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!

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

“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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