Spiritualizing the Practice of Yoga Postures
Yoga postures are mostly looked upon as a physical form of exercise. No doubt
they bestow a practitioner with lots of health and fitness benefits. However,
the spiritual side of yoga postures is largely ignored. Almost all the ancient
Hatha Yoga texts mention physical as well as spiritual benefits of yoga
postures. For example, Hathayoga Pradipika mentions that Matsyendrasana
awakens Kundalini and Paschimottanasana makes prana move into Sushumna.
Although most of the yoga institutes teach these postures to their students they
rarely explain how to harvest the spiritual benefits of these postures. Many such
examples can be cited from the ancient books of yoga. If you are practicing yoga
postures as a part of integrated yoga with the aim of Kundalini awakening, you
must understand how to spiritualize the practice of yoga postures, mudras and
bandhas. Without this knowledge you may be delaying or eve missing the expected
results. This article throws some light on this aspect of yoga practice.
Kundalini Yoga takes a systematic approach to meditation and self-realization.
It asks you to control the mind in step-by-step manner. If you directly jump to
attempt meditation (and many do that mistake now a days) you either don't get
any benefits or need to struggle a lot to figure out the appropriate way to rein
in the mind. When you are practicing yoga postures, mudras and bandhas the
primary focus is the Annamaya Kosha, the food sheath. So, naturally
physical health and fitness are the obvious benefits from the practice of yoga
postures. Annamaya Kosha is interlinked with the other koshas.
That's why by applying the tips and techniques mentioned in this article you can
also train your mind to be in the present state and narrow down its wandering.
Let's see how...
Begin your practice with a prayer
Don't start your practice directly. First, sit comfortable on your yoga mat and
practice deep breathing for a while. Long inhalation and long exhalation, both
of equal duration. Then stop and let the breathing resume to normal pace. Now
chant or sing a short prayer paying close attention to its meaning. If you feel
inclined (and have time) you may also perform gross worship of your ishtam
with flowers, lamp and dhoop. Don't let the prayer become
mechanical. As you are singing the prayer also visualize the purpose of your
yoga practice as vividly as possible. Why are you doing yoga? What benefits you
want to get from it? What is the concept of spirituality for you? What is its
significance to your life? Try to quickly reflect on these aspects. Make sure
not to wander away with any of these thoughts. Just a brief reflection to keep
them fresh in your mind. Once you finish the prayer bow down to God and begin
Play soothing music conductive to meditation
Some people play background music while they are doing yoga postures. They do so
mainly to avoid boredom. This is unnecessary if you want to spiritualize your
practice as outlined here. Even if you wish to listen to some music, make sure
it is soothing type of music conductive to calmness and peace. The only benefit
of such music is when you can't focus your mind by any other technique. Or when
you are switching from one set of postures to the another and your mind is not
fixed on any specific target.
Measure duration in terms of breaths
Most of the practitioners measure the duration of yoga postures in seconds or
minutes. Although this works this measurement has disadvantage that every now
and then your attention is on the clock or alarm. A better way is to measure the
duration as certain number of breaths. For example, once you attain the final
stage of Bhujangasana stay in that position counting 10 breaths (this
is just an example). This counting has three advantages. Firstly, your attention
is not on clock or alarm, it's on breathing. Secondly, when you focus on
breathing you can close your eyes and visualize the breathing or ishtam.
Thirdly, you avoid the tendency to hold the breath when your body is stretched.
Mentally repeat a mantra
You can also count the duration as certain repetitions of some mantra. This
mantra should be short and you should be able to easily chant it in your mind.
It is important to remember that mantra should not be chanted loudly. This
technique can be used as an alternative to the previous technique or in addition
to the previous technique. This technique gives wonderful results especially
when used with mudras and bandhas. Take an example of Moola
Bandha. While practicing moola bandha if you chant the bija mantra of
mooladhara chakra, benefits will be quite intense and quick. Same can be said
about Uddiyana bandha and Jalandhara bandha. While chanting
the mantra your attention should be on the mantra, its subtle vibrations and the
target body part (mooladhara for example).
Visualize Prana at the pressure points
Most of the yoga postures usually have one or more pressure points where the
pressure and stretch is felt more that the surrounding area. As you reach the
final position, visualize a flow of pranic energy rushing to that region and
energizing it, strengthening it or healing it. Prana can be visualized as a
stream of light particles or fluid. As you release the position feel the prana
dissipating from the region back to its reservoir.
Focus your awareness on chakras and sushumna
This is a very important aspect ignored by most of the practitioners. When you
are practicing yoga postures, mudras and bandhas for the sake of Kundalini
awakening your focus should revolve around chakras and sushumna. For example, if
you are practicing paschimottanasana you should be moving your attention up and
down the sushumna once you attain the final position. Same can be said about
moolabandha, uddiyanabandha, jalandharabandha. While practicing these techniques
your focus should be on mooladhara chakra, manipura chakra and vishuddhi chakra
respectively. If you are doing Viparitakarni Mudra, focus on sushumna
in the reverse direction.
Couple pranayama with asanas, mudras and bandhas
This is an advanced technique and must be done under some expert guidance. In
this technique you are holding your breath for certain time duration while doing
mudras and bandhas. Holding the breath is accompanied by focusing on some chakra
and / or sushumna. You can even adjust your swara before starting this
technique. If done properly this can awaken kundalini quickly and like a blast.
That's why great amount of care is needed. Some of the techniques done with
pranayama ensue swooning like state and a practitioner may feel intense emotions
such as devotion or bliss. Let me repeat - this is an advanced technique and
must be attempted carefully under some able guidance.
Once you finish your practice offer it at the holy feet of your ishtam,
let your breathing come to normal pace and then end the session.