By Shameem Akthar December 2006 Yoga can restore shattered health by correcting faulty breathing patterns and improving immunity? Several practitioners start yoga with the hope of immediate results to their problems. But having abused their bodies for decades, they do not appreciate that the clean-up process, when it is thorough, will take time. In most instances where the practice is regular and sustained, the results can be visible in just four weeks. Is that not fast enough? The pill-poppers feel they cannot afford such a ‘long’ waiting period. When they have back-pain, they would rather pop a pill than continue with their practice which will actually wean the pain out of their bodies for ever. Which would you rather have – a pill which just masks the pain, or a practice which will effect long-term cure? If you said yes to the second, you belong to a wise minority. Most people can be rather callous about their health, particularly to those ailments which do not show overt symptoms like BP, diabetes. Unlike a migraine or a cold which can be nagging and affect daily activity, BP, diabetes and other equally degenerative diseases do not affect minor functions. A sustained yoga or exercise practice, it has been proven medically, can be more effective than even medication. Allopaths may still nurse reservations about linking moods and health, but the nascent science of psycho-immunology asserts what the ancient Eastern medical systems have been stating for eons: that mind and body are linked intrinsically. This is particularly true of the link between over-sensitivity and respiratory problems. Since sensitivity in one’s personality cannot be wished away, yoga helps us at the spot where trouble erupts: our body. For instance, most problems can be tracked back to bad breathing patterns. This is because there is a subtle connection between our emotions (which are just neuro-chemicals), and our major organ systems. There are signals everywhere in our body, taking in cues from how we feel and modulating our body rhythms to face the ‘emergency’. Being in a state of chronic emergency is, according to yoga, the cause of most of our problems. Let us take just the instance of how lungs are affected. Lungs have enormous capacity: when their alveoli or air sacs, where gaseous exchange take place, are spread out end to end, they can cover a good-sized tennis court. They have a capacity to hold five liters of air. Most of us breathe only one-fifth this capacity. Whenever we feel deep emotion, our breathing turns erratic to keep pace with this. Of course, the original intention of this autonomous or automatic function, was to boost our intake to suit the need of the moment. For instance, when angry and ready to strike or run (called the flight-fright syndrome), our breathing becomes rapid to up circulation, oxygen intake, etc. This is an entirely physiological response. Unfortunately, today our anger does not need such a physiological support since our triggers are mostly emotional. So, this turns counter-productive, since our shallow breathing upsets the natural rhythm of our body’s homeostasis. This hits our thymus gland too (immune system), weakening us. This is where yoga steps in. A regular sadhan a of pranayama practices help to reset our homeostasis, immunity, respiratory efficiency and blood circulation, even weight loss. We cannot afford to be weekend practitioners. Walking MeditationTry and include meditation during walking. It combines meditation with a simple pranayama practice. If you walk as a group, it will be still possible to include time for this. Keep a short stretch on your daily route during which the entire group does not talk but just focuses on the in-out breath, keeping pace with the steps. This can be extremely tough to do, but you will begin to reap immense benefits. If you find focusing on the breath tough (and it is), try to focus on your favorite prayer. Take four steps (or as per your speed and pace), while mentally chanting one round of the prayer. The next four repeat it again. Keep at it. After the stretch is over you will find that your meditative mood has become more enhanced. Perhaps your group can wind up the walk with a round of boisterous laughter, which as hasya yoga groups around the world and India, prove, can be extremely therapeutic and mood-elevating.
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