The benefits of meditation are many-fold, providing a way to get in touch with what’s going on in our lives as well as our bodies. The use of biofeedback has shown the medical community how the mind can control our physical reactions to pain and other stimuli. Yoga, through the practice of the asanas (poses) and pranayama (controlled breathing), offer its students a window into their interior thoughts and well-being by way of meditation.
Learning how to meditate may be just the coping mechanism you need in a stress-filled life without having to resort to prescription medications or destructive practices, such as drinking or over-eating. Meditation doesn’t involve special workout wear, a specific place or time; it just involves your active participation in a mindful practice that can offer a myriad of benefits, including better mental focus and clarity, decreased heart rate and blood pressure, and spiritual growth.
On the eightfold branches of Classical yoga, meditation, or dhyana, is the penultimate step to achieve samadhi, or self-realization. The practice of yoga ultimately allows the student to access the atman, or self, and in that manner come to know the brahman, or absolute reality. The word “yoga” literally means “union” in Sanskrit, and its practice joins the individual with the universal. By knowing yourself, you understand how the world relates to you, and meditation mediates this interaction.
is a natural pain and stress management technique developed by Mikao Usui and based on the principles of Buddhism and Shintoism. Reiki, from the Japanese words “rei” (spirit) and “ki” (energy), accesses the universal life force through the practitioner, who channels healing energy through the patient by the laying on of hands. The Shinto religion believes that energy (kami) flows from both animate and inanimate objects while the Buddhist tenets that Usui followed involved chakras, or energy sites, in the body that can be activated by practice, just as in yoga.
On the eightfold path of Classical yoga, the asanas, or positions, are one of the physical ways, along with pranayama, or regulated breathing, to attain samadhi, or self-enlightenment. Yoga asanas can be performed standing up, seated or lying down; they can be structured in terms of how they’re performed and in which order, such as in Bikram yoga, or free-flowing and at the whim of the yoga instructor. However, yoga asanas are all designed to ultimately challenge the student’s flexibility and motor control.
The surya namaskar, or sun salutation, series of yoga asanas is ideal for the beginning student.
You may have seen them congregated in urban parks as a group or standing alone, moving in slow rhythmic patterns that appear very simple, and you may have wondered why they do it. Those who practice tai chi do it for the stress relief and healthful benefits of a daily routine, and these life-giving properties must be working because it’s been around since the 6th century.
A Shao-Lin monk named Bodihdharma is credited with developing six of the moves that are still practiced in modern tai chi. He noticed how poorly-conditioned his fellow monks were due to their sedentary meditative practices and introduced a form of exercise into their daily rituals. This practice was also incorporated into Kung-fu martial arts at the time; indeed “tai chi” is the shortened term for “tai chi chuan,” which means “supreme ultimate fist.”
You may be asking yourself, “What is Pilates and why is everyone in the world but me doing it?” If you find yourself struggling to get yourself off a low-sitting couch or sitting up in bed in the morning is an effort, the question “What is Pilates” becomes even more important.
The Pilates Method was developed by Joseph Pilates, a German prisoner during World War I who used his training as a nurse to help bedridden English patients increase their range of movement in a confined space and ultimately get out of bed. In fact, the first reformer, a machine used in Pilates, was most likely a mechanically-cranked hospital bed. Pilates moved to the U.S. in 1926 where he established his first studio with his wife, Clara, in New York City. The couple began teaching students there how to develop their core muscles to better support the spine and improve their posture and overall health.
During pregnancy, your body goes through some amazing changes, both physically and mentally. Unless your doctor prescribes otherwise, exercise should be a part of your pregnancy, and prenatal yoga is an ideal program to follow. Prenatal yoga gives expectant mothers the range of flexibility, muscle control and meditative focus that will come in handy along the way, in the delivery room and well afterward.
Many yoga studios and some local community recreation centers offer prenatal yoga classes; but if one isn’t available in your area, consider a beginning yoga class and tell the teacher that you’re expecting. Stay away from hot, or Bikram, yoga classes; these are conducted in rooms with temperatures of up to 105 degrees, which can raise your core body temperature and potentially affect fetal development.
In the eightfold path of Classical yoga, pranayama is the fourth step to achieve samadhi, or self-realization. As a yoga practice, pranayama is regulated or controlled breathing or breath flow used by students to transition between poses (asanas) as well as remain in them and achieve a meditative state.
Pranayama is the Sanskrit word for extended breath or, more strictly defined, prana (life force) and yama (extension). Beginning yoga students typically start with Hatha yoga, which involves regulated breathing, while performing the poses, to achieve more flexibility and control. With any type of physical conditioning, the proper breathing technique comes into play, whether you’re a first-time jogger contending with breathlessness or a conditioned athlete setting a personal best at the bench press. Think of it this way: breathing comes to us automatically unless we’re under stress, at which point it becomes an effort. Pranayama regulates the breathing so that the body directs its focus to the task set forth, be it a difficult pose or a stressful life event.
Power yoga follows two schools of thought. One is based on the principles of Ashtanga yoga, and its notable proponent is Bryan Kest, who studied under yogi Pattabhi Jois, the yoga master credited with introducing the eightfold path of Ashtanga yoga to Westerners in the 1970s. The other school of power yoga was developed by Baron Baptiste, who emphasizes the fitness aspect of yoga, rather than the contemplative element common in traditional yoga. Baptiste introduced power yoga to the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles as part of their conditioning program in the 1990s and incorporated the techniques of Vinyasa, or flow, yoga that uses breathwork to transition between poses. Read the rest of this entry