Bio-Energetic Yoga & Meditation Workshop
Hosted by Deb Porte Bobier, E-RYT 500 and founder of YogaBound.com
When: Sunday, November 24th and Saturday, November 30th
Where: 1201 Harbor Hills Dr., Largo, Florida
Time: 9am – 1pm
Cost: $65.00 day of. Or, pre-pay now (payment button at the end of this page) and pay just $55.00 Bring a friend and pay $45.00 ea. Sign up for both, $40.00 ea.
This is a perfect time to take some time out for yourself before the Holidays. This workshop is designed for everyone. And ideal for new or experienced teacher’s that are looking for a tune-up. Or, wanting to take their practice to a deeper level.
This is a slow, yet powerful practice that will take you inward, to deeper and deep levels of your being. It is intense and energetic, yet will leave you feeling relaxed and blissed out.
We’ll work with all the Chakra’s (the bodies energy channels of consciousness), Pranayama (breathwork), Meditation, then Yoga Nidra, or final relaxtion. Throughout the practice will be powerful messages from the teachings of the 8 limbs. As well as from the Yoga Sutras.
We’ll begin with Sun Salutations chanting the 12 Vedic names for the Sun. Continue with warm up excercises to connect the mind and the body, by arousing the 5th and 6th chakras. Move into a Hatha Yoga practice designed to awaken, harmonize and develop each of the Chakras. Starting with the first Chakra, and working our way up.
We’ll incorporate several Pranayama techniques to open the Nadi’s. Perform several sound meditations to further activate and harmonize the higher Chakras. Then end with a wonderfully relaxing Yoga Nidra.
I hope you will join me. And look forward to seeing you soon. Deb Porte Bobier
If you have any questions please feel free to zip me an email.
Self Realization – The Path of the Tradition of the Himalayan Masters
There are so many practicing and teaching yoga today, many thoughts as to “What Yoga Is”, and how it should be approached. Let no one decide for you. It is important to do your own research to see what resonates with you. As I have gone deeper on my yoga journey, I have changed my thinking many times. The more I study and explore, the more I can understand how all these various approaches came about. But I do not believe one way is the right way for everyone. Especially in today’s world. Following a more traditional approach would put few on the Yogic path. Always be sure you have a well studied teacher that is approaching the Yogic path with the right intentions. And be skeptical of anyone that says their way is the only way. Or, pressures you into something you aren’t comfortable with. Deb Bobier (YogaBoundDeb)
YOGA (Skt. yuga, “yoke”), one of the six classic systems of Hindu philosophy, distinguished from the others by the marvels of bodily control and the magical powers ascribed to its advanced devotees.
Yoga affirms the doctrine that through the practice of certain disciplines one may achieve liberation from the limitations of flesh, the delusions of sense, and the pitfalls of thought and thus attain union with the object of knowledge. Such union, according to the doctrine, is the only true way of knowing.
For most Yogis (those who practice Yoga), the object of knowledge is the universal spirit Brahma. A minority of atheistic Yogi seek perfect self-knowledge instead of knowledge of God. In any case, it is knowledge and not, as is commonly supposed, feats of asceticism, clairvoyance, or the working of miracles, that is the ideal goal of all Yoga practices.
Indeed, Yoga doctrine does not approve of painful asceticism; it insists that physical and mental training is not to be used for display but only as a means to spiritual ends.
The Eight Stages:
The Yoga practice forms a ladder leading to perfect knowledge.
- Self-control (yama) involves truthfulness, abstinence, avoidance of theft, refusal of gifts, and not doing injury to living things.
- Religious observance (niyama) embraces austerity, poverty, contentment, purification rites, recital of the Vedic hymns, and devoted reliance on the Supreme Being.
- Postures (?sana), of which there are a great many, are regarded as basic to all the stages that follow.
- Regulation of the breath (pr?n?y?ma) includes altering its depth and rhythm, breathing through either nostril at will, and the virtual suspension of breath.
- Restraint of the senses (pr?ty?h?ra) means their withdrawal from external objects and the consequent turning of the mind upon itself.
- Steadying of the mind (dh?r?na) narrows attention to some one part of the body, such as the navel, the tip of the nose, or the middle of the brow, and in that way renders the practitioner insensitive to outside disturbance.
- Meditation (dhy?na) fixes the mind on the object of knowledge, especially Brahma, to the exclusion of all other thoughts.
- Profound contemplation (sam?dhi) is the perfect absorption of thought in the object of knowledge, its union and identification with that object. The achievement of sam?dhi liberates the self from the illusions of sense and the contradictions of reason. It is thought that has gone beyond thought, reaching its goal by its own negation. It leads to an inner illumination, the ecstasy of the true knowledge of reality.Liberation:
The final stage, in Yoga doctrine, rarely can be attained in one lifetime. Usually, several births are required to achieve liberation, first from the world of phenomena, then from thoughts of self, and finally from the spirit’s entanglement with matter. The separation of spirit from matter is K?ivalya, or true liberation.As adept Yogi approach K?ivalya, they are supposed to acquire certain remarkable capacities. They become insensible to heat or cold, to injury, to pleasure or pain. They can perform supernatural mental and physical feats and even change the course of nature. They can distinguish the subtlest elements of matter and can, at the same time, see the universe as a whole, comprehending both microcosm and macrocosm in the same thought.Such are the powers claimed or promised by Yoga. Few, if any, of these powers have been successfully demonstrated to disinterested observers. Nevertheless, extraordinary achievements have been reported by sober witnesses. Most impressive, perhaps, is the Yogi-sleep, in which animation is nearly suspended, enabling the Yogi to be buried alive for days. The Yogi-sleep has been explained by some authorities as a sort of cataleptic state induced by self-hypnosis and not essentially different from the cataleptic states that can be seen in mental hospitals.
Various Systems of Yoga:
Aspirants have a selection of practices to suit their capabilities and environments. Many of the wonder-working Yogi and almost all Occidental devotees are practitioners of Hatha (physical) Yoga. The latter is the basic system because it is concerned with developing those bodily controls from which all else follows. The other systems differ mainly in the varying emphases placed on the several phases of Yoga practice. Perhaps the most popular system in India is Bhakti (devotional) Yoga. This system emphasizes the first two stages of Yoga discipline, that is, self-control and religious observance.
Other important Yogas are Mantra Yoga, which devotes itself to uttering the name of Krishna and other incantations; Karma Yoga, the path of work and service; and Jnana Yoga, the way of intellect. The synthesis of Bhakti, Karma, and Jnana Yogas is called Raya (royal) Yoga.
The doctrines and practices of Yoga date from the period of the Upanishads. The Maitr? Upanishad in particular outlines the essential practices of Yoga. These practices were elaborated and given a philosophical foundation in the Yoga S?tra of the Indian scholar Patañjali (fl. 2d cent. bc?), who is traditionally regarded as the founder of Yoga. Patañjali derived his doctrine from S?mkhya, the oldest of the classic systems of Hindu philosophy. In order to explain evolution, he departed from the system by grafting the concept of God (I?vara) upon the atheistic outlook of S?mkhya.
The concept is not an integral part of Yoga doctrine; indeed, some authorities consider it actually in contradiction with the rest of the system. In any case, Yoga, unlike other systems of Hindu philosophy, has subordinated doctrine to the refinement of practice; in fact, the systematic study of Yoga doctrine has declined in recent centuries.
As a system of practice, Yoga has from the beginning been one of the most influential features of Hinduism. Yoga exerted a powerful attraction upon Hindus because of the wonders attributed to it and because it gives countenance to the performance of austerities, to which Hindus are so strongly inclined. The strong influence of Yoga can also be seen in Buddhism, which is notable for its austerities, spiritual exercises, and trance states.
As knowledge of Yoga spread, it fascinated and won followers among Westerners. Among the students of Yoga are the British writers Major Francis Yeats-Brown (1886–1944), Aldous Huxley, and Christopher Isherwood; the Romanian-born writer on religion Mircea Eliade (1907–86); and the British violinist Yehudi Menuhin. In recent years Yoga exercises have been recommended by some physical fitness experts as a means of cleansing the body of impurities, of reducing weight, of toning up the nerves and muscles, and, generally, of improving health and prolonging life.
Excerpted from History.com. For further information on this topic, see the Bibliography, section 128. Yoga.
An article from Funk & Wagnalls® New Encyclopedia. © 2006 World Almanac Education Group. A WRC Media Company. All rights reserved. Except as otherwise permitted by written agreement, uses of the work inconsistent with U.S. and applicable foreign copyright and related laws are prohibited.
This information is from Swami J. His site is devoted to presenting the ancient Self-Realization path of the Tradition of the Himalayan masters in simple, understandable and beneficial ways, while not compromising quality or depth. The goal of our sadhana or practices is the highest Joy that comes from the Realization in direct experience of the center of consciousness, the Self, the Atman or Purusha, which is one and the same with the Absolute Reality.
This Self-Realization comes through Yoga meditation of the Yoga Sutras, the contemplative insight of Advaita Vedanta, and the intense devotion of Samaya Sri Vidya Tantra, the three of which complement one another like fingers on a hand. We employ the classical approaches of Raja, Jnana, Karma, and Bhakti Yoga, as well as Hatha, Kriya, Kundalini, Laya, Mantra, Nada, Siddha, and Tantra Yoga. Meditation, contemplation, mantra and prayer finally converge into a unified force directed towards the final stage, piercing the pearl of wisdom called bindu, leading to the Absolute.
An Ancient Cure for Modern Life
By Alison Rose Levy
Everyday stress can lead to vata derangement, an excess of nervous energy. These Ayurvedic therapies can bring you back into balance.
Like most Americans, I’m an expert at multi-tasking. I eat at my desk, wash dishes while on the phone, go through bills on the bus, and drive while talking on my cell phone. Based on his knowledge of the Eastern wisdom of Ayurveda, the internationally recognized Ayurvedic physician and author Robert Svoboda has another name for this rushed, fragmented way of functioning. He calls it “vata-deranged.”
Modern life as we know it, with its excessive travel, late nights, and nonstop stimulation, often contributes to vata derangement, which can affect anyone. People like me—the tall, slender, fast-talking ones—are most at risk, however, because our native constitutions are vata dominant.
To comprehend vata derangement, we need to understand that vata is one of the three metabolic types, or doshas, described by the ancient health science of Ayurveda. Vata is the principle of movement, ruled by air and ether. The other two doshas are pitta, the principle of assimilation ruled by fire, and kapha, the stabilizing force, ruled by earth and air. Ayurvedic doctors say that we are each a unique combination of these three. For most of us, one type is predominant, another secondary. But whatever one’s native type, when a person goes out of balance, the vata principle destabilizes most easily, causing other kinds of health and emotional problems.
According to Ayurveda, this is the force that governs all movement in the body, including the in-and-out flow of the breath, the action of our limbs, the circulation of subtle energy in our organism, and the mind’s ceaseless flow of thoughts, words, and images. Unlike earthy kapha, solid and grounded and with a tendency to get stuck, or fiery pitta, sharp and focused and knowing just where it wants to go, vata, like the wind, wanders here and there, its direction ever-changing.
Performers like Michael Richards, who played Seinfeld’s Kramer, Lisa Kudrow acting ditzy and off-beat on Friends, and Woody Allen, with his anxious patter, have made us laugh at the off-centered, nervous spaciness typical of vata derangement. While these qualities may seem funny when we see them on film, it’s not fun to experience the jerky stops and starts of breath, thoughts, speech, nerves, and limbs that result from a vata imbalance. And the health consequences aren’t laughable either.
Vata’s Rise and Fall
The pressure and pace of modern life can tip anyone into vata imbalance. But even if you spent your life meditating in the woods, it’s not easily avoided. Ayurveda holds that sturdy kapha is dominant in childhood, ambitious pitta rules in the prime of life, and vata prevails in our senior years. Our senior years bring the vatic qualities of dryness, roughness, and irregularity, manifesting in such health complaints as arthritis, constipation, anxiety, insomnia, and stiffness.
Fortunately, we can look to ancient wisdom for answers: Ayurveda has evolved ways to remedy vata imbalance and its accompanying diseases, and throughout hundreds of years ancient Ayurvedic physicians and Yogis devised many techniques to prolong life—hoping to gain more time to attain self-realization.
Undoubtedly, the Westerner most knowledgeable about these Ayurvedic rejuvenative practices is Svoboda, who teaches at Albuquerque’s Ayurvedic Institute and is the author of Prakriti (Sadhana, 1999), an excellent introduction to Ayurveda. For the last 25 years, Svoboda has traveled toIndiato receive and learn traditional rejuvenative treatments and to study Indian culture, philosophy, and practices.
Last year he offered a small group of students a weeklong immersion in the health model and way of life he practices. Along with Iyengar Yoga teacher Ellen Leary ofNew Hope,Pennsylvania, Svoboda designed a retreat reflecting the Indian world view that Ayurveda, hatha yoga, and other spiritual practices like meditation and chanting are aspects of an integrated system of healing and spiritual evolution. As I flew to the Caribbean Island of Tortola, I wondered if, even with these gifted guides, it would be possible to alleviate some of my stress-building vatic habits in one week.
The Beauty of Routine
Vatas tend to be erratic—or as workshop participant Paul Busch, an Iyengar Yoga teacher from Minneapolis (and a vata), described himself, “addicted to variety.” While stalwart kaphas plod along, rising, eating, working, and sleeping punctually, vatas zigzag out of regularity, rising and going to bed at odd times, skipping meals, and not keeping to any regular pattern. Although this makes life interesting, it is also destabilizing. The cure: Establish a predictable routine.
The first evening of the retreat, Svoboda explained that they had carefully structured our schedule and practices to emphasize rejuvenation, particularly for balancing vata. Since dry, rough, airy, fast-moving, and irregular are the core qualities of vata, the Ayurvedic approach is to prescribe treatments, activities, and foods that provide the opposite qualities: oiliness, grounding, slowness, heaviness, consistency, and flow. Svoboda and Leary asked that we adhere to their schedule, even if it meant steering clear of the sun-drenched beach below. Instead of going after “fun,” we tasted a different kind of enjoyment: a restful night’s sleep.
This was the beginning of our routine: Every night we went to bed early, and every day began at6 a.m. We entered the day gently with an optional morning Meditation, followed by an hour long class in Pranayama at 6:30 a.m.This is very important for vata, whose flow can become disturbed by transitions, particularly abrupt ones, like dashing straight from the dream state to the computer upon arising.
“Vata is discontinuous, so if there’s a transfer of energy and direction, like at a juncture or at any transition, that’s where vata becomes agitated,” Svoboda said. No chance of that here. Unlike other classes I’d attended, where even beginners launched into advanced pranayama techniques like alternate nostril or bellows breathing, Leary, who recently returned from a month at the Iyengar Institute in Pune, India, led us in a simple, restorative pranayama practice.
We used props in Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose), to ensure our bodies were in correct alignment and our diaphragms gently lifted. We supported our legs with homemade sandbags and a belt, allowing the groin area to deeply relax. Leary gently guided us in sensing the inner thoracic area, and after a time, without any forcing, we slowly lengthened and deepened our breath.
Expanding and steadying the breath helps pacify vata because it counters the constrained and shallow breathing—and attendant anxiety—that result from vata’s fast pace. Leary instructed us to allow this expansion to happen without forcing it, encouraging us to take a step back from the vatic and Western tendency to overdo it.
“Breath is essential to rejuvenation,” Svoboda explained later, when we gathered on the stone front porch for one of his three daily talks. The term prana, he told us, denotes consciousness and life force. Because prana is carried on the breath, increasing our breath capacity brings in more life force to nourish the physical tissues of the body. “As the organism becomes more confident there is ample prana, it relaxes,” explained Svoboda. While regulating the breath is necessary for vatas, inducing a calm state is healing to everyone’s cells, bodies, emotions, and thoughts.
But everything in its own time. Lest we fuel our spiritual evolution with ambition, Svoboda reminded us that we won’t get there any quicker by pressing the pedal to the floor. Even when it comes to spirituality, each of the doshas has its own way of overdoing or under doing it. Kaphas are most likely to be kicking back and smelling the flowers, finding no motivation to practice at all. Pittas may be driven to become spiritual overachievers, losing contact with compassion as they pile up attainments.
Vatas overdo because they are mentally stimulated by so many options but without doing one thing consistently. This tendency carries over into other life activities. “My eyes are bigger than my stomach,” commented Busch. “My mind wants a smorgasbord, staying up late, watching stimulating films, or engaging in late night conversations, while my body would prefer to get some rest. And like all vatas, I overrule my body.”
Under Doing It
The retreat schedule, routine yet relaxing, defeated all vatic temptations to overdo. There’s no point in overdoing a practice like pranayama, Svoboda told us, because we can’t take in more prana unless we have room for it. In minds crammed with thoughts, organs clogged with toxins, and bodies stiffened with neglect, there is just no space for anything else.
Wherever there are blockages, the flow throughout our system is obstructed, causing vata disorders. The practices we learned opened the space for that flow. To open the mind, there was meditation. To expel toxins encumbering our digestive tract, there were Ayurvedic herbs and diet. To release structural and muscular blockages impeding our movement, there was Hatha Yoga.
After our daily pranayama, we performed Suryanamaskar (Sun Salutation) to the rising sun on a deck overlooking the ocean. With their addiction to variety, vatas find it boring to do asanas slowly and repetitively. Of course, more than anyone else, they need to take the time to allow themselves to become steady in each pose.
“As a vata I love constant change, and it’s the worst thing for me,” noted Busch. Suryanamaskar is beneficial for vatas, who tend to have stiff joints, because the asanas move all the limbs and lubricate the joints. Suryanamaskar also regulates the flow of energy through the nadis, channels of subtle energy that run through our organism, like acupuncture meridians.
While pittas and kaphas do well with more strenuous exercise, repetitive, flowing movement balances vata, so it is best for vatas to do Suryanamaskar slowly. These poses can align vatas mentally and spiritually, Svoboda pointed out, if they face the sun, real or imagined, while doing them. Focusing gathers vata’s scattered energies, Svoboda said, and directs them toward “the sun, the source of light and consciousness in the world.”
Practice Is Perfection
Following a well-earned breakfast, we next performed abhyanga. This is an Ayurvedic oil massage and a classic prescription for healing vata that brings vata’s dry, rough, and irregular tendencies into balance with the oil’s smoothness and heaviness.
Ayurvedic clinics in Kerala,India, are renowned for treatments like pizhichil, in which as many as four people simultaneously oil massage a single client, or shirodhara, in which oil is slowly poured onto the top of the head. When oil is absorbed through the skin, it dislodges toxins, explained Svoboda, which otherwise impede the flow in our system, block the movement of prana, and aggravate vata.
Ayurvedic physicians also use food as medicine, considering the effect of every food and spice on each dosha. Cream of wheat, for example, while grounding for vatas, is too heavy for already grounded kaphas, who tend toward weight gain; on the other hand, a vata should probably pass on the chili because beans cause gas.
Although people associate Ayurvedic cuisine with Indian food, the two are not synonymous. A diet balancing to one’s dosha can consist entirely of Western or international dishes. The retreat offered gourmet spa cuisine, delicious and balancing to all three doshas.
Ayurveda views the digestive process as a metaphor for all we take in. Many people eat whatever is available, watch whatever is on the tube, and believe the common consensus on many subjects. But Ayurveda asks us to consider what we can handle, as vata’s delicate nerves and digestion are easily overwhelmed by a bad meal—or a bad movie, for that matter.
Svoboda and Leary urged us to use the retreat practices to refine our inner awareness, so we could begin to discern the effects of the foods, images, and ideas we take in. This is helpful for all doshas, but particularly for curious and experimental vatas, who want to try everything even though their powers of assimilation aren’t always up to it.
Anything taken in but not processed remains in our organism and becomes a toxin, Svoboda told us. That’s why it’s important to recognize what is beneficial and decline what isn’t, rather than leave the gate open to any and all forms of input. Vatas are great communicators and love chatter. But as much as they love it, it is jarring to their nerves. The solution? To practice limiting input—and output.
All chatter ceased on the day dedicated to silence, a traditional form of spiritual austerity practiced in India. Silence is believed to have a purifying effect on the sense of hearing and on the mind itself. In silence I noticed how much breath and energy I habitually waste on words.
At meals I never missed the conversation, which I now realize was often used to stave off fears or feelings of emptiness. In silence these feelings were given room to come into the light of awareness, where they could dissolve. Our silent afternoon asana class brought the entire group into a state of inner and outer focus, as we followed Leary in a strong series of standing poses, the ocean breezes and our own breath the only sounds we heard. Silence, I discovered, is a restorative posture as powerful as any physical one.
The retreat showed me what Savasana (Corpse Pose), the most basic restorative pose, was all about. With my busy work schedule, I frequently omitted this asana from my practice at home, dashing from other asanas directly to the phone or computer keyboard. The flip side of this kind of vatic overdoing is an energy crash, from which a judicious rest can protect you.
“Savasana brings you as close as possible to perfect physical alignment because it is easier to do correctly than any other pose. Being still while in alignment allows all levels of your being to move into alignment,” explained Svoboda. This is why Savasana feels so restful, physically, mentally, and spiritually. With enough rest and alignment, even restless vatic energy can stabilize.
At first, with its new terminology, Ayurveda can seem exotic, even to someone like me who has traveled to India and studied hatha yoga and meditation for 14 years. But in truth, resting deeply, eating healthful foods, following a regular schedule, moving at a gentle pace, stretching all my limbs, taking deep breaths, and limiting stimulation are all the basics of good health. There’s nothing exotic about these practices.
What is unusual is that we live in a society where we have to make an extra effort to practice them and resist the pressures that lead us to neglect self-care. Following the Ayurvedic and yogic techniques seemed unfamiliar at first, but when I practiced them, my body (or was it perhaps some subtler aspect of myself?) recognized them. As modern Americans, we may have forgotten how to care for the human being, but Ayurveda remembers and can remind us of what we once knew.
Breath and Stress Reduction
by Sherry Roberts
There is a saying in Yoga: When you can control your breath, you can control everything.
People give you strange looks when you tell them you spent your Saturday afternoon breathing. But that’s what I did. There were about 10 of us at the workshop on breathing at my local yoga center. We were all there for different reasons: to learn how to use breathing to cope with stress, asthma, and respiratory illness; to discover how to breathe efficiently during yoga, meditation, our daily chores, walks in the neighborhood, and hikes up mountains.
We’re all born knowing how to breathe. Watch a baby breathe. See how she automatically fills up her entire abdomen and ribs like a little balloon? She doesn’t breathe only from the upper chest in short, rapid gasps. As we age, we develop inefficient breathing habits as the result of other habits such as smoking. Women have been conditioned throughout history to alter their breathing habits for the sake of appearance: The corset made deep breathing impossible. Today’s young woman is still trussed up in a “media corset” as she is bombarded from newsstands, videos, movie screens, and television shows with the message to “suck in your gut.”
Breathing is a healing tool, according to my yoga teacher, and it can be relearned with practice. How do we get back to the “breath of babes”?
First, we learned about the three types of breathing:
Low or abdominal breathing — breathing with the diaphragm and abdominal muscles. When you breathe in, the abdomen extends (as if you were pregnant). When you breathe out, it deflates.
Middle breathing — lower ribs expand forward and to the sides with each breath. To see if you breathe from the middle, place your fingers along your ribs and breath. Do your fingers move with each breath?
High or upper chest breathing — short, rapid, shallow breaths originate from this area. This is where many smokers and corset wearers breathe.
To relearn deep breathing or the breath of babes, as I call it, we stretched out on the floor on our backs. (Practicing breathing sitting up is more difficult.) Nearly all of us used pillows under our heads. Some of us also used pillows under the back and knees. The idea is to get comfortable. Then we placed one hand on the abdomen and one hand on the lower rib and practiced filling up those areas with breath. Keep the mouth closed and breathe through the nose.
The first thing you realize is that it’s been a long time since you tried to control those muscles and you growl at your teacher who is showing off by inflating one lung and then the other at will (a trick that looks like it belongs in the circus). Focus on the image of a balloon inflating from your abdomen and into your ribs or a wave of air filling you from abdomen up through the ribs and into the chest. It becomes all about controlling the breath: inhale — hold — exhale. Our teacher suggested that we count as we inhale (10 counts), hold for 5–10 counts, and exhale slowly (another 10 counts). If you can’t do a count of 10-10-10, do 7-7-7 or 5-5-5. It may take practice to get to 10-10-10 or 20-20-20.
De-stressing is not just a bunch of hot air or is it?
The ultimate de-stressing comes with slowing the breath to 1 to 2 breaths per minute, my teacher says. He suggests doing three to five of those extremely slow breaths when you really need to relax and you will feel like a new person. However, on this Saturday afternoon, I can’t even come close to that new person in me. You must practice the skills at night, my teacher says, and then use them during the day. He recommends posting notes throughout the house, near the telephone, on the computer monitor to remind yourself to breathe deeply.
The telephone can be a big stressor, so he advises more advanced methods of de-stressing. “Don’t answer the phone on the first ring,” he says. “Impossible,” says a mother of three teenagers. “It’s a stampede.” Still, he maintains, let it ring, empty your lungs, take a slow deep breath, start to exhale, and then answer.
We all have events that trigger stress or anxiety — answering the telephone, approaching green lights (will it turn yellow just as I get there?), serving during a tennis match, making the big presentation, meeting new people. You may find yourself unconsciously holding your breath during those moments. Feeling breathless or holding your breath is a cue to use deep breathing.
When do you use deep breathing?
Don’t use deep breathing during meditation. That is the time when you want to be aware of your breath, but not necessarily controlling it. Use deep breathing at times when you need energy or want to fill calm: during yoga, during exercise (instead of panting on the treadmill and using only your chest to breathe, deepen and slow the breath), before stressful confrontations, before doing something you don’t like to do, before meditation (a warm-up that calms the mind). Or do deep breathing just for the fun of it, just to feel calm and at peace.
Focusing on breathing concentrates the mind. The great Paramahansa Yogananda compared breathing and restless thoughts to storms. We can’t find serenity — that no stress state — until we calm those storms through deep breathing and meditation.
More resources: The book, Science of Breath, offers some basic breathing techniques and discusses how breathing fits into the mind-body connection. Or check out the breathing classes at your local yoga center.
How Yoga Wrecks Your Body – Yogi Glenn Black Responds to controversy over
New York Times Article on Yoga
The recent New York Times magazine article “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” (William Broad, Jan. 5, 2012) has stoked an international controversy, shaken the yoga world and focused the spotlight on my previously anonymous, reclusive yoga teacher, Glenn Black, who is liberally quoted within. A longtime, highly-regarded faculty member at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY, Glenn is known for his gruff and demanding, yet deeply caring and precise teaching style. Joking, he told me that, among hundreds of emails, he was receiving death threats — the Times article doesn’t fully illuminate his uniquely wry sense of humor.
It is important to acknowledge the true damage on all levels that yoga can do when ego surpasses awareness and wisdom, when asana and goals trump deeply listening to the body, when yoga styles and methods are uncompromising, and when inexperienced or misguided yoga teachers lead bodies living modern lifestyles into places they are not prepared to go.
The Times piece cites numerous articles from medical journals detailing yoga injuries ranging from joint degeneration and disc injuries to peripheral neuropathy and stroke. I have observed in my own gynecological practice that classical or contemporary yoga can contribute to symptoms of chronic vulvar pain and sexual dysfunction via painful ligamentous instability, hip injuries or herniated discs, overstimulation of already-stressed sympathetic nervous systems, and pelvic floor muscle spasms.
Upon deeper inspection, however, the physical practice of yoga and the injuries that arise from it do not seem to be the point. As the recent HuffPost entry (Jan. 10, 2012) illuminates, true yoga emphasizes spiritual exercises, discussing the eight limbs of yoga: yama (restraints), niyama (observances), asana (posture), pranayama (mastery of breath), pratyahara (withdrawal), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (higher levels of meditation).
Although Glenn has been barraged with interview requests and was just offered a book contract, he was kind enough to indulge me with some time to ask him questions of my own, punctuated in the background by soundbites from his Jan. 11, 2012 NBC News interview, in which an orthopedic surgeon detailed the hundreds of yoga injuries she sees in her practice alone. I recorded Glenn’s candid responses, which seem poised to generate yet more controversy and upheaval, as we wonder: What is yoga? And why are we doing it?
EF: What kind of injuries have you seen in the yoga practitioners who come to you for bodywork?
GGB: Pinched nerves in their neck, low back tightness, injuries to hips and knees. People often come to yoga classes with injuries that get accentuated, too.
EF: What about shoulder injuries?
GGB: Chaturangas are the worst things for shoulder problems and create repetitive use syndrome. Putting weight on a joint, one side is always stronger than the other, one side will eventually pay a price, one will compress more, one will stay open, some ligaments will tighten up, others will loosen.
EF: What is the best way to overcome injuries from yoga?
GGB: Remedial exercises that overcome the source of the injuries. And people need to get bodywork. Not just any bodywork. They need to look for people who work on really moving the joints and connective tissues.
EF: What yoga poses should people generally avoid?
GGB: Deep knee flexion with weight is not so good for anybody, especially Americans who don’t use their knees correctly. To put a knee in a rotational situation puts strain on ligaments and tendons. Sitting poses are hard on hips, where external rotation is limited. Tissues don’t want to do it. Never do headstand, shoulder stand, or plow.
EF: The New York Times article talked about neurological damage and strokes resulting from compression of the head and neck in those poses. What about arm balances?
GGB: With arm balances, lifting the head up is a problem and restricts blood flow. You should really hang the head, but most people lift it up, as a counterweight, I suppose. You have to be careful with the lower back and cervical spine. Any time you do flexion, extension, even rotation will deform those nerve plexuses. Even one nerve can have impingement and cause a problem.
EF: You now have a spinal fusion and screws in your lower lumbar spine to stabilize herniated discs and spondylolisthesis. How did your own yoga injuries come about?
GGB: Extreme backbends, and twisting coming up from my hands on my ankles. I overstretched my ligaments and destabilized my spine.
EF: What is your advice to the modern yoga student seeking to avoid injuries?
GGB: If a student is a total neophyte or even has some experience, the instruction is to be careful and listen to yourself.
EF: What do you think about the backlash that is coming from the statements you make in the New York Times article? It’s all over blogs, Facebook and the news. A lot of yoga teachers are saying now that they do in fact teach in a way that avoids injuries, and others are clearly feeling threatened that their livelihoods are in jeopardy, that it will discourage new students from trying yoga.
GGB: They are not teaching yoga. They are teaching physical exercise. They can do it in any gym. Yoga is an art and a science, and if you take just one small aspect, you never get to the higher end of it. Yoga is not taught correctly by many people.
EF: Your classes are known as rigorous and demanding on all levels, and you have often said that you demand your students to practice in a way that is not “mediocre.” What do you mean?
GGB: Most people have a limited view of yoga and approach it as a physical discipline, that’s what can make it mediocre. Awareness and consciousness are no longer emphasized, and yoga somehow became relegated to physical exercise. You need to do in-depth, serious practice in pranayama and yoga nidra, and hope for higher stages of yoga to happen. Now, everybody takes what they want, but it really gets back to the yamas and the niyamas. If someone’s an asshole, it doesn’t matter how he does the pose, he’s still gonna be an asshole.
EF: People have reacted very strongly to what you say in the New York Times article. They call you “angry” and an “asshole.”
GGB: I am not the most personable person on the planet, but I’m looking out for every person in that class.
EF: I have heard you speak about the “myth of asana.” What does that mean?
GGB: It is a myth that it’s safe to do asana without awareness and consciousness.
EF: I have long felt that doing more asana, like Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I), is not an effective way to get better at doing asana, and wonder if asana is even the point.
GGB: You don’t need to do specific poses to achieve awareness and consciousness. Elevating your consciousness comes from awareness and developing the ability to relax. This does not mean just having a drink and watching the news. It takes dedicated practice, such as pranayama and yoga nidra. You can use asana in a way, but it is not the best way. If one is an athlete and physically conditioned, physical practice could initiate some of that, and then the practitioner can feel the difference in savasana. But if you are in pain, you can’t do the practice, your mind will just focus on the pain.
EF: How does the ego get in the way of the safe practice of yoga?
GGB: Ego is the main obstacle to obtaining what I’ll call superconsciousness. Ego is a good thing because it gets you through life, but it also gets in the way of reaching perspectives we normally don’t have that were directly experienced by the yogis. The old sages had the capacity to reach these different perspectives. They noticed the unity rather than the separateness of everything. Things like technology and stressors that inundate us make it harder to attain this perspective in modern life and make it harder to access.
Yamas and niyamas come before everything, but if they are even mentioned nowadays, it’s a cursory intellectual thing about how to treat animals well and not pollute the earth. It comes down to your basic psychology, it comes down to the depth of training. I was asked if going one or two times a week to yoga class, is that okay? Yes, but it is not the goal of the eightfold path to keep yoga only as a physical exercise, and you still need to be careful and cautious.
EF: The New York Times article mentions B.K.S. Iyengar, and his classic book, “Light on Yoga.” Would you talk about your time studying in India with Mr. Iyengar?
GGB: I went to Pune in 1987. He had a way of doing things. He was brought up in the British education system and had a hard, mean, certain way of doing poses and people thought it was way it was supposed to be done. Once a girl came up to Mr. Iyengar saying she was having trouble in headstand. He gave her instructions in how she should do it, and it was overheard by some of his students, then before you know it, everyone in the world was doing headstand like this poor woman.
EF: Do you have any credentials for teaching yoga or doing bodywork, or is it all based on experience?
GGB: I have no credentials at all. I didn’t get certified in Iyengar yoga, because I wanted to be able to do human movement and animal movement and have it be fun.
EF: What do you think of all the yoga teacher trainings and licensing that’s going on now? There are so many 200 hour teacher trainings churning out yoga teachers. You once made an analogy to “locusts.”
GGB: Those certificates they get even for 500 hours are worthless, because like in bodywork, unless somebody has a gift or innate understanding or depth of experience, they will just regurgitate what they have learned and apply it to the situations they are presented with. True ability comes from actually doing the practice.
EF: It seems that many inexperienced yoga teachers spend a lot of time updating their websites to attract students, rather than spending the time gaining the experience they really need. There are even workshops and private coaching designed specifically to help yoga teachers market themselves.
GGB: Updating websites will not help you gain consciousness. Yoga is no longer taught as a direct experience that originated the whole process. There are myriad amounts of people teaching asana in myriad different ways. They are very dogmatic in their approach, in the way they want the pose to look and be done, and if a big name or Madonna came to their class, then they become so large that they turn it over to their assistants to do all the work, who don’t have the skill or genius. As yoga teachers, they don’t hear about the injuries because they are up on the pedestal. Yoga is said to be the end all, but how many people can even take a deep breath without a problem? Most pranayama lasts for 30 seconds, a small part of class. It is rare to see pranayama done for an entire hour and a half.
EF: Are there any great yoga teachers that you know of?
GGB: Kofi Busia is one of best asana teachers around. Whether his students get hurt, I have no idea. But he is holding headstands for a long time, and people don’t say anything.
EF: What is your opinion about trademarking yoga?
GGB: I think that trademarking is an abomination.
EF: How do you deal with it when your students trademark the material you teach?
GGB: I don’t deal with it.
EF: Many yoga teachers present what they teach as having come from ancient lineages that are hundreds if not thousands of years old, before trademarking it, of course. What do you think about that?
GGB: Asana was only developed 80 or 90 years ago. Patanjali (author of the ancient yoga sutras) was talking about sitting poses. Headstands weren’t done when Patanjali was alive. Asana came from Indian military exercises. Indians are small people next to the British, and they developed a series of calisthenics to make them strong. They were already flexible, and they also wanted to do sitting poses. They named it Ashtanga due to the eight limbs of yoga, and asana is one of them, but just why somebody called it that, who knows why? Those sequences have nothing to do with real Ashtanga yoga, the eight limbs of yoga.
EF: Do you believe that, as many texts and teachers say, that vegetarianism is an important aspect of the practice of yoga?
GGB: Vegetarianism being essential to doing yoga is a myth. Tibetan yogis are heavy meat eaters.
EF: What about veganism? For example, I understand that the more recently certified Jivamukti Yoga teachers are required to sign an agreement pledging to maintain a vegan diet. This is something that has long been emphasized to Jivamukti yoga students, including in prenatal yoga classes.
GGB: Some bodies can do it, like Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III), some can’t do it, and shouldn’t or they’ll hurt themselves. Some people need concentrated protein, others don’t. If a serious practitioner dictates to themselves that it is totally immoral to eat an animal, I say, more power to you.
EF: What about in cases of illness?
GGB: Hatha yogis view the body as a vehicle for spirituality. You can’t do higher practices if you are ill, you must take care of the body first.
EF: What is the goal of yoga?
GGB: We have limited intellect, we have no idea what Samadhi is and if it’s same for everybody. To become more conscious and more aware and more able to deal with the stress that is constantly inundating us, I think that’s the best we can hope for in this day and age. The ancient sages had experiences beyond what the senses and the mind can contemplate. They realized that the body and mind are obstacles to awareness and spent a lot of time exploring that. It’s probably the basis of religion. But nowadays, after a yoga class, within seconds the students are looking in their pockets for their cell phones, so how long does it really last?
YogaBound Deb’s point of view. Glen Black knows the true meaning of yoga. Everything he is saying is right on. And this is the way we approach our yoga practice and our teachings. It is a path that has great wisdom. However, to do it doesn’t require rigidity. It must be appropriate for each individual. Thank you Glenn Black for your insight, understanding and realization that each of us are individuals.
General Notes for the Pranayama Practice
There are innumerable rules and regulations pertaining to pranayama. The main points are to exercise moderation, balance and common sense, with regard to inner and outer thinking and living. However, for those who seriously wish to take up the advanced practices of pranayama, the guidance of a guru or experienced teacher is essential.
Breathing: Always breathe through the nose, not the mouth unless specifically instructed otherwise. The nose should be cleaned regulary by jala neti prior to the practice session. Be aware of the nostrils throughout the techniques. While inhaling the nostrils should dilate or expand outwards. And while exhaling they should relax back to their normal position.
Time of Practice: The best time to practice pranayama is during the early morning. The body is fresh and the mind has very few irritants. However, if this is not a good time just after sunset, tranquilizing pranayamas may be performed before sleep. Try to practice regularly at the same time and place each day.
Regularity in practice increases strength and willpower, as well as acclimates the body and mind to the increased pranic force. Do not be in a hurry. Slow, steady progress is essential.
Place of Practice: Practice in a quiet, clean and pleasant room which is well ventilated, but not draughty. Generally, avoid practicing in direct sunlight as the body will become over- heated, except at dawn when the soft rays of the early morning sun are beneficial.
Practicing in a draught or wind, in air-conditioning or under a fan may upset the body temperature and cause mills.
Sitting Position: A comfortable, sustainable meditation posture is necessary to enable efficient breathing and body steadiness during the practice. The body should be as relaxed as possible throughout the practice, with the spine, neck and head centered. Sit on a folded blanket or cloth of natural fiber to ensure the maximum condition of energy during the practice.
Clothes: Loose, comfortable clothing made of natural fibers should be worn during the practice. The body may be covered with a sheet or blanket when it is cold, or to keep insects away.
Empty Stomach: Wait at least three to four hours after meals before starting pranayama. Food in the stomach puts pressure on the diaphragm and lungs, making full, deep respiration difficult.
Diet: A balanced diet of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals is suitable for most pranayama practices. A combination of grains, fresh fruit and vegetables with little milk product (almond milk is an alternative choice).
Avoid Strain: With all pranayama practices it is important to remember the instruction not to strain, not to try to increase your capacity too fast. This also applies to your asana practice. If one is advised to practice a pranayama technique for a specific length of timebefore moving on to a more advanced practice or ratio, it is wise to follow that instruction. Furthermore, breath retention should only be practiced for as long as is comfortable.
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama
Nadi is a tubular organ for the passage of prana, or energy carrying cosmic, vital, seminal, and other energies, as well as sensation, intelligence and consciousness in the causal, subtle, and physical bodies. Shodhana means purifying, or cleansing. The term nadi shodhana means the purification of the nerves. This pranayama is also referred to as ‘alternate nose breathing’.
Before you engage in any Pranayama practice please read these general guidelines.
The Technique, Stage One Prepatory:
Sit in a comfortable cross legged position, spine straight, shoulders down, and relaxed. Head centered between the shoulders, chin tipped slightly downward, eyes closed. Use the thumb, and fourth finger (ring finger) of your right hand. The two middle fingers can rest gently on your forehead. To avoid strain in the neck, and shoulders, keep them closed into the palm. The pinky is not in use.
Use your thumb to close off the right nostril, as you breath into the left. Initially start off the inhalation to the count of five. Should you experience dizziness, reduce the count. As soon as you reach the top of the inhalation, immediately close the left nostril with your right ring finger, removing your thumb from the right nostril at the same time, and begin a slow, rhythmic, effortless exhalation through this nostril. Do this to the count of five. This completes a half round.
Inhale through the right nostril to the count of five. Close the right nostril with your right thumb. Exhale through the left nostril to the count of five. This completes one full round. Start by doing three rounds, adding one round per day. Once you reach eight rounds you can begin Stage two.
Once stage 1 is going well, and there is no discomfort of any kind, you can begin to increase the length of the inhalation, and exhalation to a higher count, as well as increasing the number of rounds. Give yourself time, working up to this gradually, staying aware, and mindful at all times of the breath, keeping it deep, and rhythmic, and making sure it is never forced.
After you master stage 2, which could take some time, the duration of the exhalation may be doubled. Begin with a ratio of 4 on the inhalation and 8 on the exhalation, moving up from there to a maximum of 6 and 12.
Advanced Nadi Shodhana:
Advanced stages of Nadi Shodhana should only be practiced under the direct guidance of a yoga teacher knowledgeable in teaching pranayama breathing techniques.
Advanced stages involve internal retention, external retention, and the application of the bandas (locks) Jalandhara Bandha (chin lock), and Moola Bandha (root lock).
Do not force the breath in any way. At the slightest sign of discomfort reduce the time of each inhalation, and exhalation or discontinue the practice, and check with a health professional.
Alternate nostril breathing should not be practiced if your nasal passages are blocked in any way. Forced breathing through the nose may lead to complications.
Some of the Effects:
In nadi shodhana pranayama, due to the deep penetration of prana, the blood receives a larger supply of oxygen than in other types of pranayama The nerves are calmed and purified, and the mind becomes still and lucid.
Its practice keeps the body warm, destroys diseases, gives strength and brings serenity. The vital energy drawn in from the cosmic energy through inhalation, passes close to vital chakras and feeds the glands. The respiratory control center of the brain is stimulated and becomes fresh, clear, and tranquil. The light of intelligence is lit simultaneously in the brain as well as in the mind. This leads to right thinking, and sound Judgement.
Yoga and Asthma
The simple act of breathing is something most of us take for granted. Though our amazing bodies are designed to do this without any conscious thought, this is not the case for those with Asthma. I have been told that when you are having an Asthma attack it is as close to suffocating as you will get.
I cannot think of many things more terrifying, yet for millions of Americans this is a frequent occurrence with symptoms ranging from mild to severe, and in some cases, even fatal results. This can leave even the strongest person feeling out of control, anxious and helpless.
When I was asked to write this article “Yoga Postures for those with Asthma”, I immediately knew that I wanted to take this in the direction of what I have found effective in my classes and workshops; The practice of Pranayama, or yogic breathing. In the Indian Tradition there are 8 limbs of Hatha Yoga. One limb is Yoga the Asana or postures. Then thereis Meditation which usually includes no postures. And Pranayama is yet another separate limb altogether. While there is significant emphasis on the breath in Yoga and Meditation, this is usually limited to one technique. Following in the tradition, I also teach the limbs separately.
Pranayama, or yoga breathing, has been proven in clinical studies to help with many medical conditions. While learning to breathe properly is beneficial to every human being, for those with Asthma it is essential. The breath is the most vital process of the body, the most important aspect of life. Though you can sustain life for a few weeks without food and a few days without water, you cannot live for more than a few minutes without the breath. The breath is linked to all aspect of human experience.
What is Pranayama
Pranayama means the expansion of life force through breath control. Prana=life force. Yama=control, or discipline. Ayam = expansion. Asthma comes from the Greek word panting. In a Pranayama practice various breathing techniques are utilized that induce and enhance relaxation, concentration (Dharana), and meditation (Dhyana).
Pranayama is about making the unconscious act of breathing, conscious. It is essential to breathe properly in order to make this process more efficient and to balance the oxygen, carbon dioxide and other soluble gas levels in the blood. Since few of us are immune to the constant stresses and strains of modern life, most of us tend to take short shallow breaths, using only a half to two thirds of our lung capacity. And asthmatics chronically over-breathe, often at a rate two to three times faster than normal which robs the cells of essential fuel versus providing more oxygen.
The more stress, pressure and emotion we experience, the more restricted the breath becomes, as the alarm bells of the sympathetic nervous system are constantly being rung. This perpetuates the cycle of stress, anxiety and shallow breathing. This in turn deprives the body of oxygen and the prana essential to its good health. It takes a lot of practice to develop the real act of consciousness necessary to maintain a healthy autonomic balance.
Asthma is characterized by coughing, wheezing, and inflamed airways. Asthmatics always have some degree of inflammation, but experience increased swelling, mucus production, coughing, and a tightening of the smooth muscle around the airways during an attack, or flare up. As these airways close, breathing becomes shallow, fast, and difficult. The positive news is that Doctors say that is it a reversible chronic lung disease.
Armed with the information from your Doctor, do as much research as possible to find holistic alternatives and treatments to support what your Doctor prescribes. There are many suggested treatments. But as is the case with so many, especially those involving drugs, they usually treat the symptom not the problem. And the additional health risks can make the cure worse than the condition. There are also many myths regarding various treatments, so suffice it to say a proven treatment is elusive. I am no medical expert so cannot speak to this aspect. However, there are experts on breathing that have concluded that poor breathing habits could be the cause of Asthma which supports starting a Pranayama practice to assist with retraining the breath.
How does Pranayama Work
The breath influences the activities of each and every cell. And most importantly, it is intimately linked with the performance of the brain. Human beings breathe about 7-15 times per minute, or 21,600 times per day. Respiration fuels the burning of oxygen and glucose, producing energy to power every muscular contraction, glandular secretion, and mental process.
During respiration the lungs are oxygenated when we inhale. When we exhale we expel carbon dioxide and other waste gases from the blood. This subconscious or autonomic process is known as alveoli. When our breathing is on auto pilot it is not happening in a balanced or efficient manner. All of the air from the lungs is not exhaled, so carbon dioxide remains in the lungs and the windpipe. This reduces the amount of new oxygen available for avioli. By breathing deeply and completely emptying the lungs, far less of this stale air and carbon dioxide remains in the lungs improving the effectiveness of each breath.
A regular Pranayama practice allows you to take control of your breath. This leads to effective, efficient and optimal breathing and up to fifty percent more oxygen transferred into the blood. This is extra nourishment to every muscle and cell. It also forms a bridge between the conscious, and unconscious areas of the mind which results in more natural, relaxed rhythms of the body, and mind. Through the practice the energy trapped in neurotic, unconscious mental patterns may be released for use in more creative, and joyful activity.
Breathing and Life Span
Slow, deep and rhythmic respiration sublimates, and is stimulated by calm, content, states of the mind. When you breathe incorrectly it disrupts the rhythms of the brain. This leads to physical, emotional, and mental blocks. This in turn leads to inner conflicts, imbalances, personality disorders, destructive lifestyles and disease. By establishing regular breathing patterns through your Pranayama practice, the process is reversed, and negative cycles are broken. In yogic terms this is essential for concentration (Dharana) and meditation (Dhyana). In practical terms this leads to happier, healthier and more balanced states of mind.
In addition to influencing the quality of life, the length, or quantity of life is also dictated by the rhythm of the respiration. The ancient yogis and rishis studied nature in great detail. They noticed that animals with a slow breath rate such as pythons, elephants, and tortoises have long life spans. Where as, those with a fast breathing rate such as birds, dogs, and rabbits, live for only a few years.
From this observation they realized the importance of slow breathing for increasing the human lifespan. Those who breathe in short, quick gasps are likely to have a shorter life span than those who breathe slowly, and deeply. On the physical level, this is because the respiration is directly related to the heart. A slow breathing rate keeps the heart stronger, and better nourished, and contributes to a longer life.
Deep breathing also increases the absorption of energy by the pranamaya kosha, enhancing dynamism, vitality and general wellbeing. Pranayama establishes a healthy body by removing blockages in the pranamaya kosha, enabling an increased absorption of prana. After your practice most people experience a more relaxed tranquil state of min. Many pranayama techniques utilize kumbhaka, or breath retention, to establish control over the flow of prana, calming the mind, and controlling the thought process. Once the mind has been stilled and prana flows freely in the nadis and chakras, the doorway to the evolution of consciousness opens, leading the aspirant into higher dimensions of spiritual experience.
In The Science of Pranayama, Swami Sivananda writes, “There is an intimate connection between the breath, nerve currents, and control of the inner prana, or vital forces. Prana becomes visible on the physical plane as motion, and action, and on the mental plane as thought. Pranayama is the means by which a yogi tries to realize within his individual body, the whole cosmic nature, and attempts to attain perfection by attaining all the powers of the universe.”
The Pranayama Practice
The practice is based on a 4 part breathing cycle which focuses on:
- Inhalation (Puraka) – controlling the intake of prana (air) keeping it smooth and efficient
- Internal retention of prana (antara kumbhaka) – controlling the retention of air within the lungs after an inhalation
- Exhalation (Recaka) – controlling the expelling of used prana and other wastes from the lungs
- External retention (bahya kumbhaka) – controlling the retention of empty lungs after an exhalation.
This may sound simple but it isn’t. Most of us have developed such poor breathing habits that retraining and relearning efficient and effective breathing habits takes time, patience and commitment. Additionally, controlling the breath in this manner requires the use of the mind to resist the natural and automatic impulses and desires of the body to breath, particularly during the internal and external retention of the breath.
Not all Pranayama techniques focus on extending the time for each of these 4 stages of the breathing cycle. On the inhalation this could include developing a long, smooth and steady inhalation with the exhalation matching the inhalation, making sure that the lungs are completely full, or completely empty at the end of each. It also includes extending the length of time the breath is held with the lungs full and the lungs empty to increase the efficiency of the breathing cycle. It is this particular aspect I have found the most important and beneficial.
The benefits of Pranayama
Anatomical, the breathing techniques improve the strength of the diaphragm and the capacity of the lungs to improve the efficiency of the respiratory system, helping to increase fitness and increase the amount of oxygen entering the blood stream per breath. This oxygen helps to provide essential energy for muscle and brain function resulting in:
- Increased efficiency of each breath
- Increased lung capacity
- Increased flow of oxygen to all parts of the body
- Increase concentration, creativity and cognitive brain functions
- Increase relaxation and calmness by releasing tension
- Improved mind and body control, helping control emotions and relieve tension.
- Improved abdominal and diaphragm control and strength.
Specific conditions that respond to improved breath control include:
- High or low blood pressure,
- Stress-related heart conditions,
- Chronic pain,
- Some psychological conditions,
- Metabolic and endocrine imbalances.
How often should I practice Pranayama
There is no exact formula here. But like everything, practice, practice, practice is what produces results. I would like to see people spend at least 15 minutes a day focused on connecting to the breath, working with the 4 cycles of breathing. This can easily be done in the morning before you get out of bed. Or, in the evening before falling asleep, but even with 3 times a week one will see results.
Pranayama can actually trigger an Asthma attack due to the ongoing fight between the mind and the body around the retention of breath. It is important that Pranayama be done under the guidance of a Yoga or Pranayama Instructor that has specific knowledge, training and experience in this practice. Once you learn the proper techniques if you want to do this on your own it should not be a problem.
Your teacher will help to establish a stable state of mind which is essential to avoid stress, anxiety and other mental imbalances that can occur when the mind and body dance this dance of ‘Who is in charge’. On a more practical level restricting oxygen flow to the brain can lead to faintness, light-headedness or dizziness. Stop the practice, relax and resume your normal breathing should this happen. If this subsides and you feel comfortable resume your Pranayama practice. Be aware of pain or more adverse affects that would require medical attention.
Before you begin your Pranayama Practice
In Pranayama we use nose breathing. This can be the most difficult part of the Pranayama practice for anyone, but especially Asthmatics who are often chronic mouth breathers, which can be the result of poor breathing. This is essential for warming, moistening and filtering the air we are bringing into the body, making it just right for sensitive airways. Nose breathing also promotes correct diaphragmatic action since it makes hyperventilation more difficult.
Being upside down can help open the nasal passages so you may want to do a forward bend. Inhale deeply through the nose and exhale as you are bending. Once you are down hang heavily. Head relaxed, arms relaxed, shoulders relaxed. Gently shake the head back and forth, up and down, synchronizing the breath with the movement. Or, grab the outer edges of the elbows but continue to hand heavily. Use the wall if you want more support, standing with your feet away from the wall as you exhale down, then tipping the weight onto the heels, letting the wall support you.
You can also face the wall inhaling up, exhaling down and once down, leaning into the wall. Find what works for you. Never force the breath. Invite the breath into the body. Take the focus to the throat and imagine you are breathing from here. Do not pull air into the nostrils, relax and flare them while the breath enters the body through the hollow of the throat.
Decide on your practice time and don’t eat at least 1 and a half hours prior to your practice, as Pranayama is best done on an empty stomach. However, it is always good to be hydrated so drink water before, during if you must, and after your practice.
Get your mind and body ready by mentally relaxing and releasing any feelings of anxiety or expectation. Surrender any urge to push your practice. There are no goals. Accept where you are each and every moment, letting your breathe guide your practice. Stop for a few moments if you feel anxious. If this continues stop the practice completely.
Avoid any physical restrictions by wearing loose fitting clothing that allows full expansion of your chest and abdomen.
Choose a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Your bed or the floor works well so that you can lie on your back which requires less effort of the diaphragm. If you get frustrated visualize being able to breath smoothly through your nostrils and realize that you are breaking a bad habit and replacing it with a healthy one. This takes time.
There are many breathing techniques available to you. It is always a good idea to experiment to see what happens with each technique. And keep in mind that what may not work today may tomorrow. Be aware and make the effort to observe what is happening, and how it is affecting your body, and your mind.
As with anything new, patience and perseverance is the mantra of the day. Ingrained patterns are stubborn, hard to identify and even more difficult to change. Be kind and loving to your self understanding that it took years to get to where you are today, and that unlearning this will not happen overnight.
Pranayama Technique #1
Finding the Breath
I like to do this technique while lying in bed, or on the floor. Close your eyes. Put the palm of your right hand on your abdomen. Put the palm of your left hand just above your right hand. Gently bring your attention to your breath. Feel the breath enter the body through the warm passages of the nostrils. Without force, draw the breath into the abdomen and fill the hands move as the abdomen begins to expand. Continue drawing the breath up the body from the abdomen into the sternum and feel it rising. With no strain keep drawing the breath up until the collar bones expands. Retain the breath for just a moment, then begin to gently exhale from the collar bone, down to the sternum, and lastly from the abdomen as you feel each area sinking towards the bed, or floor.
Practice this several times until you begin to feel comfortable. Now you can begin to lengthen the breath. As you begin your slow inhalation into the belly, start counting, 1001, 1002, etc.. By the time you have reached the collarbone whatever this number is, use it during the retention of the breath, and on your exhalation. This is your own unique rhythm, gives you a benchmark for your practice, and keeps the mind occupied. Initially you may only be able to count to 3 or 4. Eventually you could increase your expansion to a count of 6 or 7. With years of practice even more. Depends on where you are starting from.
Again, as you become more comfortable and relaxed you can bring in other aspects. For example: Keeping your awareness on the breath, take your focus to your belly button. Gently engage the muscles, feeling the belly button move towards the spine. As you inhale keep the belly button softly engaged. On the inhalation the breath will hit this wall forcing more air into the lower lung lobes. Continue the inhalation as before, up the body. Notice that the belly no longer inflates but the area just above, or the lower lung lobes, do. This gentle engagement of the belly button is called a Bandha, or energy lock. Try to keep it engaged throughout all the cycles of your practice.
Try to do at least 5, 10 or 15 minutes of these techniques several times a day. Be mindful of staying relaxed, aware, calm and focused on breathing smoothly, deeply, and effortlessly. Once you feel comfortable with the hands on the belly, take the hands and place them alongside the body with the palms facing up. Note any shifts or changes to your breathing.
Cautions: Never force the breath. Stay relaxed and in the present moment. Should the mind begin to wander, bring it back to the breath, reminding yourself that this is the most important thing you can be doing. Focus on filling the body with air like you would a pitcher of water. On the inhalation the breath begins just above the belly button and expands up to the collarbone. On the exhalation the breath leaves the body from the collarbone down to just above the belly button.
Be patient with yourself. Observe. Release any feelings of expectation. Do not analyze, judge or criticize. Simply observe.
Pranayama Practice #2
Convergence of the Breath and the Body
Sit in a comfortable cross legged position. I sometimes like to practice this technique with my back against a wall for extra support. Following the same methods outlined above, bring your focus to the breath and begin your 3 part breathing (filling up the lower, middle and upper lung lobes) using the 3 cycles (inhalation, retention, exhalation). After a 5 or 6 repetitions try adding in the 4th cycle, breath retention at the end of the exhalation. Sit quietly with your eyes closed. Hands can be laying in your lap or anywhere comfortable. Make sure you feel no strain in the neck or shoulders. Chin is parallel to the floor. Chest is lifting and expanding with each breath. But shoulders are not lifting. The crown of the head is lifting towards the sky. The shoulders are not lifting. Stay aware, stay focused. On the breath, the Bandha, where the shoulders are, any stresses or strains in the body.
Try to complete a 15 minute cycle with moving. If the body becomes a distraction ignore it as long as you aren’t in any serious pain. After 15 minutes, or sooner if you need to, while keeping the eyes closed, softly stretch the legs then refold the opposite way and continue the practice.
Retraining the breath takes time. It is a journey with no destination. There are no goals, no where you have to be. The ability to do these two basic practices is all you need, but should you wish to develop an even deeper practice it is wise to start with a strong foundation. These two techniques are a good foundation, and enough for most people.
Deb Bobier is a certified and registered (YA500 level) Yoga Instructor. She is founders of YogaBound.com, a website that focuses on Yoga and Wellbeing from a Holistic perspective. She also hosts Yoga, Meditation and Pranayama classes, workshops and retreats, Nationally and Internationally including retreats in Bali and Thailand. She designs and manufacturers her own line of Yoga Products, and Beachwear.
Debra has extensive training, more than 1000 hours, of Hatha Yoga training in the Ashtanga, and Iyengar styles of Yoga, including intensive training with prominent teachers in the US, Australia, India and other parts of the world. Her interest in Eastern philosophies and homeopathy has directed the many facets her life has taken. In addition to traveling, reading, writing and nature, her interests are in the areas of ‘Wellbeing’ from a holistic approach. She embraces all dimensions of healing using tools, techniques, and philosophies from Yoga, Metaphysics, Holistic Healing, as well as the strengths of Western medicine.
Mind Body Medicine – The Dance of Soma and Psyche
By: William Collinge, M.P.H., Ph. D.-Excerpted from The American Holistic Health Associations Complete Guide to Alternative Medicine
The mind steadfastly refuses to behave locally, as contemporary scientific evidence is beginning to show. We now know, for example, that brain like tissue is found throughout the body…. So, even from the conservative perspective of modern neurochemistry, it is difficult if not impossible to follow a strictly local view of the brain.” Larry Dossey, M.D.
In the conduct of medical research, the existence of mind/body interactions has over the years been treated as a sort of hindrance. Such interactions are often lumped under the somewhat disparaging name of the placebo response. “Placebo” is a Latin term whose original meaning is “I shall please,” and it refers to the mysterious and uncharted mechanisms by which the power of suggestion can result in a physiological change.
Ironically, the very scientific methods championed by mainstream medicine in the testing of drugs have provided the greatest scientific support for the existence and power of the mind/body connection. In fact, the mechanisms involved are so formidable that the standard research procedure requires separating out their effects from those of the drug.
Hence the power of mind/body mechanisms has been examined and measured in virtually thousands of drug studies. It is in this sense that they have been verified and acknowledged by medical research to be a real and powerful phenomenon.
In the 1970s and 80s, researchers trained their sights more directly on these mechanisms. Herbert Benson, M.D., and his colleagues at Harvard Medical School led the way with the discovery of the relaxation response. This work has led to a cascade of findings about how mind/body mechanisms can be used for medically significant impact on hypertension, heart disease, cancer, and other conditions.
Today, leading edge programs for both patients and professionals are now conducted at Harvard’s Mind/Body Medical Institute, New England Deaconess Hospital, Boston. And under Benson’s direction, the institute is collaborating in the creation of other such programs at major medical centers around the nation.
In Benson’s perspective, “We are part of mainstream medicine, we are not alternative. You might say that this was considered alternative years ago, but it is now mainstream.”
Taking Center Stage
Indeed he may be right. In early 1993, a widely reported study documented the surprising popularity of alternative medicine this country. Published in The New England Journal of Medicine and led by Harvard researcher David Eisenberg, M.D., the study found that one in three adults had used some form of unconventional medicine. Of the varieties reported, mind/body technique were the most frequently used.
The creation of the Office of Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health followed a few months later. Shortly thereafter, mind/body medicine was brought into the living rooms of millions of Americans by a television series on PBS called Healing and the Mind, hosted by the popular journalist Bill Moyers.
The PBS series symbolized a highly visible milestone in the mainstreaming of what critics had previously considered a form of fringe medicine. Mind/body medicine (also known as behavioral medicine) is of course nothing new. The influence of the mind in healing is addressed in virtually every medical tradition, from the ancient teachings of Ayurveda to modern allopathy. What is new is the legitimization of research in this field to the point of government funding and the incorporation of mind/body programs into the offerings of major medical institutions, many of which are noted for their conservatism and scientific bent.
What is the emerging role of this work? Benson regards it as an integral part of comprehensive health care. He offers the metaphor of a three-legged stool: “One leg is pharmaceuticals, another is surgery, and the third is what you can do for yourself. Mind/body medicine is strengthening the third leg, integrated with the other two legs.
Key Principles, The Biopsychosocial Perspective
In the late 1970s the eminent medical researcher George Engel of the University of Rochester made the bold statement that modern medicine needed a new way of thinking about health and illness.5 He proposed what he called the biopsychosocial model, in which health is the outcome of many factors interacting together. This provides the theoretical framework underpinning mind/body medicine.
In this view, health is not just a matter of “the drugs keeping up with the bugs.” Rather, health is determined by an interaction among our genetic vulnerabilities; environmental inputs such as germs, viruses, or pollutants; psychological factors such as stress, lifestyle, attitudes, and behavior; and social factors such as supportive relationships, economic well-being, access to health care, and family and community patterns of behavior.
Turning Down the Dial on Pain
Jim is a forty-six-year-old assembly line worker who received a disc injury in his neck and developed a chronic pain syndrome involving head, neck, arm, and shoulder pain. He was referred by his physiatrist to Karen Carroll, a biofeedback clinician practicing in Waterloo, Iowa, for pain control.
Carroll used EMG, first for general muscular tension and then for muscular tension around the upper body and neck. Jim was able to discover a direct connection between his thoughts, his level of nervous system arousal, muscular tension, and eventually his pain level.
After eight sessions spaced progressively further apart and accompanied by home practice of breathing exercises and progressive relaxation, his headaches and neck pain completely disappeared. He was then able to use physical therapy to further strengthen his neck and shoulders, and subsequently returned to work. He stated, “I never really knew what it felt like to relax until now.” According to Carroll, this case illustrates the benefits of commitment to self-regulation and daily practice at home for someone who was motivated to avoid medication and surgery if possible.
Engel’s perspective is gradually penetrating the thinking of mainstream medicine. When we look at the big picture of all the factors that influence health, we can see that many are within our direct control. Along with this new way of thinking has come a growing openness and receptivity to the contributing of mind/body approaches.
Our thoughts and feelings influence the body via two kinds of mechanisms: the nervous system and the circulatory system. These are the pathways of communication between the brain and the rest of the body.
The brain reaches into the body via the nervous system. This allows it to send nerve impulses into all the body’s tissues and influence their behavior. The brain can thus affect the behavior of the immune system with its nerve endings extending into the bone marrow (the birthplace of all white cells), the thymus, the spleen, and the lymph nodes.
It also reaches into all the glands of the endocrine system, all the bones, muscles, all the internal organs, and even the walls of veins and arteries. It can influence the behavior of the heart with its nerves penetrating the heart tissue, affecting heart rate and other aspects of the heart’s functioning. The entire body is literally “wired” by the brain.
The brain is also a gland. It manufactures thousands of different kinds of chemicals and releases them into the bloodstream. These chemicals circulate throughout the body and influence the activity and behavior of all the body’s tissues. The brain could be described as the ultimate apothecary, producing many more drugs than science has ever invented.
The cells of the body have receptors on their surfaces that function somewhat like satellite dishes. These receptors receive the chemical messages being released by the brain and respond accordingly.
Finally, the mind/body connection is a two-way street. In addition to sending messages into the body’s tissues, it also receives feedback, both in the form of nerve impulses and its own receptors that sense what chemicals are being released by other tissues in the body.
Research into how the brain can influence immune responses has given rise to the new field called psycho-neuro-immunology (PNI). Findings in this field have brought great hope to people dealing with such difficult illnesses as cancer, AIDS, CFIDS (chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome), and other immune-related diseases.
It is only a matter of time before similar acronyms are defined for other fields such as psycho-neuro-cardiology (PNC), the study of the mind-heart connection, or psycho-neuro-hematology (PNH), the study of how the mind can influence bloodrelated disorders, such as clotting problems in hemophilia.
The Power of the Mind/Body Connection
One of the most stirring stories about the power of the mind/body connection concerns a man diagnosed with terminal cancer. Reported by Dr. Bruno Klopfer in the Journal of Projective Techniques in 1957, it involved a man with metastatic cancer and tumors that had spread throughout his body. The patient had tried every available form of medicine and his condition had hopelessly deteriorated to the point where he was bedridden and gasping for air.
His doctors agreed that he had only a few days to live. Then the man heard about an experimental drug called Krebiozen, which was in the process of being tested. He insisted on being included in the experimental trials. His doctors, feeling he had nothing to lose and would soon be dead anyway, out of compassion agreed to give him the experimental drug. To their amazement, the man’s tumors soon began to shrink dramatically and he was discharged from the hospital.
Two months later, the man read news accounts of the research on Krebiozen that reported serious doubts with the drug. Within a matter of days, the man’s tumors had returned and were again threatening his life. His doctor cleverly convinced him that new and more potent shipment had been received and proceeded to give him injections of plain water. His tumors once again began to shrink dramatically. He remained healthy for seven more months until another news report declared “Nationwide AMA Tests Show Krebiozen to Be Worthless as a Cancer Treatment.” The man died within two days.
The Stress Response
The stress response is a set of changes in the body that result when the person experiences what they perceive to be a challenging or threatening situation. This matter of perceived threat is important because the effects of the stress response on the body are the same whether the threat is real or just imagined in the mind.
The magnitude of these changes is influenced by how serious the person thinks the situation is and what they think about their ability to handle the threat effectively (their appraisal of their ability to respond). Of course, the more confident the person is in their ability to handle a challenge easily, the less stress is involved. The more the person appraises the challenge as a threat—even at the subconscious level—the more intense will be the stress response.
Commonly called the fight-or-flight reaction, the stress response has the beneficial effect of preparing the body to function at a higher level of efficiency, which of course enhances the likelihood of survival. The physiological changes include:
Increased blood pressure
Increased respiratory rate
Increased heart rate
Increased oxygen consumption (burning of fuel)
Increased blood flow to skeletal muscles
Increased muscle tone
While all these changes clearly contribute to one’s ability to fight or flee in an emergency, they also have a downside. If the person is experiencing the stress response regularly and for extended periods of time, these physiological changes have the effect of weakening the body’s resistance to illness and lowering the effectiveness of its mechanisms of self-repair.
The Relaxation Response
Another key principle is the relaxation response, which was discovered and named by Herbert Benson, M.D., and his colleagues in 1974. They were studying a pattern of physiological changes that occurs in people practicing transcendental meditation (TM).
This pattern of changes has been found to represent a very beneficial state, one that is virtually a mirror image of the stress response. The relaxation response includes the following changes:
Reduced blood pressure
Reduced respiratory rate
Reduced heart rate
Reduced oxygen consumption (burning of fuel)
Reduced blood flow to skeletal muscles
Reduced muscle tension
The relaxation response is an antidote to the effects of the stress response and it has also been found to enhance the effectiveness of the body’s defenses and self-repair mechanisms. Regular practice of techniques that elicit this response also brings improved emotional well-being and better handling of stressful life events.
The relaxation response is a physiological state, not a technique as such. As we shall see later, there are many techniques that can be used to produce it and, indeed, learning to do this is at the heart of mind/body medicine.
Coping, Emotions, and Health
Researchers have identified how the ways we cope with emotions and stressful situations—our coping styles—can influence our physical health. Most firmly established are the links between coronary heart disease and the Type A behavior pattern. Type A is a way of coping characterized by constant hurriedness, intense competitiveness, and free-floating hostility.
A more recent concept is the Type C pattern, which in many ways is the polar opposite of Type A. It involves the non-expression of anger and other unpleasant emotions such as fear and sadness, unassertive and overly appeasing behavior in relationships with others, and a preoccupation with meeting the needs of others, often to the point of extreme self-sacrifice. The theory of the Type C pattern was put forward by Lydia Temoshok, Ph.D., a leading health psychologist and PNI researcher. She has found compelling evidence for a link between emotional expressiveness and the progression of cancer.
The middle ground, or Type B. is considered a more balanced way of coping that involves appropriate expression of all emotions and the ability to meet one’s own needs while responding to those of others. People who cope in this more balanced way tend to be less at risk for serious illness. The cultivation of these behaviors is often a goal in mind/body medicine programs, especially for heart disease and cancer.
The use of mind/body medicine takes place within a broader context of changing one’s lifestyle to promote health. Making a daily practice of mind/body techniques is but one of several areas of lifestyle change that work together in a synergistic way. Other areas include proper diet, exercise, and social support.
While the health benefits of diet and exercise are obvious, there is a growing body of research now indicating that supportive interpersonal relationships are strongly associated with better health. They seem to ameliorate or buffer the harmful effects of stress on the body.
Turning Down the Pressure
Alice, suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), undertook a two-week intensive treatment of intravenous Acyclovir therapy in the hospital. Acyclovir is a drug that inhibits the reproduction of herpes viruses, a family of viruses thought to be cofactors in CFS. One of the side effects of this therapy is elevated blood pressure, which needs to be closely monitored.
Alice was about halfway through her treatment protocol when she enrolled in a group mind/body medicine program. She brought her stainless steel drip apparatus with her from the hospital and stood it up beside her in the circle with the other patients and their spouses.
The first day involved a series of relaxation and deep breathing exercises. The next day Alice returned to the group bubbling with excitement. She reported that the previous evening her blood pressure had returned to normal. The nursing staff were mystified and wanted to know how she had done it.
Variations: The Many Contexts of Mind/Body Medicine
This field is uniquely cross-disciplinary, which accounts for its wide availability, helping make it the most commonly used form of alternative healing.
Its variety of techniques may be used by medical doctors, nurses, physician’s assistants, naturopaths, osteopaths, practitioners of Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, bodyworkers, homeopaths, and chiropractors. Other human service providers such as psychologists, clinical social workers, marriage and family counselors, ministers, and hypnotherapists also use these tools. And of course there are very specialized applications for midwives, physical therapists, exercise physiologists, respiratory therapists, and others.
Mind/body approaches are generally taught either in office practice via private consultation with a health care provider or in group programs. Hospitals and other institutions offer various kinds of support groups or group therapy programs for people with cancer, heart disease, organ transplantation, and other conditions. Almost all such programs incorporate some use of mind/body techniques, such as relaxation exercises or imagery.
These methods are often taught to patients preparing to undergo surgery or other difficult treatments. Research has found such preparation to speed healing, reduce bleeding and complications, and result in earlier discharge from the hospital.
Procedures and Techniques
The repertoire of mind/body medicine includes all psychological strategies that directly influence physiological states. Following are the most commonly used methods.
There are hundreds of varieties of meditation. The most basic approach for facilitating the relaxation response is that described by Herbert Benson. The process should take place in a quiet environment, a setting where one can be quiet, undisturbed, and in a comfortable position for at least fifteen to twenty minutes. Given this setting, there are only two essential steps: the silent repetition of a word, sound, phrase, or prayer and the passive return back to the repetition whenever other thoughts intrude.
Variations on these instructions are at the core of many forms of meditation from diverse spiritual traditions. The simplicity of these instructions, however, makes the approach available to virtually anyone, regardless of their spiritual or religious beliefs. This is because the person can use as their repetitive focus a prayer or any other words that reinforce their beliefs (e.g., “God is love”), thereby adding a further dimension of comfort to the experience.
This is actually another approach to meditation, which involves the ability to focus completely on only one thing at a time. In other words, in mindfulness the mind is full of whatever is happening right now. This can include walking, cooking, sweeping the floor, dancing, watching a bird, hearing the sound of a river, or any other focus you may choose. Whenever thoughts intrude, you simply return your attention back to the focus. This is a traditional Buddhist approach and has been widely popularized by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., in the Stress Reduction Clinic, University of Massachusetts Medical Center, Worcester.
This is another common approach to eliciting the relaxation response. In this technique the body itself is used as the focus of attention. It may be done either lying down or sitting. They technique involves progressing through the body one muscle group at a time, beginning with the feet, moving up the legs, and so on, spending approximately a minute in each area. For each muscle group, you hold or clench the muscles in the area for a count of ten and then release for a count of ten before moving on to the adjacent area.
The remaining techniques described below, while they also can lead to induction of the relaxation response, are also used for other purposes.
This involves using symbols to imagine that the changes you desire in your body are actually happening. For example, you might imagine that pain is melting away and dripping like a warm liquid out of your fingertips. Or you might develop an image of your immune cells actively subduing and preying on cancer cells or viruses, like birds of prey swooping down to engulf field mice in a meadow. This is a highly personalized technique and you would use images that are uniquely exciting and meaningful to you.
Studies of mental imagery have found that people can actually influence their immune functioning as well as significantly reduce pain and tension in the body with this method. But aside from the physiological benefits, which take some practice to achieve, there is also the knowledge that you are doing something to help yourself, channeling your energy into a healing activity. This in itself helps to improve emotional well-being and build a sense of self-efficacy or confidence, which research has found to improve immune functioning.
This approach involves using a combination of autosuggestion and imagery. Phrases are used to describe to oneself what changes in the body are desired as if they are happening now. For example, “My legs are warm and heavy,” “All the muscles of my back are softening and melting,” “I am calm,” and “Warm, peaceful relaxation is flowing throughout my body.” These phrases are repeated while maintaining one’s focus on those parts of the body being addressed. Whenever the mind wanders, the attention is gently and passively returned to the focus.
A variety of breathing exercises can help one to release tension, anxiety, and pain. They can be used in conjunction with imagery or autosuggestion. They can also be used to encourage fuller breathing in general and give the body a greater supply of energy, which it can use for healing. It takes energy to fuel the body’s self-repair mechanisms including the immune system. Since we take a thousand breaths every hour, each breath is an opportunity to contribute to a healing process.
Some breath therapy techniques use the breath in a calm, peaceful way to induce relaxation, to release pain, or to prepare for imagery. Another variety is Evocative Breath Therapy (EBT), which uses stronger breathing, sometimes accompanied by music, to stimulate emotions and emotional release.
A simple description of hypnosis is offered by Karen Olness, M.D., of Case Western Reserve University who calls it “a form of self-induced, focused attention that can make it easier for you to relax or learn to control your body’s functions.” It is this experience of extraordinary focus of attention that makes it possible to influence bodily states.
A Hike in the Tetons
Larry was a successful forty-two-year-old architect at the time he developed pancreatic cancer with metastases in 1978. He integrated meditation and imagery into his chemotherapy treatment and though the road was long, he recovered completely, with no further signs of cancer three years later.
He tells the following story about his devotion to doing his imagery practice:
“My girlfriend at the time and I had taken a backpacking trip to the Grand Tetons. This was nine months into my treatment. We’d get out there on the trail and after lunch, which was one of my times, I’d want to sit on the trail or on a rock, or lean against a tree and do my visualization.
This woman was go-go-go, very achievement oriented. She was a very dynamic and pushy and controlling person. ‘We’re going to hike to this point, have lunch . . . by such and such a time we’ll be at the campground,’ and she would get terribly impatient with my after-lunch visualization.
It started leading to more and more friction, but I maintained my ground. I was insistent that this is what I was going to do. By the time the trip was over, we weren’t speaking. We flew back from Wyoming, not even sitting together on the plane, but that was very important for me, because I didn’t often put myself first when it came to her.”
Since his recovery, Larry has remained involved with a cancer self-help program as a lecturer in imagery. His story inspires many others to challenge difficult odds. There is no medical explanation for his recovery. The chemotherapy of the day was not considered curative for his condition, yet somehow he was able to marshall the resources to heal.
When in a hypnotic state, the mind is perfectly aware of the surroundings and the situation, but because it is so highly focused, it is able to concentrate on a task without being easily distracted. This enables the person to use imagery, relaxation, or autogenic suggestions in a richer, more powerful way.
Hypnosis is especially useful for relief from pain, reducing the distress from other symptoms or the side effects of treatment, and establishing a greater sense of control. Hypnotic states can be self-induced or facilitated by a hypnotist or hypnotherapist. Finally, it can help in overcoming one’s resistance to healthful behavior change, such as reducing smoking or changing one’s eating habits.
Biofeedback uses special instruments attached to the body to give the person information about what is happening in the body. The instruments serve to amplify the signals that the person may not otherwise be able to detect so they can then use this visual or auditory feedback to learn to regulate certain bodily functions. Many people find this form of assistance very helpful for learning to relax.
The most commonly used form is electromyographic (EMG) biofeedback. An EMG sensor is attached to the skin and reveals the amount of electrical activity related to muscle tension in the area of the sensor. This is very useful in helping people learn to relax the muscles, for they have direct feedback—which may be visual readouts, lights, beeps, or tones—as to the degree of tension. This approach is often used for tension headaches and chronic pain conditions.
Other kinds of biofeedback include thermal, sensing the temperature of the skin as an indication of blood flow and relaxation; electrodermal (EDR), measuring subtle changes in amounts of perspiration; finger pulse, for measuring heart rate and force, useful for anxiety or cardiovascular symptoms; and monitoring breathing patterns—rate, volume, rhythm, and location (belly or chest) of each breath.
Biofeedback has many applications, such as headache and migraines, anxiety, chronic pain, teeth grinding and clenching, Raynaud’s disease (vascular disorder causing cold hands and feet), incontinence, asthma, and muscle disorders (including helping people learn to reuse arms or legs that have been traumatized). Essentially any bodily process that can be measured can potentially be controlled or influenced through the help of these techniques.
There are four areas of research that support mind/body medicine: studies describing the physiology of mind/body interactions, those measuring the effects of mind/body therapy techniques, research on the health outcomes of structured mind/ body programs employing a variety of techniques, and studies of cost effectiveness.
The Mind/Heart Connection. Scientists have pieced together how stress affects the heart. This work is well summarized by Cynthia Medich, Ph.D., R.N., a cardiovascular specialist and researcher at the Mind/Body Medical Institute, Harvard Medical School and New England Deaconess Hospital, Boston. What Medich describes as the mind/heart connection involves the release of two kinds of stress hormones into the bloodstream: corticosteroids and catecholamines.
These hormones set off a cascade of changes in the body including increased platelet aggregation (tendency for blood clotting); increased coronary artery tone; a surge in coronary artery pressure; increased blood pressure, glucose levels, and lipid levels; a more rapid and powerful heartbeat; and, paradoxically, a constriction in the coronary arteries. In short, the demands on the heart all increase.11
Eight of the initial thirty studies funded by the Office of Alternative Medicine, National Institutes of Health deal with mind/body medicine.
Biofeedback. Angele McGrady of the Medical College of Ohio in Toledo is studying the use of biofeedback-assisted relaxation in reducing the dosage of insulin required in type I insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. The method is being studied as an alternative to increasing the dosage when the person is under stressful conditions.
Richard Sherman at Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center in Aurora, Colorado, is evaluating biofeedback in treating chronic musculoskeletal low back pain and muscle-related orofacial pain.
Imagery. James Halper of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City is conducting a controlled study of the benefits of guided imagery for patients with asthma.
Mary Jasnoski of George Washington University, Washington, D.C., is examining the effects of imagery on the immune system, with potential implications for use in cancer and AIDS.
Blair Justice of the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in Houston was funded to conduct a controlled study examining the effects of a group imagery/relaxation process on immune function and quality of life in breast cancer patients.
Hypnosis. Helen Crawford of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg is examining how the use of hypnosis affects the electrophysiology of the brain in patients with low back pain. Carol Ginnandes of McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, is studying whether hypnosis can be used to speed the healing of broken bones. Patricia Newton of the Good Samaritan Hospital and Medical Center in Portland, Oregon, is conducting a pilot study of the effects of hypnotic imagery on psychological and immunological factors in breast cancer patients.
With this understanding it is easy to see how individuals who experience stress on a chronic basis are at greater risk for heart diseases. This connection was dramatically illustrated in a study of air traffic controllers, considered to be in a very stressful occupation, who were found to have five times the incidence of hypertension as a comparison group of second-class airmen.
Other research has been able to anticipate who will develop hypertension and heart disease. One study followed 1100 adults for twenty years. Those who had the highest levels of anxiety at the beginning of the study turned out to have the highest rates of hypertension two decades later.
An eight-year study of over three thousand people found that those with the Type A behavior pattern were twice as likely as Type Bs to develop coronary heart disease.
Depression has also been found to affect the heart adversely. A study of patients with a history of heart disease found that those who were also depressed were eight times as likely to develop ventricular tachycardia as the patients who were not depressed. (Ventricular tachycardia is a condition of abnormal and potentially deadly heart rhythms.)
A ten-year study was conducted to follow the mortality rates of people who had experienced stroke. Those who had been diagnosed with either major or minor depression were 3.4 times as likely to have died within the follow-up period. The death rate among depressed patients with few social contacts was especially high: over 90 percent had died.
In a study of 194 heart attack patients, those who reported lower amounts of emotional support in their lives were nearly three times as likely to die within six months as those with higher levels of emotional support.17
The Mind and Immunity. In addition to affecting the heart, the chemistry of the stress response has been found to lower immune functioning. This is illustrated by studies of the effects of exam stress on medical students that have found significant drops in the activity of natural killer (NK) cells as well as in the numbers of NK cells (NK cells are a key in fighting cancer cells and viruses) and a significantly lower percentage of T-helper cells in the blood (the cells that arouse the immune response to fight off an infection).
In a study of recently divorced people, those who wanted the divorce, for whom it brought relief, were found to have better immunity than those who did not want the divorce.
A study of the effects of stress on salivary immunoglobulin A (S-IgA, the antibody that fights infections in the mouth and throat) found that a higher frequency of daily hassles was significantly associated with lower levels of S-IgA. However, the effects were less severe in people who scored higher on a scale measuring sense of humor. This suggests that sense of humor can counter the negative effects of stress on the immune system.
Research has shown that depression can have an adverse effect on immunity. A study that took place in a mental hospital compared natural killer (NK) cell activity in depressed patients, schizophrenic patients, and staff members. The patients with major depressive disorder had significantly lower NK functioning than schizophrenic patients and staff members.
A study involved 132 college students to determine the effects of positive emotions on S-IgA levels. Half watched a morbid documentary about power struggles in World War II, while the other half watched an inspiring film about Mother Teresa, a Roman Catholic nun selflessly serving the poor and sick in Calcutta. The latter group had significantly increased S-IgA concentrations, indicating heightened immune responsiveness.
Mind/body researcher Lydia Temoshok, Ph.D., studied the psychological factors associated with malignant melanoma. Among her findings was the discovery that emotional expressiveness was directly related to the thickness of the patients’ tumors as well as the course of their disease.
Major findings of Temoshok’s research include the following:
Patients who were more emotionally expressive had thinner tumors and more slowly dividing cancer cells.
The more emotionally expressive patients had a much higher number of lymphocytes (immune cells) invading the base of the tumor.
Patients who were less emotionally expressive had thicker tumors and more rapidly dividing cancer cells.
Patients who were less expressive had relatively fewer Lymphocytes invading the base of the tumor.
These findings helped contribute to the formation of the concept of Type C coping.
Can the immune system be trained to respond, like Pavlov’s dog was trained to salivate at the sound of a bell? In a well-designed, controlled study, participants were given a sherbet sweet along with a subcutaneous injection of a chemical known to increase NK cell activity (epinephrine). After several administrations of this regime, the epinephrine was replaced by a useless saline injection. Remarkably, the participants still increased their NK cell activity in response to eating the sherbet accompanied only by the saline injection!
Techniques of Mind/Body Medicine
Some research on techniques has examined their effects on specific bodily functions such as immune responses, blood pressure, and heart rate. Other studies have looked at recovery from surgery, and still others have focused on psychological well-being and the quality of life.
Relaxation Training. This is by far the most widely studied subject in this tradition with hundreds of studies documenting its benefits. A few examples: Patients with ischemic heart disease who practiced the relaxation response daily for four weeks achieved significant reduction in the frequency of preventricular contractions.
Patients with hypertension who took an eight-week (once a week) training program achieved significantly lower blood pressure and the benefits were maintained three years later.
Patients receiving several kinds of elective surgery who were trained in relaxation had less surgical anxiety both before and after surgery. The intensity of their pain and their use of pain medication were both reduced.
Also, a study of patients receiving angioplasty procedures showed significantly less anxiety, pain, and need for medication. In patients receiving heart surgery, those who received the training had significantly lower incidence of postoperative supraventricular tachycardia.
A controlled study of women with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) using the relaxation response twice daily for three months found a 58-percent reduction in the severity of their symptoms.
Two studies found increased NK cell activity as a result of practicing the relaxation response. One, involving geriatric residents in nursing homes, also found indications of lower activity of herpes viruses. In addition, there were significant reductions in symptoms of emotional distress.
Finally, in a study of exam stress in medical students, the more they practiced the relaxation response, the higher the percentage of T-helper cells circulating in their blood.
Meditation. Of many various forms of meditation, TM has led the way in mind/body research. Over five hundred papers have been published in 108 scientific journals, authored by scientists at 211 research institutions and universities, in twenty-three countries worldwide. Studies of TM were instrumental in discovering the relaxation response and its benefits for hypertension. Other studies have found important benefits for such diverse populations as prison inmates, drug addicts, and Vietnam veterans suffering from posttraumatic stress disorders.
In one study, patients with hypertension who practiced TM twice daily for five to six months achieved significantly lower blood pressured. In another, the effects of TM were compared to those of progressive muscle relaxation and usual care in hypertension. For those using TM, the decreases in systolic and diastolic blood pressure were twice as great as those for the subjects in the other groups. As will be seen later, TM has also shown impressive effects in reducing the utilization rates of medical services.
Imagery. Imagery is often used in combination with relaxation and meditation. A controlled study of fifty-five women examined the effects of imagery and relaxation on breast milk production in mothers of infants in a neonatal intensive care unit. They received a twenty-minute audiotape of progressive relaxation followed by guided imagery of pleasant surroundings, milk flowing in the breasts, and the baby’s warm skin against theirs. They produced more than twice as much milk as those receiving only routine care.
In another study, a group of metastatic cancer patients using daily imagery for a year achieved significant improvements in NK cell activity and several other measures of immune functioning.
At Michigan State University, researchers found that students could use guided imagery to improve the functioning of certain white cells called neutrophils, important immune cells in defense against bacterial and fungal infection. They could also decrease, but not increase, white cell counts. At one point in the study, a form of imagery intended to increase neutrophil count unexpectedly caused a drop instead. Subsequently, students were taught imagery explicitly intended to keep the neutrophil count steady, while increasing their effectiveness. Both of these goals were achieved.
Breath Therapy. A study examined the effect of evocative breath therapy (EBT) on salivary immunoglobulin A (S-IgA). EBT involves abdominal breathing accompanied by music and posthypnotic suggestion to promote emotional arousal and release. Forty-five adults in a group therapy program for cancer showed an average 46-percent increase in S-IgA levels after an hour-long EBT experience.
Biofeedback. A controlled study of patients with irritable bowel syndrome found that biofeedback training brought a significant reduction in symptoms. This change was still present six months later. Another controlled study found a 41-percent reduction in migraine headaches in patients using a thermal biofeedback procedure at home.
Multi-strategy Group Programs
Most organized mind/body therapy programs use a regimen of several techniques. Below are described some findings of such multistrategy programs for specific illnesses.
Hypertension. A group program for patients with hypertension included training in the relaxation response, nutrition, exercise, and stress management. Findings included significant reductions in blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, weight, body fat percentage, and psychological symptoms. Importantly, most of the benefits were intact when the patients were checked three to five years later.
Surviving Heart Attacks. Patients recovering from myocardial infarction took a six-hour program of stress management training with mind/body techniques and emotional support. The result was a 50-percent reduction in subsequent rate of cardiac deaths.
Reversing Heart Disease. A controlled study at the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, University of California, San Francisco, examined the effects of a multistrategy program on people with severe coronary heart disease. Patients were randomly assigned to either a usual care group or the experimental program. The latter involved a regimen of dietary changes, exercise, yoga, and group support that included the practice of mind/body techniques. Those in the experimental program almost universally showed reductions in coronary artery blockage, while those with usual care generally showed more blockage.
Benefits for Infertility. A ten-week group program for infertile women included training in the relaxation response with instructions for daily practice and training in stress management, exercise, nutrition, and group support. Results included decreases in anxiety, depression, and fatigue and increased vigor. Also, 34-percent of the women became pregnant within six months of the program.
Reducing Symptoms of AIDS. In a controlled study, patients received group training in biofeedback, guided imagery, and hypnosis. Results included significant decreases in fever, fatigue, pain, headache, nausea, and insomnia. Vigor and hardiness also significantly increased.
Another group program for HIV found significant improvement in emotional expression, sense of control over health, tension, anxiety, fatigue, depression, and total mood disturbance.
Psychological well-being in Cancer. Fifty-nine patients took a ten-day, sixty-hour group program that includes imagery, relaxation training, lifestyle evaluation, emotional release therapies, group support, breath therapy, and exploring the personal meaning of illness. Results included significant improvements in emotional expressiveness, fighting spirit, quality of life, sense of control over health, and optimism–including patients with metastatic disease. These improvements were still present three months after completing the program.
Psychological well-being and Immunity in Cancer. Sixty-six patients with malignant melanoma took a six-week structured group program that included health education, stress management, training in problem solving, and psychological support.
Josephine, thirty-six, suffering from headaches, sought help from her physician. Her blood pressure was 150/100, she was twenty pounds overweight, and her cholesterol level was 280 mg/dl. She smoked a pack a day and did not exercise regularly. She was given a betablocker for high blood pressure, a cholesterol drug, and was told to lose weight and stop smoking.
Two months later her blood pressure was 160/102 She had lost no weight, she had not been able to stop smoking, and her cholesterol was 290 mg/dl. When asked why she hadn’t cooperated with the recommendations she broke down in tears. She hadn’t been able to afford the medications ($90/month). Her husband had left her and their two children after a stormy and abusive marriage, so she had been trying to work two jobs, felt depressed, was not sleeping well, and her headaches were now a daily occurrence.
She was referred to the Hypertension Clinic at the New England Deaconess Hospital, Boston, and participated in a twelve-week program of two-hour sessions with ten other participants. The program emphasizes the relaxation response, diet, exercise, and stress management. Her goals in the program were to control her blood pressure, lose weight, and stop smoking.
During the program she regained some of her self-esteem, began to feel more hopeful, started sleeping better, was less irritable with her children, and was able to find assistance for child care and vocational training. She monitored her blood pressure once a day, which dropped to 124/90, and her medication was stopped. She was headache-free. She started walking daily and lost five pounds. Her cholesterol dropped to 220mg/dl. She practiced the relaxation response once a day and signed up for an assertiveness training class at the YWCA.
Before leaving the program, she outlined the situations that might be associated with relapse and developed a plan for action that included returning periodically for the drop-in groups for reinforcement. She also signed up for a SmokeEnders group to start after the program ended.
Six months after the program, there were significantly lower levels of psychological distress and higher levels of positive coping methods in comparison to patients who did not have the program. There were also significant increases in the percentage of NK cells and in their functional effectiveness (cytotoxic activity).
Increasing Survival Time in Malignant Melanoma. The patients who participated in the above study were followed for six years. A startling difference in death rates between the two groups was found. Of those who were in the control group (no group therapy), thirteen of thirty-four had a recurrence of cancer during the six years and ten died. For those who had the group program, only seven of thirty-four had recurrences and only three died.
Increasing Survival Time in Breast Cancer. A ten-year controlled study was conducted with eighty-six women with metastatic breast cancer. Those who had a year of weekly group sessions had nearly double the survival time of those who did not have the group (averaging thirty-six months versus eighteen months). The group provided self-hypnosis and a form of therapy called “supportive-expressive therapy.”
Aside from the medical and psychological benefits, one of the most important contributions of mind/body medicine is in reducing the costs of health care by reducing the utilization rates of expensive inpatient and outpatient services.
Dr. Elizabeth Devine of the University of Wisconsin School of Nursing in Milwaukee conducted an analysis of 191 different scientific studies in which surgery patients were taught simple mind/body techniques. She found an average reduction in the length of hospital stay of 1.5 days (12 percent). This of course translates into enormous savings, considering the cost of a day of hospitalization. Results also included faster recovery from surgery, fewer complications, and reduced postsurgical pains.
Other studies have found reduced utilization rates for outpatient medical services. For example, in one study 109 chronic pain patients took a ten-session outpatient group mind/body program. A 36-percent reduction in total monthly clinic visits for pain management was found in the first year after the program.
Another study looked at the medical care utilization rates of two thousand regular practitioners of TM, comparing them with 600,000 other members of the same insurance carrier. For children and young adults the reduction for inpatient services was 50 percent and for older adults it was 69 percent. The reductions for outpatient services were 47 percent for children, 55 percent for young adults, and 74 percent for older adults.
The same pool of TM practitioners were compared to five other health insurance pools, showing 55 percent fewer visits for benign or malignant tumors, 87 percent fewer visits for heart disease, 30 percent fewer visits for infectious diseases, 31 percent fewer visits for mental disorders, and 87 percent fewer visits for diseases of the nervous system.
Strengths and Limitations
The greatest strengths of mind/body medicine are in stress-related conditions and chronic illnesses. It also has a great deal to offer in terms of relief of the symptoms of acute illnesses as well as relief from the side effects of treatment such as surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy in cancer.
This is obviously a complementary form of medicine rather than a primary treatment for major diseases. However, while it is usually thought of as supportive rather than curative, there are illnesses that do not respond to conventional medical treatment and for which mind/body medicine offers a way of gaining some relief and promoting recovery.
One point of controversy that often arises in this tradition is the question of whether its use implies an assumption that one’s illness must hav
Meditate to live your life to the fullest. Meditation is one of the most powerful tools there is to help us restore the harmony within, and to gain access to our bodies’ inner intelligence. In meditation we rediscover the silence in our mind, and make it part of our life. Silence is the birthplace of happiness. It is where we get our burst of inspiration, our tender feelings of compassion. Our sense of love.
Meditation is a journey to freedom, and self-knowledge. The mind is in a constant state of activity. From the moment we awaken, until we go to sleep at night, we are actively engaged in the mental processes of planning, analyzing, strategizing, plotting, judging, juggling, resolving conflicts, and matters such as these. We have things to do, people to see, places to be, goals to accomplish, bills to pay, children to feed……we are BUSY beings. This can contribute to feelings of being overwhelmed, stressed out, anxious, angry, agitated, and frustrated. Over time, it can reach a chronic level, leading to even more negative states of mind.
The Buddha taught that your true nature is obscured by the veils of wanting, fear, and delusion, (or ignorance). He urged that you look at the nature of your mind systematically, and observe how these three mind-states condition what you think, and value, and how you behave. He taught that it is the identification with these mind-states that causes suffering; for instance, you mistakenly believe that just because you feel the emotion of wanting, your true nature is the same as that wanting.
So, if you are not your thoughts, then what is your true nature, how do you find it, and how do you live so that it may flourish? These are the perennial questions for anyone who starts to develop an inner life. In Jesus’s teachings, love is at the center of all being. Love that is forgiving, unconditional, and not self-serving. Therefore, Meditation is a chance to connect to our inner being, and to put things in perspective. A chance to quiet, and still the inner turmoil that has become so much a part of our nature, we may no longer recognize the potential negative side affects.
Meditation is a a mirror to show us who we really are, not our conditioned selves, but our truest nature, at every level of our being; Physical, Emotional, Psychological, Social, Cultural, and Spiritual. Meditation is a path to Self discovery, self realization, and ultimately, Self acceptance. In order to release even one of these mind states takes time, and constant, consistent repetition.
Meditation invokes a shift in consciousness. When you are in the midst of your day, and your mind is restless, or disturbed, taking some time out for yourself can be a way to restore the equilibrium of the mind. This enables you to gain greater awareness, and to bring some peace into the world around you. To see what is truly important.
Through our actions, which are controlled by our thoughts, Meditation enables us to learn different methods for dealing with life with more creativity, and agility. We begin to see than any opportunity that comes to our life is of our own creation. It does not come of itself, by chance, nor by good luck. Opportunities are either created now, or have been created at some time in the close, or distant past, by our own rightly guided will.
If you see no opportunity now, create one during the times you spend in Meditation. Create them by your will, which is a divine instrument within you. Say, “I will do everything for myself with my own will, which is a reflection in me of Divine Will.” Act on this truth, and opportunity will come to you.
Because the mind is a very difficult thing to discipline, many people find meditation difficult. Thus, the reason Yoga, and meditation, and Pranayama (yogic breathing exercises) are fast becoming popular alternative to other exercise, and fitness programs. The principal being that the body is far easier to discipline than the mind. People have tried meditation for years, and not been able to achieve the same affects, as working it the other way around. As the mind, and the body are not two separate entities, when you work through the body, the mind, too, is affected.
Yoga alleviates the extraneous mind chatter that can turn every day burdens into misery, through relentless anxiety. Yoga encourages living within the limits imposed by the body. When we yoke the body, and the mind together, we train ourselves to find where we truly are, and to stay within that boundary.
During our yoga practice we become aware of our states of mind. Though we may find that through repetition of the poses (asanas) we are able through strength, or flexibility, determination, or relentlessness to attain the shape of the pose, this, like everything, has its price. You will never find the freedom that is that is so much a part of the yoga experience, if you are simply imposing new patterns of force, hardness, and tension on old.
It is essential that you work the other way, layer by layer, stripping away wall after wall that we have built up throughout our lives. Hatha Yoga then is not superficial relaxation. It is much deeper than that. It is not covering up, or avoiding uncomfortable feelings. That can best be done by having a glass of wine, a massage and/or a hot bath. Hatha Yoga challenges, reveals, and releases our embodied tension resulting in a release of our full potential.
Keeping body, and mind healthy may seem a difficult thing to achieve, but in actuality, it is possible if you believe. Once you believe, this belief sets into motion the desire within ourselves to move into this state of being. Then everything we think, and do begins to manifest this reality immediately! Our entire body/mind system is a connecting link to all levels of universal consciousness. Each one of us is interconnected, a holographic part of ‘All That Is’. As we open ourselves into greater expression of love, caring, wisdom, power, joy and other positive emotions, we give a wonderful gift to ourselves and to all of creation.
This is done in a precise, pragmatic, and systematic manner. It is not in anyway haphazard. Repeated, and accurate application of the techniques elicits specific, and predictable results. You experience a deep sense of relaxation, and freedom within your own being. The manifestation of this freedom is gratitude, appreciation, compassion, and enthusiasm for life, and living.
Breathing is the most important aspect of your Yoga and Meditation Practice. On a basic level, focusing on the breath gives the mind something to do. A place to rest, while it settles back down into its essential nature, which is of a deeper nature. In ‘The Science of Pranayama,’ Swami Sivananda writes, “There is an intimate connection between the breath, nerve currents, and control of the inner prana, or vital forces. Prana becomes visible on the physical plane as motion, and action, and on the mental plane as thought. Pranayama is the means by which a yogi tries to realize within his individual body, the whole cosmic nature, and attempts to attain perfection by attaining all the powers of the universe.”
The breath is intimately linked to all aspects of human experience. Most people breathe incorrectly, using only a small part of their lung capacity. The breathing is then generally shallow”, depriving the body of oxygen, and the prana essential to its good health. In addition, they help focus the awareness on the breathing process which is otherwise normally ignored. Practitioners develop sensitivity to the respiratory process, and retrain the muscles of the pulmonary cavity, enhancing their vital capacity, and preparing them for pranayama.
Rhythmic, deep and slow respiration sublimates, and is stimulated by calm, content, states of mind. Irregular breathing disrupts the rhythms of the brain, and leads to physical, emotional, and mental blocks. These in turn, lead to inner conflicts, imbalances, personality disorders, destructive lifestyles, and disease. Pranayama establishes regular breathing patterns, breaking this negative cycle, and reversing the process.
Deep breathing also increases the absorption of energy by the pranamaya kosha, enhancing dynamism, vitality and general wellbeing. Pranayama and the spiritual aspirant Pranayama practices, establish a healthy body by removing blockages in the pranamaya kosha, enabling an increased absorption of prana. The spiritual seeker, however. also requires tranquility of mind as an essential prelude to spiritual practice.
Yoga, meditation, and pranayama takes practice, and there may be a period of time before you are able to advance. Therefore, refrain from judging your practice, and from asking yourself questions like, ‘Am I meditating’, ‘Am I doing this right’, or ‘How do I know if I am in a state of mediation.’ There are countless ways to meditate. It’s important to find a technique that resonates with you. The most important thing is to not get hung up on a technique. Or, the attachment to feelings that arise.
Do not get caught up by your expectations. Release these, and any others in order to get the most from your practice. Use your meditation practice to move between states of storminess, and stillness. Relax, enjoy, and accept whatever comes your way. Move between your states of mind with awareness, and flexibility. Stay in the present moment. Thinking not of what has happened to you before this moment, or what it is to come.
Do not try to suppress any feeling. Witness, observe, be aware of the ever-present fluctuations of your moods, and mental states, and follow the breath. Allow all feelings to show themselves, as you watch them float by, as though you are watching clouds move across the sky. Don’t get emotionally caught up in them. Keep in mind that the mind is like a child demanding attention. The more you give it, the more it demands. Eventually it will stop. This could take years, so don’t approach your practice in a goal oriented way.
The inner spaciousness within is always there, with its clarity, love, and innate goodness. It is like the sky that suddenly appears over our heads when we step out of the kitchen door after a harried morning, and glance upward. The Self, like the sky, is ever present yet hidden by the ceiling, and walls of our minds. In approaching the Self, it helps to have a doorway we can comfortably walk through, rather than having to break through the wall of thoughts separating us from our inner space.
Meditation methods are portals. Entry points into the spaciousness that underlies the mind. Once we become aware of how we respond to different perceptual modes, we can often adjust a practice so it works for us. No technique is an end in itself, and no matter which one people use, it will eventually dissolve when their meditation deepens.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember about any practice is to keep looking for its subtle essence. This release will happen more easily if we can allow ourselves to give up any feeling of separation from the technique. Nearly always, when people have difficulties going deeper into meditation, it is because they are keeping some sort of separation between themselves, their method, and between themselves, and the goal.
The antidote for nearly every problem that arises in meditation is to remember that the meditator, the technique of meditation, and the goal of meditation are one: that within the inner field of Awareness, everything is simply Awareness itself.
Ultimately no meditation practice is going to work unless you like doing it. This piece of wisdom comes from no less an authority than Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, a text so fundamental that every yogic tradition in India makes it the basis for meditation practice. After listing a string of practices for focusing the mind, Patanjali ended his chapter on concentration by saying, “Concentrate wherever the mind finds satisfaction.” So it’s essential to relax, and simply enjoy the experience.
Proceed with your pursuit of these paths with openness, putting aside your drive, and competitiveness, and your desire to have all the answers today. You are embarking on a life long journey, and all will come in time. It’s important to remember that usually all that is possible in daily life is to be present in the moment, to pay attention to how we react, to be alert to greed, fear, or confusion, and to respond with as much compassion, and wisdom as we are capable. Meditation enables us to gain a greater understanding, and acceptance to the fact that the only control we truly have is how we respond, not just react to what is happening around us. For more information on these two paths, visit the rest of this site.