Asana - The third step


by Balagopal

June 20, 2009. Asana in Sanskrit means that posture in which you can sit comfortably for the practicing yoga. It also means 'seat'. Yoga-asanas are now widely known as a mode of physical exercise that originated in ancient India. Patanjali, the great rishi classifies asana as the third step of the eight steps of yoga. Relaxation of the body and mind is the prime objective through a comfortable set of postures (asana). The techniques perfected, a practitioner acquires immunity from physical ailments caused by heat and cold, hunger and thirst, happiness and misery. These ailments are generally said to be the play of duality (or opposites) on both the body and mind.

The study of postures or asana form the subject matter of Hatha Yoga. Learnt under the expert advice and supervision of an accomplished master, the asana exercises or 'yogâsanas' can cure diseases, improve health and greatly help in meditation. Among the asanas preferred better for successful meditation practice, the paramount two are Padmâsana and Svastikâsana. (no major differences) Early attempts and practice should focus on your ability to hold the head, neck and chest erect without straining the spine. The cervical section of the vertebrae and those below them must be gradually trained to comfortably hold your chest, neck and head erect, steady and remain motionless for long spells in time.

Optimism and realism must strike a balance at every step of yogic practice. If you hurry through the âsanas with the vain hope of success in spiritual experience do remember that haste can lead to untold misery and physical pain. That is the reason Yoga compels you to seek instruction only from accomplished masters. While the author does not intend to list out the names of such masters, it should not be difficult for the seeker to find the teacher from the established orders of Indian and Eastern monasteries who have an unbroken lineage of masters in their particular styles of teaching following uniquely evolved 'schools' of thought and method.

While noting the fact that the study, training and theorizing on âsanas have become big business worldwide, this article series aim at directing the seeker to higher spiritual stages beyond the physical realm. It is reminded that Ashtânga Yoga forms the foundation of an integrated eight stepped study of the ways to come to the understanding and experience of the separateness of prakriti and purusha – Nature and Reality at their best. The Sânkhya tradition of ancient India promotes detailed analyses of all the opposite states in both the external nature and internal nature in the energetic quest for the finite understanding of Reality. Only if the contrasts are unquestionably and undoubtedly resolved can the seeker move to the higher levels in systematic yogic convergence. From this angle the study of asanas should be taken only to the extant of achieving the immediate objective of finding the right set of postures to prepare the body in order to ready the sense organs and the mind to perceive further knowledge. The rishis never get tired of encouraging saying that the 'mother of objectives' the realisation of Atman cannot be achieved by the weak. Na'ayamâtmâ balaheenéna labhya: Sânkhya philosophy itself derives the name from jnâna (samyak khyâyaté) - only knowledge is the means of liberation. The logic is also straightforward. They are pratyaksha (direct perception), anumâana (inference) and shabda (testimony).

Preventing lethargy or sleepishness is another objective of training in the âsanas. Being a natural corollary to relaxation, the body slips into creating the conditions for slumber once physical comforts are answered. However much the conscious mind 'tells' the body to meditate, the lowered metabolism typically attained by relaxation exercises will trigger the sleep inducing centers in the brain and 'lull' you into sleep!

Suffice it to say that even in the most physically relaxed state resulting from being adept at asanas you should be able to mentally remain alert, the body being fine-tuned to receive Praaṇa the life force from ether. Asanas also prepare the body to align the nervous system to the life force channels explained by the rishis as chakras along the spine. Awakening of the internal nature can begin only if the external elements that control the body's impulses are held in rein at will.

The main channels the life force travel are two in number as testified in the scriptures. They are Îḍa the left channel and Pingala the right. The two channel run parallel to the central spine the Sushumna roughly corresponding to the spinal cord sheathed by the vertebral column. Sushumna itself is a nervous sheath housing a hollow canal from the base of the spinal cord to the brain's base. The âsanaṣuddhi or perfected postures should produce a near vertical rod-straight line along your 'backbone' so that nothing obstructs the three channels we indicated here.

The next chapter on Prâṇâyâma will, as with this, briefly make introductions to the roles Prâṇa will play on your body and psyche under different conditions. And how Prâṇâyâma (control of Prâṇa) can trigger further control on external nature in our quest for true freedom.

As Vivekânanda urges “Practice is absolutely necessary. You may sit down and listen to me by the hour every day, but if you do not practise, you will not get one step further. Simply listening to explanations and theories will not do. There are several obstructions to practice. The first obstruction is an unhealthy body.” he also cautions the student that the quest is for an ideal far beyond that of achieving physical prowess. He further contrasts. “If health were the end, we would be like animals; animals rarely become unhealthy!”

Caution: It is always advisable to consult with your healthcare provider before you plan working out with yoga-âsanas.

Have you read these articles before this! Introduction to Ashtaanga Yoga, Yama the first step, Niyama the second step

Mr.Ramakrishnan commented on 20.6.2009

When other countries sell technology, there is nothing wrong for Indians to sell spirituality, which is the need of the hour.

There is abundance, but no spirituality and people don't know what to do in an adverse situation. Spirituality renders good health physically and mentally.
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