Always breathe through the nose unless specific instructions are given to the contrary. Coordinate the breath with the asana practice.
This is as essential to the practice of asana as it is to all yoga practices. The purpose of asana practice is to influence, integrate and harmonize all the levels of being: physical, pranic, mental, emotional, psychic and spiritual.
Savasana may be performed at any point during asana practice, especially when feeling physically or mentally tired. It should also be practiced on completion ofthe asana program.
When practicing the middle and advanced group of asanas particularly, it is important that the program is structured so that backward bends are followed by forward bends and vice versa, and that whatever is practiced on one side of the body is repeated on the other side. This concept of counter pose is necessary to bring the body back to a balanced state. Specific counter poses are recommended for certain asanas described in this book.
Time of practice
Asanas may be practiced at any time of day except after meals. The best time, however, is the two hours before and including sunrise. This period of the day is known in Sanskrit as brahmamuhurta, the most conducive time for higher yogic practices, when the atmosphere is pure and quiet, the activities of the stomach and intestines have stopped, the mind has no deep impressions on the conscious level and is empty of thoughts in preparation for the day ahead. The practitioner will probably find that the muscles are stiffest early in the morning compared to the late afternoon when they become suppler. Nevertheless this time is recommended for practice. In the evening the two hours around sunset is also a favorable time.
Many asanas are helpful during pregnancy, but it is important to check with a midwife/doctor/competent yoga teacher prior to practicing. Do not strain. Do not use inverted asanas in the later stages of pregnancy.
Asanas may be practiced by people of all age groups, male and female.
Place of practice
Practice in a well-ventilated room where it is calm and quiet. Asanas may also be practiced outdoors, but the surroundings should be pleasant, a beautiful garden with trees and flowers, for example. Do not practice in a strong wind, in the cold, in air that is dirty, smoky or which carries an unpleasant odour. Do not practice in the vicinity of furniture, a fire or anything that prevents free fall to the ground, especially while performing asanas such as sirshasana. Many accidents occur because people fall against an object. Do not practice under an electric fan unless it is externally hot.
Use a folded blanket of natural material for the practices as this will act as an insulator between the body and the earth. Do not use mattress which is spongy or filled with air as this does not give sufficient support to the spine.
During practice it is better to wear loose, light and comfortable clothing. Before commencing, remove spectacles, wristwatches and any jewellery.
Try to take a cold shower before starting. This will greatly improve the effect of the asanas.
Emptying the bowels
Before commencing the asana program, the bladder and intestines should preferably be empty. Choose one time daily to go to the toilet before doing asanas. Try to avoid using laxative drugs.
The stomach should be empty while doing asanas and to ensure this, they should not be practiced until at least three or four hours after food. One reason why early morning practice is recommended is that the ston1ach is sure to be empty.
There are no special dietary rules for asana practitioners, although it is better to eat natural food and in moderation. Contrary to popular belief, yoga does not say that a vegetarian diet is essential, although in the higher stages of practice it is recommended. At meal times it is advised to half fill the stomach with food, one quarter with water and leave the remaining quarter empty. Eat only to satisfy hunger and not so much that a feeling of heaviness or laziness occurs. Eat to live rather than live to eat. Foods which cause acidity or gas in the digestive system, which are heavy, oily and spicy, should be avoided, especially when asanas are practiced with a spiritual aim.
Never exert undue force while doing asanas. Beginners may find their muscles stiff at first, but after several weeks of regular practice they will be surprised to find that their muscles are suppler.
People with fractured bones or who are suffering from acute infections or backache, or chronic ailments and diseases such as stomach ulcer, tuberculosis, cardiac problems or hernia, and those recuperating from operations, should consult a competent yoga teacher or doctor before commencing asanas. Carefully observe the contra-indications given in the introductions to each section, and those given for individual asanas.
People with heart problems, high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, glaucoma, an active ear infection or any disease of the brain should refrain from inverted postures. Those with cervical problems should not practice postures where the neck is weight bearing. For any asana where the head is lower than the trunk of the body (semi-inverted), the general cautions given in the section for Inverted Asana apply.
Termination of asana
If there is excessive pain in any part of the body, the asana should be terminated immediately and, if necessary, medical advice sought. Do not stay in an asana if discomfort is felt.