“....a steady and comfortable pose...” Yoga Sutras 2:46
Practicing the yoga postures and sequences is a gentle way to gradually increase strength and flexibility. Because we move slowly with the breath we have time to align the body and engage all the muscles in each pose, working with the body moving through space and against the ground.
The yoga poses can be done in many ways and varied to suit our own bodies or to change the energetic effects. Each pose should feel comfortable and steady so that we can breathe deeply and access the deeper respiratory muscles of diaphragm and pelvic floor and the small spinal muscles which together form the true “core” of the body. Yoga poses are unique in using gentle spiralling of the muscles to hug and support the bones. Working with the natural flow of the breath makes the practice very energy efficient.
“When the breath is calmed, the mind too will be still.” (Hatha Yoga Pradipika)
The yoga movements create space in the body for a full deep breath cycle - areas of tension which restrict the breath are opened up to free the breath. Over time this way of breathing continues after we finish the yoga session.
Pranayama can be simply concentration on the breath or we can go further into the classical breathing exercises given in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.
Prana is life force or the subtle energy of being and pranayama means to work with and extend prana. Breath is the only part of our nervous system that we can control – and yoga breathing techniques can calm or energise us. They can be very simple and safe for all to do, and very beneficial for general health. On a subtle level, we are aiming to allow prana to move freely up and down the spine through the chakras (energy centres in the body).
“Yoga is evenness of mind...” (Bhagavad Gita 2:48)
You may find meditation in the slow mindful movements of the posture work or in the final relaxation. A moment of stillness when your mind is content to rest.
Physical or Hatha Yoga practice is designed to prepare us for sitting in meditation for longer periods (Raja Yoga). Seated meditation is not for everyone – when we give our whole attention to yoga this is a moving meditation which helps us to rest the mind by deep focus on one thing. The Yoga Sutras call this “calming the waves in the mind”. Once the mind is still we begin to see clearly - this is the purpose of yoga and meditation.