Health, Healing, and Yoga
Yoga is very comprehensive and includes a great variety of approaches. Before you go off hiking in the countryside, you need to take a quick look at the map or risk getting lost. Likewise, before you start experimenting with Yoga, you want to know what it is and how it works. That’s how you can ensure that your practice of Yoga is both enjoyable and safe.
In this first part, we give you a road map that allows you to take the first steps in what will be an exciting and rewarding journey of discovery. We cover some of the fundamentals that can serve you well as you embark upon your practice of Yoga postures: guidelines for a safe practice, conscious breathing and relaxation techniques, and coordination of breath and movement.
The source of your health and happiness lies within you. Outside agents like physicians, therapists, or remedies can help you through major crises, but you yourself are primarily responsible for your own health and happiness. The following sections show you how Yoga helps you mobilize the inner strength to live responsibly and wisely. What is health? Most people answer this question by saying that health is the opposite of illness, but health is more than the absence of disease — it’s a positive state of being. Health is wholeness. To be healthy means not only to possess a well-functioning body and a sane mind but also to vibrate with life, to be vitally connected with your social and physical environment. To be healthy also means to be happy.
For centuries, the traditional time for Yoga practice has been sunrise and sunset, which are thought to be especially auspicious. These days, busy lifestyles can toss out lots of obstacles to your best intentions, so be pragmatic and arrange your Yoga practice at your convenience. Just keep in mind that statistically, you have a 30 percent greater chance of accomplishing a fitness goal if you practice in the morning. More important than holding tight to a pre-set time is just making sure that you work Yoga into your schedule somewhere — and stick with it. Practicing at roughly the same time during the day can help you create a positive habit, which may make it easier to maintain your routine.
To get a sense of the nature of enlightenment, sit in a warm room as still as possible, with your hands in your lap. Now sense your skin all over; it’s your body’s boundary separating you from the air surrounding you. As you become more aware of your body’s sensations, pay special attention to the connection between your skin and the air. After a while, you realize that no sharp boundary really exists between your skin and the outside air. In your imagination, you can extend yourself further and further beyond your skin into the surrounding space. Where do you end, and where does the space begin? This experience can give you a sense of the all-comprising expansiveness of enlightenment, which knows no boundaries.
Because life is constant movement, you shouldn’t expect health to be static. Today health is increasingly difficult to achieve because the environment has become highly toxic. Perfect health is a mirage. In the course of your life, you can expect inevitable fluctuations in your state of health; even cutting your finger with a knife temporarily upsets the balance. Your body reacts to the cut by mobilizing all the necessary biochemical forces to heal itself. Regular Yoga practice can create optimal conditions for self-healing. You achieve a baseline of health, with an improved immune system that enables you to stay healthy longer and heal faster.
Yoga is about healing rather than curing. Like a really good physician, Yoga takes deeper causes into account instead of slapping a bandage on surface symptoms. These causes are more often than not found in the mind — in the way you live and how you think. That’s why Yoga masters recommend self-understanding. Most people tend to be passive in health matters. They wait until something goes wrong and then rely on a pill or a physician to fix the problem. Yoga encourages you to take the initiative in preventing illness and restoring or maintaining your health. Taking control of your health has nothing to do with self-doctoring (which can be dangerous); it’s simply a matter of taking responsibility for your health. A good physician can tell you that a patient’s active participation in the process greatly facilitates healing. For example, you may take various kinds of medication to deal with a gastric ulcer, but unless you learn to eat well, sleep adequately, avoid stress, and take life more easily, you’re bound to have a recurrence before long. You must change your lifestyle to realize any deep-seated healing.