First and foremost, you must enjoy your practice. Don’t let it become a chore or a bore. Remember, it is your practice and you should regard it as your own form of creative expression that you can look forward to, so don’t make it so challenging for yourself that you approach it with dread.
When I practice, little else matters apart from the mat and me. It’s a time when I can work through and try to overcome my physical limits and celebrate my physical strength, as well as analyzing any mental obstacles; it is above all, a time when I can explore my own consciousness. Yoga has become a valuable resource, which I am forever applying to other more challenging occurrences in my daily life whenever they arise.
It is important to create a practice to suit your lifestyle: it is more beneficial to practice regularly for 30-minute period rather than sporadically for longer periods, so develop a routine that you can stick to. But remember, as a rule of thumb any asana that is performed should be countered with it’s opposite pose, in order to maintain a healthy spine. Therefore, if you practice a forward bend, counter the pose with a backward bend.
What to include:
- Always begin your asana practice with several rounds of the Sun Salutation
- Pranayama and meditation can be performed separately and early in the day, while asana can be practiced later
- Purification techniques should be practiced in the morning
- Remember to hold each pose for at least 5 breaths or 10 – 15 seconds.
Sun Salutation – Surya Namaskara
Surya means sun, which in ancient times represented spiritual consciousness and was worshipped daily, and namaskara means salutation. Surya Namaskara or ‘salutation to the sun’ is a dynamic sequence of asanas, which are an effective means of warming up the body, stretching, toning and looseing the muscles and joints and the internal organs.
As well asit’s physical benefits, the Sun Salutation induces greater awareness and prepares the practioner for spiritual englightenment. The Sun Salutation is a complete practice in itself, comprising asana, pranayama, mantra and meditation. The 12 asanas that make up the sequence generates pranic energy, which activates the psychic channels in the body. The steady rhythmic sequence corresponds with the rhythms of the universe – the 24 hours of the day, the astrological calendar and the biorhythms of the human body.
There is an intimate connection between the breath, nerve currents and control of the inner prana or vital forces. Pranayama is the means by which a yogi tries to realize within his individual body the whole cosmic nature, and attempts to achieve perfection by attaining all the power of the universe.
The word pranayama is composed of two elements: prana is the vital energy or life force that exists in all things; ayama is defined as expansion or ascension. So pranayama means the expansion and ascension of the life force: regulating the prana in order to transcent our normal limitations. It involves the conscious control of the inhalation, retention and exhalation of the breath. Through the practice of pranayama we harness and direct the prana in order to restore and maintain optimal health, and to gain control over the mind.
The purpose of pranayama is to improve the function of the respiratory system, which is the gateway to purifying the body, mind and intellect and is essential for sustaining all forms of life. Without food or water, we can survive for a few days, but when respiration stops, so does life. The breath influences the activities of every cell in the body, and most importantly is intimately linked with the brains performance, promoting vitality, perception and sharpening the intellect. Efficient respiration improves the circulatory system, without which the process of digestion and elimination would suffer, toxins accumulate and disease spread through the body. Regular practice of pranayama also helps to maintains the flow of blood, which tones the nerves, brain, spinal cord and cardiac muscles, maintaining their efficiency.
The respiratory system is a bridge between the conscious and subconscious minds, and there is a distinct relationship between the state of mind and the breath. The breath quickens when we are excited or stressed and becomes deeper and quieter when we relax. By controlling the breath, we are able to control our state of being. The regular practice of pranayama strengthens the lungs, increasing breathing capacity and oxygen intake.
On average, humans breathe about 15 times per minutes. Each inhalation draws oxygen into the body and triggers the transformation of nutrients into fuel. The freshly oxygenated blood is then carried by the arteries from the left side of the heart, which beats at an average of 70 times per minutes, pumping blood to every cell in the body, replenishing their source of life-giving oxygen. Each exhalation discharges carbon dioxide and other toxins in the venous blood. The lungs play an integral part in this disposal, and pranayama keeps the lungs free from bacterial disease and increase the circulation of blood and lymph.
Pranayama helps to eradicate pain, tension and illness. The rhythmic nature of the breathing exercises improves glandular function. Respiration fuels the burning of oxygen and glucose, producing the energy to power each muscular contraction, glandular secretion and mental process. The exercises also calm the mind and thus balance the heart. This in turn assures good health and purifies the nervous system. Once the nervous system and senses are harmonized, cravings and desires diminish.
Inhalation should be long, deep, rhythmic and even. The energizing ingredients of the atmosphere percolate into the cells of the lungs and rejuvenate life. By retaining the breath, we absorb energy fully and distribute it to the entire system via the circulation of the blood. Exhalation removes toxins, and retaining the breath on exhalation eliminates stress and tension.
- Breathe through the nose
- Best time for practice is early morning when body is fresh and mind is free
- Practice at same time and same places each day for 15 minutes
- Choose a quite, clean and well-ventilated room with no draughts
- Sit on the floor on a folded blanket or a cushion. Keep the spire erect and perpendicular to the floor. It is important to be comfortable so that the body remains stead and does not disturb the breath
- It should be practiced on an empty stomach (wait at least two hours after meal)
Type of Practices
- Nadi-Sodhana Pranayama without Kumbhaka (Alternate-Nostril Breathing without Retention)
This requires no breath retention and is therefore recommended for those with heart problem and the elderly. With the right hand in Vishnu mudra and the left hand in Jnana mudra, inhale slowly through the left nostril according to your capacity. Close the left nostril with the ring finger and immediately release the thumb to open the right nostril. Exhale and inhale, then close the right nostril and exhale through the left. This is one complete round.
- Nadi-Sodhana Pranayama with Kumbhaka (Alternate Nostril-Breating with Retention)
Place the right hand in Vishnu mudra and the left hand in Jnana mudra. Close the right nostril with right thumb and inhale slowly through the left nostril. Then close the left nostril with the right ring finger and retain the inhaled breath with both nostrils closed. Open the right nostril and exhale slowly. Inhale through the right nostril, then close it with the right thumb, retain the breath, release the ring finger to open the left nostril and exhale through the left nostril. This is one complete round.
Practice this exercise daily for at least 15 minutes. For the first month, use these ratio: for inhalation 6 counts, retention 4 counts and exhalation 6 counts. The second month, increase to 8-8-8.
The practice nourishes the whole body with oxygen. It purifies the blood and removes toxins, stimulates the brain to function more effectively, improves concentration, relieves stress and increases vitality. The retention of breath means this exercise is not recommended for those suffering from heart disease.
Source: The Complete Yoga Tutor – Mark Kan