The Benefits of Yoga

yogaYoga is a mental, physical, and spiritual discipline that aims to transform the body and mind that over 20 million people in the United States practice today. It is a very old practice, dating back to pre-vedic India, and speculated to have developed around the sixth or fifth centuries, B.C.E. The earliest recording of practicing yoga is found in the Buddhist Nikayas. Yoga was also recorded in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali around the time of 400 C.E. The word yoga comes from the meaning of “yoking together” horses or oxen, being applied to the concept of yoking the mind and body together. The Sanskrit meaning of the word yoga is also meaning ‘to add, join, unite, or attach’. It can also take on the meaning of “combined” and other meanings such as addition, method, application, performance, and contact. Yoga can be derived from yujir yoga, meaning to yoke, or yuj amādhau, to concentrate.

The goal of yoga is to achieve moksha, or liberation. Yoga is said to have five basic meanings. These are to attain a goal using yoga as a disciplined method, controlling the body and mind, being a school or system of philosophy, yoga as connected to particular yoga techniques such as hatha or mantra, and yoga as yoga practice’s goal. Yoga is also viewed as a path to omniscience, the rising and expansion of consciousness, an analysis of perception as well as cognition, and as a technique for entering bodies, generating multiple bodies, and other supernatural goals.

Yoga was introduced to the west in the late nineteenth by yoga gurus from India and became popular in the eighties, primarily in the physical exercise form of Hatha yoga. Yoga describes energy flowing through energy channels, concentrating in chakras, human beings having three bodies, the physical, the subtle, and the causal, and also five sheets, food sheet, prana-breath, mind sheet, intellect, and bliss.

Schools of Yoga

There are many types of yoga, but the main types are Bikram, Hatha, Vinyasa, Kundalini, Ashtanga, Anusara, Restorative, Jivamukti, and prenatal. Bikram yoga is also known as “hot” yoga, Hatha yoga has gentle movements, Vinyasa is flow yoga, Kundalini does a lot of core work, Ashtanga is known as “power yoga”, Iyengar yoga uses many props and is focused on alignment, Anusara is heart opening yoga, Restorative is relaxation focused, Jiyamukti is a NYC yoga mixing vinyasa and chanting, and prenatal is good for expecting mothers.

The Benefits of Yoga

Yoga can improve the musculoskeletal system, mental health, increase the brain’s GABA levels, improve mood, decrease anxiety, reduce high blood pressure, enhance cardiac rehabilitation, lower chronic back pain, neck pain, and reduce symptoms of asthma. Yoga has also been helpful in regards to cancer patients, decreasing their levels of pain, fatigue, anxiety, mood disturbance, stress, depression, and insomnia while promoting spiritual growth. Yoga has also been shown to help people who are addicted to substances increase their quality of life via Kundalini Yoga lifestyle. It can also improve cognitive functions, flexibility, muscle strength and tone, the respiration, energy, vitality, maintain the metabolism, help people lose weight, promote cardiovascular and circulatory performance, and protect from injury.

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Photo by Lisa.davis. CC-BY-SA-2.0
Photo by Lisa.davis. CC-BY-SA-2.0

Meditation is a relaxing practice that can reduce stress, enhance self understanding, build your potential, and bring inner peace. Anyone can meditate. It’s not difficult to do, doesn’t require buying any equipment, and is perfectly free. You can practice meditation anywhere, as long as it’s free of basic interruptions and allows you to concentrate. It’s considered a mind body practice that creates deep relaxation and a tranquil mind. It is one of the top holistic treatments, allowing you to improve your life, and find balance in your physical, mental and spiritual states. Meditating even for a short while can restore inner peace and leave you feeling serene and calm. It’s practiced by millions of people, all over the globe, and touted by many for its ability to calm the nerves, reduce stress, and help individuals achieve inner peace.

There are many ways to meditate. You can research how to meditate online, look up guided meditation on websites, YouTube, or purchase cds or mp3s that show you how to meditate, try it with a friend, go to a meditation class or yoga class, and find guided meditation courses in the area around you. There are many different benefits as well as types of meditation that can be practiced. Finding a type of meditation that is right for you will help you not only stick with meditating but reap the ultimate benefits of meditating. Make sure to focus on your breathing, select a non-distracting and calming music if choosing to play music, or else find a silent place where no one will bother you. Try to meditate in a place where the temperature is comfortable, and if not, have a blanket or layers for a source of warmth. Try to have something in your stomach so that you’re not too hungry but not too full while meditating. You can try using a timer to let yourself know when your meditation is ended as well.

Benefits of Meditation

Meditation can benefit your emotional, physical, and mental well being in a number of ways. You can build your self-awareness while managing stress, get a new perspective on situations that are stressful, focus on the present, eliminate or reduce negative emotions, and build your skills at managing stress as well as other aspects of life while building your relationship and engagement with yourself. Meditation may also prove to have health benefits, actively helping with conditions such as anxiety disorders, asthma, cancer, pain, depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, and sleeping issues. It also allows you to have a peaceful mind, enter a state of deep relaxation, help you focus your mind, and achieve focus. The reduction of stress and the promotion of the relaxation response through meditation also has numerous health benefits, as stress destroys the body and promotes an unhealthy physical state.

Types of Meditations

There are many types of meditating you can try. All are different paths to the same place.

Guided Meditation

This type of meditation lets you visualize images or places while guided by a person or a program. There are plenty of audio-based guided meditations that you can listen to. This is a good way to start meditating for beginners because instruction is provided and it’s not intimidating.

Transcendental Meditation

This type of meditation has you repeat a mantra or a phrase and lets your body settle, resting and relaxing, letting your mind attain inner peace.

Yoga Meditation

Many people don’t think of yoga as a type of meditation, but yoga is actually a method of meditation. It utilizes postures, exercise, and controlled breathing in order to help practicers achieve physical flexibility and a calmer mind.

Mantra Meditation

In mantra meditation, you meditate and repeat a thought, word, or phrase. The goal is to focus on that word and create relaxation while being in the moment, not letting your thinking mind run active and out of control.

Qi Gong

Qi gong combines breathing exercises, meditation, relaxation, physical movement, and breathing exercises. Part of traditional Chinese medicine, the goal is to restore and/or maintain balance.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi is a self-paced practice of movements or postures done in a slow and deliberate manner while performing deep breathing. It is a type of Chinese martial arts.

Mindfulness Meditation

This type of meditation focused on having increased awareness, accepting living in the present moment, and being mindful. You broaden your consciousness, focus on your experience, and observe and let your thoughts pass.

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Acupuncture1-1Acupuncture is a treatment that is part of traditional Chinese medicine and has been in increasing use in the west. It involves the insertion of clean, sterilized, very thin needles into specific points of the body. The practice originated in China over 5,000 years ago and is based on the workings of vital life energy in the body, called qi. The qi circulates through meridians in the body, twelve invisible energy lines that are each associated with a different organ system. When the flow of qi is imbalanced, disease can start to begin. Acupuncture works by having needles inserted by acupuncturists along the meridian lines in order to restore the qi’s flow.

Acupuncture was classified as a medical device by the U.S. FDA in 1997 from its previous classification as ‘experimental’. Acupuncture is gaining traction as well as popularity in its mainstream use and is now one of the top alternative therapies, with people in the United States spending over $500 million a year receiving acupuncture treatments. Acupuncture is believed to help relieve and solve sinusitis, anxiety, migraines, tension headaches, colds, addictions, smoking, stroke, trigeminal neuralgia, chronic pain, Meniere’s disease, sciatica, tennis elbow, arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, allergies, menstrual cramps, fibromyalgia, weight loss, pregnancy issues, lower back pain, symptoms of menopause, asthma, infertility, cancer, and provide anti-aging benefits.

Patients complete a questionnaire about their health history prior to receiving acupuncture treatments and interview with the acupuncturists about their health concerns and other such personal habits such as stress, appetite, sleep, emotions, diet, and more. The acupuncturist may also assess three pulse points in the wrist of the hand to determine the twelve meridians’ health. The acupuncturist will then diagnose the issue and begin the treatment session, using commonly six or twelve needles placed in specific sites. Treatments can last from seconds to more than an hour. There may be a sensation of stinging or a slight prick, even a heaviness or electricity. There should never be excessive pain or discomfort and in this event do not continue but let an acupuncturist know.

Techniques used during acupuncture may include moxibustion, cupping, herbal medicine, laser acupuncture, and electrostimulation. Moxibustion is the heating of acupuncture needles using dried herb sticks, activating and warming the acupuncture point. Cupping uses glass cups to create suction on the skin and relieve qi stagnation and blood. Herbal medicine can come in myriad forms and is used as a complementary treatment to the acupuncture. Laser acupuncture is acupuncture without needles. Finally, electrostimulation is used for muscle and pain relief, providing electrical stimulation to some of the needles.

Getting treatment through acupuncture can be very effective and provide relief and comfort for a myriad of conditions and afflictions that may not have been able to have been solved. Consult your doctor or primary care physician before attending acupuncture or substituting it for treatment for a condition.

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The Benefits of Aromatherapy

aromatherapyAromatherapy is more than just smelling pleasing scents and a relaxation technique. It is a holistic therapy that can be used to treat many health issues. It works by treating the mind, body, and spirit. Aromatic essences from plants’ essential oils are extracted naturally from herbs, toots, barks, seeds, flowers, and other plants. These oils can then be inhaled or massaged into the skin where they circulate around the body once absorbed into the skin. These oils can be used to promote, balance, and harmonize as well as provide relaxation. Clinical studies have shown that aromatherapy is a complimentary method of therapy. In addition to its effect on health, the benefits of aromatherapy are also applied in massage, compresses, clay masks, baths, steams, or inhalation.

History of Aromatherapy

Anthropologists believe that using aromas began with burning gums and resins for incense perfume and smudging with aromatic plants. Egyptian culture used fragrant oils, resins and balms with their priests who were also doctors, as part of embalming, offerings to the gods, and magical and religious ceremonies. Hippocrates recognized the benefits of scented oils, saying 2,500 years ago that good health relied on having a ‘daily aromatic bath and scented massage’. Oils were also used in China and India at the same time as Egypt and play a big part in Ayurvedic medicine, which would use Jasmine for tonic, rose for antidepressants, chamomile for colds, headaches, and dizziness.

The Persians also distilled essential oils in the 10th century, and evidence for distillation goes back to other ancient cultures. German physician Hieronymus Braunschweig composed several books on essential oils and Europe experienced an aromatherapy renaissance in the 16th century. French physicians tested the anti-bacterial properties that essential oils contained and Rene Gattefosse discovered the healing properties of lavender in 1910, going on to use essential oils to care for soldiers who were healing in military hospitals during World War I. A French army surgeon named Dr. Jean Valnet also used essential oils to treat war wounds during the events on the French Indochina War and wrote a book, Practice of Aromatherapy,, while a French nurse and biochemist, Marguerite Maury, gave seminars throughout Europein the 1930’s about the rejuvenating properties of essential oils and sense of well being they provided.

Part of why aromatherapy works is that the sense of smell triggers a response on an emotional level. The Limbic part of the brain associates both smell and memories. The olfactory nerves in the nasal cavity responds to aromas, sends the information to the Limbic system, and the Limbic connects to the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, which rule the hormonal systems. Thus, aromas can trigger chemical reactions in the body and create a sense of well being, relaxation, stimulation and calm.

Benefits of Aromatherapy

  • Reduces stress
  • Fights depression
  • Manages pain
  • Enhances the mood and feeling of well being
  • Balances hormone production from the endocrine system
  • Strengthens the immune system and helps kill viruses, bacteria, and fungal infections
  • Encourages restful sleep
  • Improves digestion
  • Stimulates and refreshes
  • Maintains healthy muscles and joints
  • Can create feelings of tranquility and seduction
  • Revives mind and body
  • Improves circulation of the blood and lymph system
  • Can lower blood pressure
  • Soothes and balances the mind
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