Yoga Therapy: an ancient approach to a modern trend
I met yoga when I was in my early twenties. As I child, I went to modern dance classes with my mom –she would go into the adult's room and I would go next door, to learn with other children. So when I met yoga, I remembered how much I loved connecting with my body through movement. I had an amazing European yoga teacher, now expert on climate change, economy and resilience. Back then, I was already working 10-12 hours to make a living, so after a month of practicing I just stopped. I remember her explaining us how yoga can massage our organs, her view of yoga made me fall in love with it immediately. In my thirties, I decided to go for a degree in Alternative Medicines, in the best place I could think of: India. Imagine my surprise when I discovered one of my courses within Naturopathy, was called Yoga Therapy.
Yoga-Chikitsa, or Yoga Therapy refers to the treatment of diseases by means of yogic exercises which may be physical, or mental, or both. This way of treatment has been practised in India from very ancient times. Many references to yoga have been made in the Upanishads; however, Maharishi Patanjali, in the first century B.C. was the one who gave systematic account of the traditional yogic teaching.
The term "yoga" is derived from the Sanskrit root "yug" which means "to join". It stands for the union between the individual soul (jivatma) and the universal soul (parmatma). It aims at obtaining relief from pain and suffering.
Basically, human evolution takes place on three different plane: physical, mental, and spiritual. Yoga is a means of attaining perfect health by maintaining harmony and achieving optimum functioning on all three levels through complete self-control.
Yogic kriyas, asanas, and pranayama constitute the physical basis of yoga. The practice of kriyas and asanas leads to excellent circulation. It also energises and stimulates major endocrine glands of the body. Yogic exercises promote inner health and harmony, and their regular practice helps prevent and cure many common ailments. They also help eliminate tensions in the mind, the emotions and the body.
Pranayama slows down the aging process. In ordinary respiration, one breathes roughly 15 times per minute, taking in approximately 20 cubic inches of air. In pranayama, the breathing rate is slowed down to once or twice a minute, and the breath inhaled is deep and full, taking nearly 100 cubic inches of air.
Aside from the need to choose a proper, clean mat, and light, loose-fitting clothing to allow free movement of the limbs, regularity and punctuality in practising yogic exercises is essential; generally, 5:00 AM to 8:00 AM is the ideal time for yoga practices.
According to my studies, yoga asanas and pranayama should be practiced only after mastering the techniques with the help of a competent teacher. Asanas should always be practiced on an empty stomach. Shavasana should be practiced for a brief period before starting the rest of the exercises as this will create the right mental condition. Asanas should be performed at a leisurely slow-motion pace, maintaining poise and balance.
Certain yogic kriyas, asanas and pranayama have specific therapeutic values and are highly beneficial in the maintenance of health and healing disease.
Thinking about the pandemic due to Covid-19 that recently affected the whole world, I will be sharing both a kriya and an asana which may be of use to you during isolation, as a disease-free system should be the starting point for yogasanas and pranayama. Please note I am not a yoga teacher. I use yoga therapy as a remedy in some of my patient's cases, as part of an integral treatment, to relieve them from blockages and disease.
There are six specific cleansing techniques, known as Shat Kriyas, which eliminate impurities and help cure many ailments. If you read my previous post, Release the fear, breathe, you'll understand what I mean when I say breathing is key to our wellbeing. I offer you this kriya which you can practice safely at home:
Jalaneti: most diseases of the nose and throat are caused by the accumulation of impurities in the nasal passage. Jalaneti is a process of cleansing the air passage of the nostrils and the throat by washing them with warm saline water. You will need a sterilised jalaneti pot. Pour half a teaspoon of salt in the pot and fill it with lukewarm drinking water. Stand up and tilt your head slightly to the right. Insert the nozzle of the pot in the left nostril and let the water flow into it. Inhale and exhale through the mouth, allowing the water to flow out through the right nostril. Switch to the other nostril, tilt your head to the left, and repeat. Jalaneti should be practised only in the morning. It will relieve sore throat, cold, cough, sinusitis, migraine, headache, and cases of inflammation of the nasal membranes. It keeps our mind cool and improves vision.
If you have been spending much time in sedentary mode and have been experiencing diet disorders during isolation, this asana might do you good:
Vakrasana: sit straight and stretch legs out. Raise your right knee until your foot rests by the side of the left knee. Place your right hand behind your back without twisting the trunk too much. Then bring your left arm in front of you over the right knee. Place your left palm on the ground near the heel of your right foot. Push your right knee as far to the left arm. Twist your trunk to the right as much as possible. Turn your face to the right over the right shoulder. Release and repeat on the left side. This asana tones up the spinal and abdominal muscles and nerves and activates the kidneys, intestines, stomach, adrenaline and gonad glands. It relieves cases of constipation and dyspepsia.
As you can observe, Yoga Therapy follows the natural process of healing for improving health. It primarily consists of 5 elements: asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), dhyana (meditation), mitahara (diet control) and sleep, to help alleviate that problem, whether it's physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual.
It is beautiful when you can realize how everything is connected. My childhood dance classes were connected with my first attempt to learn yoga, which in turn was connected with my career in Alternative Medicines on how to use yoga in therapy.
I believe I've come a long way in understanding the principle of movement and its importance in our health and wellbeing. And there is still so much to experience and learn!
Leave me a comment below if you have the patience it takes to see life unfold for you in all its splendor.
In patience and curiosity,
~ Luciana xo