I guess for me the physical asana has always been a tool to go inward. I encourage students if they are stuck at a posture not to look outwards (i.e. towards Facebook or youtube videos) for an answer, but to be present with that discomfort and see what it brings up. Even the frustration, anger and sadness – or whatever emotions may arise - are important. So often these days, people try to avoid sitting with that by putting too much emphasis on mastery of the physical. But our struggles in practice are meant to help us develop concentration and internal focus.
Guruji always used to say that ashtanga yoga is Patañjali yoga. Although there may not be explicit correlations between the sūtras and the ashtanga vinyasa method, the sequences of postures can be considered to embody these teachings in various ways. One way to explore this relationship is to consider the three ingredients of kriyā yoga discussed above, in conjunction with the fundamental components of ashtanga yoga.
I first met Guruji in the skylight ballroom of the Puck building in downtown New York City. It was pure magic – the sun rising, Guruji counting in Sanskrit, “the language of the Gods,” hundreds of people breathing in unison. I was twenty years old and had been practicing ashtanga yoga for a few years, but those mornings I felt something deep within me begin to awaken. I was filled with a sense of peace and inner happiness I had never experienced before.
I would now like to entertain the idea that this basis in polarity, itself, could contribute to the difficulty in understanding the yamas and niyamas and making sense of them within our lives. We could instead allow for a broader spectrum of possibility, rather than limiting our language, our thoughts, and thus our vision of reality to polar opposites, such as violence and non-violence, truth and untruth, celibacy or unconscious sexuality, purity or pollution. What if we made space for a reality to emerge that acknowledges the shades of grey, the rich complexities that are an inescapable part of being human?
We all look, but do we see? How often do we bring concentrated awareness into our everyday viewing? Our eyes are the lens through which we learn about the world and ourselves in connection with the world, the very same tool through which we can discover the connection between the external and internal self.