(Editor's note: This was originally published 02/24/1998)
The practice of yoga is not only very valuable to my system of spontaneous healing, but to yours as well.
Yoga is a Sanskrit term that means union or joining. Yoga is the joining or uniting of the mind, body and spirit to enrich the quality of one's life, and to enhance one's health. In this country, the most familiar form of yoga is hatha yoga, developed more than 6,000 years ago and based on esoteric knowledge of the human body and observations of jungle animals, particularly the cat family. That's easy to believe once you do some of the postures or asanas. There are more than 1,000 asanas, all intended to facilitate concentration and meditation by quieting the body and nervous system. Looked at only as a very structured form of nonaerobic stretching exercise, yoga offers a number of advantages:
- It is an excellent muscle toner that balances all parts of the body including your internal organs -- heart, lungs, glands, nerves and more.
- It increases flexibility (and is a good practice for anyone with chronic back pain).
- It's beneficial for the nervous system, promoting deep relaxation and reduction of stress.
- It's appropriate for just about everyone. Children who take it up can easily become as skillful as adults. For older people, it is a great nonaerobic conditioner. For athletes, it can provide flexibility and centering.
- No special outfit or gear is required... just loose-fitting, comfortable clothes (breathable material like cotton), and a small area of floor space.
Breath work has special emphasis in yoga. I view breath as the movement of spirit in the body -- a central mystery that connects us to all creation. Working with breath is a form of spiritual practice. It also impacts health and healing, because how we breathe both reflects and influences the state of the nervous system. You can learn to influence heart rate, blood pressure, circulation and digestion by consciously changing the rhythm and depth of breathing. Once again, in answer to your question... the breathing exercises you will find in "Spontaneous Healing" and "8 Weeks to Optimum Health" are yoga techniques.
Andrew Weil, M.D.