Category Archives: Philosophy Corner

Review, Reconsider, Reflect!

Last week in our classes we reviewed asanas from many categories and also challenged our understanding and endurance in our inversions.

It’s very easy to become inspired and motivated with new and interesting poses to study.  It is definitely necessary to attempt new things to remain fresh in our efforts!  But the fragrance of the subject starts to permeate our effort with repeated investigation into things to which we have already been introduced.

We are told in Sutra 1.2 that Yoga is the stilling of the movements of consciousness.  Sutra 1.12 tells us that practice (Abhyasa) and detachment (Vairagya) are the means to get the job done.

These two pillars, this two fold approach, repeated inquiry into the movements of consciousness and the nature of those movements; coupled with a cultivated attitude of disinterest in things that obstruct our effort to still the mind, are the two fundamental essential ingredients.

Abhyasa is more than just practice.  It’s a specific type of practice, an activity that strives to understand and then still the movements of consciousness.  This implies we must be objective towards the activity of practice, always a bit removed from the subjectiveness that may come.  While practicing we are to study the mind, body and breath like impartial scientists.  

Vairagya is more than just being detached.  It is a specific type of renunciation where through will power we wean ourselves from cravings, and desires of all types, even the noble desires are checked.

Practice without the restraint of detachment for any rewards, can become too emotional, too prideful or dejected, like a scientist that is so invested in a particular outcome that she misses the big discovery revealed by her experiments.

By reviewing often the poses we have already started to know we can look for what we may have missed, what sort of “attachments” we may have assigned to our work thus far, and hope to unearth even more of the subtleties of the nature of our roiling consciousness.  If we understand it well, we may be able to quiet it down and get that reported glimpse of the soul!

Transforming the Fire!

Last week we all dived into back bend asanas in class.  Backbends (front openers) are difficult and stimulating – a great tonic for artic winter blues!   The warming stimulation to the body, and mind, is obvious when working these poses.

The philosophical lesson within this category of asana is complex and rewarding.  There is fear to overcome, especially if there exists a vulnerable condition in the low back or neck.  Careful attention to technique regarding those areas is needed. We learn to overcome fear by practicing with strong attention to detail and demand of ourselves a communication between vulnerable spots and our intellect.

Also the stimulation may bring on a less then desirable condition in the nerves.  We are reminded to strive to reach a sattvic state of mind, not one of hyper stimulation.  Re-read our Philosophy Corner discussion titled  “Nature and Soul… and how they try to connect“ to review the concepts of gunas.

The stimulation of the rajasic qualitiy of our nature is needed to attempt backbends, and we try to use just enough effort to get the job done, but not overdo and create an imbalance.  Using asanas with a rajasic (fiery) effort to oust sluggishness (tamasic quality) is very effective.  Then we must watch for how to transform that fiery nature into a still, stable, and alert consciousness (citta).  At that time there may be a clearer connection to our souls within.

What would that be like? No waves in consciousness!

This past week while we worked hard again on our standing poses we reviewed the definition of Yoga as put forth in Patanjali Yoga Sutra.  Patanjali in the first few Sutras actually uses Yoga as a verb.

“Yoga is the cessation of movements in the movements in the consciousness.  Then, the seer dwells in his own true spendour.  At other times, the seer identifies with the fluctuating consciousness.”  BKS Iyengar translation of Sutra I.2-1.4

Cessation or at least control of, or restraint, in the wonderings of our consciousness is what we actually try to practice!  Standing poses – while facing stiff muscles and joints, and balance difficulties – require a very steady will and mind!

The assumption here is that we, the practitioners, are deep down true enlightened “seers”!  And it’s only when we don’t have good control over the layers of our consciousness that we consider ourselves defined by our current troubles, or difficulties.

There is an occasional glimpse of that clear, still soul within…..


Equanimity in Effort

Last week we investigated the few Patanjali Yoga Sutras that specifically speak about asana.  To quote BKS Iyengar directly from his translation and commentary in II.46 – II.48

“Asana is  perfect firmness of body, steadiness of intelligence, and benevolence of spirit. Perfection in an asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached. From then on, the sadhaka is undisturbed by dualities.”

Well! That is certainly a tall order. 

But as we worked through some difficult forward bends, inversions, and arm balances we did get a great chance to face the need to become more firm in our body, steady in our mind, and to watch out for anger, or frustration or pride in our spirits.  It’s unlikely we will actually “perfect” an asana.  But at times there are glimpses of spreading our awareness so equitably across the shape of an asana that our effort hints at transforming towards effortlessness.

And it does seem at those times in practice that a relationship with a more intimate inner “self” is being nurtured.  As body, mind, breath and spirit are united troublesome dualistic perceptions begin to dissolve.

Kriya Yoga – How we should act!

Last week we looked at the 5 Niyama’s listed in Patanjali Yoga Sutra II.32. They are concepts as well as things to be practiced!

sauca  –  (cleanliness) , purity of the body, mind and behavior which results in a disinterest of sensuality.  Then the drive towards a spiritual outlook is nurtured.  Plus sauca transforms a wandering mind into a joyfull awareness that is needed to realize the Self.

santosa – contentment which is achieved by discipline practiced of sauca which then brings a type of benevolent consciousness that when developed leads towards tapas

tapas – fervent disciplined practice that burns away all impurities and further sparks us towards spirituality              

svadhayaya – objective study of the Self, and the “little self”  in reference to some higher authority.  When we practice svadhyaya we are told we will develop an understanding of, and communication with, our chosen deity.

Isvara pranidhana – surrendering all yogic practices to the Lord will bring us closer to a unified state of Samadhi

We noted that the last 3 niyamas listed above are also considered the 3 components of Kriya Yoga, or the Acts of Yoga. Kriya Yoga is the first idea put forth in the second chapter of the Patanjali Yoga Sutra, the Sadhana (practice) Pada.

As we worked on forward bends and arm balances and other difficult asanas it became clear that a “clean” approach to the practice would result in optimal cleansing results, which inspires a sense of contentment.  The challenges of practice, especially new and difficult asanas, needs a strong sense of discipline (tapas), objective study (svadhayaya), and a surrender of ego and desire to the Lord (Isvara pranidhana).

Nature and Soul… and how they try to connect.

This past week we discussed the yogic outlook on the structure of the universe.  Recognizing there are two distinct aspects, the natural world and the spiritual world that can be called Prakriti (nature) and Purusa (soul).

The yogi endeavors to unite the two for clear understanding and connection to Purusa.     Part of the details regarding this project is to recognize that things in nature, (including our own selves and minds), can be calm and balanced or quite disturbed and murky.

We discussed the Trigunas – qualities of nature which are sattva (illumination), rajas (active), tamas (dormant or inert).  Knowing about these qualities, and recognizing the need to balance rajas with tamas to reach a balanced calm state is a basic precept of why we practice.  If they are balanced we may be able to view the Soul clearly.

We worked hard in standing forward bends to use the stability needed, and the fluidity required to calm the experience of these asanas towards a quiet experience.  And…well with screaming hamstrings or wobbly balance there is always a lot of obvious reasons to carry on with our practice!


Here We Are, Doing Yoga… but Why?

Opening the Jan 2015 session of Classes at AASY was a wonderful homecoming after a long Holiday Season break.  Classes began with a short conversation regarding “Why” we are here doing our yoga.  When  I asked the students what brings them to class and to their home practice many different answers were shared.  Quite a few reported the initial reasons they were attracted to the study were not actually the same reasons they continue.  We must be doing something right!

The practice and study of Yoga should be transformative and so as we develop and mature in our practice the attraction to, and effects of, our practice will evolve.

So with an opening week of classes where stiff cold hips were visited by moving fluidly into leg positions that led to forward bends, and some standing asanas paired together to continue the idea of fluidity and stability we began a new year of ongoing study.  Some folks really liked the double block work we did in Adho Mukha Svanasana and Sirsasana (other’s not so much).  But on it goes as we continue to ask ourselves why we study and practice, and what happens when we do.  And who exactly, which layer of who we are at any given moment, is practicing?  And can our practice transform us towards understanding ourselves more intimately and honestly?

Of course it can, how could it not?



Living Life as Art – (with the help of Yoga)

I began my study of Iyengar Yoga at age 19 in 1971. I was immediately hooked. Six years later I began teaching classes, and since then I have been even more enthusiastic with the challenge of teaching the subject. In 1983 I began annual study trips to our parent institute, RIMYI in Pune India. Being a student at our Institute has been a huge blessing in my life!

What I love about the study, practice and teaching of yoga the way the Iyengar’s have guided us is that it helps us to live an artistic life. Guruji has written often about the art, science and philosophy of Yoga. These three intersecting aspects, or perspectives, intrigue me and I try to share that curiosity with my students.

I love to study and share the philosophy of the Patanjali Yoga Sutra, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Upanisads among other texts. These works add color and texture to the asana and pranayama we practice. I also am amazed by, and try to share the science of the practice as it has been developed by our Guru BKS Iyengar. His penetrating understanding of human minds and bodies, and his innovative approach with props and sequences has us all appreciating the “laboratory” approach as we investigate the subject.

To live artistically we must all be acute listeners and appreciative watchers. We need to learn to be expressive – expressive and clear with our words, our movements, our actions, and our thoughts. And as artistic as the study and practice of yoga is, it is only on rare occasions a “performance art”. So there is no pressure to perform, and the ego need not worry itself over that possible strain. Yoga is for our own evolution and satisfaction.

As a teacher now with over 30 year’s experience, I am honored to have been given an Advanced Jr. 1 Certificate by BKS Iyengar. I am excited to share this focus of artistry with every one who attends my classes in the coming year.



Searching for the Seer

September in Ann Arbor is the New Year, when most of us rearrange our schedules with great plans and goals. My hope for all of us at AASY is to have a very satisfying year of practice and study. The subject of yoga is so huge, and encompasses so much, that at times it is a daunting endeavor. The biggest benefit is that the study of yoga organizes our self cultivation. It disciplines us towards better health, calmer nerves, sharper intellect, and content spirits. Our studies provide a pragmatic system for this self cultivation. As we exercise our limbs, joints, muscles and lungs we develop our sense of balance with respect for agility, strength and endurance. And even though the qualities of balance, agility, strength and endurance seem on the surface to be physical skills, they extend to our management of personal maturation. We grow emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. Our families and friends appreciate and benefit from our efforts as well – we become the stable, strong, reliable, creative and fun people in their lives.

The first 4 sutra’s in the Patanjali Yoga Sutra explains our mission and what we can expect to gain, without really giving away all the mysteries we practice to reveal. The definition of “Yoga is the cessation of the movements in the consciousness”, (PYS I.2). We are promised that if we succeed in this quieting of our chattering monkey of a consciousness “then, the seer dwells in his own true splendor”, (PYS 1.3). And we are warned that when we have not quieted that pesky mind we are left with, “other times, (when) the seer identifies with the fluctuating consciousness,” (PYS1.4).

We still have the big job of finding out for ourselves who exactly is our own Splendid Seer. The technique is to discipline, stabilize and quiet the mind to start the hunt. The snake pit we might fall into is false identification with the unstable mind. The search is the fun. The insights are hopeful. The challenge is rewarding.

Welcome back, looking forward to our Fall 07 Session together.

Laurie Blakeney
AASY Director