The word yoga means ‘unity’ or ‘oneness’ and is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’ which means ‘to join’. This unity or joining is described in spiritual terms as the union of the individual conscious with the universal consciousness. Yoga is a means of balancing and harmonizing the body, mind and emotions. To achieve this, the conditions for practice must be optimum as the smallest variable can make a significant difference to your practice.
Optimum conditions for practice
- Breathing – always through the nose unless otherwise specified
- Awareness – sensations in the body, physical movement, the posture itself, breath control and synchronization, movement of prana, concentration of an area or chakra and witnessing any thoughts or feelings that may arise during the practice are all important factors.
- Right or left side – right-handed people will find it easier to start on the right. However, once the asana is learned, lead with the left to promote its development.
- Sequence – start with shatkarma, then asana, followed by pranayama and then pratyahara.
- Time of practice – the best time is the two hours before and including sunrise (brahmamuhurta), when the atmosphere is pure and quiet & the activities of the stomach and intestines has stopped. The mind is usually empty of thoughts at this time, a drawback however is that the muscles are the stiffest at this time of day. Alternatively a good time to practice is the two hours around sunset.
- Place – must be well ventilated, calm and quiet. Asanas may be practiced outdoors, but the surroundings should be beautiful. Make sure the area is clear of obstacles.
- Clothing – should be loose, light and comfortable, a cold shower before beginning asanas increases the effects.
- Diet – the stomach and bowels should be empty before beginning (if you’ve just eaten, you should wait at least 5 hours for food to digest). Foods should be natural and as sattvic as possible. A vegetarian diet is not essential, although it is advised during the later stages of practice. It is advised to half fill the stomach with food at meal times, fill a quarter with water and leave a quarter empty. In other words, eat in moderation; eat to live and don’t live to eat.
- There should be no experience of pain or straining during asanas. The ultimate goal should be to practice effortlessly.
- Contra-indications to yoga practice – fractures, people suffering from acute infections or backache. Chronic ailments and diseases such as stomach ulcer, tuberculosis, cardiac problems or hernia.