BKS Iyengar: Best of

“We were just coming out of the ’60s change-your-consciousness thing, and many of us were in our heads, and wanting to meditate, and reach Samadhi,” or enlightenment, Patricia Walden, a longtime student of Mr. Iyengar’s, said in an interview in 2000. “Iyengar was, like, ‘Stand on your feet. Feel your feet.’ He was so practical. His famous quote was, ‘How can you know God if you don’t know your big toe?’ ”

Upon reading Patricia’s comments in this New York Times article, a burst of lightness giggled its way out of my body. What fabulous simplicity, and yet enormous profundity. I quickly realised these are also the exact ingredients that draw me to working with children. Iyengar’s journey with yoga started when he was a very young, very ill little boy. Little did he know at the time that he would grow into one of the great fathers of yoga of the modern world by taking this ancient practice to the west. Iyengar’s system of yoga opened up the practice to anyone and everyone. Although he was insistent with his students about perfecting poses through principles of alignment, earning him a reputation as a particularly stern teacher, he was also a pioneer of therapeutic yoga. He designed special exercises and equipment, like blocks and straps, for pupils struggling with postures or who suffered physical problems or disabilities.

As a student, Iyengar studied anatomy, physiology and psychology which invariably showed up in his work as a teacher. I have selected some of my favourite quotes that have given me insight about yoga and about life. Even with his passing, Iyengar’s legacy will continue to reverberate for many years to come. And for that I am ever grateful.

As you found happiness in life, now see your majesty in death. Namaste.

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Iyengar on yoga…

“Yoga is like music: the rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind, and the harmony of the soul create the symphony of life.”

“In order to find out how to reveal our innermost Being, the sages explored the various sheaths of existence, starting from body and progressing through mind and intelligence, and ultimately to the soul. The yogic journey guides us from our periphery, the body, to the center of our being, the soul. The aim is to integrate the various layers so that the inner divinity shines out as through clear glass.” – Light on Life

“Yoga does not just change the way we see things, it transforms the person who sees.” ― Light on Life

“Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open.”

“As breath stills our mind, our energies are free to unhook from the senses and bend inward.” ― Light on Life

“Yoga allows you to rediscover a sense of wholeness in your life, where you do not feel like you are constantly trying to fit broken pieces together.” ― Light on Life

“It is through your body that you realize you are a spark of divinity.”

Iyengar on life…

“Change is not something that we should fear. Rather, it is something that we should welcome. For without change, nothing in this world would ever grow or blossom, and no one in this world would ever move forward to become the person they’re meant to be.”

“Before peace between the nations we have to find peace inside that small nation which is our own being”.

“As animals, we walk the earth. As bearers of divine essence, we are among the stars. As human beings, we are caught in the middle, seeking to reconcile the paradox of how to make our way upon earth while striving for something more permanent and more profound.” ― Light on Life

“One’s spiritual realization lies in none other than how one walks among and interacts with one’s fellow beings.” ― Light on Life

“You must purge yourself before finding faults in others.
When you see a mistake in somebody else, try to find if you are making the same mistake.
This is the way to take judgment and to turn it into improvement.
Do not look at others’ bodies with envy or with superiority.
All people are born with different constitutions.
Never compare with others.
Each one’s capacities are a function of his or her internal strength.
Know your capacities and continually improve upon them.” ― Light on Life

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the multitude of selves

Am I changing? Is a man’s character changeable? Imagine an immortal. Revolting to think he might be making the same old boo-boos over the centuries. To think of the immortal on his 700,552nd birthday still touching the plate even when someone has told him it’s hot – surely we have deep capacity for change but our 80 years doesn’t give us ample opportunity. You have to be a fast learner. You have to cram infinity into a handful of lousy decades.
This morning passed horribly deformed beggar who was for all practical purposes merely a torso rattling a cup. Was it really me who have him 100 francs & said Take the day off? It wasn’t me, not exactly. It was one of my selves, one of the multitudes. Some of them laugh at me. Others bite their nails in suspense. One snorts with derision. That’s how they are, the multitudes. Some of the selves are children & some are parents. That’s why every man is his own father & his own son. With the years if you learn enough you can learn how to shed your selves like dead skin cells. Sometimes they come out of you & walk around.
Yes I’m changing. Change is when new selves come into foreground while others recede into forgotten landscapes. Maybe definition of having lived full life is when every citizen in the hall of selves gets to take you for a spin, the commander the lover the coward the misanthrope the fighter the priest the moral guardian the immoral guardian the lover of life the hater of life the fool the judge the jury the executioner, when every last soul is satisfied at moment of death. If only one of the selves has been nothing but a spectator or a tourist then the life is incomplete.

A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

speechless for spoken word

I have no words for this Ted Talk, other than… gratitude.

Gratitude to the very special friend who put me onto Sarah Kay by sharing her performance of ‘When Love Arrives’ with me (do yourself a favour, scroll down to the bottom to watch it). Mel and I were sharing a bottle of wine and waxing on about how and when love shows up in our lives, whether you can make a choice to fall in love or whether it is something that happens to you, against your will even. And I’m not even talking about That Big Decision to marry and commit until the death do’s etc. I suppose it’s possibly a rehearsal for what that might be – for some, at least.

We decided it was probably either or both, depending on the circumstances – and the people involved. But even now, I can’t help wondering if by making the conscious decision to love someone and enter into a relationship with them isn’t in fact the relationship safe route. And maybe it is – but is that the point? Is that when it actually works out? And isn’t that what we’re looking for? We certainly have been taught to think that we should want it. And we all know the marriage certificate alone isn’t quite enough these days. Something happens before that. There’s more to it than that.

Interestingly, I was at a Hen’s Day for another very great girlfriend of mine this weekend, and again another fabulous woman (not the bride-to-be, I should clarify!) shared her story with me about how she made the choice to fall in love with her best friend. She quite despised him up until that point (which, I know, sounds like the makings of a highly successful sitcom, right?). But it made me wonder – is this something that women do, and not just in their thirties, but by their very nature? Do we feel like we have no other choice than to make the decision for ourselves and our unknowing – but soon-to-be-willing – partner?

If so, this idea doesn’t feel very natural to me. My brain is a little unsure as to the workings of my feminine heart, particularly at the moment, but I tend to think I often don’t have a choice in matters of the heart. I also have never quite been able to shake off those relationships that ‘made sense’ or were ‘good for me’ – constantly questioning should they be reconsidered? revisited? reignited? hanging around in the back of my mind like that fucking tub of ice cream sitting in my freezer that keeps nudging at my guilt and saying, ‘I’m still here…’

But I can put those broken nerve endings back together and find that spark again, right? I can be one of those people who says:

You there, yes, you – come over here for a moment, would you? Oh god no, not you – you’re a bit pale and needy. No – YOU. Yes, thank you. Now, let me see… You look nice. You smell ok. You sound like a human being. Ah excellent, is that some lose change in your pocket? Ok, good. And how’re your privates? Everything in working order? Just in case motherhood ever starts to amuse me. Brilliant – I have decided I think I’d rather like to fall in love with you. How does ‘life’ sound? Or perhaps let’s start with 10 years and go from there, what do you say?

Yeah. I could. Couldn’t I?

I know – I’m hilarious. Of course, it’s not that simple. But perhaps some people just know what is good for them. And then they actually take action and go for it.

I hope they know how inspiring that is to watch.

Sarah’s wise words of advice…

 Step One: I can

Step Two: I will

Step Three: It’s not just the old adage of ‘write what you know’, it’s about gathering up all the experiences and knowledge that you’ve collected up to now in order to help you dive into what you don’t know.

Righto then, here goes…

Ten Things I Know To Be True

1. I just ate half a tub of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. I bought it two nights ago when I was drunk. The probability of buying ice-cream had I not drunk the three double-shot gins and half bottle of wine is significantly lower.

2. My chocolate-peanut-caramel-swirl-ice-cream chaser was a packet of fruit Mentos.

3. I felt guilty about eating both of these things about ten minutes before I even peeled myself off the couch to get them from their respective safe keeping spots. I know I can’t have these things in the house otherwise I will eat them.

4. Both times it was definitely a choice, and yet there is a small part of me that feels I was being held hostage by the processed sugar gods.

5. I need to let go of my negative relationship with food because I’ve just wasted the first five of my ‘ten things I know to be true’ list focusing just on that. Either I’m really unintelligent with nothing in particular to say – in which case I should shut down this blog right this second – or I’m wasting my time on distractions and negative thoughts and not getting on with things. Important things. Like life. I only came to this realisation, however, after watching both the videos I have shared here.

(Right. Watch this, here I go…)

6. Music speaks to me in a way that I imagine religion speaks to its devotees. (ah, well done, that’s deep…)

7. Writing makes me feel like I am home. (Now I’m surprising even myself – that’s actually true. I should write a whole lot more than I do. Shoulda, coulda, woulda, shut it…you lost it – this just got boring…)

8. I wish I had half the courage to believe Sarah’s first step, in order to do step two, so that I can achieve step three.

9. Number 8 is actually bullshit. I’ve done it before. I could/should do it again. I am clearly choosing not to.

10. I miss love frequently…and yet perhaps I should be open to the fact that it may not be good for me. And perhaps that’s a good thing to know and take action on.

And then there’s this…

Love Life

Stuck on the wall, just inside our toilet door, there is a man staring me in the face, challenging me. Every morning he says to me,

Follow your bliss. If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be. If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.

Joseph Campbell*

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Most mornings I think to myself, Come on, Joseph, it’s 6am! I’ve barely finished my first coffee! But he doesn’t crack a smile, he doesn’t even flinch. He just sits there, staring at me over the mirror. And before I know it, he’s under my skin. And someone’s knocking on the door and calling ‘Is everything alright in there?‘ Bloody hell, I don’t know – ask Joseph.

The books by the mystics say that what we are is love. Love is being the other. Love is wanting for the other what they want for themselves – the division of connection is no longer present and we become an extension or expression of the other. In teaching, when we feel separate from our students we feel fearful, but when we are in it together this feeling dissipates. What we want for them, we want for ourselves. Then our self concern for ‘doing a good job’ falls away because whatever they get, I get too.

Ok sure. But how do we actually make these ideas of bliss and love come into actuality rather than a fantasy we are grasping for? How do we marry our ‘conceptual life’ – the one we want for ourselves – and our blueprint – the story we have laid down as our truth up to this point – so that we can start living in bliss, in love?

One or the other has to change – either our ideal life or our blueprint. You choose.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about intuition and ego. How do we tell which one is speaking? My gut tells me that intuition and ego are like two opposing political parties. One keeps the other (more) honest. Intuitively, we seem to know when something sits well with us, we know when we are not being honest. Intuition comes easily, but our ego is so quick and so in tune with their dance that we don’t get enough time to really sit with the easy part. The part that feels right. Before the rest of the ego’s rugby team jump in on the scrub and wrestle it to the ground. Swift little fuckers. With big muscles. Unfortunately our intuition doesn’t put up a fight, either. Or if it does, it’s no match for their stealth moves.

So when we are faced with a situation that makes us feel vulnerable, how do we know which one is talking? According to Brene Brown, vulnerability is the key to connection. But we are so preoccupied with protecting ourselves, rugged up in our suit of armour, that no one has a chance of getting through. So when we do make genuine connections, will we even see them for what they are?

I would argue that we don’t have a choice. When they are real, when they are truthful, our intuition knows it. Like attracts like. The tragedy is when our ego chooses to ignore these connections for fear of rejection or heartache. Not only do we risk hurting ourselves, but we risk hurting others in the process. But it is worth it, if at the end of the day we – and they – end up living more honestly and closer to their bliss?

However, my quest this week is to find places in my life where I can be more vulnerable and being honest and open with it.

My ego is terrified. But my intuition is already off and running. Oh boy, can’t we all just get along?

*Joseph Campbell was an American mythologist, writer and lecturer, best known for his work in comparative mythology and comparative religion. His work is vast, covering many aspects of the human experience. His philosophy is often summarised by his phrase: “Follow your bliss.”

Rather than telling him to be quiet, I’m asking Joseph to speak a little louder this week. So, with this in mind, I have invited a few extra quotes from his talks and published works to help me along the way:

We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.

If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.

If you are falling….dive.

Regrets are illuminations come too late.

You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential.

A bit of advice Given to a young Native American At the time of his initiation: As you go the way of life, You will see a great chasm. Jump. It is not as wide as you think.

The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe to match your nature with Nature.

We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it is all about.

Not all who hesitate are lost. The psyche has many secrets in reserve. And these are not disclosed unless required.

The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure

The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.

We’re in a freefall into future. We don’t know where we’re going. Things are changing so fast, and always when you’re going through a long tunnel, anxiety comes along. And all you have to do to transform your hell into a paradise is to turn your fall into a voluntary act. It’s a very interesting shift of perspective and that’s all it is… joyful participation in the sorrows and everything changes.

We have only to follow the thread of the hero path. And where we had thought to find an abomonation, we shall find a God. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. And where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.

The demon that you can swallow gives you it’s power, and the greater life’s pain, the greater life’s reply.

As you proceed through life, following your own path, birds will shit on you. Don’t bother to brush it off. Getting a comedic view of your situation gives you spiritual distance. Having a sense of humor saves you.

When you realize that eternity is right here now, that it is within your possibility to experience the eternity of your own truth and being, then you grasp the following: That which you are was never born and will never die..

Shakespeare said that art is a mirror held up to nature. And that’s what it is. The nature is your nature, and all of these wonderful poetic images of mythology are referring to something in you. When your mind is trapped by the image out there so that you never make the reference to yourself, you have misread the image.

The inner world is the world of your requirements and your energies and your structure and your possibilities that meets the outer world. And the outer world is the field of your incarnation. That’s where you are. You’ve got to keep both going. As Novalis said, ‘The seat of the soul is there where the inner and outer worlds meet.

If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track which has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one that you ARE living.

Love is a friendship set to music.

The notion of this universe, its heavens, hells, and everything within it, as a great dream dreamed by a single being in which all the dream characters are dreaming too, has in India enchanted and shaped the entire civilization.

The ultimate dreamer is Vishnu floating on the cosmic Milky Ocean, couched upon the coils of the abyssal serpent Ananta, the meaning of whose name is Unending. In the foreground stand the five Pandava brothers, heroes of the epic Mahabharata, with Draupadi, their wife: allegorically, she is the mind and they are the five senses.

They are those whom the dream is dreaming. Eyes open, ready and willing to fight, the youths address themselves to this world of light in which we stand regarding them, where objects appear to be distinct from each other, and an Aristotelian logic prevails, and A is not not-A. Behind them a dream-door has opened, however, to an inward, backward dimension where a vision emerges against darkness…

Well, one of the problems about being psychoanalyzed is, as Nietzsche said, Be careful lest in casting out your devils that you cast out the best thing that’s in you. So many people who are really in deep analysis look as though and act as though they have been filleted. There’s no bone there, there’s no stuff! How to get rid of ego as dictator and turn it into messenger and servant and scout, to be in your service, is the trick.

Anyone who has had an experience of mystery knows that there is a dimension of the universe that is not that which is available to his senses. There is a pertinent saying in one of the Upanishads: When before the beauty of a sunset or of a mountain you pause and exclaim, ‘Ah,’ you are participating in divinity. Such a moment of participation involves a realization of the wonder and sheer beauty of existence. People living in the world of nature experience such moments every day. They live in the recognition of something there that is much greater than the human dimension.

Perhaps some of us have to go through dark and devious ways before we can find the river of peace or highroad to the soul’s destination.