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Why do we practice asana and what's up with all those props!?

Jan 28, 2021


"Yoga is not about touching your toes. It is what you learn on the way down" Jiyar Gor

I found this quote on a website and thought it simply summed up what the Iyengars have been trying to teach us.  It also addresses some issues that I have confronted as a student of yoga and a teacher of yoga. 

If we are only focused on achieving poses no matter what we will stay on this peripheral level. At this level, the ego is emblazoned by the aim of physical ability and we miss the part of reflection and observation.

As a younger person or beginner to yoga, of course, the focus is on the body but if it stays there it will greatly disappoint us because it will change.

A dear and lovely man I knew from my time in NYC, Richard Jonas, died this week. He was a diligent practitioner, a fearless fighter for those suffering from HIV and AIDS, and still, cancer found him. It was because of his practice, he faced his death in the way he did. His dear friend, Tamar Kelly wrote,

“He was constant with the practice right to the end, only the shape changed. His practice helped him face death with such enormous dignity, courage, and compassion for those he has left behind. Practice has helped me through these last months as I witnessed him fade."

Touching the toes, wrapping the leg around the head is a fun, exploratory process but not the goal. Unfortunately, when we have pain, stress, or the desire to do the poses we see on social media we are focused on physical needs. Nothing wrong with this. But it’s not the end.

Iyengar yoga is known for the props. I've had students leave because they didn't understand the props and were simply annoyed by them. The props are there to help us when we are suffering or cannot do but they are also there to help those without an issue to understand the pose and oneself deeply. Some need a prop to practice and others have become dependent on the props and stay in one comfortable place on their path. A brick can block your movement forward. The journey is moving forward and learning on the way down to your toes. This is tapas. (will, effort, fire)

I've been thinking so much about tapas as I study weekly with my teacher Gulnaaz Dashti from India. She is a force and does not let me sit on a nice bench on the side of this path smelling the roses. She doesn't let me get satisfied and set up a picnic under a tree on this path and enjoy my cheese and wine. She doesn’t let me complain and make excuses which I’m very good at. Instead, she guides me ahead through my resistance, fear, excitement, and pride so I can learn and discover. 

BKS Iyengar states “You will not reach Knowledge of the Divine Self without passing through self-knowledge. Your practice is your laboratory, and your methods must become ever more penetrating and sophisticated. continues through the self-culture of asana and pranayama practice where one has to be able to sensitively to verify differences in actions and make adjustments.  (Light on Life, page102)

Yoga is a learning process or as Prashant Iyengar says, the culturing of the consciousness. Consciousness, BKS Iyengar explains, is "propelled by two forces, energy (prana) and desires (vasana)." It moves in the direction of the most powerful. When prana leads, then the senses are held in check but when desires take over, the breathing becomes "uneven and agitated." And these, he says are things you can observe just like you observe evenness in action and effort  in your asana, and "this is why your practice of yoga brings self-knowledge (svadhyaya)." (Light on Life page 102) 

In the video, I show a way to put this all into practice using the props for self-discovery and using the props to get you off the park bench and move along your yoga path.

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