Adjusting the brain

“If your body can do more and you do not do it, that is unethical practice. Ethical discipline of the asana is when you extend correctly, evenly and to the maximum. The brain is the hardest part of the body to adjust in asanas. If the brain is silent but attentive while performing asanas, your practice is nonviolent.” -B.K.S. Iyengar

This is an interesting quote, isn’t it? Doing asana isn’t the hardest part. But doing your best and knowing and seeing yourself for what you are, knowing your own potential and your limits, that’s the hurdle to take. Listening to the ‘chatter’ that goes on inside and not letting it lead you away from your full potential (“this pose is so hard, I can’t do it. And I’m pretty tired actually. Or do I need to work harder? Pushpushpush… wait. Ouch. Is that a ‘good pain’ or a ‘bad pain’? This pose is so hard…”).

Finding that balance between practice and ‘letting go of the results’ is a key passage in one of the central texts in yoga philosophy, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Patanjali says ‘practice and detachment are the means to still the movements of the mind’. Practice is the serious and steady repeated effort towards a goal. Practice can also refer to the first four limbs of the ‘ashtanga’, the eightfold path of yoga: yama (how to relate yourself to the world), niyama (how to relate to yourself), asana and pranayama.

Detachment refers to the process of disengaging oneself from the results of practice. The brain often wants to identify with what comes out of your practice – it has a need to feel either successful or unsuccessful, to compare itself to others, or to live either in the past or in the future. If you identify yourself too much with what comes out of your practice, it will only lead you away from true insight into who you really are. The last four limbs of the ‘ashtanga’ will lead you to this consolidation: turning inward of the senses, concentration, meditation and finally enlightenment.

But of course, the two need to be balanced. You need to discern the right actions from the wrong ones. Too much detachment can leave you paralysed and lethargic, unable to do anything. Too much practice will leave you tired, injured, empty and frustrated. The ability to see the truth in your process, to adjust the brain instead of just the body, is the real challenge.