Tuesday 19 July 2016

Yogic Morning Routine & Cold Showers (Ishnaan)

Just as yoga is not just a physical exercise system intended to keep the body healthy and vital, practicing yoga is not just about coming to classes once or twice a week, not even about having a daily practice. Yoga is a way of life. There are yogic teachings for every aspect of life, ranging from dietary advice and tips to take care of your hair to teachings on how to get up in the morning and how to go to bed at night so that you can be your most vital self during the day. Integrating this yogic science into your daily life will help you to be more effective and efficient and it will assist you on your path to awareness.

The following morning routine can help adjust the body upon awakening. It will adjust the spine, navel point and nervous system, so that you will feel more alert and ready for the day. And it only takes a few minutes.

Traditionally, yogis and Sikhs alike will rise before dawn during the amrit vela (the ambrosial hours), yet this routine can be done any other time of the morning as well.

While still in bed, first turn onto your back. With the eyes still closed, bring the hands to the face and begin stroking the face with your hands. Then gently open your eyes into the hands. Slowly lift the hands away from the face, keeping the eyes open so you can adjust them to the light in the room. Massage the face. Next, stretch your arms overhead as this will help to channel the magnetic energy of the earth, point the toes, and do a Cat Stretch. Cat Stretch is a diagonal stretch where you bring one bent leg across the other. To come into Cat Stretch, place the right foot on the left knee, then let the right leg drop across the left leg and turn your head to the right hand side, in effect twisting your spine. Your arms are stretched out sideways and you feel the stretch in your armpits. Then repeat the exercise on the other side. This stretches and wakes up the spine and gives room to the kidneys.
After that, do Stretch Pose to set the Navel Point. For Stretch Pose, you lie on your back with the feet together. Flatten the lower back into your mattress or futon (I personally have started sleeping on a futon and feel the benefits for my back). You can either have your arms stretched out at the sides, with the palms facing the thighs alongside the body, or have your hands over the thighs, palms down. If your lower back comes off the floor (or mattress in this case) during Stretch Pose, place your hands underneath the back of your buttocks for extra support. Now lift the head up by lifting up the heart, apply Neck Lock, look at the toes and then lift your feet up 6 inches (15 centimetres). Either breathe long and deep, or engage in Breath of Fire, for 1 to 3 minutes. Do not bend the knees during Stretch Pose.

Next, turn onto the right side and pull the knees to the chest for a moment. This will strengthen the heart. Return onto the back and pull the knees to the chest with the nose up between the knees. Lock your hands around the legs and again do Breath of Fire for about one minute, then roll up into Rock Pose (sitting on your heels). Bring the forehead down to the mattress for a moment and relax, breathing normally. This posture helps eliminate gas. Lie back down on your back and rub the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet rapidly together. This breaks up crystal deposits that build up in the nerve endings, thus allowing the energy to flow freely through the body. Now you are ready to get out of bed and head for the bathroom. Do this barefoot.

Once you are in the bathroom, first relieve yourself. Then brush your teeth and gums with a powder of 1 part salt and 2 parts potassium alum (potassium alum mixture is effective for preventing gum disease). Also brush the tongue, including the root of the tongue, to remove toxins. Brushing the back of the tongue will make you gag, and the alum and salt mixture will pull out mucus and bacteria that have accumulated overnight in the monkey glands. These monkey glands are two pockets in the throat which contain a mucus that collects in the throat at night and gathers toxins from the body. This mucus must be expelled before you drink anything, to prevent it from going into the intestines and causing diseases. The gagging reflex also causes the eyes to water, thus helping to maintain good vision and to prevent cataracts. Then drink at least one glass of spring water to neutralise and ground yourself. (If you are a Sikh, you can wait with drinking water until after your Nitnem (prayers).)

Now you can get ready for your cold shower (ishnaan or hydrotherapy).

I will first explain the benefits and science of hydrotherapy, so you can understand why you would want to put yourself through what on first reading might seem an agonising experience, first thing in the morning. Then I will describe how to take a cold shower (as you wouldn't just stand full body underneath the ice cold water).

The science of hydrotherapy has been known since ancient times, and while warm (never hot, if you want to preserve your health and youth) showers can be used at other times of the day, a brief cold shower in the morning is the healthiest and most efficient way to start your day. Cold showers have a wide range of benefits: they keep your skin radiant, open up the capillaries, flush the organs of toxins, keep the blood chemistry young and healthy, stimulate the healthy secretion of the glandular system and strengthen the entire nervous system. They also strengthen the 8th chakra - the aura - which is your protective and projective shield. On top of all that, cold showers really wake you up in the morning - you will not need any coffee after a cold shower - and they give you a lot of mental strength. If you can put yourself voluntarily through a cold shower in the morning, nothing coming across your path during the day will be able to stop you. And once you have had your first cold shower experience, you will be hooked: a warm shower just cannot give that same feeling of being alive and feeling your blood rush all throughout your body.

The science of hydrotherapy is very precise and sophisticated, and very simple at the same time. If you let the cold water fall just below the lower lip for 10 to 15 minutes, your mind will become very bright and clear. Letting the water fall between the eyebrows and the upper lip will energise you. Do not let the water hit the forehead, as this will make you extremely sleepy. Also don't keep your head underneath the ice cold water and don't wash your hair with ice cold water as it closes off your crown chakra (dasam duaar). (Briefly rinsing after washing with cold water is okay and can prevent hair loss.) If you massage the upper arm, you are curing your stomach. The part from your elbow to about 2 inches (5 centimetres) above your wrist corresponds to your digestive tract, while the part from 2 inches above the wrist to the wrist corresponds to your heart. The wrist itself corresponds to your liver, and the fingertips correspond to your brain. If you put the water on the front of your neck and let it run down your entire body and over your hands, you will change all your cells. If you let the water hit your chest and let it run all the way down to your genitals and then stay under it for a while, you are totally changing the chemistry of the blood from unhealthy to healthy. If you let the water hit your feet and massage the right foot with the left foot, and the left foot with the right foot, you are actually massaging your entire body.

Before you go into the shower, you may first want to massage the body from head to toe with a pure oil. This brings the toxins out through the open pores and nourishes the skin. (Almond oil is preferred for its high mineral content, but it is very warming and so better suited for winters. It is also quite heavy on the liver. You can also use any other pure type of oil, such as coconut oil - ideal for summers as it is cooling to the body - , sesame oil - not the roasted sesame oil or you'll smell all day - , avocado oil, jojoba oil, ...)

Get under the cold shower (use ice cold water, not lukewarm water), but do not simply go and stand underneath, just begin with the outer extremities: first hands, then feet, then arms, then legs. The thighs should not go under the water first, as that would disturb the calcium-magnesium balance, and we highly recommend wearing mid-thigh or knee-length cotton shorts under a cold shower to protect the sexual organs and the femur bone in the thighs - for Sikhs, kasheray are a natural protection. Do not put your head under the water either (see above). 

There are some contraindications to be mentioned: do not take cold showers when you have a fever, rheumatism or heart disease. Women should not take a cold shower during pregnancy or menstruation. If there are problems with the sciatic nerve or high blood pressure, make sure you start slowly.

Massage yourself as you move in and out from the cold water. Pay special attention to the lymph nodes under the armpits, as it will help to prevent colds. Women should also pay extra attention to their breasts: massaging them in a cold shower on a daily basis will keep circulation strong and acts as a preventative against breast cancer. Everywhere the cold water hits your body, the blood will rush to the surface to meet the challenge. All the capillaries will open up, causing deposits and toxins to be cleansed out. The whole body will be cleansed from the inside out. When the capillaries return to normal, the blood supply goes back to the organs, and as each organ has its own blood supply, having a cold shower flushes all the organs clean. This in turn has an effect on the glandular system: the glands now immediately have to change their secretion. The glands are the guardians of your health, and when they change their secretion, youth returns. Also, everywhere you massage your body, rebuilding will occur and the psyche of each cell of the body will be reconstructed.

Chanting a mantra under the shower may help you keep going. You will feel the cold, but if you keep at it long enough, the capillaries will open up to the maximum and the body will stop feeling the cold, as it meets the cold by its own circulatory power. You will be ready to come out once the body feels warm from the inside and you do not feel the cold of the cold water anymore - for some this will be 1-2 minutes, for some up to 5 minutes or longer. (Throughout your cold shower you can keep massaging yourself and going in and out of the water, letting the water constantly hit other parts of your body.)  Towel yourself dry, rubbing the skin briskly, put on warm clothes (cotton would be the best choice) and if needed put a blanket around you. You are now ready to start your day...