So far on our exploration of yoga and the economy/the economy of yoga, we have looked at how yoga, the most economical of wellness systems ever created, can help humans through economic hard times. I noted that when our economy is as weak as this one, it is likely our individual economies lose strength. We need to attend to exercise, mind work, and diet in order to get and keep our personal economies-of-one strong.
In the last article, I offered physical and breathing exercises that, if you are short on time or money, can put you on the path to strength, flexibility, and balance. Today, we’ll look at a second part of the yoga wellness package: mind-work and breath awareness.
Even if you are exercising regularly these days but are experiencing more stress than before the economy plummeted, you are at risk of personal economy-of-one downturn. As we know, exercise takes us a long way on the path to physical and mental health, and when done with breath awareness, can take us even further.
But what if yogic exercise with breath awareness is not quite enough for you these days? What if, like a good friend of mine, you are not sleeping well? What if you are feeling depressed or anxious or worried, and what if even one hour of sun salutations a day is not completely helping you handle your reactions to the world, or what if you do not practice yoga at all but have an exercise regime and still find yourself suffering emotionally or mentally from this recession? What if you do not care for exercise of the body but want to start doing something to help you?
Yoga offers a solution for all.
Exercising the mind is as important, if not more important, as exercising the body. It is crucial that we exercise our minds the way we tune our cars at the mechanic’s, or tune our bodies in yoga asana class. A strong mind, simply put, helps us create and maintain healthy emotional and psychological perspectives. Our ancients knew all about this and created within the system of yoga thousands of years ago two (out of eight) entire limbs of study dedicated solely to mind work.
There are many, many mind-training exercises and systems in yoga. An internet search or a search on You Tube using keywords such as ‘pranayama’, ‘meditation,’ Yoga Nidra’ or ‘dhyana’ will fill your toolbag with tools for calming and strengthening the mind to function at its optimum. Today, I will instruct you on two of my favorite tools: Alternate Nostril Breathing and Yoga Nidra.
1) Alternate Nostril Breathing (or Anuloma Viloma or Nadi Shodhana) is a deeply relaxing breathing exercise involving a mudra (hand position). It brings a balance of prana to the body, balances the right and left sides of the body, calms the mind, and prepares us for meditation or quiet sitting. It is a fantastic breathing exercise to help you relax, sleep better, and feel overall relief from emotions that do not serve you. Practice regularly. You will notice the difference in your life.
Sit in a comfortable position on the floor, against a wall, or in a chair. Place the right hand in Vishnu mudra and rest that elbow in the palm of the left hand, arms and shoulders relaxed and to the sides. To create Vishnu mudra, tuck the second and third fingers in the palm and leave the thumb, ring finger, and baby finger extended and relaxed.
Raise your right hand to the face and turn it to face you. Close off the right nostril with your thumb and inhale through the left nostril, engaging long deep breathing (see article three in this series for detailed instructions). At the top of the inhale, close your left nostril with the ring finger. Now you have both nostrils closed. After about six seconds, exhale through the right nostril. That is one round. Do a round to the other side: inhale right nostril (left nostril is still closed off), hold the breath, and exhale left nostril, closing off left. You can do as many rounds as you wish. Make your inhales, exhales, and holds as deep and even as possible without any strain at all in the body.
2) Let us now look at Yoga Nidra. Yoga Nidra, an ancient meditation practice, helps restore physical, emotional, and mental health by way of deep, guided relaxation. It is one of the least explored yet most beneficial of meditation practices and is available to everyone regardless of physical ability or age.
In Yoga Nidra, (‘yoga’ in Sanskrit means ‘unity’ and ‘nidra’ means ‘sleep’), the body and mind are neither fully awake nor in a sleep state but, rather, are calm, still, and quietly aware.
Yoga Nidra has many benefits. It reduces stress, improves sleep, boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure, brings balance and harmony to the hemispheres of the brain and nervous system, promotes higher consciousness and inner peace, and helps us drop our unwanted behaviors and habits.
Physical relaxation, breathing awareness, affirmations, and visualizations are the basic techniques employed in a Yoga Nidra practice. Yoga Nidra sessions range from about 5 to 45 minutes in length. The longer the session, the more work the mind does, but even a five minute session has been proven to be of great benefit to practitioners.
Yoga Nidra is a meditation you listen to. If you cannot find a Yoga Nidra teacher in your area, purchase a CD or download and listen regularly. (My 71 minute Yoga Nidra CD, containing four Yoga Nidra sequences, is available at my website listed at the end of this article.)
In the final article of this series, I will focus on the third part of the ‘big three’ in a yoga wellness package geared toward a troubled economy. I will talk about most yogic, healthy, and economic diet on the planet and how it can help you, others, and the planet’s health: raw foods.