Yoga as Therapy
There is only one disease . . . STRESS. The root of most all diseases and illnesses has been linked to stress!
The A#1 tool we have for keeping our bodies, hearts, and minds stress free is our breath. Connecting and moving with our breath has not only been scientifically proven to lower heart rate, blood pressure, and remove stress hormones from our blood stream . . . it feels good! This is the heart of any yoga therapy. During practice when you focus on breathing and moving synchronicity all your other worries fall away (=less stress), including the worry that your body has to be somewhere in the pose. This does not mean do not work in your practice, a little challenge is OK if you are able to keep your steady breathing—if you lose your breath you are pushing too hard. Just follow your breath into the pose and breathe in the pose! Practice “action without attachment” (a yoga philosophy)—no attachments to the effort you put into the poses, your body is where it is. You are perfect as you are 🙂 Just breathe and you will feel the therapy.
Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series is known as yoga chikitsa or yoga therapy—meaning this challenging practice is therapeutic! And it gives us a nice physical framework to detoxify all our major organs, and keep our body strong and healthy—but remember the heart of the practice is the moving and breathing synchronicity, without that connection you are merely doing gymnastics.
Our breath is our Therapist!
Awareness, Breath, and Movement
Yoga as therapy is awareness of your body and how you move it, and moving in rhythm with your breath. Many times we have a movement pattern that brings pain and we need to understand there is a way for us to align our bodies and move without pain (no need for pills and surgeries if we learn how to move correctly!). Let’s use back pain as an example (since over 80% of the population will suffer back pain at some point in their lives!); someone who has lower back pain due to a bulging disc most likely rounds lower their spine habitually—not even being aware that they are, a rounded spine puts uneven pressure on the intervertebral discs making them bulge and press on nerves (=pain!) . . . and someone who has lower back pain due to tightness in their hip flexors or weak abdominals will most likely stand sway back with their abdomen protruding and their lower back muscles in a chronic shortened contracted position causing muscular cramps. As you begin your practice of yoga you will find certain postures will aggravate the pain—this is actually a good thing and not a reason to quit yoga! In your practice you experiment with different pose options to see what feels best for you. As you learn which positions are healthy for you, you become more aware of how you are moving your body—not only on your mat but off as well. This knowledge over time will cure your pain = Pain Gone!
Just to follow up with a little more info on back pain, in Primary series the person with a bulging disc would forward bend with more spinal extension to put less pressure on the discs vs, someone who has back pain due to tightness/weakness, this person would forward bend with more rounding of the spine and connecting to the bandhas. Understanding this will help you do “your yoga”.
Alignment for a healthy spine:
Pelvis – can tilt anteriorly, posteriorly, or laterally. Ideally the pelvis should be level—as if it is a bucket filled to the brim with water. A little tuck under of the tailbone connecting to the muscular action of the bandhas will help your keep your pelvis level and this slight engagement of the abdominals will keep your back in a protected state and help give you a feeling of lightness in your movements.
Spine – has a natural ‘S” curve. The spine includes the neck to the tailbone. Common spinal mis-alignments: forward head posture, rounded upper back, and swayed lower back. Tips to keep your spine correctly aligned: keep the back of your neck long, align your ears with your shoulders, keep your heart lifted and should blades slightly adducted, close in the ribs, and tuck under slightly your tailbone. And Breathe through your nose!
Ashtanga yoga challenges us to find neutral spinal alignment (Samasthiti) in every way possible! Standing, inverted, prone, supine, lying on our side, seated, etc! This practice will help us keep our spine in healthy alignment while we move about our lives.
Specifically having awareness of our pelvis and spine will have an impact on us physically and emotionally. When we stand tall and at ease people respond to us very differently than if we are stooped over or in so much pain we do not even make eye contact with others.
If you lose the breath trying to attain the posture—you have lost the posture anyway.