This past weekend over 20 students participated in a workshop on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. In addition to learning the great wisdom contained in this yogic scripture, everyone also had the opportunity to learn and practice asanas as well as cleansing techniques, like neti and vaman. Pranayama, mudras, and bandhas, practices less commonly practiced in the U.S., were also discussed and practiced.

Above all, students walked away knowing more about the true purpose of Hatha Yoga, which is preparation for higher consciousness. While yoga is commonly thought to be a practice for the body, we wee reminded that  we are not merely seaking the freedom from diseaeses but the freedom from the bondage and the waverings of the mind.

The scripture proved to be full of information, and we will likely be studying it in even more depth during Sunday philosophy classes in the future. Stay tuned!

Pranayama is the science of breath control. It is a subject worth studying due to the effect breath has on our five koshas (sheaths), including the pranamaya kosha (vital energy sheath). For example, the quality of our breath can change due to our mental and physical states, but how we breath can also affect our mental and physical states. The Yogic scriptures thus give great importance to pranayama, and it’s mastery is considered a prequisite to dharna (concentration) and dhyana (meditation). We will explore it in a series of articles over the next several months.

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The Yoga Sutras codified by Shri Patanjali provides a simple guideline for asanas: sthira sukham asanam or one should be steady and comfortable in asanas (2.46). To be more precise, sthira translates into stability and alertness while sukha means with ease or without suffering. The Yoga Sutras go on to explain that when asanas are perfected in this way, the mind can concentrate and fully dwell on the Infinite. In other words, when done properly asanas bring us into a meditative state.

So in our asana practice, it’s important to focus not just on what our body is doing, but on how we’re doing it. With this in mind, here are some things to consider in your own asana practice, whether it be at home or in class:

  • Gracefully coming into poses and holding them long enough to achieve steadiness and comfort is more valuable than quickly moving through a routine just to finish X number of poses. However, asanas can also be held too long in that you can no longer maintain steadiness and comfort. Over time and with practice your duration will naturally increase, but never push yourself beyond your limit.
  • Observe your breath for an indication of the quality of your asanas. It too should be steady, not jerky or uneven. Listening to the gentle flow of your breath can also be calming to the mind and provide focus, creating that steady state that leads into meditation.
  • Make sure your body is free from holding any tension in asanas, such as clenched jaws and scrunched toes. While this may be a natural reaction to a challenging position, the goal should be to  achieve relaxation with alertness in your practice.

Remember, the way asanas make you feel is more important than how you look in the mirror or to the person next to you. Yoga is ultimately for ourselves – to bring freedom, peacefulness and happiness to our body and mind.

Some of our readers have been attending our yoga classes regularly for several years. Others are new to yoga and only recently began attending classes, either at the Ashram or elsewhere. For either type of student, establishing a daily routine in one’s own home is essential to receiving the full benefit of yoga.

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