Welcome to Session 2 of the Meditation and Yoga Philosophy course.
In Sanskrit, we call yoga postures “asanas”. Asana means a “posture giving physical comfort and mental composure.” Yogis in the past observed that animals had characteristics that were related to their posture. In other words, the posture affects the mind.
So the main effect of yoga postures is on the mind.
That’s because they put pressure on the internal glands, and that balances the hormones secreted from the glands. It’s the hormones that affect how we feel. If the hormones are balanced, the emotions will also be balanced.
So yoga postures keep the mind calm and balanced, and prepare it for meditation.
They also have many physical benefits: they increase the flexibility of the back and joints, massage the internal organs, as well as cure many diseases.
Now we’ll go through three yoga postures that are very simple and effective. If you practice them daily, you’ll soon see how they keep your mind calm and relaxed, making it a lot easier to concentrate.
Find a warm, clean room (usually the same one you use for meditation) and lay a blanket on the floor. Make sure there’s no draught. If you’ve eaten in the last hour or so, wait until your stomach is less full (2-3 hours after eating).
• The first asana is called Yogamudra: Sit cross-legged. Hold your left wrist with your right hand behind your back. Slowly lowering your chin, then your neck, bend down as far as you can go, breathing out as you go down. Stay there for 8 seconds with your breath held out then rise up, breathing in. Practice eight times.
• Now the Cobra: Lie down on your stomach. Put your hands facing down on the floor beside your ears. Supporting your weight on your palms, push up and raise the chest, looking up towards the ceiling. Breathe in while rising, and hold your breath in that position for 8 seconds. Come down to original position while breathing out. Practice eight times.
• Finally the Long Salutation: Kneel down with your buttocks resting on your heels and your toes pointing forward. With your palms together, extend your arms up next to your ears. Slowly bring your arms and head down as one, first bending your neck then the whole upper body, until your fingers hit the floor, keeping your buttocks on your heels all the time. Now stretch out along with your forehead and nose resting on the floor. Breathe out as you go down and stay there with your breath held out for 8 seconds. Then rise up, breathing in. Practice eight times.
During asanas, a particular type of oil is secreted from the sebaceous glands out of the pores of the skin. This is beneficial to the skin, so after asanas we do a skin massage to rub it back in.
The skin massage increases the beauty and glow of the skin. It also relaxes the nerves, and increases the lymph flow. It’s not a deep muscle massage. It’s a light going-over of the skin, as well as some extra attention to the lymph glands — under the chin and around the throat, under the armpits, in the groin, and behind the knee.
• First rub your palms together a few times to warm them up. Start at the head and face and work down. Rub your hands directly over the surface of the skin, and when you get down to your feet, pay particular attention to the soles. That will indirectly give your internal organs a good massage as well.
Now we’ll finish this session with “deep relaxation.”
It allows the body to assimilate the positive energy of the asanas, relieves stress, and decreases the need for sleep.
• Using the same blanket as for asanas, lie on your back with your arms by your side, and make sure that your breathing is calm and relaxed. Now go through your whole body, starting at your feet, consciously making sure that each part is completely relaxed — with no muscular tension at all. Go from the feet up the legs, consciously checking each part, into the groin area, into the abdomen (also feeling that your internal organs are relaxed), into the chest and shoulders, from the fingers and hands up the arms, then into the neck and up into the face, relaxing the facial muscles, including the eyes, and finally to the top of the head, feeling your brain is also relaxed. Check once more that your breathing is calm and relaxed, and imagine you’re lying in the most soothing place you can think of: it could be floating on top of the sea, suspended in space, on top of a mountain — wherever you like. Now stay like that, fully relaxed, for a few more minutes.
Practice the asanas, massage and deep relaxation after meditation. Remember: twice a day!