Traditionally, many yoga techniques are thought to ‘preserve the yogi from all disease and death’—and this probably means that healthy exercise is a good stimulant for the body’s own natural immune system—especially if it is performed with care and attention to detail.
To enjoy yoga to the full and to get the most benefit from it, you need to ask yourself a number of simple questions:
What do I want from my yoga?
What do I need from my yoga?
What help can yoga give me for my special problems?
Are there things in yoga that I shouldn’t really do?
How should I adapt yoga techniques to suit my ability?
Before I attempt to offer any answers to these questions, you must remember that I do not presume to be experts on your health. The right person to make decisions about your yoga practice is yourself, and the proper person to advise you about your health is your doctor.
What I can do is make some recommendations, that you can follow or not, as you choose. Bear in mind that yoga is intensely personal, and no two students are the same, in any way.
To get the health benefits you need from yoga, you must have effective answers to the following questions:
You want to enjoy it and you want to feel better for doing it. You can certainly expect to be physically fitter, mentally more alert, emotionally calmer and have a real sense of positive direction in your life
You need a regular daily routine of exercise. You need a daily time for precision breathing and releasing inner energy. You need regular times for learning inner awareness. You need a daily time for formal relaxation.
Yoga is, above all, a life-enhancing enrichment of our daily life, but it can also be a therapy and it offers many benefits:
2.Just like bones and joints, muscles need to exercised, no matter how little, and yoga can give you properly structured movements, which will help. You just have to avoid doing anything excessive.
3.Yoga can also help with heart and circulatory problems. Precision breathing will improve your circulation and help you to feel refreshed. But do take not of my advice not to do anything excessive
4.The general level of exercise in yoga can help you with some digestive problems, although there are important exceptions, and if you are in doubt, consult a doctor
5.Yoga is particularly good for breathing problems because it teaches properly controlled breathing techniques. Nevertheless, it may mask some problems, so if you have asthma do continue using your inhaler
6.The degree of attention you have to give to all of the techniques makes yoga very helpful for nervous disorders. Make sure that you have plenty of good and positive things to think about during periods of meditation and relaxation
7.If you really feel that you are beginning to ‘lose your way’ in life, yoga has a wonderful way of restoring your sense of self-worth and it can be useful in giving back personal pride
You should never bring any weight or pressure to bear on any damaged or weak bones or joints. This means that you must not bend forwards or backwards without support, and you should not let your head drop back. Do not take weight on your knees, whether they are flexed or bent. Kneeling may be a problem, as may inverted postures, which carry your body weight on your shoulders.
Muscles are easily damaged and do not repair very quickly. Never jump into a posture. Always know where you are going to before you move. Help a hurt muscle or tendon by ‘listening’ to it.
If your blood pressure is unduly high or low, you must do nothing that will upset the fine balance of your circulation. Avoid having your head below your heart. Also avoid dynamic breathing, which can throw your circulatory system into overdrive. These warnings also apply if you have tinnitus or problems with your inner ear
Don’t overwork tired eyes. Let them close.
If you have digestive problems, you must avoid putting pressure on your stomach. This is especially true if you have either, or both, of the hernias, and if you have a hiatus hernia, you must not position your head below your diaphragm. Avoid powerful movements of your abdominal muscles
If breathing is a problem, avoid holding your breath for long periods and note that dynamic breathing could irritate your throat or bronchial tubes.
If you have a nervous disorder, or even if you tend to have unwanted and unwelcome thoughts in your mind, always have plenty of positive and pleasant things to think about during your meditation and relaxation times
If you are in the later stages of pregnancy, avoid things that will put pressure on your stomach and avoid holding your breath. It is also not a good idea to perform inverted postures. Some women also prefer to avoid inversions if they are having a period
Whatever your degree of ability, you should be prepared to modify just about anything, if it suits you. the standard techniques are based on an Indian tradition, with the background of warm weather and a real preference for sitting on cushions rather than chairs. What is important about yoga is that the aim is to enjoy discovering the techniques and not to hurry on to the end of the journey.
There is a sense in which yoga will tell you what sort of person you are and what you need from your practice. If that means you have to think in terms of years, rather than days, that is a valuable lesson.
Sources and References
Ten Minute Yoga by Donald Butler
Yoga for Military Veterans with Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized Clinical Trial by Lin Liu, Jill Bormann et al
The Efficacy and Safety of Yoga in Managing Hypertension by H Cramer
Harnessing the benefits of Yoga for Myositis, Muscle Dystrophies, and Other Musculoskeletal Disorders by Ahmad Saud, Holly Merris et al
Biological Markers for the Effects of Yoga as a Complementary and Alternative Medicine by Ashu Mohammad, Rakesh Kumar et al