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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The Path is the Goal

I am not sure when I first heard this phrase. It expresses the idea that spiritual practice – mindfulness of our thoughts, words and actions in the present – is not just a technique to create some future benefit, but it is the benefit, right now in the present moment.

Of course our behavior in the present will determine the nature of our experience in the future. Yet in that unknown future, we will still be on the path, mindfully observing body, breath and mind as we connect to the Universal Divine Spirit. I like calling this practice being in a “state of yoga.”

What do I mean by a “state of yoga?” A state of yoga is one of relaxed attention. Being in a yogic state means we are fully present with the moment as it is. Yoga also means integration, so we explore the connection among various aspects of our being. Presence, awareness, mindfulness, relaxed attention, integration. These are all words for yoga.

The question then arises, when we are practicing yoga asanas, are we actually in a state of yoga? Or do we have the belief that we can only experience a yogic state in some time in the future, once we are “better” at the poses?

In a detail oriented method such as Iyengar Yoga, this is an easy mistake to make. We can get so caught up in improving the physical aspects of the pose, that we forget that yoga is ultimately about the inward journey. The poses are a method, not the goal, and they exist as a means to explore the deeper aspects of our being – the thinking mind, the intuitive spiritual intelligence, and the essential core of our being.

When we hear about this inward journey, we could easily conclude that we are not advanced enough to think about those subtle aspects of experience, but then we would be forgetting that the path is the goal. We would be confusing the techniques of yoga with the experience of yoga.

Having a yogic or inward or integrated experience is not dependent on the range of motion or perfect alignment of a pose. It is dependent on cultivating presence, and a balance of relaxation with focus on what we are doing, in this case, a yoga pose.

We should not wait for some unknown time in the future, when we are “better” at yoga, to experience yoga. Yoga is in the now. Yoga means being awake, present with whatever we are doing, content and mindful with the moment as it is. When we bring those qualities to our practice of yoga postures, we also learn to apply the same approach to the art of living.

 

 

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Yoga as Philosophy, Science and Art

B.K.S. Iyengar often said “When I practice, I am a philosopher. When I teach, I am a scientist. When I demonstrate, I am an artist.” These three aspects of yoga correspond with the three fundamental attributes of the Divine, which are Sivam, goodness, Satnam, truth, and Sundaram, beauty.

Awareness of these three aspects of yoga and of the Universal Divine Spirit can help bring balance to the way we practice.

The goal of philosophy is to achieve a state of goodness, and to develop an ethical framework for living. The term Sivam refers to that which is auspicious and positive. How can our yoga practice lead us toward a state of goodness?

We might consider whether our practice is motivated primarily by concerns of the ego, such as accomplishing a pose, constant improvement, or gaining praise or prestige. Could we instead approach the practice as a means of creating a storehouse of positive feelings, harmony and balance with ourselves? An auspicious yoga practice would be one without attachment to outcomes.

The goal of science is to seek truth, Satnam, and to learn about the nature of reality. A yoga practice can certainly be much like a scientist’s laboratory, in which we use trial and error to gain understanding.

What does it mean to be a seeker of truth in the way we practice? Perhaps we can become more observant of how a pose develops over time, and what approaches to a pose are the most effective. We can learn to be honest with ourselves about how to practice in a way that is appropriate to our unique condition and needs.

Finally, the appreciation of beauty, Sundaram, brings joy. We can approach our yoga practice with the intention to bring grace and elegance to each pose.

Postures do not need to be perfect to be beautiful. When we appreciate the beauty of nature, we may experience feelings of wonder and transcendence, yet we don’t demand that the sunset be perfect. Our own body is, of course, part of nature, and a miracle of creation, just as beautiful as the ocean or a mountain range.

One way to play with the aesthetic aspect of a pose is to pay attention to the transitions. How smooth, graceful and fluid can the movement be into and out of a pose? This consideration immediately changes the experience of practice to one that includes the idea of artistry.

In our teaching at Green Tara Yoga, we hope to bring the threefold search for goodness, truth and beauty into our approach. Visit our Schedule/Registration page and join us for a class soon!

Take a look at your approach to yoga practice. Are you more of a philosopher, scientist or artist? Try putting on some different hats and see how your practice grows. The path of yoga is an inward journey, and through it, we can all experience the good, the true and the beautiful.

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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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