Yogis have explained that human body is an important vehicle, a tool for spiritual growth. They advised that if your body is not healthy for a prolonged period of time, then you would not even be able to meditate or do any sadhana – so first and foremost, keep your body healthy.
Asanas do not provide health benefits alone. The word asana means: ‘kaya sthiram’ that which steadies the body (kaya) and one experiences comfort. Every asana has a particular effect on specific organs and muscles. Therefore, one needs to have an in-depth understanding of asanas including the right way to do them.
Shirshasana is called the king of asanas. One can derive great benefit from this asana as we are always standing on our feet and it is only in this asana that we are on our head and feet are up in air - this sends blood rushing towards head, lungs and all other organs and heart rests because it does not have to work against the gravity to push the blood. This rush of blood soothes and calms all organs with oxygenated blood and thus ensures perfect functioning of the body. Similarly, sarvangasana is called the queen of asanas. It has a very specific affect on the thyroid and parathyroid glands.
Since asanas have profound effect on your body, it is important to perform them with awareness. For example, if you are doing leg-raises then you should raise and lower your legs with full awareness, being alert to the action. If you don’t move your legs with awareness then it is not asana, it is merely a form of exercise. Asanas should be done with awareness of the body along with breath While performing asanas, it is extremely important to keep the mind alert, remain aware, and establish co-ordination with the breath. It is of utmost importance to learn precisely from your teacher (or while referring to a book) when to breathe in and when to breathe out while doing any asana.
Yogis say that if your spine is young, you are young - so to keep your spine young, you should practice all asanas which make the spine flexible and strong. For example, bhujangasana, sarpasana, makarasana, ushtrasana, kandharasana are of utmost importance for the spine. And one should learn them under the guidance of a good yoga practitioner only.
If the body cells are not healthy, glandular secretions are not normal and oxygen inhaled is not adequate, then it is impossible to have deep concentration and focus. The person, who enters the stage of dhyana directly without going through the stages of asana and pranayama, faces the same problem which most of you are facing. You want to meditate but you cannot; you want to still your mind but you are not able to; and sometimes when you feel your mind is still, are you sure that you were not unconscious and that you were fully aware? Who will know this? When you close your eyes and the thoughts settle down a bit and the mind relaxes, the tendency of the mind is to go into sleep – this tendency is not new but is several lifetimes old. It is very difficult for the mind to be still and alert.
What is the state of meditation? This has been defined in yoga, so that you know whether you are in a state of meditation or concentration. Often people confuse the two, but they are distinct. Those who practice meditation often pat themselves on the back saying that they have experienced bliss – well that happens in concentration too. What yardstick do you have to judge whether your bliss was the result of concentration or some deeper state of awareness? If you want success in meditation, you need a sound foundation of yama, niyama, asana and pranayama.