ASANAS 608 Yoga Postures
By Dharma Mittra
When I first left the ashram of my guru, Swami Kailashananda, in 1975,
I was very enthusiastic, in good shape, and spiritually intoxicated.
I wanted to give the guru something in thanks as an act of devotion, so
I set to work on the Master Yoga Chart of 908 Asanas.
At the time yoga wasn't as popular in the United States as it is now
so I had to work out how to do many of the postures myself - some were
explained in texts, but not all were illustrated.
I gathered information from my guru, from books, and from students who had come
from other teachers.
I mounted a Nikon camera and a video camera with
a monitor so I could see the correct angle when I was in the pose.
Once in position I clicked with a wire remote, a little pump.
In many poses I had to hold the pump in my mouth and activate it by biting.
I had four seconds to spit it out before the flash popped.
Every morning I would shoot two or three rolls of film.
I did about 1,300 postures in less than three months, then I cut them out and
pinned them on a big piece of cardboard.
I knew that if I made the chart, one day it would be a success, just like a painting that is
done 100 years before it is recognized.
It is said that yoga takes the shape of all of creation.
There are an infinite number of poses - this is what makes yoga a living tradition.
Three thousand years ago yoga started with one meditative pose, Easy
The word asana originally meant "meditative posture."
Then the masters introduced Cobra Pose to keep the spine flexible.
In their quest for physical health they developed the eight most important
poses to insure the health of the body and glands.
From there it grew.
Even today dozens of new poses are created each year by true yogis all
over the world. There are many different schools, each with their own
variations, but basically all yoga comes from the same set of classic
asanas. In the 30 years I have been teaching I have developed many
poses, but in yoga no one puts his or her name on a pose because in
reality I didn't do anything. I am just a body through which the
intuition has passed.
Many of the newer and more popular variations of yoga are geared to
getting into a sweat and burning calories. They require a lot of
movement and people tend not to worry about concentrating in the pose.
The way I learned, you relax and concentrate on the third eye or, if
you're not feeling comfortable, on the point of stress. This calms you
down, helps diminish desires, and focuses energy. But here's the
truth: while there's a different style for every kind of person, all
yoga, if practiced properly, achieves the same ends.
Still, even with books like this, students should have a teacher
available. The guru has gone the route. He or she knows the journey
and is able to guide others. He or she will know which poses are good
for you and which to avoid. As students grow spiritually and improve
their mental patterns they'll attract better teachers. Unfortunately
there are many certified yoga instructors today who don't know
anything about yoga. But students needn't worry - everything has a
divine purpose. Instructors who don't know anything attract students
who don't deserve the truth yet. There is a natural order in the
Yoga is beneficial to so many physical conditions, but the ultimate
reason to practice it is to find the truth. Asanas are only one part
of an eight-stage process in the search for enlightenment. They
prepare the body for meditation. The great yoga master Iyengar said,
"My body is my altar, and my postures are the prayers." Only when
you've learned the postures and the ways to control the mind, the
breath, the senses, and the emotions, are you ready to enter the
Yoga means yoke, or union, with the spirit. Some people think, "I'm in
this pose so I've achieved godliness." They're not even doing yoga
yet. Unless you've surrendered to the Lord, or to the Divine Spirit,
or to whomever you may call God, you're only doing something for
yourself. To find that union you must surrender. Then you can achieve
samadhi, that deeper consciousness in which you become identified with
the object of your concentration. You need to go beyond the individual
mind and join the ocean of consciousness.
I know that sounds like a lofty ambition - most people come to class
to improve their figures. But as they practice they gradually and
automatically start changing their ideas. They start thinking more
about the spirit. Automatically it begins to have another effect,
something that's learned less from thought than through experience.
Students often ask me how they can go deeper into a posture. In a way
they are asking the wrong question. Form, breath, and focus are much
more important than range of motion. As long as you're aligned and
breathing, don't worry about how far you can go. That said, you must
learn to relax in the pose in order to master it. The first few times
you cross your legs in Lotus Pose, say, it's extremely painful. After
a few weeks of practice, you'll be able to spend some minutes in it.
Eventually you will feel comfortable.
As I mentioned before, there are eight basic poses that will give you
everything you need for good physical health - they can all be made
more challenging depending on your flexibility. The basic eight are:
Sirshasana (Head Stand); Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand), Bhujangasana
(Cobra, which leads into Bow Pose); Paschimatanasana (Full Back
Stretch); Matsyendrasana (Spinal Twist); Maha Mudra (One-Leg Back
Stretch or Powerful Seal); Siddhasana (Easy Lotus); Padmasana (Lotus
Unlike bodybuilding or other purely physical routines, yoga is a
holistic practice. Each pose performs many functions, not all of them
obvious, that can stimulate internal organs and glands, increase the
flow of blood, reduce stress, and improve overall health. Dhanurasana,
Bow Pose, is a good example. It bends the spine backwards, which
develops its flexibility and elasticity. At the same time, the body is
resting on the abdomen, stretching and relaxing muscles there,
improving digestion and peristalsis. This can help chronic
constipation and liver dysfunction. It also sends a rush of blood to
the abdominal viscera. So while it may be classified as a Back Stretch
pose, it also has a powerful effect on the internal organs.
One more thing: It's a mistake to expect benefits from any pose.
Expectations make you restless because if you fail to get what you
expect, you feel miserable. Yoga practice is an act of adoration to
the Lord - you do it because it has to be done. If you have this
mental attitude, your selfishness disappears and the benefits come.
In addition to practicing asanas there are other things you may want
to do to hasten your development and achieve spiritual bliss.
Use discrimination before any action, making sure your actions are
honest, respectful, and right.
Avoid cruelty. Often students will automatically abandon meat, not
because it's bad for the body, but because they don't want to
participate in the violence of eating their fellow beings.
Practice pranayama, or breath control. The ancient masters believed
that every life had a preordained or finite number of breaths in it.
Pranayama was developed to extend the breath, and thus lengthen life.
Most people practice pranayama in the morning, between 4 a.m. and 6
a.m., when the mind and senses are calm. After 4 p.m., once the body
is warmed up from the day's movement, they do asanas. You move 20
percent better then.
Maintain a light diet - juices, fruits, salads - after 6 p.m. You'll
have a good sleep and wake up refreshed. Your stomach must be empty
during sleep because that's when the body repairs itself; with food in
it the body is occupied with digestion so you wake up more tired than
when you went to sleep. Tha's why some Buddhist monks never eat before
noon or after 4 p.m.
Essentially, if you control your mouth - what you put into it and what
comes out of it - you've controlled much of your mind already.
Some people hope to reach higher states of consciousness from yoga and
meditation. It's possible, but it requires much practice. The old
masters defined concentration as the ability to keep the mind on one
point for twelve seconds without a break. Twelve concentrations - or
two and half minutes -equal one meditation. Twelve meditations take a
half hour. If you can concentrate without any break, if the flow of
concentration is uninterrupted like oil pouring from a spout, then
you've achieved the last state of yoga, samadhi, cosmic consciousness.
Some yogis can enter samadhi as soon as they close their eyes;
beginners take several minutes just to enter the state of meditation.
After years of practicing pranayama, I have heard the inner sounds,
which are called nada in Sanskrit. These sounds are said to be the
buzzing, crackling, and hissing of kundalini as prana travels up the
spine. These sounds never mix with those from the outside. I have also
felt the heat of pure energy rising up my spine. I have never taken
LSD, but the way people describe it, the sensation is comparable to
that or to that of an orgasm. Not a sexual orgasm, but a rush of pure
There is always an excuse not to do yoga and I've heard them all. "I'm
not feeling well," "It's too cold (or too hot)," or "the city is too
hectic and not a spiritual place." I think New York City is the best
place to practice. Forgive my paraphrase, but as the song says, if you
can achieve it here, you can do it anywhere. I know many yogis in
India who can renounce the world, sit under the tree, and raise their
kundalini because they have no distractions. But then they come here
and get tempted by the world, cars, fame, women, money, and...well
that's why there are so many scandals around yogis. If you can
overcome the temptations here, you really have mastered the senses.