Asanas, body postures in Hatha Yoga and the preparation for the yoga sesion.
The nature of all yogic practices is psychophysiological. Although every yogic practice is psychophysiological in nature, those practices that emphasize direct control of mental processes are more psychological. Some yogic practices of Hatha Yoga are more physical or physiological than psychological. Only those yogic practices that are predominantly physical or physiological in nature could be called exercises. Yogic practices begin to work on the outermost aspect of the personality. The physical body is the practical and familiar starting point for most people. When there is an imbalance at this level, the organs, muscles and nerves no longer work in harmony, but rather act in opposition. Hatha Yoga techniques help to overcome these imbalances and create harmony in the body and mind.
Because of its authenticity, traditional Yoga is an awareness practice that directs attention to the present moment. Hatha is considered to be a word made up of two syllables ‘ha’ and ‘tha’; ‘ha’ means lunar (and is associated with Ida nadi) and ‘tha’ means solar (associated with Pingala nadi). The energy channels Ida nadi and Pingala nadi correspond to the breath, which flows through the left and right nostrils. Hatha Yoga is the way to unite the opposite polarities (- +) and contains several techniques. Hatha Yoga is conducive to health and longevity. It promotes digestion and blood circulation, facilitates the proper functioning of the internal organs and prevents and helps to treat many diseases. Regular practice of asanas will develop attention, discipline and concentration. Mental and physical flexibility go together. Physical flexibility and discipline are necessary for successful concentration and increased mental strength.
Although the word asana means posture or stool, today the term is commonly used to refer to any physical posture in the Hatha Yoga system. Asanas help increase flexibility and strength while stimulating the body’s physiological frameworks such as the nervous, circulatory, immune and digestive systems.
It is often thought that asanas are just physical exercises. This is true; but this does not convey their full significance, they have a profound influence on the body. Each person is made up of three aspects: body, mind and consciousness, which merge to constitute our whole being. The asanas aim to influence all three aspects, to shape and shape them into a harmonious whole. Body postures stimulate the energetic body, purifying the energy channels (nadis) and energy centres (chakras). Practicing asanas requires the active involvement of the whole being as fully as possible and awareness of the subtle aspects in relation to the posture practiced.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras describe asana as having two important qualities. The first is stability and alertness and the second is the ability to remain comfortable in a posture. When practicing asanas, these two qualities should be present.
Although certain postures are conducive to meditation, Hatha Yoga emphasizes practicing different types of asanas to maintain a healthy state of the body and also to bring about a rhythm in its functions so that it is conducive to the more subtle process of introducing balance and rhythm into the flow of pranic energy. Thus asanas form the very basis of the practice of yoga itself.
Through the practice of asanas one enters the path of higher consciousness which facilitates the understanding of our relationship with existence. The consequent practice of Hatha Yoga overcomes health problems, pain and mental depression. By purifying the body and balancing the polar opposite energies (yin-yang) one gradually reaches a state of higher concentration. This creates the support for the best physical and mental health.
Asanas are designed to thoroughly exercise the internal organs, namely the liver, spleen, pancreas, intestines, heart, lungs, brain and glands; the thyroid and parathyroid glands in the throat area, the adrenal, pituitary and pineal glands in the brain, which play a very important role in maintaining health, in metabolism and in the structure, growth and nutrition of different types of cells and tissues in the body.
Historically, different texts have outlined a varying number of asanas. Gheranda Samhita, suggests that there are up to 8.4 million asanas. Of these 84 are the most useful, of which we list 12 most important: Sirsasana, Sarvangasana, Halasana, Matsyasana, Bhujangasana, Salabhasana, Dhanurasana, Ardha-Matsyendrasana, Paschimothanasana, Shavasana, Siddhasana and Padmasana.
Throughout this course you are given detailed instructions on the technique of the posts and illustrations, so that anyone can easily practice them by going through it.
Preparing for Asanas
Asanas and awareness of subtle effects are absolutely necessary for well-being and health. The ultimate goal of yoga practice is to help the practitioner achieve freedom (Moksha) from suffering and the cycle of death and rebirth. The benefits of Hatha Yoga are enhanced with a slow, gentle and sustained practice. The aim of asana is to strengthen and balance the body, improve posture and increase flexibility, stability and concentration. Yoga, if not done in nature, is always done in a clean, well-ventilated room with as few objects as possible. It helps the mind to concentrate. Asanas can be practised at any time of the day, but not after meals. They are always done on an empty stomach or at least two and a half hours after the last meal.
The best time to practice is between 3:30 – 5:30 in the morning. This time is called Brahma muhurta. After a good night’s sleep, the mind is rested, calm and serene. At this time, the atmosphere is pure and peaceful, the activities of the stomach and intestines are not very active, and the mind is empty of thoughts and devoid of deep impressions at the conscious level.
The next very favourable moment is just before sunrise. You will find that the muscles are stiffer in the early morning compared to the late afternoon when they become more flexible, however, the morning is recommended for practice. In the evening, an hour before sunset and an hour after when is not sow is also a good time.
Use a blanket of natural material for these practices, it will act as an insulator between the body and the ground. Do not use a mattress as it does not provide sufficient support. It is best to wear loose, light and comfortable clothing during practice. Before starting, remove your glasses, watches and any jewellery.
Don’t strain yourself; try to relax your whole body.
Preparatory exercises for practice
Tandasana, mountain pose
Standing straight back, hands by your side, legs slightly apart. As far as possible the eyes remain closed throughout the warm-up and asana session (except in cases where we are explicitly asked to open them).
Thoughts of a static nature are removed from the field of consciousness by mental command. Do this elimination of negative thoughts and obsessive ideas whenever necessary even outside the actual asana session. Don’t bully the mind, be gentle with it, eliminate the negative content. Positive thoughts help in the process of liberation, thoughts which in an advanced stage will be easily transcended to the pure and mysterious realm beyond the mind.
We take a positive mental attitude. We recognize thoughts as something separate from ourselves. We eliminate negative thoughts and obsessive ideas. We experience a state of mental peace.
Slow and wide head rotation
The eyes are still closed. We begin the first warm-up exercise. Attention is focused on the neck.
Slowly and widely rotate the head clockwise, polarity – yin;
We become aware of the activation of the yin polarity at the Vishuddha chakra energy centre.
Slowly and widely rotate the head counterclockwise, +yang polarity;
Awareness of the unblocking of subtle energies in the throat, activation of the Vishuddha chakra energy centre.
Past present and future appear to us as a single moment.
Rapid head movements
We perform the set of quick movements: two to the left, two to the right, two left oblique, two right oblique, two backward; this series is equivalent to one repetition; we perform 5-9 repetitions.
We are aware of fine vibrations in the top of the head, activating the Sahasrara energy centre.
Expanded state of consciousness.
Hanging of the head
Hanging the head with quick left-right movements, attention is focused in the middle of the forehead; Awareness of the activation of the Ajna chakra command energy centre, state of clarity.
Flexion of the spine
The eyes are open. We perform side-to-side swinging movements of the shoulders while flexing the spine in both left-right directions. The pelvis remains still. During the rocking movements we keep our attention on the spine;
We close our eyes. We feel vibrating points along the spine. If painful sensations occur, we mentally direct beams of bright white bioluminescent currents to these points, we perceive the elimination of pain, relief.
Elengation of the spine
The eyes are open. Legs slightly apart. Place palms at point of insertion with pelvis, thumb pointing forward. Knees are slightly bent. Push arms as far as possible to elongate the spine, elbows are extended. The neck remains straight, in extension of the spine throughout the execution. Exhale deeply through the mouth, inhale deeply through the nose and achieve full breath retention. At the same time, attention is focused on the flow of Cosmic Energy that enters through the top of the head (Brahmarandra opening) at the Sahasrara energy centre and descends through the spine, like a hollow tube to the base of the spine between the anus and the sex at the Muladhara chakra energy centre;
We experience temporary widening of the spaces between the vertebrae, loosening of the intervertebral discs, dilation of the intercostal spaces, elasticity of the spine, vital tonus, broad state of revitalization, with the spine as the focus of radiation.
Gastric massage under the sternum
The painful spot to be massaged is about 2 cm below the breastbone.
Grasp the right wrist with the left hand, massage the pain point under the breastbone with the thumb of the right hand in a clockwise yin – direction. Then change the direction of rotation counterclockwise yang +, while grasping the left wrist with the right hand;
We begin to energize the solar plexus, eliminating negative energies and tensions at this level. In time through massage, the pain point will subside.
Shavasana: complete yogic relaxation
Shavasana is one of the main asanas. Deep relexation is the essence of this posture. Each series of asanas begins with warm-up exercises and ends with Shavasana.
We lie on our back with our head facing east. Hands are by the side of the body with palms facing up, legs slightly apart. We feel our body heavy, abandoned to the ground.
We begin full yogic relaxation from the tip of the left foot, relax the toes of the left foot, sole, heel, ankle, calf, knee, left foot sole. We compare the relaxed left foot with the unrelaxed right foot. We see the difference. We shift our attention to the right foot’s toes. We relax the toes of the right foot, the sole, the heel, the ankle, the calf, the knee, the ball of the right foot.
Next we relax the left hand, shift attention and relax left hand fingers, palm, left wrist, forearm, elbow, arm, left hand shoulder. Compare the relaxed left arm with the unrelaxed right arm. Notice the difference. Shift attention and relax right hand fingers, palm, right wrist, forearm, elbow, arm, right shoulder.
Shift attention to the pelvic area and relax the buttocks, the base of the spine, gradually the whole spine up to the neck, relax the neck muscles, the scalp up to the crown. We shift attention and relax the sex organs, stomach, chest, shoulders, neck, chin, jaw, lips, nose, cheekbones, eyelids, eyeballs, forehead, and scalp. We aim to keep our consciousness awake.
We experience loss of body contour, state of expansion.
We return by gently moving our fingers and toes.
Elements of Yoga Nidra, yogic conscious sleep
Modern man, conditioned by the circumstances of contemporary life, is full of tensions. It seems that most illnesses and diseases have their roots in the unconscious tensions accumulated due to stress. Unconscious tension has fuelled these feelings of anxiety and dissatisfaction often causing various psychological disorders as well as physical illnesses.
This has led to a dispersion of balance, harmony and human energies on many levels. Modern man is so absorbed by technology and material survival that he is unaware of what is going on around him. Yoga Nidra induces a state of deep relaxation of the whole body and has been recognized as an essential technique for meditation, self-awareness providing a method of calming the mind in a safe, effective and deeply restful way.
Yogic sleep is a relaxing mindful, dreamless sleep and its practice works to improve mental clarity and improve physical health. Yoga Nidra reduces stress in the mind-body system. This allows us to have a restful night’s sleep, which helps reduce daytime fatigue. This happens gradually and takes time and regular practice.
Yoga Nidra is a practice of deep and restful awareness that can be done by anyone. It combines body relaxation, breathing and meditation to create a self-healing process. Through its simple stress-relieving procedure it helps us in the fight to prevent illness and relieves tension.
In the science of Yoga, relaxation is defined as a state in which there is a triple release of tension: physical, emotional and mental. The practice of Yoga Nidra is designed to release tension on these three levels. One of the aims of Yoga Nidra practice is to free the mind from conditioning, ignorance, false concepts, to expand, open and awaken it without constraint.
Yoga Nidra frees the being from fears, anger and jealousy and helps to eliminate false concepts through a deeper understanding of the inner being and character of existence. Through Yoga Nidra emotions rooted in the subconscious are brought to the surface in conscious perception and then eliminated through awareness. They fade away and cease to trigger inner disturbances and adverse influences, and not only during the practice of Yoga Nidra, but also in everyday life. This mental purification brings with it a permanent state of relaxation.
The physical organs will always function well when the mind is calm and harmonious. In the case of psychological stress, there may be adverse bodily repercussions due to extreme disturbances to the body’s natural rhythm. Daily mental tension leads to excessive muscular and mental fatigue. The result is a continuous drain of energy from the body and eventually chronic fatigue. So tension in the mind results in a range of so-called civilised diseases. Analgesics may offer short-term relief, but they will also produce undesirable side effects and without eliminating the underlying cause of the tension; they may only treat symptoms and will not bring lasting relief. It is deep insight into one’s inner being that leads to lasting relaxation in the true sense of the word.
Yoga Nidra, gateway to the Divine Self Atman
True relaxation occurs when one reaches a state that can be called spiritual awareness. In Yoga Nidra, while the awareness of the world is weakened and relaxation is deep, an inner clarity remains and experiences can be absorbed for later recall. Yoga Nidra is a state of deep, conscious awareness of sleep. The unconscious mind operates at a deeper level: it is sleep guided by deep awareness, conscious sleep.
Aware of the background, the silent witness behind all appearances, the flow of life ceases to cause worry. This is true relaxation. It is achieved through the practice of yoga in general, and is helped by Yoga Nidra.
Through Yoga Nidra we are able to maintain Self-awareness in deep sleep, as well as in waking and dream states. This is the silence and stillness within. Yoga Nidra is when we rest in the fourth state (turiya) of awareness of the Divine Self Atman the state of Self-revelation, the state beyond body, mind, time and space. As such, it is the state of Divine Ecstasy (Samadhi) or Unity Consciousness, which culminates beyond all movements of the mind at the highest level (Nirvikalpa Samadhi).
Yoga Nidra is the state in which we are asleep to the outer world but awake in our inner being. In this exalted state we exist in the vibratory reality of primordial sound and pure consciousness. Yoga Nidra requires us to let go of all memories and imagination and get in touch with our unchanging inner light from which the entire universe and all of nature rises as boundless peace.
The intuition awakened in the state of Yoga Nidra enables the being to find within itself the answers to all problems. The true nature and wholeness of the being manifests in this state, allowing it to live a meaningful and peaceful life in any environment. This practice fosters the opening of the ‘third eye’, which takes consciousness beyond the conditioned personality with its tensions and complexes. The Yogi no longer emotionally identifies with the mind and body, the whole being is permeated by Divine Consciousness.
The age-old yogic teaching states, “Therefore, realize with the still mind your own true nature, which is the one, pure and indivisible consciousness underlying the restless mind that is composed of the whole universe in all its diversity. Realize, with the still mind, the state between sleep and wakefulness. This is the true Self, inherent in which the being is no longer deluded.”
Yoga Nidra and insomnia
Sleep should be a simple process, but because of stress, it often isn’t. Modern man goes to sleep stressed and sometimes wakes up more tired than before he went to sleep. A good night’s sleep replenishes the vitality used up during wakefulness and is essential for a good night’s sleep. Physical capacities are revitalised and the vitality consumed in ordinary actions is recovered. Excellent sleep results in a vast improvement in bodily vitality and mental concentration. Generally, we do not use Yoga Nidra to fall asleep, but the factors that favour Yoga Nidra are those that also stimulate sleep, minimising sensory stimulation: stillness, muscle relaxation, a comfortable temperature and darkness. Over time, practising Yoga Nidra before falling asleep can help you reduce your hours of sleep if you oversleep and allow you to fall asleep instantly if you suffer from insomnia. Yoga Nidra restores sleep balance and promotes good health. By detaching yourself before falling asleep from your accumulations, body and mind, falling asleep with this awareness each time, one morning, you may wake up Enlightened.
Sankalpa and Yoga Nidra
In the yogic view, the mind’s ability to think, to be aware, comes from its source which is Ultimate Reality itself. When the mind acts persistently on something, it generally becomes reality. Consciousness has no limits; it exists in a state of infinite possibility in every part of creation and manifests as infinite possibilities. As such, its infinite nature cannot be limited by time and space. Consciousness has perfect knowledge and awareness of everything in its infinite nature.
The human being has the capacity to imagine any possible future, but will not see it come to fruition unless he perseveres upon it and the Divine allows it. A yogi knows that everything is possible but not permitted. In other words, when he truly desires something and is willing to act maturely (body, mind and soul) in that direction to achieve his goal, and if his goal is in accordance with the Divine Will then he succeeds.
Sankalpa is a practice that allows you to access your unconscious mind to discover and realise your deepest and most authentic desires. Setting an intention (sankalpa) in Yoga Nidra can inspire, motivate and drive you. Intentions can help you stay focused and keep your mind steady. A sankalpa (intention) can be a word, a mantra, a phrase, an affirmation. It can even be a colour, a good vibe, a happy place, a feeling you want to send to someone you love. Intentions are open to interpretation and are determined by each individual. You can also choose the type of intention you want to use depending on the desired outcome – whether you want to stay present, feel a certain way, invoke a certain type of change, send positive energy to someone in need. The entire universe is the intention (sankalpa) of Ultimate Reality, and we as human beings have been given, by one means or another, this ability to realize our own intention (sankalpa) through Him. In the purest sense, everything is God’s sankalpa. Every thought we have, every act we do, every word that comes out of our mouth is part of God-given sankalpa. In this pure view, everything is God’s thought and deed.
If you need to build a house or do anything else, first of all, you imagine, you make plans and then that event becomes reality.
When the aspirant to the state of yoga, through his practice, attains a certain mental capacity, he can achieve more quickly or immediately what another aspirant may take longer to achieve. The mind is undoubtedly an efficient apparatus, because it has the capacity to think, to imagine through its Source which is the Supreme Consciousness itself. The perfect Yogi, by his practice and by the power of his mind, can accomplish in a second what it will take another to accomplish in years. This is one of the strengths of the yogic system.
So man has been given the ability to urge what he needs, to do. However, yet because of the little self, the ephemeral personality, the mind divides all beings into winners and losers, happy and sad, believers and unbelievers; it sees the world through the prism of pleasures or dislikes. A strong personality is useful to us up to a certain point; it is like a coat that a man wears for a time in order to achieve on the personal plane what he desires. The problem with this coat called personality that man gradually weaves is that he cannot see real and lasting progress until he abandons it to move beyond duality, to settle into the state of the Eternal as a detached lucid witness. Aware of the background, the silent witness behind all appearances, the movement of life ceases to produce worry. This is true relaxation. It is achieved through the practice of yoga in general, and is aided by Yoga Nidra.
Decide and create your intent, sankalpa
Sankalpa should be induced in the subconscious after you have performed the full yogic relaxation technique in Shavasana, when there is no mental activity, when the mind is quiet and calm, when you are in as natural a state as possible, when you feel centered and peaceful. A sankalpa can be outlined in a short positive statement, expressed mentally, which is imprinted in the subconscious mind while you are in Yoga Nidra. Because in the state of Yoga Nidra the subconscious is susceptible and receptive to autosuggestions, the sankalpa becomes a simple and powerful tool that can help you in yoga but also in urging beneficial needs. Traditionally sankalpa is practiced and repeated only while doing Yoga Nidra.