Yoga is, first and foremost, an Awareness practice. We take our attention from our thoughts, from whatever is “running us,” to our breath and the sensations in our body—for example, to the sensation of our feet connecting with the earth. We become present.
In the evening, a few pigeon poses and some stretches to release tension in the body might bring us right into meditation. As Paul Muller-Ortega notes, all the practices of Yoga are inter-related.
In a body scan, with eyes closed, immersed in the breath and feeling into sensation, we may experience our bodies as a pulsating field of energy. We may experience what my meditation Teacher, Sally Kempton, refers to as our “real body,” or “true body”—what Yoga calls our “subtle body.” We experience the truth of what the sages said, that every particle of our body is made of conscious energy. The body truly is a gateway to our deepest core of Self that is of the nature of bliss.
It is often while doing the physical practice—in child pose or in savasana, that we begin to touch meditative states. We might start to notice the pause between the breaths and thoughts. In the pause, we touch the space of pure Awareness.
The body is the gateway to the expanded Self.
– Abhinavagupta via Sally Kempton
Yoga is a journey from disempowerment to empowerment.
Even the most basic alignment cues: “press all four corners of the feet into the earth,” “lengthen up through the spine and crown,” “release tension”… help people move into more grounded, more empowered postures and states. In an aligned posture, there is more ease and relaxation, and a more positive mental-emotional outlook.
Engaging the muscles, and drawing into the “hara,” the belly center (a little below the navel), offers a deeper, more subtle level of empowerment. The hara is considered the center of being in Japan.
When you start connecting with this center, you may start experiencing more “spontaneous right action.” You may find yourself responding in a way that is natural, easeful and appropriate—even in situations that might have been challenging to navigate historically.
Two of the most knowledgeable people about Yoga as a healing modality are the Western medical doctors—Dr. Loren Fishman and Dr. Timothy McCall. I have been fortunate to study with both.
Dr. Fishman uses Yoga along with Western medicine in his practice as a physiatrist and is one of Yoga’s most convincing advocates. Jane Brody of the New York Times has written about his groundbreaking methodology for osteoporosis in 12 Minutes of Yoga for Stronger Bones and also about his approach to common orthopedic issues.
When comparing Yoga to Western medicine, both doctors are quick to point out the many areas where Western medicine has nothing to offer, or where the Western approaches—invasive surgery and drugs—have significant side-effects.
I have studied Yoga for Back Pain with Dr. Fishman and recommend his book by the same name. I am also certified in his Yoga for Osteoporosis method. I highly recommend his trainings and books, including Healing Yoga, which offers Yoga for twenty common ailments.
The Medical Editor of Yoga Journal, Dr. Timothy McCall, tracks the research on Yoga as a healing modality and has compiled a list of Health Conditions Helped by Yoga (as Shown in Scientific Studies). The list now includes 117 conditions including common issues such as arthritis, back pain, cancer, multiple sclerosis, anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
Tim McCall’s holistic Yoga As Medicine methodology and his book by the same name have deeply influenced my Private teaching.
Both doctors mention it’s far more beneficial for people to do a brief, daily home practice that addresses their unique needs and therapeutic issues than an hour and a half group yoga class in a studio once a week.
In Private sessions, in person and via Skype, I work with students one-on-one to create a home practice that helps them move towards improved health and greater well-being. These daily practices are often relatively short. Yoga for Osteoporosis, as noted above in the Times article, can be done in 12 minutes a day.
Yoga offers potent wisdom and practices for calming ourselves. You don't even need to be a meditator or a yoga practitioner to experience the benefits of these simple practices.