Developing Practitioner Study notes

Philosophy focus for Developing students

For Developing practitioners the aim is to develop a capacity for Svadhyaya (self study).  The syllabus supports the methodical examination of perception; the questioning of intention and the commitment to a disciplined practice that provides the capacity to stand back from the volatile landscape of mind and emotions to witness their influence without attachment.

As Developing practitioners we: 

  • watch sensations across the spectrum from gross to subtle
  • refine the capacity to disengage the senses
  • differentiate sensations from thoughts and emotions and detach ourselves from our habitual emotional and mental responses – so we act rather than react
  • ‘position the mind’ in the same way we position the body
  • see that our practice of yogasana affects our experience of self
  • develop a capacity for self study
  • see that we can change or at least suspend our view of ourselves
  • become less reactive and more stable, demonstrating  better application and judgement – as seen in an appropriate use of props and improved alignment

The key philosophical themes that we touch on in the Developing program are briefly outlined below.

Establishing re-pose

Practice of Yoga within the Iyengar methodology requires that action and cognition are brought together.  This requires that after posing we reflect and repose[1]. Iyengar notes that unless the mind is present within each and every part of an asana it is merely physical and is not a practice of Yoga.  ‘Reflecting’ within asana is undertaken through the nervous system (sensory nerves) and through the perceptive organ of the skin. The brain receives this information and the mind interprets it.

Mind is typically drawn outward through the senses, so before students can penetrate within asana, they must learn to draw the senses inwards, and detach from habitual responses. To condition the senses in this way students require a methodical approach to practice. The kriyayoga[2] disciplines of tapas (effort), svadhyaya (self study) and isvara pranidhana (surrender) provide this. 

When students quest in their practice to bring mind to every part of the asana, and when they understand that the body is a container for the mind, and that in filling the container of the body with awareness they will experience a state of rest and quiet in the mind, they have established a practice of Yoga.

Exploring body, breath and mind

In the science of Yoga, the word sarira means body, and three bodies are described – the gross (physical), subtle (energetic, mental/emotional) and most subtle (causal) bodies. Within the practice environment Developing practitioners learn to watch for sensations across the spectrum from the gross most observable to the most subtle.

In the first instance, students focus on body and breath. They learn to position their mind as observer. Their mind asks that an action be done and then as the ‘knowing observer’ mind examines the effects upon the body and breath.Students learn that the perception of what is gross and what is subtle is relative depending upon the context or lens being applied. For example  whilst ‘breath’ is a subtle substance relative to the body, breath in one asana can be experienced as hard relative to the experience of breath in a different asana, and further still breath can make the seemingly gross body more subtle.

As students develop they learn to examine the function of mind in perceiving and interpreting experience (mind as object). Working with ‘known’ asana provides the laboratory conditions in which students can do this (when we think we know something it is possible to question our perception; to question our ‘knowing’).  We step aside from our conventional relationship with the mind, where we ‘identify’ with our thoughts. We watch the mind and see how it functions – being attracted towards some things, having aversion to other things. In the process we learn how perception affects our actions and responses. In Yoga, mind is understood to be a ‘sense organ’[3]just like the ears, the nose, the tongue, etc – we call mind ‘the 11th sense’. Until we can see mind’s prejudices and biases, we cannot apply the mind as an effective sense organ able to take in an experience and accurately evaluate it.

Developing practitioners experience the mind’s inability to concentrate and inability to perceive accurately.  They learn to replace their confidence in their mind (their thoughts and ideas), with confidence in a practice that equips them to study the way their mind functions. They are developing an acceptance of the subjective nature of experience which encourages the growth of personal responsibility for the outcomes of experience.

Establishing an ethical practice

A critical step that Developing practitioners must take to establish themselves in a practice of Yoga is to question their intention. Ethical practice of Yoga requires that we establish a clear intention of developing self awareness and responsibility – an intention to move from the external layer of experience to examine mind and finally to evolve towards awareness of, and accountability for, our innermost being.

In Yoga philosophy the yamas and niyamas help us to avoid developing a purely physical practice. They establish the necessary ethical intention without which we cannot arrive at the destination of self knowledge. The table below (also in Foundation practitioner study notes) shows the important place of the yamas and niyamas as the first two of Patanjali’s eight disciplines. The critical role of the kriyayoga[4] of tapas (effort), svadhyaya (self study) and isvara pranidhana is also highlighted.

Grouping   AstangaComprising  
    The Observances  YamaAhimsa – Non violence Satya – Truth Asteya – Non stealing Brahmacharya – Continence/Restraint Aparigraha – Non acquisitionNiyama is described as the positive current – it can be applied and worked at. Niyama contains the Kriyayoga of effort, self study and surrender. Yama is directed towards our actions in the world and towards others whilst Niyama is directed towards our actions within ourselves. An ethical base or set of values is essential to study oneself.
Ethical foundation. How to approach the practice  NiyamaSauca – Cleanliness Santosa – Contentment Tapas – Effort Svadhyaya – Self study Isvara pranidhana – Surrender
 AsanaPosition in the body ‘seat’We focus upon our practices to define the body, distribute energy, disengage and direct the senses. These practices involve the body but are not limited to the body.
The PracticesPranayamaBreathing exercises and the distribution of ‘Prana’ or energy
What activities to engage inPratyaharaDisengaging the senses
TheDharanaConcentrationApplied practice will generate concentration, steadiness in attention and the dissipation of ‘I’ centredness.
Outcomes Where effort leadsDhyanaContinuity of attention / Merging
 SamadhiTransformation

The journey towards maturity

Three domains of experience are identified – the domain of action (the external realm), the domain of knowledge/ thought (the inner realm) and the domain of devotion (the inner most realm). The inclination one has for and within these domains of expression contributes to the type of student we are at the beginning of our quest for Yoga. When a student explores who they are within the realm of action, the realm of thought and the realm of devotion they have developed the discipline required for their practice to mature.

As students develop they become less reactive, the volatile nature of mind (attachment, aversion, ego, ignorance and clinging to life) diminishes and the student becomes more stable. Students demonstrate better application and judgement – as seen in an appropriate use of props and improved alignment. They learn to act rather than react.

References

  • BKS Iyengar: Light on Life, Rodale press 2005

BKS Iyengar: Tree of Yoga: Shambala classics 2002


[1] BKS Iyengar, Tree of Yoga, The Branches. Shambala edition

[2] Alan Goode article, Kriyayoga, www.yogamandir.com.au

[3] Alan Goode article, Reshaping attitudes in asana, www.yogamandir.com.au

[4] Alan Goode article, Kriyayoga, www.yogamandir.com.au