A student in a recent retreat shared the following with me:
It was my first time attending a day dedicated to Yoga and the many forms of practice. Importantly, I understood that asanas are only one part of the yogic practice. This simple but powerful insight helped me understand that meditation, chanting, breathing, intention and visioning are part of a system.
Though we may chant in class, meditate, practice breathing exercises, it may not be obvious that postural practice is a part of a holistic system that involves and addresses all parts of oneself.
If you’ve been attending class for sometime, you might have been doing this more than you think. A student in a recent meditation course shared with me that while the course was helpful to understand how meditation actually worked and provided the motivation and group support to actually do it, she also realized that through her years of practice in classes and retreats, she not only was familiar with many of the techniques we practiced but had already been incorporating them into her life!
Here are some questions I've received on this topic of expanding our ideas of what yoga practice can look like:
Question: How do I incorporate different yogic practices into my home practice?
Answer: Here are some general guidelines for bringing other practices into your asana routine:
·Pranayama - In the Iyengar Yoga system, pranayama is generally practiced after a restorative or gentle practice to prepare the body and a short Savasana. It is recommended is to leave a space of at least 30 minutes between your active asana practice and pranayama and asana practice. In other methods some pranayama is performed at the beginning of practice before asana or interspersed with asana practice. Ujjayi pranayama is typically performed during active asana practice
Meditation - Meditation is the core practice of yoga. As such, all the other practices can be seen as preparation for seated meditation. For this reason, meditation is often practiced after asana, pranayama, chanting or study. However, a few minutes of meditation before practice can also be helpful to settle and focus the mind. A longer period of seated meditation can be incorporated into your asana practice either before or after Savasana.
Chanting - In yoga, the recitation of sacred texts and mantras are considered svadhyaya, the practice of self-study we explored in our chapter on studentship. When we repeat mantras that express the qualities of our innermost nature, or recite sacred texts that articulate the wisdom of the yogic teachings, we are practicing a form of inquiry into the nature of life and the truth of who we are.
Chanting is also a devotional practice with a long and rich tradition that spans time, cultures and history. Devotional singing is practiced in all the world’s sacred traditions. In the Hindu tradition, Indian poet saints composed many beautiful and ecstatic chants and hymns that glorify the Divine and express love for the highest through poetry and singing.
In the realm of asana practice, it’s customary in many schools of yoga to begin by singing a series of mantras as an invocation to practice. The purpose of chanting at the beginning of practice is multi-fold. It is a way of invoking blessings and for dedicating our practice to something greater than ourselves. Chanting also focuses our mental energy and harmonizes the energy of the group as we enter into yoga together.
Chanting is sometimes used during the practice with certain postures such as those that compose Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations). Chanting is often done at the end of yoga to offer the fruits of our efforts, express gratitude for the practices, and to formally conclude the practice.
Study & Contemplation - can be done anytime! Though depending on what the text or topic is, sometimes study in yoga can prepare the mind for meditation by directing it toward the truth in the form of the wisdom teachings and inner inquiry.
Question: What are some breathing exercises that are appropriate for beginners and how can I incorporate them into my existing asana and meditation practice?
Answer: A few minutes of gentle breathing exercises can be performed before or after asana practice, and before meditation to help calm the mind, for example: