Psychotherapeutic significance of Posture (asana)

As we all know that psychotherapy is all about behavioral modification and inner transformation in an individual. The goal of therapy has been put in terms of removing symptoms, restoring earlier levels of functioning, freeing the person to be self realizing(in Roger’s term, “a fully functioning person” ), helping the person find personal meaning and values or restructuring defenses and character. Earlier in the era of Freudian psychiatry, psychotherapy and psychology used a model of the human personality that is limited to biography and to the individual unconscious as described by Sigmund Freud. But in the modern field of psychotherapy the approach to treat the individual slowly and gradually becoming more holistic. Today’s therapists believe in the eclectic approach of therapy rather than restricting themselves to one system of psychotherapy. Earlier psychotherapeutic technique of self exploration used to rely heavily on verbal exchange such as free association or face to face interviews. But now therapists have realized that by solely relying on one such technique will not help them to understand the dynamics of emotional and mental problems and their elimination from the personality. So now we find that there are some therapies available which work on the mind through the body. Therapies such as Bioenergetics, Reichian therapy, Rolfing, Psychedelic therapy, Shiatsu, Yoga etc. has added another dimension to the system of modern psychotherapy. In this article the main focus will be on the psychotherapeutic values of asana (posture) in the light of some of the body-centered therapies.
Asanas along with pranayama is the central technique of hatha yoga; a branch of yoga that aims to change the mental patterns by working through the postures. In yoga mind, body and energy are considered to exist in one continuum. In hatha yoga the individual work on the body through different posture to alter the patterns of energy, and by altering the flow of energy one changes the patterns of awareness. The science of hatha yoga says that the gross physical body has its subtle counterpart in the form of energy and mental bodies and the conditions of energy body determine the state of physical and mental bodies. Like the other schools of psychotherapy the goal of hatha yoga is also to transform the consciousness and personality. Asana aims to expand the feelings and the awareness. Through the different postures an aspirant of yoga brings about a change in his attitudes, feelings and behavior. Through the technique of asana the practitioner of yoga uses the body as an instrument to transform the mental and the energetic patterns in the body. Sw. Ajay in his book writes; “posture is an expression of a psychological state. Modern psychologists know that a person’s posture can tell a great deal about his inner feelings and his attitudes about himself and others”, he further writes “and this is also true that assuming a specific posture can also bring about a particular mental-emotional state”. We all know on the basis of our own experiences that we do express our attitudes, feelings and emotions through our postures and gestures. A specific posture reflects a particular state of mind and feeling. Therefore if we adopt a posture we not only change the mental and emotional states but we also change the energy dynamics, because specific mental and emotional state corresponds with the specific pattern or state of energy in the body. Today all different available techniques of body work use body to bring about a desirable change in personality.
Body as a log book
Body-centered psychologists who employ body-work techniques, claim that we store lots of information about our past experiences, inner tendencies, attitudes etc. in our body. Alexander Lowen a renowned body-centered therapist who developed the system of bioenergetics says in his book, “A person’s attitude towards life or his personal style is reflected in the way he holds himself, his carriage and in the way he moves”, again he writes, “a person is the sum total of his life experiences, each of which is registered in his personality and structured in his body. Just as a woodsman can read the life history of a tree from a cross section of the trunk showing its annual growth rings, so it is possible for a bioenergetic therapist to read a person’s life history from his body.” Now we reach a point from where we can say that listening to the body means attending to the messages of the mind which are encoded in the language of the body. Because mind expresses itself in the body, through the language of sensations, feelings, breath, gesture, posture and movements.
Concept of body armoring
It has been the observation of the body-centered therapists that we store emotional tensions in the muscles of the body. And as this tension escalates our natural expression in the form of gestures and movements is disturbed. It makes us off balance and destabilize physically and mentally as well. Wilhelm Reich, who developed Reichian Therapy in 1940s, which is a deep emotional release therapy, found in his therapeutic sessions a functional identity of a person’s character with his bodily attitude or muscular armor. Armoring refers to the total pattern of chronic muscular tensions in the body. They are defined as armor because they serve to protect an individual against painful and threatening emotional experiences. Reichian therapy and Bioenergetics, a therapy developed by Alexander Lowen, both study the human personality in terms of the energetic processes of the body. Reich believed that neuroses exist only when there is repressed excess energy. The relation of energy to personality is clearly manifested in a depressed person. Alexander Lowen writes in his book Bioenergetics; “although the depressive tendency result from the interplay of complicated psychological and physical factors, one thing is absolutely clear. The depressed individual is energetically depressed.” They (Lowen and Reich) emphasize that the lack of free flowing energy causes many emotional and mental problems. The blocking of this bio-energy is due to the armoring that results from energy being bound in a muscular contractions/tensions and not being allowed to flow through the body. This armoring is the natural pattern of muscular tensions that manifest when we are threatened or feel to be threatened. In response to threatening emotional conditions our bodies get tensed in preparation for the fight or flight. But it becomes a problem only when it becomes chronic or permanent. In this condition we suppress our natural feelings and emotional expressions. To further explain this I would use the expression that the suppressed feelings and emotions crystallize in the form of muscular armoring. It has also been seen by these therapists that the neurotic tendencies are anchored in the armor and that as the armor dissolves, the suppressed emotional energy is released and once again the individual starts to feel the flow of energy.
Asana and the character armor
As per the system of depth psychology we cut off ourselves from the most vulnerable aspect of our mental contents (through suppression or repression), which are the chief source of anxieties, tensions and conflicts in our psycho-physiological system in order to maintain the level of integration or to keep ourselves centered. At the physical level we do suppress our emotions/feelings in different areas of the body. In day to day life a tensed and stressed person uses characterological body posture, gesture and arrhythmic, labored breathing to remain in the self created defensive mode of speech, action and behavior. In people with neurotic behavioral patterns, it has been seen that at the physical level, using their posture and the breath they cut off themselves from reality and their own feelings.
Self expression is the expression of one’s own feelings. Depressives, for example, suppress their expressions excessively, which means they suppress their feelings as well. It is well known that the depressed person is closed off and the closing off is also reflected through his posture. And in this state by constricting the muscles and holding the tension in the body he wards off any feeling or sensations that flow through the body. In this condition the natural expression of feelings and flow of energy are blocked. Therefore their immediate requirement is that of movement of the body and its energies.
Different postures of yoga evoke specific attitude, mood and feeling in the practitioner. Once a posture is adopted and is sustained immediately the patterns of thought, attitude, feelings and the breath start to weave around the posture. And there is a distinct shift in the quality of awareness as the energies within start to move. Each posture of yoga work at specific region of the body and the pattern of breath which is specific to the posture concerned, affect the energy of those concerned parts of the body. As it is known to both body-centered therapists and hatha yoga practitioners, the breath is the main mobilizer of energy in the system.
Through asanas we work on the mind, by assuming repetitive gestures, postures and movements of body and the breath. Secondarily postures are also used to release the tensions that we store in the muscles. As a result of that sensitivity and awareness expand, and one responds to his life events in a more balanced, and efficient way.
Asana as a re-centering tool
Like all the other practices of yoga the goal of asana is also to expand the awareness, to deepen the understanding of one’s own self. Through asanas we work on the muscles, joints and organs of the body and bring them into the state of health. And in due course we release the tensions stored in the body, bring the breath back to its natural rhythm and harmony and allow the energy to flow freely through the psycho-physical systems. Once a natural and spontaneous free flowing movement of energy is initiated, there lies a possibility that the individual would enjoy the state of spontaneity, freedom and harmony that he failed to enjoy before. One of the chief features of asanas is that they enhance the level of flexibility in the body. Asanas are done slowly with awareness and the aspirant tries to hold the final position without creating any discomfort in the body. Therefore they become handy tool to increase the level of awareness and relaxation, which ensue when the points of tension are diluted or removed from the body. Secondarily, asanas help to ground the awareness of the practitioner in the ‘here and now’ situation, in this way it helps the individual to shift his awareness and energy out of the vicious pattern of obsessive thoughts which revolve around one issue all the time.
Sw. Satyananda Saraswati says in his book ‘Asana, pranayama, mudra bandha’; “in hatha yoga asanas refer to specific body positions which open the energy channels and psychic centers (also known as chakras or vortices of energy). They are tools to higher awareness and provide the stable foundation for our exploration of the body, breath, and mind and beyond. The Hatha Yogis also found that by developing control of the body through asana, the mind is also controlled.” In yoga psychology an asana represents a state of consciousness and a qualitative state of awareness. In yogic tradition it is said that there were 8,400,000 asanas which represents 8.4 millions incarnations. And if we go for the symbolic meaning of the statement we would find that symbolically they represent the broad band of awareness. The somatic psychology of hatha yoga says that assuming a gesture brings about a specific state of awareness, which is free from the trouble created by the pairs of opposites (dvandv?nabhighat?h). The above statement makes it clear that asanas help to overcome the habitual tendencies, by overcoming the effort (p?ayatna ?aithalyam) and releasing the tensions and signs of stress points from the body. As mentioned earlier, the body is the instrument through which we act out our desires and exercise our will. The gestures and the postures are the revealed states of feelings and the mind. When we practice asana and get established into it by repeated practice, it helps us to create and fixed a repetitive postures and the gestures which can snap us out of the instinctual habit patterns and establishes a more refined awareness. Therefore it is proven to be a very reliable tool to remold the personality.
Another therapeutic benefit, as mentioned earlier is its role in enhancing and deepening the sensitivity and awareness of the body. People who are chronically stressed, they lose contact with their body and hence with reality in the condition of complete break down. The heightened tension and stress dramatically reduce the level of sensitivity and physical awareness. Christine Caldwell explains in her book ‘Getting our bodies back’; “…tensing a muscle will, in the short run, increase sensation in that area. The nerves in the muscles get very active… giving the brain sensory feed back about the contraction. However, if the tension continues and become chronic, the nerve will tend to exhaust themselves and will only send sensory messages if there are large charges in the amount of tension. In other words, when tension becomes chronic our nervous system begins to ignore it and pay attention to other things.” Here in this case asanas can help to refocus the attention of the practitioner onto the present moment. And enabling him to be one with the body and start to relive the body. Asanas bring the body into the listening mode. Once the movement is initiated and rigid armoring is broken there is free movement of feeing and the breath. And as the two starts to flow together, the entire body becomes alive, the sensations are again triggered. As Caldwell says, “movement, sensation and breath are the offspring of aliveness/awareness. They can form the basis of curiosity, responsiveness, openness, and participation with life.”

I started yoga teaching 10 years ago after completing my Post Graduation in Yoga Psychology from Bihar Yoga Bharati (Deemed University). After completing the study there I started sharing my learning with yoga aspirants, in the same university as Lecturer in the Dept. Of Yoga Psychology. The field of yoga has been an awakening and life transforming experience for me. It opened a completely new perspective to see the reality and participate in the flow of life! And I do believe that every particle in the UNIVERSE is participating and contributing to the eternal flow of life..

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North India Spiritual Tour Allows You To Rediscover Harmony Through Yoga

March 14, 2009 by  
Filed under Yoga for Stress Relief

India is where yoga was developed and practiced by the Gurus and yogis (and yoginis). Yoga, which is practiced by most Indians of all ages, has made India one of the most peaceful countries on the face of the earth. Think about it – mediation, yoga – all Indian principals of life. No matter if you’re a beginner to a highly experienced yogi or yogini, when you take a Spiritual Tour of India, you will go home with an understanding of yoga and meditation techniques taught by India’s masterful yogis themselves. By taking a spiritual journey, you can incorporate the peaceful lifestyle of India into your own life and go back home renewed, reenergized and peaceful.

The Spiritual Tours of India is not just about visiting Indian temples and other sites: this tour is about finding yourself. You’ll start out in Delhi, where you’ll have a chance to explore the old and new city of Delhi, including the 17th-century Red Fort, India Gate and the Raj Ghat, Mahatma Gandi (Father of the Nation) Memorial. Then it’s on to Rishikesh, home to the world’s oldest and largest population of Ashrams and yoga centers. For six glorious days you’ll be able to learn and practice yoga and meditation with the best yogis in the surroundings of ancient Ashrams filled with ancient, peaceful energy, or one of India’s newer yoga centers.

You’ll start each morning off with a yoga class at one of the many Ashrams or yoga centers. First you’ll visit the Omkaranda Ashram, also well known as Durga Mandi and the Swarg Ashrams, one of the oldest Ashrams in Rishikesh. While in Rishikesh, you’ll also have the opportunity to travel to the Vashist Guffa Cave along the Ganges River, where you will experience a profound meditation while in the cave. Next you’ll visit Devpryag, Karanprayag (an important city of the Hindus), and a few Karna temples. Last stop is Haridwar, one of the holiest places of Hindus in India, where you’ll visit the Sapt Rishi Ashram and the Sapt Sarovar, the holy temple of Daksha Mahadev and Sati Kund; the Maya Devi temple on the hill Bilwa Parvat; and the Maya Devi temple on hill Bilwa Parvat.

Finding peace and harmony is important for everyone in our stressful times. Yoga and meditation is the secret behind rediscovering harmony, and living a more peaceful and healthy life. Now you can learn yoga and meditation from India’s wisest yogis in the surroundings of ancient Ashrams, or India’s newer, world-class yoga centers. Classic Holiday’s Spiritual tour of India will be what you need to come back home renewed, reenergized and peaceful. To book your trip today, visit . Top India Travel

Classic Holidays – India Travel Management Company is one of the leading travel agencies of India. Our Company is designed to give you the most in-depth information about our variety of North India and Golden Triangle India tour packages and also Travel tips helping you plan a relaxing, enjoyable trip to India.

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Restorative Poses

December 8, 2008 by  
Filed under Yoga for Stress Relief

Introduction

Restorative yoga is a form of active relaxation. Regular yoga poses supported by props bring the
body and mind into deep relaxation. It also passively stretches tight muscles, rehabilitates injured
muscles and joints, and can be used to heal and prevent back pain, frozen shoulder, migraines,
anxiety and depression, and many other physical/emotional issues. There are two principles to
keep in mind when practicing or teaching restorative yoga poses. First, keep adjusting the props
until the student can give in completely to the pose without holding tension in any muscles or
joints. Second, work up to holding the pose for the maximum amount of time in order to enjoy
the full benefits of the practice. Here are some restorative yoga poses to get you started.

Supta Baddha Konasana (reclining bound angle)

Props: bolster or two firm bed pillows, yoga blanket, yoga strap and optional eye pillow

Place a bolster in the center of your mat so that when you lean back over it it supports the entire
length of your spine and your head. If you do not have a bolster, stack two firm bed pillows in
the center of your mat. Fold a blanket into a square and place it at the top of the bolster where
your head will rest. Sit so that your sacrum is pressed against the lower edge of the bolster. Bring
the soles of your feet together and open your knees to the sides. Wrap the strap around your
sacrum and loop the end around your toes, belting the strap so it is snug but not overly tight.
Lean back over the bolster and rest your head on the folded blanket. Place the eye pillow over
your eyes. Hold the pose for 5 minutes, gradually increasing to 15 minutes. To come out of the
pose, reach down to release the strap first, then lift your knees and roll off the bolster onto your
side. Wait several breaths before sitting up.

Benefits: opens the chest, abdomen and groins; relaxes the neck and shoulders; relaxes the nervous system

Salamba Setu Bandhasana (supported bridge pose)

Props: bolster or 2 or more yoga blankets, and optional eye pillow

Use a bolster or fold your blankets lengthwise and stack them in the center of your mat. Lie
down lengthwise on the bolster or blankets so they support the length of your spine. Slide off the
end until your head, neck and shoulders are resting on the mat. There will be a sharp bend in
your neck. Adjust the height of the blankets to make this pose more comfortable. Rest your arms
on the floor to the sides with your palms turned up. Place the eye pillow over your eyes. Hold for
5 minutes, gradually increasing to 15 minutes.

Benefits: opens the chest; stretches the neck; frees the breath; increases circulation to the upper body.

Salamba Jathara Parivarthanasana (supported spinal twist)

Props: bolster or blankets, optional hand towel and eye pillow

Place the bolster horizontally on your mat or stack the blankets on top of each other lengthwise.
Sit down on the right end of the bolster so that the length of the bolster is to the left of your body.
Bend your knees and move your buttocks slightly forward on the bolster without falling off.
Using your arms to guide you, lie back on the floor so that your hips are elevated. Open your
arms to the side in a “T” position. With an exhalation, roll your knees to the left, allowing the
bolster to support the left hip and knees. Place the eye pillow over your eyes. If your knees
separate, place a small towel or blanket in between your knees. If your right shoulder feels
overstretched, bend your right elbow and rest your right fingertips on your ribs. If your right side
and back feel overstretched, remove one blanket. To increase the stretch, straighten your legs at a
45 degree angle and/or add a blanket. Adjust the props until you feel comfortable and relaxed.
Hold for 5 minutes, gradually increasing your time to 10 minutes. To switch to the other side,
bring your knees up to the center, place your feet on the floor, and scoot your body to the left
side of the mat. Repeat the pose by bringing your knees to the right, holding for the same amount
of time as the other side. To come out of the pose, bring your knees up to center. Place your feet
on the floor and move the entire body off the bolster. Roll over to your side, rest for a few
breaths, then sit up.

Benefits: stretches low back, the muscles along the side of the body, and the intercostal muscles (between the ribs); enhances breathing

Supported forward bends: Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend)

Props: chair and blankets

Sit facing the seat of the chair with your legs extended under the chair. You may wish to sit on a
blanket to elevate your hips. Cross your arms, lean forward, and place your arms and head on the
seat of the chair. Hold for 5-10 minutes. An alternative way to practice is to stack a bolster
and/or several blankets on your outstretched legs. Cross your arms, lean forward, and rest your
arms and head on the supports.

Benefits: stretches low back, calms the mind

Upavistha Konasana (open angle)

Props: chair and blankets

Practice the same pose as above except that your legs are open to the sides of the chair in an open
angle.

Benefits: relaxes inner thighs, pelvic floor, lower abdomen, and uterus

Balasana (child’s pose)

Props: bolster or blankets

Place the bolster and blankets in the center of your mat. Kneel at one end of the support,
separating your knees so that the bolster and blankets can be wedged in between them. Sit back
on your heels. Place your hands on either side of the support and gently lower your torso onto the
pillow and blankets, turning your head to one side and resting your arms on either side of the
support. Your head should remain on the support, so if you have a long torso you may need to set
up an additional bolster and blankets end to end. The torso should remain parallel to the floor, so
add and subtract blankets accordingly. If this position is stressful on your lower legs, you can
place a small towel or blanket between your buttocks and heels. Hold for up to 5 minutes with
your head turned to one side, then turn you head to the other side for an equal amount of time. To
come out of the pose, press your hands firmly into the floor and lift up your torso to sit back on
your heels.

Benefits: relieves menstrual cramps and low back pain

Elevated Viparita Karani (legs up the wall pose)

Props: 2 yoga blankets and optional eye pillow

Take your yoga blankets and eye pillow to the wall. Fold your blankets lengthwise and place
them parallel to the wall. Sit sideways on one edge of the blanket with knees bent and your
shoulder 4-6 inches from the wall. Using your arms to guide you, make a quarter turn with your
body so you can lie down on the floor with your knees bent and the soles of your feet against the
wall. Extend your legs up the wall. Adjust yourself on the blankets so your back and neck are
relaxed and your legs can comfortably straighten. Moving the buttocks away from the wall
decreases the stretch on the back of the legs while moving closer to the wall increases the stretch.
Once you are comfortable, place the eye pillow over your eyes, reach your arms on the floor
toward the wall, and turn your palms up. Hold for 5 minutes, gradually increasing to 15 minutes.
To come out of the pose, bend your knees, and roll over to your right side. Rest here for several
breaths before pressing up to a seated position.

Benefits: Opens the chest to facilitate breathing; opens the chest; relieves pressure on the feet and legs; helps to lower blood pressure