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Yoga: Benefits of the Practice

Katrin Nauman - Yoga Instructor CNY Healing Arts SyracuseYoga is a discipline that currently enjoys renewed awareness and interest. We see it surfacing in various media: in apps for the iPhone, in YouTube videos, as well as in commercials and numerous television programs, even occasionally as the topic of controversy in the news.

In the west, most people view Yoga as an alternative to, or a complement for their regular fitness regimen. Although Yoga does offer extraordinary physical benefits such as increased strength, flexibility, stamina and balance, as well as enhanced cardiovascular and metabolic functioning, to name only a few, there are additional benefits of which many people may not be aware.

Traditionally, Yoga encompasses many disciplines, all of which are seen as paths toward greater awareness. These ultimately lead to liberation through our expanded consciousness.  What we know of today as the asana, or physical postures seen in magazines and videos, are only one aspect of the Yoga practice, called Hatha Yoga.  These postures were actually introduced as a means for the earliest Yogis to sit in meditation for longer periods of time, in their efforts to reach these higher states of consciousness.

In Sanskrit, “ha” means sun and “tha” translates as moon. In this form of Yoga there is a bringing together of these two vital energies, present in the body and in all life forms, seen as the active or outward moving principle, and the passive or inwardly receptive principle. This is analogous to the Yang and Yin energies of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

The word Yoga derives from the root “yug,” meaning to yoke. The implication is one of union, of joining two seemingly opposing things together. Not only are we unifying the active and passive energies in the body, but we are also bringing together and harnessing the mind and the body, through an awareness of the breath.

Let’s imagine that we are farmers with the intention of plowing our fields in springtime so we may plant seeds that we will harvest when they come to fruition in the fall. We also have two great oxen we use to plow our fields, but those mighty beasts are on opposite sides of the field and are highly uncooperative.

Unless we introduce the discipline of the yoke, not much plowing will get done. This sturdy wooden yoke that will join them together, so we can steer them in the direction we want them to go. Then will be able to plow straight and uniform rows.

Now lets look at that scenario as an analogy for our life. We are indeed the farmer, but in this case, we wish to plant the seeds of our desire and ultimately reap the harvest of our creation in the form of the experiences of our life. The two oxen represent our body and our mind. When they are working at cross-purposes, it is very hard to achieve our intentions, but when they are operating in harmony, our life runs in a far more smooth and orderly fashion, and we can achieve our goals with greater ease.

So what then is the yoke, the key to manifesting our desires? Well, the tool that we all have at our disposal is the breath. That seems rather easy, you might say. All I need do is breathe?

Well, the body and the mind might not come together so willingly. The farmer must bring the oxen close enough to place the yoke around their prodigious necks. They are stubborn; they clearly have agendas of their own. The one tends to be like Ferdinand, indolent and loathe to do anything but lie around and smell the flowers, or he is gripped by his passions, pinning away for a cow in the other pasture, while the other is restless and high-strung, bucking and chaffing at anything that would restrain it. It requires perseverance and a tremendous force of will to light a spark in the one, and to quell the inner unrest of the other.

So the farmer must utilize another tool to coax the oxen into alignment. That tool is the ox goad, or, in the case of our efforts, concentration. When we can bring the mind and body into balance through the focused awareness of what is occurring in both at any given moment, we can harness the power inherent in each and create a vital, harmonious, bountiful life, and continue on our path toward expanded consciousness.

So with Yoga, in order to achieve its greatest benefits, we must dedicate ourselves to the task. We call it a practice for just that reason. We don’t “do” Yoga, we practice it, just as we would a musical instrument or sport. A committed musician or athlete understands that to become a master requires one very important thing – discipline. In this discipline of Yoga we fine-tune our instrument, the body, through a focused practice that is firmly centered in the breath, which vitalizes the body and keeps the mind centered in the present moment.

Yoga provides us with a disciplined practice that allows us to concentrate our awareness fully in the body and with the breath so we can train our consciousness to a single point of focus. The physical benefits like increased strength, greater flexibility, and enhanced lung capacity are a bonus of the practice, like icing on the cake, as it were; they are not its main purpose. Though surely, when body and mind are in balance, we do function more optimally in all areas of our life.

We are all well acquainted with mirrors. Most of us in the western world utilize them on a daily basis. Using a mirror we must engage our sense of sight, which requires light to be present.  In Yoga, we are developing our sight as well, but this is an inner sight, what we call our intuition, which simply means inner knowledge or knowing.  We begin to illuminate the inner landscape in the exploration of the body and the mind, through the physical postures and through focused breath awareness. Eventually, we don’t need these physical mirrors to reflect back to us how we appear to ourselves. In Yoga, we develop an internal awareness, one not contingent on anything external for our sense of self.  But more importantly, we gradually discover the true nature of our mind, and we gain control of it, instead of it being in control of us. We are now driving the oxen….

An effect of Yoga is this ability to reflect our thoughts and actions back to us, as if in a mirror or a pool. We observe our thoughts, mind, consciousness and actions and begin to correct them, bringing us into a greater state of balance and equanimity.

The ancient Indian sage Patanjali, who created the first treatise or handbook for Yoga over 2500 years ago, said the practice of Yoga is: “Citta Vrtti Nirodha.” Citta means the mind or consciousness, vrtti can be seen as disturbances or fluctuations in the mind, and nirodha translates as: to restrain or subdue.

If we visualize citta as a lake, its movements (vrtti) are the ripples and waves on the water. In the practice of Yoga, we attempt to still (nirodha) those ripples. When the water is calm, we can more clearly see our true reflection, our true essence. From this place of stillness arises our inspiration. When our mind is still, we can more readily tap into this limitless fountain of Creative Energy.

The practice of Yoga can be described as a process of unlearning. Over the course of our lives we create patterns of behavior and thought that begin to solidify in our bodies and minds (samskaras.) These patterns are what block us from tapping into the stillness. So the continuous flow of this creative energy is restricted. Yoga clears the obstructions in our bodies and minds, and melts the crystallizations. It softens and releases the blockages that hinder us from tapping into the full power of our creative potential, and manifesting what we desire. Once there is a certain level of mastery, we can eventually move into higher states of awareness and consciousness.

Ultimately, Yoga is a journey of discovery. We are more concerned in this discipline with the process than we are with the product. When we are fully committed to the process, the product cannot help but be beneficial and inspired.

So are you ready to embark?  You don’t need to pack anything for this journey, you are far better off coming empty handed, or rather empty minded. So drop your baggage and let’s begin…

Namaste~

 

By Katrin Naumann, MFA, RYI – yoga instructor at Syracuse CNY Healing Arts Center

Katrin’s Energy Healing, Spiritual and Life Guidance Practice Inner Balance Life Works, is located in Manlius, NY. She designs and leads Yoga and experiential workshops, sacred services and meditations, which provide practical tools for realizing one’s full life and Soul potential. She is currently collaborating on a series of recorded meditations and two books on Alchemical Transformation, and The Teachings of Tarot. Visit her website at www.innerbalancelifeworks.com. See the classes she teaches at CNY Healing Arts here.

Pranayama

Pranayama is a form of involuntary, continuous action of inhaling, retention, and exhaling that can be controlled quickly or slowly.  The name Pranayama is Sanskrit for “extension of breath or life force”.  It is used in yoga to help clear and cleanse the body and the mind.  By controlling your breathing, your whole system becomes controlled.  This form of breathing is helpful as a first step in preparing for the meditation process.

There is great truth behind the saying, just take a deep breath; it calms us.  Oxygen is one of the most vital nutrients for our bodies.  Adding Pranayama breathing techniques to your daily life can bring about many positive and healthy changes.

Some Benefits of Pranayama include:

*Cleansing and purification of the respiratory system
*Aids in detoxification of the blood stream and organs
*Tones the nervous system and slows the electrical impulses and their responses in the brain
*Assists in digestion
*Positively affects the immune system
*Strengthen and purifies the mind, enhances perception
*Increases alertness of the mind
*Beneficial in treating stress disorders
*Relieves asthma symptoms

Although there are several forms of Pranayama, here are the basic steps of performing the exercise:

1.  Sit comfortably, with your back tall and shoulders relaxed.  Let go of any tension.
2.  Take in a deep breath in through your nose very slowly.
3.   As you intake air, pull your belly inwards while heaving out your chest. Keep your abdominal muscles tight.
4.  Hold the breath and count five.
5.  Then gradually exhale through the mouth and relax your abdominal muscles.
6.  Wait for two seconds and then repeat.

Note: there are some forms of Pranayama that are not suitable during pregnancy or for those who suffer asthma which involve long periods of holding your breath or those that involve contracting your stomach muscles.

 

8 Best Ways to Meditate

When meditating, try to focus your mind on a particular part of the body. Notice how the blood flow to that part rises. You will feel that part of the body get warmer as cells begin to receive more oxygen and other nutrients in abundance. In addition, meditation enhances the immune system. Research has revealed that it improves and increases the activity of ‘natural-killer cells’, which help the body combat infections like HIV, as well as cancer.

Furthermore, every person is different. When you go to meditate, you may find that one type of meditation works for you and the other does not. From concentrated breathing to active meditation, there is something for everyone. Read about the different types of meditation below, which are arranged in no particular order, and figure out which one is right for you.

Types of Meditation:

  • Breathing Meditation – this type of meditation focuses on your breathing. Start by finding a quiet place, somewhere where you can concentrate. Assume a comfortable, sitting position, making sure to keep the spine straight. Close your eyes and place your hand on your abdomen so you can feel the breathing process. Exhale all of the air out of your lungs. Inhale as slowly as possible through your nose, until you can no longer breathe in. Hold for a second or two. Now, exhale as slowly as possible from your mouth, until you can no longer breathe out. Hold for a second or two and repeat the process. Do this 20 times, or until you feel relaxed. Focus entirely on your breathing and nothing else throughout this exercise.
  • Walking Meditation – start by planning out your walk. It should be at least 20 minutes in length. As you’re walking, take note of everything; the sound of the birds chirping or the wind blowing through the trees. Feel the earth beneath your feet and smell the aroma of nature. These sensatory exercises will help keep you in touch with nature and with yourself. Also, make sure to look around. We often look at our feet when we walk, but that is no good for meditation. Keep your head up and your pace steady.
  • Guided Meditation – this is usually performed with the help of a CD, DVD, or downloadable audio file. Your instructor will lead you through a number of exercises that will help you release muscle tension and achieve a higher level of relaxation. This type of meditation is great for beginners who may not know how to meditate on their own.
  • Mantra Meditation – a mantra is a word or phrase you can repeat to yourself during meditation. It can be spoken aloud as you exhale, chanted, or thought silently. Your mantra should be a positive thought like “I am strong” or “I feel at home.” It can also be a single word like “hush” or “calm.” Be sure not to rush your mantra. If you are saying your mantra silently in your head, break it up. Think “I am” on the inhale, “strong” on the exhale. Absorb your mantra, slowly and calmly.
  • Binaural Beats Meditation – Playing a different sound in each ear creates a binaural beat. The interference pattern between the slightly different frequencies creates the illusion of a beat. Your brain will try to figure out the difference in the tones, which brings about a meditative state. You can buy this type of meditation on CD or as a downloadable file. It usually last from 30 to 60 minutes. Binaural beats meditation is great for beginners!
  • Mindfulness Meditation – this type of meditation involves a great level of acceptance. It is performed the same way as breathing meditation, except you are not required to focus all of your thoughts on breathing. Rather, be aware of your breathing and use it as your anchor. The key is to keep your mind in the present, forgetting the past and the future. Don’t suppress you’re thoughts, no matter how insignificant. Rather, identify each thought as it crosses your mind, whether it is a worry, fear, or hope. Remember not to judge or be hard on yourself if your mind wanders. Stay calm and collected.
  • Active Meditation – most people practice active meditation on a daily basis and don’t even know it. It happens when you stop thinking about everything that going on around you and focus on what you are doing in that moment. You are “in the zone.” Examples of active meditation include painting, drawing, journaling, Yoga, gardening, fixing a car, crocheting, brushing your dog… pretty much anything!
  • Spiritual Meditation – whatever God, universe, or higher form you adhere to, spiritual meditation involves connecting with that belief. Try praying or just listening to your deity. Praying in itself is a form of meditation used all around the world. It can help you seek guidance and establish a deep sense of self-awareness.

Meditation: Healing for the Body & Mind

Meditation is a means of transforming the mind. It helps create a temporary state where mind and physical body are on the back burner. While in this state, one’s inner self is able to come into full focus. This self-awareness allows the individual to maximize focus and the healing powers of meditation.

The physiological effects of meditation can even permit total healing of the mind.  During meditation, serotonin production can increase, influencing one’s mood and behavior.  Low levels of serotonin are related to depression, insomnia, migraines, and even obesity.

Taking a step back in history, it is said that Siddhartha Gautama, more popularly know as The Buddha, achieved enlightenment while meditating under a Bodhi Tree. Hereafter, he returned to the world, founded Buddhism, and began teaching the monastic way of life.

Today this ancient form of art and science is widely recognized as medicinal by doctors and healers alike. There is no denying it; the effects of concentrated thought, or lack of thought, are both real and scientifically proven. With a daily practice of meditation, you can be on your way to restoring calm and inner peace to your life.

Health Benefits of Meditation:
Daily meditation, no matter what kind, can improve your health in both body and mind, as well as provide balance to your life. While stress relief remains the primary benefit, the effects of reducing stress levels are near endless. We at CNY Healing Arts encourage you to make meditation your daily practice and experience these improvements in your health firsthand. When performed correctly, meditation can:

  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Increase blood flow and slow heart rate
  • Lower metabolism
  • Treat mild hypertension
  • Enhance the immune system
  • Aid in post-operative healing
  • Improve chronic diseases like arthritis, allergies, etc.
  • Increase exercise tolerance in heart patients
  • Helps reduce tissue damage from free radicals
  • Reduce symptoms from PMS
  • Improve anti-social tendencies
  • Treat respiratory disorders
  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Calm the brain
  • Strengthen connections between different regions of the brain
  • Relieve pain and stress
  • Boost self-confidence and self-image
  • Develop total brain functioning
  • Resolve deep fears and phobias
  • Decrease the negative effects of stress, anxiety and mild depression
  • Open creative gateways
  • Increase attention span and concentration
  • Develop a healthy, innovative, peaceful individual

Links:
Meditation tips for beginners
10 Best Ways to Meditate
The Transcendental Meditation Program
Guide to the Internet’s Best Meditation Podcasts

Meditating to Start and End Your Day

meditating in bedEarly morning is a great time to meditate.  Before you even rise out of bed, when the house is quiet before other activities, energies, anxieties, etc. start to vibrate around you, you should use the opportunity to put out your positive energy, intention, and vibration for the day.  Laying quietly in bed and visualizing how you’d like your day to go is the best way to start your day in a positive way.  Imagine your warm cup of coffee waiting for you, your drive to work going smoothly, accomplishing each task at work perfectly, and coming home to a comforting loving atmosphere.  If you have a significant event taking place that day, like a presentation at work for example, picture yourself performing that perfectly.  The more positivity you put into your intentions for the day the more likely your day will go just as you’d like it to.

At the end of your day, when you are getting ready to go to sleep for the night, you should meditate once more.  Let your mind relax and be at ease with how the day went.  Accept any challenges that presented themselves to you as positive, new learning experiences that you will grow from.  After your mind has come to peace with the day’s events let your mind drift into how you’d like tomorrow to go.  Think of all the great things you have going on the next day and how, ideally, you’d like them to play out. Have fun with this! It is your fantasy, your desire, which in turn creates your reality!  Own it! Make it YOURS! Don’t worry about the “how” (the specifics of exactly how each tiny detail will work itself out) just enjoy the thoughts of what you’d like to have occur and the universe will work out the how. Sometimes the how comes in the most unexpected ways!

When you enjoy your thoughts you are attracting them to you in a very powerful way.  Meditating each morning and each night can be a very powerful tool in creating your reality from your own thoughts and desires.

Yoga to Purify and Detoxify the Body

yoga poses, CNY Healing Arts CenterIt is easy to sway toward the holiday cookies, new year’s dips, super bowl pizza and then when mid-February (ok, maybe March) rolls around we tend to remember our healthy New Year’s resolutions.  At CNY living healthy is EASY.  Yoga Classes, Meditation, Massage, Acupuncture are just a few of the ways to purify the body and start the year off right!

The importance of Detoxification for Body:
We are constantly exposed to toxins from our air, water, cleaning products, processed foods and emotional toxins induced by stress.  If you are trying to become pregnant, are pregnant or breastfeeding the health of your body is critical.  Think of your body as a dirty wet washcloth full of toxins.  Yoga helps to ring out that cloth!  Yoga does this by stimulating and purifying the lymphatic system, circulatory system, respiratory system, by bringing health to our digestive tract, calming the mind and stimulating the internal organs.

Detoxify the Lymphatic System with Yoga:
The Lymphatic System cleanses itself through gravity and movement.  Moving yourself through various yoga poses (Asana’s) helps to “pump and cleanse” the lymphatic system.   In the yoga classes at CNY Healing Arts, your body will moved though different planes of movement giving each area of the body a chance to purify in a safe and healthy way. The lymphoid tissue defends the body against infections and the spread of tumors, so keeping the lymphatic system pure will bring great healing benefits to the body.  Here is a pose that helps move Lymph:

Viparita Karani (legs up the wall pose) will allow gravity to move lymph out of the legs.  Just relax on your back with your legs straight up a wall.  If you are pregnant, this may be uncomfortable (for about 30% of pregnant women in their third trimester).  If you lay on your back during pregnancy it can put pressure on your blood vessels and lower your blood pressure.  Listen to your body.  If you’re pregnant, come out of the pose if you feel uncomfortable! Only stay in the pose for 1-2 minutes if you do feel comfortable.  For non-pregnant people you can hold the pose for 5-10 minutes.

Strengthen the Circulatory System with Yoga:
We all know how important it is to have a strong healthy heart.  When you are trying to conceive your heart will help keep you emotionally strong during what can be challenging times for some families. The heart Chakra (anahata) is the energy center to manifest love (a.k.a “a little bundle of love”) to your life!  During pregnancy your body and heart have to work “overtime” to pump extra blood though the body.

So, how does the circulatory system detox the body anyway?  By exchange of gasses from parts of the body, transporting waste to our excretory system, helping maintain our pH,  and much more.  Keeping the heart healthy will keep you clean, strong and surrounded by love!  Try this pose to bring health to your heart!

* Virabhadrasana (Warrior One) will bring you more cardiovascular stamina. Your heart will pump blood through your body at a stronger rate so your body can maintain itself better.  Stand in a lunge with your left knee bent over your left ankle and your right leg stretched out behind you.  Your hips should be squared forward.  Reach the arms up with the palms facing each other.  Let the shoulders stay soft down the spine while the fingertips extend upward.  Let your spine grow long and equally activate out through both legs.  Switch sides after 5 breaths.

Purify your Respiratory System with Yoga:
Prana, or “life force energy” is utilized through the breath in yoga.  A deep fluid breath is one of the most important aspects of a yoga practice.  In fact, in the 8-limbs (or pathways) of yoga, pranayama is listed as one of the main aspects of a well-rounded practice.  Our respiratory system has an immune defense of it’s own and also nourishes our body’s cells in doing their detox jobs.  Try this pranayama technique to purify your respiratory system:

* Belly Breath – sit comfortably in a chair.  Let your hands rest on your belly.  As you inhale draw the breath down toward the navel center, relax the belly outward away from the spine.  As you inhale, pull the naval center inward and let the breath rise up and out of the body.  By using the muscles of the belly to assist in your pranayama you will pull the breath to the deeper parts of the lungs.

Promote proper Digestion and Elimination with Yoga:
You are what you eat!  Eating well is crucially important to our health both physically and emotionally.  If you eat healthy your body still needs to be able to properly digest and eliminate your food to maintain health.  Issues such as gas, bloating and constipation are all digestive problems that can be avoided with awareness of your diet and yoga for digestion and elimination!  Try this pose sequence to help with all three of the digestive problems mentioned above:

* Belly Rotations – Sit with your legs crossed and your sit on a folded blanket.  Rest your hands on your lap.  As you inhale sweep your body in a clock-wise arch forward, as you exhale round your back behind the sit bones and continue with the clock-wise circle.  Your torso will be making big circular movements around your sit bones as you connect with your breath.  Try to bring movement to the entire spine.  Switch directions after 5-10 rotations.  This exercise is recommended before you eat.  It helps to stimulate your digestive juices and massages the intestinal tract to promote elimination.

~~~
By,
Christa Tyson, RYT and Doula

The Power of “Om”

CNY Healing ArtsOM:
Bumper stickers, body art, t-shirts, yoga magazines… you’ve seen the symbol but what does it mean?

Om, pronounced AUM is the sound of Creation.  Everything that Was, Everything that Is, and Everything that Shall Be.  The past, the present and the future wrapped up into this 3-part sound.  Om is also believed to be the sound of everything individually at its neutral.  So for example, the sound of your partner snoring at night should really sound like “Om”, “Om”, “Om”, ok I guess that was a stretch…the phone ringing in the background, or the breath you take, the hum of the computer.  Can you find the hint of “Om” in it? When we chant OM or AaUuMm we bring ourselves back to our neutral energy, bringing relief from sluggishness or hyperness.  We also tap into something that transcends beyond this moment in time.  We bond with the before, the now, and the after. Read more

At Home Yoga with your Baby

Sensory Stimulation
Tactile, auditory and visual contact is important for a child’s brain development and emotional well being and helps assimilate trust and security. This leads to development of self-confidence, the foundation of a balanced body, mind and spirit. The yoga studio is a great place for babies to watch and listen to their parents and friends in the room, building visual and auditory tracking skills.

Language Development
By practicing certain yoga sequences parents can help establish routine, which builds on the infant’s knowledge of anticipation, which helps develop language.

Self-Regulation
Babies sleep better and longer as a result of the physical and mental stimulation gained through yoga.  As they grow they will understand and know how to use yoga to help keep their minds calm, bodies healthy, and spirits singing.

Gross Motor Development
Yoga also focuses on building balance, strength, and coordination for parent and baby.  For example, in Warrior 1 Pose, parents will hold baby close to their core, which builds strength in the legs, pelvic floor, and back, while the baby is building strength in the neck and torso.  Yoga targets muscles in a safe and fun way.

Bonding
It is easy to get carried away with the “to-dos” of life.  Baby and Me yoga reminds us that one-on-one time is precious and so beneficial for baby and parent.  In class both the parent and child are having fun while building these strong bonds.

Try this with your Baby!
1.)   Sit on the floor with your sit bones on a folded blanket or pillow, bringing a little extra height to the hips helps protect the lower back.
2.)   Take the legs wide and press out through the heels, keeping your toes pointed toward the ceiling.
3.)   Your baby can rest on a blanket in front of you between your legs.
4.)   Keeping your back long, hinge forward through the hips.  Let your hips do the work, keeping your back straight. You will feel a nice stretch in the backs of the legs.
5.)   With each inhale lengthen within the bend, with each exhale bend another centimeter forward.
6.)   Use this time to rub your baby with loving touch.  Starting with your babies little toes and working your way to the babies crown.