By Jennie Williford
Pranayama Yoga Studio
I have a lot of friends in India right now studying at the Iyengar Yoga Institute. Through blogs and e-mail, they send their thoughts of being there and learning from the “masters.” So, I am reminded of the change of perspective that learning in India brings to practice, and in general of how our perspective about our self changes through our practice of yoga.
Iyengar Yoga, in particular, is known for building attention and awareness within postures by means of detail and very specific instruction. To some, this seems “nit-picky” or “strict” since they have an impression that yoga should be “free-form” or “feel good.” In actuality, yoga is a discipline designed to move us away from a typically distorted perspective of our “Self” to bring us closer to a clear view of who we truly are. With that as our goal, we have to take the first steps in bringing the conscious mind into contact with every part of our being.
In Iyengar Yoga, we start from the feet with standing poses, and we build from there. In pose after pose, we are asked to move a specific way or pay attention to a specific action, not only to align the physical body to avoid injury, but more importantly, to focus the mind. If you are asked over and over again to press your feet, extend your toes, put weight in your heels, etc. … the likelihood of your mind wandering becomes less and less. As your practice progresses, not only do you connect to and “know” every part of the body, but you have a deeper connection to how it feels, moves and breathes. And that is just the beginning.
Prashant Iyengar, BKS Iyengar’s son, does not travel or teach outside of India, so it is a privilege and a treat to take class with him while we are at the Institute. He recognizes that we Westerners come to India with a major focus on the physical asanas and a perspective on yoga more from the outside-in. So, he takes it upon himself to try to turn our perspective from inside-out and every other which way he can. Once our poses have brought us to mental focus and some knowledge of the body and a more sensitive feel of the breath, what then?
If you stand in only one place on the rim of the Grand Canyon, you will miss a lot. But walk the whole rim, and eventually you will recognize the vastness of the whole. Our usual brain/mind perspective provides us only with a single view, leading us to a very distorted and incomplete understanding of our self. So, yoga challenges us to change perspectives, to “view” our “Self” from every angle.
It says in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (the philosophical treatise on yoga) that the actual purpose of our outer “Nature” is to discover and connect to our deeper “Self.” The knowledge of our feet in standing poses, or our movement through any pose, can only serve us if we use them as tools to see our “Self.” Prashant may ask us to consider doing poses from the feet, from the shoulder, from the in-breath, or even from the eyeballs. He invites us to take a more complete view of the “Self” from traveling the entire rim of our being.
A practice of yoga that provides views from every perspective is the only way to ultimately experience our “Self” completely. To approach practice from only one perspective — be it only body, only mind or only breath — may leave you with a single view just as distorted as the one you started with. The beauty of the Iyengar Yoga and the gift of having teachers who travel to India is this reminder that through yoga you can change your perspective, in practice and in life, and truly get to know the vastness of your own being.
For more about Pranayama Yoga Studio, visit www.yogarockford.com or call (815) 968-9642.
From the June 25-July 1, 2014, issue