Monday, 16 May 2011

Asana as a route to relaxation and mastery of mind and body

Relaxation is literally a life or death issue. Deep relaxation induces a response of the part of the nervous system that brings about mental and physiological bliss. This is when our heart rate is low, our muscular and nervous system is relaxed, our brain waves are in alpha and our whole bodymind system can maximise metabolic efficiency. But many people can't relax. They might think they are relaxed but really their system is still wired. Many people don't really relax even when they are sleeping; waking in the morning and still feeling tired.

We live in a world that is not conducive to relaxation, so we need to learn techniques to help us systematically relax our entire system so that we can, for increasing periods of time, experience a deep state of relaxation and bliss. It is during deep relaxation that our cells renew, so we age less; deep relaxation improves our cognitive and brain functions so that we can use more of our creativity and intelligence; our personality is also affected by deep relaxation we become more expansive, accepting, tolerant, compassionate, gracious, joyous, peaceful, loving, kind, humble. Deep relaxation helps us to live to our fullest potential as a human being.

Yoga postures (asanas) are a way to deep relaxation: ultimately they help us tread the path to higher consciousness so that we can begin to understand our relationship with existence. But let's start with relaxation! Yoga postures help us to relax much more so than any other 'exercise' because asanas demand two important things from us: 
  1. a focus on the breath - we practice asanas with a conscious effort and control of the breath. Asanas bring about a change in our breathing. Rapid and irregular breathing is a sign of tension in body and mind. The breath is a bridge between the body and mind. Breathing coherently during asanas (deep, smooth breathing) tonifies the parasympathetic nervous system (the relaxation side of the NS) and has a calming expansive effect on the mind. Asanas bring about mental and emotional balance by slowing down and deepening the breathing.
  2. Mindful awareness - the best systems of yoga (such as my Satyananda system) use awareness and mindfulness as an essential feature of the asana practice. Whilst performing the postures we need to be fully aware of what is going on, the mind is focused on feeling tone of the body during the work. We are aware of the breath movement. we are aware of the subtle or not-so-subtle sensations of the body, we are aware of the subtle moment-by-moment changes in our mental and emotional state. In doing this we relax our very personality - we become more of who we could be. Moment by moment.
Asanas have a massive influence on one's mental outlook. They help us have a more optimistic and resilient attitude to life. How? Under the guidance of a good teacher, asanas influence many important systems of the body.

One of these is the endocrine system. The endocrine system and is various glands located around the body, is controlled by the brain via the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. This system has a major impact on our emotional makeup and personality (can be the root of depressive and anxiety illnesses etc). Asanas automatically and gently bring this system into balance and proper working order.

Asanas bring other major bodily systems into harmony. These systems are rythmical in nature and work as a gestalt, as a whole, together. The blood, nervous, respiratory, digestive and endocrine systems are all affected positively by asanas.

Mental problems or tension is the main cause of most diseases which afflict us today. Yoga asanas release all mental and physical tension. It helps the body to heal itself. By ridding the body of disease and the mind of tension, asanas help the body to resist disease and have strength and flexibility and overall wellbeing. Regular practice of yoga asanas (and regularity is key) helps to make us master of mind and body, bringing about a strong, healthy mind and body.

That is what the 2500 system of yoga is designed to do. It is not a passing fad, a system based on only a few years' experience; it is a well tested system for attaining physical and mental health. And when we have attained health and eliminated 'dis-ease' we can work to higher levels of human consciousness. Little by little.

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