Watch and Observe: The Laboratory of Practice

Last summer, I went to Arun’s workshop in Austin. Arun is a long time student of the Iyengars. We’ll actually get to go to his Austin workshop right after we get back from Pune. Anyway, Arun always comments on whatever your T-shirt says. Even something like “under armour” or “Nike.” So I usually select whatever shirt I’m going to wear with some care as everyone will be hearing about it all class. Last year, I wore one of the shirts from San Marcos School of Yoga when it was in its incarnation as Shravana School of Yoga. That’s on the front. He did not like Shravana at all. I think because he rightly conjectured that I really didn’t know what it meant. But I really wore the shirt for him because of the sutra on the back.

1.20 śraddhā vīrya smṛti samādhiprajñā pūrvakaḥ itareṣām
  Practice must be pursued with trust, confidence, vigour, keen memory and power of absorption to break this spiritual complacency. (I)


[But] for others, [the state where only subconscious impressions remain] is preceded by faith, vigor, memory, samdhi absorption, and discernment. (B)

He said, “Now, that I like. That is my favorite sutra. That’s yog. You can practice it anywhere.”

Anyway, Arun’s been on my mind a lot as I listen to Prashant. Today, was no exception. We are after discernment of the real, the yogasanas are means not ends.

Much of today’s class talked about cultivating a laboratory culture with respect to our practice.

Here are some aspects of class that are in my mind post lunch. (After practice, I had to go to Pune Central because they charged me for items I did not purchase when I bought my swimming suit. No luck. Check your receipts carefully when you go there. Luckily, I used my Am Ex, so I can contest the false charges, but anyway, after that experience, walking past the turn off the highway to get home the shorter way, and eating lunch, I’m feeling a little distant from the experience. )

Good test of smrti anyway.

1.11 anubhūta-viṣayāsampramoṣaḥ smṛtiḥ
  Memory is the unmodified recollection of words and experiences. (I)

Memory is the retention of [images of] sense objects that have been experienced. (B)

Prashant talked again about creating networks in the body. He talked about a variety of ways we might cultivate networks, through breath, through collective dynamics, through component dynamic, through body, mind, breath connectivity.

Body, mind breath is all part of a network of our embodied experience.

Network is an interesting metaphor. We have social networks, communication networks. I often think of a network as something that connects me to things outside of myself and so it is a different way of thinking about the network as something within, as a means of knowing what’s you, in you, and yours. As a process of self study. This yogic networking connects us with ourselves more deeply rather than connection us with what is outside the self.

A pervasive metaphor today was creating a laboratory culture, an experimental mindset with yoga. By this, he did not mean just experiment to see whatever works. He was really talking about a scientific process where you have a hypothesis about what might work in a pose or in an aspect of collective dynamics and you look to see the effect. You have to repeatedly conduct the experiment to get any kind of dependable results. You can’t change all the variables.

It strikes me that this is one of the benefits of forms of yoga that have a set daily practice. That aspect of the laboratory is fixed, so you can more readily see the effects of your yogasana experiment.

He talked about this at length. Both the laboratory experience and the networking experience are aimed at creating the conditions that we might call steadiness. He recited 2.46.


2.46 sthira sukham asanam
  Asana is perfect firmness of body, steadiness of intelligence and benevolence of spirit. (I)

Asana should be steady and comfortable. (B)

I don’t think that’s the end of the yoga story, but we have to cultivate this steadiness to go further.
He made another point a couple of times that the point of this work is not just  on the mat.  This practice is  teaching us about life.

Prashant returned to our epistemology lessons today.

If we depend upon perception along, our range of experience is limited. “Somewhere learn the different between awareness and sensitivity.” (He started with this refrain. Networking is part of that process, but also learning what perception is and understanding the limits of perception.

Knowledge can’t be only perception. It e can’t be only what we see. We can’t believe only what we see is the limit of knowledge. It is too limiting.

He then talked about the necessity of inference


1.07 pratyakṣānumānāgamāḥ pramāṇāni
  Correct knowledge is direct, inferred or proven as factual. (I)

Right knowledge consists of sense perception, logic, and verbal testimony. (B)

One of the more fascinating aspects of class was his clarification of what direct experience is. It doesn’t mean what one individual person experiences directly (ie, knowledge from my individual perception) but rather but what all people would regard as common experience. We all directly see the mat as the mat, the block as a block, the strap as a strap. That’s direct experience. Not, I see the strap as white or red.

A related point to changing the conditions of the experiment all the time. We are seduced by the new and the novel. By always presenting us with new experiences to try, we are enslaved. He didn’t directly talk about the consumer mindset here, but I think that’s some of what he had in mind.

Similarly, travelling all over the world, meeting people, seeking new experiences. He says for so many years people have told him, “you must go out there, you must meet the people.” His view is “the people will come to me.” His larger point was that the inward journey is a lot of work and if we are always out there in the world, seeking the new, seeking the novel, then we turn away from this culture of exploring the reality that yog gives us access to. We stop refining our own network, conducting our yoga experiments. We get distracted from going in.

He returned to the point about purpose and getting distracted from our attachment to alignment points. He again mentioned the shifting mindset between “sit for prayers. Compose yourself for prayers” and then all the points.

Focusing only on the poses makes a mockery of yog. It is yogaa not yog.

Another intense word. The emphasis on all the points of the poses is a mockery. He said that several times. He called it a physiocracy as well. Nice turn of phrase.

At the same time, he is not saying discount the poses and that is not important, but don’t think that’s all there is.

This is clearly the case, you’d be lost if you didn’t know how to do all these poses, pretty much without thinking about them. If you aren’t prepared to be able to do rope sirsasana for a long time, get out quickly (no leisurely resting of the head against the wall) or twist and twist and twist. Ari asked me if he holds poses a long time, some Like rope AMS or Sirsasana, but it is more lots and lots and lots of repetition. (Which now I see as a way of letting us conduct our various experiments)

You don’t just get to hear the philosophy. You have to be pretty prepared with the points of asana to hear the philosophy. The problem may be that by the time you get that prepared, you are pretty attached to the method of preparation. The preparation for yog may well obscure the yog.

Another metaphor I liked was his comparison to himself to a gardener, planting seeds. Some may plant and take root but you may not experience that understanding for years. Plato uses the exact same metaphor in the Phaedrus.

He said he is not bothered by this. He takes the long view. He has beaching for 40 years. People come back 10 and 20 years later and say “now I understand what you are talking about.”

We ended by making am Sukasana savasana. Yesterday, we savasanized Sukasana.

Abhijata did this in class her class well. She savasanized coming up from uttanasana.

She quoted BKS saying that we have to use our yoga in such a way as to make the mind quiet. Yet another seed taking root and flowering.

Posted by Anne-Marie Schultz at 2:17 AM

Labels: #Pune2014


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