Yoga Philosophy

Oneness Of Soul With Action (continued)

The second lineage, also of great prominence in the United States and Europe, is that of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (1888-1989) and his three disciples: his son, T.K.V. Desikachar, K. Pattabhi Jois, as well as Krishnamacharya’s brother-in-law, B.K.S. Iyengar. Even though Krishnamacharya’s teachings were deeply rooted in the Yoga scriptures, his expression of Patañjali’s Yoga was decidedly secular, and even scientific. While fully embracing the liberating potential of Patañjali’s philosophy, Krishnamacharya’s work centered around the use of asana, the yoga postures that we know today, as a vehicle by which to heal the body and bring it into harmony with the Self. This emphasis is strongly reflected in the approach of his three principal disciples. Even then, his approach shifted and evolved through the course of his life. In the earlier part of his life, in the 1930’s, his approach was much more athletic, especially as applied to teaching children. It was in 1927, at age 12, that K. Pattabhi Jois began studying with Krishnamacharya who taught him the six vigorous sequences of poses in Jois’ Ashtanga Yoga system. T.K.V. Desikachar, Krishnamacharya’s son, came to yoga much later in life after a period working as a mechanical engineer. By that time, his approach was softer and more individualized, which lead to the system of Viniyoga which Desikachar still teaches to this day.

The third disciple of Krishnamacharya that I mentioned above, B.K.S. Iyengar, only studied with Krishnamacharya for a short period of time, around two years, before being sent off to teach. Mr. Iyengar’s approach to asana and pranayama is entirely self-devised, but the spirit of Krishnamacharya’s concerns are evident in his method and Mr. Iyengar continually gives full credit to his teacher in all his writings.

The great innovation of Mr. Iyengar’s approach to asana and pranayama is a synthesis of Patañjali’s eight limbs within the two physical limbs. Mr. Iyengar and his daughter and son, Geeta and Prashant, address philosophy and spirituality in their talks and writings, but all of that gets harnessed in their classes to teach spiritual freedom through practice of the postures. It is Mr. Iyengar’s contention that all the limbs of yoga can be practiced in any of the others.

Mr. Iyengar writes about this at length in his book “The Tree of Yoga”. Imagine yourself doing a relatively simple pose like Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose). Your right leg is turned out and you have extended your trunk out along the leg and placed your right hand on your ankle. You are valiantly stretching the back of your right leg and your right hamstring is speaking to you. There’s not much going on in the front of the right leg, however, and the left side of your body is completely forgotten. If you are over-stretching the back of the right leg to the point of pain and even injury, then it’s fair to say you are committing violence against yourself. But what about the right thigh? It’s not being worked, it’s not in pain. Mr. Iyengar would say that leaving the thigh soft and untended is also doing violence, albeit indirectly. The muscles are not being used, which means they have not been fully irrigated by the blood flow and have been denied an opportunity to be toned, which in turn will lead towards their atrophy. So, to practice non-violence, one must be working in a balanced fashion in both the front and the back of the leg.

With the right and left sides are balanced and integrated, then there is truth in the actions of the right leg. And when the left and the right sides, and the front and the back, of the whole body are balanced and integrated, then there is truth in the entire pose. With that total balance, that total stretch, then all five of the sheaths of the body are working together harmoniously and there is a oneness of the soul with the action, which is a definition of brahmacharya, or continence. Similarly, with total attention to the details of the pose, there is nothing more to achieve, and there is no need to steal and no greed. All the Yamas are observed.

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