As you read, please bear in mind that I exist here merely as a conduit of information. My yoga study is based in Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras and the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar; what follows is an extrapolation of their teachings into my personal practice — with the aim of both clarifying for myself, and helping others.
Some people say that beginning is the hardest part of any journey. I disagree. If you, like me, find excitement and motivation in the sound of a starting gun, the beginning will be both easy and pleasant. There is joy for the hungry student in being a true beginner; you feast on an inexhaustible supply of new knowledge, and progress is swift yet tangibly quantifiable.
I believe this is why so many fall in love with asana after just a class or two. The physical practice sparks a fire — the fire of tapas #notsmallplates — in those ready and willing to learn. Armed with a kind yet firm and capable teacher, practice is pleasantly challenging and holds new discoveries every single time you take to the mat. First we create body awareness, then body intelligence. (Put simply: “Oh, this is where my body hurts,” and then, “Here is how I will place it so that it may heal and flourish.”) Perhaps along the way we get sidetracked with “tricks,” such as dramatic backbends. Perhaps we grow prideful of our newfound strength and suppleness, then grow humble again when we learn all we have yet to learn. It is all a necessary process.
It is necessary because the annamaya (body) kosa, the outermost sheath of being, must first be mastered before any further yogic study is completed. We do this by going inward with alertness during asana, not by unplugging. Let me repeat that in another way: During asana, we must check in, not check out.
Over the next few posts, I will be sharing ways I have focused my efforts on advancing into, and ultimately beyond the annamaya kosa. We cannot sail through the sheath of the body straight into the energy sheath without first fully addressing asana. With this knowledge, I have been structuring my sadhana to truly understand asana and all the outermost layer entails.
Today, I’m writing about why we love music and heat during class — and why I’m backing away from it. Scroll to the bottom to see what other steps and topics I will be covering in this series.
How I’m Moving Further Inward In My Yoga Practice
1. Stepping away from my attachment to music and heated practice
I have always loved a sweaty vinyasa flow class set to intense, heart-pumping music. Sometimes, it just feels good to move my body. Perhaps you can relate? I have no plans to give up that joy, but I now look at it as a part of my physical exercise — not necessarily my yoga studies. If I choose to attend a fast-paced power flow, or a class with a killer hip-hop playlist, I am choosing to do that a) instead of a run or strength training and b) in addition to my personal asana practice.
At this point in my practice, I find aggressively heated rooms distracting to focused effort. As someone who quite possibly has reptilian blood running through her veins, I crave moist heat. I am at my most comfortable and free while sweating up a fiery storm, but my sadhana is not about making myself comfortable (I wouldn’t advance very far, were that the case). If I am thinking only of how good it feels to move and release, I am not thinking about equal effort in my limbs, or about simultaneous vertical and horizontal expansion. I simply do not have the brain power. While I do not avoid hot classes, I do not aim to deepen into my study during one. I have further thoughts about how very hot classes are potentially damaging to inexperienced students, but we’ll save that thought for another time…
As for the tunes, it is because I love them so dearly that I must back away. My attachment to music is extraordinary and incredibly powerful. I find it impossible to listen to music without having a strong and immediate reaction. Again, perhaps you can relate? But if my asana practice is to teach me focused effort and singular attention, I am only making the task harder by giving my mind a song that it must now work to ignore.
Practicing without music is not just about a void, however — I also embrace it for what I gain, and that is awareness of the breath. The next sheath for us to penetrate is the pranamaya (energy) kosa, which is met through breathwork, or pranayama. Although the sages warn against a vigorous pranayama practice without having comprehending asana, I believe we set ourselves up for success when we acknowledge our breath during the physical practice. After acknowledgement can come light and trained manipulation; you might have already encountered this through ujjayi (ocean) breath, the close-mouthed, audible cooling breath cued during many a vinyasa class.
Without the distraction of music, the rhythm of our breath becomes a playlist, a teacher, and a metronome — and all of that existed inside of us. Releasing our attachment to distractions, whatever they may be, allows us to see that we truly do have the tools and skills for advancement. The guru is inside of us — deep in our innermost layer, so it surely does behoove us to begin our spiritual trek through the kosas as soon as possible!
2. Finally embracing props
3. Structuring my life to better accommodate practice (including my relationship to alcohol, sleep, and self-care)
4. Investing in my studies (financially and otherwise)
Light on Life by B.K.S. Iyengar
Light on Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras by B.K.S. Iyengar