Tri Yoga Soho Rocks!

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I’ll be teaching at Tri Yoga Soho, in London, for the first time, this weekend. I look forward to sharing the mystical and wisdom teachings of yoga and asana with those who’ll be joining us. I hope you can join us too!

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Guru Purnima

Sri BKS Iyengar at his 95th birthday celebration, in Pune, India

Sri BKS Iyengar at his 95th birthday celebration, in Pune, India

In India, Guru Purnima is held on the full moon in July/August. This Sunday, July 15th, from 2pm to 4pm, at the Iyengar Yoga Institute, in Los Angeles, we will celebrate with a teacher team taught class dedicated to our teachers Sri BKS Iyengar, Geetaji and Prashantji. For details, please visit
http://www.iyila.org/news/guru-purnima

In Sanskrit, the root “Gu” refers to darkness or ignorance, while “Ru” means the remover of darkness. Our teachers do help us to, through our practice, find ways that we avoid or are addicted to sensations, and ideas of the way that we think things should be. Habits are hard to identify, as they have become so familiar. These habits form our experience. The Upanishads say:

Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become your character. Watch your character; for it becomes your destiny.

Through a daily yoga practice we encounter many habits; some of them create a pleasurable experience and others are helpful as they point out fears and ways that we undermine growth. Guruji Iyengar encourages us to cultivate a reflective attitude throughout practice, what he calls reflection in action. This has been a life long practice for me, and one that has helped to remove darkness to see the play of insight, endeavor, patience and persistence pay off. I am eternally grateful to my teachers!

 

 

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Surya Namaskara, Friday, 9am @ Yoga Works – Montana

Light has always been a metaphor for inspiration, wisdom and warmth. When the summerbday 2012 solstice, the longest day of the year, approaches, I relish in the qualities the sun invokes in the world around me. In my yoga practice, I visit one cherished way of practicing Surya Namaskara, with invocations. Before each of the twelve cycles, I chant the Salutation, and reflect on the meaning while in the pose. For example, in the first cycle, I feel the contact of my feet and hands on the earth, one of friendship and appreciation for the many ways that the earth flourishes with the light of the sun. We’ll close with the Gayatri Mantra. Join me for this wonderful practice at the Montana Yoga Works at 9am.

Oṁ Mitrāya Namaḥ : Salutations to the friend in all

Oṁ Ravaye Namaḥ : Salutations to the Shining One, pure, bright

Oṁ Sūryāya Namaḥ : Salutations to the Source of Creation, creativity

Oṁ Bhānave Namaḥ : Salutations to the One who Illumines, brings insight

Oṁ Khagaya Namaḥ : Salutations to the One who moves through the sky, time

Oṁ Pūṣṇe Namaḥ : Salutations to the Giver of strength and nourishment

Oṁ Hiraṇyagarbhāya Namaḥ : Salutations to the golden cosmic womb, feminine

Oṁ Marīcaye Namaḥ : Salutations to the rays of the Sun

Oṁ Ādityāya Namaḥ : Salutations to the Infinite Cosmic Mother, caring

Oṁ Savitre Namaḥ : Salutations to the Rising Sun, new beginnings, dawn

Oṁ Arkāya Namaḥ : Salutations to the Source of Life Energy, courage

Oṁ Bhāskarāya Namaḥ : Salutations to the One who leads to Enlightenment

Oṁ Śrī Savitri Surya Narayanaya Namaḥ

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An Introduction to Sutrasana

Yoga, Gita, Breath, Reflection, Relationship, Resolve, Revelation.. 

I will be teaching in London, July 25th to the 27th, and made a short video to support the event. I braved the intimidation of the camera! Please watch the video, and visit http://goo.gl/sxSepx for more information, or to sign up. It will be a super workshop. I look forward to seeing you there!

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Join me in London July 25th to July 27th

LW1Applying the language, insights, and techniques from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita into Asana practice will bring these ideas gems of spiritual insight to light in a practical way.

Asana practice: Through the lens of sacred texts
July 25th – 27th, 2014 (Friday thru Sunday)
Triyoga Soho, London, England (map)

Each of the classes can be taken individually, as well:

Fri. July 25th, 7:45pm – 10:15pm
Prana and Prajna: Experience the vital energy in the body, prana, on an elemental level through breath awareness woven into the postures; and build an internal sensory vocabulary of energy to discern “Prajna” what is best for you. Restorative practice

Sat. July 26th, 10am – 12:30pm
Pramana – Correct perception in standing poses: The technical foundation required to build stability, space, and mobility in these poses and to fine tune them to your unique body sharpens perception.  Please have one year, or more, of practice

Sat. July 26th, 2pm – 4:30pm
Svadhyaha – Study of the self: While Inversions turn our world upside down, they also reinforce internal equilibrium. Learning to balance receptivity with strength is Arjuna’s challenge in the Gita.  For those with a basic headstand practice

Sun. July 27th, 10am – 12.30pm
Kriya and Karma: Arm balances and backward extensions demand fearlessness and courage. Arjuna reflected deeply before engaging, to discern the nature of action itself. You cannot throw yourself into these poses, they require a progressive preparation and understanding to practice effectively.
For intermediate students (beginners are welcome and will be given alternative postures)

Sun. July 27th, 2pm – 4:30pm
Chitta Prasadanam: Twists and forward extensions invite us into a delicious and still spaciousness. The Yoga Sutras give equal attention to what to do and how to undo. Free your practice from striving and grasping to integrate the breath, body and senses into a unified experience.   One year, or more, of practice.

Lisa Walford was an essential influence on my teaching and is a rare jewel in the yoga world as she is masterful in how she sees and understands bodies. I highly recommend attending her workshop to gain a deeper understanding of how to safely and skillfully enjoy your practice and teach others.” – Sarah Powers

Lisa Walford, Intermediate Senior certified Iyengar instructor, has been teaching in the Los Angeles area for thirty years. She is a founding member of Iyengar Yoga Therapeutics, an assessor for the Iyengar Yoga National Association of the US, and has written Master Class articles for Yoga Journal. Her visits to Pune began in 1986.

For more information, or to sign up, Please visit https://www.triyoga.co.uk/book-courses-workshops?x=1&teacher=100000963

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On the means to the end

Class was packed this morning, two days before Guruji’s birthday. It is definitely winter. As we bundled into the mat to mat filled room, often two per mat, the bodies began to melt the early morning chill.

“The means is not the end, in the end we must forsake the means, otherwise they cannot be a means to an end, and the means becomes the end itself.” Prashant began with a thread from a previous class, which he now, he said, would complete. You cannot keep on doing asana to stretch this and lengthen that, is that the end? He continued; “I gave up the means to evolve. In the end, the means cease to have meaning.”18 Maha Kriyas

Prashant has followed his own inner guide and, over the years, he has studied, reflected, applied and evolved his own Sadhana. He explained how his classes had changed since the 80s. “Svasa and vinyasa is yog”; stages, what is the touch for specific conditions, he asked. We should identify the drive, access the place, and evolve. We should not just do the asana, we drive the asana; and the breath is the conditioner, the conductor. In his book, The 18 Maha Kriyas of Yogasana, he explains that the breath is the “most prominent transformer”, air knows no boundaries, it goes everywhere..

Now do Urdhva Hastasana in Tadasana as if you are a beginner, he suggests. How do you evolve from here? How do you create conditions for yog? The connectivity? Let me ask you, who is doing Urdhva Hastasana? Now YOU do Urdhva Hastasana. Who is the you that is doing? The doer, the doing, and the done. What is being done and by whom? For whom? What is actually happening right now? What is the subject and what is the object?

Prashant’s rhetoric reminds me of the difference between engineering and metaphysics. In engineering, everything can be quantified, measured, determined. In metaphysics, the parameters are completely different. Prashant frequently recommends that all yoga students study metaphysics.

How do we build the syntax, the grammar? Most important, what is the right question to ask? He continues, he cajoles, he elaborates. “We all say that Patanjali wrote a thesis on grammar, but it is not the grammar as we think of grammar. In the Vedas, speech is very important, and what is right speech.” The Speech he refers to is the drive, the intent, the focus we carry into the work. Often, it is only through a deep and ongoing process of reflection that we uncover the real question or quest in and beneath our actions and activities.

Now build the connectivites, the connections, the alertness, the sensitivity, the sensibilities, the reflection. Do Parvritta Swatikasana, he continues, for the pelvis. The directions feel familiar be now; exhale more and more deeply, alternately inhale more deeply, sustain the retention for longer and longer.

Watch how the mind changes, watch the breath, you cannot separate the two he exclaims. The sutras refer to the mind, but we cannot work with the mind without acknowledging the impact, the effect of the breath on the mind. The mind does not exist independent of the breath. Prashant continued with an analogy; it is like milk tea. You enjoy your tea in the morning, the combination of water, milk, tea and sugar makes a lovely drink. But each thing independently will not give you the satisfaction of milk tea. You can chew on the tea leaves, taste the sugar cubes, but it is not the same as a cup of hot tea. Together it becomes something different.

Evolve the senses with the breath; take a stronger and longer exhalation and retention, what happens? What is actually happening? I shift my “drive” from doing to feeling, sensing. “What is doing and what is being done to, where, how? What is benefiting, and what or who are the beneficiaries?  Are you sensing, analyzing, reflecting, what part of you is sensing, analyzing, reflecting? “ Sometimes I think that he entreats us the way a zen master would with a koan. I have to stop and be still in a place of not knowing how, or when, or where, or what. And then consider shifting my lens. I know that when I hear wind blowing through trees I open my senses in a particular way, and this same wind blows in my body. Can I open my senses to the internal vayus, the internal breath?

Now, can the breath be done on you, he finally asks….

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American Veda

This past weekend a good friend of mine was traveling through Pune promoting his book, American Veda. I arranged for him to meet Guruji.shri-bks-iyengar-and-philip-goldberg

By way of introduction, the pranams were abundant, as they should be, between two illustrious people. Philip Goldberg has authored nineteen books, the most recent being American Veda. They met for twenty minutes on Saturday, November 30. Guruji was well dressed in a silk kurta, as he waited for his driver to escort him to receive an award later in the afternoon.

Phil: Yoga has become popular all over the world..

BKS: But of course because mental afflictions are the same everywhere.

Guruji noted that many people consider meditation to be separate from yoga. This refrain has been Guruji’s bane for years. People who see only his asana practice label Iyengar yoga as physical yoga. He quoted the 1st sutra of the 2nd pada:

Tapah svadhyaya Isvarapranidhanani kriyayogah II.1

He went on to explain that yoga is a composite of Tapas, purity of the body and Svadyaya, purity of the mind. Both together naturally cultivate Bhakti, Isvarapranidhanani.

“People say that yoga and meditation are different / separate. How can you have meditation without the body? Are you to say that when you are completely concentrated within the body, is this not meditation?” To those of us close to him, we have heard this many times. My experience is that this state may be less accessible for beginners, but for those of us who have practiced for years, the sense of attention, awareness, and presence is a deep state of integration of body, breath and mind. Prashant refers to this state as the embodiment.

As samyama implies integration, Guruji explained, bahir samyama is asana, pranayama and pratiyahara. These are the external limbs of integration. Antara (internal) samyama is the classic synthesis the Yoga Sutras in the third chapter, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi.

Philip mentioned that yoga has become very popular in America, and as a result it has become very commercial. Guruji noted that anything that is popular in America goes all over the world. We (Phil/Lisa) mentioned that with this commercialization yoga has become very diluted. Guruji surprised us and said not to worry, that this is not a problem. Where it is commercial, people will want to make money, and they can make money.

He suggested that there are different levels of commitment in yoga.  Just as it says in the Gita, there is the Sudra (service, often in a household), Vaisyas (business people), Kshatriyas (protectors, warrior class), Brahmins (teachers, highest class), so too, these classes exist in the society of yoga. Some will pursue the subject sincerely and take it to its zenith. (commentary LW: A common metaphor for this system is to compare it to the body: The Brahmans, with their knowledge to direct society, can be compared to the head, eyes, and brain of the social body; kshatriyas, who offer protection, are the arms; the vaishyas, who support society, are the stomach; and the shudras are the legs). Each is an essential part of the whole.

 

 

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Becoming and Knowing

Samadhi7 Am is a most auspicious time at RIYMI. Fifty to one hundred of us sit at the feet of Prashant Iyengar, marveling at his ability to reveal and describe the nature of the universe within each one of us, along with his mischievous wit and vast knowledge of all things sacred and mundane. “The breath is a born genius”, “Yoga is a becoming and the becoming is commensurate with your knowing”. We revel in his metaphors, his instruction with the breath, his understanding of the Gita, the Upanishads and the Yoga Sutras. His classes are like receiving darshan, such is the inspiration woven throughout two hours four days a week.

The focus during the last week of the month is always pranayama. Prashant will have initiated us into his unique way of expanding the practice to encompass the body, breath, senses, mind, and the lens with which to focus, what he calls containments. He might encourage us to breath into the spine, or for the spine, or with the spine; or for the eyeballs; to exhale with the eyeballs, and to experience what happens. He gives no direct physical instructions other than to identify the area of focus, where we are to contain the “kriyas”, or actions.

Prashant’s typical jab is that we are all doers and not real students. He spoke of learning how to study, how to comment on your doing, so that you come to know something directly. The analogy he gave was that it is akin to what happens in a football stadium. Everyone in the crowd will cheer when a touchdown is made, and they will munch and drink. But the commentator has to really study the game, he has to understand the strategies, the players, the dynamics of each play. So, he asked, what do we want to study, what do we really want to know?

He referenced the 13th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, and said that the kshetra, or field, has three possible interpretations. The field can be owned, it can be used, or it can be known. The “field” is often translated as the body, but it can be the Self. Arjuna’s contemplation happened in this symbolic field, the battlefield of the mind, heart and soul. Is this not the real nature of our studies? For can we be really be known by a psychologist, or by a cardiologist? The knowing is on the nature of the core mind, the elemental mind, and not the periphery mind. For how much silent talk distracts us, and do we really walk our talk, or do we talk our walk, he asks? We have to begin to evolve an embodiment; a sense of Self that emanates from a direct and holistic experience. This requires patience and study. “You must learn to integrate, synthesize, and knead together the elements.” And so many elements!

Practice for “You and yours” he suggests. The you that experiences can change depending on where and what you work with. You might work with the senses, or the spine, or the organs. We began with strong exhalations in the abdomen and into the pelvis, to harness the tailbone, the root of the spine.  You might work with the senses. We worked with long and quiet exhalations with the eyeballs, emptying out, and evolving a sense of tranquility in the mind and for the mind. “You and yours” becomes a much more comprehensive experience of the Self.

“The breath is a born genius” “Let the breath be born, let it be done on you.” He spoke of transformers and touchstones, and while he did not mention the breath directly in this discussion, it is an obvious tool for us. He did give several examples. At times the change is for the best. And there are some touchstones that do not change, although they change the thing they touch, like salt and water. When salt is added to water, it becomes salty water. But let the water evaporate, and the salt remains. Wash clothes in clean water, and the clothes will be clean, but the water is now dirty. A teacher may become wealthy, while his students remain stuck, like stones. Change can be uneven. The breath is a master transformer, as it can be conative, cognitive, and sensitive, it can animate, and it can change things dramatically.

“You are not human beings, you are breathing beings.”

This is how we come into Becoming and Knowing..

Friends, it is with utmost humbleness that I offer these threads from my poor memory on Prashant’s class. It is impossible to adequately encapsulate his teachings, genius, and spirit. Hopefully this will inspire you to seek his recordings and visit Pune!

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The opening moments of Prashant’s class

The opening stanzas to Prashantji’s class encapsulate the framework for the experience, or the embodiment, as he calls it, that he points to in his teaching. He begins class with something like this:

Settle down all of you, sit straight all of you, and prepare for prayers. Now strike the pose for the embodiment. Exhale more and more deeply, sometimes inhale more and more deeply. Evolve the breath awareness for the body, for the senses, for the mind. Evolve the sensitivity of the breath on the body, for different conditions, attitudes, and profiles. Breathe into the confinements. Exhale a little more forcefully, and take Uddiyana kriya, the suction to alert the base of the spine. Perhaps now inhale more and more. Evolve the progression, the rhythm. Now for orbital breathing: inhaling up the front body and down the back body. Finally, silently utter OM to sanctify, purify, and create a pious, sober, sublime state within.

While there are many facets to the brilliance of his teaching, the opening moments of class can be a good introduction. The posture and breath are essential; how the senses react and interact and an attitude of learning is equally important. Finally, as with Arjuna focusing so completely on the center of the target that everything else disappeared from view; cultivating a reverent and welcoming heart space creates a gravitation pull throughout the body/mind and in life to pursue a reflective inner life and virtuous outlook. I believe that these are all present in the first few moments of class.

Many of us are familiar with the 1st sloka of the third chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Desa Bandha Cittasya Dharana; to bind the mind with a focal point. Both Guruji, Geetaji and Prashanji implore us to see, to feel, to perceive what actually happens when we enter a pose, when we “strike” the pose, as Prashant says. All of the Iyengar’s teaching undoubtedly points to this same internal experience. Prashant’s rhetoric gives us insight into this inner territory, trajectory, and target.

You do yogasanas for the body, but Yog is for the embodiment. You must learn to integrate, synthesize, and knead together for the embodiment.

PatanjaliWhen we sit for the invocation, we begin in Swatiskasana. Sometimes he will prod us to lift the chest, roll the shoulders back, to sit straight, and relax the tongue, jaw, eyes, and cheeks. We are given just enough pointers to build a physical foundation.

He then shifts our focus to the breath, which plays a major role in all of his work. Inhale more and more deeply, he might suggest, into the confinement of the chest, or heart, or back. It is for us to experience what is true on any particular day. The exhalation is a launching pad for many physical and ultra-physical themes. Exhale more and more deeply, and he might suggest suction, or to squeeze out the breath and to begin Uddiyana kriya or Uddiyana mudra. This classic technique tones and animates physical body and abdominal area while it supports a pranic charge to the entire inner frame. He will then suggest orbital breathing:

Make a suggestion to the breath, and see how it adjusts. When you change the confinement, the autonomous function changes, when you understand this, you can change the voluntary. The breath already has an education. The moment you make a suggestion, the breath itself becomes modified. The breath itself is a teacher.”  (Nov. 15)

Prashant is asking us to initiate this process in the first few moments of class. Rather than wait for the teacher to tell us what to do, he points us to the breath. As attention grows inwardly, the breath will have different dynamics on different days. Study what happens, where does the breath explore, move, penetrate, and what is the effect of this breath on the mind, on the senses, and on the sense of self. Once we study this, how the nature of a natural breath can adjust our being, then we can voluntarily suggest direction and chose from a palette of themes.

When he asks us to evolve the rhythm of our endeavor, he asks us to coordinate the different facets of the internal experience. “You must knead together the components”, he will say. He refers to the body, breath, mind, senses, chakras, prana and kriyas, to name a few. Each layer has its own references with the body and for the body, as well as for the mind and with the mind and breath. For example, in Swatiskasana, the body assumes a position, and it is the senses that register feedback to the mind on the dynamic, the comfort, and the sensations in the position. If you strike the position to enable a deeper exhalation, you might engage the physical shape in a different way than if you were focusing on the inhalation. Likewise, if you wanted to quiet the mind, the body and breath would assume different functions to benefit the mind. You must knead together the components, like making bread, and see how they support or complement one another.

Orbital breathing initiates a harmonious continuum that reinforces an upliftment of the body and the quieting of the mind and sense organs. This rhythmic pattern helps settle the mind and compose oneself for prayers.

“Utter a silent OM to sanctify, purify, and create a neutral, pious, sober, silent, sublime state within.”

And we begin the invocation.

The preparatory phase prior to the invocation sets the Sankalpa or intention for one’s practice. This progression is itself a mini- training, when approached with interest and integrity. While I will endeavor to find my own words for these openings moments of class, I certainly hope to integrate the spirit behind them.

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The Field and the Knower of the Field

Prashant is so well versed with the yoga shastras that the wisdom teachings roll out of him like  lullabies springing from a mother. One day he discussed the thirteenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. This chapter introduces Sankhya philosophy, which is the foundation for the Yoga Sutras. The verses are beautiful, describing the difference between spirit “the Knower of the Field”  and matter “the Field” in eloquent prose.

I shall declare that which has to be known, knowing which, one attains immortality; it is the beginning less supreme Brahman, which is said to be neither existent nor non-existent. (13.13)

Also, this is said to be the light of lights beyond darkness, it is knowledge, the object of knowledge, and that which has to be attained through knowledge. It is seated in the hearts of all. (13.18)

The highest spirit in this body is called the witness, the consenter, the supporter, the experiencer, the Great Lord, and also the Supreme Spirit. (13.23)

Prashant explained that no one really understands what is referred to by the “field”, as everyone reads the Gita in English. In Sanskrit, he said, there are three interpretations. One version is to read the “field” as the body; another as an open field in nature; and the third is as a pilgrimage site, a holy field. This last is what Prashant believes is the real meaning in the Gita.

He explained that we have a completely different attitude if we purchase something then if we are gifted the same thing. This body is a gift; “body thy shrine”, as we so frequently quote Guruji. And yet we often treat our cars better than our bodies. If we spend a lot on money on a car, we make sure that it will run well, we purchase good petrol, we wash and wax it. But we are more careless with the body. We eat for pleasure rather than for health, we practice exercise for a photographic body and to be on the cover of Yoga Journal, rather than to cultivate sanctity and piety.

When we go for worship, we have a completely different attitude then when we go to a supermarket. Can we enter the field of the body as if we are going on a pilgrimage? How do we look, how do we enter this space? How do we go into a posture, how do we prepare? When we enter a shrine, we remove our shoes and often wash our hands. We go through a process to purify, to acknowledge that we are entering a sacred space. We turn the senses inward and tune in for a connection, we attune to the breath for the mind space, and the mind to the breath, for the pilgrimage is to the field inside.

Some perceive the Self in the Self by the Self through meditation, others by the discipline of Sankhya and still others by the yoga of action. (13.25)

He who sees the Supreme Lord existing alike in all beings, not perishing when they perish, truly sees. (13.28) 

Translations are from The Bhagavad Gita, Winthrop Sargeant, State University of New York Press, 1994 Edition

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