I believe there is a huge misconception in our culture about yoga and what it does for the individual who practices this ancient tradition. I’ve come to this conclusion based on most of the media coverage of the subject, but mostly from people I meet, usually on the ski lift. When I tell them I teach Kundalini Yoga, the responses usually range from “oh that is just about stretching and relaxing,” to “I cannot do yoga because I cannot even touch my toes” to “I would rather exercise and get a good workout.” Then, there is the other extreme view, that it is a religion or based on specific religious doctrine.
From the yoga masters, we learned that yoga practice brings unity to the finite and infinite self, an experience of feeling whole, expanded awareness from raising our consciousness, along with balance and harmony. That all sounds great, but how does this happen? This effect does not just come from stretching the muscles and connective tissue of the body. My spiritual teacher Yogi Bhajan said, “If flexibility was the measure of consciousness, all circus acrobats would be spiritual teachers.” The basic techniques of yoga include postures and physical movement, pranayam, which is controlled, conscious breathing, mantra, which is the use of vibration and sound current, by chanting, and meditation. Through thousands of years of research and development by the ancient yogis and mystics, they found these techniques, if done in a specific way and sequence, created certain effects and experiences in the body and mind of the individual. As an artist creates subjective beauty and a scientist produces objective physical results, the art and science of yoga consistently gave the practitioners greater physical health and the personal experiences of spiritual awareness.
Yogic philosophy says when the physical body is in its ideal state, the mind becomes centered and open, and then we will have greater access to the intuitive wisdom we hold within. This ideal physical state is achieved through the yoga practice by working on the various systems of the body to strengthen, open, and balance them together because they are all interrelated. The circulatory and respiratory systems are closely aligned with their functions, and the yogic practice of pranayam breathing creates a very efficient exchange in the lungs for the intake of O2 and the release of CO2. Breath of fire, a rapid breathing technique, cleans the lungs from the dust and debris we have inhaled and boosts the O2 level of the blood stream, which energizes every cell of the body.
Yoga helps increase the body’s ability to eliminate via the digestive system by increasing the fire element of the 3rd chakra and changing the environment in the intestines so that harmful bacteria and other parasites cannot proliferate or survive. The lymphatic system is flushed with the physical activity and boosts the immune system by detoxifying the liver, lungs, and kidneys. Some of these effects can also come from your basic active lifestyle of exercise and recreation. What separates yoga, and especially Kundalini Yoga, from basic exercise are the effects on the nervous system, and the most critical, the endocrine system, our glands. Yoga increases the energy moving through nerve pathways, and breath of fire particularly intensifies this movement. The glands are the guardians of our health – their secretions of hormones change and regulate our body’s growth and development. Additionally, the nervous system and the glandular system work together to change the chemistry of the brain. Yogi Bhajan said, “The energy of the glandular system combines with the nervous system to become more sensitive so that the totality of the brain perceives signals and interprets them.”
This is how we expand our conscious awareness, and this is how yoga changes our lives. In the next blog entry, I will talk about the specific glands, the yogic techniques that affect them, and the effect this has on our personal growth.