BKS Iyengar’s son, Prashant, explains how mind, body and breath become integrated through asana practice.
Asanas seem to be a very physical endeavour since you have to do something with the body. It is possible that students who are very sincere in their asana practice may get caught in body dynamics, adjustment, correction, alignment as there are so many applications. It is possible for them to become action-o-holics!
Asanas are done by the body, but are not totally for the body. Asanas are part of yoga and yoga is primarily for the consciousness. Yoga is for the mind. It should be done by the body for the mind.
Since yoga is done by the body, it is possible that one might do it by the body and just for the body. And when that happens one might get caught in action-o-holism and physiocracy. If through asanas your goal is something on the plane of consciousness, your goal is something on the plane of the mind, something on the plane of faculties; then practice of asanas will not be action-o-holism. You become thoughtful. You become pensive. You become discriminative. These faculties are triggered through the practice of asanas. If the consciousness, mind and the faculties are not involved then one might end up in a gym psychosis.
When there is a gym psychosis, then you will work on the legs in the standing poses. You will work only on the legs to develop the muscles of the legs, strengthen the joints and make the tendons and cartilages function well. If you do standing poses in the yoga paradigm then you will work holistically. The legs will be connected to other parts of the body which are the loci of various parts of the mind. Your legs are connected to your brain. Your legs are connected to your senses, your eyes and ears. These connections are missing when there is action-o-holism. You could be watching television and doing your leg workout. You could be listening to something and then doing your leg exercises because you have to do 10 or 50 or 100 movements. You work only on a particular part of the body and that is not total involvement.
Whereas while doing an asana you connect all aspects of the body – skin, flesh, muscles, bones, tissues, tendons, cartilages – and you also try to connect the various aspects of mind: the motor mind, conative mind, cognitive mind, sensitive mind, supersensitive mind, reflective mind, super reflective mind, memory, intelligence. All those aspects will be involved in your workout on the legs when you do standing poses as yogasanas. That is why everything gets evened out – the mind, the senses and the body. There will be a unified state.
Making breath integral to action
In gym psychosis you will say, “I did 150 leg lifts, or 100 leg workouts.” You keep yourself separate from the action of your legs. You say, “I did my legwork.” Whereas there is a unified state with an integrative mechanism when standing poses are performed as yogasanas. There is no “I” different from the body. There is no integrative mechanism in gym psychosis and workouts. Your breath is not connected to the body. You inhale and exhale; the breath is connected only as far as the biomechanics are concerned but you do not integrate the breath with the action. Breath might accompany the action, but the breath is not integral to the action. For example, weightlifters inhale and lift weights. Breath will be an instrument of the endeavour.
In yoga the breath will not merely be a component of an endeavour, but it will become integral to it. That is how the mind will be totally subsumed in the body and in the activity of the body in asanas. All the various facets, from conative aspects to super cognitive to reflective aspects, of the mind will be involved. That is how the forces will be evened out.
In gym psychosis, the mind, body, senses and breath will not be evened out. Ego means doing something independently. Am I doing it right? Am I doing it correctly? Am I doing it at a sufficient pace? The breath will be doing its job with the movements, but it is not integral.
Dissolving the ego
Yoga practices are integral. Yoga is a unified state. If you cook a dish, you might add sugar, salt, something pungent, something hot. Then you get a mixed taste. You cannot say this is a sweet dish or this is a salty dish. Everything is unified there. In a gym workout the ego is not dissolved. That is why the ego says “I did it independently.” In asanas, there is an ego. Nothing can be done without an ego, but it does get dissolved. The ego gets dissolved in body, in mind, in breath and in senses. It loses its identity. It is a unified blend. When salt is dissolved in water, it becomes salty water. You can neither identify the salt in that water nor can you identify the water because it is salty water.
Similarly all of these aspects are blended together in an asana because of the integrative dynamics. Therefore nothing has a separate identity. In a gym workout the ego does not get integrated with action. That is why the ego bloats there. In yoga there is no chance of the ego bloating, providing the yogic paradigm is used in a proper way. If you say I’ve got to do 10 minutes of Sirsasana or 150 back arches then that is not an asanic paradigm.
Therefore please note that though the asanas are done by the body they are not totally for the body.
This article appeared in Yoga Rahasya Vol.15 No.3, 2008
Images by Sylvia Prescott from the IYIMV archive