General Guidelines for Ananda
• Wear comfortable clothing in
which you can move freely; It's best to practice
• Ideally, practice on an empty
stomach: try not to eat 2-3 hours before practice.
• Practice in a well-ventilated
room that is neither too hot nor too cold.
• Always do a few warm-up
movements, combined with deep breathing, before doing the
• If time is short, remember that
it is better to do a few postures slowly--and deeply-- than to
do many of them hastily.
• Never strain or struggle to get
into a pose. Move into and out of the postures gently,
smoothly, and with awareness. Do not push through tightness;
it's much more effective--and much safer--to relax it away
with awareness and with the breath, thus facilitating a deeper
• Use common sense: Honor
contraindications suggested for the poses and breathing
exercises, even if you "feel up to it." ("Contraindication"
comes from "contra," which means against, and "indication." It
refers to a condition, usually physical, that indicates one
should not do a particular asana or pranayama).
• Never compete: Don't expose
yourself to injury by competing with others--or with yourself.
Pride of body or of superior flexibility have no place in
yoga. Progress in yoga is not absolute, but directional--it's
a matter of taking your own next steps.
• To the best of your ability,
breathe diaphragmatically while holding an asana, unless the
asana calls for a different, specific type of
• In all poses, avoid swayback
(over-arching the lower back) by tucking the tailbone when
necessary to lengthen the lower spine. In some cases,
contracting the lower abdomen seems a more natural movement
and will accomplish much the same thing.
• Remember that your neck is part
of your spine. Keep it in line with the rest of the spine to
avoid compressing the cervical vertebrae or discs.
• Avoid twisting your knees;
they're hinge joints, made to fold with little or no rotation.
• Avoid tensing the shoulders; keep
the back of the neck extended and the shoulder blades released
down the back.
• Standing poses: Do not hyperextend the
knees (i.e., don't push back on the kneecaps, "locking" the
knee). If you have this tendency, either pull the kneecaps up
by engaging the quadriceps muscles, or keep the knees slightly
Standing poses with knee bent: When one leg is supporting most
of your weight, never allow the knee to go beyond the ankle.
Keep it over the ankle (lower leg vertical), or for extra
protection, slightly behind the ankle (i.e., don't come down
so far into the pose).
• Forward bends: Keep the spine
long and fold at the hip joints. It's okay to let a healthy
spine round slightly, but only through relaxation and
with complete awareness, a long spine, and no discomfort.
Avoid entering or exiting the pose with a rounded spine and
straight knees, as this can compress the intervertebral discs
and pinch the spinal nerves. For the greatest degree of
safety, keep the knees slightly bent throughout the
• Backward bends: Protect the lower
back (lumbar spine) by tucking the pelvis (i.e., lengthening
the tailbone downward), releasing the shoulder blades away
from the ears, and lifting through the sternum/heart area. Let
the curvature in the neck match (or be less than, if your neck
needs support) the curvature in the rest of the
• Sideways bends: Keep the
underside of your rib cage open so as not to close off your
breathing or overstretch the lateral flexor muscles of the
• Twisting poses: Keep the spine
lengthened as you exhale into your twist. If the spine begins
to round, back off a little from the twist. This helps prevent
compression of the spinal discs and nerves, and keeps the life
force flowing freely.
• Inverted poses: Never put undue
weight or stress on the neck, and do not remove the natural
curvature of the cervical spine. If your arms and shoulders
are not strong enough to bear the weight of the body, then
it's best to practice simpler variations of the inverted poses
until you're able to do the classical versions.
• Sitting poses: When entering the
cross-legged positions, be sure that all rotation occurs in
the hip joint, not in the knee. The lotus pose, or even the
half lotus pose, is not for beginners unless their hips are
already very flexible.