Monday, May 28, 2007

Yoga, the refresh button.

Yoga, the Refresh button of our life.
Mike Ghouse, May 27, 2007

Finally research has provided hard evidence of the benefits of practicing Yoga, which our Rishis and practitioners had discovered thousands of years ago.

When you are on your computer, and working several programs at one time, it slows down the processing ability. After you type words you may have to actually wait 1/10th of a second to see the letters on the screen. You keep struggling and dragging with your work with immense frustration…. Finally, it may dawn on you that there is a thing called refresh button, it may take a minute, but when it is refreshed, it is productive and you can get a lot done in the time left.

Similarly, when you are over loaded with several issues and tasks that you have to deal in the same breath, it drives you nuts. You can be nutty and continue to struggle, take the frustration out on others, or hype yourselves and keep losing the ability to get thing done efficiently. Or you can choose to do a short prayer, take a nap, meditate or do the yoga. All of them have the same ability to refresh you and make you more productive.

Prayers have the ability to un-scatter one’s unconcentrated mind and heart. For those who do not believe in prayers, can find answers in prayer like situations. Take for example, a public or civic event, prior to it’s beginning, people form smaller group and carry on their own conversations, they are all over in the lobby, hallways and each one is in their own world. It will take some time, effort and cajoling to get them into the hall to begin the program. However, playing the national anthem or some form of prayer will bring all the bodies and minds to a pause, refresh them with sentiments, and possibly bring them live into the program. A transformation of mind from one realm to the other occurs.

The practice of Yoga not only refreshes you, but energies you. It does not have to be elaborated twisting or stretching of the body; it could simply be sitting in an upright position and breathing properly.

The Hindus and Muslims have contributed to the science of refreshing oneself through the practice of Yoga and the Salat (Namaz). If you follow the Yoga practice, whatever it is, it is sure to give you the relief from stress. Try the Muslim prayer format, and put your own thoughts and your own words of goodness during the rituals, you may find amazing results with the timing of each physical action including the sitting position. The whole body is reactivated in 3 to 4 minutes of prayers.

There are fanatics who believe that doing Yoga or chanting some words will make them Hindus or Muslims. Similar thoughts prevailed in the previous century, when some people refused to take medicine, as they considered it to be anti-God or western if it was in the east, but today, all Medicine is welcome in just about every quarter of human society.

Prayers, meditation and Yoga are powerful tools for one’s spiritual growth and physical well being. It does not have religion; the practices are for humanity just as medicine is for the entire mankind.

Different practices do different things. Yoga is certainly a “refresh button in our lives”, practice it.

Mike Ghouse

Health benefits of yoga
By Janet Cromley, Times Staff Writer
May 28, 2007

Although yoga has been associated with a reduction in depression and anxiety, the study is one of the first to provide hard evidence. "This is a behavioral intervention that you can use to augment treatment," says Streeter. "I would recommend it."

Practicing yoga may boost a neurotransmitter associated with regulating depression and anxiety disorders, according to a new report in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine and McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., used magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging to measure levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, levels in the brains of eight regular yoga practitioners. They found that the yoga group experienced a 27% increase in GABA levels after an hour of yoga, while 11 control subjects, who read for an hour, received no such benefits.

"The study shows that there's a neurochemical response to the practice of yoga that's similar to neurochemical responses we see when people are treated with antidepressants," says lead author Dr. Chris Streeter, an assistant professor of neurology and psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine.

Yoga is a physical and mental practice that involves the body, mind and spirit. The practice -- which originated in India -- is designed to enhance awareness, create a mind-body-spirit balance, cleanse, heal and strengthen the body, liberate the true "S"elf and (as practiced today) improve fitness. The most common form practiced in the U.S. is Hatha yoga, which includes specific movements or postures (Asana), various breathing techniques (Pranayama) and is often complimented with, meditation (Dhyana).

Yoga's gentle, mindful and controlled movements can provide a non- or low-impact workout for people in almost any physical condition. Yogic exercises -- and there are many -- can ease tense muscles, improve flexibility and enhance strength, balance and endurance.

No one seems quite sure when yoga began, but it goes back millennia. Stone carvings in the Indus Valley depicting yoga positions date back 5,000-plus years.

Traditionally, yoga was a spiritual practice, its goal being union with the absolute or the divine; the various exercises we associate with Hatha yoga were performed to prepare the body for long periods of meditation. The word "yoga" means to join or bind together, and the practice joins together the body, mind and spirit. (On a spiritual level, it can refer to the union of the individual with the absolute truth or true Self (Atman).) It's often associated with Hinduism, but yoga predates the religion. As have other religions, Hinduism has incorporated elements of yoga into its practices.

As it's typically practiced here in the West, the focus is more on the physical fitness aspects. (Of course, it can be a spiritual experience, if you choose to use it as such.)

Yoga is now practiced around the world for its psychological, physical and spiritual benefits. Americans have practiced it for at least 150 years, but it gained popularity in the 1960s as young people developed a taste for all things Eastern. According to results of a study sponsored by the Yoga Journal and released in June 2003, 15 million Americans, or over seven percent of U.S. adults, are believed to practice yoga, an increase of 28.5 percent from the year before.

Although this report focuses on Hatha, here are some other types of yoga:

• Raja:
Called the "royal road," its focus is primarily on meditation; it incorporates exercise and breathing practice with meditation and study.

• Jnana:
Called the path of knowledge or wisdom, it involves the study of sacred texts.

• Bhakti:
The path of love and devotion focuses on devotion to and concentration on the guru or chosen deity, and often includes chanting.

• Karma:
In the yogic system of action and service, everything (including the yoga postures) is done with the mind centered on the divine; activities are done selflessly for the greater good.

• Tantra:
The path of ritual, it's based on the principle of consciously embracing the whole of life in order to unite with Deity. It uses the energies of the body -- including sexual -- to transcend worldly attachments.

Is It Right For You?
Yoga is gentle enough to be practiced by almost anyone. The beauty of yoga is that you don't have to be able to do all the positions; you can work within your own limitations, and tailor your practice to your specific needs.

If you decide to try yoga, finding a teacher won't be hard -- classes are available through recreation centers, senior centers, YMCAs, YWCAs, hospitals, health centers, community centers and meditation centers. Most of these classes are relatively inexpensive -- they may even be free with your membership at a gym, community center, etc. And check your health plan: Some insurance companies cover the cost of class.
Ask your regular health care professional for suggestions. He or she may know of a yoga class that meets your particular needs.

There are also several resources on the web for finding classes; two of them are and

You can take individual lessons, too, but they will be a bit more costly. Whether you decide to learn in a class or one-on-one, try to do so in person. Books and videos abound, but ideally, they should supplement what you learn from class -- and they can help you as you establish your practice at home.

Before your first class, consider sitting in on a session. Would you be comfortable in the class with this teacher? Is the pacing right for you? There are many classes and teachers from which to choose, so make sure you find one that feels right. If you have a particular medical condition, make sure the instructor has experience dealing with other folks in your same situation. And once you do find a teacher you like, be sure you tell him or her about any health problems.

Be advised, however, that there's no licensing requirement to teach yoga, and many teachers may have done little more than complete a weekend training or correspondence course. According to an article that appeared in the Jan. 8, 2003 issue of the Boston Globe newspaper, a growing number of untrained teachers may be to blame for a surge in yoga-associated injuries. A teacher-organized group called the Yoga Alliance recommends at least 200 hours of expert training, and nearly 8,000 instructors nationwide reportedly have satisfied that standard.

Health Benefits
Yoga's most obvious benefits relate to stress reduction, flexibility and relaxation. But as more studies are conducted, there is evidence of other tangible health benefits. While it's no cure, yoga can be an effective adjunct therapy for a variety of conditions, including cancer, heart disease, arthritis, asthma, diabetes, depression, fibromyalgia and migraines. Even if you are in perfect health, you can benefit from yoga. It helps improve strength, flexibility, coordination and range of motion. And since yoga promotes relaxation, improves circulation and reduces stress and anxiety, it enhances cardiovascular health and benefits the respiratory and nervous systems. Because it promotes relaxation, yoga also aids sleep and digestion.
Yoga can make you more aware of your own body -- more conscious of its strengths, weaknesses and needs.
Medical experts aren't exactly sure why yoga offers so many health benefits, but more studies are underway.

Some of its physiological effects can be attributed to stress reduction and relaxation; since many health problems are triggered or aggravated by stress, stress-reduction can only help. And when you do yoga, especially meditation and breathing exercises, you often induce what is known as the relaxation-response, a stress-neutralizing physiological state that boasts a wide-range of physical and mental benefits.
Yoga requires no special equipment or clothes, though an inexpensive yoga mat may help provide cushion and grip. You can do the exercises at home or at the office. If you have limited mobility, you can even do them from a chair or bed.

Here's a look at how yoga can affect some specific conditions affecting women. As always, consult with your health care professional before beginning any new exercise program:

Yoga may ease the pain associated with these conditions, and there are classes designed specifically for people with arthritis or fibromyalgia. Few studies have been done, but anecdotal evidence indicates that arthritis sufferers find relief from yoga. For instance, a Stanford University study suggests that mind-body techniques (including yoga) are effective complementary therapies for musculoskeletal disorders, including osteoarthritis. For both arthritis and fibromyalgia, the stretching can temporarily relieve stiff joints, improve flexibility and circulation and stimulate the release of endorphins. The deep breathing and meditative aspects can help you deal with the stress of illness, especially something as frustrating as fibromyalgia.

The breathing exercises that are an integral part of yoga seem to give some people an element of control over their breathing, thus reducing the symptoms of asthma. It also strengthens the respiratory system.

Back pain.
Yoga can provide temporary relief from back pain. It can also help you avoid certain kinds of back pain by making your back and abdominal muscles stronger. Yoga stretches and strengthens back muscles -- some of the movements are like those used in physical therapy. Some postures strengthen abdominal muscles, which help support the back. Moreover, through regular practice, yoga will help you learn to spot potential trouble spots. For instance, you may be able to identify tense muscles and relax them before they become tight and sore.

Carpal tunnel syndrome.
Research indicates that yoga is an effective treatment for this repetitive stress injury. One study, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, revealed that carpal tunnel sufferers who regularly attended yoga classes experienced less pain, greater flexibility and a stronger grip than those who used the usual treatment -- a wrist splint.

Yoga, like some other relaxation and meditative techniques, seems to provide some women with relief from the pain associated with endometriosis.

Preliminary studies reported in the Indian Journal of Physiology & Pharmacology suggest that yoga may help patients manage epilepsy. It may come down to stress reduction; stress can be a precipitating factor for some seizures, and yoga promotes relaxation and stress reduction. But researchers haven't drawn any conclusions yet, contending that more studies are needed.

Chronic pain.
Yoga and other relaxation techniques have been shown to help reduce chronic pain. They are especially effective for chronic headache and muscle tension.

Yoga is well suited for diabetics in that it improves circulation and promotes a regular exercise regimen.
Heart/coronary artery disease.

Yoga improves circulation and, as a stress-reducing or stress-management technique, it may play a role in halting or reversing heart disease. Health care professionals often recommend yoga or something similar for their heart patients.

High blood pressure.
Evidence suggests that yoga reduces stress and increases relaxation, which may have a favorable effect on blood pressure rates. And there are studies suggesting that yoga may be effective in controlling hypertension, but more research needs to be done.

Yogic breathing techniques seem to help some women reduce hot flashes and other symptoms. And according to the American Yoga Association, some yogic exercises stimulate the glandular and reproductive systems, helping balance body chemistry.

According to the National Institutes of Health, relaxation therapies and physical exercise, including yoga, can help alleviate insomnia.

Multiple sclerosis.
Yoga may help women with MS to increase physical functioning. Some chapters of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society offer yoga classes.

Since yoga is a low-to-no-impact exercise, some of the gentler postures may be appropriate even if you already have the condition; yoga may help lessen the pain associated with osteoporosis. Certain poses that position part of the body's weight on the hands may also aid in retaining bone density in the upper extremities and spine.

Premenstrual syndrome and menstrual cramps.
Yoga, when practiced regularly, can reduce symptoms of severe PMS, including anxiety and depression in some women. Some postures can reduce pressure on the uterus, relieving cramps, and yoga's gentle stretching can ease stiffness and tension in the lower back. According to the American Yoga Association, irritability, depression and moodiness can be eased by regular meditation, which is a part of many yogic practices. The association also explains that some yogic exercises stimulate the glandular and reproductive systems, helping balance body chemistry. And, of course, a regular exercise program of any sort helps lessen the severity of cramps for many women.

Prenatal yoga classes are generally more gentle than regular classes, and there's a greater focus on breathing and relaxation. Mild-to-moderate exercise during pregnancy is important for both you and your baby, and yoga's gentle, relaxing movements are ideal. And it can help you deal better with the stress associated with pregnancy. Consider looking for a course designed for pregnant women. View References

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