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It is no secret that B.K.S. Iyengar’s book, Light on Yoga is a timeless resource for every modern yogi. With Sri Dharma Mittra’s validation as a true ‘Yoga Bible,’ it is clear that he has received so much clarity and wisdom from this text. I can imagine Sri Dharma in his early Sannyasin days living the life of a yogi in New York City back in 1964. Seeing that he had read books about yoga since his teenage years, and yearned to find a Guru to lead the way, it feels so appropriate that Light on Yoga would have appeared at his fingertips around the time of its publication in 1966 when living at the ashram and studying devoutly with Swami Kalaishananda.
This text offers a beautifully concise yet thorough explanation of yoga. Everything from the definition of Yoga, the overall purpose of this ‘quest,’ different pathways to prepare yourself to ‘meet your maker,’ causes of mental suffering, obstacles of the untrained mind, and delving into the principles and practice of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. If one is looking for a complete treatise on Yoga - this is it.
Rereading Light on Yoga has unveiled so many insights that help bring me back to my path of learning. I am ever humbled by the sheer experience and wisdom that come from masters like Iyengar and Sri Dharma, and feel inspired to continually renew my efforts in the areas that can fall aside. As I continue to learn and establish my own awareness of yoga and yogic living, this opportunity to clarify more detail about concepts that I have learned before makes me feel that this topic - this life path - is just beginning, once again. Having a resource in Light on Yoga, and a Guru in Sri Dharma to bring this practical wisdom to life is truly remarkable.
We know that Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are the basis of Astanga Yoga. Adhering to the Eight Limbs of Yoga provides a framework for any yoga practitioner and spiritual aspirant to step forward and make progress on the path of yoga. What Iyengar does with this treatise is break it down into modern language, and puts an emphasis on how to put this work into practice.
Iyengar moves away from much of the hard-to-reach spiritual allegory, and often very heavy handed rigour set out in books by his predecessors such as Swami Sivananda. Through simple definitions, images, and clear reasoning, he is able to appeal genuinely to the reader and the modern day yogi by leading the journey for practical purposes - even if the path and practices can be very challenging. Yoga is about finding purpose and meaning in life, developing integrity of character, healing and easing ill health and physical ailments, and becoming established in life promoting routines. In this exposition, yoga, in its principles, process, and purpose, is a lifestyle that can be embraced beautifully by those who are ready to live a more healthy and truly fulfilling life.
Upon this reading of Light on Yoga, I find that the classification and detail regarding the mind speaks most clearly to me. It is this angle of yoga philosophy that I feel is very important with regards to how we work with our mindset in relation to our yoga practices, and the reason why we employ yoga specifically (rather than other modalities such as psychotherapy, holistic therapies, or exercise) to bring about peace of mind and a direct experience of universal truth. When we consider the path of yoga, the implication is the personal responsibility we resume once we embark upon that path. With the guidance of a teacher and spiritual texts, it is still necessary to personally gauge where we are in relation to our goal of spiritual progress by recognising the quality of the mind and our personal tendencies. After all, ‘the yogi knows that the paths of ruin and salvation lie within himself.’
When reading much of the technical theory of yoga, the emphasis placed on ‘constant practice (abhyasa) and cultivating the ‘freedom from desire’ (vairagya) is carried throughout this and many yoga texts, as well as the teaching we receive through Sri Dharma. We learn that it is difficult to control, or steady the mind so that one can commune with God. However, with the intention to do so, and by directing your energy by the ‘right means’, this liberation is attainable, therefore making yoga a very worthwhile pursuit. We learn that the eight limbs of yoga are the means by which we practice Yoga - control/stilling of the mind - in order to know ourselves as one with the paramatma - universal spirit. “Yama and Niyama control the yogi’s passions and emotions and keep him in harmony with his fellow man (sic).” Yoga is the pathway to harmony within and without.
Even though I have read and understood so much about Yama and Niyama along with the Eight Limbs, it is always refreshing to reconnect with the longer process that this lifestyle aims to unfold. The first three limbs (yama, niyama, asana) are the outward quest (bahiranga sadhana), pranayama and pratyahara help control the mind on the inward quest (antaranga sadhana), and the final three limbs (dharana, dhyana, and samadhi) the royal path, takes you to the innermost recesses of the soul, bringing you to a state of harmony with your Self and your Maker (antaratma sadhana). A very appropriate antidote to much of the idolatry and external seeking we see, as well as the atheistic result of historically domineering religious sects, it is no wonder that so many can connect with this purely spiritual search. Iyengar confirms this by saying, “the yogi doesn't look heavenward to find God. He knows that HE is within...known as the Antaratma (the Inner Self).”
What I love about reading more deeply into yogic scriptures of this kind is that much of the theoretical knowledge presented becomes more mainstream, and more clear each time. It can be challenging to understand the austerities performed by yogis of the past, yet feel that to teach a way of life that contradicts much of the pleasure seeking we are taught by our culture would become lost and devalued. As I remark upon the ‘basics’, ahimsa and asana, which are terms that the most novice yogi will know, there is an eloquence that speaks of the real reason to take heed. It shows much about your character to participate in violence “...to kill or destroy a thing or being is to insult its creator,” and while some may know that and act this way willfully, in order to create the conditions for a more peaceful existence and reduce suffering …a vegetarian diet is a necessity for the practice of yoga.”
As we know and interpret this clear observation, Iyengar goes further to explain that all of our actions come with more subtle causes and consequences. Even as our diet can express our intentions and give insight to our inner state, it is really the case that “… violence is a state of mind, not of diet.” So, while there are those who adhere to a vegan diet, there can still be violence in the mind, and likewise, someone who participates unknowingly in violence, may not have a violent constitution. Overall, as awareness grows, we seek to unify our intentions is all we do. Interestingly, the results of adhering to Ahimsa, are the freedom from fear (abhaya) and freedom from anger (akrodha) - two common characteristics of violent people.
These days, I am interested in how to navigate different states of mind. How, even after years of practice, there are phases in my life where I need guidance to reveal what is being presented in my life for learning. With the ever-present image of yoga all around, and a world in constant flux, I know that the peace and solitude of yoga practice is a balm. As I reignite the enthusiasm I have for new asana (for which this book is also a great inspiration) and updating my pranayama practice with reference to some simple, yet solid techniques, my main interest is to keep unfolding. Learning the difference between bhoga and yoga, the unreal versus the real. My newest term is bhoga - a perfect name for where “the senses open outwards and consequently … are attracted to objects.”
May this text continue to be a Light on Yoga for myself and generations to come. What a pathway to embark upon, and a gift for these timeless tools.
Reference: Iyengar, B. K. S. Light on Yoga: The Definitive Guide to Yoga Practice. Thorsons, 2015.
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