Category Archives: health and fitness

12-Step Salute to the Sun

One of the all-around yoga exercises is the 12-step salute to the sun. Do it once or twice when you get up in the morning to help relieve stiffness and invigorate the body. Multiple repetitions at night will help you to relax; insomniacs often find that six to 12 rounds help them fall asleep.

1. Stand with your feet slightly apart, palms together, thumbs against your chest.

2. Inhale deeply while slowly raising your hands over your head, and bend back as far as possible, while tightening your buttocks. Hold for three seconds.

3. Slowly exhale and bend forward, keeping your knees straight, until your fingers touch the floor outside your feet. (If you can’t touch the floor, go as close as you can.) Bring your head in toward your knees.

4. Slowly inhale, bend your knees, and if your fingertips aren’t outside your feet on the floor, place them there. Slide your right foot back as far as you can go, with the right knee an inch or so off the floor, (a lunge position). Now look up as high as possible, arching your back.

5. Before exhaling again, slide your left foot back until it is beside the right one, and with your weight supported on your palms and toes, straighten both legs so that your body forms a flat plane. Make sure your stomach is pulled in.

6. Slowly exhale, bend both knees to the floor, bend with your hips in the air, lower your chest and forehead to the floor.

7. Now inhale slowly and look up, bending your head back, then raising it, followed by your upper chest, then lower chest. Your lower body – from the navel down – should be on the floor, and your elbows should be slightly bent. Hold for three to five seconds.

8. Exhale slowly and raise your hips until your feet and palms are flat on the floor and your arms and legs are straight in an inverted V position.

9. Inhale slowly and bring your right foot forward as in position 4. The foot should be flat on the floor between your fingertips. The left leg should be almost straight behind you, with its knee slightly off the floor. Raise your head, look up, and arch your back.

10. Slowly exhale and bring your left foot forward next to your right one. Straighten your legs and stand, trying to keep your fingertips on the floor, and try to touch your head to your knees as in position 3.

11. Slowly inhale, raise your arms up and stretch back as in position 2. Don’t forget to tighten your buttocks. Hold for three seconds.

12. Slowly exhale, lowering your arms to your sides. Relax. Repeat the series.

Alternate Your Strength Training Workout With Some Yoga

Many who think of strength training equipment think of the massive muscles that many bodybuilders get and consequently show off in competitions. This can be a plus or a drawback for many consumers. The average consumer likes to be able to say feel good about themselves when they go swimming, but many are concerned about building too much muscle and suffering from stereotypical viewpoints. This needn’t be a worry for anyone considering strength training equipment.

The average body builder works out a lot in order to get the muscles they are famous for, plus they have to be on a very strict regimen with lots of protein and little or no fat. It would take you a lot of effort to become as built as the average bodybuilder. Many consumers can use simple free weights in order to maintain the muscle mass that they have or to add a little muscle strength. Some use strength training equipment to add a little tone or shape to certain areas of the body.

If you use them properly and alternate your strength training workout with some yoga or stretching exercises there is little risk of you bulking up too much. Many find that they enjoy the challenge of working out with strength training equipment. You can gradually increase the weight as you work out over a period of time and after your workout you really will feel the ‘burn’ in your muscles.

Though you should be careful of using too much weight at once. Its easy to sprain a muscle and hurt yourself, putting you out of commission for a few days or more. A good rule of thumb is that if you think you can start out with a certain weight begin about five or even ten pounds lighter and after a few repetitions move up to the next weight level. You can check out strength training equipment reviews online for an idea of what others are doing.

Exploring the Different Types of Yoga

Yoga is generally understood as a process of unification. This unification is multifaceted. In one dimension, it is a unification of the various systems that exist within the human being including the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual systems. In total there are believed to be five different systems within human life. These are typically referred to as the koshas which are the physical, energetic, mental, subtle, and bliss sheaths. In our current understanding of yoga, we are working to unify these five bodies or layers of the human being. Another process of unification occurs between of the individual consciousness and the universal consciousness.

This unification is often referred to as Samadhi and is one of the primary transformations that occur within the practice of yoga. Observing this from a different angle, Samadhi is a transformation of perception in which disillusionments about the world are reformed so that the truth behind reality can be seen in its purest of form. Yoga, as a system, has developed into various branches through which people pursue the evolution and unification of the elements within their being. Each branch retains its own unique set of ideas and philosophies which defined the process and eventual obtainment of complete unification.

There is no right or wrong system of yoga as the each possesses their own distinct characteristics that accommodate the needs of various characteristics and personalities that exist among human beings. Each system is designed to accommodate a different personality type, and yoga has developed into a broad reaching system that can be practiced by nearly anyone who is interested in pursuing a spiritual life. A practice like Jnana yoga is ideal for someone who is philosophically minded whereas the practice of bhakti yoga is good for someone who is emotionally perceptive and inclined towards a sense of devotion. In this article we will be reviewing the more mainstream practices of yoga which are derived from the tradition of yogic spirituality. These traditions of yoga are as young as 500 years and as old as several thousand. While there are many modern practices of yoga which have been defined by various teachers, the systems we will be discussing are traditional systems which have been in existence throughout many generations.

Bhakti Yoga The first system we will discuss it is Bhakti yoga. Bhakti yoga is a practice in which the spiritual practitioner focuses on developing a state of devotion within the mind and the heart. In bhakti yoga a strong sense of faith is needed as one is expected to submit themselves to God through a process of self surrendering. The practices and techniques of bhakti yoga are therefore designed to help surrendered the ego and embrace with love the thought of the creator. The more common practices of bhakti yoga are kirtan (chanting/song), japa (mantra repetition), and meditation on the divine.

Usually the practice of bhakti yoga is advised to be practiced by those who are well connected to their emotions and also receptive of more subtle feelings within themselves and others. Emphatic love defines the practice of bhakti yoga as the practitioner devotes their whole being towards the spiritual divine. A belief in God or a higher being is vital to the practice, and without it, it is near to impossible to practice bhakti yoga. The devotion that is practiced by the bhakti Yogi is not one of slavery towards the divine. Rather, it is a relationship that is filled with love, friendship, and companionship. In bhakti yoga people view God as a friend, a lover, a father, or mother. It is through this relationship that bhakti yoga is practiced. There are many aspects of devotion for the bhakti yogi; there are many forms of God that are worshiped in yoga including Shiva, Vishnu, Brahman, Parvatti, etc. Aside from the metaphysical forms of God, a guru or teacher can also be worshiped within the practice. The primary purpose of this practice is to help in relinquishing the ego and unifying the individual being with the universal.

Karma Yoga Karma is an aspect of human life that is responsible for our thoughts, feelings, and actions. It is believed in yoga that Karma keeps the cycle of rebirth in motion as past actions and events force us to take another life in the world to balance out the inequalities that we have imposed within our spirit and the universe. Once accumulated Karmic merit is balanced or destroyed then cycle of birth and death is stopped and the spirit is return to its origins within the universal divine. The practice of Karma yoga directly addresses this primary aspect of life, works to abolish the effects of Karma with disciplined action that formulates a separation between the individual and the effects of Karma. This separation occurs through a process of disassociation in which the individual separates themselves from the benefits or losses from their actions within the world.

The practice of Karma yoga is typically based around one’s Dharma or duties within the world. Dharma is determined by the actions of the individual in the past, including both the past of the current life as well as the past of previous lives. In some respects, Dharma is the most effective way for an individual to use their time on earth for spiritual progress as it is based upon the realistic capacities and potential of the individual. One of the main components of Dharma is acting in the world without thought of the benefits or losses of one’s actions. The practitioner lives and acts within the world without any expectations or imposed impressions of how the future should unfold. The mind is focused on selfless service and working for the benefit of the greater good as opposed to the independent needs of the individual. In Karma yoga the practice is gradual as the individual slowly relinquishes the bonds of karma and liberates the spirit from the confines of egocentric thought processes.

Although a Karma yogi may practice techniques such as the asanas, breathing practices, and meditations, the primary focus of their spiritual practice is service and actions with the focus of selflessness and humbleness. The first mention of Karma yoga is within the Bhagavad-Gita in a dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna. In this dialogue, Krishna informs Arjuna that he can merge his consciousness with Krishna’s when he surrenders his actions to the divine (which in this case is Krishna). Krishna encourages Arjuna to act and follow out his duty without worry or consideration of the benefits or losses of his actions. He informs Arjuna that acting in the name of Krishna (or divine) will provide him with the liberation that he has set forth to achieve.

Kundalini Yoga Kundalini yoga is a practice of yoga which originated from the practice of tantra yoga. Historically speaking, tantra yoga is believed to be one of the oldest forms of spirituality which is still in practice today. One of the key components of tantra yoga is the incorporation of kundalini which is considered to be the primordial force existence within each human being. The practice of Kundalini yoga was formed to control and harness the potential of the kundalini energy within the body. Unlike the other systems of yoga, kundalini yoga can be a highly unstable practice of yoga as the release of kundalini energy can lead to extreme psychological and physical disorders if not controlled in the proper manner.

Yogic Breathing For Better Health

Swami Kuvalyanand once said: “Yoga has a message for the human body, for the human mind and the human spirit.”

This is a truism as a healthy body is the prime requisite for success and happiness in life. People are increasingly being convinced that yoga makes for good health, contentment and happiness in present day stressful life and is not just an exercise regimen.

In this article we will discuss Anuloma-Viloma (alternate breathing) pranayama. Pranayama simply means proper ‘management’ of the vital force – prana. Although the basic principle remains the same, many different types of pranayama have been devised, each with its own unique technique. Anuloma-Viloma or nadi shuddhi pranayama (nerve purifying pranayama) is one such kind and is considered one of the basic forms.

The practice of Anuloma Viloma is somewhat like the squad that regulates traffic on roads, looks after their cleanliness, beautification, etc and keeps the traffic moving smoothly and efficiently. The method involves breathing in (pooraka) through one nostril and vice versa. Therefore this pranayama has the name anuloma viloma, i.e. alternate breathing.

To practice this, you have to sit in any of the yogic sitting postures. To begin with, carry on normal breathing applying moola bandha (i.e. comfortable anal contraction). Keeping a stable moola bandha, breathe in and breathe out completely. Ensure that the moola bandha is not loosened during the process. Pause for a while between breathing in and breathing out. Breathe in deeply through the left nostril and breathe out through the right; then breathe in through the right and out through the left. Continue breathing this way, i.e. alternately from left and right nostrils, for one to three minutes.

After reaching a comfort level in this way, you may move to the next stage. Close the right nostril with the right thumb keeping the other four fingers together. Now, slowly breathe in through the left nostril at a uniform speed. Repeat with the other nostril. While breathing in, raise the shoulders and expand the chest taking the ribs up. The lower abdominal region, however, must be held in.

Benefits: The respiratory passage is cleaned and this prepares one well for the practice of other pranayamas. Breathing becomes easy and regulated. The mind becomes and heartbeat rhythmic. Also aids in enhancing concentration, memory and other mental faculties.

Contraindications: Severe pain in abdomen, swelling on account of appendicitis, enlargement of liver, very delicate bowels or intestines, disorders of the lungs, severe throat infections, growth in the nose (polypus) or blockage of the nasal passage due to cold, etc.

Warning: The reader of this article should exercise all precautions before following any of the asanas from this article and the site. To avoid any problems while doing the asanas, it is advised that you consult a doctor and a yoga instructor. The responsibility lies solely with the reader and not with the site or the writer.

Origin and Background

Yoga is an age-old science made up of different disciplines of mind and body. It has originated in India 2500 years ago and is still effective in bringing overall health and well being to any person who does it regularly. The word yoga is based upon a Sanskrit verb Yuja. It means to connect, to culminate or to concur. It’s the culmination of mind and body or the culmination of Jiva and Shiva (soul and the universal spirit). It’s also a culmination of Purush and Prakriti (Yin and Yang).

The term Yoga has a very broad scope. There are several schools or systems of Yoga. Dnyanayoga (Yoga through knowledge), Bhaktiyoga (Yoga through devotion), Karmayoga (Yoga through action), Rajayoga (Royal or supreme Yoga) and Hathayoga (Yoga by balancing opposite principles of body). All of these schools of Yoga are not necessarily very different from each other. They are rather like threads of the same cloth, entangled into each other. For thousands of years, Yoga has been looked upon as an effective way of self-improvement and spiritual enlightenment. All these systems essentially have this same purpose; only the ways of achieving it are little different for each of them. In its most popular form, the term Yoga has come to associate with the last of these systems which is Hathayoga. For the purpose of this article too, the term Yoga is used with the same meaning. Although, when it comes to Philosophy of Yoga, which is at the end of this article, the term Yoga will have a broader scope.

Asana and Pranayama

Let’s take a detailed look at the main two components of Hathayoga i.e. Asana and Pranayama.

a) Asana:
Asana means acquiring a body posture and maintaining it as long as one’s body allows. Asana, when done rightly according to the rules discussed above, render enormous physical and psychological benefits. Asana are looked upon as the preliminary step to Pranayama. With the practice of Asana there is a balancing of opposite principles in the body and psyche. It also helps to get rid of inertia. Benefits of Asana are enhanced with longer maintenance of it. Asana should be stable, steady and pleasant. Here is the summary of general rules to be followed for doing Asana.

Summary of rules:

1. Normal breathing
2. Focused stretching
3. Stable and pleasant postures (sthiram sukham asanam)
4. Minimal efforts (Prayatnay shaithilyam)
5. No comparisons or competition with others
6. No jerks or rapid actions. Maintain a slow and steady tempo.

Each asana has its own benefits and a few common benefits such as stability, flexibility, better hormonal secretion, feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. It’s a misconception that an Asana (Yoga stretch) has to be difficult to do in order to be beneficial. Many of the easiest Asana render most of the common benefits of Yoga to their fullest. Besides, the beauty of Yoga is in the fact that at a not-so-perfect level most of the benefits are still available. That means even a beginner benefits from Yoga as much as an expert.

In their quest to find a solution to the miseries of human body and mind, the founders of Yoga found part of their answers in the nature. They watched the birds and animals stretching their bodies in particular fashion to get rid of the inertia and malaise. Based upon these observations, they created Yoga stretches and named them after the birds or animals or fish that inspired these stretches. For example, matsyasana (fish pose), makarasana (crocodile pose), shalabhasana (grasshopper pose), bhujangasana (cobra pose), marjarasana (cat pose), mayurasana (peacock pose), vrischikasana (scorpion pose), gomukhasana (cow’s mouth pose), parvatasana (mountain pose), vrikshasana (tree pose) etc.

Many of the Asana can be broadly categorized based upon the type of pressure on the abdomen. Most of the forward bending Asana are positive pressure Asana as they put positive pressure on the stomach by crunching it e.g. Pashchimatanasana, Yogamudra (Yoga symbol pose), Hastapadasana (hand and feet pose), Pavanmuktasana (wind free pose) etc. The backward bending Asana are the negative pressure Asana as they take pressure away from the abdomen e.g. Dhanurasana (bow pose), Bhujangasana (cobra pose), Naukasana (boat pose) etc. Both types of Asana give excellent stretch to the back and abdomen and strengthen both these organs. Alternating between positive and negative pressure on the same area of the body intensifies and enhances blood circulation in that area. The muscle group in use gets more supply of oxygen and blood due to the pressure on that spot. E.g. in Yogamudra (symbol of Yoga), the lower abdomen gets positive pressure due to which Kundalini is awakened. Hastapadasana refreshes all nerves in the back of the legs and also in the back. As a result you feel fresh and rejuvenated. Vakrasana gives a good massage to the pancreas and liver and hence is recommended for diabetic patients

An All-around Yoga Exercise

One of the all-around yoga exercises is the 12-step salute to the sun. Do it once or twice

when you get up in the morning to help relieve stiffness and invigorate the body. Multiple

repetitions at night will help you to relax; insomniacs often find that six to 12 rounds help

them fall asleep.

1. Stand with your feet slightly apart, palms together, thumbs against your chest

2. Inhale deeply while slowly raising your hands over your head, and bend back as far as

possible, while tightening your buttocks. Hold for three seconds.

3. Slowly exhale and bend forward, keeping your knees straight, until your fingers touch the

floor outside your feet. (If you can’t touch the floor, go as close as you can.) Bring your

head in toward your knees.

4. Slowly inhale, bend your knees, and if your fingertips aren’t outside your feet on the

floor, place them there. Slide your right foot back as far as you can go, with the right knee

an inch or so off the floor, (a lunge position). Now look up as high as possible, arching your

back.

5. Before exhaling again, slide your left foot back until it is beside the right one, and with

your weight supported on your palms and toes, straighten both legs so that your body forms a

flat plane. Make sure your stomach is pulled in.

6. Slowly exhale, bend both knees to the floor, bend with your hips in the air, lower your

chest and forehead to the floor.

7. Now inhale slowly and look up, bending your head back, then raising it, followed by your

upper chest, then lower chest. Your lower body – from the navel down – should be on the floor,

and your elbows should be slightly bent. Hold for three to five seconds.

8. Exhale slowly and raise your hips until your feet and palms are flat on the floor and your

arms and legs are straight in an inverted V position.

9. Inhale slowly and bring your right foot forward as in position 4. The foot should be flat

on the floor between your fingertips. The left leg should be almost straight behind you, with

its knee slightly off the floor. Raise your head, look up, and arch your back.

10. Slowly exhale and bring your left foot forward next to your right one. Straighten your

legs and stand, trying to keep your fingertips on the floor, and try to touch your head to

your knees as in position 3.

11. Slowly inhale, raise your arms up and stretch back as in position 2. Don’t forget to

tighten your buttocks. Hold for three seconds.

12. Slowly exhale, lowering your arms to your sides. Relax. Repeat the series.