Yoga – A Holistic Treatment Modality

by Connie Opfell, LCSWYoga Exercise

Yoga is for everybody

When they hear the word “yoga”, most people either think of a skinny Indian yogi sitting cross-legged in the lotus position for hours, or a svelte woman tying herself into a pretzel. Either way, they think “that’s not for me.” I’ve spent the last 15 years or so learning about this 5000-year-old philosophy and science, and one of the most interesting things I’ve learned is that yoga is really for all of us. More importantly, yoga practitioners benefit in many ways – physically, emotionally, spiritually, and energetically. And you don’t have to be able to tie yourself into a pretzel to achieve these benefits!

Yoga classes

Most people begin their experience with yoga by joining a yoga class. There are many different kinds of yoga, but most teachers or studios offer classes for beginners. You may also find classes offering “chair yoga”, and therapeutic yoga classes for people with different medical conditions. Regardless of tradition or focus, most yoga classes will include warm-ups, yoga postures, breath-work, and meditation.  These different activities correspond to different “limbs” of yoga that benefit our physical, emotional, energetic, and spiritual selves.

Yogic Breathing (Pranayama)

Through experimentation,  yogis have discovered a variety of breathing techniques designed to calm, excite, and balance our energy. By practicing these different techniques, we also become more sensitive and aware of ourselves, and of our reactions to life events – and learn to use different breathing techniques to help manage those reactions.

Abdominal Breathing and the Three Part Breath

Abdominal breathing and the Three-Part Breath are examples of yogic breathing techniques. Benefits of practicing these techniques include

  • Calming the mind
  • Releasing tension in the chest and abdomen
  • Providing a gentle massage to abdominal organs, improving digestion
  • Fully completing the exchange of air in the lungs to oxygenate the blood and remove toxins

Begin with this abdominal (belly) breathing exercise:

  1. Sit or lie so that your spine is in its natural curve, allowing your lungs room to fully expand.
  2. Gently place your hands on your belly to help you notice your breathing. Notice where your torso expands as you breathe – are you more of a chest breather, or does your abdomen expand when you inhale normally?
  3. Now exhale fully.
  4. Inhale, directing the breath to the lowest part of your lungs. Notice that when the diaphragm drops to pull air in to the bottom of the lungs, your belly expands.
  5. Exhale fully. Repeat several times.

Three Part (Dirgha) Breath

Move to the three-part breath only after you have mastered the abdominal breath.

  1. Again, sit or lie so that your spine is in its natural curve, allowing your lungs room to fully expand.
  2. Gently place your hands on your belly to help you notice your breathing.
  3. Exhale fully.
  4. Inhale, directing the breath to the lowest part of your lungs. Notice that when the diaphragm drops to pull air in to the bottom of the lungs, your belly expands.
  5. Move your hands to the sides of your rib cage, and inhale again, directing the breath to the middle of your lungs.  Notice the expansion of the rib cage.
  6. Place your fingertips on the front of your chest just below your collarbones. Inhale a third time, expanding the upper part of the chest.
  7. Exhale slowly, beginning at the top of the lungs, and gently squeezing the abdominals in at the end of the exhale to expel all the air.
  8. Repeat the cycle several times, moving your hands to help you feel how your breath is moving your body.  Focus on filling and emptying your lungs completely.
  9. Breathe normally, noticing any change – in your breath, in your energy, or in your emotional state — that has occurred.

Resources

If you are interested in learning more about yoga or yoga therapy, click on the links below.

http://www.yogajournal.com/

http://www.iayt.org/

http://www.kripalu.org/

Connie Opfell, MSW, LCSW, Certified Kripalu Yoga Teacher


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