In the Yoga sutras, Patanjali suggests that asana is "to be seated in a position that is firm, but relaxed.” Sometimes people interpret asana as a still, meditative position. In Raja yoga, asana means a specific body position that opens the energy channels and psychic centers. Asanas are means for achieving higher consciousness and a solid foundation for exploring the mind, body and soul. In general, asana is a body position, in which one is at rest and in harmony with one’s self.

Pranayama is neither deep breathing, nor the holding of breath once for an extended period of time. The word consists of two roots – “prana” and “ayama.” Prana means life force, or vital energy, and ayama means expansion. Pranayama helps increase pranic resources and activate the prana at a higher frequency of oscillation.

Translated from Sanskrit, mudra is a (symbolic or ritual) gesture or a state. Yoga mudras help to restore the balance of the energy fields. Mudras are a combination of subtle movements that can change one’s mood or attitude and lead to a deeper consciousness and concentration.

Mantra is a vibration. Where there is movement, there is vibration. That vibration is the source of a fine sound. Atoms are in a constant state of motion and create certain vibrations. The basic, final mantra is ananda nadi, or the sound of the vibration in the atoms nucleus.

Mantra is a sound vibration that can change the mental, emotional and psychological aspect of our essence. The mantra Om (or Aum) that we sing at the beginning of each yoga class is a universal cosmic mantra that symbolizes the four states of consciousness: waking, dreaming, deep sleep and perfect bliss.

Closing with Savasana
"After completing the practice of asanas always lie down to in Savasana for at least 10 to 15 minutes, as this will remove fatigue," says B.K.S. Iyengar in his book Light on Yoga.

Although savasana is said to be the most difficult asana to master the focus is very simple, just relax your entire body. If you get distracted or agitated, you can always come back to this focus. Just put yourself in the posture, relax your muscles, get your mind out of the way and observe.

There are some quite involved descriptions of how to lay oneself out in corpse pose and some just say, "lie on your back". The essentials are:

  • Lie down on your back
  • Close your eyes
  • Extend the legs, slightly apart and let each foot flop out to the side.
  • Place your arms slightly away from the body, palms face up, allow fingers to softly curl
  • Draw the shoulder blades slightly together and down the back (if the lower back or neck is sore, use a bolster under the knees and a blanket under the head and neck.) Let go of any control of the breath, allow it to take its natural rhythm. Release the muscles, let the bones be heavy and the organs fall to the back of the body. Allow the body to feel as though it is melting into the earth.

Be aware of the stillness in your body and focus on that experience. Resisting any sensations that might make you want to move in any way, stay completely still. If a thought comes into your mind that makes your concentration slip, just note the thought and gently return to the experience of stillness. At first you may feel that the mind is still active, attached to thoughts, feelings and the body. As the mind and body unwind awareness of the outside world stars to fade, you may hear things but they won't disturb you. Sinking further into yourself the mind finally lets go, a feeling of being completely disconnected from the outside world.

What can make this pose challenging for us, is that there is nothing to "do" during the pose. Through out our lives we constantly program our minds to be "thinking" all the time, trying to solve problems, figuring out what to do next, or just stuck in the endless loop of repetitive thoughts. During savasana we may also feel like we want to fall asleep, feel bored or experience resistance.
Coming out of savasana should be done with the same care and thoughtfulness that you use in every other asana. During the transition between savasana and sitting to end a session, move smoothly and quietly so we do not disturb whatever peacefulness and equanimity that has been established.

Savasana can be taken anytime, not only after practice. Most people lead very busy lives, feeling stressed out and tired. By working a 15 - 30 minutes savasana into your day provides an opportunity for the body, mind and Soul to reconnect. Having centered ourselves and rested the body and mind we are better able to face the rest of the day or evening ahead.

Yoga Nidra
Yoga Nidra is one of the patyahara practices, where the consciousness turns inward. Literally, yoga nidra means “psychic sleep.” The body is asleep, but the mind is awake and listening. In psychology, the state of yoga nidra is called hypnogogic. It is the natural state of sleepiness before falling asleep or the fine zone between sleep and wakefulness. Yoga nidra originated from the ancient tantric practice called nyasa.

In much of the world today, people do not shake hands when they meet. They may hug formally and kiss one another on the cheek, as in Eastern Europe and Arab states. They may bow softly, eyes turned to the ground, as in Japan and China. The Hawaiian greeting, termed honi, consists of placing the nostril gently beside that of the person greeted, a kind of sharing of breath, which is life and prana.

For Hindus, of course, the greeting of choice is namaste, the two hands pressed together and held near the heart with the head gently bowed as one says, "Namaste." Thus it is both a spoken greeting and a gesture, a mantra and a mudra. In Sanskrit namas means "bow, obeisance, reverential salutation." It conies from the root nam, which carries meanings of bending, bowing, humbly submitting and becoming silent. Te means "to you." Thus namaste means "I bow to you." The act of greeting is called namaskaram, namaskara and namaskar in the varied languages of the subcontinent.

The prayerful hand position is a mudra called anjali, from the root anj, "to adorn, honor, celebrate or anoint." The hands held in union signify (he oneness of an apparently dual cosmos, the bringing together of spirit and matter, or the self meeting the Self. It has been said that the right hand represents the higher nature or that which is divine in us, while the left hand represents the lower, worldly nature. In the case of namaste, a deeper veneration is sometimes expressed by bringing the fingers of the clasped palms to the forehead, where they touch the brow, the site of the mystic third eye. A third form of namaste brings the palms completely above the head, a gesture said to focus consciousness in the subtle space just above the brahma-randhra, the aperture in the crown chakra. This form is so full of reverence it is reserved for God and the holiest of Sat Gurus.

There are other, more mystical meanings behind namaste. The nerve currents of the body converge in the feet, the solar plexus and the hands. Psychic energy leaves the body at these junctures. To "ground" that energy and balance the flow of prana streaming through the nerve system, yogis cross their legs in the lotus posture, and bring their hands together. The anjali mudra acts like a simple yogic asana, balancing and harmonizing our energies, keeping us centered, inwardly poised and mentally protected. It closes our aura, shielding us psychically.

(From Yogamag, Yoga Nidra – Benefits and Applications” by Siddhartha Bhusan, lecturer at the Yoga Psychology Department at Bihar Yoga Bharati, Munger)