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Asana as the Foundation of Higher Living

In last month's article, we discussed how to teach your students to purify and calm their minds. This month, we look at the ways in which asana practice in particular can help your students grow spiritually.

By Dr. Swami Shankardev Saraswati

Once they have a clear idea of what they need and what they might do about it, they are to hold that thought in their minds during asana practice. At the same time, they are to tune into the power generated by their asana and use these positive feelings to attain their goal. This gives the practice of asana a higher and broader purpose.

The Second Step: Awareness
The second step is to instruct the student to remain present and aware while they practice. Remind them to fight the tendency to wander off into a distracted, distant state—the state in which accidents often happen. Remind them to keep using their breath as a way of remaining relaxed and focused. By remaining present, their practice becomes the basis of a simple but powerful meditative process. They will add another level to their asana practice that will consciously create positive mental states.

The normal distracted, undisciplined mind, the so-called "monkey-mind," wastes energy in negative thinking and emotional turmoil. Therefore, rather than allowing the mind to wander enmeshed in this state, aim to consciously use the energy that was trapped in the negative to power positive mental states.

The Third Step: Focus The third step, once your students have assumed their asana pose, is to remind them of what they contemplated before commencing the practice: what they want to achieve in their lives right now. Instruct them to ask themselves, "What am I feeling at this moment?" At the same time, encourage them to focus on identifying any positive feelings they have.

A well-performed asana is not one that fits an idealized image. Rather, a well-performed asana generates feelings of being grounded, balanced, self-nourished, energized, in control. While the students are creating these positive states of being, ask them to focus on their weakness or difficulty. They need to sense the deep inner strength and confidence they can cultivate through asana practice and observe how it affects their sense of their weakness or problem.

This process is a powerful way to help students elevate and deepen their asana practice. Both teacher and students must have patience; students will not learn to reflect, become aware, and maintain focus in one class. But over time, this practice develops a number of skills: the student becomes more grounded in a practice that is appropriate to them at that time; their minds become more focused; and they learn to consciously create positive inner states, such as courage and wisdom. All of this develops a more powerful and creative mind, and a yoga practice that is consciously linked with life outside the yoga classroom.

Dr. Swami Shankardev is a yogacharya, medical doctor, psychotherapist, author, and lecturer. He lived and studied with his guru, Swami Satyananda, for more than 10 years in India (1974-1985). He lectures all over the world. To read more of his work or to contact him, go to

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