“Stress that we create with our thoughts affects the circulatory system and can cause spasms in the body. Our prana or life force is disturbed,” explained Rajashree Choudhury at a Bikram Yoga seminar she led early last month at Funky Door Yoga in Berkeley. Rajashree is Bikram’s wife. Where Bikram forcefully urges you to push through fears and doubts (“I don’t sell cheesecake, I sell truth,” he says), Rajashree takes a more subtle approach. Her method of motivation, while strong, is more compassionate than Bikram’s. It’s common to hear Bikram scream in a yoga class, “you’ve got to kill yourself,” where Rajashree might add, “kill yourself with kindness.”

Rajashree began by asking us, “Do you feel good? You might look good, but do you feel good? Emotions are the difference. You can balance emotions with yoga. Every emotion has a body part. When you feel the pain, don’t run away. Change is happening. The pain is releasing the emotion.” She went on to say, that whatever you are feeling, you will find it in the yoga room.

Rajashree in her role as a yoga therapist, helps conduct clinical research with the medical industry. She was excited to share information about research on the impact of full cobra posture on depression. Results so far indicate that doing full cobra five times a week for one month, decreases depression! Other studies have shown that yoga can help prevent colds and osteoporosis.

During class, Rajashree emphasized the four important spinal strengthening poses in the floor series. “These four affect blood pressure. Make sure that you compress the kidneys and more important the adrenals to get the benefit of regulating blood pressure. If the adrenals are plugged up, it can cause hypertension which will later affect the heart and eventual long term heart failure,” she stated.

Rajashree continued to explain what each pose does and the specific benefit each provides.

  • Pranayama breathing opens the capillaries so that we can breathe properly in class.
  • Awkward pose helps relieve arthritis in knees, hips and ankles.
  • Standing Head-to-Knee, Bow-Pulling, and Balancing Stick poses all work the nervous, circulatory, and cardiopulmonary systems simultaneously.
  • Triangle pose works your endocrine system which balances your hormonal system.
  • Wind Removing pose helps regulate the amount of acid in the digestive system, helping to prevent many problems, including migraines.
  • Fixed Firm pose impacts the autoimmune system and helps with metabolic disorders like graves disease, lupus, and MS, diseases that cause muscle fatigue, swelling in the joints and the synovial fluid to dry up.
  • Half-Tortoise pose which puts the head lower than the heart creates pressure and good circulation in the cranial area recharging the brain and the face at a cellular level.
  • Separate Leg Stretching pose helps resolve blood sugar problems. (Tip: Keep your hips down when doing the pose to impact the pancreatic glands.)
  • Camel pose (one of the most challenging poses for new students) affects the physical and emotional body (areas of the body where we hold emotions or feelings.)
  • Spine Twisting pose rings out the spinal cord and brings tranquility to the whole body by providing nourishment to all the nerves.
  • Both camel and spine twisting poses are good for hernias and the prostate gland. (Spine Twisting pose encourages the body to stay tall and full of vitality.)

The list of benefits goes on.

Even after doing the yoga for almost ten years, I continue to learn. I believe that as we shift in the body and the mind, we open up and become ready to take in even more of the benefits the poses bring. It is endless. It is perfectly paced. It is humbling. And, it’s prepared for us already: no need to reinvent.

Rajashree ended the seminar by having each of us introduce ourselves and giving us a moment to say a sentence or two about what the yoga has meant to us. With about 100 of us in the room, it was absolutely amazing to hear stories of how Bikram Yoga, “helped me recover from breast cancer,” “they said I would never walk again,” “my dad died and this helped me a lot,” “I am more patient,” “every day I feel progress,” and “life is beautiful.”

“This yoga is a journey, a voyage. It helps us live a wonderful life. Our journey is coming to know what is life and what is death,” Rajashree shared joyously after hearing these powerful experiences shared.

Yoga has become more mainstream because its benefits are so tangible. If you are reading this, then you most likely are aware of the impact yoga has had on millions of people, including yourself, co-workers, friends and family. I enjoy hearing the most unlikely people acknowledging how stretching makes them feel better or how paying attention to the breath calms the mind. It’s simple. Stretch. Breathe. I recall an episode on Larry King with guest Dr. Andrew Weil. The show was devoted to his book, Healthy Aging. At the end of the show, Larry asked Dr. Weil if he would share just one thing with the audience that we can all do to maintain good health. Dr. Weil said, “yes, learn how to breathe.”