Yoga and Meditation
Few exercise modalities offer such scope for health improvement as yoga. Yoga exquisitely blends techniques which promote muscle tone, flexibility, proper breathing, mental clarity, stress relief and peace. Whilst yoga was traditionally used as a path to spiritual enlightenment, yoga is valuable to people of all faiths and is practiced more commonly in western society for its physical benefits. However, many people find as they delve deeper into their practice that there is an attraction to explore their mind/body/spirit connection.
An essential aim of yoga is to harmonize the body and mind through breath and movement. Significant mental focus is required to perform yoga postures, which effectively clears the incessant ‘chatter’ in our minds. Full movement also massages vital organs and promotes detoxification and oxygenation from head to toe.
In addition to general health benefits such as strength, flexibility and relaxation, yoga can be applied therapeutically. Back pain, arthritis, hypertension, headache, pre-menstrual tension and asthma can be improved under the guidance of a qualified yoga teacher. An advantage of yoga is that people of all ages and fitness levels can work at their individual intensity to attain benefit. The emphasis is not on what you can do, rather on how you do it and how often you practice. Results are surprisingly swift to manifest and people soon feel lighter, happier and healthier.
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We live in such a fast paced world that we rarely take time for ourselves. This type of a lifestyle can build up and store stress and anxiety in the body which over time can lead to illness. Relaxation and meditation rids the body of accumulated stress (both mental and physical) while strengthening the entire mind-body system to work more efficiently. Taking up regular forms of relaxation and meditation can promote not only improved health but also greater clarity, energy, mental awareness, confidence and creativity and fulfillment in life.
Whilst it may be true that meditation is strongly espoused in many eastern philosophies, people of any religion can practice meditation and derive considerable health benefits from it. With commitment, perseverance and regular practice, meditation can produce life-changing positive effects. By creating time and space to honor our basic need for stillness, we can transform our mental state, emotions, physical well-being and subsequent experience of life.
The stress of internal ‘mental gibbering’ is deeply entrenched in our existence. Tragically, we have forgotten the simple pleasure of releasing our worries and finding the underlying thread of peace in each moment. That is not to say that we should ignore stressors and negative influences in our lives. However, mentally agonizing over our problems is counter-productive to health and well-being. Meditation can very effectively halt the vicious cycle of obsessive worry.
Still feeling cynical? Science, the very epitome of cynicism, is even acknowledging the benefits of regular meditation. Meditation has been found to balance our brains’ alpha and theta waves, thus enhancing the synergy of our creative and logical cognitive faculties. Meditators exhibit superior pain resistance to electric currents administered to the skin. Research also indicates that meditation can enhance sleep quality, mood, memory, blood pressure, mental alertness, migraines and headaches, posture and stress tolerance.
Whilst meditation involves the release of all conscious attachments, visualization can be used therapeutically to direct and accelerate an intention to heal. 'Guided imagery' during relaxation can be a powerful tool to direct the body towards deeper healing. This re-affirms your mind and body’s intent to move towards better health. 'Visualization' is also a powerful stress-reducing tool and is a good introductory platform for beginners if meditation feels too difficult initially.
Did you know that you breathe approximately 11,000 litres of air per day?
This sheer quantity is indicative of how vital oxygen really is for our health. Fulfilling a fundamental requirement for life, oxygen is involved in the production of adenosine triphosphate – the ‘energy currency’ that powers our body. We die very quickly without it.
Indirectly, oxygen is also implicated in the acid/base balance of blood. After a cell uses oxygen to generate ATP, oxygen is ‘blown out’ in the form carbon dioxide and exits the body via the lungs during exhalation. When we do not breathe adequately, carbon dioxide can accumulate in the blood, inhibiting optimal oxygen intake and increasing blood acidity.
The lowest third division of our lungs is innervated by a richer blood supply than the upper regions. Incidentally, this lower region also contains the air that is expelled at the end of an exhalation. Even on a full exhale, we cannot completely breathe out all old air as our lungs would collapse without the pressure exerted by the remaining gases. When we breathe shallowly, quickly or improperly, an excess of this older air circulates at the bottom of our lungs. Consequently, our bodies are deprived of optimal oxygen, energy levels decrease and our bodies have to cope with an acidic environment.
Therefore breath work is vital to any healing equation. Whilst there are many excellent books available on breath work, awareness of a few simple techniques that can improve your well-being. Take some time out of your day to focus on your breath:
- Inhale deeply and fully through the nose
- Allow your diaphragm and stomach to swell
- Completely fill the lungs
- Exhale through the mouth
- Release air from the chest
- Deflate your diaphragm
Hypnotherapy has a fascinating history spanning hundreds of years. Perhaps most interesting though, is its application for inducing surgical anaesthesia. Dr James Esdaile has been most famously credited for using hypnotherapy to perform over 300 painless operations in the early nineteenth century. Since then, hypnotherapy for surgery has been abandoned in favor of chemical anaesthesia.
Hypnotherapy is a deep state of relaxation. This trance-like serenity has been likened to the twilight zone between sleep and consciousness, where an individual is aware of their environment but reluctant to move. In this state, a person is more attuned with their sub-conscious thoughts and emotions and is also more receptive to positive suggestion.
Professional hypnotherapists can assist with numerous health and emotional issues. Hypnotherapy can be used to break harmful habits, promote healing and regress into past experiences to address unresolved issues. In this manner, hypnotherapy has been reported to successfully improve conditions such as ulcers, migraine, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, depression, uncontrollable appetite, stress and anxiety, phobias, skin disorders, addictions and pain.
Music is a powerful medium that can profoundly influence our mood, brain function and health. Positive music can uplift, inspire, motivate, heal and flood us with feelings of well-being. Music can liberate emotions that we have buried and may be contributing to ill-health.
Science is progressively discovering how this music phenomenon works. Researchers are finding that the brain’s electrical signals are strengthened or weakened in accordance with our mood and thus by altering our brain’s electrical waves through sound therapy, we can also influence our state of mind and health.
The pioneering work of experts such as John Levine demonstrates that music therapy can be channeled towards achieving particular health outcomes. Certain music can induce a predominance of alpha brain waves, akin to the experience of deep relaxation upon awakening from sleep. Conversely, other music can suppress alpha brain waves and stimulate the theta brain waves, which is more conducive to intense concentration and study. Sound can also promote meditative states, which can otherwise be difficult to achieve.
Sound and music therapy has been shown to provide other positive health benefits. People commonly experience stress reduction, enhanced memory, slower heart rate, lower blood pressure, increased immunity and deeper breathing. Sound therapy may also be used to improve emotional issues, insomnia and anxiety-related illnesses. Importantly, music can significantly enhance a person’s motivation. In stroke victims, increased motivation through music has proved more effective to recovery than other traditional rehabilitative therapies.