In praise of Savasana: How will you die today?

1. ‘Classical’- flat on the back with a blanket supporting the back of the head and neck

Aah, savasana. That lovely bit at the end. Or, that bit when I’m supposed to completely relax but my mind is running in circles. How is it for you? Sometimes we experience a flip between these feelings around savasana on a daily basis. Nevertheless, I cannot advocate strongly enough for savasana as a daily practice. I entreat you not to dismiss or neglect it and not to underestimate its transformational powers over a lifetime.

It’s important to finish each and every practice of yogasana and pranayama with savasana for a number of reasons:

7 Good Reasons to practise Savasana
  1. It marks the end of the practice, giving a sense of completion and contentment.
  2. It allows the benefits of the practice, both physical and psychological, to embed and consolidate.
  3. Even a short savasana is like plugging a device in to re-charge. It’s immensely restorative.
  4. It is soothing for the nervous system, so reduces symptoms of stress and anxiety.
  5. It allows the senses to completely rest from their habitual activity, reducing their attachment to external objects.
  6. It is a bridge between the ‘outer’ aspects of the yoga practice and the ‘inner’ aspects; it allows us to dive deeply inside that inner experience in a safe and secure way.
  7. It is one of the best preparations for a good death.

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Inside Out

Have you ever been there when someone is dying? If you have (and depending on the nature of the death) you may have noticed the phenomenal quality of love when death is close. When loved ones assemble in witness of a life’s twilight hours, love takes form and becomes, for some time at least, a palpable, almost personified presence. ‘Love was always love’, writes Gabriel Garcia Marquèz in his celebrated novel Love in the Time of Cholera, ‘any time, any place, but it was more solid the closer it came to death’.

As a world-wide community we find ourselves in a state of virtual vigil at the deathbed of many, many people, both known and unknown to us. The inability to assemble makes sorrow more acute and more lonely.  In grief and in love we are turned inside-out, our fleshy vulnerability exposed, raw, howling for human contact. If we are lucky and mindful, even as the scar tissues begin to form, we can retain the direct empathy that accompanies such open-heartedness.

As we stand witness at the demise of much that we have known and accepted and expected, a sharpened awareness of the trembling fragility of our societal structures underpins our everyday actions. Our cultural and political architecture, our hypocrisies, our complicities, our inequalities and everything we take for granted, is laid bare. What and who we love and value, and how, has become poignant and tangible on a global scale.

Space and time have changed their meaning. They are stretching and bending, contracting, expanding and aligning in unusual ways; some pleasurably, some dragging along a heavy pack of frustration and longing. We are removed from one another physically, spatially, over an unknown period of time, and it hurts in very many ways.  Yet as a species we are displaying more presence of awareness perhaps than ever before. Social isolation and distancing, as a great act of solidarity and self-discipline, has demonstrated increased, and increasing, awareness in human thought, speech and action. We are experiencing an unprecedented shift in consciousness; from individual to collective, from isolated to interconnected.

The many physical, emotional and economic hardships that this virus and the subsequent prolonged lockdown are causing are lamentable, and for many are utterly tragic. But a stripping back of everything but essential human activity has left a space. An external space that nature is recovering and inhabiting with abundance and abandon.  Cleaner air and oceans; a proliferation of flora and fauna of all kinds, in environments more conducive to their success; this is surely something to safeguard, to cultivate, to insist upon maintaining?

Our contemporary shared experience of opening spaces developing hand in hand with enhanced awareness and healthy habitation is entirely consistent with yogic processes. Indeed, the process of stripping life back to its essential elements feels profoundly familiar to anyone engaged in a daily spiritual practice. Through a disciplined practice of āsana (posture) and prānayāma (control of breath/life force), we are not creating new spaces, but rather discovering and cultivating what was always there; tapping into something that usually we are too busy, too occupied with external affairs, to notice.

Movement into and within and out of a series of archetypal postures, or breaths, invites us to inhabit an exponential internal spaciousness (ākāśa). In that space resides freedom of choice (svātantrya). So how do we choose to respond to our conditions? What do we maintain and cultivate, and what we discard and move on from? Through this conscious sorting process emerges an enhanced experience of embodied awareness. ‘We are love’s body’, writes Nan Shepherd, ‘or we are undone’.

From the more spacious viewpoint in which we are now collectively situated, the component parts of our human society can be seen for what they are. Rampant consumption, ecological destruction and the kind of gross economic expansion that benefits the richest few have, for the moment, reduced or ceased.  Currently the poorest and most vulnerable are suffering the most. We have proven that complete systemic change is possible, feasible, practical. And now we can make it just, if we find that something worth insisting upon.

 

A friend wrote to me recently ‘may you journey out and journey in…may everything rise’. Her words led me back to some of twelfth century Christian mystic Meister Eckhart: ‘What a man takes in by contemplation, that he pours out in love’.  Let’s decide now then, from inside looking out and in the painful, shameful exposure of our defective structures, what to cultivate and what to discard.  Let’s allow our grief-ripped hearts to continue pulsing openly, in a unified rhythm. Let’s balance our actions with proper contemplation, with compassion, and be ready to implement the kind of transformation we want to see, inside and out. This is our opportunity, individually and collectively. Let’s take it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An Invitation

My young daughter loves to be naked. Her innocence is beautifully unspoiled. Her enthusiasm for music, nature,
friends, the moon, often results in her shedding all of her clothes, running and dancing in the utter delight of being alive in her body. She loves the feeling of being herself, in herself. It is a lot of fun. We often say the party hasn’t started until our girl’s got naked.

 

However your own childhood ecstasies manifested, fast-forward a few decades. How often have you heard yourself, or a female friend or relative say ‘I hate my hair/thighs/hips/feet/whatever’? My guess is too often. A friend recently told me ‘You’ve never met someone who hates their bum as much as me’. I have no way of knowing if what she says is true; hatred, like love, is subjective and unquantifiable. True or not, it represents an attitude I come across far too commonly to comfortably ignore.

 

In my role as a teacher of yoga, I meet women almost every day. Women of all ages. Women from a wide range of backgrounds and occupations. Women who find themselves in a yoga class for a huge variety of reasons. Women, too many of whom experience some level of fear of, loathing for or dissociation from their own bodies, or parts thereof. This applies to men too of course, who are certainly not excluded from this conversation, but I am particularly interested in why this body-horror manifests more frequently and more overtly in women and how yoga can map a path to acceptance and emancipation.

 

It would be completely incorrect to suggest that women spend their lives obsessing over how they look. Most don’t; we have more important things to get on with. But few would dispute that as women we are expected (by society, by patriarchy, by hierarchy), to aspire to look a certain way; and if we don’t conform to current trends then to wish to be different. There is a normalised, deeply embedded cultural expectation that we should spend quite a lot of time thinking about how we appear. Looking good (and wanting to) is great, it’s healthy, when it’s a natural expression of an inner state of sthira (stability) and sukha (comfort). It means that the outward appearance of the body need not present a distraction from more meaningful aspects of our lives. But women’s bodies are still being systematically commoditised, colonised and mined for profit.  As women, as people, we deserve better. Our daughters deserve better.

 

Feeling bad about oneself is not erroneous or weak, and to imply that it were would be irresponsible. The quest for eternal positivity is a myth (younger sister of Naomi Wolf’s ‘Beauty Myth’ of, yes, thirty years ago) which, just like standardised concepts beauty, is pedalled very effectively by the corporate machine. It keeps us buying stuff, oils the cogs of consumer-capitalism and has seeped into almost every aspect of our daily lives. Of course we will have days when we feel dissatisfied, grumpy, at odds with the world and ourselves. Of course this will be reflected in the way we view ourselves and our perception of how others view us. This is not failure; it is indicative of the fluctuations of daily life. But an occasional ‘off day’ which we know will pass is not the same as chronic hatred of or dissociation from a particular body part or the body in general. This latter is not failure either. It may have occurred for any number of good reasons, including trauma and pain. But in the context of yoga it is a state which can and should be recognised, addressed and reformed in the quest, not for an ideal of physical beauty or eternal positivity, but for peace of mind. The postural aspect of yoga (asana) is practised first in order that the body ceases to pose an obstacle to meditative states, and eventually to enable those states; the healing process is a prelude to the deeper spiritual endeavour that is yoga.

 

I do not ask explicitly about my students’ relationships with their bodies. I am not a counsellor or a psychologist. But I do listen to them, look at them and touch them.  By working collaboratively to observe responses in practice (verbal, physical, physiological, emotional), my students and I are able to deduce, never infallibly but I hope with a fair degree of accuracy, where there is a disconnect, for whatever reason, between their consciousness and the lived experience of inhabiting their human body. We all have them, these bodies and their hidden truths. Gems sometimes so buried, so forgotten, that we do not know they are there. We also have all we need in our yoga excavation pack: a shovel, a lens and a spotlight. To dig them out, bring them into focus and then switch on the light and let them shine.

 

Bare in the glare of our own consciousness can feel like a vulnerable place to be. We will be breaking long, long habits of ignoring the things we are now bringing to light. We may have become partially disembodied at a certain point in time for our own safety, for survival even. But when practised with due awareness and discipline, yoga offers a tried, tested and progressive means for making a safe and thorough exploratory excavation of the body-mind complex; a process that transforms pain into power, surviving into living.  What do we have to lose? Only the silt of embarrassment, shame and guilt associated, for whatever reason, with the parts of ourselves that over the years we have felt the need to dissociate from. What do we have to gain? Jewels of acceptance, renewal, celebration; and the chance to exist as a fully integrated human being. Yes, yoga can be an act of radical feminism. Let’s get naked and enjoy the party.

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The Happiness Con

There’s this pair of shoes which are just perfect. They would really, really suit me. Silver, strappy, chunky, cool. They will look great and will perfect so many outfits. They will make me happy. If I can just have those shoes I won’t want anything else. Right?

 

When you make it to five thousand followers on Instagram, that will be mega-satisfying for you.  And what about buying the car, achieving the asana, passing the exam, getting the promotion, writing the best-selling novel? These will all be happy moments, no doubt about it, and especially so if the desired outcome has been preceded by hard work and dedication.

 

They will also be moments tinged with something else. Is it fear that the happiness will soon come to an end? Oh yes, here it comes. Inevitably: the next ‘what next?’.  Our human experience is so chocka full of desires we barely notice them most of the time.  Desires which may or may not be satisfied. A chronic hankering. When we achieve satisfaction of a particular desire, another arises to take its place. This is the nature of desire; it can never be satisfied. Ever. This is because we spend our lives trying to satisfy the cravings of the self, rather than existing in the true nature of the Self (the individual self with a small ‘s’, which is manifested through personality and all the costumes of external worldly existence, as opposed to the universal Self with a capital ‘S’, the spiritual core common to us all). We will go on wanting and wanting and then we will die. And whilst we are dying we will be wanting to stay alive. Unless we decide to practise not wanting. In advance of dying. Hopefully we have a little time, but you never know, so best to get started.

 

In yoga, practice (abhyasa) goes along with detachment (vairagya); these are often described as the twin pillars of yogic discipline. They must be built together, in unison, block by block, in order to hold up the roof. If we build one without the other it all crashes down. Consider. Practice without detachment builds up the ego, and detachment without practice becomes fanatical, isolationist Self-denial. In both scenarios the roof caves in and there we are, buried, miserable and desperate, beneath the rubble of our own hubris. Every inch the tragic hero.

 

Practice is probably the easier of these pillars to understand. It is tangible: it makes you strong physically and mentally and allows you to face challenges with equanimity. But why detachment, and how far do we take it? Any popular psychology magazine will tell you that to form healthy attachments as a very young child is important for continued mental health into adulthood. So why as yoga-practising adults are we then trying to un-attach? To de-tach?  Those lucky enough to have formed healthy attachments in childhood are provided with the foundations from which to detach effectively from unhealthy and unhelpful cravings (for people, for substances) in adulthood. Others may need to work out more as they go along. In both cases yoga provides an extremely clear and effective road-map.

 

The practice of asana and pranayama is the laboratory of themind. Notice the condition of the mind when you practise trikonasana. Do it with the aim of perfecting the pose in all its refinements of action, extension, contraction, alignment, directionality; with the aim of performing BKS Iyengar-style perfection in trikonasana, with all the benefits. Strive to do a trikonasa to be noted, a trikonasana to be seen, and once seen to be applauded. Observe the state of the brain and the heart in this situation. Expansion or contraction?

 

 

Now do trikonasana again. Do a good trikonasana. Your best, your most perfect pose; but this time with the aim of opening the heart and, from the stable frame of the asana, literally pouring out any beneficial effects. Consciously gift any good that arises from your practice of trikonasana to a higher and nobler universal principle. Be in the pose from the Self, rather than doing it for the self. In this situation, again observe the state of the brain and the state of the heart.

 

What is the difference between the two trikonasanas? What are the conditions of body, mind and breath? From the outside they will look the same. And they both require a certain motivation and ambition in order to occur at all. But notice the contraction or expansion, the hardening or softening of the brain, the heart, the mind, the breath. It’s what happens inside that counts, the unseen, that cannot be judged by anyone but your own inner teacher, your intuitive intelligence, your buddhi.

 

So when we are craving whatever it is, the silver shoes, the likes on Facebook, the perfect house or job, the company of a beloved absent friend, maybe we can take our body-mind back to the mat, go back to the lab, and decide that rather than striving for transitory happiness for the self and its subsequent continuous craving, we’ll work to put another block on each of those pillars, raise the roof, and rest, even for a moment, in the state of blissful contentment that is the Self.

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Separation, Integration, Re-integration

As always it’s been a privilege to take time away from family and daily working life to practise and study yoga.

There are many people I know for whom this would not be possible. There are many more people I know for whom this would be possible and beneficial but is inconceivable.

We are taught early that ‘contribution’ to society is equal to economic activity (earning and spending money, hence the disenfranchised status of full-time parents/home-makers, the disabled and the unemployed).  There is a commonly marketed attitude that to take care of one’s Self, one’s spiritual life, is selfish, inward-looking.

It is inward-looking. This is something that we need to celebrate, and to stop apologising for.

To look inwards takes courage. It demands hard work and dedication. It requires discipline and determination. It is not always pretty and the path is often obscured by illusions and delusions; it’s a journey littered with obstacles and false turns.

If selfless intentions are set clearly and honestly at each stage of the inward journey, then what is discovered during involutionary practice will necessarily and fundamentally effect the evolution of our ‘outer’ life. In fact they become one and the same; they become integrated.

In order for a process of integration to occur there must first be an acknowledgement of the integrated state’s disparate parts. For example the body, the mind and the breath. We can approach each action, for example each asana, from the position of ‘body-major’, ‘breath-major’ or ‘mind-major’. In this way our awareness, our Self, is trained to observe and to exist evenly in every separate aspect of conscious experience.

If a person exists and acts in the world from a place of unshakeable authenticity and spiritual integrity, it can be seen that the benefits of their practice are distributed in the interest of those around them (why and how are important questions for further discussion…). This person will become simultaneously further separated from worldly (materialistic) life and further integrated to a state of awakened consciousness from moment to moment.

It’s time for me personally to re-integrate into life as a householder. From weeks of being often alone or with a friend in yoga, prioritising practice and study, taking time for healthy food and rest to sustain that primary focus, I have recently catapulted into a large family festival; sixteen people in one house, seven of them under twelve; excesses of food and drink; multiple screens, entertainments and conversations; little or no time alone; love, affection, joy and sorrow in high-frequency stereo .

It’s a shift. A beautiful one; one that should and can be made with love and equanimity. From separation to awareness to integration in each situation, in each relationship, in each moment, in each breath.  This is awakened living. This is yoga in action. Wish me luck?!

 

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The Socialist Body

Perhaps the body-mind is a colony of single-cell organisms, drawn together for a brief period of co-operation to facilitate what we refer to as a life. Like a colony of ants, each with its own specific function and purpose, each individual cell works for the societal good of the group.

Inhalation is the unifier of this co-operative. Close your eyes, breathe in, and feel. The in-breath gathers and energises all of the cells of the body, unifying them in the purpose of living. If in-breath is the means of production, any surplus product of the breath (in the form of energy) accrues to the body-mind’s society at large, not to individual cells. Inhalation is parigraha; attachment to life. It is a necessary condition of living.

Exhale. The exhalation reveals and explores space within and between the cells. During exhalation all of our constituent parts are in synchronised motion with the expansion of the universe. Exhalation is aparigraha; non-attachment. It is a necessary condition of dying.

Normally, the exhalation is unconsciously and naturally followed by the next inhalation. In this way the cycle of breath, the cycle of gathering and dispersing, of productivity and distribution, continues; and the health and functionality of the colony is upheld.

If there is no inhalation after exhalation then the separation started by the exhalation, that is the dispersion into space of all the cells of the body, continues indefinitely in alignment with universal expansion. This is the ultimate demise of the colony, and the end of what we refer to as a life. It is the complete and inevitable re-distribution of energetic wealth.

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‘The first step is to get confused’: Pune Class Notes- Prashant (participated) 11.12.19

This was a fascinating lecture, and one that I’ve had to spend some time unpicking. My notes below do not do it justice, but hopefully give a sense of the depth of enquiry in which we are engaged in the practice of yoga, in the practice of living. Life is confusing. Unless confusion is accepted and analysed, it breeds fear and anger. If it is accepted and analysed it becomes curiosity, and curiosity is inherently hopeful. The conditions are set. So do we choose fear and anger or curiosity and hope? I have woken up this morning to what appears to me a confusing and confused political situation in my country. On a national level, confusion has led to fear and anger. We need to awaken our curiosity and fuel our hope. 

Analyse the process.

Observe the unified activity and dynamics of body, mind, breath.

When doing swastikasana for the prayer/invocation, this is done form the heart; so what comes out is humility, purity.

What is the purpose and function of the act? Are the act and purpose compatible? The gesture must fit the purpse.

We have to find out what is the chemistry of humility, of purity.

What is the gravity of the act? For example, when in swastikasana for prayer or for asana, this is not the same thing. If you do a very ‘proper Iyengar yoga’ swastikanasa for invocation then this is not appropriate; it is too hard; the gesture does not fit the purpose.

Consider

Body mind breath getting unified in different proportions.

Now do ‘dorsal major’ swastikasana. Now do ‘lumbar major’ swastikasana.

Strong asana is not appropriate for prayers, as it provides space for the ego to blossom. For example, in sirsasana, the ego is part of your materials hold the pose. It is a condition necessary to the process.

Consider the diagnostic conditions. Then it will be pragmatic, not dogmatic. Yoga is not dogmatic.

In the frame of discipline, there is a danger that we become dogmatic. Understand in what proportion discipline should come.

Take for example the proportions in a recipe. Discipline is a masala (mixed ground spice). Nobody ever says that discipline is very very tasty. It is a masala; you have to get the right proportions. Do you put the same amount of discipline into savasana as urdvha danuarasana? It is there, but its manifestation is different. From watery and bitter to thick and sweet. Adjust the ingredients proportionally in body, mind, breath.

Yoga is initiated by process, not actions.

What you do should not be what a teacher says; it should be from your own pragmatism. Beginners, yes, in the beginning they have to follow, but now you have to work from your own pragmatism. Iyengar yoga is not ‘practical’; that makes my blood boil. It is pragmatic.

Those who are the best assessors of others are the worst at assessing themselves.

If people come up to me and say ‘Oh, that was a really wonderful class’, I know that I have been allowing my ego-faculty to bloom and blossom in order that they can have that experience; so I have to go home and do atonement for that ego. This is for your own practice.

I have a letter on my desk. It says ‘Shall I believe my own mind and senses? Or are they misleading me? How can I know?’

Have recourse to the breath. Breath has no karmic background. Body and mind have sin-baggage. Breath has no sin-baggage. Improve your own deservations (from ‘to deserve’). In mundane gravity, only our desirations go up (from ‘to desire’). Breath will never mislead you. But that doesn’t mean that it will always rightly lead you. Breath will not mislead like the body and mind. You don’t have to mistrust the breath. Whatever it is, if it is suitable and right to bring it, then bring it.

Flush out with the exhalation. Do the housekeeping of the hips, pelvis, lower trunk. The associated breath is the housekeeper.

There are assorted conditions according to the person, so standardised processes not work. You need diagnosis and prognosis. We have this idea that yoga is therapy. That it is used as an aid to medicine; then it becomes paramedic. Is this really the application for this noble subject? At the cost of what? Therapeutic yoga at the deprecation of yog.

Empower the student, sooner or later, and sooner rather than later.

Do not just give everyone a standardised medicine, like paracetamol. Give some boost to the student’s awareness; give her ‘alerticity’.

We don’t anaesthetise, we ‘aesthetise’ (anaesthetic from the Greek an = without + aisthesis = feeling, from the root au = to perceive. Here Prashant has removed the negative pro-noun to create aesthesis = to feel, to perceive. Note also the root ‘au’ from the Greek ‘to perceive’ and ‘au’ the root of ‘aum’ in sanskrit, the cosmic vibrations of the divine. Is this coincidence or a cosmic clue??) 

Body, mind, breath are all mingled, unified. In a unified condition there is less chance of cheating.

Don’t call them actions, call them processes. For example, create dorsal processes with ropes in the shoulder blades.

The scheme of the asana is ‘pathi’ (primary centres of congregational worship in South India).

Paryanka = swing

Rotary breathing- the breath will enjoy being on a swing. The breath will be cradled.

Have spontaneous organic processes in place.

Guruji, when I was a child he was doing so much asana, he didn’t really know what yoga is, so he was working working working for perfection in his body and he got so many aches and pains. So he developed a language of ‘press here, press there, roll in, move out’ etc. and would ask us children to do it. He called us children to do the ‘stampeding’. I did it from the age of nine so I developed some proficiency. A few days before he died he had a lot of pain in his kidneys and he asked me to do it then. I thought that my body weight would be too much so Abhijata came and I held her shoulder and she placed her hands and I showed her what to do, pressing, rolling, and he got a big relief.

 Accupressure in yoga = accurate pressure. A person should exhale with pressure.

Consider what is the activator, what is the activated. Who/what is thebenefactor, who/what the beneficiaries.

Yoga is not a physical culture. We associate wisdom with philosophy. You can find a stupid lawyer, a stupid teacher, a stupid doctor. But a stupid philosopher? This is not compatible.

Yoga gives you the field for equanimity. This is authentic. Without that field it is pseudo-equanimity.

Consider all possible manifestations of the relationship between

Doer

Doing                 In body, mind, breath

Done

For example, the body can be the doer, the mind the doing, the breath done; or the mind the doer, the breath doing, the body done etc etc. In asana, explore all of these conditions.

We are in the clamour of ‘I am doing’. Classical yoga quietens the clamour. Then you have a philosophy within you.

Not ENJOY but JOY-n (joy to the power n)

What is the definition of yoga in the Bhagavad Gita? We usually look to the definition of karma yoga (yoga of action). But where is the definition of yog? (root of yoga)

The Bhagavad Gita says: ‘When the mind is restrained by the means of yoga’

Being oneself, with oneself, in oneself, one gets joy.

The bliss factor is central to spirituality. There are more than one way to create restraint in the mind and access the bliss factor; for example with psycho-neural technology, with herbs, with drugs. The Bhagavad Gita knew this, and therefore clearly defines the means of restraint as yoga.

Being oneself, in oneself, with oneself leads to joy.

Consider the portal of vijnana kriya (cleansing through knowledge/discernment). In this case we have to ask:

What am I knowing?

Who is knowing?

What/who is known?

Make the known the knower. Make the known the knowing. This is all subjective and integral to you. The pronoun ‘I’ will become knower. The pronoun ‘I’ will become knowing. The pronoun ‘I’ will become known.

The subjective entity has a trichotomy (e.g. knower, knowing, known; doer, doing, done; body, mind, breath).

Epistomology (the theory of knowledge) is instrumental in entities through which knowledge can be raised up (for example body, mind, breath).

The first step is to get confused. In children we call it curiosity; in adults we call it confusion.

Philosophise your conduct in life.

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Pune Class Notes – Prashant (participated) 10.12.19

Being taught by Prashant Iyengar this last week or so has been a revelation of kinds. He is a philosopher of the truest colours. As a linguist and etymologist he often ‘invents’ word structures to express the truth at the core of meaning. His craft as a teacher is to bring the student by degrees and via many circuitous, wondrous, mind-bending routes to an experiential understanding of his subject. His discourses, for me (a lay beginner), are full of sudden flashes of light, connected by obscurer passages that it will take many long years of study and practice to discover. The flashes are luminescent; jewel-drops of experiential wisdom. There are so many more golden nuggets waiting to be picked up from those darker passageways. I’ll continue through the labyrinth and see.  In Pune: go to Raya to bend your body (and self); go to Prashant to bend your mind (and self). Breath is the unifier.

The notes below are paraphrased and necessarily represent my subjective understanding of what was taught. Much was missed. These are the drops that landed.

People often distinguish between theory and practice. This is theory OF practice.

 

We are engaged in physical, mental, sensory, ‘breathly’ activities. So how breathly are you in yoga?

 

Our mind, our body, has enormous influences on us (meaning, the inner Self).

 

Mind and body are always in relation to gravity, but not so the breath.

 

The body and mind can be feminine or masculine, but the breath is non-gendered.

 

The body and mind can be young or old, but the breath is ageless.

 

Breath is transcendent. It is the ally of all aspects of embodiment, and can unify them all.

 

For example, when a sage person is around, we forget all the pettiness and discriminations. Division comes from pettiness. But you don’t get that when a saint is around. The breath is like a saint that comes in. So yoga takes recourse to the breath. The breath is a godly being that comes and goes.

 

If the breath is there, what’s yours is yours. When breath departs never to return, so does what’s yours (body, mind, psyche, consciousness etc etc). You and yours separate, and all the ‘yours’ disintegrates. Are the potentials of the breath potentialized?

 

Be ‘breathonomous’ not ‘autonomous’.

 

Have an experimental practice.

 

Take narration. There is no narration in the experience of tasting honey or smelling a rose. The should be no narration with the breath.

 

Yoga is not something to enjoy. This is pseudo-yoga. Yoga is not the narrative of ‘I feel well’. This is not classical yoga. This is consumer yoga. Yoga should give you neutrality; transcendence. Breath is not supposed to be gratifying. It exists in a trans-empirical condition; trans-worldly, trans-psychological etc etc.

 

Develop superior narratives. Question yourself constantly. Be the assessor within you.

 

Remember this; that words have meaning, and that can be confusing.

What is the meaning of extension, contraction etc?

For example in janu sirsasana the abdomen is extended, elongated, stretched.

Also in supta virasana, the abdomen is extended, elongated, stretched.

The words are the same, but the why and how are different.

Understand the illusion described by words. Therefore, develop narration.

 

Teachers; do not parrot. My father said to me, do not be a puppet.

 

Classify data, select, then apply.

 

Experiment with the initiation of the breath. For example, a ‘hippy’ inhalation (initiated in the hips/pelvis).

 

Try kumbhaka after inhalation. Are you holding the breath from the head?

Now do it again; but hold the breath from the hips and pelvis, not from the head. Notice how then the brain becomes quiet.

 

The lower trunk is a major initialiser.

 

Consider mobility and immobility. For example, a tree-trunk seems immobile. It is not moveable; but something inside the trunk is moving.

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Calling Women

 

In towns and cities everywhere

The fathers yawn, the children stare

And wonder ‘Why did mummy go?

Will she be here if we get snow?

She’ll not be there to make my tea,

To make things fair for she, for he.

Some time at least she’ll be away

And I will have to go and play

With aunty, uncle, cousin, friend,

Granny, gramps, a neighbour, send

Her messages and miss her cuddles,

Look to dad to sort our muddles’.

Well done, children. Don’t be glum.

The world is out there for your mum.

The more she sees, the more she does,

The more she accesses the buzz

Of living with wide open eyes,

Of saying ‘yes’ to each surprise,

Inhabiting her body-mind

And breathing deep with wo/man-kind,

The more when home, you’ll see, she will

Have joyful heart and sharpened skill.

Love’s intimate caress is writ

On body, soul, and there will sit

In witness to her gratitude

That other people got your food.

Other people found your shoes,

The other things you always lose,

Gave a kiss and cheered you on

In order that she could be gone.

So thank you children, and the rest,

It’s really great, we are so blessed.

Calling women: play away

Then cherish more the every-day.

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Brahmacharya: channelling desire, building community

I went with a friend to find an ayurvedic doctor today, for a consultation and massage. We got lost. When we finally found the address it turned out he had moved.  A young woman came out on the front porch of the neighbouring apartment. ‘Are you from the Iyengar Institute?’ she asked. ‘Oh yes, I am a student there myself. Come, come.’

She invited us into her home and after helping us locate the doctor’s contact details told us that she had been a student at the Institute for about three years. ‘It is so good’, she said. ‘My teacher is Kishore. I have a sedentary job, designing embroidery patterns, always sitting, so twice a week when I am doing yoga it is good for that. But it is a lot of practice. Not just in class, but outside also.

Before, we thought that it was just for rich people and foreigners. We didn’t realise that local people could go there, because the foreigners came to see Guruji, and we thought it must be a lot of money, not for the likes of us. But then someone told us no, you can go there and it is not too much to pay. So we went. Everything there is so nicely done. The building is so beautiful. Look, I have this’. She produced from a large brown envelope a picture of BKS Iyengar; smiling, twinkling, piercing.  ‘He was so old but look how beautifully he kept himself’, she indicates his legendary bushy white eyebrows, trimmed neatly to reveal that gaze.

‘He did such a lot, bringing yoga across India and the whole world’, she continues. ‘He could have gone and settled in America, in Europe, anywhere, and have a lot of money, a big house. So many universities in America offered him so much money to come there. But he stayed here in Pune and taught yoga, and helped so many people.’

When the admissions for the new year’s class enrolments at RIMYI open in June, there are queues of local people from across the city wrapped twice around the block. They pay what generally seems to be regarded as an affordable termly fee and are allocated two classes per week.

BKS Iyengar was offered the untold glamour and riches of the world. For anyone, and especially for a boy from a poor village who has known real hunger, that must have represented a considerable temptation. Such was his sadhana (spiritual practice) that he stayed home on his mat, creating a local yoga community which quickly spread across the globe.

Brahmacharya is often mis-translated as just celibacy. Only in certain cases does its practice manifest as life-long renunciation of sexual activity. More broadly, it refers to the practice of continence; of the mindful control of sensuality, not its repression. Every time that life throws up a temptation, (and they will be thrown up in the most unexpected places and guises), we have a choice. We can decide to run with the desires of the senses, which will soon run out of fuel, or to re-channel the energy of that desire towards building a strong and stable community of body, breath and mind.

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