By Lisa Bertke
There comes a time on the yogic path when the thirst for depth becomes insatiable. The poses taken on the mat are no longer enough and a desire to move one’s yoga practice beyond
1. Understand the 7 Qualities of Asana
Yoga builds strength and flexibility in the body, we all know that. But it does much more and advancing your practice requires us to go beyond the outer practice of simply doing the physical postures and into the internal practice. To advance, the application of the interior practice is necessary. Here lies the ease and effort, lightness and steadiness, right vs. wrong effort, sensation vs. pain and dynamic extension. As we progress we come to realize that the interior life of poses is the true nature of asana.
2. Learn the Anatomy of the Subtle Body
Prana is defined as “life force” or “energy with consciousness”. Prana shakti, or pranic energy, flows through the body in a network of pranic currents called nadis. The nadis are not physical structures. They are delineated by the flow of prana in the same way an electromagnetic field is defined by the flow of electric current and constitutes the pranic body. Our physical body is suspended in the pranic field, which nourishes and protects both the body and the mind, just as the atmosphere nourishes life on earth. According to the ancient texts, the yogis describe three major nadis in the human body: ida, pingala, and sushumna and are an axis at the core of the body from the pelvic floor to the eyebrow center. The subtle body also contains the fields of the 5 prana vayus, 5 koshas, 7 chakras and 3 gunas which are more subtle current of pranic energy. By learning the energy maps in the human body, we can learn to master our pranic field, and then master the mind and therefore control our destiny.
3. Incorporate Pranayama, Bandha Mudra
Pranayama is an essential component of yoga practice and include 3 simple techniques—anuloma, kapalabhati, and nadi shodhanam that helps us balance the nervous system, and tap into our essential nature. To maximize the benefits of yoga, a successful pranayama practice is essential and a gateway to the—pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and ultimately, samadhi.
The bandhas are locks that control the pranic energy flow in the body. Bandhas play an important role on both the physical and spiritual level of the practice and include jalandara bandha,uddiyana bandhaand mulabandha.The application of the bandhas awaken the inherent intelligence contained within the body’s energetic centers which illuminates self-awareness. This is the goal of yoga.
4. Bring Ayurveda to Your Life and Practice
The ancient practice of yoga is the sister science of Ayurveda, a natural medical system over 5000 years old. When combining these two therapeutic disciplines together, they offer powerful healing, vibrant health and well-being. We are each born with a unique blueprint or constitution, which in Ayurveda is represented by the three doshas, a combination of the five elements (earth, water, fire, air, and space). The first dosha is vata, a combination of the elements space and air. The second dosha, pitta, is a combination of fire and water. And the third dosha, kapha, combines water and earth. Although we each possess some amount of all three doshas, most of us are predominantly one dosha. Knowledge of your unique constitution, you can attain a better understanding of which yoga practices, daily activities, and foods support your constitution and how you can reach a state of vibrant health.
5. Develop a Meditation Practice
Meditation is an advanced state of concentration in which one single object of concentration flows without interruption. In this state the mind becomes fully one-pointed, and this one-pointedness starts expanding into a superconscious state.
To reach this state, one must understand the constructs of the human mind. Manas, the everyday conscious mind, is the coordinator of the senses and the mental screen on which thoughts and images occur. In meditation, manas is calmed and a more discerning dimension of the mind, the buddhi, awakens. Through the practice of meditation, the buddhi provides a refined reflection of consciousness itself. The chitta is the unconscious storehouse of past thoughts and experiences or the bed of memory. It accumulates impressions and blends them with current mental imagery to give understanding and richness to experience. Stored impressions are propelled back onto manas in the form of habitual behaviors or desires
Ahamkara is the maker of an “I” and implies an identity construct within the mind itself. Each of us is a manifestation of a vast field of pure consciousness, our true Self.
Meditation gradually dispels the falseness of self-identity and reveals a deep and true Self.
6. Apply Yoga Philosophy On and Off the Mat
Yoga is SO MUCH MORE than triangle pose. You can renew your enthusiasm for your practice by digging a little deeper into the other branches of yoga.
The yamas and niyamas are yoga’s ethical guidelines laid out in the first two limbs of Patanjali’s eightfold path. They’re like a map written to guide you on your life’s journey. Simply put, the yamas are things not to do, or restraints, while the niyamas are things to do, or observances. Together, they form a moral code of conduct.
The five yamas, self-regulating behaviors involving our interactions with other people and the world at large, include:
- Ahimsa: nonviolence
- Satya: truthfulness
- Asteya: non-stealing
- Brahmacharya: non-excess (often interpreted as celibacy)
- Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed.
The five niyamas, personal practices that relate to our inner world, include
- Saucha: purity
- Santosha: contentment
- Tapas: self-discipline, training your senses
- Svadhyaya: self-study, inner exploration
- Ishvara Pranidhana: surrender
7. Read a Book
Check out this article for 24 books to help you continue your yoga education.
Lastly, if you are seeking more from your practice, consider one of our fall training and enrichment study programs at Prana Yoga Center in Geneva, Illinois.
Credit: Sandra Anderson, Himalayan Institute