There is something for everyone in the endless myriad of yoga exercises. Yoga is not a practice exclusively for the hale and hearty, the fit and flexible, but also for those suffering from ailments and injuries. Yoga can restore imbalances in the body caused by cancers, diabetes, hormonal conditions, digestive disorders and the like. It can also soothe pain and discomfort and facilitate healing in cases of injury or or chronic physical conditions that have manifested from genetics or lifestyle.
While every case is special and specific, there are some general principles that can be applied broadly to the topic of therapeutic yoga.
Pranayama and the Body’s Natural Healing Power
The breath is the body’s most powerful tool and most direct form of energy in terms of its healing power. Deep breathing moves prana throughout the body in the form of positive ions carried by oxygen molecules. It also stimulates the thymus gland, which is located beneath the sternum and is connected to the fourth chakra. This gland controls the bodies immune functions.
Relaxation and Visualization Techniques of Yoga Reduce Stress to Facilitate Healing
There are many relaxation and meditation exercises that can help calm the mind and direct its energies towards the necessary positivity that stimulates the body’s healing power and restores balanced hormone production. Though meditation can be a difficult process for some, any breathing or visualization exercises that relax the mind and body can be beneficial, regardless of the duration of the practice or whether or not the practitioner achieves a “meditative state.”
Many practitioners have had success with a guided form of relaxation known as yoga nidra (yoga sleep), which is available through CDs, DVDs, and at some studios. The principle of yoga nidra rests on setting a positive intention before the practice and allowing the subconcious mind to rest on that intention as one enters deep relaxation through a progressive series that relaxes the body, the mind, the conscious, and finally the subconcious mind.
This process can be used to unlock the body’s inherent healing power. It has been used to treat addiction, chronic illness, and conditions such as insomnia, anxiety, and depression, often with dramatic results.
The Restorative Aspects of Mind/Body Practices
The yoga asanas (poses) of hatha yoga can address almost any injury to the body’s soft tissues, misalignment of the body’s skeletal structure, and conditions relating to internal organ function when done correctly with yogic breathing. This involves directing the body’s healing energy to the area needing treatment using the breath and the mind’s awareness. It is also simply a matter of stretching, massaging, or aligning the area with simple movements.
In cases of strains, sprains, and soreness, passive stretches are best applied. Such styles of yoga as Yin Yoga and Restorative Yoga should be practiced. If pain in the body arises from misalignment of the spine, pelvis, or joints, Iyengar Yoga and Hatha Yoga are recommended to address proper alignment of the body as it moves. The Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais Method are also systems of movement therapy that are effective in treating ailments and in retraining the body and mind.
Anatomical Effects of Poses
Asanas are often categorized into groups, which vary according to what tradition of yoga is being referenced. Some may organize them by orientation (standing, seated, prone, etc.), others by their effects on the body’s chakras, and others by the kind of energy they stimulate in the body (yin and yang, for example). Yoga asanas can also be organized by therapeutic applications.
A few examples of disease or disorders of the internal organs that are commonly treated with asanas are gastritis, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, poor kidney function, and disorders of the female reproductive organs. Certain asanas have been developed to address specific internal areas of the body. Consult books, websites, and teachers for tips on specific asanas as they relate to certain conditions.
The more one practices asana, the more one sees inherent logic in the application of of asanas to specific areas of the body:
- Asanas which compress the lower abdomen massage the organs in this area such as the large intestine and colon.
- Asanas that stretch and relax the low belly relieve menstrual pain.
- Asanas which twist the torso cleanse the digestive organs and soothe discomfort caused by too much acidity or toxicity in the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine.
- Asanas that massage or compress the back affect kidney function and soothe menstrual pain.
- Asanas that invert the body ease headaches and congestion, in some cases.
Energetic Effects of Poses on the Endocrine System
The major glands of the endocrine system are aligned along the axis of the spine with the body’s seven major chakras. As asanas can stimulate or calm the energies of these chakras, they directly affect the related endocrine glands. Specific asanas can help in the treatment of thyroid disorders, reproductive issues, digestive problems, mood disorders, and depression simply by restoring the normal hormone production of these glands.
Consulting professionals and professional resources in yoga to find treatments for special conditions can be a powerful compliment to traditional Western medical treatment. It can speed recovery, sustain health, and create a holistic state of wellness for the regular practitioner.