Pranayama

Yoga Sūtras: II.49, II.50, II.51, II.52, II.53

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Like with many of the sanskrit terms that we’re familiar with from our classes, prānāyāma is a compound word, Prānā – vital energy and yama – restraint. For all beings prānā is manifested and easily observed in the breath.

It [prānāyāma] permeates each individual as wall as the Universe at all levels. It acts as physical energy; as mental energy, where the mind gathers information; and as intellectual energy with a discrimative faculty, where information is examined and filtered. B.K.S. Iyengar LOYS 161.

Patañjali directly describes prānāyāma and its effects in sūtras II.49 – II.53.

Sūtra II.49 starts with the definition of prānāyāma as it relates from the breath, laying the basic foundation for the following sūtras.

Each successive sūtra delves deeper and deeper into the layers. Starting with the three basic components of prānāyāma in sūtra II.50 (inhalation, exhalation, and retention) and their qualities (place, duration and precision). With abhyāsa (practice) and vairāgya (detachment), sūtra II.51 tells us that pānāyāma can become “seedless” transcending the previously described tangible properties. But what happens then? Illusion is destroyed (II.52) and the mind is further steadied (II.53) bringing the practitioner closer to the Self.

This “seedless” prānāyāma confers special powers to the practitioners described in sūtras III.39 – III.43 and  link into the five vital (yet subtle) energies in the body – the prānā vayus.

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Iyengar Yoga Institute Maida Vale recently republished an interview between Senior teacher Lois Steinberg and Geeta Iyengar discussing how all of these come together and manifest in practice. Check it out here: http://iyi.org.uk/geeta-iyengar-pranayama/  and many thanks to the good folks at IYI for allowing us to share.

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For our meeting on February 15, please review the following sūtras and their commentaries:

  • II.49, II.50, II.51, II.52, II.53

For further reading and to begin to understand the deeper qualities and nature of these five sūtras, feel free to explore the following sūtras and their commentaries:

  • III.39, III.40, III.41, III.42, III.43 – describe qualities associated with “seedless” prānāyāma and the prānā vayus;
  • I.34 – first mention of prānāyāma in the sūtras and cultivation of further steadiness in the consciousness by regulation of the breath

Resources:
Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali: Philosophy, Religion, Culture, Ethos and Practice.  Prashant S. Iyengar.  New Delhi: New Age Books, 2016. pp. 528 – 609.

Core of the Yoga Sūtras: The Definitive Guide to the Philosophy of Yoga.  B.K.S. Iyengar.  London: HarperThorsons, 2012. pp. 155 – 163.

Light on Astānga Yoga.  B.K.S. Iyengar.  New Delhi: Alchemy Publishers, 2012. pp. 147 – 163.

Light on Pranayama. B.K.S. Iyengar.  London: George Allen & Unwin, 1981.

Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. B.K.S. Iyengar. London: Thorsons, 1993.

Pranayama: A Classical and Traditional Approach. Prashant Iyengar.  Pune: Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute, 2014. pp. 7 – 31, 163 – 171.

The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali: A New Edition, Translation, and commentary with Insights from the Traditional Commentators. Edwin P. Bryant. New York: North Point Press, 2009.

From Asana to Pranayama

When there is that connection between the mind and the body, it is possible to begin to understand the Self.

What a great first meeting to the new year earlier this month! There was a lively discussion of many aspects of the sūtras II.46, II.47, and II.48, with many sharing their personal reflections, understandings, and experiences.

With all that was covered, there wasn’t a chance to look into Sūtra I.33.
This particular sūtra is quite rich and reaches many aspects of the yoga philosophy.

While the maitrī (friendliness) and karunā (compassion) aspects of this sūtra are clearly related to the yamas and niyamas, they can also be applied towards asana. Maitrī and karunā are both qualities which should be present in the practitioner to cultivate the connection between the mind and the body. When there is that connection between the mind and the body, it is possible to begin to understand the Self.

The sūtra immediately following, I.34 is the earliest reference to pranayama in the Sūtras. It discusses how the stability of the consciousness (developed through the maitrī and karunā of asana) is further cultivated by the regulation of the breath.

This is why in the Iyengar tradition there is an emphasis of starting with asana and then adding in the pranayama.

Resources:
Core of the Yoga Sūtras: The Definitive Guide to the Philosophy of Yoga.  B.K.S. Iyengar.  London: HarperThorsons, 2012. 156.

Light on Astānga Yoga.  B.K.S. Iyengar.  New Delhi: Alchemy Publishers, 2012. 142 – 143.

Pātañjala Yoga Sūtra Paricaya: An Introduction to Pātañjala Yoga Sūtra-s.  B.K.S. Iyengar.  New Delhi: Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga. 2013 (2011). 44 – 45.

Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. B.K.S. Iyengar. London: Thorsons, 1993. 86-87.

The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali: A New Edition, Translation, and commentary with Insights from the Traditional Commentators. Edwin P. Bryant. New York: North Point Press, 2009.128 – 135.

Yaugika Manas: Know and Realize the Yogic Mind.  B.K.S. Iyengar.  Mumbai: Yog, 2010. 97-98.

Asana

Yoga Sūtras: II.46, II.47, and II.48

“It is through the alignment of the body that I discovered the alignment of my mind, self, and intelligence.”
~ BKS Iyengar, Light on Life

For a great discussion and reflection on the depth that can be found in the three Yoga Sūtras directly mentioning asana, see John Schumacher’s November 2017 Letter. Here Schumacher describes his own practice, reflection and evolving understanding of these three sūtras and how they relate to the broader concept of Yoga and Practice.

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We’re starting with the asana sūtras II.46, II.47, and II.48 because, as Schumacher points out in his letter and as mentioned in our previous post, asana is generally what is most easily accessible to students and where they are first introduced to yoga. Yoga itself can be found in these three sūtras – as Doerthe Braun regularly states in her first level I class each term – “I cannot teach you Yoga. I can teach you how to practice Yoga.”

Yoga Sūtra I.2 succinctly defines yoga: Yogaścittavrtti nirodhah (Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind). Isn’t that what happens when posture is steady and comfortable (II.46), effort becomes effortless (II.47), and from then on the practitioner is “undisturbed by dualities” (II.48)?

Further sūtras discuss the qualities that can be associated with the “perfection” of the body (III.47) and the qualities to keep the mind in a state of well-being (I.33). While others relate to the nature of practice and the non-attachment related to asana (I.12, I.13, I.14, I.15).

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For our meeting on January 18, please review the following sūtras and their commentaries:

  • II.46, II.47, II.48

For further reading and to begin to understand the deeper qualities and nature of these three sūtras, feel free to explore the following sūtras and their commentaries:

  • III.47 – describes qualities associated with perfection of the body;
  • I.12, I.13, I.14, I.15 – foundational sūtras that relate to the nature of practice and non-attachment; and
  • I.33 – the maitri sūtra / qualities to keep the mind in a state of well-being.

Resources:
Astadala Yogamala: Vol. 1.  B.K.S. Iyengar.  New Delhi: Allied Publishers Pvt. Limited, 2006. pp. 182, 227, 249 – 252.

Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali: Philosphy, Religion, Culture, Ethos and Practice.  Prashant S. Iyengar.  New Delhi: New Age Books, 2016. pp. 405 – 493.

Core of the Yoga Sūtras: The Definitive Guide to the Philosophy of Yoga.  B.K.S. Iyengar.  London: HarperThorsons, 2012. pp. 148 – 155.

Light on Astānga Yoga.  B.K.S. Iyengar.  New Delhi: Alchemy Publishers, 2012. pp. 134 – 147.

Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. B.K.S. Iyengar. London: Thorsons, 1993.

The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali: A New Edition, Translation, and commentary with Insights from the Traditional Commentators. Edwin P. Bryant. New York: North Point Press, 2009.

Ashtanga Yoga & Asana, Pranayama, and Pratyahara

Iyengar yoga approaches Patañjali’s concept of Ashtanga Yoga from a physical perspective, using the body as the vehicle to explore the eight limbs.

Before getting in the discussion of the first three themes that we will be discussing in the study group – January: Asana, February: Pranayama, and March: Pratyahara – we thought it would be important to give a little background as to both how these themes relate to one another and within the broader context of the sūtras.

YS II.29 introduces Ashtanga yoga – the eight limbs of yoga. Ashta means eight, Anga means limb. The eight limbs are: 1) Yama – ethical practices; 2) Niyama – observances; 3) Asana – postures; 4) Pranayama – breath regulation; 5) Pratyahara – withdrawal of the senses, 6) Dharana – concentration on an object; 7) Dhyana – meditation on an object, and 8) Samadhi – complete absorption. Together these eight angas create a path to Yoga. Ashtanga yoga is a multifaceted practice, encompassing morality (yama and niyama), physical disciplines (asana and pranayama), mental alertness (pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, and dhyana) and spiritual awakening (samadhi). Iyengar yoga approaches Patañjali’s concept of Ashtanga Yoga from a physical perspective, using the body as the vehicle to explore these eight limbs.

The physical body is first controlled through the third limb, asana – bringing the consciousness and awareness to the flesh of the body, ultimately balancing the mind and the body and cultivating internal energy (prana). Many practitioners start with asana, as it is a physical discipline that is easily accessible. From the verb root as – to sit, a good asana is a posture from which meditation can arise easily and spontaneously. Once the physical body is understood and steadiness in asana is attained, pranayama is accessible. Cultivation of a stable and comfortable body through asana makes the body free from distraction and ready for pranayama. Pranayama creates an alert mind, here the senses are primed to become further quieted and focused in the practice of pratyahara. Asana controls the body, pranayama clears the mind and pratyahara trains the withdrawal and focusing of the senses inward. Pratyahara is the priming of the mind and senses for the internal and spiritual quests that follow.

 

References:

Astadala Yogamala: Vol. 1.  B.K.S. Iyengar.  New Delhi: Allied Publishers Pvt. Limited, 2006. pp. 163, 175-182.

Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. B.K.S. Iyengar. London: Thorsons, 1993. pp. 140-141.

The Tree of Yoga. B.K.S. Iyengar. Boston: Shambhala, 2002.

Yoga: A Gem for Women.  Geeta S. Iyengar. Spokane: Timeless Book, 1990. pp 14-32.

The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali: A New Edition, Translation, and commentary with Insights from the Traditional Commentators. Edwin P. Bryant. New York: North Point Press, 2009. pp. 241 – 242.