Posted by: Bruce Black | August 1, 2015

“Our essential nature…”

“Our essential nature is usually overshadowed by the activity of the mind.”

These words form the fourth statement in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and I find them disturbing.

Why?

I find it odd to suggest that the activity of the mind—the act of thinking—hides our essential nature from view.

Isn’t thinking what gives us the chance to make choices, to decide how we want to live our life, to determine our destiny? Don’t our thoughts help us form the words with which we need to communicate and function in the world?

How could we care for ourselves, bathe, cook, clean, write, read, or do anything else, without the intelligence—the activity of the mind—to figure out what needs to be done, and to do it?

Even on our mats, we need to think, don’t we?

Are our bodies in proper alignment? Am I pushing too hard or not hard enough? Am I standing too close to my neighbor? Will the wall interfere with my Half-Moon pose?

In this light, thinking appears to be the very thing that illuminates our essential nature and lets us see our humanity more clearly.How, then, can Patanjali suggest that, no, thinking does just the opposite, and, according to the sutra, overshadows our essential nature?

Well, perhaps he is pointing out that there are different kinds of thought, different ways of thinking?

And perhaps he is suggesting that certain ways of thinking—thoughts that are filled with fear or anger or despair—may, in fact, cloud one’s vision and keep one from viewing one’s essential nature?

Or perhaps it’s simply the act of thinking itself, the act of being in our head rather than in our body, that is suggested here as an act that takes us out of the moment.

If we are thinking about the moment, we cannot be in the moment. Our thoughts about the moment take us instantly outside the moment.

In this way, the activity of the mind can overshadow the essential nature of life. Fear, anger, distrust, confusion, all these things can pull us away from the moment.

Think about it: if you are fearful of stepping into headstand, you will have trouble seeing the pose and yourself attempting to do the pose. Instead you will see the cloud (your fear) rather than the pose.

If you are anxious about balancing in Tree Pose, you may find anxiety acts the same as fear and transforms how you perceive the world and your pose, as well as how you see yourself in the world and in your pose.

In this way, thinking about something—whether positive or negative thoughts—does have the power to distort, to overshadow the experience.

We can experience life, but what we end up experiencing are our thoughts about life rather than life itself.

To experience life itself, according to Panjali, we need to settle into stillness.

We need to learn how to let go of anxiety, fear, guilt, worries, distress.

This is how yoga helps us experience life in its fullness. Our asana practice of movement in our body lets us move past our thoughts to the unspoken, inarticulate essence of our nature.

Practice Journal: How does your yoga practice help you cast aside the shadows usually hiding your essential nature from view? How does it help you reduce the activity of the mind so it’s not distracting you?

Note: “Our essential nature is usually overshadowed by the activity of the mind.” from The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, translated and introduced by Alistair Shearer, Bell Tower, NY, 1982.

Posted by: Bruce Black | July 1, 2015

“Unbounded Consciousness”

“When the mind has settled, we are established in our essential nature, which is unbounded consciousness.”

This is the third line in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and it’s both comforting and puzzling.

When I practice yoga, I practice to learn more about my essential nature — not just my essential nature but the essential nature of being human.

So, some of the questions that I bring to the mat include “What does it mean to be human?” and “What does it mean to be this particular person in this particular body at this particular time in this particular place in time?”

And I find it comforting — and one of the reasons why I continue my practice — when my asana practice reveals the answers to these questions.

But there’s a difference between discovering our “essential nature” and reaching a state of “unbounded consciousness.”

That’s the puzzling part of the statement.

I’m not even sure what “unbounded consciousness” means.

When I think about our “essential nature,” I think of qualities of the heart — qualities like kindness and generosity and confidence and faith—which form the essence of being a human being.

And I’m always grateful for a practice that helps me notice when these qualities are present in my heart and when they are absent.

But when I think about “unbounded consciousness,” I come up blank. It’s such an abstract thought, so amorphous, so open-ended. And yet the open-endedness of the statement implies freedom.

Only here’s the next question: what does freedom have to do with our essential nature?

Perhaps part of the answer is that “unbounded consciousness” also implies that life has certain constraints, certain boundaries, certain limits or limitations, and that yoga can help us discover how to free ourselves of such constraints and limits.

There’s an interesting link inherent in the statement between the constraints of the body and the freedom of the mind.

Indeed, the statement suggests our essential nature is unbounded, pure consciousness. Pure thought.

What might keep us from being in touch with our essential nature? An unsettled mind.

After practicing yoga for more than a decade, though, I have to admit that my mind is rarely settled. I’ve noticed a handful of times when my thoughts have quieted into silence. But, for the most part, the space inside my brain is pretty noisy and unsettled.

If I do experience something that might be called “silence” or “settling,” it’s the “sleep” that I experience unexpectedly in Savasana at the end of class.

But is “sleep” what’s meant by “unbounded consciousness?”

I have the sense that “unbounded consciousness” implies something more … a consciousness that may resemble sleep, perhaps, but which lets us notice our thoughts while we lie quietly in a meditative state.

Perhaps it’s that state during or after our asana practice when we can feel ourselves connected to the divine source of energy that is constantly creating and re-creating the universe. Or perhaps it’s during those moments of life when we feel at one with our self and those in our life and everyone who we’ve ever come in contact with.

Whatever “unbounded consciousness” may mean, it isn’t easy to settle one’s mind or get in touch with our “essential nature.”

What yoga offers us is a path past the whirl and bustle of our lives. It’s a path that leads to a different world, a world where we can settle into the mysterious essence of who we are.

Practice Journal: What exactly does “essential nature” mean? And how does settling our mind lead us to it? And how is that nature linked to a state of “unbounded consciousness”? These are the questions that I’ll be asking the next time that I step on my mat. What about you—what questions will you ask the next time you practice yoga? Write: 10 min.

Note: “When the mind has settled, we are established in our essential nature, which is unbounded consciousness.” from The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, translated and introduced by Alistair Shearer, Bell Tower, NY (1982).

Posted by: Bruce Black | June 1, 2015

“Settling the Mind…”

“Yoga is the settling of the mind into silence.”

This is the second line in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and it’s both mysterious and profound.

What makes it so profound is its assumption that the mind has the ability to settle into silence, that we have the ability to quiet our thoughts rather than let them run wild through our minds.

And what makes it so mysterious is how the process works, how yoga can help us find a way to settle our minds and discover a silent space within ourselves where we can experience the joy of peace and contentment.

I find interesting, too, how the statement points out that yoga is the settling of the mind. Yoga is not struggling to settle the mind, nor is it trying to settle the mind. It is the process of settling the mind.

That’s a fairly expansive definition of yoga, isn’t it? It suggests that yoga is anything that helps you settle the mind into silence.

The yoga poses—the asanas—that we spend time learning in class, and which we work to refine day after day, are part of this process of settling the mind, of coming to a place of peacefulness and contentment.

But yoga is more than asanas, if I understand the statement correctly.

It is breathing deeply… if breathing helps settle the mind.

Or meditation… if meditating helps settle the mind.

Or running or bicycle riding or swimming or dancing or, or, or… whatever helps settle the mind.

Would sipping a cup of warm tea constitute a yoga practice? Yes… if sipping tea helps settle the mind.

What I love about thinking of yoga in this light is that yoga can happen anywhere–on our mat or off our mat–at any time of day, at any moment of our lives.

It can happen when we’re showering or eating breakfast or driving our cars or walking to work.

It can happen while we’re hugging a friend or kissing a grandparent or making love to our partner, or while we’re gardening or cleaning the bathroom or doing the laundry or writing in our journals.

Our lives are full of opportunities to practice yoga.

Practice Journal: What is yoga? How would you define your yoga practice after thinking about the implications of the words “Yoga is the settling of the mind into silence.” What causes your mind to race with thoughts? What causes your mind to settle into silence? When do you feel most at peace and most content? Write: 10 min.

Note:  “Yoga is the settling of the mind into silence.” from The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, translated and introduced by Alistair Shearer, Bell Tower, NY (1982).

Posted by: Bruce Black | May 1, 2015

Puzzling Out Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

“And now the teaching of yoga begins.” 

These words form the opening line of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the ancient collection of aphorisms compiled around 400 CE, which I’m reading for the first time in the hope of gaining a better understanding of yoga and my practice.

As an introductory line, it’s wonderful, isn’t it? The words invite the reader and yogi into the tradition of learning that is at the heart of yoga practice.

To learn yoga, the words imply, you must be willing to adopt the attitude of the student. You must cultivate a perspective of curiosity and a willingness to be open to new ideas, new ways of seeing the world.

And you must be willing, as well, to take risks based on what you learn, to test the evidence in your own way, and to trust your inner teacher as you listen and learn from an experienced teacher.

The words imply that you must become a student.

And to be a student, the words suggest, you must find a teacher.

The words suggest, as well, that at the heart of yoga is this relationship between student and teacher, and that learning yoga isn’t done alone or in isolation but rather as part of a community of students who take the time and make the effort to study with a teacher.

What qualities should you look for in a teacher?

The words don’t suggest specific qualities. They simply invite you to welcome the teachings into your life.

In order to learn yoga, this opening line suggests, you’ll need to find a teacher.

Sometimes you can find a teacher nearby, sometimes far away.

Sometimes your teacher speaks in a language that you can understand, sometimes in a language that you need translated in order to understand.

Each time I open the pages of The Yoga Sutras in the weeks and months ahead, Patanjali will be my teacher.

Perhaps he will become your teacher, too?

Practice Journal: As you step onto your mat, think about these words: “And now the teaching of yoga begins.” What do these words mean to you? Can you remember what your first yoga teacher taught you? Do you recall how he or she began your class? Can you describe how having a teacher has made a difference in your practice and your life? Write: 10 min.

Note:And now the teaching of yoga begins.” from The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, translated and introduced by Alistair Shearer, Bell Tower, NY (1982).

Posted by: Bruce Black | April 1, 2015

Cracking Open Your Heart

Over time I’ve noticed how my heart often wants to withdraw behind a thick shell.

When expectations are dashed or hopes crushed, or when I suffer a bruise from a relationship or a deeper hurt, my heart seeks safety behind a shell that only gets thicker with each perceived injury.

I might be talking to someone and feel slighted or not heard, or a long-held dream might come crashing down, or my efforts on a project, despite long hours and hard work, might meet with disappointment (or, worse, failure), and I’ll watch as my heart retreats into its shell.

It was my yoga practice that made me aware of this thickening shell, this impulse to withdraw, this process of seeking protection behind a wall whenever I felt threatened or vulnerable.

To be vulnerable, after all, is to be exposed, and to be exposed is dangerous because the more you are exposed, the more open you are as you meet the world, and the more open you are, the easier it is for someone—or something—to pierce your heart and leave you wounded and in pain.

And so I learned over the years to build a shell, a wall, a barrier in the hope that I could block the pain and keep it at bay.

But my yoga practice reminds me that life consists of pleasure and pain, and that trying to build a wall to keep frustration, disappointment, and pain at bay is futile.

Our yoga practice is designed to help us embrace life—all of life, not just the parts that give us pleasure but the parts that are frustrating, disappointing, and painful, too.

It reminds us that life is to be lived not behind a wall but with a heart that is open, soft, accepting, nonjudgmental, and vulnerable.

If we are diligent in our yoga practice, we can develop the physical and emotional strength that we need to crack open the thick shell that we build around our hearts each time we feel we are hurt.

Yoga teaches us how to pay close attention to our bodies, how to notice when we feel tense and uncomfortable, and how to stay with these feelings rather than run away from them.

Each time we attempt a pose too challenging for our skill level, we learn simultaneously how to face the pose and how to face a challenge in our life that may be beyond what we imagine we can deal with.

Each time we confront our fears in a difficult pose, we learn simultaneously how to face the fears that keep us from living fully, from reaching out in unfamiliar directions, from pursuing uncharted paths, just as it is fear of falling (and failing) that may keep us from finding our balance in Headstand or Tree Pose.

Yoga teaches us to stay with discomfort so we can explore a pose rather than fear it. Each time we enter a new pose, we are given an opportunity to notice how it feels to step into the pose. (And we can give ourselves permission to try the pose again and again until we learn what we need to learn to stay in the pose a little longer.)

It’s this act of exploration—whether we’re exploring the pose itself or our fear of the pose—that lets us move beyond our fear of failure, of falling out of the pose, of being vulnerable or exposed to others.

Each time we step on our mats, we are given the chance to crack open the shell around our hearts a little wider and let in a little more light, more faith, more confidence, and more love than the time before.

Practice Journal: How does your yoga practice help you crack open your heart? Can you list one or two experiences that may have caused you to build a shell around your heart? And can you describe how yoga has helped you crack open the shell so that you can live fully in each moment? Write: 10 min

Posted by: Bruce Black | March 1, 2015

Restoring Balance

I don’t know about you, but I look forward to my yoga practice as a way of quieting my thoughts and finding a sense of calmness in a world that never seems to stop running.

Slowing down on my mat helps restore the balance that I try to maintain in my life, and helps me put aside the worries and anxieties that accompany an endless stream of text messages, e-mails, and phone calls during my day.

The moment that I step on my mat and lie on my back, reclining in order to flex my ankles and windshield wiper my legs, I can feel my body letting go of stress. With each movement, my mind shifts, my thoughts slow, my pulse lets go of tension.

Often, I find myself counting softly as a way of being mindful of my breath. The simple act of counting helps synchronize the movements of my body with the movement of my breath, and I can follow the inhale and exhale of my breath with a kind of mindfulness that is often missing at other times of the day.

If I remember to return to my breath, to stay in the moment of that breath’s inhalation and exhalation, I notice how the world around me slows down even more, just as the world within my mind slows down.

And if I learn to slow down in my poses, to breathe in and into each pose, I can begin to hear my body speaking. I can hear it telling me where I feel tight or constricted, vulnerable, exposed. I can feel the pain in my knee or hip or wrist, and adjust my poses so that I don’t do further harm to that part of my body.

One day I might hear my muscles whispering “Give us a rest!” while on another day I might hear them shouting “We need more stretches!” Slowing down gives me an opportunity to listen to these voices, to what my body needs. Often, slowing down reveals the way that I need to go in my practice.

Slowing down can mean no longer needing to push so hard to improve myself or strive to become a better yogi. It can mean simply shifting my practice to a gentler form, a practice that doesn’t demand anything more than being in the moment.

Over the past few weeks, since I started attending an inspiring Yin Yoga class at Yoga Libre in Sarasota, I’ve thought often about the benefits of slowing down. On the first night of class, my teacher, Nancy, suggested that the class was about “learning not to strive,” and her insight struck a deep chord into how I might practice yoga whenever I step onto my mat.

Now, as I move into a pose, I try to notice the different muscles that help me enter and stay in the pose. I may not know the names of the muscles, but I can feel them working. I can feel the parts of my body that come into play when we stretch out in Restored Bound Angle (Supta Baddha Konasana), for instance, or lean forward in Forward Seated Bend (Paschimottanasana).

There’s a rhythm to my practice. And I can feel that rhythm not only within each class or session, but within my life, too.

Some days, I might need an energetic and demanding practice that challenges me to go fast, build strength, gain stamina.

But other days, I might need the opposite—a calming, less active practice, or a class that challenges me to slow down, develop patience, accept my thoughts as they arise and learn to let them go in the same way that I let go of each breath.

What kind of practice I create for myself depends on my needs in the moment. It also depends on my ability to listen closely to what my body asks of me.

Today I hear it asking these questions: Can you practice without striving? Can you accept yourself as you are in this moment?

Practice Journal: How do you restore balance in your life when you feel it’s spinning out of control? Are you able to slow down? What questions is your body asking you? Can you accept yourself as you are? Write: 10 min.

Posted by: Bruce Black | February 1, 2015

What We Take For Granted

Our yoga class begins the way it always begins with our teacher inviting us to kneel in Table Pose on all fours.

Gently, we breathe in and release our breath, our spines unfolding upward, rounding toward the ceiling, and then dropping down again so that our bellies reach toward the floor.

Ordinarily, these basic poses–Cat and Dog Tilts–provide gentle stretches for the spine, but this morning these poses prove painful because of a sharp twinge that I feel on the outside of my left knee.

The simple act of kneeling feels like I’m pressing my knee into a sharp tack rather than into a soft foam mat. The pain shoots up the left side of my knee so that I have to come out of the pose.

Until this moment, I’ve never given much thought to what’s required to kneel in the pose. Indeed, I’ve taken my knees—and the simple act of kneeling itself—for granted.

Why is it, I wonder, that it often takes the loss of something–something that we usually consider “ordinary” and hardly ever notice–to remind us of what we take for granted?

Loss is only one way for us to become mindful of what we take for granted.

Our yoga practice can also help us discover a new, more mindful perspective of what seems “ordinary” in our lives.

Each pose can help us see time unfolding as a succession of moments, each moment connected to the moment before it and the moment after it.

It’s rare that we see time this way, however. Too often on our mats and in our lives we focus on a goal–a certain number of Sun Salutes, say, or reaching for our toes in Uttanasana (Intense Forward Bend), or staying in Plank for a minute or longer.

Focusing on such goals means there is something in the future that we want to achieve, some far-off destination that we want to reach, or some plan that we are hoping to complete.

We end up focusing on any place but the one where we happen to be right now.

We worry about the past, about what we might have done differently.

We worry about what we should have done.

We are unable to see life unfolding moment-to-moment in front of our eyes.

We end up missing these moments, this moment.

If we use our practice to help us become more mindful of each moment, though, we can learn to see each pose as a sequence of events, or, rather, as a succession of moments.

When seen from this angle or perspective, the final form of the pose doesn’t really matter.

What’s important is not if we can lift our bodies off the mat into Upward-Facing Bow, or whether we have trouble raising our leg to mid-thigh to balance in Tree Pose.

What’s important are the steps that we take along the way which let us move into these poses.

“There is no arriving,” my teacher, Jaye Martin, likes to remind us, “only practice, practice, and more practice.”

How can we avoid the the trap of thinking that the pose itself is the goal, of taking for granted the steps that move us into and then out of the pose?

We can avoid the trap by becoming more mindful, more self-aware, qualities that the process of yoga can bring to our lives if we let it.

In the process of practicing yoga–taking the incremental steps that make up our poses, each step leading to the next–we are able to discover yoga.

And in discovering yoga, we are able to discover what we may have once taken for granted: the power of this one “ordinary” moment.

Practice Journal: Do you take anything–or anyone–in your life or in your yoga practice for granted? Spend a few minutes making a list–it can be as long or as short a list as you’d like to make it–and then write down the things that you may overlook as “ordinary” in your practice and in your life. Write: 10 min.

Posted by: Bruce Black | January 1, 2015

The Yoga of Aging

It’s almost time to drive to my yoga class, but I’m debating if I should go or skip the energetic 90-minute session and stay home to practice a few easy, restorative poses on my own.

It isn’t that I’ve grown tired of class or upset with my teacher or other students. On the contrary, I look forward to the weekly class. It’s one of the few times during the week when I feel unencumbered by the stresses of work and life.

But for the past few weeks I’ve nursed a sore right quad muscle and an aching left knee. They are, I suppose, the aches and pains of aging, and, luckily, they haven’t yet kept me off my practice mat. Yet I hesitate to go to class, unsure if I’ll be able to keep up with the pace of the other students.

At the last minute, though, I decide to take my mat and get in the car and drive to the yoga studio. I remind myself that I’ll be able to participate in the class if I practice with more mindfulness so that I can avoid further injury.

It was a good decision.

The class, as I’d hoped, turned out to be the perfect antidote to take my mind off the aches and pains of aging. Not only did I find myself able to forget the aches, I was inspired by the theme that my teacher introduced to start the class.

He read a quote about the wonder of life—“The world is full of magic things patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper”—and the quote (which some attribute to W.B. Yeats) helped me view aging and my aches and pains with a deeper appreciation for the changes that my body was undergoing.

As my teacher led us through each pose, I noticed how stretching and bending my legs and arms helped move me past the aches and pains. Instead of complaining, I felt grateful for the chance to age, for the changes in my body that I’d noticed lately.

Thanks to my teacher and his class about wonder, I noticed the magic of things like the new spidery lines spreading across my wrists, and the way the skin on my legs seems to have lost some of its elasticity, and the grayer hair that I see in the mirror each morning.

In an odd way, this process of noticing how my body is changing has become part of my yoga practice.

A sudden twinge in my left wrist, for instance, or on the back of my hand, just below the knuckles, can make it hard to remain in Down Dog for long, and I’ll begin exploring a different way to grip the mat.

An ache in my quad, especially on the inner thigh, while in High Lunge, or an unexpected numbness in my shoulder when I twist into Triangle, will change the shape of the pose.

These aches and pains usually disappear after I’ve warmed up, but sometimes they remain constant throughout the practice and linger after I’ve stepped off the mat.

If I notice the changes and adjust my poses, I can continue to practice with some slight modifications to accommodate my aging body.

I’ve learned to pull back from a twist instead of pushing too hard.

On days when my wrists hurt too much in Plank or Down Dog, I can add more standing balance poses.

All of us, as we grow older, are engaged in the yoga of aging. We need to learn how to switch gears, to tone down our practice on some days to give our bodies a chance to rest.

We need to learn to soften instead of pushing harder, to lay down with our legs up the wall for a restorative practice instead of trying to boost our heart rate with a series of intense Sun Salutes.

Each day, as I step on my mat, I remind myself that I am lucky to be able to age gracefully in my body, thanks to my yoga practice.

There are no guarantees, of course, that yoga will help us reach a ripe age.

But if we practice the yoga of aging—noticing how our bodies are changing and adapting our practice to nurture out ability to keep practicing—we may find ourselves feeling (and looking) younger than our age.

And that’s a good reason to keep practicing in the year ahead, don’t you think?

Practice Journal: How do you define “youth” and “age,” and how does yoga help you notice and explore the differences? Write: 10 min.

Posted by: Bruce Black | December 1, 2014

What Our Yoga Teachers Give Us

It’s so easy to take our teachers and what they give us for granted.

Each week they arrive in advance to welcome us and put us at ease when we enter the classroom.

Each time we step onto our mats, they ask about our injuries so that they can help us modify our poses, if necessary.

At the beginning of class, they sit cross-legged on their mats at the front of the room to share a story, an insight, a snippet of knowledge, and we listen intently, eagerly absorbing their words.

What we hope to gain in class from our teachers is something more than what we might learn if we had stayed home and practiced alone.

Here are some of the treasured gifts that my yoga teachers have bestowed on me this past year:

Appreciation for the beauty and mystery of life

Balance to explore my inner self

Connection to a larger community

Courage to be in the moment

Desire to express gratitude for life and its many blessings

Determination to set an intention

Faith to feel a link to the divine

Flexibility to notice how a positive perspective changes the way I feel

Freedom to let go of expectations

Joy of taking time to breathe

Strength to smile through challenges

Support of friends

Trust to open my heart in challenging situations;

Wonder and awe that I feel in nature;

Willingness to accept what my body can do at a certain age

In every class, month after month, our teachers bestow these gifts on us. They glean these gifts from their own practice, and they pass them on to us, each gift a blessing to be shared in the hope it may deepen our practice, our lives.

As the year comes to a close, I invite you to look back over the past twelve months and reflect on the many gifts that you’ve received from your teachers.

And I encourage you to take a moment the next time you see your teachers to thank them for all the blessings that they may have given you over the past year.

To each of my teachers, thank you for all you’ve given of yourselves over the past year. I’m so grateful to be your student.

Practice Journal: What are the gifts that your teachers have given you? Can you think of one or two and how these gifts have changed the way you practice yoga or inspired you in your life? Can you imagine how your life might be different if you hadn’t received these gifts? Write: 15 minutes.

Posted by: Bruce Black | November 1, 2014

Where Yoga Leads Us

Yoga has a way of leading us to a place where we can more clearly hear the question: “Who are you?”

Each pose peels away another layer of ourselves and moves us closer to the answer.

Earlier this week, as I practiced on my mat, I wasn’t even aware that I needed to ask this question, and yet my poses led me to this unexpected place.

And it was in this place that I felt the presence of another person nearby.

There was no one else in the room with me, yet I could hear a voice.

It was the voice of a teacher, but it wasn’t a teacher who I’d ever studied with in class.

The voice contained the strong accent of a foreigner. It sounded like someone from far-away who spoke with a slightly nasal intonation, much the way that I’ve heard people from India speak.

I strained to listen to this voice. It was a patient, compassionate, learned voice, and it had the timbre and tone of a man’s voice.

Not a young man’s voice but the voice of an elderly gentleman.

Although I’d never met this person before, I felt as if I had known him for years.

I couldn’t see him as I went through my poses, but I could sense him beside my mat.

It felt like he was watching me as I practiced. I didn’t feel any judgment or criticism. It felt like he was simply watching, curious, absorbing each pose as if it was the fruit of his labor.

As each of my poses unfolded, taking me deeper into the dance that is yoga, I felt this man’s non-judgmental nature as a gift that he was giving to me.

“Just be who you are,” I heard him say. “Dedicate yourself to your practice. Keep learning.”

His words felt like a warm embrace that created a place where I could let down my guard and simply be myself.

As I finished my practice, I sat on my mat cross-legged, my hands pressed together in front of my heart, and opened my eyes.

That’s when I saw him, an elderly man who looked much the way I imagined Mr. Iyengar might have looked if I had traveled to India while he was still alive to study with him.

This man was the man who had sat beside me, watching my practice, waiting patiently for my next move.

He had studied my poses with a curiosity and attention that I’d never felt before. It seemed as if he was even curious about my next breath.

I closed my eyes and listened closely to my in-breath and my out-breath.

And then I heard this man–perhaps it was the spirit of Mr. Iyengar, who knows?– speak again, his voice so soft that I had to strain to hear him.

Just be who you are.

His words floated in the air between us.

They were like the caress of the wind.

Practice Journal: In what way have the teachings of Mr. Iyengar influenced your practice and your life? And in what way can you show your gratitude for his teachings? Write: 10 min

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