The 3rd limb of yoga is Asana, the postures. This is probably the most well-known aspect of yoga around the world. The practice of physical postures helps the development of physical strength, flexibility and balance. In this limb, the practitioner seeks to attain a seated posture which is steady and comfortable in preparation for meditation. But this sense of steadiness, ease, and comfort should be attained when practising any asana. The physical body should create a healthy and peaceful place for the mind. While practising asana, you should reflect and observe your breath so that it's long and steady. You should also feel physically steady and at ease. If you cannot do the asanas with these qualities, you need to retract a notch and allow yourself further preparatory asanas and allow yourself to develop.
The practice of asana also helps us to focus on the present moment, as your body is always in the present mind. We can use our body to keep our mind at present. By tuning into our body, we can tune into the moment, quiet the mind, and use the breath to connect our body and mind.
Practice asana in your daily life. A great time to practice asana is when you wake up in the morning. If you are not familiar with yoga asanas, you can join a class to learn some basic asanas, or you can also find different asanas described in the previous issues of My Magazine.
Pranayama means "Expansion of our Vital Life Force". Drawing our awareness of the breath and controlling the flow of breath is the 4th limb of yoga. Mind, emotion, breath and energy are all connected and interlinked. One can influence the other, and so by mastering our breath, we can adjust our energy, mind and our emotions. Our breath links directly to our physical body by affecting our heart rate, and so all other functions are affected by heart rate as well. Considering the heart is a critical anatomical life force, having some control over its effect of it is quite profound. Understanding your breath and its power is a very crucial tool in yoga. Prana- from pranayama - is the life force or "energy", and we see that the correct quantity and flow of energy in our body is also significant in maintaining a healthy and balanced body, mind and spirit.
There are many pranayama techniques, but to begin a basic breath work will be ideal if you are new to pranayama. Learning how to control the pace and depth of your breath is fundamental. What we describe as the three-part breath (Dirgha Pranayama) should be practised daily.
Begin by sitting comfortably with the spine erect, or lie on your back with legs stretched or knees bent to your comfort. Close your eyes, soften your face, and begin by simply observing your breath. Keeping the awareness with the breath, start to deepen the breath. As you inhale, allow the stomach to balloon and as you exhale, allow your stomach to draw back in. With another inhalation, allow the stomach to expand, but go deeper and feel the expansion in the ribs. As you exhale, allow the ribs to relax and the stomach to draw back in. With the next inhalation, allow the stomach to expand, then the ribs, and then fill the lungs a little more and feel the expansion in the top of your lungs or the throat area. As you exhale, allow the air to release from the throat and upper lungs, then feel the ribs relax, and the stomach draw in. Continue and repeat the last step where you involve the 3 parts in the breathing. Try to practice this breath continuously for a minimum of 5 minutes.
Pratyahara is the withdrawal of senses from external stimuli and being indifferent to them. It is the foundation of meditation to find peace within ourselves without being affected by our external environment through our senses.
To practice Pratyahara, you should incorporate these steps.
If you missed part 1 of the 8 Limbs of Yoga series about Yamas and Niyamas, I highly urge you to go and read up on the October issue!