Still others are named for outstanding features in their execution, Yoga and meditation such as Salamba Sirsasana, or headstand. A balanced practice consists of poses that evoke strength Yoga and meditation, flexibility, focus, and balance in a variety of ways. A fair and growing number of Western-style studies6 have shown yoga to have specific, measurable physiological and psychological benefits such as improved stamina, 7 increased grip strength, 8 better range of motion, 9 reduced pain in arthritis, 10 better control of asthma and diabetes, 11 greater versatility in learning new skills, 12 cortical thickening, 13 lower blood pressure and heart rate, 14 decreased anxiety, 15 better walking, 16 improved autonomic functions such as sleep, 17 reduced back pain, 18 and help in late-stage disease. 19 In one historic view, the asana help to stabilize the body and mind, rendering the practitioner ready for meditation. In the Tantric view, the asana provide a playful and varied way to express the inner spirit inherent in us all, and also to clarify the subtle energy of the body and its pathways to an inner experience.
The next limb is pranayama, techniques to bring greater fullness, ease, and subtlety to the process of breathing.
The techniques ofpranayama have been successfully employed to treat asthma, depression, 20 and other respiratory and psychiatric conditions, 21 but pranayama is intended to progress students beyond mere health, bringing them toward higher states of spiritual awareness. As the Hatha Yoga Pradipika explains, When the prana breath and the manas mind have been absorbed, an indefinable joy ensues.