Welcome to Karen’s Yoga Blog!

Thanks for visiting! I am delighted to share my thoughts and discoveries about the art, science and philosophy of Iyengar Yoga. Visit this blog for ideas about practice, notes from workshops with senior Iyengar Yoga teachers, and reflections about how yoga can help and support us in the art of living. You can also check the August 2008, 2010 and 2016 archives for entries about my visits to the Ramamani Iyengar Yoga Institute (RIMYI) for yoga study with the Iyengar family in Pune, India.

May your practice flourish to benefit all beings!

Namate,
Karen

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Doing and Thinking, Being and Knowing

In yoga philosophy, consciousness or citta is considered to have three components. Ego or ahamkara is our sense of individual existence. The mind or manas is the thinking function, associated with the brain. The intelligence or buddhi is the intuitive spiritual wisdom thought to dwell in the heart.

I have been reflecting on the difference between manas and buddhi, and why it is important that we understand that difference.

Manas is the everyday mind. It is the part of us that collects data and reacts to it. It includes likes and dislikes, simple daily decision making, planning and organizing, putting things into categories. Manas is the thinking brain and the reacting emotions. From a yogic perspective, this is the surface of consciousness, not the depths.

Buddhi is responsive rather than reactive, and intuitive rather than analytical. This intelligence of the heart leads to deep and profound feeling, rather than knee-jerk emotional reactivity. Operating from this spiritual intelligence means that we develop qualities of discernment and discrimination, and learn how to make fine-tuned value judgements.

You might notice that the word buddhi looks a lot like the word BuddhaBuddha means awakened one, a being who sees the true nature of reality. Exploring buddhi means that we become awake to a deeper aspect of our being, which is not about thinking, doing, or preferences. Rather, it is about being, knowing and listening to our inner guidance.

The yoga teachings posit that one reason that we suffer is that we are always relating to the surface part of our consciousness, manas, instead of penetrating to the core of our being. Our thinking brain is part of who we are, but it is not the fullness of who we are. While buddhi is not the soul, it is necessary to experience that intuitive wisdom on our inward journey toward the core.

B.K.S. Iyengar has taught that the mind can be a “treacherous ally”. If we can never let go of thoughts, we are always stuck on the surface of who we are, caught in the trap of an inner monologue that never ceases. Yoga teaches us how to take the steps on a path toward the cessation of those incessant thoughts, so that the mind becomes a tool for us to use when we need it, instead of a dictator of our experience. Mr. Iyengar asks us to consider whether the mind is our servant or our master.

In our yoga practice, the experience of deep relaxation through Savasana and other restorative poses has more to offer than the release of physical tensions. These poses provide an opportunity to allow the mind to settle into silence. We can practice letting thoughts dissolve on the smooth flow of the exhalation, and get a glimpse of what a non-verbal, non-conceptual state might be like.

Every yoga class at Green Tara Yoga includes the practice of Savasana and deep relaxation. Check out the Green Tara Yoga Online Schedule and let us support your inward journey.

Exploring the more subtle aspects of our being takes practice. Gradually we may gain the skill to recognize the difference between the thinking mind and the knowing heart.

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The Flow of Life

In Light on Life B.K.S. Iyengar shared words of wisdom about how we feel when faced with change.

“Humans innately resist change because we feel safe with what is familiar and fear the insecurity that comes with something new. But life inevitably oscillates, moves, and changes between the known and the unknown. So often we are not ready to accept the flow of life. We seek freedom but cling to bondage.”

When the change we face is intense, even life-threatening, it is no wonder that we get caught in feelings of insecurity and fear. In our world we now face dramatic change on many fronts. But as yoga practitioners, we have tools to address our anxieties and build up our inner reservoir of courage, contentment and tranquility.

One important way to build up these qualities within ourselves is to take supported and restorative postures on a daily basis. These poses calm the nerves, mobilize the breath and restore hormonal balance. Through quiet, supported poses, we can shift from the “flight or fight” mode of the sympathetic nervous system to the “rest and digest” mode of the parasympathetic nervous system.

Prone or facedown poses in which the abdomen, chest and head are supported can bring a peaceful experience in a short period of time. This type of deep relaxation brings refreshment and rejuvenation. As we practice the art of relaxation regularly, we may become more resilient, so that change does not feel so threatening. As Mr. Iyengar says, we learn to move with the “flow of life.”

Change is an inevitable constant. In yoga philosophy this is referred to as prakrti or nature. Prakrti includes the world, all objects, our bodies and our minds, because all of these are subject to change. The term purusa is used to refer to that which is not subject to change – the eternal, infinite ground of all being, the Universal Divine Spirit, the Ultimate and Absolute source. Yoga posits that suffering occurs because we are primarily relating to prakrti, which is temporary, instead of purusa, which is eternal.

Earlier this summer, I was facing a lot of anxiety about keeping the studio running. I felt the weight of many difficult decisions, and much more change than I could comfortably tolerate. When I talked to my yoga teacher about these struggles, he offered wise counsel:

“The ups and downs of life are the surface. Every day, dive deep into the infinite, and relate to that.” His words have resonated with me and helped me reorient my yoga practice to help me with my emotional serenity.

Many of you know that here at Green Tara Yoga we just made a big change to an online registration platform. This process required many weeks of effort, and fueled many emotions – hopes and fears, excitement and insecurity. The launch was a huge success and showed me again that while change can be hard, it can almost always be a path toward growth.

I hope you will take a look at our new Class Schedule and Registration page. Our online classes can help support your yoga practice even during these extraordinarily challenging times.

Green Tara Yoga is here to help you build up your inner resources of calmness, resilience, and adaptability. I hope to see you soon.

Namaste,
Karen

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Fresh Experiences

Some years ago, I read an interview with B.K.S. Iyengar, who was in his nineties at the time. The interviewer asked him why, after all he had accomplished, did he still feel the need to stand on his head for 20 to 30 minutes every day. He was in his nineties after all. Why didn’t he just take it easy?

I am paraphrasing Mr. Iyengar’s answer, but my memory of it is something like this: “I continue to practice because I am still learning. I am still having fresh experiences.”

This simple yet profound answer impacted me deeply. A man nearly one hundred years old said that he was still having new feelings and still learning in a pose he had been doing for over seven decades.

Over and over again, B.K.S. Iyengar reminded his students to avoid practicing in a mechanical manner. He asked us to be awake and aware in each moment, so we could develop sensitivity, discrimination and discernment. What a gift to be reminded that we can have fresh learning experiences every time we practice, if we have the discipline to be fully engaged and the openness to be fully present.

The next time you do Downward Facing Dog Pose, you  might look around for some aspect of the pose that has been escaping your attention. Do you do the pose in the same way every time, with the same list of check points and the same priorities? Could you search for new dynamics or relationships in the pose, whether between body parts or between body, breath and mind?

Sometimes we need a teacher and a class to help guide this type of self exploration, so join us for Green Tara Yoga Online Classes. Even through the online medium, a class can take you along a slightly different path, and open up new possibilities for the next time you practice on your own.

How can we learn to do even a very familiar pose with nuance, open mindedness and curiosity? Each time we bring ourselves back to the present and take a soft, full breath, we might feel that we too can continue to have fresh experiences in our yoga practice every day, whatever our age.

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Beyond the Pairs of Opposites

In the Yoga Sutra II:47, Patanjali writes that when the effort to perform a posture becomes effortless, then the infinite being within can be reached. The next sutra says that the practitioner will then be beyond dualities, and no longer troubled by the pairs of opposites. Can we even imagine what it would be like to be completely untroubled by the ups and downs of life? Especially at this tumultuous time, what would it be like to be unaffected by success and failure, pain and pleasure, gain and loss?

This idea may so far from our everyday experience that it seems like a philosophical abstraction. How can we bring Patanjali’s wisdom down to earth? One way is to work with our asana practice and look at the poses we like and dislike. Some in depth practice with an open mind could reveal that our preferences are not as solid as we might think.

Consider a pose that you like and ask yourself, why do I like it? It is because the pose comes easily for you? Is there some particular aspect of the pose that feels good to your body, or some way in which the pose soothes your mind?

Start looking at the pose from a fresh perspective. Is there something about the pose that does not go so well for you? Perhaps that part of the pose has been hidden, as the mind lingers on the aspects of the pose that you find pleasurable.

This is not looking for problems, but opening the mind to look at the whole picture of the asana in a new way.  One way to find out where your attention may be needed in the pose is to use a timer.  Time the pose and find out how long you can hold it comfortably. Then gradually challenge yourself to longer timings. The weak links of the pose will reveal themselves as you extend the timing, and give you new avenues for exploration.

Now examine a pose that you don’t like, and ask yourself, why don’t I like it? Why is it hard for me? Do I really dislike the whole thing, or there some part of the pose that could engage my curiosity?

Then deconstruct the pose in some way. Do just the arms, just the legs, or just the trunk. Be creative and playful with props and support. Instead of going for long holding, try the “touch and go” method of moving in and out of the pose smoothy and rhythmically, allowing the body to gradually learn the new movement pattern the pose presents. Search for some previously unnoticed part of the pose that you can get interested in.

Once our poses are not in such defined categories of “like” and “dislike” we can approach them all with an attitude of interest, intelligence, and the wish to keep learning.

The current health crisis means that we can’t always do things according to our preferences. I might like going to the movies, seeing live theater and going to parties, but I have to let go of  those “likes” right now, and try other things. We would all like to be able to have live classes in the studio, but for now, the available option is online classes.

When this crisis began, I could not imagine that we would still be closed in late July, but that is the reality. If you can, please help sustain Green Tara Yoga through your Donation or by attending Online Classes.

As you practice the art of yoga, may you experience the unity of mind and spirit that is beyond all preferences.

Namaste,
Karen

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