The Yogi, the Bogi and
Ancient wisdom on achieving depth in Asanas
There is a popular saying that a Yogi eats one meal a day, a bogi, which means an enjoyer of food, eats two meals a day and a Rogi, which means someone who is awaiting treatment for a disease, eats three meals a day. Some texts go to the extent of saying that a person who eats four meals a day is a drohi (one who does harm) because of the injurious effects, both physically and mentally, of excessive food consumption on oneself and on the society at large. For yoga practitioners, be it those who practice asana, pranayama or meditation, a moderate to a small approprtiate diet (मिताहारः - mitahara in sanskrit) is recommended in ancient texts such as the hatha yoga pradipika. A previous article I wrote titled, "An empty stomach has one problem; A full stomach has a 100 problems" goes into some details on the effect of diet on the flow of prana which we manoeuvre in our yoga practice into various regions of the body for healing or simply for enhancing consciousness.
The enteric nervous system that controls the gastrointestinal tract is a rich network of neurons in the abdominal area and it is also known as the second brain. Some of the chakras (energy centers) like the Mooladhara, Sahasrara and Manipura are in this region. One of the most important tools for moving the prana is the moola bandha or the root lock. This action takes place in this region by lifting the perennial floor. The life sustaining Agni or the digestive fire, that is described in Ayurveda, originates and resides in this region. In fact when the gastrointestinal tract is functioning properly, is not overburdened with food, and the elimination is complete, there is a lightness in our asana practice and it feels like the body is more malleable and there is a unhindered flow of energy in the body. When the body is burdened with excess, heavy food, it taxes the Agni and what the Agni cannot burn is deposited as 'Ama' (waste) in our body. Just see what happens when you clean the white coating on your tongue. You will immediately feel as if the fire in your stomach is ignited, with a renewed appetite and alertness of mind. The Agni in our stomach is so critical to our asana practice that teachers often urge their students to maintain the Ujjayi breath (which acts like a fire bellow) throughout the asana practice and not drink any water or eat food during the session because it can douse this fire.
The Ujjayi (Victory) breath acts like a bellow and stimulates the Agni (fire) in our body which in turns makes the body malleable and enables the unrestricted flow of Prana.
For all the reasons mentioned above, it is very important to pay attention to one's diet to deepen one's Yoga practice. In the article mentioned above and in section 1a) on diet in another article titled, "The many dimensions of Ahimsa and Tapas in our Asana practice", I give some examples on how traditionally great emphasis is placed on diet and internal cleansing procedures.
To strengthen the mandha Agni (weak digestive fire) in one's body and make it stronger for enabling the flow of Prana, various Asanas are recommended in addition to the kriyas that are described in Gheranda Samhita. The most famous of these asanas is the Mayurasana, the peacock pose. Depictions of this pose in sculptures have been found from over a 1000 years. The pose resembles a peacock but the choice of this name for this pose and not a name like "see-saw" pose is done specifically for the reason that it stimulates the Agni thereby burning the toxins in the gastrointestinal tract. Peacocks are known to consume poisonous plants and berries that enhance the colors of their plumage, in addition to eating poisonous snakes.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (Sanksrit verses above) says that Mayurasana stimulates the digestive fire, incinerates the bad food that was consumed and even makes the deadly Kalakuta poison digestible. One can sometimes hear the digestive juices make a bubbling sound in the stomach after performing this asana.
There are also other asanas like Marichiasana and its variants that are recommended for cleansing the gastrointestinal tract and stimulating the Agni in our body as mentioned in this video by Swami Rama of the Himalayan Institute.
Conclusion: Depth and steadiness of the body and mind in Asana practice is achieved by the unrestricted flow of Prana in our body. This flow of Prana is influenced by the Agni, the digestive fire in our body, for whose proper functioning, a light and appropriate diet is recommended in various ancient texts on Yoga.
Finally, Bette Calman, the great Australian Yoga teacher born in 1927, executing Mayurasana at the age of 83 is shown in this 2010 photo (below) borrowed from this article on Mayurasana.