Time - What is the best time for practising Asanas?
The early morning is the best time to perform Asanas. It is to be kept in mind that after lunch upto 4 hours, no Asana, Mudra or Pranayama should be practised. But Vaman Dhauti may be performed, if necessary. For people having weak gastric fire, even four hours gap is not sufficient. They should start practice at least 5 to 6 hours after lunch.
It is usually asked whether Asanas should be performed before or after the bath? Whether the water used for bathing should be hot or cold? We will answer these questions as per Swatmarama who says that adhering to the rules strictly is also an obstacle. This is also true with regards to bathing. The people from Kashmira or any other cool place would like to have bath in hot water. It will facilitate the flow of blood and will also make the muscles flexible. In the same way people from warmer regions should take bath with cold water. Hence, while considering time and bath their respective effects on one's body should be considered. Normally, bathing before Asanas is considered favourable. For people who sweat more and also is the sweat stinks, bathing after the performance of Asanas should be considered preferable. However, the time gap between the Asanas and the bath should be minimum 30 minutes.
With regard to diet, the most comman question asked is, what and how much should a Yoga practitioner eat? Swatmarama has very simply and aptly answered indicating towards 'Mitahara'. "Eating sweet and junctuous food offered first to the Almighty (that is, not eaten for one's satisfaction), leaving one-fourth of the stomach empty - this is known as Mitahara" (H.P. 1/58.)
Regarding constituents of food, he says :
"The good grains, wheat, rice, barley and Shastika (a special variety of rice), milk, ghee, sugar, butter, sugarcandy, honey, dry ginger, the Patolaka fruit (Paravara-a kind of cucumber), the five leafy vegetables, green gram and rain water collected when the sun is in Magha (the tenth lunar mansion) etc. are considered to be wholesome food for advanced Yogins." (H.P. 1/62.)
Another question about diet is whether the non-vegetarian food is advisable? Here there are two points to be considered. As far as our mental state is concerned we can get rid of anger and tensions by avoiding food rich in protein. Today it has been unanimously accepted that the vegetarian food also contains all those nutrients' which are present in non-vegetarian food. Hence, it is the duty of vegetarians to popularize the vegetarian food amongst the non-vegetarians and Westerners, because they do not have the idea that through vegetarian articles delicious dishes can be prepared. Of course, the vegetarian diet should contain varieties of articles to get the nutrition value. Here I wish to invite attention to the question - why should the life of another living-being be the source of our palatable (taste) happiness? Let us keep this in mind : the animal being led to the slaughter-house is terror stricken before it is slaughtered due to which its bloodstream is contaminated with certain hormones which can be detrimental to those who consume non-vegetarian diet by the way of mental and physical strains. And, have we ever thought another factor : 'Why do the non-vegetarians consume the vegetarian animals only?" I request the readers to think over this.
Many a time, it is asked whether the Asanas have to be performed in the solitude or in the open air? Otherwise, what should the people of the cities do? Clean air is definitely better and hygienic. While doing Asanas, we should avoid artificial air. The place chosen should be such that the disturbance is to the minimum. The quotation "Ekante mathika madhye ..." does not refer to common man. It refers to the Yoga practitioner engrossed in meditation and higher spiritual pursuits.
Normally, it is asked, 'how long one should avoid the practice of Asanas after being surgically operated for piles or ulcers etc.? For this purpose, one is advised to consult his teacher. Normally, one could restart the practice of Asanas after six months or so, when the affected parts and muscles would be strong enough to bear the pressure.
What should be the sequence of Asanas and Pranayama? The answer to the above question is so simple and clear that there is no room for confusion, if we follow the instruction of Swatmarama. Swatmarama has clearly said :
"Asanas, different types of Kumbhakas, practices called Mudras,Nadanusandhana - this is the correct sequence for the practice of Hathayoga." (H. P. 1/56.)
Patanjali has also said :
'Tasmin sati svasaprasvasayorgativiccehedah pranayamah" after establishing oneself in a stable posture, Pranayama, has to be performed. Even if Asanas are preceded by Pranayama, no problem occurs. Normally Asanas are done before Pranayama.
Duration of an Asana
This depends on the availability of time. Keeping in view the availability of time, a man of normal health should practise Asanas for 45 minutes daily and Pranayama for 15 to 20 minutes daily. If Kriyas are to be practised, 30 minutes should be devoted for them. In Case of Diseases: Can Asanas be performed during a disease or not, is another common question. For certain diseases, Asanas could be useful, but for some others the effect thereof could be adverse. For example, in the case of ulcers, heart diseases, tuberculosis and high blood pressure, Asanas like Sarvangasana, Viparitakarani, Pascimatana, Halasana and Uddiyana would be harmful whereas Supta-Vajrasana, Simhamudri, Sitali, Candrabhedana, Savasana, Vajrasana, Cakrasana, Tongue-lock, etc. are helpful. The same is applicable in hernia, appendicitis, acidity,cold, asthma, bronchitis and colitis where some Asanas could prove helpful, while some others will give rise to ill effects. Hence, a teacher must be consulted at this juncture. And it should always be kept in mind that the Asanas are performed very cautiously when you are a patient.
we do not feel like doing Asanas?
In that case, we should try to analyze the reason for our laziness and try to see whether the mind is wandering or we are feeling fatigue or lethargy. We should know our mind and accordingly we should train it.The good effects of Asanas should always be borne in mind.In case of unavoidable circumstances, the practice may be dropped for the time being. Otherwise the normal yogic routine should not be broken. Remember, health is the foremost necessity for a person to encounter the present day atmosphere and society successfully.
Asanas and Other Physical Exercises : As we know, in the physical culture, heart has to do extra amount of work to get rid of impure blood resulting in the increased heart rate. This does not apply in the case of Asanas. Hence, there should be at least 30 minutes gap between Asanas and other types of physical exercises.
and Physical Efficiency : The question is common : What is the effect of
Asanas on physical efficiency? It has been clearly stated in Hatha Pradipika that
Asanas bring mental as well as physical steadiness, health and a feeling of lightness
(H. P. 1/17).
Our experiments in the laboratory also have proved that the efficiency of the body and concentration of mind increases by the practice of Asanas.
Asanas and the Welfare of Sportsmen : The main goal of Asana is not to prepare sportsmen and women at national or international level but certainly, it has been seen to increase their efficiency, flexibility, concentration and strength. Our sportsmen could also be benefitted by Asanas if other situations are normal. It is popularly said that a person doing Sirsasana for an hour can turn the colour of his grey hair into black provided the rest of the 23 hours are also disciplined. The same is applicable specially for sportsmen and women and people in general. If one wants to be benefitted by Asanas and Pranayama one should lead a disciplined life.
Limitation for Women : Which Asanas are not to be done by women and when? Normally, during the first three months of pregnancy Uddiyana, Pascimatana, Yoga-mudra , Ardha-Matsyendrasana and all those Asanas which give pressure in the abdominal region should be avoided by women. So also, during menstrual periods no Asana should be practised by women, because the undue pressure exerted during Asanas may cause increased bleeding. And women should practise Mayurasana only under proper supervision and guidance of a trained teacher.