As of December 21, 2017, the sun has begun what’s called the “northern run,” or Uttarayana. Traditionally, this is said to be a time very conducive for the realization of one’s higher faculties and the higher aims of yoga. Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, an enlightened master of our time, has written the following about Uttarayana:
“People who have been spiritually aware have always identified this transition as a possibility for human consciousness to blossom. Particularly, the first half of Uttarayan until the equinox in March is a period where the maximum amount of grace is available. The human system is more receptive to grace at that time than any other. History clearly indicates that the maximum number of people have attained in this phase of the sun in the Northern Hemisphere” (as printed in “The Isha Blog,” December 20, 2016. For the full article, please click here: Significance of Uttarayana).
The notion of “grace” automatically points us in a direction beyond ourselves, beyond what we can accomplish with our own effort and will-power. It points us toward the concept of a power greater than ourselves. Not only this, it points us toward the notion that there is only so much we can accomplish with the application of our own effort and will-power. It can be quite a blow to the ego to realize there are levels of attainment beyond those we can reach through our own discipline and determination.
This is not meant to imply our own discipline and determination are of no value. On the contrary, disciplined effort is seen as an essential element in the practice of yoga. Burning, zealous effort, is known as tapas in the yoga tradition. It constitutes one of the three essential components of Kriya Yoga or “the yoga of action” delineated by Patanjali at the beginning of the Sadhana Pada (or “section on practice”) in The Yoga Sutras. The other two components are svadhyaya, or self study, and Isvara Pranidhana, or surrender to God. Thus, at its very foundation, the practice of yoga involves a profound blend of effort/discipline/will-power, and yielding/letting go/surrender.
So, as we transition–not just to a “New Year,” but from the season of “darkness” to a season of “light”–we’d like to offer the follow idea to our students for exploration in your own personal practices: First, now is the time to establish a personal practice. Yes, this will take some discipline. There are days where one’s distractibility and laziness must submit to the fires of determination for practice to happen. Burning zeal (tapas) must be summoned to overcome the obstacles to practice that may arise. At the same time, beginning (or deepening) one’s yoga practice during this time will, presumably, also open one up to this “maximum amount of grace” said to be available during this time. Each practice itself can become a new pore for grace to enter. Each practice requires not only the element of tapas in the form of disciplined effort, but also an element of surrender. This surrender may be of “unstructured time,” other activities of interest (despite all the myths about multi-tasking, we can still do only one thing at a time, with full attention), and a certain element of comfort because, well, practice can be quite challenging.
The other suggestion we have, is this: Relax Your Brain. Yes, we encourage our students to develop a robust practice of many categories of asanas. We also encourage that for many years this practice involves an ardent focus on standing postures. This means we encourage our students to work hard, because a robust practice of standing postures will include such challenges as Utthita Parsvakonasana, Virabhadrasana I (or III), Parivrtta Parsvakonasana, Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, among others. At the same time, we feel Iyengar Yoga has aims far beyond the physical. In our view, Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar’s teachings on yoga aim at the transcendent. If our practice remains purely, or primarily effortful, muscular, and striving (zealous), we will remain mired in the physical. Of course, without this type of effort no power and propulsion in practice will develop.
So, in the days ahead we invite you to take up a personal practice of yoga like never before. By personal we mean a practice that you direct (or more accurately, teach) yourself through. We invite you to light and stoke the fire of your practice, and the burning self-effort that will require. We are sure that this will enrich your life in a myriad of ways. We also want to remind you that the application of such effort also implies a letting go within yourself. And we believe you will find the process of letting go equally profound and life-enriching. Both aspects are critical to proper development in yoga. B.K.S Iyengar has compared these two qualities of effort and surrender to two wings of a bird and stated that both must be equal in size and in strength for the bird (of practice) to soar to the transcendent heights of joy, freedom and ecstatic aliveness that are the hallmarks of yogic Self-Realization.
Taking class with a Certified Iyengar Yoga teacher will ensure that your will-power is fired and the efforts that it generates will be full of dynamism. C.I.Y.T.s know how to perform the postures in a dynamic way. There are also some fine books to guide you in how to apply your efforts (and zeal) properly. We suggest Light on Yoga, by B.K.S. Iyengar, Yoga, A Gem for Women, by Geeta S. Iyengar, and Yoga the Iyengar Way, by Silva, Mira, and Shyam Mehta. All three books can be located with ease. (May we be so bold as to encourage you to support your local, independently-owned bookstore and order the books through them?) All three books will fuel your tapas. As you establish that, svadhyaya (self-reflective awareness) will be needed to see that these efforts flow with freshness and from proper motivation. As they flow, it is essential they be woven together with the practice of surrender. Much could be said about these last two concepts. For now, we leave you with this teaching, from B.K.S. Iyengar himself, to aid your practice of letting go and opening to a greater possibility than mere physical health, strength and flexibility (qualities all to often held as the pinnacle vs. the by-products of yogic practices):
“Focus on relaxing as you hold the stretch, not clenching, bur relaxing and opening. This relaxes the brain as well as the body. You must relax the neck and the head as well. If you keep the back skin of the neck passive and the tongue soft, there is no tension in the brain. This is silence in action, relaxation in action. As soon as you learn how to relax the tongue and throat, you know how to relax the brain, because there is also a connection between the tongue and the throat and the brain . . . The brain can learn only when it begins to relax.” (Light on Life, pg. 38).”
May your commitment to practice be unwavering and your access to grace infinite!
–Living Tradition Yoga