As we move through backbends this week at Clear Yoga, thoughts and feelings arise. These have their roots in what has happened to us in the past, and these thoughts and feelings can often cloud or obscure what we experience in the present moment. The conversation with ourselves often sounds like: “ I need to stop”, “ my shoulder hurts”, “ I shouldn’t have come today”, “what’s the time?”, “ when are we going to do something else”, “ last time I did this, I didn’t like it”, “ I need to go to the bathroom”, and on and on. These conversations come from the “vrttis” or modifications of consciousness. There are 5: pramana – behaviors or events we have experienced directly: viparyaya – behaviors or events that we have done and misunderstood, or not perceived correctly: vikalpa – events we have imagined: nidra: events or behaviors we have dreamed about while sleeping: smrti – memory. Every experience, moment by moment falls into one of these categories and are stored in our memories as “samskaras”. A samskara is an impression on our consciousness – like a scar, or the grooves on a record, or etches on a piece of metal. Consciousness is made up of samskaras and smrti (memory) is the storehouse for all samskaras.
Depending on whether the samskara was created by an experience, action or behavior that you would interpret as “happy”, “good”, “positive” or “constructive” such as your yoga practice, etc., or whether it was created by an experience, action or behavior that is traumatic, negative, fearful, anxious, unhappy, angry, hurtful or unconstructive, the samskara will effect us in either a positive or negative way.
Samskaras have an emotional and energetic component to them that cause them to effect our feelings and state of mind, as well as our behaviors. This energy can also cause the samskara to be manifested or arise in our consciousness at anytime, although samskaras are also sometimes initiated by particular circumstances or memories, etc.
Through our practice we seek to create new samskaras based on direct experience that assist, overcome, or reinforce existing positive samskaras.
Our yoga practice is a practice of purification. It cultivates positive samskaras that are reinforced again and again (lift your chest, lift your chest!). Negative samskaras are uprooted, and eventually dissolved and washed away completely. Sometimes during practice we experience restlessness and distractions because all of this junk that is being cleaned out of us needs to bubble up and be released. These distractions come in the form of the endless conversations “ I want to stop”, “ I’m tired” , “I hate backbends” etc.
Back bends are where these conversations come up the most. And yet, it is precisely at these moments, when we are about to give up, that the practice leads us to the next breath, the next step, to new territory, to perhaps overcoming a fear, a pain, and laziness.
When behaviors or emotions come up that are strong enough to make you come out of a pose, or skip practice, then you are onto something important. BKS Iyengar and Sri Pattabi Jois were often heard to say, “ let them struggle, or let them fall.” Not to always softly say “there, there” but to shout “HERE, HERE” be here now and experience this. In the context of yoga practice these moments are the places where we can be present, change, and overcome the negative samskaras that become a platform from the past, from which we fall back on to view our world. As a result, we make the same mistakes, experience the same aches and pains, again and again.
Avoidance is a kind of escape that prevents you from experiencing exactly what you would need to experience in order to learn the tough lessons contained within all yoga postures. If you always either go to the wall or ask a teacher to spot you, then you will never develop the kind of self-confidence that it takes to master the posture on your own. You have to learn to…let yourself sweat, wobble, even fall… Learning how to fall is about understanding what suffering is, how to face it, accept it and ultimately make it your friend. This is at the core of yoga’s toughest and deepest teaching.
Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “Do something that frightens you every day”. David Bowie “turn and face the strange”. Your life begins at the end of your comfort zone. Examining our samskaras and building those that give us clarity, strength and the determination to be objective in the most subjective of situations are at the heart of our practice.
“Think of the yogi as a brave warrior going on a long and epic journey to the center of the soul. Just as in every heroic epic there are fearsome, painful and worrying battles that test the limits of the hero’s ability, so too in yoga are there challenging, difficult and nearly impossible postures that test the limits of your body and mind. But if you are the hero who is committed to the whole journey, then you also have the heart to see the experience all the way through to the end and win your final freedom.”
~Kino Macgregor. Astanga yoga teacher in Miami.
The American Yoga ReVolution with Iyengar disciples Manouso Manos and Patricia Walden
A Conversation with Manouso Manos
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:
From a lecture given by Birjoo Metha at “Yoganusasanam 2014″
What is the difference between individual consciousness and universal consciousness?
Imagine a river coursing through the landscape. Then there is a lot of rain and the water comes down fast into the river and it breaks its banks and over flows into the surrounding area. When the waters subside there are ponds left over that are filled with the river water but are no longer connected to the river itself. Banks develop around these ponds and the river continues on it’s way. After a while, these ponds develop their own life within the boundaries, or confines of the pond edges. The pond is the individual consciousness. The river is the universal consciousness. The water always wants to join the river so it can see itself. Our practice is to try and break the boundaries of our individual consciousness to join the flow of universal consciousness rather like the pond breaking it’s banks. We have to let go of the identities that exist and let water return to the universal consciousness.