This is the first of a series of articles on how to practice yoga in consultation with Anantara Kalutara Resort Ayurvedic Consultant and Spa Manager Dr Pushpika Attanayake.
Yoga is an ancient philosophy developed for the purpose of self-realization.

“What the modern day masses practice as yoga is basically the asanas, just one part of the yoga system. There are more than 100 types of yoga practiced in India. All of these combine behavioural, holistic, spiritual and mental elements along with ‘asanas’ to form the system,” she says.

Yoga is fundamentally a health maintenance programme. Its many benefits include stretching and toning muscles all over the body, protecting muscles from being injured during sports and lengthening and developing muscles after exercise.

According to founder of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, USA Dr Herbert Benson, yoga helps induce a ‘relaxation response’ where it helps reduce heart rate, blood pressure, improve circulation and remove toxins from the body, as opposed to the body’s reaction to stress under normal circumstances. Also, yoga helps control blood pressure and improves the lung capacity.

Yoga differs from fitness programmes on several grounds. Exercises are aimed at certain groups of muscles. This is achieved by increasing blood supply and consequently oxygen to the specific group of muscles.

“Generally, exercises increase breathing and heart rate resulting in higher consumption of oxygen. Yoga on the other hand aims at harmonizing the body with breathing and concentration to contribute to the overall health of the individual. It brings one steadiness stability and joy. There is no strain on the cardiac or respiratory systems and the oxygen consumption is actually lower than when conducting day to day work,” she elaborates.

Yoga postures have to be done in a steady calm manner, the result is lower breathing and heart rates which effectively reduces the basal metabolic rate, unlike when doing exercises. ‘asanas’ helps regulation of endocrine secretions. This in turn helps balance emotions.

“Some of the yoga postures directly focus on physiological and psychological wellbeing, the focus is not just to build strength,” Dr Attanayake says.

♦ Do not do yoga immediately after a meal
After a heavy meal, it is essential to wait for four hours and let the meal digest before doing yoga. If the meal was light, it is possible to do yoga after one hour. “It is unhealthy to disturb the digestion,” Dr Attanayake insists. Also, the digestive process directs the blood flow to the digestive organs, drawing energy away from yoga. It also makes it difficult to perform yoga postures that focus on the abdominal region.

♦ Wear comfortable clothing
“Wear cotton clothing that is not too tight. It is important to allow for blood circulation, which is in turn important to balance energy in the body,” Dr Attanayake says. Remove any jewellery and accessories. It is best if contact lenses are removed too. Also, being bare-footed supports the sense of balance.

♦ It is important to be relaxed and comfortable
The most important thing is to stay away from disturbances. If you are practicing at home, find a quiet spot. Turn off or silent-mode the phone. Relaxing music and natural, aromatic scents can improve the yoga experience.

♦ Be aware of your body
It is very important to pay attention to breathing. Synchronize breathing with the movements. This would be further discussed with each yoga posture.

♦ Don’t ignore if you feel pain
“If you feel severe and unusual pain, discontinue the posture and rest. Return to Shavasana and consult an instructor,” advices Dr. Attanayake. Please note slight pain in the muscle is usual when it stretches. However, do not overly strain muscles while practicing yoga.

♦ Practice regularly
It is best to practice yoga at the same time, every day ranging from sixty to ninety minutes.  “Early morning is the best time for yoga. However, allowing for a busy schedule, it is possible to split it in to two sessions; in the morning and evening. In the evening body is more flexible. Therefore, make sure not to exert the muscles too much as they could be damaged. In the morning, it is possible to bathe twice. Bathe before yoga to reduce the stiffness in muscles and bathe after yoga to wash away the toxins released through yoga,” Dr Attanayake recommends.