I have often thought that our greatest gift, as a species, is our ability to adapt. In earlier eras, we adapted through our ingenuity. We learned to use fire, to plant and to harvest, to extend our productivity through the use of electricity, and now our entire social structure is changing with the internet. But in many ways we are still stuck in our most simple patterns.
“Habit is a disease”, Guruji said. Abhijata’s elegant talk on how we hold ourselves back from being fully present dovetails into today’s class. We seek freedom but we cling to bondage, she said. And so began the practice of twists, a true testament to bondage and how to adapt the pose according to the needs and capacity of each individual.
Our very first asana was Parivrtta Trikonasana, and then Parivrtta Parsvakonasana. Geetaji gave us a scolding on our breakfast eating habits, and informed us that we should eat only very light foods, if anything at all, before practice. Of course, this would have been a welcome warning the day before we found ourselves flushing the liver and squeezing the intestines!
Fascinating how our system is based on adaptation. For beginners we emphasize one thing. We adapt and modify according to each person’s capacity, for stiff people, for those who get overheated, for someone with an injury or illness. Iyengar Yoga truly represents the best of service to man/woman kind, for, as teachers, we seek to give respite to beginners and to prod serious students into an all-encompassing life transformative commitment to the highest standards possible; integrity, honesty, and inner growth. The system is like a multi-faceted crystal which reflects back whatever each person needs.
Geetaji explained that beginners will feel stuck and heavy in these twists. You must get them to decentralize, to spread their attention everywhere, to lift the arm, to press the back foot, to straighten the legs. Otherwise their mind will get stuck, fixed and heavy. She told us that in the beginning we should not emphasize the twist. Once beginners can spread their attention, next the focus should go to aligning the spine, the tailbone and the crown of the head. She took us into Parsvottanasana as a precursor for Parivrtta Trikonasana. She taught the stages of engagement for Parivrtta Parsvakonasana in such a logical manner that, by the fourth attempt, I found myself wrapped around the leg with the back foot firmly planted and able to breathe normally. This pose has always been a challenge for me, as for many others! And while it will be better to learn this progression from someone who was here, I can summarize the stages.
First she said that we are heavy on the front leg, and that we should back the arm way up and connect the back hip with the back leg and foot. We should not go all the way down to the floor with the front arm. The back foot should stay down and the back thigh lifting up toward the ceiling. When I did this, I could breath, but the pose did not look much like the final pose. No matter. Next we took the back knee to the floor and the arm to the outside of the front leg, into a tight grip. While straightening the back leg and drawing the hip back, we were to draw the front ribs (the ones sitting on the front leg) toward the spine (as in Bharadvajasana). This seemed to even out the back, although I was not aware of how much I had been drawing the kidney in until she pointed it out. Gulnaz – a beautiful practitioner and teacher at RIYMI – demonstrated and worked very hard to realize what Geetaji was teaching. While this is still a challenging pose, Geetaji showed how we can modify and adapt each phase of a pose to slowly cajole the body into yielding, extending, and to engage the mind so that it would not get stuck and confined.
Guruji once told Abhijata that Yoga is about de conditioning life. In this sequence, Geeta unpacked the confinement so often associated with this twist and de conditioned us from the aversion we, at least I, often have to this pose. To break the mental habits by deconstructing the process and adapting stages that can build an understanding in a pose is one of the true gifts of a great Iyengar teacher. Geetaji is the best.
What is a Yaugika Mind? (Read Guruji’s book Yuagika Manas: Know and Realize the Yogic Mind) Geeta began the morning session with this. Many of you are already wondering when we would begin the asana practice, restless, you have a klista mind. Her sharp eyes read us like open books. Some of you have a mrdu mind, you are yawning and sluggish. And some of you are content to take whatever comes, the aklista mind. Perhaps a very few might have the Ekagrata mind, you are really with me. But this is what we have to study, the Yaugika mind.
Perhaps the next phase in our evolution, if we are to survive, will be to learn to adapt to every situation. For that we have to see with open eyes and true awareness so that we do not approach life from our habitual aversions and preferences. As we adapt, hopefully we adopt the values of the Yaugika mind!