The Laboratory of Life


“As you explore your own body, you are in fact exploring this element of nature itself. You are also developing the qualities of earth within yourself: solidity, shape, firmness, and strength.” BKS Iyengar

In the next section of reading, we embark on a study of the purpose of asana (posture) – that part of yoga that we are so familiar with. The body is a great beginning to the subject of yoga because it is our first and most accessible tool to connect to the other aspects of practice, but like any tool, it has to be used properly and with awareness to be effective.

The value of asana should not be underestimated, but the body can continue to be an obstacle to yoga if we do not understand its limitations, boundaries, potentials, and profundity. According to The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, asana is defined as “sthira sukham asanam” (Sutra II.46). This means we can look to asana to develop 3 qualities: firmness of body, steadiness of intelligence, and benevolence of spirit. In other words, asana itself is our connection to not just body, but mind and spirit as well.

“Awareness and Intelligence must permeate the body…Action is movement with intelligence. The world is full of movement. What the world needs is more conscious movement, more action.” BKS Iyengar

Asana should become this action with intelligence and awareness. Just to move is not enough. But what does this mean? This means that the mind and the body must be brought to the same speed, level, and alertness. We typically move through the world with habit and mostly without thinking too much of what our limbs and body are doing. We literally can be doing something with the body while the mind is somewhere else completely. This is not action and this is not yoga. Skillful action requires movement along with awareness and analysis, so we have to develop observation of our Self on every level – from the periphery to the core and from the core to the periphery. This takes time and stability in asana to develop.

The next two Yoga Sutras on asana (II.47 and II.48) describe it’s results and these are reflected in the rest of this week’s reading. “Asana is perfected when the effort to perform it is effortless” and “the practitioner is no longer disturbed by dualities”.

Effort is needed. As BKS Iyengar reminds us, we should not be afraid of sweat! But, that is only the beginning of skillful action. Once we have put in the effort, the ability to find relaxation within action is the key to “perfect” your asana. Extension and expansion are necessary to develop alertness and awareness, but within that we must relax extraneous rigidity. The throat, eyes, face, jaw, breathing apparatus, and mind should always have space and lightness. Can we find a balance in exertion and relaxation? Can we find repose within the activity of a pose? The breath of course can be the next layer of work that can help this balance. “Inhalation is tension, exhalation is freedom.” (pg.37 LOL)

“Do not think of yourself as a small, compressed, suffering thing. Think of yourself as graceful and expanding, no matter how unlikely it may seem at the time.” BKS Iyengar

In the final pages of this week’s reading we see the ideas of “Lightness” and “Balance” within asana. And, even Mr. Iyengar admits that this experience of a “perfected asana” is difficult to explain in words. Geeta Iyengar also mentioned this the last time I saw her in October – as teachers we are able to speak to your bodily alignment and at times even correct your “rigidity”, but in the end, YOU have to be in the experience of your asana and analyze what might feel “right” or what might feel “wrong”.

But what is “right” and “wrong”? To give tangible tools toward this end, Iyengar touches on the concept of the gunas, which I am going to assume will be seen in more detail later as well. Our general imbalances and experiences of dualities like heaviness and lightness, hot and cold, or bad and good all stem from the activations of the gunas in Prakrti (Nature). In short, the gunas are “qualities of Nature” that play on every aspect of our being. When we say “balance”, most of us think of standing on one foot, but in the practice of yoga we are trying to find balance in our gunas.

Tamas is an experience of mass or inertia (like the body), it is felt as heavy and dull if out of balance. Rajas is vibrancy and dynamism (like the mind), it is felt as agitation or over excitement out of balance. Sattva is luminosity and is felt as pure balance and lightness, but to be felt, the other gunas must also be in balance. Sattva is the experience of our spirit, our “True Self” (Purusa).

So, we start our asana practice as a scientific laboratory, knowing we have this mass of nature that must be explored, but we also have to imbibe that physical space with spirit! Yoga is also an art…the art of living!

“You are like an artist with three basic pigments on the palette (sattva, rajas, and tamas), forever remixing and blending them in order to express the right combination of color, form, and light on your canvas.” BKS Iyengar


Next reading : Ch 2 “Pain…” through first section of Ch 3

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.