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October, 2008

Yoga: Is it the new aerobics?

Back in the 1980s and early 90s, I regularly spent time exercising at my local fitness centre. At that time, aerobics classes were in full swing, a trend that had caught on like wildfire in a pop culture that was just beginning to develop its obsession with physical fitness. Most every gym and health club […]

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Study: Yoga Stimulates GABA, Induces Relaxation

A study on GABA conducted through the Boston University School of Medicine found that the practice of yoga asanas produce a measurable increase in the levels of gamma aminobutyric acid, an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. … Gamma aminobutyric acid helps induce relaxation and regulate anxiety. It also contributes to motor control, vision, and many […]

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Neti Kriya

As yoga continues to increase in popularity, more of its ancient practices are finding their way into mainstream culture. Not long ago, the iconic daytime talkshow host, Oprah Winfrey, introduced her audience to the neti pot, a yoga tool used for cleansing the sinuses with water. It didn’t take long before the supply of these simple little instruments ran dry across North America.

Oprah and her many fans found out what the yogis have known all along; that this simple daily yoga practice has wonderful health benefits.

What is Neti Kriya?
Neti kriya, or nasal cleansing, is one of the shat karmas, or six cleansing actions of the hatha yoga tradition. This cleansing of the nasopharyngeal tract is commonly done in one of two different ways: with a warm saline solution, known as jala neti; or with a cotton thread, known as sutra neti.

By far, the easier of the two to perform is the jala neti, although it can still take a bit of practice to get used to the sensation of pouring water up your own nose.

Those who have experimented with this practice, however, will attest to its immense benefits, including decongesting of the sinuses and the decrease in frequency, or even elimination altogether, of head colds and sinusitis.

What is Sinusitis?
Sinusitis is the pathological inflammation of the air spaces within the bones of the nasal region. When the membranes within these sinus cavities become inflamed, the air passages can become blocked, causing pain and infection. This condition can bring with it a whole host of related symptoms, such as nasal discharge, fever, headache, fatigue, facial or dental pain, cough and congestion.

The medical approach to treating sinusitis may include antibiotics, decongestants, nasal sprays, and even pain relievers — all of which address the symptoms, none of which address the root cause.

The Scientific Basis for Jala Neti
It should come as no surprise that the prevalence of sinusitis worldwide continues to increase due to growing levels of pollution and urbanization.
In his abstract, “The Scientific Basis for Some Yoga Practices in Sinusitis,” Dr. Ananda Bhavanani says that “hypertonic saline improves mucociliary clearance, thins mucous, and may decrease inflammation.”

This is supported by Dr. Marple, a professor of otolaryngology at the University of Texas, who claims that “saline nasal irrigation is a highly effective, minimally invasive intervention for people suffering from nasal issues.”

Dr. Ananda also indicates that research has revealed saline nasal irrigation, or jala neti, to effectively improve sinus drainage in children, while daily nasal irrigation showed an overall effectiveness in reducing the symptoms of sinusitis in 70% of all patients.

All of this evidence, and yet the medical community as a whole seems largely unaware of this simple, safe, and highly effective prevention and treatment. It’s clear to the yogi, however, that regular practice of neti kriya will help cut down on medication costs and doctor bills and also bring to life a whole new freshness and clarity that comes from washing away encrustations and toxic built up in the sinuses.

To improve health, quality of life, and overall sense of well being, jala neti is a wonderful addition to your daily yoga routine.


Navaratri, literally “nine nights,” is a nine-day festival that worships the Divine Mother in all her many forms. This motherly aspect of God is referred to variously as Durga, which literally means the remover of the miseries of life; Devi, or Goddess; and Shakti, the universal energy or power.

Also sometimes referred to as Durga Puja, Navaratri begins on the new moon and ends on the tenth day of the bright half of the month of Ashwin (Aswayuja), this year commencing on September 29th.

As with many festivals in India, Navaratri is significant in multiple ways. On one hand, it represents the period of nine days and nights when the Goddess fought Mahishashura, the buffalo-headed demon, finally destroying him on the tenth day.

It is also said that Lord Shiva gave permission to Durga to see her mother for nine days in the year, and this festival commemorates her visit. As a result, children make an attempt to return home, and families re-unite during this time.

In earlier times, this festival was also associated with the fertility of Mother Earth. Thus, on the first day of the celebration, grains of barley are planted in the puja or ceremony room of the house and are watered daily. On the tenth day, these seedlings are pulled out and given to devotees as a blessing from God.

The Three Aspects of Devi Worshipped During Navaratri
Yoga teaches us that the central purpose of our existence is to recognise our eternal identity with the Supreme Spirit. This state of one-ness, a state of absolute purity and perfection, is inherent within all of us, and our charge as human beings is to grow to realize this Divine state.

In order to achieve this, we must first rid ourselves of our many impurities. Once purified, we next need to acquire lofty virtues and Divine qualities. Only once we have attained these things are we then ready and able to gain true knowledge and understanding.

Symbolically, this journey is aided by the three different manifestations of Shakti, or cosmic energy, each of which are worshipped separately throughout Navaratri. The first three days are dedicated to the Goddess Durga, the next three to Goddess Lakshmi, and the final three to Goddess Saraswati.

DURGA: On the first three days, Durga is invoked to help us conquer the lower animal qualities within us. As the supreme power and force, Durga represents the destructive aspect of the Mother who annihilates all impurities, vices, and imperfections. These first three days mark the first stage, or the elimination of impurities, along with a discerned effort to root out the negative tendencies in the mind.

LAKSHMI: The Goddess of good fortune, Lakshmi aids in acquiring higher transcendental qualities and a lofty, spiritual personality. As Swami Sivananda said, “The devotee has to earn immense spiritual wealth to enable him to pay the price for the rare gem of divine wisdom.” The perfect symbol of purity, Lakshmi bestows upon her devotees boundless divine wealth and is the centre of worship throughout these next three days.

SARASWATHI: Once purified and bestowed with divine qualities, the spiritual aspirant is capable of attaining wisdom. As the symbol of learning and divine knowledge, Saraswathi bestows upon her devotees knowledge of the Supreme and realization of the Divine Self.

This structure of worship throughout Navaratri is a profound representation of the stages of evolution through which we all must pass. One stage naturally leads to the next. As Swami Sivananda also points out, “To short-circuit this would inevitably result in a miserable failure. Nowadays many ignorant seekers aim straight at the cultivation of knowledge without the preliminaries of purification and acquisition of the divine qualities . . . How can the pure plant grow in impure soil?”

The Final Triumph
Navaratri is celebrated as the ultimate conquest of good over evil. The festivities culminate on the tenth day, called Vijayadashmi (or Dussehra).

In Northern India, effigies of the Demon Ravana are burned – a custom whose origin can be traced back to the Ramayana. According to this great Indian epic, Rama prayed to the nine different aspects of Devi to accumulate enough power to be able to defeat Ravana.

This final day can also be seen as the victory of the soul that has attained liberation while still in this material world, through the grace of the Mother Goddess.

Yoga Stimulates GABA, Induces Relaxation

A study conducted through the Boston University School of Medicine found that the practice of yoga asanas produce a measurable increase in the levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain.

GABA helps induce relaxation and regulate anxiety. It also contributes to motor control, vision, and many other brain functions. Gamma-aminobutyric acid stimulates the anterior pituitary and increasing the levels of the hormone HGH, which contributes significantly to muscle growth, while preventing the creation of fat cells.

In the parallel study, eight yoga practitioners completed a 60-minute yogasana session, while eleven other subjects undertook one hour of reading. Both reading and yoga are activities that the subjects indicated to be relaxing and enjoyable.

Afterwards, measurements were taken that showed a 27% increase in GABA levels in the yoga practitioner group after the yoga session, but no change in the reading group after their reading session.

This study supports the idea that yoga asana practice does have a calming and relaxing effect. It also suggests that regular practice of yoga asanas could be helpful in the treatment of disorders with low GABA levels, such as depression and anxiety disorders.

The Love of God Adds Up

Ever wonder what it means to give 100 percent? What about 101 percent?

Here’s a little mathematical gem from a posting by Sandip Tujare on the Rishiculture Yahoo Group webpage.

Each of the twenty-six letters of the alphabet could be represented numerically, as follows:

A(1) B(2) C(3) D(4) E(5) F(6) G(7) H(8) I(9) J(10) K(11) L(12) M(13) N(14) O(15) P(16) Q(17) R(18) S(19) T(20) U(21) V(22) W(23) X(24) Y(25) Z(26)

Using some simple addition:

How much effort does H-A-R-D-W-O-R-K take?
H(8)+A(1)+R(18)+D(4)+W(23)+O(15)+R(18)+K(11) = 98

How far will K-N-O-W-L-E-D-G-E get you?
11+14+15+23+12+5+4+7+5 = 96

What equals 100% in life? It’s A-T-T-I-T-U-D-E.
1+20+20+9+20+21+4+5 = 100

What, then, does the L-O-V-E-O-F-G-O-D yield?
12+15+22+5+15+6+7+15+4 = 101

Yes, knowledge and hard work will get you close, and attitude will get you there, but only the love of God will put you over the top!

Remember this the next time you’re asked to give 101% !

The Yogi Is In

As part of the extensive changes aimed at improving primary health care in London, free yoga classes will be offered at some of the 152 new “super surgeries,” the first of which could be open as early as March of next year.

The controversial super surgeries will operate over extended hours, seven days a week, and offer a range of medical services such as blood tests, ultrasound scans, physiotherapists, and screening for HIV and diabetes. Along with general practitioners, they will also house podiatrists, dentists, dieticians, a minor injuries clinic, and an X-Ray department.

In addition to yoga classes, patients who are prescribed exercise by their doctors will be able to use the gym facilities that will also be located on-site.

View a BBC video report on the new super surgeries:

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