“True yoga is not about the shape of your body, but the shape of your life. Yoga is not to be performed; yoga is to be lived. Yoga doesn’t care about what you have been; yoga cares about the person you are becoming. Yoga is designed for a vast and profound purpose, and for it to be truly called yoga, its essence must be embodied.” — Aadil Palkhivala
Seventeen years ago I had a conversation with my alternative medical doctor about tangible evidence that would be recognized by the medical community that alternative treatments and preventative measures actually do work. He said, “It is coming. I believe we will see it in our lifetime.” Unfortunately the doctor died unexpectedly a few short months after making that comment. However, I am beginning to see it come to pass. Last year I participated in an “evidence based” Tai Chi class to help prevent falls in seniors. I am reading increasing numbers of controlled medical studies that tend to support the effectiveness of alternative medical treatments and lifestyle practices.
While researching this series I have run across studies that suggest that in addition to the stretching that most people associate with yoga, there may also be heart health benefits to the practice. I am including links to summaries and literature reviews of some of these at the bottom of this post if you want to check these out. What they are finding in a nutshell is that:
- The deep breathing and mental focus of yoga practice can help reduce stress and thereby reducing the accompanying physical effects of stress such as narrowing of arteries and elevated blood pressure.
- Yoga may help lower blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood glucose levels, as well as heart rate.
- Yoga may help some people stop smoking which is a major risk factor for heart disease.
- Yoga combines physical activity, breathing, and meditation, which have each been shown to positively affect cardiovascular risk factors.
Yoga however does not count toward the recommended amount of “moderate to vigorous exercise” for heart health. There are studies that are examining this, so we will see where they lead. I do both, practicing yoga as well as walking up and down the hills in my neighborhood.
Yoga is included in the Ornish program to reverse heart disease. It will be interesting to follow as medical science finally “discovers” what yogis have known all along.
Growing up I was always told to “stand up straight.” Like most teenagers I had a tendency to slouch. But as an adult of short stature I stood up straight to get every inch out of my height. Or so I thought.
That is until the first physically obvious benefit of yoga for me appeared. I could tell I was standing straighter and taller. Bob even commented on my posture.
In a world where we spend so much time driving, sitting at a computer, slumped over our cell phones and other devices we need a counterpose to life. Instead of sinking downward and forward we need something that will move us upward and back.
Backbends will help with this, but one often overlooked pose for posture is Tadasana (tah-DAHS-uh-nuh) or Mountain Pose. If you think Mountain Pose is just standing there and a waste of time, think again. It is an active pose that is the foundation of all standing poses. Take the time to learn proper alignment in Mountain Pose and alignment in all other standing poses will be easier. In addition to improving posture, this pose can decrease back pain and help focus and calm the mind.
A good yoga practice has many benefits, including better posture. Mom would be so proud.
“Healthy plants and trees yield abundant flowers and fruits. Similarly, from a healthy person, smiles and happiness shine forth like the rays of the sun.” — B. K. S. Iyengar
Breathing is something we tend to take for granted. But when we stop and realize life begins when breathing begins and life ends when breathing ends we begin to understand the importance of breath.
Breathing is an important part of yoga. In fact it is the fourth limb of yoga Pranayama consists of breathing exercises to control the breath and clear obstacles which free the flow of breath and prana or life energy.
A regular pranayama practice can work on the physical level to use and strengthen the “whole range of our respiratory organs” by breathing into the belly, side ribs and chest. We can also counter the fight or flight response by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system through our breath.
On a physical level pranayama techniques help us use and strengthen the full range of our respiratory organs. We can explore the lower, middle and upper parts of the breath and learn to regulate our inhalation, retention and exhalation of breath.
While our emotions do change our breathing patterns, we can also learn to change our breath patterns to calm or energize ourselves. This can begin with just stopping to be consciously aware of our breath. It can really be a simple as stopping, reminding ourselves to breathe and taking a few deep, conscious breaths to calm down anger, fear or other emotions which may arise in difficult situations.
Breathing is an integral part of our yoga practice as we pair our movements with our breath. We also focus on our breath as a form of mindfulness practice. There are also specific breath practices which have their own benefits. I will only list few here. For more information on pranayama be sure to check our the resources below.
- Complete Belly Breath
- Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana) to feel calmer.` `
- Ocean’s Breath (Ujjayi pronounced oo-jai) to soothe and settle the mind.
- Energizing Breath (Bhastrika) for of energy and to invigorate your mind.
This has been just to get you thinking about the importance of breath and breath practice. I have not even begun to scratch the surface of pranayma. For more information please check out the links below.