Yoga – Basic tips for a practitioner

Yoga is primarily about three things:

  • Balance – literally and figuratively, it gives balance to life.  There are many postures that you need to stand on one leg or do some exercise with one limb at a time which really gives you the right balance.  You get to find your right equilibrium as you continue doing the asanas.
  • Flexibility – since all the parts of your body are being concentrated upon, both external and internal (without you being aware of it), this gives a slight edge over any exercises done in the gym as this tones mostly the external body.   It is important you make a conscious effort to slowly increase your stretches and not just do the motions associated with the yogasanas.  It is important you get better and fitter as days go by rather than being in the same state of flexibility. 
  • Discipline – One needs to be regular in practicing Yoga and ensure you are doing the yogasana with proper guidance from an expert.   What Yoga gives you in return is also to live a disciplined life free of anxiety, stress and ailments.  I always say this, what you give it gets multiplied and given back as more discipline.

Healthy notes

  • Eat a healthy and timely diet along with yoga for best results.  If you are doing yoga in the early morning, have your dinner before 9 p.m. and do not consume alcohol.   Your food and character matters if you want to get the best result out of yoga.
  • Have enough good sleep of 6 to 7 hours the prior night.
  • Some yoga teachers’ advice you to turn left when you go to sleep as this is better for digestion, and to turn right as you wake up slowly by sliding your knee and leg down.    Do not crunch your midsection and get up – this causes tremendous disc pressure.  According to leading ortho, the best position to sleep is on your sides.   Once you wake up, rub your palms to produce heat and place the inner palms on your eyes.
  • In all asanas(poses), unless there are some specifics, the inhalation during breathing by default must be done through the nostrils and not through the mouth.
  • If you want to run or walk, do it before the yoga class or couple of hours after the yoga session.

Generic guidelines for Yoga

  • Yoga is about discipline and faith, and you need to commit to your wellbeing.  Perform yoga regularly without interruptions.
  • While attending classes for yoga, please ensure you do not disturb the other classes.  Wait till the previous batch is done before you enter into the room.  Keep sufficient space from other practitioners.
  • Yoga is not to be seen as an immediate cure to any diseases.  It takes time for your body to get conditioned to yoga and ultimately direct and indirect benefits would be experienced by you after about a year of regular yoga.
  • Be firm in your conviction that yoga will eliminate diseases from your body and keep you fit. Our thinking aggravates, or cures diseases.
  • Yoga is all about Symmetry and Pairs which leads to eventual equilibrium – if you stretch one leg, the other leg has to be stretched; if you twist one side then the other side has to be twisted.
  • You observe nature and emulate it through poses that correlate to animate and inanimate objects (posing like Palm Tree, Lotus, Cobra, Fish etc.).  There are many asana that derive their names from these animals and objects.
  • Keep your mind calm and happy and refrain from anger and irritation.
  • Silence is essential while practicing yoga.  No cell phones (not even in silent or vibrate mode) and preferably no watches as well.  You need to have this yoga time for yourself and your body without any disturbance.
  • It is better to do yoga in an open space – in the terrace, lawn, or verandah.  The place must be free from noise and insects.   Do it with a relaxed body (do not keep it tight) and mind. It is important that the yoga is done sitting on the floor.
  • Wear comfortable loose cotton clothing for yoga – you need to have free movement of your body and limbs. Yoga conditions both the internal and external organs.
  • Ensure the yoga mat or blanket is spread on an even surface to get the right postures.
  • Face the East direction while practicing yoga.  If you are doing it in the evening, do it facing West.  You need to face the direction of Sun while doing yoga.
  • There are six Kriyas (purification methods) for balancing the three doshas – Vaatha, Kapah and Pitha.  They are Neti for Nasal cleansing, Kapaalabhati for respiration and lung cleansing, Basti which is for colon cleansing, Trataka for eyes, Nauli for abdominal benefits and Dhauti for stomach and digestive cleansing. Kapaalabhati should be done daily as a minimal Kriya practice and Trataka Kriya can be done regularly (once in a week or fortnight).
  • If you have specific ailments that you need to address through yoga, consult your yoga teacher and your physician and ensure that it is done properly.
  • Always read about the asanas and its benefits from books and articles written by well-known yoga gurus.  Knowing the benefits of the particular asanas well would make you richer.  BKS Iyengar, Sivananda Yoga and Rashtrothana  Yogic Institute are recognized schools of Yoga, to name a few.

Pre-Yoga

  • Practice yoga in the morning on an empty stomach after your daily ablutions and best to do it after a bath.   Asanas come easier after a bath. 
  • Empty your bladder and bowels before yoga. Drink a glass of warm water prior to the yoga. 
  • If you have to do it in the evening, do not rush into it.  Have some quiet time before you start yoga.  Your muscles are adequately stretched in the evening because of your activity during the day.  
  • Yoga must not be done within two hours of a meal.

During Yoga

  • Always start Yoga by chanting ‘AUM’ and a prayer, to relax your mind.  The prayer gives you the focus that you need to practice yoga for the day.  While chanting “Aum”, it is good to split in such a way that “Au” takes 40% and “Um” takes 60% of the time.   One can also practice  the sound of “A” for 2 seconds, “U” for 3 seconds and “M” for 4 seconds as a variation of the same chanting.
  • Always begin yoga with stretches, then Surya Namaskar – 12 times, then asanas and wind down with Pranayama.  If in the morning, Pranayama can be done first and one can practice asanas 20 minutes later.
  •  All forward bending poses are beneficial for persons suffering from either high or low blood pressure.
  • In general, folks with Hernia, high Blood pressure, knee pain, neck pain and those suffering from Back issues must consult their physician about the yoga exercises that should be avoided and that can be practiced.  The Yoga teacher must be kept informed about any medical issues you may have.
  • End your asanas with Pranayama and close it with Savasana for 5-10 minutes.  During Sava Sana, it is imperative that you are aware of your body and concentrate on deep breathing and total relaxation.  There is a possibility of one going to sleep during Sava Sana but once you start looking inward and concentrating on your breathing, your consciousness increases and this is a great way to relax and unwind – it is important that you are aware of your body while doing SavaSana and still relaxing.
  • The last asana before you get into Pranayama should be Pavana Mukhthasana (fold and hold your legs tightly against your abdomen) – there is good possibility of gas escaping during this asana, esp if you had some bad meals the previous day.
  • Once a week, it is always good to emulate the breathing, walks and stretches of various animals like Lion, Tiger, Dog, Cat, Rabbit, monkeys, snakes etc. each of which has its own benefits – each of them is a recognized asana on its own merit.
  • If you get tired while doing Yoga, take a few seconds off and breathe in through your nostril and breathe out through our mouth to relax.
  • It is always good that one devotes one day  just concentrating  on special focused asanas for the eyes (for which you need   a dark room with curtains closed)  culminating with the Trataka Kriya where you gaze without blinking on a light source, and one day just on Yoga Nidra (just  a long Sava Sana with great awareness of oneself).
    • Basic Eye Asanas: (i)Eye balls moving up and down – 10 times , (ii) Eye balls synchronously moves left and right – 10 times, (iii) Left thumb in front, eyes balls to track thumb moving to the left most and back, and repeat with right thumb to the right this time (iv) Left thumb to the front, eye balls tracking the left thumb as it makes a big circle to the left anti-clockwise, and repeat the same with right thumb making a good circle clock wise and  (v) Eye balls to the right top and left bottom – diagonal movement, and then left top and right bottom, each 10 times.

Surya Namaskar

  • According to Hindu philosophy, SUN stimulates all living beings in this world and is to be respected properly.  Sun Bathing to a degree is considered very beneficial in the western world as well.  In Yoga, we worship the Sun as a light source that dispels any inertia within us and its warmth increased our inspirational capacity.
  • After some initial stretches, one does the exercise sequence called ‘Salutations to the Sun”.  This is a series of 10 to 12 steps (depending on who is your yoga guru, some combine couple of steps into one) which is mostly ‘symmetrical’ (meaning your 1st step is your 12th step, your 2nd step is your 11th step etc…).  This has both a physical side to things (meaning it involves a series of Asanas) and a spiritual side as well (seeking blessings of Sun God).  Since your blood gets oxygen during these salutations, these series of Asanas are supposedly good for heart and warms the body up.
  • ON a daily basis, it is usually done in count of 12, meaning you would be doing 12 x 12 = 144 poses during a single day. Some people do a 108 count once a month as a group.  In some yoga schools, which practices 10 steps, they usually do 13 counts. This varies but the core of the asanas does not change from one variation to the other.  The breathing has to be consistent with the asanas being performed.  If one is doing the 10 poses per count routine, they combine the steps 1 & 2 and 11&12 into one pose each.
  • The most common 12 steps Surya Namaskar are the following (Ref: from Wikipedia) which amount to 1 count of Surya Namaskar:
  • Pranam  Asana – EXHALE – Anahata Chakra – Heart Center (Palms together – thumbs touching chest center) – Namaskar position- prayer pose
  • Hasta Uttan Asana (or) Urduva Hast Asana – INHALE – Vishuddha Chakra– Throat Center (Raise arms and hands – lean back- head and chin up) – Raised or upward Arms Pose
  • Hastapaad or Paadhasta Asana – EXHALE – Svadhishthana Chakra – Pelvic or Sacrum Center (bend forward- hold ankle with hands – touch head on knee) – Standing Forward bend pose or hand to foot pose
  • EkaPaada Prasarn Asana (or) Ashwa Sanchalan  Asana – INHALE – Ajnya Chakra – Eyebrow or Third Eye Center (one foot back- lift head-hands on ground) – Equestrian pose.  This is a variation of a Lunge that athletes and weight-trainers use as a strengthening exercise.
  • AdhoMukha Svan Asana – EXHALE – Vishuddha Chakra – Throat Center – Downward facing dog pose.  In some yoga schools, this gets replaced by Chaturanga Dand Asana – four-limbed like-a-stick pose
  • Astanga Namaskara – Hold the Breath – Manipura Chakra – Navel or Solar Plexus Center  (only forehead-chest-knee on the ground) – Eight parts salute
  • Bhujang Asana – INHALE – Svadhishthana Chakra – Pelvic or Sacrum Center – Cobra pose
  • AdhoMukha Svan Asana – EXHALE – Vishuddha Chakra – Throat Center – Downward facing dog pose
  • Ashwa Sanchalan Asana  – INHALE – Ajnya Chakra – Eyebrow  or third eye  Center (other foot back – lift head – hands on ground) – Equestrian pose
  • Hastapaad Asana – EXHALE – Svadhishthana Chakra – Pelvic or Sacrum Center (bend forward- hold ankle with hands – touch head on knee) – Standing forward bend pose
  • Hasta Uttan Asana – INHALE – Vishuddha  Chakra – Throat Center (Lift hands – lean back- head and chin up) – Raised Arms pose
  • Pranam Asana – EXHALE – Anahata Chakra – Heart Center (Palms together – thumbs touching chest center) – Namaskar position – Prayer pose
  • Chakras (wheels) are energy points or node in the non-physical body.   This is the nodal meeting point of the non-physical energy channels or pathways called Naadi.   There are mainly seven chakras described, out of which five gets worked up during the Surya Namaskar routine:
  • Sahasrara  (meaning Thousand Petaled) or Crown Chakra – Located at the crown of the head
  • Ajnya (meaning command) or Third-eye Chakra
  • Vishuddha (meaning especially pure) or Throat Chakra
  • Anahata (meaning unstruck) or Heart Chakra – related to the immune system
  • Manipura (meaning Jewel-city)  or Navel Chakra – related to the digestive systems
  • Svadhishthana (meaning one’s own base)  or Sacral Chakra – related to the reproductive systems
  • Mooladhara (meaning root support) or Root Chakra – located at the base of the spine
  • The 12 steps involve invoking the various names of Sun God.  Sun (and various forms of fire) as a solar deity is common among various civilizations and many religions, including Hinduism. Some people even use it once for every count of 12, each count compromising of 12 poses.  The below are the most commonly used invocations:
  • Om Mitraya Namah! – (Mitre means friend) I Salute the Sun who is my friend and is dear and intimate to us.
  • Om Ravaye Namah! – (Ravi means Thej which is to glow and shine) I Salute Thee, the ever-shining and ever-glowing.
  • Om Suryaya Namah!  – I Salute Thee who gives energy and inspiration.
  • Om Bhanave Namah!  – (Bhanu means Light) – I Salute Thee who drives away darkness and ignorance
  • Om Khagaye Namah! – (Khaga means space) – I Salute Thee who travels through the sky and gives us warmth
  • Om Pushne Namah! – (Pushnaihi means one who provide nutrition) I Salute Thee who provides us food, light and energy
  • Om Hiranyagarbhaye Namah! – (Hiranya means Gold)
  • Om Marichye Namah! – (Marich means Mirage or Power that cures diseases) – I Salute Thee to give me wisdom to differentiate the good from bad
  • Om Adityaye Namah! – (Aditya means son of Aditi, the Mother of all gods)
  • Om Savitre Namah!
  • Om Arkaya Namah! – (Arka means Extract)
  • Om Bhaskaraya Namah! – (Bhaskara means Prakasa – bright)
  • (Some schools add this) On Sri Savithra Surya Narayanaya Namah!

Meditation – Dhyana

  • Sarvangasana (shoulder stand pose) is an ideal pre-pranayama asana because it decongests the lungs and prepares them for intense practice by making both nostrils flow better.  After this and just prior to pranayama, as told earlier, it is a must to lie down for 5 minutes in Shavasana (corpse pose) to get rid of exhaustion.
  • During Pranayama, which is essentially control of one’s breath,  one sits in the ordinary squatting posture and has to remain comfortable?  Siddhasana or Padmasana poses are recommended.   Prana means Life force or energy, and Ayama means control.   Pranayama has to be done properly, otherwise it can even cause harm to the person – it is imperative you learn these under expert guidance.   Just focus on breathing and look inward as this would enable you to concentrate better during the meditation.  Keep your eyes closed during the meditation and be in Chin Mudra (where you bow your head and the chin is down).
  • Keep your back straight and erect, and lower the head to the trunk so that the chin touches the upper chest.  Stretch the arms out straight so that the wrists are comfortably placed on the knees.  In each hand, join the index finger to the thumb and keep the other three fingers stretched out. This is the basic pose for the entire Pranayama routine.  One must sit on a blanket spread on the floor and Pranayama must be done in a clean airy place free of noise.
  • In Pranayama, there are certain units of time:  Pooraka is for inhalation, Rechaka is for exhalation and Kumbhaka is for retention or holding of breadth after full inhalation.  Breathing is done mostly through nostrils, unless told otherwise.
  • Right nostril is Pingala Naadi (Sun relating to body) and Left nostril is Ida Naadi (Moon relating to Mind).  As is said earlier, Naadi means non-physical energy channel or pathway.  As you do alternate nostril breathing, the idea is to bring balance to body and mind.
  • The default Mudra (Gesture)  for Pranayama is the Chin (consciousness) Mudra or Jnana (Knowledge) Mudra: The tip of the index finger touches the tip of your thumb(making an “O”)  and the other three fingers are relaxed and pointing out, with the hands resting on your knees as you are squatting cross-legged on the floor.   In Chin Mudra,  the hands face down and in Jnana Mudra, they face up.
  • Some popular Pranayamas are (each of them  should be done for 5 to 10 minutes):
    • Aum Kar chanting – with the body in chin mudra, and in the ratio of 40% to 60%, call our “Oo” and “Mm” in one cycle and do this for many cycles.   You must be able to distinctly hear three sounds while you chant – A, U and M.  Relax your body , breathe normally and close your eyes as you chant this, preferably for 5 minutes.  Pranav is believed to the mother of all sounds.
    • Naadi Shuddhi or Shodhana Pranayama – Alternate Nostril breathing. Sodhana means purifying or cleansing.  Close your left nostril with your right thumb, and inhale deeply through the right nostril, hold the breadth, close your left nostril with your ring and little fingers, open the right nostril and exhale through your right nostril.  Now change the nostrils – with left nostril close, inhale through the right nostril deeply, hold the breadth, close your right nostril with your right thumb and open the left nostril and exhale through it.  This is one cycle.
    • Bhramari Pranayama (Bhramari means Humming Bee) – similar to Ujjayye but when you exhale, one releases a humming sound.   Inhale through nostrils deeply, close the mouth and make the “Mmmmmmm” sound till you exhale completely
    • Ujjayee Pranayama (Ujjayee means victorious) – this is one pranayama that can be done at all times of the day. Breaths in deeply  through both nostrils, fill up your lung, hold the breadth and exhale slowly and deeply.  This supposedly heals spinal problems, and works on thyroid and para-thyroid glands which helps regulate important minerals in the bones and blood.
    • Bhasrika Pranayama (Bhasrika means bellows) – Inhale forcefully by breathing in through both nostrils, and then exhale forcefully through the nostrils making a hissing sound.  Inhalation and exhalation should be of equal duration.  People with high BP, acute asthma and heart disease should avoid this breathing exercise.  A variation of this is to do the breathing in and out only through one nostril by closing the other.
    • Seethali Pranayama (Seethali means Cooling) – this calms the mind and reduces stress, and reduces body temperature.  People suffering from low BP should not do this breathing exercise as this may bring the BP down further.  At the same time, it is good for patients with high BP.  Look straight ahead, roll the tongue and keep it outside the mouth and inhale through mouth, bend your neck and exhale through nostrils for twice the duration as inhalation. This is a great breathing exercise for the hot summer months as it cools the body.  Practice it for 10 to 20 times.
    • Kapalabhati Pranayama – Slowly inhale, and start exhaling forcefully for about  100 times within 1 minute.    Although you may not be conscious of the fact, there is a micro internal of retention after every exhalation. This involves deep breathing and is regarded as a cleansing  and anti-aging practice. It gets rids of hidden stress, aids digestion, boost immunity and  has a positive effect on the six pairs of sinus cavities in the skull. Anyone with high BP or heart problems should avoid this Kapalabathi Kriyah. This can be planned as the last Pranayama to be done in your routine after which one has to lie down in Sava Sana, and must be done daily.

Post-Yoga

  • Have a shower after yoga – give a break of at least half an hour between your yoga session and a bath.
  • You can drink water after 15-20 minutes.  Keep the water in your mouth for a minute before gulping it down.  
  • You should only eat half an hour after your yoga session.

Precaution

  • If you have any neck, back or knee pain, and have undergone any surgeries, it is better to inform the yoga instructor and do yoga only on your physician’s advice.
  • Do not practice yoga when you have fever, cough or cold.  Do not go to any yoga classes if you are sick as it may infect the other students. Do not practice yoga when you are exhausted.
  • Do not practice yoga in haste and avoid force and jolts of any kind.  Do it calmly and happily.
  • Do not let tension appear on the nerves, nose, ears, neck and eyes during exercise.
  • Take into considerations your age, physical and mental condition, flexibility, capacity, environment and time.  Do not over-stretch but do try to push yourself enough to feel the stretch.  Do it to your capacity.
  • If you are on pain killers, take proper advice before doing any asanas.

References – BKS Iyengar books on Yoga and other Yoga schools of thought like Sivananda Yogic center and Rashtrothana Vedic institute.

Note – there are certain Sanskrit names that I am not able to find meanings of, me being just a basic beginner in the language.

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