For the first time, June 21 will be celebrated worldwide as the International Day of Yoga, as declared by the United Nations General Assembly. It gives all the more reason for us to regularly practice and enjoy the immense benefits of this 6,000+-year-old physical, mental and spiritual practice having its origin in India (Bharat).

Yoga transforms body and mind and is an invaluable gift of India's ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help us deal with climate change, a bigger environmental disaster that affects our lives.

Activity or exercise is as important to our bodies as food. Body organs get stronger with usage. There are many types of exercises but yoga stands out as a wholesome exercise that reaches and helps even the remote part of the body. It’s also done slowly, which suits all ages and all physical conditions.

Pranayama or the breathing exercise is an essential pre-cursor to yoga. Pranayama is the control of prana or vital life force through the breath. These techniques rely on breathing through the nostrils. Prana flows through thousands of subtle energy channels called 'nadis' and energy centers called 'chakras'.

These days, many of us are so busy that we don’t even have time (or we think we don’t have time) to take a deep breath. Pranayama helps break your unconscious breathing pattern and make the breath long, easeful and smooth. pranayama literally means ‘to extend the vital life force’.

Most people’s breathing tends to be tense, shallow, and erratic. One of the primary reasons that pranayama techniques that foster a long, smooth exhale are so beneficial is because, when practiced correctly, they can support the parasympathetic nervous system and activate the ‘relaxation response’ by reducing stress and its effects on your body and mind. As a result, your resilience in the face of challenge or adversity increases, and your mind becomes more focused and still.

Take a moment to become aware of your breath. This helps to calm your minds and bring you into the present moment. Even 3 -5 deep intentional breaths may bring a sense of calm and simultaneous energy. Try taking these intentional breaths if you notice feelings of anxiety, frustration, or if you are having trouble focusing. Practice these intentional breaths taking a few minutes before getting out of your car, or train or bus before work. It helps to let go of any frustrations that you may have experienced during the commute and let go of any anxiety you may have before a long workday.

There are eight basic types of Pranayama, which a guru can teach you. Pranayama quiets and calms the entire nervous system, reducing stress and anxiety and improving self-awareness.

Once you have inhaled enough oxygen through pranayama, it’s time to push that essential lif saving element to each part of the body. This can be done through Yoga, a simple, yet wonderful tool to keep the body functioning intact. The basic principle of yoga is to give momentum to every organ of the body, both internal and external and supply extra oxygen to those particular organs.

Pranayama can be practiced once or twice a day, at any time of the day. Early morning hours, before sunrise have Ozone (O3) and give extra benefit than oxygen (O2).

Start your morning with an awareness check, before even getting out of bed. You can lie still and slowly become aware of your body, starting at your feet and moving up all the way to your head, acknowledging your body and checking in with yourself. This allows you to notice any areas of the body that may be stiff or uncomfortable. As you go about your day, bring that awareness with you, practicing some intentional movements to loosen up the stiff areas. Diffferent asanas render benefits to different organs.

An intended yoga asana tightens or stretches the intended area, thus drawing blood carrying oxygen when released. Hence, relaxing after every asana is crucial for maximum benefit.

For example, in mandukasana, the pressure is applied on pancreas, which produces insulin in the body. This helps a diabetic. You can select 8 to 10 asanas according to your body requirement and practice yoga atleast 5 days a week.

Though early morning, empty stomach is ideal for practicing yoga, anytime after two hours of meal and atleast an hour prior to the next meal is fairly good. Half an hour each for prananyama and yoga in a day is good to maintain quality health.

Besides being physically engaging, yoga imparts innate powers of reflection, introspection and wisdom. Practice yoga and to enjoy life!


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