Anandaswami Tradition Yoga School
|Place of lecture delivering
|Cultural Center “Enlightenment”.
|April 26, 2009
|Yoga school address
|International Open Yoga University, Yoga School of Anadasvami tradition. Cultural Center “Enlightenment” Dolgorukovskaya str. # 29, Novoslobodskaya metro station, Moscow, Russia. Tel.: 8(495)251-2108, 8(495)251-3367. E-mail: HappYoga@mail.ru. Sites: www.openyoga.ru, www.yogacenter.ru, www.happyoga.narod.ru.
|Creative Commons. You may copy, duplicate and spread this lecture. It’s desirable to give a reference to our site www.openyoga.ru.
What is yoga?
So let’s begin. We believe it’s quite possible to explain complicated things in easy-to-understand terms even to fresh beginners so that a person making his/her first steps in yoga could get the essence of Hatha yoga, realize its value as well as put it into practice in his/her day-to-day life.
Let’s start with formalities. What is yoga basically? It is very important to point out from the very beginning what is and what is not considered to be yoga. The answer is the following: yoga is a system of self-discovery which came to our days from the ancient times. Actually we can only guess when this system appeared. It is definitely a long period of time, probably thousands of years. Yoga is a very interesting system of self-discovery telling a man to follow moral and ethical rules, so called first and second principles of yoga. The most important thing is not to do any harm without an extreme need for that. If there is no such a possibility one has to act as his/her duty tells him/her and has to try the utmost to minimize this harm. This is the first principle of yoga.
The second one is a principle of common sense, logic, consistence that tells us to spend our vital energies on reaching our goals only. In other words one has to use the common sense when doing all his/her tasks. It general it means absolutely any task whatever, but if we practice yoga the main task is self-discovery.
Finally there is a very important concept in yoga which is harmony. Only it can be called yoga when practiced in harmony with our own selves. Violence is totally unacceptable. One should realize this from the very beginning, especially those who has never practiced yoga before. Usually the word yoga causes some fear in the beginners. They think they’ll have to somehow torture themselves, to force to something, feel discomfort. That is why it is very important from the very beginning to get clear: yoga does not accept any violence. To make an effort is another thing. Sometimes one has to make it. But even doing efforts we should have a feeling of happiness as a background.
That is all that concerns yoga in general terms. Yoga is not something one has to have any fear of. Everyone can find his own path or style in yoga that would fit him/her. In this respect other people doing yoga should not be referred to for indicating things. Sometimes on TV we can see a person demonstrating some very complicated twisted poses that strikes fear. Many people think they won’t be able to do the same. The most interesting is that yoga does not require your ability to twist like that and demonstrate such miracles of flexibility. To be more exact yoga says you are able to reach these results gradually, in a natural, nonviolent way. A man should not have any fear of yoga. Unfortunately there exists such a tendency that many people are afraid to step up even as they think they will face difficulties. You should have it clear from the very beginning – the ancient system does not presuppose you are to do more than your body is able to when you only begin practicing. Things will certainly change in the course of time, your body and your mind will change, your nervous system will be strong. Now you have what you have and that’s quite good.
Let’s emphasize some points once again. Yoga is something alive, something natural, and something that we have already. If you had a chance to observe little children playing you could notice a sincere interest they have in everything they do. They can look at their little hands; they can raise their foot up and then throw it down laughing. And all the movements are so natural. Everything they do causes interest. It’s like a play. This is the ideal of yoga. You shouldn’t do more than you are able to at this very moment. There can be some strict prescriptions in our minds. You could read a book that said you must do this and you must not do that, or you could see a picture with a man demonstrating an unnatural twisted pose on it. If this picture made you feel any fear or resistance – this is a sign for you to be careful – something is wrong. Yoga is harmony and you and if you don’t feel it – there’s no harmony there or it didn’t open to you as people have different temperaments and tastes.
What’s the difference between Hatha yoga and yoga in general?
Hatha yoga is just one of the many approaches in yoga, one of the types of yoga. There are many types like that. It is considered that there are so many types of yoga as manifestations of a human being. So Hatha yoga is a type of yoga that offers a series of physical exercises which uses the ability of a human body to be in different static positions or poses. It’s enough to look at the children playing. They all play with their toys, every child takes this or that pose. It’s our ability. The same thing can do any adult but for certain reasons (s)/he feels shame as regards such things to be meaningless. Sometimes we just feel so oppressed that we don’t even have time for such weird things. People get tired, they say: I only dream of going to bed and have a rest. What poses on earth are you speaking about? So we can do various poses, sometimes they are knotted poses. The main method of Hatha yoga is based on the ability of our body to do these poses: to do one pose, then another one and stay calm and quiet in all of them. The effect of this practice is quite unusual, sometimes it just seems fantastic. A man can do some simple poses; he stays in a pose for a couple minutes, then he stays a couple of minutes in another pose where these poses should not necessarily be complicated. Yoga is simple. There certainly exist some complicated poses but they only make up the top of the iceberg beyond all other poses that exist and that we can do. Some of them are very easy and natural.
So Hatha yoga is a yoga that suggests we should take different poses and take time in them. We should practice feeling harmony; one pose should change another one in a certain sequence. There are some other factors but they are of secondary significance. The first thing that faces a man is hard understanding of the mechanism – all the ancient myths and legends as well as modern book tell about a great power that can be reached by a human being through yoga practice. But the poses are so simple and there seems to be a contradiction. How can we reach such a fantastic effect just lying on the abdomen, bending our knees and taking legs with our hands? Without even making any effort, just lying. Or another pose as if we were lying on the beach reading a book. So just imagine we’re bearing against sand. We’re bathing in the sun. And what of it? It’s just a usual simple pose. But it happens to be a secret in constitution of our body. It’s like a key that opens a door to a great treasury. When we do these poses in harmony they pull off something insensibly but gradually we begin to feel an effect we did not even expect to get. This is the most wonderful, the biggest secret of yoga. It says we can find the most mysterious and powerful things existing in the universe inside our own selves. But we have to find a way to this power. It is Hatha yoga that allows us to reach it by doing different poses.
Who invented yoga?
We cannot answer this question. It appeared long ago and there have been neither authors nor names kept. It happened due to certain reasons. The tradition wasn’t written down for a long time – it was transmitted orally. On the other hand it was not always correct to put your name. But we can definitely say that yoga has more than three thousand years. Some people think it has more than five thousand years and even more. It doesn’t matter actually. The most important thing is that yoga survived. By the fact it existed for so long we can prove the perfect efficiency of this method. Lots of other systems – including the systems of self-discovery – have not come to our days. Yoga demonstrated itself to be such an indispensable system that it would be an unreasonable thing to refuse it in the ancient times. So it was transmitted by generations and it has finally come to our days. Certainly there are names of some authors and Masters who became famous at the later stages of the popularization of yoga. But we still don’t know where it came from. It is one of the most mysterious secrets in our history.
Why yoga is so popular nowadays?
A little more than a hundred of years ago nobody heard of yoga in the West. Fifty years ago more people were familiar with yoga, and now – even more. There are people who begin practicing yoga and immediately get the benefits. It is due to this fact why yoga is getting ground. It’s necessary to make difference between the popularity of yoga and preservation of yoga. Yoga is becoming popular but unfortunately some basic original concepts are understood with difficulty. In other words we’ve got a poor understanding of the ancient treatises on which all the exercises were based. We took a small part and this part fitted pretty well, so it spread fast while the rest of the knowledge is not used.
Our way of life is subject to the modern civilization. People used to go on foot or ride horses before, now we go by car. We used to spend more time on reading manuscripts, now we spend more time in front of PC. We used to be supposed to do more movements in our work, now we move less and less. We use public transport to go to work and come back home. As a result it turns out that we have a sedentary way of life. At the same time our work tends to become more and more stressful. Everything’s accelerated. We have to react promptly to the changing circumstances. That’s why the degree of concentration as a demand of our modern life is constantly growing. As a side-effect we observe the splash of different psychic disorders. We strain ourselves mentally while the body is relaxed. In the ancient times everything was more correlated. The mental or psychic strain was correlated with the physical one. Now these two things are separated. This is a modern lifestyle.
When practicing this system of self-discovery thousands of years ago wise men faced the same problem. These men had to sit in certain poses for hours meditating on various questions, on the essence of being, human nature, and his superior self. They wondered how the universe worked. In the ancient times yogi or yogini could sit for five hours in one pose without a movement brooding on these questions. This kind of strain affects an organism as greatly as stress does.
It occurs that in a modern period we face the same phenomena as the wise men did thousands of years ago. To recompense the impact of negative effects from long meditations they worked out different methods, including this one named Hatha yoga. Doing Hatha yoga you can make up the lateral effects of sedentary way of life. And this fits perfectly well to the modern society as we observe the same problems at present. That’s why it’s easy to presume that yoga will be more and more popular among the modern people. Indeed there exists sort of statistics. There are more people who tried yoga at least once in Western countries and the number of this figure is quite impressive and it’s bigger if compared with that in India. There are fewer practicing yogis there than in the US. That is the paradox.
What does the practice of yoga discover in us?
The answer to this question is paradoxical. Yoga gives nothing. Yoga discovers that we have already. According to the yoga system the biggest source of powerful is inside us.
First of all, the practice of yoga gives us health. Sometimes Hatha yoga is regarded to be kind of panacea, that is the medicine that helps to cure any disease. Indeed it’s impossible to overestimate the effect of Hatha yoga. If you’ve got some disease or if you’re physically weak, Hatha yoga can help to solve these problems. But you should know that yoga never substitutes medicine, and if you have a disease you are to consult a doctor first. Although there are cases when medicine can do nothing and yoga can help. But once and again – you should realize that yoga does not replace medicine. The objective of yoga is self-discovery. It’s medicine that treats. Yoga deals with a physical body as well but it is only for the purpose of self-discovery. It never set a task to treat anybody. So yoga gives physical health.
And so on. Yoga gives a mental health. The nerves of a modern man are extremely unstrung. Moreover, look at yourself, just observe – sometimes you will notice with a surprise that you act inadequately from time to time. And it is actually a very good sign. It means you approached the understanding of your psychic health. It is caused by stress, changing conditions of life and environment. Yoga gives mental health by influencing a physical body – that is from the dense to the thin. A well-known proverb says: «Mens sana in corpore sano».
Third, yoga gives intellectual powers. It seems to be a paradox – we work at the physical body and we receive profits at the intellectual one. We usually don’t expect a person who does a lot of physical exercise to be a Ph.D. So an idea of a beefed out athlete is opposed to that of a thin and weak intellectual. These two images are separated in our conscious. Yoga does not agree with it. According to yoga both cases – in case of physical strength and absence of intellect as well as in case of physical weakness and intellectual power – needs correction. The ideal of yoga is a man that is strong physically – even if he hasn’t got a body of a body-builder – and intellectually. The most interesting thing is that by doing Hatha yoga a man sober or later get strengthened his intellectual abilities. The way it works, the mechanism is not obvious but it definitely works. They wrote about it in the ancient times and we can see it nowadays. If in our practice we follow the principles that Hatha yoga gives us, the inner processes go faster in our body: some hormones are produced, some nervous flows are formed, and blood circulation inside the brain is activated. All these factors contribute to the intellectual growth. If a person lacked some abilities he will catch up soon. So besides physical and psychic health we have the third positive factor that is increasing of intellectual power.
In the fourth place, yoga discovers creativity. In greater part what is called throes of creation is in fact not a mental problem. As yoga says it is all much more prosaic and banal. The problem is that we simple lack tonus. We just lack vital force to support the functioning of the nervous system at a due level, so that it could be perceptive and creative enough. We lack energy. It is like a computer – when it lacks electric energy the battery is discharged and the computer switches off. When we begin to practice Hatha yoga all are systems are in such a good condition that kind of an extra energy appears. If a man has extra energy it’s a sign he starts to demonstrate creative outbreaks. That is why for a person of a creative profession it’s much easy to demonstrate this outbreak if he does exercises of Hatha yoga – the muscle energy, muscle vital force transforms in something thinner and the thinnest. We almost cannot see this in sportsmen. To be more exact, we can only see in the sportsmen who reopen intuitively some methods of yoga in their trainings. Simple muscle pumping does not lead to this effect. Yoga gives muscle, intellectual and creative force.
Fifth, all of us have got superpowers that we can’t even imagine. These are powers that seem to be miraculous. Thought reading, for instance. The ancient manuscripts say unambiguously that the effect of Hatha yoga practice is as follows: you discover superpowers like that. The principle is the same as in case of creative force discovery. In this respect yoga did not make any difference between superpowers – as we call them today – and normal abilities. Superpowers are our natural powers that we have not been able to use as yet. They are in us but we don’t have a key. Yoga says: if a person has been practicing yoga for a long time s/he feels for this door to his/her inner powers by intuition. Indeed s/he can demonstrate unique things. A healing power, for example. This is like in case of those yogis who could heal a person just by touch. It comes from Hatha yoga practice.
Sixth, the most valuable in Hatha yoga is that it’s a self-discovery system with its own philosophy, thoughts and reflections. Sometimes you need much time to understand what the method. For Hatha yoga practice you can be familiar with yoga philosophy or not at all. In other words you can be tabula rasa. You just have to know a few exercises. You just have to catch the essence of practice in harmony and do the exercises systematically. That’s all. Once you began practicing time works for you. While you might know nothing about yoga philosophy. A cunning thing is that when you develop physically you grow mentally and psychically as well, you start to rediscover all the highest laws of self-discovery that yoga teaches. That is why yoga is sometimes considered to be spread, well-known. If you meet the word “yoga” nowadays it means Hatha yoga in 80% of the cases. Although there are lots of different parts of yoga. Breath yoga, dynamic yoga, voice work, etc. Hatha yoga is the most popular as in all other kinds of yoga you have to learn theory first and in case of Hatha yoga you just need a minimum of the theory. Practice and all is coming.
Hatha yoga and poses
Hatha yoga is poses. What poses can they be? For example: straighten your legs and raise your body with the palms of your hands. That’s all! This is a pose of Hatha yoga. It’s not difficult. You don’t have to fling your leg round your neck, to sit in lotus pose. Another one – bend your leg, put it over another leg and move round not necessarily 360 degree but just according to your flexibility. Now let’s do this to the other side.
As it is a sequence of exercises like that is a core of Hatha yoga. Everything’s getting commercialized in the West, so some yoga teachers complicate things as they seem to be too easy. And we begin reading manuscripts. They write a whole book on each exercise saying what you should do, how you should breathe, what mantra you should repeat to yourself. So yoga is becoming overgrown with lots of complicated details. If you check the ancient manuscripts there were no details like that. They have appeared recently. Somebody’s trying to complicate yoga while its beauty is in its simplicity. That is why one should be critical about this kind of details. It’s worth doing yoga exercises as if you were a child taking one pose or another. Let them explain to you what they do. They’ll tell you two or three sentences. So the same we read in the ancient manuscripts as they thought it was all natural and clear.
Sometimes for this reason people have fear of starting to do yoga. They are afraid of missing, losing or misunderstanding something, something very important. Yoga is an interesting system that turns a person to self-teaching. It is not only causes effect, it makes a person to learn how to teach him/herself. It is as easy as that. It is so easy that sometimes people wonder what the effect consists in. All the brilliant things are that simple. Yoga poses are mere keys that open in us all that we’ve got already. A key can have a very unsophisticated look. A piece of metal of a certain color.
There shouldn’t be much jabber, too many details and uncertain attitude. If your attitude is uncertain it means you didn’t catch the harmony, and if there’s no harmony it’s no use doing exercises. You won’t get the effect even if you’ll twist like no other gymnast can. That means you need a subtle thing. This subtle thing is harmony.
When harmony appears it never looks like something pretentious or unnatural. If you look at the picture of some Western book on yoga you can see a man who’s trying to do his utmost to do a pose – as he considers it to be – “correctly”. But you feel he doesn’t feel comfortable and it’s not natural for him. He is doing like that according to a modern manuscript that describes a pose in details on twenty pages.
Yoga is like a play for children experimenting with their bodies.
A person’s taken a pose, while doing it s/he’s thinking that everybody’s laughing at him, that he’s doing something wrong. What is more, the teacher says you’re doing it wrong instead of calming you, relaxing and making you feel natural. It’s no longer can be called yoga.
Sometimes it means it is not a pose you’re doing wrong but the way you’re trying to repeat what the teacher showed. The teacher said turn your head to the right and you turned it to the left. It is basically impossible to say whether you do it right or wrong as it should be an inner sense of harmony. Until you are able to feel what a person feels, whether there is harmony or not, you cannot say whether this person’s doing yoga poses right or wrong. On the contrary, every thorny word like that causes personal blocks. The harmony happens to be blocked.
Just imagine you’re going on the road. Somebody’s broken a bottle – you can feel chips under foot, you can be injured and you won’t be able to go further. The same can happen on your way of yoga. You can face such instructions or instructors. Sometimes they are likely to intimidate you. They regard themselves to be the truth in the final instance and say: “You’re doing right, you’re doing wrong, and you’re just ridiculous”. If you meet with a person like that you should know it’s just a chip on the road, you’ better go another way. You shouldn’t trust those who doesn’t understand what harmony is. They will lead you to nowhere. This is a manifestation of blocks inside a person when a physical body is connected to the psychic, the psychic is connected to the mental – this is a complex of inner blocks. Usually it’s a lateral effect caused by stress. A man is stressed, he is afraid of everything, he’s afraid of looking ridiculous. While doing a pose he’s thinking: “How am I looking? What will the instructor say? And what will those on my right say? And what will those on my left say? They’ll be laughing at me”. This kind of thoughts is not pertinent in yoga. If thoughts like that appear it means you have started practicing yoga recently. If they’re cultivated in a place where you practice you should know you’re not doing yoga. It can be a type of aerobics or gymnastics but it is not yoga anyway. It is especially important to know for those who just begin practicing yoga. Indeed a beginner doesn’t know many things. He doesn’t know whether there are some canons, rules in yoga or not, what he should and what he should not do. The most important rule in yoga is harmony, non-violence.
Who can practice yoga?
From the yoga viewpoint all the people are alike. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Hindu, African, German or American. What is more, historically yoga is just kept on the Indian Territory or on the neighboring territories. They are Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, and Tibet. It is just kept there but nobody knows where it originates from. That is why if you go to India and you find the local lifestyle absolutely shocking, if it makes you think it’s an integral part of yoga you are mistaken. This is just a place where yoga knowledge is kept.
Indeed yoga influenced greatly on the culture in these countries. But this culture does not make a basis for yoga. Yoga is much more; it’s superior to any factor like this. Many people are shocked by the poverty, dirt, etc. which they see in the oriental countries. Usually they think of the Orient as of a fairy tale, as of an ideal place, but when they face it they see right the contrary. Yoga is not to be blamed. Yoga fits any race, nationality, etc. It’s like a Constitution – you can mention any point, it fits. Regardless of race, nationality, confession, age, sex, etc. Yoga is a good fit.
Any person can do yoga whatever religious views he’s got as yoga and religion are two different things. There is a habit to mix these notions nowadays. “I won’t do a headstand as it’s a yogic exercise. Yoga is of Hindu origin, Hinduism is a religion, and I am of another confession and I won’t do this”. Yoga doesn’t belong to any religion. Yoga can go together with any religion perfectly well as it can go together with an absence of any religion – with atheism. In our country, in Russia, yoga was practiced by the people who didn’t follow any religion.
The only thing you should follow when practicing yoga is common sense. If you feel ill, if you’ve got a disease you should consult a doctor. Yoga doesn’t substitute medicine. Doctors do their work and you do not interfere.
What do you need for yoga practice?
Actually you need very little to practice Hatha yoga. One of the factors that allow practicing is a flat surface. How big is this surface supposed to be? There are poses supposed to be done lying on your back, in some poses you have to put your legs back over your head, so you need more space. It can be 2 meters long (or 2 meters and a half to be comfortable), 60-70 cm across the width, and the height of the room should be appropriate so that your head wouldn’t bear against the ceiling. The surface should be plain so that you wouldn’t roll down one side or another.
You also need a yoga mat. First of all it should be comfortable. It can be a sport mat, a thinner mat, a woolen blanket or a normal coco mat. The ancient manuscripts say that it would be great if you could use a coco mat made of special kind of cane. According to the manuscripts lots of useful things can be made of this material. Technically they could not make a sport mat several thousands of years ago. That is why they used materials that they had at hand. You can prepare the cane, make a mat and start doing exercises. The ancient manuscripts of a later period say a tiger fell could be used. Nowadays tigers are on the verge of extinction, so practicing on the animal fell means contributing to poaching. That’s why a yoga mat should simply be convenient. Some yoga adepts do not need anything but a plain surface. They don’t need any special mat. There was a custom in the ancient India when you had to pilgrimage from time to time. You had to cover 1500 km, you wouldn’t take lots of things, so you learnt to practice on any surface.
What clothes should it be? The ancient manuscripts say it could be a hip dressing. You could practice even nude. Now there is an industry specializing in yoga wear. It is all very comfortable. It’s a product of the modern civilization. In the ancient times nobody thought there would be special clothes to do yoga. It’s important that the mat and the clothes fit you and the surface should be plain, otherwise you won’t be able to do exercises.
Auxiliary things necessary to do Hatha yoga
They are called auxiliary because you still can continue practicing if they are not fulfilled 100%. One of these conditions is the following: it is desirable that there should not be anybody else provided you do your practice at home. If you practice in a group of people it is desirable that all the members should be involved. If there is a possibility for you to practice alone you’d better do this. If there are your likeminded people nearby that’s ok.
If there is no possibility to seclude it is recommended that you keep silence. In other words you should mark the practice time and it is only force majeure circumstances that can make you break the silence. This should be a rule. Or you can prepare a sheet of paper and a pen. If somebody annoys you write on this piece of paper when you will be able to answer. In yoga it is the most important thing: there should be harmony inside. It is important to lose yourself in your feelings, feelings of the pose you’re doing. If somebody asks you something you immediately begin to answer. Your attention goes away from your feelings and skips over exterior things. It catches up. Then you need additional time again to calm down. A talk during a practice is like a whole in a barrel in which you’re trying to pour the life elixir. Doing Hatha yoga is like pouring the elixir of life, power and vigor into your body to feel good. Any talk is like a whole in a barrel that you’re trying to fill with the elixir. You pour – it leaks. You pour – it leaks. This is an analogy. That is why you should inform your home-folks and friends: “Guys, I’m busy at the moment”. It is very important indeed.
Next point. It’s of minor importance but still it should be mentioned. You shouldn’t care about your look, you should forget about those close to you, just forget. Never work on public when you do yoga. As if there was nobody nearby. Even if there are millions of people in front of you and everybody’s looking at you and pointing, just close your eyes and imagine there’s nobody close to you. Otherwise you will concentrate more on these people and not on the inner harmony and there is a bigger risk not to get all the benefits that you could get doing yoga correctly. So you’d better work on yourself, not on public. If it turns out to be beautiful, let they see. Some people think it is beautiful when you do it this way, other people think it is beautiful when you do it that way. Some people think it is beautiful when you put your leg over your head and all the rest is so so. It is all disputable. In any case it is important not to think about how we look. As if there was nobody to report to. The most important thing is silence. When people talk when they shouldn’t do it they interfere. If they do that means they don’t know what harmony is. And if they are unfamiliar with harmony all other talks about karma, chakras, prana, etc are mere husk. Just don’t listen.
Another factor is sound. The most unpleasant sound is when somebody begins to speak on the phone. You unwittingly tune in his/her wave while you don’t hear the talker’s wave, and there starts a process of adding on in your head. Sound is one of the most painful moments in yoga, especially in more subtle types of yoga. Other people may say: “How can it be? You’re a yogi. You’re not supposed to notice anything”. But or organism is so cunningly made that the sound effect is even stronger than visual images. That is why you’d better make sure that silence is kept or at least make sure it is as silent as it could be or buy earplugs. Sometimes you can listen to music but silence’s still the best option. Silence is more difficult to realize if compared with a harmonic music which functions as a background and a man – while practicing – does not even take notice of it. He involves in the inner processes, that is why music – if you practice alone – can be of any type. It can even be a drum music if you find it harmonic. It is important to remember that the more a person is involved in something intellectually the more sensitive he becomes. The same process takes place in yoga. You’re trying to penetrate into the depth of yourself and the noise disturbs.
Next factor is absence of an unpleasant smell. This is a subconscious factor. It’s like a teeth pain, when it hurts and you react in a pessimistic way, no matter what you tell him. The same happens in case of unpleasant smell, and there is a trap on the way when you try to cope with it. Incense sticks are gaining ground now which are supposedly make away with unpleasant smell but it is all chemistry. There’s a simple explanation: 1 kilogram of natural sandal oil costs 3 times more than 1 kilo of a synthetic one. What is more, there’s less chemical substance in synthetic oil, so it’s easier to obtain a quality certificate to use the oil in perfumery, and you won’t have to check every lot of natural oil to know whether there’s some radioactive substance or not. But synthetic material sometimes works as a strong allergy-causing agent. You can see it everywhere – in public transport, for example. You should be very careful when using incense sticks. You’d better get rid of the cause of an unpleasant smell than kill it with incense. Especially if you practice yoga as all your structures become more subtle.
Desirable factors for doing yoga
It is very desirable to do yoga outdoors; especially it concerns those who just begin practicing, if possible. The important factor is the air temperature and the absence of drafts. If it is too hot it will be difficult for you to practice although there is a certain zest in it – your muscles are warmed up. If it is too cold it is difficult to practice as well. The temperature should as balanced as possible. In any case if there is an opportunity to do yoga outside – in the park, in the garden – and not at home you’d better prefer this option even if you will have to put on some warm clothes. You will see by your own practice that the classes are much more effective.
Attitude towards yoga practice
This is a practical question for those who begin practicing yoga. What attitude should one have towards Hatha yoga practice? Should one learn everything by himself or better find a teacher? Should one attend certain classes where yoga is learnt or better buy a self-help manual and study step by step? The answer to this question is not that ambiguous as it might seem at first sight. Certainly the best way is to make first steps in a group guided by a teacher. Then you will be able to practice on your own. Unfortunately there are lots of factors that bring to naught every effort. First of all you may fail to find a good instructor. Not all the people who teach yoga teach yoga. Secondly you may live far away from where yoga classes are given or you might have no money to attend them. All the classes are paid now due to new economic trends. Nobody will give a studio for rent free of charge. Sometimes it so happens that sponsors can help but it is a very rare case. Or you may live far away from the centers of civilization. In this case you can start to practice using any appropriate book or manual. Learning yoga by tractates is allowed. But you will probably need more time or you will misunderstand some things and make mistakes. In any case yoga says you must not lose time. The best option is when you mix guided classes with personal practice at home. This is the best way.
Frequency and duration of classes
And how often should one do yoga? Is it necessary to practice every day and what time would be appropriate? According to experience a person who began practicing gradually comes to everyday practice and this comes naturally, without any violence or extraordinary effort. But years long practice show that the minimal number of classes per week that helps to get the benefit from yoga constitutes two days. If you do yoga less than twice a week it’s quite difficult to get effect. The body has time to forget yoga in this case. Practicing twice a week helps you to stay in good tonus. In the course of time the person realizes that he begins to feel need for more regular practice – he starts to do yoga three or four times a week, and then he realizes he practice every day with no violence. Many people who begin doing yoga tell they will practice every day. This is a very good decision. This is a useful decision but there is a danger that you will do your everyday practice one week, two weeks, three, four weeks, and during the fifth week you’ll feel tired. As soon as you notice something like that you should know you exceeded the necessary number of classes. In this case you’d better minimize the practice time but keep practicing every day, this is the best option. Another option is to cut the number of yoga classes per week. In any case you must remember that yoga and violence are not compatible. Yoga is harmony. If you feel no harmony there’s no use to do yoga.
How much time should a yoga class last? If you do only Hatha yoga and no other type of yoga, then a period between 30 minutes and an hour and a half would be ok. Everybody chooses his/her time – 40 minutes, 1 hour, 1 hour and 10 minutes, an hour and a half – it’s up to you. It’s an optimal way if the modern way of life, our obligations and possibilities are concerned. If you are on holiday or you want to make a breakthrough in your personal practice, you can do yoga as many hours as necessary for you to feel the harmony. It can be two, four or six hours. The attitude should be adequate not to break this rhythm as you can make a great effort once and then fall out of your schedule for a week. In other words you should have common sense. Yoga stands for common sense. It says that if you want to reach the greatest aims that might seem fantastic and unusual, you should follow common sense. Unfortunately there is a tendency nowadays. People read some books on yoga and think that the fact it gives fantastic, unusual and mysterious effects, means you must do something unusual and mysterious. It’s a mistake. This is a zest that yoga has – you are not supposed to do unusual and mysterious things but understandable and natural ones which lead to something magical. Some people are disappointed. They think they came to learn yoga, and their teachers should open the third eye, expand the aura, something like that, they have expectations of magical things but they face the clear, concrete, hard work to be done by themselves. This is what lets down. But the fact it’s a steady, responsible work doesn’t mean it’ll lead to usual, mediocre results. It’s just a way. It is these mysterious and magical results that you should read about in the books.
It should be mentioned that beautiful landscapes, places have a very good effect, especially if you’re just beginning to do yoga. There are many beautiful places on the earth. These are the places where the harmony of nature is not yet distorted by the dissonance we from time to time see in big cities or where people made a great impact. In such places one can more easily set his/her heart on peaceful perception and – as a result – one can easily feel this harmony inside. That’s why if you have a possibility to decorate a place where you will practice yoga, you’d better do it. Or you can just clean this place – as simple as that. You will bring harmony to the place by cleaning it. It works although it may seem weird. The effect is great though the things themselves (decoration, cleaning) are quite simple.
It is very desirable not to change the place and time of yoga practice. If you follow this advice, you repeatedly act upon this place as if it were magnetized by your presence. In the course of time when you come to this place you will automatically feel the necessary wave of harmony. This is especially important if you come back from your work or you’re just going to work and you have to feel good. The wall, the floor, the interior will help you then. That’s why it would be wonderful if you could have a place like this. But if you’ve got no such a place, you’d better practice where you can. You’re not supposed to be crazy about the place – you’re not supposed to spend too much time on decoration, etc. This is not rational and you should follow common sense. First begin doing yoga, and then do other things. There’s a general yoga aphorism that says the following: if a man does not do yoga, time is his enemy, but if he does – time’s his protector.
Some points to get ready for a class
Before starting to do exercises it is recommended that you should sit down in peace and quiet for a couple of minutes, straighten your back, neck and head. You should try to do your best to relax the muscles of your body and the muscles of your face. It is necessary to be sure we are not bringing any impaction accumulated during the day in our yoga practice. We don’t tend to notice how blocked we are inside ourselves. Mostly it is marked on our face muscles. Sometimes some problems we’re thinking about happen to be reflected in face muscles tension. It is a factor of an inner stress. It’s clear enough that this stress – even if we are not conscious of it – doesn’t let us to penetrate into the depth of harmony deep inside. That is why it is very important in the beginning of the class to sit down and straighten the back, the neck and the face, relax the muscles of the whole body and the facial muscles in particular. Though it might seem strange it so works that when we look through our face we feel the tension in it and when we relax it we get an effect that goes to the inner psychic processes inside us.
Finally it happens to be very helpful just to let the current situation go. As we might have had a complicated day, some problems to solve or some tasks we will have to do tomorrow. And sometimes they are all in our heads, we analyze whether we did it right, whether we got ready well enough and so on. The mental process is in progress. Yoga suggests we should let the situation go, it adds we did everything we could do at work before the yoga class. And now the most important thing is to let it all go and forget about all our problems for some time. It is considered that if we succeed in doing this, the Universe begins doing its part of work, the work we should do together. It should be clear that all we depends in part on us but as well it depends on the other accompanying, favorable factors that are beyond our power. Actually it’s very important too whether we will think about these factors or we will not. As every thought is material and it keeps influencing as well. We block this process. Just imagine an enterprise functioning in two shifts. For example, you work from morning till night, and the other workers do their work from night till morning. These people cannot start working until you go home. Otherwise you will interfere with each other’s work. And if you finish working and do not go away and you don’t let the night shift workers do their work, it stops. So in the same way we block the help from the Universe with our thoughts. We have to do our part of the work, we must do it fair, do our best, and then we should let the situation go, switch to another thing, switch to a Hatha yoga class for instance. In fact when a person does Hatha yoga, voluntarily or involuntarily he/she turns his/her attention from the problems and forgets about them. But sometimes – especially for beginners – it can be difficult to make the first step. S/he tries to forget about the problems but they won’t go out. Such a person blocks the help from the Universe with the thoughts.
That is why it is strongly recommended to straighten the back, the neck and the head before a class starts. According to yoga one can reach the most relaxed condition sitting like this. We feel the spine while the body is completely relaxed. The muscles are not contracted. We might lie but we the slumberous feeling comes. It is very desirable to start a class just sitting down on the floor, relaxing the muscles of the body and face, and mentally letting it all go.
And after this it would be great if we could lie down and stretch out a bit. You can yawn while doing it. It’s just like in the morning we feel like stretching and yawning when we wake up. So we get rid of unnecessary tension and at the same time we add some invigorant factors. After relaxing for a couple of minutes and stretching for two or three minutes we can directly go to doing Hatha yoga poses.
There are so many poses in Hatha yoga as possible postures of a human body. In other words they are innumerable. In any case there are a lot of different poses. But the wisdom of yoga is not in sorting out all the postures a human body can take. It’s in use of quite a small number of poses, postures that will be well enough. There are a different number of the poses in different tractates. But for you to know there are some 7-8 tens of poses. In other words they are not that numerous. On the other hand, it depends on how you count. Sometimes you can consider two poses to be the variations of one pose, or you may regard them to be two different poses. So it’s a matter of taste. And here this general yogic tendency of harmony is observed as well. Nowadays a modern man wants to systematize everything. A western man first of all defines a pose, its name, how it’s done, how many poses there are. He wants to know everything in concrete terms. Nobody ever set this as a task in the field of yoga. It just wasn’t considered interesting. That means there’s no a reference book that could be of great use for the western people. The similar situation is with the names of the poses. There are some poses the names of which are established, and even in absolutely different traditions of yoga they either sound the same way or they’re quite alike. The Sanskrit language used in the naming of yoga poses has never got after writing but it has always been looking for pronunciation. That’s why in Sanskrit one and the same word can be written with different letters. What is more, in the course of time these letters bring a specific accent in the pronunciation, and sometimes it finally turns to be kind of a dialect. Let alone that in different yoga traditions a pose can have different names. And vice versa – there can be two names for one and the same pose. This mess always was and it still is. There’s no one definite list with all the names of yoga poses.
So it was considered that you could get a very good result doing only 7-8 tens of Hatha yoga poses. But everyone was free to experiment with his/her own body, look for your variants, your own poses. It was not forbidden. According to the philosophy and ideology of yoga every pose can be a yoga pose as well it can fail to be this. It will not depend on what you do but on the way how you do it. The poses in Hatha yoga are called asanas. From the viewpoint of harmonic yoga everything flows from one thing into another in a very smooth manner, and any commentary on wrong doing of an exercise is senseless. If he doesn’t do a yoga pose, he automatically does another one. The question is what effect you will get. So we know there are basically 7-8 tens of yoga poses the effect of which is the strongest. So we have to start with these poses and then we can do some other ones, if our body needs it. Sometimes your body asks like a dog or a cat asks you to feed them. According to yoga we must immediately do the pose if we feel our body needs it.
It’s like a pregnant woman who feels the need to eat chalk or soil. The organism demands some microelement though she might not be conscious of it. It seems to be ridiculous when a woman says: “Bring me the chalk from another room, it’s tastier there”. This means a pregnant woman becomes more sensitive. The same happens in yoga. When the body asks for something, you should analyze why it happens. And try it even if the pose will be a strangest one. You won’t go against yoga; on the contrary, you’ll act as the ancient yogis did. We should get rid of the modern tendency that only the yoga instructors know what to do and how to do it well as if they were kind of Celestial Fathers going down to earth. It is important to understand that a real, true yoga instructor is a very proud title, and the task of such a person is to help other people to discover their potential in a better, harmonious way. Unfortunately there’s a tendency in yoga that some instructors oppress the people saying things like: “It’s wrong, this pose is called like this and not like that, and your toe must be directed this way”. This is kind of intolerance. A person has come to a yoga class and it’s important for instructor to discover, not to press to show his/her significance as an instructor. This is a bad trend and it goes against yoga. If you face it you must be aware – this is not yoga. Yoga is harmony. And any act of intolerance and any attempt to bolster self-esteem by means of somebody or something – this is not yoga.
There exist poses with more or less established names. The descriptions of how they should be done take from one to two sentences in the ancient manuscripts. Many people were discouraged by this fact. They thought: “Aha, they wrote two sentences in the treatise, but in real practice they must have told some sacred instructions that would take 20 pages”. It contradicts to the very ideology of yoga. They say everything or nothing at all. There cannot be half truths in the ancient tractates, there can a warning. It usually sounds as follows: “Do like this and like that, in all other things listen to your Teacher”. But this is what the complicated practices as concerned (meditative, etc). As a rule a pose description is very simple, sometimes it might even seem not to be serious enough. Sometimes it’s quite difficult to understand what you have to do, especially if you have never practiced yoga before. In some tractates it’s more or less understandable: put your leg here, turn your head there – everything’s clear. And as for some poses it’s quite difficult to understand what was meant – it is not clear at all.
How many exercises should you do at one set?
So you’re beginning to do yoga. How many exercises should you do at one set? There is a viewpoint according to which the more you do the better. It’s totally wrong. In yoga it’s not important what you do but how you do it. It’s not that important how much you do but how deep you penetrate into what you’re doing. That’s why even one exercise a day can formally be considered a normal yoga class. Still experience and practice show that a beginner should do seven exercises. Your practice should consist of at least seven poses. But if you fell like doing more – do more, and if you feel like doing less – do less.
How often should you change the exercises?
So you’ve chosen your seven exercises and you begin doing them day by day. There is a mistaken opinion that you’d better change your series every day: today you do this series of exercises, tomorrow you do the second one, and the day after tomorrow you do the third one. It is not sensibly too, especially for beginners. You don’t have enough time to feel deeply one set of exercises as you jump to another one. That is why it’s regarded you should chose one series of poses and don’t change it during a week. In a week you can change it. But this is for those who learn the poses him/herself. If you attend guided classes you don’t have this problem of choice – you should do the sequence the teacher suggests the whole group does as guided classes can be more useful, especially for beginners. Practicing in a group of people a person can immediately experience a new feeling, a new state. It happens due to a special group atmosphere. But if you practice alone at home you’d better not change the sequence during a week.
How many times should you repeat an exercise?
In this respect yoga says it’s up to you. It depends on what you feel. If you do a difficult exercise you’d better split it up and take the general time of practice by doing it several times. If you feel more or less comfortable in a pose, you can take the whole time by doing it just once.
How to change poses?
What is the best way to change poses? Should one have a rest between two poses or not? It’s not an easy question and the answer wouldn’t be easy as well. According to the theory of yoga there are two ways of doing a pose. They are so called method of Energy and method of Consciousness. In other words they are the ways where you have to allow to do and where you have to make you do, accordingly. So the way you change poses will depend on the method you apply. For example, you do one pose, and then you finish and rest for a minute or half a minute. After that you do another pose, and then you finish and have a short rest again, and so on. But there is another variant of doing poses when you change the poses without having a rest. Both variants are acceptable, both methods can be very useful. In the morning – when you want to bestir – it’s very good for you to put forth. On the contrary, in the evening when the working day is over and we’ve been making efforts all day long, the method of Energy fits perfectly: we do a pose, and then we have a rest, we do another pose, etc. So the key point is harmony. It is all about harmony in yoga. If you’re making efforts, you’re doing a pose, another one, a third, etc, and then you feel it’s too much, you’d better stop probably? Or vice versa if you’re practicing so slow and blasé that you’re likely to fall asleep, you’d better put forth. Nobody except you can define the method that’s better for you at every particular moment. At guided classes where the group of people is big the instructor should be very professional to be able to define the better method for the whole group. It’s a separate, a very serious field of knowledge. It’s not easy at all. For those who practice on your own the best way is to listen to your inner teacher. You should respect your feelings. You should trust yourself. There’s very big sag nowadays: the Western people trust more in manuals, some tractates, videos or teacher instructions. They trust them more than their own feelings. Maybe in some other spheres of life this knowledge works but not in yoga. In yoga you are supposed to trust yourself, your own feelings first. All other outer tractates, instructions and words go on the second place. This must be a very important rule for you. Listen for yourself. Do you feel harmony? If you feel it – it’s good. If you don’t – you probably failed to understand something in a tractate, or it was said for another person who lived in different time, or it was probably a wrong translation, sometimes it so happens that a translator into Russian has no qualification. That is why it is you who defines the way of practice.
Mother method (the method of Energy)
There are two diametrically opposite methods of doing Hatha yoga exercises. The first one is the method of Energy, it consists in listening for your feelings and trying to obtain the maximum joy and pleasure out of your body. It’s like stretching and yawning once we wake up in the morning – we’re kind of squeezing the pleasure. Practicing like this we are supposed to make a minimal effort and follow the way our feelings show to us. For instance, doing a pose when we’re grasping the ankles with our hands and trying to bend forward to our knees. There are various ways of doing it. Doing it according to the method of Energy we take any position that we consider to be comfortable, it is not necessary to touch the legs with the head – we do it the way we find pleasant. But later we feel like bending a bit more and more forward, we’re kind of following our feelings. This is the method of Energy, it is called Mother method too. As the ancient manuscript says we approximately take a pose we want to do and we give will to the universe or our feelings. And the feelings tell us when it’s better to bend forward. This method is very smooth, very gentle, you don’t need to put forth.
Father method (the method of Consciousness)
There is an opposite way of doing exercises. It is so called method of Consciousness, or Father method. It’s when we are supposed to make an effort, to put forth, it is kind of an aesthetic way. Right now my body doesn’t hear me and I’m going to overcome this obstacle. And I’m doing the same pose but making effort. It’s clear that the muscles are resisting, it’s an effort. It’s an effort but it’s not violence. There is a difference between effort and violence. You are supposed to feel happiness at the background. The process of overcoming should make feel you happy. That means I’m bending and I feel happy – I’m a good yogi. My body didn’t respond to me but now I make it do. When finish doing the pose the body feels good, you are happy. This is Father method, the method of Consciousness. Make notice that it’s different compared to the previous one, the method of Energy. We make an effort, we are active. All the known Hatha yoga schools tend to use more one afford or another, it depends on their history and some other factors.
Combination of the two methods
In yoga they recommend that you should learn to use both the method of Consciousness and that of Energy. The most important thing is to learn how to combine these two methods, even when doing one and the same exercise. We begin with the method of Energy and continue with the method of Consciousness. That means we get maximum pleasure first, and then we start to consciously stretch the muscles. Anyway you are supposed to fell happiness and satisfaction either indulging in the Energy method or making forth by the Consciousness method. If you don’t feel happy it means something goes wrong. If on the contrary you are violent in your practice it’s totally unacceptable. It won’t give a long term result. According to yoga violence is inefficient as the body becomes to revenge. At first the body obeys but it takes revenge afterwards. It’s not reasonable. Sure you are to make it do some poses but you are to do it in a very reasonable way. Sometimes you should give a rest to your body but again you should do it reasonably. The most important is to detect the moment when it’s better to change your tactics. That is the most complicated thing.
If you realize when it is the right moment to change the tactics you will really know a thing or two in yoga and you will be able to get the most out of Hatha yoga practice. The right way of doing Hatha yoga is considered to be on the jointing edge of these two methods, the method of Energy and method of Consciousness, when we afford or when we make forth. If we follow this way our classes are the most efficient. That is why we try both methods first, and then we start to bring them together. Trying both methods we are to catch a thin line between. But if you only make forth you will be very tired soon, you will be exhausted not only physically but also psychically. Every effort takes some energy, it is not reasonable to be in such a strained state all the time. We can be strained at work or when solving some other problems, it would be too much to be strained when doing yoga as well. When it happens people tend to drop classes as they get very tired mentally. It is one of the main serious reasons why people stop doing yoga, they overcharge themselves. Then you miss a class, and then you just don’t feel like coming back. That is why it is not reasonable to only make forth.
Another extreme point is when we only afford, that means we are too relaxed when doing yoga poses. In a long-term prospective it is not reasonable too. The body will be lazy and it will become more and more difficult to make it do something. We can get the maximum use out of practice only when we combine the two methods. Yoga is a system of self discovery, the method of yoga is combination of making efforts and allowance, its correlation. It is a universal method.