Archive for the ‘Yoga and Healthy Living’ Category

“When most people think about yoga they think hatha yoga, the stretching. To me that’s the least interesting aspect of yoga. It’s useful, but it’s a starting point. What yoga is really about is transformation. It’s about transforming your life, rediscovering inner sources of peace and joy and well-being, transcending the sense that we’re just separate. On one level you’re you and I’m me; on another level, we’re part of something larger that connects us. If we can have that double vision, it lends itself to compassion and altruism and service, as opposed to blowing people up and feeling like you’re different from them. What we’re really trying to do is more than just helping people lose weight or even unclogging their arteries or helping them live longer, as important and desirable as those goals can be. It’s really kind of a conspiracy of love, because ultimately that’s what we’re here for.”  Dean Ornish, M.D.

A Yoga Perspective

Upon mention of cardiovascular health, the first thing that generally springs to mind is diet and exercise. Is there adequate physical activity and is the person eating the right foods? A good diet and adequate exercise provide the foundation of any wellness program and from a yogic standpoint; the ability to relax into stillness and to breathe fully and deeply.

We are holistic beings and yoga has long recognized that. The yoga healing philosophy views a person as composed of of five different dimensions; the physical body, the breathing body, the mind, the personality and the emotions (some schools of thought differ slightly and also include the spirit). These dimensions are seen as completely interrelated and inseparable from one another. Consequently, what happens on one dimension affects the others. Access to these dimensions is facilitated by the yogic tools of asana (physical postures), pranayama (breathing exercises) and various techniques of meditation and visualization.

The beauty of the yoga philosophy and practice is that it’s designed to meet an individual where they are at, in this moment in time. It is empowering, helping a person take care of themselves at home with tools that are not only free but readily available; the body, breath and mind.

Yoga healing is not a one-size fits all approach. The unique situation presented by an individual requires a tailored solution based on the tools of yoga therapy for healing to occur. Having said that, it is safe to assume that a good 80% of our society is in need of reducing stress and learning how to relax deeply.

It was Harvard cardiologist, Dr. Herbert Benson who made famous the term “relaxation response”. His pioneering research was the first to describe in scientific terms, the connection between the meditative process and the physiological response. Thus, proving yogic techniques to be an antidote to stress, reversing fight or flight and reducing sympathetic nervous system activity; allowing the blood vessels to dilate, decreasing blood pressure.

In 1989, Dr. Brownstein and Dr. Dembert conducted a case study on the effects of yoga breath exercises on hypertension. Their subject was a 46 year old flight pilot who had been suffering from mild hypertension for six years. At the end of the 6-week study, it was reported that the pilot’s blood pressure had dropped significantly and continued to be steady for the next six months as he maintained a program of breathing, meditation, diet and exercise.

Other studies conducted by Dr. Chandra Patel on the effects of yoga breathing and meditation for hypertension provided similar results.

The yogis knew that conscious control of the breath gave them access to the autonomic nervous system – which controls the physical workings of the heart. Slowing the breath slows the heart rate and can modify a person’s physical, mental and emotional state. For those suffering with high blood pressure this is a great place to start.

Part 2:

Please note: Before beginning a yoga program for a patient with cardiovascular issues, it is imperative to receive a doctor’s clearance and patient’s report upon which to base a protocol.

The first step is to practice observing the breath. Teaching the ujayi (victorious) breath, which produces a slight constriction at the back of the throat, is beneficial in providing both a sound and a texture to focus upon (bringing the mind to focus reduces the mind’s agitation. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1). The constriction also helps to naturally lengthen the breath. Gradually and without strain, the exhale is made longer than the inhale. Extending the exhale stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, eliciting “the relaxation response”. Lastly, observing a pause at the bottom of the exhale, experiencing a moment of stillness before the inhale, can help to introduce meditation to a new student. This is a powerful tool for patients with high blood pressure and can be used in “breathing breaks” throughout the day, especially during times of stress.

Plenty of time must be given to beginning stages of pranayama (breathing practices). There is often unconscious and restrictive holding patterns surrounding the areas of the heart and the lungs. With proper care on the part of the yoga therapist, tension can release without provoking undue anxiety.

Yoga treatment for most cardiovascular issues needs to focus on relaxation and a good 20 minutes can be given to progressive relaxation or savasana (“corpse pose”). Done with the guidance of a therapist (or a recording), progressive relaxation methodically scans the body in order to release muscular tension, allowing the mind to let go and become receptive. This provides an opportunity for engaging the mind in deeper healing. Often, it is helpful to chose a focus for the mind. It could be watching the breath at the tip of the nose, developing the“witness” consciousness (helpful in observing self and monitoring self-talk in our daily lives). It might be a positive affirmation or a visualization (bhavana); engaging the imaginative portion of the mind to assist in an intended outcome. This could be anything from physical health to spiritual development.

Yoga asana can be given as appropriate (more when there is a need to strengthen the heart and less when a person’s health has been compromised) with a focus on the breath, mind/body connection. Especially beneficial are those poses which extend the spine, open the chest and make space for the heart; improving blood flow and bringing more oxygen into the lungs. Emphasis can also be placed on opening the spiritual heart. Those with high blood pressure should avoid inversions and those recovering from certain cardiovascular illnesses (such as coronary arterial disease or recovery from heart attack) need to avoid forward bends to prevent further constriction of the heart area.

When the individual is ready, a daily a meditation practice can be encouraged. This need not be complex or esoteric. Beginning with a few minutes a day, train the mind to return to a focus on the breath, a sound or an image. The most important element of meditation is a passive attitude. When thoughts distract, rather than chase them or try to suppress them, simply observe and let them go. With patience, the benefits of meditation are exponential, not only as a technology to relieve stress, but also as a path to discover one’s spiritual essence. “Then the Seer is established in his own essential and fundamental nature.” (Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 3). To have a growing sense of our true nature, beyond the physical form and personality, is one of the greatest gifts of yoga. This knowledge has the capacity to heal on all dimensions of our Being.

Yoga philosophy states that the mind is the lens through which we perceive the world within and around us. To the degree the lens is clear, so will be our state of happiness and well being. Conversely, to the degree the mind is distorted, so will be our dis-ease. For this reason, the mind is given special emphasis in yoga healing. “No disease can come in through the body but through the mind” says Dr. Brownstein. Thus, the mind is key to healing. This is where yoga’s contribution to the prevention and potential healing of heart disease can have a profound effect.

Yoga also engenders a deep respect for the body, for the Self and life in general. When these life affirming attitudes are fostered, it is less difficult to let go of harmful habits such as smoking and eating fast foods. A diet rich in fresh plant foods will enhance vitality, eventually becoming a natural choice for those enrolled in a yogic program seeking cardiovascular health.

Excerpt from Term Paper:

Yoga Therapy Rx,  Alison Brown 2011


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Good-day friends!
It’s Spring and I am excited to share with you a melding of great things.

Yoga (breath) and hiking = PranaHikes

The perfect duo!
The idea overtook me one day while hiking the Shady Canyon trail. A vista revealing snow capped mountains “inspired” me to breath and yoga. Surrounded by nature, the fresh air felt good, within and without. As my mind moved into stillness, colors became brighter and the bird’s symphony lifted my Spirit.
There is a natural high that comes from being out in nature hiking with friends. Conscious breath and yoga make it that much better!

Prana is the yogic word for the lifeforce.  It is in every breath we breathe  and  we can cultivate it by being in nature, eating nutritious food and by the mindset of gratitude. Prana leads to vitality and the “natural-high” that circulates in our heart, minds and bodies.
While the earth is green, I invite you to join me most Saturdays 9 am and/or Tuesday mornings beginning in April.  Each outing will be approximately one and a half to two hours long in the Irvine/Newport and Laguna areas. Mostly gentle to moderate hikes, easy yoga (don’t worry, no headstands….. unless you want to!)

For details and for further information:

info@alisonbrownyoga.com or (949) 246-8093

Donation only.

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.”  John Muir

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Hello and welcome to my new blog.  I am excited to share with you my insights on yoga and healthy living.

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