"Yoga is the art of getting rid of borders. Do not cut yourself from the Infinite by too narrow ideas.” - B.K.S. Iyengar
There is no doubt that the yoga propounded by B.K.S. Iyengar is based in a field of discipline. Discipline narrows our path until there are only two choices: we fall in to our practice fully or we fall out. It is a required step in our spiritual path, to develop a regular (and at some point optimumly a daily practice). This may mean setting a fixed time to practice and showing up no matter what, whether this is a class or your home practice. When you are doing asana practice, it means following a system of learning from the foundation. A willingness to stay with the “basics” for some time; to repeat the basics over time; like a musician practicing scales.
“Discipline is a safety measure. It appears in the beginning as regimentation but the moment you labor with love, discipline disappears and passion for the ultimate aim sets in. Until then, one thinks of it as discipline. But for us, we discipline ourselves to reach that passion of the ultimate goal. When transformation takes place, discipline suddenly vanishes and you become part and parcel of that object for which you and I are struggling.” - B.K.S. Iyengar
In the beginning, we require a certain amount of rigidity, systematization, rules if you will and a good teacher can help us to establish these boundaries. However, there is a risk, if we continue down the narrow path of discipline that our vision narrows and our passion for the subject dries up. We feel like we are on a forced march vs. a path to freedom. We are more concerned about the “correct” placement of our femur bone in Trikonasana then the physical, emotional, and psychological benefits of triangle pose to ourselves and the world.
When I was in India studying at the Ramanani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute when Guruji, B.K.S. Iyengar was alive, I blessed to be able to observe his practice. He was not “doing” yoga, he was yoga. When he observed someone doing something harmful in the pose, he called an assistant over and either told them to adjust the person or called the person over. Sometimes, he would stay in the pose and teach others. Other times he would come out the pose he was in to teach. But, there was no sense that he was practicing when he was in a pose by himself and was not practicing when he was teaching or not in a yoga asana. It was all practice. That said, it was most certainly his years and years (80 years of continuous practice!) which enabled him to expand his awareness in this way.
How do we find this balance between discipline, the narrow path, and limitless awareness which is the goal of yoga and the birthright of us all? I believe the first step is to observe our own self, our own tendencies. Where are the obstacles for you in your practice? Some of us struggle with keeping a regular schedule and there is no container for freedom; others of us follow a schedule so strictly there is no space for freedom. One helpful practice, once you observe your tendencies, is to practice the opposite.
I am blessed with the skill of discipline. I started my spiritual path with Vipassana meditation. I heard these words from the teacher, “If you commit to practicing every day for 1 hour for one year, the practice will become so established that it is no longer a discipline but simply a way of life.” My response...”challenge accepted!” And, this skill has served me well. But, at some point I realized that at times I was actually harming myself by sticking to discipline alone. “I have to practice at this time. I have to practice these types of poses. I have to...I should....” When I practice in this way, I notice that I feel contracted and less open.
So now, in a basis, in a field of regular practice, I allow a lot more space to simply be with the practice. This requires the cultivation of a lot of patience and compassion. I read an analogy of this practice recently in Chogyam Trungpa's book, Meditation in Action, that helped me. When you go to do a pose, an asana, imagine that you are a potter at his wheel. You get the wheel spinning at optimum speed and then you throw the clay, aiming for the center. You attempt to keep the clay in the center, but if you accidentally throw the clay on the edge of the wheel and it flies off, can you laugh? There is nothing wrong with the clay, nothing wrong with the wheel, nothing wrong with the potter! You simply threw the clay in the “wrong” spot, meaning not the best spot for creating a wholesome, evenly developed pot. But, you learned something. And, the next time you can throw the clay aiming more clearly at the center. Once you get the clay pretty close to the center and the pot begins to emerge, if you squeeze the clay to hard the pot will collapse (discipline); if you don't press hard enough, the pot will spill out and not be functional.
Now, the final practice.....can you maintain your passion, your drive, your love of the practice but let go of wanting any specific results? Ah....this will be a lifetime of work.
Ardha Chandrasana (half moon pose) is a balancing standing pose which requires both a rooted groundedness and stability and an expansive leap of faith. Experiment with the pose using a wall or a chair for balance. Then doing the pose without support in the middle of the room, with a block under the hand, without a block under the hand. What sets of actions help you to come into the pose in a more centered way? To come out of the pose in a more fluid way?
Happy practicing! AUM, Shantih Shantih Shantih