When you go to India to study with the Iyengars you learn that they have an amazing gift for language. The English they speak is maybe not exactly the same English that you speak, but BKS Iyengar, as well as his daughter Geeta and his son Prashant, all speak with great poetic power and creativity. Prashant Iyengar’s classes are peppered with aphorisms that have come to be called Prashantisms: “Do pragmatically, not dogmatically”; “If you want to learn you must learn to teach yourself”; “Evolve the connectivities”; “Asanas are to be done by the body but for the mind.” Attend enough of Prashant’s classes and you will figure out that what he most wants to teach you is how to be a better practitioner, how to make your own practice better.
When we start doing yoga, it’s usually by going to classes. Starting a practice of our own is a major step, and learning how to practice is a long-term endeavor. What asanas should we do? How long should we hold them? How long should we practice? A natural first step is just to try to do at home something we’ve been taught in class. Sometimes the idea of practicing on your own is so intimidating, it seems like it’s just easier to go to class instead. But as we continue with yoga, we learn that while attending classes regularly is important, there’s something about practicing at home that can’t be replicated in a class. And it is as Prashant says, you have to learn to teach yourself.
On my last trip to Pune in June 2011, Prashant was asking if we could name what he called the 18 major kriyas (actions) that should be going on during our asana practice. I’m not sure I got all eighteen of them, but I know that one of them he calls vachika kriya, by which he means an act of speaking. Not that you are actually speaking aloud while practicing, but that you are silently speaking to yourself about “the whys and hows” of what you are doing in order to improve your level of engagement in the practice. This vachika kriya helps you to “do pragmatically, not dogmatically.” It helps you not to imagine that there’s only one right way to do things (e.g. the way you were taught most recently in a class), and not to think that you should always practice that same way. You use your asana practice as, to use Prashant’s word, a “laboratory” in which you are constantly checking in with yourself about how the experiment is going, and what the effects of your practice are.
Another one of the 18 kriyas Prashant refers to is the kriya of commencement, the arambha kriya. This is what you do when you begin your very first pose of the practice. Often during the first pose of Prashant’s classes, he will give the instruction to “evolve the connectivities,” by which he means that you remember that you are not just engaged in some physical activity, but you need to start to weave together or to knead together your sense of your self, your mental faculties, your body, and your breath. It is all of these aspects working together that make up a yoga practice. Then as you practice, by noticing how your body, your breath, and your mind are interacting, you begin to realize in your own way that “asanas are to be done by the body but for the mind.”
Learning how to practice seems like an endless task, but even for someone who is just beginning a home practice, these aphorisms of Prashant’s can be a big help. Suppose you are just going to practice four or five poses. Say they are Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog), Utthita Trikonasana (triangle pose), Utthita Parsvakonasana (side angle pose), Uttanasana (standing forward bend), and Savasana. In the first pose you “evolve the connectivities”: you check in with various parts of your body; you remember actions you have learned and try reapplying them today: you check in with your breath and maybe see what actions work best on the exhalation and what ones on the inhalation; you talk through all of this with yourself in your mind (vachika kriya) and as you do so, you notice how your mind is feeling as you begin the practice. You continue to work pragmatically through your chosen set of poses, remembering that you are doing these asanas with your body, but for your mind, aiming for a mind that is focussed, fully alert, and calm.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Michael Lucey teaches Tuesday and Friday evenings at Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco

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8 Responses to “Prashantisms”

  1. August 01, 2012 at 6:52 am, Jen said:

    So, to what source can we go to read about the “18 major kriyas”? thank you

    Reply

    • August 01, 2012 at 10:45 am, francis said:

      Hi Jen ,You might start by looking through the Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Svatmarama. We have a copy in the library here.

      Reply

      • August 10, 2012 at 9:39 pm, Nodari said:

        Hello I enjoyed your itvirneew very much. Thanks so much for the meditation/relaxation at the end boy, I needed that! I am learning how to meditate at the present, so I need lots of practice (my mind wanders endlessly sometimes). I am very interested in your flexibility DVD. Do you have any recommendations on poses, etc.? I have very poor flexibility genetic background for it. I’ve been told downward dog is useful for all over, but I have rheumatoid arthritis in my wrists, so this pose is very difficult. I saw your modifications for this on your website, which is more doable for me. I enjoy yoga very much, but I have to consistently modify and think how to not hurt myself. It’s a practice in patience for me since I have to stop, think, redo the pose, etc. which I guess is good for me also! Thanks for your thoughts![]

        Reply

    • August 11, 2012 at 2:38 am, Wawan said:

      I enjoyed your talk and it brugoht back good memories of being strong and flexible. I did yoga on my own in my early twenties, long long ago alas! Many pounds and years later, I now have a debilitating health condition called Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, basically emphysema with some other goodies thrown in, leaving me with only about 30% of normal lung capacity. What yoga poses should I stay away from and what should I go for? I don’t know if anyone here (Orlando FL) does classes for those with health issues, so I may be on my own with a DVD. Breathing I can do![]

      Reply

  2. August 01, 2012 at 8:20 am, Cynthia Bates said:

    Beautiful!

    Reply

    • August 10, 2012 at 8:13 pm, Rizzky said:

      I’m an egg head too! Slow and steady has been the key for me too! I was not oievwerght in college and still exercise left me ill for hours. The result was for years I avoided exercise and dreaded it. Allergies caused problems with walking, that and the heat and humidity; indoor walking is dull and I don’t handle dull well. Feeling bad led to mood issues, some depression and a lot of anxiety.That is what led me to belly dance and ballroom dance. I recognized that stress was hurting me and my lack of exercise was unhealthy but honestly, the gym was boring, aerobics class was boring, pilates was miserable and I don’t do boring or miserable. Finding a not boring movement that I could do and start where I was and go forward was really important to me and so I started trying things. Trying things caused me to discover that I love to dance. So much so that it led to my joining a gym with a trainer who tailored my workouts to help me be stronger for dancing! Dance motivated me.Now I have come to a place where I am working to master belly dance to a level where I go beyond needing a teacher all the time, and I am looking for other things that I can learn to do well enough to do them even when no longer near a class. Your example is an inspiration! I’m going to try Yoga next![]Meera Reply:July 23rd, 2010 at 3:07 pmI’m so glad you discovered a love of dancing, it can be more than exersize a celebration of spirit! If you’re patient with a Yoga practice, and do the guided relaxation at the end of the class, you will experience such a pervasive sense of peace, you’ll want to explore even more of the Yoga practices. Thanks for writing![]

      Reply

  3. August 01, 2012 at 11:22 am, Michael said:

    Jen, Prashant has a number of pretty interesting books to read about practicing, including “A Class after Class”; “Chittavijnana of Yogasanas”; and “Yoga and the New Millennium”. When I was in Pune last summer, he said there’d be a new publication coming out some time in the future in which he’d discuss all 18 of these kriyas for your practice that he mentions in his teaching. I don’t know if that’s been published yet. The other books I’ve mentioned are probably in the library at IYISF, and they are also available through the iynaus.org website.
    Kind regards,
    Michael

    Reply

    • August 11, 2012 at 1:50 am, Santhosh said:

      I loved that you were not a skinny miinne and that you still have the joy of doing what you love. Thank you for answering my questions about fibromyalgia and about starting back with it at home so I don’t feel so out there with the others who know what they are doing and can do it! You can’t imagine how embarrassing it is to be outdone by a woman of 70 or 75!!! LOLThank you for your presentation ..I loved it, and got a lot out of it most especially a desire to try it again.[]Meera Reply:July 23rd, 2010 at 3:04 pmOh that makes me so happy! I really want to be of service with Big Yoga, and get all body types on the mat.[]

      Reply

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