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.
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.
Principles that run contrary to yama (attitudes to cultivate – truth, non violence, non stealing, not wasting of energy, not being greedy) and niyama (observances to cultivate in oneself – cleanliness, contentment, austerity, self study and devotion) are to be countered with the knowledge of discrimination.
The Vitarkas are the thoughts of violence, lies, greed etc. contrary to the yamas and niyamas outlined above. Vitarkas are negative thoughts. Patanjali says that they will arise out of the citta – how could they not? They are merely the cropping up of samskaras – of past impressions, of things we have done that are stored in the memory. We are all tormented by negative thoughts at times. Patanjali says that we have to cultivate counter thoughts.
This sutra contains one of the key concepts in Patanjali’s instruction on the eight limbs of yoga. Yoga is skilled action – knowing when to do more, knowing when to do less, this is moving target that we have to be aware of. As Manouso Manos says yoga is about “keeping your eyes on the job”.
Paksa means to take one side of an argument or action, and pratipaksa means doing the opposite. We practice a little of this, and a little of that – trying to find balance. We go from one known action and another known action that is directly in opposition and we mix them together until we find a third action which derived by skill and discrimination. This third place – the middle ground of the initial action and it’s opposite – is often a new place for us. It is perhaps the acknowledgment of the paradox that life presents on a daily basis.
Edwin Bryant’s commentary says ” This sutra is profound in its implications and provides a means of performing a type of mindfulness meditation for yogis whereby one consciously adjusts the types of samskaras one allows in one’s citta (consciousness). If we consider the citta to be essentially a warehouse of previous samksaras lying in storage (samksaras are never destroyed or though they can be burnt away by yoga practice). If , when the yogi has a negative though of violence, dishonesty, etc. because of past practices, the yogi makes a conscious effort to counter it by a invoking a benevolent thought, then a new more sattvic (balanced and positive) samskara is planted in the citta warehouse. One might consider how the world might be a better place to live if people could go beyond the superficial impressions and view others as fellow spiritual beings and so forth. The more one practices this type of sattvic thinking (the opposite to negative thoughts), the more the citta becomes sattvicized “, or less prone to the pendulum of thoughts moving too and fro disturbing the citta.
BKS Iyengar writes ” Each asana acts and reacts in its own way, cultivating health on a physical level and the mind and intellect at a mental level. While practicing asana, (we) must carefully and minutely observe and adjust the position of the muscles, fibers and cells, measuring lightness or heaviness as required for the performance of a healthy and well balanced body. The internal measuring and balancing process which we call paksa pratipaksa is in some respects the key to why yoga practice actually works, why it has mechanical power to revolutionize our whole being. It is why asana is not gymnastics, why pranayama is not just deep breathing, why dhyana is not self-induced trance, why yama is not just morality. The student of yoga who learns to balance himself internally at every level, physical, emotional, mental, by observation of paksa and pratipaksa, frees himself from this hellish to-ing and fro-ing and lives in harmony with the natural world. Because he is stable, he can adapt to outside changes. The flexibility we gain in asana is the living symbol of the suppleness we gain in relation to life’s problems and challenges.”