Ancient Remedy for Modern Stress
By Grace Welch, M.Y.

Madonna practicing yoga! Sting doing the headstand? Woody Harrelson getting into a pretzel position for the "Yoga Journal"? What's going on here? The celebrities have hooked into one of the most ancient of physical/spiritual practices known to mankind - YOGA, a Sanscrit word meaning "yoke", to bring together, to unite, to make whole. It is a physical practice that engages body, mind and spirit, originating in India more than 5,000 years ago. Yoga made its debut in the United States in the early part of this century. Increasing numbers of doctors and health care practitioners are prescribing regular yoga practice for their patients to reduce stress and the damaging effects of stress on the mind and body. Recent studies have shown that proper yogic breathing, proper exercise, and positive thinking with visualization is a healthy, natural, non- invasive method of reducing stress and tapping into the creative potential of the individual. In 1990 "Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease", (Random House) was published. Dr. Ornish's research with heart patients showed that a low fat diet, yoga practice with meditation and a support group actually reversed heart disease.

Yoga postures focus on the health of the spine, which is the center of the nervous system and key to the health of the whole body. Regular practice of yoga postures increases blood circulation and maintains flexibility of joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments, preserving range-of-motion. These benefits are derived by slow, conscious and meditative attention to the practice. This gradually increases the stretch and tone of all muscle groups, massages the heart and internal organs, and enhances circulation to the nerves.

Yoga is easy to learn; students immediately experience its benefits. Improved posture holds internal organs and muscles in proper alignment, resulting in a more youthful appearance. Yoga is an inside out" practice, and it starts with the breath. Diaphragmatic yogic breathing (the way babies breathe) increases potential energy in the body and raises the overall vital energy level. It is the most efficient way to breathe, bringing in large amounts of oxygen (the life force) with the least amount of effort. Learning proper breathing techniques allows one to use this energy for physical and mental replenishment. Tension, stress, and depression can be alleviated by proper diaphragmatic deep breathing.

Yogic relaxation is a holistic method of uniting mind, body and spirit without artificial means. Balancing the energy produced by yogic practice is a focus of classical hatha yoga. Yogic relaxation brings on a wonderful sense of well-being which carries over into all aspects of life! The feeling does not come from outside the individual -- it was always present within. The practice of yoga removes the physical, mental and emotional stress that prevents us from enjoying good health.

Yoga practice can be done by all ages and can be continued throughout life. The Delany sisters, Sadie and Bessie, in their book "Having Our Say - The Delany Sisters - First 100 years" Kodansha International 1993) credit their longevity in part to their daily practice of yoga. The Yoga Journal October 1995 issue, page 71 features a picture of the sisters, Sadie 105, and Bessie, 103, doing a Shoulder Stand, a classic hatha yoga posture, in their Mt. Vernon home. The benefits of the Shoulder Stand are a gentle massage to the thyroid and para-thyroid glands, balancing one's metabolism, gentle stretch to the neck, improves circulation in the extremities as the blood flows toward the heart, relieving pressure on the veins in the legs, and the internal organs get a gentle massage, as they are held in an inverted posture.

Unlike other physical programs, yoga does not put undue stress on joints, and because it is a gradual practice, under the guidance of a certified teacher your body gradually becomes stronger and more balanced in its own time. Yoga is noncompetitive; once the postures are learned, it is best done with the eyes closed, so that it is truly an internal process. Students with limitations or disabilities can be accommodated by an experienced teacher with modifications and variations of the physical postures. With over a thousand postures in yoga, students of any age or condition can select a series of postures to personalize their practice.

All yoga leads to meditation. The ability to sit quietly and comfortably for at least twenty minutes for meditation is possible by the regular practice of yoga. Scientific studies have proven that meditation lowers blood pressure and calms the system, allowing the body to heal from its daily stress. The student of yoga learns to be focussed and tuned to the breath, so that meditation can be experienced at the highest level. During meditation the seven energy centers of the body are gradually opened. These energy centers, known as chakras, start at the base and rise to the top of the head via the spinal column.

Join the celebrities and start your yoga practice now!