By Dr. Rita Khanna
Yoga is a science that aims at the harmonious development of the body, mind, and soul. It is a methodical way of attaining perfection, through control of the different elements of human nature, both physical and psychic. It is a process of continuous transformation. Inner perfection comes about gradually. As you progress in Yoga, the ego is progressively replaced by the spirit. The seeker is freed from the tyranny of the lower mind and attains the state in which there is union with the absolute. Through Yoga, you can increase energy, vigor, vitality, longevity, and a high standard of health. Its practices will help control emotions and passions and bring about serenity, calmness, and wonderful concentration, if you are earnest in your Sadhana or practice.
Asanas, the body postures, were founded by the ancient Rishis of India. It is the third limb of Ashtanga Yoga. Patanjali, the founder of Ashtanga Yoga, defines Asana as a “steady and comfortable posture”. If you are firmly established in Asanas, you will not feel the body at all. When you do not feel the body, qualities of the pairs of opposites will not affect you. When you are free from the effect of the pairs of opposites, such as heat and cold, pleasure and pain, you will be able to take up the next higher step – Pranayama, and practice it with an unruffled mind. Therefore, you should select a posture, which is easy and comfortable, and in which, you can remain for long time – say, three hours.
Asanas affect different systems in the body, such as the muscular, respiratory, circulation, digestive, excretory, reproductive, endocrine, and nervous system. This, however, should not make one presume that Yoga Asanas are merely physical exercises. There is something spiritual, something divine, at the bottom of this system, for it awakens the sleeping Kundalini Shakti, helps the Yogic student in establishing himself fully in Meditation, and finally, makes him experience cosmic consciousness.
Here are some essential guidelines on performing Asanas:
• All Asanas should be practiced in the morning, and not in the evening. The reason for this emphasis is that, in the evening, the body is tired; and you will not be able to practice with the exhilaration and freshness felt in the morning. If you wish to do muscular exercises, you may do so in the evening.
• There should be absolutely no feeling of depression or fatigue, either before or during, the performance of Asanas. The amount of energy expended in performing Asanas should, on no account, strain your system. This is an important point to remember if you wish to enjoy the benefits of the practice in the fullest measure.
• You need not go through an elaborate course every day, but must be regular and systematic in the little that you do, and be a master of those practices.
• All Yoga Asanas must be practiced on an empty stomach. However, there is no harm if a small cup of milk, light tea, or coffee is taken before commencing.
Pranayama is the fourth limb of Ashtanga Yoga. It begins with the regulation of breath, and ends in establishing full and perfect control over Prana – the life current or inner vital force. With the practice of Pranayama, Nadis, channels of Prana, are purified. Breath is gross Prana. By establishing control over the gross Prana, you can easily gain control over the subtle Prana. Control of breath also brings about control of mind; and he who has controlled his mind, has also controlled his breath. If one is suspended, the other follows. If the breath is unsteady, the mind is also unsteady. If the breath is steady and calm, the mind is also steady and calm. Th