Facets of brilliant teaching, the Iyengar family

Lisa at RIMYI in 2013Yoga is a deeply personal experience. Guruji went to the depths of his practice to extract the essence of what it is to be human. He used his body to discover the step ladder that can take us from suffering to inner peace, and paved the path for the rest of us follow. Geeta and Prashant Iyengar, Guruji’s daughter and son, have both dedicated their lives to continuing this discovery. Geeta systematized how we practice, designed programs for women and supervised therapeutic classes. Prashant weaves esoteric elements of yoga into his teaching and bases much of his work on the breath. Each brings us a gift to unwrap through our studies.

I have studied with all three of these inspired teachers. Each brings his/her own discipline, insights and devotion to the daily practice. I have seen their interpretation evolve over time, and how each has chosen to adapt to the changes brought on through the aging process according to his/her needs. I could not ask for better role models.

The second chapter of the Yoga Sutras speaks on Sadhana, or Practice. Guruji translates the first sutra: TapahsvadhyayaIsvarapranidhanani  as “Burning zeal in practice, self-study and surrender to God area the acts of yoga. ” While these three pillars of practice exist in each of us, I might say that Geetaji embodies the more pragmatic approach of practice. She is able to show a clear and concise system to our method. Prashantji elaborates on the interconnections between the breath, body and mind as means of culturing personal transformation. Guruji’s entire life was built from his devotion to God. His practice was intense, his self-study unsurpassed, but his faith in Yoga carried him through times of scarcity and solitude.

In the introduction to Light on Yoga Iyengar suggests “When the restlessness of the mind, intellect and self is stilled through the practice of Yoga, the yogi by the grace of the Spirit within himself finds fulfillment.  Then he knows the joy of the eternal which is beyond the pale of the senses which his reason cannot grasp… The real meaning of Yoga – a deliverance from contact with pain and sorrow.”

In this asana practice, I will introduce language used by each of these masters. Saturday’s practice will include standing and seated postures with some restorative work; Sunday will focus on inversions, pranayama and Prashant’s breath focus.

For more information, or to register, please email institute@iyila.org, call +1-310-558-8212. or visit http://iyila.org/facets-of-practice-the-trinity-of-iyengar-yoga-with-lisa-walford/ or https://www.facebook.com/events/533819957015276/.

Dates: Sat. June 23, 2018, 11:30 – 1:30 & Sun. June 24, 2018, 2:15 – 4:15
Levels: 1 & 2
B.K.S. Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles (IYILA)
1835 South La Cienega Blvd, Suite 240 (Google Map)
Los Angeles, CA, 90035 USA

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Light on Yoga, Practice Sequences from the Back of the Book

Saturday, May 26, 11:30 – 1:30 at IYILA

Practice together a dynamic and challenging sequence. Published when B.K.S. Iyengar was in his 40s, the sequences in the back of Light on Yoga show how he practiced earlier in life. The sequence for this session, week 26-30, includes inversions, Padmasana preparations and variations, seated poses, twists and backward extensions. The sequences In the Back of the Book are stimulating and balanced and show how diverse Iyengar Yoga really is.

This is designed as a practice session, so we will not break down the poses. We will have fun and ignite the passion that led our teacher to explore and practice yoga well into his 90s.

This series is for students who want to challenge their practice. Regular and consistent practice at Level 2, and above, is required, including Sirsasana with variations, and Sarvangasana with variations. Those with injuries, should have an understanding of how to take care of themselves

For more information, or to register, please email institute@iyila.org, call 310-558-8212. or visit http://iyila.org/the-back-of-the-book-sequences-from-light-on-yoga-with-lisa-walford/ or https://www.facebook.com/events/533819957015276/.

Date: Saturday May 26, 2018, 11:30 – 1:30
B.K.S. Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles (IYILA)
1835 South La Cienega Blvd, Suite 240 (Google Map)
Los Angeles, CA, 90035 USA

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Light on Life: Discourse at the Iyengar Yoga Institute in honor of the B.K.S. Centennial

Fours Sessions of Inspiration on Life and Using the Process of Yoga to Live Fully: Apr. 7 – May 5 at IYILA.

In this riveting and insightful book Shree B.K.S. Iyengar explains fundamental principals of Yoga in an accessible way and shows us how to apply these ideas for the modern  age.

For more info, or to register, visit here.

The seven chapters follow the “kosha” model of Self discovery and transformation through Yoga. Chapter titles include Stability, Vitality, Clarity, Wisdom, Bliss and Freedom.  I will introduce the structure of the Kosha model along with the salient ideas in this book and will encourage discussion to help understand how to apply these in your life. A 30 minute yoga practice will conclude each session. I love this book and quote from it frequently.

Chapter 1 – Stability: The yogi knows that the physical body is not only the temple for our soul but the means by which we embark on the inward journey to the core… The physical body corresponds to one of the elements of nature, namely, the earth..You are also developing the qualities of earth within yourself: solidity, shape, firmness, and strength.

In this chapter he reviews the true nature of health, awareness and attention, dynamic extension and he introduces the gunas (qualities of nature in yoga).

We are seeking the balance of polarity, not the antagonism of duality.

Chapter 2 – Vitality: Here he defines Prana and waxes poetic with different experiences in pranayama. Pranayama and the experience of prana is such a subjective topic that perhaps poetic language is the most useful here. One can only point at the moon, the experience will be a private affair. He dives into six emotional disturbances and offers six spokes of the wheel of peace. These are in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali as well as throughout the sacred texts of yoga.

Prana is special because it carries awareness. It is the vehicle for consciousnessIn breathing you have to listen to the sound of mind’s vibration and adjust its harmony.

Chapter 3 – Clarity: Here we are introduced to the nature of the mind. This layer of the Self  has two faces. As the mind relates to the outer layers, the body and physiology, the mind plays a villain. It distracts us and pulls us in all kinds of wants, fears, preferences and prejudices. But when it faces inward, it become a hero. This chapter introduces the nature of memory and how to reduce suffering.

By transferring its allegiance from the pleasure-seeking mind to the discerning intelligence, memory no longer digs pits of old habit for us to fall into but becomes our true guru by guiding us toward perfect knowledge and behavior. By purifying memory, we purify the whole mind. For an average person, memory is a past state of mind. For the yogi, it is a present state of mind.

The final chapters cover Wisdom, Bliss, and Freedom, the inner sheaths in the kosa model of the reality of the Self. I found the following to be quite interesting as Iyengar understands that each student will have to use her/his own cultural and familial background as the foundation for this exploration of the Self.

The free man is innovative and open, even revolutionary, but he will also be steeped in tradition, through culture and hereditary.

While the reading is important and inspiring, I intend to make this course more conversational so that we learn to apply the skills and techniques of Yoga in our daily lives.  The ideas in this material are in the Yoga Sutras. Those of you interested in further studies in the Yoga Sutras will find this book exceptional. I taught a course on Light on Life at Loyola Marymont University ten years ago. Here we go again!

Hope to see you there!

April 7, 14, 28 and May 5
11:30 AM – 2:00 PM
Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles
1835 S La Cienega Blvd, Ste 240, Los Angeles, CA 90035

For more information, or to register, please visit
http://iyila.org/light-on-life-with-lisa-walford/, email institute@iyila.org, or call IYILA at  310.558.8212.

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Pranayama Intensive at IYILA in March

Update: Visit my podcast page to listen to this intensive via iTunes download the podcast feed, or download the individual mp3 files.

What is the ultimate aim of Yoga? What is your ultimate aim in practicing yoga? There are many answers to this question! Many practitioners will say that they seek tranquility and composure along with health and physical agility. When I first began practicing I was intoxicated by the stamina I built and the physical challenge. The sense of peace that came with Savasana was an unexpected bonus experience.

One of the most salient sutras in Patanjali’s discourse launches the second chapter, the chapter on practice. Tapas Svadhyaya Ishvarapranidhanani Kriya Yoga. Kriya literally means doing, work, or action (from the root √kr (to do). In the beginning we learn by doing, repetition, instruction. Svadhyaya directs us to study the Self (Sva = own √i means to go, literally going into the self). With consistent study I began to reflect and refine my practice on all levels, physically I became stronger, more confident and sensitive to the effect of my actions on all levels. My yoga practice was beginning to help me adjust my eating habits, sleep patterns, what I wanted to study and how I wanted to spend my time. Finally, Ishvara embodies mastery, or “lord” and pranidhanani means devotion or dedication. What is life worth if not to dedicate oneself to mastery, devotion, and practice?

Every yoga practice is a synthesis of body/mind/breath, for can we really separate one from the other? Pranayama is the conscious bridge between the body and the mind as it directly addresses the nervous system and the subtle essence called Prana. Pranayama further illumines the overarching application of Sutra 2.II as the inhalation is one of Tapas, and the exhalation Ishvarapranidhanani. The inhalation is the creative principal, it invigorates and energies; while with a conscious exhalation one surrenders all ego to an internal governor, the monarch of all existence, spirit. The reflective nature of Svadhyaya becomes the conscious bridge between the creative ego and sublimating that same ego to a higher power. B.K.S. Iyengar says, in Light on Life, that Prana is special because it carries awareness. It is the vehicle of consciousness.

So how do I cultivate this Prana? And how do did I begin my Pranayama practice? Well, slowly. Guruji says, in Light on Pranayama, The practice of pranayama should not be mechanical. One cannot practice pranayama by force of will; hence, there should be no regimentation. Complete receptivity of the mind and intellect are essential. I am strong willed, I know that about myself. As a dancer I never let a day go by without doing my plies. As a new student of yoga, I insisted on a daily practice where, unless I challenged my limits, I felt that I had cheated myself. My ego was hard to harness and tame! Over time I realized that there was another, deep and rich resource within me that I could tape into with less physical effort and willfulness. Savasana beckoned.

Savasana directed me to tune into a higher consciousness, the eternal Tao. Although the Tao is formless and empty, it never fails to provide. Tao Te Ching. The Isha Upanishad (Mahatma Gandhi’s favorite) says: All this, whatever moves in this Universe, is indwelled by Isha; therefor, through renunciation, do thou enjoy and do not covet anyone’s wealth. (Swami Satyananda Saraswati). When I adjusted my willfullness to willingness, I felt that I became a recipient of growth rather then trying to manipulate my studies.

Such a journey begins with a first step. Whether through asana practice, through meditation, ecstatic dancing or being absorbed in nature, it is the mind that begins to taste a delight in the simplicity of being present. It is not easy, it rarely comes naturally. But unless the mind is relaxed, silent and receptive, one cannot really begin a pranayama practice. So the first step is with Savasana. Through Savasana of the eyes, the tongue, the ears, and all the organs of perception along with the muscles a deep receptivity emerges. It is as if one has removed all the strings of identity that inhibit the emergence of the inner light. The first step, then, is to begin. and what better time then with tomorrow morning?

Set up your pranayama props the night before. The morning is considered the most auspicious as the body is fresh and the mind innocent. Lie down and watch, wait and listen. Wait, witness and listen within. The journey will be full of surprises, but persevere. It took me several years before I began a sincere practice, and yet I remember, to this day, when I knew that I had taped into Prana. I never turned back.

So what it my ultimate aim in Yoga? The great Mahatma says it well:  Sense perceptions can be and often are false and deceptive, however real they seem to us. Where there is a realization outside the senses, it is infallible. It is proved not by extraneous evidence but in the transformed conduct and character of those who have felt the real presence of God within.

For more information, or to sign up for my intensive, please click here. The intensive begins on Tuesday, March 6 from 7:15am – 8:30am, and meets Tuesdays and Thursdays for three weeks.

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Ādhyātmik preparations. “Flush out the mundane practice so that you can evolve.”

III.15: Krama anyatvam parinama anyatve hetuh. Successive sequential changes cause the distinctive changes in the consciousness. –Light on Yoga Sutras (LOYS)

In this session we applied and observed how the succession (krama) and sequence (krama) from different asanas transformed (parinama) Utthita Trikonasana. We went through a series of standing to Trikonasana, Sirsasana to Trikonasana, seated to Trikonasana, twisting and backarches, all punctuated by Utthita Trikonasana. Whatever asana came before gave a different access to the body and conditioned that Trikonasana. Prashant explained that we generally think of sequencing a complete series of poses from one point to another. Rarely, he said, do we practice to see how the application of the unique dynamics that are characteristic in any one asana will educate and condition the body/mind (embodiment). “Practice based on your sensitivity, not what you know or your abilities.  See what is proper, what is correct and what is right. The proper will be the right, so do not assume or impose, rather develop the access, the qualification and the perception.”

For example, after Bhardvajasana we went into Trikonasana. I found that the expression in the shoulders, shoulder blades and lungs that blossomed in Bhardvajasana was then featured in Utthita Trikonasana. Had the sequence after Bharadvajasana proceeded with other twists or forward extensions, I would not have gone as deeply into the potential and capacity of the shoulder blades and lungs in Trikonasana. The transformation “Parinama” of Utthita Trikonasana came through the succession of sequence “krama,” hence, Parinama Krama. So rather than a sequence leading towards a particular asana or focused around a category of asanas, the sequence can take one asana and “apply” other asanas to it, “apply” the conditions and capacities that another asana gives to the main one. In this case, Utthita Trikonasana.

III.15: Krama anyatvam parinama anyatve hetuh. Successive sequential changes cause the distinctive changes in the consciousness. -LOYS

  • Trikonasana
  • Utthita Parsvakonasana
  • Uthtita Parsvakonasna to Utthita Trikonasana
  • Padmasana or Swastikasana, and then into Trikonasana

Prashant guided us to observe if the connection between these two sharpened our perception of the legs, or the spine, or the spine to the legs, or the legs to the breath, etc. He encouraged us to go slow, to come in and out of the pose at will and to repeat on the same side. “Parinama kriya”, the acts will create “Parinama krama” changes.

Develop discretion; see when the proper is right. Observe the succession of changes, the first hierarchy is biomechanical, then the breath, the exhalation and the inhalation.”

It was a different experience when the exploration of the “what” and the “for what” or “for whom” became my own discovery. How the legs affected the spine which then affected the lungs which then impacted the breath. I had to stay receptive to not “impose” my learned order of what to do for my hips, etc. He did say that we may not want to practice like this all the time, but that we should go deeper into the subject rather than always depending on what the teacher says.

Identify changes that come because of the sermon that comes from within, go slow, and watch the changes and relationship with what came before, the ‘parinama krama’ of Padmasana to Utthita Trikonasana is different. You have to practice to develop sagacity.”

Brick Setubandha krama to Utthita Trikonasana:

  • Krama parinamatvam: in brick setubandha, what did you open? Practice to build sensitivity, go until you feel the seal open up to you. How does the tailbone move?
  • Brick Setubandha to Utthita Trikonasana

How has the access given to you from the brick affected Trikonasana? With the brick at the tailbone or sacrum, what happened inside? What seal was opened here that is different than in Parsvakonasana? This is a social event within, take the climate and health conditions into account. At some stage of your pursuit Vayu Askasha will open.”

“The Parinama will be affected by psychodynamics as well; I want to learn, I want to study, I want to comprehend” he explained.

On a personal note, I took three months away from teaching this last summer. I surprised to see how long it took before my inner dialog in practice was completely present and no longer automatically focused on how I might describe an action while teaching. I wanted to take time off to study. Generally, as I teach often, even though I may practice my syllabus or something I want to work on, I find that there is always an inner dialog that translates what I am doing into what to do or how to do it. For that is what I have to do as a teacher, translate my direct experience into a form that will be accessible to my students. The inner teacher was so acclimated to figuring out how to present material to students that that inner voice had become a tyrant, always on. Over a period of time this changed, I began to hold asanas longer and be present simply for myself and within myself. Prashant often lectures us on how we are always doing, we are rarely done and never reflect on the Doer.

The enormous launching points in the psyche and what came before all effect the changes. This is how you get profundity and maturity.

  • Bharadvajasana to Utthita Trikonasana
  • Sirsasana with Padmasana or drop back
  • Trikonasana
  • Bharadvajasana
  • Marichyasana

“Consider how each pose effects and or creates a learning foundation for any particular asana. “Each asana is a marvel; we have to look at it like a yoga asana and not like a physical culture.” Different permutations and combinations make different results.”

Prashantji’s tea analogy is now famous, and effective every time I hear it. Good tea is the combination of the right amount of hot water, tea leaves, milk and sugar. If you have too many tea leaves or leave the leaves to steep too long, the tea become bitter. If you have a lot of milk and only a little tea and a lot of sugar, the milk tea is something else, sugar and milk. So it takes the proper amounts and combinations to make good tea.

Different succession of changes will create different manifestations. And the changes happen moment to moment. First we may find that we are dull, the tamo guna predominates. Or, we may be restless, stressed, and unable to focus. The gunas play a big part in transformation. “Tamas gives density and mass, and when these qualities exceed our needs, we call it dullness and inertia. The negative aspect of rajas is turbulent, frenetic, and agitated. We want a quick mind, not an agitated one. We also want a calm, clear mind, which brings us to sattva… We use the word luminosity, which is the inner, serene qulity of light, to describe sattva. The interplay of these three guna forces is of crucial importance in your yoga practice.” -Light on Life

“Sometimes you feel dullness so you may want to “hit” the pose, quick treatment, and use raja guna to drive tamo guna. Go slow, for sattva guna you must let it evolve. This way the condition fades in and you come to know the characteristics and diagnostics, dorsal major, spine major, etc. Some will have a mindset, some a breathset, some will be more physical. This is not attentiveness, it is a comprehensive approach to the practice.

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The elixir of life, Pranayama

Day 3, Dec. 19, 2017, PM session. Pune, India

After an exhaustive and exhilarating exploration of how the shoulder blades can support the lungs, chest and neck, we were ripe for pranayama. The afternoon session began with an introduction to AUM. Speaking, chanting and singing are all exhalative acts, he explained. While we listen to the sound we hear, the resonance continues in the body after the audible sound is over. Prashant Iyengar had us chant the A but the pronunciation was “eh” (as in went, just the “e”). We observed the physical sound and natural exhalation to feel where the lasting echo could be felt. It was in the belly. We did the same for U, which vibrated in the chest and heart region. The M filled the skull and mind with a serene finality. AUM.

Prashant then explained that these are the centers of passion, emotion and ego and that all are mental facets. These need cleansing, and he is very graphic about the “sh__t” we hold onto. “No dietitian speaks of a diet for the mind, we cannot fast in the mind, we are always gobbling for the mind; its mouth is too big and always open. And always constipated. Rechaka (exhalation) is a purgative, it can relax. By abdominal confinement you will have purgation of passion, with flushing in the chest we release emotional fecal matter, and exhalation in the brain quiets the mind. Expulsion, surrender, immersion; there are so many things that need to be parted with.”

The belly, he continued, is a major organ with instinctive characteristics. When we have a panic attack the belly tightens. This reminds me of the many digestive illnesses and conditions that we see these days. From diverticulitis, GERD, and Chron’s disease to IBS, the “Gut Brain” has become a significant source of dukkha in modern times. Stress exacerbates the situation.

“For beginners, we teach about the chest. You must understand the concept of hierarchy in how we present and how things change when you have studied for a while. The Uddiyanic touch and influence is paramount. So part of your asana practice must prepare for and address pranayama and how the asanas share a lineage with pranayama. To do this, monitor the breathing process.”

Supta Baddha Konasana with X bolsters and the arms extended overhead.

“Exhale and evacuate, deeply, Uddiyana is a stress ejection system.”

While Prashant explores Uddiyana Kriya in much of his work, Guruji rarely did work the bandhas or kriyas. Guruji said that these happen naturally in the asana practice. Uddiyana happens in Paschimottanasana, Sirsasana, Rope Sirsasana and in Adho Mukha Svanasana. Prashant never negates the importance of the asana practice, and builds upon it. His lens does focus heavily on the kriyas though.

At the tail of exhalation there is an abdominal contraction. In most people the abdominal organs and muscles have become torpid and dull.

“Another aspect of exhalation is to develop the capacity of hibernation, the nerves need this training. When I ask you to do a deeper and deeper exhalation, there is hibernation.”

Savasana with Viloma 2. In Viloma 2 you inhale softly, tenderly as Prashanji would say. The exhalation is in stages so that you divide the exhalation into three or more sections. The pause between sections is the silent “hibernation” that I think of as listening to silence. The pauses also extend the exhalation in a controlled and natural way.

“There are three stages to progress through. Nominally pause, significant pause, substantial pause. Most of the becoming takes place in the process, not in the attainment. This requires a particular kind of patience. You cannot have a worldly approach here. When the journey is long the vehicle has to correspond to the distance traveled. You do not take a rickshaw to go to London.” In the beginning, he said, you will be fascinated. But over time the intrigue wears off and you must develop a neutral mind.

I am reminded of the story that Guruji once told. When he first started practicing pranayama, his mind was so restless that he kept stopping his practice. He was young and practiced many backbends. Once he started working with forward bends, he was able to begin a consistent pranayama practice. His nervous system was not properly prepared nor had he cultivated the reflective mind that would prepare him for his pranayama practice.

The pranayama practice is so rich, so poignant and profound that it becomes the foundation of the day for most serious seekers.

From Guruji’s Light on Life: We have seen that as leaves move in the wind, your mind moves with the breath. When breath is regulated and pacified, there is a neutralizing effect on the mind. And when you hold your breath, you hold your soul. By retaining the full in-breath, you hold the divine infinite within yourself. At this moment you have reached the full potential of our individuality, but it is a divine individuality and not the small, selfish creature you normally take yourself for. By exhaling you generously give out your individual self to the universal world…. Inhalation engulfs the whole body with life. Exhalation surrenders that life to the source of life – the Life Giver. The body moves in toward the core of its being, like a puppy nestling against its mother, secure and trusting.

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The razor’s edge

Sri BKS Iyengar praying to PatanjaliDay 3, Dec. 19, 2017, AM session, Pune, India.

“We do not merely breathe to live, we breathe to become. Moment to moment there is a constant becoming taking place in us, either positive or negative. Change is a constant process. Those changes can be slowed down or change directions by the breathing. We become by the breath.”

Thus began the third morning session. In a similar way to how his father penetrated so deeply in the asanas and through the layers of the body to become established in quietude and to understand the mind, Prashant has investigated the process of becoming embodied intelligence. To those who are unfamiliar with his work and vernacular it may seem overly intellectual. He might say that we want the teacher to tell us exactly what to do and what not to do, whereas what he wants is to give us a map and landmarks to discover the path to freedom for ourselves. He has now reminded us twice of a dinner discussion where his father told him that the difference between the two of them was that Guruji made difficult things simple and Prashant makes simple things difficult. Prashant then went on to apologize if that was the case for us, and he hopes that future generations will make his work simple. I find him very humble in his willingness to explain his process and to become someone of stature under the shadow of the great B.K.S. Iyengar. Finding autonomy with a greater than great father is not easy!

One facet of his work is learning how to build a continuum of awareness in every moment. In an asana, he explains, “there is the commencement and progression, and then you can mitigate, change, try to understand the states of asana in a microscopic way. There is a difference between staying and maintaining, and coming out of the pose. There has to be an efficacy that is developed, it is not the point to work hard and the die in the pose.  There must be freedom to do, freedom to maintain, freedom in striking efficacy. At some point you must go to a settled condition for you must get settled to get absorbed.”

Absorption for what? Prashant quoted from sutra II.47: prayatna saithiya  anantasamapattibhyam, Perfection in an asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached. (Light on Yoga Sutras) In the commentary on this sutra Guruji says: When the sadhaka has reached that state of balance, attention, extension, diffusion and relaxation take place simultaneously in the body and intelligence, and they merge in the seat of the soul. This is a sign of release from the dualities of pleasure and pain.  Ananta: infinite.

Sutra I.17  lists four stages of absorption, Vitarka, vicara ananda asmitarupa anugamat samprajnatah.  Practice and detachment develop four types of samadhi (absorption): self-analysis, synthesis, bliss, and the experience of pure being. (Light on Yoga Sutras) These mirror Prashant’s scheme of evolving awareness where we begin by observing, acting, reacting, responding, testing, etc. The synthesis comes when the breathing schematic (pattern, method) is as integrated into the experience as the rarefied and evolved physical expression of the pose. Going in. Bliss, ananta. Absorption, awareness, alertness, from the core to the periphery and the reverse.

“What is alertness, and how do we cultivate it in us? Can you remove the awareness aspect and say that you are alert? This is not possible. Awareness is the other side of the coin of the breath. Awareness is a constant flow and attention will come out of awareness. Attention will come and go, but the flow is available to you, whenever you are thirsty you can draw water.” Prashant said.

“Study the process of evolving awareness. With every part deepen your shoulder sensitivity, connectivity. Mark the breathing process right from the beginning so you know how to negotiate. You must have a classified process, a systematic process that evolves. If you try to do everything, nothing is done, if you do one thing, it is done well.  The shoulders are important for understanding the mind sensitivity. What poses will you use for the shoulders to be accessed, addressed and involved?  These are one of the paradigms. Once you develop that channel of observation, you will understand.” Prashant said.

Prashant then focused us completely on the shoulder blade “addressals” (the act of addressing something) as he led us through a delightful sequence. At one point he riffed on how modern anatomists say that the shoulder blades are there to support the lungs. Why not call them shoulder plates? He said, if they are to support the lungs. A blade is sharp. He asked us to round our backs and see how we felt, and to then draw the “blades” in deep and see how the mind became sharp. The Upanishads refer to the awakening process as walking the razor’s edge, he continued. You have to be alert and sharp!

Adho Mukha Svanasana
Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Swastikasana with fingertips behind
Baddha Padmasana, head up
Utthita Trikonasana + arm positions
Standing back arch
Urdhva Dhanurasana
Block Setubhanda Sarvangasana
Tadasana + Paschimonamaskarasana
Urdhva Mukha Baddangulyasana
Sirsasana + variations
Salamba Sarvangasana + variations

“In the pose, exhale deeply, more and more, evacuate every organ to serve the shoulder, we must evacuate first before we can take anything in. You must be circumspect in your approach, the theme, the scheme, develop sensitivity, something will go out of the network and you must have the conscience to reconnect. It is not for someone else to correct and correct, you have to find out. I have never come across an astronomer who says that they are bored of watching the sky. There is an enormous amount to explore. You may do and do and once your neck pains, you walk out. You must explore, the potentials will come to the surface”. Prashant said.

Such tenacity and dedication to mold something as rich as this…

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Prashant’s yoga or classical yoga

Sri BKS Iyengar in PadmasanaDay 2, Dec. 18, 2017, AM session 2, Pune, India.

Prashant began the morning session with a talk about spiritual identity, Ishvara and the Sutras. I will address this material at a later time. Asking if we needed clarification, his humor came out as he tried to make it safe to ask questions. “Sometimes you may not want to show your ignorance, or what you think may be ignorance in front of your colleagues. Or there may be professional rivals, you may be self-conscious.”

Manouso Manos then asked “are you aware that there is now something called Prashant yoga?” Manouso elaborated briefly by asking if there is a difference between the yoga of “actions” that his father taught and the perspective that Prashant teaches? “What are we to do with this difference?”

Wow. Prashant was not unfazed. “For any one person what is important will be different, he explained, and there will never be two identical teachers. “What you practice and what you teach are not necessarily what Guruji taught. One day Guruji was sitting across from me and said: I make difficult things simple and Prashant makes simple things difficult”

Prashant clarified his approach and the very sincere and specific intentions behind his approach. “You remember how Guruji would correct people in class, you will never we me correcting in class. For me, if there is a fatal mistake, I will correct. But one should correct out of conscience. If I do not give you the time to develop the conscience then you can never have the deep connection. My perspective is that a person should be able to correct themselves, to develop the urge within to know what is right.”

It is interesting how rarely we take a big picture look at the whys and how things develop. Prashant explained that part of Guruji’s system came out of the immediacy of his situation. Foreign students would come for short periods of time. Guruji did not have time to cultivate a deep connection with and within the practice of each individual. “That is not what he did with us, he never told us that our Trikonasnaa was wrong. He wanted us to develop our conscience.” Prashant’s teaching has a different perspective then Guruji’s. Prashant wants to empower students. Perhaps, he said, this is his limitation, but he felt that students should develop their own conscience, to know why this is right or wrong. He further clarified that his schedule is open, his work evolves over time and cannot be encapsulated within an intensive or three weeks.

“There will be difference amongst teachers, mentors, different perspectives, but that does not make one wrong, and one right. During my formative years, Guruji did give corrections, but then he allowed me develop.” He said that we never practice what I taught you, we practice what we learned.

“Be open to your doubts about me and about my teachings. I never claim that I teach what my father taught. I have developed in my own way being insulated at the Institute. I have never read a book, you may think that I have read a lot. But no, I read the world, I read my mind, I read the mind of my students. I am here to give you my comprehension of Guruji’s teaching. I do not want to be the centric force today now that Guruji is no longer here.”

“I am not trying to fall in line with what he taught, I am trying to help you understand what he did within himself.”

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We have a universe within, and just the world without

Marigolds galoreDay 2, Dec. 18, 2017, AM session, Pune, India.

“We have a universe within, and just the world without.” The elegance with which Prashant leads you into the invocation is an entire lesson itself. “Exhale to flush out the worldliness, exhale and flush out all sense of identity, conditions, and those things that matter in the worldly plane. Use deeper and deeper exhalations, progressively, systematically, surrender within.”  He then shifts to different patterns with the in breath. “Inhale from the pelvis to the heart and exhale from the throat to heart. Exhale behind the lungs, in front of and below, not just in the physical lungs. Exhale within and with the organic body to sanitize and purify the mind. Consecrate the breath, the mind and psychic. Now circumambulate the heart with the breath. Sanctify, begin a silent OM in the heart.” Invocation.

Here is a classic example of a Prashantism, and those of you who work with him know what I am talking about. “What is difference between application on the legs and application by the legs?” When I first heard this kind of talk I thought that he was being clever. Now I see that his language is like a flashlight pointing out where the main event is. He often talks about the benefactor and the beneficiary: again, it seemed like he was over intellectualizing things. But now I begin to understand, and there is a huge difference.

Language is important he said.

Doing Trikonasana is different than
Using the leg in Trikonasana or using the spine.

Doing is making a face, like when you stand in front of the mirror and see yourself.
Using is applying to, building intelligence; we know that something needs to be done.

He told us that there are apps (like in computers applications, apps) in the legs, in the spine, everywhere. And there are applications of an asana for different situations. Adho Mukha Svanasana can be done for the shoulder, for the abdomen, for the mind. “When someone comes with a shoulder problem, or a breathing problem, Guruji would say, dog pose. If they came with a back problem, dog pose; but was it the same dog?”

We did Dog pose for the abdomen, he had us first bend the legs slightly and focus on the abdomen. We then slowly extended the legs. He chided us that we would normally stretch, straighten, tighten the legs, like a hurricane of busyness.

While Prashant’s work may seem intellectual, or wordy, I find that he is merely showing a map for the journey from the periphery to the core of being. This is what Guruji always eloquently said, but the technique and process was not as delineated as it is with Prashant. Prashant does not teach a regular class as we know it. You may only do 5 poses in 2 hours. He talks a lot. It is almost as if he expects you to do this work in the privacy of our own home. I do wish he would give us time to apply his principals. I was lucky enough to take class with him early in this century. These were what he now refers to as his formative years, he was evolving his voice. We worked extensively with the breath in asana, we worked with sound and visualizations. “I have opened out the scheme of asanas. Address first the body, then the breath, then the mind, then the sense-set addressals (addressals =  the act of addressing something (such as a problem or issue).

“We all use willpower, we impose. Now take a little time getting into the pose, for we each have our own inclination and you must sometimes let it go and not use will power. Then slowly open the gates of will power and see “will over matter,” and ask, from where does the will come from? How to channel it? We do 100% every time and it is stupid. It is like spending $100 on every cup of tea. What is suitable and justifiable for my condition now? You must have your own diagnostics and prognosis. Do not leave it to the teacher to tell you what is right or wrong. Develop the conscience and sensitivity to learn from yourself.”

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Breath and Breathing

Day 1, Dec. 17, 2017, PM session, Pune, India.

Prashant began our afternoon session by setting expectations and asking us to recognize the nature of his work. “We have to be on that plane where we are doing together, not that I am teaching. I will be triggering the thought process within you that leads to classical yoga.” It is when we are relaxed and at home that we can truly come to know the Self, for there can be an honest inquiry then. He suggested that isolation is the best environment for real study, and that is why he has not traveled to teach anywhere.

The invocation “establishes the compatibility with the endeavor” that is to follow. The main principal in yoga and in the Yoga Sutras is one of internalization. Knowing this prepares us for the learning that is to come. Prashant systematically prepares us for the invocation. He says little about the physical posture, but will reference that you should sit with noble intentions. The focus then turns toward the exhalation, leading towards deeper and deeper exhalations. He asked us to exhale from the pelvic floor, in the eyes, from the brain. I remembered Guruji saying that the exhalation is an act of surrendering one’s finite into the infinite. How Prashant begins with the body, focuses on patterns of exhalation to reinforce the letting go, and then directs the exhalations into various spheres that further reinforces this internalization. Ultimately we are asked to abide within the heart. Invocation….

Many of us have “tagged” Prashant by saying that he works with the breath. But Guruji taught breathing, he explained. When he gave a demonstration it was a feast for the eyes, it was a super human feat. And the exhalation was a major part of it. “He was the first to introduce using the breath as a prop.” The breath can be strong medicine to push you out of your comfort zone in many ways. “Did Guruji not dig you out of your ability?” Did he ever say “do as much as you can”? Guruji taught with intensity. He may have been addressing particulars such as to stretch the fingers, upper arms, and the four corners of the elbow; and the only way you could maintain this pose was by using your breath. Imagine that you were demonstrating a pose in front of him, you would not want to come out of the pose. It is the breath that helps you stay longer. The breath can be used to exercise, to sustain or maintain a pose; it can also be used as a tool to investigate, to direct and to condition the body/mind. So we should not think that Prashant is bringing something new here, this was his point.

“Similarly, postures should not be merely done, like mechanical breathing. Postures should be used. Suppose you do a great and perfect pose, what is next? You come down and out of the pose, it is finished. How anti-climactic! Rather, the postures are to be used to address any condition that afflicts us. In the back of Light on Yoga there are many sequences for various conditions. For example, Sirsasana and Sarvangasana are frequently recommended. The application would be different if you were working with a student suffering from constipation than from someone with diarrhea. How can the same pose be used in diametrically dissimilar conditions? The pose must serve a purpose and not be merely for display.”

“What is the difference between the breath and breathing? Breath is a quantity and breathing is a process. When you endeavor to go further, you need more quantity. For every state of mind there is a corresponding breathing process. When we say to students to breathe normally, do we mean volume or the process? There are countless breathing practices.”  This reminds me of when I first questioned Prashant many years ago. Chris Stein and I interviewed Prashant about how to begin to introduce his work into our teaching. So funny to imagine asking him anything like that now, for that is diametrically opposed to his current message. We must each find out our own way. However, Prashant was very gracious and he said to begin by working with the exhalation in various ways in the postures. My practice has changed considerably since that conversation.

“Let me watch how I breathe in different conditions to see if this breathing patter is compatible?” He then referenced the sutras. Would the process of breathing be different for: Sthira sukham (firm, steady and happy) II.46? For Prayatna (persevering effort) II.47. For Saithilyananta (relax into the infinite being) II.47? “Read”, he said, “how the breath is used to do these different modes, what is breathing mode in each? For every Chitta Bhumi (qualities of mind) there is a state of breath.”  I realized that I have been breathing on a very surface survival level. While I know that slowing my breath down is good when I am upset, I have not watched each minute of each day to understand the potentials in the breath. Nor have I penetrated deep enough into the nature of the breath in the way that I have with my asana practice. Yet the breath is more vital, more profound, more complex. Prashant suggested that these lessons should learned spontaneously and that “instructions become obstructions.”

We only did a few asanas, but we did them intently. We practiced Sirsasana in the mode of exercise, lifting the legs, shoulders, etc. And then we repeated the pose but for a state of tranquility.

We had been sitting for almost two hours so a standing pose was most welcome. Trikonasana from the point of the back foot, he said, for stability, and watch coming out of the pose; the same composure would remain. We came out of the pose really slowly so as to observe any changes in the breath, mind and body. We next did Adho Mukha Svanasana and stepped into Utthita Trikonasana. This was completely different, of course? Finally we practiced Bharadvajasana followed by Utthita Trikonasana.   “Essential yoga cannot be taught,” he said, “it has to be learned.”  While we were practicing Utthita Trikonasana, we approached it through three different gates, and the experience was completely different. The practice was more about the discovery than the doing of it.

Guurji never taught Geeta and Prashant directly, he explained. Rather, they had to “see, to analyze, to recall and react, to deliberate and reflect and then try to comprehend.”

The evening session looked like it was going to go over three hours. Someone from the venue came and told Prashant that it was time to leave. He is so full of inspiration that he could have continued indefinitely, but we certainly were ready to digest this amazing meal of thought, breath, and breathing.

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