The world observed ‘International Yoga Day’ on June 21. People all over the world engaged in yoga asanas (postures). The postural practice of yoga is an important step towards yoga. Yoga is the self-realised state, the state of samadhi or enlightenment. (Samadhi brings self-realisation. There are different levels of samadhi).
According to Yoga sutras of Maharishi Patanjali, asana is the third step (of his prescribed eight categories of practice towards self-realisation), that serves as preparatory stage leading up to samadhi. Asana practices helps in preparing the body and mind to realise this ultimate goal. A healthy body helps in advancing towards the higher spiritual practices; that of meditation, contemplation and realisation (dharna, dhayana and samadhi: Patanjali Yoga).
The real yoga practice begins when one is off the (yoga) mat. Yoga is an experiential practice, it is a practice of being, not doing. It is a daily practice because advancement to higher states is an ongoing work of an individual consciousness.
From Outer to Inner Awareness Through Asanas
The body has a tendency to become stiff due to energy blockages, due to accumulation of toxins, whereas the mind holds blockages in form of belief systems and conditioning. The practice of asanas (yoga postures) enables prana, the life-force energy to flow freely in the body maintaining firmness and lightness in the body, preventing diseases and improving the mind-body harmony, and to prepare the body-mind complex for meditation.
The Hatha Yoga school of practice proposes that for attainment of samadhi, the mind has to be purified and to purify the mind, the body needs to undergo certain purification processes; this ensures that the manas shakti (mind-body energy) and the inherent prana shakti (cosmic breath), join together to awaken the deep self- awareness. Asanas, the external or bahiranga practice leads one to the inner or antaranga practice (of meditation and contemplation).
While Patanjali Yoga focuses on the mental/mind aspect in realisation of the ultimate goal, the school of Hatha yoga uses body as the intervention point with asana practices central to it. The Hatha school offers that once the physical body is prepared by way of asanas and shatkarma (cleansing of internal organs), pranayama can be practised.
Through asanas, the body is trained for steadiness and stability to be able to sit for pranayama practices and take up advanced practices, as well as to allow sitting still in meditation for long durations, without discomfort.
The aim of pranayama is to direct the prana, the vital cosmic life -force, to control the mind. The mind has a tendency to wander, as prana is in constant motion and has the tendency to wander. (‘chale vatte challam chittam, nishchale nishchalam bhavet: Hatha yoga Pradipika- 2:2),’ Once the breath is regulated, the mind can become tranquil and still. It is then easy for apractitioner to slip into meditative state. Pranayama purifies pranic channels or nadis removing impurities of the mind-body.
Way to do asanas
The asana practices need not be a painful affair. It is advised to customise asanas and pranayama as per age, fitness need, body limitations as well as by taking medical issues into consideration. It is helpful if one knows his/her body structure and functioning levels to a) adjust practice according to need and capacity b) avoid competition c) understand his/her own body and breath requirements as practice progresses d) be able to understand changes occurring in the body and bodily functions at the physical level.
In the journey of self-realisation, yoga asanas are tools to higher awareness, providing a base for exploration of the body, breath, mind and higher states. It allows opening up of one’s dormant energy potential. There are alternate preparatory yogic practices too such as: karma yoga (suitable for those dominantly active by nature), gyan yoga (those who are intuitive), bhakti yoga (those who are dominantly emotionally and devotional by nature), towards the ultimate goal.
Disclaimer: Urmila Rao is an emotional healer and a forgiveness teacher. All the ideas expressed herein are her own, and not professional advice or medical prescription. Her website is: www.karmicwellness.in Email: firstname.lastname@example.org