Light on Yoga

City life can be really hard. Some people are truly able to create space no matter how much presses in on them. I never have figured out how to do that – I just breathe better in the company of trees. Yoga is the one exception.

The repetition of train, work, train, yoga, bus, sleep, repeat was my Boston schedule for over a year. I occasionally mixed it up, but by and large, even with my practice, I became what BKS Iyengar calls a styana: “a person suffering from languor…mind and intellect become dull due to inactivity and their faculties rust.”

Since moving to Maine, one of my main goals is to reverse styana. To become, at the very least, a “feeble seeker.”

In his now historic and fundamental book, Light on Yoga, Iyengar outlines the basic precepts of yoga practice that he brought to the West in the 1950s. Based on the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, this “yoga bible” is the go-to reference for teachers in the west in the hatha tradition, and many others.

Iyengar focuses on translating complex ideas embedded in the Sanskrit of these texts into accessible, universal precepts. His commitment to the truly universal pursuit of yoga shines through his descriptions. The majority of the book is incredibly detailed photographs and written descriptions of Yogasanas (poses), Bandhas (holds/body locks), Kriya (thought) and Pranayama (breathing).

Perhaps it’s my singing background (ahem, GHS concert choir vice president, no big deal), but one of the central things I love about yoga practice is the clearing of the mind for one mantra, or rhythmic saying, like the “aum.” Yesterday, my teacher offered one word/concept: “receive.”

Other times, it is a meditation like “So’ham” – a breathing meditation that roughly translates to “I am That.” Repeated it becomes “I am That I am That I am,” which is believed to be the unconscious repetitive prayer that “goes on forever within each living creature throughout life.”

I still struggle with the disengagement encouraged by the practice (I’m sorry, but joy and trauma are not the same), but I continue to return. To attempt to sit with the meaning of yoga – “the yoking of all the powers of body, mind and soul to God…the disciplining of the intellect, the mind, the emotions, the will…a poise of the soul which enables one to look at life in all its aspects evenly.”

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