Monday, January 24, 2011

Emotional Wellness - Yoga & Meditation part V

“Half an hour’s meditation is essential except when you are very busy. Then a full hour is needed.”

Francis de Sales

As I mentioned in the previous post, hatha yoga has been of great help to me, both physically and spiritually, in the past two years since I first gave it a try.

My experience in this ancient eastern exercise began when my brother-in-law gifted me with a beginner’s video by Patricia Walden, pictured above. After following along with the video for the first time, I was hooked because the results were immediate. That is, the asanas, or physical poses, put my body in positions that caused muscles and ligaments to flex in ways they were unaccustomed to moving. This created a healthy boost to my circulatory system, allowing blood to flow through extremities where it sometimes pools, such as legs and the neck/shoulder area. The asanas are also a help to the lymphatic system, which, unlike the circulatory system, does not have a regulatory pump; it depends on physical movement to regulate its flow.

It helped me to realize that I didn’t have to be an expert or flexible to benefit from yoga; the practice is adaptable to limitations. I am not flexible at all and even laughed initially watching the video, but I soon discovered that even when I improvised on the asanas, I still felt the effect! ...that is, the wonderful flow of blood moving through stressed muscles created an “awakening” of sorts- that some areas, such as my neck and shoulders have less than adequate circulation (this is where a lot of stress resides!) After 50 minutes of following along with the video, I felt as good as if I’d had a professional massage.

For those who may be skeptical for religious reasons, owing to the fact that yoga originates in India and has a strong affinity with the Hindu religion, I would gently remind skeptics of just two things:

* Yoga is not a religion.

* One can engage yoga on different levels. To illustrate this, I like the quote found in the 44 page booklet accompanying the video:

“One can engage in yoga on many different levels; as a brief and relaxing interlude in a hectic life; as a more demanding regime for strengthening and invigorating the body; as a therapeutic practice for particular physical difficulties or ailments; or as a path to higher states of consciousness and union with the Divine.”

Taking a closer look at the “path to higher states of consciousness” theme- this is what usually makes Christians uncomfortable. My opinion is that if one is rooted in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and understands what meditation is according to God, then yoga can even benefit us in this way.

Meditation, by Christian definition, is not a passive quiet time in which to empty our minds, but rather an active time of focusing our attention toward God’s Word and away from distractions. I have found this to be a challenging practice. It’s hard to be still... and especially when we’re stressed. We seek to fill our minds with distractions so as not to face difficult emotional realities, hard decisions and the like. If I can keep the wolf at bay....well, maybe he’ll decide to leave on his own. ... I sometimes reason.

What I have discovered though, is that when I press on, forcing myself to be still, as in a seated yoga pose, and think continuously of a prayer or Holy Scripture, a peace ensues --sometimes I have moments of clarity and decisions become easier. I do my best to create an atmosphere of peace for meditation by turning off the radio and phone, dimming the lights and maybe lighting a candle or incense. It takes a while for my mind to be quiet - I’m usually going over my to-do list, watching the clock or looking round at unfinished tasks. But when I use yoga, which teaches correct posture and slow steady breathing, it has a positive effect on quieting my mind. Maybe you are familiar with the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This is an example of a prayer you might use for meditation. A short prayer, reminding us of God’s Lordship over our lives and our relationship to Him.

I don’t meditate every time I do yoga, which is 2 or 3 times a week before bedtime, nor do I always incorporate yoga in meditation --my point is that it is a helpful tool. Meditation may be done anywhere at any time, but preferably when you can be in an atmosphere free of distractions. God’s Word speaks in several places about meditation and being quiet such as Psalm 131:2 “Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with his mother.” or Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God” You might also check out Titus 3:1-2, Genesis 24:63, Psalm 4:4, Psalm 63:6-7, Psalm 104:33-34, Psalm 19:14 and Psalm 119 speaks to the importance of meditation upon God’s precepts.

“Calm me, O Lord, as You stilled the storm

Still me, O Lord, keep me from harm

Let all tumult within me cease

Enfold me, Lord, in Your peace.”

David Adam

Best wishes to you as you pursue a path toward hormonal balance and emotional health. I hope this series is somehow helpful to you. I'll post the last entry in a week or so, and give a report of my Women to Women program at 30 days.


margaret said...

I had similar good experiences with belly dancing a few years ago. In the middle-east it's danced by women for women and is particularly recommended after childbirth but when I told people in church you'd think I'd said I was doing pole-dancing! :(

elizabeth said...

This is a hard one. I am very cautious and conservative on this topic - one of my friends who is a Christian from a Hindi speaking country -- she was curious about yoga here in Ottawa (it's very popular here also) so she went and, knowing the language, realized immediately that the yoga chants were indeed prayers to their gods.

Yoga is obviously very diverse and there are different levels geared to our consumerist society. To ignore that it does have origins in another religion though cannot be denied.

I did Pilates years ago and remember the immediate calming effect it had on me. So I understand what you mean by immediate results.

I am glad we are in a church where we can be instructed by our spiritual father or mother on what is right for us.

My love to you.

amy said...

Ha! Margaret, I've been wanting to try belly dancing for years! I saw a performance at an art fair about 6 years ago and thought it was beautiful ~ and looked so fun!

Elizabeth, thanks so much for your insights. I've never heard of chanting during yoga, but then again, my exposure is very limited. What I've seen through PBS years ago (anyone who grew up in the 70s in WV may get a chuckle out of this memory) and the video that I use must be very westernized. Yes, Pilates relates to my experience with yoga -- good stretching, core strength building, slow breathing and focus on posture. And yes, I am glad too that we have spiritual mentors to guide us.

love to you both = ' )

elizabeth said...

Thanks for the love!

Yeah, I see it here in Ottawa in it's more cultural form... makes me really uncomfortable.

I am so glad that we have spiritual fathers and mothers to guide us.


sfauthor said...

Nice posting. Do you know about these yoga books?

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