Consciousness,  Intelligence,  Practice

Asana: More Than Just Moving

BKS Iyengar - Yoga Master

BKS Iyengar – Yoga Master
I have always had a deep respect for Mr. Iyengar’s teaching.  Like him, I believe that asana is a path to liberation and the en-lightenment of our lives.  I was particularly struck recently by his description of the five stages of creating asana.  Below is a re-working of this description through my own interpretation.It is obvious to anyone who has practiced a moderate amount of yoga with various teachers that there are differences from yoga class to yoga class.  I have been curious about these differences for a number of years but have not been able to articulate them.  Mr. Iyengar does just this in his book The Tree of Yoga.  Here, he is careful to identify that asana is more than just moving the body.  In fact, he says, this is merely the first stage of five in the creation of a truly yogic asana.

In this first stage there is conative action.  This simply moving the body, almost reflexively, into a pose based on instruction.  In Warrior II, for example, the conative stage of the asana is to move the gross level body parts into an approximation of the pose:  legs wide, front foot turned out and knee bends, arms up at shoulder height.  Mr. Iyengar suggests that this is the level at which most yoga classes are taught.  But, he urges, there is more.

In the second stage we recognize our body in a posture.  This is a shift of attention to real time – the here and now.   Often, instruction is followed while the mind is preoccupied with something else.  This second stage is what brings us to the recognition of the asana, drawing us present.

In the third stage the mind comes to see ourselves in the asana.  Like Thich Nhat Hahn’s meditation “Breathing in I know that I am breathing in, breathing out I know that I am breathing out”, here we don’t just feel the asana but know that we are in asana and enter a relationship with the posture.
In the fourth stage we become reflective in the pose.  Here we commune with “what is”.  Beyond just recognizing the present moment we become intimate with the dynamics of the asana. This means asking a greater intelligence than our egoic monkey mind to enter the pose and become curious.  We listen and discern what is going on in the pose and then act creatively and intelligently to reposition ourselves into greater harmony and integration.In the final stage the physical action, the attention’s movement into the present moment, the mental “seeing” the  and the intelligence’s reflection unify and we have truly found YOGA, which means to unite.

To illustrate this process try this mini-asana:

1. Draw your arms to shoulder height.  Notice how you can perform this action based on instruction and still be thinking about anything else or continue to read this line.
2.  Now, bring your attention to the position of your arms.
3.  Come to know that your attention is on the position of your arms, this is sometimes called awakening the Witness.  This can be a difficult step, because we can confuse attention for the Witness.  Here’s another hint;  in stage two we are still clearly involved or attached to the position of the arms.  I am doing this movement, I am in this pose.  In stage three, we step back from this “I” doing the pose and observe.  Here, we are becoming detached but compassionate observers – simply Seeing.
4.  Become curious about the sensations you are feeling.  Is left different from right?  Are you extending your thumb side of the arm further than the pinky side?  Does this position evoke emotion?  Bear witness, become conscious to the dynamic within.
5. Experience all of these stages simultaneously to experience true Presence (beyond just being present).  Here, the layers of the Self are integrated and unified, yoked and Yoga-fied!

Now, please share your experience!  Your confusion!  Your bliss!  With the rest of us!