Yoga and Health
by Jean Fraser
How often has this happened to you? Running late, caught in traffic and your mind begins to race through all the consequences of being late. Your body tenses and your breathing becomes shallow. This is called chest breathing.
It is a pattern that occurs when you are startled, frightened, or stressed. You tighten the abdomen and breathe high in the chest. The holding and contraction of the abdomen prevents full inhalation. This pattern leads to chronic tension in the upper back, shoulders and neck — and creates conditions for a state of anxiety or stress.
Nourishing with Breath
Yoga opens the body to allow it to breathe fully and receive nourishment from the breath. Simple poses, stretching and breathing encourages the breath to move in and out of the chest and lower in the body, to the belly and low back.
It isn't that we don't want to feel any movement or breath in the upper body, but we don't want it to be restricted or limited there. The primary action and origination of breath is in the abdomen. When we rediscover or reconnect to this breath, it communicates a sense of well-being and equanimity to the body/mind.
It brings us back to our center and creates the opportunity to come into the present moment. It gives the gift of time, to be able to pause and decide if current conditions warrant the level of agitation you find yourself in.
Abdominal breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This branch of the nervous system has to do with the restorative functions of the body, and sends the message that all is well. Its function balances the sympathetic breanch of the nervous system, which stimulates a
state of emotional arousal and the physiological reactions undrelying stress, anxiety and panic.
Anxiety and worry tend to keep you "up in your head". Dropping into this breath brings you back to your body and gives a feeling of being centered.
Abdominal breathing increases the supplyu of oxygen to the brain and all the body tissues, and facilitates more efficient excretion of toxins through the lungs. Low oxygen levels to the brain are directly related to headaches. Abdominal breathing on its own can trigger a relaxation response.
Enhancing the Emotions
Yoga provides us with the tools to consciously develop a particular inner quality. The Mountain and Warrior poses create a sense of groundedness and connection to the earth, which can build confidence.
Back bending poses such as Cobra and Bridge can invigorate and give a feeling of hope. Forward bending/folding poses, seated/standing forward bends, and the child's pose have a nurturing and quieting quality.
There are also practices to increase energy, concentration, and balance.
The variety of movements, stretches and poses in Yoga take the body through its full range of motion. Joints become lubricated and spacious. The spine lengthens and opens. The muscles gain flexibility and strength. The level of overall body tension decreases.
The healthiest and most efficient muscle is one that flexes or engages from a relaxed state. Working with careful alignment in Yoga facilitates this process by bringing the body into neutral, and finding support from the center.
With the underlying support of the breath, the body can begin to strengthen. Yoga is a healthy and balanced system for developing strength.
Keeping Strong Bones
We know that consistent, weight bearing exercise increases bone mass. Limiting weight bearing exercise to walking or running will only benefit the lower limbs (swimming is non-weight bearing).
Yoga strengthens the upper body and spine, as well as the legs and lower back. Good posture is essential for a healthy spine. Yoga helps bring the bones and joints into proper alignment, releasing contracted muscles and strenghtening the deep muscles of the spine and back.
A well-rounded Yoga practice can do wonders for digestive health. Yoga provides the balance between activity and rest that your body needs to function properly. There are specific poses that can address a variety of disgestive complaints such as:
Acid Reflux/ IndigestionConstipation/ Nausea/ Diarrhea
The nurturing and soothing aspects of Yoga can have a profound effect on disgestive function, as the nervous system comes into a state of balance.
Yoga, at its base and at its best, is about the breath. By connecting the breath and releasing tension in the body, we feel more of life flowing through us. We can pause, listen, and tune in to our inner world. We learn to honor, nurture, and become more loyal to ourselves.
For more information about Jean Fraser, visit www.yogasoma.com