By Dr. Vijayendra Pratap
Publisher’s Note: I first met Dr. Pratap more than a quarter century ago at his bookshop in Philadelphia, The Garland of Letters. It is a special place for personal transformation where books and videos and magazines and crystals and incense and… you name it.. even classes on Yoga and Qigong. I have always loved Dr. Pratap’s self-published volume, A Teacher’s Guide for Beginning Yoga, and when I relocated to Tokyo in 1995 to work for a publisher, I brought a copy with me to republish and make available to an international audience. The book has been out of print for quite a while now, with limited copies available at Garland.So it is with great enthusiasm that I received a call from my old friend and mentor to see if I might be able to bring his book again to publication through Tambuli Media. It is now again available and I cannot say enough how deep and insightful this book on Yoga is. And I cannot recommend it highly enough. And so today, I am grateful for its re-release and present the first chapter to you as a posting here. “The First Breath” refers to many things, including taking a new and proper view of Yoga, beginning a fresh practice, and taking the first step to understanding this classical Indian mind/body/spirit practice as it was intended… a practice that is quite far removed from many teaching the postures without the insight. — Dr. Mark Wiley, publisher, Tambuli Media
The First Breath
This manual of easy poses is designed to help both teachers and students interested in beginning Yoga to learn postures and some preliminary breathing practices, Philosophy will be discussed in another volume.
There are currently hundreds of books that meet the needs of many students and teachers of Yoga. This differs in that it uses modern terminology to bring sincere students closer to the classical tradition. In the process, emphasis is laid not only on the physical aspects of each pose, but also on the underlying subtleties of that pose.
The plan of this work is as follows:
Technique — This section includes step-by-step instructions for the pose and is accompanied by the appropriate illustrations.
Suggestions — This includes those important learning points which are often overlooked, sometimes for the sake of external appearances, at the cost of the psycho-physiological effects of the pose.
Results — This section suggests benefits that may be derived from the pose, either described in traditional texts or discovered as a result of modern scientific research in the field of Yogic therapy.
Discussion and References — The meaning of the pose, whether classical or modern, is given and an explanation of its name is offered. Sources are cited of those poses which are ancient.
A pose is an attitude which has two aspects: physical and mental. The physical aspect may be related to something in nature, such as an animal, plant, or an object. The mental aspect of a poise may be symbolic, subtle, or involve mythological concepts, an understanding of which is very useful for healthy living.
According to the Hatha Yoga tradition, the number of Asanas range from 2 to 84, and up to 8,000 (84 Lacs) “…as many as there are species of animals” (G.S. 5, 6 & 7; S.S. III, 85; and Gh.S. II, 1 & 2).
While some postures take their inspiration from the natural world, such as Lotus, Cobra, Locust and Tree Poses — others were originated to stimulate certain centers of the body and afterwards their resemblances were noted (this is probably the case in the Plow and Bow Poses).
It is helpful, as you practice each pose, to be aware of its background and the relationship of these underlying meanings. The body is, after all, only the medium through which you approach higher states. Yoga is a fine art based on sound scientific principles. It is an integrated way of life.
Yoga teaches that you are the master of your own destiny. You, yourself, hold the key to a productive life of contentment and inner peace.
This key is self-discipline.
Too often, today, the world ‘discipline’ brings a negative reaction. We think of painful austerity and deprivation. But this is not the discipline of Yoga.
Properly followed — that is, with respect and for a long period of time — Yogic training will beautify your life. As you bring yourself into a state of balance and harmony, a new consciousness will dawn upon you. You will find a disciplined life to be one filled with its own joys and rewards.
Posture is one important Yogic tool. Adjusting your attitude through the medium of your body leads to emotional stability, health, and suppleness.
Regarding the order of postures, there is no authoritative agreement. No doubt, there is a systematic hierarchy in Yoga for posture. Pranayama, Mudra, and meditative practices. Maharsi Patanjali, in his Yoga Surtras, gives an eightfold path that includes: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi.
If there is a hierarchy, however, among the postures themselves, a good deal of research much yet be done to accurately determine it.
A Detailed Guide to Yoga Practice
In this book, I will follow closely the teachings of Swami Kuvalayanandaji, who devoted much of his life to the systematic, scientific study of classical Yoga. This Teacher’s Guide for Beginning Yoga provides a step-by-step approach for those who wish to make a beginning.
If you follow the practices outlined in this book for some time with enthusiasm and respect, you will reach a new level of well-being. What is most important at first, however, is to begin.
“Although I have read books on and about yoga, this one is unique. It is at once a student’s guide and a teacher’s manual. This is one book I will not put on the shelf. I will keep it handy as a reference for my own yoga practice.” – Stanley Krippner, Saybrook Institute
“You don’t have to be a teacher to appreciate Vijayendra Pratap’s sparkling introductory volume.” – Linda Holt, Lightworks
“One of the most essential and detailed works on the postures, breathing and science of Hatha Yoga I have read. Highly recommended for every practitioner, from beginner to advanced.” – Dr. Mark Wiley, author of Live Pain Free!
About the Author
Vijayendra Pratap, PhD, DYP is the founder and director of the Swami Kuvalayananda Yoga (SKY) Foundation and the Yoga Research Society (YRS). He earned his PhD from the Department of Applied Psychology, University of Bombay, and served at India’s Kaivalyadhama Yoga Institute as lecturer of yoga and managing editor of Yoga Mimamsa. Dr. Pratap has conducted yoga programs for institutions and made presentations at conferences worldwide.