Managing ailments and angst with yoga

June 28th, 2008 - 6:38 am ICT by IANS  

By Madhusree Chatterjee
They are getting tips on luxury liners in the open seas, refining techniques in austere huts in the hills, getting fit in air-conditioned gyms or just in the comfort of the neighbourhood park - yoga, the ancient healing and fitness art from India, is being practised by millions of people the world over to handle the stresses of modern-day living. The millennia-old art has taken the world by storm. As lifestyle-related anxieties and pressure at home and workplace grow, more and more people are falling back on this traditional fitness regime enshrined in the Atharva Veda, an ancient Indian scripture, to cope with the ailments and angst of living life on the fast lane.

According to one estimate, nearly 50 million people practise yoga in the world today, a sharp increase from the 15 million recorded in 2003. Nearly 20 million people practise yoga in the US alone.

Yoga schools have sprung up in almost every corner of the globe with nearly a million instructors and experts to guide practitioners.

Yoga is central to holistic living, a fad in both the east and the west, especially among the burgeoning middle class that has more disposable incomes but fewer hours of sleep every night. For the challenge of an uncertain tomorrow always lurks round the corner.

Understanding yoga, say experts, is as good as understanding the essence of life itself and conquering all that is stressful, tangible and ephemeral.

According to Vedic seer Patanjali, credited with developing the Vedic form of meditation or ‘upasana’ into a fitness code, yoga is a reunion of the self (jiva) with the absolute pure consciousness (Brahma). He codified the various yogic practices of his times by encapsulating them in the form of aphorisms in his Yoga Sutra in which he said that the purpose of yoga was to attain knowledge of the self.

Patanjali listed an eightfold path in attaining this ideal state of balance between the mind and the body: ‘yamas’ or eternal vows, ‘niyamas’ or observances, ‘yogasanas’ or yoga postures, ‘pranayama’ or breath control exercises, ‘pratyahara’ or withdrawal of the senses from distractions of the outside world, ‘dharana’ or concentration on an object, place or subject, ‘dhyana’ or the continuance of this concentration-meditation and ’samadhi’, the ultimate stage of yoga meditation.

“In the modern perspective, yoga controls waves of thoughts by converting them into spiritual energy. It eases tension, rejuvenates the body and the soul, increases concentration, restores youth and has a cure for almost all diseases, when practised in combination with traditional remedies like Ayurveda, Unani, herbal cures and music therapy,” said renowned yoga expert Guru Ramdev.

On a recent cruise aboard a luxury ship on the South China Sea, Ramdev explained the intricacies of the art to 1,062 yoga enthusiasts who had flown to Hong Kong on chartered flights from all over the world and then boarded the liner.

Over five days, the guru, who has legions of followers and even a television programme watched by many loyalists, held sessions with his many followers.

According to Ramdev, the basis of all forms of Vedic yoga is breath control.

Here’s a ready reckoner, in Ramdev’s words.

“Controlling one’s inhalation and exhalation process calms the mind, emits positive energy and allows the person to absorb it in the body. It has therapeutic effect,” he explained.

The first step to breath control is called prananyama - regulating the amount of fresh air one breathes in and the stale air one exhales.

Pranayama, the most popular form of yoga in the world today, according to Ramdev, controls ‘prana’ or life force through the regulation of breathing.

The five most popular forms of pranayamas include the bhrastika pranayama.

It is simple, said Ramdev. “Take deep breaths and then breathe out completely.”

This should ideally be practised for at least five minutes. It strengthens the heart, lungs and brain, cures depression, migraine and paralysis and tones up the neural system.

The kapalbharti pranayama, according to Ramdev, drives negative energy or fetid air out of the body. “Push the air forcefully out and crunch the stomach,” he instructed as his devotees snorted and puffed.

A month’s practice, however, helps one master the art. Kapalbharti pranayama, according to Ramdev, should be repeated at least 30 times or for one minute to begin with. “Then increase it to five minutes and go up to 10 minutes,” Ramdev said. It cures obesity, constipation, gastro-intestinal disorders, liver ailments, hepatitis B, uterine diseases, stomach problems, cholesterol, allergies, asthma, cancer and even AIDS. However, it is not advised for heart patients.

Then there is the baharya pranayama, which cures stomach disorders, hernia and uterine diseases. “It is not tough. Breathe out, touch chin to chest, squeeze stomach completely, hold for a while and then exhale.” It should be repeated three to five times and can go up to 21 times.

The anulom vilom pranayama is a simple breathing technique. “Hold your right nose with your thumb and breathe from left. While exhaling, close the left nose and let the breath out from the right,” said Ramdev. If practised for 10 minutes every day, this exercise or yoga can cure high blood pressure, heart blockade, arthritis, bent ligaments, sinusitis, Parkinson’s and paralysis.

But one must be careful not to breathe into the stomach. “Breathe into the lungs for no organs in the stomach absorbs oxygen,” Ramdev said.

Besides the breathing exercises are the many yogic postures, some easy to master, others that take long years of discipline and practice.

But yoga alone cannot work wonders for the mind and body. A balanced organic diet has to complement yoga and one must be careful as to what one is eating even off the shelves.

As nutrition specialist Mike Geary said: “Many so-called health foods are cleverly disguised junk foods that can actually stimulate you to gain more belly fat. The food better be homemade and simple.”

Besides being a spot cure, yoga is also an effective preventive therapy. Vedic experts say it brings natural order and balance to the neuro-hormones and metabolism in the body and at the same time improves endocrine metabolism, erecting a preventive wall.

It activates the energies that have accumulated or stagnated in the energy pockets of the body, which if left idle turns negative, causing various diseases. It also cleanses the mind and the body by removing toxins from the system.

According to renowned spiritualist Mataji Nirmala Devi, an authority on the Sahaj (easy) Yoga meditation technique, self-realisation through sahaj yoga is the last step in the spiritual evolution of mankind.

“After attaining self-realisation through yoga, we can feel a gentle cool breeze coming from the top of our head through the fontanelle area and also in our hands because they connect to the central nervous system. We can identify blockages in our energy centres (chakras) and yoga helps us clean these centres with the help of the latent energy Kundalini,” she said.

Yes, it sounds esoteric and perhaps is. Yoga, as in other regimes, can also be complicated and difficult. But it is a way of life and benefits can accrue - with exercises that are as simple as breathing in and breathing out.

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