Updated: Feb 26
Explore Experiment Observe Learn
I have often heard Prashant say in his classes in Pune that he cannot be our teacher. He can provide guidance and instructions, but we cannot learn yoga from him. We must learn to be our own teacher. We must look inside and observe and understand how the body is acting and reacting, how breath and body and mind interact.
The last few days have been very much in that vein.
Prashant talks about biochemical processes in the body and how the body’s biochemistry changes when there are actions upon the body. These actions can stem from Asanas or from the act of breathing. Different Asanas affect the body and the breath differently and alter the body’s biochemistry. He led us through a number of experiments and explorations.
We experimented, for example, with Urdhva Prasarita Padasana.
We did it at a normal pace. We did it very slowly. We did it very quickly. We did it starting with the legs at the floor. We did it starting with the legs at 90 degrees. We did it with the hands above the head, at our sides, beneath our buttocks. We raised the legs on an exhalation. We lowered the legs on an exhalation. We raised or lowered them on an inhalation. We raised them and lowered them all on the same exhalation. We experimented with form, pace, breath. We explored and observed what was going on in the body, in the mind, in the breath. In this way, we learn.
Another exploration was of breath. He describes three types of breathing. There is ‘involuntary' regular breathing... mechanical, unconscious, unobserved. There is ‘voluntary' regular breathing... observed but not modified. And, then, there is ‘modified’ breathing... deeper, longer, shorter, sharper, suspended, retained or otherwise manipulated. Each of these affects the biochemistry of the body.
He also touched on the mind, comparing how the mind would have to focus differently in two renditions of Urdhva Prasarita Padasana. If one performs this Asana as quickly as possible and for as long as possible, the mind will need to be energetic to support the body being able to work at an energetic pace. If, however, one performs it as slowly as possible, the mind will need to be powerful in order to support the body being powerful. The breath, also, will differ in these two renditions of the Asana. In the fast-paced version, the breath is likely to be sharper and shorter, whereas in the slow version, it will be deeper and longer.
So, two recurring themes come out of Prashant’s lectures. One, there is constant interplay amongst body, mind and breath. Two, we need to experiment and explore in yoga in order to learn yoga; we cannot just do without observing.
Revisiting the basics in Iyengar yoga’ - thematic classes by Prashant Iyengar. These sessions are taking place from 12-19 February 2021. Don't forget to check out posts for other days in the program.
Carole Carpentier has been a student of Iyengar yoga since 2008.