This was the first afternoon presentation of the conference. Abhijata introduced the session with images of the many ways that we support and participate with one another. We seek support to grow, for guidance (a child and teacher), for emotional support (hands of an older couple clasped together) and physical support (a blind person being led and rock climbers wall hooks). Life is ripe with ways that we give support and are supported. Abhijata is an excellent orator, and I was able to type quickly. This post covers just a small portion of her presentation, but I am able to give you her words.
“The story of props is one of evolution; that started in 1924 and continues now.” Form the time when Guruji first arrived in Pune he sought ways to help his students. She recounted how one day Guruji was strolling down a road and saw a roller bin that smooths the roads. He lay down over the roller and thought that it might be helpful. When he returned home he found a water drum (at that time there was no running water, she added). He then called a wood worker to fashion what we now call the Viparita Dandasana bench.
“One day a VIP, the principle of Fergusson College came and asked Sundaraj (Iyengar’s first name) for help. It was 1937, this man was 85 and could barely walk. Now, most people might suggest that this man go and do something else, not yoga!” Abhijata is a charismatic speaker, and we were all enthralled.
“So, Sundararaj thought that he would make this old man do standing poses lying down.” Abhijata explained; “He tried to get him down on the floor. Once the principle was prone, his tried to spread his legs apart. But the man’s legs kept coming back together. So he put a rod between the legs. Now, this is a big shift, to take the standing poses lying down. Some might say that this was an aberration, but Sundaraj wanted to help the school principle. This was the beginning to the use of props. With this story, Sundaraj put an end to the idea that yoga could not be done by older people.”
Abhijata then discussed our notion of giving help, how do we really support one another. “In general, when we see someone who is having problems, we feel sympathy, and we want to help. However, props have not come about because of sympathy; they have come about through empathy. You have to put yourself into their shoes and see what they are going through. Patanjali makes no mention of sympathy, what he refers to is 1.33: Maitri (friendliness), and Karuna (compassion towards anyone who is in “dukha”), this is empathy.”
“A prop is an upholder, a support. In India, the sage would have a vision of a mantra, and they would then take Darshana (deep contemplation) and come to understand the meaning. For us, Guruji has given us the props to take Darshana on the poses.”
Abhijata next demonstrated several ways that she practices Ardha Chandrasana. Using a trestle (also known as a horse), she placed her lifted leg over the top rung of the trestle and braced her standing leg against its end. The touch of the trestle on her lifted leg guided her as to where she was not extending. She next took Ardha Chandrasana at a right angle to the trestle and placed her lifted leg knee on the top rung. A weight was placed on her foot. This drew the inner knee in line with the rest of her leg. Otherwise her knock knee projected out. She showed several other ways that most of you readers probably are more familiar with, facing away from the trestle with a stool support for the leg and then facing the trestle. The touch of the trestle guided the alignment of the legs, back, and knees.
“So the prop is not there to help you, it is not there to support you; it is there to inform you, like a good teacher. The prop gives you courage, it gives you confidence. Guruji always said that you must first instill in your students courage and confidence, for the students will then take up the path of yoga.”
“Guruji made the prop lively, it is not an external thing to use as support, it was to be an extension of you. People may say that we can become dependent on the props. If you are caught up in the physical framework, then yes, you might. But if you use the prop to inform your practice, then it becomes a teacher. “
In closing, Abhijata framed the use of props in the bigger context of Yoga Sadhana. If props can inform and guide us to connect and feel what is really happening, we can then communicate within the body to adjust and improve our pose. This process is how we continue to refine, integrate and deepen our perception in the poses and in life in general.
“We say that yoga is union, but before union we must first connect, and then communicate, then integrate, and there can then be union.” -Abhijata