Yoga Rockford: Yoga: For mind, not body

By Jennie Williford
Pranayama Yoga Studio

The great Indian sage Patanjali defines yoga in the Yoga Sutras as, “Yoga is the cessation of movements within the consciousness” (I.2). However, many of us come to yoga for reasons related to our physical fitness. It is great that the practice of yoga has many by-products for our physical health, but in the end, it is the mind we need to change to reach the real goal of yoga — contentment and inner peace.

Of course, we have to start somewhere. Have you ever tried to just sit quietly in an attempt to relax? If so, you have experienced the difficulty of stilling the body without some amount of pain or agitation, not to mention the frustration of capturing the ever-moving mind. This is why we begin with the practice of asanas (yogic postures) as a physical means to focus the mind.

Iyengar Yoga, in particular, teaches a systematic approach to yoga that slowly progresses the mind’s focus on the body for a more meditative result.

The first stage of the Iyengar approach is getting the mind to pay attention to the specific physical alignment and intricacies of each pose we do. Building a more stable and balanced posture gives the mind a firm foundation. While holding the pose, the mind is then given the task of working out details of body awareness and connection. Focused on this task, the mind wanders less, frees us from our usual distraction, and leads us toward more inward concentration.

Learning each pose begins the process of mental concentration, but it is the cumulative effect of a well-thought-out sequence that can really change our state of mind altogether. The Iyengar method focuses on creating a sequence of poses so the body and mind are sent on a journey, the outcome of which is a more concentrated and unfluctuating consciousness.

Hopping from one pose to another without much thought of how those poses are connected could physically wear out the body, but more importantly, the mind is driven to even more distraction. Knowing the effect poses have on the whole being and knowing how to place poses in an effective sequence is the art of yoga that leads to the desired meditative state.

Another distinguishing factor of Iyengar Yoga is the time spent in a pose. In class and in practice, staying longer in each pose gives the opportunity to affect the depths of body and mind together, literally becoming meditation in action. In a quick pose, the gross physical body is touched upon. Stay a little longer, and you begin to touch the organic body, affecting the hormonal and immune systems, for example. Stay a little longer, and the consciousness begins to shift.

Prashant Iyengar, BKS Iyengar’s son, teaches us that time in a pose is not just time on a timer. As our awareness builds, we gain knowledge of three aspects of our own pose cycle: “doing,” “experiencing” and “un-doing”. In the commencement of a pose, we are “doing.” As we stay in a pose, we are “experiencing.” And as we close the pose, we are “un-doing.” For each individual and for each pose, these timings may be different, but doing them with awareness is meditative action — and that is yoga.

Without this discipline of practice, the fluctuating mind is quick to get in and get out of any pose, happy to “do” more than “stay.” But the benefits of a good yoga practice include the many opportunities to learn about our mental reactions in a controlled and private environment.

In the microcosm of each pose or practice we may learn how our mind reacts, then carry that knowledge out into the macrocosm of the world. Without discipline, the wandering mind avoids and becomes dull — or willfully pushes and creates agitation. Iyengar Yoga gives needed resistance to our wandering minds, using props to accommodate any physical limitations, while covering every category of pose for every possible experience.

The real work of yoga is building awareness and mental focus, leading toward contentment within all situations. The physical benefits will come for sure, but in the end, when all things change and time takes its toll, it will be the quiet consciousness you seek.

For more information about Pranayama Yoga Studio, visit or call (815) 968-9642.

From the Oct. 31-Nov. 6, 2012, issue

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