The place of practice should be clean, quiet and well ventilated. There should be no bad smells, dampness or cold draughts. The area should be uncluttered with furniture and other objects. Try to use the same place every day to build up an atmosphere of peace.
Take a wash or bath and go to the toilet before the practice if possible. Wait for at least three hours after food before doing asanas. You can take food after your asana program if you wish.
If possible do neti bef ore commencing your practice. Either jala neti1 or sutra neti2 is suitable.
The best time to practise is before breakfast, early in the morning, though other times are also suitable. In fact you will find that asanas are much easier to do in the afternoon and evening, because the body is always stiffer in the morning. But nevertheless, the morning is the best time for there are peaceful vibrations in the air, and you gain greater benefits and a good preparation for the coming day. Also in the early morning there are fewer pressing distractions to drag you away from your practice, either physically or mentally.
The duration of practice should be regulated according to your available time, though the longer the better. Don't set your aims too high in the beginning; only do as much practice as you can easily manage every day without fail. Fifteen minutes practice every day is better than one hour's practice on one day, none for three days and then again one hour's practice. Many people set themselves an unrealistic program which they do for the first few days, and then the enthusiasm slowly fades and eventually they don't practise at all. So be realistic in choosing the duration of your program, and once you have set it, stick to it regularly.
The program of asanas should be carefully chosen. The order of practising different asanas is very important to gain maximum benefits. Certain asanas supplement each other, whereas others detract from each other. Therefore it is important to choose a systematic program. This will be discussed as the asanas are introduced.
If you feel physically or mentally tired before or during the program perform relaxation asanas such as shavasana and naukasana3. Don't use excessive force to attain the final positions of the asanas. Your muscles should be slowly encouraged to stretch over a period of time - not stretched and severely strained in one day. You are trying to develop mental control over the muscles and to do this one should try to will the muscles to relax and then they will automatically stretch.
Clothing should be as light as possible under climatic conditions, so that free movement is not impeded.
Breathing should be through the nose, not through the mouth. It should be as deep and rhythmical as possible.
A blanket or rug should be placed on the floor at the place of practice. Don't use a spongy mattress and don't practise on the bare floor.
Close your eyes as much as possible throughout the practice. This will help to intensify your awareness.
The less physical effort that is required the better. The aim is to perform asanas with as little tension or muscular effort as possible. Often we see practitioners grating their teeth while performing asanas, fn the execution of the movement to and from the final pose and while in the final position one should check that the maximum number of muscles are relaxed. This applies particularly to beginners, for eventually as you gain control over the muscles this relaxation will occur naturally.
Don't hurry under any circumstances. If you lack time to complete your daily program, leave out a few asanas and do the others at a normal slow, relaxed pace.
Remember that although you should be relaxed you should not sleep or feel drowsy. You should be as wide awake as possible to gain maximum benefits. If you are sleepy, take a wash or a bath, preferably a cold one and then continue your practice.
Don't underestimate the importance of the movements to and from the final poses. They should be done slowly, smoothly, with control and in synchronization with the breath. If you feel mentally or physically tired after the program of asanas, it is a sure sign that you are doing something wrong - perhaps trying too hard or tensing the muscles too much, or tending to concentrate too hard. If you can't see the fault seek expert guidance. You should feel calmness and strength in both mind and body at the end of your practice, far more than when you started.
Don't try to stretch your muscles further than is comfortable. With persistent and regular practice the muscles will elongate, whether you are at present as stiff as a board or as supple as a piece of rubber. The mental attitude is very important in this respect. If you autosuggest to yourself that you want the muscles to stretch, then the mind will automatically take steps to prepare the body to attain what you want. Remember, it is the mind that is the controller.
There are no specific limitations on the practice of asanas with regard to age or sex. However, people who have specific illnesses should not do certain asanas. Full information on this will be given with the description of each asana. For example, a person who has high blood pressure should definitely not attempt inverted asanas, or people with a slipped disc should not try forward bending asanas. These are more obvious examples; there are many such contra-indications which will be fully discussed.
Don't practise asanas if you are ill with a cold or diarrhoea etc. At these times the body is directing its energy to specific areas to fight the illness; let it perform its duties unimpeded.
Proceed from the simpler asanas to the more difficult ones. That is why it is necessary to follow the order outlined in this book as it progressively leads from the simpler to the more advanced techniques. We have mentioned this point for we know of various people who have strained themselves by prematurely attempting asanas that were too difficult for them.
Asanas are not competitive. If you perform your asanas in a group don't compare yourself with others. We all have differently shaped bodies and some people are able to stretch easier than others. But this is not indicative of how well a person is performing an asana, for one person may physically perform an asana perfectly, yet his awareness is jumping from here to there; while another person may not physically perform the asana very well but his awareness may be on the movements and the breath. In this case the latter is performing the asana much better than the former.
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