Despite being recently called a fad by the BBC, yoga is an ancient practice that can be traced back more than 5,000 years. It came to the U.S. in the late 1800s, but didn’t really begin to gain popularity until the 1960s. The more we learn about yoga, the more we recognize what the yogis in the Indus valley already knew — it improves the health and function of the body and mind.
Yoga means “to join or yoke together,” and it brings the body and mind together in harmony, and its benefits are older than the science to support it. From fighting anxiety and depression to preventing heart disease and managing pain, the benefits of a well-rounded yoga practice continue to be discovered. I found this wonderful infographic on the Promising Scientific Studies on Yoga & Health from Alison Hinks’ blog that sum up some of yoga’s many health benefits.
For more information on these specific studies, visit Idea Fit’s research section. (Photo: Alison Hinks)
– Your Charmed Yogi
Ayurveda is a Hindu system of traditional medicine (in the U.S., Ayurveda is considered alternative medicine) that began in India during the Vedic period (between 1700 and 1100 BCE). Ayurveda is the science of life and art of healing as a lifetime practice of wellness and healthy living. Adopting the physics of the elements and belief that all beings are connected, Ayurveda is about balance inside and out. There’s a lot to Ayurveda, so this is by no means comprehensive, but an intro into the most common practices.
One of the most familiar and widely used concepts in living a balanced life according to Ayurveda is that of the Doshas or the three elemental energies. It’s believed that our Prakruti or constitution is made of up a balance of these energies. Our Prakruti or Prakriti is determined at the moment of conception and relates to our genetically inherited physical and emotional qualities. Ayurveda stresses a balance of these energies or ‘humors’ Vāyu / vāta (air & space – “wind”), pitta (fire & water – “bile”) andkapha (water & earth – “phlegm”). If it helps, think of them like hormones (except their not) in that when there’s an imbalance you feel off, and that imbalance can manifest itself in any number of ways from mental to physical, and even karmic.
We’re made up of this mix of energies that can change throughout our lives; it can even change with the seasons. Tapping into centuries old medicine to learn about your individual Prakruti and what dietary/lifestyle changes you can make to balance your dominating qualities might be just the change you’re looking for. Prakruti specifically relates to those qualities, characteristics and tendencies that are stable. For instance, while you may experience temporary changes, like gaining or losing ten pounds, feeling nervous or irritable, developing a cold or flu, etc., in the natural course of life you will never gain or lose five inches on your height or experience a change of eye color. Prakriti is enlivened and described by three main doshas or forces: Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
Personally, I believe in integrative medicine that brings together philosophies and practices from the east and the west. I love seeing what the body can do to heal itself, and how the foods we eat and things we do impact our health. But, I’m also eternally grateful for Western medicine and how it’s saved my life.
I’ll dive more into the various Doshas and where to take your personal practice during Vata season, so take the Dosha Quiz on the Chopra Institute Website to learn more about your energetic makeup. For in depth information or to study Ayurveda, visit the Ayurveda Institute’s website.
– Your Charmed Yogi
Related Posts: Life is like a box of Chakras
As we come to a close with the series, “What Your Favorite Yoga Pose Says About You,” I’ll ring in Trikonasana or Triangle Pose. In Sanskrit, tri means three and kona means corner, which is the shape of the body (primarily the legs) when expressing this fundamental yoga pose.
Another one of my favorite poses (notice the theme of the selection process here), Trikonasana strengthens the core, particularly the obliques. Control your descent and ascent into the pose with your core to protect your back and hips. We often strengthen our rectus abdominus muscles (upper), but neglect our transverse abdominals (lower), and obliques. And when our core muscles atrophy, our back weakens. When done correctly, triangle stretches the muscles of the groin, ankles, hamstrings, calves, hips, spine and chest. Tight hips often manifest in back pain, so this opening pose can actually relieve back pain.
From Tadasana (mountain pose), step your left foot back three and a half feet or more, and ground your left foot so it’s parallel with the back edge of your mat. A good way to determine if your stance is wide enough is to spread your arms and see if your ankles are below your wrists. From this standing pose, shift your hips back toward the back of your mat and extend your right arm far out over your right ankle before lowering your right hand to the floor to ensure length in the side body and spine. Be careful not to lock your knees and ground your right big toe into the mat so you aren’t rolling to the outside of your foot. This subtle adjustment facilitates strengthening the arch of your foot.
Let go of ego when sinking into Triangle. If you can’t bring your hands all the way to the floor without collapsing into your side, bring your hands up to your shin or a block. Open your hips, open your chest, extend your left arm and gaze to the ceiling and protect your neck by keeping your head parallel to the floor and maintain length in both sides of the neck. Continue reading
If you have read any of my other posts, or know me at all, you know that Matsyasana (Fish) is my favorite asana. For me, fish heals a multitude of ills. In fact, many ancient texts refer to Matsyasana as “destroyer of all diseases.” Whether active or supported, this pose relieves stiffness and tension in your neck and back.
This backbend pose also stretches the muscles in your groin (psoas), abdominals, and chest (intercostals), provides an opening at the heart and throat chakras, and stimulates the thyroid.
For those of us who spend most of our day hunched over a desk at work, or round our shoulders over a mobile device while engaged in a battle of wits playing “Words with Friends,” matsyasana helps correct our oft horrendous posture.
In my favorite variation of the active pose, I instruct my students to lie on their backs with their arms tucked closely by their sides, and roll their shoulders back and chest open. Then I have them place their wrists directly under their sit bones. This little adjustment can bring tremendous relief for carpal tunnel sufferers. On an inhale, press into the hands and forearms, draw the shoulder blades (scapula) together and down the back, and bring the torso and head off of the floor. Then, gently, place the head down on the mat leaving a nice arch in the back and open chest. To protect the neck, there’s very little weigh on the head. Continue reading
In the first post of this series, I talked about how Warrior I is the ultimate pose to activate the muladhara (root) chakra, establish a grounded footing and presence, and tackle fear. Now, we move onto one of my favorites, Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (pigeon) pose. As I wind down my personal practice, or begin to cool down my students, I almost always include pigeon.
Pigeon is one of the most often requested poses when I ask my class if there’s anything in particular they want to include for the day. Primarily a hip and chest opener, pigeon assists in releasing the tension we hold in the pelvis and hips.
Whether sitting at a desk all day or as a measure of bottling up emotions, sinking into pigeon pose enables an opening. In fact, the next time you are in pigeon, notice what emotions arise. Do you become irritated, frustrated or sad? Do you resist and clench the abductor muscles of the outer hip? Or, do you melt, relinquishing the stress of the day? Continue reading
In this four-part series, I’ll examine the connections between four specific poses (asanas) and their chakra correspondences. I’ll also dive into the physical and emotional benefits of the pose, and what it means if you love the pose or hate it. First up, Virabhadrasana.
You’re in downward facing dog (adho mukha svanasana) and you’re teacher cues you to extend your right leg out behind you toward the ceiling, and to swing it through to a high runner’s lunge. “Yay, here it comes,” you think to yourself.
Ground your back foot, engage your core, and rise up to standing; extending your arms proudly to the sky — warrior I (virabhadrasana I). You sink into the pose, with your heart wide open, your chin held high, and the stability of a mighty warrior.
There is more to the human body than the physical body. In yoga, we talk a lot about energy. And, you might hear your yoga instructor refer to your “heart chakra” from time to time. In an upcoming series, I’ll refer to various chakras, so I thought I’d do a bit about the chakra system.
Scientifically, we know that all matter is energy, and while condensed matter is different from energy, they are expressions of one another– connected. Yogically speaking (if that’s a word), there is an energy current, a life force, that flows through and connects everything. In Sanskrit, it’s called Prana, which means life force or vitality. Everything has Prana; and this vitality radiates through the physical, emotional and mental realms. This force is NOT electricity, but it can be thought of as an energy current like electricity.