Utilizing Yoga


Today was the start to Prashant Iyengar’s July weekend class series. This is such an amazing opportunity as Prashant is not one to travel. He has not ever come to teach at conventions or workshops around the world, but his voice is one to listen to in our tradition of Iyengar Yoga. Meanwhile, many of us are also trying to take part in our National Iyengar Yoga FREE offering of classes over this holiday weekend with many of our American teachers. Needless to say, it is an amazing time for the spread of Iyengar Yoga.

Prashant Iyengar is the son of BKS Iyengar. He, as did Geeta Iyengar, dedicated his life to the study of yoga and has a long life of experience to share. When people travel to India for the first time they are a bit confused by his manner of teaching as he does not teach the physicality of asana at all. His assumption is that after 8 years of practice (the requirement for taking advanced classes at the institute in Pune) that you do not need to be reminded where your feet go, legs go, etc…So, for lack of a better way to describe it, Prashant teaches yoga at the level of the mind and breath…the true heart of yoga.

Today he introduced a very classic foundation within his teaching – begin to look at your yoga practice beyond the steps of just “doing doing doing”. Are you doing your yoga or are you utilizing your yoga? The act of doing is nothing unless you understand how that doing can be utilized for transformation and knowledge.

Most of us find happiness in the “getting” – “I got this pose or that pose”, “I got this point and have achieved it”, etc…But we need to find happiness in the acquisition of knowledge. And in yoga that acquisition of knowledge is the absolute knowledge of the Self. To just DO Trikonasana (triangle pose) for the sake of doing means nothing. To gain knowledge of our Self through the experience of Trikonasana is a whole other matter that involves the mind, the breath, and every other layer of our being.

Many things always strike me when Prashant is teaching, but you can’t always catch everything. He is a master of changing language and story to bring about the same point in hopes that every student might catch. Today what stood out to me is the following example:

Be in Trikonasana (triangle pose) and DO everything you know to DO. On top of that, grip and grind your teeth. Now, when we do that in class, the teacher instructs, “relax your jaw” as a direction of something to “do”. But if we just stop there, just relax the jaw and move on without paying attention, we miss out on the happiness of gaining knowledge. What does relaxing the jaw actually bring to the rest of your body, to your mind, to your breath, etc??

The other thing that Prashant Iyengar gives us is the reminder and ability to look at the physical asana from a myriad of avenues. This concept comes up in many ways in his teaching, but today was about “your arms as an app”. We add apps to our phones and devices to increase utilization. In any yoga pose we have so many apps…arms, legs, feet, eyes, jaw, breath, mind, etc…What your arms are doing in any position is not just to be doing something different. That different arm position gives us a different experience and different knowledge of our Self. Not only that, the user needs to use the app to their own requirement. If I am using my arms in any pose, I may use them to aid my trunk extension while you are utilizing them to turn your chest, while the next person is using them to balance. There is NO ONE WAY or reason, but in our usage, we must gain knowledge.

This course will be going on each weekend for the month of July, so the gems will keep rolling in and I will do my best to share what I catch. Rachel I know is also taking these classes, so I am sure other teachers be sharing their insights as well. The last thing I will share is Prashant’s love of language and his insistence that we also look at the subtlety and nuance of words. He left us to contemplate the difference between “straighten” and “stretch”.

Hold out your arms and “straighten” them…and reflect on how you feel and what you feel and what actually happens. Do the same and “stretch” you arms and what is the effect. Straighten has a very physical effect on the joints. Stretch has a more overall effect on the flesh, the space, and even the mind.

Can we literally change our mind and language and attitude around our yoga practice? To get in habitual doing within yoga is just as harmful as habitual action in life. Reading our Summer Book Read of “The Art of Happiness”, I was struck by the fact that Prashant started his course with this concept – Self-knowledge is Happiness.


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.