We all know that the mind affects body, for example, “You look down in the dumps,” or “He was crestfallen.” Why not, suggests yoga, try the other way round…we are going to try to use asana to sculpt the mind.”
BKS Iyengar, Light on Life, page 11
Using asana to sculpt the mind, a brilliant observation and a powerful understanding that adds infinite depth to our practice.
It’s the idea that not only do asanas have certain inherent qualities that are revealed when we practice them, but that we can actually choose to cultivate what we want to experience more in our selves.
We can choose to sculpt courage in the face of vulnerability (i.e. backbends), one-pointed focus in the face of distraction (i.e. longer holdings), or resilience in the face of challenge (i.e. arm balances).
When we consciously join our experience of the asana with a chosen attitude, alchemy happens.
Here’s how it works: Each time we meet...
In yoga, we often talk about the practice of living life “from the inside out”. This can mean different things. It might be that we practice living with intention, striving to hold a certain expanded or enlightened perspective as we move through our day. It might mean finding ways to be in touch with our selves and the moment, and bringing that sense of presence to our activities. It can also imply a life lived as a result of consciously made choices or nurturing our ability to bring a chosen inner state to situations in our lives.
In yogic understanding, over-simplified as this statement might be, we recognize that ultimately we may not have so much power over what ‘happens’ to us. Situations we find ourselves in, challenges we face, obstacles we must maneuver through both internally and externally arise, seemingly beyond our ability to control them. Yoga teaches that while this may be true, it is equally true that we have free reign over how we act in...
My first yoga teacher would sometimes ask us at the start of class:
What’s the inner weather report?
This was (and is) a brilliant question because it accomplished two things:
1. It immediately created a distance from whatever was occupying my mind at that moment and my predominant mood on that day.
For someone new to yoga, the notion that my mind (thoughts, feelings, moods, fantasies and ideas) was somehow distinct from who I actually was seemed foreign and revolutionary. Yet answering this question made it feel natural, even obvious.
2. It allowed me to recognize that like weather patterns, the inner environment is always changing. No one mood lasts forever. Whatever pattern is dominant won’t necessarily last for too long.
Again, this awareness was at once plainly evident and at the same time held groundbreaking implications for my relationship to my mind.
Both of these understandings are crucial if we are to develop a healthy detachment from our thoughts and nurture...
Use your own light and return to the source of light. This is called practicing eternity.
This Brazilian Melon is one of the more interesting gifts I’ve received as a teacher. A student in a recent retreat gave it to me as a symbol of the lightness she felt in the days following our time together. For me, it was a sweet reminder of the inner sun that yoga reveals within us.
This is the Prana Shakti. Like a sun inside our selves, it is the source energy that animates our bodies, enlivens our senses and powers our minds.
It's exciting to notice the ways practice affects our state. The expansion of Prana we experience through practice brightens our interior being with greater vitality and magnifies our consciousness. Invariably, yet mysteriously, it fosters a sense of peace and lightheartedness and encourages a broader, wiser perspective on our lives.
In the second part of our interview, Bill offers guidance on how to approach the study of yoga philosophy and concrete suggestions about choosing what to study. And, he shares his reflections on how yogic wisdom can offer us a valuable perspective on understanding and responding to the tragic events of our times.
Is there something that Westerners approaching yoga philosophy often misunderstand about it?
I might mention two general misunderstandings. One is that students may feel that the philosophy will be too hard to understand and may not be relevant to their practice. Yes, traditional yoga philosophy draws from a long and respected history of inquiry and commentary by sages in the tradition that itself may seem rather abstract or subtle. But I also feel that people sometimes don’t give themselves enough credit for their ability to understand subtle yet important and influential philosophical perspectives. And those perspectives can be so illuminating and inspiring!
Bill Mahony is known in yoga communities around the world for his insightful, compassionate and engaging approach to the study of yoga philosophy. In his workshops, seminars and retreats, Bill integrates a deep knowledge of yoga philosophy with insights refined over nearly five decades of his own yogic practice.
Currently a professor of Religion at Davidson College in the United States, Bill holds academic degrees from Williams College, Yale University and the University of Chicago. His most recent book, Exquisite Love: Reflections on the Spiritual Life based on Nārada’s Bhakti Sūtra consists of Bill’s extended commentaries on a 10th century Sanskrit text on spiritual love. His other books include The Artful Universe: An Introduction to the Vedic Religious Imagination.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Bill a few questions about yoga philosophy. In this first of this two-part interview, Bill shares his own personal journey and the...
As we head into the new year, it is worth remembering that yoga gives us a way to start fresh not only once every 365 days but every single day. Like the sunrise, each time we enter into the practices we have the chance to begin again.
Moving with awareness, breathing fully, turning our attention inside we can experience the present moment as if for the first time.
Whether you are feeling strong in your body today or somewhat wrecked, close to your heart or far away, the starting point in yoga is always right where you are.
Though we usually think of time as moving in a linear progression, we can also see it as circular. The cycles of day and night, the seasons and years all circle back to a point of completion before beginning again.
In the cycle of the seasons, the Winter Solstice is such a moment of culmination, when darkness reaches its zenith, after which the days turn toward increasing light. Its the turning point, the transition, the pause in swing of the pendulum.
These days leading up to the Winter Solstice are the perfect time to take stock of where we have arrived at as the previous cycle moves toward completion and ponder what we would like to create in the next.
Not only does yoga practice provide the space to step back from the busy-ness of our lives where we can reflect on it all with greater clarity, yoga also offers specific ways to experience this tiny moment of standing still:
The darkness of the whole world cannot swallow the glowing of a candle.
Practice reveals this source place, this inner light. It glows with quiet joy, strength and, most essentially, love. We can allow it to light our way through times of darkness, struggle and challenge.
Like candles on the menorah, may the promise of the season illuminate your days with hope and comfort.
Thanks to Ondine and Tasha for making this menorah.
“Yoga is Skill in Action”
The Bhagavad Gita
Skill: the ability to do something well; expertise, adeptness, adroitness, prowess, mastery, competence, capability, aptitude, artistry, virtuosity, talent
Among all the many skills we develop as yoga teachers, the skill of being a student is perhaps the most important. It’s the meta-skill that overarches all the others.
Unlike most other subjects, being a student of yoga is not only about the knowledge we gain or the skills we sharpen. It’s about walking a path that takes us to the higher realms of wisdom and freedom. It’s a continual unfolding of the truth inside.
For the teacher who approaches yoga as a path of lifelong learning, yoga continually deepens. It never gets dull.
Through steady practice we gain access to the living core at the heart of our tradition.
Our teaching stays authentic and carries the force of our own experience. Mastering the skill of being a student not only enriches our...
Our free, online bonus content is designed to complement and enrich your experience of Evolving Your Yoga. Resources like video pose tutorials, downloadable journaling prompts, breathwork, guided visualizations, and more will support your exploration of each of the Ten Principles for Enlightened Practice.