Gems of the Gita: Oct. 18th at Rising Lotus in Sherman Oaks

Gems of the Bhagavad Gita Revealed Thru Asana

An afternoon of twists, technique, and the timeless art of yoga

lisa-walford-gems-of-the-gita-oct-18-rising-lotusYoga is skill in action, Yoga is evenness of mind. These gems encapsulate yoga practice as it is expressed in the poetic and timeless verses of the Gita. Parvirtta Trikonasana, along with other twists, can be used to release pain the back, and to help with gastric/abdominal conditions and much more. Intention, direction and process help build an understanding of skillful means while experience and practice deepen insight and equanimity. Lisa will invoke additional slokas from the Gita during the workshop.

All levels are welcome.
To register for this workshop, click here.
For more information: please email, call 818.990.0282, or visit

Date: Sun Oct 18, 2015, 1pm to 3pm
Location: Rising Lotus Yoga
14148 Magnolia Blvd. (Google Maps)
Sherman Oaks CA 91423
Download the PDF of the workshop flyer here.

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Birjoo Metha on working with the elements

Birjoo-in-HK-headshot-254x300When I first heard that Birjoo Mehta was going to dedicate a whole conference to working with the elements, I was elated.  Along with many others, I  am fascinated with the idea of how the element of water, air, earth or fire could augment or deepen my practice. I am equally aware of how the yoga marketplace can create generic templates of these ideas. New teachers seeking the latest popular or “authentic” experience often mimic the words without having the years of practice or the benefit of a good teacher to initiate them through the layers of perception that support the “deep” experience. So I was both excited and interested in how he would introduce this subtle body level of practice.

Birjoo began referring to the third pada of the Yoga Sutras, and said that “when the gross body perceives the form of the gross, it can perceive the subtle. When you have transcended the elements, you will go from the gross to the subtle body.” He dove right into the layering of perception inherent in the Samkhya system, and the backbone of the Yoga Sutras. “When you have transcended the senses, you will have a sense of the self that is not limited to the senses.”

Many yoga practitioners study the first two chapters of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which are rich with techniques to improve one’s general life style and reactivity, but somewhat general on specifics. Few study the “vinyasa,” or step by step process of internal transformation delineated in the third chapter. This is where Birjoo began his explanation of how and why we would work with the elements. But he started with the big picture. I have always admired Birjoo’s ability to put everything into a context that makes sense to me!

When the mind is involved with mundane things, you do not see the mind. When mind is involved with samvritti the mind is calm. Samvritti is awareness of consciousness not moving. – Birjoo’s commentary on Sutra III.9

The third pada begins by explaining the last three  of the eight limbs in Ashtanga yoga, considered the internal limbs, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. Together, these three are called Samvritti. Here Birjoo referred to the mind, how to tame the wild and reckless mind, how to transform a personal myth of identity and separation, the duality of seeing things as separate, into a quiet mental state. These stages and process are called Parinamah, transformation.

The senses overpower our perception, so that we think that everything we experience is what is. But the senses are only one perspective. The Gita and the Sutras say that the purpose of yoga is to conquer the senses, rather than be ruled by the senses. Observing the breath, transcending the breath, observing the mind, transcending the mind, observe consciousness, transcend the consciousness.

It is the senses which are cheating us into feeling that we are what we are. My stomach does not say that it is the stomach, nor the heart, they are part of an eco-system. Similarly, the world is an eco-system, when there is suffering in the transcendent ecosystem, there is unhappiness. When there is a sense of only presence, there is happiness. When something is taken away from us, we are unhappy, there are pieces. – Birjoo

I am reminded of how Guruji would say that our mind is in many pieces and our body is in one piece, like a block. His body is in many pieces, connecting, coordinating, but his mind is absorbed and quiet. He would focus so deeply that he could spread his awareness evenly throughout his body and breath. The fickle mind became steady. For us, the senses are in a constant state of transition, from seeing to feeling to interpreting to judging or reacting, ad infinitum. How do we invoke presence, a steady stream of awareness?

By samyama on the elements – their mass, forms, subtlety, conjunction and purposes, the yogi becomes Lord over them all. – Light on Yoga Sutras – Sutra III.45

Through Samyama  upon the purpose of the conjunction of the process of knowing, the ego, and nature, there is mastery over the senses. – Light on Yoga Sutras – Sutra III.48

Birjoo described the attributes or essence of each element, the Tanmatres. It is through their qualities that we will come to understand their inherent nature, their eco system, and how they relate to one another. A wall is hard, he explained, if we hit it with our hand, we recognize sturdy. For the yogi, the quality is a subjective one; it comes from a feeling of the trait. So the hard wall is solid, it is of the earth element. When  I am feeling heavy, frozen, unchanging, it is a sentiment, a feeling. Firmness, stability, or sluggishness, this is the earth element.

Water reflects volume, we can balance. When the body is energizing, that is the element of fire. A light, spacious feeling: air. And when you feel space in the joints, that is ether. If the space becomes narrow, the ether trait is absent, and when it is broad, ether is present. – Birjoo

Through our practice we are familiar with the feeling of hugging a muscle to the bone, or gripping the bone. Akin to submerging a jar in a container of water, the water will touch the jar equally everywhere. We are to hug the muscle to the bone equally, back, front, and on the sides. When the container of water is tipped, the water will maintain its level with gravity, it always finds balance. So we should with the water element.

To illustrate the earth and water element, we began in Adho Mukha Svanasana. When the heels make contact with the ground, the pose is much more stable. If our heels could not touch, Birjoo encouraged us to place support beneath them. The bones are of the element of earth. The muscles would then envelope the bones, hug them, hold them. It is interesting to note a singular instruction in Light on Yoga for Tadasana, to lift the back thighs. Generally, we think of the hamstrings as flexing the leg, they are not really an effective part of a straight leg. By hugging the muscle to the bone, contracting/lifting the back thigh, it pulls the bone into the center of the thigh, akin to the jar in water. We can do the same thing with the arms in standing poses, even if they are not in contact with the ground.  Make them firm, extend through the finger joints, the bones, Birjoo said. The muscles followed suit.

Birjoo worked quite extensively with the fire element. Reminding us that the Samana Vayu abides in the abdominal area and is responsible for stoking the internal flame, Birjoo guided us through a coordination of instructions based on using the breath, the abdomen and the thoracic spine.  Over time I am sure that these instructions will  surface for you in some class or workshop. It is not my intention to “teach” what Birjoo presented, rather to introduce the foundation. There is no substitute to working with a good teacher!

Fire does not have a shape, it spreads. It does not spread uniformly. Consciousness will come here and there, unconnected. When things are going slowly, you need a spark. Sometimes, we might say that we are sluggish, but the attributes of the element of fire can ignite you, so you invoke the fire. – Birjoo

Fire can make the nerves “scratchy”, Birjoo said. As it is indiscriminate, it needs to be contained by the element of air. To snuff out a candle flame we remove the oxygen with a lid, or candle snuffer. We would not want to bring a hot element into the brain. He proceeded to guide us to the shoulders, the armpit and back shoulder area. You make a clamp of the armpits to contain the fire, the back shoulders move to the front and the front to the back. This instruction felt like a clamp, simple, firm, effective.

The element of ether creates equanimity, non-attachment, Birjoo said. By broadening the collarbones, the outermost corner of the collarbones, I felt a depth and quietness in my throat I rarely feel. Sirsasana felt completely different with this single instruction. In fact, one beauty of Birjoo’s teaching was the simplicity of presentation. This shift of emphasis felt like a domino effect, each element built upon and was integrated into each other quality.

By self-control on the changes that the sense-organs endure when contacting objects, and on the power of the sense of identity, and of the influence of the attributes, and the experience all these produce- one masters the senses. – Light on Yoga Sutras – Sutra III.46

In pranayama, Birjoo reminded us that the chest must remain undisturbed.  Samvritta is the awareness of consciousness not moving. The impressions fed to us by the sense organs will give rise to thoughts, vrittis. When there is a reduction of these impressions, the mind becomes clear.

Children are the same, babies, they are universal, as we grow we build personality, character, attributes, arising, what makes me and you different. The water freezes, the mind and ego build. With practice, diffusing consciousness, we become universal again, water transforms to steam, which permeates everywhere. When all the elements are balanced, we are submerged in the water, the water outside the bottle and the water inside the bottle are the same, and consciousness is the same everywhere. When you are completely balanced, you will expand to become the ocean. – Birjoo

There is so much more to say, but I have probably saturated you enough for one post! Many students and teachers attended the conference, and we will each represent this material through our own lens. Another post will follow soon. Much love, practice, and share!

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Guru Tattva, Birjoo Mehta on yoga after Guruji

Birjoo-in-HK-headshot-254x300I recently returned from an inspiring four day conference with Birjoo Mehta in San Diego. I hope to draft several posts to share his delightful work.

The teacher-student relationship can be an intimate and demanding one, especially when the two parties herald from different cultures. Birjoo Mehta studied with Guruji, Shree BKS Iyengar, since he was a young child. Now, in the first day of his conference on the Maha Bhutas, he began by contextualizing his teaching with a classic metaphor. We can no longer study at the feet of our guru, , but we can invoke the light of his teachings. Just as the sun illumines everything around it, the integrity of Guruji’s practice paved an approach to self-study that sweeps the cobwebs out of the most remote corners of the body and mind. It is now for us to internalize these teachings and call on the Guru Tattva within each of us.

Guru is like the sun, when he is around, all of us can benefit from his benevolence. Guru is one who makes the darkness light. Guru Tattva, essence of Guru, we see the light through the benevolence of the Guru. For we cannot see the essence of the Guru, we see his light through his teachings. The moon does not have the essence of the Guru, for the moon is a reflector. We can bask in the glory of his moon, his teachings, the reflection, or we can go to the stars and study through the essence of the Guru Tattva.  – Birjoo Mehta

Let me explain. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is based on a  cosmology rooted in the Samkhya system. One of six principal Darshanas, Samkhya is a philosophical interpretation of the laws of nature, the root of suffering, and the means to overcome suffering. Tattva literally means a “thatness”, truth, or principal. I might interpret/view the Tattvas as the yogic parallel to our modern day physics, except that the root of everything in Samkhya is consciousness. Hence, the Tattvas evolve from an all-encompassing Knowing through the most subtle form of mind out into the world of earth, water, fire, air and either that we then see, hear, taste, feel  and smell through our sense organs. Classically, there are 25 Tattvas. Birjoo poetically suggested a 26th, the Guru Tattva. How appropriate!

After Guruji’s passing, many people asked what would happen to the Iyengar lineage, the teachings, and who would take the helm. Geetaji, Prashanti, and Abhijata, the immediate members of the family well known to most of us, already teach amazingly insightful classes, meditations and wisdom practices. Those of us embedded in the Iyengar system have no doubt that the study will evolve. But of course, when the pole star disappears, there is a period of soul searching. Birjoo encapsulated these times with his words and teachings.

What an image: his suggestingthat we should now reach to the stars, each our own pole star, and invoke the essence of the Guru Tattva Then, he introduced one of my favorite slokas from the Bhagavad Gita:

What is night for the ordinary person is day for the yogi, and what is day for the ordinary person is night for the yogi.  – BG 2.69

As noted above, we experience reality through our senses of perception, and through the mind that interprets and relates everything to our internally created sense of order. This sloka implies that our “ordinary” reality is like night, or ignorance, to one who is truly awakened. It is even difficult for me to imagine what this awakened state might be like, much akin to explaining the smell or color of a rose to one who can neither smell nor see. Metaphors abound. The awakened state is akin to being the ocean rather than a drop in the ocean, or to how salt dissolves in water. The salt and water merge completely into an undifferentiated whole. This is the insight of the awakened person. This transcendence is the light of the Guru Tattva.

My take away from Birjoo’s opening welcome was to remember that Yoga is about the story of the soul. While we may practice to reduce the pain in our back, to build community, or to appease emotional suffering, ultimately Yoga is a path to freeing ourselves of all the distractions that shield us from the glory of being truly alive. I have no words to even point to what that means, for I am still in the Ru (darkness) of appearances and invoke the Guru Tattva in my daily life. Jai Guruji!

Launching the conference with this explanation, Birjoo was free to introduce his experience with the Maha Bhutas -the elements of earth, water, fire, air and space. Guruji rarely referred to the bhutas in practice, as he felt that we needed to first master how our limbs and breath worked. Birjoo relied on his own practice and a few pointers that Guruji gave in 1995 to develop his material.  The conference was truly amazing, and perhaps even more so as it showed how a senior teacher has called forth the light of the Guru as the “remover of darkness” moves on. May we all practice with such integrity, and become lights unto one another.

Most Iyengar teachers begin their classes with the invocation to Patanjali. Sometimes I add that we give thanks for the wisdom in the Yoga Sutras, and for anything and anyone who brings some insight into our lives. These are small Guru Tattvas. Those who were not graced to have known Guruji personally can study the reflection of his light through his works and his words, and can embrace every insight that remove darkness, the Guru Tattva.

My next post will explore how Birjoo delineated the story of the body, the sensations and feelings, and the greater story of the soul.

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June 21st is International Yoga Day

The Summer solstice is a fitting foundation for a celebration of yoga. Consider the Gayatri Mantra, which originally accompanied the dawn practice of Surya Namaskar. This morning ritual used the sun to symbolize the light within each individual, and the process to awaken and to live in the values of that light. As the light of the sun shines unconditionally, so the practice of yoga helps us remove the veils of habit patterns that withhold the brilliance of the deep self. Now yoga will be recognized internationally.

Here’s a video of how a world-record 45,000 Indians celebrated in New Delhi.

Below is the sequence that Geeta Iyengar suggested we practice wherever we may find ourselves. It is an excellent sequence. Please feel free to print it and practice it frequently.

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Pranayama Workshops at Yogis Anonymous: Sun. Jan. 11th & 18th, 8:30am

Lisa parvati hill
Prana, the resonance that we all share and that manifests in and around us as vitality, sustains us best when we consciously experience and explore its many nuances. How do we befriend it? How can we enhance it? What do we do to undermine this fundamental source of health?

Join me in welcoming the New Year with two pranayama workshops at Yogis Anonymous. These will be videotaped and useful to begin a practice or deepen a current one. Here are the dates:

Sun. Jan. 11th & 18th, 8:30am – 9:30am
Yogis Anonymous
1221 2nd Street, Santa Monica

For more information, or to sign up, please visit and click on “Workshops”.

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On Turning Sixty

lisa-headshot-for-passport-72-dpiInevitable. Initiation. Another cycle, another spiral.

What am I turning toward?

Choice. Choice earned through reflection.

In the Vedas the Ashramas, or stages of life, support an understanding of cycles of growth; integration into community and culture, and the individual process of maturation. From a western perspective, and my work with my father, Dr. Roy Walford, I know that we each have a chronological, a biological, and a psychological age, depending on nature and our lifestyle choices. Turning 60 has been a good time to review my underlying patterns and the chapters of growth in my life. The Ashramas have always helped me group and recognize these patterns.

Here is my abbreviated understanding of the Ashramas, translated through my western yoga mind.

First stage: We imitate, we learn the culture we are born into, and we prepare to stand on our own feet. This phase generally lasts through puberty.

Second stage: We mature, become financially independent, build community, individuate, and cultivate ingenuity. This stage may roll through our forties and even fifties, but generally we have a sense of where we stand and what we want to do by the time we reach the late thirties.

Third stage: We teach, either directly or through example, parenting, supervising. We now appreciate and enjoy life’s little pleasures, reflect upon the choices made that have created the life we now lead, and embrace the values that will sustain us moving forward. I find myself leaning into gratitude, empathy, benevolence and patience. This phase wraps itself around the fifties and sixties, I see myself resting in the middle of this.

Fourth stage: We have the choice to renounce rules, to turn completely toward the eternal and most intimate questions of the value of living. I hope, when I do reach the later part of this stage, that I am able to breathe my last as I did my first, with innocence.

Chronologically, I may have turned sixty, but physically I have almost the same stamina that I had in my forties. I find that I shake a little in the more strenuous yoga poses, and I’m able to hold inversions for much longer then when I was younger. There are always trade-offs.

The most unexpected part of turning sixty is what happened the day before. I realized, and kept saying to myself, “this is the last day that I can say that I am under sixty.” Yes, it is a big deal, and a better deal moving forward! Jai Ho!

Here’s a short video of my doing 54 backbends (half of the sacred 108) on my 60th birthday, plus a little surprise at the end:

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Casey Health Institute Iyengar Yoga TTP

chi-logoIntegrated health care centers are a rapidly emerging model to compliment traditional medical treatment. Major universities and hospitals are incorporating a holistic approach to wellness, including yoga.

The Casey Health Institute will offer an Iyengar teacher training program and currently features a fully equipped Iyengar studio to serve its patients. Join myself, Kathleen Pringle, Marla Apt and John Schumacher for this exciting program!

For more information, visit

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My Reflections After 30 Years of Practice

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat does it mean to live with commitment to the Yaugika mind while engaged as a householder in the modern world? The universal principles listed in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali invite us to live with respect, to live simply, and to dedicate our thoughts, words and deeds to the reflective process of living with integrity. Most cultures embrace some version of these noble qualities, notably through religious programs, spiritual psychology, or through self help programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Harmony, honesty, respect, continence and gratitude are the five pillars of Yama (my translation of the Yoga Sutras II.42). Yamas are the great mighty universal vows unconditioned by place, time or class. (BKS Iyengar’s Yoga Sutras II.43). Ethical and moral principals are a beginning, but where does a sincere Sadhaka’s (student’s) mind gravitate?

While some philosophers claim that we are imperfect and that our process is to refine and purify who we are and how we live, others claim that we are perfect and that we have forgotten, or are somehow ignorant of our true nature, as in Sutra I.3: Then the Seer dwells in his own true splendor. I believe that to gain any real insight into these questions, we must cultivate the Yaugika mind, a sober, clear, conscientious, curious, contemplative mind. Otherwise these questions remain philosophical at best, or dogmatic at their worst.

The Yoga Sutras are a potent resource and practical guide to cultivate the Yaugika mind. They suggest that we have forgotten and are ignorant of an authentic Self, a Self free from judgement and reactivity. Furthermore, they refer to an experience that for many of us seems very abstract, romanticized, or unattainable, Samadhi. Birjoo Mehta referred to a sloka in the Bhagavad Gita:

That which is night to the ordinary human being is day to the wise, and that In which the ordinary human being stays awake is like night to the one who sees. (Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita 2.69).

This sloka has always seemed very poetic, obtuse, and important. What you and I call “day” and how we live our ordinary lives is superficial and oriented around gratification or fear, attraction or aversion (kleshas) (see Sutra II.2). These are very basic and instinctive feelings. We do not experience a deeper reality, a more immediate reality free from our habit patterns and filters. The mystic and sage perceives the world around from a quiet, pure, and direct place.

To live authentically means to perceive the activities around us with an innocent eye, not a naive eye, or a reactive habit oriented mind. We all have “moments” of clarity, of being completely present in the moment. This state, the Sutras infer, is akin to a jewel that reflects back the things around it; yet by its nature is pure:

The yogi realizes that the known, the instrument of knowing and the knower are himself, the Seer. Like a pure transparent jewel, he reflects an unsullied purity. -Yoga Sutras I.41

Is this even possible for us, we who juggle responsibilities of families, jobs, and the aspirations and fears that conflict and absorb us? Geetaji Iyengar said that first we must learn the asanas so that we are sensitive for Savasana, and Savasana will lead to Pranayama. We tame the organs of action, one of which, in yoga psychology, is the mind. Taming the mind takes even longer then opening the shoulders or learning to drop backwards from Sirsasana, for there are many hindrances.

The obstacles are disease, inertia, doubt, heedlessness, laziness, indiscipline of the senses, erroneous views, lack of perseverance and backsliding.  -Yoga Sutras I.30

We have probably all experienced each of these in our asana practice and life.

The process of combing the mind for snarls and tangles; of filtering thoughts for doubt, jealously, fear, anger, and of doing inventory can itself can be deeply satisfying, for it becomes the matrix for everything else. Adherence to a single minded effort prevents the impediments (Sutra I.32). We can navigate our reactions and samskaras by first starting  to recognize the qualities of the mind and bravely looking into that mirror that we call one’s self, or is it ego, or is it soul?

Plato’s allegory of the cave, familiar to many, of how we experience life is a perfect match for our discussion. Imagine that we live in a cave, with our back to the light. All that we can see are our shadows on the walls of the cave, and we believe that this is all that there is. We don’t realize that there is a source of light behind us. We cannot turn directly toward the source of light, for it is the essence of everything. Our growth comes by turning toward the shadows to understand that they are but shadows, and turning toward the obstacles to recognize them as such. And, as we turn toward the shadows,  the thoughts, feelings, impulses and desires that send our minds and hearts reeling and that invite doubt, we know that, as the Bhagavad Gita says, The mind is the friend of one who has conquered it. But for the one who hasn’t done so, the mind is his foe. -BG 6.6

In Geetaji’s Q & A session, she said “If there are glasses that will let me see inside, I will go there!” There are no short cuts. “Will power and determination is needed” she said, “but when rigidity happens, you have embraced the quantity and not the quality. You must look at yourself and see if you did the pose properly, or if you are running away. You must be responsive.” We may begin with the training wheels of a self reflective process. As we cultivate skill in action and evenness of thought, a Yaugika mind creates harmony around us and humbleness and faith in the journey.

I cannot end this without pranams to Hrdaye, the heart. In the third chapter of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali tells us that by meditating on and with the heart, we will come to know the seat of consciousness. May I come to know the heart of hearts..

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Body Thy Shrine, Yoga Thy Light

What is it about taking a class with Guruji or Geetaji that makes us feel so good? Why did
Guruji say that his body is a bow, his asanas are the arrow, and the soul is the target? Why did Guruji say that his body is a temple? So began Birjoo Mehta’s presentation on the nature of consciousness.

When we begin class with the invocation, he explained, we are asking for divinity to enter Samadhithe body. And what does this mean exactly? How can we possibly know when divinity enters the body? The Yoga Sutras tell us that we can know something that is true through direct experience, through inference, and through a person whose word can be relied on (Light on Yoga Sutras, I.7).  Our direct experience of the mind has many facets and characteristics. Geetaji spoke of this earlier in the week. Perhaps a sense of divinity, or connecting to something vast comes when we are quiet, tranquil. Indeed, after the Om in the invocation, there is a moment of deep quiet. This, Birjoo suggested, comes when we can spread awareness, or when awareness spreads throughout the body. The body is the instrument, the bow.

Inference is a learned faculty. Geetaji had said that a baby is naïve. She used the analogy of how a baby learns, and compared this to how we generally approach our practice through the past, rather than through being present in the moment. When young children learn how to add four and three, the parent will put four bananas in one pile and three in the other. This direct vision teaches the child. We have already abstracted our experience into a symbol and know that four added to three make seven. We are not experiencing directly.

Birjoo is quite logical in his explanations, and he enjoys weaving the web of understanding. In his “other” life, he is a VP in the Tata Corporation, a major force in India. He kept asking us, are you getting this? “I can’t hear you!” He would say. “Yes” we echoed. Of course many in the crowd probably had trouble hearing as they are not accustomed to the Indian tonality and accent. In any case, his talk mirrored his premise; we are not what we think we are, we are what we are not. This is not easy stuff! He then introduced cutting edge research.

Scientists think that they can measure consciousness with EEG scans that monitor neural activity in the brain. They state that this indicates when a person is conscious. Birjoo, however, said that these doctors were monitoring the Vrttis – movements in the mind- and not consciousness.

In the Scientist, a peer reviewed journal, I found the following: “scientists have found evidence to support the “integrated-information theory,” which holds that consciousness relies on communication between different brain areas, and fades as that communication breaks down. EEG studies have also revealed distinctive brain wave patterns that signal when consciousness is lost and regained.” “I think understanding consciousness itself is going to help us find successful [measurement] approaches that are universally applicable,” said a doctor Pearce. (Measuring Consciousness, April, 2013).

The way Birjoo dismantled this familiar rant between doctors and many of us with a spiritual orientation of what is consciousness – is it biological or is it something else – was beautiful. Of course this discussion may never be resolved! But it does lead to discerning discussions.

“Ego is a set of circumstances, things make us feel that we are a particular way. The essence of a person is never what we see or what we identify ourselves by. We identify ourselves by everything else, things around us.” We are not what we think we are, we are what we are not.

“Doing meditation on what you see and what you think you are will break through bondage. If you can navigate the senses of perception, (not master this, as they belong to the element of nature), you then come back to your original state, original nature” Tata Drastuh Svarupe Avasthanam, I.3. Then, the seer dwells in his own true nature. (LOYS)

I love this kind of reflection. It reminds me of the Advaita Vedanta (non-dual) “neti neti”, not this, not that. And, from the Kena Upanishad, May I come to know that from which all else is known.

Guruji taught us how to connect to this that is greater than the ego self, Birjoo said. I remember seeing Guruji being set up for Savasana, a few years ago. He would be weighted down with 50 pound flat weights and stay in Savasana for a half hour. He was connecting with … When he surfaced, no one spoke to him, and he was in another field.

Birjoo concluded by reminding us that Guruji said that when we inhale, it is our individual consciousness that is entering. Geetaji had used a similar image earlier that day in pranayama, to experience the small self as the core reached the extremities in inhalation. Then, in exhalation, Guruji continued, the individual consciousness leaves, and, in this empty state, universal consciousness enters. And this gives us a sense of quietness, a sense of divinity.
The One Power that illumines everything and every one is indivisible. It is the Ear behind the ears, Mind behind the mind, Speech behind speech, Vital Life behind life. The ears cannot hear it; it is what makes the ears hear. The eyes cannot see it; it is what makes the eyes see. You cannot speak about it; it is what makes you speak. The mind cannot imagine it; it is what makes the mind think. It is different from the known; yet it is not unknown. Those who feel they know Him know Him not. Those who know that anything amenable to the senses is not Brahman, they know it best. When it is known as the innermost witness of all cognitions, whether sensation, perception or thought, then it is known. One who knows thus reaches immortality. Kena Upanishad.

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The Yaugika Mind and Parivrtta Parsvakonasana

IMG_1216I have often thought that our greatest gift, as a species, is our ability to adapt. In earlier eras, we adapted through our ingenuity. We learned to use fire, to plant and to harvest, to extend our productivity through the use of electricity, and now our entire social structure is changing with the internet. But in many ways we are still stuck in our most simple patterns.

“Habit is a disease”, Guruji said. Abhijata’s elegant talk on how we hold ourselves back from being fully present dovetails into today’s class. We seek freedom but we cling to bondage, she said. And so began the practice of twists, a true testament to bondage and how to adapt the pose according to the needs and capacity of each individual.

Our very first asana was Parivrtta Trikonasana, and then Parivrtta Parsvakonasana. Geetaji gave us a scolding on our breakfast eating habits, and informed us that we should eat only very light foods, if anything at all, before practice. Of course, this would have been a welcome warning the day before we found ourselves flushing the liver and squeezing the intestines!

Fascinating how our system is based on adaptation. For beginners we emphasize one thing. We adapt and modify according to each person’s capacity, for stiff people, for those who get overheated, for someone with an injury or illness. Iyengar Yoga truly represents the best of service to man/woman kind, for, as teachers, we seek to give respite to beginners and to prod serious students into an all-encompassing life transformative commitment to the highest standards possible; integrity, honesty, and inner growth. The system is like a multi-faceted crystal which reflects back whatever each person needs.

Geetaji explained that beginners will feel stuck and heavy in these twists. You must get them to decentralize, to spread their attention everywhere, to lift the arm, to press the back foot, to straighten the legs. Otherwise their mind will get stuck, fixed and heavy. She told us that in the beginning we should not emphasize the twist. Once beginners can spread their attention, next the focus should go to aligning the spine, the tailbone and the crown of the head. She took us into Parsvottanasana as a precursor for Parivrtta Trikonasana. She taught the stages of engagement for Parivrtta Parsvakonasana in such a logical manner that, by the fourth attempt, I found myself wrapped around the leg with the back foot firmly planted and able to breathe normally. This pose has always been a challenge for me, as for many others! And while it will be better to learn this progression from someone who was here, I can summarize the stages.

First she said that we are heavy on the front leg, and that we should back the arm way up and connect the back hip with the back leg and foot. We should not go all the way down to the floor with the front arm. The back foot should stay down and the back thigh lifting up toward the ceiling. When I did this, I could breath, but the pose did not look much like the final pose. No matter. Next we took the back knee to the floor and the arm to the outside of the front leg, into a tight grip. While straightening the back leg and drawing the hip back, we were to draw the front ribs (the ones sitting on the front leg) toward the spine (as in Bharadvajasana). This seemed to even out the back, although I was not aware of how much I had been drawing the kidney in until she pointed it out. Gulnaz – a beautiful practitioner and teacher at RIYMI – demonstrated and worked very hard to realize what Geetaji was teaching. While this is still a challenging pose, Geetaji showed how we can modify and adapt each phase of a pose to slowly cajole the body into yielding, extending, and to engage the mind so that it would not get stuck and confined.

Guruji once told Abhijata that Yoga is about de conditioning life. In this sequence, Geeta unpacked the confinement so often associated with this twist and de conditioned us from the aversion we, at least I, often have to this pose. To break the mental habits by deconstructing the process and adapting stages that can build an understanding in a pose is one of the true gifts of a great Iyengar teacher. Geetaji is the best.

What is a Yaugika Mind? (Read Guruji’s book Yuagika Manas: Know and Realize the Yogic Mind) Geeta began the morning session with this. Many of you are already wondering when we would begin the asana practice, restless, you have a klista mind. Her sharp eyes read us like open books. Some of you have a mrdu mind, you are yawning and sluggish. And some of you are content to take whatever comes, the aklista mind. Perhaps a very few might have the Ekagrata mind, you are really with me. But this is what we have to study, the Yaugika mind.

Perhaps the next phase in our evolution, if we are to survive, will be to learn to adapt to every situation. For that we have to see with open eyes and true awareness so that we do not approach life from our habitual aversions and preferences. As we adapt, hopefully we adopt the values of the Yaugika mind!

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