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.”
When 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.