Friday, 4 March 2011

The Heart Of Yoga - A Review

The Heart of Yoga is a guide into developing ones own personal yoga practice, written by one of the world’s most respected teachers, TKV Desikachar. The book draws upon teachings from Desikachars own Farther, Krishnamancharya and Pantanjalis Yoga Sutra along with his own practical approach; making it a broad spectrum of teachings.

I would like to focus on the examples from part 2 of the book: The Understanding of Yoga.
This part of the book deals with the psychological aspects of yoga and how yoga  can develop the mind with clarity by removing certain obstacles than darken ones spirit and also ideas on our connection to the universal spirit.
In this section of the book, Desikachar focuses on one common idea: the idea that something changes within us when practising yoga. He so rightly suggests that yoga holds the power to change your way of being; from the way you think to the way you live your life.

Deskichar starts off this section by explaining the things that darken the heart and how we are to dispel these from our lives by action of yoga. Avidya (the root cause of obstacles) is expressed and experienced by humans in four forms, (or the branches of Avidya). They are; Asmita (ego), Raga (desire), Dvesa (refusal) and Abhinivesa (fear). Desikachar explains to us that once Avidya is removed by way of yoga practice, we will have a sense of contentment, quietness and peacefulness. However, by almost offering this wonderful notion as a ticket to a perfect existence, Deskicachar then shatters ones illusions by suggesting that nobody ever remains safe from Avidya and its power. One could be free from Avidya for years on end, but still be subjected to a consuming darkness. What I love so much about Desikachar’s understanding of this, is that he really hits home the point that yoga is a gradual process and a movement from one point to another; that change is the law of nature and what we may be free from today may not be the case tomorrow. This point alone encourages one to live in the now, focus on the task at hand, rather than always looking to the future and our desires. This point can also be reflective of ones Asana’s practice and the feeling of ego and doubt that can arise when working on postures; why can’t I do what they are doing? It’s been months and I still cannot do a headstand! Maybe these things will not be an issue anymore in time or maybe they still will, but the idea of change is always present. Desikachar points out so importantly that everything we do in yoga is for the reduction of Avidya, weather it be Asana or Meditation, and we hold the power to bring on change.

Towards the end of this section of the book, Desikacher goes on to explain the most important method to removing obstacles; the submission to the higher spiritual being. Isvara (the higher spiritual being) can be interpreted as God, although this can arise much debate. As God is almost always seen as a manifested higher power as a person by religions, this idea that yogis worship ‘God’ can be somewhat misinterpreted when speaking of submission to a higher being. Deskikacher so elegantly clears this up by not using religious attachment to yoga but offering this as an option on how to approach yoga. He also says that this approach is not always for everybody and that you don’t have to practice in the name of a higher being at all, which keeps the idea alive that yoga is available to every man and women regardless of their beliefs. Any serious student of yoga im sure, will find this section either revealing or true of their own practice already. My Guru (my own remover of darkness Claire Missingham) once told me that 90% of gym members never return after just a few months of first going. The reverse happens with yoga with only 10% non success rate. The reason I make this point is that so many people, (apart from the obvious benefits), can’t seem to explain why they keep on practicing yoga other than it allows them to be more connected with themselves and their spirituality. Desikachars viewpoint on this is notion is that one can call upon Isvara at anytime for help. We can relate this to Asana practice for example. Let’s face it; we have all been there when you feel like you just cannot do one more sun Salutation and your not sure how your going to breath through it, but there is a trust there within you that allows you to carry on and having the notion of a spiritual connection to aid you in this can be very empowering. Have you ever done your practice before chanting OM? Let me tell you now, that for me it sucks, as it bears no meaning. But 5 years ago I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Desikachar really himself had no idea on the connection he had with yoga and Isvara until later on in his practice which highlights the point again of change in ones practice. He also makes the point that we should create space in our mind and that there are many possibilities for getting out of a bad situation, so if something may cloud it (such as the concept of Isvara) then this is not good for the student. This statement really highlights Desikachars practical and flexible approach to Yoga and that one should remain true to their own approach. This also explains to me why im still practicing yoga today as the notion of Isvara would have not been my first approach, but now is one of the most important approaches to removing my obstacles and highlights the point that the evolution of your own yoga practice can take you beyond what you first expect.

When reading The Heart Of Yoga’ I have found myself nodding along to most of it. Im not sure if this is because I agree with nearly everything Desikachar says or what he says is a revelation into my own thoughts and inquiry into yoga. I hold Desikachar teachings in high regard, not only because of his lineage of teachings, but his own personal observations are very uninhibited. You get a sense from his writing he has been asking questions his whole life and continues to be inspired by the joy of yoga. The psychological aspect of this book for a student is practical and engaging and I feel it picks up from where the Yoga Sutra left off in terms of approach and accessibility.

Stefan Warth

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