Inside Yoga 24

Category : General advice, Philosophy 9th March 2011

(First published 16/9/09)

“Asana will make the body light,
Pranayama strengthens prana,
Dharana purifies the intellect,
Dhyana purifies the mind.”

These words were written by T. Krishnamacharya, a renowned and influential yoga teacher, who lived for 100 years – dying just a few days short of his 101st birthday in 1989. He taught his son, TKV Desikachar, and also BKS Iyengar and K Pattabhi Jois (creator of the style of yoga called “ashtanga yoga”) – all of whom went on to become well known in the West as yoga teachers.

These four lines, sloka (verse) 27, are found in Yoganjalisaram, a manuscript written by Krishnamacharya. In this text the renowned yoga teacher revealed his views on the holistic practice of yoga.

For him, yoga was not limited to mere postures, rather it covered every aspect of human life. It was the means to resolving physical, mental and spiritual problems.

In sloka 27, he says yoga will “make the body light”. In the beginning asanas can be difficult and strenuous, which is natural as anything that is new takes time to adjust to, but most yoga practitioners do begin to notice how our yoga practice lifts a weight from our bodies (both physical and emotional bodies).

A lot of huffing and puffing can take place in the beginning. But gradually, as practice develops and is sustained, the breathing gets more controlled, the body becomes stronger and more flexible, and with this, we feel lighter in our movements.

In life there can be times when we feel as if we carry a heavy burden – as if all our troubles are stored in backpacks which we must carry with us at all times, desperate to put them down. Yoga asanas help to let us put these backpacks down, or at least it helps us to shed some of the load we carry. Just one yoga session can relieve some of the weight, and gradually through the months and years of practice we shed more and more of this burden. Furthermore, as yoga practice deepens we become able to maintain this lightness that we feel. We reach a point where we become more adept at keeping the negativities at bay – like water off a duck’s back, the bad stuff cannot hold onto to us.

“Pranayama strengthens prana,” says Krishnamacharya. Prana is the life-force energy found in all living matter. Pranayamas are the breathing techniques, used in yoga, that help to adjust and improve the flow of prana.

The benefits are numerous: sustained pranayama practice can bring us greater vitality and energy; it helps improve digestion and appetite; it reduces tiredness, and also improves the quality of sleep when we do rest. It also leads to greater powers of concentration and alertness – all very useful in our busy world of work and family, and other pressures.

In the third line, Krishnamacharya says “Dharana purifies the intellect.” Dharana translates as concentration, or as Desikachar puts it, “the state of mind in which the mind is oriented toward one point.”

The reference to purification of the intellect refers to a mind without focus or concentration. This mind has more clutter, jumbled up thoughts, a mess of ideas and a lack of coherence. We have all been there at some point: lacking focus, feeling stressed and muddled. In that state it’s so difficult to concentrate.

The discipline of a yoga practice helps to improve our ability to concentrate, cleaning and filtering out the thoughts we do not need.

In the last line, “Dhyana purifies the mind,” Krishnamacharya is writing about meditation. Dhyana means meditation. It can be said that the mind is collection of thoughts, or, in other words, it is the reservoir that holds our thoughts. While concentration purifies the intellect or ability to think, meditation purifies the mind.

Meditation helps to quieten the mind, so that is it is not so busy and less distracted. At times, the mind is like a wild animal that is charging all over the place, never settling and not aware of the havoc it is causing to all around. Meditation helps to tame this wildness of the mind. We do this by subtle means and not by using a cage to capture this errant mind. We create the conditions where the mind quietens down… the animal stops being wild of its own accord. We achieve this through the use of asanas, pranayama and dharana.

In that sense meditation is not something you DO – we set the conditions for it to arise, as it is a state we arrive at through practice.
And by its very nature, meditation is purifying.

“Asana will make the body light,
Pranayama strengthens prana,
Dharana purifies the intellect,
Dhyana purifies the mind.”

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