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Yoga and Transcendental Meditation

Yoga and Transcendental Meditation

Photograph

By: Genevieve Naylor

Date: 1962

Source: Corbis Corporation.

About the Photographer: Genevieve Naylor was a photojournalist whose professional career spanned nearly 50 years. Her subject matter ranged from high fashion studio and field location work to coverage of political conflicts and global events for the Associated Press and for several commercial magazines.

INTRODUCTION

Jane Fonda was successfully able to be a proponent of cutting edge fitness and natural healing trends for several decades in America. In this particular case, however, she was somewhat ahead of the curve. She began practicing yoga during the 1960s, at the beginning of the natural health movement, when yoga, the natural and holistic health movements, and various relaxation techniques, such as transcendental meditation, were just beginning to be practiced in the United States. In the early 1990s, after releasing several tremendously successful aerobics and workout videos, Jane Fonda released a yoga practice video which harkened back to her practice of this spiritual, meditative, and healthful discipline some three decades earlier.

The origins of the terminology for yoga practice have been traced to Sanskrit words for the concept of focused attention and concentration upon a concept or practice that is to be applied (not a literal translation). The theoretical roots of the discipline of yoga lie in Indian philosophy, in which it is known as one of the six orthodox philosophical systems. One of the founding texts of the spiritual practice of yoga is the Bhagavad Gita, in which the discipline of yoga is described as a practice in which the individual consciousness is able to attain a connection to the universal consciousness. The modern practice of yoga consists of various poses, or asanas, which are precise and controlled body postures. The overall aim of the asanas is to achieve a state of physical, emotional, and spiritual harmony.

In the medical or rehabilitation context, the practice of therapeutic yoga has been tailored to promote healing from injuries, particularly those involving the skeletal system. Yoga has also become an accepted form of complementary treatment for behavioral health conditions that can benefit from focused and controlled forms of relaxation. The principles of therapeutic yoga incorporate both the physical discipline of traditional yoga postures and the inner, body-mind of contemporary psychotherapy.

Natural or holistic (sometimes called wholistic) health care is based on a philosophical orientation that considers all aspects of the person, and conceptualizes the mind and body as a unified, integrated system. The focus is on the maintenance of wellness and the prevention of disease. Holistic practitioners look at the entire life circumstance of the individual in determining the appropriate regimen, and often suggest very subtle lifestyle changes, such as a dietary shift to include or exclude a certain type of food (for example, the elimination of wheat products from the diet), or the incorporation of a particular practice, such as yoga or meditation, into daily life.

PRIMARY SOURCE

YOGA AND TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION

See primary source image.

SIGNIFICANCE

In addition to the renewed popularity of the practice of yoga, the popularity of holistic and natural medicine practice began to gain recognition in America during the last half of the twentieth century. Various forms of meditation began to grow in popularity as well. Transcendental meditation (also called TM) was one form that gained early notoriety, in part because of its association with the stars of films and the popular music culture.

The basic practice of transcendental meditation involves brief periods of quietly focused attention, also called a state of restful alertness, in which the mind and the body are progressively quieted, achieving a deep state of physical and cognitive relaxation, called transcendental consciousness. Transcendental consciousness is described by TM practitioners as a unique state of consciousness, apart from waking, sleeping, and dreaming. The proponents of transcendental meditation purport that this practice encourages fuller activation of the brain's innate potential, increasing intellectual capacity, productivity, and overall mental and physical wellbeing, leading to a happier, healthier, more fulfilled life experience.

More mainstream practitioners of meditation (not TM), describe it as a discipline that involves the achievement of a state of profound relaxation of the body and mind. For those whose daily routines regularly involve the exercise of meditation, it is generally one part of a cohesive style of living, referred to by many practitioners of Buddhism as mindfulness. There are many varieties of meditation, and the successful practice of any of them has been associated with quantifiable health benefits. Meditation often decreases the subjective experience of stress. The relaxation associated with meditation lowers blood pressure, slows and deepens the breathing rate, and decreases the heart rate. Other measurable physiological changes associated with meditative states include some lowering of cortisol and lactate levels in the blood, lowered muscle tension, and often, increased serotonin production, which helps stabilize or improves mood.

There are also myriad emotional and psychological health benefits associated with the practice of meditation, such as improvement in overall mood, decreased experience of anxiety, depression, and emotional lability, diminished irritability, diminished experience of chronic (or temporary, such as postoperative) pain, increased focus and concentration abilities, enhanced receptivity to knowledge acquisition and learning, increased feelings of happiness and well-being, and increased experience (and objective expression, quite often) of creativity.

Therapeutic yoga, a less-intense form of yoga that focuses primarily on breathing techniques that help increase lung capacity and reduce stress, is the subject of several ongoing clinical studies sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. Results so far indicate that therapeutic yoga, practiced regularly and involving a variety of postures, deep breathing, and meditation exercises, can provide some relief for people with asthma, insomnia, chronic back pain, arthritis, and some obsessive compulsive/anxiety disorders, among other conditions. Other studies are examining potential benefits of yoga in persons with diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

FURTHER RESOURCES

Books

Kessel, Frank. Patricia L. Rosenfield, and Norman B. Anderson, eds. Expanding the Boundaries of Health and Social Science: Case Studies in Interdisciplinary Innovation. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Mitchell, Stephen. Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 2000.

Web sites

The Transcendental Meditation Program. "The TM Program at a Glance." 〈http://www.tm.org/discover/glance/index.html〉 (accessed January 16, 2006).

Yoga, Health & Fitness. "Hatha Yoga Styles-Types of Hatha Yoga-Yoga Information." 〈http://www.yoga-for-health-and-fitness.com/yoga-styles.htm〉 (accessed January 16, 2006).

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