The Inner Infinite

In an era where humanity is enjoying creature comforts and technological conveniences in a way that no other era has known, we are also seeing unprecedented levels of inner turmoil and collective restlessness and unhappiness. I recently watched a discussion between a great yogi of our times and a group of physicians from New York City. When asked, the physicians estimated that 65 – 85% of people in the city were dependent upon some form of “chemical support” (prescription or otherwise) to maintain a minimum level of inner calm and stability. [To view this discussion, click here: AAPI convention with Sadhguru.] We don’t have to look far to see humanity ripping the planet (and each other) apart in a seemingly mad pursuit of some kind of well-being, some kind of panacea for inner discontentment, some kind of pleasure and comfort.

The Inner Infinite, our Summer Yoga Studies intensive at Living Tradition Yoga this year is designed to offer a different option to the relentless external pursuit of pleasure and comfort. It offers the opportunity to address the conditions within ourselves that are responsible for our unrest, our affliction. By facing these conditions and afflictions, we have the opportunity to experience the reality that the source of our joy, our well-being, our freedom also lies within ourselves.

Such an experience does not often come easily to us. The intensive will be intense. Addressing the cause of our afflictions and tracing the source of our joy does require that we face and move through whatever suffering lies within us. But, as B.K.S. Iyengar has said, only through facing our own pain, can we know the light*.
In my view, this is the type of human being the world needs: one willing to take responsibility for his or her own suffering, rather than one who takes that suffering out on other people, creatures and the world around him or her. A human being with the courage to face his or her own suffering, and the willingness to take action to transform that suffering into “light” has the opportunity to become a living solution the planet so desperately needs. In my view, there is no joy, no success higher than this.
This, and nothing short of this, is the goal of this weekend’s intensive: to give such sincere human beings the strength they need to be a living solution in the world; a light in the darkness.

[For more information about The Inner Infinite, an Iyengar Yoga Intensive, please click here: 2016 Summer Intensive]

[To Register for The Inner Infinite online, click here: http://livingtraditionyoga.com/store/products/inner-infinite/]

Parinama (Transformation): The Real Aim of Yoga

According to the sources I’ve examined, the word “Parinama” means “change, alteration, transformation, product, fruit, or result. It also means, “transformation or change due to time; mutation.” One thing is clear, parinama is used in relation to the tendency of all phenomena (material or “prakrtic” phenomena, including the mind and emotions) to change in state, form, substance, or composition.

In the context of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, parinama seems to refer less to the general (universal) tendency of all phenomena toward transformation, or the general state of impermanence of all material phenomena, and more to a specific process that a consciousness refined—by yoga sadhana—undergoes as the higher stages of practice, or samyama, manifest. With the exception of Sutra II.15, which uses the word parinama as more of a general description of the tendency toward impermanence of all states of experience (thus reminding the student to develop the discernment not to become too attached to pleasant experiences, or too averse to painful ones by realizing all experiences transform ceaselessly both in quality and content) Patanjali employs the term parinama to describe a distinct process whereby the mind, or rather consciousness, is, to quote Guruji B.K.S. Iyengar, “transformed, cultured, refined, and polished.” (Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, pg. 191). Clearly, Patanjali is here using the word to describe not an inevitable occurrence of a law of nature, but rather the conscious, intentional, invocation of that law to produce a certain effect. In other words, transformation “ordinarily” occurs as the result of what we could call “natural” forces or factors (or even the will of God?). The individual is more or less a passive participant, often at the effect of this phenomenon. In Patanjali’s yoga system, by contrast, the adept practitioner learns to participate in this process and, by what Guruji calls “skillfull repeated efforts,” to utilize this natural tendency to direct the consciousness (or perhaps a better verb would be to release the consciousness) to its highest possible state.

Parinama of consciousness, as taught by Patanjali in Sutras III.9 – III.13 involves its changing from an activated (restless), outward-moving state to a restrained state, from a restrained state to a state of single-pointed attention (where the outward-moving tendency has been overcome, at least to some extent), and from the state of single-pointed attention to a state of what Guruji calls “no pointed attentiveness.” Another important point here about the parinama Patanjali describes is that it is without a doubt a transformation from a “lower,” to a “higher,” and then to an ultimate state. By my reading of the Sutras and Guruji’s commentary, as well as through the experiences of my own practice over the years, I view parinama as a description of the tendency of phenomena (including and especially my own body, mind, emotions, energies, etc.) to seek the highest possible state. Of course, Patanjali’s use of the term parinama also implies there are no guarantees that this higher level will be reached. Rather it seems to depend upon the cultivation of the proper conditions whereby this natural tendency can unfold most fully. This is where proper (i.e. long-term and skillful) practice proves essential.

So, now to make this more practical. I have certainly seen transformations occur through practicing. Most obvious—and Guruji does write that “the three stages of transformation described in [Sutras] III. 9 – 12 affect the entire being: organs, senses, body, and mind, and bring about a stable, steady state of consciousness.” (L.O.Y.S.O.P., pg. 195)—have been the changes in my hamstrings, hips, upper body, etc. Come to think of it, I’d have to say the changes in mind are equally notable. I have seen my desires and habits change as well. Practice has transformed me from a smoker to a non-smoker, from someone who used intoxicants with frequency to someone sober for over a decade. My diet and tastes (not just in foods, but also in books, music, recreational activities, even companions) have changed markedly. More specifically, I can distinguish parinama  manifesting in my asana (and to some extent, pranayama) practice in the same sequence enumerated by Patanjali. For example, in any posture, especially say a longer Sirsasana, I must regularly restrain the “rising” waves of my consciousness (vyuttana citta) by utilizing breath, action, sense of direction (i.e. “alignment”) to invoke nirodha parinama. When I am able to sustain this restraint, I do find the consciousness does settle inside of the body (or at least upon the act/ asana at hand). Finally, on some occasions, when the consciousness does seem to settle in this way, I find I can expand my awareness from the act/ asana at hand and have this kind of whole-body experience. In those moments I feel I am experiencing, even “living” the posture rather than doing the posture. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I am experiencing ekagrata parinama, but certainly this seems a corollary to the transformation Patanjali describes. There are moments where I experience the asana as a “state,” as described by Prashant Iyengar. I would associate the transformation of the practice of asana—as a set of isolated movements and actions, to an integrated set of movements and actions, to an experience of that integration as a state of being—with the parinama Patanjali describes.

I have one example from a teaching perspective. In class I may have a general (scattered?) idea about the postural and philosophical theme(s) I plan to cover. But as the class progresses and I begin to discern how my students are responding, theses themes take on greater clarity. At times, as these themes develop and as the students’ practices coalesce around them with a certain skill and focus, new connections and unforeseen augmentations will develop, and the teaching moves from “one pointed” to “no-pointed”.

Comfort or Growth

Comfort or Growth?

While yoga is often marketed as a “peaceful,” “relaxing,” activity it is truly a dynamic and radical practice of self-refinement and transformation. While yoga’s practices aim at the serenity of the mind, yoga recognizes that this serenity is the result of certain internal conditions, not external factors. The practice of yoga traditionally involves eight limbs, and is known as “Ashtanga Yoga.” Ashtanga Yoga contains practices that range from ethical, moral, and personal observances to the cultivation of states of consciousness that transcend physical reality (and even some of its “laws”) and blur the boundaries between oneself and the cosmos one inhabits.
Seen from this view, Ashtanga Yoga is less about seeking an experience of pleasure and comfort in ones body or surroundings, but rather about confronting and transforming the patterns of thought, action, and intention that cause one’s own inner disturbance. In other words, Ashtanga Yoga is about clearing away all blockages or impediments to Union with the Divine. A variety of principles and processes have evolved over the millennia to train the earnest seeker to attain such realization.
This Fall, Living Tradition Yoga cannot promise you a comfortable and enjoyable experience. Our classes will generally (with perhaps the exception of some parts our restorative yoga lesson weeks) not be an oasis of comfort and pleasure. We cannot suggest that coming to class will be a “break” where you enjoy some “me” time. Instead, what we will offer you is a chance to dismantle the compulsion to relentlessly seek pleasure and comfort (a pursuit that appears to have put the planet and its inhabitants under profound distress; in fact, the BBC reports that if everyone on the earth lived at the same level of comfort and consumption as the average American, we would need four earths). In fact, we will instead help you to dismantle the “me” with its endless needs. We will also offer you the opportunity to “Find Comfort in Discomfort,” to quote B.K.S. Iyengar. In our view, true freedom does not involve an absence of adversity, but the capacity to encounter adversity in a balanced and even-minded way. This is what we are out to practice at Living Tradition Yoga.
Of course, the development of equanimity is not an overnight matter. Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras, and the first to codify the concept of Ashtanga (Eight-Limbed) Yoga, said the practice of yoga must be pursued with relentless determination, faith, great vitality and enthusiasm. He also suggested this pursuit must take place over a long period of time, without faltering, and in the face of any and all obstacles. In light of this (humbling) requirement, a 14-week session seems a bit weak, but, as Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita declares, “no effort on the path of yoga is wasted.”
So what’s the point? It is simple. We assert that our time desperately needs people committed to actualizing the highest potential within themselves. Anyone who has ever achieved anything of substance in their lives (i.e. anyone who has actualized their potential)   will tell you that it took a high level of determination and commitment, over the long term to attain to a goal. With yoga, the goal is nothing less than a human being free of all affliction, negativity, and distress. Such a human being innately imparts well-being and causes all life they touch to thrive. This Fall, of the year 2015, let us make fullest use of this gift of Ashtanga Yoga, and B.K.S. Iyengar’s eloquent and powerful teachings of it, to take strong and determined steps toward creating such human beings and igniting the process of making ourselves, community, the healthiest and most joyful ever. This is our mission and we invite you to share it with us.

The 8 Limbs of Yoga:

  1. Yama: Ethical disciplines (Includes: Non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-hoarding)
  2. Niyama: Individual disciplines or fixed observances (Includes: cleanliness or purity, contentment, austerity, self- and scriptural study, and surrender to God)
  3. Asana: Postures
  4. Pranayama: Regulated Breathing Practices
  5. Pratyahara: The withdrawal of the senses from the objects of their attraction
  6. Dharana: Concentration
  7. Dhyana: Meditation
  8. Samadhi: Absorption of the Consciousness in the Self
Sincerely,
Chris Briney and Living Tradition Yoga

From Resolution to Realization . . .

     According to Forbes magazine, only 8% of people actually achieve their New Year’s resolutions(1). Some say it is due to weak will-power, others poor planning, still others say it is unrealistic goal setting or over-enthusiasm. While we are not interested in adding our own opinion to the debate, we have experienced that, as B.K.S. Iyengar says, “Life itself seeks fulfillment as a plant seeks sunlight.” We feel that behind every resolution is that spirit of life seeking greater fulfillment. It is here that yoga sadhana (steady, devoted practice, or dare we say “resolute” practice?) plays a vital role.
     It is certain that the proper practice of Iyengar Yoga will strengthen the life force within the individual. This strengthening is bound to result in a stronger seeking of the “fulfillment” that Guruji mentions in the above quote. As the life force within the practitioner grows stronger, the seeking after fulfillment will intensify. As a result one becomes driven toward fulfillment, rather than merely wishing for it. At this point one could be said to have resolution. Prior to the development of this strong, insatiable drive toward fulfillment–or more accurately, prior to the development of a dynamic and vital life-force to power this drive–most resolutions are little more than wishful thinking. Thus it could be said that a true resolution is a strong desire coupled with a vital drive toward its fulfillment.
     The desire, it seems (and the ancient texts on yoga such as The Bhagavad-Gita or The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali certainly corroborate this) stems naturally and effortlessly from being human. The drive however does not seem to create itself. The practice of Yoga (particularly of Hatha Yoga) plays a key role in the development of this drive. One of the primary aims (and benefits) of Hatha Yoga is the intensification of the flow of prana within the individual embodiment. Said another way: why we do all the asanas and pranayama as Iyengar Yoga practitioners is to remove the blockages and open the “channels” within the embodiment so as to allow the life force (known as prana) to circulate with maximum freedom and power.
     Couple this maximum flow of prana with the inherent drive to “seek fulfillment” and you have the perfect recipe for realization. That is why practice is so essential; that is why we encourage our students, again and again, to “put your well-being (which, in our view means sadhana) first;” that is the resolution we commit to realizing, one day at a time.
1: To read the full Forbes article, click here: The 8%

Honor Through Emulation

In his illustrious life, B.K.S. Iyengar was, first and foremost, a practitioner of yoga. Even as his death was approaching this past August, he continued his own practice and (much to the chagrin of his loved ones who longed to care for him) insisted those around him continue theirs. In honor of his example and the legacy he has left for seekers in yoga, Living Tradition Yoga invites you to set aside some time this coming Sunday (December 14) for sadhana, which is more than mechanical practice, but a searching and sincere quest for wisdom and insight through practice. We are sure Guruji’s wishes would be that not only do more vital people come forth in the world, but also more thoughtful, considerate, caring and vital people come forth.

Perhaps it’s best to use his own words, from his book Light on Life, “I am a man who started from nowhere. After much time and effort, I began to reach somewhere. I literally emerged from darkness to light, from mortal sickness to health, from crude ignorance to immersion in the ocean of knowledge by one means alone, namely by zealous persistence in the art and science of yoga practice (sadhana). What held good for me will also hold good for you too.”