From the moment we begin to exist, our mind and body is absorbing sights, sounds, touch impressions, and emotions. Every single stimulus is recorded in our brain, cells and tissues on a cellular level. This concept of mind and body is widely discussed, but do we actually fully understand it? Do we understand the enormity of the emotional and physical toll life takes on us? Our environment, every stress and every positive/negative emotion essentially affects us to a level that changes our very being, body and inherent spirit.
In times past, Asian cultures made esoteric practices a part of their daily life, wherein these practices included prayer, and means to strengthen and cleanse physically and mentally. At the crux of these practices, it was always understood that the body is not separate from the mind and spirit, and the neglect of one leads to the deterioration of the other two facets. Though we regard our lives as solely physical, emotions breach into each of our moments, and how we deal with it on a day-to-day level is what keeps us healthy and well – both emotionally and physically. Building up a level of awareness to your mental and physical health brings you to a place where you are conscious of the smallest change that takes place in your body.
You will notice that there are people who ‘process’ their emotions faster than others, and are a lot more evolved in their thinking about life in general. Usually these are people who have developed some sort of a practice in yoga, tai chi, meditation, martial arts etc. All these disciplines instill an emotional and physical resilience that helps ‘digest’ life better and prevent disease from making a home in your body simply by burning away the toxins (Ama).
Often, for people not entrenched in yogic practices, the beginning of disease is a single small symptom that remains unnoticed; say for example feeling uncomfortable after a meal, then feeling bloated, maybe pain, constipation/diarrhea - till one day you are sitting at the doctor’s and being diagnosed with colitis. The point is that it took you possibly years to get to this stage, where sheer lack of awareness and neglect debilitated you.
From my 30 years of experience as a Yogi, I can profoundly suggest that one of the most effective methods to instill awareness, cleanse your toxins and stay healthy in mind/body/spirit is the traditional practice of Hatha yoga. There are many styles of yoga being taught out there, but the traditional method that encompasses Asana (postures), Pranayama (breathing techniques) and Dhayana (concentration – which leads to a spontaneous state of meditation) is the style that keeps your Agni balanced, Nadis (channels) opened, muscles supple and joints healthy.
Yoga is one discipline, that even 5000 years ago recognized the importance of the health of the gut. One can participate in the cleansing of the gut – from esophagus to rectum by engaging in supervised cleansing practices (shatkarmas); this allows the gut to release unwanted physical and emotional toxins, and as the flora of the gut recalibrates and calms down, your health improves by leaps and bounds.
One of the biggest benefits however, is the balancing of the digestive fire (Agni)in the gut. The digestive system in our body plays a huge role in our overall health, with the “little brain” hidden in the walls of the digestive system called the enteric nervous system (ENS). The ENS is two thin layers of more than 100 million nerve cells lining the gastrointestinal tract from esophagus to rectum; and the ENS, while not capable of thought, communicates back and forth with our big brain. Once the body is cleansed of toxins and the digestive fire is balanced, you will see your skin clear up, eyes brighten, and experience vitality of mind and body.
This being said, it requires discipline and intent to incorporate a daily practice into your life. It usually takes 40 days to establish a habit, so choose a time that works best, set out the yoga mat, and begin your practice. If Yoga is completely new to you, then start by attending a few ‘beginner’ yoga workshops, pick-up what works best and makes most sense, and gently establish a routine. Assuming that you have a 45 min/one hour time slot - divide the time equally between postures, breathing and concentration.
You will begin to see the benefits within a week, as physically your circulation improves, posture changes, stiffness, aches and pains lessen, sleep comes easier, fatigue reduces and energy level increases. On an emotional level, moodiness dissipates, depression lifts, anxiety attacks calm down, you feel joyful, and things that stressed you out earlier, don’t seem as insurmountable.
To experience the vast benefits of traditional Yoga, you must embark on a journey of self-exploration and create a practice that works towards optimizing you – body and mind.