I think everyone who is a student on the path of Self-realization or Yoga – is essentially a Yogi, or at least an aspiring one. In this article, I seek to express a few practical ways to become a better Yogi.
Become More Aware of the Body
Before we can become master of our body, it is imperative that we become aware of it! In my experience of teaching meditation over the years, I’d say most people are just not aware of their bodies beyond the most superficial level. A strenuous workout at the gym, a game of football with friends, or even Diwali cleaning, give us an awareness of muscles we didn’t even know existed. And our bodies are so much more than muscles and bones!
One way to become more aware of our body is to use the 20-part Body Recharging Exercise from Paramhansa Yogananda’s Energisation Exercises. Every aspiring yogi or yogini should do this exercise many times consecutively, either standing, sitting, or even lying down. We can bring increased awareness to the body part being tensed by chanting ‘Aum’ there 3 to 5 times, in the center of that muscle group. Be highly aware of the entire area being tensed. Then as you release the tension, retain your awareness in those muscles. This is the time you are most likely to feel the energy (Prana) being withdrawn from those muscles. If you practice consistently, you’ll start becoming aware of other muscles you are involuntarily contracting to get proper tension, or of different muscles within the one target group, or even of the size of those muscles.
Make it a habit of mentally scanning your body. Try to feel which muscles are tense and then relax them. I recently realized that I have a habit of keeping my pelvic floor muscles tensed. Swami Kriyananda said that if you can relax yourself perfectly, you can achieve enlightenment! Alas, most of us are not aware of all the tension we subconsciously hold in our bodies.
Another helpful way of becoming more aware of the body is with Yoga Asanas. Bring your awareness to the muscles that are being stretched—and imagine your lungs being there, breathing in slow, deep breaths, expanding during inhalation, and contracting during exhalation. Not only will your body awareness increase, you’ll accrue ever increasing benefits from your Hatha Yoga practice.
Becoming Aware of Breath
Scriptures tell us that the breath doesn’t flow evenly in our nostrils. Usually one nostril is more active than the other. Our psychological state, our physiological health, and even the time of day affect the flow of breath through the nostrils. To further complicate the matter, the breath can flow through the center of the nostril or one side of it. It may be felt more in the upper nostril or the lower part.
As many times as possible, through the day, bring your attention to your nostrils for a few moments and try to feel where and how the breath is flowing. I agree, this is not easy! A convenient way is to place the tips of the index fingers of both hands under the nostrils. Don’t let the fingers touch. Adjust the distance of fingers from the nostril. You will, after some trial and error, make out which nostril is more active. Typically, the outgoing breath will be felt on the finger tip. After you feel it on the finger tip, try to feel it inside the nostril. You can make this practice more interesting by keeping a log and corroborating it with your health, time of day, or your emotional state.
Try doing Alom Vilom Pranayam without using your fingers. This I find easy to do after my Kriya practice, as it does take a significant amount of concentration. While you may not be perfect in blocking the flow of breath though either nostril, just the effort to bring your attention and concentration to that area, which is just below the spiritual eye, will be rewarding in many ways. And you will find yourself becoming more aware of the breathing patterns in the nostril, over a few years of dedicated practice. I assure you, based on my personal experience, it is possible to do the Pranayam in this way. Give it a try!
Minding the mind
Every now and then, during the day, watch the mental process. Make it a habit. Try to stop the train of thoughts. Watch how and why the thoughts follow each other. You will find fascinating associations. Sometimes a random thought may recall a long-forgotten event, a joke, or a story. Sometimes thoughts trigger anticipatory anxiety, anger, sudden restlessness, or other emotion.
Introspect. Become aware. Learn to cut the train of thoughts which are unnecessary or fanciful. Being in the eternal present moment is more rewarding than can be imagined.
The road to becoming a better, more accomplished Yogi starts with the material plane, i.e. the physical body, and then progresses to subtle levels of energy and thought. I hope these practical tricks and techniques will aid your quest in mastering the Self.