Sunrise of the Soul

Geeta Iyengar heads to the stage at yoganushasanam 2015.

Geeta Iyengar heads to the stage at yoganushasanam 2015.

The sun is coming up. As the sun rises and touches new places on the earth at every moment, I touch new horizons in my body with every breath, as Geetaji instructs us to do. Like the sunrise metaphor she employs, her teachings have the elegance of simplicity. Slow, soft inhalation. Slow, soft exhalation.

And I am there. I am the witness and the chest and the sun rising in the chest, and like the first rays of the sunrise on the skin I feel a subtle glow of indescribable beauty from the inside. The breath, like the rising sun, illuminates more and more in each moment. The dark corners of my body and my mind are suffused with tranquil incandescence. That’s the prāṇa, the breath and the life force that move as one. The citta – the chattering mindstuff, so loath to be silent – follows them quietly.

Geeta Iyengar’s prāṇāyāma classes are the best I’ve ever had. Like so many others in this throng of 1,300, I’ve come from the other side of the globe to hear her teach in metaphors like this. Soaking in these teachings is a blessing that will reverberate out into the rest of our lives like the ripples from a stone’s throw into a lake (another metaphor she used today). I can already infer that my own prāṇāyāma practice is going to change – for the better, and for good. Realizing this is a unique joy.

The intensive began with a detailed orientation lecture on prāṇāyāma and how its practice fits into the wider scheme of a complete eight-limbed (aṭaṅga) yoga practice. That lecture on its own was so rich and detailed I hope to revisit it in a future post, but the gist of it was this:  like the petals of a flower, all “petals” of a yoga practice must bloom at the same time. In other words, if a practitioner skips over any of the limbs (Guruji called them petals), what they are doing is not yoga. I want to do yoga. If you’ve made it this far, chances are you do too!

So, how does one do yoga? Simply put, you do it in order, even though each petal intercommunicates with all other seven. This morning Geeta likened the upper limbs of aṭaṅga yoga to zooming in like a camera lens. Each limb or petal draws you further and further inward. The yamas and niyamas (moral and ethical practices) train you to look at yourself and your behavior. In a way, practicing these is the beginning of taking responsibility for your own experience. Asanas (postures), as Geetaji told us today, teach you how to begin to look inward with your eyes open, and prāṇāyāma (the breathing practice) teaches you how to look inward with your eyes closed. The senses follow this migration inwards (pratyahara, the fifth limb). All five of these limbs prepare you for the last three, which are so interconnected that they are often described as one continuous flow of experience.

Geetaji used the example of meditating on the heart. In dhārāṇa (concentration), you are aware of your heart and its surroundings. In Dhyāna (meditation), your awareness is one-pointed and it dwells inside the heart. In samādhi (absorption, bliss), you are nowhere. You are beyond the heart – even as you are at one with it.

Zooming out a bit, it is clear to me that there are many stages to go through in order to get to this experience, just as there are many warm-ups and stages before getting yourself into an advanced yoga pose. I’m glad to have the inspiration. I may not know where I’ll end up, but at least I know where I'm headed. For tonight, at least, that is enough.