This year the Smithsonian and the Asian Art Museum in San Fransisco were the hosts to an exhibition called:
Yoga: The Art of Transformation.
Manouso Manos gave a lecture at the Asian Art Museum as part of this exhibition. He describes yoga, past and present, and the life of BKS Iyengar, his teacher. Check it out.
NPR story about BKS Iyengar:
We will work on The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali
This text is a concise, compact exploration of the various facets of life and how they affect us physically, emotionally and spiritually. The text offers concrete suggestions of how to adopt the principles of yoga to overcome and manage life’s stresses and strains. We offer a few sutras at a time to learn, think about, and perhaps use in one’s daily life.
The commentary used is mainly that of BKS Iyengar as his understanding of the yoga sutras is through his own experience of practice of asana and how it pertains to understanding this text more deeply. Occassionally other translations and commentaries will be used and will be noted appropriately.
Every thought we have is expressed to the world outside through the vrttis – permutations of thought – pramana (correct perception), viparyaya ( incorrect perception), vikalpa (imagination), nidra (dreamless sleep), smrtayah (memory). Are minds are filled with thoughts and memories that we have directly experienced, imagined, and misunderstood. Through focused and sustained attention, we become much clearer in our ability to discern between the different costumes, or permutations, of thought and thus, be able to be attentive and focus the mind, not on the fluctuations of the mind. We are either attentive to the mind or not attentive to the mind – it cannot be in between.
Patanjali suggests that we use abhaysa and vairagya to develop and focus the thoughts that consistently and relentlessly flutter through the mind.
Abhyasa, means practice – long term, sustained, uninterrupted practice. Vairagya means to relinquish, renounce. This concept we call vairagya often happens of it’s own accord. For example, if you start running – the first few weeks can be really hard, frustrating even. After a while, you might say, if I went to bed earlier, I might be able to run earlier in the morning and not be so stressed, and, if I eat less junk food I might not get so tired. Through the practice, you may end up giving up things that improve your overall wellbeing, and improve your running. You never intentionally relinquish these things, it happens because of your practice.
Vairagya comes out of abhayasa. Desikachar says, if you want to observe a practitioners devotion to yoga – don’t observe their abhyasa, observe their vairagya. How has your practice transformed your actions off your mat? in your life? When life gets stressful – you always have your yoga practice, your abhyasa. It is the vairagya that has evolved out of your yoga practice that is the small voice that says “it’s time to practice now – stop doing what you’re doing and practice.” Abhyasa and vairagya work together.
When we begin anything new, it is abhyasa that enables a practice to become fruitful and, if we sustain our efforts, a regular part of our lives. At the start, it is hard to commit the time, money etc. In addition, we may not see the fruits of our labors for a while. However, the key is to continue, because as we continue to practice (abhyasa), we begin to carve out the time to come to class. This is the beginning of vairagya – to let go of another activity, something we don’t need, to maintain a practice, something that makes us feel better. The physical benefits of a yoga practice are quick (this is the product of abhyasa), but what we start to recognize is the evolution of how our thoughts affect our actions. The permutations of those thoughts (vrttis) are the key to being able to let go of what is unnecessary in our lives. Vairagya works on our mind stuff.
Watch what you relinquish, what you are able to move through, let go of, or step beyond when life gets tough. This is vairagya. It is ours to cultivate and brings huge benefits to our mental and emotional well being. It cannot happen with out the focus and dedication of your practice and yet, your practice is directly responsible for what you are able to let go of.