Between Earth and Sky


“I wanted to find out who I was. I wanted to understand this mysterious and marvelous ‘yoga’, which could reveal to us our innermost secrets, as equally as it revealed those of the universe around us and our place in it as joyful, suffering, puzzled human beings.” BKS Iyengar – Preface in Light on Life

Well, let there be no time wasted! The first pages in Light on Life sure don’t disappoint and definitely give us a preview of the journey to come this summer in reading.

My impressions of this beginning is that he has set a context of HOW we might approach our yoga practice and the tools we have to work with it and through it in our life. One of the things I like most about Iyengar Yoga is its emphasis on practicality and application in REAL LIFE. Yes, there is a spiritual and very deep aspect to the practice, but it is not the thing we have to have a focus on. We are beings that have our feet on the ground and a physical body which is part of Nature, so accomplishing anything “spiritual” has to first be useful and approachable in “real life”.

“Spirituality, as I have tried to make clear, is not ethereal and outside nature but accessible and palpable in our very own bodies. Indeed the very idea of a spiritual path is a misnomer. After all, how can you move toward something that, like Divinity, is already by definition everywhere?” BKS Iyengar – Light on Life Chapter 1

There are a couple of concepts that I think are important to pay attention to as you move forward in reading, but also in practice. One is the relationship of Purusa and Prakrti : internal “soul” and Nature. And the other is the understanding and acknowledgment of the many layers (koshas) of our being that we are dealing with as we move through life and also practice of asana (posture).

Purusa and Prakrti : These terms are ones to remember and are basically the basis of our human predicament. Purusa and Prakrti are at play with each other, mingled together to create the complex and fascinating existence that is life.

  • Purusa is best translated as “soul” for Westerners. It is our unchanging, pure consciousness and it is the “consciousness” that animates inert matter. Purusa is considered our “True Self” without the distractions and fluctuations that are created by the ever-changing Prakrti.
  • Prakrti is literally everything else. According to yoga, our mind, body, emotions, and all the things we see outside of ourself are Prakrti. Anything that changes is Prakrti. The causes of duality are Prakrti. And let me repeat…our MIND is part of Prakrti. This might be the hardest part to grasp for our “I think therefore I am” mentality. Our ideas and thoughts are also things we have to watch and be conscious of as ever changing and much of the time disturbing and imbalancing.

Within the practice of yoga, we become aware of how Prakrti has drawn us away from our true self, our center, our balance, and caused disturbance and distraction. And in the end we may use Prakrti to our benefit, finding alignment within all our layers of being and seeing clearly through to Purusa.

Koshas: Even if you do not remember all the fancy sanskrit terms for the 5 layers of our being (the koshas), it is important to remember that they exist. Iyengar uses this idea of comparing the microcosm with the macrocosm a lot – meaning that our inner universe is as vast and complex and fascinating as the outer universe. However, due to the distractions of Prakrti, we tend to get drawn outward and more enthralled by all that is going on outside ourself instead of turning our attentions inward toward Purusa. We look at asana (posture) as merely a physical challenge instead of an experience or experiment that can reap immense amounts of knowledge. So, just consider or contemplate the following layers the next time you stand in Tadasana or practice your Downward Dog.

  • Annamaya Kosha : Your physical layer of muscles, bones, aspects of self you can see and readily feel, but also includes all the internal organs that you may not be able to see, but ultimately develop sensitivity to feel. What is your body doing? What can you see your body doing? What internal organs could be effected by certain movements?
  • Pranamaya Kosha : Energetic layer of how things are flowing or not flowing. Do you feel shaky? Are you breathing and how? Are the limbs slow moving and unresponsive or ahead of your conscious thought?
  • Manomaya Kosha : Mental layer where we might be able to understand our thoughts and reactions to certain poses or experiences. When teacher asks you to do (fill in the blank pose), what is your immediate reaction? When you are corrected how do you feel? Is there fear, joy, willingness or unwillingness to do or experience?
  • Vijnanamaya Kosha : The intellectual or discriminatory factor that helps us progress on the path or notice if we are stagnant. I consider this the “WHY” and “HOW” of things. Can we start to know “why” we do a certain thing and then contemplate “how” we might become more aligned with our self or with yoga through a correction or movement in another direction?
  • Anandamaya Kosha : The blissful body or the layer closest to the Purusa. It is the layer still in Prakrti that experiences the feel of the soul. This may come to you in flashes, the experience of lightness, complete “put togetherness”, balance, and clarity. The difficult thing is not to confuse a superficial “bliss” that happens at the mental level with the full alignment of all the layers without distraction.

So, as BKS Iyengar understands, whether we are in yoga to just be able to tie our own shoes when we are 80+ or we are in yoga for the experience of ultimate freedom, it will be helpful for us to become aware of our WHOLE being in order to master our experience of life here and now.

Jennie Williford CIYT

Jennie Williford (CIYT Level 3) is a transplant to LaCrosse via Montana, Illinois, and originally Texas. Throughout her life moves and 5 trips to India, Jennie has acquired a well-rounded and multi-faceted approach to Iyengar Yoga since her start in 1998. Jennie loves the experimental and explorative nature of yoga in accessing deeper knowledge of the Self on every level. The practice of yoga can be intense and introspective, however as practitioners we can be light-hearted and open-minded in our discipline. Jennie is intrigued by the philosophy of yoga and hopes to share this depth of subject while teaching the physical and mental benefits that come from the practice of posture.