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

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

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jellaludin Rumi

Yoga On And Off The Mat | January 2019

You’ve often heard me refer in class to the five elements (pancha maha bhutas) – earth, water, fire, air, and space.

Last week we explored the element air, vayu. In yogic philosophy this element is experienced in the physical body as movement, mobility, and release; and is the interface between our own intelligence (buddhi) and the cosmic intelligence (mahat). More simply, imagine that as we breathe in, we take the air in from atmosphere through the inhalation, process and utilize it in metabolism, and return it to the atmosphere on the exhalation. And, consider that each breath is composed of atoms that have been here for a long, long time; that we may be breathing the atoms of dinosaurs. Now, that’s cosmic.

There are 5 vayus, and last week we explored the apana vayu, the element that involves the downward and outward flow of energy from the body. We located it physically in the area between the navel and the pubis bones. So physically and physiologically, it is associated with digestive elimination, and with menstruation. The seat of apana vayu is the muladhara chakra, or the root chakra located at the perineum and pelvic floor. The apana vayu guides the elimination of physical wastes, and mental and emotional waste—the thoughts and feelings that we can let go of. So, you can consider the function of this vayu as a means of releasing energetic and well as physical toxins.

On the mat, in the practice of forward extensions, we used the exhalation in the conscious deflation of the abdomen (in the words of John Schumacher), to softly let go and create space for extension and expansion.

Off the mat, we can also use the slow steady exhalation to release tension, mental fatigue and anxiousness. Imagine listening to an irritating co-worker, getting stalled in traffic, or accidently overcooking the evening meal. Take a moment to exhale, pause, and release – several times – and observe what effect that has on the moment, your emotional experience and mental state.

This week we explore samana vayu, the air element that involves the meeting between the inward flow flow of energy (prana) and the outward movement (apana). Samana is located around and slightly above the navel and is associated with the physical and physiological process of digestive and assimilation. Mentally and emotionally, samana represents how we “digest” information, and how we “process” it through our mental and emotional experiences. So, just like a soured food can create a “sour” stomach, thoughts and experiences that are received as “bitter” or painful can create an “achy”, distressing or unbalanced emotional response. Focusing on the samana vayu can direct the physical, mental and emotional body to approach what is taken in more intelligently – assimilating good foods and good thoughts for health and well-being – and how to direct what needs to be released.

On the mat, in the practice of lateral extensions (twists), we can use the exhalation to stabilize the base of the pose, and the inhalation to create lift and space for the twist to occur. Observe that coming into the deeper twists does not happen all at once – each time, the base is re-stabilized, and the subsequent extension allows for a deeper pose to occur.

Off the mat, we can observe what how the experiences and information we take in get processed. Observe how some experiences create a feeling of “stuckness” or immobility, perhaps because of a reticence to assimilate or process an experience so it can be released. Observe what happens when a distressing or distracting event occurs – can you “revolve” your perspective so that you no longer feel

stuck? Re-establish where you are, assimilate what you’ve learned, release what’s no longer needed, and evolve.


Yoga on and Off the Mat | December 2018

As I look towards 2019 and contemplate the role of yoga in my life, I am struck by the difference between how I am being on the mat, and how I am off the mat. Practicing or teaching, when I’m on the mat the quality of my attention sharpens, colors “pop”, and I am present, receptive to the direct experience of each moment. Off the mat, I’m distracted, multi-tasking, behind my timeline in my actions, ahead of my timeline in my thoughts, often missing the moment I am in (“excuse me, can you repeat what you just said?”).

Hmmmm.

So it is this introspection that has brought me to declare the theme for 2019 to be an exploration of what we discover on the mat – in terms of svadyaya (self-study and study of the “maps of the territory”, e.g., the sutras, Bhagavad Gita, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and modern teachers like Michael Singer, Pema Chodrin, Sadhguru, Ekhart Tolle, etc.) and tapas (devoted
practice) – and how it occurs/does not occur when we move about in our daily lives.

We’ll examine the nature of consciousness (citta) and how the qualities of consciousness (gunas) and aspects of consciousness (ahamkara, manas, buddhi) and the deep ruts of old habits and thoughts (samskaras) filter and disrupt the experience of mindful absorption in the present moment (samadhi). The seeds of these concepts will be explored in asana classes, discussed in our bimonthly philosophy class, and contemplated in writings via this newsletter and social media. And, if you’d ever like to sit down to talk and reflect over a cup of tea, we can do that too.

I look forward to traveling with you in this next year –
Namaste.


Dharana – the 6th Limb of Ashtanga Yoga

Dharana is the beginning of the innermost quest. In the first 3 limbs (yama, niyama, and asana) the practitioner begins with the external quest – the firmness of the body. The movement from asana to pranayama to pratyaharatouches the inner quest – the steadiness of intelligence. The last 3 limbs (dharana, dyhana, and samadhi) comprise the innermost quest – the benevolence of the spirit.

Dharana translates as “concentration” specifically on one thing. The Yoga Sutras (I.17) describe 4 kinds of concentration; but to begin, we start with focus on an object (savitarka) like a candle, mantra or the breath. The practice is to move towards a single pointed (eka grata) state of consciousness.

In asana, we find the edges of awareness in the physical body; pranayamadraws us inward to the organic and energetic subtleties of the pose; pratyahara reaches inward to a quiet expression of the authentic self. Dharana is the stilling of the mind so that it rests in a an unchanging state.


Pratyahara – the 5th Limb of Ashtanga Yoga

Pratyahara is the bridge between the inner and innermost quest. In the first 3 limbs (yama, niyama, and asana) the practitioner begins with the external quest – the firmness of the body. The movement from asana to pranayama to pratyahara touches the inner quest – the steadiness of intelligence. The last 3 limbs (dharana, dyhana, and samadhi) comprise the innermost quest – the benevolence of the spirit.

Pratyahara translates as “the withdrawal of the senses”. If the normal use of our senses is directed outward, then the cultivation of pratyahara develops the ability to be in the present moment and attune to the inner experience.

In asana, we find the edges of awareness in the physical body; pranayamadraws us inward to the organic and energetic subtleties of the pose; pratyaharareaches further inward to a quiet expression of the authentic self.


Pranayama

BKS Iyengar describes pranayama as “conscious breathing—not deep breathing. Prana means energy or life force and pranayama is the channelling of energy within the body.”

If you observe your normal breath – just watch it, without controlling it — you will notice that it’s irregular, shallow, and difficult to pay attention to. Just as we turn our attention in asana to how the big toe stretches, or how the shoulder blade moves, in yoga we turn our attention to the breath with intention. Then, we can tap into the energetic force that supplies the organs, muscles, skeleton, circulatory, digestive, and reproductive systems with live-giving constituents.

Pranayama has 3 movements: the inhalation, the exhalation; and the retention. Each aspect of the breath is a potential for inquiry and experience of the next step of the journey inward. II.52 Pranayama removes the veil covering the light of knowledge and heralds the dawn of wisdom.