05 September 2009

The Health Benefits of Yoga

Improved immune function. Lower blood pressure. Detoxification. These are just a few of the many health benefits yoga has on the body. It is considered by some to be the “perfect” exercise. Why? Many people who employ a regular yoga practice boast incredible results, such as increased flexibility, beautiful toning of the muscles and less stress in their daily lives to name a few.
One very well-known benefit of yoga is increased flexibility. Yoga provides equalized activity in opposing muscle groups simultaneously. Every single muscle group in the body is used with strength and balance. Not only does this activity of utilizing opposing muscle groups simultaneously increase flexibility, but it also stokes the metabolic fire. This activity is also auspicious for increasing range of motion in the joints as well as the connective tissues, such as the ligaments and tendons.
Yoga also is beneficial in lowering blood pressure and strengthening the cardiovascular system. Yoga poses, by engaging the muscles as they do, help increase the blood flow in the body, and subsequently oxygenate the blood, increasing circulation. The increased circulation lowers blood pressure and pulse rate by transporting nutrients throughout the body. Higher levels of cardiovascular endurance are also a wonderful byproduct of a consistent yoga practice.
The practice of yoga also serves as a method of “wringing” the internal organs out like a sponge. This “wringing out” of the organs expedites detoxification by releasing toxins and other unsavory substances that may be lurking within them. This release allows fresh, oxygenated blood to flow to these organs, thus enabling optimal function in warding off disease by improving immune function.
In addition to the many physiological benefits that yoga possesses, it also yields many psychological benefits. Many yoga styles emphasize long, deep breathing, which is important for slowing the mind down enough to become present in the moment. So many get caught up in the events of the day or what is coming up next that the ability to be in the “now” is forgotten. Being in the “now” allows the mind to quiet enough to allow healing of the body to happen.
As one gets settled into their body during the yoga practice, quietly breathing long and deep, many wonderful psychological things can happen as well. Areas of the body, such as the hips and shoulders are huge storage depots of residual emotional “junk”. Flowing into certain yogic poses and holding them allows those areas to open, and blocked emotions can then be released. Many have claimed that lifelong fears have evaporated and they’ve experienced clarity of mind like never before. The release of blocked emotions can also serve beneficial to the health of the body as well; it can release much uncomfortable muscular tension.

In summary, the health benefits of yoga are powerful. With healthcare costs at astronomical highs, many people are seeking more preventative measures to keep potential health issues at bay. Yoga can serve as a wonderful tool to lay the foundation for a healthy body and mind for years to come.

How To Balance Your Emotions Through Yoga

In this day and age, juggling the rigors of jobs, family and home-life, more and more people are finding themselves overwhelmed with excess emotional (and sometimes physical) baggage. Stress is over-abundant and the ill-effects of it are taking its toll on our bodies and minds substantially. One major system of the body stress has a huge impact on is the glandular system, which directly affects the emotions and overall sense of equanimity. Kundalini yoga, like acupuncture, stimulates various meridian systems to restore the body’s balance. With regular practice, kundalini yoga will also set the stage for personal breakthroughs on all kinds of different levels.

A typical kundalini yoga class normally will begin with a breathing exercise. This helps you to quiet your mind and become centered in your body. Stretching and warm-up exercises are next, followed by a unique set of exercises called a kriya. A kriya is defined as a set of progressive exercises which work together to help balance different systems of the body. Each kriya has a different purpose. For example, one kriya may be structured to help balance the emotional body, while another may be structured to help kick-start movement the lymphatic system. Once the kriyas are completed, there is typically a “deep relaxation” element to allow your body to assimilate the exercises just completed.

During some kriyas, special breathing techniques are used to enhance the effectiveness of the exercise. Two of the most widely used breathing techniques in Kundalini yoga are deep breathing and the Breath of Fire. Deep breathing is a three-part breath, inhaling into the abdomen, then into the ribs and finally the lungs. The exhale begins with the lungs, then down to the ribs, ending in the abdomen, squeezing it in towards the navel until all the air has been released. The Breath of Fire is defined as a “sniffing”, where the inhale and exhale are of equal length, akin to a dog pant.

Kundalini yoga has kriyas specifically designed for mood mastery and emotional balance. One particular kundalini exercise that is wonderful for combating depression is a yogic backbend called Camel Pose. Breath of Fire is used while in this pose, with eyes closed. This exercise specifically stimulates and helps to balance the pituitary (or Master) gland, which is crucial in emotional balancing. To do Camel Pose with the Breath of Fire, follow these instructions:

1. Come onto your knees with the knees hip-width apart. You may use a blanket for padding under your knees if they are sensitive.
2. Open your chest, sternum up as you reach back for your ankles.
3. Push your hips forward and let your head drop back, opening the throat area.
4. Once in the pose, close your eyes and begin the Breath of Fire. Hold for as long as you can, ideally a minute or more.

Beginners: If you cannot reach back and hold your ankles, try placing your hands on the small of your back. Another modification is to interlace your fingers and pull down. Go to whatever position you are comfortable in.

If you are interested in giving Kundalini yoga a try in a class setting, you can find a class near you at http://www.yogafinder.com/. If you would like to try some DVDs in the comfort of your own home, I highly recommend anything from Ana Brett and Ravi Singh. You can find DVDs and a wealth of information on Kundalini yoga on their website. Go to www.raviana.com. Sat nam!