General Recommendations for Yoga Practice
The practice of Hatha Yoga is a profound undertaking that guides you to the realization of your innermost Self, the Spiritual Heart. It’s a process of deepening the understanding of who you are while bringing balance and harmony into your physical, energetic, emotional, and mental bodies.
It’s a journey that starts with determination and proceeds with grace. For such a shift to occur, practice and understanding are both necessary.
In this post, we’ll share recommendations on how to start, grow, and deepen your practice.
Repetition is one of the most essential elements in Hatha Yoga, and is necessary for profound transformation. In the same way that your physical body gains strength and flexibility and releases tension and trauma, your more subtle bodies also experience a shift. Your energy becomes more balanced, your emotions are transmuted into love and joy, your mind becomes clear and quiet, and your connection to the Heart becomes stronger.
When setting up a home practice, choose a time of the day that fits your schedule and practice at that time every day. This creates a sacred routine that supports you in committing to your practice. You may find that the best time is in the early morning—this helps you start your day with a clear mind and harmonious energy.
Make sure to set realistic goals. Choose a practice that you can maintain for a prolonged period. Be sure to design a balanced sequence of asanas, including both restorative and dynamic postures.
And, of course, always practice on an empty stomach and warm up your body before starting.
During your practice, remember to remember. Remember yourself, your deepest Self. That is the direction. You are using the body in a meditative way, stretching in order to bring harmony and to move energy in a way that allows the limitations of the mind to dissolve in the depths of your being, the ever-present background of Stillness.
Throughout the entire practice, keep the Witnessing Attitude, inquiring into that which is awake within you, “Who am I?”
For a profound change in consciousness to arise, you’ll need to connect with a sincere aspiration for Truth, pure intention, genuine curiosity, and an openness of mind and heart. There is something within you that longs for more—more than just a superficial life tainted by wanting, resisting, judging, blaming, and controlling. Something that longs for authenticity, love, and wisdom. A yearning to be of benefit to the world, to recognize and live from your deepest truth and express your most profound love.
In your practice, cultivate this longing. Fuel it, give it a voice and a moment to be expressed.
Practicing with a friend or a group can intensify this longing and bring more determination and direction to your practice. If you know someone who shares this aspiration, join together in practice and share teachings, books, and writings on yoga and spirituality that inspire you.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika describes yoga practice as the fundamental condition for success:
66. Whether young, old, or too old, sick or lean, those who discard laziness, get success if they practice Yoga.
67. Success comes to one who is engaged in the practice. How can one succeed without practice?; by merely reading books on yoga, one can never get success.
68. Success cannot be attained by adopting a particular dress (vesa). It cannot be gained by telling tales. Practice alone is the means to success. This is true; there is no doubt.
69. Asana, various kumbhakas, and other divine means all should be practiced in the practice of Hatha Yoga, till the fruit of Raja Yoga is obtained.
The Physical Body
Hatha Yoga sees the body as the vessel for the soul and, thus, it is treated with the utmost care and love. Through practice, your body is toned, strengthened, and purified, and it is important to drive this process by caring for it.
Bathe regularly, at least once a day, as this will help remove the toxins that have risen to the skin. If you can, walk barefoot on the Earth and expose your body to fresh air to help the process of regeneration.
When practicing, wear loose and comfortable clothing, preferably made out of natural materials such as cotton. Remove any jewelry or metallic objects such as watches that may obstruct the flow of subtle energy.
Keep a regular sleep schedule and a diet of fresh food. As much as possible, try to eat natural and unprocessed foods, avoid refined sugar and meat products, and chew food well.
Digestion plays a fundamental role in the health of the body and mind. The Bhagavad Gita says: “Yoga is not for one who gorges too much, not for one who starves oneself. It is not for one who sleeps too much, not for one who stays awake. By moderation in eating and resting, by regulation in working and by concordance in sleeping and waking, yoga destroys all pain and sorrow.”
Therefore, it’s important to learn to listen to your body’s needs—exercising when needed, resting when needed—without pushing it beyond its limits.
The mental attitude with which you approach your practice will have an immense influence on the practice itself. Approach Hatha Yoga with enthusiasm for the practice, curiosity for its effects, and faith in the results. Adopt a beginner’s mind, a fresh mind, and be detached from expectations. The most important time in your practice is the present moment. You are learning to dive into the very moment in which you exist, as transformation only happens in the present, grace only arises in the present, and the Truth is only revealed in the present.
Teach your mind to let go of notions of past and future and reveal the immense beauty and sacredness that’s right in front of your eyes, looking out through them.
Let go of any tendency to push and contract, and learn to relax your mental tensions throughout the practice, and throughout the day—your mind will become as clear as a diamond, lucid and bright. You can anchor that relaxation through your breath, releasing tension with every exhalation and opening to the present moment with every inhalation.
In your daily life, cultivate that precious perseverance that allows you to come to the mat for a deeper purpose. Again and again, let go of the suffering of the mind and let it dissolve into the beauty of the present moment and the Stillness that holds it.
With practice, patience, and perseverance, your capacity to witness challenging emotions and thoughts will grow, and you will become more and more aware of the space and peace underneath. You’ll feel increasingly detached from the dramatic mind while simultaneously feeling a deeper intimacy with yourself.
Your sense of self will change—from superficial thoughts and emotions to a more profound and mysterious presence of being, that sacred space within you that knows love and wisdom. You will experience vastness rather than contraction.
Your depths—Truth, Love, and Stillness—will awaken more every day, and so you will awaken more every day. You’ll be able to recognize the sacredness in and as yourself, in and as life, this very moment.
You have the potential to open to and come to know Pure Consciousness, sat-chit-ananda, as it is called in the yogic tradition: Pure Awareness–Pure Existence–Pure Bliss. It is said that you are “That,” and that you can come to realize it with your entire being, through direct and intimate knowledge beyond the conceptual mind—the truth of the Spiritual Heart.
Keep practicing! Cultivate the precious values of your heart with patience, trust, and perseverance.
Stay inspired by reading books from spiritual masters that kindle your aspiration. Listen to satsangs, do retreats, and practice with others.
Maintain awareness, and not only when you are on the mat. Honor your depths throughout the day—live from that place; give your attention to it while you are engaged in activities. Be present with what you do and spend less time involved in the mind’s stories and the creation of past and future. Be aware of your thoughts—don’t let them run rogue for too long. Be aware of your emotions; hold them in your stillness. Even more, be aware of yourself, continually inquiring “Who am I?”