Sunday, September 29, 2013

Yoga Education - Part 2

How does one select the right type of Asanas?

The Yogi borrowed heavily from Nature because of his proximity to forests, mountains and caves. However he was judicious in his selection. He preferred to learn from the relaxed crocodile rather than from the rabbit or the inquisitive dog (although these postures are there in Yoga nowadays). He imitated certain birds, animals and natural objects. The selection of  postures (Asanas) was based on an overall approach to the physical, mental and moral well-being of an individual.


The Asana practices were carried on for a longer duration. This provided a chance for prolonged mental participation, synchronization and direction. Thinking precedes action and unless the mind is well under control, merely developing the body may later weaken it. The Yogis therefore took into account the psychological aspect of our personalities. The well-known physiologist Matveyev said: “The Yogis demonstrate pronounced endeavour to consciously direct the activity of certain organs, even of certain glands and internal secretions and maintain that they scored along the line.

Right and Wrong Directions

Talasana or Palm Tree Pose
Talasana or Palm Tree Pose
(focus on the synchronization of
breath and movement)
With the practice of the third step, the Asanas, we overcome unsteadiness, inertia and other impurities. We might even perfect the steadfastness (Siddhi) that involves the mind even further (Samapatti) but this is an exception. We must not aim at too many things at the start.  In fact, each step of the Eight-fold Path (Ashtanga) has only a certain strength to impart.

All that we should concern ourselves with, during the Asana practice, is imparting a wider meaning to our activity. The act of breathing is a good aid in holding our attention. Also directing our mind to different parts of the body. Synchronization of breathing with movements of the body during the practice of Asana in a fixed measure was introduced by Shri Yogendraji in 1917 and is now popular among many Yoga teachers and schools.

There is, in fact, much to learn from Asanas.  However, a practitioner must possess:

(i) a strong commitment,
(ii) a disciplined mind,
(iii) introversion and tranquility when one begins the Asana practice, and
(iv) synchronization of breathing.

If one has achieved the above conditions, one will succeed in uplifting one’s thoughts to a higher level of consciousness.


We have just discussed that steadiness is vital to the performance of an Asana. How do we achieve this steadiness? Secure the feet correctly, sit upright, have a good base (Sthirata), avoid hurry, agitation and speed. Cultivate solemnity, commitment, decisiveness, etc. To remain for a certain length of time without agitation is in itself an achievement.

The next step is the achievement of relaxation while carrying out conscious movements. You will ultimately reach a state of profundity or the so called “let go” sensation. Full composure and control is necessary. One must not collapse into a final position. One must consciously seek out areas of relaxation – some sensitive zones in the body.

Matsyasana or Fish Pose
Matsyasana or Fish Pose
(focus on relaxation through awareness of
the movements of the abdomen while breathing)


The state of relaxation is very valuable in therapy. Coordinated breathing aids in bringing the mind to this state. Otherwise, the chances are that the mind strays away from the Asana into other areas. You must lead your mind to areas such as the abdomen in Matsyasana (Fish Pose) and create the sensation of “let go”, or the chest in Talasana (Palm Tree Pose). This directing of attention and concentration on breathing will achieve a good deal of relaxation. These poses are many other Yogic techniques are very well examined during our Yoga Certification Course in Thailand.

When one works systematically one experiences a change in one’s thoughts, behavior, action etc. Usually these conditions come in a flash and are lost. There are usually so many external distractions and constraints that restrain a person from achieving relaxation.  In Yogic Asanas you are with yourself and can perfect these attitudes by self-training. In the end you can achieve a perennial state of stability (Ananta Samapatti). 

The postures you do every day need not be very difficult, but your attitude while doing the postures must be sustained. You should thus understand the deeper significance of the Yoga postural training: steadiness (Sthira) and contemplation on fixity (Anantasamapattibhyam).

Photos: taken on location - The Yoga Institute of Santacruz, India. Daniel Fonseca performs two simple, but effective, postures advocated by Shri Yogendraji for a daily course of Yoga postural training.

Excerpts of the book Yoga and Total Health in Schools - published by The Yoga Institute of Santacruz.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Yoga Education - Part 1

The ultimate purpose of pedagogy, the science of teaching, is the attainment of human maturity.  It is this that distinguishes this art from other disciplines, distinctly defining it in its own essence.  Maturity is obtained by different traditions of education all over the world.  Nowhere does it achieve greater results though, than, when the education process itself is studied objectively devoid of dogma.

Yoga, it has been established, has very specific educational functions.  It helps in achieving a higher state of consciousness on the evolutionary scale of individual development.  It is the discipline of the body and mind and in that sense it is education, because education leads to discipline.

Yoga a Science of Life

Yoga is as old as life itself.  In essence it is a specific way, a manner of living.  Basing its insights and discoveries on the observation of nature, Yoga imparts a certain quality to life.  Yoga, for example, tells us how to think, behave and grow to our fullest maturity.  It provides us with procedures that consistently help us in every area of our life.  Yoga can, thus, be defined as an ancient system of self-development that expedites one’s natural process of evolution.  This applies to all departments of one’s life with a special reference to the evolution of consciousness.

Experience & Yoga Education

Experience has proven to be the primary building block of learning.  The closeness of an experience to the personality helps in building newer traits.  These take root as against other kinds of learning that remain detached from the central core of our personality.  A deep sense of relaxation is consciously cultivated and this, in turn, fosters other worthwhile experiences.  What is stressed is the actual experience - as opposed to mere information or technique.  One may read about relaxation or listen to a physician’s instruction, but the condition remains distant in comparison to the actual experience, consciously induced.

Aims & Objectives

The aim behind the introduction of an experience-Yoga-based program is to foster self discipline, cultivate high ideals and appreciate higher values.  It also promotes a deeper understanding of Indian culture and a habituation to the Yogic way of life.  A variety of worthwhile experiences become the basis of learning at both the subconscious and conscious levels.  Some of these are related to better physical control of human organism and the maintenance of its steadiness and strength.  It establishes self-reliance, self- confidence; the cultivation of objectivity in emotional experiences and finally conditions oneself for greater receptiveness in the learning program.

All problems originate from a state of imbalance between our physical, mental and spiritual levels.  Our problems are closely related to our understanding of life and the patterns we choose to follow.  The more we cherish materialistic values, the more we expose ourselves to pain, suffering and problems.  The struggle for the satisfaction of our desires and ambitions is a continuous one, leaving us with no rest.  Our constantly over strained nerves make our bodies and minds restless and weak, opening doors to passion and emotion.

Perhaps the very first step towards a more fulfilling life would be, simply, the acceptance of life itself.  It involves a faith in life, but perhaps even more important, a surrender to a larger reality.  This acceptance does not imply a placid acquiescence of any aspects of modern living.  On the contrary with acceptance of life comes the acceptance of our duties and responsibilities in life.

Excerpt of a poster displayed at an exposition on Yoga Education, by
The Yoga Institute of Santacruz, Mumbai - India.

Activity & Attitude

The traditionalists in Yoga recommended the right combination feelings and attitudes with certain selected physical activities.  The physical activity is undoubtedly selected after deep consideration.  It proves incomplete without the proper attitude.  If the activity is the right kind and the attitude enriches one’s consciousness, then the entire exercise – is satisfying and elevating.

We see the reverse of this when a person struggles to succeed in Shavasana (Dead Body Pose) - or any other relaxation posture, or in a meditative pose - without having first created a passive attitude.  It is thus that, throughout the Yoga Teacher Training Course or any other workshop or workshop, activities and processes are carried out only after a certain 'conditioning' of preparation has been achieved.

The selection of Yoga processes and the correct performance of them along with the right state of mind all need to be attained.  We tend to sacrifice that total for the immediate and fragmentary.  Sometimes Yoga practices are carried out for their demonstrative value and at other times for attaining physical fitness.  In taking up Yoga in this partial manner one really does not gain much.

So in our next post, we will have an opportunity to examine how does one select the right type of asanas (postural training), or better saying, how do the ancient Yogis have selected the right type of exercising disciplines best suited for the students of self-culture and for naturally leading one to a more balance state of mind and to the habituation to a spiritual consciousness.

Excerpts of the book Yoga and Total Health in Schools - published by The Yoga Institute of Santacruz.