Friday, May 31, 2013

Bringing awareness to the mat

Bringing awareness to the mat is a practice in itself. What do you want out of your practice today? This question is worthy of introspection. So much of what you get out of your practice depends on what you bring to it. Why are you stepping on the mat? Is it just for exercise or is it for something more? In either case, it is important to state your intention, or at the very least, become aware of it. This simple act has the power to transform your practice. Sometimes we don’t even realize how mundane and predictable the time we spend on the mat has become. Even yoga can becomes a mechanical activity. A simple affirmation at the start or a coming into awareness can make the difference. Now let us say you state your affirmations and step on your mat. How do you carry the practice through on the same note? As always, you can rely on your breath for this. Your breath helps you stay focused and aware. It grounds you and gives you poise on the mat.

Start with a simple stretch –Tadasana, also called the palm tree pose. It is deceptively simple and appears to have nothing much to offer. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Stand with your feet hip width apart, interlock your fingers, take your hands above your head, palms facing upwards, inhale, rise up on your toes and stretch your arms towards the ceiling. As you inhale and stretch, you visualize your hands reaching skywards, trying to touch the sky. As you stand on your toes, trying to balance and stretch you are simultaneously keeping your vision on a spot at eye level, on the wall opposite you. You are now aware of multiple things - the stretch from your toes to your fingertips, the spot that your eyes are focused on, the visualization and balancing. You are also holding your breath. So many things are going on all at once, but it is effortless for you. Now as you exhale, let go of the pose and relax.

Now stand with your eyes closed, hands by your sides, shoulders totally relaxed and breathe through the soles of your feet. When you breathe through a particular body part, you try visualizing sparks of light going in and out of that part as you inhale and exhale. So in this case, as you inhale, you visualize sparks of light entering your body through the soles of your feet and as you exhale, you visualize them going back into the ground. Do this for five whole breaths before you move on to the next asana. Repeat Tadasana as many times as you like. At the end of every asana session, it is important to do shavasana.

Tadasana is a beautiful practice. Just practice it, in all its dimensions for five whole minutes. The asana stretches your body from top to toe. You get a lot out of that stretch. Do it slowly and with complete awareness. Inhale and stretch. Your breath is getting into the spaces created by that stretch. It is making its way into your joints. It is irrigating your muscles. Now exhale! The few seconds you spend balancing in that asana has a good effect on your nervous system. Balancing asana always impact the nervous system, toning the nerves and relaxing them, so that you feel relaxed as well. Combining visualizations with asana also have far reaching effects. Visualizations are very empowering because they have a calming effect on the mind, and if practiced with awareness, can take you to alpha brain activity.

Tadasana tones the leg muscles and improves balance. The stretch improves blood circulation to the parts stretched, especially the abdomen.

Asana also has the power to touch you spiritually. If this potential is to be tapped, then awareness becomes all-important. Your breath becomes your most trusted ally. When you break down your practice and analyze the benefits, you will be simply amazed at how much you just packed into one asana. But remember, awareness is the key to unlocking the doors to a fulfilling yoga practice, whatever the initial intention.

Please also read shavasana - the corpse pose

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