It has become widely accepted and research has shown that the practice of yoga is effective for both the prevention and treatment of anxiety and depression. Research has also shown that the methods of mindfulness meditation and the related breathing awareness methods actually positively effect our brain chemistry and greatly reduce the effects that stress have on our mental and physical health. So what happens when you put the two together? That’s the story that Yantra Yoga has to tell.
One of the oldest recorded systems of yoga on earth, it was introduced to the west by the great Tibetan scholar and Dzogchen Master Chogyal Namkhai Norbu. Yantra Yoga is one of the various Tibetan yogas, the central feature of which is to work with the energy of the body through breathing techniques combined with yogic postures. Most of these systems are kept secret because of the need for initiations in order to practice them. However, this is not the case for Yantra Yoga.
What is Unique About Yantra Yoga?
Here is a quick list of the defining features of Yantra Yoga:
- The primary aim of every posture is to guide the breath into its natural flow and shape.
- All movements are performed to a precise rhythm, in flowing sequences where the inhalation and exhalation are in exact unison with the movements.
- Whenever the movements stop, it is for a precise count while the breath is held in a specific manner.
- Because the postures are not static, there is no particular emphasis on muscle strengthening or flexibility, but rather the synchronization of the breath with the movements.
- Like MBSR (Mindfullness Based Stress Reduction) Yantra Yoga originated from Buddhist meditation practices.
Ok, enough talking about it. Yantra Yoga is about experience so here is a video of the preliminary practices of Yantra Yoga to get more of a feeling of the practice. As you will notice the sequences are very different from any yoga with which you are likely familiar with. If you pay close attention to Fabio Andrico’s ribs you will see that each movement is coordinated with his inhalation and exhalation. Likewise you will notice that sometimes his ribs are still, showing that he is holding his breath for a precise count and posture. These are specific types of holds to coordinate the energy system.
The Unique Healing Benefits of Yantra Yoga
One of the really helpful things about the ancient texts on Yantra Yoga dating back to the eighth century (some of the oldest recorded yoga texts in the world!), is that there are precise indications on the healing benefits of each sequence. These explanations are written according to the anatomy and physiology terms of Traditional Tibetan Medicine and Ayurveda, the mainstream medicine of that era. The predominant theme in the benefits is that Yantra Yoga is primarily acting on the wind element, Loong in Tibetan Medicine and Vata in Ayurveda.
The Function of the Wind Element: Demystifying Energy
These days it has become common to hear us wellness folks talk about the idea of energy. It often times sounds like some kind of mystical force related to chakras and channels unrelated to the physical world we know. According to Traditional Tibetan Medicine the wind element is the energy of our body and has very precise physiological functions. These include:
- All physical and mental movements
- Opening and closing of valves, sphincters and orifices
- Activity of the heart and central nervous system
- Sense of touch and all sensations of enjoyment
- Memory and clarity of the senses
- Expelling impurities
The wind element is classified into five different sub-categories, each of which is responsible for these specific physiological functions of the body and the mind. Here I have outlined some of the main functions of each:
- The life-sustaining wind is responsible for inhaling as well as the clarity of the senses and focus of the mind.
- The ascending wind supports speech, mental capacity and memory.
- The pervading wind supports physical and mental movement as well as opening and closing of valves and sphincters.
- The fire like wind divides the impure and pure parts of the food.
- The downward clearing wind is responsible for the birthing process and holds and expels reproductive fluid, menstruation, urine and feces.
So the wind element in its various physiological forms is responsible for many of our most essential physical and mental processes. Why is this important? Through this ancient medical knowledge of our anatomy and physiology we can discover a precise science of the now widely discussed mind/body connection. The wind, or our energy, is the “invisible” link between our mind and our body. With this profound knowledge of our condition there is a real possibility to deeply understand and tap into the mind/body relationship in a very concrete way.
In the system of Traditional Tibetan Medicine we have an entire classification of pathologies based on this wind element. Some of the general symptoms of disturbed wind include:
- Mood swings
- Memory loss
- Moving pain especially in the lower back, hips and joints.
We understand the causes and conditions, how to diagnose imbalances and how to treat the wind element with diet, lifestyle, herbal formulas and external therapies such as Horme and Tibetan Kunye Massage.
How Does All of This Relate to Yantra Yoga?
Here’s the beautiful thing, Yantra Yoga is a way for us to coordinate this wind element all by ourselves! If we learn Yantra Yoga and commit to a regular practice we can see some incredible results rather quickly. I personally can tend towards insomnia and if I practice Yantra Yoga regularly it is no longer an issue for me.
You see, when practicing Yantra Yoga we are actually tapping into the base of the function of this wind element, our breath. Our breath is the energy of our existence. When it stops, so do we. Each sequence of Yantra Yoga requires governing the movements and breathing with mindfulness, taking complete and natural breaths and moving our body to optimize and coordinate these breaths. This synergy of body, energy and mind is a profound practice to bring ourselves back to our naturally relaxed state. Below you can check out another short video about an excellent DVD available for supporting the practice of Yantra Yoga.
If you are interested in more information on Yantra Yoga you can also visit the international webpage on Yantra Yoga and also check out the recently released practical guide Tibetan Yoga of Movement: The Art and Practice of Yantra Yoga. Yantra Yoga is still a gem to be discovered by most aspiring yogis out there. Feel free to contact us if you are interested to find out about or organize a Yantra Yoga course in your area. Happy breathing everybody!