Yoga is concerned with both the outer and inner movements of the body. The internal and external go hand in hand, just as proper breathing and the execution of postures go hand in hand. Every posture in yoga is beneficial in some way to some part of our body. It can range from something as simple as extending your tongue, which prevents sore throats, to standing on your head, which supplies fresh blood to vital cells, can prevent senility, and benefits the pituitary gland. Practicing as few as ten postures a day, along with a healthy diet, can keep your body in good shape. Yoga is not a miracle. It is common sense, which we sometimes forget to use.
Always be sure that you do some form of twist posture each day to keep your spine supple, flexible, alive! Do an inverted posture to give your organs a rest from the down-pull that is a result of our constant vertical position in life. Be sure to do a balance position each day. They are most calming to the nerves. Remember the yoga saying: “Old age begins in the joints; you’ll be stiff long enough without allowing it to happen while you’re still alive.” We move in practiced, ramrod style of walking all day long, holding back or being uptight. Learn to give both your body and mind a break by moving more spontaneously, more freely, more lightly at certain times during each day. Yoga will help you to stay flexible enough to achieve this goal. Yoga can assist you to recapture the freedom of movement of your youth. Is yoga the fountain of youth? No, it is the fountain of life!
Step four on the eightfold path of yoga is pranayama – breathing. Breathing is a physical means to a spiritual end. Regulated breathing helps control your mind. Your breath is an energy that you draw from the universe that surrounds you. It is a life force. As you inhale, think of the pure prana energy, the lifegiving force entering your body. Hold it and think your mantra, a spiritual thought or life force. Some think of the word “Om” – God. As you exhale, think about the impurities leaving your body.
Every thought effects you. You are what you think. There is no greater truth. What you think during your breathing affects your whole being. Controlled breath determines everything in your life. It is the road that leads to success in meditation. It is your life.
Pratyahra: Nerve Control
Number five on the eightfold path of yoga is pratyahara – the complete withdrawal of the sense and the relaxation of every organ. Literally, pratyahara means “nerve control.” It is emptying your mind in order to be able to concentrate. It is only through proper concentration that you can learn to meditate. The average mind has four thousand thoughts a minute. Pratyahara helps us control our scattered thoughts by helping our mind become very still. When you sit quietly, let your mind wander from thought to thought, subject to subject, like a grasshopper jumping all around. Allow yourself to observe your mind, but don’t try to control it. The next time you decide to sit quietly again, you’ll notice that your mind is less turbulent, more calm. When you continue this practice over a period of weeks, months, or even years you’ll learn to be able, at will, to free your mind from your brain. The mind is sometimes like a child who wants to get your attention. If you ignore the child, it will settle down. Let your mind settle down, and let it become still.
Standing Backward Stretch.
Standing with your feet comfortably apart and your arms at your sides, inhale and lift your arms over your head. Stretch as though your whole body is reaching for the ceiling. Really stretch your spine. Lean back slightly. Exhale. Let your arms fall out to your sides and gently come back to an upright position.
Standing Waist Roll.
Stand comfortably with your hands on your hips. Roll your waist and bend your body forward to the left side, to the back, to the right side, and back to the front. Do these rolls three or four times. Begin your rotation to the left, then reverse and rotate to the right. This pose loosens up your waist and slims it down; it also loosens the spine.
Stand comfortably. Lift your arms out to your sides and swing the vigorously, making circles backward. Slowly, come to a stop and reverse the motion. Swing vigorously making forward circles. Exhale and let your arms relax to your sides. This is an energizing posture. If you stand with your eyes closed, you will become aware of all the energy inside you, and you will feel very alive.
Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Raise your arms parallel to your legs. Stretch forward, all the way to your toes, as though you were holding on to a pair or oars. Lean backward as far as you can, almost lying flat on the floor, and pull the oars back to your chest. Reach forward with your oars and pull back. Inhale as you bring the oars to your chest, and exhale as you stretch forward. Repeat this movement very slowly, six to eight times. This posture teaches us to sit up and is also good for the stomach muscles.
Sitting Twist Swing.
Sit on the floor and open your legs to your comfort level. Inhale and lift your arms out to your sides. Exhale and twist from the waist to your right. Stretch forward and place your left hand on your right toe. As you twist at the waist, reaching for your toe, your right arms swings behind you as for as possible. Inhale and return to center. Exhale. Twist, stretch your right hand to your left toe, and swing your left arm behind you. This is a good posture for the waist and for keeping the spine loose. It should be practiced four to five times on each side.
Sit on the floor with your legs comfortably apart. Interlace your fingers and face the palms of your hands outward. Stretch forward and push your arm out in front of you. You are going to be making a large circle. Stretch and rotate to the right. Lean back and pull your arms to your chest. Stretch and rotate to the left, stretching your arms out. Rotate back to the center. Stretch and push as far you can. Reverse your rotation, and repeat this movement three to four times each way. This posture loosen the spine.
Advanced Fish Lift.
Lie on your back on the floor. Slightly raise your upper body, keeping the top of your head on the floor and your arms stretched out on your thighs. From your fish position, lift both legs three or four inches off the floor. Keep your legs straight and hold the pose for a few moments. This posture strengthens your stomach and thigh muscles.
Relaxation/Meditation: The Lotus
Stretch out and center your body comfortably on the floor. Keep your legs about 18 inches apart and your arms away from your sides with your palms facing upward. Adjust your head comfortably – your neck, face, and jaw relaxed. Follow your exhalation to help you in your relaxation. With each exhalation, allow yourself to sink deeper and deeper into peacefulness.
With your eyes closed, visualize a beautiful pond. At the center of this very still pond rest, a very large, white lotus flower. Behold this flower for a moment with all its serenity.
Imagine that you can see right down to the center of this very still pond rest, a very large, white lotus flower. Behold this flower for a moment with all its serenity.
Imagine that you can see right down on the center of that lotus flower. At the very center of the flower is a small dark spot. Keep looking at the spot in the center of the flower. It grows large as you watch it. Keep watching as it gets bigger and bigger. Something wonderful will happen very soon. Watch.
A little figure is sitting right in the center of the lotus flower. Keep looking at the figure for it too will soon begin to grow larger and larger.
You realize that this figure is you. Watch yourself lean back, stretch out, and sink right into the center of this gigantic flower. Your face is lifted to a soft, warm, caressing sun. Enjoy the breeze, and breathe as gently as the breeze. Feel free and blissful.
Experience your body’s release of tightness and tension. Is your mind calm and content? Is your breath effortlessly flowing? Fill yourself with this moment of bliss.
The sun has gently blanketed your body into warmth. As it disappears behind a passing cloud, you feel a gentle warmth from the huge lotus petals that cradle and caress you like a huge hand. You feel protected, safe, and loved. Your only thought is: “At last, I am at peace.”
The gigantic lotus petals slowly begin to fold outward again, and the you in the center begins to grow smaller and smaller, until you are once again back in your practice room. Your body is back, but your mind is still filled with the peace and love of the lotus. Know that you’ll return again.
Slowly awaken your body back to aliveness with a very subtle first stretch, like the first half-awake
stretch in the morning. Continue with a full stretch, a twist, a turn, a releasing yawn, and an energizing inhalation. Allow yourself to smile and be grateful for having touched peacefulness once more. Take this final thought: “Life is a celebration.”
This sixth stage of the eightfold path of yoga is dharana – concentration or mind control. You begin by concentration on different parts of the body. For example, you might concentrate on your third eye, the area right above your nose. You might choose to concentrate on your heart or your navel. Later in your practice, you can begin to concentrate on an object of your own choice, as long as it is something beautiful or inspiring or something from nature. It must be a pure thought. Concentration is allowing your mind to flow uninterrupted toward the same object for twelve seconds. Although, it might sound simple, it takes much practice to be able to reach dharana.
In concentration, you establish a subject-object relationship with the object you choose to focus on. In meditation, however, you’ll find yourself becoming the object and moving beyond all self-imposed limits.
Step seven in the eightfold path of yoga is dhayan-meditation. Concentration becomes meditation when the chose object is no longer of a material nature, but of a spiritual nature. It is said in yoga that concentration is the mark of genius, but that meditation is the mark of saintliness. Meditation is a continual flow of energy minus the ego. When you meditate you merge your consciousness with the universal consciousness. Concentration always involves only the mind, and is a function of the ego’s concerns, while meditation involves the heart and the whole being.
Samadhi: Pure Consciousness
The first seven steps on the eightfold path of yoga bring us to the final step-samadhi-pure consciousness, and the ultimate goal of yoga. Samadhi is spiritual enlightenment, ultimate bliss. Enlightenment is the highest spiritual state you can attain here on earth. Your mind becomes free of any desire of the ego and merely observes and contemplates with nonattachment.
When the last three stages of the eightfold path of yoga-dharana, dhyana, and samadhi-are combined, they are referred to as samyana. When you open yourself to possibility and allow it to happen, you too can experience this knowing and this new sight.
Breathe, relax your body, and leave the cares of the day outside the door. Breathe away all your stress and tension. Breathe into right now. Rest and begin your postures.