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:
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.
Sthira sukham asanam
Sthira – firm, fixed, steady, steadfast, lasting
sukham – happiness, delight
asanam – postures
Asana is perfect firmness of body, steadiness of intelligence and benevolence of spirit.
This sutra describes the true nature of health with the practice of yoga. BKS Iyengar goes onto say in Light on Life:
“Yoga has a threefold impact on health: it keeps people healthy, it inhibits the development of diseases, and it aids in the recovery from ill health. Health begins with firmness in body, deepens to emotional stability, and leads to intellectual clarity, wisdom, and finally the unveiling of the soul….health must begin with the body. Your body is the child of the soul. You must nourish and train your child. Physical health is not a commodity to be bargained for. Nor can it be swallowed in the form of drugs and pills. It has ago be earned through sweat. It is something that we must build up. The practice of yogasana for the sake of health, to keep fit, or to maintain flexibility is the external practice of yoga. ”
The path of yoga takes the journey from the external to the internal to the inner most. It is this that brings us to sthira sukham asanam. The external quest deals with the physical and keeps us fit. The internal, is the level that we evolve towards with continued practice – it includes the physiological and psychological effects of yoga. Iyengar writes that as long as we are physically unfit ” you are caught in the body consciousness alone. This distracts you from healing and culturing the mind. We need sound bodies so we can develop sound minds.”
As we develop on our asanas, we study, adjust, and seek to maintain our focus and concentration on the area of study. Through this, consciousness is “diffused” throughout the body and we experience more alertness, more clarity and the brain becomes less tired and scattered. This is the transition from the external to the internal path – from sthira to suhka. Out of the firmness and health of the physical body, we find ease, not just in the body but in the mind.
Every asana has a strong element of sthira – stability. It takes time and effort to create sthira to find sukham (ease). Ease does not mean easy, it means peaceful, relaxed. BKS Iyengar says:
“This process of relaxing the brain is achieved through asana. We generally think of the mind as being in our head. In asana, our consciousness spreads throughout the body, eventually diffusing in every cell, creating a complete awareness. In this way, stressful thought is drained away, and our mind focuses on the body, intelligence, and awareness as a whole. The stress that saturates the brain is decreased through asana… so the brain is rested, and there is a release from strain”.
We evolve from the external, to the internal, to the inner most path or quest. Through practice, our level of concentration is honed and strengthened until it becomes like a one pointed stream of consciousness and we begin to lose our identity as being something different, or other, than the world around us. We have all experienced perhaps a moment, when we are completely focused that time almost seems to stand still. BKS Iyengar writes that practice brings about the
“transcendence of duality. Patanjali specifically said that asana teaches us to transcend duality, that is, hot and cold, honor and dishonor, wealth and poverty, loss and gain. Asana bestows the firmness to live with equanimity in the vicissitudes of the world’s hurly-burly. (The practice) is the exploration of nature from the world of appearances, or surface, into the subtlest heart of living matter. Spirituality is not some external goal that one must seek but a part of the divine core of each of us, which we must reveal. A yogi sets out to explore his own internal nature, to penetrate the atom (atma – true self) of being. He does not gain dominion of wide lands and restless seas, but over his own recalcitrant flesh and febrile mind. This is the power of compassionate truth. It is this quest for growth and evolution, or “involution”, that is the profound and transformational yogic journey that awaits the seeker after Truth. We begin this involution with what is most tangible, our physical body, and the yogasana practice helps us to understand and learn how to play this magnificent instrument that each of us has been given.”
From a lecture given by Birju 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.