"ASANAS" BY DHARMA MITTRA
"ASANAS" BY DHARMA MITTRA
608 Yoga Postures
By Dharma Mittra
When I first left the ashram of my guru, Swami Kailashananda, in 1975, I was very enthusiastic, in good shape, and spiritually intoxicated. I wanted to give the guru something in thanks as an act of devotion, so I set to work on the Master Yoga Chart of 908 Asanas.
At the time yoga wasn't as popular in the United States as it is now so I had to work out how to do many of the postures myself - some were explained in texts, but not all were illustrated. I gathered information from my guru, from books, and from students who had come from other teachers. I mounted a Nikon camera and a video camera with a monitor so I could see the correct angle when I was in the pose. Once in position I clicked with a wire remote, a little pump. In many poses I had to hold the pump in my mouth and activate it by biting. I had four seconds to spit it out before the flash popped.
Every morning I would shoot two or three rolls of film. I did about 1,300 postures in less than three months, then I cut them out and pinned them on a big piece of cardboard. I knew that if I made the chart, one day it would be a success, just like a painting that is done 100 years before it is recognized.
It is said that yoga takes the shape of all of creation. There are an infinite number of poses - this is what makes yoga a living tradition.Three thousand years ago yoga started with one meditative pose, Easy Lotus. The word asana originally meant "meditative posture." Then the masters introduced Cobra Pose to keep the spine flexible. In their quest for physical health they developed the eight most important poses to insure the health of the body and glands. From there it grew. Even today dozens of new poses are created each year by true yogis all over the world. There are many different schools, each with their own variations, but basically all yoga comes from the same set of classic asanas. In the 30 years I have been teaching I have developed many poses, but in yoga no one puts his or her name on a pose because in reality I didn't do anything. I am just a body through which the intuition has passed.
Many of the newer and more popular variations of yoga are geared to getting into a sweat and burning calories. They require a lot of movement and people tend not to worry about concentrating in the pose. The way I learned, you relax and concentrate on the third eye or, if you're not feeling comfortable, on the point of stress. This calms you down, helps diminish desires, and focuses energy. But here's the truth: while there's a different style for every kind of person, all yoga, if practiced properly, achieves the same ends.
Still, even with books like this, students should havea teacher available. The guru has gone the route. He orshe knows the journey and is able to guide others. Heor she will know which poses are good for you and whichto avoid. As students grow spiritually and improve their mental patterns they'll attract better teachers. Unfortunately there are many certified yoga instructors today who don't know anything about yoga. But students needn't worry - everything has a divine purpose. Instructors who don't know anything attract students who don't deserve the truth yet. There is a natural order in the world.
Yoga is beneficial to so many physical conditions, but the ultimate reason to practice it is to find the truth. Asanas are only one part of an eight-stage process in the search for enlightenment. They prepare the body for meditation. The great yoga master Iyengar said, "My body is my altar, and my postures are the prayers." Only when you've learned the postures and the ways to control the mind, the breath, the senses, and the emotions, are you ready to enter the temple.
Yoga means yoke, or union, with the spirit. Some people think, "I'm in this pose so I've achieved godliness." They're not even doing yoga yet. Unless you've surrendered to the Lord, or to the Divine Spirit, or to whomever you may call God, you're only doing something for yourself. To find that union you must surrender. Then you can achieve samadhi, that deeper consciousness in which you become identified with the object of your concentration. You need to go beyond the individual mind and join the ocean of consciousness.
I know that sounds like a lofty ambition - most people come to class to improve their figures. But as they practice they gradually and automatically start changing their ideas. They start thinking more about the spirit. Automatically it begins to have another effect, something that's learned less from thought than through experience.
Students often ask me how they can go deeper into a posture. In a way they are asking the wrong question. Form, breath, and focus are much more important than range of motion. As long as you're aligned and breathing, don't worry about how far you can go. That said, you must learn to relax in the pose in order to master it. The first few times you cross your legs in Lotus Pose, say, it's extremely painful. After a few weeks of practice, you'll be able to spend some minutes in it. Eventually you will feel comfortable.
As I mentioned before, there are eight basic poses that will give you everything you need for good physical health - they can all be made more challenging depending on your flexibility. The basic eight are: Sirshasana (Head Stand); Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand), Bhujangasana (Cobra, which leads into Bow Pose); Paschimatanasana (Full Back Stretch); Matsyendrasana (Spinal Twist); Maha Mudra (One-Leg Back Stretch or Powerful Seal); Siddhasana (Easy Lotus); Padmasana (Lotus Pose).
Unlike bodybuilding or other purely physical routines, yoga is a holistic practice. Each pose performs many functions, not all of them obvious, that can stimulate internal organs and glands, increase the flow of blood, reduce stress, and improve overall health. Dhanurasana, Bow Pose, is a good example. It bends the spine backwards, which develops its flexibility and elasticity. At the same time, the body is resting on the abdomen, stretching and relaxing muscles there, improving digestion and peristalsis. This can help chronic constipation and liver dysfunction. It also sends a rush of blood to the abdominal viscera. So while it may be classified as a Back Stretch pose, it also has a powerful effect on the internal organs.
One more thing: It's a mistake to expect benefits from any pose. Expectations make you restless because if you fail to get what you expect, you feel miserable. Yoga practice is an act of adoration to the Lord - you do it because it has to be done. If you have this mental attitude, your selfishness disappears and the benefits come.
In addition to practicing asanas there are other things you may want to do to hasten your development and achieve spiritual bliss.
- Use discrimination before any action, making sure your actions are honest, respectful, and right.
- Avoid cruelty. Often students will automatically abandon meat, not because it's bad for the body, but because they don't want to participate in the violence of eating their fellow beings.
- Practice pranayama, or breath control. The ancient masters believed that every life had a preordained or finite number of breaths in it. Pranayama was developed to extend the breath, and thus lengthen life. Most people practice pranayama in the morning, between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m., when the mind and senses are calm. After 4 p.m., once the body is warmed up from the day's movement, they do asanas. You move 20 percent better then.
- Maintain a light diet - juices, fruits, salads - after 6 p.m.You'll have a good sleep and wake up refreshed. Your stomach must be empty during sleep because that's when the body repairs itself; with food in it the body is occupied with digestion so you wake up more tired than when you went to sleep. Tha's why some Buddhist monks never eat before noon or after 4 p.m.
Essentially, if you control your mouth - what you put into it and what comes out of it - you've controlled much of your mind already.
Some people hope to reach higher states of consciousness from yoga and meditation. It's possible, but it requires much practice. The old masters defined concentration as the ability to keep the mind on one point for twelve seconds without a break. Twelve concentrations - or two and half minutes -equal one meditation. Twelve meditations take a half hour. If you can concentrate without any break, if the flow of concentration is uninterrupted like oil pouring from a spout, then you've achieved the last state of yoga, samadhi, cosmic consciousness. Some yogis can enter samadhi as soon as they close their eyes; beginners take several minutes just to enter the state of meditation.
After years of practicing pranayama, I have heard the inner sounds, which are called nada in Sanskrit. These sounds are said to be the buzzing, crackling, and hissing of kundalini as prana travels up the spine. These sounds never mix with those from the outside. I have also felt the heat of pure energy rising up my spine. I have never taken LSD, but the way people describe it, the sensation is comparable to that or to that of an orgasm. Not a sexual orgasm, but a rush of pure energy.
There is always an excuse not to do yoga and I've heard them all. "I'm not feeling well," "It's too cold (or too hot)," or "the city is too hectic and not a spiritual place." I think New York City is the best place to practice. Forgive my paraphrase, but as the song says, if you can achieve it here, you can do it anywhere. I know many yogis in India who can renounce the world, sit under the tree, and raise their kundalini because they have no distractions. But then they come here and get tempted by the world, cars, fame, women, money, and...well that's why there are so many scandals around yogis. If you can overcome the temptations here, you really have mastered the senses.
Introduction Excerpted from: ASANAS 608 Yoga Postures
by Dharma Mittra, $19.95, Trade Paperback
* Available at local bookstores * or Order at:
Dharma Yoga Center: www.dharmayogacenter.com
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