The Su­tra

Ex­plore these tools for deeper con­cen-tra­tion, brought to you by Patan­jali.

Yoga Journal - - CONTENTS -


in one place can pro­vide steadi­ness dur­ing times of tur­moil and deep sad­ness. This type of con­cen­tra­tion, called

dha­rana, is the sixth limb of yoga. It’s akin to fo­cus­ing a cam­era lens on some­thing spe­cific: At first, the ob­ject in front of the lens ap­pears blurry, but grad­u­ally it’s brought into fo­cus un­til it’s sharp. In the prac­tice of asana, you can fo­cus your lens on a spe­cific place or area

(desa) of your body, such as your eyes, navel, or heart. This dis­ci­pline helps cen­ter your mind,

“Con­cen­tra­tion is the fix­ing of the mind in one place.” (Desa bandha cit­ta­sya dha­rana) SU­TRA 3.1 | TRANS­LA­TION BY ED­WIN BRYANT

al­low­ing it to set­tle into stillness and find clar­ity—even on par­tic­u­larly rough days.

Re­cently I was con­fronted with the pass­ing of a dear col­league and friend. She was a kind, beau­ti­ful, and de­voted Iyen­gar Yoga teacher who, about a year ear­lier, had learned she had an ag­gres­sive type of cancer. In the months af­ter her di­ag­no­sis, she taught yoga classes in­ter­mit­tently be­tween her chemo­ther­apy treat­ments. We talked reg­u­larly af­ter class in the teach­ers’ dress­ing room, and she was quite open about the chemo progress and set­backs.

De­spite all she was go­ing through, she re­mained up­beat. I no­ticed that she was tak­ing more time to talk to her stu­dents af­ter class, which I re­ally ad­mired. She wore fash­ion­able head scarves, and when her hair started to grow back, I mar­veled at her new, hip, cropped hair­style. She was 54 years old, yet looked 20 years younger—which made her death even more dif­fi­cult to fathom.

Right af­ter hear­ing the news of her pass­ing, I was sched­uled to teach a class that was par­tially filled with her stu­dents. I was not ready to show up as their teacher. My mind was deeply pulled into sad­ness, and my body was a meek fol­lower. Af­ter a dif­fi­cult start, with a bro­ken voice, I be­gan to turn the stu­dents’ at­ten­tion to a desa: their eyes.

This choice was not ran­dom. The late yoga mas­ter B.K.S. Iyen­gar wrote a pre­scrip­tion for yoga in times of crises. It’s a se­quence of propped supine poses and in­ver­sions, in which stu­dents keep their eyes open at all times—look­ing ahead or up at the ceil­ing.

I’d pre­vi­ously prac­ticed this se­quence a few times, and it had been a pow­er­ful ex­pe­ri­ence. At first, I had some dis­com­fort from the ef­fort it took to keep my eyes open and fo­cused on the ceil­ing or wall, but grad­u­ally this ef­fort melted away. My eye­balls seemed to de­scend into their sock­ets. They be­came deep wells of quiet per­cep­tion that had lit­tle to do with the act of see­ing any­more. They were com­pletely ab­sorbed in the asana and in my breath.

Teach­ing this se­quence re­minded me of this pro­found ex­pe­ri­ence. In the be­gin­ning of the prac­tice, dur­ing Supta Bad­dha Konasana (Re­clin­ing Bound An­gle Pose) and Supta Vi­rasana (Re­clin­ing Hero Pose), it’s very hard not to shut your eyes. So the art of re­lax­ing your eye mus­cles, eye­lids, eye­brows, and fore­head be­comes im­por­tant. Later, in sup­ported in­ver­sions like Vi­parita Karani (Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose), it is more about ob­serv­ing this restful eye state and the non-ur­gency to blink. In Savasana (Corpse Pose) with eyes open, it is as if the phys­i­cal sense of the eyes has dis­ap­peared, and you can feel the brain it­self rest­ing.

In hind­sight, the mean­ing of su­tra 3.1 re­vealed it­self dur­ing that 90-minute class. My stu­dents’ minds were eye-bound, and the re­sult was a deep con­cen­tra­tion. Ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing my­self, be­came a quiet wit­ness to the mo­ment; it felt like we were in the core of hon­esty. Sad­ness came and went like waves— while space was cre­ated to ob­serve this.

When the class ended, some stu­dents ex­changed hugs, and then ev­ery­one left the room qui­etly. The prac­tice had an­chored us and united our hearts. Sad­ness is uni­ver­sal. When we take time to tune in and con­cen­trate dur­ing rough times, the emo­tional bur­den dis­perses.


from Lu­ci­enne Vi­dah on page 47 to help you em­brace your in­ner archer and stay on tar­get.

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