Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Quiet Mind

"The deeper significance of the fourfold remedy of maitri, karuna, mudita and upeksa cannot be felt by an unquiet mind. My experience has led me to conclude that for an ordinary man or woman in any community of the world, the way to achieve a quiet mind is to work with determination on two of the eight stages of Yoga mentioned by Patanjali, namely, asana and pranayama."
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, 48th paragraph of the Introduction.

Only a mind that is quiet can significantly see the fourfold remedy that Patanjali offered, according to the above excerpt. My impulse is to say that we shouldn't let ideals prevent us from trying, because even after tons of yoga practice and breath and mind techniques a person may still observe that the mind moves, causing a racket. This is similar to my thoughts on alignment: I use the verbal cues in yoga class to give direction to the action. How these actions show up in different body types end up looking different depending on whether the student is tight, more flexible, or perhaps injured or ill. So I'm never intending to describe an ideal "perfect pose" for everybody because there isn't one. Every body expresses the poses using its own language of arms, legs, torso, head, health and age. There is an art and truth to it.

And so we will also have our own individual paths to the wisdom of Yoga. Our personalities and minds can learn to point in a direction, but there is no one "right way" to attain a Yogic Perspective. So don't let absolute-sounding directives wilt your flower. Trust in your own path. For sure!

It sounds like Mr. Iyengar is saying that across different peoples, the best way to quiet the mind is to practice Asana, or the poses in Yoga, and Pranayama, or Yogic breathing techniques. So he is advising a solution for the masses. Even though there might be different ways that would work for individuals, this approach of posture and breath is likely to work for the multitudes. This reminds me of the "shotgun approach" sometimes used in medicine. ...say a patient comes in with a rash on the butt, and the doctor doesn't know exactly what it is and says it is probably either this or this. The MD can sometimes prescribe a cream that helps either problem without knowing exactly what is afflicting this patient. Similarly we tend to come to Yoga with spiritual problems, even if it was something like a "bad back" that brought someone to their first yoga lesson. So Asana and Pranayama provide a broad approach to healing that can work for just about anybody.

And considering the incredible growth and expansion of Yoga--especially using the posture and breathing techniques--around the world, I'd have to say that it looks like he was totally right when he wrote this many years ago. The different styles of Yoga teaching stir the mix a little differently: some classes teach the techniques seperately, some classes teach the breathwork right along with the postures, and there are so many differences in pacing and class atmosphere. So the ways of practicing Asana and Pranayama are many, but the goal is usually similar: Quiet Mind.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


Namaste_Heather said...

This is a great post and what I find interesting is that most of our teachers are thinking the same thing. I wrote a similar post yesterday as did another blog I just read. How many other forms of exercise have teachers who care this much about what the students get from it? Yet, yoga is so much more than exercise, huh? This, in essence, is another reason yoga is so wonderful!

YogaforCynics said...

One of the great things about that yoga is that there are so many benefits from it, that people can come to it for so many different that even somebody who's skeptical about the whole notion of a "spiritual path" (not that I would know anybody like that...), can think "well, even if it all turns out to be hooey, I still know I'm making myself healthier..." so, whatever doubts come up, there's no reason not to keep going....

Elize said...

One of the qualities that sustained my attraction to yoga is how it meets each practitioner wherever they are. I used to just think about the physical asanas: how someone who does a forward fold and barely reaches their knees is benefitting just as much as the person who hinges & touches the floor, as long as they are both working mindfully with their body. There is something so wonderfully egalitarian about that! And yoga’s ability to meet practitioners is even broader – as you mention in this thoughtful post, different practices/techniques appeal to different persons.

Laura said...

and the thoughts come and the thoughts go...while moving, while sitting...they just keep coming..

I was thinking today about silence. Silence doesn't necessarily mean the absence of sound altogether...there will always be ambient sound when we sit in silence. The same is true of our minds. We can sit quietly, but the mind will keep chugging along...every once in a while the chugging starts to slow down, maybe even become still for a moment and that is beautiful...but so too is observing the business of it, you know? Like to sit quietly outside and listen to the sounds of the's fascinating, it's quieting the mind is not the same as completely silent...does this make sense?

Melissa said...

I get that, Laura. There's stillness in motion and motion in stillness. Once I found myself totally suspended in Quite Mind state smack dab in the middle of the NY subway.