Why Yoga? - BKS Iyengar

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The Illustrated Light on Yoga - Yoga Dipika
Author: BKS Iyengar

Foreword by Yehudi Menuhin

The practice of Yoga induces a primary sense of measure and proportion.

Reduced to our own body, our first instrument, we learn to play it, drawing from it maximum resonance and harmony. With unflagging patience we refine and animate every cell as we return daily to the attack, unlocking and liberating capacities otherwise condemned to frustration and death.

Each unfulfilled area of tissue and nerve, of brain or lung, is a challenge to our will and integrity, or otherwise a source of frustration and death. Whoever has had the privilege of receiving Mr Iyengar's attention, or of witnessing the precision, refinement and beauty of his art, is introduced to that vision of perfection and innocence which is man as first created - unarmed, unashamed, son of God, lord of creation in the Garden of Eden.

The tree of knowledge has indeed yielded much fruit of great vanety, sweet, poisonous, bitter, wholesome according to our use of it. But is it not more imperative than ever that we cultivate the tree, that we nourish its roots?

Formerly, even in the Western world, music, painting, architecture, philosophy and medicine, as well as wars, were always in the service of God.

The practice of Yoga over the past thirty years has convinced me that most of our fundamental attitudes to life have their physical counterparts in the body. Thus comparison and criticism must begin with the alignment of our own left and right sides to a degree at which even finer adjustments are feasible: or strength of will may cause us to start by stretching the body from the toes to the top of the head in defiance of gravity.

Impetus and ambition might begin with the sense of weight and speed that comes with free-swinging limbs, instead of the control of prolonged balance on foot, feet or hands, which gives poise.

Tenacity is gained by stretching in various Yoga postures for minutes at a time, while calmness comes with quiet, consistent breathing and the expansion of the lungs.

Continuity and a sense of the universal come with the knowledge of the inevitable alternation of tension and relaxation in eternal rhythms of which each inhalation and exhalation constitutes one cycle, wave or vibration among the countless myriads which are the universe.

What is the alternative? Thwarted, warped people condemning the order of things, cripples criticizing the upright, autocrats slumped in expectant coronary attitudes, the tragic spectacle of people working out their own imbalance and frustration on others.

Yoga, as practised by Mr Iyengar, is the dedicated votive offering of a man who brings himself to the altar, alone and clean in body and mind, focussed in attention and will, offering in simplicity and innocence not a burnt sacrifice, but simply himself raised to his own highest potential.

It is a technique ideally suited to prevent physical and mental illness and to protect the body generally, developing an inevitable sense of self-reliance and assurance.

By its very nature it is inextricably associated with universal laws: respect for life, truth, and patience are all indispensable factors in the drawing of a quiet breath, in calmness of mind and firmness of will.

In this lie the moral virtues inherent in Yoga. For these reasons it demands a complete and total effort, involving and forming the whole human being. No mechanical repetition is involved and no lip-service as in the case of good resolutions or formal prayers. By its very nature it is each time and every moment a living act.

Mr Iyengar's Light on Yoga has, since it was first published in 1966, enabled many to follow his example and become teachers to carryon his work.

I was glad at the time to share in its presentation and I welcome this new concise edition equally enthusiastically. It will bring the basic art of Yoga to a much wider audience and will enable it to be practised at the very highest level.

Excerpt from Preface to Light on Yoga: BKS Iyengar

Yoga is a timeless pragmatic science evolved over thousands of years dealing with the physical, moral, mental and spiritual well-being of man as a whole. The first took to systematize this practice was the classic treatise the Yoga Sutras (or Aphorisms) of Patarijali dating from 200 BC.

Unfortunately most of the books published on Yoga in our day have been unworthy of both the subject and its first great exponent, as they are superficial, popular and at times misleading. I have even been asked by their readers whether I can drink acid, chew glass, walk through fire, make myself invisible or perform other magical acts. Scholarly and reliable expositions of the religious and philosophical texts already exist in most languages - but the practice of an art is more difficult to communicate than a purely literary or philosophical concept.

This book provides a comprehensive introduction to yoga. It describes the techniques for 57 asanas with the aid of 146 photographs and it also covers pranay arna with the aid of another four photographs.

The Western reader may be surprised at the recurring reference to the Universal Spirit, to mythology and even to philosophical and moral principles. We must not forget that in ancient times all the higher achievements of man, in knowledge, art and power, were part of religion and were assumed to belong to God and to His priestly servants on earth. The Catholic Pope is the last such embodiment of divine knowledge and power in the West. But formerly, even in the Western world, music, painting, architecture, philosophy and medicine, as well as wars, were always in the service of God.

It is only very recently in India that these arts and sciences have begun to shake off the Divine - but with due respect, for the emancipation of man's will, as distinct from the Divine will, we in India continue to value the purity of purpose, the humility of discipline and the selflessness that are the legacy of our long bondage to God, I consider it important as well as interesting that the reader should know the origin of asanas, and I have, therefore, included legends handed down by practising yogis and sages.

All the ancient commentaries on yoga have stressed that it is essential to work under the direction of a Guru (Master), and although my experience proves the wisdom of this rule, I have endeavoured with all humility in this book to guide the reader - both teacher and student - to a correct and safe method of mastering these asanas and pranayamas.

In the Appendix, I have introduced a 35 weeks' course for the intense practitioner, grouping the asanas stage by stage according to their structure. Study in detail the hints and cautions before attempting the asana and pranayama techniques.

Anisha Sharma
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