Benefits of Yoga
Yoga can help us in many ways
Yoga can help us in many ways with our life and our own personal evolution.
However, for many people in the Western world, the single most common cause for unhappiness, misery, illness and premature death is stress.
And one of the many things that yoga can do is to manage and reduce stress.
And one should not be surprised that stress affects most of us, even although we may not be aware of it.
Stress is influenced by many involuntary processes.
We are not consciously aware of many of the processes which are involved in the maintenance of stress and also in the reduction of it. So in order for us to slow our heart rate, or reduce our blood pressure, or to become more relaxed, we need to use some technique to which we can apply ourselves.
The mind picks up indications from many levels. So if it picks up cues that we are relaxed from a few different sources, it believes that we are relaxed, and it sends out further relaxation signals to all the bodys processes/mechanisms.
The muscles are relaxed even more. One’s activity of thought calms down. One’s breathing becomes deep, rhythmical, relaxed and slow. The heart settles down to an easy pattern and rhythm. Most of the body systems become balanced in a relaxed state and many of the regenerative systems kick in, as the body starts to replenish itself. Fatigued muscles are rested. Red blood cells are built in good quantities. Digestion continues easily.
So what type of cues can we give to the body to help it relax?
- Drink water
- Breathing slowly
- Close eyes and turn attention inwards
If we can mimic the signs of relaxation in the body, the body hears these signals and reacts accordingly.
Letting go of physical tension
Yoga produces tension in muscles and then releases the tension. It does this repeatedly and systematically with our awareness directed closely at the whole of what we are doing. We learn how to tense and relax. We build up perception of our muscle groups and how to identify stress in them and also how to relax them and let go of tension. Having gained this awareness of a muscle group we begin to notice/pay heed to these muscle groups throughout the day. And we unconsciously and consciously begin to let go in these muscles. So they don’t get a chance to gradually accumulate tension as the day goes on.
Letting go of thoughts
Yoga also teaches us techniques to relax the mind to let go of thoughts. Very often our stressful situations are either caused or maintained by habitual thoughts. Yoga can help us become aware of these thoughts and the thought patterns which we can fall into. It also teaches us how to let go of these thoughts and let the mind settle into a relaxed awareness. In this relaxed aware state, we are much better able to deal with any new stressful events which may occur. This state also helps us leave behind any of the stress reactions which may be left over from a previous stressful episode.
This helps us to let go of any worry. It is worrying that can often extend and exacerbate the mental tension which we can allow build up within ourselves. By being able to recognize this trait in ourselves, and by teaching us techniques to let it go, Yoga helps us to cultivate more relaxed and balanced states of mind.
Using the breath to relax
One huge cue the body listens to is the breath. The depth of it, the regularity of it, the rate of it. And whether the body is in tune with the breath. Is the back straight? Are the shoulders rising slightly and chest opening? Is the rib cage lifting and expanding?
Yoga teaches us awareness of the breath. It gives us the ability and experience and practice to become aware of the breath, and to deepen it rhythmically, slowing the breath without hindering the availability of oxygen to the vital cells in the body.
Toning up the vital organs and glands
Yoga also massages and improves the functioning of the vital organs and glands. This keeps these organs healthy and they in turn are then more able to help the body to return to a homeostasis after a stressful event has occurred. It also helps these organs to take the additional strain which is felt as the stress reactions take place in the body.
Massages the body and improves blood flow and oxygen supply to the body
Yoga also improves the blood flow by massaging areas and working areas where the blood flow can be sluggish. It also rests the arteries and the other blood vessels allowing them to repair and replenish themselves. This can help reduce hardening of the arteries, and prevent buildup of substances in the arteries and other blood vessels
Spotting stress in its early stages and letting it go
Like many reactions which happen in ourselves, very often these reactions can lead to chain reactions, often building up and strengthening the original reaction of the body. Yoga teaches us to be aware of our selves, both body and mind. This awareness helps us to recognize the early signs of stress (for example tightened shoulders, or furrowed brow). By early identification of these signs, and the ability to consciously let go of tension in that localized area, this often prevents secondary reactions form kicking in, and is easier to reduce the tension at this stage.
Good posture helps prevent stress
Good posture allows correct alignment of the body and minimal tension or tone in muscles in order to maintain the body in whatever activity or posture it is in.
Good posture also helps maintain an open chest and to receive plentiful amounts of oxygen into the lungs. It also maintains plenty of space for the vital organs in the body¡¦s cavities, and allows them to function unhindered by pressure or constriction of blood flow.
Good posture also prevents muscles from tensing or straining, which can often happen in a hunched posture, or some other non-aligned position.
Yoga also tackles stress in a preventative way
In addition to the benefits that Yoga can bring to us in letting go of tension and stress, Yoga also teaches us techniques such as cultivating a more relaxed awareness which helps prevent the more severe reactions to stress that can be experienced if the person is already stressed or has a mind which is very cluttered and out of control.
Swami Shivapremananda suggests the following guidelines to help prevent stress;
- Positive thinking and a wholesome disposition to people and to life in general
- Self discipline in eating, sleeping, work habit and any kind of indulgence
- Regular exercise which is equivalent to three miles of brisk walking or an hour of Yoga postures with movement and 15 minutes of breathing exercises
- Improved posture by keeping one¡¦s spine straight so as to facilitate breathing
- Learning to relax both physically and mentally
He goes on to say ¡§Life is what we make of it. In the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, we should have the courage to change what can be changed and the serenity to accept what cannot be, and the wisdom to know what can and cannot be changed¡¨.
Again a whole book could be written on how Yoga Nidra can help one deal with stress, and to let it go. The rotation of consciousness where the attention systematically focuses on different parts of the body, and then moves on to the next part, is a very powerful technique to first bring to heightened awareness the physical part, and then to let it go. As this happens, any muscular tension or psychological tension related to that part is also let go. The resultant state produced by Yoga Nidra is a state of very deep relaxation.
Furthermore, the visualization within Yoga Nidra can be used to further relieve tension by bringing to light any mental tensions and also letting them and any related mental tension go.
Helplessness increases stress
By teaching us how to identify stress and how to reduce it, this gives us both knowledge and tools with which to deal with the situation. If we are in a stressful situation and we are out of control and do not know how to tackle or to relieve the situation, this in itself can lead to greater levels of stress. There have been numerous experiments where animals have been placed in stressful situation. Psychologists have found that the levels of stress increase dramatically if the animal is placed in a situation where they cannot escape. Very often in these situations, secondary reactions set in and can lead to depression or other severe psychotic states.
A mind which is out of control reacts more strongly to stress
Many of us are caught up in desires, hungers, affairs and other ego based patterns. So much so that our minds and ourselves are not balanced and clear. When one is already out of control, it is easier to become more stressed and affected by an external event.
Yoga helps us to recognize and identify these internal desires and the needs which arise from them. It then allows us to investigate the root cause of these desires and to reduce them at source. The resultant state is much more balanced and living in the present. Uncluttered by habitual responses, and better able to deal effectively with new situations which may arise.
Yoga teaches us how to have a balanced and relaxed life. In this state it¡¦s easier for us to be present, in the moment, alive and well. And it¡¦s in these states that great men of the past have had their great insights and ideas.
Realization of the bigger picture and using humor
Yoga also lets us see the bigger picture where we over identify with our ego, and become caught up in identification with our desires and grasping. If we remind ourselves of this, and stand back and can even laugh at the situation… seeing ourselves as unskillful beings who are clinging onto the very things which are causing us pain and distress. And try to laugh at the foolishness of our actions. This laughing can actually help free up tension inside ourselves and help us to let go of our clenched stressful attitude.
What is it and what happens to us when we relax?
Satyananda says that Relaxation is essential in everyone’s life.
It is a release of tension in both the mind and body for a period of time to allow complete rest and revitalization.
This is the whole reason to sleep, but because of the tension filled lives that most people now lead in the daytime, sleep no longer refreshes us sufficiently.
Relaxation is a state where the body and mind are in a state of rest. The parasympathetic system is activated and this helps many of the body’s systems and functions slow down.
Some of the effects that occur during relaxation are as follows;
- Heart rate slows
- Breathing rate deepens, slows and becomes rhythmical
- Blood pressure decreases
- Muscle tension reduces
- Vital organs and the body in general are replenished
There are many other physical affects, and these are usually accompanied by a pleasurable good feeling state.
Satyananda says Relaxation is the door to health, happiness and higher consciousness.
Relaxation is a result of the autonomic nervous system.
As relaxation is produced by the affects of the parasympathetic nervous system, we do not have direct control over this mechanism.
Instead we must perform some other activities, which are under our control (such as deep breathing), and then the changes brought about by our conscious activity can bring about the desired parasympathetic responses.
The activities which we can perform to help bring about a state of relaxation are outlined in techniques to relax section below.
Benefits of relaxation
Relaxation gives the body and mind time to repair and to replenish it’s energy supplies and to restore the normal functioning level of the body in general.
Instead of using up energy reserves, these tend to be restored.
- Heart is given a chance to rest
- The arteries and blood vessels are also given a chance to rest
- Organs and glands in the body are rested and given a chance to restore
- The mind is given time to relax, calm down, and produce a clearer state of mind
A whole book could be written on the benefits of relaxation, but for the purpose of this project only a small number of main benefits are presented.
These benefits not only occur during the relaxation state but many of them can be seen during one’s normal day following regular periods of relaxation throughout one’s week.
The benefits of relaxation include
- Increased depth achieved during meditation
- Increased likelihood in experiencing psychic abilities
- Improved peace of mind
- Improved health and ultimately happiness
- Creative insights & breakthroughs. Many creative geniuses in the past including Einstein have reported that the main conception or flash of light of their theories came to them while in a relaxed meditative state. Very often they had been working mentally for a long time, analytically working on the problem but not getting the breakthrough which they required. And then one evening while they relaxed, and their mind felt blank, the breakthrough in question flashed into their mind.
- Quality of output In general, after having a break for relaxation, often the quality (and quantity) of work that is produced after the break increases dramatically. The mind and body are more rested and better able to be applied to whatever task is at hand.
Techniques to relax
Satyananda says Modern man needs to know systematic techniques that specifically induce relaxation.
Relaxation techniques start by taking your consciousness away from emotionally charged thoughts and directing it to activities that are emotionally neutral such as awareness of your breath or different parts of your body. It is almost impossible for anyone to remain or to become tense and angry when their attention is directed towards their big toe.
There are many different techniques which can be used to help us to relax. These include
- Deep and rhythmical breathing
- Systematically tensing our muscles and letting them relax
- Closing our eyes and turning inwards
- Adopting particular postures
- Yoga Nidra
Its possible to be relaxed even in an unpleasant situation.
One normally associates relaxation with nice leisurely pursuits such as lying on a beach, going for a stroll, having a massage, or taking a bath. One of the factors common to each of these activities is indeed relaxation, or at least a tendency towards experiencing that state.
And we normally associate a pleasurable aspect to it. However, this pleasurable aspect is not a prerequisite to relaxation and may or may not be present. It is possible to stay relaxed even in an unpleasant situation. It is this latter ability which requires skill.