Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Benefits Of Yoga In Self-Development

Yoga Is Not Physical Exercise!

That the West has seriously embraced Yoga in a big way can be gauged from the fact that every month a new Yoga Center / Studio opens up in the middle of commercial centers, whether in London, Los Angeles, Beverley Hills or Egypt. Every now and then, there is some or the other conference, workshop or seminar being conducted by this Guru or that, events which are well-attended by a crowd that was hitherto fore considered to be too-hip and too-steeped-in-instant-nirvana to appreciate the subtleties of this ancient science.

And subtle this science very much is. Unlike aerobics or plain-vanilla physical exercises that are carried out with rigor and speed in gyms, Yoga has to be done a lot more slowly. Every movement has to be made with a full awareness of its impact on the body's psychic points (known as "Nadis" in ancient text). It may be borne in mind that the end goal of Yoga is not good physical health at all; it is just an en route station that you pass by, on the way to ultimate self-realization.

Pic by Ginaro Molina, LA Times

It has been demonstrated scientifically that Yoga is a powerful add-on treatment for Asthma, hypertension, depression, and the like. The key is to understand:

1. What the underlying causes of a particular ailment are,
2. What specific life-style changes need to be carried out,
3. What specific yogic "asanas", "bandhs" and "mudras" are applicable for the particular ailment, keeping in mind the general condition of the individual. At what time of the day these activities need to be carried out, for how much duration, and for how long.

Once the above information is collected, then yoga may be taken up, consistently and without let. Initially, the personal supervision of a Yoga instructor is a must, if only to understand the subtleties involved in the process.

Pic by Francine Orr, LA Times

Unfortunately, like the other alternative therapies available in the market, yoga too is being mass-packaged and "sold over the counter". The result is that people sign up for yoga classes and find themselves amongst a motley crowd - ranging from a ten-year-old kid, to a seventy-year-old senior citizen with multiple sclerosis, to an ante-natal woman - all going through the same set of yogic "exercises" (sic) and "asanas". In actual fact, every individual requires a customized prescription of yoga that they need to follow, and there are very few basic activities that may be common for all.

Pic by Ricardo DeAratanha, LA Times

For example, "Paschimottanasana" is a yoga asana in which the practitioner sits with their feet stretched before them, with the inside-ankles touching each other. The key element is for them to bend forward - slowly! - hands stretched, so that the fingers touch the respective toes. One invariably finds almost every individual who joins a Yoga studio / center struggling to bend forward and perform this asana. The asana is quite good for toning up the abdominal region and the organs it holds (kidneys, liver, pancreas, spleen, stomach), stretches and thus strengthens the muscles of the back, and increase hip-joint flexibility. (This is the en route station.) This also stimulates the "Manipur" chakra in the navel. (This is the ultimate goal.) However, this particular asana is forbidden for sciatica, slipped-disk, asthma and pregnancy cases.

Yoga Teacher Frank White, Pic by Lori Shepler, LA Times

Similarly, quite a few yogic postures require kneeling. Enthusiastic first-timers, in their zeal to overcome some or the other health problem, spend a lot of time in the kneeling posture, and this can damage the peroneal nerve that is responsible for coordinating movement and providing sensation to the lower legs, feet and toes. The result of this damage could even be paralysis.

Pic by Anne Cusack, LA Times

A strongly suggested routine before beginning the yogasanas for the day is:

1. Perform some fast-paced but light exercises to warm up the body.
2. Relax for about five minutes.
3. Start your asanas. Relax between each asana.
4. End the session with the very last asana - "Shavasana". This literally means "lying down in a position akin to death". (Note that I haven't mentioned "bandhas" and "mudras" at all. These do not require the above routine.)

In this position, you may listen to some relaxation CDs that calm you down further. Here is a link where they may be found: http://www.short10.com/?c=bcd-relax.

Pic by Myung J. Chun, LA Times

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