All across the country, athletes, housewives, business people, kids, seniors, everybody seems to have some yoga in their lives. We know how revitalized our bodies feel after stretching, bending and taking long deep breaths. We know that yoga is an ancient practice, but for many, the information stops there. Let’s delve a bit in pursuit of answers to educate ourselves on the way of yoga and how it enhances diabetes care.
What is yoga? The word yoga means “union” in the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit. It is thought of as a yoke, uniting the physical, mental and spiritual self through discipline. Its traditional goal is union with the true self, the Absolute, known as Brahman.
Although it has religious roots in many Hindu and Buddhist traditions, it is not actually a religion. The ancient yogis wanted a direct link to spiritual experience, so they developed physical postures, breathing exercises and meditation techniques to purify the body and mind, clearing the way for enlightenment. Yoga doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care if you concentrate on the physical, mental, or spiritual, or any combination of these. Its makeup is more of ancient science.
When, where, how did it all begin? Ancient Tibetan scrolls describing yoga practice date back 10,000 years. Yoga also has deep roots in ancient Chinese, Indian (5000-year-old scrolls) and Mayan cultures. Before 1800 BC excavations were found in 2 cities in India describing the form and practice of yoga. As centuries marched on, yoga masters called Gurus (GU = that which takes you from darkness, RU = to light), guarded and preserved the traditions, training worthy students to carry on the science of caring for the body, mind, and spirit.
Originally, classic yoga was created for monks, yogis and Brahmins (traditional religious elite in India) who withdrew from the everyday world to meditate and live a spiritual lifestyle. Things have changed in that regard as people from all walks of life practice yoga. But the ancient concepts, to unite body mind and spirit, have not been lost. They simply have traversed from antiquity to the “new generation”, from the forests of Tibet to the fitness centers of America.
Most Western-style yoga is based on an ever-increasing variety of methods and forms. The mind is the link between body and spirit. The habits of the mind can bind us or free us. No one style is better than another. Ultimately, all rivers flow to the sea. It is a matter of personal focus. “A majority of the people who like to live peaceful, tranquil lives with strength and compassion, with character and commitment, will come to yoga and practice whichever form of yoga their good luck brings them.” says Yogi Bhajan.
Between 200 and 800 AD, the concepts of yoga were systematized, coded and preserved into the Patanjali Sutras, the 8-fold pathway of yoga, which is still used as a basis today. YAMA, the five restraints, such as sensory control and nonviolence. NIVANA, the five disciplines, including purity and surrender. ASANA, postures for health. PRANAYAMA , control of breath. PRATYHARA, the synchronization of senses and thoughts. DAHARNA, one-pointed concentration. DYHANA, deep meditation. SAMADHI, awakening and absorbing in spirit.
There is a myriad of yoga styles to choose from. Most Western-style yoga branches derive from Hatha, a part of Raja Yoga, the path of self-control. In India, Bhakti Yoga, the path of devotion, wins the popularity contest. Some of the more familiar Hatha styles are: VINIYOGA founded in Madras, India by highly respected Sri Krishnamachanya and continued by his son. Viniyoga is thought of as the methodology for Hatha yoga. It’s careful integration of the movement of the spine and the flow of breath, emphasizes function over form. Its concern emphasizes the practitioner’s needs and capacity.
ASTANGA is the basis for the so-called “power yoga”. It was founded by K. Pattahbi Jois. It is the most athletic form of yoga. Postures change rapidly building strength, flexibility, balance, stamina and producing body heat. Astanga is for those who are already in good shape and want a serious workout.
BIKRAM Founder of this style, Vikram Choudberry, became famous for teaching his style to Hollywood stars. He teaches in all the major world cities. His type of yoga is hot and rigorous. The room is closed and the thermostat is cranked up to about 100 degrees and a series of 26 postures are run through once, maybe twice. It is designed to warm, stretch and cleanse the entire body.
INTEGRAL was developed by Swami Satchidananda, the guy who had many people chanting their very first “Om” at the original Woodstock festival in 1969. Integral yoga integrates physical, breathing, meditative and karma (the word means action in Sanskrit). Its purpose is to avoid bad karma, do good karma and eventually work your way free of any karma.
IYENGAR is one of the most popular of all yoga forms. It pays great attention to precision and detail. For example, standing still is not just standing still. It takes great concentration and subtle body adjustments to achieve Tadasana, the mountain pose. Teachers must study 2 to 5 years before becoming certified to teach Iyengar.
KRIPALU is the yoga of consciousness. There are 3 stages of Kripalu yoga. One is learning postures and understanding your body’s abilities. Stage 2 focuses on holding postures for extended periods to develop concentration and inner awareness. Stage 3 moves from one posture to another in a meditative flow.
KUNDALINI works to tap the coiled energy that begins at the base of the spine and flows up to the crown Chakra (field of energy). It achieves this through active movement, mental focus, and synchronized breathing. One of the better-known breathing forms is the breath of fire which when combined with various postures, can be quite energizing and invigorating.
SIVANANDA In 1960, after a 10-year study of yoga and all its aspects, its founder Vishnu-devananda wrote the contemporary yoga classic, The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga. Vishnu-devananda’s 5 point method is a widely practiced type of yoga that incorporates proper exercise, breathing, deep relaxation, vegetarian diet, and meditation.
Yoga and Diabetes
Two years ago an NYC offshoot of the Diabetes Exercise and Sports Assoc. organized a yoga day at the Integral Yoga Institute. We luxuriated in a private 1 ½ hour class composed of breathing techniques, physical postures (Asanas) and a short meditation. Some of our group were experienced yoga practitioners, others neophytes. We all loved the class and talked about how relaxed and limber we felt as we sat around putting on our shoes and testing bg’s.
Several of the newcomers had dropped in their bg’s that warranted glucose tablets. Although yoga is not categorized as an aerobic activity, it uses muscle, strength, and movement. It massages the thyroid gland. It stimulates circulation and it relaxes the nervous system all great benefits and a good reason for those with diabetes to practice yoga.
Although it has not been scientifically documented, yoga practice certainly can lower bg’s. Think of yoga as a complement to managing diabetes by giving a sense of well being and health. Yoga is self-motivating, a cousin to diabetes management. Slow rhythmic yoga breathing techniques push oxygen in a slightly different way, improving oxygenation of the blood, flushing toxins from muscles and carrying nutrients to the brain. Yoga breathing teaches focus and discipline, both necessary to the well-tended diabetic lifestyle.
Yoga postures have a profound effect on a circulation, keeping blood vessels elastic. This is terrific support for the extremities. Yoga postures press gently on organs and glands, giving positive effects to the endocrine, digestive and reproductive systems. The releasing of muscle tension during Savasana (corpse pose), is an ideal tool for reducing the harmful effects of both physical and mental stress. Yoga meditation helps teach and inspire us to draw on our inner resources for health and strength.
Now you have a basic primer of yoga. Give it a try if you like. For helpful videotapes, try User Friendly Yoga by Larry Payne or Yoga For Beginners by Patricia Walden from Yoga Journal. If you prefer listening to audiotapes, Basic Daily Routine by John Schumacher and Introducing Yoga, Its Purpose And Approaches, by Georg Feuerstein are good starts. Yoga and Health and Yoga Journal are two periodicals to seek out. Yoga web sites have a way to go but try www.yogareseachcenter.org and www.sivananda.org. From the library or bookstore, check out The American Yoga Association Wellness Book by Alice Christensenan or Yoga For Wellness by Gary Kraftsow. Both have excellent text and pictures.
Find your beginning, if for no other reason than it feels really good. Many yoga classes end with the word “Namaste”, a traditional expression of farewell, performed in a seated cross-legged posture with hands held in prayer position near the heart. The body bends forward as the word is uttered. Roughly translated it means, “the Divine in me salutes the Divine in you.”
Namaste Oh, and one other thing. A yoga class can really make you hungry. Here’s what’s cooking on the front burner at Cyber Kitchen to nourish a yogi.