Table of Contents
Yoga is a science of
life that originated in India several thousands of years ago. It involves much
more than the asanas (postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises) that most
people are familiar with. For this chapter, however, I will limit my discussion
of yoga to those aspects -- asanas and pranayama -- also known as Hatha
Yoga is enjoying growing popularity in Western countries.
Most of you reading this are aware of its use as a powerful stress reduction
technique. A quick review of my New England (US) Holistic Health Directory shows
that as of 1990 yoga classes are being offered at five area hospitals. Yoga is
quickly becoming a mainstream tool for stress reduction.
While it is
exciting that yoga is quickly is becoming synonymous with "stress reduction," it
is that and so much more. Practiced regularly, over an extended period of time,
it is a very powerful healing and transformational tool.
Yoga is only
just beginning to be studied by the Western scientific community. Below are a
selection of findings from a few of the completed scientific studies.
Yoga stretches and tones the muscles and joints, has a
positive effect on the entire skeletal system including the spine, and has a
postive effect on all of the organs, glands, and nerves. Many of the yogic
postures and breathing exercises bring much needed blood and oxygen to bodily
tissues and organs which speeds the healing of the practitioner. Releasing built
up physical and emotional tension slowly liberates vast resources of energy.
Finally, and not to be underestimated in importance, a regular yoga practice can
gradually and significantly increase a person's sense of self-acceptance and
- Several studies have shown that yoga significantly improves the condition of
bronchial asthmatics, even patients who were childhood asthmatics. Many subjects
eventually reduced or eliminated their need for medication.
- Yoga has been shown to significantly decrease hyperglycemia in non-insulin
- Yoga has been shown to significantly improve mental and physical energy
levels and alertness as compared to relaxation exercises and
- One study showed that yoga produced and gradual, significant decrease in
body weight. In addition there was an increase in alpha wave activity in parts
of the brain which corresponds to an increase in patient calmness.
- Yoga has been shown to produce a significant increase in serum LDH levels
(the enzyme which provides energy to contracting muscles during
- Other studies have shown that yoga can help conditions of arthritis,
arteriosclerosis, chronic fatigue, varicose veins, and heart ailments.
- Specific yoga breathing postures and breathing exercises have been led to
significant improvements in patients with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Techniques & Resources
Criteria For A Yoga Class
difficult to overemphasize the important of learning yoga in a class.
Experienced yoga teachers can help with the correct postures and breathing
techniques. More importantly, it is usually much easier to keep a regular
practice over the long-term when attending a regular class and practice
Please look for a yoga class that meets the following
- Located close to your home or work if possible.
- Taught by a certified yoga instructor, not by a health club instructor
teaching glorified stretching exercises that they decide to call "yoga" or
teaching "relaxation exercises."
- The yoga instructor is willing to adjust the routine to to your abilities.
The instructor should help you develop a routine that will improve your overall
wellbeing without injuring or frustrating you. Speak with the yoga instructor on
this subject before starting classes.
- I feel that it is best to start with a form of yoga that emphasizes the
asanas (postures), includes a "final relaxation" pose and over time begins to
add a couple of breathing exercises (pranayama). For many people, it is best to
leave meditation and the spiritual aspects of yoga until later. (On the other
hand, I know several people who have gotten enormous benefits from meditation
without first practicing yoga postures or breathing. So, you will have to find
what works for you with a little experimentation.)
- If possible, locate a yoga instructor who has several low-cost practice
sessions per week. This way, it will be easier to perform short yoga routines
- As you become more experienced, the yoga instructor should be able to teach
you yogic cleansing exercises.
- Some very experienced yoga teachers may be able to customize treatment
routines for persons with a chronic illness. Some of the research mentioned
earlier included customized yoga exercises.
Where To Find Information on Different Styles of
YogaInformation on various yoga styles can be found at the Yoga Research & Education Center,
Movement web page, and at the Yoga Paths web
Where To Find A Yoga Class
- Look at the various online databases listed on the Holistic Healing Web
- Ask at your local natural food store(s).
- Ask at your local health clubs.
- Ask at your hospital's stress reduction clinic.
- Local community Adult Education classes often ofter yoga
Books & Magazines
books have helped me over the years.
- Yoga International Magazine
Rural Route 1, Box 1130
Pennsylvania 18431-9718, USA
570-253-6243 (Subscriptions &
I find the
instructional articles in this magazine to be excellent! A subscription is well
worth it in my opinion. I also highly recommend ordering the March 1997 (#34)
and the May 1997 (#35) back issues because of the wonderfuly detailed beginner's
articles on several very powerful (when practiced regularly) yogic breathing
exercises -- Alternate Nostril Breathing and "Skull Shining." Another article in
issue #35 entitled "Mastering the Fire" has very important and helpful
information about abdominal lifts and other important exercises.
Alternate Nostril Breathing and Skull Shining are very effective in
strengthening the nervous system and helping to remove toxic substances from the
blood. The abdominal lifts and other exercises presented in "Mastering the Fire"
are very effectives ways to strengthen the digestive and elimination
- Yoga Journal
2054 University Avenue
excellent source of quality information about yoga and natural healing for the
beginner and advanced student.
I have never used a yoga
video, but you may want to give one a try. Experiment! Adventure!
are some sources for yoga videos:
When To Practice Yoga
practice whenever you wish. However, some people find themselves energized and
have difficulty getting to sleep if they practice immediately before bedtime.
Most people practice in the morning or in the early evening before dinner. I
find that I enjoy practicing a short 1/2-hour routine during my lunch hour. I
feel much more relaxed throughout the afternoon when I do this.
decide to split your routine so that you practice breathing exercises and the
sun salutation yoga exercise in the morning and other asanas in the early
evening. I find it easier to practice breathing exercises in the morning. In the
morning I perform yogic breathing exercises such as "Skull Shining," Alternate
Nostril Breathing and a short meditation after the sun salutation and a couple
of other stretches. It only takes 10 to 15 minutes.
Most people have more
success if they set aside regular days and times to practice (preferably in an
organized class or practice session) rather than haphazardly trying to fit it
in. I highly recommending doing this if possible.
How Often To Practice Yoga
are able, it is preferable to practice at least three times per week. Three to
six days per week is fine. Do whatever is comfortable without taking too much
time from living your life and enjoying yourself.
Where To Practice Yoga
preferable to practice in a room that is not cold. If it is warm out, you can
practice outside if you like.
The surface that you practice on should be
firm, but soft. You can practice on a folded blanket or you may want to purchase
a yoga mat. You can order one through the mail by calling the Kripalu Center for
Yoga & Health at (800) 967-7279.
Yoga Routine Tips
- Warm-up: I believe that it is generally better to warm up
the extremities before stretching the major muscles and the spine. I prefer to
start by massaging, twisting and bending my feet, toes and ankles. Then I do the
same with my hands, fingers and wrists. Finally, I gently stretch and twist my
neck using exercises I learned in yoga classes.
- Final Relaxation: Please set aside some time to practice
the final relaxation pose. It is where much of the healing takes place.
- Breathing Exercises: Many breathing exercise instructions
suggest that you sit cross-legged. If you cannot sit that way _easily_, then try
sitting on your heels. If you cannot sit on your heels _easily_, then try the
exercise while sitting in a chair or lying down if you cannot sit in a
Many people find breathing exercises difficult at first. Please
feel free to take as many deep breaths between repititions as you
Cultivating Self-Acceptance With
Yoga is an excellant way to cultivate self-love and
self-acceptance. One day that you practice, you may feel relaxed, happy, and
have a deep sense of inner peace. The next day you may feel tense, stressed-out,
or sad. Over time, yoga will make you more limber, relaxed, and healthy, but on
a day-to-day basis your condition may vary considerably. This variation is part
of the process, so expect it.
As you perform a yoga pose, simply accept
whatever you can do and however you feel. Then breathe deeply and fully into
your abdomen and chest and feel the energy from that love and acceptance of
yourself in the area being stretched. Don't worry if you don't physically feel
the energy from the breath in the area being stretched. Simply use your
imagination. The love and acceptance will, over time, gradually grow within you.
This, in turn, will speed your healing.
Finding Your Own Movement With
The somewhat serious method of using yoga to cultivate
self-love and self-acceptance needs to be balanced to some extent with not being
too strict. Please enjoy yourself during the routine. If you feel a need to sigh
or grunt during the routine (and the instructor allows expression), please do
so. If you want to stop for a couple minutes and do some dancing, drink some
water, cry, sing a song, etc., feel free to be yourself. Yoga can help liberate
your true nature. Please don't use yoga to supress it.
progression in Hatha Yoga study seems to be to begin practicing the postures
(asanas) and then adding some breathing exercises (pranayama), and finally
adding a short, regular practice of meditation. Meditation can strengthen the
mind, deepen the relaxation and inner peace that is felt, and change your health
and life significantly for the better. At some point in time, I would strongly
recommend adding a regular, short meditation period to your routine.
has been widely reported that a very small percentage of people experience
adverse psychological reactions to meditation practitice. It seems that some
persons get in touch with buried childhood, birth or other traumas while
meditating. If the person is not able to embrace and work through these
feelings, the constant triggering of these feelings without resolving them can
make matters worse. In such cases, transformational and psychological therapies
such as Holotropic Breathwork, rebirthing, Hakomi, Bioenergetics, Radix, etc.
may be a better way to start until such time as meditation practices can
gradually be added.
Like yoga, I recommend learning meditation in a
Where To Find a Meditation
- Look at the various online databases listed on the Holistic Healing Web
- Ask at your local natural foods / health food store.
- Ask at your hospital's stress reduction clinic.
- Local community Adult Education classes often ofter meditation
- Look in the phone directory under "Meditation
Actions To Be Taken
- Locate a yoga classes in your area using the resources listed
Once you find a yoga class, talk to the instructor to be certain
that he/she can meet your needs. If so, then begin taking classes. Remember to
ask the instructor to be taught a few postures or breathing exercises that you
can practice between classes.
Eventually, you will be able to put
together your own routines that will significantly contribute to your wellbeing.
When you are starting out, long yoga routines can quickly become a pain in the
butt. So please start out with short, regular yoga routines.
If you can't
find a yoga class that meets your needs, see the actions below.
- Breathing Exercises (Pranayama)
Be sure to gradually incorporate the
yoga breathing exercises into your routine. These are very powerful healing
tools! In fact, different breathing techniques are used in many of the most
powerful holistic healing and transformational practices available (e.g., yoga,
qigong, transformational breathwork, etc.). Regularly practicing a short routine
of pranayama is well worth the small effort.
- Books, Magazines and Videos
If you cannot locate a class that would
be satisfactory, you can try learning a few basics from books or videos. While I
don't recommend using books or videos, some people have used them
Locate a meditation class in your area using the resources
Once you find a meditation class, talk to the
instructor to be understand the type of meditation performed. There are many
types of meditation. I prefer Insight Meditation. Browse through the links on
meditation web page mentioned earlier so that you get a sense of the various
Questions and Answers
Yawning & Sighing
do yoga or breathing exercises, I seem to need to yawn or sigh. How can I stop
from yawning or sighing?
First let me start by saying that it is very
important NOT to supress these actions. Here are Janet Goodrich's views on the
benefits of yawning from her book "Natural Vision Improvement":
- Yawning brings fresh oxygen into body cells including the eyes and
- Yawning contracts then releases the muscles related to the eyes. A really
good yawn will contract and expand muscles from the top of your head to the tips
of your toes -- including the should or trapezius muscles, the eyes (orbicularis
oculi), the neck (neck flexors), the belly (the abdominals and solar plexus
- Yawning is capable of changing emotional states from negative to
- Yawning changes the pH of the blood reducing toxicity levels in your whole
- Yawning stimulates the production of refreshing tears that bathe naturally
tired eyes and moisten chronically dry eyes.
- Yawning helps to cleanse the liver and to balance the energy in the liver
Here is what to do about yawning.
- If the urge to yawn comes up during the yoga or deep breathing, DON'T
SUPRESS IT. The more yawning that comes up during the yoga and deep breathing,
- Whenever you have to yawn, make it a BIG yawn, opening the mouth wide and
making a noise while exhalling. This is very important -- to heck with Ms.
Manners. :-) Could you image a big lion starting to yawn, realizing that it is
in public, and then supressing the yawn? I don't think so!
- The same can be said of sighing. Make a big, noisy sigh.
Too Much Pain
I'm in too much pain to
do many of the exercises. What should I do?
First of all, don't perform
any asana that causes pain.
Working with an experienced yoga instructor
is important because the instructor can draw from hundreds of possible asana
variations and pranayama exercises to create a routine which is safe and meets
your needs. If you can't get to a class, you may be able to set up one private
lesson so that the instructor can create a safe beginner's routine.
are almost _always_ a few beneficial exercises that can be done. Unfortunately,
most books do not include simplified variations that are easier on the joints.
So, please see an experienced instructor.
I can't do any asanas
as I am bedridden and have too much joint pain. It looks like I'm
No, you are NOT sunk. You are still a wonderful, beautiful person
who can gently begin to cultivate self-love and self-acceptance by very gently
taking some actions as outlined below. This can help tremendously in the long
If you cannot do any strethcing exercises in bed, you may still be
able to nurture yourself quite effectively. Here are three ideas from which you
can create a short routine.
- Pranayama (Breathing Exercises)
- Ask a yoga instructor to give you a few simple exercises to practice,
- Use the Yoga Internation Magazine back issuees listed above or a video to
teach yourself a few of the beginning pranayama exercises.
- Breathing exercise to relax the body and the diaphram:
- Get a relaxing (i.e., non-painful) therapeutic massage as often as you can
All of these ideas will be helpful in
keeping the lymphatic and digestive system healthy.
Most people will want
to experiment with these ideas eventually, so you're "ahead of the game" if you
are starting with them.
Yoga & Emotions
When I perform
certain asanas and breathing deeply, I begin to feel sad. Is that
Yes, it does happen and can be healing to feel emotions. Using
yoga, not only can we get in touch with the physical tension deep within our
body, but with get also get in touch with the emotional tension that is usually
very closely tied to the physical tension.
It is a very good sign that
you have found a tool to access and eventually help heal your emotional tension.
Feeling and making peace with emotions can have a tremendously beneficial effect
on one's health.
Here are a couple of ideas for working with feeling
emotions brought up when doing yoga.
- If the emotions are not overwhelming, simply continue the asana, feel and
accept the emotion fully while breathing deeply into the abdomen. Remember, it
is okay to feel sad or cry or feel joy, etc. as long as it is not
You should definately talk about these feelings that came
up to a close friend, support group, family member, therapist, etc. in order to
continue to release the emotions and cultivate self-love and
- Modalities to Help Process:
- Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy
There is a form of yoga, Phoenix Rising
Yoga Therapy which combines assisted yoga postures with elements of comtemporary
inner work to assist in releasing emotional tension which is sometimes
manifested in the body as aches, pains, or even chronic illnesses. In order to
find a practitioner in your area contact the Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy Center
Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy Center
West Stockbridge, Massachusetts
800-288-9642 or 415-274-3515
Other Practices Instead of
I don't want to spend time doing yoga. I would rather do
Qigong, Tai Chi, or Aerobics. Is that okay?
Those are all wonderful
expercises. Even though it can be very healing, performing a regular yoga
routine is not for everyone. There is only so much free time in a day for many
people. Some people would rather spend some of that free time relaxing in other
ways to exploring other healing techniques such as qigong, tai chi, aerobics,
meditation, etc. This is perfectly acceptable.
However, it can still be
extremely helpful to take a yoga class and learn some of the postures (asanas)
and the breathing exercises (pranayama) because they can be used as a short
warm-up and warm-down which significantly enhances the positive effects of other
Yoga can also be incorporated into one's daily
activities. An excellent book for learning how to successfully incorporate
simple yoga exercises into your daily routine is "Yoga For Your Life."