Creating space for the Yoga Scriptures to do their work through Asana Practice

1) What is common among great teachers of Vedanta

 If one listens to great teachers of Vedanta of our times, like Swami Paramarthananda, Swami Bodhananda, Shri Velukkudi Krishnan, to name a few, there is one common pattern that emerges from their delivery of a discourse - a lack of a sense of "I"ness in their speech. In other words, they act like a conduit for the scriptures to flow and because they are so absorbed in the grandeur of the scriptures, and therefore naturally have a sense of humility when delivering the powerful message contained in them, they do not associate any agency with their speech. 

Swami Paramarthananda

Swami Bodhananda

Shri Velukkudi Krishnan

2) The mind settling power of the scriptures

When I look back at the five years I spent as a PhD student, over 22 years ago, what stands out in my memory is the study of Bhagavad Gita (both self study and study with a group at the Hindu Temple of Atlanta). The study of the Bhagavad Gita had a profound capacity to still my mind. Such is the power of scriptures. The same effect happened later in my life when I listened to Buddhist scriptures, while suffering from a lot of hip pain, through dharma talks given by my meditation teacher, an experience about which I wrote here

In the Yoga Sutras, Rishi Patanjali says that any work that is born out of a meditative state of mind has no (petty) desires (like the need to boost one's image) and therefore it is of high quality. I have this sutra in the title page of my website. Such works also apply to music by great composers like Mozart.

3) Developing a workshop series to teach the "nebulous content" of the scriptures

 The message that is conveyed in the scriptures can seem nebulous and upon the first time one reads a scripture, or listens to a discourse on the scripture, one may not feel the import of the words or the truth behind the concepts. There are some people for whom even a first reading or a first listening has been a life changing experience, but for the majority of the people, it takes repeated study of these scriptures to feel the power contained in them. Upbringing and being exposed to these concepts from an early age will definitely help this process. 

Since I benefited from the study of the scriptures, I decided that I should study the scriptures and teach them in a way that people can easily understand, yet while maintaining the scriptural sanctity and preserving the high energy (instead of going into a torpid lecture). I feel that not only does the study and teaching of the scriptures instill a sense of calmness in me but that it is the least I can do to make sure that these gems, composed by enlightened Rishis in their meditative states of mind, are passed on to the next generation.

When I first offered the "Sutra Study Series", there were just a few people who attended. Swami Paramarthananda would joke that when life becomes a little busy or stressful (and our lives seem to be always stressful), most people drop the study of scriptures first, if they study them at all (See:  Seen and unseen fruits of Yoga-Dhrishta Adhrishta Karma Palah). A close second that gets dropped is meditation. Exercise or how most people view asana practice as, lasts a little longer, because of the health and weight loss aspects. Swami Paramarthananda says that this is because most people study scriptures because "it is a good thing to do" that one day, may bring liberation (Moksha from Samsara). However, when they do this as a weekly or monthly chore without seeing the immediate benefits, they drop it when their lives become even a little more stressful. Mahatma Gandhi, on the other hand, it is said, increased the time he meditated and maintained a daily study of the Bhagavad Gita even during the peak of the Indian freedom struggle from the British.

The Buddha said that the easiest way to reach the mind is through the physical body*. Given that most people prefer physical asanas anyway, to the study of the scriptures, I decided that I would teach the scriptures through asanas. This is how I came up with the "Subtler dimensions of Asana practice" series of workshops. In this we explore the different sensations when we press into certain parts of the body, engage the bandhas  etc. Through the use of the body, people were slowly able to get a feel for concepts like Prana, that are talked about at length in the scriptures.

The Sanskrit word "Sutra" means a thread. The English word "Suture" comes from the same root. The Yoga Sutras are like gems on a thread. To maintain continuity and a flow state, some people teach Sutras without lengthy discourses for each Sutra in much the same way one would cross a river by hopping on stones; crossing too slow will cause loss of balance and falling into the river. I had adopted this style of teaching when I taught the Yoga Sutra Study Series.

4) The Subtler dimensions of asana practice series of workshops

I developed four series of workshops going from the grosser concepts like the body's Agni (fire), which one can feel, to subtler concepts like the Atma, which it is said, is more difficult to get a feel for, as compared to Ishwara. The four series of workshops are:

1) The Subtler dimensions of asana practice

2) The Subtler dimensions of asana practice -II
Yoga Arudam (or) The foundation for Yoga: The Yogi's lifestyle and destiny

3) The Subtler dimensions of asana practice -III

 Ātma Jñānam (or) The knowledge of the Atma

4) The Subtler dimensions of asana practice -IV

Uttama Purusha (or) The Supreme Purusha

All classes in these series are 2 hours long with a practice of Hatha Yoga for 75 minutes, in a flow like style preserving the body's fire through the Ujjayi breath and spreading it using the bandhas. 40 minutes are allotted to the study of the pertinent scripture with focus on the Bhagavad Gita's chapters 2, 6 and 15.

*Of the four foundations of mindfulness, The Buddha taught mindfulness of the body first. The reason why Buddha chose mindfulness of the Body (Kayena Anupachchinna) first, over mindulness of Vedana(feelings), of mind-states and of Dharma, is that body is a rich storehouse of memory, and unlike the mind, reveals things as they are without coloring and adding its own stories.