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Ashtanga Yoga: Exercise and Meditation Combined


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#1 ocsrazor

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Posted 15 November 2004 - 09:53 PM


I have meaning to say something to this board for a while about Ashtanga Yoga as a very powerful tool for enhanced energy, focused concentration, and mental function. I have been experimenting on myself with a variety of different types of exercise for a while to see the effects on my general energy levels and mental function were. I have been a personal trainer, a martial arts instructor, and a serious amateur athlete in a number of sports and I have never found anything with as profound effect as this type of yoga practice on my mental abilities.

In short, this is a form of yoga which is a moving meditation. It consists of a series of progressively more difficult postures in which one maintains a deep, evenly paced breath throughout. It teaches you to remain absolutely calm in difficult situations. The other benefits of this type of practice are greatly enhanced oxygen uptake (which could be one of the reasons for enhanced cognition), a lean, toned body, and the obvious - greatly increased flexibility.

Just as a background on where I was starting from - I have never had any problem with shortage of intelligence, but I have had a lifelong problem with focus. I have noticed remarkable differences in my ability to concentrate as I have practiced Ashtanga regularly.

I also have noted a very strange but not unpleasant occasional time slowing effect, in which the world around me seems to move in slow motion. I'm curious if athletes or meditators have reported this effect previously. I'm familiar with 'the zone' effect that is common in athletes, but this seems to be something different.

Best,
Peter

#2

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Posted 16 November 2004 - 12:57 AM

It sounds like something that can be loosely replicated through the ingestion of supplements and nootropics. However not to the great extent you describe through this physical technique.

The ability of a person to control their normally unconscious functions seems to be generally understated.

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#3 unipolar_mania

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Posted 16 November 2004 - 01:50 AM

Can you provide me with a double-blind controlled clinical study that indicates Ashtanga Yoga has a cognitive enhancing effect? I had a look myself, but could not obtain one.

#4 scottl

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Posted 16 November 2004 - 03:29 AM

Ocsrazor,

I do pilates, yoga and lifting but had been prioritizing lifting. Thanks for the reminder of the benefits of yoga, I really need to put more energy into my practice.

The physical and mental benefits of consistent yoga practice are considerable. Unipolar you will find studies listing many benefits of yoga, but probably not cognitive enhancement. On the other hand, his claim of increased concentration/focus is likely from what I know, and really what I seek.

People do need to know that ashtanga which he practices, and iyengar which I've worked with for over a year are not warm and fuzzy kinds of yoga. To quote from the description of a yoga workshop I'm going to take at Esalen in Jan:

"Discomfort is normal in the yoga room; beginners should know this. Discomfort is completely natural as the patterns in the body, mind, and emotions are addressed. The old paradigm is shifting and the practice of yoga assists in making necessary changes."


BTW Ocsrazor I have an undergrad degree in bioengineering with an EE minor (Penn) and used to live off north Druid hills road.

#5 ocsrazor

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Posted 16 November 2004 - 10:25 PM

Unipolar, the studies have not been done and are unlikely to be done soon because the study would be difficult and time consuming. If I stay in academia this is something I might explore at a later date. Studies of Zen meditators and Buddhist monks are just beginning to be carried out using EEG and are very convincing. I was simply offering my personal experience, not an outright claim based on a research study. This might not work for everyone, but I have a strong suspicion it would for anyone who practiced seriously.

I am a professional scientist, neuroscience and neuroengineering are my primary specialties, so I think I have some capacity to be objective in my observations. I can be sure about the increased oxygen uptake from my own heart rate and work capacity changes, which is certainly leading to increased blood flow to the brain (this has been shown in many studies of athletics).

I also work in one of the most intellectually challenging fields in science (which has elements of electrical engineering, computer science, biophysics, as well as neurobiolgy) so I notice on a day to day basis how my mental function is because I am maximally challenged almost every day. On days I practice in the morning my mental performance is far superior to those on days which I do not. Like I said, personal observation, but pretty convincing to me. Other forms of exercise do not seem to produce the same results for me, but if one were to perform any strenuous physical activity with the same type of focus, breath control, and body awareness you might achieve similar effects.

Left the ATL eh Scott? I am focusing mostly on electrical engineering classes here, there really isnt a curriculum developed for neuroengineering, so I have had to make it up as I went along. BTW, I hope that person you quoted differentiates discomfort from pain. There are too many people out there who push beyond their bodily limits into injury. This shouldn't be encouraged.

Best,
Peter

#6 DJS

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Posted 17 November 2004 - 01:26 AM

Peter, do you mind me asking what your undergrad major was and also what your underllying reason for getting into neuro science was? Sorry if I'm hijacking the thread a bit... :)

Also, I find this yoga discussion interesting, although somewhat intimidating since I have never attempted yoga in my entire life. Something to consider since I also desire greater focus.

#7 ocsrazor

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Posted 17 November 2004 - 03:18 AM

My undergrad was microbiology with a chemistry minor Don, my MS is in cell and molecular biology with a focus in neuroscience. For me neuroscience is one of the last great frontiers for human understanding. The brain is the most complex physical system we have yet encountered, understanding its operation will give us unprecented opportunities to change the human condition and expand our understanding of the universe to a phenomenal degree.

BTW, on a more philosophical bent, I see yoga as a great tool for understanding the operation of your own mind because it forces you to really watch your habitual reactions to situations and try to overcome them. Find a good instructor who you are comfortable with if you are going to practice Don. Like any field, there are bad yoga instructors and systems which are not particularly beneficial and filled with ridiculous crap which is completely unnecessary for a good practice. If you want me to recommend someone in your area just ask - there is a pretty tight community across the US.

Best,
Peter

#8 scottl

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Posted 17 November 2004 - 05:02 AM

Peter,

I have not yet met him, but the iyengar teachers I have worked with here in Pittsburgh do make it important to distinguish discomfort from pain. I posted that comment because anyone walking in to an iyengar class, or an ashtanga class expecting warm and fuzzy yoga will be unpleasantly surprised (keep in mind that not everyone on this board is....as active as you are or have been). The benefeits are trememdous, as long as you have some idea of what to expect along the way.

I was only in Atlanta for about a year in...'91 or '92.

I've love to find out more about your field of study, although I couldn't solve a differential equation now to save my life. After the BSE came an MD and now I'm interested in various flavors of...alternative medicine and eastern spirituality.


Don,

A few thoughts:

Please correct me if I am wrong Peter

1. Please notice Peter's background of training and athletics. If you are e.g. sedentary, ashtanga may not be a good place to start with yoga

2. "although somewhat intimidating since I have never attempted yoga in my entire life"

I was completely inactive till...a bunch of years ago when I took up pilates and then much later weightlifting and yoga. Not a bad order, but there is no need to do the pilates or lifting.

If you are comitted to giving yoga a chance, then realize that you it may take a while to get the hang of it and commit to at least e.g. 6 group classes e.g. 1 week apart. If you do that you may start to see some of the benefits Peter talked about. It may take longer, but that should give you some idea. If you feel lost, or over your head in those 6 weeks, just hang in there.

Ever do any stretching? That is the kind of discomfort i'm talking about in yoga.

#9 geigertube

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Posted 19 November 2004 - 04:15 PM

If you want me to recommend someone in your area just ask - there is a pretty tight community across the US.

Best,
Peter



Peter,

It might be a while before I have the time/money for it, but could you recommend one in the Kansas City area?

Regards,

Steven

#10 DJS

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Posted 19 November 2004 - 05:46 PM

Hey Scott,

1. Please notice Peter's background of training and athletics.  If you are e.g. sedentary, ashtanga may not be a good place to start with yoga


I'm physically fit and I exercise regularly, though committing to weight training is on my "to do" list. :)

I was completely inactive till...a bunch of years ago when I took up pilates and then much later weightlifting and yoga.  Not a bad order, but there is no need to do the pilates or lifting.

If you are comitted to giving yoga a chance, then realize that you it may take a while to get the hang of it and commit to at least e.g. 6 group classes e.g. 1 week apart.  If you do that you may start to see some of the benefits Peter talked about.  It may take longer, but that should give you some idea.  If you feel lost, or over your head in those 6 weeks, just hang in there.

Ever do any stretching?  That is the kind of discomfort i'm talking  about in yoga.


Err, I'm not very flexible -- and I just took a look at some of the Ashtanga web sites -- looks painful. How exactly does that guy get his leg up there like that... [:o] [lol] I'm guessing there are different difficulty levels for different kinds of yoga, so maybe something a little more "beginner level" would be appropriate for me.

I've been running 2-3 miles per day for about 6 months now and have noticed heightened concentration and energy levels. Would the effects of a yoga regiment be similar or different? If different, then in what way?

#11 eternaltraveler

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Posted 20 November 2004 - 05:13 AM

I am very physically active. I am currently training for an Iron man triathlon as a matter of fact. Most of my other physcial activies are as a result on hold.

Peter I can relate to that time slowing effect you speak about. Not in yoga, but in martial arts (which are very related so it makes sense). I've trained in various martial arts for 15 years now. The highlight of that was training for 4 months in the Shaolin temple in china.

Martial arts greatly helps with my focus. I haven't done any of it in the last 4 months due to the Iron man training and I definitly notice a decrease in focus.

I would be interested in trying out ashtanga yoga in the future. I'm not terribly far from Boulder Co. so I imagine that it won't be too hard to find a place.

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#12 eternaltraveler

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Posted 20 November 2004 - 05:16 AM

Don: In reference to your running 2-3 miles a day I would say that from my experience (I run from 4-8 miles right now on workout days) running is not the same as martial arts, or yoga if I may be so bold as to connect them.

Martial arts and Yoga are very focused excercises, you are focusing on what you are doing, on every muscle fiber. So in effect it is a mental workout as well as a physical one. Running is pretty mindless.

So I would say that is the primary difference. Though there may be more.




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