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Continuing in the Sutra Series, senior Iyengar teacher Carrie Owerko tackles the tough concept of practicing, and then letting go.
by Carrie Owerko, Senior Iyengar Teacher
In the classes that I teach, I have found it effective to cultivate a classroom ethic by using the space as a little laboratory to observe our understanding of abhyasa and vairagya. The students learn to observe when and why they find themselves looking around, talking, or comparing themselves to others. “You be with You,” Geetaji [daughter of B.K.S. Iyengar] often states.
For awhile it may take tremendous effort for someone not to look around the room or talk to their neighbor, but at some point, after continuously practicing the maintenance of an alert, but inwardly directed focus and practicing this with the heartfelt intention to do what one can to calm and clarify those inner waters, the very desire to look around gradually weakens and falls away. But one must do this continuously because the klesha vrittis of ignorance, ego, desire, aversion, and clinging to life are present in all of us in various stages of manifestation at any given time. And our practice presents an opportunity to observe these disturbances and trace them to their source, gradually weakening them by seeing them for what they are: the powerful currents of the outgoing mind.
If we have the desire (raga) to acquire something, to possess it – some pose, some person, for instance – we then have to cling and hold on because we fear the loss (abhinivesa) of it or them, and so increase our inner turbulence and suffering. A spirit or counter-current of inquiry is helpful here.
Every asana or pranayama is like a little universe – as are our bodies, hearts and minds. We are explorers, inquiring into our nature, our nature within the asana, and ultimately our truest nature which has nothing to do with asana at all, or our bodies, for that matter. Vairagya: to be without raga; to be desireless. We learn to let go of the desire to acquire, and begin to inquire into the mystery. Where will this take us? What will we discover?
I remember in India one year Geeta stopping class to say that through the practice of asana and pranayama, the dormant (prasupta) kleshes can become fully blown (udaranam). They surface from the depths of us and, right then and there, we have the opportunity to weaken them with our presence and the light of our awareness. We then learn to face them (and life’s challenges) with grace and equanimity, and, and in doing so gradually learn how to live in a state of grace (like a clear, placid lake) in the face of adversity, which, rest assured, will come.
Resources: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras
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- How To Meditate In a Moment (video)