It is here that the yogi embarks on the inward journey toward the core of his being. Many associate yoga with a rejection of the world, its responsibilities, and commitments, and with extreme austerity leading even to self-mortification. But is not the greater challenge and greater fulfilment to be found living in the world with its tribulations and temptation, and at the same time to maintain both balance and self-control in the everyday life of a householder? To be spiritual, one must not deny or forget the body. Throughout the journey to the spiritual goal, the body must be kept active.
Yoga is as old and traditional as civilisation, yet it persist in modern society as a means to achieving essential vitality. But Yoga demands that we develop not only strength in body but attention and awareness in mind.
The yogi knows that the physical body is not only the temple for our soul but the means by which we embark on the inward journey toward the core. Only by first attending to the physical body can we hope to accomplish anything in our spiritual lives.
Yoga offers us techniques to become aware, to expand and penetrate, and to change and evolve. We begin at the level of the physical body, the aspect of ourself that is more concrete and accessible to all of us. It is here that Yogasana and pranayama practice allow us to understand our body with ever greater insight and through the body to understand the mind and reach our soul. To a yogi, the body is a laboratory for life, a field of experimentation and perpetual research. For us (yogis), the physical body correspond to one of the elements of nature, namely the earth. “We are mortal clay, and we return to dust”. All cultures recognise this truth, but nowadays we treat it as a mere metaphor. It is more than that… As you explore you own body, you are in fact exploring this element of nature itself. You are also developing the qualities of earth within yourself: solidity, shape, firmness and strength.
Health begins with firmness in body, deepens to emotional stability, then leads to intellectual clarity, wisdom and finally the unveiling of the soul. Indeed, health can be categorised in many ways. There is physical health, which we are all familiar with, but there is also moral health, mental health, intellectual health and even the health of our consciousness.
Body will probe to be an obstacle unless we transcend its limitations and remove its compulsions. Hence, we have to learn how to explore beyond our known frontiers.
Many people use their bodies so little that they lose the sensitivity of this bodily awareness. They move from bed to car to desk to car to couch to bed, but there is no awareness in their movement, no intelligence. There is no action. Action is movement with intelligence. What the world needs is more conscious movement, more action.
When practicing Yoga, we become sensitive to the interface between skin and flesh. In this way, our skin is diffused throughout the periphery of our body and is able to sense whether in a particular asana our body is in alignment. You can adjust and balance the body gently from within with the help of these eyes. This is different from seeing with you normal two eyes. Instead you are feeling; you are sensing the position of you body. Let’s imagine, when you are in warrior pose with your arms extended, you can see the fingers of you hand in front of you, but you can also feel them. You must observe and correct the body with the trillions of eyes that you have in the form of cells. This is how you begin to bring awareness to the body and fuse the inteligence of brain and brawn. The intelligence should exist everywhere in your body and throughout the asana. The moment you loose the feeling in the skin, the asana becomes dull and the flow or current of the intelligence is lost.
The sensitive awareness of the body and the intelligence of the brain and the heart should be in harmony. The brain may instruct the body to do a posture, but the heart has to feel it to. The head is the seat of intelligence; the heart is the seat of emotion. Both have to work in co-operation with the body.
There is an exercise of will, but the brain must be willing to listen to the body and see what is reasonable and prudent within the body’s capacity. The intelligence of the body is a fact. it is real. The intelligence of the brain is only imagination. We are always trying to profess but the inner cooperation is essential.
There is always relaxation in the right position, even though you are fully stretching. The ego is an unrelenting task master. It does not know that one must balance activity and passivity in the asana, exertion and relaxation. When one extends and relaxes, there is no oscillation of mind or body. Balance of activity and passivity transform the active brain into a witness.
Lightness: Think light and feel light.
When an asana is done correctly, the body movements are smooth and there is lightness in the body and freedom in the mind. When we lose this lightness, our bodies shrink. The moment the body shrinks, the brain becomes heavy and dull. When there is softness in the body and lightness in mind, the asana is correct. Hardness and heaviness mean the asana is wrong, no matter how perfect the shape looks.
Balance: Eveness is harmony.
Through yoga once can begin to develop a perfect balance between both sides of the body. All of us begin with imbalances, favouring one side or the other. Precision in action comes when the challenge by one side of the body is met by an equal counter-challenge of the other. Yogis keep the balance by using the intelligence of the body. Seek balance of awareness in all positions by observing the differences on the right and left as well as the intensity of stretch from bottom to top, from side to side and back to front.
Balance does not mean merely balancing the body. Balance in the body is the foundation for balance in life. In whatever position one is in, or in whatever condition in life one is placed, one must find balance. Balance is the state of the present, the here and now. When the intellect is balance, is stable, it seems there is no past and sometimes… there is not even future.
B.K.S Iyengar . Light on life.
Chapter two. The physical body (Asana)