Yoga is a system of philosophy that originated in India 5000 years ago that is focused on the attainment of enlightenment and the liberation of one’s self from those burdens that can have adverse effects on the mind, body, and spirit. The practice of yoga was brought to the Western countries, like the United States, after it gained popularity because of the many touted benefits.
However, most teachers of the philosophy place the most emphasis on the physical poses and less on the meditation aspect. Yoga and Pilates have both become favourite additions to the fitness routines of many people around the world, and for a good reason, which is why people are learning about yoga and its many benefits for the mind and body.
To find a comprehensive introduction to yoga basics, including a glossary of yoga terms and an introduction to favourite types of yoga and basic poses visit www.yoga.about.com. There are also many other sites that feature a compilation of essays and articles about yoga including information about yoga, exercise, mind-body workouts, healthy eating, and exercise tips.
Learn about yoga from a beginner’s perspective about meditation, yoga cleansing methods, pregnancy yoga, and other yoga techniques to improve your health at www.healthandyoga.com. The first impression many people have of yoga, is that to practice it, one must comfort their body into impossible uncomfortable positions, but this just isn’t true. Yoga focuses on the breath with each posture, which is an essential component of the healing applications of yoga, and yoga as an alternative therapy.
To learn more about yoga, from its origin to how to benefit from it, visit www.hinduism.about.com. Beginners can also find a wealth of yoga information such as frequently asked questions and answers about yoga practice, including the mysterious chakras, or primary energy centres in the body, and what yoga postures activate them at www.yogabasics.com.
In addition to yoga exercises for body and mind, many online retailers like www.yoga.com, carry products for yoga, massage, homoeopathic medicine, meditation, and practice, as well as demonstrations of stretches and strategies to help you strike the perfect pose. The benefits of yoga are many, and if you haven’t tried it already, you owe it to yourself to liberate your soul and reach the next level of enlightenment, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Anyone can do yoga, at any age, and in most any physical condition. Vinyasa move with the breath.
1. Talk to your doctor and explain what type of yoga poses you intend to practice. Show your doctor pictures of the poses for illustration. Your doctor may rule out specific poses if you have high blood pressure, glaucoma, a history of retinal detachment, or heart disease. Make sure you follow your doctor is recommendations.
2. Find a yoga class that best fits your abilities. Talk to prospective teachers, and decide whether or not you can handle a program before you sign up. Itís very important to take it one step at a time. Try a few beginner classes before you attempt more vigorous classes. Don’t move ahead too quickly. Allow your body to adjust to your exercises.
3. Listen to your body and be aware of your physical abilities. You don’t want to hurt yourself. Make sure the instructor understands your level of experience and any limitations you may have. Don’t allow anyone to push you ahead too quickly. Remember, this is supposed to be fun and relaxing.
4. If you can’t find a class that meets your needs, you can always practice yoga at home. There are many books, programs, and tapes available to help you get started. Search for the best products on the Internet and read reviews. Talk to others for recommendations.
5. Why not try private lessons? You can book some one-on-one sessions with a teacher in your area. Most yoga instructors offer private classes or can help you design your own program. This is an excellent way to get started. You can always take group lessons or practice at home after you have had private lessons and learned the basics.
6. Find a yoga buddy. It is nice to practice with someone, and it will help reduce injuries. It is also a great way to keep up your enthusiasm and interest.
7. Eat lightly before practice. Wait at least two hours after meals before yoga class or workout. An empty stomach is best, but don’t let yourself get too hungry to think. You won’t be able to focus on the poses or enjoy yourself during the relaxation or meditation exercises.
Now it’s time to grab your mat and a towel and get the most out of your yoga exercises.
The life of a modern business person is a stressful one, and there is always so much to do. It would take a pretty compelling set of reasons to convince a successful business person (or even an unsuccessful one) to add something else to an already packed schedule, so why would he even think about regular Yoga classes. In this article we examine the three main benefits of Yoga and how they apply to the busy business person.
Benefit Number One: Physical Health
All business-mans ultimate goal is to become wealthy isn’t it? Have you ever heard the saying that your health is your wealth? Believe me it is true. No matter how much money you have you cannot benefit from it if you are dead and personal health is often neglected in today’s busy corporate world. But the question is not whether one can afford the time for exercise to become healthy; it is whether they can afford not to. Health is a shifting scale – you are not either healthy or dead. It’s important to think about how much your level of health affects your work. A healthy body will allow you to concentrate more, work harder and increase the time you spend productively.
Yoga is the perfect way for a businessperson to look after their physical wellbeing. Because the exercises are so incredibly low impact they can be performed even by the most out of shape person, and the more regularly they are performed the better that person’s health will become. Yoga is a very efficient method of releasing tension and stress. During a workday certain blockages develop around the body, and many of our vital organs do not get the full amount of oxygen and nutrients that they need to function at peak efficiency. Yoga stretches different muscles groups in certain ways that will lead to these blockages being released and the blood flow bringing the bodies organs all the oxygen and nutrients they need.
Yoga’s health benefits are both immediate and long-term. In the short term blood flow is increased and the body functions better because it is achieving the nutrients it requires. Tension is also released from muscles and the bodies lymphatic system is able to more effectively deal with waste products. In the longer term these will be ongoing benefits and the digestive system will also function more efficiently, which has innumerable health benefits. The general balance, co-ordination and flexibility will also be greatly enhanced.
Benefit Number Two: Mental Health
Have you ever considered the importance of a breath? We know that when someone stops breathing, they die, and even this simplistic understanding should tell us how important it is to breath. But breathing correctly is often ignored. It is vital not only for the numerous health benefits, but also for the strong mental advantages it allows us.
Yoga sessions will usually begin with a standing, breathing exercise. The simple process of taking in a deep breath and releasing it slowly is incredibly calming and the basis of the breathing exercises that are a vital backbone to the Yoga discipline. The key to this breathing is that it draws our attention to the one simple action of breath. We become acutely aware of the life giving benefit of a deep and controlled breathing cycle and can achieve a level of calmness that we often don’t seek out in our everyday lives. That calmness itself is a stepping-stone to achieving focus.
The ability to focus is probably the single most crucial primary skill in a work environment. There is always so much going on around us and so much that needs to be done that it is difficult to focus on the single task we are doing because of the multitude of things ‘in the back of our mind’. Regular Yoga teaches techniques to quickly clear the mind of all these other distractions and then focus our mental efforts on a single task. It is also a great provider of personal discipline. The self-discipline that is learned from focusing on the body and becoming master of oneself is a crucial benefit of Yoga.
Benefit Number Three: Happiness
Happiness is a goal that is often sacrificed in the short term in exchange for some mystical point in the future when everything will come together and be okay. Yoga doesn’t move you any closer to that mystical time, but because you develop such a strong sense of self and connection with yourself, it is common to become more content with your current situation. You will find that the more you practise Yoga the more you will be comfortable spending time alone as well as amongst other people. Your sense of self worth will increase and you will perform better in social situations. This is perhaps the most important gift that Yoga will give to you.
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Many people are first drawn to Yoga as a way to keep their bodies fit and supple. Others come seeking relief or help for a specific ailment like tension a Backache. Whatever your reason is, Yoga can be a tool in giving you both what you came for and more.
Though the practice of Yoga is closely associated with ancient texts, beliefs, and values, it also yields benefits useful for people’s practical daily lives. Here are some reasons why more and more people are practising Yoga:
1. Yoga relaxes the body and the mind. Even in the midst of stressful environments, Yoga helps control breathing and clears the mind of cluttered thoughts, leaving only deep physical and mental refreshment.
2. Yoga can help normalise body weight. For people who are either overweight or underweight, Yoga Exercises can help achieve the desired weight. The principles of balance and moderation in physical activity and diet under Yoga can also lead to a healthier lifestyle.
3. Yoga improves your resistance to disease. The postures and movements in Yoga massage the internal organs, enhancing blood circulation and functionality, thus, lessening the risk of illness.
4. Yoga increases your energy level and productivity. For as quick as 20 minutes, Yoga can replenish the mind and body with the precious energy needed to respond to daily tasks and challenges.
5. Yoga leads to genuine inner contentment and self-actualisation. Meditation -one of the aspects of Yoga- focuses the mind, taking it away from the distractions of the highly-materialistic world and leading it to genuine happiness.
Yoga is a method of learning that aims to attain the unity of mind, body, and spirit through these three main Yoga structures: Exercise, Breathing, and Meditation. The exercises of Yoga are designed to put pressure on the Glandular Systems of the body, thereby increasing its efficiency and total health. The body is looked upon as the primary instrument that enables us to work and evolve in the world, a Yoga student; therefore, treats it with great care and respect. The Breathing Techniques are based on the concept that breath is the source of life in the body. Yoga students gently increase their breath control to improve the health and the function of both body and mind. These two systems prepare the body and mind for Meditation, making it easier for students to achieve a quiet mind and be free from everyday stress. The regular daily practice of all three parts of this structure of Yoga produces a clear, bright mind and a strong, capable body.
Chair Yoga can easily work in harmony with most physical rehabilitation prescriptions. Many physical therapists have knowledge of Yoga or are teachers of Yoga. Many doctors, physical therapists, and medical professionals recommend Yoga to patients who are making a “come back.”
Yoga gives these patients the strength to move ahead, when many would be discouraged. The comebacks that I have personally witnessed are inspiring to me as a Yoga teacher. Over time, I have seen come backs from strokes, heart attacks, and car accidents.
It touches me that they thanked me for teaching them Yoga or Chair Yoga.
The courage to go on came from within their minds, but Yoga became a significant part of their lives. As a Yoga teacher the inspiration was mutual and made me feel helpful. After all, being of help, and being appreciated, are prime motivations for teachers of any subject.
Muscle tone is a result of stretching and flexing any muscle group. Active muscles display themselves on anybody that chooses to use them. This is also a good way to relieve oneself of anxiety, stress, tension, and prevent depression. Like the other benefits, previously mentioned, this results in whole body health. A healthy body does, indeed, compliment a healthy mind.
For those clients who are confined to a chair, it is wise to include some form of a weight bearing, or weight resistance, exercise program. For those who can stand, Chair Yoga is another weight bearing exercise that will stimulate bone building.
With progressive weight resistance, you use free weights or machines, but with Yoga you bear your own body weight. The end result of these exercise programs would be increased bone density and prevention of Osteoporosis.
Seniors spend more time alone, than any other age group. Sometimes, we all need a little solitude, but too much solitude can lead to depression, in some of us. Living life like a monk is not for everyone.
Chair Yoga classes offer a social activity that helps to stimulate the mind and body in a positive way. This becomes an uplifting activity that participants look forward to. Regular attendance, and socializing in Chair Yoga classes, is a healthy activity that leads to building strong relationships.
It also exposes seniors to the many activities that are going on within the community center. Participants of chair Yoga classes are exposed to whole health and gain a nutritional education as a member of a senior, community, or wellness center.
Lastly, all participants in Chair Yoga classes learn to relax and quiet the mind, through breath awareness, meditation, stage-by-stage relaxation, a combination, or another method. The end result being that these Yoga students can control their minds, focus on the good things in life, and prevent depression.
Flexibility is considered to be a “by product” of Yoga practice, but in the case of Chair Yoga, it is often “down played” or taken for granted. Since most Chair Yoga enthusiasts are seniors, the true value of flexibility is mobility.
When you consider that mobility for seniors can be the difference between dependence and independence, flexibility is now of extreme value.
The following is an observation I have made after working with groups from assisted living complexes, adult day care centres, nursing homes, and seniors centres. The average mobile senior citizen is much more flexible in the hips, spine, wrists, and shoulders, than his or her dependent counterpart.
Just crossing the legs can be difficult for the clients I work with in a nursing home. Students in Chair Yoga classes learn a variety of exercises that will “free up” many of the major joints. Many students also remark how pain, from a variety of ailments, is much more manageable, after practicing Chair Yoga.
Increased range of motion makes a difference, when reaching for anything. It also helps to prevent injuries that can occur from strain or a possible fall. If a senior falls, there is certainly the potential that the results could be life threatening.
Chair Yoga offers a significant number of balancing exercises. Although balance can be affected by medication, inner ear problems, and more, many seniors show much improvement in balancing their bodies within weeks of their first Chair Yoga class. Therefore, flexibility and balance are a significant part of an injury prevention package that can improve, or enhance, the quality of life for seniors. This fact has been realised by seniors who flock to Chair Yoga classes on a daily, or weekly, basis.
Most of us realise that physical conditioning is not the only factor involved in dependence. There are a number of disabling diseases that can affect any one of us and have nothing to do with lack of flexibility. Lack of flexibility is not the single overriding factor involved in independence for seniors.
However, it is a fact that less mobile, and frail, seniors will become confined.
Hence, most seniors should make an effort to stay flexible, for what is ultimately their own dignity at stake. You could look at your physical condition as an insurance policy for independent living. After all, who really wants to impose on their children or relatives for the sake of existence?
We have all heard the saying, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Those words are extremely profound, when thinking about correcting poor posture and alignment. It takes years to create poor alignment.
Therefore, poor posture cannot be corrected in a single day. A more appropriate saying, when thinking about posture and alignment might be, “The leaning tower of Pisa cannot become straight in a week.”
However, improvements to posture can be made through Chair Yoga exercises and through daily “posture awareness.” In my classes, I refer to posture awareness as “homework.” It usually draws a chuckle from students, but they also know that class time is the time to learn and practice Chair Yoga together.
Time away from the Yoga class is when you put the principles you have learned, in motion, and adapt them into your lifestyle. I cannot promise Chair
Yoga is a “cure all,” but you will see improvements in every aspect of your life. However, practicing your homework separates the fantastic success stories from those who see some modest improvement.
So, what is posture awareness? This is taking the time to be aware of your posture, on a daily basis. The first thing you want to do in order to open your awareness is look at your side profile in a mirror and any photographs of yourself. At this point, look at your spine from top to bottom.
Do you see slumping, forward tilting of the neck, or extra large curves? Your spine should be aligned so that it is fairly straight at all times. During a number of daily activities such as: Standing, walking, reading, eating, sitting, lying, typing, and more, you should make a conscious effort, to keep your head and back straight.
Now, we can all remember a schoolteacher who preached, “Keep your back straight,” but now we know that he or she was absolutely correct. Take the time to adjust your spinal alignment, from this moment on, and every time you can remember to do so.
If possible, you should also attend any workshops about Chiropractic and
Orthopedic medicine. Educate yourself about your body, your spine, and your choices. You can usually find these workshops and many more valuable meetings at your local senior centre. These workshops are usually free, you are under no obligation, and it makes for a good “Fact finding mission.”
The alignment and posture principles, you learn in a Chair Yoga class, can be as simple as, “Pain or no pain.”
In comparison to many forms of exercise, the benefits of Chair Yoga far outweigh the risks. The therapeutic exercises work the body, from head to toes, to the best of any client’s ability.
Therefore, the method used, addresses the whole body in a single routine.
This is an amazing feat, for a low-impact exercise program, where the average session lasts 45 to 60 minutes. The following information will highlight some of the many benefits of regular participation in a Chair Yoga
Increased circulation is a result of movement and every body part that can move is used in a typical Chair Yoga class. For many of us, we think of cardiovascular heath first, and this is right fully so, but Chair Yoga helps many other forms of circulation, within the body, as well.
To sit still for days on end, we invite diseases of many kinds. Diabetics need movement to keep sugar levels in “tolerance zones.” Chair Yoga also has routines for the feet, toes, hands, and fingers, so there is no part of the body left out. Due to this whole body approach, the immune system is also stimulated by regularly attending Chair Yoga classes.
The many movements, bending, and twisting, in a regular Chair Yoga session, stimulate the elimination of toxins, within the body. Every time you bend the waist in one direction or another, the stomach aids in digestion and the lower back is gently stimulated.
Now, back to cardiovascular benefits – There seems to be a lot of confusion about what is classified as aerobic exercise. One of the definitions for aerobic exercise is: Any exercise that would increase circulatory and respiratory ability. When the heart and lungs have to work harder to keep up with the body’s need for oxygen that is aerobic.
In fact, gardening and housework are also aerobic exercise that most seniors routinely do. This is not to say that gardening and housework are complete health maintenance systems, but they do burn over 200 calories per hour, for the average person, and meet the aerobic definition.
Much of this mentality stems from the “No pain – No gain” era. Most of the original advocates of this theory are now “nursing their own wounds” and practicing gentler forms of exercise. After all, none of us are immortal, and the body can only take so much abuse over time.
May I remind anyone, who is left standing, from the No pain – No gain era, that walking is also classified as aerobic exercise. So, whether you walk or run a mile, aerobic benefits are gained and significant calories are burned.
One of the last times that I sat in K. Pattabhi Jois’ afternoon student meeting (called “conference”) I looked at a photo of Ramana Maharishi that was hanging on the wall. I asked Jois, “how come Ramana is considered spiritually liberated but he hasn’t done any asanas in his whole life”? I didn’t mean any harm with that question. I was just curious.
There are several potential avenues an answer could take and I was simply curious which one Jois would take. But he never got to answering the question. A storm of protest started and I was screamed down by about 20 other Western students. It was considered “questioning the guru”. The screaming subsided after about 2 minutes. KP Jois’ looked around somewhat baffled and then went back to discussing his previous topic, rasam recipes.
The interesting thing here is that it was not KP Jois who rebuked me but it was actually the cult followers who formed a protective wall around the guru and prevented that he was questioned. I realised that the initially motley community of practitioners had by then morphed enough into a cult that it did not warrant returning to the Jois shala. To this day close adherents to the Ashtanga cult tell me that they feel they must have faith and that questioning was “coming from the ego”. Here I am trying to make a case that questioning is a good thing, for you and for authority.
How did we get to a point that questioning is a bad thing and that it shows disrespect for the teacher? The attitude is not new. In his “The Last Days of Socrates”, Plato shows how Socrates constant questioning of established Athenian authorities invoked their ire until eventually they have him sentenced to death. But Socrates main interest is to get people to question themselves, to question how they know what they know. In other words, he asks them to question the means by which they arrive at a certain knowledge. He wants to lure them away from statements such as, “I simply know” or we could say he wants to disperse blind faith in our pet beliefs. Via Plato and Aristotle ultimately Socrates’ way of questioning lead to the formation of what today is Western Science. Whoever is going through some form of scientific training learns to not accept statements of existing authorities at face value. You are trained to perceive holes in their argumentation and to collect evidence to falsify their assumptions.
But this attitude is not exclusive to the West. Here a passage from Gautama Buddha from the Kalama Sutta: “Now, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by thinking, ‘This sage is our guru.’ [and therefore, what he says is right]. When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skilful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted carried out, lead to welfare to happiness’ — then you should enter remain in them.” The Buddha here says that we shouldn’t simply defend a position because it is held by an authority that we value, not just because we have faith in it. We must research and prove it for ourselves or reject it. Critical thinking and questioning is not an invention of the West. It was always engaged in by the greatest minds of both East and West. Let’s continue this great tradition.
Personage versus position
A big part of what is modern Ashtanga Yoga boils down to personality cult. A position is deemed right and duly defended not because of its intrinsic value but merely because of who holds the position. So-and-so says its right and therefore it must be right. I think it would be a great step forward if we could start looking at the beliefs and assumptions that define Ashtanga Yoga independent of who holds them.
I was asked repeatedly who I am critiquing with certain statements. As if it wasn’t interesting to inquire into a particular position without knowing who holds it. If we know who holds the position the refutation of the position can be declared invalid because the person that holds the position can’t be wrong.
I purposely try to avoid attacking people or a particular person. In our culture there is strange way of avoiding change. Whenever there is a problem, people are always looking for the person or persons that is responsible. Once the person is found they are condemned, shamed and/or “held accountable”. The person is then sacrificed as a scapegoat but the underlying problem is not addressed. In other words, instead of looking at what the problem is we avoid it by looking for the person who causes it. Once the person is found and punished a new person steps into their shoes and the problem continues without change being brought about.
The other problem with this approach is that we tend to have so much investment in personages (such as our teachers) that the slightest criticism of a person usually leads to trenches being dug and front lines being drawn. What I think needs to happen are systemic changes, not just changes of leadership. I am hoping for a time in which an argument is judged simply by its inherent merit and not by who holds it. If a particular way of doing things is found to be faulty it should be critiqued based on its demerit and not defended because the position held by a person that is inherently great or powerful.Should we consider that a valid approach or should we think that a position should be deemed right just because a particular person holds it? If it is the latter at what point would we start to hold that person accountable if, for example, they commit a crime such as sexual assault? I think the past has shown us that this is not a viable approach.
Do we ultimately serve a person by not questioning their views and actions?
Surprisingly I am still getting responses that I should stop questioning the “guru” or the “lineage” and that only by totally “submitting to the guru can I attain Jnana” (yes, I kid you not). I am asking myself if it is healthy for a person in a position of power if the people around them are not challenging them upon displaying destructive behaviour?
Today I do think that KP Jois had a personality disorder (for all the greatness that he displayed in other areas) and ironically, I feel now that I let him down for not challenging him on it. Okay, I can weasel my way out of it by saying that I was in a cult and any form of questioning was censored and dis-encouraged by other cult members. But on the other hand, I do know now that Jois reacted to criticism and adjusted his behaviour temporally. In other words, he received too little criticism too late, at a time when his behaviour was already entrenched. Had we all been vigilant back them and as a community told him that his behaviour was wrong he would probably have snapped out of it. The whole episode would have then remained a minor embarrassment in the history of the movement. Now, after decades have passed without us adequately addressing these issues it has grown into a much bigger sore and KP Jois legacy has been besmirched. I think a lot of this could have been avoided had we been insistent with our challenges and questioning early on.
Another issue that we need to look into is whether we are not infantilising authorities when protecting them from questioning. In the episode quoted at the outset of this articles the followers or KP Jois clearly thought him incapable of an appropriate response to my answer. How they arrived at this conviction in less than a second before they started screaming my down baffles me. Are we not being disrespectful when assuming that we know the answer given by an authority or when assuming that a satisfactory answer can’t be given? What does their authority status then consist of if we deny them the possibility to respond?
The “Guru”-concept as part of an outdated modernistic view of the self.
I placed “guru” here in inverted commas to denote beliefs such as, “the guru is the path”, “the guru must always be right and can never be questioned” and “if you see the guru doing strange things he does so to adjust your personality”, or “the guru is embodying the students mental disorder to heal the student”. In all of these statements the “guru’s” destructive behaviour is rationalised. I could imagine a guru or teacher operating outside of that paradigm and in that case the inverted commas would not be necessary. A guru would then have to be open to be questioned.
The problem with terms like “guru” or “lineage” is that they are still operating from a modernistic concept of self. Prior the 1960’s we believed that a person has certain inherent qualities that they exhibit all the time and that do not change. For example, one person is “good” while another person may be called “evil”. This model in the 1960’s gave way to the post-modernistic view of the self which says that we are fluid at all times and incorporate an almost infinite number of different mini-selves which may be predominant at one time or another. Parallel to that in psychology the school of situationism developed, which holds that who a person is and how they act is entirely dependent on situation and in reality, constantly changes with the drop of a hat. There is currently no scientific evidence that refutes situationism. And respectively there is no scientific evidence that a single person can be constantly right or having a trademark on truth.
Especially for people who are members of spiritual movements it is very important and healing to look into these concepts. We understand then that no person can be right all the time. A person may display great understanding and insight a lot of the time. But they can never be right all the time. To believe that anybody can is simply a myth that ultimately will leave us disenfranchised. Whatever anybody says at any given time in any circumstance we still have to check for ourselves whether the statement is right or helpful. Of course, it would be great if we would find that one person that will sort us out in return for total devotion. The reality of life however presents us with a much more complex scenario. The one that we need to constantly question what we believe to be right and how we arrived at that belief. And that no person can lay claim to permanent rightness. This is what J. Krishnamurti meant when he said “Truth is a pathless land”.