Spring is in the air and it is a great time to assess if your life is in balance and plant the “seeds” that you want to blossom in the coming months. Spring marks the start of a new astrological year with the Sun entering Aries who is ready to go with red-hot energy and initiative.
Spring reminds us to look at the cycle of life, death, and renewal. A fundamental law of Physics is that Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; it is only transformed. So we too as Energy beings, as souls, are immortal; part of the Universal Energy we know as Spirit, as God. Life is essentially spiritual. “There is no Reality but God; there is only God.” (Rumi)
It is said in the Yoga literature that the Solstices and Equinoxes correspond to the Breath of God: Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring corresponding respectively to Inhalation: Hold: Exhalation: Hold. It is a great reminder that we are part of and not apart from the Universe of Life.
What better time therefore than in the Spring to begin or renew a vow of living healthily and mindfully. What better way than to start a yoga practice. Many people have expressed an interest in yoga to me but seem confused about what yoga is and how it can be helpful.
Yoga literally translated means, “to yoke,” and traditionally referred to yoking or bringing into union your individual soul with the Universal Spirit or what most people conceptualize as God. Doing that requires quieting and controlling your mind; ie to learn how to meditate. Traditionally, there are 8 stages in the study and practice of yoga: Abstentions, Observances, Postures, Breath Control, Sense Withdrawal, Concentration, Meditation, and Contemplation. In the United States, yoga is associated mostly with the postures; what we call “asanas.”
The primary motivation for people taking their first yoga class is to improve flexibility. Often times, I hear people say that I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible. Well that is exactly what should motivate you to start a class. Other reasons that people cite for taking their first class are for general fitness, stress relief, weight loss, and spiritual development. About 16 % practice to treat a specific medical condition; especially musculoskeletal conditions like Low Back Pain.
Currently, about 20-M Americans practice yoga spending about $10-B annually on yoga classes and merchandise. The benefits of a practice come, in a broad sense, from better breathing and increased lung capacity; from better posture so you can indeed breathe better and put less strain on the musculo-skeletal system, especially the spine; and from increased flexibility so you don’t contract as you get older and can maintain the good posture and breathing. With the yoga stretches, you squeeze stagnant blood and thereby help with detoxification and mobility of nutrients. In hot yoga classes such as Bikram Yoga, this detox is emphasized by use of the skin as an elimination organ. And lastly and most importantly, the learning to relax in stillness and the balanced self-awareness that you feel from a practice allows you keep learning and evolving your soul in a proper way ridding yourself of anxiety, depression and worries.
Yoga therapy is the process of empowering individuals to progress toward improved health and well-being through the application of the philosophy and practice of yoga. The benefits can be similar from different yoga practices; the important thing being that one practices for a long period of time, without breaks, and with all earnestness.
There are a couple of studies now that show a regular yoga practice especially one that includes pranayama (breath control) and meditation can reduce scores of anxiety and depression. It has been used in military and veteran populations with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. You develop this self-awareness and you realize that you are just your body, you are not just your mind; but you are an indivisible whole, a unity. And this sense of wholeness is really what health is about.
I am a big believer that the only way to really know something is to feel it in your body. With a yoga practice, one finally begins to learn in an embodied way what balance is, what peace is, what relaxation is, what self-awareness is. And those are incredible feelings and incredible lessons right there.
Do a yoga practice for 30 days and you change your body; for 60 days and you change your mind; for 90 days and you change your life. You have to go through it to experience the benefit. There is a centering and a balance that comes upon your life. You are less emotional and more self-aware. Emotions are feelings that compulsively drive you to do something. With a yoga practice, you are able to keep your peace no matter what.
The challenge in doing research on yoga is,” what do you use for a control group? How do you make the study blind? What is placebo yoga?” The good studies will compare yoga asanas to simple stretching or exercise. The key difference is that yoga asanas incorporate a mental meditative attitude of self-awareness. When you exercise, you tend to activate the fight or flight stress response (sympathetic nervous system), you use more rapid forceful movements, energy is draining and fatiguing, awareness is external and it is more competitive and goal oriented. With yoga, vagal tone or the parasympathetic nervous system dominates, you use more slow dynamic and static movements, energy is conserved and maximized, awareness is internal, and it is non-competitive and process-oriented. The “high” from an exercise or sports activity tends to come from the effect of endorphins (natural opiates) on the brain and the euphoria from winning; while the “high” from a yoga practice comes from the quiet, meditative, balanced awareness state that is produced especially when one attains Self- realization (the attainment of God-consciousness).
Traditionally in India, yoga poses, breathing exercises and meditative exercises were prescribed for specific conditions. You would be given 3 – 5 poses to practice daily at home and come back for checkups with the teacher/ therapist. Currently, especially in group classes like the Bikram method, the poses are put together in a series to work out all parts of the body in a balanced way and specifically to help with the elimination systems: skin, lungs, kidneys, and digestive system. So, a 90-minute hot yoga class is a great way to improve and rehabilitate your whole body and mind. See you at the studio!