2020: Exploring sangha – the meaning of community

The roots of yoga class.

Yoga was originally a solitary pursuit. For centuries, it was taught under the guidance of a guru to a small number of students, no more than three or four at a time. Guidance was direct and often harsh; the physical practice, demanding and often extreme.

Then, in 1936, in the city of Pune in southwestern India, BKS Iyengar taught the first class to a group of women. And from then on, through hard work, dedication, and a selfless devotion to his craft, he evolved his teaching method to reach a broader audience. Iyengar was the first teacher to advocate the benefit of yoga for everyone—not just the privileged or gifted—and he made many poses more accessible through the use of props and pedagogy. He also taught that the practice of yoga was transformative, not only of body, but of mind and soul. And so the Yoga class was born.

From class to Community.

In traditions like Buddhism and Yoga, we use the Sanskrit word “sangha” to denote our understanding of Community. In a lovely book called Good Citizens, Tich Nhat Hanh describes how practitioners create sangha on the basis of spiritual practice:

“…thanks to the collective practice, we can regain our solidity. Even if we’re distracted, our sangha can help us remember to come back to the present moment, to touch what is positive, to touch our own peace, to see how to undo what is difficult”.

He points out that practicing in community is easier than practicing alone, and that people practicing together generate a community that is more than the sum of its parts. And, since the sangha exists wherever the practice exists, it opens a path to global connectedness and harmony. In this way, Tich Nhat Hanh goes on to say, practice nourishes you, the community, and the world. Does that make sense?

sangha in sadhana: Community in practice.

The Iyengar Yoga class has some distinctive features that make it feasible for a practitioner with a basic level of poses and a responsible sense of self-care to participate in any Iyengar class around the world, our global sangha. We can enter the practice room, and feel at home. In fact, you may have experienced this already. Why is that?

~ There is a familiar structure and rhythm to all classes, beginning with the invocation, and ending in relaxation, with the savasana pose.

~ The teachers are here to teach everyone. Not just their “favorite” students, or the “good” or “known” students, but all students. Who needs a support? Who should do something more achievable? Who should be pushed a little harder?

~ The students are here to learn. Each pose is an opportunity for self-discovery, each instruction a vehicle for introspection. Watching a teacher demonstrate, or (better yet) watching a pose blossom as a teacher and a student work together, creates the seamless experience of personal insight and shared understanding that we call sangha.

IYS: Our year of sangha.

And so you, as an individual student, are part of this community at our local studio, and one with the wider community of practitioners around the globe. It is in this spirit that Iyengar Yoga Sarasota dedicates this year 2020 to sangha, community. We will offer opportunities in class to get to know your fellow practitioners; events in the greater Sarasota community; and features in the newsletter that I hope will bring us all closer together. In this way our year of sangha can be a springboard to take what we have gained off the mat; beyond our studio walls; and into our wider communities, our limitless sangha.


Oh those vrrtis

Anyone familiar with the third section of the Yoga Sutras – vibhuti pada? If so, a conversation would be most helpful, as this leaves my little brain spinning, imagining all of the vibhutis (the powers) possible as one proceeds towards the ultimate freedom (kaivalya).

My thoughts.

As consciousness gets evermore clarified (from its potential form [dharma] to refinement of states [laksana] and conditions [avastha]) and is integrated (samyama) – AMAZING gifts happen. Here’s a sampling of what’s possible:

  • Knowledge of past, present and future Knowledge of languages of all beings, including animals
  • Knowledge of previous births
  • Ability to understand the minds of others
  • Ability to become invisible
  • Ability to make sound, smell, taste, form and touch disappear
  • Knowledge of the time and place of one’s own death.
  • Ability to be as strong and graceful as an elephant
  • Knowledge of concealed things
  • Knowledge of this solar system and others, the positions of the stars
  • Knowledge of the course of destiny…

There are about 20 more – it’s hard to keep up.

Blows your mind, doesn’t it?

But here’s the thing – with ALL of these gifts, comes the necessity of detachment, renunciation, (vairagyad).

Even these powers are citta vrittis– disturbances of consciousness – that must become irrelevant (you guessed it) – through practice and detachment.

I.12 abhyasa vairagyabhyam tan-nirodhah. Practice and detachment are the means to still the movements of consciousness.

From the first time you step on your yoga mat, and that very first pose you try, you get to experience all of the vrrtis you’ve been carrying around all these years – all the worries, the confidence, the rage, the joy – and then practice to make NOTHING of it.

On the mat.

Practice an asana you know really well. Observe the thoughts in your mind as you come into the asana, be in the asana, come out of the asana, and reflect on the asana.

Practice an asana you struggle with. Observe the thoughts in your mind as you come into the asana, be in the asana, come out of the asana, and reflect on the asana.

It’s ALL citta vrittis – mind stuff, to be dispelled with dispassion and non-identification.

Off the mat.

Cook up a great meal. Observe the thoughts in your mind as you think about what to prepare, then prepare, eat, finish, clean up and reflect.

Cook up a disastrous meal. Observe the thoughts in your mind as you think about what to prepare, then prepare, eat, finish, clean up and reflect.

It’s all mind stuff. It’s all just stuff. It’s all part of the human experience.

Cook a great meal. Cook a dud.
Hit a homerun. Strike out.
Piss off a loved one. Then give them a hug.

See you on the mat.

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other”
doesn’t make any sense.
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.”

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi

Sutra translations from Iyengar, BKS (1993). Light on the Yoga Sutras, London: Harper Collins


The Inner Laboratory

I.20 sraddha virya smrti samadhiprajña purvakah itaresam

“Practice must be pursued with trust, confidence, vigour, keen memory and power of absorption to break this spiritual complacency.”

The word sraddha is often translated into the word “faith” – a faith that comes from direct experience.

The scientist comes to the lab to perform an experiment, setting up the controlled conditions under which the observation is made of an event plus an intervention to exert a particular change. The scientist may be skeptical about the intervention, but has faith in the method such that if a change is revealed, there is certainty that the result was produced through the effort.

Yoga is your inner laboratory, a place where you can put your faith in the practice to the test. Yoga does not require you believe in anything, rather that you deliberately create the conditions, make an effort (tapas) and observe what happens. Faith (sraddha) emerges as a result of repeated experiments. BKS describes Patanjali’s use of the word sraddha as an encouragement to intensify one’s practice to reach the highest goal.

Sutra and translation excerpted From: B. K. S. Iyengar. “Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.” Apple Books. https://books.apple.com/us/book/light-on-the-yoga-sutras-of-patanjali/id538108384

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world.
Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
― Rumi

See you on the mat.


The Psycho-Physicality of Tadasana, Mountain Pose

…we human beings live between the two realities of earth and sky. The earth stands for all that is practical, material, tangible, incarnate. It is the knowable world, objectively knowable through the voyages of discovery and observation.”
BKS Iyengar, Light on Life, p. 5

What better way to come to know the world and yourself then through the practice of tadasana, Mountain Pose. Tada means mountain, and it creates the image of something dense, broad-based, ascending towards the sky. This pose is also known as samasthiti. Sama means upright, straight, unmoved. And sthiti means standing still and steady.

This is where all asana begins, where we explore our connection to the earth, and extend through the crown of the head towards the sky. And in-between we cultivate an authentic consciousness of extension and expansion. For practitioners, beginners and experienced alike, it is an energizing practice to come from your normal “how you stand” into tadasana.

The instructions are simple (from LOY, .61)

  1. Stand erect with the feet together, the heels and big toes touching each other. Rest the heads of the metatarsals (the ball mounds) on the floor and stretch all the toes flat on the floor.
  2. Tighten the knees and pull the knee-caps up, contract the high and pull up the muscles at the back of the thighs.
  3. Keep the stomach in, chest forward, spine stretched up and the neck straight.
  4. Do not bear the weight of the body whether on the heels or the toes, but dispute it evenly on them both.

This last bit – standing evenly on the feet – is what stumps most people. Because of architecture (bone structure), musculature, habit, illness, worklife, hobbies, etc. we develop habits of the feet that ultimately leave us less connected to the ground.

On the mat.

  1. As you come into tadasana, bend forward and spread your toes, one foot at a time. Manually extend each toe forward.
  2. Then, manually extend the sole of each foot. Lift the metatarsals and – again, one foot at a time – spread and extend the skin of each sole forward.
  3. Then come to stand, and – keeping the toes extended, metatarsals spread, sole extended – lift the heel (one at a time) and reach it back. Then, lean down into both heels evenly without lifting the front of the feet off the floor.
  4. Observe – your feet, calves, knees, thighs, hips, front and back of the torso, up through the crown of the head.
  5. Observe – energetically, the breath, the gaze, the mind.

Off the mat.

Practice tadasana (without the manual manipulation of your feet) everywhere! Standing in line at the grocery store, washing the dishes, where-ever there is an opportunity to stand still, upright and strong.

From Rumi, the Sufi poet:

Where ever you you stand
Be the soul of that place.

See you on the mat.


Ethics, Kindness and the Health Benefits of Social Connections

Today’s post starts with some interesting scientific findings. The links are here and I encourage you to read the source materials. 

“Seven studies using experimental and naturalistic methods reveal that upper-class individuals behave more unethically than lower-class individuals.” (https://www.pnas.org/content/109/11/4086)

“… a higher degree of social integration was associated with lower risk of physiological dysregulation in a dose–response manner in both early and later life. Conversely, lack of social connections was associated with vastly elevated risk in specific life stages…Physiological impacts of structural and functional dimensions of social relationships emerge uniquely in adolescence and midlife and persist into old age”
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4725506/

As humans gain more “power” (over the environment, worklife, and social relationships), there is a tendency is to see these powers as good excuses to behave badly  – to strangers as well as family and familiars; to animals and the environment. And these exertions of power have an isolating, destructive effect. The impulse to behave badly is self-destructive (literally, we age faster and die sooner); and other-destructive (we hurt, injure or kill that which is interdependent with our personal and social well-being). 

So much of health and well-being throughout the health span depends on how meaningfully and consistently we connect with others. Humans are socio-biologically and neuro-biologically built for sharing – events, experiences and meaning. 

In spiritual terms, the ability to behave ethically (with kindness, respect, empathy, compassion) starts with building an ethical relationship with yourself. 

The Dali Lama once said, “my religion is kindness”. A kind word or act towards a friend, relation or stranger can change your biochemistry (sympathetic to parasympathetic) and your psychological experience – not to mention the quality of the experience for the person receiving the kindness.  

On the mat.

Perhaps you struggle to be kind to yourself? “Here’s what’s wrong with me… “(then the list – hamstrings, flabby arms, poor balance, too old, too tight, too… whatever).

Do you see your fellow students as isolated islands, watching you, perhaps critiquing your pose?

Try beginning your practice with sitting or lying quietly. In class or in your own practice, chant aum three times, take three minutes with eyes closed to focus on your breath, observe your thoughts, and become present. 

Off the mat.

Perhaps you carry that inner voice of self-chastising with you, and (frequently, infrequently) it grabs you by the heart and brings you down, and then you may feel obliged to share your misery with your friends and family  – misery surely loves company. 

The antidote –

I was so moved by a recent listening of an interview with Sylvia Boorstein, psychologist and spiritual teacher. With her audience she offered the following guided meditation. I thought we might practice it this week, and perhaps you could try this at home (this is the original source https://onbeing.org/blog/sylvia-boorstein-a-lovingkindness-meditation/):

Close your eyes. It’s perfectly all right to have your eyes open, but it maybe easier with eyes closed.

You don’t have to sit in a special way. But if you want to, close your eyes. And just take two deep breaths, in and out.

Take a long breath in, and out. And in again, and out.

The metta practice of lovingkindness practice always begins with a blessing for yourself. So think for yourself:

May I feel safe. May I feel content. May I feel strong. May I live with ease.

Bring into your mind, someone that you love tremendously —  a parent, a partner, a child, a sibling —  someone you love enormously. That thinking of them brings delight into your mind. You probably have more than one. Pick one just for this moment. Imagine them right in front of you. Imagine that they can feel you wishing for them so you make this wish in your mind for your person:

May you feel safe. May you feel content. May you feel strong. May you live with ease.

Think about another person that you love a lot. Imagine them and wish for them:

May you feel safe. May you feel content. May you feel strong. May you live with ease.

Let your body stay relaxed and easy. You can smile, it makes your whole body more relaxed. 

Think of someone that you rarely think about but that you’d recognize if you met, like your hairdresser, or the person that bags your groceries:

May you feel safe. May you feel content. May you feel strong. May you live with ease.

Think about familiar strangers, unfamiliar strangers, near and far. All around us here and stretching out all around the whole world, all around this whole globe. All people just like us, with lives, who want, just as we do, to live in safety and contentment, to be able to feel strong, to have lives of ease. Who share with us the same wishes and hopes and dreams that we have as human beings. Wish for all those people, all beings near and far:

May you feel safe. May you feel content. May you feel strong. May you live with ease.

And before you open your eyes, observe the quality of your experience – observe your body, your breathing, your facial expression. 

And when you open your eyes now and look around, perhaps you experience your world differently. 

From Sylvia: “One of my fantasies… is that the whole world will wish themselves something like that and we’ll have a different world.”

See you on the mat. 


Begin again.

Why is it that we so often forget the power of “beginning again”?

So often we have an experience that does not go well – and we make that experience mean something so powerful or awful that it “colors” the the rest of the day, the week, the year, maybe the lifetime. 

Or maybe progress in your work or your personal life is not happening as fast as you want, or as well as you want. 

On the mat, at any moment, it is easy to get discouraged, or bored, or hurt. And that’s it. You are done. Arm balance becomes a wishful idea, as does balancing on your head in the middle of the room, or getting up from the floor without pain. So something happens/something goes awry, and you are done. Fini. You choose to be done. 

To come at it from another perspective, consider that a baby, when learning to walk, does not have a repertoire of thoughts about failing or disappointment. Watching a baby learn to walk can be both hilarious and frightening, as you never know which end will plant on the ground when balance is lost (bottom or face). The baby doesn’t consider failures – that baby is UNSTOPPABLE in its effort to do this walking-thing, forgetting past effort, with no clue of what lies ahead. The baby just chooses to walk. And after falling, the baby chooses to walk again. 

Get on the mat and choose to practice, with tapas and svadyaya – effort and self-study.

If it does not go so well, you can begin again at any moment – tomorrow, later today, or how about now?

Choose every day as a new beginning.

See you on the mat. 


After the Convention—What is Iyengar Yoga Now?

Over the next many months I will strive to explore, understand, and share what I learned at the Iyengar Yoga National Convention in Dallas, 2019. 
 
Abhijata crammed an amazing amount of detail about asana, pranayama, transformation, family, community and parampara (succession, tradition) into 6 short days. My head, heart and spirit are expanded – and I’m still spinning a bit. It will take a while to “unpack” some fundamental changes she taught so that they can be integrated into the practice, teaching and training. IYNAUS will release the complete video at some point. Please come sit with me to view and review parts or the whole thing – or trust that I will be a reasonable channel for transmission of this significant work.
 
The passing of the leadership from BKS Iyengar to Geeta Iyengar to Abhijata Iyengar is one of the many big shifts in our community that is still unfolding. I am buoyed that the steward of our tradition is a young woman, mother, intellect, student, inspiring teacher, and sisya to BKS Iyengar, Geeta Iyengar and Prashant Iyengar.  She is steeped in tradition, with both feet planted firmly in the present time. 
 
Some changes were clarified at the convention (e.g., where and how to place the hands in sirsasana). Other issues – like ethics training, the double-edged sword of “touch,” the support of all those who have been affected by the events regarding Manouso – were introduced and discussed, but not completed.  I left with a sense that these issues will require further discussion and reflection at many levels – personally, in our local community, in the national association, and in society at large. 

Change is what happens to water – it turns to ice, to steam, and back to water again.
Transformation is what happens to the caterpillar – it becomes a butterfly and can never go back. 
 
Like all matters of human transformation, it begins with who we are being and how we communicate with ourselves and each other. To paraphrase the Four Fold Path described by Angeles Arriens (one of my early teachers,) we show up and choose to be present;  pay attention to what has heart and meaning; tell the truth with/out blame or judgment; and stay receptive and non-attached to any particular outcome.

The Four-Fold Path aligns with the practice of Iyengar Yoga, the path laid out in accordance with Sutras of Patanjali. 

  • I am present: on my mat in practice, as a student in class, as a teacher of students, and as a member of a community. 
  • I pay attention to the experience of learning, appreciation, acknowledgement and validation. This includes paying attention to my own health and well-being, the health of well-being of other humans, animals and the planet. 
  • I listen for, observe, and express myself with honesty, authenticity and integrity. I listen to you in the same way (yes, say when my pose is not aligned, tell me when I’ve made a mistake, let me know when I get too serious.) 
  • I work on the mat and off the mat to be receptive to all outcomes, attached to none.

So, what is Iyengar Yoga now?

  • A spiritual path
  • Abhyasaand vairagya– practice and non-attachment
  • Tapas,svadhyaya, iswarapranidhanam– purifying and devoted effort, study, and surrender
  • The external, inner, and innermost quest. 
  • The dissolving of the veil that covers the shining light within. 

The mat offers a place to work out the details for life off the mat. 

See you on the mat. 

Susan Marcus, owner
Iyengar Yoga Sarasota
941-363-1085
susan@iyengaryogasarasota.com


Yoga On and Off the Mat

What is a mystical experience?

Lawrence Kushner described a mystical experience as having 4 attributes:

  • It is transient
  • You are passive to the experience
  • The experience is noetic, cognizable
  • It is ineffable, you can’t put it into words

Is it an esoteric event, conveyed only by a holy or spiritual being, or experienced in some altered state? Or…

There are many reports of mystical experiences from extraordinary encounters with spiritual teachers, or while in altered states, or in NDE’s (near death experiences).

Consider that access to the mystical can be encountered at any moment. It’s a matter of receptivity and attention.

The mystical experience on the mat: receptivity and attention

  1. Receptivity: Guruji once said “Nothing can be forced. We must absorb everything without the conditioned mind.” What happens if you come to your mat with a fresh uncluttered mind? In Zen Buddhism this is described as “beginner’s mind”, that is, having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level. I’ve heard Senior teacher Lois Steinberg encourage students to “wash your brain” before beginning a pose, to remove the preconceived notions of what you can and cannot do. So, receptivity is the frame of mind of being open to all possibilities.
  2. Attention: Guruji remarked: “We often fool ourselves that we are concentrating because we fix our attention on wavering objects.” One of the hallmarks of Iyengar yoga is paying close attention to anatomical details and alignment in a precise way. But if we limit our attention to the mechanical details (the citta of the pose), what do we miss? In asana practice we are learning how to pay attention. Psychologists describe this as metacognition – that is, becoming aware of and understanding the experience of paying attention. So, in asana we begin the practice by focusing our attention: from big toe to inner ankle to inner thigh, etc. With practice, these multiple points become one pointed… and then “no pointed”. This is described in III.4, where
  • Patañjali shows dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (absorption) as three threads woven into a single, integrated, unfolding strand. Then he introduces three transformations of consciousness related directly to them, and successively ascending to the highest level, at which consciousness reflects the light of the soul. These transformations are nirodha pariñama, samadhi pariñama and ekagrata pariñama. (Excerpt From: B. K. S. Iyengar. “Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.”)

Nirodha is the quieting of mind chatter, samadhi is absorption (the unification of consciousness into absorption) and ekagrata is the movement from one-pointed to no-pointed attention. Through the regular practice of asana the practitioner can journey inward to the core and back and access the mystical.

The mystical experience off the mat: receptivity and attention

Take the most ordinary experience of your day: walking the dog, doing the dishes, preparing a meal. Pause for a moment; take a slightly deeper breath and exhale. Widen your eyes slightly and relax the muscles of your mouth and jaw. Then gaze at one thing (anything) like this is your first encounter. Attend to each detail of that thing, one piece at a time, then slowly shift your focus to the whole, like adjusting a lens from micro to macro. Pause. Breathe.

Let me know what happens.

“Yoga does not just change the way we see things,
it transforms the person who sees.”
BKS Iyengar


How Does One Become “Present”?

BKS Iyengar once said that the study of asana is not about mastering a pose, rather using the pose to understand and transform yourself. What makes this possible is the ability to become present to what is happening on your little piece of plastic — at home or in class.

The practice of Iyengar yoga asana and pranayama requires a “presence” such that when you are in a class you can see the teacher’s actions and hear their words and your body and brain responds, often with a simultaneity across students that creates a shared experience of working separately and together – all in the present moment.

But what happens when the mind wanders? You latch onto:

  • Your knee injury from when you fell off your bicycle;
  • the possibilities of shopping after class – Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods?
  • Complete confusion because your brain is still processing instruction #3 when the teacher is at #7 or is it 8? what the teacher demonstrates, and inwardly sigh: “that pose is NOT for me”.

It helps to understand how the mind works. According to yoga philosophy, there are three aspects:

  • Manas (perceiving mind) – records and processes the impressions from the senses and sorts out the pleasurable from the painful. Manas is clever and can manage the checkbook but can also obscure what is factual by exaggeration and avoidance.
  • Ahamkara (the sense of I-ness) forms and maintains identity from physical attributes, social and career pursuits, hobbies, favorite colors and animals. These are all the “bits” that make you “you”.
  • Buddhi (intelligence) provides the capacity for discernment of the present moment, and opens the door to volition (tapas), so that one is free to choose to be present and act authentically.

When on the mat, observe what aspect you are absorbing your practice through:

  • Are you going through the motions, doing the “movements”, thinking about when you’ll be done? Are you cleverly working just enough, so the teacher doesn’t harass you? This is practicing from manas.
  • Are you berating yourself about your progress? Do you receive the teacher’s instructions with over-confidence? Do you feel disappointed with the teacher does not acknowledge your efforts? This is practicing with ahamkara.
  • Are you listening through all your senses, so that with each action you can move deeper into the pose, be present to each experience, discerning what needs effort and what needs restraint? This is buddhi.

Even in the simplest of asanas, you can play with what if feels to practice through each of these aspects.

When off the mat, observe what aspect you are using to experience your world. Ask yourself:

  • Am I going through the motions?
  • Am I trying to be clever? Evasive?
  • Am I living for the moment, willing to pick up the pieces sometime in the future?
  • Am I dwelling in self-pity?
  • Resting on the laurels of my past successes?
  • Creating a persona for each venue I engage?
  • Wondering who am I supposed to be today?
  • Am I willing to transcend my habits, to let go of what is familiar?
  • Can I discern what is so – the truth of the moment – act in alignment with what is discerned, and move into a state of being?

“Yoga does not just change the way we see things, it transforms the person who sees.” – BKS Iyengar


Yoga On and Off the Mat | February 2019

How does one become “present”?

BKS Iyengar once said that the study of asana is not about mastering a pose, rather using the pose to understand and transform yourself. What makes this possible is the ability to become present to what is happening on your little piece of plastic — at home or in class.

The practice of Iyengar yoga asana and pranayama requires a “presence” such that when you are in a class you can see the teacher’s actions and hear their words and your body and brain responds, often with a simultaneity across students that creates a shared experience of working separately and together – all in the present moment.

What happens when the mind wanders?

You latch onto:

  • your knee injury from when you fell off your bicycle;
  • the possibilities of shopping after class – Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods?
  • Complete confusion because your brain is still processing instruction #3 when the teacher is at #7 or is it 8?
  • what the teacher demonstrates, and inwardly sigh: “that pose is NOT for me”.

How does the mind work?

It helps to understand how the mind works. According to yoga philosophy, there are three aspects:

  1. Manas (perceiving mind) – records and processes the impressions from the senses and sorts out the pleasurable from the painful. Manas is clever and can manage the checkbook but can also obscure the what is factual by exaggeration and avoidance. 
  2. Ahamkara (the sense of I-ness) forms and maintains identity from physical attributes, social and career pursuits, hobbies, favorite colors and animals. These are all the “bits” that make you “you”. 
  3. Buddhi (intelligence) provides the capacity for discernment of the present moment, and opens the door to volition (tapas), so that one is free to choose to be present and act authentically.

What can you practice?

When on the mat, observe what aspect you are absorbing your practice through: 

  1. Are you going through the motions, doing the “movements”, thinking about when you’ll be done? Are you cleverly working just enough, so the teacher doesn’t harass you? This is practicing from manas
  2. Are you berating yourself about your progress? Do you receive the teacher’s instructions with over-confidence? Do you feel disappointed with the teacher does not acknowledge your efforts? This is practicing with ahamkara
  3. Are you listening through all your senses, so that with each action you can move deeper into the pose, be present to each experience, discerning what needs effort and what needs restraint? This is buddhi

Even in the simplest of asanas, you can play with what if feels to practice through each of these aspects. 

When off the mat, observe what aspect you are using to experience your world. Ask yourself:

  • Am I going through the motions? Am I trying to be clever? Evasive? Am I living for the moment, willing to pick up the pieces sometime in the future?
  • Am I dwelling in self-pity? Resting on the laurels of my past successes? Creating a persona for each venue I engage? Wondering who am I supposed to be today?
  • Am I willing to transcend my habits, to let go of what is familiar? Can I discern what is so – the truth of the moment – act in alignment with what is discerned, and move into a state of being? 


“Yoga does not just change the way we see things,
it transforms the person who sees.”


BKS Iyengar