For a dose of inspiration, enjoy this week's Wise Words...
The Winter/Spring 2021 issue of the newsletter of the Iyengar Yoga Centre of Victoria included an article by Ann Kilbertus in which she discusses being inspired by listening to Geeta Iyengar preparing a class to sit for the invocation to Patanjali. Ann transcribed 13 minutes of Geetaji speaking during this preparation. Thank you to Ann and the Iyengar Yoga Centre of Victoria for sharing this article with our members.
Guidance from Geetaji: Meditative Attention in Sitting
Motivation for me these days is multi-facetted. At times, I observe my thoughts moving in all directions. There are many choices with all the resources we have available 24/7 and at times I find myself looking here and there with an increased sense of being overwhelmed.
What can and does consistently inspire me is listening to the voice of Geeta Iyengar. As a child, ear training in music was something I easily gravitated towards. Ear training might involve a teacher playing some notes on the piano, and the student then having to identify and name the interval which the sounds make. From a young age, auditory learning was a channel that helped me learn. RIMYI had the foresight to record classes given by Geeta over a decade ago. In these recordings, there are many discursive moments in both asana and pranayama classes where she articulates and explains more subtle aspects of Guruji’s teachings. Small sections of these class moments take much time to absorb. Now and then I listen to Geeta’s voice and set a direction for practice from there. Even the exercise of transcription has led me digging further into texts of Yoga.
The following discourse led me to study the chapter in Light on Pranayama on Sitting and to look again at the line drawing of the skin movements in pranayama.
I’ve also been seeking to further understand the following quote from Guruji:
“Asana is a perceptual subject. Pranayama is a conceptual subject.”
This quote was referenced in new guidelines which came from Pune in July 2020 shifting the process by which mentors guide committed students into becoming teachers. The voice of Geetaji guides me further in making sense of this. Her words below were transcribed from a mere 13 minutes of discourse while preparing the class for the invocation in pranayama class on April 10, 2011. They are a remarkable summary of Yoga philosophy in the context of learning how to sit straight, how to breathe and how to place oneself (literally and figuratively) to look within. In a short time, she masterfully guides the student from what they are able perceive in sitting to what might then begin to be conceived when the frame is there:
“All of you be seated straight keep your back erect. Lift your spine properly up from the base. Roll the shoulders back move the shoulder blades in. Ascend your navel region, bottom of the navel region. From pubic area when you lift the bottom region you find the navel ascending. Have that inner ascendance. The back of the trunk as though coming closer from outside in. From the top as though it is going downward descending. And from sacrum to lumbar ascending.
These descending and ascending energies where they meet, reach there, which will help you to open your chest further. It is the area of the energy you find from back spine to the frontal chest which is named as anahata chakra. It is anahata chakra you find, exactly you find there when you descend from top downward and ascend from the bottom upward. It’s not just to the vertebral body you have to search, but energy body, which way it moves, you have to watch. Exactly that area, where these two energies meet from top and bottom, maintain that region from back to the front opening.
Close your eyes completely, relax your forehead, temples. Because from the head also the energy has to a bit descend in order to make the back of the trunk descend. If the brain is engaged somewhere else, then the spinal energy will be always shaken. Having that firmness, you should neither come forward nor backward. Then only you know what firmness means. Having that inner firmness, fold your palms in front of your chest where the frontal energy of the body should not get dropped. If the bottom of the thoracic goes upward, ascending energy there, then from bottom thoracic region towards the navel it’s a descending energy. See that you don’t hit the abdomen upward towards the thorax.
A slow soft smooth breath adjusting this body according to the explanation. Because the breath sometimes moves the energy points in different ways. In asthmatic patients you might have noticed when they are breathless the body shakes. A person who is weak, the body shakes. The points will not be available… the ascending and descending energies. Maintaining your body firm, you have to trace that. If the body is infirm you can’t trace these areas. Though you will be knowing verbally and physically.
See that you are very much sure about your adjustments. If you come forward the frontal body will fall. If you throw your back backward, then the pressure of the spine from top to the centre or from bottom to the centre will be differing. Therefore, it’s firmness and straightness that has to be noticed very carefully.
Become alert in the bottom of the thoracic region where the diaphragm has to find its freedom. Both the eyes deeper back. Adjusting these levels of the energy or the flow of energy, you have to come to your eyes. Take the eyes back and both the eardrums in. Relax your facial muscles, facial skin. If the facial muscles are tense the skin cannot become soft, then it cannot relax. The humbleness will be indicated from your face. If it is rigid, if it is hard, tensed, then you won’t find any kind of sobriety. So, in order to adjust all these things, you have to give your breaths or surrender a couple of breaths in order to correct yourself. In order to bring those changes. Slow soft smooth exhalation. Your facial muscles and facial skin cannot get relaxed if you are pulling your breath too strongly or aggressively So, when to use your aggressiveness and when to stop that aggressiveness, needs your discrimination.
If your shoulders, shoulder blades ascend upward, then you need to have the aggressive pressure downward so you make them to sit down humbly. If your lower spine is not ascending, if the lift that you need is with the force, that too is aggressive. So, to what extent that aggressiveness is needed has to be decided by yourself.
If the bottom thoracic drops on the abdomen, in order to create the space you cannot be aggressive first. Rather you have to have the discrimination to find out which way you create the space there. All these adjustments are connected with your eyes, ears and the skin. The nose and the tongue still I have kept pending. Because unless these adjustments occur, you cannot reach your tongue region or your nose region. When you make sure yourself that to some extent the position has occurred over there, then only the first feeling goes to the nose. You begin to witness your inhalation and exhalation breath. Soften the inner walls of the nostrils. The membranes of the nostrils should be soft. That’s why then breath finds first its own path. If the nose itself is heavy, membranes are tight, or if the carpet of the nose is not clean and clear, the flow of the breath in the nostrils will go wrong.
In fact, your eye position should be such as though your face is going back. And the nose which has got its own protrusion, you have to feel as though nose is separated from your face. When we talk about nasagra drshti it’s not just bringing the eyes to the tip of nose. That’s only the direction. But the way of doing is you have to withdraw your face from front to the back of the head which makes the nose to be clear from the face, away from the face. So feel that, the face going back and the nose remaining front. And then nasagra drishti is: Retaining the vision of the eyes backward, inward, you have to look within to reach the tip of the nose. Not to peep out from the eyes forward to look the tip of the nose. Then the flow of energy changes. Look within to reach the tip of the nose. Remain silent, quiet.
My explaining the tip of the nose and the front and back of the torso go a great extent, I dealt with the karmendriyas. While explaining the senses of perception again, against this position of karmendriyas, I have dealt with jnanendyias where you learn to withdraw.
So now the whole concept is clear in front of you, which you have to apply to find out finally in which position, or which state of the mind you lag. A kind of total feeling has to be understood by you. The words are several. Sentences are many. But your way of experiencing whatever I explained is as though you have brought that whole concept in your adjustment, in your positioning and your mental state. That’s what is expected. Remain silent and quiet.
Now I come to the mouth cavity. Keep your root of the tongue down deeper inside so the cavity is witnessed. Since the movements will be there while offering the prayers, you may make the sound, the sound may vibrate, but still the root of the tongue to a great extent has to remain inward.”
Class begins the invocation: Aum Aum Aum