Integrating asana, pranayama and meditation – a lifetime yoga practice

Esther Ekhart talks about her personal experience of moving from the 'gross to the subtle' in yoga practice

Esther Ekhart in extended side angle pose

On Monday 6th September we begin our three week program:

Body, Breath, Mind

This program is all about integrating three yoga practices of asana, pranayama, and meditation in each class.

Why? If you’ve done yoga for long enough you’ll have probably come across the phrase ‘yoga is more than just the poses’.

What this refers to is how in the Western world (including on EkhartYoga) we tend to use the word ‘yoga’ as shorthand for just the physical asana practice when in reality yoga is a whole scientific and philosophical system.

According to traditional teachings such as in The Hatha Yoga Pradipika and Patanjali’s 8 limbed path of yoga, there is a progression within yoga practice from the gross to the subtle. We start out with asana, then introduce pranayama and then meditation. 

This is not always the case for everyone, but it often follows that people come to yoga through the physical practice of yoga poses and then discover the other elements as they study more and experience the subtle sensations.

There is a progression within yoga from the gross to the subtle

Through asana practice you are becoming embodied, and you will start to release tension and blockages as you are opening up. As you develop greater body awareness, you can next work with the more subtle movement of energies within. You are now able to hear, listen to and respond to the more subtle feedback that the body gives you.

This can bring you to Pranayama. Pranayama is about freeing the breath and freeing the energy – and there are many practices out there. Through pranayama exercises we start to influence the body with our breath. It settles the nervous system and it brings a restless mind to stillness. This helps to focus the attention to prepare you for meditation. 

Then to meditation. When the nervous system settles and you focus your attention, your meditation is like a continued movement inwards towards stillness and towards the sacred and the profound. Through the subtle practice of meditation you get to know yourself on another level.

It’s a lifetime progression rather than a class structure

In a class you’re free to do and try out what works for you. So this order is not about what happens in every class. It’s about general progression in your practice across your lifetime

And nothing is set in stone. What works best for one person might not be for another. We talk about this a lot in EkhartYoga on a physical level. We know our variations in bone structure, for example, which means that there’s no ‘perfect alignment’ or 100% ‘correct’ way to do a pose. It’s the same thing. We’re different on the inside too. It’s about finding what works for you.

Body Breath Mind program

That’s why in the Body Breath Mind program you’ll find sometimes I might start with meditation or pranayama rather than movement. When you design a class each element is about preparing yourself and your students for what comes next.

The program includes different teachers and different techniques so it’s an easy way to try out different techniques and combinations. 

You can play around with the breath and see what techniques work for you. It doesn’t have to be serious. It can be quite a playful discovery!

My personal experience

I have definitely seen the progression from the gross to the subtle in my practice. For me, yoga when I started was more about the physical. It did bring me more wisdom but this was due more to philosophy talks with my teacher.

There was a time in my life (quite a long time ago now) when I was more interested in being stronger and getting into certain poses. As my body changed and I got older and maybe wiser, I became more interested in the subtle aspects of the practice. I was also lucky to have a teacher who was very into pranayama.

Nowadays, meditation especially is where I find my peace and insight and my wisdom and understanding myself and working with my ‘mud’ (through the mud the lotus grows) , I understand other people’s ‘mud’, its effect on their life and how I can approach that with kindness.

Yoga asana and movement for me is still a very important part of my practice but it’s not about doing certain poses. It’s about keeping my body relaxed, mobile and pain free, so I can live a good quality life. It’s about keeping me healthy and happy and also so I can sit comfortably for an hour in meditation.

This was asana’s original function according to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika: to prepare the body to sit. It’s not just about being able to sit pain free, it’s about opening up the energy channels for life to flow freely through you. Then when you sit and do pranayama and meditation you become more aware of the subtle, and the more subtle, and the more subtle…. 

It’s my wish that you’ll join me and other teachers on EkhartYoga for this brand new program and experience these benefits for yourself. 

Try things out, discover your favourite techniques and then you can continue them as part of your regular practice afterwards.

Join us in this program – starts 6th Sept for 3 weeks

Body Breath Mind is available to all EkhartYoga members – start your free trial today.

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Esther EkhartEsther Ekhart, face and founder of EkhartYoga, brings years of personal yoga and meditation practice, therapy training and study of yoga philosophy into her teaching.