Monday, July 30, 2012

Sedentary life and yoga

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One of the biggest problems I face, while dealing with students, is the quality of tamas.. am going to harp on this for the next few days,because of all the three qualities this is the toughest to crack.. it resists change, simply because that its is first nature -- to resist change. As a teacher, this is an issue, for sure. When students come to class and hope that you will change their life, but will themselves not bestir themselves. That is where, I believe, I am a bit different from other teachers, in that I am kick-ass. This gets me more brickbats than bouquets.. but then, this is yoga. And in yoga tamas is not a favored quality!!
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Here is what I wrote, years ago, on a column on yoga for India Abroad, about the dangers of sedentary life:

Dangers of sedentary life

Whenever we hold the body in  one pose for long, as for those with sedentary life-styles, we create what is called static muscle loading. This brakes the free flow of blood to the region, creating an internal road block of sorts. This causes the blood vessels towards this region to contract, affecting transport of energy, nutrients and oxygen. Starved of essentials this body part protests with pain, such as that of shoulders, neck, wrists elbows, and new age problems like carpel tunnel syndrome, repetitive stress injury, etc. Often the victims never realize that it is the passive nature of jobs that is spawning these problems since the pain usually erupts later, when they are resting.

Why do bones collapse or weaken? Bone density is the key here. Only when the surrounding muscles around a bone are thoroughly worked does the bone become dense.  It needs the activity of the muscle for its own growth. A bone is not a dead thing. It is a live factory and storehouse, creating blood cells and storing minerals like calcium and phosphate. But when the muscles around it remain unchallenged for long, as happens with those with passive life-styles, the bone becomes porous and weak. Wrists, hips are the most prone to such fractures. Operations that are done to prop up this weak link can only be cosmetic touch-ups. The strength has to come from within.

A passive life-style encourages slow metabolism, since physical demands on energy are low. A slow metabolism has several disastrous consequences, including weight gain. It also impacts the lymphatic system, responsible for our immunity from diseases and the filtering of toxins out of our body. Now do you wonder that sitting in one place can actually make you weak, lethargic and tired.
If channel-zapping or staring at the computer is all the exercise we provide to our eyes, is it any surprise that increasingly younger people are resorting to spectacles?  When we play a demanding game of badminton or Frisbee, it is not only our limbs and heart which get a thorough work-out but also the entire optic system, including its nerve links and musculature. Staring at a screen, be it the computer or  television, does not work out the internal muscles which hold our eyeballs suspended in the sockets.

It is simple logic that a muscle which is unused becomes flaccid and ineffective. The flickering of light on television is supposed to affect the hormone melatonin, involved with sleep and aging. Those who stare at computer screens face an even more acute problem: they blink less, as high as 60 per cent less, than normal. This causes dryness of the eyes, affecting sight and creating attendant problems like tiredness and headaches, from straining.
The famous Alexander technique, which uses postural realignments as therapy, believes sedentary jobs aggravate stress. When we hunch forward to stare at the computer screen, we bend our necks forward.  This forward leaning motion triggers the primary control region in the torso, from the neck to upper shoulder. The tension, though not actively experienced, is nevertheless similar to someone who is on the verge of running.  Though we are not conscious of it, this triggers the flow of the flight or fight stress hormone, adrenaline and cortisol. Even though there is no physical threat, since our bodies have taken that posture, our biological body responds to it as if there was an actual threat. So, we suffer all the ill-effects of stress overload.

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