Ādhyātmik preparations. “Flush out the mundane practice so that you can evolve.”

III.15: Krama anyatvam parinama anyatve hetuh. Successive sequential changes cause the distinctive changes in the consciousness. –Light on Yoga Sutras (LOYS)

In this session we applied and observed how the succession (krama) and sequence (krama) from different asanas transformed (parinama) Utthita Trikonasana. We went through a series of standing to Trikonasana, Sirsasana to Trikonasana, seated to Trikonasana, twisting and backarches, all punctuated by Utthita Trikonasana. Whatever asana came before gave a different access to the body and conditioned that Trikonasana. Prashant explained that we generally think of sequencing a complete series of poses from one point to another. Rarely, he said, do we practice to see how the application of the unique dynamics that are characteristic in any one asana will educate and condition the body/mind (embodiment). “Practice based on your sensitivity, not what you know or your abilities.  See what is proper, what is correct and what is right. The proper will be the right, so do not assume or impose, rather develop the access, the qualification and the perception.”

For example, after Bhardvajasana we went into Trikonasana. I found that the expression in the shoulders, shoulder blades and lungs that blossomed in Bhardvajasana was then featured in Utthita Trikonasana. Had the sequence after Bharadvajasana proceeded with other twists or forward extensions, I would not have gone as deeply into the potential and capacity of the shoulder blades and lungs in Trikonasana. The transformation “Parinama” of Utthita Trikonasana came through the succession of sequence “krama,” hence, Parinama Krama. So rather than a sequence leading towards a particular asana or focused around a category of asanas, the sequence can take one asana and “apply” other asanas to it, “apply” the conditions and capacities that another asana gives to the main one. In this case, Utthita Trikonasana.

III.15: Krama anyatvam parinama anyatve hetuh. Successive sequential changes cause the distinctive changes in the consciousness. -LOYS

  • Trikonasana
  • Utthita Parsvakonasana
  • Uthtita Parsvakonasna to Utthita Trikonasana
  • Padmasana or Swastikasana, and then into Trikonasana

Prashant guided us to observe if the connection between these two sharpened our perception of the legs, or the spine, or the spine to the legs, or the legs to the breath, etc. He encouraged us to go slow, to come in and out of the pose at will and to repeat on the same side. “Parinama kriya”, the acts will create “Parinama krama” changes.

Develop discretion; see when the proper is right. Observe the succession of changes, the first hierarchy is biomechanical, then the breath, the exhalation and the inhalation.”

It was a different experience when the exploration of the “what” and the “for what” or “for whom” became my own discovery. How the legs affected the spine which then affected the lungs which then impacted the breath. I had to stay receptive to not “impose” my learned order of what to do for my hips, etc. He did say that we may not want to practice like this all the time, but that we should go deeper into the subject rather than always depending on what the teacher says.

Identify changes that come because of the sermon that comes from within, go slow, and watch the changes and relationship with what came before, the ‘parinama krama’ of Padmasana to Utthita Trikonasana is different. You have to practice to develop sagacity.”

Brick Setubandha krama to Utthita Trikonasana:

  • Krama parinamatvam: in brick setubandha, what did you open? Practice to build sensitivity, go until you feel the seal open up to you. How does the tailbone move?
  • Brick Setubandha to Utthita Trikonasana

How has the access given to you from the brick affected Trikonasana? With the brick at the tailbone or sacrum, what happened inside? What seal was opened here that is different than in Parsvakonasana? This is a social event within, take the climate and health conditions into account. At some stage of your pursuit Vayu Askasha will open.”

“The Parinama will be affected by psychodynamics as well; I want to learn, I want to study, I want to comprehend” he explained.

On a personal note, I took three months away from teaching this last summer. I surprised to see how long it took before my inner dialog in practice was completely present and no longer automatically focused on how I might describe an action while teaching. I wanted to take time off to study. Generally, as I teach often, even though I may practice my syllabus or something I want to work on, I find that there is always an inner dialog that translates what I am doing into what to do or how to do it. For that is what I have to do as a teacher, translate my direct experience into a form that will be accessible to my students. The inner teacher was so acclimated to figuring out how to present material to students that that inner voice had become a tyrant, always on. Over a period of time this changed, I began to hold asanas longer and be present simply for myself and within myself. Prashant often lectures us on how we are always doing, we are rarely done and never reflect on the Doer.

The enormous launching points in the psyche and what came before all effect the changes. This is how you get profundity and maturity.

  • Bharadvajasana to Utthita Trikonasana
  • Sirsasana with Padmasana or drop back
  • Trikonasana
  • Bharadvajasana
  • Marichyasana

“Consider how each pose effects and or creates a learning foundation for any particular asana. “Each asana is a marvel; we have to look at it like a yoga asana and not like a physical culture.” Different permutations and combinations make different results.”

Prashantji’s tea analogy is now famous, and effective every time I hear it. Good tea is the combination of the right amount of hot water, tea leaves, milk and sugar. If you have too many tea leaves or leave the leaves to steep too long, the tea become bitter. If you have a lot of milk and only a little tea and a lot of sugar, the milk tea is something else, sugar and milk. So it takes the proper amounts and combinations to make good tea.

Different succession of changes will create different manifestations. And the changes happen moment to moment. First we may find that we are dull, the tamo guna predominates. Or, we may be restless, stressed, and unable to focus. The gunas play a big part in transformation. “Tamas gives density and mass, and when these qualities exceed our needs, we call it dullness and inertia. The negative aspect of rajas is turbulent, frenetic, and agitated. We want a quick mind, not an agitated one. We also want a calm, clear mind, which brings us to sattva… We use the word luminosity, which is the inner, serene qulity of light, to describe sattva. The interplay of these three guna forces is of crucial importance in your yoga practice.” -Light on Life

“Sometimes you feel dullness so you may want to “hit” the pose, quick treatment, and use raja guna to drive tamo guna. Go slow, for sattva guna you must let it evolve. This way the condition fades in and you come to know the characteristics and diagnostics, dorsal major, spine major, etc. Some will have a mindset, some a breathset, some will be more physical. This is not attentiveness, it is a comprehensive approach to the practice.

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The elixir of life, Pranayama

Day 3, Dec. 19, 2017, PM session. Pune, India

After an exhaustive and exhilarating exploration of how the shoulder blades can support the lungs, chest and neck, we were ripe for pranayama. The afternoon session began with an introduction to AUM. Speaking, chanting and singing are all exhalative acts, he explained. While we listen to the sound we hear, the resonance continues in the body after the audible sound is over. Prashant Iyengar had us chant the A but the pronunciation was “eh” (as in went, just the “e”). We observed the physical sound and natural exhalation to feel where the lasting echo could be felt. It was in the belly. We did the same for U, which vibrated in the chest and heart region. The M filled the skull and mind with a serene finality. AUM.

Prashant then explained that these are the centers of passion, emotion and ego and that all are mental facets. These need cleansing, and he is very graphic about the “sh__t” we hold onto. “No dietitian speaks of a diet for the mind, we cannot fast in the mind, we are always gobbling for the mind; its mouth is too big and always open. And always constipated. Rechaka (exhalation) is a purgative, it can relax. By abdominal confinement you will have purgation of passion, with flushing in the chest we release emotional fecal matter, and exhalation in the brain quiets the mind. Expulsion, surrender, immersion; there are so many things that need to be parted with.”

The belly, he continued, is a major organ with instinctive characteristics. When we have a panic attack the belly tightens. This reminds me of the many digestive illnesses and conditions that we see these days. From diverticulitis, GERD, and Chron’s disease to IBS, the “Gut Brain” has become a significant source of dukkha in modern times. Stress exacerbates the situation.

“For beginners, we teach about the chest. You must understand the concept of hierarchy in how we present and how things change when you have studied for a while. The Uddiyanic touch and influence is paramount. So part of your asana practice must prepare for and address pranayama and how the asanas share a lineage with pranayama. To do this, monitor the breathing process.”

Supta Baddha Konasana with X bolsters and the arms extended overhead.

“Exhale and evacuate, deeply, Uddiyana is a stress ejection system.”

While Prashant explores Uddiyana Kriya in much of his work, Guruji rarely did work the bandhas or kriyas. Guruji said that these happen naturally in the asana practice. Uddiyana happens in Paschimottanasana, Sirsasana, Rope Sirsasana and in Adho Mukha Svanasana. Prashant never negates the importance of the asana practice, and builds upon it. His lens does focus heavily on the kriyas though.

At the tail of exhalation there is an abdominal contraction. In most people the abdominal organs and muscles have become torpid and dull.

“Another aspect of exhalation is to develop the capacity of hibernation, the nerves need this training. When I ask you to do a deeper and deeper exhalation, there is hibernation.”

Savasana with Viloma 2. In Viloma 2 you inhale softly, tenderly as Prashanji would say. The exhalation is in stages so that you divide the exhalation into three or more sections. The pause between sections is the silent “hibernation” that I think of as listening to silence. The pauses also extend the exhalation in a controlled and natural way.

“There are three stages to progress through. Nominally pause, significant pause, substantial pause. Most of the becoming takes place in the process, not in the attainment. This requires a particular kind of patience. You cannot have a worldly approach here. When the journey is long the vehicle has to correspond to the distance traveled. You do not take a rickshaw to go to London.” In the beginning, he said, you will be fascinated. But over time the intrigue wears off and you must develop a neutral mind.

I am reminded of the story that Guruji once told. When he first started practicing pranayama, his mind was so restless that he kept stopping his practice. He was young and practiced many backbends. Once he started working with forward bends, he was able to begin a consistent pranayama practice. His nervous system was not properly prepared nor had he cultivated the reflective mind that would prepare him for his pranayama practice.

The pranayama practice is so rich, so poignant and profound that it becomes the foundation of the day for most serious seekers.

From Guruji’s Light on Life: We have seen that as leaves move in the wind, your mind moves with the breath. When breath is regulated and pacified, there is a neutralizing effect on the mind. And when you hold your breath, you hold your soul. By retaining the full in-breath, you hold the divine infinite within yourself. At this moment you have reached the full potential of our individuality, but it is a divine individuality and not the small, selfish creature you normally take yourself for. By exhaling you generously give out your individual self to the universal world…. Inhalation engulfs the whole body with life. Exhalation surrenders that life to the source of life – the Life Giver. The body moves in toward the core of its being, like a puppy nestling against its mother, secure and trusting.

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The razor’s edge

Sri BKS Iyengar praying to PatanjaliDay 3, Dec. 19, 2017, AM session, Pune, India.

“We do not merely breathe to live, we breathe to become. Moment to moment there is a constant becoming taking place in us, either positive or negative. Change is a constant process. Those changes can be slowed down or change directions by the breathing. We become by the breath.”

Thus began the third morning session. In a similar way to how his father penetrated so deeply in the asanas and through the layers of the body to become established in quietude and to understand the mind, Prashant has investigated the process of becoming embodied intelligence. To those who are unfamiliar with his work and vernacular it may seem overly intellectual. He might say that we want the teacher to tell us exactly what to do and what not to do, whereas what he wants is to give us a map and landmarks to discover the path to freedom for ourselves. He has now reminded us twice of a dinner discussion where his father told him that the difference between the two of them was that Guruji made difficult things simple and Prashant makes simple things difficult. Prashant then went on to apologize if that was the case for us, and he hopes that future generations will make his work simple. I find him very humble in his willingness to explain his process and to become someone of stature under the shadow of the great B.K.S. Iyengar. Finding autonomy with a greater than great father is not easy!

One facet of his work is learning how to build a continuum of awareness in every moment. In an asana, he explains, “there is the commencement and progression, and then you can mitigate, change, try to understand the states of asana in a microscopic way. There is a difference between staying and maintaining, and coming out of the pose. There has to be an efficacy that is developed, it is not the point to work hard and the die in the pose.  There must be freedom to do, freedom to maintain, freedom in striking efficacy. At some point you must go to a settled condition for you must get settled to get absorbed.”

Absorption for what? Prashant quoted from sutra II.47: prayatna saithiya  anantasamapattibhyam, Perfection in an asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached. (Light on Yoga Sutras) In the commentary on this sutra Guruji says: When the sadhaka has reached that state of balance, attention, extension, diffusion and relaxation take place simultaneously in the body and intelligence, and they merge in the seat of the soul. This is a sign of release from the dualities of pleasure and pain.  Ananta: infinite.

Sutra I.17  lists four stages of absorption, Vitarka, vicara ananda asmitarupa anugamat samprajnatah.  Practice and detachment develop four types of samadhi (absorption): self-analysis, synthesis, bliss, and the experience of pure being. (Light on Yoga Sutras) These mirror Prashant’s scheme of evolving awareness where we begin by observing, acting, reacting, responding, testing, etc. The synthesis comes when the breathing schematic (pattern, method) is as integrated into the experience as the rarefied and evolved physical expression of the pose. Going in. Bliss, ananta. Absorption, awareness, alertness, from the core to the periphery and the reverse.

“What is alertness, and how do we cultivate it in us? Can you remove the awareness aspect and say that you are alert? This is not possible. Awareness is the other side of the coin of the breath. Awareness is a constant flow and attention will come out of awareness. Attention will come and go, but the flow is available to you, whenever you are thirsty you can draw water.” Prashant said.

“Study the process of evolving awareness. With every part deepen your shoulder sensitivity, connectivity. Mark the breathing process right from the beginning so you know how to negotiate. You must have a classified process, a systematic process that evolves. If you try to do everything, nothing is done, if you do one thing, it is done well.  The shoulders are important for understanding the mind sensitivity. What poses will you use for the shoulders to be accessed, addressed and involved?  These are one of the paradigms. Once you develop that channel of observation, you will understand.” Prashant said.

Prashant then focused us completely on the shoulder blade “addressals” (the act of addressing something) as he led us through a delightful sequence. At one point he riffed on how modern anatomists say that the shoulder blades are there to support the lungs. Why not call them shoulder plates? He said, if they are to support the lungs. A blade is sharp. He asked us to round our backs and see how we felt, and to then draw the “blades” in deep and see how the mind became sharp. The Upanishads refer to the awakening process as walking the razor’s edge, he continued. You have to be alert and sharp!

Paschimonamaskarasana
Adho Mukha Svanasana
Paschimabaddhahastasana
Sirsasana
Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Purvottanasana
Swastikasana with fingertips behind
Baddha Padmasana, head up
Utthita Trikonasana + arm positions
Standing back arch
Ustrasana
Paschimonamaskarasana
Urdhva Dhanurasana
Purvottanasana
Block Setubhanda Sarvangasana
Tadasana + Paschimonamaskarasana
Urdhva Mukha Baddangulyasana
Purvottanasana
Trikonasana
Sirsasana + variations
Bharadvajasana
Salamba Sarvangasana + variations
Halasana

“In the pose, exhale deeply, more and more, evacuate every organ to serve the shoulder, we must evacuate first before we can take anything in. You must be circumspect in your approach, the theme, the scheme, develop sensitivity, something will go out of the network and you must have the conscience to reconnect. It is not for someone else to correct and correct, you have to find out. I have never come across an astronomer who says that they are bored of watching the sky. There is an enormous amount to explore. You may do and do and once your neck pains, you walk out. You must explore, the potentials will come to the surface”. Prashant said.

Such tenacity and dedication to mold something as rich as this…

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Prashant’s yoga or classical yoga

Sri BKS Iyengar in PadmasanaDay 2, Dec. 18, 2017, AM session 2, Pune, India.

Prashant began the morning session with a talk about spiritual identity, Ishvara and the Sutras. I will address this material at a later time. Asking if we needed clarification, his humor came out as he tried to make it safe to ask questions. “Sometimes you may not want to show your ignorance, or what you think may be ignorance in front of your colleagues. Or there may be professional rivals, you may be self-conscious.”

Manouso Manos then asked “are you aware that there is now something called Prashant yoga?” Manouso elaborated briefly by asking if there is a difference between the yoga of “actions” that his father taught and the perspective that Prashant teaches? “What are we to do with this difference?”

Wow. Prashant was not unfazed. “For any one person what is important will be different, he explained, and there will never be two identical teachers. “What you practice and what you teach are not necessarily what Guruji taught. One day Guruji was sitting across from me and said: I make difficult things simple and Prashant makes simple things difficult”

Prashant clarified his approach and the very sincere and specific intentions behind his approach. “You remember how Guruji would correct people in class, you will never we me correcting in class. For me, if there is a fatal mistake, I will correct. But one should correct out of conscience. If I do not give you the time to develop the conscience then you can never have the deep connection. My perspective is that a person should be able to correct themselves, to develop the urge within to know what is right.”

It is interesting how rarely we take a big picture look at the whys and how things develop. Prashant explained that part of Guruji’s system came out of the immediacy of his situation. Foreign students would come for short periods of time. Guruji did not have time to cultivate a deep connection with and within the practice of each individual. “That is not what he did with us, he never told us that our Trikonasnaa was wrong. He wanted us to develop our conscience.” Prashant’s teaching has a different perspective then Guruji’s. Prashant wants to empower students. Perhaps, he said, this is his limitation, but he felt that students should develop their own conscience, to know why this is right or wrong. He further clarified that his schedule is open, his work evolves over time and cannot be encapsulated within an intensive or three weeks.

“There will be difference amongst teachers, mentors, different perspectives, but that does not make one wrong, and one right. During my formative years, Guruji did give corrections, but then he allowed me develop.” He said that we never practice what I taught you, we practice what we learned.

“Be open to your doubts about me and about my teachings. I never claim that I teach what my father taught. I have developed in my own way being insulated at the Institute. I have never read a book, you may think that I have read a lot. But no, I read the world, I read my mind, I read the mind of my students. I am here to give you my comprehension of Guruji’s teaching. I do not want to be the centric force today now that Guruji is no longer here.”

“I am not trying to fall in line with what he taught, I am trying to help you understand what he did within himself.”

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We have a universe within, and just the world without

Marigolds galoreDay 2, Dec. 18, 2017, AM session, Pune, India.

“We have a universe within, and just the world without.” The elegance with which Prashant leads you into the invocation is an entire lesson itself. “Exhale to flush out the worldliness, exhale and flush out all sense of identity, conditions, and those things that matter in the worldly plane. Use deeper and deeper exhalations, progressively, systematically, surrender within.”  He then shifts to different patterns with the in breath. “Inhale from the pelvis to the heart and exhale from the throat to heart. Exhale behind the lungs, in front of and below, not just in the physical lungs. Exhale within and with the organic body to sanitize and purify the mind. Consecrate the breath, the mind and psychic. Now circumambulate the heart with the breath. Sanctify, begin a silent OM in the heart.” Invocation.

Here is a classic example of a Prashantism, and those of you who work with him know what I am talking about. “What is difference between application on the legs and application by the legs?” When I first heard this kind of talk I thought that he was being clever. Now I see that his language is like a flashlight pointing out where the main event is. He often talks about the benefactor and the beneficiary: again, it seemed like he was over intellectualizing things. But now I begin to understand, and there is a huge difference.

Language is important he said.

Doing Trikonasana is different than
Using the leg in Trikonasana or using the spine.

Doing is making a face, like when you stand in front of the mirror and see yourself.
Using is applying to, building intelligence; we know that something needs to be done.

He told us that there are apps (like in computers applications, apps) in the legs, in the spine, everywhere. And there are applications of an asana for different situations. Adho Mukha Svanasana can be done for the shoulder, for the abdomen, for the mind. “When someone comes with a shoulder problem, or a breathing problem, Guruji would say, dog pose. If they came with a back problem, dog pose; but was it the same dog?”

We did Dog pose for the abdomen, he had us first bend the legs slightly and focus on the abdomen. We then slowly extended the legs. He chided us that we would normally stretch, straighten, tighten the legs, like a hurricane of busyness.

While Prashant’s work may seem intellectual, or wordy, I find that he is merely showing a map for the journey from the periphery to the core of being. This is what Guruji always eloquently said, but the technique and process was not as delineated as it is with Prashant. Prashant does not teach a regular class as we know it. You may only do 5 poses in 2 hours. He talks a lot. It is almost as if he expects you to do this work in the privacy of our own home. I do wish he would give us time to apply his principals. I was lucky enough to take class with him early in this century. These were what he now refers to as his formative years, he was evolving his voice. We worked extensively with the breath in asana, we worked with sound and visualizations. “I have opened out the scheme of asanas. Address first the body, then the breath, then the mind, then the sense-set addressals (addressals =  the act of addressing something (such as a problem or issue).

“We all use willpower, we impose. Now take a little time getting into the pose, for we each have our own inclination and you must sometimes let it go and not use will power. Then slowly open the gates of will power and see “will over matter,” and ask, from where does the will come from? How to channel it? We do 100% every time and it is stupid. It is like spending $100 on every cup of tea. What is suitable and justifiable for my condition now? You must have your own diagnostics and prognosis. Do not leave it to the teacher to tell you what is right or wrong. Develop the conscience and sensitivity to learn from yourself.”

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Breath and Breathing

Day 1, Dec. 17, 2017, PM session, Pune, India.

Prashant began our afternoon session by setting expectations and asking us to recognize the nature of his work. “We have to be on that plane where we are doing together, not that I am teaching. I will be triggering the thought process within you that leads to classical yoga.” It is when we are relaxed and at home that we can truly come to know the Self, for there can be an honest inquiry then. He suggested that isolation is the best environment for real study, and that is why he has not traveled to teach anywhere.

The invocation “establishes the compatibility with the endeavor” that is to follow. The main principal in yoga and in the Yoga Sutras is one of internalization. Knowing this prepares us for the learning that is to come. Prashant systematically prepares us for the invocation. He says little about the physical posture, but will reference that you should sit with noble intentions. The focus then turns toward the exhalation, leading towards deeper and deeper exhalations. He asked us to exhale from the pelvic floor, in the eyes, from the brain. I remembered Guruji saying that the exhalation is an act of surrendering one’s finite into the infinite. How Prashant begins with the body, focuses on patterns of exhalation to reinforce the letting go, and then directs the exhalations into various spheres that further reinforces this internalization. Ultimately we are asked to abide within the heart. Invocation….

Many of us have “tagged” Prashant by saying that he works with the breath. But Guruji taught breathing, he explained. When he gave a demonstration it was a feast for the eyes, it was a super human feat. And the exhalation was a major part of it. “He was the first to introduce using the breath as a prop.” The breath can be strong medicine to push you out of your comfort zone in many ways. “Did Guruji not dig you out of your ability?” Did he ever say “do as much as you can”? Guruji taught with intensity. He may have been addressing particulars such as to stretch the fingers, upper arms, and the four corners of the elbow; and the only way you could maintain this pose was by using your breath. Imagine that you were demonstrating a pose in front of him, you would not want to come out of the pose. It is the breath that helps you stay longer. The breath can be used to exercise, to sustain or maintain a pose; it can also be used as a tool to investigate, to direct and to condition the body/mind. So we should not think that Prashant is bringing something new here, this was his point.

“Similarly, postures should not be merely done, like mechanical breathing. Postures should be used. Suppose you do a great and perfect pose, what is next? You come down and out of the pose, it is finished. How anti-climactic! Rather, the postures are to be used to address any condition that afflicts us. In the back of Light on Yoga there are many sequences for various conditions. For example, Sirsasana and Sarvangasana are frequently recommended. The application would be different if you were working with a student suffering from constipation than from someone with diarrhea. How can the same pose be used in diametrically dissimilar conditions? The pose must serve a purpose and not be merely for display.”

“What is the difference between the breath and breathing? Breath is a quantity and breathing is a process. When you endeavor to go further, you need more quantity. For every state of mind there is a corresponding breathing process. When we say to students to breathe normally, do we mean volume or the process? There are countless breathing practices.”  This reminds me of when I first questioned Prashant many years ago. Chris Stein and I interviewed Prashant about how to begin to introduce his work into our teaching. So funny to imagine asking him anything like that now, for that is diametrically opposed to his current message. We must each find out our own way. However, Prashant was very gracious and he said to begin by working with the exhalation in various ways in the postures. My practice has changed considerably since that conversation.

“Let me watch how I breathe in different conditions to see if this breathing patter is compatible?” He then referenced the sutras. Would the process of breathing be different for: Sthira sukham (firm, steady and happy) II.46? For Prayatna (persevering effort) II.47. For Saithilyananta (relax into the infinite being) II.47? “Read”, he said, “how the breath is used to do these different modes, what is breathing mode in each? For every Chitta Bhumi (qualities of mind) there is a state of breath.”  I realized that I have been breathing on a very surface survival level. While I know that slowing my breath down is good when I am upset, I have not watched each minute of each day to understand the potentials in the breath. Nor have I penetrated deep enough into the nature of the breath in the way that I have with my asana practice. Yet the breath is more vital, more profound, more complex. Prashant suggested that these lessons should learned spontaneously and that “instructions become obstructions.”

We only did a few asanas, but we did them intently. We practiced Sirsasana in the mode of exercise, lifting the legs, shoulders, etc. And then we repeated the pose but for a state of tranquility.

We had been sitting for almost two hours so a standing pose was most welcome. Trikonasana from the point of the back foot, he said, for stability, and watch coming out of the pose; the same composure would remain. We came out of the pose really slowly so as to observe any changes in the breath, mind and body. We next did Adho Mukha Svanasana and stepped into Utthita Trikonasana. This was completely different, of course? Finally we practiced Bharadvajasana followed by Utthita Trikonasana.   “Essential yoga cannot be taught,” he said, “it has to be learned.”  While we were practicing Utthita Trikonasana, we approached it through three different gates, and the experience was completely different. The practice was more about the discovery than the doing of it.

Guurji never taught Geeta and Prashant directly, he explained. Rather, they had to “see, to analyze, to recall and react, to deliberate and reflect and then try to comprehend.”

The evening session looked like it was going to go over three hours. Someone from the venue came and told Prashant that it was time to leave. He is so full of inspiration that he could have continued indefinitely, but we certainly were ready to digest this amazing meal of thought, breath, and breathing.

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There is a Teacher in You!

Day 1, Dec. 17, 2017, AM session, Pune, India.

Today the actual sessions began. Abhijata waved the diya (candle) around Patanjali and we all joined together for the invocation. There was so much material covered that I want to post, but I think you would all gag and not complete the blog! So I will extend the posts past the six days of inspiration..

Farooza gave an elegant introduction for the orientation. She painted the picture of the sun and moon, bright and cool, a reflection. Guruji was like the sun, sometimes harsh, strong; so bright that you cannot look directly into it. Prashant is like moon, but, as the moon is the reflection of the sun, we can look into it, it is cool. Guruji taught so quickly, by the time we heard it he was on to something else.  Geeta and Prashant help us to read between the lines of Guruji’s teaching.

Prashantji then joined us amidst an overwhelming standing welcome. He has a healthy sense of humor: “orientation is a problem for me,” he said, “as I am not oriented to myself.” He explained that this is not an intensive, as that would imply that we would learn a lot in a compressed period of time. That is not what he is about, he insisted. Prashant is also humble. He said that an intensive is not really his make-up. It takes a lot of time for us to learn something in a deep way. He explained that Guruji taught intensives because, at that time, he had to produce teachers, and foreign students could only come for a short period of time.

Prashant then said that in all the time that he has been teaching, he has not produced one single teacher, “that is not in my software” he chided. “I myself am not a teacher. I am just a student,” and “My teachings are an intensive which is extensive.” He takes a little bit, like the breath, and stretches it into volumes. He said “the learning should not be very formal every time. Because yoga is a natural thing,” and “My bad habit is that I observe too much.” He referred to the intensives he watched in the 70’s, when groups of foreigners would attend for a month. What he observed is that students were anxious and excited in these intensive, it was not natural. Prashant wants to be very informal, he is in his house, and hope that his students can be informal with him.

Yoga is about life, can we get oriented to life? Life is Drama, for which there is no script, here we don’t have a script as we do not know what will happen from moment to moment. Just as life is unpredictable, we cannot know. In the business in life, we must be predictable, but yoga. Yoga is not about the business of life. To not know what he is going to teach is his privilege, as the thrust of yoga was already there for Prashant. That was not the case for Guruji, Prashant said. Guruji had a different path, he had all the hardships. We are the next generation.

Guruji learned yoga by Yog, he was not a follower or a student of a teacher. “Self-study teaches you yoga.” The concept of a self-made man is improper, for it comes through study. Prashant tells his students to never say that he is their teacher: “I escort them to yoga,” “Yoga is an out-of-the-world subject, not a worldly subject,” and “If you say that you are a student of mine, it means that you are studying me!”

We should have a suitable language for our study. Language is important. We say that we want a non-stop flight, this really mean that the flight will never stop! A visitor asked for a hot cup of tea, and he was given a hot cup with cold tea, i.e. the language is important, Chitta Vritti = language, can you name a single Vritti that does not include a word? My own impression is that we experience the world through an abstraction from the immediacy of experience and through our conditioning. Ultimately, we experience and come to know through the mind. In classical yoga the mind is considered a sensory organ.

In previous years, Prashant has introduced using sound such as the vowels in the Sanskrit alphabet or the seed mantras for the chakras as means to penetrate more deeply into an embodiment. A sound can have some meaning in it, or not. The state of Chitta depends on the stage of the Tattvas (elements) and Dhatus (tissues) in you, any imbalance in your body chemistry creates an intolerance or some condition. The mind will not be like a lake if there is an imbalance. Dhatu (constitution)- Rasa (biochemistry) – Karana (sheaths)- if there is Samyama in these faculties, then there is tranquility. Sounds with meaning are important for our tranquility.

There are two aspects to learning yoga. One is learning to do, we become indoctrinated. The other aspect is to know, learning to know. We have overlooked this aspect. When we are educated, we can do more with less, less energy. Education in yoga and knowing in yoga is more important, it gives you vision, navigation, skill. Yoga is knowing your own embodiment, you know yourself.

The posture is a mean, not an end. Means to study, your body is the textbook to come to know yourself. In an integrated practice, the mind becomes a book. These yoga postures are optimum potentials for you to learn the subjective matter of yoga, that is why these are archetypal and iconic position, to come to know the embodiment.

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Living the Practice

Dec. 16, 2017, Pune, India

I watched the last part of Prashantji’s class this morning, took Abhijata’s lady’s class, and then sat at Geetaji’s feet for a spontaneous talk about the how community must practice and learn from one another. The Iyengar family is truly gifted! I have now studied with three generations!

Transitions, Prashant said, it is all about transitions. When you change from the right to the left side, do you watch what happens in the transition? After the exhale and before the inhale, there is a U-turn, are you as aware of that transition as the in and out breath? The eighth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita points to the transition at the end of life, can we be aware in the transitions?

It made me think that all life really is a transition from moment to moment. And mastery comes in being aware of the changes, the transitions. When I hear a beautiful symphony, I am spellbound from moment to moment, because the transitions are so seamless, so breathtakingly captivating that I am completely absorbed. Is that not what “Samadhi” is, complete absorption? Prashant did not say this exactly. Yet as I watched the last moments of his class the stillness was palpable and the students were as if spellbound. They were doing Bhardvajasana, a simple seated twist. As they switched sides, Prashant would cue them to watch if the mind went faster than the body, and the breath, how did it change? The class looked like slow suspended parts, almost like cells in one organism, moving gently from side to side. That was the quality of presence. Transitions.

Abijata IyengarAbhijata is the young lioness taking charge of her cubs (us) now that her grandfather is no longer here to teach her and her aunt (Geetaji) rarely teaches. Abhi began her apprenticeship over fifteen years ago, when she was sixteen. She was never far from her grandfather’s eyes, and practiced daily with him. I remember Guruji looking into his granddaughter’s big dark eyes and asking impossibly difficult questions about an asana or about life. She would look back at him, innocent, knowing that he was about to spin his wonderful web of teachings. I am privileged to see this next generation begin to fill the role of “revered master”. Abhi has a master’s degree and two children of her own. She began traveling with Geetaji and Guruji as they presented at conferences in the US, China, Russia and Europe. She could see how different cultures interacted with her teachers. In some cases there was a language issue. She is now a perfect ambassador between the legacy that she has inherited and the 21st century!

Abhi is young, dynamic, demanding, and delightful. She told a story of how, one day, Guruji had strapped her ankles and knees with iron rods (this is done for therapeutic reasons) and asked her to sit in Virasana. She tried and cried out, and tried again and winced. Her grandfather commanded her to sit, and she sat, such was the shakti of Guruji. Once she was in Virasana, he asked her what she had felt. She said, pain. He explained that we tend to run away from anything that we are afraid of, and that we glorify pain. As she focused more on the way that the knee could shift, and the rotation of the thigh and ankle, while the pain was still there, her mind was absorbed in the actions, interactions and reactions. This is Yoga.

This story she related to us as we rested between Urdvha Dhanurasanas. She had us hold a wood brick between the knees as we lifted up into the backbend. It must be wood, she said, otherwise you will not pay attention! Of course no one wanted to drop the brick! We had to then walk the hands in close to the feet and find the interactions between the lift of the outer knees, the back thighs, and the buttocks. The vibrancy went from the knees and fear of dropping the block into the sensations of both sides of the back muscles being lifted up toward the front of the body. It was intense, but deeply satisfying.

Abhijata will join the Iyengar Yoga Association of the United States in 2019 for the next national convention. I will let you know, come!

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Four Generations of Iyengars

Four generations of IyengarsDec. 15, 2017, Govinda’s Gardens, next to the Ragwada Hotel, near Baner road, Pune, India. 4:00 onwards, dinner at 7:30.

A sweet reunion; the intimate family, five sisters and one brother, with the extended spiritual family of students and teachers from over 60 countries, all honoring the man, the father, the Teacher, him who we call Guruji.

When I showed up for my first intensive in 1986, Guruji had recently retired from active teaching. However, while Geeta taught, Guruji interjected constantly. She would repeat exactly what he said, and add to it. I did not realize at the time that Guruji had supposedly retired, for he could not stop teaching!

Prashant explained that Guruji never really taught them yoga. He and Geeta learned through watching him practice, teach, and through their own observations. We did not have teacher’s training courses like you all have, he chided us. We had to learn our own way.

Great grandchildren raced across the stage, oblivious to the crowd glued to the stories being so vividly shared. As one sister spoke, the others brightened up at the memory. It was the best commemorative celebration I could have imagined. Abhijata, Guruji’s granddaughter and the next generation in the Iyengar yoga legacy, had arranged the festivities. Every detail was special.

Geeta said that at first she felt really lost without him, and she went through a very dark phase. “We never really understood him,” she began, as she often does. Her respect and devotion for her father far exceeded anything rational. I sometimes think that this is her way to de-emphasize the value of her own teaching and experience. Everyone saw him as a flexible man, stern, she said, but he was transforming the entire human being. While the sutras speak of Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha, there are many other niroddhas. We must stifle the Ahamkara niroddha, as she rattled off five other niroddhas that we must subdue. Even in story telling, Geeta was teaching.

Sujeeta told a wild tale of yoga magic. Kids can do stupid things, and she did! She put a watermelon seed up her nose and did not tell anyone when she had trouble getting it out. Her nose began to swell, and she had trouble breathing. As doctors were making plans to operate. On the spur of the moment, Guruji showed her Kapalabhati. She blew so hard that the seed flushed out.

She had a wild mind, could not focus, and found that school was boring. Guruji had a big stamp collection from all the correspondence that he was beginning to receive. He asked her to remove the stamps from the letters and glue them into an album. In the process, she learned about countries, capitals and landmarks from all over the world!

Prashant went on and on about how he was a slow, dull, torpid kind of fellow. Anyone who knows him would be chuckling now, for Prashant is one of the most fascinating men I have ever met. Yet he slunk away from school to visit the maid’s house. When Guruji found out, Prashant received the spanking of spankings, he remembered.  Guruji encouraged him to study mechanics, then a visual art, and finally music. It seemed that the boy was being given the tools, with his hands, with his eyes, and with his heart, to make the choices he would need to make in life.

This coming year will be the centennial celebration of the gifts and guidance that Guruji has left the world. Communities everywhere are planning different ways to come together. For me, this public reunion fondly opened up the circle of family to include all of us who have been so deeply shaped by Guruji’s life and teachings

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The Totality

The Great American Eclipse from the Bright Spot, in the middle of nowhere in central Wyoming. Courtesy of John Thomas Casey, used by permissionTotality: that is what everyone called it. The magnificent eclipse of August 21, 2017. The hype was exhilarating.

I happen to live part time on the Oregon Coast, the place where the eclipse would initiate this continent and then continue its trajectory across the US. Signs marked the anticipated crowds: $100 parking, no vacancy, eclipse sweatshirts, free glasses. The media compared it to the Millennium zeitgeist, a portentous event. Alternately, several yoga based oracles said that the eclipse was inauspicious and that one should fast and stay indoors. I knew that the experience would be partly based on what I put into it. Was this to be an accounting? A reboot?

The morning of Totality was well rehearsed. Countdown to Fifteen minutes after Ten. Everything depended on the weather, and the forecast called for fog. You see, the Oregon Coast is unpredictable! At 6am, we climbed into our cars and drove an hour to the Hilltop cemetery in Independence. We joined a small crowd for a clear and bright morning, with a view of surrounding fields of grain. The general mood was super friendly and everyone shared information, technology and food. With three hours to contemplate, I did a few Surya Namaskars and sat to meditate.

I can’t explain and won’t even try to give a poetic version of the Totality, except to say that my husband and I plan on traveling to see the next one in the US in 2024. Somehow I did drop to my knees and, along with many around me; the only thing that escaped my lips was “Oh my God.”

Did I have a transformative moment? A gestalt, Samadhi? Not exactly. But the experience was deeply moving. The eclipse became a metaphor for Samadhi, for a perfect union of opposites. Reflecting on different paradigms, the Yin and Yang, Ha and Tha, the singularity of the sun (Purusha) and the intimate changes of the moon (Prakriti), the lower self and the higher Self, I found meaning within all of these. The image in my mind has become a yantra to invoke, to sit with and learn through. And experience? How has this touched my psyche and my practice? I do feel anointed in some way, as if I have had a “glimpse” of the possibility of union on a “cosmic” scale.

Hilltop Cemetery - Independence, Oregon - 21-Aug-2017Every day I find myself on my yoga mat. During these vacation weeks I often begin with Savasana. Some days I pursue an asana, or I explore releasing or stimulating a part of my body. Some days I do what Geetaji calls a “donkey practice”, I go through the paces. But now, on some special days, after any asana where I feel either my heart rate increase (backbends) or a flush of endorphins (forward bends), I stop and feel. How is my breath, where does my breath touch, and the heartbeat, how are my sensations changing with each breath, and between breaths. I tune in to the “not-doing” to feel the transfiguring power of each asana and sometimes, the integration and harmony within. Perhaps this is a union of sun and moon, the doing and “not-doing”. Another step in a long journey.

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