By Shameem Akhtar
Approaching yoga practice with devotion, where each asana is like a prayer, opens you up to divine bliss and helps you grow spiritually.
In his latest book, Light on Yoga, B.K.S.Iyengar, pride of India and yoga’s foremost exponent, advises us to offer our yoga practice as an act of devotion. Each asana or pose must be practiced as if it were a prayer. The movements must string together, like musical notes, to create a song of devotion.
When the practice transforms into an act of devotion, every sinew, muscle, tendon and nerve relaxes in bliss and the initial pain in any asana is transmuted into a complete surrender that expands the dense structure of our body and allows the innermost layer, of ananda, to erupt to the surface. That is why most intense and devoted practitioners of yoga walk around with the famous and much sought-after ‘yogic glow’.
The body opens up to receive divine bliss and freedom from wants. Some mysterious doorway opens up. Says the maestro, the opening is like a doorway. And no doorways are one-way thoroughfares. He adds, as you penetrate your body with your mind and intelligence, something is simultaneously trying to come out. This is the innermost sheath of bliss or ‘ananda’, which wants to shine out.
Initially when we start any physical regimen, including yoga, we have very basic needs. We are looking to gain good health. But for most of us even this is next in priority to looking good. Some yoga schools scoff at this – but if that is your nature, to wish to look good, there is no need to fight it. According to Hatha Yoga Pradipika there are various physical signs of perfection in hatha yoga including leanness of the body, tranquil countenance, fragrance of body, softness of skin, perpetual youth and glowing skin. Even casual practitioners are impressed with the lightness and litheness of the body, freedom from disease and heightened energy levels. These are not qualities to be sniffed at, especially as freedom from disease and a high energy level will form the base on which your spiritual life will eventually be built.
But how do you reach this stage of ‘perfection in practice’ eulogized in the ancient yogic texts? To win a lottery, one needs to first buy the ticket. So too, to win the mental and physical benefits of yoga you have to make a payment. And just as the cost of a lottery ticket is negligible, in yoga too the cost is low. The cost is discipline. Not such a high price to pay, but you will be surprised at how many people fail to pay this simple, token payment. And in the above comparison, I have to make one qualification: with lottery tickets you don’t even know if you will win the prize or not. Whereas with yoga, you always win. All the more reason to pay up for the priceless bonanza that yoga stacks up for you. Discipline is not such a demanding payment and yet, so few pay up. And then we continue to crib about ill-health, obesity, chronic fatigue, low energy, lack of focus, etc. Pay up! And stop cribbing!
Discipline first means regularity of practice. Not skipping a single day’s practice with skimpy excuses, including the most common one – lack of time. Everybody has only 24 hours a day – some people just pack a lot into it. Ask yourself just this simple question: this marvelous instrument of our body, fashioned and molded by millions of years of evolution – does it not deserve 30 minutes of your attention? Does it not deserve to live longer and be healthier? Yoga must be the foundation on which the rest of your ambitions can be built. That way it will take you to the heights you wish to reach, not leave you flailing, just tantalizingly close to the goal!
The next rung of discipline you must scale has to do with the mental attitude required of you when you do a pose. While your goals may be simple and straightforward ones – like robust health and youthful looks – you will attain them only when you do your practice with complete attention to the present. Each pose must be an act of meditation. In each pose you must watch your mind. In each pose, you must feel the complete stretch, identify the spots of pain, consciously relax unnecessarily tense parts of the body. Your mind must flow through your entire body. Then, suddenly you will feel a complete sense of unbelievable release.
Targets you were struggling to reach will be attained in a few seconds. The pain of effort will subside. You will realize that what you mistook for dense matter is actually a flow of energy. The body becomes a field of energy when you do the pose with your mind.
Savour each pose completely. Then there is an intimacy with the mind and body, which is crucial for complete health. Once this savoring happens, discipline does not become an effort. All action becomes effortless. Discipline is the first step towards joy.
Anant Asana (Pose of Vishnu):
This pose resembles the pose of Lord Vishnu on Adishesh.
Lie on your right side. Prop your head on your right hand. Align your body so that it is in as straight a line as possible – the feet, legs and head lying in a straight line. Now inhale. Exhaling, lift the left leg so it is at right angles to the body. Simultaneously, lift the left hand to grasp the left big toe with your left index finger. Hold the final pose, breathing evenly. Release, return to the starting pose. Repeat for the other side.
Most beginners will experience difficulty with aligning, as well with grasping the toe with the hand. You may compromise a bit on this perfection, doing and reaching only as much as you can.
Benefits: It makes the legs supple and tones the arms too. The spine is also worked out, since the entire torso and muscles there must work hard to be able to remain in a straight line. Since it impacts the lowermost chakra called mooladhara, it can help bring the emotional part of our mind under control. It is among those poses which gives great joy when held for long because it also moves the body’s energies through all the various nerve plexus (called chakras in yogic parlance). When you reach the ability to grasp the toe with the index finger, you are said to activate the powerful ‘third eye’ chakra called the ajna chakra, involved with your intellectual self or buddhi. Now you are actually praying in the pose!
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