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Experts - Yoga - Meditation
Yoga - Meditation
Yoga and meditation are both effective techniques to relieve stress by activating the body's natural relaxation response. Yoga is a system of postures (Asanas), breathing techniques and meditation to build endurance, promote healing and achieve deeper consciousness. Meditation is the practice of turning our attention inward to develop mindfulness and body/mind awareness. It gives the sense of balance, peace and calm, which integrates into your overall health.
Qigong is a branch of chinese medicine or treatment, that has been in use for millenia but is most associated with post-Mao China at the start of the cultural revolution.
The ‘qi’ in ‘qigong’ means breath or gas in chinese, and, by extension, ‘life force’, ‘energy’ or even ‘cosmic breath’. ‘Gong’ means work applied to a discipline or the resultant level of skill, so ‘qigong’ is thus ‘breath work’ or ‘energy work’.
Some people view Qigong as a set of movement & breathing exercises, resulting in healthful benefits through stress reduction & exercise. Others view it in more ‘metaphysical’ terms, claiming that cosmic qi can be drawn into the body and circulated through channels or meridians.
Millions of people today both in China and around the world regularly practice qigong as a health maintenance exercise. Chinese hospitals have officially recognized qigong as a medical technique since 1989.
The chinese government decided (after many years of debate) to officially manage qigong through government regulation in 1996, and they also listed it as part of their National Health Plan.
Qigong can help with stress management for it’s practitioners, through diaphragmatic breathing, which is an important component of the relaxation response. Taoist qigong, in contrast, employs the inverse breath of inhaling to the back of the thoracic cavity, rather than diaphragmatic breathing. It has been stated that diaphragmatic breathing may lead to reproductive pathologies for women.
It has been suggested by Yan Xin, who practices both Western & Chinese medicine, that for qigong to be accepted fully by the modern world, it must pass scientific study testing. He and others began systematic study of qigong in the mid 1980s in research institutions both in China and the United States. To date, more than 20 studies have been published.
There is agreement by both Chinese and Western medicine practitioners that qigong can maintain health and improve health also, by encouraging movement, improving joint flexibility and resilience, and increasing the range of motion of practitioners.
Yoga is a discipline that focuses both on the body and mind / spirit. A variety of spiritual, mental, and physical practices and techniques are applied – focused on the Body/Mind connection for the outcome of spiritual connection, peace, and optimum health.
Types of Yoga
There are many different types of yoga, including Hatha yoga, Ananda, anusara, bikram, integral, Ishta, Iyengar, Jivamukti, Kali Ray Triyoga, Kripalu, Kundalini, power, restorative, sivananda, Svaroopa and Sviniyoga.
Hatha Yoga is a particular system of Yoga described in the 15th Century by Yogi Swatmarama, the compiler of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. It differs from Raja Yoga in that it focused on the physical body as leading to the purification of the mind (ha) and prana or ‘vital energy’ (tha). Hatha Yoga marks the development of asanas as full body ‘postures’ popularly used today. Hatha Yoga, which has many modern variations, is the style of yoga which many people associate with the word ‘yoga’ today. Many western Yoga students are happy with the vitality and physical health it develops, and are less interested in the other 7 branches of the Raja Yoga tradition.
Ananda YogaAnanda Yoga classes are designed to prepare the body for meditation, by the use of gentle postures that are designed to move energy up to the brain. Controlled breathing and proper body alignment are a focus of the classes.
Anusara Yoga is a fairly new form of yoga (1997), which combines a playful spirit with strict principles of alignment. The postures can be challenging, but the main message is to open your heart and to connect with the divine in yourself and others.
Ashtanga (or Astanga) Yoga is the name given to the system of yoga taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. This yoga style is physically demanding as it involves a series of progressive and continuous series of postures along with synchronized breathing. When done correctly it produces intense internal heat and a purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and internal organs. It results in improvements to circulation, flexibility, stamina and a light strong body. Ashtanga yoga is not recommended for beginners.
Bikram Yoga is the only form of yoga, which specializes in using a heated environment (typically of 95-105 degrees) which promotes more flexibility, detoxification and prevention of injuries. The founder of this form of yoga is Bikram Choudhury (who was an Olympic weight lifter in 1963 and is a disciple of Bishnu Ghosh). It includes all the components of fitness including muscular strength, cardiovascular flexibility, weight loss and muscular endurance.
Integral Yoga This traditional type of yoga combines postures, breathing exercises, selfless service, meditation, chanting, prayer, and self-inquiry.
ISHTA Developed by South African teacher Mani Finger and popularized in the States by his son Alan, ISHTA (Integral Science of Hatha and Tantric Arts) focuses on opening energy channels throughout the body with postures, visualizations, and meditation.
Iyengar Yoga developed by yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar more than 60 years ago, promotes strength, flexibility, endurance, and balance through coordinated breathing and poses that require precise body alignment. This form of yoga includes props such as cushions, straps, blankets and blocks which helps the less flexible, meaning that even the elderly, sick and disabled can practice it. Because it is done at a slow pace, it can be especially good if you are recovering from illness or an injury. Iyengar yoga involves slowly moving into a pose, holding it for a minute or two, and then resting for a few breaths before moving into the next pose. It is one of the most popular forms of yoga taught today.
Jivamukti Yoga Was developed in 1986 by Sharon Gannon and David Life, the Jivamukti Yoga method expresses the spiritual and ethical aspects of the practice of yoga that have been disregarded or devalued in contemporary times. It is a vigorous and challenging asana form with an emphasis on scriptural study, Sanskrit chanting, vegetarianism, non-violence, meditation, devotion to God and the role that music and listening play in the practice of yoga.
Kali Ray TriYoga A series of flowing, dancelike movements was developed by Kali Ray in 1980. The practice also incorporates pranayama (breathing exercises) and meditation. Kali Ray runs the TriYoga Center in Santa Cruz, California.
Kripalu is called the yoga of consciousness. This gentle, introspective practice urges practitioners to hold poses to explore and release emotional and spiritual blockages. Goal-oriented striving is discouraged and precise alignment is not as important as in some other traditions. There are three stages in Kripalu yoga. Stage One focuses on learning the postures and exploring your bodies abilities. Stage Two involves holding the postures for an extended time, developing concentration and inner awareness. Stage Three is like a meditation in motion in which the movement from one posture to another arises unconsciously and spontaneously.
Kundalini practice concentrates on awakening the energy at the base of the spine and drawing it upward. In addition to postures, a typical class will also include chanting, meditation, and breathing exercises.
Power Yoga is essentially yoga with brawn. It’s the American interpretation of ashtanga yoga, a discipline that combines stretching, strength training, and meditative breathing. But power yoga takes ashtanga one step further. Many of the poses (also called postures or their Sanskrit name, asanas) resemble basic calisthenics — push-ups and handstands, toe touches and side bends — but the key to power yoga’s sweat-producing, muscle-building power is the pace. Instead of pausing between poses as you would in traditional yoga, each move flows into the next, making it an intense aerobic workout.
Restorative Yoga In a restorative yoga class you’ll spend long periods of time lying on blocks, blankets and bolsters – passively allowing muscles to relax.
Sivananda Yoga Like Integral Yoga, this traditional type of yoga combines postures, breathing, dietary restrictions, chanting, scriptural study, and meditation. The popular TV yoga teacher Lilias got her start practicing Sivananda Yoga.
Svaroopa Yoga New students find this a very approachable style, often beginning in chair poses that are comfortable. Promotes healing and transformation.
Viniyoga This is commonly used as a therapeutic practice for people who have suffered injuries or are recovering from surgery. It is a gentle, healing practice that is tailored to each person’s body type and needs as they grow and change.
Vinyasa Focuses on coordination of breath and movement and it is a very physically active form of yoga. It began with Krishnamacharya who later passed it on to Pattabhi Jois.
White Lotus Yoga A modified Ashtanga practice developed by Ganga White which is combined with breathwork and meditation.
Goal of Yoga
From a religious perspective, where Yoga has its roots, the goal of yoga can vary from religion to religion, but typically involves a higher sense of consciousness, liberation from worldly suffering and a better understanding of the cycle of birth and death. It can also be used where the ultimate goal is an eternal relationship with Vishnu, Rama or Krishna.
Western Yoga practitioners, when approaching it from a non-religious perspective, often turn to Yoga to improve their overall sense of wellbeing, better breathing, posture & joint / limb flexibility. Yoga can also help with muscle toning and strength exercises.
Meditation is the process by which an individual attempts to get beyond their conditioned ‘conscious’ thinking mind, and enter into a deeper state of relaxation and awareness. Similar to self-hypnosis, benefits of meditation can include a higher state of consciousness, greater focus, enhanced creativity or self-awareness or simply a more relaxed and peaceful frame of mind.
Meditation often involves turning attention to a single point of reference. Meditation is recognized as a component of almost all religions, and has been practiced for over 5,000 years, but is also practiced outside religious traditions.
Different meditative disciplines encompass a wide range of spiritual and/or psychophysical practices which may emphasize different goals — from achievement of a higher state of consciousness, to greater focus, creativity or self-awareness, or simply a more relaxed and peaceful frame of mind.
Forms of meditation
There are various meditation techniques, which can be classified according to their focus:
Is meditation when focusing on the field or background perception and experience. The mediator sits silently and comfortably, and they center their attention by focusing their awareness on a process (such as breathing, or a sound like a mantra) or on an object that they visualize. Typically the mediator is encouraged to maintain an open focus.
The mediator is ‘anchored’ by their focus, which enables them to constantly bring their mind back to the present, and thereby not allowing their mind ‘free-reign’, they maintain limited awareness and can relax and reduce their secondary thought processes.
Is meditation when focusing on a preselected specific object. This form of mediatation is used in many religions and spiritual practices. The mediator is asked to concentrate their focus on a particular object (for example, a specific repetitive prayer) and minimize distractions, returning their mind constantly to concentrate on the chosen object of their focus. In some traditions, mindfulness and concentrative meditation are combined. There are also forms of meditation where the focus can shift between the field, and a specific object.
Forms of meditation which are devoid of mystical content have been developed in the west as a way of promoting physical and mental well being, some of these include Jacobson’s Progressive Muscle Relaxation (helping to reduce anxiety and to relax muscular tension), Autogenic training and Shambhala Training and sensual meditation to name just a few.
Breath watching involves being aware of and watching your breathing during meditation. To be able to successfully follow this technique, you should:
- Sit in a quiet room, distraction free
- Sit in a chair or on the floor in a comfortable position
- Begin to take slow deep breaths with your eyes closed, breathing in through your nose and out of your mouth
- Be aware as you breathe, of your breath travelling through your body
Focus all your attention on your breath
Empty Mind Meditation
This form of meditation needs focus and patience, it means that you need to empty all of your thoughts from your mind and allow your mind to rest. You need the following to achieve this:
- A quiet room
- To be in the cross-legged position
- Allow all your thoughts to travel out of your body, into the atmosphere
Walking meditation can be done in your office, out on a run or walking down the street. You focus on how your body moves while moving in any of these environments. As your mind wanders, refocus and concentrate on your body movement.
Mindful meditation is focused on what is happening to you in the present and being aware of your thought process and your feelings. You are not to judge yourself, but instead open your mind to why you are feeling a certain way, and be open to what your true feelings are. This is the same practice that Buddhist Monks use.
Simple Mantra Meditation
This form of meditation focuses your mind on a particular sound. It might be a phrase repeated over and over, or it could be a tone of some kind. Practitioners working with a Master will often chant phrases like Shanti, Shanti, Shanti, repeated over and over, “Shanti” means peace.