By Sabine Crackle
When did the relationship between Yoga and health begin? No one knows exactly when Yoga began, but it certainly predates written history. Stone carvings depicting figures in Yoga positions have been found in archaeological sites in the Indus Valley dating back 5,000 years or more. There is a common misconception that Yoga is rooted in Hinduism; on the contrary, Hinduism’s religious structures evolved much later and incorporated some of the practices of Yoga. (Other religions throughout the world have also incorporated practices and ideas related to Yoga.)
The tradition of Yoga has always been passed on individually from teacher to student through oral teaching and practical demonstration. The formal techniques that are now known as Yoga are, therefore, based on the collective experiences of many individuals over many thousands of years. The particular manner in which the techniques are taught and practiced today depends on the approach passed down in the line of teachers supporting the individual practitioner.
One of the earliest texts having to do with Yoga was compiled by a scholar named Patanjali, who set down the most prevalent Yoga theories and practices of his time in a book he called Yoga Sutras (“Yoga Aphorisms”) as early as the 1st or 2nd century B.C. or as late as the 5th century A.D. (exact dates are unknown). The system that he wrote about is known as “Ashtanga Yoga,” or the eight limbs of Yoga, and this is what is generally referred to today as Classical Yoga. Most yoga practitioners today practice some variation of Patanjali’s system.
Yoga probably arrived in the United States in the late 1800s, but it did not become widely known until the 1960s, as part of the youth culture’s growing interest in anything Eastern. As more became known about the beneficial effects of Yoga, it gained acceptance and respect as a valuable method for helping in the management of stress and improving health and well-being. Many physicians now recommend Yoga practice to patients at risk for heart disease, as well as those with back pain, arthritis, depression and other chronic conditions.
What is Yoga?
The classical techniques of Yoga date back more than 5,000 years. In ancient times, the desire for greater personal freedom, health and long life, and heightened self-understanding gave birth to this system of physical and mental exercise, which has since spread throughout the world. The word Yoga means “to join or yoke together,” and it brings the body and mind together into one harmonious experience.
The whole system of Yoga is built on three main structures: exercise, breathing, and meditation. The exercises of Yoga are designed to put pressure on the glandular systems of the body, thereby increasing its efficiency and total health. The body is looked upon as the primary instrument that enables us to work and evolve in the world, and so a Yoga student treats it with great care and respect. Breathing techniques are based on the concept that breath is the source of life in the body. The Yoga student gently increases breath control to improve the health and function of both body and mind. These two systems of exercise and breathing then prepare the body and mind for meditation, and the student finds an easy approach to a quiet mind that allows silence and healing from everyday stress. Regular daily practice of all three parts of this structure of Yoga produce a clear, bright mind and a strong, capable body.
Yoga and Health
Yoga is for anyone at any age. If a person is physically strong and healthy, yoga will help to continue on that path. If, on the other hand, health has been compromised due to a recent illness or a personal challenge of some kind, yoga will help regain lost flexibility, stamina and balance.
Maintaining the health and integrity of the spine is a central theme of yoga. Poor posture and the degeneration of the spinal column affect the health of every system in the body. Not only do a rounded back and collapsed chest restrict breathing, but also they interfere with the flow of blood and the nerve impulses to the internal organs. In this way, poor posture interferes with digestion and elimination. With regular practice, flexibility and strength of the spine can be restored.
Yoga improves flexibility
Improves blood circulation
Good for the heart
May lower blood sugar
May lower blood pressure
Improves joint function
Increases brain power
Improves lung function
Yoga is a conscious, intelligent, expansive, non-mechanical approach to exercise involving the whole person- body, mind and spirit.
Yoga benefits the body by building strength, endurance, balance, and stamina. Its message is to honour the body by eating healthy foods, exercising, and getting proper rest.
Yoga benefits the mind by helping clear mental clutter, improving concentration, calming and steadying emotions. Yoga also teaches a broader perspective and patience.
Yoga benefits the spirit by expanding awareness and encouraging peacefulness. Yoga also encourages practitioners to listen to the heart and develop compassion and love for self and others.
My personal experience with doing Yoga and teaching Yoga in relation to health:
My own long journey for something better in life started in 1995 with work-related injuries. The medical approach certainly did not work for me- so I started courses in massage and reflexology. This was not enough- so nutrition, Cranio Sacral Therapy and Therapeutic Touch followed.
Then came a very painful private situation, which I had to deal with. Somehow all my courses were not enough to deal with the emotional and mental stress I was experiencing. I was looking for a blueprint to human behaviour- so I took many counselling and psychology courses. Yet again: not enough… By chance I happened on a course in Metaphysics through the University of Sedona. Connection to the universal power, vibrations and especially meditation in connection with modification on negative thinking are highly important in those teachings. Dr. Paul L. Masters stated that to make people aware of metaphysical teachings he started out by teaching yoga classes. At this point I was well aware that Psychology and Counselling were just not enough to have good mental health. I seriously contemplated numerous styles of Yoga and then started out with Kundalini Yoga. This seemed to appeal to me the most… I watched the videos by Anna Brett and Ravi Singh. Then I worked through “A complete Course for Beginners” with Nirvair Singh Khalsa- and started practicing Kundalini yoga. I was impressed by the mental calmness, a sense of connectedness to a higher power and better mobility I could achieve by practicing this type of yoga. Also amazing pain reduction… (I had a shoulder/ arm / hand injury due to repetitive work- massage)
Since most of my working life is spent trying to help people through massage, nutrition etc. I ended up thinking that people need to actively participate in gaining better health (mental, emotional and physical) and Yoga feels “right” to me. I felt that Kundalini is a yoga that everybody can do. So in March 2009 I finished a Yoga course (100 hours) through Can Am College and started teaching Yoga in the winter of 2009. Somehow though I really was not willing to teach a westernized version of yoga. So to this day to start and end the class I am using Mantras- to tune in to good vibrations as well as connection to a Higher Power. (Behaviour modification without a good belief system does not make much sense..)
Normally when I start teaching a class I get a variety of people. There are young people as well as middle aged and old people. So I actually find that a strict class plan is not necessarily always a good idea. I have had people attending that have lots of arthritis, arm problems (no down dog possible), carpal tunnel syndrome, hip and leg problems – or just very immobile due to lifestyle.. I always stress to only do what is ok for them…(Ahimsa in action – do no harm- to others or yourself..)
Due to all these problems I encounter though I got interested in chair yoga as well as restorative yoga. Chair yoga is good- it allows the very immobile people to do certain poses with the chair for a prop.. In restorative yoga I like to increase body awareness.
I have seen Yin Yoga with Paul Grilley. From a Massage Therapist’s perspective this makes a lot of sense. A great way to re-stretch fascia.
Then there is also Shiva Rea – I just love her gracefulness…
I think it is good to have a repertoire of different styles for choice – mostly because I am dealing with a diverse clientele with diverse problems.
For meditation I am normally doing a guided meditation (western form of meditation dealing with affirmative self-programming of the personal subconscious mind) with my students. This works best, since even then I hear occasionally that people have a really hard time to detach from every day stresses.
Feedback on Pranayama: Numerous clients have remarked on how they did not know how effective breath-work can be. I stress that it is the breath, which controls the mind.
By proper breathing we can increase oxygen intake. This improves circulation and elimination of toxins. Proper breathing increases strength in the abdominal muscles and the diaphragm as well as providing greater range of motion in joints within the ribcage and spine as the lungs expand with increased capacity.
Feedback on yoga classes I have received: increased mobility, pain reduction, better sleep, generally feeling better, stress relief.
Being a Massage Therapist I know that there is a limit to the help I can give people. I stress that it is important and necessary to take responsibility for their own mental, physical and emotional help- and that I have found yoga to be the answer to many problems.
“The healthy body is a flowing, interactive electro-dynamic energy field. Motion is more natural to life than non – motion. Things that keep flowing are inherently good. What interferes with flow will have detrimental effects.” Valerie V. Hunt
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