Optimal health is what you are looking for when you say “I want to get rid of this pain in my body”, or “I wish I had more energy”.
In this article, I will share the five pillars to Optimal Health I go by to support my clients and myself.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease and infirmity.”
Optimal health is a state of balance in all aspects of the individual. In Sivananda Yoga, these aspects are divided into 5 categories. I reorganized the categories and tweaked them slightly to reflect the order of importance described in the Yoga Sutra and my philosophy.
- Proper nutrition
- Proper breathing
- Proper movement
- Proper relaxation
- Proper thinking
Several keywords to note. First, is “balance”. If one of these pillars is in imbalance, the system (you), will be unstable. For example, let’s say your diet is on point, you are practicing mindful breathing, moving as needed and have a positive outlook on life but you are not relaxing. You have not reached optimal health and you may be prone to illnesses.
So it is essential to have all pillars in a balanced state to be healthy.
Another keyword is “proper”. Let’s take the example of relaxation. What does proper relaxation means to you? It may be spending time in Nature, being surrounded by family/loved ones, or woodcarving birdhouses. Whatever it is that brings you into a state of no worries, contentment and peace, it is unique to you. This is extremely important and is the basis of my work as a Yoga Therapist: you are unique. What works for you, may not work for me. That is why, there is no “one size fits all”.
Now, let’s understand the pillars themselves.
1. Proper nutrition
Nutrition is essential to well-being. In Yoga Therapy, this is the first thing I am assessing, followed by lifestyle habits. Whether it is the type of food you eat, the quantity, the quality or the combination for foods, all of these can either have a beneficial or detrimental effect on your health.
When working together, I will be looking at your individual constitution (your predominant dosas) and the energies created by your food choices (tamasic, rajastic or satvic).
2. Proper breathing
Yoga emphasizes using the diaphragm to breathe to your full capacity. There are several benefits to that (greater inhale and exhale capacity and expelling stale air from the lungs are some examples). It also helps with embodiment and mindfulness. Being fully present and aware of your breathing support wellbeing and groundedness. There are many breathing techniques and ratios to choose from. It is important to always work with a trained professional.
3. Proper movement
Yoga may be known for its asana (postures). However, asanas are only the third aspect in the Yoga Sutra, which means that lifestyle and breath are the first elements to work on.
Again here, proper movement will vary according to your individual constitution and your current state of imbalance (any illness/condition or symptoms).
4. Proper relaxation
Have you noticed how you feel after savasana at the end of a Yoga Therapy session, or upon waking after a good night sleep? Refreshed, energized, enthusiast… This pillar is broken down in 3 levels: physical, mental and spiritual relaxation.
5. Proper thinking
This is the state of balance between the mind and the emotions. You could think of this pillar as positive thinking. However, I prefer “proper” thinking because forcing yourself to be positive when you are sad is not healthy. Being aware of your emotions, without judgement and embracing them, is much healthier.
Here are the five pillars I based my Yoga Therapy work on to guide my clients reach a state of optimal health.
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