Healing With the Big 3: Asana, Breath, & Sound
Healing with Asana
B.K.S. Iyengar once said that you could never reach the spiritual states of yoga until your body was strong and capable. He was s sickly child that turned to yoga as a way to overcome an unfortunately long spell being bed ridden in his youth. Asana alone was an important part of making his body strong and flexible. While there are many other aspects to yoga, one cannot overlook the purely physical aspects of asana.
Surely, yoga poses may look like they are just a serious of odd configurations in which to place the limbs, they also affect the muscles, tendons, bones, connective tissues, brain, and hormonal system. The digestive organs are toned and made better able to detox the body. The heart is made stronger, and the over-taxed nervous system is finally given a much-needed break. So, while Iyengar was trying to cure specific spinal-muscular issues, he was also affecting every system of the body in a positive way.
“Yoga, an ancient but perfect science, deals with the evolution of humanity. This evolution includes all aspects of one’s being, from bodily health to self-realization. Yoga means union — the union of body with consciousness and consciousness with the soul. Yoga cultivates the ways of maintaining a balanced attitude in day-to-day life and endows skill in the performance of one’s actions.” B.K.S. Iyengar
Moreover, through his practice Iyengar was also affecting the subtle body, a network of energetic channels called nadis. These nadis (much like the energetic points utilized in acupressure, acupuncture and massage) are all connected to the chakra system. While the chakras are a greater conduit of energy, the nadis are like tributaries leading to the main energetic vortexes of the chakras. Once they open, and are cleared, so then are the chakras. All work in the subtle body also affects the physical body.
This is difficult for modern medicine to understand; however, it is easier to ‘see’ this effect in Kirlian photography, which shows the difference in the energetic field of simple fruits and vegetables or a leaf from a tree. In these photographic examples, you can see the difference between an organic fruit and one that has been grown with chemicals, which are essentially just like the toxins we put into our bodies unwittingly. You can also see a difference between cooked and raw foods. It is hard to argue the difference between the life-force of one compared to the other.
Because all layers of the ‘Self’ are interconnected, once the physical and subtle bodies are ‘cleaner,’ then of course, spiritual evolution starts to occur also. This can be as simple as a experiencing a more wholesome relationship with your body, your environment, and people in your world. You may notice that you are not as easily affected by thing that once bothered you, and that your heart starts to be more compassionate without even attempting it. You may feel personally responsible for total strangers, or feel a deep desire to change your neighborhood or community for the better in some way. Many people are called to service as they become more ‘spiritual.’ It is a natural outpouring of the love they have of Self. It wants to express itself by becoming more involved with making the world a better place.
“Illuminated emancipation, freedom, unalloyed and untainted bliss await you, but you have to choose to embark on the Inward Journey to discover it.” B.K.S. Iyengar
Healing With Breath
Another important aspect of healing is breath. While there have been numerous studies linking general exercise to better health, in part because of the higher oxygen in the cells, yoga has an even more profound way of increasing emotional, physical and spiritual well-being utilizing breathing exercises called pranayama.
Pranayama is the science of breath. There are very specific techniques used to direct the flow of the subtle energies, called Prana, through the nadis of the body but also to clam the nervous system and influence the brain-wave patterns of the practitioner. While Dr. Herbert Benson has coined the phrase ‘relaxation response’ to describe what happens to the body when we simply start to breath in a more relaxed manner, that is, we are not breathing clavicularly, as in only utilizing the upper portion of the lungs.
“To Study this energy [prana] is a delicate and intricate thing, and it for this reason that some people have spent lifetimes involved in its exploration. In the ancient literature of the yoga tradition there are entire books concerning the subject where the five major pranas are described, each having its separate function, its way of movement. According to this the pranic sheath has an extremely complex ‘anatomy,’ comprised of certain pathways, called and is, through which the breath flows.” Kashyapa Sutra p. 11
A true deep, yogic breath, which is the foundation of all other pranayama, involves utilizing the diaphragm, and allowing the belly to expand as you breath in, drawing it back in towards the spine as you breath out. In this way you allow the diaphragm, a small, kidney-like organ, which sits just below the lungs, to drop, and the lungs to then fill to absolute capacity.
The alveoli in the lungs are then able to take in more oxygen, from top to bottom, and over time the vital capacity of the lungs is increased. The secondary action is learning to keep the heart rate steady while breathing deeper and deeper. Master yogis can take a breath (that is, one long, deep inhale and full exhale) that lasts longer than many world-record holders for deep sea diving or swimmers who have been in the Guinness Book of World Records.
The difference between an athlete and a yogi is that the nervous system of the yogi does not become agitated while they are breathing this deeply. Later, when retention of the breath is practiced, a more advanced practice in pranayama, then the heart rate does not elevate, and the full Pranic energy contained in the breath can be distributed to the entire body.
Again, there are the purely physiological aspects of healing which occur with pranayama practice, such as aiding the cells to complete their work more efficiently by more easily ridding the body of cellular waste. There is the effect the Dr. Benson talks about, where the nervous system and brain start to calm down and the fight-or-flight response is temporarily subdued. There is also the effect of building up Prana in the body; however, and this causes all kinds of subtle changes in the practitioner.
Pranayama can be used to help with memory loss, ADHD, depression, anxiety, lethargy, high blood pressure, diseases of the blood and digestive system, and hundreds of other ailments. There are many kinds of pranayama to practice, but you should consult a seasoned yoga practitioner to understand how to practice and what steps to follow. The foundation is the deep, yogic breath.
Most people still hold their breath several hundred times a day (An unconscious act caused by low-level stress, which definitely becomes more pronounced when your stress levels rise higher.) You can also start with baby-steps, practicing pranayama. Just notice when you are holding your breath, and consciously take a deep, relaxed belly-breath. Do this for several moments and notice how your thoughts and body and affected positively.
You must build up your lung capacity while learning to calm the mind and body, and then you will add practices like Brahmari (humming bee breath) or Shitali (the cooling breath) which is practiced with the three bhandas (Sanskrit meaning knot) These energetic locks allow pranic energy to build in certain areas of the body in order to break through blockages, and eventually, the latent or stored energy is guided up the spine through all seven chakras to its final destination, the crown chakra. It is here that enlightenment is said to unfold.
Advanced practice of pranayama is said to make one ‘immortal’ in ancient texts. Disease simply cannot exist in a highly oxygenated body, but perhaps even more exciting, are the emotional effects of these breathing techniques, when practiced over a long period. Many practitioners report better sleep, better relationships, more creativity, more clear-headedness and even feeling ‘high’ without the use of illicit drugs.
“With the regulation of the breath, karma acquired both in this life and in the past may be burnt up. Just as a fire consumes a heap of timber, it is said that pranayama makes the mind free from all illusion. As fire, which is a latent potential of wood, does not become potent except by friction, so also wisdom, which is already latent within each person, reveals itself through pranayama practice. It is said in the texts that through pranayama . . . diseases are cured, and spiritual energy is awakened.” Science of Breath: A Practical Guide, Rama, Ballentine, and Hymes, Himalayan Institute Press, 1979, p. 28
Healing With Sound
Sound has been used for centuries to heal not just emotional dis-ease in he body but also physical maladies. It was used in ancient Greece, in Egypt, in Babylon, in Israel and Palestine. It was used in the Indus Valley, and all over the near and far East. The Aboriginies used the didgeridoo to heal bones more quickly and to calm someone who was anxious or afraid.
Modern medicine is leaning into healing with sound as well. Kidney stones can be eradicated with ultrasound and cancerous tumors can be broken up with a combination of ultrasound and infrasound as evidenced in recent medical studies. Soft-tissue damage in sports-related injuries can be healed with ultrasonic waves. Is it possible broken bones and other illnesses, such as diabetes or depression can be cured with sound?
Infrasound is used by animals to communicate, so while it is a low-level vibratory phenomenon, giraffes, whales and elephants communicate in this frequency all the time. The wisdom of sound-healing is present in the natural world, and it is prevalent in history. Starting, in modern times, with Pythagorus, the mathematician and mystic, but going all the way back to the most ancient civilizations.
Dr. Mitchell Gaynor, author of The Healing Power of Sound: Recovery from Life-Threatening Illness Using Sound, Voice and Music, tells us, “sound can redress imbalances on every level of physiological functioning and can play a positive role in the treatment of virtually any medical disorder.”
You can utilize many different sound therapies to heal the body. They can be auditory, as in listening to certain musical compositions, such as suggested by Dr. Emoto’s work, which shows how classical music changes the brain and nervous system, or you can chant mantra. You can listen to binaural beats or use sound that is outside of normal human hearing ranges to heal the body. Sound truly is a new frontier in healing, a rediscovery of old wisdom, and we are just starting to understand how ancient civilizations used sound to heal every conceivable malady.
About the Author
Christina Sarich is a musician, yogi, humanitarian and freelance writer who channels many hours of studying Lao Tzu, Paramahansa Yogananda, Rob Brezny, Miles Davis, and Tom Robbins into interesting tidbits to help you Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World.