Blue Mountains Iyengar Yoga Studio

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A letter to all students at BMI Yoga Studio

The teachers of the Blue Mountains Iyengar Yoga Studio would like to ensure that all students (new and old) have the best possible experience at the studio.

We would like to create an environment in which we impart our knowledge of the practice of yoga and encourage you all to develop your own practice outside class.

To achieve this we believe there are key underlying principles, not only for us, the teachers, but also for you as students

Stability and consistency are key aspects of yoga practice. It is best to be consistent with the teacher you choose, the class you attend and the frequency of your attendance.

We encourage you to pick your teacher, class time and, where possible, to stick with it and attend regularly. In doing this you will see your yoga improve greatly and you will reap the benefits. As teachers we encourage you to be consistent as possible. Where it is not possible for us to always teach the class(i.e. other work commitments, retreats, workshops or holidays), we will ensure the “fill-in” teacher remains the same for each class.

If you attend a second or third class, we advise that you do so with the same teacher where possible. If this is not possible, please let your teacher know so that they can advise you as to which class would be most suitable. They will liaise with the other teacher to make your experience as consistent as possible. This is particulary helpful if you have an injury or are going from level 1 to 2.

I hope you will find this will help enhance your experience of yoga.

“By dedicated practice of the various aspects of yoga impurities are destroyed: the crown of wisdom radiates in glory”

An Apprenticeship Experience – by Jamey Cock

Published: FEBRUARY 23, 2012

Jamey Cock, Teacher trainee with Lulu Bull, Blue Mountains Yoga Studio
I am currently undertaking my Iyengar Yoga Teacher Training with Lulu Bull in the Blue Mountains, NSW. At present I am working towards my Introductory Level 2 Certificate. One of the main reasons I moved to the Blue Mountains 5 years ago was because Lulu trained her teachers through an apprenticeship rather than a course.

My training consists of the following; I am required to attend a minimum of two classes a week with Lulu. We have a teacher training session once every fortnight with all the trainees, where we are required to teach or practice in front of Lulu. We are required to assist Lulu in one of her weekly classes. As a part of our training we all teach at least two regular classes within the school. Above all, it is expected that we have a consistent daily home practice of Asana and Pranayama.

It is a huge commitment of time for my family and I. It takes dedication and discipline for myself and also for my husband, who looks after our son while I teach and practice, at the end of his own working day. Doing this style of training has reaffirmed to me that Yoga teaching is not just a job that you leave behind when you go home, but a way of life. Since undertaking the training my home practice has become very strong. My husband and child know that it is a part of my day and have adapted to that. One of the most valuable things I have learnt in my training is that a sustainable home practice will feed my teaching long after my Introductory Certificates are completed.

With this intensive style of training I feel like I am under the constant watchful eye of my teacher. I see my teacher at least three, sometimes four times a week. The amount of information that I receive formally through training sessions, and classes and informally through being a part of the yoga school and community, is rich and vast. Although I feel comfortable to approach my teacher with questions at any time, my queries are always answered before I have a chance to ask, either through a class or an observation or a point that she has made. The apprenticeship style of training is a constant exchange of information verbally and non verbally and it seems that sometimes my teacher can read my mind.

My teacher sees me in at least two asana classes a week and is consequently familiar with my body, it’s patterns; it’s strengths and weaknesses. Although a lot of my findings are from work on my own mat, my teacher is able to shed light on things that I have missed and give guidance on a way forward. I find this invaluable.

I regard my apprenticeship as a conversation between my teacher and myself, as opposed to a course that has a definite beginning and end. As my teaching and my practice become stronger we decide on a time to sit for the exam. This feels like a very natural and organic way of working. In the apprenticeship style you train solely with the one teacher. I have respect for her as a teacher, practitioner and as a yogi. With this respect I entrust that she will guide me in the right direction. My experience with Lulu and the Blue Mountains Yoga School is inspiring and fulfilling, as a yoga student, as a teacher and an individual. I feel very blessed.

An Experience of Injury for Yoga Teacher Tessa Bull

Being injured can be a major stumbling block for your yoga practice and for teaching. But injuries are also a source of learning. North London teacher Tessa Bull describes her yoga journey through injury.

In April 2011, I sustained a serious knee injury while skiing in Norway, which put a brutal and abrupt end to my skiing aspirations.  As a yoga teacher and a yoga student, the last two years have been an interesting and sometimes challenging journey, recovering from the injury, with yoga as my key support and my main challenge!  Sustaining such an injury at the best of times is traumatic but as a 51 year old, the body takes longer to heal and has less of an ability to bounce back.  I have felt its reverberations throughout my body in a way I suspect I would not have felt had I been in my twenties.  As a yoga teacher (of 15 years), I have been confronted daily by the impacts of the injury because I have had to negotiate constantly how to teach with it.  As an Iyengar yoga student (of 32 years) I have been able to draw on my knowledge and understanding to gently coax my knee back to health.

This article is a personal account of my experience of recovering from such an injury, not a clinical guide. Two people with
the same diagnosis can experience very different symptoms.  How to tackle those symptoms can vary depending on the individual’s ability to deal with the injury and the rehabilitation process.  My detailed knowledge of anatomy, both intellectually and experientially, not only enabled me to engage in a higher level of discussion around the prognosis with different medical specialists, but also empowered me to take charge of my own recovery program.  I have been in the very fortunate position
of my work informing and supporting my recovery.

Back to the accident. On the last day of my holiday, my knee was severely twisted as my ski failed to come off when I fell. 
I was unceremoniously taken off the mountain on the back of a snow skidoo, unable to put any weight on my leg without the knee collapsing underneath me.  Both my Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) and Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) were fully ruptured and there were tears to the lateral meniscus, damage to the cartilage and to the lateral tibial plateau – in short,
a big mess!

Hobbling around on crutches, I spent six weeks in a clunky full leg brace with a hinge at the knee, initially locked at 30 degrees flexion and -10 degrees extension. This was to allow the MCL to heal but made for uncomfortable nights and restricted days.  The ACL, on the other hand, could only be reconstructed with an operation once the MCL was fully healed. I received completely conflicting advice from two different orthopedic surgeons on the best route to recovery during the first eight weeks.  I didn’t like the sound of the first advice: ‘do nothing and keep the weight off the leg’, so I opted for a second opinion, which was ‘start building strength and circulation around the knee straight away’, putting weight on it with a programme of physiotherapy.  The first option did not ring true for me.  After a few days I wanted to put weight on the leg.  I was already suffering other symptoms from not using one leg. For example, in the early days, having a brace on 24 hours a day and a peg leg starts to impact other areas of the body, in particular, the calf, thigh, foot, hip of the injured leg and lower back.  Sleeping with a big metal brace is a challenge and the need to stretch areas of tightness was increasing daily.

With the support of a very experienced physiotherapist who also stressed the importance of rehabilitation in the first eight weeks, I began a program of physiotherapy, swimming and yoga. I reverted to one crutch, which opened life up enormously –allowing me to be able to carry a cup of tea to the table!

Post injury my yoga practice was extremely limited so I supplemented it with swimming: front crawl and back crawl with a foam block between my knees. Any kicking would have been too detrimental in those early weeks but the swimming felt fantastic – and very good for my mental and emotional health which could otherwise have taken a nosedive. 

The main benefit of working with yoga at this stage was to minimise the negative reverberations of the injury and to protect the recovering MCL.  After about ten days, when the knee felt less vulnerable and fragile, I started exploring my practice and soon discovered that there is a lot still accessible (though I could only do a little at a time): Supta Padangusthasana 1 and 2, leg raises, sitting twists (on a chair), various seated poses including Upavistha Konasana, Parsva Upavistha Konasana, Parvritta Upavistha Konasana, Paschimottanasa, Parsva Paschimottanasa,  Setubandha Sarvagasana (starting with toes supported on the wall), supported Halasasana and Viparita Karani.  In all seated poses I used a rolled blanket behind the back of the injured knee, which really helped working the quadriceps, particularly the muscle just above the inner knee.  Gradually I added in the standing poses, which helped strengthen the muscles around the knee. 

Several months later when my walking gait was closer to normal, I was still aware of compensatory problems all the way up my spine to my neck on the opposite side.  My yoga practice has been vital in managing these problems.  It has also enabled me to work with a level of sensitivity and awareness, which I hope, will benefit the long-term health of not only my knee, but also the rest of my body.  After a year of slowly developing and broadening my practice at home, I returned to classes with a certain degree of trepidation.  I found that the knee injury created a disconnect between the foot and the hip so many of the muscles around that hip were also inaccessible.  I have had to wait until the knee was functioning ‘normally’ and had regained its integral strength before I became able to work more actively in this area. I still have some limitations with full flexion and lateral rotation in seated poses of the knee but I can now enjoy forward virasana which I missed for so many months.

As time goes on I am still gaining more access as I gently challenge the imbalances and work towards a better alignment. 
I have found parallels with studying pranayama where I have also had to learn to be patient, to wait for the right moment to arise before being ready to move on to the next stage, for the body to lead the way and not the mind.

To operate or not? The ongoing decision is whether to operate to create a new ACL. My knee appears to be recovering well, with none of the classic unstable symptoms post injury such as the knee locking or collapsing. The meniscal tear is currently giving me few symptoms and so I have chosen not to have surgery at this stage. I have been told that I can change my mind about this at any time if my symptoms deteriorate.  It is now recognized that ACL surgery is not for everyone and it can potentially create a new set of problems (e.g. arthritis and restricted flexion).   In many ways, my symptoms have not reflected the seriousness of injury I sustained and I think I have yoga to thank for that.

What about my teaching?  Because I had an automatic car and it was my left leg that was injured, I was able to drive, which was a godsend.  I went back to teaching a couple of classes a week immediately after my injury and sat at the front of the class on a chair.  Since my practice feeds my teaching and I tend to be engaged fairly physically with my students, this was a new and interesting challenge.  My language had to be clear and articulate and I found myself teaching more from my observation than I normally would, something I strive to do but can be easily distracted from.  My students were more than slightly amused by the crutch, which, with my increasing mobility, became a great teaching tool! I love teaching and have found that using my yoga proactively as an integral part of my recovery has really helped maintain a sense of normality and social integration.

Will I be going skiing again – I think not! Instead I am in Pune this February, attending general classes, which would have been inconceivable a year ago!

Tessa Bull

 

Postscript: 

June 2013.  A month attending general classes in Pune proved immensely beneficial. When I arrived I was open to the idea of attending remedial classes for a while but found that  I was able to adapt and support myself in asanas where necessary and so stayed in general classes. Over the course of the month, I overcame some of the nervousness and over protectiveness I had around my knee and made very good progress.  By the end I was even able to do padmasana.  My progress has continued since I have returned From Pune.

 

 

The anterior cruciate ligament(ACL) is one of the most important of four strong ligaments connecting the bones of the knee joint. Its function is to provide stability to the knee and minimize stress across the knee joint:

·   It restrains excessive forward movement of the lower leg bone (the tibia) in relation to the thigh bone (the femur).

·   It limits rotational movements of the knee.

The medial collateral ligament(MCL) is a wide, thick band of tissue that runs down the inner part of the knee from the thighbone (femur) to a point on the shinbone (tibia) about four to six inches from the knee. The MCL's main function is to prevent the leg from extending too far inward, but it also helps keep the knee stable and allows it to rotate.

 

References:
Picture:http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/knee-pain/ligaments-of-the-knee-anterior-front-view

ACL defintion: http://ehealthmd.com/acl-tears/what-anterior-cruciate-ligament

MCL defintion:http://www.cedars-sinai.edu/Patients/Health-Conditions/Medial-Collateral-Ligament-MCL-Tears.aspx

 

Analysis of Sadhana Pada – by Simone Jacobson

Analysis of Sadhana Pada – Chapter 2 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras Simone Jacobson

Article by Simone Jacobson, teacher at Blue Mountains Iyengar Yoga Studio. Commentary on Chapter 2, Sadhana Pada, Yoga Sutras Of Pantanjali.

Chapter I of the Yoga sutras defines the movements of consciousness that occur through the practice of yoga, and the final realisation of Samadhi. The chapter is focussed on the levels of consciousness and assumes a knowledge and experience of yoga. It shows the Sadhaka what the consciousness can experience through yoga.

Chapter II, however, takes the reader back to the “basics”, the core of the yoga – practice. Whilst Samadhi Pada intimates that practice is essential, Sadhana Pada spells out clearly the constant and determined effort that is required to reach elevated states of consciousness, stillness of mind, and finally Samadhi. To learn you must practice, and approach this practice with repetition, discipline and constant attentiveness. This way, those beginning in their yoga practice, and those further along the path, are able to clearly understand what steps are required in their yoga discipline.

TKV Desikachar summarises the chapter very succinctly in “The Heart of Yoga” (1995): “Sadhana Pada describes the qualities necessary to change the mind effectively, and gradually from a state of distraction to one of attention, and why these qualities are important and what the practice of them entails.”

Sadhana Pada fleshes out some of the terms more familiar to sadhakas at the beginning or early stages of their yogic path. It can be said that the chapter is easier to relate to than Samadhi Pada – the Sadhaka can develop techniques that help with their daily yogic practice. The chapter expands upon the eight limbs of yoga and their role in the practice. In this chapter, Patanjali specifically refers to Yama, Niyama, Asana and Pranayama in practice. Subsequent chapters move into detailed discussion around the other four limbs of yoga.

As the sadhaka’s practice develops, he or she will come up against obstacles that act as resistance to stilling the mind. Avidya (spiritual ignorance) is the main source of unhappiness, and the main obstacle to overcome. Avidya is one of the five Klesas, and as long as it exists in the Sadhaka, the klesas will always remain. The Klesas are ego, attachment, aversion, and clinging to life.

To be unfamiliar with the types of obstacles and how they are displayed, results in a limited understanding of the practice, and the Sadhaka will not experience a tangible shift or change in their consciousness. They will be merely ‘skimming the surface’ or engaging in a physical practice only.

The obstacles are defined and discussed, and can be referred to at the commencement of the Sadhaka’s path, and also as each obstacle is experienced. This chapter can be read as a whole, or referred to at stages in the practice, to facilitate the progression towards Samadhi.

In a chapter with 55 sutras, it is difficult to narrow the discussion down to four key sutras and their importance in Sadhana Pada and the yogic journey as a whole. In this process, a personal perspective must be used and other important sutras may be omitted from the discussion. Choosing four sutras that stand out does not reduce the importance and relevance of every other sutra in the chapter.

Sutra II.I stands out as a key sutra, as does the first sutra in Samadhi Pada. As with the opening line of a novel, this must entice the reader to continue, create a genuine interest and open the door for the experience that is ahead.

II.I tapah svadhyaya Isvarapranidhanani kriyayogah

“Burning zeal in practice, self study and study of scriptures, and surrender to God, are the acts of yoga” (Iyengar, LOYS, 1993).

“Kriya yoa, the path of action, consists of self discipline, study, and dedication to the Lord” (Bryant, 2009).

“The practice of yoga must reduce both physical and mental impurities. It must develop our capacity for self-examination and help us to understand that, in the final analysis, we are not the masters of everything we do” (Desikachar, 1995).

Kriyayoga is the yoga of action. To practice kriyayoga, one must have tapas (self discipline or “burning zeal in practice”), svadhyaya (self study) and Isvara Pranidhana (surrender to God, or study of the scriptures). This Sutra defines practice as the essence of yoga and sets the framework for the rest of the chapter. Without tapas, svadhyaya and isvara pranidhana, one cannot experience yoga.

Self discipline and self-study is interwoven in the yamas, niyamas, asana and pranayama. These practices are practices in discipline and self-reflection, with the aim to change or shift wrong views or actions.

The Yamas define what actions we should take to live our life ethically and with awareness for others. They focus on our behaviour and how we interact with others. The yamas discuss non violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and no covetousness. (yogajournal.com, 2011; Yogamovement.com, 2000-2011).

The Niyamas take the essence of the Yamas, and encourage an inner discipline and respect for the self. The Niyamas discuss purity in thought and contentment in approach to life. It is within the Niyamas that tapas, svadyaya and isvara pranidhana are presented and discussed in detail.

Lack of understanding for the yamas and Niyamas ‘feed’ the obstacles that are discussed later in Sadhana Pada.
The practice of the asana is a process of self study. Asana performed with a strong self discipline, as well as an awareness of God, the divine, is the building block to the practice. This approach can be taken on by both the experienced and lay practitioner. The three “essentials” to practice, as outlined in this sutra are set out for those whose mind is not yet disciplined in any way. This sutra sets the framework that practice is essential.

Sitting alongside the three essential “motivations” outlined in Sutra II.1, are the obstacles to practice, outlined in Sutra II.3.

II.3: avidya asmita raga dvesa abhinivesah klesah

“The five afflictions which disturb the equilibrium of consciousness are: ignorance or lack of wisdom, ego, pride of the ego, or sense of “I”, attachment to pleasure, aversion to pain, fear of death, and clinging to life.” (Iyengar, LOYS, 1993).

“The impediments (to Samadhi) are nescience, ego, desire, aversion, and clinging to life.” (Bryant, 2009).

“The obstacles are misapprehensions, confused values, excessive attachments, unreasonable dislikes, and insecurity.” (Desikachar, 1995).

This sutra defines the obstacles to practice, or the states of mind that hinder our progress and prevent the stilling of the mind. The obstacles impact our ability to self-study as we see these states of mind as an inherent part of ourselves, and therefore find it difficult to detach ourselves from them. This sutra is important as it defines simply what the obstacles are. If one were at the commencement of the practice, they may hold a basic understanding of the obstacles in their mind, and can read further into the chapter if more understanding is required, and as their practice progresses. Searching for a deeper understanding of the obstacles is inevitable.

Patanjali moves on to explain these obstacles over the next eight sutras. In Sutra II.10, Patanjali begins to explain the processes for managing obstacles and afflictions. One becomes familiar with the obstacles through the process of involution. Involution, or inward reflection, takes place through the practice of asana.

As one must understand the obstacles that hinder the practice, the Sadhaka must also be aware of the qualities of nature, how they exist internally and externally, and how this impacts our practice.

Sutra II.18 defines the qualities (gunas) of nature. The role of gunas is defined and interwoven in many Sutras and is apparent at all stages in the yoga journey. The Sadhaka “battles” with the elements of nature in each and every practice.

II. 18 prakasa kriya sthiti silam bhutendriyathakam bhogapavargartham drsyam

“Nature, its three qualities, sattva, rajas and tamas, and its evolutes, the elements, mind, sense of perception, and organs of action, exist eternally to serve the seer, for enjoyment or emancipation” (Iyengar, LOYS, 1993).

“That which is noble, has the nature of illumination, activity, and inertia (sattva, rajas, and tamas). It consists of the senses and the elements, and exists for the purpose of providing either liberation or experience. “ (Bryant, 2009).

“All that is perceived includes not only the external objects but also the mind and the senses. They share three qualities: heaviness, activity, and clarity. They have two types of effects: to expose the perceiver to their influences, or to provide the means to find the distinction between them and itself.” (Desikachar, 1995).

The Sadhaka needs to understand the impact of the gunas on their body, mind, and practice, in order to be able to shift imbalances in these gunas and progress towards Samadhi. The aim is to have a perfect balance of rajas, tamas and Sattva. There is no specific moment when all the gunas remain stable and unchanged, so the Sadhaka is to work constantly to understand their influence, and recognise the practices required to maintain their balance.

The elements of nature are explicit in each layer or sheath of the body, and the practice of yoga works to understand and balance these elements within the body. The practice of yoga enables the seer to understand that the soul (Purusa) is separate to nature and not reliant upon it. This detachment is the essence of the practice.

The final sutra that stands out in Sadhana Pada is II.47

11.47 prayatna saithilya ananta samapattibhyam

“Perfection in an asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached” (Iyengar, LOYS, 1993).

“Such posture should be attained by the relaxation of effort and by absorption in the infinite.” (Bryant, 2009).

“Sthira and sukham can be achieved by recognising and observing the reactions of the body and the breath to the various postures that comprise asana practice. Once known, these reactions can be controlled step by step.” (Desikachar, 1995).

Initially the previous Sutra stood out as critical to the chapter (II.46 sthira sukham asanam; “asana is the perfect firmness of body, steadiness of intelligence, and benevolence of spirit” Iyengar, LOYS, 1993), however Sutra 47 highlights the move from effortful asana to effortless asana. This move, or shift, is as a result of practice, which is the essence of the chapter.

Asana for a beginner is challenging, requires much effort, and faces the continuous battle with tamas and rajas. This Sutra highlights that there is a point at which the asana becomes effortless and this is the fruit of the practice. The poise in effortless asana is when one can see the soul and experience the union of body and mind. Although Sutra II.46 is poetic and inspiring, it is the effort in asana that generates the results, and this effort is highlighted in II.47.

In essence, Sadhana Pada acts as a guide, a chapter for ongoing reference. It can be read and understood by practitioners at all levels, and can act as a constant reference to understand the mind’s fluctuations, attachments and afflictions. The chapter stresses the obstacles that we must all overcome in the practice, as well as highlighting the tools we can use to overcome these obstacles. It hopefully highlights to the early Sadhaka the level of effort and dedication that many of the more senior yoga practitioners commit to.

References

  • Iyengar, BKS (1993), ‘Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’, Thorsons Great Britain.
  • Bryant, EFD (2009), “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. A New Edition, Translation and Commentary”, North Point Press, USA.
  • Desikachar, TKV (1995), “The Heart of Yoga”, Inner Traditions International, USA.

The reference books used were chosen for the following reasons:

BKS Iyengar’s perspective is essential to my current training, but also offers an intricate and poetic explanation of each sutra. Not all explanations are entirely clear upon first reading, so the reader is motivated and inspired to return for further clarification as practice continues.

Edwin Bryant’s perspective was used mainly because of its availability to me as a reference text. It offers lengthy explanations of each sutra, which in some instances, was overwhelming, but also thorough.

TKV Desikachar’s perspective was set out in layman’s terms. That is, the description/explanation of each sutra was clear, concise, and very easy to understand.

Lulu Bull on Teacher Training

Published: FEBRUARY 23, 2012

Lulu Bull, Senior Teacher, Blue Mountains Yoga Studio
When I reflect upon how I became a teacher, I realise it was in the traditional form of an apprenticeship.

After a few years with various teachers, I settled with one teacher with whom I stayed with for many years. Attending classes, practising in the same room, doing all the intensives, retreats, assisting in class, all this punctuated by regular visits to Pune to study with the Iyengars. It wasn’t ever a set frame time, the readiness to progress to the next stage, determined by my teacher. At some stage I was asked to start teaching all the morning classes and when it was deemed appropriate I began the process of assessments. (Again the time frame between these was determined by my teacher).

However this was not the main thrust of the experience, it was the practice and lots and lots of it!! This was closely followed by assisting, attending classes and being involved in all aspects of running a school. This suited me, I wasn’t in a hurry, I lived close, I was young and I saw the many benefits of being near my teacher and having daily contact.

27 years later, and with over 20 years of experience running my own school, I have adopted the same approach with my trainees. On average there are 4-6 trainees at any one time, they may be at different stages of their training, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Those who are at the same stage seem to “buddy –up “ together to practice and those in earlier stages have the advantage of having them as mentors . The mix is good!

The emphasis is on practice and the understandings that come from time spent on the mat .The time frame for when they apply for assessments is determined by me and their readiness. It requires that they are totally committed to spending a lot of hours at the school, in class, practising, assisting, teaching, with an additional day every fortnight specifically for teacher training. And of course visits to Pune and where appropriate attending workshops with visiting senior teachers. It is an ‘in close’ experience, constant feedback, dialogues between trainee and teacher..so the relationship has to work, it has its benefits and its frustrations at times.

It does require that they live at a distance to make all this feasible, to allow them to fulfil all requirements.

From my perspective, it is a very different experience to attending a set teacher training course within a specific time frame. An apprenticeship system will not only train you as a teacher, but ultimately it supports you to develop your own practice, this being the natural source from which you can therefore teach. The teaching is more intuitive and less rote learnt. It produces yogis who are strong practitioners.

It is an on going process, an age-old method of passing on knowledge. Overall it may take longer, but the experience is rounded, the equivalent of a slow cooked dish, the flavours are rich and full, to be savoured not rushed.
 

Mahli's Pune Experience

Mahli's Pune Experience

When Lulu asked me to write something about my experience in Pune I was in a bit of a quandary of how to approach the TASK. How was it? Good, bad, how could I find the words to describe such an experience? Having a western analytical mind this certainly was a problem. I concluded that experience (meaning experiencing the experience not expertise) was the key word and a sense of humour definitely had to be present to be able to cope.

To begin.........

I have been twice to RIMYI (Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Institute) in Pune, once in 2007 and then again in 2013. I have to write about both trips for my recent experience to be put into perspective.

2007: Two months before I departed for Pune my reoccurring L5 S1 disk Problem surfaced again for no apparent reason (so I thought). I had a huge decision to make on whether or not to go to India. I was in pain, practicing intelligently using the horse, in control of my out of control situation. So I went (what the heck) armed with a letter for Geeta about my condition. Talk about fear and courage.

The scene is set. I arrive in Mumbi at 10pm. My organised pick up from the airport to Pune did not arrive. Welcome to India. O..K.. I switch into travelling in India mode; accept what is. A very reasonable explanation did exist. “No problem Madam, everything is alright, we will get you a taxi.” Meanwhile in the news before I left Sydney...... “Australian woman gone missing in Mumbi.” Not good! After a good deal of wheeling and dealing everything was all right. I did arrive in Pune.

After arriving a few days early to settle in, very, very nervously I set of to register at RIMYI. For armed with Excuse Letterin hand  I courageously walked through the gates of the institute and who  should I come across but Geeta who was on the veranda. I tentatively handed over the letter and then got scoulded for not removing my shoes as I entered the studio.

The next day the first class began. I could not believe I was actually there. I was quick to bags the horse ( for need of support for My back)  and the class began. In less than five minutes all hell broke loose ..........( a story for another day). The end of the class came and lying down in savasana I was earnestly making plans to change my ticket and go home. “Not for me! I should not be here.” The idiot that I am I went to Geeta to explain the situation. There was no way she was going to let me out of there. Miserably I returned to my hotel and felt fearfully sorry for myself.

The following morning, with a great deal of courage, I snuck into class number 2. The change started to happen. With so much baggage weighing me down, little by little Geeta stripped me bare and I started to learn. “Just DO.” “Just DO.” “ Just Do.” Accept what IS without ego. The month passed very slowly and by the end of the month at RIMMI my conclusion was that I would never put myself through that experience ever again.

Back home slowly, slowly, it all began to sink in. I am a very slow learner. I realised  that Geeta is the expert on how to practice. Of course Geetaji is the expert in the technique of  asana, that we westerners take all as physical, but she showed me that there is so much more, to do with attitude, awareness, and mindfulness through asana.

Six years later, fully armed with a sack full of Samscaras (habitual body/mind patterns)                       I set of for Pune again. I arrived at RIMYI with no preconceived  concept of how things were going to pan out. India was still India, with a growing middle class, more pollution, more people, more noise and more dirt. A challenge to handle. With extreme apprehension and a lot of courage I entered RIMYI gates, rounded the corner and who should be sitting alone at the entrance to the studio but Guruji himself with a huge welcoming smile. There was no escaping. SO....... shoes of, I went and acknowledged him ( showed my respects the Indian way ), asked after his health, he asked after mine and I entered the studio feeling like the prodigal daughter returning. The whole feel to the institute was very different to the previous time. The mood was light, happy and welcoming or was it me that was light and happy? Guruji’s great grand daughter had arrived one month earlier.

Day 1. began with a brilliant class taught by Geeta. I had no expectations of how I would like the class to be. Being prepared to take what came, breath by breath, just doing with a light heart and blow me down what an experience. Geetaji showed me that it is the direct experience of reality through asana, in the present moment, that is the process of yoga.

The month progressed with the women’s classes mainly taught by Geeta, with Raya and Gulnash filling in when needed with Guruji giving a running commentary in the background while doing his practice. All so wonderful.

Then came Prashant. A totally different  way of teaching to get the message across. Prashantji has taught me that through concentrated asana practice, with breath and stillness simply to observe what is. There is a tendency to theorise about our observations and reduce our images to what we would like them to be.

It is such a privilege for any of us to be accepted into the home of the Iyengars, for them to give us their time, expertise, insight and so much of themselves and the opportunity to practice and experience the evolving art of Yoga. I am eternally grateful and would you believe it would love to visit RIMYI again.

Open-heartedness – By Bruce Standley

‘Open-heartedness’

My reflections on Lulu’s Byron Bay Retreat – October 2015

by Bruce Standley

 

You get out of life what you put into it.

That applies to yoga too, and Lulu’s Byron Bay retreat this year gave me a clearer insight into how.

The insight came when I was at Wategos beach, reflecting on the teachings I had experienced in asana, pranayama and meditation.

At the beach, I noticed four groups of people, who each experienced Wategos in different ways.  I’ll label them ‘onlookers’, ‘paddlers’, ‘creepers’ and ‘headstrong’:

 

-       the ‘onlookers’ stayed on the beach, watching others enjoy the water

-       the ‘paddlers’ rolled up their trousers and had a quick paddle, but didn’t venture too deep into the water

-       the ‘creepers’ edged in slowly, apprehensive of the shock of the cold water, but getting in deep in the end

-       the ‘headstrong’ rushed in at full pelt and half-tripped, half-dived into the water.

 

When I’m at the beach, I’d say I’m a ‘creeper’.  But it occurred to me that there’s another way – a fifth way to be at the beach – an ‘open-hearted’ approach.

That fifth way is characterised by both caution and commitment.  There’s caution in checking for rips, rocks, sharks and bluebottles.  And there’s commitment – having checked for dangers - the willingness to quickly dive into those deep, blue waters and be fully immersed.

That’s where the insight was for me.  That ‘open-hearted’ approach applies to yoga too.  It’s that combination of ahimsa (non-harming) and tapas (burning enthusiasm) that Patanjali highlighted in his Yoga Sutras.  The willingness to be cognisant of the dangers, and at the same time fully commit to each asana or pranayama.

To my mind, it’s the ‘open-hearted’ group that enjoys Wategos the most. The water quickly feels warmer than it did at first.  And they come out feeling refreshed and invigorated – alive.

And it’s the ‘open-hearted’ that get the most out of yoga too.  Much more so than those who approach yoga like an ‘onlooker’, ‘paddler’, ‘creeper’ or the ‘headstrong’.

So that’s my insight and also my challenge.  Having recognized that fifth way, can I become more ‘open-hearted’ in my yoga?  Can I become more ‘open-hearted’ at the beach?  Can I find that combination of caution and commitment that enables me to be fully alive?

Sadhana Pada Precis – by Georgina Anic

SADHANA PADA – Practice – By Georgina Anic

After chapter one describes the different kinds of thought forms, practices to control them and the different kinds of samadhis the second chapter follows it up with practical ways of attaining that state.

Patanjali now steps back and offers advice to those who are not as accomplished as the students addressed in the first chapter. When the mind has not stabilised in the samadhi state, it is easily distracted and gets bogged down in negative thoughts, feelings and emotions. “Patanjali gives those of average intellect the practical means to strive for knowledge, and to gather hope and confidence to begin yoga, it is his gift to humanity” (BKS Iyengar Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali)      

Patanjali begins this chapter with more specific practices and a detailed description of these confusions that require transformation. Here in my summary of Sadhana Pada I have included 4 sutras that I believe best describe the chapters overall themes.

The nature of citta, consciousness (made up of the mind, the intelligence and the ego) is restless, turbulent, wild, stubborn. A new student on the path of Yoga may ask - how is it possible to restrict, nirodhah, the fluctuations, vrtti, of consciousness when the consciousness is so uncontrollable? The answer lies in Sadhana Pada, the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras, where Patanjali offers us the strategy or the practice, sadhana, kriya yoga, the yoga of action.

“Kriya yoga is the practical branch of Yoga that can lead to a change for the better in all aspects of our life”  (T.K.V. DesikacharThe Heart of Yoga)

As Iyengar puts it, "kriya yoga emphasizes the dynamic effort to be made by the sadhaka" (BKS Iyengar Light on Yoga Sutras of Patanjali,) Kriya comes from the Sanskrit word, kr, meaning "to do".

Iyengar points out that we are participants of life. Life and the world around us cannot be avoided. Therefore, to live in this world with utmost integrity and peace of mind, we must learn how to apply ourselves, we must make a dynamic effort, through constant practice and detachment, abhyasa and vairagya respectively. We must learn how to renounce all thoughts and ideas that will interfere with an intelligent practice, and we must learn how to practice with observation, reflection, study and investigation. We must also learn how to cultivate non-attachment to the fruits of our actions. Kriya yoga teaches us how to do so.

In kriya yoga we are taken on the path of doing, in order to arrive, at a yogic state of mind. "Kriya yoga is the means by which we achieve yoga as a state of being" (T.K.V. Desikachar The Heart of Yoga)

In this second chapter Patanjali describes a three-stepped method, it provides the practical means of purifying and concentrating the mind, so that nirodha is possible.

Kriyayoga (path of action) consists of self-discipline, self-study, and surrender to the Divine.

(Tapah svadhyaya Isvarapranidhanani kriyayogah – 11.1) Burning zeal in practice, self study and study of scriptures, and surrender to God are the acts of yoga”   

Yoga is not just a state of being but also the practices which are associated with that state.  The second chapter is concerned with those practices. “Tapas” comes from the Sanskrit word “tap” which means “to burn”. One must have a passionate, burning desire, to undergo whatever discipline is necessary in order to purify thoughts, words, and deeds.Tapas is translated usually to mean austerity or discipline.  I prefer to translate it as “consistency”.  To me, there is no greater tapas than consistency.  This consistency means we practice regularly regardless of whether we want to or whether it is exciting.  Tapas means continuing to practice regardless of the external circumstances. 

Tapasis the first tier of kriya yoga, choosing to cultivate steadiness of mind and firmness of will power with patience and persistence.Tapasis made up of yama, niyama, asana, pranayama; together forming the first four limbs of Patanjali's eight limbed astanga yoga system. These first four limbs of the practice are both the moral and physical disciplines, and are an external practice that work to purify the body. By practicing tapas one becomes healthy and clean.    

Svadhyayais self-study; self-study means being aware of the inner dialogue, the words we speak, the thoughts we have.  Self-study can be practiced all the time. Self-study is not hard to practice.  Rather, remembering to practice svadhyaya is the difficult part.  

Svadhyaya, applies this focus in two areas. Firstly, it is noticing all of the I – me – mine thoughts that clog the mental airwaves. These are thevrttisdescribed in the first chapter, the painful thoughts, once they are seen, once they become objects of perception, they can no longer pretend to be the Seer. Secondly svadhyaya includes the study of the “True Self”, the Seer. This leads to the beginning of viveki, discriminative awareness, differentiating Self from not-self, purusha from prakriti. TKV Desikachar says with the help of svadhyaya we get to know ourselves, who we are and how we relate to other people.

From this discrimination, we learn how to surrender to The Divine, the “Self”, in Isvara Pranidhana. In chapter 1, Patanjali devotes several sutras to Isvara Pranidhana, when the mind has been emptied of desires of personal gratification it should be filled with thoughts of the lord “He who has faith in God does not despair, when the waters of bhakti  (adoration) are made to flow through the turbines of the mind, the result is mental power and spiritual illumination” (BKS Iyengar Light on Yoga)

These 3 methods of purifying body (tapas) speech (svadhyaya) and mind (isvara pranidhana) increase clarity and reduce suffering, they cover the entire spectrum of human endeavor, together they are known as kriya yoga, the yoga of action.Patanjali notes the hindrances, which may cause the practitioner difficulty in adhering to the 3-step plan. He lists and describes these klesas, along with the underlying karmas, which allow obstacles to arise.

(avidya asmita raga dvesa abhinivesah klesah – 11.3) “The five afflictions which disturb the equilibrium of consciousness are: ignorance or lack of wisdom, ego, pride of the ego or the sense of ‘I’, attachment to pleasure, eversion to pain, fear of death and clinging to life”

In sutra II.3 Patanjali describes the five afflictions, which disturb our consciousness and thus impede our progress. Being a natural part of the human condition, theses pains and sorrows affect us all. They exist at a basic level, and affect us both mentally and emotionally. The klesah have huge power to distort perception and shape behavior.

Of the five klesah, or afflictions, the first affliction avida (lack of spiritual knowledge and spiritual ignorance) is the root of the other four: asmita, raga, dvesa, and abhinivesah; ego, pride; desire, attachment; hate, aversion; and clinging to life, fear of death.

To reduce the klesah, Patanjali recommends the practice of meditation and describes in detail the 8 fold path of Yoga “The eightfold path of yoga is suitable for the unhealthy as well as for the healthy, enabling all to develop the power to combat physical and mental diseases” (BKS Iyengar Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali)

The failure to understand the combination and union of the see-er and the seen, purusa and prakrti, creates spiritual ignorance. As a result, like sutra II.4 tells us, "Lack of true knowledge is the source of all pains and sorrows whether dormant, attenuated, interrupted or fully active." As we perceive so shall we behave. Perception makes projection, so that as long as ignorance or nescience is present, we can never really see nor recognise things as they truly are. Avidya thus is the source of all misperceptions and errors and the cause of the other four afflictions.

 (yama niyama asana pranayama pratyahara dharana dhyana samadhayah astau angani – 11.29) “Moral injunctions (yama), fixed observances (niyama), posture (asana), regulation of breath (pranayama), internalization of the senses towards theirsource (pratahara), concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana) and absorption of consciousness in the self (Samadhi), are the eight constituents of yoga”

Sutra 11.29 begins an introduction of the eight limbs of a complete yogic life. In this chapter, the first five limbs are covered. Practicing the eight limbs (ashtanga) diminishes impurity and illuminates awareness, producing wisdom.

The ashtanga or eight-fold path of yoga is at the heart of the practices presented by Patanjali. 

The yamas and the niyamas, set the stage for the state of mind to bring to the practice. The yamas, or ethical and universal disciplines, include: ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth), asteya (non-stealing) brahmacharya (continence) and aparigraha (non-coveting). They are the don'ts, of the practice and help to cultivate a healthy attitude in life as well as a proper disposition towards others. The yamas are “mighty universal vows” says Patanjali. The niyamas, or individual disciplines are: sauca, (purity), santosa (contentment), tapas (ardour or austerity), svadhyaya (study of self) and Isvara pranidhanani (dedication to the Lord). They are the do's of the practice and help to cultivate physical and mental discipline towards oneself, resulting in self-purification.

Asana, "seat", is comprised of physical poses or postures that help to open up internal blocks within the physical and energy body, thus creating space for prana, life force. The practice of asana gives us a strong, stable, healthy body, steady intelligence, and a compassionate spirit. According to Patanjali, “Asana is perfect firmness of body, steadiness of intelligence and benevolence of spirit". (sthira sukham asanam11.46) Through the practice of asana we learn poise. That is, we learn how to remain stable, solid, grounded - even when the world around us and inside of us seems to whirl around in chaos.

Pranayama, is the control of energy through breath. It is the extension, expansion and distribution of the vital energy inside us. Pranayama is made up of three elements: 1. inhalation 2. exhalation 3. retention. The spine and lungs are the sources of action and therefore need to be strengthened first through asana before pranayama is attempted. According to Patanjali, the practice of pranayama fertilizes the grounds of our mind, making concentration and ultimately, meditation, possible.

 

Pratyaharais the opposite of an external search. It is a complete withdrawal of the senses and mind. It is an opening up to the universe within. Pratyahara is the result of practicing yama, niyama, asana, pranayama. It is the doorway to the gates of the mind, thus guiding the aspirant towards a more internal practice, dharana and dhyana, and eventually to total absorption, samadhi.

Patanjali's eight limbed ashtanga yoga system teaches the aspirant through kriya yoga how to move from the gross to the subtle, from a one-pointed concentration to a continuous flow, to eventually narrowing down to no point, where ultimately one merges with the object of meditation; samadhi, when the see-er and the seen become one. “By profound meditation, the knower, the knowledge and the known become one” (BKS Iyengar Light on Yoga)

Iyengar says in Light On Pranayama that Yoga is like a tree, that has branches, roots, leaves, bark, sap, flowers and a trunk, each one of these components has a separate identity, but each component cannot by itself become a tree, just like the eight stages put together form Yoga.

“The proper functioning of the body depends on the several limbs. The absence or the sickness of any one limb affects the health of the whole body. The same principle applies to the study of yoga and its branches. Any inadequacy in the study and the perfection of any of the eight steps of Yoga will not lead to self realisation.” (Geeta Iyengar Yoga a gem for Women)

Kriyayoga gives us the tools necessary to climb the spiritual ladder.

(yoganganusthanat asuddhiksaye jnanadiptih avivekakhyateh – 11.28) “By dedicated practice of the various aspects of yoga impurities are destroyed: the crown of wisdom radiates in glory”

Iyengar says that Patanjali sums up the effects of yoga in this one sutra.

“Yoga systematically teaches man to search for the divinity within himself with thoroughness and efficiency. He unravels himself from the external body to the self within. He proceeds from the body to the nerves, and from the nerves to the senses. From the senses he enters into the mind, which controls the emotions. From the mind he penetrates into the intellect, which guides reason. From the intellect, his path leads to the will and thence to consciousness (chitta). The last stage is from consciousness to his Self, his very being” (BKS Iyengar Light on Pranayama)

Through yoga we learn how to cultivate the consciousness so as to free ourselves from the five afflictions (avidya, asmita, raga, dvesa andabhinivesah) that plague us all, as well as how to liberate ourselves from the three intrinsic pulls of nature, the three gunas. As a result we can begin the process of meditation and involution towards Self, purusa. Ultimately, kriya yoga teaches us to move from fluctuation to stillness to silence.

 

Refrences

Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali BKS Iyengar

Light on Yoga BKS Iyengar

Light on Pranayam BKS Iyengar

A Gem for Women Geeta Iyengar

The Heart of YogaT.K.V. Desikachar

 

Who is Patanjali? – by Vicki McAuley

Who was Patanjali?
Article by Vicki McAuley, teacher in training at Blue Mountains Iyengar Yoga Studio.

“Let us bow before the noblest of sages, Patanjali…”

“I’m not bowing to any eight-headed snake god thing!” said the man who always positions himself in the back right corner next to the window, when the teacher introduced the chant for the first time to the Friday 10am class.

There I was, sitting solemnly and until that moment, peacefully, next to the man in the right back corner because inevitably I arrive to class last and that is always the only available spot left on the floor.

While the rest of the class continued with the chant, the man next to me persevered with his somewhat disruptive mumblings. It was at that moment that I vowed to go home and read up on Patanjali so that I could gain a greater understanding of the man I was bowing to.

And yes, he was indeed a man – a man born of great wisdom, so long ago that no-one can be sure of exactly when. Common acceptance is that he lived some time between 500 and 200 B.C. It is said that he possessed incalculable knowledge and sagacity as is evidenced in his extensive writings, and thus he became a legend. And like all legends, he became greater with the passage of time, until it was suggested centuries later that the man was actually a highly evolved soul, the incarnation of the serpent Lord Adisesa, the purpose of his incarnation being to help humankind.

This soul was born to a very pious yogini named Gonika. Legend has it that Gonika prayed to the sun god, “O Lord, please grant me a glorious son.”  The sun god told the Lord of serpents, Adisesa, to take birth as Gonika’s son. So the great snake Adisesa became tiny and dropped into Gonika’s palms, which were folded in prayer. In that instant, the snake turned itself into a beautiful baby boy. In her sheer delight, Gonika named her baby Pata-anjali, pata meaning “falling” and anjali meaning “palms folded in prayer”.

The child grew to become the author of three extraordinary texts, the first on Sanskrit grammar, the second was a work on the ancient Indian medicine, Ayurveda. His culminating work, the yoga sutras, was directed towards the mental and spiritual evolution of mankind, and has led Patanjali to become known as the master of yoga.

To quote the estimable B.K.S. Iyengar,  “yoga is an art, a science and a philosophy. It touches the life of man at every level, physical, mental and spiritual. It is a practical method for making one’s life purposeful, useful and noble.”  Given the path my life has taken and the nurturing role my yoga practice has played in it, I willingly and gladly bow before the noblest of sages, Patanjali, especially knowing he was a man, not “an eight-headed snake god thing”.