Iyengar and the Intelligent Identity

Patanjali’s Sutra 1.2 yogah cittavrtti nirodhah

Yoga is the cessation of movements in the consciousness.

The word citta has often been translated as ‘mind’. In the West, it is considered that mind not only has the power of conation or volition, cognition and motion, but also that of discrimination.

But citta really means ‘consciousness’. Indian philosophers analysed citta and divided it into three facets: mind (manas), intelligence (buddhi) and ego, or the sense of self (ahamkara). They divided the mental body into two parts: the mental sheath and the intellectual sheath. People have thus come to think of consciousness and mind as the same. In [Light on the Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjali], consciousness refers both to the mental sheath (manomaua kosa) as mind, and to the intellectual sheath (vijnanamaya kosa) as wisdom. Mind acquires knowledge objectively, whereas intelligence learns through subjective experience, which becomes wisdom. As cosmic intelligence is the first principle of nature, so consciousness is the first principle of man.

– B. K. S. Iyengar Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 1993:47

Consciously noticing the ‘self’.

What do you notice when you first wake up? Try to notice your natural ‘self’ before the identity has had time to establish itself for the day.

As an alternative: try going to sleep with gratitude for the day you have just experienced. What do you notice about your patterns of thought? Your ‘self’?

According to yogic philosophy, the world outside is a construct that we must learn to work within. These constructs come in different forms but often reveal themselves through ideas such as cultural differences. However, they are all constructed by the human mind. From the moment we wake up, this mechanism we call ‘the mind’ creates an illusion that screams and shouts at us. However, through yoga and the eight meditational limbs*, we can reach beyond language and mind-made stuff. The only reason the illusion continues is because it feeds off our energy and we continue to feed it with our life source.

Our personal identity doesn’t form until around two years of age. This is when we first notice the conscious thought ‘I am me.’ A sense of separation occurs at the same time as a sense of oneness.

We humans have a deep sense of lack at the core of our ‘me’. This keeps us in a cyclical state where we the following opposing ‘wants’ arise:

I want separation I want oneness
I want safety I want to die
I want approval I want disapproval
I want control I want to be controlled

The mind is wonderful at solving problems. However it is also amazing at convincing us that we are a problem. This tendency is so strong that when there is no opposition, the mind creates one in order to have something to solve. It creates trouble so that it has something to fix. We are then left living the reality of what our mind has created meaning for or opposition to.

As a teacher, and as in all aspects of life, we must ask ourselves how and when these ‘wants’ arise in our own internal dialogue. As we become stuck in the meaning we have attached to them, the core of our ‘me’ conscious generates our emotions. In doing so, we create and recreate the story that ‘I’m not ok’, just in wanting something other, something more. The ‘me’ consciousness is based on nothing but a thought which builds momentum.

Human beings are arguably one of the most violent species on the planet. It makes sense, then, that in recent years practices such as yoga have surged in popularity across the Western world. Yoga is not just about the body but about releasing us from the tyranny of the human mind. Thankfully, these ancient traditions remind us that rather than being or having a problem but we are, in fact, inherently perfect.

I believe that life brought me to yoga – and to its teachings – which is why I choose to explore these ideas through that particular lens. Something about it speaks to me in a way that means I am willing to accept that it was inevitable that I would take this path. The unknown in that equation was simply the ‘when’. We tend to resist what life wants to have happen to us – that being, our own experience of ourselves. Yoga helps me to come back to the natural expression of who I am.

Deep, huh? But so what? ‘Where are you going with all of this?’ I hear you ask. Unless you tuned out after you read the title – not a good time, am I right?

But when is there ever a right time? If not now, when?

So, I ask you…

What is your attention on?

What is your mind (not you) focusing on?

What are you giving your energy to?

Try this: Observe the ‘ME’ going about itself.

  1. Think of a situation where fear was present and you experienced physical reactions
  2. Think of an argument you have had. How did you defend yourself and then justify it afterwards.
  3. Think of a situation where you were dominating or avoiding being dominated.
    • How does your ‘me’ show up?
    • Did it lead to more distance or more closeness?
    • What is the cost to you and your relationships at being right?

When I reflected upon these scenarios, time and time again, I noticed that the cost to my relationships was that they often – if not always – became more distant and more separated. Being ‘right’ is an addictive ‘want’ because often the ‘wrong’ person is diminished, which by being ‘right’ we are ultimately ‘wanting’ to avoid.

Practice Instant Forgiveness. This is possibly one of the most powerful tools I have learnt so far in my yoga teacher training. Feeling guilty about things is just punishment in advance for the belief that you will do the same again. You create the story whereby you recreate the same action again and again – simply because you assume you will. Because you assume you are broken, that you are ‘not ok’.

This does not need to be the case. Forgive yourself for who you are – at the time that the event or action occurs. Not five minutes later, not the next day or the next week. Let it go in the moment. Stop telling the old stories of your ‘self’ and start creating those that you wish to see.

 

Only you can create your own happiness.

Or in the words of Zorba the Greek:

Life is trouble. All you can do is take your belt off and go for it!

*Sutra 11.29 yama niyama asana pranayama pratyahara dharana dhyana samadhayah astau angani

Moral injunctions, fixed observances, posture, regulation of breath, internalization of the senses towards their source, concentration, meditation and absorption of consciousness in the self are the eight constituents of yoga.

This sutra sets out the eightfold path of yoga (astanga yoga). The first five aspects of yoga are individual efforts for the evolution of the consciousness, while the final three are the universal manifestation or the natural states of yoga.

– B. K. S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 1993:142

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YTT: Yogic Wisdom for the Ages

As a primary school teacher, one of my great passions is working with children and young people. So when we were given an assignment as part of our yoga teacher training to run a mini workshop, my topic was a no-brainer. Unfortunately, my excitement led to an influx of books with a variety of similar sounding titles such as Yoga for Kids, Children’s Yoga Games, Yoga Education, Yoga Asanas and Myths, Wisdom Tales for Modern Yogis…I say ‘unfortunately’ for my credit card, but fortunately for me.

I am an actor and a writer. I am a storyteller. I have always written stories or performed them. It is what I love. There is so much value in learning through experience and so much potential and insight to be gained from experiencing a good story – be that through reading it as an internal, individual experience, speaking it as a means to sharing and communicating the experience, or embodying it as a creative, physical experience – that I have decided that storytelling must form the basis of my workshop for children. Children naturally take to creative play in a way that adults can often be mystified by. Somewhere along the way, it gets lost or beaten out of us with the ‘grow up’ mantra of the over-twenties world.

We should celebrate our imaginative selves. We are a highly creative species who have managed to achieve unimaginable things to those who have walked the earth before us. The ‘back in my day…’ rite of passage is an exciting reflection of a world that is in constant flux. It is ever changing, never standing still. We are of a place in the universe that is unconcerned by time – it simply marches on – always in the present, never trapped in the past, and not quite of the future.
But this can be a terrifying concept for many. I, for one, have wrestled with this all of my life and am still certainly not at peace with this human construct we call ‘time’. Some days are better than others – as with all things. And this is when taking myself out of my mind and into a creative, more expansive dimension can be very healing.

In the field of anthropology, symbolic healing refers to the deep structure that appears to underlie the universal experience of healing. This experience often occurs spontaneously in response to a particular myth or a psychologically true story. Individuals recognise, often on a very deep and non-intellectual level, that a particular story ‘speaks’ to their sense of suffering. Their emotions attach to should in the story; and as they hear the story, contemplate the emotionally significant symbol, and experience resolution along with the characters in the story, they experience a healing transformation of a personal dilemma.
In Patanjali’s yoga, we have instructions on how to remove from consciousness everything that is not compatible with the enlightenment that is our natural state. We don’t become someone else, someone enlightened; we become our most authentic self, which is to say, someone who is enlightenment itself, once our self-imposed beliefs in limitation are put into proper perspective.
Through the practise of asana, we become increasingly conscious, not only of our physical bodies but also of our emotional an energetic dimensions. Asana is a mirror for self-awareness.
But the asanas we practice are only the tip of the iceberg. The tip…is so engaging in itself that, as yoga ha become increasingly popular in the West, we seem to have lost sight, or awareness, of what lies beneath the surface. The rich artistic and mythological tradition of India, when brought into consciousness along with asana, transforms each pose into a lens through which we can discover hidden facets of, an possibilities for, ourselves. Together, the pose, the story, and the artistic image enlarge the power and range of our self-understanding; and it’s been my experience that engaging with the poses, stories, and images can elicit a powerful experience of symbolic healing.

– Zo Newell’s Preface to Downward Dogs & Warriors: Wisdom Tales for Modern Yogis


In her introduction, Zo goes on to share her experience of finding yoga as a teenager. Excitingly, yoga is both of the ages and for all ages…

Fourteen is a vulnerable age. More than anything in my life right then, I needed an adult to tell me that in my inmost, realist nature I was valuable, eternal, already possessed of all the wisdom of the ages… As I understood it, sitting in meditation and moving in meditation – asana – were just different aspects of the same process. “Like matter,” said Doctorji, “sometimes a point, sometimes a wave.” He also taught us to chant, the feel of the Sanskrit syllables rolling around in the mouth and throat like grapes: om nama shivaya, or just Om. “It is all you will ever need,” he instructed. “Om contains the vibrations of all consciousness. Om will protect your mind. Om is God himself.