The human body is a temple. Keep it strong and supple. Treat it gently. Never ignore the body, because it’s the most important instrument. Whatever you do, you need a body. That’s why the ancient Yoga teachings always emphasized taking good care of the body.
Babies’ bodies are so supple and pretty, so relaxed. Slowly their bodies get tense and rigid, and we say simply that the child is growing. The child need not grow in stiffness. He or she can grow with the same suppleness.
Think of the windows and doors of your house for a moment. If you leave them unused, either open or closed, for a long time, the hinges get rusted; they get stiff. The stiffness is caused by the rust that is formed on the hinges. In the same way, the hinges of the body are also very loose in the beginning. Gradually certain toxins get into the body and make the joints stiff. Where do they come from? Mainly our food.
The food we eat, the liquids we drink, the air we breathe, they all bring toxins into our system. So, the very beginning of Yoga is to take care of the intakes. If you want to be a good yogi, at least physically, you should eat the right clean food, drink clean liquid, breathe clean air. Remember that clean food, clean liquid, and clean air are all very cheap, or even free. You can buy an apple for very little; you have to pay more for an apple pie.
Everything that comes from nature, without any artificial change, should be clean. Yoga asks that you lead a natural life and stay away from all the poisons, all the toxins, so that your body can be more supple and free.
While the asanas give immunity to resist all types of ailments and eliminate toxins and tension, at the same time, the graceful movements and gentle breathing affect the mind—making it peaceful. Ultimately, the aim of all the Yoga practices is to make the mind calm. Instead of trying to approach the mind directly, we work first through the body. One means of calming mental agitation is by calming the agitation of the body, because the body is an expression of the mind. We work from the gross to the subtle, from the body to the mind.
The aim of the Yoga asanas is to accomplish one steady and comfortable posture—which is a meditation position. Only in a steady posture can you have good meditation. A body filled with toxins, weak muscles, and jumpy nerves will not be able to stay quiet for any time. But the Hatha Yoga postures eliminate the toxins and give strength and steadiness. When the body is healthy and supple, we can easily sit with the mind still and peaceful. As we begin to control the body and its movements, this will carry over to the mind.
Try this yourself. Any time the mind is agitated, just sit quietly, not moving at all. Let the mind be as agitated as it wants. If your body is still, very soon the mind will calm down by itself. Why? Because when there’s no physical movement, the breath becomes slow; and the breath is the interconnection between the body and the mind. As the breathing slows down, the thought-making process also slows down, and the mind becomes calm.
Please remember that our spiritual realization does not depend on the body. The purpose of all these practices is simply to keep the body healthy, so it will cooperate with us—nothing more than that. These practices are enough to keep the body well in control, well-relaxed, and properly healthy while training the mind as well.
Learn to live a natural life. First be physically at ease; mental peace will automatically follow. Live in a way that makes your body light, healthy, and more supple. Then when you sit in meditation you won’t feel aches and pains, and spend all your time meditating on them. Meditation needs all these aids. You can’t just eat anything you want, then go sit and meditate. The body will say, “No, I won’t allow it.” You need cooperation between the body and the mind. That’s why you train the body in doing all kinds of Hatha postures and breathing practices. Then, when the time for meditation comes, you can meditate on whatever you like with ease.
Hatha Yoga is a form of meditation. Every posture, every breathing practice is a form of meditation. It calms your body, breath, and mind. After only an hour of practice, you walk away with all peace and serenity and usually feel relaxed for hours. It is a very great practice.
The asanas are completely different from other forms of exercise, which are usually done with quick movements and a certain amount of strain. Exercises accelerate your breathing, waste your energy, and draw your circulation to the surface of the body. They develop the muscular part of the body. That means your vitality goes to the muscles at the cost of the inner glands and nerves.
According to Sri Bhagavan Patanjali, the Father of the Yoga teachings, asana literally means a posture that brings steadiness and comfort. So, the Yoga asanas should be practiced with utmost ease and comfort. We are very, very careful not to make Hatha Yoga another exercise. That’s a great difference between many other types of Yoga and the Integral Yoga technique. Only very few do it in a nice, gentle way. It is not our interest to make you an acrobat or a gymnast and teach you 150 asanas. Still, they will give you all the strength you’ll ever need—and mental strength as well.
Never forget that health is much more important than muscular strength. You might be able to lift heavy weights, run long distances, jump to extreme heights, break chains, or swim for miles, but are you immune to illness? Even great mental ability comes second to health. Having phenomenal powers of memory is of no use without a balanced mind, one that can accurately weigh pleasure and pain, praise and censure; one that is fearless, residing in permanent peace and bliss.
Have some other kind of exercise if you want; it doesn’t matter. But if you don’t have time for that, at least do the Yoga practices. Hatha Yoga is a must. It is the main meal. The various exercises are like desserts, side dishes.
If you want to combine other exercises and asanas, do the exercises first, relax, and then do the asanas afterward. End with the asanas. If instead you practice the asanas first and then do the exercises, you will disturb what you have built by the asanas.
The Pradipika, an ancient Hatha Yoga scripture, states that: “Anyone who practices Yoga properly and sincerely becomes a siddha (an accomplished one); be he young, old or even very elderly, sick or weak.” From prince to peasant, child to grandparent, ailing to robust, all can practice these Yoga postures with maximum advantage.
Source: Sri Swami Satchidananda