Often when people think of yoga, they talk about being (not) flexible or having horrible balance. In other words, yoga has become, at least for the majority of people, a physical regimen that incorporates poses to stretch muscles, tendons and build strength. On the other hand, yoga is also often recommended to reduce stress and calm the nerves. Without getting into the neurological benefits from a number of research projects, the “mental release” from practicing yoga poses is immediately felt even by a first-time beginner.
It is important to trace the root of yoga in the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali (400CE), a compilation by a mystical sage named Patañjali. He consolidated materials about yoga from ancient traditions and lineages and added his own explanatory commentaries to create this unified treatise that has been considered one of the most authoritative works on yoga.
In the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali, yoga is defined as follows:
(Yoga is a method of silencing/ regulating the fluctuations of the consciousness.)
While there are many paths to reach yoga as defined above, B.K.S. Iyengar carved out a path on which practitioners learn to use yoga poses (yoga asana, the third limb in the Astanga yoga) to penetrate the deeper layers of the consciousness. The hallmark of Iyengar Yoga is alignment. By aligning the parts of the body with the fragments of our mind, we gradually understand the practice of yoga (i.e. Sādhanā). Geeta Iyengar, the daughter of the late B.K.S. Iyengar, explained on point in an interview in May of 2007:
“In the beginning, (Iyengar teachers and practitioners) have to help people understand that the practice of yoga has learning and re-learning, correcting and re-correcting, adjusting and re-adjusting process throughout. We have to educate further, go to the various layers that yoga has to offer.”
For instance, in a typical Iyengar Yoga class, students are encouraged to watch the alignment of their feet in standing poses. In Extended Triangle pose, if a student does not pay attention to the front foot that is out of alignment with the back foot, the legs and pelvis are out of alignment as a result. The consciousness begins to accumulate these wave-like fluctuations (“vrtti”) either from discomfort or lack of awareness. By staying open to the moment and staying aware of our body in a yoga pose, we learn and re-learn to control and regulate these fluctuations. In other words, we learn and re-learn how to see in a pose to gain physical stability as well as mental and spiritual stability. We learn to see our tendencies, our imbalances and what really cause the disturbances in our sense of self. This is indeed a yoga path for our consciousness.
“The material body has a practical reality that is accessible. It is here and now, and we can do something with it. However, we must not forget that the innermost part of our being is also trying to help us. It wants to come out to the surface and express itself,”
— B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life.