Thursday November 15, 2018

Yoga: A tool for harmonious existence

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By Shonu Nangia

As the world celebrates Yoga Day, it is worth revisiting the question, “What is Yoga?” While there are many benefits that accrue from doing yogasanas or postures, yoga is much more than just asanas. It is a method of going beyond the limitations of the body, of staying happy and being steady. It is a cultivation of the art of keeping a calm, alert and happy frame of mind which paves the way for success in life. Derived from the Sanskrit root word yuj, yoga means union. At least 5000 year old of knowledge that originated in the Indian subcontinent, yoga is now universal. It has been proven as an effective practice for a healthy and happy lifestyle and encompasses postures, breathing exercises and the exploration of the deeper parts of one’s consciousness through meditation.

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Over the centuries, the ancient practice of yoga has found diverse definitions and expressions. The purpose however remains essentially the same: to go within. It’s a technology to harmonize body, breath, mind, intellect, memory and ego with our innermost core. The earliest mention of yoga is found in the Rig Veda, which dates back to over 10000 years. Ancient texts of yoga give us definitions that are indicative of the depth that yoga can give one’s personality.

Recently, I came across a quote by a teacher of wisdom and an eminent yoga personality, Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev, that grabbed my attention. It said, “All the problems on the planet can essentially be reduced to one thing: misaligned human beings, misaligned with all there is.”

As I pondered over this observation, it led me to a personal insight – – that there are three specific kinds of harmony essential for our lives to be pleasant. The first kind of harmony that we need in our lives consists of environmental harmony. Our environment is made up of things and influences that are physically external to us but have an impact on our mind and body. Environmental harmony especially presupposes a relationship with the air, food, water, space and sound around us that is conducive to our physical and mental wellbeing. To whatever extent those elements in the environment do not agree with us, to that degree this makes life unpleasant.yoga-tree

The second kind of harmony that we need for a pleasant life is interpersonal harmony. We need agreeable interpersonal relationships and exchanges with other fellow humans. Our senses receive stimuli, wanted and unwanted, not just from the ambient environment but also from other individuals we interact with and the quality of these interactions has a great bearing on how we experience our life.

The third kind of harmony that we need to live a pleasant life is inner harmony, a sense of inner happiness and joy. Inner comfort and inner fulfilment are an actualization of one’s higher potential. When it is there, this harmony translates into a certain ease of being in the world. This inner state of harmony characterizes itself as a stress-free mind, an unprejudiced and clear intellect, a memory that is free of emotional wounds, an ego that is expansive enough to be supple and inclusive, and a loving temperament — among other things.

This third and most intimate level of harmony is actually the most essential one because it is the prerequisite for the other two kinds of harmony, the lack of which is the cause of the great human misalignment which is at the root of all problems like violence and conflict. All other external harmonies proceed from this inner harmony.

Achieving this third and the most supreme kind of harmony is at the heart of yoga. For most people, the first two harmonies generally hold the third harmony to ransom. A yogi, on the other hand, proceeds from inner harmony as he negotiates the first two harmonies.yoga

The Patanjali Yoga Sutras define the art and science of yoga as yoga chitta vriti nirodha, the cessation of thought currents in the mind, which frees our being.

The saying that “every child is a yogi and every yogi is a child” is true in the sense that yoga takes a practitioner back to the freshness, joy, love, friendliness, simplicity, naturalness and enthusiasm that we are all born with but lose as we grow older.

Thus, yoga is the science of uniting within to bring out the best positive qualities latent within us, qualities that are a part and parcel of our own highest nature. All these definitions point to yoga as a process of self-discovery and as a technology to reach one’s highest human potential.

As the 2015 summer solstice ends, and as more and more people on Earth awaken to the need to create a better, happier and more harmonious tomorrow for all everybody, I leave readers with two inspirational messages, one from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who on the occasion of World Yoga Day tweeted, “How can we understand each other if we don’t understand ourselves?” and the other from global humanitarian Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, whose brief message on the United Nation’s International Day of Yoga was simply this: “Yoga helps a human being to unfold his full potential. Yoga improves the quality of life, which is so much needed today. Yoga can wipe the tears and bring smiles on every face. It can bring celebration and skill in everyone’s life. So let’s celebrate this World Yoga Day with zeal and enthusiasm and reach out this precious, ancient knowledge to every human being on this planet.”

 

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New Study Shows Link Between Meditation And Greater Focus

Supplementation, a healthy diet, and daily exercise are key, with recent studies showing that aerobic exercise also increases brain size.

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Pranayamic breathing is just one way to improve brain health.

Pranayamic breathing – an important part of yoga and meditation – has a unique ability to strengthen our focus and a new study by Trinity College Dublin has unlocked its secret. The researchers note that pranayamic breathing affects the levels of a natural chemical in the brain called noradrenaline. The latter is released when we are challenged, curious, focused, or emotionally excited. When present at the right levels, noradrenaline helps the brain grow new connections and helps us concentrate better on important tasks.

The old masters were on the right track

The researchers noted: “Practitioners of yoga have claimed for some 2,500 years, that respiration influences the mind. We looked for a neurophysiological link that could help explain these claims.” The researchers did so by measuring breathing, reaction time, and brain activity in a small area in the brainstem called the locus coeruleus, where noradrenaline is made. Noradrenaline is affected by stress; when we are worried or anxious we produce too much, and cannot concentrate. When we feel lazy, on the other hand, we produce too little and once again, focus is lost. One way to boost levels is through yoga; another method which can complement the latter is the consumption of medical grade focus supplements, which contain compounds such as octopamine (which has a similar effect to noradrenaline).

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Conversely, those with lower mindfulness ratings had greater activation of this part of the brain and also felt more pain. Pixabay

Pranayamic breathing aces the right balance

In the above study, researchers noted that brain activity in the part of the brain where noradrenaline is produced raises slightly when we inhale and drops slightly as we exhale. Thus, balance is achieved and we can focus on what we have set out to do. Pranayama not only boosts concentration but also produces “changes in arousal, attention, and emotional control that can be of great benefit to the meditator.”

What is Pranayamic breathing?

Pranayamic breathing involves controlling and extending breath, with a view to manipulating your vital energy, battling stress, and improving your mood. It is often used in meditation and yoga and interestingly, many yoga experts rank pranayama as even more important than asanas (the postures performed in a yoga session). In yogic tradition, breath is said to carry a person’s life force. Interestingly, scientific studies back this assertion to the extent that pranayamic breathing is able to boost brain function and change the actual structure of the brain. In recent studies, pranayamic breathing has been found to lower or stabilize blood pressure, lower stress, and reduce anxiety and depression.

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In order to comprehend better the Indian seers constructed the special “BOAT” – named Yoga/Meditation.

Implications of the study for aging

The researchers are excited that their findings could signal a way to prevent brain aging. They stated that if brains typically lose mass as we age, practices such as pranayamic breathing greatly reduce the rate of brain shrinkage, thus potentially helping keep dementia and related diseases at bay. Because keeping noradrenaline levels at an optimal level can help the brain grow new connections, meditation is an ideal activity to pursue.

Pranayamic breathing is just one way to improve brain health. Supplementation, a healthy diet, and daily exercise are key, with recent studies showing that aerobic exercise also increases brain size. To make the most of the effect of breathing on focus, consider joining a yoga class or learning the essence of pranayamic breathing online or through an app like Prana Breath or Universal Breathing.