Branches, Leaves, and Bark

Now in the midst of the 8 limbs of yoga, the next three chapters in Tree of Yoga are some of the more practical and practiced portions of yoga. For me, we can look at these as using action, reflection, and discrimination within our practice on and off the mat. In general, BKS Iyengar has always encouraged the trust in our own experience, faith in the practice and method, and courage to continue no matter what obstacles appear.

For asana (posture), he does not describe the physical poses because, just as branches, they come in so many forms. For me, asana also refers to any “action” in life as well, not just a shape or a form we do on the mat. No matter what, we must take time, not just for the action itself, but the reflection upon that action : posing and reposing. Where is the balance and imbalance? Am I allowing the body or the mind to lead? How am I feeling within the asana? What is missing and what is doing too much?

In attempting the pose and repose of asana, it is important to connect to the breath and regulation of it (Pranayama), what BKS Iyengar compares to the workings of the leaves. The coordination of breath and action is a requirement for sensitivity and reflection in movement. It generates and distributes energy and intelligence, draws us away from surface tension, and leads us toward our inner soul : “Pranayama is the bridge between the physical and the spiritual. Hence Pranayama is the hub of yoga.” (Pg 60)

And then there is the bark, that protective covering that keeps the working of the tree encapsulated and protected from disruption within the environment. Pratyahara, the withdrawal of the senses, is not cutting yourself off from the world, but is the act of turning the sensory activities from being so involved with the outer world toward being more involved in the inner world.

What is interesting to me is the discussion of memory in this chapter on bark and Pratyahara. The senses feed on memories from the outer world…craving those things that we found pleasurable and wanting to avoid those things we have found difficult (two big obstacles to practice : Raga and Dvesa). But what yoga asks us to do is to be completely in the present without the influence of those memories. We have to use our intelligence and discriminative faculties to move away from impulsive behaviors and rest the mind in the stillness of the intuitive and pure consciousness.

As we look at these three aspects of practice, it is important to remember the “goal” and definition of yoga : the stilling of the fluctuations of consciousness. In these chapters we are reminded to become less attached to the body and the mind and to begin to turn our gaze inward toward our self. This is a moment-by-moment practice as our habits of the senses to be drawn outward are strong…we react to things before we even have realized it. Our practice of yoga is to slow down the physical and mental reaction time in order to leave room for the intelligence and discriminative faculties to bloom.

So this week, as you move through the world, what are the places you might become more aware of your actions? Are you aware of your breath in the midst of actions? What is it doing and how might you adjust your breath to be more present and alert? And, though you still live in the world and relate to it, where can you decrease your reaction, increase your observation, and have some sense of how you feel and if/when your consciousness is disturbed?

Act. Reflect. Contemplate.



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