Yoga is a practical system of self culture. It is an exact science and aims at the harmonious development of the body, mind and soul. It is a methodical way of attaining perfection, through control of the different elements of human nature, both physical and psychic.
Through yoga you can have increased energy, vigour vitality, longevity and a high standard of health. Its practices will help control emotions and passions and bring about serenity, calmness and wonderful concentration.
Yoga is a process of continuous transformation. The path of yoga is the inner path, whose gateway is the heart. Inner perfection comes about gradually. As you advance in yoga, the ego is progressively replaced by the spirit. The seeker is freed from the tyranny of the lower mind and attains the state in which there is union with the absolute.
Place your foot step by step on the different rungs of the ladder of yoga. Make a program of practices and stick to it systematically and regularly. Be earnest in your sadhana. When you are ready you will enter the halls of wisdom.
Asana is the third limb of ashtanga yoga. The word yoga means union of the individual soul, jivatma, with the supreme soul, paramatma. Asana is an easy and comfortable seat, pose or posture. Thus the term yoga asana means certain postures by assuming any of which the individual soul is united with the supreme soul. The relationship between mind and body is so complete and so subtle that physical training will induce mental transformation.
One may come across people who can perform complicated yoga asanas with amazing grace and finish. This, however, should not make one presume that yoga asanas are merely physical exercises founded by the ancient rishis of India. There is something spiritual, something divine at the bottom of this system, for it awakens the sleeping kundalini shakti, helps the yogic student in establishing himself fully in meditation and finally makes him experience cosmic consciousness.
If you are firmly established in asanas, you will not feel the body at all. When you do not feel the body, qualities of the pairs of opposites will not affect you. When you are free from the effect of the pairs of opposites such as heat and cold, pleasure and pain, you will be able to take up the next higher step pranayama, and practise it with an unruffled mind. Therefore you should select a posture which is easy and comfortable and in which you can remain for long, say, three hours. Here are some basic guidelines on performing asanas:
The practice of asanas is of vital importance, and though they may be found to be painful and troublesome at the outset, once the habit of sitting in one asana for a considerable length of time is formed, you will feel a peculiar thrill and pleasure when you assume it and will not like to change the pose on any account. According to Patanjali, asana is that which is firm and comfortable. He does not lay any special stress on either asana or pranayama. Practise either padmasana or siddhasana for meditative purposes and the various other asanas, bandhas, etc. for maintaining a high standard of health, vigour, strength, vitality and keeping up brahmacharya.
Pranayama is the fourth limb of ashtanga yoga. It begins with the regulation of breath and ends in establishing full and perfect control over prana, the life current or inner vital force. With the practice of pranayama, nadis, channels of prana, are purified.
Breath is gross prana. By establishing control over the gross prana, you can easily gain control over the subtle prana. Control of breath also brings about control of mind, and he who has controlled his mind has also controlled his breath. If one is suspended, the other follows. If the breath is unsteady, the mind is also unsteady. If the breath is steady and calm, the mind is also steady and calm. Therefore, pranayama steadies the mind and makes it fit for concentration.
The practice of pranayama should be systematic and well-regulated. Just as it takes a long time, patience and persever- ance to tame a tiger, so also you will have to tame the prana gradually. Given below are preliminary instructions on pranayama practice:
You know that you are achieving proficiency in pranayama if your body becomes light and slender, your eyes acquire a shine and your countenance glows, your voice becomes sweet and melodious, you can retain the breath for longer periods of time, you can hear anahata sounds, the digestive fire is augmented, you enjoy perfect health and are cheerful and happy.
The fifth and sixth limbs of ashtanga yoga are pratyahara, abstraction or sense withdrawal and dharana, concentration. From pratyahara starts the real inner spiritual life, for this is when the external world is shut out and the mind is turned inwards. Yama, niyamas, asana and pranayama all prepare the aspirant for the practice of pratyahara. A sustained practice of these four limbs takes the mind to the point where it can be easily detached.
It is difficult to say where pratyahara ends and dharana begins. When the senses are withdrawn, the mind naturally assumes inner concentration and eventually merges into meditation. Concentration is holding the mind on some particular object and an unbroken flow of knowledge in that subject is meditation.
Concentrate gently either on the lotus of the heart (anahata chakra) or at the space between the two eyebrows (trikuti). Close your eyes. The seat of the mind is ajna chakra at trikuti. The mind can be easily controlled if you concentrate on trikuti. Bhaktas should concentrate on the heart. Yogins and vedantins should concentrate at ajna chakra. Crown of the head (sahasrara) is another seat for concentration. Some vedantins concentrate here. Some yogins concentrate at the tip of the nose (nasikagra drishti). Stick to one centre in concentration and never change it. Your guru will select the centre for concentration. If you do not have a guru, you can select it yourself.
If you find it difficult to concentrate on the heart, the tip of the nose, the space between the eyebrows or the crown of the head, select an external object for the purpose. You can concentrate on the tick-tick sound of a watch, the flame of a candle or any other object which is pleasing to the mind. Or you can concentrate on the blue sky, the light of the sun, the all-pervading air, the sun or the moon. If you experience any headache or pain in the skull or any part of the body due to the strain of concentration on a particular place or object, shift the centre of concentration or change the object.
Even if the mind runs about during concentration, do not bother. Let it run. Slowly bring it to your object of concentration. In the beginning the mind may run fifty times, two years of practice will reduce the number to twenty; another three years of continued and persistent practice will reduce the number to nil. The mind will then be completely fixed in divine consciousness. It will not run outwards even if you try to bring it out. Improvement in concentration will be visible only little by little.
Dhyana or meditation follows concentration. Dhyana should come naturally on account of serenity of mind induced by the practices of pratyahara and dharana. Meditation opens the door of the mind to intuitive knowledge and many powers. During meditation all worldly thoughts are shut out from the mind and the mind is saturated with divine thoughts and divine presence.
When you first practise meditation, lights of various colours will appear in the forehead. These are tanmatric (elemental) lights. Every element has its own colour: water is white, fire is red, air is green and ether is blue. So the colourful lights are due to these tattwas (elements) only. Sometimes you may see a big blazing sun or moon or lightning in front of the forehead. Do not mind these, but try to dive deep into the source of the lights. Sometimes devatas (deities), nitya siddhas (eternally perfected yogis) and amarapurushas (immortal beings) will appear in meditation. Receive them all with due honour. Bow down before them. Get advice from them. Do not be frightened. They appear before you to give you spiritual help and encouragement.
In the beginning, all kinds of negative thoughts will also arise in the mind as soon as you sit for meditation. Aspirants often leave the practice of meditation on account of this. Remember that if you try to drive away a monkey it attempts to pounce on you with vengeance. Even so the old samskaras and thoughts try to attack you with vengeance and redoubled force only at the time when you try to raise good, divine thoughts. Do not be discouraged. Go on with your practice of meditation regularly. These thoughts will thin out and eventually perish.
During meditation you will get into rapture or ecstasy. It is of five kinds: the lesser thrill, momentary rapture, flooding rapture, transporting rapture, and all-pervading rapture. The lesser thrill will raise the hairs of the body like goose flesh. The momentary rapture is like production of lightning moment by moment. Like waves breaking on the seashore, the flooding rapture descends rapidly on the body and breaks. Transporting rapture is strong and lifts the body up to the extent of launching it into air. When the all-pervading rapture arises, the whole body is completely surcharged and blown like a full bladder.
If you can meditate for half an hour, you will be able to engage yourself with peace and spiritual strength in the battle of life for one week through the force of the meditation. Such is the beneficial result of meditation. As you have to move with different minds of peculiar natures in your daily life, get the strength and peace from meditation and you will have no trouble and worry. Keep the following guidelines in mind for your meditation practice: