Yoga is an ancient science of both mental and physical health, as well as aiming to fulfill the potential of man. From the medical point of view we can define yoga as a scientific system by which we can manipulate our internal environment, both physical and mental. Yoga can help us to gain control of our nervous system and can stimulate the internal production and secretion of chemicals.
Most people have two main reasons for coming to yoga - to relieve stress and to relieve pain. Many of us know people who tell us that yoga just makes them feel better. That is something we all need - some relief from our present predicament. Practice of yoga helps prevent disease, maintain good health and peace of mind, and develop higher awareness. It is a system of balancing both body, mind and consciousness - a method of harmonizing the inner and outer aspect of our being and it can be applied anywhere, anytime, at work, at home, in meetings.
It’s also important to know what yoga is not: it is not a religion, it is not a renunciation, and, contrary to popular belief, it is not a physical exercise.
Yoga possesses many techniques which have effects at the physical, emotional, mental, psychic and spiritual levels of our being. Yoga transcends mere physical exercise by incorporating relaxation, breathing and energizing components as well as the development of awareness - of who we are physically, mentally and spiritually. A steady practice gives good health, strength, vitality, concentration, peace of mind, satisfaction, and self-control.
The disease of addiction and the lifelong process of recovery has opened us to an expanded concept of total patient care. We must treat at the physical, emotional and mental levels. Yoga is an excellent method of both treating disease and at the same time improving our quality of life. Many people report their practice offers them an effective means to combat stress, tension, and mental dissatisfaction. This is where yoga comes into the foreground in the recovery process. Yoga offers practical definitions of mind and its relationship to the body, along with practical techniques to relax, tame, control and utilize our vast and potent life force energy.
Yoga offers us methods which can relax, energize and strengthen both body and psyche. Our recovery can be put on a firm basis by systematic and scientific application of a few simple physical postures (asana), breathing techniques (pranayama) and relaxation-type meditative techniques.
Yoga practice stimulates nerves, blood, lymph, endocrine organs, glands and neural plexuses. Yoga is a powerful method to induce relaxation - one of the best antidotes to stress - via neuroendocrine effects - yoga has a profound capacity to influence the brain.
Yoga can also dissociate prefrontal lobe activity from the limbic system and thereby alter our emotional response to pain and stressful situations in general. When emotional energy can be dissociated from negative thinking it can be transmuted from fear, anxiety and so on, and utilized for positive, creative and healing activity and the expansion of awareness.
Here are some very simple suggestions for yoga practices to relax the autonomic nervous system:
Joint Freeing Series is perhaps the most simple gentle stretching exercises, all performed slowly, without any strain and synchronized with slow, gentle relaxed breathing and awareness. Here is a You Tube video you can practice along with.
Of course, you are welcome to attend any local yoga classes - ask friends for recommendations and take advantage of the first time student offers at many yoga studios. Many community colleges also offer yoga courses free of charge for local residents.
Breathing: The practice of Pranayama
Start with the soothing rhythmic breathing through alternate nostrils. (Nadi Shodhana).
Preparation: raise the right hand and bring it into 'vishnu mudra' by folding down the index and middle fingers. Close the right nostril with the thumb and exhale completely through the left. You are now ready to begin…
1. Inhale completely through the left nostril, keeping the right nostril closed. This should be done to a count of 3 or 4 for beginners and increased only after much practice.
2. Keeping the left nostril closed, release the right nostril and exhale completely to a count of ‘ 6 to 8’ (twice the count of the inhalation).
3. With the left nostril closed, inhale through the right to a count of ‘3 or 4’.
4. Keeping the right nostril closed, release the fingers from the left nostril and exhale completely for a count of ‘6 to 8’ to complete one round.
Do at least 6 rounds at the beginning, increasing to at least 12 rounds per day.
Keep the back straight
Keep the head level
Relax the shoulders
Keep the breath smooth
Keep the exhalation slow, smooth and steady
Maintain a comfortable rhythm throughout the practice.
The breath in nostrils fluctuates every 1-3 hours on average. Evidence links alternating hemispheric dominance, the autonomic nervous systems and the breathing cycle. When right nostril is dominant, left hemisphere is also and vice versa. Hence, through sustained yoga and pranayama practice we can gain the ability to non-invasively, selectively and predictably alter cerebral activity and associated physiological processes. We may be able to alter our neurophysiology, metabolic functions and state of mind.
This second breathing exercise is Bee Breath (Bhramari Pranayama) - humming sound while blocking the ears. Powerful yogic tranquilizer, quickly allays anxiety - acts of limbic-hypothalamic-pituitary-autonomic axis.
Sit up straight with your eyes closed. Observe the sensations in the body and the quietness within.
Place your index fingers on the cartilage of your ears (to block out external sound)
Take a deep breath in and as you breathe out, gently press the cartilage. You can keep the cartilage pressed or press it in and out with your fingers while making a loud humming sound like a bee.
You can also make a low-pitched sound but it is a good idea to make a high-pitched one for better results.
Breathe in again and continue the same pattern 3-4 times.
Breath awareness can be used anytime, anywhere to deal with cravings.
YOGA NIDRA - is an advanced relaxative meditation where body is kept motionless while you engage in a series of easy mental exercises, such as breath awareness. By engaging the mind in natural and soothing mental activity the healing process is allowed to take place unimpeded by tensions and problems. Here is a 20 minute Yoga Nidra.
As you can see, yoga exercises range from dynamic, physically demanding exercises to static and relaxing posture. Choose what is right for you today so you can begin to feel the sense of self-confidence that comes from knowing you can master your situation without having to solely rely on outside assistance. This increased independence aids the process of healing and recovery.
There are an almost unlimited number of yogic techniques which can be used to relax, energize and strengthen not only the whole body and mind. Yoga is cheap, effective and simple modality that greatly contributes to the concept of total patient care.
No matter what brings you to initial or sustained recovery, the alliance of yoga, meditation, relaxation, simple exercise, dietary and lifestyle advice and correction, along with acupuncture, herbs and massage will help to reconstruct a totally healthy and better human being.
Durga Leela, www.yogaofrecovery.com
This information sourced from Swami Satyananda Saraswati of the Bihar School of Yoga