posture, hands on knees, come slightly forward, roaring and exhaling the lungs completely, while opening the eyes wide (rolled back) and opening the mouth as wide as possible, protruding the tongue out and down as far as it will go.

Hold this position on the exhale for as long as possible (6 seconds) keeping the body tense the whole time. Relax and return to the upright thunderbolt position; breathe normally. Repeat.

This asana tones the muscles of the throat and face, bringing fresh blood and new vigor to those areas. In addition, the psychological effect of this pose cannot be underestimated. It is playful, bringing lightness to the mind when overburdened. It is tense, which leads to better relaxation upon release. It is loud and therefore self-expressive, discouraging shyness.

© Copyright 2010 – Sanjeev Patel / Aura Publications

Sanjeev Patel is a certified Yoga teacher and an exclusive author for Aura Wellness Center in Attleboro, Massachusetts.

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