Asana means a state of being in which one can remain physically and mentally steady, calm, quiet and comfortable.
Yogasanas are not exercises, but techniques which place the physical body in positions that cultivate awareness, relaxation, concentration and meditation. Part of this process is the development of good physical health by stretching, massaging and stimulating the prank channels and internal organs. When Yogasanas are performed, respiration and metabolic rates slow down, the consumption of oxygen and the body temperature drop. Yoga postures tend to arrest catabolism whereas exercise promotes it. In addition, asanas are designed to have specific effects on the glands and internal organs, and to alter electrochemical activity in the nervous system.
Anybody can practice asanas, they become more efficacious and beneficial when performed in the proper manner after correct preparation.
Dynamic and static yogasanas:-
Dynamic practices often involve energetic movements of the body. They are not intended to develop muscles or make the body fitter but to increase flexibility, speed up circulation, loosen the muscles and joints, release energy blocks and remove stagnant blood from different parts of the body. These asanas tone the skin and muscles, strengthen the lungs, encourage movement in the digestive and excretory systems. Dynamic practices are particularly useful for beginners. They include series and postures such as the pawanmuktasana series, surya namaskara, chandra namaskara, dynamic paschimottanasana and dynamic halasana.
Static practices are performed by intermediate and advanced practitioners. They have a more subtle and powerful effect on the pranic and mental bodies. They are performed with little or no movement, the body often remaining in one position for a few minutes. These asanas are intended to gently massage the internal organs, glands and muscles as well as to relax the nerves throughout the body. They are specifically concerned with bringing tranquility to the mind and preparing the practitioner for the higher practices of yoga, such as meditation. Some of them are particularly useful for inducing the state of sense withdrawal, pratyahara.
Always breathe through the nose unless specific instructions are given to the contrary. Try to coordinate the breath with the asana practice.
Awareness means consciously noting the physical movement, the posture itself, breath control and synchronization, mental counting, sensations in the body, movement of prana, concentration on an area of the body or chakra and, most important, any thoughts or feelings that may arise during the practice.
Shavasana may be performed at any point during asana practice, especially when feeling physically or mentally tired. It should also be practiced on completion of the asana programme.
After completing shatkarma, asana should be done, followed by pranayama, then pratyahara and dharana which lead to meditation.
It is important that the backward bends are followed by forward bends and vice versa, and that whatever is practiced on one side of the body is repeated on the other side. This concept of counter pose is necessary to bring the body back to a balanced state. Specific counter poses are recommended for certain asanas However, in some cases, when practicing a particular asana for therapeutic reasons, a counter pose may not be needed.
Time of practice:
Asana may be practiced at any time of day except after meals. The best time, however, is the two hours before and including sunrise. This period of the day is known in Sanskrit as brahmamuhurta and is most conducive to the higher practices of yoga. At this time, the atmosphere is pure and quiet, the activities of the stomach and intestines have stopped, the mind has no deep impressions on the conscious level and it is empty of thoughts in preparation for the long day ahead. The practitioner will probably find that the muscles are stiffest early in the morning compared to the late afternoon when they become more supple, nevertheless this time is recommended for practice. In the evening the two hours around sunset is also a favorable time.
Place of practice:
Practise in a well-ventilated room where it is calm and quiet. Asanas may also be practiced outdoors but the surroundings should be pleasant, a beautiful garden with trees and flowers, for example. Do not practice in a strong wind, in the cold, in air that is dirty, smoky or which carries an unpleasant odour. Do not practice in the vicinity of furniture, a fire or anything that prevents free fall to the ground, especially while performing asanas such as sirshasana. Many accidents occur because people fall against an object. Do not practice under an electric fan unless it is extremely hot.
Use a folded blanket of natural material for the practices as this will act as an insulator between the body and the earth. Do not use a mattress which is spongy or filled with air as this does not give sufficient support to the spine.
During practice it is better to wear loose, light and comfortable clothing. Before commencing, remove spectacles, wristwatches and any jewellery.
Try to take a cold shower before starting. This will greatly improve the effect of the asanas.
Emptying the bowels:
Before commencing the asana programme, the bladder and intestines should preferably be empty. If constipated, drink two or three glasses of warm, slightly salted water and practise the asanas given in shankhaprakshalana, namely tadasana, tiryaka tadasana, kati chakrasana, tiryaka bhujangasana and udarakarshan asana. This should relieve the constipation. If not, practising pawanmuktasana part two should help. Choose one time daily to go to the toilet before doing asanas. Do not strain; try to relax the whole body. After some weeks the bowels will automatically evacuate at the set time every day. Try to avoid using laxative drugs.
The stomach should be empty while doing asanas and to ensure this, they should not be practised until at least three or four hours after food. One reason why early morning practice is recommended is that the stomach is sure to be empty.
There are no special dietary rules for asana practitioners although it is better to eat natural food and in moderation. Contrary to popular belief, yoga does not say that a vegetarian diet is essential although in the higher stages of practice it is recommended. At meal times it is advised to half fill the stomach with food, one quarter with water and leave the remaining quarter empty. Eat only to satisfy hunger and not so much that a feeling of heaviness or laziness occurs. Foods which cause acidity or gas in the digestive system, which are heavy, oily and spicy, should be avoided, especially when asanas are practised with a spiritual aim. Specific dietary restrictions are recommended for certain diseases, see Therapeutic Index.
Never exert undue force while doing asanas. Beginners may find their muscles stiff at first, but after several weeks of regular practice they will be surprised to find that their muscles are more supple.
Asana may be practiced by people of all age groups, male and female.
People with fractured bones or who are suffering from chronic ailments and diseases such as stomach ulcer, tuberculosis or hernia, and those recuperating from operations, should consult a yoga teacher or doctor before commencing asanas.
Termination of asana:
If there is excessive pain in any part of the body the asana should be terminated immediately and, if necessary, medical advice sought. Do not stay in an asana if discomfort is felt.
Do not practice any inverted asanas if there is gas or fermentation in the intestines, if the blood is excessively impure, during menstruation or in later stages of pregnancy. This is important to ensure that toxins do not go to the brain and cause damage, and, in the case of menstruation, that blood does not enter the fallopian tubes.
Never practice asanas after a long period of sunbathing as the body will be overheated.