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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In the Bhagavad Gita, kama (desire), krodha (anger) and lobha (greed) are referred to as the three gates leading to the downfall of the individual (16.21). Those seeking to make progress on the spiritual path must give them up on all three. Yoga practitioners of Yog Sadhan Ashram have made a resolution to work on anger this year. Here are some inspiring words from Hershji to motivate us all:

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The serious practice of yoga incorporates a traditional sattvic diet.  The general characteristics of the sattvic food are pure, light, and fresh. In other words, these foods possess the highest vitality to support all the koshas or layers of our selves.  Organic foods also possess a high vitality in comparison to foods grown with pesticides and  herbicides.

Sattvic foods are more easily digestible and are not fat laden nor protein dense as in animal products; therefore, the sattvic diet is primarily lacto-vegetarian.  This type of diet leads to a greater clarity and equanimity of mind while also being more beneficial to the body.

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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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