There can be a tension among Ashtanga practitioners between the body and the mind. Specifically, several prominent teachers in the lineage are explicit that heady intellectualism is not the way, including Pattabhi Jois himself. Here’s an example from his book Yoga Mala:
Great scholars and intellectuals who attract attention by using
pedantic Vedantic terms which mean that all things are transitory
and that only the supreme self is real, are only impressing themselves
and their listeners for the moment. But soon, the net of delusion is
sure to bind them. (p 31)
His cure for this, of course, is honest yoga practice. I’ve personally seen him accosted by eager students who pepper him with complex yoga concepts, and his response has been to walk away, leaving a trail of perplexed aspiring yogis. Indeed, the tension in this issue has bedeviled me for years.
I’ll attempt to describe my understanding of the deep yogic way as presented by the gurus in this lineage. We could call it radiant heartfelt somatic vibrational presence, a wonderful state to be in and not terribly common. And it gets most interesting when offered in receptive exchange with others. In keeping with the fundamental hatha yoga maxim that health is the real wealth, this state, or approximations of it, are highly conducive to radiant health and freedom from injury. How do we account for the long active lives of the yogis in Krishnmacharya’s lineage? Did they all have good genes, or did they live in a way that cleaned the roots of disease in their bodies? Also, the feeling of being in this state is incredible- joyous bodily existence, where the horrid dramas of life seem kind of overblown, and psychic disturbance resolves itself.
I would like to qualify that last phrase: I dislike trite yogic aphorisms such as “Come to the place where all is light and free forever”. Yeah, right. I absolutely believe in states of enlightenment, in the reality of successive levels of permanent attainment of the radiant state, but the truth is, life sends us endless lessons, there is always the next moment and the morning after, and the month after, and the next decade. By choosing life on Earth, we have all signed up for endless incoming experience, and new challenging experiences are a threat to the radiant state until the traces from those new challenges are integrated such that they are no longer THE OTHER but are now part of ME. (This definitely needs to happen within the bodyminds of even those who are well grounded with their identity in the witness. Serious challenges can drag even great sages down from the witness.) Creative active evolutionary life is an endless expansion of identity into everything that comes my way. Also, when we are inspired, we quickly push ourselves right to our growth edge- that is the place to be. But in so doing, we are asking life to come in- and it will. And the state of inspiration won’t last forever, so we are left with lots of new impact combined with a less than stellar outlook. Of course, this will eventually rise back up to the integrated zone again, but we don’t always know that at the time. But, what, shy away from inspiration? Unfortunately, I believe a large percentage of humanity has chosen just that, has chosen not to spiritually evolve, is not up to the adventure which requires deeply feeling that which has happened, and willing to be with that which comes up as a result. It appears that it requires the second half of life, where death begins knocking, to wake most people out of relative static cruise, or to shift their thinking away from the way it has always been, or beyond the merely gross waking state and towards the subtler realms.
So, first of all, how to we get to radiant heartfelt somatic vibrational presence? Pattabhi Jois says, basically, a heck of a lot of sincere practice, sustained over time. This changes our neurology into a system that is able to connect the open feeling heart with the traces left by experience, gets better and more sophisticated at doing just that. The traces from challenging experiences will close the heart at first, but may be the source of greater opening later. Neurologic change is a very real possibility, but it requires a certain attitude, the willingness to be with the evolutionary edge. Try writing with your non-dominant hand, feel that field of resistance which only slowly yields. That is the feeling of nerves growing new connections, and, as neurology recently concluded, new nerves growing. That is the place sincere yoga practice asks you to make your home, which may in the short term contract the heart but over time will build a great heart.
So, I”ve just flung a succession of thoughts your way. Are these thoughts themselves part of the problem, distractions from the deep vibrational place where thoughts become less important? Here’s my take on it:
a. The thoughts that are the greatest threat to yoga are negative thoughts, ie: “this is really bad, and basically I’m failing, and I’m not good enough, and that person is laughing inwardly at the way I look, and this can never succeed”. All of us have lots of these, and they reveal themselves in layers of a hidden psychic plate tectonics process as we go through life. Continuing with the yoga practice, even if the negativity has dragged us far from radiance, is the way to push these plates out from under water and hopefully allow them to transform into glorious mountains.
b. Pattabhi Jois himself is a life-long scholar, and his guru Krishnmamacharya had the equivalent of 6 Doctorates, so the position here is not anti-thought. Rather, I believe Pattabhi has a deep grounding in heartfelt vibrational experience and can clearly sense when this is completely absent in a conversation, and often has little interest in such exchange. And I would add that adding heart to mind gives the mind purpose and meaning.
c. Frequently in life, thoughts require attention right now, and the realities they propel us into may not be conducive in the least to deep vibrational presence. However, we set aside time to do regular yoga practice to learn how to connect the various life-states in which we find ourselves with the deep conscious vibrational place. Do this for years and the two begin to merge. Or, I’d say, life begins to migrate into the deep heartfelt presence. But the greatest challenge to this is the taming of a mind which may simply mope its way along, or flit around like a butterfly, or is disinclined to break through habitual vestigial unhelpful thinking.
The way in Ashtanga appears to be this: the heart is the cure for the lost mind. Noticing unhelpful mentation and feeling its trace as opposed to running with its thought is a way to eventually get higher heart into the picture. For more on traces or imprints, or in Sanskrit, vasanas, see my blog, July 1 and October 3, 2006 entries. Basically: stay with the trace from the experience, practice focus, work the body, and eventually the trace will integrate itself into the ways of the heart, making the world new in the process. A very smart way to go. And it feels good.
This entry was posted on Thursday, February 1st, 2007 at 4:27 pm and is filed under Ashtanga Yoga. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.