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.
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).
This third week of our session we focused on back bending asanas, and the overall universal techniques to proceed safely with backbends: always elongate the low back with some awareness and control of the firm abdominal cavity, emphasize the coiling of back ribs to the front, challenge the upper back to arch more than mid or low back. And we dug into the stiffness of the thighs, and front abdominal area.
All of this coupled with consideration of the Yamas.
Ahimsa – the practice of not-causing-injury. And if adept at this practice all hostilities will be given up in our presence.
Satya – non-lying, and searching for objective truth. When truthfulness is confirmed in our behavior on all levels we receive positive fruits from our actions.
Asteya – Non-stealing, even giving up all craving of all things beyond basic needs. If then, precious jewels will come our way!
Brahmacharya – extreme respect for the “creative force” in life. If we understand and don’t abuse this aspect of life we will be full of vigor and vitality, and knowledge
Aparigraha – non-hoarding and non-coveting. If we truly have and want only what we need at the time we need it, we are freed from fear and insecurity, and are then privy to the knowledge of why we are here, how we should live, and what our past, present and future life means.
Often when I’m faced with a challenge or situation where things clearly are not going well I try to review these five yamas. If I had applied one or more of these “restraints” could a better result have occurred?