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608 Yoga Postures
By Dharma Mittra
New World LibraryCopyright © 2003 Dharma Mittra
All rights reserved.
These series are excellent preparatory exercises for the more difficult postures. Usually a series initiates practice because the fast movements generate heat and loosen the muscles, which makes moving into deeper poses easier. They also set the tone for all yoga practice. With the series, as well as with allasana practice, you must be well grounded, disciplined, and determined to face life's challenges victoriously. Untrained students often find it difficult to focus on several actions simultaneously; consequently they find their minds wandering during a series. It's important to restrain the mind and keep it focused. As one practices regularly, new energetic patterns emerge in the mind and body and less effort is required to perform the series in alignment.
The two series here are known as vinyasas, which means a sequence of briefly held poses that flow into each other. Each series stresses slightly different parts of the body. The Salutation to the Sun was the first series created by the masters — it loosens the muscles of the legs, hips, arms, shoulders and gives the back a gentle bend. It also represents the Lord in the physical plane. The Hero Series focuses more on the hips and legs. It's important to do the Hero on both the left and the right sides of the body.CHAPTER 2
During all poses you concentrate on the space between the eyebrows, the third eye, the seat of the mind. As you concentrate, your mind and thoughts slow down, cravings and desires diminish, and you feel calm. It's another way of enhancing mental focus and preparing yourself for meditation.
Each asana physically reflects a particular attitude: acceptance, surrender, balance, or openheartedness. As you move into a posture, your body manifests the physical form of the attitude associated with it. You bypass verbal or rational understanding but you understand the pose emotionally.
In other words, standing tall and firm in Tadasanagives you the steadiness and foundation of a mountain. When you feel yourself closed to someone or to some experience, a backbend will open your chest as well as your heart. If you're shy, backbends will help you greet the world with more confidence. They also correct your spine and posture.
To master the balancing poses, it's useful to iemploy some physics. Move the body weight toward the toes, off the heels, then press the toes into the ground. If you picture a tree, imagine your foot as the roots digging deeply into the earth and it will help you find stillness and correct your posture.
You can find further balance by gazing at a spot, which is called the drishti. Usually this spot is on the floor in front of your nose. In a backstretch try gazing at a point on the ceiling.CHAPTER 3
Sometimes it's good to turn your world upside down. Inversions are poses in which the head is below the heart. By turning the body upside down, you reverse the flow of blood, draining the lower body of fluids while increasing the flow of fresh blood to the brain and tothe glands in the head and upper torso regions. Inversions recharge the endocrine glands that regulate the immune system and hormonal production.
Inversions are also excellent if your flexibility is limited. Head Stand, the King of all Asanas, increases circulation to the brain and stimulates the pineal and pituitary glands. People who suffer from sleep loss, memory loss, and sluggishness have found tremendous benefit through this pose. It also rests the veins of the legs and, very importantly, tones the internal organs. Because the organs are placed upside down they must work extra hard to stay in place; they get their own workout.
Shoulder Stand, the Queen of all Asanas, is also known as a complete pose because it delivers the maximum benefits of yoga. When the neck presses against the chest, the thyroid gland is massaged and stimulated. It's a soothing pose for people who suffer from headaches, nasal disturbances, breathing problems, and depression. Five minutes a day in the winter and life will appear brighter, happier. For those with high or low blood pressure, Shoulder Stand inverts the organs more gently than Head Stand. It's also a little more comfortable — everyone can do this pose.CHAPTER 4
FLOOR & SUPINE POSES
Many different types of poses have been included in this section: hip openers, seated forward bends, and abdominal lifts, among them.
The poses that open the hips are among the most complex asanas in terms of mechanics, but they may be simplified so that even beginners can perform them and realize great benefits. Hip openers relieve lower back tension and sciatica, ease knee problems, and increase the flow of blood to the pelvic bones and reproductive organs. Likewise, abdominal poses strengthen the lumbar (lower region) of the back and assist in stabilizing the whole body.
Seated leg extensions stretch the hamstrings, buttocks, and the lower back. Once the legs become more flexible, the pevils can move more easily, thus reducing pressure on the lower back. Deep forward bends like Paschimatanasana stimulate internal organs including the spleen, liver, stomach, intestines, and kidneys; in women they also stimulate the ovaries. Forward bends are generally comfortable poses in which the mind becomes quiet and the nervous system cools. They turn the yogi's awareness inward.CHAPTER 5
ARM BALANCING POSES
Arm pose require a great deal of strength and a extra dose of tapas. Tapas, or angry determination, is a positive attitude, much like what the Zen masters summon when sitting in meditation for hour. IT involves faith, fortitude, and determination. Even if it is not pleasant you do it anyway. You must learn to go beyond the mind because the personal self is always resistant.
With difficult I like to recall the words of the late Swani Satchidananda. "A yogi is like a surfer who knows how to balance on his board. He welcomes even a big rolling wave because he knows how to enjoy without getting caught in it."
Many arm-balancing poses also stengthen the shoulders, wrists, and hands. They are particularly useful for people who spend their days writing or drawing at computers and who are vulnerable to repetitive stress syndrome.CHAPTER 6
TWISTS & SEATED POSES
Imagine the internal organs as sponges that are full of liquid and you will understand the powerful impact of the twisting poses. The twist first wrings and squeezes the organs, then flushes them with fresh blood and oxygen. It's a natural and powerful way to detoxify organs and glands and boost the health of the entire body. It also keeps the back supple and increases circulation to the muscles and discs around the spine. One tip: when doing a twist try to extend upward during inhalation, then twist when exhaling. All twist variations are beneficial to people with arthritis and other related back and hip pains. Marichyasana helps heal shoulder sprains and displaced shoulder joints.
Full Lotus is a seated pose best for those blessed with flexible knees. In this posture your mind becomes one focused point. Crossing the legs cuts circulation to legs and increases blood flow to spine. If you can't do Full Lotus, Siddhasana is an excellent alternative position for meditation. It's comfortable and leaves you relaxed yet alert, quieting the hyperactive "monkey" mind. I have done Full Lotus for over 40 years and it still causes me terrible pain. I don't know what I did in past lives to cause such suffering.
Remember, the purpose of all seated poses is to find one in which you can sit for an hour and meditate.CHAPTER 7
BREATHING & CLEANSING PRACTICES
Pranayama is the rhythmic control of the breath that drives that vital force up the spine through all the chakras, opening consciousness. Pranayama is not an asana, yet it is the most important practice in yoga. Following Akasha (space), Prana, which means breath or life force, was the second creation in the universe. It is the energy that animates everything, even thought. Explaining the flow of energy in yogic terms would require its own book. All you need to know is that it resembles the flow of electricity through condensers, transformers, and resistors. Correct application of pranayama is very powerful, enabling you to control your emotions, increase concentration, and master certain difficult poses
The breathing exercises in the following pages are just a few of the many techniques used in pranayama practice. In nostril breathing practices like Jalandhara Bandha be sure to use the right hand to open and close the nostrils, as the right arm has different positive currents than the left. Keep the thumb on the right also with the middle and index fingers away from the nose. Keeping the left hand in Jnana Mudra, tips of the thumb and index finger touching, prevents dissipation of energy.
The cleansing techniques are called kriyas and they function to physically rid the system of impurities. The dhautis (washing methods) are employed prior to pranayama to maximize its full benefits. When practicing kriyas it's essential to be guided by an experienced teacher.CHAPTER 8
All restorative poses can be held for five to 30 minutes since they don't create any undue tension, sensation, or strain. Shavasana, Corpse Pose, is the pose of total relaxation, and the only pose in which a yogi breathes through the mouth. Beginners often skip this pose at the end of practice but they are missing one of yoga's most powerful moments. With every breath you allow awareness to enter the deepest parts of yourself. Resting, but with your mind fully aware, Shavasanacalms the brain, relaxes the body, helps lower blood pressure, and rebalances the entire system. Ten minutes will bring you all these benefits; fifteen minutes is preferable, and corresponds to two or three hours of deep sleep.
Child's pose, Garbhasana, is often used as a relieving pose between more challenging asanas. It gently stretches the hips, thighs, and ankles, relieves back and neck pain, and calms the brain. Try to breathe fully into the back of the torso to deepen the intake of oxygen. In all restorative poses it's important not to collapse and to maintain good alignment. You can turn away from outside stimulation but you must stay awake.
Excerpted from Asanas by Dharma Mittra. Copyright © 2003 Dharma Mittra. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
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