Asana – A general note for the practitioner
Anybody can practise asanas. But before proceeding to start any hatha yoga program, we must comply with some basic rules. By doing so, the asanas become more efficient and beneficial when we prepare ourselves prior to any practice.
19 unwritten rules you need to follow
How you breathe during your practice is of vital importance. You must always breathe through the nose unless specified otherwise. Also you must try to coordinate your breath with the asana practice.
In order to receive optimum benefits from your asana practice, awareness is essential as it is to any yoga practice. We usually practise asanas in order to influence, integrate and harmonise all the levels of our being: physical, mental, emotional, psychic and spiritual.
Many people think that asanas are merely concerned with the physical level because they deal with the movement of different parts of the body. However, this is not the case. They have profound effects at every level of being if they are combined with awareness.
The word awareness invokes several ideas or feelings. But in this context, we mean – the physical movement, the posture itself, breath control and synchronisation, mental counting, sensations in the body, movement of prana (vital life force), concentration on an area of the body or chakra (wheel of energy through the body) and, most important, any thoughts or feelings that may arise during the practice.
Whenever you feel tired physically or mentally, you need to relax. You can perform shavasana (corpse pose) at any point during our practice. You can also practise shavasana upon completing our asana programme.
We usually follow the sequence as advised in Hatha Yoga Pradipika. So, after completing shatkarma (body purification), you must practise asanas. After that, proceed with pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (sense withdrawal) and dharana (concentration) which finally lead to dyana (meditation).
When practising the intermediate and advanced group of asanas particularly, you must put greater emphasis on the structure of the program. Make sure that the backward bends are followed by forward bends and vice versa. Also, whichever asana you practise on one side of the body, you must repeat it to the other side. This concept of counterpose allows to bring the body back to a balanced state.
Time of practice
You can practise asanas at any time of day, except after meals. However, the best time is the two hours before and including sunrise. This period of the day is known as brahmamuhurta (auspicious time). At this time, the atmosphere is pure and quiet, there are not any activities in the stomach and intestines. Also, the mind is empty of any thoughts and it has no deep impressions on the conscious level. But if you are someone who has difficulty in waking up early in the morning, then you can practise in the evening – two hours around sunset.
Place of practice
If practising indoors, the room must be well ventilated, calm and quiet. But if you decide to practise outdoors, then the surroundings must be pleasant, lets say for example, a beautiful garden with trees and flowers or early morning on the beach. Avoid places with a strong wind, in the cold, in air that is dirty, smoky or which carries an unpleasant odour. Do not practise in the vicinity of furniture, a fire or anything that prevents free fall to the ground, especially while performing asanas such as sirshasana (supported headstand). Many accidents occur because people fall against an object. Do not practise under an electric fan unless it is extremely hot.
Use a folded blanket of natural material for the practices as this will act as an insulator between the body and the earth. Do not use a mattress which is spongy or filled with air as this does not give sufficient support to the spine.
During practice it is advisable to wear loose, light and comfortable cotton made clothing. Before starting any asana program, do remove spectacles, wristwatches and any jewellery.
Try to take a cold shower before starting. This will greatly improve the effect of the asanas. However, during cold winters, do take a warm shower.
Emptying the bowels
Before commencing the asana programme, the bladder and intestines should preferably be empty. Choose one time daily to go to the toilet before doing asanas. Do not strain and try to relax the whole body. After some weeks, everything will be programmed into our subconscious mind. Thus, the bowels will automatically evacuate at the set time every day.
Emptying the stomach
If you prefer to practise asanas in the evening, then you should wait for at least 3-4 hours after dinner. This is the main reason why you must practise early in the morning – the stomach is sure to be empty.
There are no special dietary rules for asana practitioners. However, it is better to eat natural food and in moderation. Contrary to popular belief, yoga does not say that a vegetarian diet is essential. But you will need to eat vegetarian in the higher stages of practice. At meal times half fill the stomach with food, one quarter with water and leave the remaining quarter empty. Eat only to satisfy hunger and not so much that a feeling of heaviness or laziness occurs. Eat to live rather than live to eat. Do avoid foods which cause acidity or gas in the digestive system. Also, stay away from heavy, oily and spicy foods, especially when practising with a spiritual aim.
You must never exert undue force on your body while doing asanas. For beginners, it will be a bit hard at first as due to stiff muscles. But with time,maybe after several weeks of regular practice, the muscles will be more supple.
There is not any restriction on the age. Asana is for people of all age groups, male and female.
People with fractured bones or who are suffering from chronic ailments and diseases, and those recuperating from operations, should consult a yoga teacher or doctor before commencing asanas.
Termination of asana
If you feel any excessive pain in any part of the body, you should terminate the practice immediately. If necessary, do seek medical advice. Also, if you feel any discomfort, do not stay in an asana. Take any other position where you will feel at ease.
Do not practise any inverted asanas if there is gas or fermentation in the intestines. Also, if the blood is excessively impure, for example during menstruation or in later stages of pregnancy, avoid inverted asanas. This is important to ensure that toxins do not go to the brain and cause damage, and, in the case of menstruation, that blood does not enter the fallopian tubes.
Never practise asanas after a long period of sunbathing as this will overheat the body.