The Use of Asana: More from Tim’s Second Series Training

Our most recent email from Robert Moses, leader of our upcoming sadhana yatra to India, began with this:

Atman or Brahman is Existence Absolute, Knowledge Absolute, Bliss Absolute. It is different from the gross, subtle and causal bodies. It transcends the five sheaths (Pancha Koshas). It is the witness of the three states: waking, dreaming and deep sleep. The Self appears to be finite on account of Avidya. But when the ignorance is dispelled, that one Atman shines by its own light, like the sun when clouds are dispelled. This Samsara which is filled with love, hatred, etc., is really like a dream. It appears to be all real, so long as one is involved in it, but when one awakes by acquiring true knowledge, it becomes unreal.  Swami Sivananda

In one of those beautiful moments of synchronicity, the email came just as I arrived home from Tim’s teacher training. To me, much of what we learned about second series involved ways of using it to find a way to this awareness, to use the practice as a step toward the last three Limbs. (Tim told us, by the way, that Guruji used to say, “First five limbs, very difficult. Last three easy.”)

Because I am a student of Tim Miller, and also of his students who became teachers, it’s impossible for me to separate asana from yoga philosophy. It’s probably true that this strong connection is why I was able to stay with the practice all those years ago—I was all in the brain, not very active; the philosophy gave me a kind of mental drishti. So I admire Tim’s ability to connect the philosophy in a practical way to practice.

He cited the Bhagavad Gita a number of times, but in his discussion of the second chapter of The Yoga Sutras, he quoted Krishna’s definition of yoga as “skill in action.” We should apply skill in a reflective way to our study of yoga, to our sadhana. “The intent of sadhana,” said Tim (that is, study), “is to establish the experience of samadi, and to do this by removing the kleshas.

The “afflictions” that Patanjali names are ignorance, egotism, attachment, aversion, and fear (“avidya asmita raga dvesa abhinivesah klesha,” II.3).

Tim’s way of connecting this section of the Yoga Sutras to the practice of Ashtanga was both simple and complex. We live in a constant state of confusion. We confuse the seen with the seer, the conditioned self with the unconditioned self. We don’t extricate ourselves from this confusion because we cling to the known. In the practice, however, we gain an increasing level of control of our senses, of the mind, until, in a state of pratyahara we become capable of reversing the flow of prana, sending it back, inward, where we can see the distinction between purusha and prakriti, and become, as Tim said, “Like Shiva watching the dance of Pavarti.”

I’m thinking here of our other guru, William Blake, and his lines from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.

The “narrow chinks,” for Blake, are the sense organs, and the effect they have of shrinking our world down to what can be measured or perceived by them (with a passing glance at Plato’s Cave). Second Series is in part about gaining control over all of the organs of perception, including the mind. “By the time you get here,” Tim said, “you’ve demonstrated your ability to have a high level of bodily awareness, mental and physical flexibility.”

So it seemed to me that many of the things we learned about the asanas of Second Series lead to this inward journey, things like “pasasana is a trap for the ego,” and “kapotasana gets the cobwebs out of the attic of the mind,” and (my personal favorite) “eka pada sirsasana is good for cultivating humility, with that foot cutting off your big head.”

Asana, Tim made clear (on Day 1, actually) can be a path to all the other limbs, but it is only one way, a way that may appeal to more “kinasethetic” personalities. For the more visual, the Tantric yantra may be the way, or a murti. For the more devotional, a guru, or chanting. But whatever the path, he said, “Actively participate in it!”

Posted by Bobbie

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

3 thoughts on “The Use of Asana: More from Tim’s Second Series Training”

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