It’s a necklace, strung with flowers or beads. And it’s a metaphor, an image of the essence of hatha yoga. A string to bind all of the beads together, with each bead providing structure and substance along the way. This is yoga.
The string is the breath. The breath links one posture to the next. Vinyasa, the linking breath and motion between each posture. Each posture in the sequence is a bead, a definite point along the fluid structure.
The art of yoga or ‘union’ is the search for connection…
…the yoke between the human and the divine. We can also see this in terms of reconnecting with ourselves. Yoga brings our awareness back into our motions, back into the body and the present moment. It is an art of consciousness, flowing from one position into the next, while remaining singular, a dance of unity.
The mala is the means of this connection
The postures show us how to refine our awareness of the subtle motions and positions of the body. The breath not only links one posture to the next, it also brings the consciousness in contact with the unconsciousness. We are always breathing, and our breath influences our brainwaves. When we breath consciously, we slow the brainwaves and synchronize different parts of the brain. This benefit extends far past the physical practice, reducing stress, focusing the mind, and bringing more of our being into alignment in every aspect of life.
But yoga is just exercise, right?
Just a way of toning up the body and exercising the muscles.
Well, it serves that purpose, yes. But yoga can do so much more than simply strengthen the body and make it more flexible. It works towards awareness through the medium of the body. As you continue with your practice, you become more aware of the subtleties of breath, position, muscular engagement, alignment. You fine-tune the body like learning to play a musical instrument. As the practice deepens over time, the mind learns stillness and clarity.
One of the first ways to deepen your practice and use it as a tool for transformation is to pay attention to the breath. Keep it smooth and easy through the postures. It’s not about how flexible you are, or how closely your posture reflects the ideal. It’s all about how effortlessly your breath moves, both within a posture, and in the vinyasa from one to the next.
Another aspect of the practice that deepens and refines awareness is the bandha
The bandhas are muscular locks. On the physical level, they create structure and foundation in vital areas of the body. Jalandara bandha, the mesh at the bottom of the neck, engages the muscles around the delicate cervical spine. Uddhiyana bandha, the upward flying lock at the solar plexus, and mula bandha, the tightening of the perineum, work together to support the lower and middle spine. By maintaining our awareness on these subtle muscular contractions during the length of the practice, we refine our awareness massively.
Even this is only one part of the benefit of yoga, as the energetic influence of both breath and bandha works its own magic of transformation. But it’s enough to focus on at first, allowing the practice to bear fruits on a level far deeper than the physical. To all on the path, Namaste.