by Michael Ketterhagen
“Exercising properly involves engaging in the right kind of exercise, in the right proportion, at the right time,” says Pandit Rajmani.
Isn’t exercise, no matter what kind it is, always appropriate? Not if you want to be able to meditate, says Pandit Rajmani. In order to prepare ourselves for the movement inward to connect with our core self, we must choose an exercise that makes the body flexible and supple and relaxes the nervous system. Extreme physical exercise, even running, often stiffens the body and triggers adrenaline, which is a stress chemical that prepares one to fight danger or run from it. This fight-or-flight body response throws the body’s limbs, organs and systems, especially the nervous system, out of balance.
So, what is a proper exercise? It is an exercise that allows the breath to flow smoothly, continuously, and evenly; that is, that allows for a seamless, effortless diaphragmatic breathing pattern. Yoga, t’ai chi, qi gong, and walking are the most common exercises that permit one to establish that necessary bodily balance. Each of these practices can gently open up the body, free the mind and establish an avenue to touch the deepest parts of ourselves. They enhance our diaphragmatic breathing.
Exercises that strengthen the abdominal muscles and bring rhythm to the diaphragm are important. This means core muscle strengthening is crucial to the health and well-being of the person seeking a deeper relationship with one’s spiritual self.
Why? Because we need to prepare the body to sit with stability and comfort (sthira sukham) for longer and longer periods of time with our head, neck and trunk in alignment in meditation in order to access our internal wisdom; namely, in order to enjoy the deep non-physical, non-rational spiritual dimension of our being. Two helpful yogic practices for this work are agni sara, which energizes the entire the abdominal region, and bhastika pranayama, which expands and enhances the functioning of the lungs. Of course, they must be done in moderation.
The proper time to do both of these is on an empty stomach and often after a period of relaxation or sleep, while the proper proportion for doing these practices is when our breathing remains smooth, continuous, even, deep and quiet after doing them. When it comes to any exercise, like t’ai chi, qi gong, or all other yoga asanas, is before eating or two hours after, whether that be in the morning after waking, in the afternoon before dinner or shortly before going to bed at night.
Remember, in the yoga world, “proper (yukta)” means “connecting with our inner self,” not doing anything that would pull us from the opportunity to experience our divine essence.
I pray to the divinity in you!