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

a Matilda moment

matilda meditatingImage Source

A very strange thing happened today…

As I sat quietly on my usual spot, deep in meditation, I started to feel a pressure spreading through my chest. As the warmth spread through my torso, a familiarity crept in alongside. Something reminiscent of a loving hug. It melted into gentle vibrations, the deep quiet tone of the sea swimming around inside me. Out of this deep quiet tone I heard the faint call of the universe, trickling life into every cell of my body.

After a moment, it gently faded away. But floating somewhere in the distance, I was sure I heard a tiny chuckle, dancing on the breeze. I couldn’t resist. I opened my eyes, drawn forth out of my meditation in search of something…someone. But there was no one there.

A second later a flash of golden hair danced across my eyes. A toothy grin. Two big, blue eyes staring into me. Deep and knowing. Just for a moment. This meeting of souls. Pure and light.

“Hello you.”

And then she was gone.

X-Ray Visions of Love

REAL FRIENDSHIP OR LOVE IS NOT MANUFACTURED or achieved. Friendship is always an act of recognition. This metaphor of friendship can be grounded in the clay nature of the human body. When you find the person you love, an act of ancient recognition brings you together. It is as if millions of years before the silence of nature broke, his or her clay and your clay lay side by side. Then, in the turning of the seasons, your one clay divided and separated. You began to ride as distinct clay forms, each housing a different individuality and destiny. Without even knowing it, your secret memory mourned your loss of each other. While your clay selves wandered for thousands of years through the universe, your longing for each other never faded. This metaphor helps to explain how in the moment of friendship two souls suddenly recognise each other. It could be a meeting on the street, or at a party, a lecture or just a simple, banal introduction, then, suddenly there is a flash of recognition and the embers of kinship glow. There is an awakening between you, a sense of ancient knowing. Love opens the door of ancient recognition. You enter. You come home to each other at last. As Euripides says, ‘Two friends, one soul.’

In the classical tradition this is wonderfully expressed in Plato’s magical dialogue on the nature of love, the Symposium. Plato adverts to the myth that humans in the beginning were not single individuals. Each person was two selves in one. Then they became separated; consequently, you spend your life looking for your other half. When you find and discover each other, it is through this act of profound recognition. In friendship, an ancient circle closes. That which is ancient between you will mind you, shelter you and hold you together. When two people fall in love, each comes in our of the loneliness of exile, home to the one house of belonging.  At weddings, it is appropriate to acknowledge the gracious destiny that enabled this couple to recognise each other when they met. Each recognised the other as the one in whom their heart could be at home. Love should never be a burden, for there is more between you than your mutual presence.

– Extract from John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara: Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World

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.