Friday, August 17, 2018

"Guilt Weakens the Mind"--Prashant Iyengar

Our session with Prashant-ji on July 20, 2018

My friends, students and colleagues from México, Marina Navarret , Loreñia Trueba, Krista Baldini and Eduardo Mata and I were fortunate to have a session with Prashant outside of class on this auspicious day. What follows is my later transcription of the conversation.
I’m also recommending that you read James Murphy’s summary of Prashant’s teaching from his first ever “ex-tensive” in Pune last year. Here is the link:

First Question (Loreñia):
What are the signs of education?

A: You yourself will know whether you have education or not. There are no exams in relationships, nor are there exams in yoga.
He said something about mother exams and daughter exams, jokingly. We do not have exams to be in relationships.

Nerves or breath will give signs of education. For example, consider a baby learning to eat or walk, or a runner checking her watch to see that 10 minutes remain of her one hour run. The baby has internal signs of education, the runner checking her watch, is using an external sign of progress. Consider also the yogi/ni practicing asana with a timer checking to see how much time remains of a long hold instead of meditating/feeling/discovering “what happens when I hold this pose this long?”

Second Question (Loreñia):
What is meant in II.33 by “pratipaksha bhavanam”?

A: When anger erupts in life, you can’t use pratipaksha bhavanam. Contrast this with a walk towards your rival’s house for a discussion. In this scenario, you CAN prepare and use the technique of pratipaksha bhavanam.
Related Question: How can we prepare for the emotional rollercoaster of the romance of a romantic movie or the horror of a horror movie? Implied answer: We can’t. We are at the mercy of the moviemaker/actors/music, etc.

Prashant mentions that his father wrote Light on the Yoga Sutras for non-academics, not for scholars.

Third Question (Eduardo):
How can we deal with the feeling of guilt in our lives when it arises?

A: When we are admonished, it is an opportunity for learning and reforming our actions. When we dwell on admonishment, it is like a dog licking his own vomit.  By dwelling on the feeling of guilt, we WEAKEN THE MIND.

Good company can help with guilty feelings. The sangha is very important. Also, going into nature, going to temple. Do passive poses for better understanding of yama and niyama. Do backbending poses to counter tamas. Do pranayama practice when you are NOT testing your lungs (i.e. do not do a strong pranayama practice when the lungs are compromised for any reason—physical/emotional or otherwise.

Discussion of food “ahar”—we eat grass eaters, in contrast to the tiger, who eats a goat, but does not become the goat.

There is “food” for all the senses.

Fourth Question (Loreñia): Why go INSIDE for answers to important questions? Why not seek answers in relationships/interactions with people?

A: Prashant gives the ingredients in the chai/tea as an example. Body/breath/mind are kneaded together; they cannot be separated. Some actions have to be coordinated and must happen in succession, others have to be synchronized, and have to happen at once. He gave the example of contraction then suction in pranayama. Yoga is by happenings, not by doings. We have to know the difference between reason and logic. These things, by implication, we have to know from the inside. Doubtless (this is Peggy speaking now), there are ways that our journey inward will support and nurture our relationships with nature, other people, animals, the outer world in general.

At this point, my notes are generalized. I remember asking Prashant myself about appropriate yoga practice for different ages at some point, and loved his answer that we are not female or male, old or young, etc. when we practice. We are consciousness itself.

In pranayama practice, we empty the back. Furthermore, as he noted in a class later in July, the back has no nadis. They are all toward the front body.

Ap kriya is not a reference to physical water (perhaps to the concept/experience of moist flow itself).

A chakra is not a wheel but a junction of prana nadis. All chakras are in the spine.

Our job is to empower you.

In yoga practice, body and breath become subjects.

Example of trikonasana: legs straight? Waist turned? Arms straight?—the body is knowable. Then: How is breath flowing? Then breath becomes an object. In trikonasana, what mind state am I in?

We see in Chapter IV, Kaivalya Pada, of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, that man can be object, subject, and/or instrument. We see that the mind can be a mansion of mirrors. The brain creates AND receives reflections.

There is soft flute music playing. The concept of mirror neurons occurs to me. Perhaps we are mirroring his understanding; I for one hope so.

Example of the cat in front of the mirror. The cat sees another cat. The cat is not confused. I can be ego or not ego, therefore I am and I am not. When I look at my reflection in the mirror, I know that what I see is not me. Prashant implies that our study of yoga through its eight limbs can lead us to clarity in understanding our own consciousness, our own mind/body/breath complex, our own mansion of mirrors.

Deep bows of thanks to you, Prashant-ji.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Prashant’s final class of the week, July 26, 2018: “Defossilize the Abdomen”

We were disappointed to miss Prashant-ji’s Monday and Tuesday classes. A general, large (“maha”) strike (“bandh”) blockaded the highways out of Aurangabad, (where we had travelled last Saturday to see the Ellora and Ajanta caves Sunday and Monday), marooning us for an extra day and a half. Some local villages were protesting the lack of “recruitments” (government job offers) to their area. The protests resulted in the accidental suicide of a young activist. This is a long story that will be told another time. Nevertheless, we were happy to be present this morning to have at least one lucky class in pranayama with Prashant this week. Fingers crossed that he will continue with this fourth limb of yoga on Monday and Tuesday as well. He teaches it brilliantly. If his teaching interests you, I also recommend that you read my friend Sharon Conroy’s excellent article about her journey with his approach to Yoga in the latest Yoga Rahasya.

Here’s the sequence (very simple)

Rope Sirsasana or supine supported savasana
Supine supported savasana or supta baddhakonasana or supta virasana
Seated (most of us were in swastikasana) pranayama, focus was on viloma II

First and foremost, Prashant emphasized that he is not teaching and we are not learning. Perhaps better said, in an ideal scenario, we are engaged together in an educative process. I will refer to a comment he made in our session with him last week (I joined a small group of Mexican Iyengar students in meeting with him to discuss some questions we all had, more on that another time.) He said then that he thinks that his job, or his words were “our job”, is to empower us, the students here at RIMYI.  This empowerment cannot happen if we insist on a one-way street of only imbibing what he has to say. The concepts/precepts/insights he speaks of that are possible in yoga study have to be “rubbed and kneaded” into us through asana and pranayama practice.

He also discussed practice as the repeated doing of techniques that we can achieve with repeated efforts, OR we can go for deepening the EFFECTS of yoga. To deepen effects, we have to be sensitive to the changing dynamics of nature every day and of our body within nature every day. We are not the same person today as yesterday and will be different tomorrow. We have no age or gender when we practice. As he spoke about effects, my mind turned to a precept I’ve been working with recently. That is, as I’ve mentioned in previous poses, discerning acts, performed by thoughtful yogis, are needed in this world. We don’t want to increase our karmic debts, after all! The precept forced me to look at these nearly three decades of coming to Pune, studying yoga, philosophy, asana and pranayama, and see that Yoga is not an end, it is a means.

Yet, as Prashant continued today, emphasizing strong abdominal evacuations followed by strong brain evacuations, another angle on that precept occurred to me. The third of the “yoga” sutras in chapter II of Patanjali (II.47) states (in Iyengar’s translation): “From then on the sadhaka is undisturbed by dualities.”  So I was able to hold in the mind the apparently dualistic truth that “yoga is both a means and an end.”

During the session he made reference to breath as if it were water, flooding into every cell, and to the body as if it were under a vast ocean.  Precious jewels (“ratna”) exist in the depths of the seas, he said, and it is the same with the embodiment. We have to “mine” the body/mind/breath complex to have access to these pearls and diamonds. Or dive deep, in the case of pearls, and dig deep in the case of diamonds and gold. The breath, he said, is a pneumatic tool to drill deep into the body.

Toward the end of the session he spoke of his father, B.K.S. Iyengar, whose life we are celebrating all year, this year of the centennial anniversary of his birth. He called his father “unfortunate,” because he did not have an “opening” for his teaching of yoga to move beyond the body. His early students apparently were interested in yoga asana practice as a kind of fitness, according to Prashant. Recognizing this, said the son about the father, B.K.S. could only teach to their level. Again, we heard the phrase “You people,” referring to us foreigners AND veteran Indian students present in the class. He implied again that our expectations of what yoga is were, and perhaps still are, skewed.

Prashant will refer occasionally to ‘quack” yoga and “quack” yogis, who continue to feed this benighted desire on the part of casual students. Yoga cannot endure only as a fitness modality, another passing fashion. He gave an example of a husband who wants to please his wife, so he takes her to see a movie she had wanted to see. She enjoyed it thoroughly. The next day, again wanting to please her, he escorted her to the SAME movie, and so on for a week. Although she SAID she enjoyed it every time, my impression was that after a few times, her enjoyment was becoming less profound and genuine. The lesson seems to be that we need to romance our souls with practice, and a rigid, programmatic way of practicing will lack that element of spontaneous charm and romance.

Surely, though, the father sowed the seeds for the son to begin this truly extraordinary return to the roots of yoga and its noble beginnings. Being the study of consciousness itself, yoga practice and teaching can be a tool for deep transformation on the individual and collective levels. First, though, we have to get beyond the notion that we are each “only” this body, whatever gender, color or nationality it may be. Then, perhaps, we can move forward.

We rested in our final savasana. He spoke about closing our eyes to open our eyes into the inner world. “You close your eyes to OPEN your eyes.” Finally he told us quietly to come up, and always his last instruction is: “Clear the hall. Put ropes back, props away.” So we did.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Prashant’s Classes, July 16-19, 2018

Empowering Beyond the Body

This week the monsoon arrived with more force than recently. We had some days of serious squalls and significant rainfall. Umbrellas and puddles and empowerment sum up the week so far.

Here are the sequences:

Monday— July 16, 2018

Brick setu bandh or rope sirsasana
Rope sirsasana or bharadvajasana
Mariachi I or ropes I
Ropes I repeat
Adho mukha svanasana at the grill
Tadasana, urdhva hastasana
Janu sirsasana or viparita dandasana
Swastikasana forward

Monday’s themes: Acumen and prudence, corporeal conditions and corporeal effects.
What good is logic in an insane asylum? This was one of Prashant’s questions; he pointed out that sometimes pure logic can lead to insanity. He broached the topic of justice and suggested that justice blindfolded might be a bad idea.

Looking into the etymology of the words:

Acumen, from PIE (Proto-Indo-European) root “ak” “to be sharp, rise out to a point, pierce”, Latin Acumen, “a point, a sting”

Prudence, from Latin “prudentia”, a “foreseeing, foresight, sagacity, practical judgment”, contraction of providentia “foresight”, related words—providence, jurisprudence.

Etymology, from GK (Greek), the study of (ology) of the true sense (etumon)

Tuesday—July 17, 2018

Ropes One, long holding
Adho Mukha Svanasana at the grill
Rope Sirsasana
Upavistha Konasana, twist
Viparita Karani alternate with
Janu Sirsasana and

The Tuesday class theme was using asana practice as a time to educate oneself, and to empower more than the body (Prashant pointed out that the group he teaches in this early morning class is “way past their prime”). Mind, consciousness, conscience, all these can be empowered through asana practice, not just the body.

Prashant also brought a father and his son from the group to stand before the class to make his point that sometimes we learn life lessons from our parents or children and fail to learn lessons from our own life experience. This is a phenomenon I have noticed in my sojourn on the planet. The implication in the class was that if we cultivate a practice of “the real yog”, we might actually learn something from our own life experience, rather than letting our lives enlighten our offspring or parents.

Thursday—July 19, 2018

Adho Mukha Svanasana at grill or rope wall or column
Brick Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
Ropes Sirsasana
Ropes I static and feet to wall, knees on bolster
Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana lateral at the grill
Anterior ropes (ropes II), slide hands down from highest point to hold, arch back, then pull up in Dwi pada Viparita Dandasana shape, legs straight, elbows bent, head back
Standing Back Arch, alternate with
Alternate with
Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Urdhva Dhanurasana
Setu Bandhasana (On crown of head, straight leg back arch), at this point he suggested we do a backbend we had not already attempted, like Setu Bandhasana or Kapotasana
Parsva Dhanurasana
Chair Halasana, thighs supported
Janu sirsasana or
Viparita Karani

Prashant’s exhortations during this backbending class were to “suck the back” and compare the difference between contracting and sucking. He said “empty the back” several times. At one point, he had us sit and listen to him tell us that nerve health is measured when muscles are contracted. This is why, when we do” I-younger-yoga,” we need to contract the back muscles and suck the spine in—it keeps us young! After my several decades of life on the planet practicing yoga, I can attest to the wisdom of doing this, for I’ve read “the research” which says that as we age, our muscle strength will wane more quickly than it did when we were younger. So we have to do these “contracture” asanas MORE frequently, not less! Guruji B.K.S. Iyengar himself was a tremendous example of this principle, keeping up his back arches into his nineties as he did.

At another point, Prashant had us sit and listen again to tell us that the PNS is misnamed! It is called usually peripheral nervous system. His point seemed to be that it is not “peripheral” at all, it is rather DEEP and better called PSYCHIC nervous system. From the yogic perspective, the nervous system itself is conceived quite differently than from the western medical perspective. A better understanding, through yoga, of this complex, delicate, and interconnected system will surely lead to a more integrated embodiment.

It must be obvious by now that Prashant likes to play with words. He mentioned that we have the word “spineless” in our language, so why not spine-full? All the contracting we did in class made my spine feel very alive, and not at all as though I was emptying out the back to do them. It was more as if the work through body, breath and mind was bringing a vibration, a vibrancy to the spine and the entire electrically-charged nervous system.

While we were in savasana he repeated again “empty out the back.” Of course, this was a radically different kind of emptying out than the emptying out process we had worked on in class. Space, however, is space, and though it’s hard to talk about, it remains my favorite element. It’s everywhere--like Prana.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Academy, the Library, The Observatory, The Laboratory, The Classroom are within You

Distilling Prashant’s Teaching from the week of July 9 on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday—The Academy, the Library, The Observatory, The Laboratory, The Classroom are within You

It’s been a week with Prashant overflowing with wisdom for the practice of yoga as transformation. He keeps reiterating that he is not teaching us—he is rather creating conditions so that we can teach ourselves. “It is really a marvel,” he often will say at the end of class, “what you can learn.” That comment itself brings great joy to my heart.

The title of this blog came about when I was in the midst of an ongoing study of the Bhagavad Gita. Arjuna’s dilemma, how or if to act as the warrior he was trained to be, was coming up in my thoughts with great force. The last decade in Texas has been particularly hard for many of us, for it seems that the state as an entity with power over women and families has wielded that power with greatly detrimental effects. What can I do as one individual, a woman, a yogi, a lawyer, a concerned citizen? Where is my Krishna/Charioteer to give me answers and guide me? How do jnana yoga, karma yoga and bhakti yoga play into my decision to act or not to act? Or do they? These are all questions I’ve been pondering for a long time, hence the name of the blog.

Now that I’ve heard Prashant, and to an extent Geeta in years past, point out that we as practitioners of yoga focus too much on the DOING and not enough on the KNOWING, I’m coming to realize that I’ve despaired long enough and that yes, indeed, it IS time to take action. The action must proceed from a deep space of reflection and meditation and practice. It must come from the heart and from these last 10-20 years of “stuffing” my dismay and despair. I will be a yoga passivist/pacifist no longer. There is a wise Latin saying that if you want peace, prepare for war. I am now preparing for war because I want peace.

Here are the sequences (remember, it is always a round robin, partly, I’m sure, because of the size of the class, easily 70 people attend):

Monday, 9 July:

Adho Mukha Svanasana where you are
Tadasana and
Urdhva baddangulyasana
Sirsasana in ropes or independent or setu bandha with brick
Switch and then bharadvaj after everyone does rope sirsa and ropes 1 (arms behind, standing with heels up) static, then with knees on bolster, arms behind, static
Then marichyasana III
Then ardha matsyendrasana
Then janu sirsasana or vip danda or sal sarv
Then paschimottanasana (hala ok also after sal sarv)

Tuesday, 10 July

Grill adho mukha svanasana with rope
Alternating with rope sirsasana or classic sirsasana
Alternating with baddhakonasana concave, upavistha konasana concave and turning
Bharadvajasana turning
*Urdhva prasarita padasana and pacing ( we did at different speeds—see below)
Standing backarch—(“NOW NOW you can discover something,” said Prashant. I did, but I have no words.

Thursday 12 July

Setu bandha or chair backbend or rope sirsasana
Eventually Padma, if possible, in setu bandha and chair dwi pada vip. danda
Eventually standing back arch and ustrasana and ekapad vip danda in chair
Salamba sarvangasana or viparita karani or janu sirsasana

Again, all Round Robin

In what follows, I’ve done my best to distill more of what Prashant exhorted us to consider while “being” in the asana sequences listed above during this week’s classes.

He spoke of  “inscribing” mind and breath on body, body on mind and breath. He declared “Your body is a book.”  He emphasized that “yog” is not so much about what you DO as a practitioner, but more about what you know and CAN know through the practice and its effects on body, breath and mind.

So, are we literate when we do asana? Are we articulate and can we inscribe the breath on the bodymind?

Literacy and sensitivity do not go together, he said. Sometimes the literate are not sensitive and the sensitive are not literate. (Two asides here: One from Geetaji’s class this morning: “The stomach speaks, the heart speaks, the leg speaks, but you do not listen.” Another aside from Abhijata’s pranayama class last night, a quote from B.K.S. Iyengar, “Feeling is the eye.”

Back to Prashant: “Listen here,” he said, “the body has an observatory, a library and a laboratory within it. Think of what the organs digest and excrete. That can become food for another organ, another place.” He spoke of new automobile technology which allows the byproduct of the consumption of the fuel to be recycled to power the engine anew.

He spoke of “The absoluteness of relativity, or perhaps better said:
The absoluteness of interiority, of our own inner relationship with mind/body/breath. To expand upon this idea somewhat: when someone views YOU in asana, that is a relative thing. When YOU view YOU in asana, that CAN BE absolute, when you are maintaining and finding ways to be ABSORBED in the pose (samyama).

Regarding pacing (see July 10 sequence above), he said that pacing changes your internal ecology. He spoke frequently about how asanas change our internal chemistry, how beginners learn to exhale for evacuation, but as we mature in our practice, we learn to exhale for purification.

He constantly encouraged us to “exhale further and further, extraordinarily deeper” in the asanas.  Every once in awhile he shouted for us to move “QUICKLY” when changing places in the hall for the next round of asanas.

He mentioned “tree-ads”, a word which I finally concluded must be “triads.” The triads referred to were “knower, knowing and known” and “doer, doing and done.”
He also referred to sound forms, and encouraged us to chant single syllable words internally while in various asanas. For example, he mentioned the words, “I, you, come, go,” and the numbers “one, two, three, and so on.”

He pointed out that if you ask a child to be aware of their thoughts, they are not likely to be able to articulate as much about what they are thinking as about what they are liking or disliking. They are emotional, whereas we can watch, witness, listen, and be sensitive to what we are thinking. He also repeatedly mentioned that there is a difference between connectivity and relativity. That is, in the triads mentioned above, it is not enough in yoga practice to be CONNECTED among body mind and breath, we must be related among the three parts of the triad. This requires more sensitivity (see above).

When we are able to relate mind to body and breath, body to breath and mind, breath to mind and body, the practice becomes adyatmik, another Sanskrit word which is basically untranslatable, but often rendered as “spiritual.”  He referred also to the vijnanama kosha, sometimes called the “intellectual sheath”, though again the words are basically untranslatable.

To bring this summary of week two, July 2018, in Prashant’s classes to an end, I’ll quote him again. Once we take on the inner investigation Prashant suggests, when we are brave enough and confident enough to be our own teachers, the “royal road of Yoga opens” for us. Prashant told us that we could assess his teaching if we want in the last class of the week. My friend Dean told him that he passed the assessment. I would heartily agree, but also add that this teaching is beyond assessment and not appropriate for our “system.” It’s for the ages—sarvabhaumah.