Hints and Cautions for the Practice of Asanas
[From B.K.S Iyengar’s Light on Yoga, Revised Edition, 1977 (first edition 1966)]
1. Without firm foundations a house cannot stand. Without the practice of the principles of yama and niyama, which lay down firm foundations for building character, there cannot be an integrated personality. Practice of asanas without the backing of yama and niyama is mere acrobatics.
2. The qualities demanded from an aspirant are discipline, faith, tenacity and perseverance to practise regularly without interruptions.
Cleanliness and food
3· Before starting to practise asanas, the bladder should be emptied and the bowels evacuated. Topsy-turvy poses help bowel movements. If the student is constipated or it is not possible to evacuate the bowels before the practice of asanas, start with Slrasana and Sarvangasana and their variations. Attempt other asanas only after evacuation. Never practice advanced asanas without having first evacuated the bowels.
4. Asanas come easier after taking a bath. After doing them, the body feels sticky due to perspiration and it is desirable to bathe some fifteen minutes later. Taking a bath or a shower both before and after practicing asanas refreshes the body and mind.
5· Asanas should preferably be done on an empty stomach. If this is difficult, a cup of tea or coffee, cocoa or milk may be taken before doing them. They may be practised without discomfort one hour :After a very light meal. Allow at least four hours to elapse after a heavy meal before starting the practice. Food may be taken half an hour after completing the asanas.
6. The best time to practise is either early in the morning or late in the evening. In the morning asanas do not come easily as the body is stiff. The mind, however, is still fresh but its alertness and determination diminish as time goes by. The stiffness of the body is conquered by regular practice and one is able to do the asanas well. In the evening, the body moves more freely than in the mornings, and the asanas come better and with greater ease. Practice in the morning makes one work better in one’s vocation. In the evening it removes the fatigue of the day’s strain and makes one fresh and calm. Difficult asanas should, therefore, be done in the morning when one has more determination and stimulative asanas (like Sirsasana, Sarvangasana and their variations and Paschjmottanasana) should be practised in the evening.
7. Do not practise asanas after being out in the hot sun for several hours.
8. They should be done in a clean airy place, free from insects and noise.
9· Do not do them on the bare floor or on an uneven place, but on a folded blanket laid on a level floor.
1O. No undue strain should be felt in the facial muscles, ears and eyes or in breathing during the practice.
Closing of the eyes
11. In the beginning, keep the eyes open. Then you will know what you are doing and where you go wrong. If you shut your eyes you will not be in a position to watch the requisite movements of the body or even the direction in which you are doing the pose. You can keep your eyes closed only when you are perfect in a particular asana for only then will you be able to adjust the bodily movements and feel the correct stretches.
12. If you are doing the asanas in front of a mirror, keep it perpendicular to the floor and let it come down to ground level, for otherwise the poses will look slanting due to the angle of the mirror. You will not be able to observe the movements or placing of the head and shoulders in the topsy-turvy poses unless the mirror reaches down to the floor.
13. During the practice of asanas, it is the body alone which should be active while the brain should remain passive, watchful and alert. If they are done with the brain, then you will not be able to see your own mistakes.
14. In all the asanas, the breathing should be done through the nostrils only and not through the mouth.
15 · Do not restrain the breath while in the process of the asana or while staying in it. Follow the instructions regarding breathing given in the technique sections of the various asanas as described hereafter.
16. After completing the practice of asanas always lie down in Savasana for at least 1O to 15 minutes, as this will remove fatigue.
Asanas and Pranayama
17. Read carefully the hints and cautions for the practice of pranayama before attempting it (see Part Ill). Pranayama may be done either very early in the morning before the asanas or in the evening after completing them. If early in the morning, pranayama may be done first for 15 to 30 minutes: then a few minutes of Savasana, and after allowing some time to elapse, during which one may be engaged in normal activities, practice asanas. If, however, these are done in the evening, allow at least half an hour to elapse before sitting for pranayama.
Special provisions for persons suffering from dizziness or blood pressure
18. Do not start with S’irsasana and Sarvangasana if you suffer from dizziness or high blood presure. First practise Paschimottanasana Uttanasana, and Adhomukha Svanasana before attempting topsy-turvy poses like S1rasana and Sarvangasaa and after doing these poses repeat Paschimottanasana, Adhomukha Svanasana and Uttanasana in that order.
19· All forward bending poses are beneficial for persons suffering from either high or low blood pressure.
Special warning for persons affected by pus in the ears or displaced retina
20. Those suffering from pus in the ears or displacement of the retina should not attempt topsy-turvy poses.
Special provisions for women
21. Menstruation: Avoid asanas during the menstrual period. But if the flow is in excess of normal, Upavistha Konasana, Baddha Konasana, It V1rasana, Janu S1rsasana, Paschimottanasana and Uttanasana may be performed with beneficial effect. On no account stand on your head during the menstrual period.
22. All the asanas can be practised during the first three months of pregnancy. All the standing poses and the forward bending asanas may be done with mild movements, for at this time the spine should be made strong and elastic and no pressure should be felt on the abdomen. Baddha Kol)asana and Upavigha Kol)asana may be practised throughout pregnancy at any time of the day (even after meals, but not forward bending immediately after meals) as these two asanas will strengthen the pelvic muscles and the small of the back and also reduce labour pains considerably. Pranayarna without retention (kurnbhaka) may be practiced throughout pregnancy, as regular deep breathing will help considerably during labour.
23. No asanas should be done during the first month after delivery. Thereafter they may be practised mildly. Gradually increase the course as mentioned in Appendix I . Three months after delivery all asanas may be practised with comfort.
Effects of asanas
24. Faulty practice causes discomfort and uneasiness within a few days. This is sufficient to show that one is going wrong. If you cannot find the fault for yourself, it is better to approach a person who has practised well and get his guidance.
25. The right method of doing asanas brings lightness and an exhilarating feeling in the body as well as in the mind and a feeling of oneness of body, mind and soul.
26. Continuous practice will change the outlook of the practitioner. He will discipline himself in food, sex, cleanliness and character and will become a new man.
27. When one has mastered an asana, it comes with effortless ease and causes no discomfort. The bodily movements become graceful. While performing asanas, the student’s body assumes numerous forms of life found in creation- from the lowliest insect to the most perfect sage- and he learns that in all these there breathes the same Universal Spirit – the Spirit of God. He looks within himself while practising and feels the presence of God in different asanas which he does with a sense of surrender unto the feet of the LORD.