Spiritualizing the Practice of Yoga Postures

Yoga postures are mostly looked upon as a physical form of exercise. No doubt they bestow a practitioner with lots of health and fitness benefits. However, the spiritual side of yoga postures is largely ignored. Almost all the ancient Hatha Yoga texts mention physical as well as spiritual benefits of yoga postures. For example, Hathayoga Pradipika mentions that Matsyendrasana awakens Kundalini and Paschimottanasana makes prana move into Sushumna. Although most of the yoga institutes teach these postures to their students they rarely explain how to harvest the spiritual benefits of these postures. Many such examples can be cited from the ancient books of yoga. If you are practicing yoga postures as a part of integrated yoga with the aim of Kundalini awakening, you must understand how to spiritualize the practice of yoga postures, mudras and bandhas. Without this knowledge you may be delaying or eve missing the expected results. This article throws some light on this aspect of yoga practice.

Kundalini Yoga takes a systematic approach to meditation and self-realization. It asks you to control the mind in step-by-step manner. If you directly jump to attempt meditation (and many do that mistake now a days) you either don't get any benefits or need to struggle a lot to figure out the appropriate way to rein in the mind. When you are practicing yoga postures, mudras and bandhas the primary focus is the Annamaya Kosha, the food sheath. So, naturally physical health and fitness are the obvious benefits from the practice of yoga postures. Annamaya Kosha is interlinked with the other koshas. That's why by applying the tips and techniques mentioned in this article you can also train your mind to be in the present state and narrow down its wandering. Let's see how...

Begin your practice with a prayer

Don't start your practice directly. First, sit comfortable on your yoga mat and practice deep breathing for a while. Long inhalation and long exhalation, both of equal duration. Then stop and let the breathing resume to normal pace. Now chant or sing a short prayer paying close attention to its meaning. If you feel inclined (and have time) you may also perform gross worship of your ishtam with flowers, lamp and dhoop. Don't let the prayer become mechanical. As you are singing the prayer also visualize the purpose of your yoga practice as vividly as possible. Why are you doing yoga? What benefits you want to get from it? What is the concept of spirituality for you? What is its significance to your life? Try to quickly reflect on these aspects. Make sure not to wander away with any of these thoughts. Just a brief reflection to keep them fresh in your mind. Once you finish the prayer bow down to God and begin your practice.

Play soothing music conductive to meditation

Some people play background music while they are doing yoga postures. They do so mainly to avoid boredom. This is unnecessary if you want to spiritualize your practice as outlined here. Even if you wish to listen to some music, make sure it is soothing type of music conductive to calmness and peace. The only benefit of such music is when you can't focus your mind by any other technique. Or when you are switching from one set of postures to the another and your mind is not fixed on any specific target. 

Measure duration in terms of breaths

Most of the practitioners measure the duration of yoga postures in seconds or minutes. Although this works this measurement has disadvantage that every now and then your attention is on the clock or alarm. A better way is to measure the duration as certain number of breaths. For example, once you attain the final stage of Bhujangasana stay in that position counting 10 breaths (this is just an example). This counting has three advantages. Firstly, your attention is not on clock or alarm, it's on breathing. Secondly, when you focus on breathing you can close your eyes and visualize the breathing or ishtam. Thirdly, you avoid the tendency to hold the breath when your body is stretched.

Mentally repeat a mantra

You can also count the duration as certain repetitions of some mantra. This mantra should be short and you should be able to easily chant it in your mind. It is important to remember that mantra should not be chanted loudly. This technique can be used as an alternative to the previous technique or in addition to the previous technique. This technique gives wonderful results especially when used with mudras and bandhas. Take an example of Moola Bandha. While practicing moola bandha if you chant the bija mantra of mooladhara chakra, benefits will be quite intense and quick. Same can be said about Uddiyana bandha and Jalandhara bandha. While chanting the mantra your attention should be on the mantra, its subtle vibrations and the target body part (mooladhara for example).

Visualize Prana at the pressure points

Most of the yoga postures usually have one or more pressure points where the pressure and stretch is felt more that the surrounding area. As you reach the final position, visualize a flow of pranic energy rushing to that region and energizing it, strengthening it or healing it. Prana can be visualized as a stream of light particles or fluid. As you release the position feel the prana dissipating from the region back to its reservoir.

Focus your awareness on chakras and sushumna

This is a very important aspect ignored by most of the practitioners. When you are practicing yoga postures, mudras and bandhas for the sake of Kundalini awakening your focus should revolve around chakras and sushumna. For example, if you are practicing paschimottanasana you should be moving your attention up and down the sushumna once you attain the final position. Same can be said about moolabandha, uddiyanabandha, jalandharabandha. While practicing these techniques your focus should be on mooladhara chakra, manipura chakra and vishuddhi chakra respectively. If you are doing Viparitakarni Mudra, focus on sushumna in the reverse direction.

Couple pranayama with asanas, mudras and bandhas

This is an advanced technique and must be done under some expert guidance. In this technique you are holding your breath for certain time duration while doing mudras and bandhas. Holding the breath is accompanied by focusing on some chakra and / or sushumna. You can even adjust your swara before starting this technique. If done properly this can awaken kundalini quickly and like a blast. That's why great amount of care is needed. Some of the techniques done with pranayama ensue swooning like state and a practitioner may feel intense emotions such as devotion or bliss. Let me repeat - this is an advanced technique and must be attempted carefully under some able guidance.

Once you finish your practice offer it at the holy feet of your ishtam, let your breathing come to normal pace and then end the session.

Bipin Joshi is an independent software consultant, trainer, author, yoga mentor, and meditation teacher with over 24 years of experience in classical form of Yoga. He is an internationally published author and has authored or co-authored more than twelve books on .NET technologies. He has been awarded as a Most Valuable Professional by Microsoft. He has also written a few Marathi books including Devachya Davya Hati and Natha Sankentincha Danshu. Having embraced the Yoga way of life he also teaches Ajapa Yoga to selected individuals.

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Posted On : 25 December 2013

Tags : Yoga Kundalini Meditation Asanas Pranayama Spirituality

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