The Mirror Of The Self ► [09] The Asanas

Posted: 27.01.2009

The Asanas

The day man came to know that he is living in a dualistic world where are found the opposites of joy and sorrow, profit and loss, etc., and that it is possible to enter a state of equanimity transcending conflict, he sought to enter that state. One of the methods he discovered was the acquisition of perfect control over the body. Asanas form a part of the technique he discovered for the attainment of equanimity and for achieving perfect control over the body.

In Moolaradhana are given five effects flowing from exter­nal penance. One of the effects is the state of equanimity in joy and suffering. Patanjali, too, has talked of its utility protection from the onslaught of conflict. From the viewpoint of spiritual practice, the asanas were basically developed from a religious angle. In the course of their evolution, many elements got added to them. These were also developed with a view to ensuring physical and mental health.

 

Asanas And Food

There is an intimate connection between food and bodily posture. Perfection of posture is possible only through control over food. The Jain method of spiritual practice first lays em­phasis on how to achieve control over food through fasting, eating less than the requisite quantity of food, the breaking fast only if certain conditions are fulfilled and the abandonment of all delicacies. The question of achieving perfection of bodily posture is considered afterwards. A glutton can never achieve perfection of posture. Unwholesome food and the practice of asanas do not go together. For perfection of posture, perfect control over food is essential.

 

Rules Governing The Practice Of Asanas

There is not the same rule for all to practise various asanas. Vajrasana can be practised immediately after food, but not sarvangasana. Generally speaking, the asanas should be practised early in the morning. However, these can also be practised 3 - 4 hours after food. One may sit in a posture of meditation at any time, one hour after having taken meals.

As to where one should practise asanas, ancient directions are available. The asanas should be practised in a clean and pure atmosphere; it is forbidden to practise them in a polluted atmos­phere. A place too damp or dirty is not suitable for doing asanas.

While doing asanas, one must pay due attention to place, time, apparel and technique. A mat of woollen blanket has been held to be useful for doing asanas on; the wool prevents the energy from sinking down into the earth. The mat should not be cushioned or too soft. The clothes one wears should be loose, and one should not put on too many.

 

Asana: Counter - Asana

A knowledge of the technique of doing asanas is necessary. Each asana must be followed by a counter - asana. An error in performance can lead to serious consequences. Therefore, the practising of an asana, without fully comprehending the secret thereof and without a full knowledge of the technique, is fraught with danger. What asana to perform in what circumstances and in what order and what counter - asana is required to be practised after it - one must have adequate knowledge about all these before undertaking the practice of asanas. Also an asana should be selected and practised under the supervision of a specialist, keeping in view the various circumstances of a particular case - the physical condition, place, time, disease, etc.

 

The Duration Of An Asana

The duration of an asana need not be the same for all. It must be determined in each particular case on the basis of the practitioner's strength and physical condition. Generally speak­ing, a practice of 20 - 30 minutes should suffice. Asanas may be performed all together, or in different sessions - sometimes for 5 minutes, at other times for 10 minutes. These may be practised separately, too. Sometimes an asana is practised for exercising the hand, at other times for exercising the neck or the foot.

 

The Technique Of Practising Asanas

The technique of doing asanas according to Jain yoga is this - 'First practise asanas in the lying-down position, then in the sitting position and finally in the standing position.' Greater energy is required for doing asanas in the sitting position than in the lying-down position. Likewise, greater energy is required for doing asanas in the standing position than in the sitting position. Asanas requiring less force can be practised even by frail persons. Certain asanas in the lying-down position (such as uttanshayan, parshvashayan, etc.) are very beneficial. They are simple asanas and may be practised in all conditions.

 

Asanas And The Suppleness Of The Backbone

A great deal depends upon the state of a man's spinal cord. The flexibility of the backbone forms the foundation of good health. The basis of a man's vitality is again the suppleness of the spinal cord. As the backbone gets more and more rigid, a man's health deteriorates, longevity decreases and a man's powers lapse. Long age, good health and abundant energy are unimaginable without the suppleness of the spinal cord.

The backbone is a very important part of our body. It is necessary to keep it flexible. All the psychic centres are connected with it. It is also the centre of the body's central nervous system. It is a factor behind our transformation. A proper understanding of the backbone renders our path wholly clear.

'Internal Trip' forms one of the exercises in the technique of preksha meditation. It is specially meant for exercising the spinal cord. In Hatha-Yoga it is known as the path of the kundalini. It is the path of the kundalini's ascent from below. Taijasa-shakti (electrical power) and prana- shakti vital power also ascend along this route. It is also the means for the maturing of sadhana consequent upon the activation of the psychic centres, for the transformation of a man's personality, and for the awakening of insight. It is also the path of sushumna. Thus, in many respects, the spinal cord is even more important than the brain.

 

The Practice Of Asanas - A Must

It is very necessary to practise asanas. Even if we cannot perform asanas for all the parts of the body, we must at least perform them for the important parts. Five important parts of the body are:

1. The brain
2. The backbone
3. The heart and the lungs
4. The abdomen
5. The feet

Let us give up the idea of remaining idle. Not to exert or labour and to keep idle has become the standard of greatness today. But exertion is vital to living. The theory of resting or keeping idle is purely a mental construct of little value. People who are not obliged to put in hard physical labour must consider a different option - practising asanas.  Those who labour hard might for once do without the asanas, but for those who do not labour, the practice of asanas is a must.

Through the practice of asanas we provide the necessary exercise to the body, filling it thereby with new energy. Today's man is leading a very fast life. He has little leisure. Still he must practise a few asanas. If he is not able to spare much time, even then he must practise at least baddhapadmasana. This is a very important asana.

 

Two Important Asanas

It is said that in ancient times, 84000 asanas were in vogue. How can one man practise all those asanas? Even if he spares one minute for each asana, it will take him 84000 minutes to do all the asanas. He will have to spend the whole day doing them. And where will he then find time to do other things? It was suggested that if a man cannot practise 84000 asanas, he might practise at least 84. But it is not possible for every man to do even 84 asanas per day. So it was suggested, "Forget the number - 84000 or 84, or even 20 or 10. Let a man practise only two asanas - one, padmasana, the other, kayotsarg or shavasana."

Padmasana is a very useful asana. It is highly beneficial for the backbone, the abdomen, the lungs, the heart and the knees. When the lungs function properly, the blood circulation is right. When the blood is polluted, the whole organism is defiled and all thought gets perverted. It is because the sullied blood enters the arteries that all the parts of the body grow lax and start mal­functioning, It is the function of the heart to purify the blood. Vital air inhaled through the nose keeps the blood pure. Respiration is the means of providing vital air. This vital air is utilized by the lungs.

Toxics enter our body. When the heart and the lungs function properly, the toxics are pushed out. Baddhapadmasana becomes the chief factor in the maintenance of lungs in good order.

 

Meditation And The Asanas

The technique of preksha meditation is very comprehen­sive. Physical development, mental development and emotional development - all these are connected with each other. Medita­tion affects the digestive system. It makes it dull. This effect can be neutralized by the practice of asanas.

Only when the digestive system, the blood-circulatory sys­tem, etc., function properly, can a man give himself wholly to meditation. It is possible to maintain these systems in order through the practice of asanas.

The practice of asanas serves to awaken various psychic centres and it influences the endocrine system. It is also helpful in the transformation of instincts. For example, sashankasana is essential for controlling anger. It also serves to discipline many other instincts. The meditational postures - padmasana, vajrasana, sukhasana, etc. are useful for meditation.

 

The Asanas And Gymnastics

Besides ensuring an  all-round physical development, the asanas also constitute a method of awakening the psychic centres.. Gymnastics is primarily a method of developing the body; the asanas embody a subtle means of awakening inner energy, gym­nastics being only a gross means thereof. The practice of asanas is synchronised with the act of breathing or pranayama, but no attention is paid to these in gymnastics.

 

The Asanas: Spiritual Objective

On the ground of spirituality, the chief objective of doing asanas is total dissociation from karma. Twelve kinds of penance are prescribed for such dissociation. Among these, austerity is the fifth. The asanas form a part thereof. Incidentally, along with total dissociation from karma, one also achieves physical, mental and emotional health.

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