It is said that yoga is about 10,000 years old and it is more than the boundary of modern yoga as we know it now. Yoga is about the way we think, do and interact with others positively. Image source: Elly Fairytale from Pexels
Considering I often leave home early and back late just to escape the insane traffic jam, it will be too early or late to be walking around about the neighbourhood exercising. I used to do some morning fast walk on the weekends but the outcome of this, although burns a good dose of calories, it has not easy on my knees and I have usually had lingering pain on my knees for days.
So I have to look for alternatives to keep myself moving whilst at the same time, I review substantial changes to my lifestyle and diet to get more good sleep in and go easy on the daily calories. What I could do that enable me to exercise in the house, for about 30 minutes and is completely safe before I leave home for work?
The answer seems to be only one – Yoga – which will be easy to do, does not require me to step out of the house (no excuse when it rains or the sun is high on the sky) and gives a holistic exercise for the body and mind.
Why Yoga is Preferred?
This is an interesting article on why Yoga has gotten widely accepted in many parts of countries and societies namely in the West. It also explains the general misconceptions of Yoga:-
For many, the practice of yoga is restricted to Hatha Yoga and Asanas (postures). However, among the Yoga Sutras, just three sutrasare dedicated to asanas. Fundamentally, Hatha Yoga is a preparatory process so that the body can sustain higher levels of energy. The process begins with the body, then the breath, the mind, and the inner self.
Yoga is also commonly understood as a therapy or exercise system for health and fitness. While physical and mental health is the natural consequences of yoga, the goal of yoga is more far-reaching. “Yoga is about harmonizing oneself with the universe. It is the technology of aligning individual geometry with the cosmic, to achieve the highest level of perception and harmony.”
Yoga does not adhere to any particular religion, belief system or community; it has always been approached as a technology for inner wellbeing. Anyone who practices yoga with involvement can reap its benefits, irrespective of one’s faith, ethnicity or culture.
Pranayama consists of developing awareness of one’s breathing followed by willful regulation of respiration as the functional or vital basis of one’s existence. It helps in developing awareness of one’s mind and helps to establish control over the mind. In the initial stages, this is done by developing awareness of the ‘flow of in-breath and out-breath’ (svasa-prasvasa) through nostrils, mouth and other body openings, its internal and external pathways and destinations.
Later, this phenomenon is modified; through regulated, controlled and monitored inhalation (svasa) leading to the awareness of the body space/s getting filled (puraka), the space/s remaining in a filled state (kumbhaka) and it’s getting emptied (rechaka) during regulated, controlled and monitored exhalation (prasvasa).
Pratyhara indicates dissociation of one’s consciousness (withdrawal) from the sense organs which helps one to remain connected with the external objects. Dharana indicates broad-based field of attention (inside the body and mind) which is usually understood as concentration. Dhyana (Meditation) is contemplation (focussed attention inside the body and mind) and Samadhi – integration.
Yuktahara (Right Food and other inputs) advocates appropriate food and food habits for healthy living. However, the practice of Dhyana (Meditation) helping in self-realization leading to transcendence is considered as the essence of Yoga Sadhana (The Practice of Yoga).
My Preferred Yoga Poses
Over the years since I started doing yoga in the morning, I have more or less settled down on specific poses that I believe covers my general health and can be done within the time I have. So far, none of it includes me standing upside down. Image source: Pinterest
I will start off with the Hero Pose (Sanskrit Virasana) which entails the following possible benefits:-
- Stretches the thighs, knees, and ankles
- Strengthens the arches
- Improves digestion and relieves gas
- Therapeutic for high blood pressure and asthma
It is a great start in the morning with the Hero Pose as it does a good stretch of my legs after hours sleeping flat. Stretching pulls the various muscles in the legs and that kind of wakes my body up before I do the other yoga poses below. Over time, I found the pain that I had in my knees for a very long time has gradually reduced and now totally disappeared.
Then after I do further foot stretching, I will move on to the Cow Pose (Sanskrit Bitilasana) which entails the following possible benefits:-
- Stretches the front torso and neck
- Provides a gentle massage to the spine and belly organs
This is followed by Cat Pose (Sanskrit Marjari) which entails the following possible benefits:-
- Stretches the back torso and neck
- Provides a gentle massage to the spine and belly organs
This is followed by Child’s Pose (Sanskrit Balasana) which entails the following possible benefits:-
- Gently stretches the hips, thighs, and ankles
- Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and fatigue
- Relieves back and neck pain, when done with head and torso, supported
This is followed by Cobra Pose (Sanskrit Bhujangasana) which entails the following possible benefits:-
- Can boost energy and fight fatigue
- Can help build confidence and empowerment
- Improves posture and counteracts the effects of sitting and computer work
- May help relieve lower back pain
- Can counteract slouching and kyphosis of the spine
- Stretches your abdomen
- Strengthens around your shoulders, arms, and back muscles
And finally, I would end the morning session with the Easy Pose (Sanskrit Sukhasana) which entails the following possible benefits:-
- Strengthens the spinal muscles
- Opens the chest
- Imprints good seated posture
- Gently opens the hips in external rotation
Note: Information on the health benefits sourced from Yoga Journal
Always Focus on the Breathing
Before I start reading detail into the yoga and in particular, the breathing cycles during the yoga poses, I realised something.
Most of us never breathe properly – rarely we take a really deep breathe in and breathe out every time we breathe on a regular basis. We only do this when we are told to do so when we are warming up for some sports activities. Personally, I have observed, I only take half of the breathing in and then breathe out the same. Nothing is as deep as I breathe when I am doing the Cow and Cat Poses – breath in when doing the Cow Pose, breath out when doing the Cat Pose.
The scientific reasoning behind the deep breathes:-
Deep slow breathing using our diaphragm has shown to have many beneficial effects. On average, when most people breathe in normally, they take in only about 350 ml of air into the lungs. When we breathe deeply, using our diaphragm, we can take up to 4500 ml of air.
Regular use of deep breathing has shown to have the following benefits:-
- Relieves stress and anxiety and increases focus.
- Improves cardiovascular health and fitness.
- Reduces blood pressure and heart rate.
- Improves quality of life in people affected by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema and asthma.
- Improves immune function.
- Helps in pain management.
- Improves lipid profile.
Interestingly yoga emphasises on deep breathing and the ancient ones have long recognised the health benefits of taking deep breathes. Image source: Saagara
It is called Pranayama or Yoga Breathing and there is a process for it:-
To perform Pranayama, as you inhale, first push out your abdomen, then expand your chest and as you exhale, first pull in your abdomen to help empty the base of your lungs, then allow your chest to collapse.
This is known as diaphragmatic breathing, because as you inhale your diaphragm contracts and pushes down into the abdomen. Pushing your abdominal wall out makes room for this to happen. During exhalation, “pulling in” your abdominal wall facilitates the diaphragm rising up.
I acknowledge that living healthy goes beyond just doing yoga in the morning. It needs to be coupled with a healthy lifestyle and diet. It also needs to be coupled with the skill to manage stress, especially at work. Exercise also needs to go beyond just body, one also needs to keep one’s mind active and always on the move.
For those who may worry that yoga is part of some religion, one can be assured that it is not. Some of the poses are already part and parcel of our daily poses such as sitting down (Easy Pose) on the floor (we were already doing that before we got used to sitting on chairs).