Alan Finger, founder of Yoga Zone and Be Yoga, is one of my favorite yoga teachers. His book, Chakra Yoga – Balancing Energy for Physical, Spiritual, and Mental Well Being is one of my “go to” books. I have also recently read The Science of Yoga – The Risks and the Rewards by William J. Broad. After reading The Science of Yoga, I felt a little unsettled particularly by Broad’s descriptions of the risks. Although his final conclusion is the benefits of yoga outweigh the risks; it was still contra to my view of yoga. I always tell my students to find their edge but not exceed that edge, use the breath and relax, don’t pull or push into a pose. I have been injured in yoga and I believe it was my fault for not letting go of the ego and pushing beyond that edge. I missed the balance of the physical, spiritual and mental.
So in reflecting upon both books, I find that Chakra Yoga and looking for the right balance is key to reducing many of the risks with yoga. Balance brings healing and harmony to the yoga practice and I believe is key to finding your inner peace. We have many causes in our lives that bring disunity to the physical, mental and spiritual balance. For many of us, muscular tensions (especially neck, shoulders, and backs), poor skeletal alignment, negative thinking and dealing with difficult people greatly impact our balance in life.
So the Science of Yoga book has stimulated even more thinking about yoga, science and medicine. The US population is 4.6% of the world population. We consume 80% of the opioids from pharmaceuticals companies and 99% of the Vicodin produced in the world. We also take a great deal of antidepressants, like 23.3 million of us in the US population. The US has increased the use of antidepressants by 400% since a 1988-1994 study. Surprisingly, other countries like Iceland, Australia and Canada take even more. When you think about the risks of yoga and the benefits, and the risk of these pharmaceuticals…which path do you want to follow. Yoga is the path to find a profound sense of equilibrium in our life. One must go within and connect.
The Physical Practice
The focus of strengthening, stretching and aligning the body is the basis of the asana practice. When done without ego and with conscious awareness, the asanas bring clarity to the mind and a sense of well being to the body. Through the physical practice, we can quiet the every chattering mind. We can improve our posture and realign our skeletal system. With the asana practice, we can breathe fully, enhance digestion and relax the nervous system. Many of Broad’s reviews of various studies support these benefits of yoga.
One can begin to find balance in the body, known as Hatha. Ha is the energy of the sun (heat and power). Tha is the energy of the moon (coolness and flexibility). So when you practice your asanas think of Ha representing your muscular strengthening and Tha as your relaxation. Getting these in balance can move you forward in your practice without injury and brings a feeling of lightness, space and union.
The Mental Practice
Yoga is breath, breath is yoga. We use the breath to quiet the mind in each pose. Practicing the asanas requires a great deal of attention to details, which can occupy the mind and does not allow much room for you to think about the chattering stuff. Practice quiets the mind. If you are able to focus on the breath and use the physical practice to draw your mind inward, your practice becomes a moving mediation. Studies have found that meditation can help with chronic pain, unexplained fatigue, addictions, headaches, anxiety and depression.
The Spiritual Practice
So once you have the physical and the mental parts, how do you find the spiritual to complete the balance. I believe yoga can connect you to the oneness of the universe and tap the divine energy. Whatever your philosophy or religious beliefs, we are one human spirit sharing this planet. Each individual needs to explore their spiritual side; everyone has their own path. Feeling lighter through the asana practice and quieting the mind clears the path for this exploration.
“You contain the knowledge of everything in the universe-all you need to do is find it within you.” … Alan Finger
Article is written and submitted by Nancy Stromp