In the example of triangle pose (Trikonasana), we notice that, because of the relationship of the posture with out anatomy, we all fall into the same traps. Our body seems to be trying to collapse forward to the floor. Our body does not want to open itself in the way we see in a perfectly expressed asana. So we apply ourselves and learn the adjustments that will cause the whole body to open. We extend and redress our arm, lengthen the chest, and open the pelvis. But we also, in the process of applied learning, open our mind and intelligence. An opening is like a doorway, and there is no such thing as a doorway that you can only go through one way. Yes, we are trying to penetrate in, but what is trying to come out to meet us? It is the light of the innermost sheath of bliss (ananda), which means to shine out. Normally we are like a shuttered lantern; our light within invisible. As we create opening, this draws back the shutter, and the light of the lamp shines out.
From "Light on Life" by B.K.S. Iyengar. Reprinted by permission of Rodale.
In asana [yoga postures] and pranayama [breathing] practice, we should have the impression we are working on the outer to get close to the inner reality of our existence. This is true. We work from the periphery to the core. The material body has a practical reality that is accessible. It is here and now, and we can do something with it. However, we must not forget that the innermost part of our being is also trying to help us. It wants to come out to the surface and express itself.
In this regard, we should also consider how the heart of nature (prakrti) is also willing to help us. The very life force of nature is an initiating power (prerana), a driving force, an incitement to creation. It hears our call and responds to it in proportion to the valor and determined intent with which it is invoked. It responds to the exercise of our willpower, so that an intense aspirant will receive higher benefits than a mild one. There is a saying that “God helps those who help themselves.” This is also true of nature.
When you do the asana correctly, the Self opens by itself; this is divine yoga. Here the Self is doing the asana, not the body or brain. The Self involves each and every pore of the skin. It is when the rivers of the mind and the body get submerged in the sea of the core that the spiritual discipline commences. There is no special spiritual discipline. When there is passivity, pensiveness, and tranquility of body and mind, do not stick there, but proceed. Here the spiritual experience in yoga commences. No doubt, one may say reading holy books is spiritual practice. But what I teach is spiritual practice in action. As I said at the beginning of this chapter, I use the body to discipline the mind and to reach the soul. Asanas, when done with the right intention, will help to transform an individual by taking the person away from an awareness of just the body toward the consciousness of the soul. Indeed, as I often say, body is the bow, asana is the arrow, and the soul is the target.
An asana must be righteous and virtuous. By righteous I mean that it must be true. You must not cheat or pretend. You must fill every inch of your body with the asana from your chest and arms and legs to the tips of your fingers and toes so that the asana radiates from the core of your body and fills the entire diameter and circumference of your limbs. You must feel your intelligence, your awareness, and your consciousness in every inch of your body.
By virtuous I mean that is must be done with the right intention, not for ego or to impress but for the Self and to move closer to God. In this way the asana is a sacred offering. We are surrendering our egos. This is supreme devotion to God (Isvara pranidhana).
It must not be just your mind or even your body that is doing the asana. You must be in it. You must do the asana with your soul. How can you do an asana with your soul? We can only do it with the organ of the body that is closest to the soul – the heart. So a virtuous asana is done from the heart and not from the head. Then you are not just doing it, but you must instead feel your way into it through love and devotion.
In this way, you will work from your heart, not your brain, to create harmony. The serenity in the body is the sign of the spiritual tranquility. As long as you do not feel the serenity in the body, in each and every joint, there is no chance for emancipation. You are in bondage. So while you are sweating and aching, let your heart be light and let it fill your body with gladness. You are not only becoming free, but you are also being free. What is not to be glad about? The pain is temporary. The freedom is permanent.