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Monthly Archives: March 2013

Exploring the Viniyoga Approach to Asana

Ancient Indians created asana (physical postures) as a way to take care of the physical body and to prepare the body for seated meditation. In our western world, many students think that yoga is just asana. While asana is important, yoga is so much more than just these physical postures, and we’ll be discussing what these things are in future blogs.

For now, though, let’s start exploring this thing called asana.  Many of us (all of us) carry stress in our bodies just from day to day living and this stress manifests itself in many ways. Evidently, the ancients were stressed too because they designed asana specifically to release tension and bring about a physical state that is both energized and relaxed – a balanced state for the body.

Asana can also transform one’s skeletal and muscular structure and change neuromuscular patterning. The key ingredient to this transformation is self awareness. It’s critical to bring one’s attention “inside” and observe how one’s body responds to the asana. Where am I feeling the posture? What feels tight? Is one side more flexible that the other? These are just some of the questions to ask oneself during asana practice. Bottom line — Be alert. Be observant . Then you will become aware of patterns that aren’t serving you and explore ways to change them.

In a Viniyoga practice, the body is worked in two ways. One way is through repetition which means actively moving in and out of the asana from a neutral starting point. It’s dynamic and helps increase circulation and energy. The other way is to stay or hold in the posture which increases strength and overcomes mental agitation. The method selected depends on the role of the posture and – especially – the needs of the practitioner.  This dual approach can be very different from other forms of asana practice that tend to use only the second method.

Breathing throughout the entire asana practice is essential. Consciously adding breath to the movement  is what makes it yoga and distinguishes it from a workout at the gym.

Chanting with Sonia Nelson

This past weekend I attended Sonia’s Vedic Chanting Workshop at Old Town Yoga Studio in Fort Collins. It was a fantastic two day workshop and I learned a ton. Sonia has been studying and teaching Vedic chant for decades and owns the Vedic Chant Center in Santa Fe. She’s so talented and such a good teacher. 

Vedic Chant was originally taught and transmitted orally – via call and response – since there was no written language. Sonia uses this ancient call and response approach to teach us the chants. After we’ve practiced orally, she eventually gives us the written chant. It’s all in Sanskrit – a bit of a challenge. I’m a visual learner and thought I’d really like to have the written words first. Funny thing – I discovered that I really like not seeing the words first because the written words are all strung together and don’t look much like the way the chant sounds. I could get into the rhythm so much better with the call and response first.

Chanting – especially in Sanskrit – has some important benefits. It really takes concentration and focus to remember the words. Like learning any language it helps with memory. But, the biggest benefit for me was feeling the energy, the vibration of the chant. I studied Vedic chant as part of my teacher training and had some of the chants memorized already. Since I didn’t have to focus as hard on remembering the words, I really got to feel the energetic effects at a much deeper level. Wonderful!

Doctors and Yoga

The March issue of Yoga Journal published an article – “The Yogi Is In” – and the side bar really caught my attention. It said that top ranked Cleveland Clinic has made yoga an official part of its hospital health plan. They are the first hospital in the country to hire a full-time yoga therapist who is responsible for managing the hospital’s program.

They plan to address a variety of health issues – type 2 diabetes, obesity, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, stress to name a few – through classes for patients and employees.  

There are other medical centers that employ part-time yoga therapists, including MD Anderson Cancer Center, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Denver’s Children’s Hospital, though not on the scale of Cleveland Clinic.

It is exciting to see the medical community embracing yoga as a way to maintain and improve patients’ health. More and more, people tell me that their doctor recommended yoga for a health concern or issue.

And, this will happen more and more frequently as doctors see positive results in their patients and medical research continues to “prove” the benefits.

 

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