The start of a new year is a good time to look at these six principles that may seem simple, yet can be applied to enhance your life and have an awesome year! Five of them are the key principles of Sivananda yoga with another one added to include life engagement with others. Identify an area you could do more of in your weekly routine, or enhance by applying a principle that stands out for you.
There are enormous benefits for mind and body to regular practice of deep relaxation. Quality sleep with complete sleep cycles is an important aspect of rest, recovery, and balance. The practice of conscious deep relaxation supplements this and carries benefits into daily activities by teaching conservation of energy, how to let go of worry, fear and tension, as well as how to relax the mind while being focused on a single activity. The key to the yogic principle of proper relaxation is combining complete rest of mental and physical activity to fully rest the whole nervous system.
Certain systems of yoga intensify the ability to fully relax by alternating concentrated activity that is not overly stressful or over exerting (not inducing fatigue) with full relaxation in between with a deeper and longer relaxation at the end of a session. Exercises that help open up circulation and energy flow in the body are also complimentary in preparation for deep relaxation.
To completely relax, it helps to get into a posture like floating in a float tank, where there is complete comfort and no need to move for a time. This is good to do for 5-10 minutes or more after activity, once the breathing and stimulation from activity has settled right down. Lie on your back and have the arms and legs spread out enough that the feet comfortably turn out and the palms of the hands turned up with the shoulders and chest open. The spine should not be too curved, but elongated along the floor or mat with the neck also comfortably lengthened. Use auto-suggestion going through each part of your body mentally, from the feet up, that “ ____ is relaxing” and “___ is relaxed”. Finish with the internal organs and then your mind itself and let go fully into receptive stillness for a time. Autosuggestion is a technique used by masters to control body functions usually not able to be voluntarily controlled like heart and metabolic rates.
Relaxation can be the most challenging of the five principles for some people, and if that is the case then start with shorter time and lengthen it on a regular basis. The sense of rejuvenation and fullness in the body is like pressing a reset button for mind and body and is a great start or finish to the day.
A quick summary of types of exercise and benefits: Resistance training has great benefits in maintaining circulation, muscle and bone density throughout life. Cycling, running and swimming can be great for cardio-vascular health and fitness. Interval training is considered one of the best ways to keep up metabolic rate, loose weight and increase fitness with efficiency of time and energy. Dance, martial art and gymnastic practices provide great co-ordination, core strength, agility and flexibility. All exercises can help restore hormonal balance as well as stress release in mind and body. Regular exercise elevates mood and mental focus.
Yoga asanas, or postures, can work systematically on all parts of the body – strengthening, toning and stretching muscles and ligaments (including minor muscles groups that can be neglected in certain sports), enhancing and maintaining spine and joint flexibility and improving circulation. Yoga, or practices like xigong and taichi can combine meditation and exercise by synchronising movement and breath in a relaxed state of full presence and conscious release of tension.
Proper breathing is full and rhythmic breathing, making use of all of your lungs to increase oxygen intake and maintain full functioning of the respiratory system for life. Any exercise that raises the volume and rate of breathing is of benefit. Yogic breathing teaches how to utilise the three key areas of abdominal and diaphragm, chest or thoracic and clavicular breathing. Yogic systems of kriyas and pranayama also teach methods to recharge body energy and control mental states by regulating the flow of prana (chi or life energy) stored in key energy centres of the body called chakras. These centres also correlate with key points of nerve ganglia (bundles of nerves and vascular tissue) aligned in the brain and spine, associated with key organs and glands of the body.
Various breath patterns can be powerful and specific to releasing physical stress, emotional blocks and mental/emotional patterns. Techniques like anuloma viloma focus also on quietening the mind.
Proper diet obviously needs to be nourishing and well balanced in nutrients and food types. Processed foods need to be eliminated from regular consumption or all together. A diet based on fresh food (not overly cooked) is a key. Whatever the diet, mounting scientific evidence is showing a number of factors determine the best diet, so that a good diet for one person may not be the best for another. While there are many diets claiming to be the best, genetics, blood and body type, level of activity, and other factors play a part in determining the best food combinations and quantities. A predisposition to over-heating or feeling cold, stiff joints, bloating or gas, headaches, allergies, lethargy or large swings in energy levels, skin or digestive disorders all indicate issues with diet. Most types of disorders can be managed or resolved through diet. Over-heating and acidic foods should also be minimised, so a predominance of vegetables (with fruit eaten separately) is a common dietary principle in many systems.
Most of us know ways we can improve our dietary habits. Practicing a new habit for 21-30 days is a great start to make it a permanent change. Aryurvedic, naturopathic or nutritionist consultations can be a very positive step to make for anyone at a point of wanting to optimise health or deal with disorders sustainably and holistically. Is this something you can do this year to improve a health or lifestyle issue you know is better addressed sooner than later?
Positive Thinking and Meditation
Being conscious of the positivity or negativity of our thinking can be a game changer. The tone, language, and subject matter of habitual thinking are all influential to our character, perception, how we respond or react and how rewarding things can be. Using affirmations or adjusting a negative train of thought to a positive one are great skills to practice. The ability to observe and adjust our thinking is enhanced with meditation which trains us to observe our thoughts and feelings as they arise. Ultimately, meditation can train us to still the mind and transcend thoughts to reach new levels of conscious being and awareness.
Finding books, courses or teachers in these areas can be a great place to start to enhance this aspect to your life. The mind is essentially the most important aspect of self to consciously train in order to achieve greater life enrichment and harmony. If you already are on a personal journey here, is there something you can do in your life to take insight and awareness to a new level this year?
Conscious Doing – Expression, Engagement, Relationships and Daily Activity
The first five points set the stage to have better awareness and mastery in how we communicate and respond in relationship to our environment and others. Bad habits and compulsive behaviours can erode the many good things we do and impact our ability to be our true self within and in relationship with others.
This year, how can you better embody balance and health in mind and body to others and inspire loved ones to do the same? Is daily attention to nurturing one or a combination of the following points a good focus for you this year? :-
- invoke a sense of love in your actions, be they personal or professional, through focusing on relaxing into open heartedness in all circumstances,
- listening to others more by taking a few seconds to breath, feel and understand their points of view or repeating back what they say,
- breaking and transforming a pattern of negative or compulsive thinking or behaviour,
- making it a focus and reviewing daily where you are reinforcing positive values and principles you stand for and where you can do better,
- separating thoughts and ‘doing’ from ‘being’ and awareness – practicing being present more in yourself and the moment, on your own and engaging with others. Identifying with the consciousness doing the thinking and actions is a significant step in awareness and conscious interaction in the world. Eckhard Tolle’s teaching focus on this with a modern, practical and universal approach.
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