When we practice any asana, the body, the breath, and the mind are equally engaged in the posture. As a result of this we are able to put our bodies into a sort of ‘listening mode’ where the application of focus and concentration causes the body to be more relaxed and more receptive to its own messages. Any Asana will help to clear the mind and pinpoint physical areas of pain or tension, weakness or immobility and as soon as we become aware of this we can employ the mind in further examination and scrutiny.
Asanas create the opportunity for the witness to become active. It is in this mind frame that we can make positive changes in our lives. On completion of each posture we can analyse what we are feeling or what is distracting us. This kind of thinking again serves to draw us into the present moment making us more aware of what we need to deal with in the here and now. Asana takes us on a journey of deepening levels of awareness starting from the body and moving inwards to the furthest recesses of the mind.
Since breath reflects our state of mind, awareness of breath increases our awareness of our mental states. In Pranayama we break habitual patterns of incorrect breathing and in this way we confront and expose our conditioned personalities. The fuller we breathe, the more alive we feel, the less we breathe and the less we feel.
Suppressing full breathing tends to fend off feelings, for example, we may discover when practicing Pranayama that one does not breathe sufficiently into the abdomen. According to Bioenergetics a tense abdomen could have been developed as a means of curbing sexual feelings, controlling excretory functions, or trying to diminish an emotional pain.
A tight abdomen can of course mean many more things, but the very act of becoming conscious of this tightness can lead one on the road to mental relief. Some may find that they are unable to emit a deep expiration after a deep inhalation, which may be due to tensions in the shoulder girdle and the neck and throat. The Bioenergetics interpretation of this would be that tight shoulders may indicate an act of inhibiting the impulse to strike/reach out. Tight necks and throats may be the result of inhibiting the need to cry or even scream.
Pranayama helps us to raise our levels of self awareness and we can employ similar questions as we did in Asana: “Why do I hold my abdomen so tightly?”, “What feelings or thoughts do I have when I consciously relax it?” Full deep breathing makes us feel more alive and in tune with the universe. Becoming conscious of what prevents our deep breathing and removal of these blockages opens up the channel to clarity and mental peace.
Asana and pranayama lead to an improved sense of self worth because we are actively involved in our own evolution. It is only when we exercise awareness during our practice that we will be able to discover more about ourselves and pave the way to our physical and mental growth.
So important is this concept of awareness that it is said that without it, asana is not asana but a mere physical exercise. We need to move slowly and gradually into each posture maintaining our alertness at all times. We need to stay aware of the breath in pranayama and to keep a vigilant watch in order not to miss a single clue that the techniques are sure to reveal.
We also need to be aware of our attitudes to the practices. A positive attitude is essential in order that we remain open to the practices and have faith in their validity. One must try and let go of any feelings of judgement or striving. People who are under a lot of stress are generally those types who push themselves to the limits and are incredibly hard on themselves if and when they do not reach their unobtainable goals. Such people need to actively employ patience with themselves during the practices.
A depressed person will generally have a low self esteem and may quickly be discouraged when he/she does not achieve the final posture immediately or cannot perform it correctly. Awareness of one’s attitudes and expectations is very important as a negative outlook can have destructive rather than constructive effects, in the sense that they may lead to discouragement or frustration.
Swami SivanandaRadha says of asana that “It is more important to pay attention to the pattern of developing into the posture, and to observe the psychological implications, then to try to accomplish the posture exactly and thereby miss the purpose of the asana, namely, the discovery of the physical obstacles that have their root in the personality makeup.”
Before, during, and especially after each asana and pranayama, it is important to take quiet time to relax and allow thoughts or feelings to manifest. We need to take time to reflect on our state of being at each present moment in order that we receive the indeed, mystical messages that our bodies convey to us. It is up to each of us to investigate and enquire about each and every one of these messages.
There are certain asanas and pranayamas that can symbolise our problems. By this I mean that a particular pose may help us to embody our feelings of anger or frustration and, a particular pranayama will aid in creating or exacerbating our feelings of introversion/ extroversion. Always, the witnessing character must be employed and used to ask questions: “Am I irritable in this posture?”, “Are my shoulders tensed?” , “What am I thinking now?”, “Can I give a name to my present state of mind, Can I associate a colour with it?” etc.
Charles Darwin said that “Attention, or conscious concentration on almost any part of the body produces some direct physical effect on it.” This supports the findings of biofeedback that attention on a specific area will bring a stream of energy to that area. Therefore if we focus our awareness on a specific area during asana, it will increase the flow of blood, prana and energy which will all aid in removing blockages and bringing issues to conscious light.
Sushant is Meditation & Philosophy Teacher and Academic Director at Rishikesh Yogis. Sushant carries long years of experience teaching practical as well as philosophical aspects of Kundalini yoga, Kriya yoga, Hatha Yoga and Tantra philosophy.