It is best if you can learn the exercises which are recommended for your specific self-therapy from an experienced yoga instructor. He or she will be able to guide you in the rate, rhythm and duration of each movement. Any mistaken or ineffective movements or positions will be corrected and you will get much more benefit from your exercises. This would require only one to eight visits (depending on your problem and experience in exercising) so that you can learn these exercises well. Then you can continue at home on your own, unless you prefer a class setting or would like to go beyond the self-therapy stage to the self-development and then the self-knowledge stages of your evolution. In that case it would be wise to find a recommended and responsible yoga center near you and proceed beyond self-therapy into self-transformation.
Most of the following exercises are not actually classical yoga postures but rather preliminary and preparatory dynamic exercises which are easier and more adapted to the stiff western body. I have found them to be more useful in creating a healthy life-style program for those who are seeking to awaken the natural healing energies in their body. In some cases, such as in young people and those who have kept their body flexible, the more advanced yoga postures may be recommended. These simple but effective movements, which are found in the following pages, have proven extremely effective in literally hundreds of cases that I have witnessed with my own eyes.
THE FOLLOWING GUIDELINES SHOULD BE FOLLOWED
1. DO NOT FORCE YOUR BODY under any circumstances. No matter how many times we say this to people, they just keep on doing it. They have been programmed to believe that the most, the biggest and the fastest are the best. They want to push their bodies right into the exercises, whether the body likes it or not. This is a great mistake that does more harm than you can imagine. Work slowly with your body. Respect its limits. These limits will gradually extend and you will gain flexibility if you work REGULARLY and sensitively at stretching just to your limits and stopping there. The body will get the message and the tension which is preventing you from proceeding will gradually be released.
2. BE REGULAR in you practice. A few times a week is not enough if you really want to heal or transform or develop your body. You do not need a lot of time but you do need to be regular. Twenty or even fifteen minutes a day are more effective than two hours once a week. Do not believe that you don’t have time. You will just have to make an assessment of what you are doing which is not leaving you any free time. Something can be sacrificed for this life-enhancing activity. In the end, the time you sacrifice for these exercises and other techniques, will be gained doublefoldXX? and even more through greater clarity, efficiency and less need to sleep or daydream.
3. DO NOT CONTINUE ANY EXERCISE WHICH CAUSES PAIN. Check with your doctor or exercise instructor what you should do. Pain is a message from the body which must be listened to. In some cases it may simply be the body’s process of changing which is causing the pain. In such cases, you simply need to bear with it and continue (without forcing) and it will gradually pass. In other cases you may be doing harm to some part of your body and may have to stop and to some other preparatory exercises before returning to that one.
4. EXERCISE ON AN EMPTY STOMACH at least three hours after eating. (The half shoulder stand in which we put our feet on the wall is an exception to this. It can be done after about half-an-hour if there is no other time in which we can do it).
5. REMOVE ALL JEWELRY AND TIGHT CLOTHING. Let your body be free of any restrictions. Find some loose, comfortable clothing or body-hugging dance tights for exercising.
6. BE CONSCIOUS AND CONCENTRATE on what you are doing. Try to keep your mind on feeling what is happening in the body and concentrate on your breath and position. Do not think about other things or talk to anyone while exercising. If possible, it would be best if you were alone in the room, without distractions such as radio or TV, so that you can concentrate. If this is not possible, just try to concentrate on yourself and ignore what is going on around you.
7. GIVE IMPORTANCE TO YOUR BREATHING. Each exercise has a specific way of breathing. This is an extremely important aspect of the exercise. In many cases it is even more important than the physical movements themselves. By conscious of your breathing and breathe slowly and deeply, according to the instructions for each exercise. In general (with some exceptions) we inhale when we stretch upward or backward and exhale when we bend downward or forward.
8. COMPLETE YOUR EXERCISE SERIES WITH DEEP BREATHING and, if possible, with DEEP RELAXATION. For each specific problem various series of exercises will be given for morning or evening.
9. AVOID EXERCISING AT LEAST THREE MONTHS AFTER SURGERY, unless you have specific permission from your doctor. Some exercises, as indicated, should be started only 6 months after surgery, unless you have your doctor’s permission to start earlier. Also, avoid all exercises at any time when you suspect internal bleeding or an inflamed appendix.
10. Many of the advanced exercises as well as different variations of the ones given here are not covered in this book because they are not frequently used in self-healing but more so for self-transformation.
CREATING A SERIES FOR YOURSELF
If there is no yoga instructor or experienced person in your area to guide you in selecting an effective series of exercises, breathing techniques and deep relaxation best suited to you, do the best you can with the following guidelines. Be aware, however, of the fact that no guideline is absolute and that each body has different needs and each person a different life-style which may or may not allow him to abide by the guidelines given. Thus, you will have to be creative and resourceful in seeing how you can apply these techniques to your life.
1. WITH EXERCISES should be done in each case will be discussed in the section on specific problems. In general, we do the dynamic exercises which wake up the body and make its energies flow more freely in the morning, so as to prepare ourselves for our day’s activities. The more static and relaxing exercises are usually done in the evening when we want to relax the body and the mind from the various tensions which have accumulated, at the same time revitalizing them for the evening activities.
If, however, someone cannot abide by this suggestion, he can make his own program. For example, he may have time only once a day and want to combine both types of exercises together in the morning or in the evening. Or, he may have time only in the afternoon (but not after the meal, please). Others may simply freely that their body prefers some other timing.
It is important, if at all possible, to do some exercise which brings blood to the head towards the late afternoon or evening or even before bed if no other time is possible. Most of us have a lack of flow of blood and thus oxygen, nutrients and hormones to the brain. The more hours we are sitting or standing, the more the blood tends to gravitate towards the feet. Thus, it is useful to do some exercise, such as the half shoulder stand or the prayer position, so as to replenish the blood supply to the brain. In the case of the half shoulder stand, which is essential for all, but especially for those with varicose veins or other problems of the legs, such as swelling. Bringing blood to the head is especially important to all those who have low blood pressure, anemia or hormonal problems. Check, however, with the chart of contraindications to see if perhaps you have some problem which prevents you from being able to do the half shoulder stand. Alternatively, check with your doctor or yoga instructor.
Back-bending exercises should be balanced by forward-bending ones and movements to the right balanced by movements to the left.
2. THE LENGTH OF THE EXERCISE PERIOD will depend on how much time you are willing to spend each day on revitalizing your self. We will give various series for each specific problem. There will be the basic series of absolutely necessary exercises which you will have to perform if you want to get some help in overcoming that problem. This is for those who are willing to do only the absolute minimum. We do not recommend this series for most. It is just the best we can do for someone who is unwilling to pay real attention to his health. Then we will give the series which would be what one should really do if he wants to harmonize his body and mind. Then, in the section on comments, we will give additional exercises which will aid you even further in creating a healthy body and mind, if you can spare that time. For more exercises it will be best to consult an instructor.
3. THE ORDER IN WHICH THE EXERCISES SHOULD BE DONE will be given in each case. If, foe some reason, this does not suit you, you may adjust it by following your inner voice or consult an instructor, if there is one available. Most series will finish up with some breathing exercises and deep relaxation, possibly involving some positive imagery. If you are unable, for reasons of time or unsuitable environment, to complete the series with a relaxation at that time, then try to do it some time in the afternoon, after the evening exercises or even before going to sleep, if there is no other solution. Relaxation will be suggested after both the morning and evening series. Best results can be obtained if you can do both. If there is no time, select the most suitable hour of the day for yourself to do your relaxation. Relaxation is a very important aspect of your self-healing; in some cases it is even more important than the exercises, especially in psychosomatic illnesses.
4. TAKE YOUR HEALTH INTO YOUR HANDS. Be sensitive to your body’s needs and be creative in developing a daily program for maintaining your health.
CATEGORIES OF POSTURE
In Hatha yoga (the yoga of the physical body) there are two basic categories of asanas (postures or exercises).
1. Meditative postures taken for concentration and meditation.
2. Cultural exercises for creating a healthy, trouble-free body. Cultural postures may then be broken down into two simple categories:
a. Dynamic exercises in which the individual makes movements in harmony with the breath. Each movement has its corresponding inhalation, retention and exhalation.
b. Static postures in which a specific position is held, without movement, while the individual breathes normally or deeply.
Dynamic exercises are used to warm up and prepare the body for the static postures. Beginners should do more dynamic exercises until their bodies become more flexible.
The cultural postures can be classified into six basic categories according to their effects on the body. They are as follows:
1. Exercises for the Spine, in order to create a flexible, relaxed and properly aligned spine, insuring the proper flow of nervous communication and pranic energy throughout the body. Exercises for the spine also alleviate back aches and pains.
There are five ways in which the spine should be stretched:
a) Lengthwise – increasing the distance between the vertebrae – as in the «upward stretch» and «forward stretching posture».
b) Sideways as in the «sideward bend».
c) Backward as in the «backward stretch», «cobra», «bow», etc.
d) Forward as in the «forward stretching posture» and the «plough».
e) Twisting as in the «twist», «torsion» and «spinal twist».
2. Abdominal Compression ω stimulation postures in which the abdominal area is compressed inward, such as in the «abdominal lift», «forward stretching posture», «plough» etc.
3. Head Low postures in which the head, eyes, neck and shoulders are placed lower in their relationship to the whole body, increasing the flow of blood to these areas. Examples are the «shoulder stand», «standing forward stretch», «yoga mudra», «head stand» etc.
4. Joint Flexing exercises to stretch and strengthen the joints of our arms and legs, for example «salutation to the sun», «bow’s head pose», «lotus» and «half lotus» sitting positions.
5. Balancing postures in which we learn to hold our physical-mental equilibrium by balancing on one leg or the hands, as in the «tree», «peacock» or «Lord Nataraja» poses.
6. Relaxation positions in which the whole body is completely relaxed muscle by muscle in order to lower the metabolism and give total relaxation to all the systems of the body, as in the «corpse» pose.
Obviously many asanas give us the benefits of more than one category. The «yoga mudra», for example, gives us the benefits of all the categories except number 5.
In choosing your own individual sequence of postures, seek to cover all six categories.
Also be aware to balance your movements so that forward movements are counter-balanced by backward stretches. For example, the «plough» must be followed by the «fish» and the «forward stretching posture» should be followed by the «cobra», «bow» or «camel».
Balance movements to the right with equal movements to the left.
Once you have disciplined yourself to the techniques of yoga, it is best to let go of these rules and follow the natural inclinations of your own body – how it would like to move. This is assuming you have gone inside yourself, and have developed an inner communication link between you and your body. Your body then becomes your teacher, your guide, your guru. By being aware of your body in various life situations, you will learn much about your sources of tension, pain and pleasure.
Once you have made this inner connection, there is no longer any need to ask others about what to eat, how to exercise, how to live, what is right and what is wrong. You become your own doctor, your own psychologist and your own guru.
May I suggest that beginners be wise and not overdo it. It is better to start with a few of the dynamic postures and to them every day. Then when you can do them comfortably add a few more to your series.
Many people start off with much enthusiasm and end up with aches and pains and give up. Go slowly, but with regularity, and you will succeed.
Good luck – it is an exciting moment in your life when you consider you are going to be transformed.
These movements are to be done – with a few exceptions – slowly, paying equal attention to the breath and body. There should be a harmony of motion, like a slow-motion dance.
In this way we gain rather than lose energy. The greater oxygenation of the muscles which result removes excess acids from the muscles and restores their vitality.
At the same time there is co-ordination of body, mind and breath which brings an overall feeling of harmony.
Circulation is increased bringing benefit to all cells of the body. Joints, tendons and ligaments are stretched and flexed.
In general the body is vitalized and prepared for the Static postures.
One rule of breathing applies to all postures (except the «sideward bend»):
a) Inhale whenever stretching or moving upward or backward.
b) Exhale whenever stretching or bending downward or forward.
Also try to learn «glottal breathing» in which you keep the glottis (in the back of the throat) slightly closed. In this way a slight hissing sound (like waves of the sea) is created as you breathe. This will increase your ability to breathe deeply and with concentration while doing these movements. If you are unsure, have your teacher check you.