Yoga and Oriental Medicine
By Alex Berks

Yoga has been practiced in the Orient for over 5,000 years. Patanjali compiled and reformulated the Yoga philosophy that was handed down from India's most illustrious age. In his Sutras or "threads" he expounded upon the many aspects of Yoga; spiritual discipline and meditation techniques, which enable a person to achieve the highest state of human Oneness with God and Everlasting joy. Spurned on by the propagation of Buddhism in China, this "special knowledge" rapidly spread across the Himalayas. The Chinese were greatly influenced by the knowledge from India, and they used the knowledge to enhance their own native practices of Tai Qi, Qi Gong, and Taoist Yoga. All of these disciplines are comprised of exercises formatted to increase longevity and open the meridian system, thereby preventing disease.
How do Yoga and the Meridian System work together?
The initial step in maintaining optimal health is releasing musculo-skeletal holding patterns, which are intimately related to more internal physical conditions and their accompanying mental symptoms. While Acupuncture is primarily used for the treatment of specific diseases and disharmonies by unblocking stagnation in the organs and meridians, Yoga is a general exercise form that prevents disease from occurring in the first place. By keeping the meridians open and the Qi flowing, Yoga is like self-massage.
Specific Yoga postures invigorate certain meridians. One such meridian acted upon by Yoga postures is associated with the kidneys. In Oriental medicine the kidneys are the "root" of yin and yang. The motion of bending over backwards energizes and stimulates the yang thus generating heat and energy, while forward bends emphasize the yin or cooling, and calming aspects. If you feel sluggish or cold, backbends will give you energy by stimulating the kidneys. If you have insomnia or too much energy, bending forward is more suitable as it has a soothing and calming effect.
The complementary nature of Yoga along with other forms of alternative health care, such as Acupuncture, share the common goal of releasing stagnant energy in the meridian systems, their related organs, or in the blood. While Yoga provides the format in which to release an energy blockage, Acupuncture Meridian Theory provides the framework to understand which poses are best for a particular condition. When paired with Chinese herbal medicine, the benefits to these therapies can be dramatic. The Chinese Pharmacopeia is the largest, most advanced categorization of plants animals and minerals in the entire world. It has withstood the test of time. Our hectic fast-paced lifestyles, combined with poor eating habits and a polluted environment can create deficiencies that herbs can help to correct. Herbs can help tonify as well as unblock static Qi. Together with Yoga and Acupuncture, herbs help to balance the body and mind and create a greater consciousness towards the body's internal processes.
Invariably the poses most disliked are the most advantageous. The areas of decreased strength and flexibility are usually places of stagnation in the meridian system. They are the most worthy of your attention and offer the most rewards upon conditioning. For example, a person with poor digestion will almost always have weak abdominal muscles. Thus, properly performing asanas, which emphasize the belly, will move the energy of the lower abdomen as well as strengthen the abdominal muscles, thereby helping to alleviate the problem. Similarly, headaches and stagnation in the meridians of the muscles of the neck and shoulders can be alleviated by Yoga as certain postures circulate energy throughout the meridian system.
There is a saying in Chinese Medicine said at the conclusion of every Yoga class, that has been proven time and time again. "When the mind is calm the Qi flows smoothly, and conversely when the Qi is made to flow smoothly the mind is calm". Isn't this why we practice Yoga?
Alex Berks teaches Yoga at Forrest Yoga Circle in Santa Monica California, USA and attends Emperor's College of Traditional Chinese Medicine. In addition, he is a masseuse and herbalist at the Golden Cabinet Herbs.