Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Western Yogi?

I have finally begun reading “Light on Life” by BKS Iyengar. Iyengar is the man who brought yoga to the West about 50 years ago. His first book, “Light on Yoga” is often called the Yoga Bible, for it contains pictures and explanations of nearly every asana. It is both intimidating and awe-inspiring. Flipping through it, you see a man in positions that appear to be possible only if you remove your spine and perhaps a few other bones along the way. But this new book sheds a different light – Iyengar was born sickly and spent so much of his early years sick that this son-of-a-school teacher fell behind in his studies in school because he could never attend.

Today, he is considered the father of yoga in the west.

I have a feeling that many of my next posts will focus on what he discusses in this book - I have just finished the introduction – but today I want to focus on the relief this introduction has granted me.

Iyengar writes: “Most of those who begin to practice yogasana, the poses of yoga, do so for practical and often physical reasons. . . . Very few people begin yoga because they believe it will be a way to achieve spiritual enlightenment, and indeed a good number may be quite skeptical about the whole idea of spiritual realization. Actually, this is not a bad thing because it means most of the people who come to yoga are practical people who have practical problems and aims – people who are grounded in the ways and means of life, people who are sensible.”

I have struggled, from writing this blog to teaching yoga to presenting workshops to even chatting with friends, about how best to describe that which “is” yoga. How do I bring this practice that changes lives to the practical lives of lawyers and others? Reading that BKS Iyengar started yoga purely for its physical benefits removes some of that pressure. We all come to yoga for different reasons. Personally, I was looking for a way to relieve stress and anxiety, but most people in the West consider yoga a physical practice. This past year, I have learned the power of that physical practice to influence everything in life.

A mere five pages after opening the door to the practical yogi, Iyengar reminds us, “Yoga releases the creative potential of Life.”

For thousands of years, spiritual teachings were hidden away in caves, to be passed from guru to student, hidden from regular people, but the generation of teachers who consist of BKS Iyengar, the Dalai Lama, and Trungpa Rinpoche (Shambhala Buddhism), knew that if we are to survive this crazy time in the world, the speed with which we obtain information and the ability to travel the world in 24 hours, we would have to have a foundation. So, they brought the teachings out of hiding, and they gave us ways to use them in everyday life.

We are the beneficiaries of their courage. We may get it wrong, not go as deep, not fully understand everything those teachings contain, but it is a path, it is a practice. And it is the practical aspect of yoga that this blog is aiming to pass on. How can we learn from the body what we can do in our lives? How can we learn from the breath whether we are stressed? How can we learn from our inner selves what we need to do each moment? These are what make yoga so powerful, and it need not matter why we begin to practice or even how we begin to practice, only that we do begin to practice. The rest will take care of itself.

I hope that Iyengar’s words can inspire you to begin somewhere and allow yourself to open up to the creative potential of your life and our shared Life. Why did you start yoga? What did you originally want to gain? How has it transformed you in ways you never expected?

Thank you for being part of this community.

Namaste and Blessings!

© 2010 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved

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