By Shanna Small
After David Garrigues’s blog post, What About the Other Seven Limbs, the internet has been discussing if seated meditation is apart of Ashtanga and if we should eventually give up our physical practice for something more meditative. Here is my two cents.
Just because a yoga teacher does not discuss yoga philosophy in their classes does not mean they don’t believe in it.
I will use myself as an example. I am heavy into spirituality and yogic philosophy, but 99% of what I teach is asana. Why? Because the students came for the asana and it is the most effective way to open their minds to the spiritual world. When the door is open, I throw in a little bit of yoga philosophy and then I hope it sticks. However, my writing is the flip side of that . 99% of my writing is spiritual and 1% is about physical stuff. Why, because it is easier for me to transmit the information that way.
From what I have read, Guruji spoke often of yoga philosophy and even ayurveda in the beginning, had spontaneous talks with students over coffee and answered questions but as his classes got bigger, he stopped. . Maybe he wanted the yoga to speak for itself or maybe it was to much work to convey it to that many people with his limited English. Who knows why but from all reports of people who practiced with him in the earlier days, he taught from the sutras and other texts.
Guruji was a student of the scriptures and of Patanjali
I never studied with Guruji or Sharath for that matter. However, I am an avid researcher. From everything that I have seen, Pattabhi Jois was a scholar and studied the scriptures. Even a basic search on You Tube and Google will reveal articles and videos of him talking about Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
Here is an excerpt from an interview with Pattabhi Jois where he talks about seated meditation. Thank you Anthony Grimm Hall for finding this.
K Pattabhi Jois: Meditation is Dhyana, the seventh step in the Ashtanga system. After one step is perfect, then you take the next step. For dhyana, you must sit with a straight back with your eyes closed and focus on the bridge of the nostrils. If you don’t do this, you’re not centered. If the eyes open and close, so does the mind. Taken from this interview with Sandra Anderson
This quote is specifically about seated meditation. I am sure there are many more, send them to me and I will share. Also, he saw meditation as “the next step”
Sutra 2:27 From the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali:
TASYA SAPTADHA PRANTABHUMIH PRAJNA.
Source: English translation from The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Sri Swami Satchidananda)
One’s wisdom in the final stage is sevenfold. [One experiences the end of 1) desire to know anything more; 2) desire to stay away from any thing; 3) desire to gain anything new; 4) desire to do anything; 5) sorrow; 6) fear; 7) delusion.]
This verse can be further broken down, but most scholars interpret it to mean that the yogi lets go of techniques. They abide in the Self, the infinite. If they want to practice asana, they do it. But there is no attachment, no need for “discipline”, no need for more poses, no need to complete poses, no need for any school of thought or method. At this point, the yogi is so connected to the infinite that they have access to all knowledge and they have reached a level of discernment that allows them to sift through all information and know what is appropriate for any situation.
I have been fortunate to witness a few master teachers in my life. People that you can ask ANY question under the sun and they can give the answer without having studied any book. They give their students techniques but they themselves don’t need them. It is pretty amazing.
Asana is a technique. Meditation is a technique. It is like someone continuing to use crutches when they can walk or continuing to take medicine when their illness is gone. The illness of the ego leaves, then the yogi can just exist without the need of the medicine of asana, pranayama, meditation etc.
Just like we naturally wanted to let go of our toys when we got to a certain age(even the ones you hid when your parents and friends pressured you to give them up), it will happen that way for some people. Most of us, will never get to this point. And indeed, if the thought of letting go of your asana practice makes you anxious, then definitely you are nowhere near this point and it is okay. Do You.
Pictures from Ashtanga Picture project contributors. The vies of the author are not necessarily the views of the contributors.
Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.