Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States ages 18 and older (this is 18% of the population). Depression also has a major impact, affecting 9.5 percent of the adult population, accounting for $83 billion in lost productivity each year. It's not uncommon for someone with an anxiety disorder to also suffer from depression or vice versa. Approximately one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
Sadly, one of the most obvious (yet under-recognized) factors in the development of major trends in the declining state of mental/emotional health in America are the roles of diet and nutrition. The body of evidence linking diet and mental health is growing at a rapid pace. Diet’s impact on short and long-term mental/emotional health is a solid indicator of the fact that food plays an important contributing role in the development, management and prevention of specific mental/emotional health problems; especially problems such as anxiety/stress, depression, schizophrenia, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), and even Alzheimer’s disease.
Over 65% of those healthy individuals who do not report daily mental health problems eat fresh fruit and/or drink fruit juice every day, compared with less than 1/2 of those who do report daily mental health problems. This pattern is almost identical for those who regularly eat fresh vegetables and salad.
More and more nutritionists are now claiming that empty carbohydrates are often to blame for contributing to negative feelings, including anxiety, depression and feelings of anger. When compared to individuals who eat healthier foods like fruits, leafy greens and legumes, those who consume packaged or processed foods are often mentally unbalanced, emotionally unsettled or irritated more easily. Nutritionally-sparse diets filled with processed foods, refined sugars, artificial sweeteners, trans-fats, etc. have been directly associated with a host of unstable mental/emotional health issues. In addition, those who indulge in animal products are often known to exhibit more violent and aggressive tendencies.
Foods that help control anxiety, stress, anger and other conditions that lead to depression and other problems are almost always plant-based. As a matter of fact most plant-based foods are known to help keep negative mental emotional flare-ups at bay. A great example is leafy greens, which have high vitamin “C” content, an antioxidant known to fight stress. Leafy greens also contain magnesium, a nutrient responsible for relaxing muscles and reducing anxiety.
According to a study published in the March/April issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion, an 18-week, plant-based dietary intervention program boosts employee productivity, while alleviating symptoms of anxiety, depression, and fatigue.
Researchers with the non-profit “Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine” placed GEICO employees with a BMI (body/mass index) of 25 or above, or who were previously diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, on a low-fat, low-glycemic, high-fiber vegan diet. The study participants experienced overall productivity and measurable improvements in anxiety, depression, fatigue, and general health, according to the 36-Item Short Form Health Survey (SF-36) and the Work Productivity and Activity Impairment Questionnaire. Study participants also lost an average of 10 pounds, lowered LDL cholesterol by 13 points, and improved blood sugar control (if they had type 2 diabetes).
During the study, healthful vegan options, including vegetable hummus sandwiches, seasonal leafy green salads, and black bean chili, were available in employee cafeterias. And because their menu featured a variety of fruits and vegetables, it was nutritionally-dense and rich in vitamins and minerals. Study participants favored healthful carbohydrate-rich foods, including brown rice, steel cut oats, and rye bread, which help regulate serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin helps control mood.
One of the study authors, Neal Barnard, M.D. says: “The same foods that curb the risk for obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, may help boost overall mood.” The study authors also hypothesize that when individuals improve their physical health, they may become more physically and socially active, increasing their mood and overall quality of life.
“Helping employees improve their health through a plant-based dietary intervention is a win-win situation for employees and the company,” notes Dr. Barnard. “Who doesn’t want to feel great, increase energy, and maximize productivity in the process?”
Stay tuned… Coming soon… More articles on the spiritual/mental/emotional aspects of a vegan diet and lifestyle.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) affects 6.8 million adults, (3.1% of the U.S. population), in any given year, with women being twice as likely to be affected; this, according to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA). The exact cause of GAD is elusive but there is plenty of evidence that both biological factors and life experiences, especially the stressful ones, are major contributors. And, GAD is only one of a variety of anxiety-induced diseases and disorders defined by the American Psychological Association, which include “Panic Disorder” & Agoraphobia and an exhaustive list of other phobias such as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Social Anxiety Disorder and common depression. Together these disorders account for many more millions of Americans’ being treated each year placing an untold burden (and expense) on the healthcare system. Fortunately there is a treatment that is found effective for almost every single disorder listed and that is yoga practice.
The human nervous system is responsible for regulating reactions to perceived stress. It can be divided into two parts; the Central Nervous System (composed of the brain and spinal cord nerves), and the Peripheral Nervous System which includes the autonomic nervous system which we can look to specifically for stress regulation. This autonomic nervous system’s job is to run all the involuntary functions of the body (breathing, heart rate, digestion, endocrine (hormonal) release, etc.). We don’t have to think about these things the body just does them. The autonomic nervous system is further broken down into the Sympathetic Nervous System (which initiates the stress response), and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (which induces the relaxation response).
Opposite the relaxation response is the ‘fight or flight’ response (aka, hyper-arousal, or acute stress response). This response is left over from our ancestral past when we had to use huge amounts of adrenaline in times of real danger, like when we were about to be eaten dinosaur. In more modern times, this same response is often activated with any “perceived” threat, either real or imagined. As soon as the brain receives a signal that there is some “perceived” danger, it begins releasing a series of chemicals like a chain reaction. These chemicals can negatively affect every organ and system in the body, especially when they’re not vital to our survival, and subsequently be the cause of many disorders and diseases.
Back to Yoga practice; outlined in many yogic texts are some very simple tools that can be used to counteract these chain reactions, and modern science is beginning to mimic these teachings that were once found only in ancient and esoteric texts. The 1st of these tools is to create a quiet environment, both inside and out. There’s way too much to distract us from what is going on in our bodies these days, from television to video games, traffic, work demands, computers and cell phones and the list goes on and on. When we consciously chose to create an environment of stillness and peace, then we have taken the first step toward combating stress, anxiety and all the resulting disorders. According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (Raja Yoga), creating this type of environment can be form of meditation in and of itself.
When our attention is taken away from distractions (including thoughts) we are able to focus on one singular thing and integrate “diffused” attention into a calm, steady one-pointedness that helps us find our natural balance. Once the mind has focused on one point (through concentration), the state of meditation can be entered into with ease. Whenever our mental state has become calm, the physiological responses of the body spontaneously follow, and the chain of stressful reactions is broken and we are empowered to choose our response instead of reacting to it unconsciously.
Over the centuries many yoga teachers and gurus have recommended the practice of developing a sort of “objective” state of mind, often referred to as developing a “witness” mentality. As we develop this witnessing self, we can undermine anxiety when it arises, plus we can consciously create a different chain reaction within the body/mind, one that is positive and calming. There are certain brain neurotransmitters (like endorphins) that have anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effects, and as we consciously build those neural responses to different stimuli, we eventually reach a point where nothing can faze us. Regardless of how insane the world is, we stay balanced. This is the message of all the ancient sages of the yogic tradition.
Soon after we begin to practice yoga we find it offers us many tools and techniques for managing anxiety. One particular yogic technique comes from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and it is called “pratipaksha.” One translation of Sutra 1.33…
“When presented with disquieting thoughts or feelings,
cultivate an opposite (positive), elevated attitude.
This is Pratipaksha Bhavana.”
Literally millions of Americans end up in therapy or on antidepressants, usually leaving them less aware of their negativities but also less aware of life in general. They are still out of balance, still aggravated and/or suffering, and now they may be doped up as well. They might not feel their inner pain as acutely, but it is still there, although it’s hidden or covered up.
Pratipaksha is the practice of becoming fully aware of harmful or injurious thoughts and then choosing healthier, more uplifting thoughts as an alternative. In today’s contemporary jargon this is also known as choosing a “downstream thought”, one that creates happiness within you, instead of an “upstream thought” that causes pain, guilt, stress or anxiety. Remember the popular children’s rhyme; “Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream?”
Practicing pratipaksha may be as simple as noticing the beauty of rainbow after a thunderstorm, instead of fretting about that spouting that still needs to be unclogged. In other words, you view the glass as being half-full instead of half-empty.
“The opposite of hate is not love. The opposite of hate is non-hate. Letting go, releasing of that hate. Then, love naturally arises.”
This simple but powerful technique has a profoundly healing effect on Yoga students and practitioners, especially those who may be struggling with self-defeating thoughts and beliefs that create negative or unsettling feelings. As we continue to gently steer our minds away from repetitive thoughts that create anxious feelings and instead focus our minds on more positive, realistic and uplifting thoughts, we are literally reprogramming the neurotransmitters in our brains. The neuroplasticity (capacity to develop new neuronal connections) of our brains allows us to permanently change our thinking patterns when we practice pratipaksha with earnest awareness and effort. Whenever we change our negative thought patterns and beliefs about both ourselves and the world at large, our behaviors will automatically change, and in time, this will change our karma.
The practice of pratipaksha is not simply about substituting a positive thought for the opposite negative thought or belief, it is also about choosing life-affirming thoughts that soothe, nourish and uplift. It’s a change in the direction your thinking takes and you must believe the thought is true or is able to become true, it’s also important that find the thought nourishing. If the upstream thought that you choose to empower does not soothe your spirit or if your mind has doubts, your practice will not be as effective.
Practicing pratipaksha isn’t rocket science, it’s easy, simple to comprehend and anyone can do it, but first they must put forth some effort and give it a try. Next time you feel anxious or unsettled, gently pull your attention away from the disquieting thoughts and direct your mind towards positive (or opposite) thoughts, even if it is something as simple as appreciating the radiant light of that colorful rainbow.
The term “Samskara” is a Sanskrit word that literally means “impression” and this essentially refers to an individual’s habitual way of thinking, believing and acting. All actions, enjoyments, sorrows and experiences in general leave their mark in the subconscious and unconscious mind in the form of subtle impressions or residual potencies.
The ways we tend to act in our relationships and in the world are largely determined by impressions and our past is preserved, to the minutest detail, in the chitta (mind stuff), not the slightest bit is ever lost. The revival of samskaras induces smriti (memory). Memory cannot exist without samskaras.
In most cases our samskaras are based on our personal experiences and/or cultural backgrounds. These impressions (thoughts and beliefs) can also be influenced by the health of our brain chemistry. For example, when we suffer from depression or anxiety, our beliefs about what is possible or impossible for us will be clouded, a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness may predominate as a result of low levels of serotonin and dopamine.
The internal freedom for self-realization that regular yoga practice offers is founded on the ability to reveal and bring to conscious attention our thought patterns, beliefs and the actions that arise from those samskaras. Yogic breathing techniques and asana (postures) are very effective tools for easing anxiety, depression and balancing neurotransmitter signals in the brain. With a bit of patience and a committed yoga practice, a yoga student will be able to quickly identify the samskaras and resulting actions that continue to undermine their ability to be physically, mentally and emotionally healthy.
Whenever a yoga practitioner identifies (or recognizes) their obscure and/or inhibiting samskaras, they will then be free to choose more life enhancing alternatives. All too often, we limit our own potential by assuming that we are not capable or skilled enough to create the life we dream of. Although some of these self-limiting thoughts may have some degree of truth to them, our ability to achieve the goals we’ve set is often far greater than we may ever imagined. When we start to gently direct our thinking along more positive lines, we will begin to truly realize that more is possible in our lives, and this will prompt us to act accordingly.
Understanding the concept of samskaras will be of great value when it comes to practicing “witnessing” of the various thoughts and emotions that inevitably arise during asana practice. According to traditional yogic philosophy, the most direct way to internal freedom is to witness these samskaras from a place of deep self-compassion and without unnecessarily identifying with them.
When unpleasant or painful emotions and restricting thoughts arise during a yoga session, strive to be more consciously aware, so that the credibility of you samskaras can be evaluated objectively. If there are negative thoughts or beliefs that are valid, some personal changes may be called for. For example; suppose you are a law student and you’ve failed the bar exam twice due to being unprepared, then studying harder for the exam would be in order.
However, on the other hand, subscribing to the belief that you’re is inherently too unintelligent to pass the bar, even after getting your degree from law school is clearly unrealistic. As in most cases, this sort of limiting samskara is best invalidated in the light of your self-compassion, and then substituted with a more encouraging and accurate assessment of your own intelligence.
There’s a good chance that you (like most people) spend a lot of your time around large groups of people; in the office, in class, shopping, etc. And, we all know that along with shared experiences and shared conversation come shared colds, viruses and flues. Perhaps you already do a lot of things to avoid catching them, e.g.; taking vitamin C, eating foods rich in immunity-boosting phyto-nutrients, trying to get enough sleep and washing your hands regularly. But, one approach to preventative health that you might not be taking full advantage of is regular yoga practice. Studies have shown excessive stress to be a key factor in lowering your resistance to any disease, from the common cold to life-threatening afflictions like cancer, heart disease and diabetes, to name a few. Yoga practice will tackle stress head-on by moving your mind and body away from a state of dis-ease into one of balance, ease and invigoration.
If you are a student of yoga or have even taken one class, you know from experience how much it can help you release tension and calm down. And, the feeling of peace that yoga produces does a lot more for your overall health than just to help you unwind. When your body is fully relaxed, your immune system can focus on fighting off only the particular infections and intruders that it needs to, rather than overreacting to your entire environment. Whenever you’re stressed out, your immune system will tend to lash out even at harmless irritants, making it more difficult to fight the actual bugs and germs that you’re exposed to.
A great example of just how powerful your body can be if it’s left to its own resources can be integrated into your practice by meditating on your body’s reaction to its environment. Inquire as to whether you feel hot or cold for instance, and make a mental note of how you’re registering those sensations. Do they seem pleasant, painful or are you able to simply observe them without judgment?
The next step would be to consider how to change that. Reactivity is major cause of stress, prompting you to feel as if things are happening to you, and that you’re just a helpless victim. You can change this by starting to practice thought patterns that move your mind away from a reactive position. For instance, if you feel cold, notice how consciously drawing breath fully into your body creates the sensation of warmth spreading throughout your cells. If you’re feeling too hot, curl you tongue and exhale through your mouth, feeling the heat dissipate as the warm air leaves your body. Each moment of your practice offers a new choice. By cultivating insightful understanding, rather than just reacting or judging, you’ll begin to learn to choose the most efficient, effective ways to fill that asana with precisely what is available to you in that given moment. So, instead of reacting and stressing out, you can then relax into each asana; opening new spaces in your body, encouraging better circulation and the absorption of prana, which aids your body in coming to its own defense, without interference.
Try the following asanas to ward off the sniffles and sneezes, build your immune system and improve your overall health:
*Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose): This asana releases tension from the shoulders and opens the chest to facilitate deep breathing, relieving congestion and helping to make you less vulnerable to germs. It is recommended you stay in this pose for one minute, then release slowly and repeat on the other side.
*Balasana (Child’s Pose): This is a basic restorative asana that is very effective at helping your body to relax, which powers up your immune system. Remain in this pose for at least 30 seconds up to a few minutes.
*Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose): This gentle backward bend helps bring oxygen into your body, delivering it all the way down to the cellular level which greatly helps you fight off illness. It’s best to stay in the asana for 15 to 30 seconds, then release.
Practice regularly and stay on schedule. This may be easier if you join a yoga class where you have an encouraging instructor and the support of others. Working with your body’s biological clock (re-setting it as necessary) will help your immune system function optimally.
Cleanse your sinuses and nasal passages. Nasal irrigation using a saline wash (Neti pot) can help reduce your vulnerability to infections, colds and other upper respiratory problems. See this post for more, click on: Jala Neti – De-mystified…(Video).
Remember that your physical health is quite often a reflection of your mental state. Do your best not to get distracted by pressure. Resist overreacting to sensations or situations. And, don’t worry about anything you can’t fix! Most things you might view as “problems” are really challenges and/or suggestions; meant to help you discover new directions in your life.
Are you, like many other people, under the impression that the benefits of yoga asana are limited to affecting mostly the muscles and joints? If so, you need to realize also that each and every pose has a specific effect on one or more of the internal organs. Yoga, like in traditional Chinese medicine, recognizes that emotions and physical health are intimately connected. And, most emotions have a specific attraction to particular organs.
*Fear can damage the kidneys and bladder.
*Anger can injure the liver and gall bladder.
*Grief and depression can harm the lungs.
*Worry and anxiety can afflict the spleen and stomach.
*Sadness negatively affects the brain.
*Joy (although positive), when in excess may wound the heart.
On the other hand, yoga recognizes that balanced feelings and equilibrium in the emotions will cause the body and its organ systems to work more efficiently.
There are asanas (poses) which affect the emotions in yoga, just as much as they affect the muscles and joints. For example, when practicing Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog), the shoulders, the spine, hamstrings, feet, and the Achilles tendons are deeply stretched, but this asana can also be used to decrease feelings of depression and anxiety. Simple postures such as cat-cow stretch with synchronized breathing can reduce fear. Suptaikapadaparivrttasana (supine twist) is an excellent posture for relieving back pain, but it is also an excellent pose for increasing our acceptance of life’s stresses plus it can eliminate feelings of being worried or overwhelmed.
One of the basic precepts in yoga is the need to approach our practice from where we are at, which means we can’t expect to jump right into an advanced asana. Some students come to yoga with chronically tight muscles, and the purpose of a sustained and regular yoga practice is to gradually and systematically relax the built up tension in the body, and at the same time release the emotions that are “bound up” within the body and that are responsible for this tension. As soon as we begin to let go of the stress “locked” within our bodies, emotions will likely arise. Ideally, we will simply observe these emotions without any judgment. Chances are, we may not even remember what prompted us to start holding these stresses within our bodies in the first place. This is why letting go of any further analysis of these feelings is of utmost importance. By just allowing the emotions to arise, they will pass naturally, like clouds in the sky.
Since each of us will probably have our own individual experience of asana practice, we can easily see how each of us may be affected differently, depending on what part of our bodies we store stress. According to yogic science, we have the ability to see the emotional body as its own kosha (sheath or layer). The Manomaya kosha (aka; the astral or the mind/emotional body) houses all our emotions. Whenever the emotions get stuck in this sheath they can cause energy to become trapped in the physical body, and oftentimes in the internal organs. While some people may manifest anxiety in the lungs (e.g., narrowing of the bronchial passages or shortness of breath) others might experience that same stress in their digestive organs (e.g., have a hard time digesting their feelings as in “I can’t stomach this” which may result in ulcers or IBS).
It is common for a feeling which was once previously unconscious (or subconscious) to the student to be triggered while practicing asana. Asanas function as a means to open energy gateways in much the same manner that reflexology or acupuncture points would. Quite often, a student will feel that their asana practice is affected by something that is currently happening in their life, when actually they are releasing emotions that were stored a long time ago. It is not necessary for us to intellectually “figure them out.” We can let the intelligence of the body do what it was meant to do to release our samskaras (impressions).
Although every student’s experience of yoga asana is different, some of the common emotions that may arise in varying poses are:
*Forward bends – These poses can unleash a host of egocentric feelings and attitudes. They may force us to face our fears as we turn our attention inward. Our tendency may be to turn around in the world, to look back at what is behind us. For some there may be a constant fear of attack from behind and this leads to tightness in the back which a forward bend works well to loosen. We have to surrender these fears if we are to relax in these asanas.
*Backward bends – These poses are useful when dealing with our attitudes of embracing all of life; of being completely open to receive “the good, bad and the ugly,” rising up to meet life’s various challenges. When practicing backward bends, we may have to deal with the possible emotions of feeling like a doormat to others (literally bending over backward to please them), we may be confronted with letting go of co-dependent patterns and improving our own self-esteem without unnecessarily relying on others to provide us with a positive self image. Backbends commonly bring up fears associated to these emotional patterns. On another level, one who has repeatedly had their heart broken or is very shy may typically hunch their shoulders, sometimes even covering their heart, particularly those who may have been teased in school or at an early age. Backward bends can be very confronting, but they can also help to change and remold the personality along with the conditionings of the mind.
*Balancing asanas – These poses are extremely powerful indicators of a student’s emotional state. Someone who feels un-easy emotionally, or whose mind is preoccupied with too many emotions, will find balancing poses very difficult. As they find a sense of balance in these poses, those emotions that are causing the mind to become agitated may temporarily increase before subsiding to a more peaceful place. With proper instruction and practice balancing poses will help to build a calm, resilient, steady mind.
*Twisting asanas – As you may have guessed, these poses have to do with untangling the “knots” of life. All twisting asanas initiate feelings of dealing with obstacles we face, and can enable us to develop the necessary strength to face whatever comes our way. Twists, along with backbends give us more confidence through regular, sustained practice, and help develop courage for those with overly introverted personalities.
*Inverted asanas – When we practice these poses, we are literally turning our world on its head; changing our perspective totally by turning our behavioral patterns upside down. Inversions help us to see ourselves and our world from a different point of view. It’s easy to imagine all the emotions that can arise from turning your whole perspective around. Inversions help to purify the mind when our worldview feels shaken, bringing greater peace and calmness.
In addition to the asanas outlined above, here are some specific poses that can be helpful in the release and removal of negative feelings and/or emotions…
*To increase your energy and give the courage to face life’s challenges – Surya namaskar (sun salutation), Bhujangasan (cobra), Dhanurasan (bow), and Veerasan (warrior).
*For calming the mind, releasing anger and surrendering the ego – Vajrasan yogamudra (childs pose), Paschimottanasan (forward bend), Karnapeedanasan (folding leg plough), Viparit karni (inverted pose).
*To release pent up emotions (when you feel like screaming) – Simhasan (roaring lions pose)
*To bring calmness, acceptance and relief from anxiety – Restorative poses such as Uttanpadasan (legs up the wall), Tadagasan (pond pose), Supta vajrasan (sleeping thunderbolt) Sputa baddha konasan (sleeping bound angle pose) and Koormasan (tortoise).
In conclusion, not all students of yoga will have emotions coming up and for many practitioners, they experience primarily positive emotions when practicing asanas, and this is both natural and normal. It doesn’t signify that one isn’t progressing or dealing with the self. We all have different ways of managing the mind, so we should continually remind ourselves that yoga is the practice of balancing the body, mind, emotions and spirit to bring unity, harmony, contentment and finally, bliss.
For thousands of years humans have been practicing a variety of yoga techniques and reaping not only the physical benefits but mental and spiritual benefits as well. Yoga practice brings “alignment” to all aspects of life.
Although life can be a beautiful journey, we are also reminded that life is occasionally accompanied by storms throughout our journey. But did you know that yoga practice can help you to prepare for and weather these storms. Yoga enables the body, mind and spirit to recognize these storms and watch them unfold, similar to watching a feature film. We are able to experience all sorts of feelings and emotions, yet we are also able to detach ourselves, knowing “this too shall pass,” even in the midst of all these sensations.
Yoga assists us in stimulating, detoxifying and strengthening all our anatomical systems:
When working with different poses (asanas) we learn to balance and strengthen the relationship we have with our own bodies. This is a most important relationship to promote when we consider that this body is the vessel that will take us through our entire life.
Enjoying a body that you can understand, listen to, and love is a proactive course in the promotion of your overall health and well being. Additionally, you’ll be increasing your balance, flexibility and improving an abundance of other physical attributes.
When we consider building a very complex structure, we would first establish a solid foundation to ensure it could withstand the whole structure. Yoga works in the same way. Example: by standing in Tadasana (the Mountain Pose) you can quickly learn to create this solid foundation. By learning to stand correctly in this pose (and others) we can increase our muscle’s “memory” to unconsciouslyand automatically program the body to assume its correct alignment. Proper alignment prompts the above mentioned systems to function optimally.
Yogic Alignment of the Mind
Take slow, deep, rhythmic breaths through the nose, followed by a slow, even exhalation which empties the lungs completely. This simple breath practice done slowly and fully, with intention, concentration and relaxation activates all of the brain’s primary and beneficial neurotransmitters. Next, take notice of how you feel? Breathing in this fashion and being aware of our breath brings us into the present moment, focusing on the “Now”.
Whenever we train our mind using yoga, pranayama and meditation techniques to focus on the present, we may fully experience that moment. During yoga, practice this by constantly reminding the body to breath, and observe the body in each pose. Breathing has been used and is still being used in treating many mental issues, especially depression and panic attacks. Proper breathing has also been proven to significantly decrease pain and is used in many pain management clinics.
To quote Remez Sasson: “The mind is your instrument. Learn to be its master not its slave.”
Yogic Alignment of the Spirit
Correct alignment with the Spirit enables you to feel a greater connectedness with the Divine or “Self” (Atman) in which you inherently exist. This relationship with the Self is strengthened by practicing internal awareness, or inquiry into the sensations arising within the body.
Literally translated yoga means “to join”, implying the unity of the body, mind and spirit. When these three aspects exist in complete harmony peace becomes your very nature. When practicing yoga on a regular basis, students may feel a sense of ”lightness” of their spirit, experiencing a true connectivity to the world in which they live. Hostility, anger and negativity seem to lift, and the deeper Self is actualized.
But please, keep in mind, that this means next to nothing if the practice of yoga, meditation, mindfulness is not integrated into your lifestyle.
Learn these Basic Principles of Yogic Alignment
The classic Yogic Alignment Principles were introduced to the world at large by Master BKS Iyengar in the book “Light On Yoga”. These Iyengar classes are taught by Rae Indigo in the tradition of this living yoga master. The Asanas are learned with a systematic approach to help students develop strength and flexibility, while fostering a greater sense of well-being and inner peace.
When studying with Rae you will learn to bring the body into complete unity with each pose by using correct alignment and implementing props when necessary, and subsequently these classes are excellent for both beginners and for those with physical limitations as well as advanced practitioners.
When I work with military personnel I’m dealing with bodies that have been through very specific training, and that training leaves some tell-tale issues such as Collapsed Arches, Lower Back Pain, Tight Hamstrings and Ankle Injury, to name a few that are fairly common. These men and women have been through hard training, and in addition to that, many of them are athletes with a firm mental attitude that won’t allow them to quit. So, I work with guys who run relay marathons, pushing themselves to the extreme and this often ends up with it causing some sort of mishap, like tearing their hamstring during the first mile, and then continuing for the next 20 miles with a torn hamstring because they’re determined not to let their team down. For them failure is not an option. It is a powerful attitude, and working with this attitude is a real pleasure, for with the right instruction, the right alignment and wellness sequences, they can recover very quickly. Their attitude keeps them dedicated, and this dedication pays big dividends in yoga.
Yoga also helps to develop the “witness mind”, which is not only a tool warriors use to calm their mind during intense battles, but it’s also a very effective technique that is taught in all yoga classes. With the ability to drop your thoughts, and then create a gap before the next thought emerges, you can interrupt your attachment to the constant chattering of the smaller mind, the monkey mind. This practice helps not only during times of war, but during times of peace and even when post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) arises. The cultivation of this state, often times described as Satwa or steadiness (tranquility) in the face of fluctuating pranas, is tremendously helpful when the impulses and thoughts arise from past stresses, be they of war or otherwise. The development of steadiness, of the ability to just witness the arising of the Chitta (mind-stuff) and impulses/pranic/energetic- stuff is the goal of yoga, and this is what enables the yogi to live a stress-free or greatly stress-relieved life.
The practice of pranayama, which controls (or suspends) these pranic fluctuations (which never completely cease until after death, they only become more still and less likely to engage you) is what supports the passive state of meditation and the resulting steadiness which is achieved when the mind is calmed, subsequently giving rise to the state of Samadhi.
In conclusion: The healing power of Yoga is immense. We can only hope that someday all military personnel (including the leaders of our society) will be required to practice Yoga as a means of giving them the temperament for justice and peace that most Yogis have enjoyed for centuries.
Much of the suffering due to depression can be relieved with simple yoga practice.
Nearly everyone experiences depression at some time or another. And when it does occur, there are those rare individuals, who are able to work through it, but for most of us it’s a battle and we easily succumb to denying it.
Oftentimes when we deny depression, it shows up in our bodies as physical symptoms such as aches and pains that seem to rise out of nowhere and often recede when we receive some form of treatment. It is also quite common for many of us to not recognize the extent our depression until the people we love and care about don’t want to be around us anymore, or someone who loves us reminds us that there is a natural way to feel better.
It is a well proven fact that a slow, gentle yoga practice, one that also includes some dynamic movements and energizing breathing exercises, works best to alleviate the symptoms of depression. Most people will benefit by beginning slowly in seated meditation, focusing on the breath, and “scanning” both their physical body and their emotional body before determining the type of practice they need. They then gradually begin to deepen their breath, expanding their lungs with Dirga Pranayama (Yogic three-part breath). In addition they may also hold a posture like the Tadasana (Mountain) pose or Virabhadrasana (Warrior) pose, prompting them to witness, with patience and awareness, all the feelings they are experiencing in their physical body and their emotional body, without the normal reaction that could feed the depression.
Holding the poses for a length of time gives one an opportunity to notice the places in the body where energy is blocked, places where emotion, even trauma is stored. Unaddressed these energy blocks eventually lead to symptoms and then manifest as illness, both physical and mental. When focusing the breath and the awareness where the sensations are the strongest, a process has begun which allows energy to flow through these areas of the body where they feel blocked. Accordingly, as we hold a yoga pose, not only is there an emotional clearing as the pose is released, there’s a physical cleansing of the lymphatic system.
For some people, especially those whose depression is accompanied by anxiety, they may find that a more active practice is required to meet their mood head-on. Someone suffering from anxiety will probably feel impatient with a slow, steady practice. They might need to start with a more dynamic and vigorous session, and then slow the movements down as the anxiety lessens. The ultimate beauty of yoga is that anyone, at any level or condition, can practice it. With proper instruction, there’s an appropriate practice for everybody, even someone who may be impaired by injury or disease.
All the various tools of yoga, not only the postures, but also yogic breathing exercises (pranayama)and meditation techniques, plus the use of mantra and/or affirmations, are meant to bring balance to both the physical as well as the emotional body. If someone can’t stand on their head, they can instead stand straight with her arms over their head, taking long, deep breaths in mountain pose. And even if they’re unable do any kind of movement, they can still learn a simple breath (like the Yogic Three-Part Breath) that studies have shown even that calms the mind and elevates the mood.