What is Yoga?

by R.C. Krishna, MD

Yoga essentially is a way of life, an integrated means of synchronizing mind, spirit, and body. This system and its implementation originated in India, thousands of years ago and are now practiced universally regardless of creed or religion.

As an adjunct to other forms of treatment when indicated, they offer various modes of effective physical therapy that can help alleviate painful conditions. Some examples are Arthritis, stiffness of neck, back and feet, improved blood circulation, constipation, increasing lung capacity, improving respiratory conditions, relieving insomnia, etc.

Exercises referred to in Sanskrit language as Asanas or postures, comprise what is designated as Hatha Yoga. Practice of this ancient and respected system certainly helps in maintaining physical, mental and emotional health, one can be inducted here regardless of age or present physical condition. It can be done at one's own pace and there is no concept of competition with anybody else.

While most physical conditioning techniques emphasize the muscles, Yoga addresses every system in the body and mind, and the yogi begins to sense over time the spiritual reality of one's existence.

There are basic ASANAS to be performed in a particular order, commencing with the Surya Namaskar or the Sun Salutation.

SURYA NAMASKAR Sun Salutation. This profound warm-up exercise helps body flexibility, breathing regulation and mind focus.

PADA HASTHASANA Standing Bend. This Asana is the only standing pose, which effectively helps the elasticity of the spine, stretches the hamstrings and invigorates the nervous system. It dispels inertia and revives dormant intellectual capabilities.

TRIKONASANA Triangle Pose. Trikonasana provides a stimulating lateral stretch, helping tone the bowels, assisting in digestion and to some extent useful in leg-shortened situations as a result of hip or thigh fractures.

SIRSHASANA Head Stand. The Head Stand involves standing inverted on the head, with most of the body weight on the elbows. This Asana helps in the functioning of the heart, supplies nutrients to the brain, and relieves painful varicose veins. It also strengthens mental concentration and faculties.

KAKASANA Crow Pose. This Asana promotes balancing exercises to help the body and mind. It basically strengthens the upper torso and increases joint and ligament strengthen. It also develops concentration and focus of the mind, needed to perform most balancing feats.

PASCHIMOTHANASANA Forward Posture. This Asana involves the body being bent forward almost in half, with an intense stretch from head to toe. It is beneficial in increasing elasticity of the joints, stretching calf muscles, counteracting weight problems and regulating the pancreatic function, which is especially helpful in diabetics.

ARDHA MATSYENDRAASANA Spinal Twist. This Asana gives a lateral stretch to the back and hips. It helps rheumatic joint pains and increases joint mobility, improves blood supply to the nervous system, and relieves muscular problems of the back.

BHUJANGASANA Cobra Pose. This Asana resembles a hooded cobra and the posture is believed to invoke the Kundalini powers of the Serpent Goddess. It enhances blood supply to the spinal region, expands the ribs and the thoracic region for relief of asthma, and helps in uterine problems as well. The intense concentration needed for this posture helps the mental faculties as well.

SALABHASANA Locust Pose. This Asana encourages a backward bend of the spine. Practicing this Asana on a regular basis relieves back pain, strengthens back and shoulder muscles, improves blood circulation and digestion. It also helps in attaining focused concentration.

DHANURASANA Bow Pose. This Asana calls for a total backward bend, helping extend the elasticity of the spine. This way, all the back muscles gradually get strengthened together with the abdominal muscles. It also enhances perseverance and mental determination.

CHAKRASANA Wheel Posture. This Asana strengthens muscles of the abdomen and thighs and relieves tracheal and laryngeal problems.

SARVANGASANA Shoulder Stand. This Asana benefits all parts of the body, the stretching being felt primarily in the shoulder, neck, and back region. It helps maintain thyroid levels, encourages blood circulation and keeps the spine in shape. It also helps in insomnia and depression.

HALASANA Plow Posture. This Asana is a forward-bending posture, strengthening the back and neck. It helps blood circulation in general, relieves back tension and constipation as well. Over time, it enhances mental poise and relaxation.

MATSYASANA Fish Posture. This Asana helps stretch the thoracic and lumbar region and encourages the lungs to expand and fill with air. It therefore helps in Asthma and other respiratory problems, stimulates the pituitaries and improves blood supply in the lumbar region. It is believed to help in states of mental agitation as well

PROPER NUTRITION is also imperative for successful Yogic practices. The true Yogi considers the body as a vehicle for the soul and hence a simple, vegetarian diet is recommended for maintaining purity of body and mind.

Listed below are the basic nutritional constituents:

Proteins These are nitrogen-containing compounds for building tissues and repairing cells. Example: Cheese, nuts, kidney beans, sunflower seeds, etc.

Fats They provide the body with a reserve of energy. Example: Soybeans, oils, corn, peanuts, olives, etc.

Carbohydrates These provide the primary source of energy in a diet. Example: Whole-grain bread, potatoes, chickpeas, rice, pasta, etc.

Vitamins and Minerals Small amounts of these are vital for proper functioning of the body. Example: Carrot juice, Blue berries, tomatoes, celery, lemons, etc.

Fiber Rich vegetables and fruits like carrots, bananas, berries and apricots help speed the passage of food through the digestive tract, absorbing certain harmful substances as well, and minimizing constipation.

Physicians Perspective As a practicing physician and a Board Certified Neurologist (Diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology) I have come across numerous patients with head, neck, and back complaints for which conventional medical treatments alone are not successful. A comprehensive well-rounded treatment approach including medications and life-behavior altering exercises such as yoga creates a recipe for successful treatment of many conditions, some of which are:

  1. Migraine Headaches
  2. Pinched Nerves in The Neck and Back (Radiculopathy)
  3. Panic Attacks
  4. Obesity and Obesity related medical/neurological conditions.
  5. Herniated disc conditions in the spine

--R.C. Krishna, MD