Asanas, pranayama, and the mudras will bear fruit only if practised with a focused mind
The body and mind function because of the presence of consciousness or life. In its absence, both cease to function. That power, which causes the mind, body, and senses to function is the prana or life force. In truth, we infer the presence of prana or life force because our minds, bodies and senses are functioning.
Similarly, in the presence of consciousness, we experience thoughts and feelings. Desires and dislikes arise in our awareness, and we act on the basis of these thoughts and feelings. This power of cognition and will is the mind. But if cognition and will are to function, they require the prana or life force to be present. Prana and the mind are intertwined. The rise and fall of thoughts in the mind requires the function of prana and the energy behind it.
Role of the mind
To see something with our eyes, and for that image to be transmitted to the mind, the life force or prana is required. But to recognise that image and decide what to do with it is the function of the mind. Hatha yoga describes how we can channel the prana that lies behind the functioning of the mind and thereby channel the mind.
We would all like to be free of suffering or unhappiness. The path to that goal requires control over mind and prana. In this, the role of the mind is dominant. For even to do the asanas and pranayama that will help us control the prana, the direction of the mind is essential. Furthermore, the mind is within our direct experience, while the prana is largely not. We are able to say, “I am thinking of this.” But we are not able to appreciate the function of the prana like that. We are not able to directly experience our prana behind the secretion of hormones in our body.
In the same way, we are able to change what we think or feel in our minds directly. We can choose to think certain thoughts or experience certain emotions. We may not be able to sustain them because our minds are unsteady, but in a given moment, it is amenable to our direct control. But we cannot normally direct the functions of the prana concretely like that; we cannot decide to move the flow of blood more to one kidney than the other!
Hatha yoga gives importance to the control of prana, and through that the mind. But we must note that it is not possible to control the prana effectively without the attention and oversight by the mind. Thus the Hatha Yoga Pradipika — a text on yoga cautions against working with the prana without the accompanying required focus of the mind. Asanas, pranayama, and the mudras will bear fruit only if practised with a focused mind. Only then are they truly a limb of yoga.
By the hatha yoga practices of asana, pranayama, and mudras, the mind will become steady and fit for the practice of meditation as described in the Yogasutra. Then you will be able to access the deeper meditative state of samadhi, and eventually transcend the flux of the mind.
This article appeared in The Hindu newspaper.