Reflections from Pune: Yoganushasanam conference

IMG_2327The second Yoganushasanam conference opened with a majestic invocation by Guruji’s personal priest, Nataraj Shastri. Geeta then explained the relevance of this prayer by summarizing Ashtanga Yoga, and the eight petals of the Yoga sadhana.

The prayer described how the goddess Lakshmi is the wealth in and of Prakriti (nature); she is everything around us. While Alakshmi signifies the impurities that keep us attracted to external sensory stimulation and gratification.  (In Sanskrit, the negative or opposite facet of something is implied when the word begins with an “a”. For instance, himsa is violence, while ahimsa is non-violence). In every engagement we have a choice to act “out” and find immediate gratification through external sources. We can also act “in” and direct our actions toward recognizing and removing the impulses that keep us wanting to fulfill desires that are fleeting and ultimately unrewarding.

This requires discipline: Yoganusasanam. “We need to govern ourselves from within.” She stated. This is an organized process whereby we adjust moral, ethical and physical aspects to cultivate a discerning and skillful mind. Many of us familiar with Ashtanga Yoga have found that this “governing” is a gradual process; one whose benefits we recognize over time by a lack of inner distractions, or, as Geeta noted, impurities. It is not that we “find” some inner peace, but we realize that we are no longer troubled, or not as much!

“Our soul is unseen as it is curtained by our ego- we lack the sensitivity to feel the lord within us. The soul has the covering of the specs, like goggles to save our eyes from the sun. In yoga we remove the specs so that we are completely open to the Purusha, that light that is within us.”

“Yoga is the process of how we throw the light inside. We have to come to the yogic mind.”

Geeta then gave examples for these moral and ethical practices, many of them particular to our yoga practice. Aparigraha means to not hold on (note the “a”), or we will never let go of the many things that are ego based. For instance, when we turn sixty we want to look forty (I must admit to being exposed on this one). She chastised us yoga teachers for the pride we presumably assume when our students pass assessment. This is akin to Asteya, or non-stealing, for it is the student who has done the work. She noted that the craving to upgrade certificates should stop, and the focus should be more on practice.

“The body is so tense, it is taxed. All this has to go. The passions, the attachments, involving yourself in this world excessively – the asana gives you the opportunity to go inside.”   

“In the asana, you can see the toes, the thighs, this may seem physical, but it is the outer sheath. This is a difference in understanding; the outer is the front door to the inner. Through the outer body the inner body has to be adjusted. The inner body you have to introduce to your mind, to your intelligence. Awareness is like the rays of buddhi.”

There is a natural progression upon following the external (ethical, moral and physical) limbs or petals of this system; we are drawn into a reflective and quiet state. This is the “sadhana” of Yoga, the true purport of the practice. “Awareness is like the rays of Buddhi”, awareness becomes the light of inner wakefulness.

The schedule in this conference is different than last years’. The first day will focus on asana, followed by three days of asana and pranayama, and closing with two days of asana, pranayama and dhyana (absorption or meditation). Geeta explained that the schedule was created to keep us absorbed in the practice. There are no big lunch breaks or time to run around town. She wants us to govern our time, energy, and focus.

You have to look into how you experience this process. So how will you manage your body, mind, chitta, energy, this is what the conference is, and the background of yoga, the “Anushasanam”.

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