Asana & Pranayama in Yoga

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According to great sage Patanjali : Asana is needed in order to sit comfortably for a considerable period of time to do Dhyana and Tapas. If this is so, why so many Asanas? Various Asana stretch and relax different muscles and joints. In Pranayama we consciously regulate our breathing. This has a positive effect on health and vital organs.

The way of yoga is a process of gradual ascent and illumination. It is also a systematized process of achieving freedom by stages – H.H. Swami Krishnananda

Misconceptions

The first misconception about yoga is the belief that yoga is only for a select few yogis or hermits. This science was also limited due to it being passed on in very secretive and limited way by some exponents. They created cults and kept general mass out of its reach. Thus the mystical element grew about yoga, which essentially is a practical system of life. Bhagvat Gita is most important classic on Yoga and is a discussion between two family men, in the midst of war, on the method of integrating yoga in daily life.

The second misconception, being created these days as part of commercialization, is that just Asana and Pranayama is Yoga. By doing only a few breathing and physical exercises in the morning or evening, people think that they are doing yoga. In fact, the Asana and Pranayama are only a part of true yoga. They do not play an active role in the practice of complete yoga, though they are essential in order to bring about flexibility of the body and make the body fit and agile. The flexibility and fitness, both mental and physical, thus achieved is paramount for reaching next steps of Yoga.

Let’s have a brief look at what Asana and Pranayama are and what actually constitutes Yoga.

ASANA

“STHIR SUKHAM ASANAM”

Asanas are certain ways of sitting that is stable and mentally pleasant and relaxing. According to great sage Patanjali: Asana is needed in order to sit comfortably, for a considerable period of time, to do Dhyana and Tapas. If this is so, why so many Asanas? Various Asana stretch and relax different muscles and joints. This provides flexibility of joints, increases muscle tone and brings in harmony of movement. This provides better physical conditioning which provides sense of happiness and in turn affects the mind.

While doing any Asana, stretch and maintain the tension as long as it is comfortable (2-3 mn.), then release the tension, relax and feel the internal sensations. Merely ‘Shava-Asana’ is not for relaxation; all’ the asanas relax the muscles. Just opposite happens with rigorous physical exercise, which makes one exhausted and energy drought. Different asanas work on different muscle groups and joints and a sense of peace, relaxation and well being is achieved while performing these Asanas. That is why so many Asanas were developed.

When muscles and joints are stiff one cannot sit comfortably for long time or perform any work efficiently. To do any work efficiently and correctly one must be able to concentrate long and be stable. If one is not strong enough to retain posture for long time the person will not be able to concentrate on work. So practicing variety of asanas one can increase flexibility, stability and strength of various muscles and joints. This shall enable the person to retain a posture longer than otherwise possible.

PRANAYAMA

Breath is life yet we are rarely conscious of the process of breathing. This process is also known as respiration. The respiration is affected by three factors. First factor is physical ie. any exertion on the part of the body accelerates respiration. Second factor is emotional. Any emotional stimulus also alters the respiration. Third factor is voluntary; by human efforts one can influence the respiratory system at will. This is based on Pranayama.

In Pranayama we consciously regulate our breathing. With practice of Pranayama the process of respiration is improved. This has a positive effect on the health of vital organs due to improved circulation of blood and supply of nutrition. Pranayama also effects our energy and life force through the activation of the ‘power centers’ like nerve centers. As per Hatha-yoga, Pranayama done judiciously can remove all the abnormalities of the body, but if done injudiciously can give rise to all kinds of abnormalities.

YOGA PROCESS

Thus in Yoga system, Asana and Pranayama are necessary to achieve physical well being and mental harmony. Yoga is a spiritual science, it is not merely a physical activity of the body; it is integral, it is all activities of life put together to realise the Absolute Reality, God.

Merely performance of Asana and Pranayama is not yoga. We should not think like that, because, we are whole being, and our ‘Prana’, our physical bodies, our sense organs, our mind and reasons do not stand apart from one another. So while performing Asana, it is mind and body action that is taking place, not merely body. If the mind is agitated body cannot be calm. So do not imagine that we can think anything in our mind and go to yoga asana class. We will be harming ourselves. The conflict between the activities of the body m Asana and mental disturbance will be harmful thing in the long run. We cannot balance our bodies in asana when mentally disturbed. Thus mind and body should not be in a state of conflict while doing Asanas. What is our mind thinking? Our desires guide our thoughts. Thus control of desires is essential to control thoughts. This is the reason why in Yoga-sastra, Asana come after “Yama and Niyama”. The Yama and Niyama are the first and second, the Asana’ is the third step with Pranayama afterwards, followed by Pratyahar, Dharna, Dhyana and Samadhi to complete the Yoga process.

The fundamental question asked by all yogis is – “Who am I “and “How am I meant to live my life.” The first question is answered as “JIVO BRAHMAIVANAPARAH”, that is, Bliss is to be found in Spiritual Reality, which is within us. Realise this and be free.

The second question is answered in Gita as – “YOGASYA KUSHAL KAUSHALAM” and “ANAHRITAH KARAMPHALAM”, that is, do the best you can and leave absolutely everything else with God. Do our best, what? Whatever is at hand, do to the very best to your ability, without thought of the fruits of action. Why this is so? If we want a fruit from our action, we will not be able to do our best; it will be corrupted by what we want. In whatever circumstances we are in, we should do the very best we can, take the full responsibility for the moment, and leave everything else to God. This is known as “Karma Yoga”.

Again Srimad Bhagvat Gita says, “SAMATVAM YOGA UCHYATE”- it means, absolute equanimity is Yoga. As per Patanjah Yoga-sutra – “YOGAS CHITTA VRITTI NIRODHA” that is, Yoga is to control and restrict the thought wave to the minimum and finally have only one thought – God thought. In the end this one thought also ceases and merges in the Great Reality.

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