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Intelligently plan your own yoga practice, including Asanas, Pranayama and Meditation


Today’s fast-paced lifestyle for you may be about work. You have to start work at 6:00 or 8:00 a.m. and finish at 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. You may want to totally relax and rest, leaving no energy left for other exercises.


For some people, is family, getting the kids up in the morning, picking up from school, after-school physical activity, and homework supervision in the evening. Even when you have a short period of time for yourself, your mind is racing and you may not know what to do.

The fast-paced lifestyle of a student, chased by exams and writing projects throughout the day, may make you want to stretch out on the weekends when you have time.


As we all know, there are plenty of benefits to practicing yoga. This blog will let you know the specific benefits and how to plan your own yoga practice.


First, let's look at three experimental studies.


 

 (1) In an exploratory study published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, researchers found that 12 weeks of yoga slowed cellular aging. The program consisted of 90 minutes of yoga that included physical postures, breathing, and meditation five days a week over 12 weeks. This was followed by an interactive lecture (only during the first two weeks) on lifestyle, lifestyle diseases, and importance of their prevention for 30 minutes.


Researchers found indications of lower levels of inflammation and significantly decreased levels of cortisol. The study also found higher levels of BDNF (Brain-derived neurotrophic factor *1) after the yoga program, suggesting that yoga could have potential protective effects for the brain as well.


[ Article: Impact of Yoga and Meditation on Cellular Aging in Apparently Healthy Individuals: A Prospective, Open-Label Single-Arm Exploratory Study ]

(https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5278216/)


This study was designed to explore the impact of Yoga and Meditation based lifestyle intervention (YMLI) on cellular aging in apparently healthy individuals.


In the last decade there has been a significant increase in complex lifestyle diseases like depression, diabetes mellitus (DM), cardiovascular diseases (CVD), cancer, and infertility. These diseases are strongly associated with accelerated cellular aging and have become the bane of modern society.


The cardinal biomarkers of cellular aging include DNA damage, which causes genomic instability which is responsible for cellular dysfunctions in the pathogenesis of lifestyle diseases.


Sustained stress response due to chronic stress stimuli causes constantly increased cortisol (*2) levels, which lead to systemic tissue abnormalities like increased adiposity and neurodegeneration. The level of stress responsiveness (cortisol levels) can be a biomarker for predicting susceptibility to lifestyle diseases. Accelerated aging is characterized by a chronic, low-grade inflammation (“inflammaging”).


The results of this study highlight the positive impact of YMLI (Yoga and Meditation based lifestyle intervention) on biomarkers of cellular aging and in promoting cellular longevity through changes in both cardinal and metabotrophic biomarkers. The findings suggest that the impact is mediated through improvement in genomic stability, telomere metabolism, and balance of cellular oxidative stress, well-regulated stress and inflammatory responses, and increase in neuroplasticity and nutrition sensing.


Genomic stability is central to cellular longevity and disease-free youthful healthy life and findings from our study suggest the reduction of genomic instability by YMLI (Yoga and Meditation based lifestyle intervention). Unhealthy social habits (smoking, excess alcohol intake, etc.), sedentary lifestyle, exposure to environmental pollutants, and intake of processed and nutritionally depleted food have taken a toll on human health with onset of lifestyle diseases at a much younger age. These environmental and lifestyle factors are responsible for genomic instability.


Lifestyle is an integrated entity, and an intervention, like YMLI (Yoga and Meditation based lifestyle intervention), that has overall positive influence on our health appears most useful versus changing only one aspect at a time, as is seen by action of certain drugs. Yoga is holistic and a mind-body medicine and is more beneficial and advantageous than individual interventions like physical exercise, caloric restriction, and antioxidants. The practice of Yoga and physical exercise are different entities, the former results in energy conservation with economy of energy expenditure for mental and physical benefits, and the later results in energy expenditure more for physical exertions and metabolic needs.


Though we cannot change our biology or chronological age we can definitely reverse/slow down the pace at which we age by adopting YMLI (Yoga and Meditation based lifestyle intervention). This is the first study to demonstrate improvement in both cardinal and metabotrophic biomarkers of cellular aging and longevity in apparently healthy population after Yoga and Meditation based lifestyle intervention. So our health and the rate at which we age entirely depends on our choices. Making Yoga and Meditation an integral part of our lifestyle may hold the key to delay aging or aging gracefully, prevent onset of multifactorial complex lifestyle diseases, promote mental, physical, and reproductive health, and prolong youthful healthy life.


 

(2) [ Article: Effect of six months pranayama training on stress-induced salivary cortisol response among adolescents-Randomized controlled study].

(https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34366293/)


Yoga group participants were trained to do Bhramari Pranayama (*3) for 45 min, thrice a week for six months.


An increase in the cortisol responsiveness observed in the study is an indication of the adaptive capability achieved through regular yoga training, evidenced by an initial rise in cortisol followed by a rapid fall below baseline after 60 min. Further research is required to conclusively determine the changes in cortisol levels over time in response to stress in long-term yoga practitioners.


 

(3) [Article: Impact of a Yoga and Meditation Intervention on Students' Stress and Anxiety Levels ]

(https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6630857/)


The intervention consisted of a once weekly, 60-minute vinyasa yoga class, followed by a 30-minute guided meditation practice. The quantity of time devoted to meditation increased each week, beginning with 10 minutes and gradually increasing to 30 minutes by week six. A variety of meditative practices were presented, such as walking meditation and Shamatha (peaceful abiding).


Results suggest that adopting a mindfulness practice for as little as once per week may reduce stress and anxiety in college students.


 

From the above three experimental studies, we can get a brief idea that yoga is very beneficial to our body and mind, but the prerequisite is: practicing at least 3 days a week; each practice for at least 90 minutes; continuing for a minimum of 3 months; the practice of integrated asana, pranayama and meditation for the best.


A few days’ yoga practice and contemplation help for a short time, but the benefits will not last forever. We have to place one stone on another; it is a gradual process.


 

Yoga practice should be comprehensive. You can’t get the best out of the yoga by merely doing asanas.


An interview with Srivatsa Ramaswami by Laurie, 2018. Srivatsa Ramaswami, long-time student of T. Krishnamacharya. Originally from Chennai, India, he has the unique perspective born of 33 years of dedicated, continuous study with his Guru.


“Every day when I went to study with him, we would take about 50% of the time for asanas, and the other 50% of the time would be for a little bit of pranayama, little bit of chanting, little bit of philosophy, whatever. It should be comprehensive. You can’t get the best out of the yoga by merely doing asanas. It’s not as though we neglect asanas, we give a lot of importance to asanas. But in addition to that, you must create interest in the students to practice the other aspects of Hatha Yoga like pranayama and then the mudras. That’s how I studied, that’s how Krishnamacharya taught us.”


“There are three different groups, according to my guru. There is the yoga that you teach to the first stage of life—the vriddhi krama [the growth stages]—then the mid-part of life - the sthiti krama, when we are not growing anymore but maintaining. The biggest part of life, the whole emphasis, should be to maintain good health, and then in old age - laya krama, we must prepare ourselves for the end. There is no point in doing the same kind of yoga that I did when I was young as a kid, when I am old. It’s not correct, obviously it doesn’t work. Even in our daily life, that’s not the way we do. Yoga will have to be modified accordingly so that is why he would call the yoga vriddhi krama, sthiti krama, and laya krama.”


 

In yoga we observe what we are doing, not the outside, and no one outside observes for us.


Practice Planning


There are some people who seem able to do all the asanas but know nothing about their bodies and limitations. I’am sure it would help to make us supple, but there can be dangers. Often these people end up needing help to overcome injuries caused by their unguided enthusiasm. For example, a person might do a deep bending backward posture and, not knowing proper preparation and compensation, end up with a slipped disc.


It is important that yoga practice be planned in a sensible, organized way. When we practice asanas, as with anything in life, we have a starting point. Our condition before beginning the practice, which we discover through some investigation, is this starting point. We then ascend gradually; that is, we prepare the body by warming up, getting proper breathing started, etc. After we slowly ascend to the “crown” or apex of our day’s practice, we slowly descend. This is the concept of yoga practice, whether it is asanas, pranayama, or any other aspect. We start where we are, gradually ascend and then descend.



Suppose we do the headstand and then stop our practice abruptly. We may feel dizzy, we may get stiff necks. Not only must we ascend to a particular point, we must come back to a point from which we can function in the world. This applies to the practice of a single asana as well as the progress of an entire sequence spanning a year. The point to be emphasized is that we should proceed very gradually. If in cold weather we cannot easily to paścimatānāsana (sitting, bending forward), we should not try to force our legs and push our heads down to attain the posture. There is no need, nor will there be any point. Wait. Little by little the body will give in. We must always go by progressions in yoga. Each day’s practice must have a gradual ascent and descent. There is one more point. The way we plan a course will also depend, in addition to the starting point, upon our activities following the course. A course of asanas designed to prepare the body to play tennis will be different from a course designed to help us relax without being drowsy in the office.


Please don’t have idea that programs are fixed, that is, on Monday we do the headstand, on Tuesday we do the shoulder stand, etc. Programs are planned taking into consideration our free time, capabilities, and desires. We must always plan our practice as a unit, whether it is small or large. That means we start and finish in one session, at one particular time. If there is a chance that we are going to be disturbed or interrupted during our practice, it is better to plan a short course.


If we know and enjoy doing the headstand, it can become the crown of our practice. Then the rest of our course can be built around the headstand, including all necessary preparation and counterposes. If we don’t want to do a headstand, then the crown of our practice could be pranayama. We simply prepare the body for a good breathing. This involves preparation for a seated posture. We don’t waste time doing a lot of difficult backbends. We simply do asanas so that our backs will be straight and our shoulders, necks, knees, and ankles will not be stiff. Then we examine our breathing. We use some arm movements or some trunk twisting to loosen the abdomen and ribs. Then we are ready for pranayama. What we do depends upon what we want to do. We don’t need to do the headstand or any particular sequence every day. It is important to vary our practice to keep from getting bored. This keeps up interest and there is always something new to discover. Repeating the same asanas in the same way day after day will train only the certain pathways of fascia that are loaded, leaving nearby fascia unloaded and untrained and unbalanced - and thus subject to injury when life comes at you from a different angle.


 

Pranayama can and should be practiced in the early days of a person’s discovery of yoga, and should absolutely be undertaken only with the guidance of a good teacher. Appropriate adaptation is critical.


If we read yoga books or internet pages, various statements will appear. For example.


“Author of Hatha yoga Pradipika and other hatha yogis recommend 80 per sitting and four sitting, making 320 pranayamas per day. This number should be taken as the upper limit, however, and the instructions specify a gradual increase to that amount. From the Triśikhibrāhmana Upanisad, it could be observed that 80 rounds per sitting in the morning, noon, evening, and midnight is suggested.”


You don’t have to completely follow the old texts, they are difficult to understand. Just take these things and then see what [they] do to your own system.


In pranayama practice a very important issue is how to find an appropriate breath ratio for our individual needs. We cannot always breathe in the same breath ratio — it may be that we need a new ratio in order to maintain our attention on the practice, or because we have to take into account another immediate need. If the breath ratio is too easy, our pranayama practice will become mechanical. If it is too complicated, there can be resistance which will itself cause problems.


Just as the activities of the mind influence the breath, so does the breath influence our state of mind. Our intention as we work with the breath is to regulate it so as to calm and focus the mind for meditation.


 

All the time required must be allowed for everyone to experiment with himself. The better way of doing must be arrived at by personal choice. The correct manner of doing must have no moral compulsion of being “right” because it is from another authority; one’s own consent must be obtained and preference established. The teacher’s task is to offer the experience methodically in a sufficiently graded manner so that the discriminating ability of the practitioners grow apace with (1) the reduced efforts of will and (2) the clear knowledge of self and ability to do that blow doubt and hesitation out of of the way.


I was Sri Krishnamacharya's student for decades. Every time I met him, he would say, do or teach something which will make you stop and ponder over again. I thought he always nudged you gently but firmly to step a little bit out of the comfort of the fluffy cotton yoga mat. ---Srivatsa Ramaswami


The above is also our teaching concepts. The best part of the independent practice is passed in quiet attention and in a mood of playing about or curiosity.


So, where can you learn a series of integrated asanas, pranayama, meditation yoga classes? We are in Lausanne. You can learn how to plan a practice for yourself or we can design a sequence for you at our Thursday evening Vinyasa Krama Yoga classes. And besides that, we are pleased to listen to individual needs during the morning Mysore class and adapt or create a personalized series for you.



 

(*1) BDNF is a member of a family of proteins called neurotrophins, which affect the formation of new neural synapses and help maintain existing synapses by binding to specific receptors located at the synaptic membrane. These interactions trigger a cascade of chemical modifications to proteins within the neuron that in turn lead to changes in gene expression levels. As such, BDNF function is important for appetite, coordination, balance, hearing, memory, and learning.


(*2) Cortisol, a glucocorticoid (steroid hormone), is produced from cholesterol in the two adrenal glands located on top of each kidney. Cortisol is best known for producing the “fight or flight” response. In short, the theory is that with our ever-stressed, fast-paced lifestyle, our bodies are pumping out cortisol almost constantly, which can wreak havoc on our health. This whole-body process, mediated by hormones and the immune system, identifies cortisol as one of the many players. The long-term activation of the stress response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that follows can disrupt almost all your body's processes.


(*3) Bhramari is the Sanskrit word for “black Indian bee,” and this pranayama is so named because of the humming sound produced at the back of the throat during the practice—like the gentle humming of a bee.

References :

Religiousness in yoga. T.K.V. Desikachar.

The potent self. Moshe Feldenakrais.