Our minds and bodies are intricately connected. The food we eat, the amount of stress we endure, and what we do to combat that stress impacts our overall well-being both physically and mentally. Practicing yoga regularly is a great physical exercise, as well as a mental one. If you're having medical issues, it's always wise to consult a health care provider first. It's also a good idea to take an in-person yoga class before starting any yoga routine so you can learn proper form. Here, yoga instructor Jessica James shares her insights into the healing power of yoga:
Depression, anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, and migraines are all varied and complex ailments that have been known to respond well to the practice of yoga. Yoga is a workout that integrates the mind and body, and can lead us to the healing and balance we yearn for. Ancient scribes have written volumes on the healing power and practices of yoga, but here are some thoughts that will launch you on the journey of healing through yoga.
Anxiety and depression are biochemical, emotional imbalances that can manifest physically, so yoga as a physical practice is a great way to encourage your body and mind to heal.
Anxiety is often a result of an overstimulated central nervous system. Medical research has shown that deep breathing in itself is a remedy for anxiety. So yoga, with its deep and rhythmic breathing, is a perfect practice to calm down at many physical and emotional levels.
I suggest “cat-cow,” two poses connected by breath to ease your nerves, get more oxygen into your body, and allow you to relax in the present, which is the place peace can be found.
How to do the “cat-cow” pose:
- Come to hands and knees with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips.
- As you take a nice, deep inhalation, sway your back, tilt your tailbone, look toward the ceiling and roll your shoulders down your back. Then as you exhale, tuck your tailbone round your spine and pull your belly button towards your spine. Continue this deep breath and movement for at least 30 seconds.
Depression can be triggered by a multitude of causes. Being overwhelmed by actual life events or trauma, hormone imbalance, or genetics even can play a part in depression. In the Indian art of Aureveydic medicine, depression is thought to be a result of living too much in your mind and not enough in your heart. To move through these blocks and call vitality back to your body and spirit, I suggest literally moving your body with three sun salutations.
How to do a sun salutation:
- Begin by standing with your feet hips distance apart and your hands at your heart.
- Inhale, reach your arms out and up, then exhale with a flat back into a forward fold.
- Inhale, look forward and lengthen your spine then exhale as you step back to an upper push up position and lower halfway.
- Inhale, rollover your toes to find the up-dog pose, then exhale press back to down-dog.
- In down-dog, bring your hands shoulder distance and your feet hip distance with your heels moving toward the ground.
- Take three deep breaths, then inhale, bend your knees a little, exhale, step to the front of your mat. Inhale, look up and lengthen, exhale, fold in.
- Inhale, flat back rises to standing as your arms reach out and up, exhale, bring your hands to your heart.
- Then repeat 2-5 times.
High blood pressure, like many illnesses, is very often the result of stress and tension. Yoga helps address these imbalances by bringing relaxation to your mind and body. Remember, it’s not yoga if you are not breathing.
This is my prescription for relaxation:
Child’s pose: Begin with your knees wide apart, toes together, and your hips resting on your heels. Bring your hands along side your body and take five deep breaths.
3 sun salutations: These will get you warm. (See above for directions.)
Seated forward fold: Then come to a seated position with your legs straight out in front of you. Inhale, reach your arms up, get length in your spine, then exhale forward fold trying to keep your spine long. Reach for your calves, ankles, or toes and breathe into the stretch. Not only does this pose lengthen your hamstrings, but it also helps maintain your blood sugar level.
Migraines can be brought on by a myriad of influences. Stress, birth control (for women), caffeine, and hormones are just a few things thought to cause a migraine. When using yoga to treat a migraine, the best approach is prevention by regular practice. Headstands and meditation balance your hormones, as well as reduces stress.
Headstand: Headstand seems counter intuitive for migraines since it can sometimes give beginners a headache if not done properly. For the seasoned practitioner, headstand helps migraines by improving the circulation and soothing the sympathetic nerves. It maintains cerebral blood flow and clears any disordered state of flow.
Seated easy pose or Indian style with hands in a prayer position: Come to an easy seated pose by crossing your ankles in front of each other. Sit tall, stacking your spine and slightly tuck your chin. Press your hands together in a prayer position at your heart. This hand position is called Anjali Mudra. It is supposed to balance your hormones and left and right brain.
Begin to breathe deeply, inhaling all the way into your belly letting it expand and exhale just as deeply working your diaphragm. Let your thoughts pass through your mind effortlessly with nothing lingering for too long. Do this every day for five minutes and your overall well-being will be increased, staving away those migraines.
Insomnia is the inability to turn off your mind and is often is a result of overstimulation. I think to battle insomnia with yoga, you have to get moving, burn off some of that extra energy, then consciously breathe and stretch. Those ZZZs should be all yours after this simple five minute routine.
Forward fold: Begin in a forward fold with your feet hips distance apart and your hand hanging. Take five long deep breaths.
Frog Kriya’s: Then bring your heels together and your toes apart, similar to first position in dance. Bring your hands to the floor or a block. Inhale squat all the way down, your heels lift and you look toward the seam of the ceiling then exhale straighten your legs, let your head hang in a forward fold. Repeat this for one minute. Inhale squat deep, exhale straighten. Moving and breathing like this is traditional in Kundalini and is amazing at burning calories and getting your mind in check.
Child's Kriya: Child's pose Kriya is another Kundalini Kriya that can help you catch some Zs. Begin in an easy child’s pose with your knees wide apart and your hips resting on your heels. Bring your arms along side your body. Take five deep breaths here.
Next inhale, rise up to standing on your knees with your hands reaching toward the sky, then exhale, and come back into child’s pose with your hands along side your body.
Inhale as you rise up to standing on your knees. Arms reach up, exhale, then reach your arms out as you move back to child’s pose, arms along side your body. Continue this one breath per movement for at least 30 seconds. The movement should be fluid and repetitive. Push your breath here as you move and visualize any stress or tension falling off of you. After 30 seconds of moving, come back to child’s pose and take another long deep five breaths.
Feet up the wall: Next lay on your back with your bottom against a wall and your legs up the wall. Breath here, focusing your mind on the inhale and the exhale for at least another 30 seconds.
Summary: All of these preliminary practices can help you achieve the mind and body harmony that is so essential in our fast paced world. Learn them, practice them, heal through them, and come back to your sacred center.
This post is solely for informational purposes. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for medical advice. Before undertaking any course of exercise, you should seek the advice of your physician or other health care provider.
Jessica James has been practicing yoga seriously for 12 years, and for the last 6 years she has developed yoga sets that sculpt the body and clear the mind as a teacher. During her second pregnancy, Jessica shared her own experience with a unique fitness based prenatal yoga program. She has completed 3 yoga alliance certified teacher training courses and currently lives in Malibu, CA with her family.