Stoke Your Spirit: Using the Body to Access the Spirt
By Nicki Doane (this article was originally published on the Yoga Journal website)
Yoga Journal asked Nicki Doane, co-owner and director of Maya Yoga Studio in Maui, to share with us a teaching from each of the four chapters of the Yoga Sutra of Pantanjali this month. This week: The how of yoga—accessing your spirit body through your physical body.
The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: Sadhana Pada
I find Sadhana Pada, the second chapter, or pada, of the Yoga Sutra, to be the most practical starting point for most yogis. (Sadhana refers to our spiritual practice and as yogis we are known as Sadhakas.) Something Patanjali says in this chapter resonates deeply with me as a Hatha yogi: The easiest way to access our psyche is through our physical tissue. We know that we are complex human beings with many layers including the physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental bodies. I figure that all layers of our being are interconnected and interdependent. Therefore, it only makes sense to regard our physical body as a temple and a means or vehicle for transformation and liberation. As Mr. Iyengar said so beautifully, my body is my temple and the asanas (poses) are my prayers. It only creates disharmony and stress when we try to live our lives separately and compartmentalized. We cannot be mean to other people and expect deep spiritual growth in our yoga practice.
Three Sutras on Asana from Pada II
II.46 Sthira sukham asanam
The first one is Sthira sukham asanam. Sthira means strength, steadiness, the ability to stay, endurance. Sukha means sweetness or ease of effort. Asana means a posture, of both the body and the mind. So, to paraphrase here, this sutra explains the two qualities that we are always looking for in a posture, namely sthira and sukha. Essentially, in every posture, we are always striving for effort without tension and a state of relaxation without being dull. We want to be alert, present, and at ease in our being. This was the first yoga sutra that I used while teaching a yoga class. It is a wonderful reminder of what we are working for in our yoga practice. As my practice and teaching deepened, I realized how much it also refers to the posture of our mind and how we hold ourselves not only physically.
II.47 Prayatna shaitilyananta samapattibhyam
The second sutra that specifically addresses asana is Prayatna shaitilyananta sama pattibhyam. Without getting too deep into the etymology of the words, I will define just a few words to give you a better understanding of the sutra. The root of the word prayatna is yatna, which means effort. Shaithilya has its roots in shanti, or peace. Ananta refers to the serpent Adishesha and to the endless energy within, the serpentine quality of spirit. I find this particular sutra always has the ability to help people not to take themselves so seriously. It means that we must remember to relax the intensity of our effort and to meditate on the endless energy within, because all of this (life, etc., whatever “it” is) never ends. Sometimes yoga can seem goal-oriented, especially when we are so focused on attaining a particular posture. If we use the poses to judge ourselves, we are missing the whole point of yoga. Now, if we can slow down and learn to accept ourselves where we are today, right now, then we can learn to be more tolerant of ourselves and hopefully of others as well. So slow down, relax the intensity of your effort, and enjoy the ride!
II.48 Tato dvandvanabhighatahah
The third sutra that directly relates to asana is number 48: Tato dvandvanabhighatahah. This sutra tells us that when we practice sincerely and with our full effort, there are no prerequisites to the practice. It doesn’t matter how old we are, where we are from, our gender, size, rich or poor, if we practice sincerely, then none of that will matter. I infer that to mean that yoga makes the impossible possible! I know that every single person reading this has had a yoga pose they thought they would never be able to do and now they are doing it—in other words, the impossible became possible. This is one of the most encouraging sutras, especially nowadays when people think they have to be fit or in great shape to do yoga. I can’t tell you the number of times people have told me they will start coming to my class when they get more flexible. There are no prerequisites to practicing yoga—just do it!