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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.

 

Nature and Guided Meditation

By now you have likely read or heard about the wonderful benefits that meditation can provide to you.  It goes beyond the obvious stress reduction, relaxation and inner peace. A NY Times article shares proof that meditation can actually change your brain. Read the article here

Now not everyone will find it easy to meditate so we’d like to share a few options with you that can make it much easier. Remember that CNY Healing Arts offers regular classes and workshops to assist you on your efforts with meditation, just check out our calendar and pick the location nearest you: Syracuse, Albany or Rochester.

Guided Meditation:

This is by far one of the easiest ways to meditate. You can either utilize a CD, podcast, video or other form of media if you wish to practice from the comfort of your own home. Or you can attend a guided meditation class or workshop to enjoy the community aspect and personal connection. Guided meditation is very simple. It’s exactly what it sounds like, a meditation session guided by a person and usually with relaxing sounds in the background. This can be a simple guide talking you through the process of relaxing, focusing on a given mantra and continually bringing you back to that mantra. Or possibly your guide will walk you through an experience such as a walk in the woods that opens to a field and on the other side is a loved one that you connect with and explore with further. The options are vast, you only need to find what works best for you.

Nature Meditation:

This is a fun way to meditate and if you haven’t tried it yet, you really should. This one is also very simple. You will want to find a space outside that is comfortable to you. Bring a blanket and a pillow. Sit down, cross-legged on your blanket with the pillow under your seat for comfort. Keep your eyes open for a few minutes and take in everything that surrounds you with your senses: sight, sound, smell. Now close your eyes and do the same thing again: take in everything that surrounds you with your senses (with the exception of the obvious – sight). Notice as your eyes stay closed longer, you begin to hear sounds you may not have heard while they were open. Take some time to hone in on those different sounds and enjoy the experience. Now open your eyes slowly and do it all over again.

This is a beautiful meditation that is foolproof and allows your mind to completely clear of everything but the task at hand. Nature becomes your mantra. Remember that meditation is work and you can’t do it wrong just keep practicing.

The Health Benefits of Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III Pose)

This is a great pose to practice with a partner for support, especially if you are a beginner. If you don’t have a partner available, try Warrior III against a wall. Either face the wall so your fingers can just reach it or face away from the wall with your lifted foot resting lightly against it.

To practice this pose with a licensed yoga teacher, check out the yoga class schedules for each branch of CNY Healing Arts (Rochester, Syracuse, Albany).

Getting Into Warrior III Pose:

Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Step your right foot 12 inches forward and put all of your weight on your right leg. Inhale and raise your arms above your head – palms facing toward each other, arms parallel to each other and perpendicular to the floor.
Now, exhale and lift your left leg up and out. Hinge at the hips, lowering your upper half towards the floor. Gaze down at the floor and focus on a point. This will help you balance. Reach through the crown of your head and your left toes, in opposite directions of course. Reach through your fingers as well. Contract your abs for stability and keep them engaged throughout.

At this point, your body should make a straight line, parallel to the floor – save your right leg, which should be perpendicular to the floor. A tip: As you bring your upper half towards the floor, don’t swing yourself into position. This causes imbalance and make the yogi tend to shift all body weight to the ball of his or her standing foot. You want to support your weight evenly throughout all parts of the foot.
Breathe and hold for 2-6 deep, steady breaths. To release, slowly move your torso back to an upright position, lowering your left leg to the floor. Step both feet back into Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Repeat Virabhadrasana III for the same number of breaths with all weight on your left leg.

Benefits of Warrior III Pose:

• Strengthens the legs, ankles, shoulders and back
• Tones the entire body, especially your abdomen
• Improves memory and concentration
• Encourages better posture and better
• Invigorates and energizes

Therapeutic Massage at CNY Healing Arts

CNY Healing Arts, Massage RoomThe art of Therapeutic Touch has been practiced for thousands of years in cultures all over the world. It is physically, mentally and spiritually beneficial to all of us! In conjunction with a healthy lifestyle, massage therapy can help you obtain great self-awareness and an over-all well being.

Benefits of Massage Therapy:

  • Promotes Relaxation
  • Relieves Anxiety
  • Improves Mood
  • Increases Circulation
  • Boosts Immune System
  • Benefits Posture
  • Increases Range of Motion
  • Decreases Pain
  • Speeds Recoveries
  • Improves Sleep Patterns

We offer many different types, or modalities, of Massage here at CNY Healing Arts

  • Fertility Massage
  • Maternity Massage
  • Swedish Massage
  • Deep Tissue Massage
  • Trigger Point Therapy
  • Lymphatic Drainage Massage