By Monique Parker
Yoga is being used therapeutically in conjunction with modern medicine today to aid in a variety of physical conditions and psychological problems. Research reveals that practicing yoga regularly helps to reduce high blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. Yoga can even assist in the absorption of prescription medication, so that it can work more effectively.
When the physical exercises or asanas are combined with breathing exercises or pranayama, meditation, and a proper, well-balanced diet, the body’s physiological systems stabilize. The endocrine system—the thyroid, parathyroid, and thymus glands—normalize. Assimilation and digestion improves. Respiratory rate increases. Circulation and cardiovascular efficiency improves. Generally, your energy levels are higher.
From a physical and structural perspective, yoga improves both musculoskeletal strength and flexibility. Joint range of motion increases. Muscular asymmetry rebalances. Posture improves.
Yoga also has a huge advantage in that it directly and positively affects well-being and mood stability since breath regulation and focused concentration enhances one’s ability to cope with stress. There’s also more alpha and theta brain wave activity (which occur when we are relaxed and calm). As a result, you feel more alive, peaceful, and optimistic. Even sleep improves.
Yoga for Svastha
The Sanskrit word svastha is derived from two roots, sva meaning “self”, and stha meaning “to stay”. Thus, the goal of yoga is to stay as one’s self. As a practice you show up to your exercise-pranayama-meditation in order to 1) remind yourself to stay present in the moment, and 2) bring yourself back into harmony with nature and yourself.
Whenever you invest more energy in activities, work, and other people than you get back, you operate at a deficit. This state of imbalance leads to degeneration rather than regeneration. As well, because of the constant pull of gravity, our vital pranic life force flows in only one direction causing the stagnation of chi and results in high blood pressure, slipped disks, back ache, hernia, and other health issues.
That’s where yoga comes in as a healing modality. When practiced regularly, yoga brings about balance: structurally, physiologically, and mentally. Here are some helpful tips for incorporating this ancient science into your life, today.
Tips for Starting Yoga
Find a teacher. Get direction from an experienced and certified yoga therapist or instructor. Guidance from a qualified professional will not only help you to feel better, but also help you to avoid injury or exacerbating a pre-existing condition.
Look around you. Increase your awareness by learning to pay attention to your body and how stimuli and certain activities affect your sense of well-being. Practice unplugging from brainless, instant gratification activities: TV, Internet, boredom eating. Notice the world around you: the wind, the shape of the mountains, how the body relaxes when exposed to the warmth of the sun.
Start small. Don’t overcommit. If you do less, on a more consistent basis, your body will more quickly regenerate. As with any resolution, habits form after around 30 days. You’ll have a better chance of sticking to a routine performed daily for 20 minutes than once a week for ninety minutes.
Join a class. A structured yoga class is beneficial because of the strong social support. If you are someone who needs people—and who doesn’t?—find a class that meets several times a week. Many teachers are trained to offer modifications for participants at varying levels of experience.
Be gentle with yourself. When we practice self-acceptance versus competition, we experience life in a way that nourishes rather than promotes conflict, both internally and externally.
The best news is that every step you take to improve your health will have a noticeably positive impact on the path of yoga.
**First published in The Taos News on May 23, 2013