Yoga, Pranayama, and Meditation
Yog (yoga) is an ancient Indian Vedic science that has lived through centuries to become a worldwide mantra for good health. It is a unique practice that links body and mind to achieve a state of internal peace and total health integration. It concentrates on breathing techniques called Pranayama, posture and alignment. Traditionally, the classical yoga texts, describe that to attain true states of meditation one must go through several stages. After the necessary preparation of personal and social code, physical position, breath control, and relaxation you will reach the more advanced stages of concentration, contemplation, and then ultimately absorption. But that does not mean that one must perfect any one stage before moving onto the next. The Integral yoga approach is simultaneous application of a little of all stages together.
With regular practice of a balanced series of poses, the energy of the body and mind can be liberated and the quality of consciousness can be expanded. This is not a subjective claim but is now being investigated by scientists and being shown as an empirical fact.
How Yoga, Pranayama, and Meditation cause relaxation and impact blood pressure and anxiety?
Yoga, pranayama, and meditation induce a state of "energized relaxation" by affecting the nervous system. Two of the main branches of the nervous system are known as the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous system controls activities beyond the repertoire of our conscious control; concerned most with the mechanisms of assisting the body to adapt to any stressor. It causes vasodilation of blood vessels and dilation of smooth muscles such as airways and bronchioles.
The parasympathetic nervous system controls activities of the organs themselves, also beyond our conscious control such as:
- Activities of liver
- Gastric secretions, etc.
Scientific study of the effects of breathing techniques and meditation has demonstrated that the mind can indeed exert control over those processes thus far deemed only under the rulership of the nervous system.
The effects of breathing demonstrate how the autonomic nervous system, that which is ordinarily beyond our influence, can actually brought under conscious control. For example, when we choose to implement breathing techniques, that in turn can affect the sympathetic system by decreasing heart rate and vice versa. If we breathe erratically or labored it can overstimulate the sympathetic nervous system and cause heart rate to increase.
When we exercise, this causes an increase in the demand for oxygen; this causes the sympathetic part to increase heart rate, dilate airways, etc. When we relax, the sympathetic control subsides and the parasympathetic part is more in control so that heart rate is decreased and blood pressure is lowered.
The hormone conncection
One of the main saboteurs of health is stress. Stress works in conjunction with cortisol to create deleterious effects of the body. When one is stressed, a message is sent to the brain to flood the body with cortisol. High levels of cortisol in turn increases cravings for carbohydrates and sweets, creating weight to be gained around the mid-abdominal area. Cortisol can also lower the much talked about: growth hormone. As cortisol levels increase, the message is sent to the hypothalamus to inhibit the release of growth hormone, a very important hormone that helps regenerate and renew all the cells in the body. Low growth hormone levels can cause thin, sagging skin, loss of muscle strength, thinning bones and make you feel like you’ve "lost your edge."
The cortisol nutrition hormone connection
Poor nutrition can also cause high levels of cortisol which in turn can deplete levels of progesterone. Consumption of too many refined foods consisting of white sugar and white flour cause insulin levels to spike. This causes a cascade of reactions: blood sugar levels plummet, existing cortisol is mobilized and used, progesterone is used to make additional cortisol and progesterone levels are depleted. One of the most common hormonal deficiencies we see in women over and over are very low levels of progesterone.
How yoga affects hormones
As one can see, cortisol can have a widespread impact on the body. Yoga has a profoundly relaxing effect on the body and therefore, naturally lowers elevated cortisol levels. Yoga is strangely paradoxical in that while it strengthens and provides excellent conditioning it also relaxes. It creates an "inner fire" of energy that provides mental clarity as well as relaxation.
The what & why of Pranayama
"The yogin attains direct knowledge of the pulsation of his own life, the organic energy discharged by inhalation and exhalation. Pranayama is an attention directed upon one’s organic life, a knowledge through action, a calm and lucid entrance into the very essence of life"- Mircea Eliade
Each pose in yoga is performed in conjunction with the breath. Various breathing techniques called pranayama are used to accomplish this. It takes effort to inhale; one is actively using the abdominal and intercostal muscles; exhale on the other hand is passive. This symbolizes the fact that effort must always be balanced with surrender.
The one obstacle that stands in the way of realizing our true inner nature is our own free will. We must learn to surrender our own free will (the ego) to the will of our higher being; our higher selves. This higher self yearns to express itself but is constantly being silenced and hypnotized by the anodynes of pop culture. Media, radio, and mass consumerism vie relentlessly for the attention of our ego selves. The result is disintegration of the mind leading to, a fractionated faculty lacking clarity, peace, and wholeness. Yoga and Pranayama are the perfect vehicle then, for accessing deeper and deeper levels of clarity and the ascension of awareness that accompanies this most heightened, exalted state.
Meditation is neither worship nor prayer. Meditation is a means to calm the mind's restlessness. It is an invaluable tool in managing stress and anxiety. Meditation means awareness. Any activity practiced with mindfulness can be meditation; washing the dishes can be meditation, walking the dog, going on a bike. The word meditation is derived from two Latin words: meditari (to think, to dwell upon, to exercise the mind) and mederi (to heal). Its Sanskrit derivation 'medha' means wisdom. The basic state of the mind is a constant state of restlessness and agitation. The mind, like anything else, must be conditioned if one expects it to work efficiently. In a world where confusion, conflict and stress weigh heavily upon us, today, more than ever, there is a dire need to bring clarity to the mind. Our programmed minds drive us relentlessly to seek validation from what is familiar to us. It is easy to become lost in anodynes that numb and hypnotize our minds. Meditation is unfamiliar territory; stillness is somewhere our minds don’t often travel, and yet it is the very methodology that has the power to unearth and excavate our most authentic selves and bring clarity, calmness, and tranquility to our very being.
"And only if he turns away from himself will he jump over his own shadow – and jump, in truth, into his own sunlight."- Nietzche
The mind left to itself is a wandering, vagrant, homeless thing; ever scheming to manifest the next desires, appetites, craving; never seeking its own solitude. Thus is the day to day state of the mind and all our sufferings issue forth from this tragedy. It is not easy to convince the mind of the comfort of this stillness; it must be conditioned to accept this gift. And so by teaching it stillness through the yogic postures and through pranayama, the mind finally begins to yield to the immutable grace that silence offers.
Yoga and pranayama condition the mind to accept the lucidity of stillness and from this point, the soul begins the journey of transcending the crippling narrowness of the ego.
When one learns to quiet the mind; one ceases to identify with the objects of duality and its sensations. This allows one to access the higher self so as to allow the inherent discernment of higher Self to surface so that all veils are lifted.
Yoga & Meditation
Yoga through meditation works remarkably to achieve harmony and helps the mind work in sync with the body. How often do we find that we are unable to perform our activities properly and in a satisfying manner because of the confusions and conflicts in our mind weigh down heavily upon us? Moreover, stress which in reality is the #1 killer affecting all parts of our physical, endocrinal and emotional systems, can be corrected through the wonderful yoga practice of meditation.
In fact yoga = meditation, because both work together in achieving the common goal of unity of mind, body and spirit - a state of eternal bliss.
The meditative practices through yoga help in achieving an emotional balance through detachment. What it means is that meditation creates conditions, where you are not affected by the happenings around you. This in turn creates a remarkable calmness and a positive outlook, which also has tremendous benefits on the physical health of the body.
These are just some of the tangible benefits that can be achieved through yoga.
Having seen this, it is educative to note why the ancient yogis performed yoga and the interdependence of yoga and meditation.
Yoga provides a full range of benefits
Fosters mind control; helps create a sculpted body; develops strength and flexibility; boosts vitality and enables recovery; re-connects you with your own power; provides excellent toning of the muscles; promotes cardiovascular and muscular stamina; produces an alert, relaxed, and tranquil state of being; purifies and cleanses every muscle, joint, and organ of the body; restores the body-mind to its fundamental state of well-being, ease, and vibrant alertness; enables discovery of the sacred link that ties body with mind, mind with soul, inner world with the outer world, and material achievement with spiritual aspiration.
Yoga is perhaps the only form of activity which offers complete detoxification by gently stretching muscles and joints as well as massaging all the internal glands and organs of the body in a thorough manner, including those such as the prostate, that hardly get externally stimulated during our entire lifetime. This helps in the flushing out of toxins from every nook and cranny as well as providing nourishment up to the last point. This leads to benefits such as delayed ageing, energy and a remarkable zest for life.
One of the far-reaching benefits of yoga is the uncanny sense of awareness that it develops in the practitioner of an impending health disorder or infection. This in turn enables the person to take pre-emptive corrective action. But these enormous physical benefits are just a "side effect" of this powerful practice. What yoga does is harmonize the mind with the body and this result in real quantum benefits. It is now an open secret that the will of the mind has enabled people to achieve extraordinary physical feats, which proves beyond doubt the mind and body connection.
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