We had our last class of the Fall Sangha with Abhijata Iyengar this morning and it was a great culmination of the sessions. As I mentioned before, the last time we met at the beginning of COVID, she insisted we work at 80% and heal ourselves of any uncertainty and anxiousness of the new situation. But now, months later, she was teaching more energetically and teaching us to use our energy more completely to integrate the body and mind together through asana.
As per usual in workshops, the last day did include Pranayama practice, but her approach flowed from the previous days with energetic asanas to alert the body. Reminding us that prana is not just the breath, but the energy of life and action. Prana must be awakened in the body through asana for the mind to be still enough to then approach the practice of Pranayama itself. In reality Pranayama cannot be done without asana, they are insepereable.
Within the asanas, there was first a focus on “evening the banks of the river” on the inner and outer edges of the limbs and trunk. For me, this is where this idea of “alignment” in the Iyengar method becomes not just a physical emphasis, but an energetic one. If there is closure or a kink on a riverbank, it hinders or disturbs the flow of the water in a river…same with the flow of prana within our body. To find evenness in the stretch of the limbs and trunk makes an evenness and balance of the flow of pranic energy.
Another focus of class was on what BKS Iyengar called the “storehouse of energy” – the armpits. In classes we often refer to this whole area of the armpit and the chest right below and in front of the pit as the “armpit chest”. To shrink in the armpit and chest cuts off access to our energy centers, cutting off the vital energy of prana. She approached each inversion, especially Sarvangasana, in ways that would increase the openness and lift of the armpit and the chest surrounding the pit, along with the extension and the flow of upper arm. Our intense work in that area was not just about physical strength or alignment, but a way to “tap into” our energy stores and focus our mind inward.
In the end, getting to the actual practice of Pranayama came like the Savasanas of the previous energetic classes. With the body and the mind primed together for the same purpose, the prana flowed more freely throughout the body, touching and energizing new spaces.
Even in Savasana, the reminders of length and placement of the body were conducive for the most efficient flow of prana and ultimately the flow of consciousness – the physical release more complete and the surrender more beautiful. “Surrender to mother earth” (as her aunt Geeta Iyengar also used to say) is probably one of my most favorite and profound sayings from the Iyengars. Maybe it is just me, but when those words are uttered, it is like water nourishing dry earth, or the floodgates opening to release the backup of pressure. Body, mind, and breath release as completely as a baby into its mothers arms – no doubts or worries or tensions remain.
Her wish was to have us not disturb this experience as we came out from practice – to take the energy of our yoga and flow seamlessly into the rest of the day. A quiet prayer or invocation to those teachers who have come before ended our time together.