Yoga - Do It Right
by Shameem Akthar
Simplifying yoga techniques for the sake of convenience will not deliver the benefits of the asanas
Some yoga schools, unfortunately most of them in India, do not encourage the right effort and alignment in practice of asanas. While gyms carry the slogan of ‘no pain, no gain’ to unhealthy extremes, these ‘soft’ yoga schools brainwash their practitioners into taking an easy way out of poses, either attempting them partially or superficially. Again, unfortunately, other yoga schools here have transformed asana practice into a gymnastic exercise without the mental focus that makes it such a powerful tool. The right approach is the one that walks the delicate balance between these two extremes.
In yoga, asanas are not an end in themselves, but are cleansing tools essential to rid the body of diseases. If you understand this aspect of asanas, you simply cannot be careless in your practice. Asanas are meant to rid the body of ailments, clear the energy channels, and make them free flowing so that you can enjoy the right spurt of spiritual focus. That is why asanas require firm, focused discipline. The legendary yoga guru BKS Iyengar in his hugely popular book, Light on Yoga, stresses the relevance of proper alignment: “Faulty practice causes discomfort and uneasiness within a few days.”
Each pose exerts a powerful impact on your psychosomatic self. If you do your asanas lackadaisically or thoughtlessly, you may get some physiological benefit. However, for yoga to be a powerful meditational and spiritual tool, you must bring to your yoga practice, a focused discipline that understands right exertion.
These theoretical observations may be made practical if you initially attempt to do each pose with the right alignment. In a twist, for instance, the squeeze on your liver is of paramount importance. Liver is your detox organ, which faces the brunt of most of your mental negativities. The pressure you exert on this while twisting depends entirely on how well aligned your body is. This is essential to avoid toxic overload from the liver. Similarly, in yogic diabetic therapy, the abdominal pressure is essential for the right massaging effect on the over-exhausted pancreas. Doing a pose without this focused pressure on the abdomen will have nil impact on your blood sugar fluctuations. Similarly, where yoga is being used as a de-stressing tool through forward bends, it is essential that your forehead reaches as close to the ground as possible so that the blood gush can have that cooling, rejuvenating effect on your over-anxious brain.
In depression therapy, yoga uses several poses that require the legs to spread wide. This again works on the saddle region in your inner thighs, which appears to impact your uro-genital system powerfully. As you may know this system is delicately, but firmly linked to the wide swathe of emotions that wreck or elevate us universally: greed, anger, aggression, anxiety, jealousy, willingness to learn new things, self-gratification, and self-esteem (through release of neuro-transmitters like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin). If your legs are not aligned well, what purpose would be served?
In pranayama practices like seetali (cooling breath) for instance, the pressure applied at the palate with your curled tongue is what helps you control thirst and hunger. That spot is said to have a rich cluster of acupressure points, amongst the thickest in your body. In seated forward bending poses like pranamasana (prayer pose), the pressure at the crown impacts the master gland in the brain to set off powerful biological and neurological reactions which explains why it is used as an emergency relief pose in asthma. This pressure, and the lock at the chin also makes it therapeutic in hunger control. If these pressure points are not touched, the yogic magic is not achieved.
Sit up straight, with legs together, back straight. Spread out legs as wide as you can. Ensure that the back of thighs is touching the ground. Initially, it may not be very easy to spread legs too wide. Shut eyes. Stay in the pose for a few minutes. Those with breathing problems or backache may sit on a cushion. This takes the pressure off the chest and back.
It is used in therapy for anger, anxiety management, and is a mood elevator. It aligns the spine, prevents backache and boosts respiration. It is also used in meditative practices, with eyes shut and hands in mudras (hand gestures).