Yoga for health fitness

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Yoga for Fun and Profit

Stress levels around the world are on the rise. In order to deal with this, relaxation and stress reduction therapies have sprung up from everywhere. Yoga instruction is no longer just a fringe population idea. It is now a mainstream fitness methodology. Yoga certifications are now available from many places in North America. As a result of this, yoga instructors are now available everywhere. Each gym now offers yoga classes from certified yoga instructors. It's time we understood what this is all about and where we are going with respect to the fitness industry.
The word yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning joining or union. What are we joining? The human being consists of several entities commonly referred to as body-mind-spirit. An integrated human being is the goal of yoga. We are joining the different pieces of the human being to make an integrated, holistic being that is attuned to one goal. The body, mind and spirit are all integrated with a common attitude and viewpoint. This is different from the state of being where the body wants to satisfy one need and the mind another and the spirit yet a third. This is the state during which mental storms occur and the body responds in turn with a manifestation of that mental vortex.
Yoga seeks to align the human being using its own tool of breathing. When we breathe rhythmically, our body is more in tune with itself. We function better as an integrated being in a holistic way. Yoga was invented in India, about 5000 years ago, precisely to achieve the goal of integration. When our being is aligned our interaction with the world will be more efficient. We perform better at work and in our home life. Rela-tionships become easier. This is what yoga achieves.
In India, yoga is taught and researched as a science at a place in Bangalore called the Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusamdhana Samsthan (SVYASA). This means Yoga Research Institute. One can obtain intensive instruction in yoga and therapy techniques using yoga. Recently, I completed a month long certificate course for yoga instructors at this institute. The yoga that is taught here is not just about the physical poses. The idea of yoga from the original meaning is to really integrate the whole human being. This involves all of our activities in life. We must be aligned and integrated during all of our tasks during the day. All of our activies can be divided into several broad categories. All actions like going to work, eating breakfast are classified as Karma yoga. All philosophical discussions are classified under Jnana yoga. Any devotional activities such as the singing of hymns or prayers are considered part of Bhakti yoga. The physical poses of Western ideas of yoga are a part of Raja yoga, which includes other methods for gaining mastery over the physical body. This is the original concept of yoga from India and is taught in that form at the SVYASA Institute.
The institute is named after Swami Vivekananda who was a monk and scholar of Indian philosophy. In 1893, Swami Vivekananda was invited to speak at the Parliament of Religions, held in Chicago, on the topic of Hinduism. His speech became famous for explaining the unity of religions as many paths to God, and that Hinduism in its original sense encompassed that view. Swami Vivekananda wanted the Western world to understand Indian spirituality in the correct view, as a synthesis of the four types of yoga, which ultimately leads to the goal of spiritual evolution. SVYASA is dedicated to the education and research of yoga in this context. The school retains strict attention to the original sources of yoga from Sanskrit scripture.
The teaching styles of the school and environmental factors do not cater to the Western lifestyle. Those who come from abroad must acclimatize themselves to the pure Indian way. Meals are served on the floor and must be eaten using the hands. Vegetarian Indian food is served. No cutlery is provided. Footwear must be left outside of all classes. Be prepared to literally be on your feet for long amounts of time. While the majority of the students are comfortably able to sit on the floor during the long lecture sessions, chairs are available for those who will not be able to survive in that position. The philosophy of discipline is everywhere, starting from the boot camp like nature of the roll call before each session. Students who miss a portion of the attendance will not receive their certificate. Attendance is considered a very important factor of the study. In addition, a strict code of uniforms is enforced. Women must wear the Indian dress of salwaar kameez, which is a tunic, and pant set made of 100% cotton. This dress could be modified to be more forgiving for yoga poses. Men must wear loose fitting track pants and t-shirt. This is more conducive to rigorous physical activity. It must be noted that everywhere the students of the yoga instructors course can be identified by their uniform.
As attendance is strict, so is the keeping of students on the grounds. While exceptions can be made for justifiable reasons, students cannot usually leave the campus for any reason after the start of the course. The campus is 32 km north of the major city of Bangalore. Fortunately, Bangalore boasts many amenities including an international airport. The city of Bangalore itself is very multicultural. One can find the modern world mixed with the original flavour of India everywhere. The SVYASA institute has a city office in Bangalore from where a bus is arranged to take travellers to its campus outside the city in a place called Geddallahalli. The name of the campus is Prashanti Kutiram, which means abode of peace. While the name is very amenable to yoga studies, I found that one needs to practice yoga in sincerity to find the true peace, which is only inside the human being.
For further questions on yoga or SVYASA Institute, please email Shanti Consulting at
A variety of personal interests and professional paths have led the author to her current role as a personal trainer and lifestyle consultant with over 20 years experience. Siva is an author, lecturer and Can-Fit-Pro certified personal trainer who specializes in body-mind-spirit consulting and training women. Currently she is writing a book entitled Body, Mind, and Spirit Fitness, which discusses her particular style of training the complete being, rather than just the physical body.

Siva is a yoga instructor, an expert on East Indian Philosophy and teacher of Sanskrit. She holds a doctorate in engineering from the University of Toronto and has balanced her time between personal training and engineering for over 20 years. In February 2005, Siva spent an intensive month studying a course for Yoga Instructors, at the Swami Vivekananda Yoga Institute in Bangalore, India to further her interest in yoga as a science of holistic living and not merely as yoga postures.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Yoga and Low Carb Diets

Yoga is an ancient system of movement designed to generate vibrant health and well being. Excellent health and well being are experienced in the results of a yoga practice such as: stress reduction, increased energy and awareness, increased flexibility, focused mind and strong body. In our modern world there are so many types of yoga to choose from that it can be confusing and difficult to start a yoga program. Do you have to practice postures(asanas) in a hot room for an hour and a half in order to enjoy the benefits of this ancient art? And, is it necessary to execute postures under strict guidelines created for East Indian bodies and minds? As a yoga instructor my answer would be no. A successful yoga practice supports the goals of the practitioner without rigidity.

An appropriate yoga program should be adapted around our needs. Those on low-carb diets for weight loss or weight control can benefit tremendously by practicing yoga. A major benefit of yoga is a developed awareness. A consistent yoga practice assists us in recognizing the causes of stress in our lives. Yoga helps us observe the thoughts that cause stress. Once we are able to recognize the stress we are able to calm our carb cravings. When we develop awareness we can make conscious choices around food and feel more in control of our lives. I have taught lunch time yoga classes where students practiced forty-five minutes of yoga instead of reaching for high carb snacks. Students have reported that after class they choose healthier foods and actually eat less. Yoga can be a carb substitute, a healthy alternative.

Breath work is also an important component of yoga. Yoga trains the mind to recognize where and when we hold our breath. The less access we have to the breath the more stress is stored in the body. Yoga teaches us to fill ourselves up with breath instead of high-carb food. Yoga can inform us when we are becoming stressed so we can make the choice to sit and breathe, meditate or do physical yoga postures. With a consistent yoga practice we have less need of carbs that deplete our energy. Focus on the breath dissolves our cravings and reduces stress. We naturally reach for more nourishing foods. If we hold the breath then we become unaware of our cravings and old eating patterns take over. Cultivating awareness while we move in yoga postures is just as important as the movement, especially for those wanting to change eating patterns.

Since low-carb dieters need to be careful not to hit a sugar low during the day yoga is an excellent movement program. Yoga conserves energy while many exercise programs such as aerobics, weight training, bicycling etc. expend energy. Yoga assists the practitioner to tap into reserves of energy in the body. If the low carb dieter feels energy depleted the craving will increase. For anyone with the goal of life style or dietary change it is important that the exercise program be accessible and stress-free. Yoga postures teach us to expand into our own energy without judgment or criticism. A practice of relaxation and meditation (either seated cross-legged or lying on your back) when you have completed your postures is key in a yoga program. The relaxation assists us in integrating the movement and regenerating our energy.

How do we choose a class that is appropriate for us? How do we get started on a yoga practice? Try several styles and notice how you feel after each. An appropriate class is one where at the end of class you feel internally rejuvenated. When you leave class you should feel lightness in your step and a desire to return. Other positive signs are: more access to your breath, a feeling of well being (combination of calm and high energy). Here are eight postures that will get you started. I suggest you do them every three to four days and familiarize yourself with the movements. Again, your yoga postures should express who you are so you won't look like someone else performing the same pose. Simply follow the directions and while you're in the pose try to become as aware of your body and thoughts as you can. Breathe a simple breath based on the rhythm of your inhale and exhale. Take four or five breaths for each movement. Notice where and when you might hold your breath. I would recommend purchasing a yoga mat. You can buy them in most health food and sports stores.

1) Mountain Pose

Stand with feet together or hip distance. Imagine roots growing out of your feet into the earth. Feel your spine lengthening as the crown of your head lifts toward the sky. Inhale and exhale and feel the oppositional movement of feet planted firmly on the ground while the crown reaches upward. Keep your gaze focused at the horizon line. This posture prepares the body for a yoga practice.

2) Forward facing warrior

Stand in mountain pose and lift your arms by your ears, a few breaths and center yourself. Take a step forward on your right foot and bend your knee over your ankle. Focus your gaze at the horizon. Lengthen the torso and drop your shoulders. Repeat on the other side. This pose strengthens the thighs and brings in warrior energy.

3) Forward facing warrior with a forward bend

Repeat the above posture. Slowly straighten the front leg and extend the spine over the front leg. Relax the arms beside the leg. Repeat on the other side. This pose opens the spine and stretches both legs. This movement also soothes the mind.

4) Tree balance

Stand in mountain pose and become centered. Slowly transition your weight onto the left leg. Bring your hands into a prayer position over your chest. And position your left foot on your calf. Balance on your right leg while you breathe and focus your gaze at the horizon. Allow your body to move with the flow of your breath. Balances are never static. This pose develops balance and confidence.

5) Downward facing dog

Come on your hands and knees. Legs hip width apart and arms shoulder distance apart. Tuck your toes and lift your tailbone up toward the ceiling into an upsidedown V position. Fan out your fingers and press them into the floor. Keep moving your tailbone and elongate your spine. Bring your ears between your arms. Return to your hands and knees slowly and rest. This pose cleanses the mind and strengthens the upper body.

6) Bridge

Lay on your back and bend your knees, legs hip width apart. Lift your hips and spine toward the ceiling as you move through the front of the knees. Bring your arms underneath your body on the floor and interlace your fingers. Keep your gaze at the chest. This posture increases energy and increases flexibility in the spine.

7) Seated twist

Sit with both legs extended in front of you. Bend your right leg keeping the left in front with the foot flexed. Place your left hand below the right knee and bring the right hand around the back of the body close to the spine. Lift and rise through the crown of your head on the inhale, on the exhale twist the spine to the right, moving around the axis of the spine. Move from the lower to the upper spine, the head is the last to twist around. Slowly release from the base of the spine and come back to center. Repeat on the other side. Twists flush and balance the nervous system.

8) Reclining bound pose

Now it's time for relaxation. Lie on your back and bring your feet together. Allow your knees to splay apart. You can also extend your legs and come into corpse pose if bound pose is too much for your hips. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Let go of any stress and allow your body to release into the floor. Stay as long as you like.