Friday, May 27, 2011

Like Ragu...

Patanjali’s yoga system is one of synergy, with all the components working together to still the fluctuations of the mind.  The four chapters of the Yoga Sutras (Padas, literally “feet”) are, according to Krishnamacharya, written for specific students at different stages of their practice.  The varied practices lead to the same goal.  If we shift our point of view slightly, we can see that the varied practices radiate out from a central point—they are, in fact, ALL contained within, and inseparable from, each other.
It's in There!

The second chapter, Sadhanapada (The Means by which We Obtain the Previously Unattainable), was written for Baddhanjali, a student whose path was blocked by impurities within himself. [Health, Healing, and Beyond. T.V.K Desikachar] More than half way through this chapter Patanjali presents the eight limbs.  He details the first five in this chapter, with the final three, which are higher level practices, detailed in the following chapter.

Although the 8 limbs are presented in a linear fashion, as students we must remember that the practices are not separate from each other.  There are times when one limb is more prominent that the others, yet the practice of one limb incorporates all of the other limbs.
The genius of the system is that the unity, non-separateness, shunyata, use whatever term you like, is imbedded in the practice of the system.  Goal and method are one.

Let us take asana, because that is one of the most accessible starting points for those coming to yoga.  Patanjali states that “Asana has the dual quality of firmness and relaxation / 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 sadhanka is undisturbed by dualities.” (PYS II. 46-48, liberally rendered from Iyengar’s tr.).

That’s all.  Nothing about headstand, nothing about the internal rotation of the spleen, nothing about (Thank [insert deity here]!!) juicy and luscious back bends.

But he says a lot.

The 8 limbs found within asana practice:

Ahimsa (Non-Harming), Satya (Truthfulness), Asteya (Non-Stealing), Brahmacharya (Continence), Aparigraha (Non-Hoarding).  Practice of the Yamas removes the dualities (opposites).  According to Sivananda, “ [t]he pairs of opposites are pleasure and pain, heat and cold, gain and loss, victory and defeat, honour and dishonour, praise and censure.” (Bhagavad Gita, commentary on II.45).  Practicing Ahimsa keeps us uninjured preventing the disturbances from pain.  Practicing Bramacharya (ie not worrying about how appealing to others our bodies become, or coveting the appearance of others), Asteya, and Aparigraha alleviates the disturbances from gain/loss. Practicing Satya alleviates the disturbances from all the opposites.  

Saucha (Cleanliness): Asana removes toxins from the body.
Santosha (Contentment): Effort becomes effortless when we decide to be content with our individual asana.
Tapas (Zeal of Practice): Steady practice is implied if the goal is to obtain perfection.
Svadyaya (Self-Study): Every pose has a story based in scripture or the lives of saints.
Ishvarapranidhana (Devotion to the Supreme Ideal): Ishvara is the first teacher.  Through practice, we are honoring our teachers, their teachers, their teachers, and so on back  to the original source.
Pranayama:  The quality and state of the breath indicates if we are practicing at the balance point between firmness and relaxation.
Pratyahara: Outward performance of asana requires an internal focus.  We will falter in the pose if we are watching others, checking our phones, sipping water. 

The final three limbs, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi arise from the first five.  We cannot “practice” concentration, meditation, or complete integration; these states arise when we have used the first five limbs to create a conducive environment. 

Can’t we just practice to get bathing suit ready?  Sure, if that is what you want.  But if you want something deeper, it’s all there.  You only have to shift your point of view.

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