Monday, April 4, 2011

Looking in the Mirror: Asana as a Door to Yama and Niyama

My trek through the Yoga Sutras continues... ...sutras 2.35-2.39 describe all that comes from following through on the yamas. Likewise, sutras 2.40-2.45 describe what's possible when we follow though on the niyamas.

...but as I wrote in my last post on the sutras, my observance of the yamas and niyamas is definitely a "work in progress". I find that I don't have much to say about all the loveliness that Patanjali describes. Sure, years of asana practice is steering me in the direction of yamas and niyamas. Moments of quiet and clear-headedness are definitely more plentiful than in my pre-practice days....but there are still so many moments of stickiness that any presumption that I really observe yamas and niyamas in each moment is laughable.

As always, the first place that I notice myself getting tangled in all the stuff that I put in my own way is in asana practice. Sunday's practice found me running on the hamster wheel. I watched my mind leave breath and bandha only to attach itself to a situation that was not mine to be concerned about and was really, none of my business....driste violation! Practice is the best mirror I've found.

...which brings me to Yoga Sutras 2.46-2.48 "Asana is perfect firmness of body, steadiness of intelligence and benevolence of spirit. Perfection in an asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached. From then on, the sadhaka [student] is undisturbed by dualities" -translation by B.K.S. Iyengar

These sutras are my favorite, probably because, while I would hardly claim to have met perfection in asana, when it comes to asana practice I can at least find a place to start the work. On a clear day, I might even see a little bit of the road out in front of me, maybe even see my footprints behind me and notice some of the places where I've wandered off the road on the foggy days.

Iyengar's commentary on sutra 2.46 has this to say: "But in any asana the body has to be toned and the mind tuned so that one can stay longer with a firm body and a serene mind. Asanas should be performed without creating aggressiveness in the muscle spindles or the skin cells. Space must be created between muscle and skin so that the skin receives the actions of the muscles, joints and ligaments. The skin then sends messages to the brain, mind and intelligence which judge the appropriateness of those actions. In this way, the principles of yama and niyama are involved and action and reflection harmonize."

Mr. Iyengar's comments give me hope. If his vision of the limbs of practice is right, and I venture he knows considerably more than I do on the subject, then my morning asana practice is enough. If I do it with all the honesty that I can manage, then it's all the mirror that I need. Practice and yamas and niyamas will come...or in the wisdom of Pattabhi Jois: "Practice and all is coming."


  1. Asanas should be performed without creating aggressiveness in the muscle spindles or the skin cells - love it

    Iyengar is such a master of writing, the more I read him the more I am in awe at him too!

  2. Hi Claudia!

    I awe for sure. I've read 'Light on Life' a few times and I always see something new when I read it again. His translation of the Yoga Sutras is my favorite!

  3. Yeah, I am making my way through that one too, and the pranayama, and the other and the other... I just have them all around, l like being surounded by Iyengar words ;-) my personal favorite, since you mentioned yours, is light on astanga yoga... :-)

  4. I've loved all your posts on bits from 'Light on Ashtanga Yoga'...I'd love to read that one! I keep thinking I should buy it. Where did you get your copy?