How does a person experience transformation through yoga?
This essay looks at transformation as it is facilitated by yoga. We will see that transformation begins before the practitioner arrives at the yoga mat. We will look at physical transformation facilitated by asana and pranayama and yogic diet. We will also look at mental and spiritual transformation as achieved through long term consistent yoga practice.
The beginner practitioner arrives at yoga through the practice of asana thinking that their first class is their first experience of yoga. In fact the beginner has already experienced the first principles of yoga as described in the yoga sutras of Patanjali; that is Yama and Niyama. This is evidence that the process of transformation has already begun.
What are Yama and Niyama? For the purposes of this essay let us say that they are self restraint and self discipline. There are five yamas and five Niyamas. The five yamas are: non-violence, truthfulness, honesty, sensual abstinence and non-possessiveness. The five niyamas are cleanliness, contentment, austerity, self study and surrender to god.
We can say that the beginner is experiencing yama and niyama because it is through the principles of self restraint and self discipline that the beginner has both desire and motivation to approach asana practice. They are by no means a master of yama and niyama but have enough of both to desire improved physical and perhaps mental and spiritual well being.
Physical transformation occurs initially through asana practice. As stated previously this is perceived as first contact with yoga for a beginning practitioner. Asanas are a system of postures intended to improve strength and flexibility. Asana have positive effects on all areas of physical health including, skeletal, muscular, nervous, cardiac, digestive and respiratory systems. Asana should be approached systematically appropriate to the practitioners ability. It is best to seek a qualified teacher for guidance through the early stages of yogic asana practice.
Let us now look at particular asana and their direct health benefits. At the beginner level the practitioner should regularly begin with easy warm up exercises. In yoga these are called Pawanmuktasana. The Pawanmuktasana are a series of joint movements intended to increase energy flow, rejuvenate and release tension from the joints. They include neck bends and rotations, shoulder rotations, elbow and knee bends, wrist and ankle rotation, flexion and extension. These basic movements provide a platform on which the practitioner can begin a safe, injury free practice.
Following Pawanmuktasana there are three main asana movements. They are forward bending, back bending and twisting. An example of forward bending is Padahastasana; hand to foot posture. To perform this posture the beginner practitioner stands with feet together, bends the knees and places hands on the floor beside the feet. For people living sedentary lives this can be difficult to perform. The hips and hamstrings become tight through long periods sitting on a chair.
To perform this asana the practitioner should bend the knees and pay attention to a straight back, bringing the abdomen to the knees and with patience work toward straightening the legs while maintaining a straight back. The practitioner should bend from the hips, inhale and exhale steadily. Care should be applied not to become overzealous trying to touch the palms to the floor and, or the head to the shins. With consistent practice this asana benefits the spine and hips, strengthens the quadriceps and lengthens the hamstrings.
As transformation occurs the practitioner is able to attempt advanced asana, variations and modifications of asana. In the advanced version of Padahastasana the practitioner places the palms under the feet. Again awareness is given to maintaining a straight spine and bending from the hips. The practitioner may begin with bent knees and work toward straightening the legs. In this version as in the previous version it is more important to maintain length through a straight spine than it is to straighten the legs and touch the head to the shins. This posture massages the abdominals, improving digestion. It also increases metabolism and as it is a semi inversion, improves concentration.
Padahastasana can be found in the flow series of asana known as Suryanamaskara. This flow series of asana, once learnt can be practiced in class or in private at home. The benefits of Suryanamaskara are improved metabolism, joint mobility and increased health in all bodily systems. The benefits of practising at home are convenience of time and the opportunity to self regulate practice. At this stage the practitioner should have some understanding of pranayama.
What is Pranayama? As stated earlier, during the performance of asana, care should be given to regulate the breath. The breath enables the body to receive oxygen for metabolism and function. The breath also facilitates the flow of prana, which is vital energy, throughout the whole body. The flow and expansion of prana is pranayama. Pranayama breath techniques calm the mind, ease the nervous system and relieve tension from the muscles.
There are many breathing exercises in the system of pranayama. Throughout the performance of dynamic asana and Suryanamaskara the primary pranayama to be performed is Ujaiya breath. This breath is performed by inhaling and exhaling from the lower throat rather than the mouth or nostrils. The throat is slightly contracted and the resultant breath has a sound similar to the ocean or a baby snoring.
The benefits of performing asana in conjunction with Ujaiya breath is that the practitioner, listening to the oceanic sound of their own breath, internalises the practice. This is highly transformative for the practitioner. Concentration improves, internal reflection increases and the practitioner develops strong meditative abilities.
Furthermore, the practice of asana with Ujaiya breath greatly increases strength and stamina, while prana flows more freely through the body.
The turning inward of the mind is called Pratyahara. The development of our practitioner has followed the limbs of yoga as described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Patanjali describes eight limbs, or parts. The first four are Yama, Niyama, Asana and Pranayama. The fifth limb is Pratyahara.
The latter limbs of yoga, as described by Patanjali, are Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. These two: Dharana and Dhyana are concentration and meditation. They occur naturally when the practitioner is practicing asana in conjunction with pranayama breathing techniques. As described previously, the mind turns inward following the ujjai breath. When the mind turns inward all senses follow and practice becomes introverted. This condition, identified as Pratyahara, is the foundation of deep concentration and meditation.
Practice needs to continue regularly without compromise, supported by a healthy, light diet so that strength is maintained while concentration is not disturbed by heavy foods or intoxicating substances. Physical transformation through asana and pranayama establish a firm foundation for the final four limbs of yoga. Three of those limbs improve mental and spiritual transformation, culminating in the ultimate goal of yoga; Samadhi. We will say no more on Samadhi as it deserves explanation beyond the limits of this essay.
Über den Autor:
Darryn hat seine 200 Stunden Yogalehrer Ausbildung mit Gyan Heilyoga gemacht und arbeitet seitdem bei einem Yoga Studio in Amerika.
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