First, the purpose of asana is not to do physical exercise, but to create a condition, a sthiti, a state in the body which you can sustain for an extended period of time. So, whatever asana you do, even if it is a dynamic asana, you have to focus on two ideas: sthiram, stability, and sukham, comfort. No matter what asana you do, you have to make the effort to experience stillness and comfort in it.
Second, asanas are not just physical exercises; they are the means to access other dimensions of human nature and personality. The other dimensions include, apart from the body, prana, mind, consciousness and spirit. They are known as the koshas: annamaya kosha, pranamaya kosha, manomaya kosha, vijnanamaya kosha and anandamaya kosha. Sri Swamiji taught us that asanas are not merely to experience the body, but to go progressively through the experiences of annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vijnanamaya and come to anandamaya, and he defined a process, a sequence for this advancement.
At first, focus on the physical body in the asana: the movement, the posture, the muscles and the joints which are being used, extended, flexed, etc. Focus the entire awareness on the physical experience, how you are moving, where is the tension or the tightness, how far can you bend, where is the stiffness, the pain, the ache, discover all those aspects of annamaya kosha.
Once you have cultivated the annamaya kosha awareness of the asana, move into the pranamaya kosha, by linking the breath with the posture. Now eliminate the body awareness, let it dissolve, let it drop, and just become the breath which is moving. As the breath moves, the body comes into the posture. The breath is guiding the body, not your effort and not your awareness. The focus is not on the body while you are doing the asana but on the breathing, and letting the breathing bring you into the state of asana.
The third stage is visualization. You have to visualize the perfect posture in your mind. If you are bending forward and can only bend five inches, it doesn’t matter. If you are three feet away from the floor, it doesn’t matter, but visualize the correct posture in your mind. The stronger your visualization of the correct posture, the more the body will adjust and adapt to move into that correct posture.
First, it is body awareness: annamaya kosha; second, it is breath awareness: pranamaya kosha; third, visualization: manomaya kosha. After you have gone through the process of visualization, then you focus on a chakra, a psychic centre, and feel the activation of the chakra while you are doing the posture. Deepening the awareness of chakras will lead you into vijnanamaya kosha. The fifth component is mantra awareness in the posture. Becoming aware of a mantra while you are practising the asana and allowing the mantra to pre dominate will lead you into anandamaya kosha. In this way, one practice can take you from annamaya to anandamaya by following this sequence and balancing all the different dimensions of the personality.
Two ideas should be clear. One, the sequence that Sri Swamiji taught us. Asanas are not physical exercises, they are postures which, when performed correctly, will give you the experience of annamaya kosha to anandamaya kosha. Each asana will do it, no matter how insignificant you consider them. Two, the practice is not mechanical, it is always done with awareness and relaxation in the posture.
25 October 2019, Munger Yoga Symposium