Many meditation practitioners and people looking for alternatives to modern medicine are interested in the ancient practice of shamanism. The term shaman comes from Siberia and means “the one who knows” (from the verb sha, “to know”). Shamanism is found in Latin America (Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Brazil and Ecuador), among hunter-gatherer societies in Asia, Africa, Oceania, and in some prehistoric cultures in Europe.
A shaman is someone who sees beyond their limits and does not identify with the personal “I.” They direct their inner worlds and their freedom lies in their detachment from dogma. So, shamans are able to heal themselves and others by knowing their own depth and richness.
Are we capable of performing actual healing on ourselves? Are we healers and shamans without realizing it?
As Above, So Below. As Within, So Without
Usually, when tensions, worries and stresses become chronic, they manifest as illness in the physical body. We externalize countless emotional tensions, conflicts and mental doubts. So, it is a matter of a mental, not physical attitude.
Psychological pressures and constant worries have unfortunate consequences on our energetic structures. We may suffer from panic attacks, pain, and moments of depression as if we were mentally bungee jumping. Sometimes, these episodes can go on for weeks without us quite noticing.
Sometimes, we just feel tired when we shouldn’t.
We are on autopilot. Our activities, relationships and place in the world start to overwhelm us. So, we withdraw into the desire to get rid of this feeling and we start making the wrong decisions. This is why we get stuck in unhealthy interactions, in toxic routines, and other off behaviors.
I started to practice yoga on a daily basis for this very reason. I wanted to heal and go deeper into myself and discover the unknown abilities hidden beneath rusty beliefs.
The Case of Back Pain
Last March, the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention informed doctors that they should stop prescribing opioids for chronic pain and, instead, evaluate other, less invasive alternatives—especially for chronic back pain. Moreover, a recent experiment reported that 43.6% of people who participated in a mindfulness training course that included meditation and yoga practices presented a meaningful reduction in back pain 26 weeks later.
Referring to back pain, author Daniel Cherking, a senior investigator at the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, Washington said that, “The biggest revolution has been the understanding that it’s not just a physical problem with physical solutions. It’s a bio-physiological problem.”
According to the New York Times, 6.5 million Americans currently suffer from chronic lower back pain. However, most of them don’t have access to alternative treatments such as therapeutic meditation because they are not included in most insurance plans. (Hint: it’s a good option just to try these techniques at home.)
We don’t have many options to run away from pharmaceuticals, either. When talking about mental disorders, psychiatric treatments are recommended. But why do we need to take pills? I think this is extreme when we are facing the real issues of being human. But this is just my opinion. I think that the psychiatric pharmaceutical industry works in very few specific cases.
There are many studies about the effects of meditation on the body and the emotions. Transcendental Meditation (TM), for example, is one of the more researched meditation techniques. Over 200 published scientific studies show that this technique reduces stress, boosts learning ability and creativity, and improves brain function.
Herbert Benson, M.D. from Harvard Medical School conducted extensive studies on TM and observed that the electroencephalograph (EEG) showed increased alpha wave activity, indicating greater tranquility of mind. His team also observed a decrease in heartbeat and a 20% decrease in oxygen consumption. There was also a marked increase in skin resistance.
Vipassana meditation is a technique that emerged in India 2500 years ago and has been studied at Harvard, Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. These studies suggest that meditation can actually alter the structure of our brains (this is an expression in the physical body of what Patanjali called nirodhaparinama).
The Tibetan, Buddhist and Zen traditions all teach mindfulness techniques. In a recent study on the benefits of meditation, researchers found meditation to be as effective a treatment for depression, pain and anxiety as medication. This study, in particular, is remarkable because it analyzed data from 18,000 earlier papers on the topic. The most interesting fact revealed by this study was that, in the United States, the average effect of antidepressants is the same as for meditation. Are we onto something here?
Emotional Healing on the Mat
There are many ways to support healing on both the mental and physical levels that don’t involve using pills. I think it’s good to keep unveiling other paths beside those we have been taught by tradition and education.
After most of my hatha yoga practices, I find myself trying to answer this question: How can I heal myself without an outside influence? How can I feel better without depending on others?
The Alchemy of the Body
In the practice of hatha yoga,ancient wisdom and asanas go hand in hand. Physical movement should be performed with the inner spiritual attitudes recommended in the traditional texts of Tantra and Shaivism such as Vijnana BhairavaTantra, Spanda Karika and Shiva Sutra.
According to these teachings, the practice of yoga is oriented towards gaining intimate inner knowledge of the physical body, of its nature. A single practice may help us create the conditions for relaxation and for opening up to realize the alchemy of the body itself.
During the practice, we should experience happiness rather than effort and strain. Every pose should be an inner massage, a nice place to rest, meditate and observe.
Tip: Yes, when we think we are making a funny face during class, we are. When we laugh at it, our entire face—in fact, our entire body—will just relax.
The point is that we have an awesome, smart and hyper-connected body that can actually be the channel for the most powerful energies of life. We are life itself, but we sometimes forget about our true nature. How can we blame ourselves? There are so many screens to look at!
In my learning process as a beginner in hatha yoga, I feel like I’m a channel through which energy flows. The point is to learn how to dance with this inner fire, which is always latent and silent in our hearts. This is known as sama rasa in the Siddha Yoga tradition, a concept that inspires the practice of Hridaya Yoga and means balancing or “even essence.” This is the condition in which the physical body expresses, at each level, our divine perfection—our true nature.
10 Proven Ways that Yoga is Medicine
How can we actually heal ourselves during our personal yoga practice? Here is a quick guide with 10 tips to try this different type of medicine and incorporate meditation in the asana practice:
Openness is the keyword. To experience a state of the transfiguration of the body, which means transforming the mind (and body) as you become free of your attachments to it, it’s important to let go of the idea of a strictly material, solid, heavy body subject to inertia, and keep it profoundly relaxed. See yourself from above.
Detach from the physical body. You are aware that you are more than this body so you don’t identify yourself with it, it doesn’t represent who you really are.
Breathe deeply as if you were lighting a fire inside your chest. With each inhalation, become aware of the fire and with each exhalation ignite it more and more.
You can begin to practice nirmana kaya (also called the “original body” or “natural body”), which is like the physical body when you wake up and open the eyes with freshness and novelty.
Let your mind come down to the heart, feeling the intimacy of coming back home, the connection to a deeper dimension of your being.
Start each asana with awareness, moving slowly, coming to a comfortable, steady position and finding the balance between effort and relaxation. Remember that there’s nothing to achieve, you are just witnessing.
After gradually coming into the asana, you may start to practice kaya sthairyam, the immobility of the body, remembering that the stillness of the body induces the stillness of the mind.
Acknowledge the universal essence of the energies running through your body. That tingling that starts at the tip of your fingers and toes is pure electricity! It is the dynamism of the life force or samsara.
If the posture causes inherent tension, try to accept that tension with detachment. Relax even in the most challenging moments and become an instrument of all the divine qualities that manifest through you: love, compassion, creativity, courage and joy.
For better results, whenever possible try to perform the asanas with your eyes closed.
Nothing in the practice should be rigidly planned. It is more of a heartfelt, creative act, a joyful endeavor, a true celebration of life. Whenever we feel tension, we can breathe in deeply and direct the oxygen to the specific area of contraction, releasing strain by watching—not imagining—and revealing an ever-deeper state of relaxation.
Asanas reflect our personality. Our transformation begins with the very attitude we have when we start a posture. If we infuse elegance, harmony, surrender and refinement into the practice, yoga becomes a way of generating such qualities in our whole life. This is the alchemy of the body: the more we inhabit it, the more we can allow the current of life to run through us, removing blockages. Gradually, a love affair starts to grow between who we really are (without any masks, traumas or fears) and the world around us. We are no longer in the prison of dogma.
Stop Being So Religious What Do sad people have in Common? It seems They have all built a shrine To the past And often go there And do a strange wail and Worship. What is the beginning of happiness? It is to stop being So religious Like That.