Yoga for Holistic Health

“Health”, “exercise” and Yoga are buzzwords today, but how many of us realize that they are connected?

While most people are aware of the interdependence of “health” and “exercise” “Yoga” invokes mixed feelings. Some consider it “fashionable” [with designer mats and designer clothes for Yoga!] while others consider it possible only for “yogis” and “swamis” [holy men]! However, once you know the basic facts, and fit Yoga into your daily schedule, the myths are debunked, and you start to experience the benefits.

Let us first define health, and see the role of exercise and Yoga in it.

Good health implies that all the organs of the body function effectively, and this can be achieved through regular exercise. Among the best forms of exercise are those in which the body moves naturally, as during daily activities. However, unless we make a conscious effort to move every part of the body, some joints and muscles may be neglected and even stop functioning. Basic exercises ensure that the entire body is worked.

Health also implies positive mental health, which is heightened by exercise.

One of the most effective ways of nurturing the mind and spirit, along with the body, is Yoga.

It is becoming popular world wide, but not every one has a clear understanding of what Yoga means.

Yoga is not just a philosophy but a way of life, as advocated in India from ancient times. The aim was healthy living, culminating in self-enlightenment. It has been recognized from ancient times that the mind and body need to be balanced to enjoy good health. This belief led to the practice of Yoga in India thousands of years ago. It is believed that its methods were first documented by a Sanskrit scholar as early as the second century B.C.

The five basic techniques of Yoga are (i) movement of joints, (ii) postures, (iii) deep breathing, (iv) relaxation and (v) meditation. There are benefits at every stage.

 

Exercises, in the form of slow and deliberate poses, are a key element of Yoga in helping the individual to focus on the body and become more attuned to it. These exercises are called “asanas.” A complete routine stretches and tones muscles, improves flexibility of joints, and in general, tones up every part of the body. Special techniques ensure the efficient working of all vital organs and systems: digestive, respiratory, circulatory, excretory, reproductive and nervous. Exercises are also adapted to deal with specific complaints, and this has given rise to “Yoga therapists.”

  It is interesting to note that joint movements are not mentioned in the traditional texts of Yoga. However, they are good warm up starters for an exercise routine, and have major benefits.

The physical poses or “asanas” are practiced to increase the flow of life energy through the body.

According to principles of Yoga, the breath is a manifestation of this life energy, or “prana.”. Therefore, deep breathing or “pranayama” is an essential feature of Yoga. The cycle of asanas and breathing leads to relaxation, and Meditation completes the process of harmonizing the mind and body.

The only requirements for practicing Yoga are: a quiet space, a suitable surface [even a plain sheet on the floor] comfortable, lightweight clothes, and of course, determination!

To get optimum results, persevere with a daily routine, notwithstanding any constraints [hectic schedules or plain laziness!]
A word of caution: it is important to receive instruction in the correct techniques from a Yoga expert.

The positive effects of Yoga are being realized by people all over the world, so why not try it, and enjoy good health and happiness!

 

About the author or the publisher   

Nita Mukherjee


I have a post graduate degree in teaching, a Masters [gold medalist] in English, and two diplomas in writing. I have over 20 years experience teaching at various levels, and am also a freelance writer. In the last 10 years, I have authored a number of educational books, written and
edited content on diverse topics and done online tutoring for American
students.

Yoga: How To Develop A Home Practice

Many people ask how to start a home yoga practice so here is some information to get you going. First I will review the basics and then discuss how often to practice and what to practice. Remember though, the only right practice is regular practice! Don’t let your desire for perfectionism get in your way. Just show up at your mat and practice. Yoga is a life-long journey – perhaps many lives!

Environment

The space should be quiet, and ideally used only for yoga. (Can be a section of any room)
Place a mat, blanket or towel on the floor.
The temperature should be moderate – not too cold and not too hot.
The room should have fresh air but not windy or cold.
Sunrise and sundown are desirable times for yoga (although any time works!)

Preparation

Wear light comfortable clothing.
A bath or shower before is good for limberness -wait at least 20 minutes after
practicing before bathing)
In the morning wash, urinate and move the bowels before practice.
Practice before eating or wait two hours after a meal.

Physical Practice (asanas)

Do not practice if there is a fever or deep wounds. Consult a teacher if there is an illness.
Spend five to ten minutes warming up/stretching before beginning practice.

Do not force your limbs into a difficult position. In time your body will open. We are after sensation not pain!

Beginners should hold each asana for 3-5 breaths. After about three months of regular practice this can be increased to 5 to 10 breaths.

Always inhale and exhale through the nostrils unless specified otherwise. Focus on making the breath slow and smooth.

At any time you need a rest come into child pose or shavasana (corpse pose)
Finish asanas with shavasana for five to ten minutes.

How often to practice.

The rule of thumb for how often to practice is simple: It is better to practice for short durations regularly than to practice once a week for a long time. In other words it is better to practice 4 times a week for forty-five minutes then to practice one day for two hours.

With that being said some people get what they need from practicing just a couple of times each week while other practice five or six times a week. It varies from person to person. On average though you will get the most benefit from your practice with average of four sessions per week. The length of time of each session depends on your experience with yoga, time constraints, level of fitness, and motivation. A good idea is to have a journal to keep track of your practice with information such as date, how long you practiced, what you practiced, how you felt during and after your practice, what thoughts came to mind during practice, how you felt later in the day as well as the next day, which postures were challenging and which were felt good.
General framework for your session

Always begin your practice with easy movements and build towards the more difficult postures ending with a cool down. Imagine a bell curve: at the beginning of the bell curve is a moment of centering. As you move up the curve there are warm-ups, then opening postures which help to build heat/ flexibility/strength and at the top of the curve are the most challenging postures. Moving down the other side of the bell curve are cool down postures followed by Shavasana.

Here is a template that you can use to create your own practice session:

Theme or focus (more on this below):

Centering:
Warm-ups:
Opening postures
Challenging postures:
Cool down postures:
Shavasana:

Which postures to practice.

Sometimes it is fun to have a practice without any preconceived notion of what to do and just see what comes out. Sometime it is desirable to tune into your body and see what your body is asking for. Other times you’ll want to plan your session as indicated above. It is during these session that having theme will be helpful. Some classical themes include: backbends, forward bends, twists, balance postures, standing postures, seated postures, inversions, restorative postures, hip openers, shoulder openers, strength building postures, groin openers, hamstring openers, and postures that build energy. Linking postures together (vinyasa) is yet another way to create a practice. In the Iyengar system we focus on linking alignment cues from posture to posture. Of course you may have specific health reasons that you are working with for which it would be best to consult a qualified yoga teacher to help create a practice. I encourage you to be creative – come up with your own themes and see how it is. It has been said that in yoga you are both the scientist and the experiment!

In my book “Beginning Yoga: A Practice Manual” I offer 20 different practice sequences to guide your home practice as well as a chapter on how to set up a home practice.