Yoga

 

This page is sponsored by the Health and Harmony Center, a place for yoga and massage.

Developed in India, yoga is a spiritual practice that has been evolving for the last 5,000 years. Yoga means "union" in Sanskrit, the classical language of India. According to the yogis, true happiness, liberation and enlightenment comes from union with the divine consciousness known as Brahman, or with Atman, the transcendent Self. The various yoga practices are a methodology for reaching that goal.

In hatha yoga, for example, postures and breathing exercises help purify the mind, body and spirit so the yogi can attain union. Pranayama breathing exercises help clear the nadis, or channels, that carry prana the universal life force, allowing prana to flow freely. When the channels are clear and the last block at the base of the spine has been opened, Kundalini rises through the spine, through the central channel called the sushumna-nadi, and joins the crown chakra. According to the tradition, the release of Kundalini leads to enlightenment and union. 

Why is yoga gaining popularity in the Western world? The short answer is that yoga makes you feel better. Practicing the postures, breathing exercises and meditation makes you healthier in body, mind and spirit. For many people, that's enough of an answer. But there's more if you're interested.

For starters, yoga is good for what ails you. Specifically, research shows that yoga helps manage or control anxiety, arthritis, asthma, back pain, blood pressure, carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic fatigue, depression, diabetes, epilepsy, headaches, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, stress, and other conditions and diseases. It also:

         Improves muscle tone, flexibility, strength and stamina

         Reduces stress and tension

         Improves concentration and creativity

         Improves circulation

         Stimulates the immune system

         Creates a sense of calm and well-being.

The benefits mentioned above are secondary to yoga's original purpose, which was to achieve liberation and enlightenment. For most Westerners however, the physical and mental benefits are enough.

 

 

Yoga Postures

Be kind to yourself when you practice yoga. Go slowly, especially in the beginning, and listen to your body. It knows what it can do. If it says "stop," stop. Don't push it. Yoga is not a competitive sport. If you push too hard, you probably won't enjoy it, and you may hurt yourself. Whenever possible, work with a teacher, and use books, videos and Web sites to supplement your classroom instruction. Most of all, stick with it. If you practice, you will improve. And you will feel better.

Below are some of the fundamental yoga postures, shown by Kandy Love of the Health and Harmony Center. The sequence can be performed in order.

 

Cow and Cat   Increases flexibility of spine

This is really two poses, with one flowing into the other. Begin on your hands and knees. Keep your hands just in front of your shoulders, your legs about hip width apart. As you inhale, tilt the tailbone and pelvis up, and let the spine curve downward, dropping the stomach low, and lift your head up. Stretch gently. As you exhale, move into cat by reversing the spinal bend, tilting the pelvis down, drawing the spine up and pulling the chest and stomach in. Repeat several times, flowing smoothly from cow into cat, and cat back into cow.

 

Mountain - Tadasana   Improves posture, balance and self-awareness

A deceptive pose in that it appears so simple that some students may ask - "why bother?" Just as there's more to breathing than meets the eye, there is more to standing, too.

Stand with feet together, hands at your sides, eyes looking forward. Raise your toes, fan them open, then place them back down on the floor. Feel your heel, outside of your foot, toes and ball of your foot all in contact with the floor. Tilt your pubic bone slightly forward. Raise your chest up and out, but within reason - this isn't the army and you're not standing at attention. Raise your head up and lengthen the neck by lifting the base of your skull toward the ceiling. Stretch the pinky on each hand downward, then balance that movement by stretching your index fingers. Push into the floor with your feet and raise your legs, first the calves and then the thighs.

Breathe. Hold the posture, but not tensing up. Breathe. As you inhale, imagine the breath coming up through the floor, rising through your legs and torso and up into your head. Reverse the process on the exhale and watch your breath as it passes down from your head, through your chest and stomach, legs and feet. Hold for 5 to 10 breaths, relax and repeat. On your next inhale, raise your arms over head (Urdhava Hastasana) and hold for several breaths. Lower your arms on an exhale.

As a warm up, try synchronizing the raising and lowering of your arms with your breath - raise, inhale; lower, exhale. Repeat 5 times.

 

Forward Bend or Extension - Uttanasana II

Stretches the legs and spine, rests the heart and neck, relaxes mind and body

Begin standing straight in Mountain pose or Tadasana. Inhale and raise the arms overhead. Exhale, bend at the hips, bring the arms out to the side and down until you touch the knees. It's okay to bend your knees if you're feeling stiff. Next, bend forward and hold your elbows, letting the head drop as your arms hang loosely. Then hold your ankles or place your hands on the floor and breathe several times . Repeat 3-5 times. On your last bend, hold the position for 5 or 10 breaths. To come out of the pose, lengthen the spine forward and lift the chest to come upright.

 

 Trikonasana - the Triangle

Stretches the spine, opens the torso, improves balance and concentration

Start with your legs spread 3-4 feet apart, feet parallel. Turn your right foot 90 degrees to the left and your left foot about 45 degrees inward. Inhale and raise both arms so they're parallel with the floor. Exhale, turn your head to the right and look down your left arm toward your outstretched fingers. Check that your right knee is aligned with your right ankle. Take a deep breath and stretch outward to the right, tilting the right hip down and the left hip up. When you've stretched as far as you can, pivot your arms, reaching your right hand down and come to rest against the inside of your calf, or on a block, while your left arms points straight up. Turn and look up at your left hand. Breathe deeply for several breaths. Inhale, and straighten up. Exhale, lower your arms. Put your hands on your hips and pivot on your heels, bringing your feet to face front. Repeat the posture on the other side.

 

Warrior II - Virabhadrasana II

Strengthens legs and arms; improves balance and concentration; builds confidence

Begin in mountain pose with feet together and hands at side. Step your feet 4-5 feet apart. Turn your left foot about 45 degrees to the right. Turn your right foot 90 degrees to the right so that it is pointing straight out to the side. Slowly bend the right knee until the thigh is parallel with the floor, but keep the knee directly over your ankle. Raise your arms over head. Then slowly lower them until your right arm is pointing straight ahead and your left arm is pointing back. Concentrate on a spot in front of you and breathe. Take 4 or 5 deep breaths, lower your arms, bring your legs together. Reverse the position.

 

The Cobra - Bhujangasana

Stretches the spine, strengthens the back and arms, opens the chest and heart

Lay down on your stomach. Keep your legs together, arms at your side, close to your body, with your hands by your chest.

Step 1: Inhaling, slowly raise your head and chest as high as it will go. Keep your buttocks muscles tight to protect your lower back. Keep your head up and chest and heart out. Breathe several times and then come down. Repeat as necessary.

Step 2: Follow the steps above. When you've gone as high as you can, gently raise yourself on your arms, stretching the spine even more. Only go as far as you are comfortable. Your pelvis should always remain on the floor. Breathe several times and come down.

 

Downward Facing Dog - Adho Mukha Svanasana

Builds strength, flexibility and awareness, stretches the spine and hamstrings, rests the heart

 Start on your hands and knees. Keep your legs about hip width apart and your arms shoulder width apart. Your middle fingers should be parallel, pointing straight ahead. Roll your elbows so that the eye or inner elbow is facing forward. Inhale and curl your toes under, as if getting ready to stand on your toes. Exhale and straighten your legs; push upward with your arms. The goal is to lengthen the spine while keeping your legs straight and your feet flat on the ground. However, in the beginning it's okay to bend the knees a bit and to keep your heels raised. The important thing is to work on lengthening the spine. Don't let your shoulders creep up by your ears -- keep them down. Weight should be evenly distributed between your hands and feet. Hold the position for a few breaths. Come down on and exhale. Repeat several times, synchronizing with your breath: up on the exhale and down on the inhale.

 

Head to Knee -- Janu Shirshasana

Stretches and opens back and hamstrings, improves flexibility 

Sit on the floor with legs extended in front of you. Bend one leg, bringing the heel of the foot as close to the groin as possible. You may want to place a pillow under the bent knee for comfort, and/or a pillow under your pelvis. Make sure your sitz bones are firmly grounded on the floor and that your spine is straight. Turn your body slightly so you face out over the extended leg. On an exhalation, begin to move forward slowly. Try to keep the spine as long as possible. Bend at the hips, and  focus on lifting the tailbone and rolling forward on your sitz bones. Inhale and lengthen and straighten the spine. Exhale and roll forward, however slightly. To get a bit more forward movement, engage your quadriceps (thigh muscles) as you move forward. This releases the hamstrings, giving you a bit more flexibility. When you've moved as far forward as you can, lower the arms and grasp your foot, or leg. Hold the position for a moment and breathe. Then on the next exhale gently pull yourself forward. Go slowly and remember to keep the spine long. When done, straighten up and do the other side.

 

The Bridge - Sethu Bandhasa

Increases flexibility and suppleness; strengthens the lower back and abdominal muscles; opens the chest

Lay on your back with your knees up and hands at your side Your feet should be relatively near your buttocks and about six inches apart. To begin, gently raise and lower your tailbone. Then, slowly, raise the tailbone and continue lifting the spine, trying to move one vertebra at a time until your entire back is arched upward. Push firmly with your feet. Keep your knees straight and close together. Breathe deeply into your chest. Clasp your hands under your back and push against the floor.

Take five slow, deep breaths. Come down slowly and repeat.

The Corpse -- Savasana

Relaxes and refreshes the body and mind, relieves stress and anxiety, quiets the mind

Possibly the most important posture, the Corpse, also known as the Sponge, is as deceptively simple as Tadasana, the Mountain pose. Usually performed at the end of a session, the goal is conscious relaxation. Many people find the "conscious" part the most difficult because it is very easy to drift off to sleep while doing Savasana. Begin by lying on your back, feet slightly apart, arms at your sides with palms facing up. Close your eyes and take several slow, deep breaths. Allow your body to sink into the ground. Try focusing on a specific part of the body and willing it to relax. For example, start with your feet, imagine the muscles and skin relaxing, letting go and slowly melting into the floor. From your feet, move on to your calves, thighs and so on up to your face and head. Then simply breathe and relax. Stay in the pose for at least 5-10 minutes.

 

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