Yoga – ‘Must’ for healthy living
The effects and results of Yoga are so profound and almost incredible that it is fast becoming a ‘must’ for healthy living. It is there for ages but recent scientific research has reconfirmed its beneficial effects on health, psychological state and even on improving the entire quality of life. Therefore it is not surprising that in today’s stressful life, people are making Yoga a part of life to keep healthy both physically and mentally.
What is Yoga
The word Yoga has different meaning for different people. For some it is a type of exercise to keep healthy. For others it is a way to develop spirituality or mental peace. Yoga gives both but it is much more than these. Yoga refers to Yog derived from Yuj which in Sanskrit means ‘to unite’. Yoga or Yog Sadhna is the holistic unification of Body Mind and Soul with internal and external harmony. It is a systematic process to bring about transformation of physical fitness, mental calmness & function and spiritual awakening to enable one to live in good health of body & mind and to pursue higher purpose of living. By breaking physical barriers (of sickness & poor health) and mental barriers (of mental weakness & distress) it opens up new horizons of self awareness, self control & self growth. In short it is the way of good living.
Yoga was originated in India about 5000 years ago. The ancient scriptures in India are replete with text on Yoga. Vedas, Upanishad contains yogic teachings which give the background philosophy of Yoga with explanation of atman (self), karma (deeds), dharma (duty) and brahma (the ultimate reality). It tells that higher purpose of living is to perform duty and transcend self to ultimate reality. . It is not possible for someone to live in happiness and progress if one is sick. Yoga is the stepwise process of doing this and helps to achieve required mental & physical health and harmony for the purpose of higher living
Schools of Yoga
There are various paths (types) of Yoga. The goal is same but these different paths have different philosophy and methodology. Some of them are – (1) Bhakti Yoga – The Yoga of devotion (2) Jnana Yoga – The Yoga of knowledge (3) Karma Yoga – The Yoga of rightful deeds (4) Kundalini Yoga – The Yoga of awakening dormant energy or kundalini. (5) Tantra Yoga – Yoga of wholeness (6) Sahaja Yoga – Yoga of being spontaneous (7) Hatha Yoga – Yoga of Energy balance and (8) Raja Yoga – The Royal Yoga also called Classical Yoga, the Yoga of self awareness & self realization. Of these Raja Yoga is the one which is most popular and being studied as a mean to attain good health of body and mind. Its most popular text is given by sage Patanjali in Yog Sutra (aphorism). Patanjali Yog Sutra focuses on means and stages of achieving ultimate liberation through Samadhi (ultimate unification & consciousness) through Ashtanga Yoga. Ashtanga means eight limbs, Ashtanga Yoga gives eight progressive steps of Yog Sadhna. Every step is thoughtfully developed to improve one’s present state and prepare for next stage.
The eight stages of Ashtanga Yoga are :
- Yam - The code of conduct. It incorporates Ahimsa (Non Violence), Satya (Truth), Asteya (Non Stealing), Brahmcharya (Control over senses), and Aparigrah (Non Greediness).
- Niyam – The Self Regulation. It contains Shouch (Cleanliness), Santosh (Contentment), Tap (Austerity), Swadhyay (Study of scriptures), Ishwar Pranidhan (Devotion & surrender to God)
- Asana - Postures of health and harmony.
- Pranayama - Control & balance of Prana (life force)
- Pratyahara - Control of senses and going beyond them.
- Dharna - Awakening concentration
- Dhyana - State of meditation
- Samadhi - Ultimate oneness, consciousness & liberation.
Yoga for Body Mind and Soul
Yoga transforms & harmonizes body, mind and soul. Its effects and benefits are seen at physical, mental and spiritual level.
At physical level, it improves health by improving the functioning of all body organs & systems. It increases flexibility, strength and stamina. It is one of the rare therapies which have the capacity to improve functioning of hormonal glands like pituitary, thyroid, adrenal, pancreas & sex glands. It improves body metabolism and chemical equilibrium. By improving physiological functions, it removes toxins from the body. It increases resistance to diseases by improving immune system. It increases life force and gives vigor & vitality. It gives a youthful appearance. It shows beneficial effect on investigative tests like cholesterol, creatinine, ECG etc and is found helpful in treatment of various diseases.
Physiological Benefits of Yoga
- Balance pulse & blood pressure
- Better coordination of opposing muscle groups
- Breathing becomes deep & rhythmic
- Eye-hand coordination improves
- Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) increases
- HDL cholesterol increases LDL cholesterol decreases
- Hematocrit & Hemoglobin increases
- Joint mobility and range of motion increases
- Pain tolerance increases
- Posture improves
- Reaction time improves
At psychological level, it decreases stress, balances mood & relaxes mind. It improves mental calmness, concentration and mental control. It gives mind a positive outlook, creates internal harmony and self acceptance. It helps in personality growth. It gives freedom from addictions. It sharpens mental faculties like attention, memory, learning and creativity. It has shown beneficial effect in treatment of psychological disorders.
At spiritual level, it gives inner harmony & peace, creates understanding of self & life and gives humanistic outlook. It helps in self growth and self realization. It also helps in unleashing yogic energy. Finally it helps in attainment of ultimate consciousness and liberation.
The Science of Yoga
Yoga refers to complete wellness & harmony of body, mind and soul. It has been scientifically arranged in a stepwise manner so that every step takes care of your present status and prepares for the step ahead. For example attaining state of meditation is not easy for those who are not prepared because of physical sickness or mental distress. Therefore the initial steps prepare by improving physical and mental health with better control over body and mind. In Yoga the complete wellness and harmony of body, mind and soul is achieved by activation of energy centres called Chakras which parallel the axis of body along spine (Sushumna Nadi). These chakras represent and controls different aspects of physical, mental and spiritual being. The chakras must remain in balance and activated for good physical & mental health and heightened spiritual consciousness.
There are seven chakras in body :
First Chakra : Muladhara
Location: Base of the spine. It is seat of base energy.
Responsible for : Survival, stability, solidity, identity and self-sufficiency, energy and strength.
Controls : Bones, teeth, nails, anus, excretory functions, and muscular system
Element: Earth / Colour: Red / Sense: Smell / Mantra: LAM
Physical Complaints : Excretory dysfunctions like constipation, eating disorders, tiredness, poor sleep, lower back pain, sciatica, obesity.
Psychological Complaints : Fear, insecurity, greed, excess desire for comfort.
Postures that balance first Chakra : Tadasana, Parsvakonasana, Virabhadrasana, Uttanasana, Setu Bandhasana
Second Chakra : Svadhishthana
Location: At the level of genitals and the sacrum. Seat of instinct & unconscious mind.
Responsible for : Life energy, sexual energy, creativity, sensual consciousness, emotional identity, procreation, and personal relationships.
Controls : Sexual and reproductive organs & functions, menstruation, lymphatic system.
Element: Water / Colours: Orange / Sense: Taste / Mantra: VAM
Physical Complaints: Sexual & reproductive dysfunctions, lower back pain, sciatica, urinary problems
Psychological Complaints: Addictions, lust, vanity, jealousy, guilt, lack of creativity& morality
Postures that balance second Chakra : Prasarita Padottanasana, Upavista Konasana, Baddha Konasana, Supta Baddha Konasana
Third Chakra : Manipura
Location: At the level of umbilicus corresponding to solar plexus. It is seat of expansive consciousness.
Responsible for : Sense of belonging, confidence, will, ego, self control, intelligence, self-esteem.
Controls: Digestive organs and functions, upper abdomen, gallbladder, liver, middle spine, kidney, adrenals, small intestines, stomach
Element: Fire / Colours: Yellow / Sense: Sight, form and colour / Mantra: RAM
Physical Complaints : Diabetes, indigestion, adrenal imbalances, arthritis, colon diseases, liver disease
Psychological Complaints : Poor self-esteem, timid, depression, poor self image, fear of rejection, indecisive, judgmental, perfectionism, hostility
Postures that balance third Chakra : Suryanamaskar, Virabhadrasana, Matsyendhrasana, Dhanurasana, Navasana
Fourth Chakra: Anahata
Location: At the level of cardiac plexus in the region of the heart. It is the seat of love.
Responsible for : Love, compassion, altruism, devotion, trust, forgiveness.
Controls: Heart & circulatory system, blood, lungs, respiratory system, diaphragm, thymus gland, breasts, esophagus, immune system.
Element: Air / Colors: Green or pink / Sense: Touch / Mantra: YAM
Physical Complaints: Heart complaints, hypertension, upper back and shoulder problems, asthma, lung disease like pneumonia
Psychological Complaints: Feeling of lack of love, lack of hope, hatred, grief, envy, jealousy, anger, anxiety.
Postures that balance fourth Chakra : Ustrasana, Bhujangasana, Matsyasana, Pranayama like deep breathing, kapalabhati, anulom vilom.
Fifth Chakra : Vishuddha
Location: At the level of the throat. It is seat of pure consciousness.
Responsible for: Communication, creativity, sense of responsibility for one's own needs, faith, truthfulness, self-knowledge, intuition.
Controls: Throat, thyroid gland, parathyroid gland, trachea, cervical vertebrae, vocal cords, neck, mouth, hearing.
Element: Sound or ether / Colors: Blue / Sense: Hearing / Mantra: HAM
Physical Complaints: Thyroid & parathyroid dysfunctions, sore throat, hearing problems, stiff neck, mouth complaints.
Psychological Complaints: Lack of faith, communication & expression problems, poor decision making, criticism.
Postures that balance fifth Chakra : Matysasana), Ustrasana, Setu Bandhasana, Halasana.
Sixth Chakra : Ajna
Location: Situated between the eyebrows (Third Eye). It is the seat of mental consciousness.
Responsible for : Insight, intuition, self-knowledge, wisdom, intellect, clairvoyance, visualization.
Controls: Brain, eyes, ears, nose, pituitary gland, pineal glands, neurological system
Element: Light / Colors: Indigo / Sense: Extra sensory perception / Mantra: AUM or OM
Physical Complaints-Headaches, complaints of eye and ear, nightmares, epilepsy, hormonal disbalance.
Psychological Complaints: Learning disabilities, complaints of judgment & evaluation, distortion of reality, confusion, panic, depression, lack of concentration
Postures that balance sixth Chakra : Yog mudra, meditation, balasana.
Seventh Chakra : Sahasrara
Location: Crown of the head. It is the seat of supramental consciousness.
Responsible for : Spirituality, peace, emotional freedom, integration of the whole, heightened awareness & consciousness.
Controls: Brain, nervous system, pineal gland
Element: Thought / Colors: Violet/white / Sense: Empathy, unity / Mantra: silence
Physical Complaints: Lack of energy, nervous disorder, sensitivity to light and sound, poor coordination.
Psychological Complaints: Lack of purpose, loss of identity, lack of trust, apathy.
Postures that balance seventh Chakra : Yoga Mudra
Yoga for Treatment (Therapeutic Yoga)
Those who are unable or disinclined to embrace Yoga in totality can still benefit from it to get relief from physical & psychological complaints and diseases. Research has confirmed the ability of Yoga in improving health and treatment of various diseases. Different conditions and status of patient require assessment and selection of a specific program. One should not diagnose one’s sickness and try Yoga treatment himself / herself either by reading books or watching TV. It must be done under supervision of a trained Yoga Therapist. The components of Yoga which are used in treatment of sickness are :
- Yogic Shuddhi (Cleansing)
- Yogic Asana
- Yogic Relaxation
- Pranayama & Bandha
- Yogic Mudra
Yoga is not intended to replace ongoing medical treatment. Yoga improves overall health and has proved beneficial in treatment of various conditions like :
Physical Sickness – Diabetes, hypertension, allergy, asthma, hypothyroidism, digestive complaints, obesity, back complaints, arthritis, sciatica, nervous weakness, menstrual disorders, rheumatism, piles, headache etc.
Psychological Disorders - Stress, mental weakness, anxiety, depression, phobia, psychosomatic & psychosexual complaints.
Yoga for weight management
Overweight and obesity have become one of the major health concerns today. It could be because of poor lifestyle, overeating, thyroid dysfunction, genetic condition or even virus infection as indicated in one recent study. Cause may be any but the damage it causes is too big to ignore. Apart from psychological and social problems, it makes one prone to many life threatening diseases like hypertension, diabetes, ischemic heart disease etc. One way of losing weight is diet control and exercise. These are helpful and good for health but most of the times are not sufficient and some people find them very tedious. Yoga offers an effective solution to this. It improves body metabolism, balances hormonal system, removes water retention and keeps the skin healthy as one loses weight. One looks younger with yogic weight management. As Yoga becomes part of life, there is no slipping back and one continues in good shape and health. Yoga is equally good for underweight conditions and can bring body to good shape naturally.
Yoga for healthy pregnancy
Pregnancy is a unique phase in a woman’s life. It has physical, emotional and social implications. It can be a period of bliss if it is well planned & managed. But if it is not, it can be a stressful period & detrimental to health. Regular medical checkup & medication, diet and guided physical activity helps in having smooth and healthy pregnancy. Yoga is very helpful in having healthy and pleasant pregnancy. It helps by :
- Prepares the body for pregnancy and delivery.
- Keeping mother in good health during pregnancy.
- Keeping mother mentally stress free & relaxed.
- Keeping the baby in right position.
- Healthy development of baby.
- Keeping energy levels high.
- Reducing water retention.
- Making delivery normal, smooth and incident free.
- Promoting early and positive recovery after delivery.
- Preventing hormonal disbalance.
- Promoting sufficient lactation.
- Yoga must be done under supervision of a trained therapist. There is a trend now a day to get into Yoga after reading books or watching TV. This can harm instead of helping. Yoga requires assessment of the health so that proper precautions may be taken. Certain conditions contraindicate some asana and pranayama. Secondly if Yoga is not done in right manner, it will harm the health in place of helping.
- Yoga must be done in a stepwise, regular manner. There should be no hurry. Asana may take 4 – 6 months to perform fully. Hurry will only injure the body tissue and organs.
- Yoga must be done with a calm mind. There should be no distraction. One must get fully involved to get good benefit. Do not mistake Yoga for any ordinary exercise.
- Yoga must be done empty stomach. Early morning is the best time to do Yoga. Otherwise it can be done in the evening and there must be a gap of at least .2 hours after a meal.
- Select a calm, clean place for Yoga. It must be done on floor where one can use a mat. Wear light & loose / stretchable clothing.
- Do it gently, take breath through nose except when indicated.
- Avoid Yoga during acute illness.
- Adopting positive lifestyle with light & nutritious diet helps in getting greater benefit from Yoga.