One of the leanings and teachings of yoga is that it is about balance. Not just balancing when in postures or asanas, but balance in all aspects of the human realm: physical, mental and spiritual.
Remember also that “yoga” is not about getting tangled into a pretzel position. There are more aspects to yoga than this. It’s ultimate goal is to reach a state of moksha or enlightenment/liberation, thus becoming a yogi or yogini. The basis of classical yoga philosophy can be found in a handful of very old texts, such as the Yoga Sutras (principles) of Patanjali (dated approximately 400 CE or common era) divided into 4 chapters, totaling 185 principles.
I attended a weekend workshop with one of the foremost Iyengar yoga teachers, Firooza Ali Razvi. It was a privilege to be guided by her. A petite and articulate person, she was a student of the late Guruji, BKS Iyengar, and lectures philosophy at a university in Mumbai as well as teaching Iyengar yoga.
What she emphasised on the first day, was the interplay between the mind, the intellect and ego. All play their own role but there are times when one must silence the ego (e.g. with the temptation to over stretch) and times when the mind must silenced. Mindfulness is a catchword today and we are flooded with articles extolling the virtues of this. There are suitable times when doing physical yoga when there must be mindfulness but one of the most important qualities is to be present and not to anticipate the next asana or sequence.
Other treasures of information from Firooza over the 2 days include:
- Iyengar yoga uses props which helps one to correctly align the body but one often forgets that the body itself is a prop. Hence Firooza was not too prescriptive about what props to use during the workshop. For those who do not practice Iyengar yoga, common props are (apart from a sticky mat): blankets, ropes, straps, foams (not used in India), wooden blocks, chairs, benches and bolsters
- yoga uses the body; when doing yoga, chemical reactions in the body occur. Each cell is a collective of intelligence gained whilst practicing
- the chitta’s and the relevance of the 7 chakras (energy circles) as below (crown, third eye, throat, heart, solar plexus, sacrum and root) were mentioned as they form part of the bigger picture of yoga beyond the Western idea of it being a form of exercise or meditation. There are 5 chittas (i.e. the sub-conscious mind, inner data warehouse of memories of past/present memories or store-house of memory): jagrat (wakeful conscious mind), samskara (subconscious mind), vasana (sub-subconscious mind), karana (superconscious mind) and anukarana chitta (sub-superconscious mind). Chitta is only one part of the human mind. The remaining 3 are: buddhi (intelligence), manas (conscious mind) and ahamkara (ego principle)
- the yoga sutras are about detachment. Attachments can lead to emotions like sorrow. Detachment leads to sobriety and serenity
- injuries (not accidents) happen in yoga because of the working of the mind and the ego
- non violence or ahimsa is an important element of yoga. Patanjali wrote that this was part of his 8 limbs/stages of yoga, namely the limb of yamas, which are Hindu ethical rules and moral imperatives. The other four yamas are: satya (truthfulness), asteya (not stealing), brahmacarya (celibacy or faithfulness) and aparigraha (lack of possessiveness)
- moving from a place of becoming to a place of being can be challenging, especially for myself – my mind’s “off switch” is often stuck
- there are tricks that can help with being present in physical yoga, for example, the dorsal must be quiet otherwise the brain thinks and when pressure is applied to the big toe on the ground in a balancing asana such as tree pose/vriksasana (this also earths the asana)
- knowing how and when to breathe is important, as is focusing on the asana at hand. In yoga, breath is used as a guide. It also helps one get into and out of asanas properly
- yoga has asanas that awake the body and those that quieten the body and the mind; there are also asanas that cool the body down (such as supta baddha konasana) and those that heat-up the body (such as standing poses done in quick succession)
- one of the most subtle forms of energy is wind/vital airs or vayu. There are 5 main forms of vayu and 5 subsidiary forms. Firooza reminded us of prana vayu which is the vital air which pervades the whole body, moving in the chest area
- we were taught that sequences are not just a series of asanas. They are carefully thought-out steps and each asana in a sequence (or alone) has a purpose. One needs to understand the rationale behind the sequences. Some asanas require counter poses and not doing them means that the practice is incomplete (e.g. a headstand/sirsasana requires one to do shoulder stand/sarvangasana afterwards)
- asanas are not just about the final pose. It is about getting into the pose, holding it (with minimal adjustment in some quieter poses) and getting out of it. Yoga is about the beginning and the end. Every stretch involves a counter stretch
- fearlessness is important in yoga but not blind fearlessness. Intelligence is still needed. With fearlessness, one can be honest in all one does
- asanas create space in the body and there should never be stress on the abdomen and knees must never hurt doing asanas
- life energy is pranayama. Pranayama means awareness of the breath in an area and it takes on an identity. Prana requires patience and a steady body. That is why we do asanas first and then pranayama.
In 2004, BKS Iyengar was one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. The writer of the article on Guruji (actor Michael Richards) wrote the following about him and his form of yoga:
“The beauty of Iyengar yoga in particular is the revelation that there is a living architecture hidden in all of us that only needs unveiling. Like any architecture, it demands diamond-like precision. In fact BKS Iyengar teaches that the body should flow into a yoga posture the way light fills a well-cut diamond…
Iyengar teaches practitioners to lavish attention to the body, not to an idea. His philosophy is Eastern, but his vision universalist“.
I am far from the stage where light fills a well-cut diamond. Perhaps I am at the stage of being a semi-precious stone with some light shining through. Either way, my yoga journey has been enriched by Firooza.