How to Practise Yoga
While fitness, flexibility and good health are valuable benefits, the ultimate aim of our Yoga practice is to ensure the body is able to support us in our quest for self realisation
and in our service to humanity. In this article we look at some guidelines on how to practise. For success, it is important to practise daily. No two days are the same and it helps to plan a short sequence for the days when you are rushed or unwell. Swamiji, the founder of Yoga in Daily Life, advises that we allocate 20-30 minutes daily for our practice, initially. Advanced yoga practitioners are advised to set aside upto 2 hours for a comprehensive practice.
The early hours of the morning, just before sunrise are referred to as Brahma Muhurta. This is the best time for practice. The other advantage of practising early in the morning is that some asanas and pranayam practices are best practised on an empty stomach. For some of us, early morning may be the only time the stomach is truly empty!
Nevertheless, the actual hour of practice is not the most important criteria. In fact, our body loosens up as the day passes and you will find that you are more flexible towards the evening.
Never practice Yoga on a full stomach. Allow at least 3 hours after a full meal.
The other thing to consider is what happens if you are feeling really hungry. Obviously, then hunger can be a distraction and will not allow you to fully concentrate on your practice. A few suggestions for what you can eat without affecting your yoga practice include, a small piece of fruit, a small drink (100- 200 mls) of milk or a handful of nuts. After a snack like this, allow half an hour before your practice. If you have just returned home from work, you can use this time to freshen up.
Wear comfortable, unrestrictive clothing, such as a track suit. Belts, jewellery and shoes should be removed. Other things that can get in the way include chunky ear rings, necklaces or chains, rings and bracelets. If you tie up your hair, consider loosening your hair band to allow free flow of prana throughout your body.
Practise in a quiet place, using a mat or blanket to lie on. Make sure that the mat is non-slip.
Try to consciously switch off during your Yoga Practice. At the beginning of your practice, lie for a few moments in Anandasana (Relaxation pose) and relax your body and breath. Observe your inhalation and exhalation and try to detach yourself from all thoughts.
If you practise the exercises in the morning, it is better to leave out the relaxation in the beginning, as you can easily fall asleep again.
My personal experience is that it is best to start a morning practice with a few rounds of Surya Namaskars and when the body is sufficiently warmed, come to lie down in Anandasana. This reduces our chance of drifting off to sleep. In the colder months, it also helps to warm us up before we hit the cold floor!.
Practise each asana with complete attention and concentration. Keep your eyes open during your practise, unless specifically directed to close your eyes. Consciously be aware of the influence of the individual exercises and always relax the body for a few breaths between the exercises.
In order to practise successfully and experience the benefits of the “Yoga in Daily Life©” system, keep to the given sequence of exercise. Always practise according to the original instructions. They should neither be altered nor mixed with other techniques.
If it is not possible for you to perform certain exercises on the basis of physical limitations, (e.g. stiffness) or any other problems, then leave the exercises out.
If for some special reason-whether through travel, lack of space, tiredness, illness or a stay in hospital- you are unable to continue with your daily practice, then practise mentally, either sitting down or lying down in a relaxed position.
If the correct performance of the exercise is not possible for you, don’t give up immediately. Hold the position for a while, as well as you can, and then try again, Everything takes time.
“Yoga in Daily Life©” also leads us to reflect upon habits and to change them if necessary. Particular emphasis is placed on correct diet. The recommended Yogic diet is a lacto-vegetarian wholefood diet.
The article is based on the guidelines for practice detailed by His Holiness Swami Maheswaranandaji in his book, Yoga In Daily Life, The System.
Contributed by Gowri Sriraman