Prashant Iyegar and Poetry

An Evolving Poly- Eco- Yoga Humanifesto, from Pegasus at the Balance

Fifteenth Deep Breath, and only 5 more to go!

Yogis of the world unite and take your yoga off the mat and into the wider world!!

I don’t actually remember when I first encountered Prashant. It may have been on the first pilgrimage to India in 1989. I knew about his existence, of course, and that he was busy already back then writing book after book about yoga, or Yog, as he likes to call it.
He carries himself like a noble shy person, upright and aloof. The odd aspect of his teaching, though, is that he has become one of the most accessible of the original family of Iyengar teachers for us seekers of yoga wisdom.

I do remember hearing Prashant’s music playing during his practice upstairs at the institute while we were downstairs in classes. He became a student of the violin through his father’s connection to Yehudi Menuhin (who famously called Iyengar his “finest music teacher”). Obviously a great lover of music, Prashant suffered a tragic accident leading to the injury of one of his arms. He was not able to continue to play violin, nor to continue his brilliant yoga practice in the same way he had developed it. Surely these difficult incidents developed his ability to deal with adversity. Likewise, adversity can also sharpen our practice of classical yoga rather than dull it, whether or not we have musical instruments in our lives.

His current gift of Saturday morning talks (at least it’s Saturday morning where I am, probably Friday evening where he is) has been so welcome. He has touched on so many different themes: his father as artist, philosopher and yogi, the concept of dharma, why we NEED kleshas and courage to turn our backs on mundanity, as he calls the modern world. He has even touched on the topics of psychedelic drugs and yogic diet. He often refers to the Bhagavad Gita and how the yogi needs to work on her/his liberation by YOGIC means (not drug-induced means). Kleshas, to circle back to them, are mis-translated, says Prashant, as “afflictions.” In fact, they are the experiences in life that have the capacity to bring about profound change.
At one point during a talk in April, I believe, he made a link between the kinds of yoga and the kleshas. Jnana yoga for avidya/ignorance, karma yoga for asmita/ego, bhakti yoga for abhinivesha/clinging to life, and hatha yoga for raga/dvesha.

Recently he has been speaking of his father in his roles as philosopher during his practice, scientist during his teaching and artist during his performances. Prashant continually emphasizes that the book “Light on Yoga” and its hundreds of photographs are NOT a path to practice. Despite the appendix with the courses of practice, he stresses that Iyengar’s work in the book was chiefly to propagate yoga, not to give a map for each person. We actually need to find these maps for ourselves, he emphasizes. They are not in any book.

I remember an afternoon discussion with him along with some Mexican colleagues of mine in Prashant’s office at RIMYI. One of the people present asked Prashant about guilt, and how to deal with it. I will always remember the response: “Guilt weakens the mind.” In that way, I would say that it is a bit like worry—it is a uselelss chitta vrtti. It only creates trouble, depression, anxiety, and worse.

One of the finest memories I have of Prashant’s classes was an early morning pranayama class. He was spooling through his highly articulated descriptions of inhalation and exhalation and came up with the image of a hibiscus flower. It took me awhile to realize that he was talking about the hibiscus, because he pronounced it ee-biscus. But then the image of that bell-shaped flower made so much sense, as we took deeper and broader in-breaths and felt that beautiful flower blooming deep within us. After class, several people were in tears.

One year, I found at Manny’s bookstore a copy of William Blake’s Collected Works. Because I know that Prashant appreciates poetry, I gave it to him. His delighted smile told me that he actually might appreciate it. I read his books and sometimes feel that it is possible to better understand his teaching while it is going on rather than through a book. At least, that is how it has been for me. So now, I’m very grateful that it is possible to take his classes online (especially the pranayama classes) and to hear his “dharma talks” on Saturday mornings. I do look forward to the newest volume of his work on the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, which I believe is on the chapter about Yogic Practice, the second pada.
Prashant’s teaching has widened my understanding of “yog” and of his father’s teaching. Reading B.K.S. Iyengar I could sense his love of language. Being present during his teaching, I was even more struck with his facility to find poetic means to convey the depth of yoga practice to us. With Prashant’s teaching that depth becomes even more refined. It is clear to me that he is a yogi/poet/philosopher as well as a determined scholar of the enormous literature around the subject. I am grateful.

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