This section will tell you all the main things you may want to know about Yoga & Meditation to help you make the right choice of medicine or treatment for solving your particular health problem. Below, there is a listing of Q&A with doctor / health expert replies to questions pertaining to Yoga & Meditation, followed by list of Yoga & Meditation related articles on the site.
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Yoga consists of physical, mental and spiritual practices that aim to transform body and mind. The term “Yoga” represents a number of schools, disciplines and goals, Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga being the best known. The term Yoga is originally derived from the phrase “to concentrate”, or meditate on something, also called “Samadhi”. “Yoga” in Sanskrit or Hindi also means “a discipline” or “path”. Yoga came into existence at the beginning of time along with the original scriptures and Ayurveda. One who practises Yoga is called a Yogi (male) or Yogini (female). In the strict sense of the word, any individual who is totally devoted towards a particular goal is a Yogi or Yogini. However, as per popular usage, one who practises Yoga & Meditation (acts that require deep concentration). In fact, Yoga is a superset of which Meditation is a part, though it is of a different nature than the physical Yoga practice. Meditation is entirely spiritual and Yoga is more physical, though spirituality is a part of both practices.
Yoga has been passed down for generations as tradition and heritage and is one of the best physical regimes for all round holistic health. Yoga gurus from India introduced the West to Yoga, after Swami Vivekananda’s success in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Yoga physiology describes human beings as existing of three bodies (physical, subtle and causal) and five sheets (food sheet, prana-breath, mind sheet, intellect and bliss) which cover the ATMAN (pure soul), and the energy flowing through energy channels and concentrated in chakras.
Meditation is connecting with your inner self in silence. Meditation has been around since the beginning of time in India and practised by almost everyone in the ancient era when spirituality was an integral part of life. It is a path that leads to self-realization or spiritual perfection or enlightenment or nirvana, various names given to the final goal of every human being.
Many forms of Meditation have existed since ancient times, however many have been lost in time. Out of the many that exist, Vipassana Meditation is the most wholesome and pure form of meditation that is popular globally taught through centers in many countries around the world. It is the original form of meditation discovered by Gautam Buddha around 500 BC through which he attained enlightenment and taught to the masses for achieving the same for them.
The Vipassana centers worldwide are run by a non-profit organization started by late Mr. S N Goenka run solely on donation. No fee is charged from any of the thousands of participants worldwide for the meditation training, lodging and boarding. This is because teachings of spirituality are not supposed to be commercialized as per strict tenets. First timers must go through a 10-day residential Vipassana course at a nearby center located far from city life. The organization website www.dhamma.org gives details of all courses, locations and has a free online registration facility.
Those who regularly practice YOGA, enjoy a number of benefits such as being calmer and having a more relaxed mind. How does that happen?
Research in the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine revealed some explanation. Using MRI scans, Chantal Villemure detected more grey matter-brain cells-in certain areas of the brain in people who practice Yoga as compared with those who do not.
Yogis had larger brain volume in the somatosensory cortex, part of the brain that contains our body’s mental map, the superior parietal cortex, associated with direct attention and the visual cortex. The hippocampus, a region which dampens stress was also enlarged along with the posterior cingulate cortex.
Yoga has plenty of physical benefits too. As per Dr. Loren Fishman, a New York city physician, Yoga increases the thickness of the layers of the cerebral cortex and increases neuroplasticity. He has used Yoga to treat various conditions such as multiple sclerosis, rotator cuff syndrome and carpal tunnel syndrome. Other research shows that there is an increase in bone density which is really helpful.
There are many types of Yoga. Some of them help in chronic illnesses, some are really athletic and some help in blood circulation and moving toxins out of the body.
MEDITATION is a practice in which an individual trains the mind or induces a mode of consciousness. The word meditation carries different meanings in different contexts. However, meditation as a spiritual practice ideally consists of focusing inwards to experience one’s own nature objectively. Meditation also involves control over the mind to enhance focus and concentration that that is ideally a means to an end. In Vipassana meditation, the best and purest form of Meditation spread by Gautam Buddha, control on one’s mind is obtained through honing your ability to focus on your breath and in the process reigning in the mind. This control over mind is then used to go deeper into one’s own self to discover the truth within. Enlightenment is the attainment of the objective and pure truth free from all defilements.
Recent scientific research has proven that regular meditation leads to significant psychological and cognitive benefits that stay throughout the day. MRI scans have revealed increase in gray matter in the area of brain related to self awareness, introspection and compassion, and decrease in gray matter in the area of brain related to stress and anxiety through just 8 weeks of mindful meditation program.
Although transmitted mainly via oral route in the form of sacred texts the history of Yoga goes back to the origin of time, the Vedas and Ayurveda. It can be divided into the main periods that pertain to innovating, practicing and developing Yoga.
Pre-Classical Yoga has a long history and starts with the Vedas. The word Yoga was mentioned in the oldest scripture, Rig Veda. The idea of ritual sacrifice was taken by the Upanishads from the Vedas and internalized, preaching the sacrifice of the ego through action (Karma Yoga), knowledge and wisdom (Gyaan Yoga), devotion to God (Bhakti Yoga) and spiritual practices (Raja Yoga). Here, the term Yoga is clearly used in its generic term as “path” and denotes the four paths for human beings to attain the highest goal of spiritual perfection or enlightenment. The practices of Yoga and Meditation that we know fall under Raja Yoga (spiritual practices) which comprises of going deeper within oneself to “know oneself”.
There have been a lot of contradiction and arguments amongst various practices of Yoga in the pre-classical stage as Yoga back then was an amalgamation of various ideas and beliefs. The Classical Era is defined by the famous Yoga-sutras by Patanjali that came into existence around 400 AD. It was the first systematic representation of Yoga. It primarily deals with Raja Yoga which is called as the CLASSICAL YOGA. It describes the path towards enlightenment.
A few centuries after Patanjali, there was development of a few practices to rejuvenate body and prolong life. At this time, Tantra Yoga came into fore. It involved radical techniques to cleanse the body and mind to break the knots that bind us to physical existence. Then came Hatha Yoga which is very popular in West currently.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Yoga masters began to travel west, attracting attention and followers. Most famous of them was Swami Vivekananda who mesmerised the audience in the Parliament of Chicago in 1893 with his famous speech. Later on in the 1920s and 30s Hatha Yoga was strongly promoted in India with Swami Shivananda, T Krishnamacharya and other yogis. The maiden Hatha Yoga school in Mysore was established by Krishnamacharya in 1924. Shivananda was a prolific author, writing over 200 books on Yoga and he also founded numerous ashrams and Yoga centres around the world.
John Denninger, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, is at the helm of a five year study on how the ancient practices affect genes and brain activity in chronically stressed individuals. His latest work follows a study he and others published earlier this year showing how so-called mind-body techniques can switch on and off some genes linked to stress and immune function.
While hundreds of studies have been conducted on the mental health benefits of Yoga and Meditation, blunt tools like participant questionnaires, heart rate and monitoring of blood pressure have been used in them. Neuro-imaging and genomics technology used in Denninger’s latest studies have only recently allowed scientists to measure physical changes in greater detail.
An 8-week study of mindful meditation astonished even the best neuroscientists at Harvard University when they found that meditation rebuilds the brain’s gray matter in 8 weeks’ time. The study revealed that meditation not only leads to an experience of peacefulness and physical relaxation but also leads to psychological and cognitive benefits that remain throughout the day. MRI scans revealed thickening of gray matter in the hippocampus region of the brain which is associated with self awareness, introspection and compassion. The scans also revealed reduced gray matter density in the amygdala, part of the brain that plays an important role in stress and anxiety.
There are various types of Yogas. You need to choose the one that is best suited to you. Some of the top forms are as follows along with their focus areas:
1. Hatha Yoga
Good for Beginners.
This type of yoga integrates poses or asanas with breathing or pranayam. The aim is to enhance flexibility and balance of the practitioner, at the same time synchronize breathing with every movement achieving an experience of relaxation and restoration.
According to a study in the Journal of Nursing Research, a 90-minute session reduced stress levels of the participants.
2. Vinyasa Yoga (also called Power Yoga)
Good for Weight Loss.
This is a fairly fast paced form of Yoga that involves moving continuously through the session. The movements are geared towards increasing balance, flexibility and strength. Some of the well known poses or asanas include Suryanamaskar (sun salutation that involves stretching, lunging and bending) and inversions like the head stand and shoulder stand.
While doing Vinyasa Yoga you can burn up to seven calories per minute as per a study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise reports.
3. Iyengar Yoga (also called Anusara Yoga)
Good for people with back or neck problems.
This is the style of Yoga developed in 1930s by the yoga guru B K S Iyengar. The focus of this Yoga is proper alignment to make the muscles stronger and support the joints of the body. This technique utilizes the use of props like walls, blocks, pulleys or straps to help get into the poses.
The Clinical Journal of Pain has reported that Iyengar Yoga is effective in reducing chronic neck pain.
4. Bikram Yoga (also called Hot Yoga)
Good for developing flexibility.
This style developed by yoga guru Bikram Choudhury is done in a sauna like environment where a series of 26 Hatha Yoga poses are done in a temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit and moisture at 40%. This is done to mimic the temperature of Bikram’s homeland Calcutta in India. The heat is said to loosen your muscles enhancing your stretching ability.
Bikram claims that the 26 Yoga poses developed by him helped him recover in 6 months from a crippling weightlifting accident at age 20 when doctors said he would never be able to walk again.
5. Kundalini Yoga
Good for a more spiritual experience.
Kundalinin Yoga focuses on calming the mind and energizing the body via movement, mantra chanting and breathing. Generally it comprises of 50 percent exercise, 20 percent breathing technique, 20 percent meditation and the remaining 10 percent relaxation. The aim is to release the Kundalini energy stored in the human body at the base of the spine.
6. Ashtanga Yoga
Good for experienced yoga practitioners.
Ashtanga Yoga is quite physically challenging and requires endurance and strength. Some 70 poses are to be done in a session of 90 minutes to two hours duration. Ten Suryanamaskars (sun salutations), inversions and back-bends are a part of the routine. If done regularly, this yoga technique provides a boost to strength and endurance.
Just as there are various forms of Yoga, there are various forms of Meditation existing in the world. Having had the opportunity to try out different forms of meditation we strongly recommend Vipassana Meditation.
Vipassana Meditation was discovered by Gautam Buddha around 500 BC. The story is a legend and Buddha means the “enlightened one”. When Siddhartha Gautam left his house in the search of truth, he came across many spiritual masters who taught him many techniques. Having mastered each one and not attaining “the truth”, Siddhartha Gautam discovered Vipassana meditation and attained enlightenment through the same. He taught this technique to many during his time and helped a few others attain enlightenment. Today, the purest form of Vipassana meditation is available through the organization started by late Mr. S N Goenka. First times have to go through a 10-day residential course free of charge as the organization runs only on donation. All information of courses worldwide and other details are available on their website www.dhamma.org.
We recommend Vipassana meditation because of the following reasons:
- It was discovered and propagated by the Buddha himself, the purest source possible.
- Vipassana is non-sectarian (non-religious) and is totally based on the natural processes of the body such as the breath and other bodily sensations within.
- It does not involve focusing on external objects, sounds, light, mental images, illusions or any chanting or incantations since such a practice usually leads to illusions and/or does not allow the practitioner to focus within one’s own self to discover the truth within.
- It lays significant emphasis on good behaviour and morality as an integral part of the total process to complement the practice of meditation.
- The organization does not have any ulterior motives or any conflict of interests as it is totally non-commercial, offers the courses including accommodation and good vegetarian food for free, and works solely on the basis of donations as a spiritual organization must exist.
- The effect of the meditation is as powerful and unparalleled as the purity of the system and it has cured thousands of people from mental anguish, hopeless addictions and severe physical diseases for which there was no other cure.
- The program has been run in many prisons in India and has been successful in rehabilitating many inmates.
- Late Mr. S N Goenka, who has spread this meditation across the world very successfully despite running it in a totally pure and non-commercial way, is a respected spiritual leader the world over and has spoken at the United Nations along with many other such big platforms.
- Practising Yoga and Meditation not only keeps your body healthy but also keeps your mind calm and relaxed as it is a great stress reliever
- Meditation can remove many deep-rooted psychological complexes and mental defilements that sometimes the best psychotherapy and psychiatry are not able to reach
- Yoga is the only technique that massages your internal organs and squeezes out the toxins from inside your body
- Yoga and Meditation bring you closer to nature – external nature as well as your own inner nature and create a fountain of happiness within
- It makes you smarter and improves your brain power, enhances memory, focus, develops inner strength and increases flow of blood to your brain
- It is totally natural and in harmony with your body – in fact, they are the best practices you can adopt, needless to say, no side effects or toxicity and you are saved from medicines
- It harnesses your spiritual energy to increase your energy levels from deep within
- Best technique for prevention, enhancing energy levels, focus, immunity and sense of happiness and well being
- The positive effects of Yoga & Meditation on the body and mind are now being well accepted by modern science and are found to be unparalleled and miraculous
- Practicing Yoga enhances your strength, muscle tone, flexibility and endurance
- Practicing Meditation gives you access to your inner self and you evolve spiritually
- Practicing Yoga & Meditation in a disciplined and sustained manner can cure severe and stubborn mental and physical diseases that all other medicines may not be able to cure
- Benefits of Yoga and Meditation can only be observed over the medium to long run through sustained and continuous practice
- Regular practice requires quite some will power, patience and discipline
- It can be challenging to fit it in your busy schedule and be able to keep it there
- Finding the right yoga class and teacher fit for you can be a challenge and may require some trial and error
- This system of healing may not help a person suffering from acute diseases or having an emergency case, in which case medicines and immediate doctor assistance is required, however it can act as a great complementary system of healing provided doctor permission is obtained
- Finding a qualified and capable teacher can be a challenge because of lack of certifications and standards
- Cost of good qualified yoga teachers is quite high and was around $250 per month in the US till June 2011
Some of the benefits that can be had from regular practice of Yoga and Meditation are:
- Emotional stability
- Clarity of mind
- Reduction in anxiety
- rity and peace of mind
- Weight control
- Reduction in chronic body pains
- Reduction in multiple sclerosis
- Reduction in carpal tunnel syndrome
- Reduction of rotator cuff syndrome
- Immune system boost
- Increase in Serotonin level which improves mood and behaviour
- Emotional steadiness and harmony
- Evolution of consciousness
- Lower blood pressure
1. What is Yoga?
The word Yoga means union of the individual soul or consciousness with the Universal consciousness or spirit, the basic principle being uniting the soul with the infinite.
2. What is the waiting time after eating before I start doing Yoga?
You can start after 2 hours of eating and do not do yoga when you are starving.
3. After doing Yoga, can I eat something?
Yes, but wait for 30 minutes before having anything.
4. How often should anyone practice yoga to get the best results?
Start doing yoga twice in a week. Then after 1 month, do 3 times per week. If you start doing 5-6 days a week, then make sure you have a day off to recuperate.
5. Do I need to be flexible?
No, that is not a necessity. Yoga is not only about stretching; it is also calming, toning, healing and spiritual. You will be flexible after a certain time when you start doing it regularly.
6. What is meditation?
It is not mere thinking, but focus or concentration on a single object. That can be anything; a person, place, emotion etc. As we learn to look at our inner self rather than the external world, we begin to explore new things and we experience mental, emotional and physical changes.
7. Where should I meditate?
Try to find a quiet and comfortable place where you are not going to have disturbances. It is better to have a specific place for meditation only.
8. What should I wear while meditating?
Soft and comfortable clothing is preferred so that you can sit for a longer period of time.