There is a lot of background to my use of the word “experiments” for this blog. I will explain that in a post. But suffice to say that I have spent over a decade keeping records of the effects of yoga practices and related practices on my physical and mental health. Here is a timeline of some of the key phases of that experimentation.
Spring 2005: Yoga and blood pressure
I started doing yoga in 2005. I was 37 and had just finished my first semester of law school. I was stressed, overweight and drinking a lot. After being diagnosed with high blood pressure, I went online to find if I could do something to avoid taking blood pressure medication. Numerous sites mentioned yoga, losing weight and reducing alcohol would help. I started taking classes at an Iyengar yoga center, and with my focus on yoga came less drinking. Two months later the doctor pronounced my blood pressure under control. I was relieved and also very intrigued by the control I had established over even seemingly autonomous systems in by body.
Fall 2006: Experiments with food
At 38, I had suffered at least 25 years of irritable bowel syndrome. On many nights it was so bad I could not sleep. Part of my drinking came from a simple desire to ignore the pain in my stomach.
In 2005 I read somewhere that these symptoms might be related to a food allergy. So I started logging, in a spreadsheet, everything I ate. I systematically removed items from my diet to determine what foods might be causing my pain. Ultimately I learned that I was lactose intolerant; that I have an allergy to red wine, and that the cumulative effect of too much alcohol over a few days’ time will cause my symptoms to recur. Specifically, although this number has varied since then, at the time if I had more than 6 drinks in a 4-day period, my stomach would start hurting.
Another thing I learned is that simply paying close attention to my food intake caused my eating to become much healthier and more moderate. In the month school year from Fall 2006 to Spring 2007 I lost 30 pounds. At the time I am not sure I knew that this practice was related to yoga. But yoga teaches us not only to consume in moderation (aparigrah), but also to practice swadhyay (self-study and self-improvement through learning) and souch (cleanliness, including consuming only what is good for us). (See Yamas and Niyamas for more on these)
Spring 2006: Experiments with Daily Practice
In spring 2006 I began practicing every day in the morning. I’ve kept it up almost every day since then. In this post, I explain how a particularly stressful two weeks that Spring led me to start my daily practice and how it has become the foundation of my mental and physical fitness and the anchor for my day. The post also lists tips for your own daily practice.
Fall 2006: Experiments with Breath
As I detail in this post, at the end of summer 2006 I realized that asana is not enough and really began my yama and niyama practice along with beginning a serious daily practice of pranayama. As explained in the post, I experienced profound benefits from daily pranayama including improved calm and confidence; better sleep; a solution to a lifelong heart disorder and a new cure for hiccups!