Are you doing your practice to know yourself better?
These are the ideas and questions that Prashant Iyengar, the son of BKS Iyengar asks of us. Due to the Corona Virus, this master who never leaves Pune India, is now in our homes on Zoom!
He began by asking if we are just doing poses. The act of doing is empty if you are not using the knowledge from the doing for your transformation. We are often focused on achieving a pose or getting new things and then we are happy. If by doing your poses you are gaining more self knowledge via the experience of doing, then you are collecting knowledge about the Self and this is yoga.
I started my practice from a very physical space. It was all about doing but as I have continued on my yoga path I am always asking, why are asanas a spiritual practice? The pursuit of self-knowledge is the raison d'etre. As we get older, yes there are physical reasons to practice so you can continue to do all that you can do. But knowing yourself is a divine process that will not only help you know what to practice for your condition but will lead you to that kind of happiness that doesn’t waver in a storm.
Just being active is not the only key. I have a family member who has been incredibly active in his life. In fact, an extreme athlete and now at an older age his body is failing and it’s really clear he is not connected to his body despite years of using it. He has done a lot with it but there is a disconnect and because of that he is suffering greatly.
In light of experimenting, discovering and knowing ourselves, Prashant said that our parts are like phone apps and have different purposes. He often uses wonderful methaphors such as this to help clarify. So, for example the arm in Trikonasana vs. Garudasana will have a very different purpose or effect. Prashant is quite funny and this comparison made me chuckle. As a palmist is able read your future in your palm, so can the foot, face, arm, jaw, breath mind can give you different knowledge of yourself in the asana practice. Your arm in Trikonasana may help you understand your chest while in Baddhanguliyasana the palm reveals something different. You can use your arm to extend your trunk, or your breath to turn your trunk and all this requires full involvement and union of your body, breath and mind.
Have you heard “soften your jaw, relax your eyes?” But have you observed the effect? Like an app, the face softens and you become “composed, reflective and receptive.”
What is your mental state when you practice? Do you practice asana as if you were driving down a foggy road or a clear one?
Always these classes bring up points that take you far beyond the edges of a sticky mat. He cautioned that language is extremely powerful and that we must pay attention to what we say and how we say things and to say what we mean. Very good advice at all times and especially now.
He didn’t believe that stretch was a proper word because while to straighten is a skeletal muscular act to stretch is a “mind awareness act” and the “body matter is not stretchable.” Instead he proposed “decompress or defossilize.” Stretching involves straightening but not the reverse. It is this awareness act that we must continue to do. Our bodies may not be able to do all the poses we did at 10years old or 20 years old awareness shouldn't be lost as we age.
Try it. Straighten your arm…now stretch your arm. There is a different effect and does the word describe your experience properly?
With this way of working in asana, exploring, observing the different ways you use your parts, breath and senses, the discovery is endless!
"Yoga is the process to get educated." Prashant Iyengar
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