I was teaching a weekend workshop out of town recently and one of the teachers in attendance told me that he was having a difficult time in his practice. This person is a studio owner and is overwhelmed with responsibilities. He said (and I have heard this very sentiment expressed by many a student and teacher alike) that it was easier just to plug in an audio or video tape and be guided than to do self directed practice. "I just don't want to have to think of what to do."
And I know some Iyengar teachers who almost exclusively practice along with the audio or videotaped classes that we have been able to purchase in Pune. I am not judging these approaches to practice - different approaches can be helpful at different times. At the very least, practice is happening. And if the student is being guided by someone as brilliant as Geeta Iyengar, then by all means follow along.
But I also feel that the statement "I just don't want to have to think" is worth examining. I understand this completely. It is nice to be led. That is one of the reasons students enjoy coming to classes. Actually, I think there are many students who do very little, if any, self-directed practice and rely almost exclusively on the classroom experience (or audio/video tapes) as their daily yoga practice.
So, back to the statement, "I just don't want to have to think." Maybe that is the problem. Thinking more than feeling or sensing. Thinking or analysis has its place, but feel first. How about sensing the body, feeling the breath, and following these guides for awhile? What about giving yourself the opportunity to tune in this way. How about sensing, feeling, then acting as Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen has written in her book Sensing, Feeling, and Action. Where might we go? Maybe here. Right here in this body, with this mind, just as it is.
I have found that tuning into my body, really listening to what it is communicating and letting the practice be lead from the bottom up, so to speak, to be deeply satisfying and irreplaceable. This type of practice can only be self/body/breath led. Now, often what happens is once time has been given for the body to speak - to be felt and followed - then a type of dance ensues between body and brain/mind. A sort of bottom up/top down dance emerges. Intuition and intellect go back and forth - playing, if you will. It is a dance between a more body directed practice and one that might have a more traditional or intellect directed form. And what is so wonderful is that body and mind then become yoked, joined and as naturally communicative and harmonious as inhaling and exhaling. They become dance partners. Or as William Butler Yeats writes "how can we know the dancer form the dance?"
To dance in this manner, trust must be built up. I am reminded of what BKS Iyengar calls the "yoga vitamins." These are articulated in sutra 1.20. They are faith or trust, vigor, memory, absorption, and wisdom or intuitive insight. The last one is key. Prajna is defined as wisdom, insight or intuition. How can we cultivate intuition if we don't give ourselves the opportunity to do so? Insight comes from seeing inside, not looking outside for guidance. Outer guidance from a teacher is very important, but insight and intuition are the children of inner seeing, inner sensing, inner listening. It is a deep, intimate and private dance. And it happens within the privacy of our own body, heart and mind.
Trust, the first vitamin (and i am using the word trust here because faith can be such a loaded term for many). But trust is built, little by little, through experience; as BKS Iyengar says, it "is confirmed by revelation." He describes faith or Sraddha as "felt trust." He also says that trust is instinctive and faith is intuitional. Well, that sounds like the Prajna or wisdom/intuition/insight described above.
Both Christopher Isherwood in his book How to Know God, and BKS Iyengar in his book Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, write so beautifully the topics of Sraddha and Prajna (faith and wisdom). When writing about sutra 1.20, both of them describe a process involving little daily efforts which build over time into some deep connectivity that gives us the capacity to be a loving and intimate friend to ourselves even in the most difficult of times. This capacity is also supported by the other vitamins of virya (vigor), smrti (keen memory) and samadhi (absorption). Practice then becomes as essential to living as breathing, eating and sleeping. And what I mean by practice is the daily act of communing or tuning into, seeing into, listening into ones own body, heart and mind; and doing so without (in my opinion) an external guide in the form of a teacher or tape.
Again, I am not knocking the value of the tape or teacher. I love to listen to teachings on audio tape and being lead by a wise voice in my asana, pranayama, and even meditation practices. But trusting one's own heart, building faith or "felt trust" as described by BKS is something that comes from the little daily effort to turn off, for a time, all those outer voices and tune in to an inner experience, or least do a little dance between the two.
We need vitamins from the food we eat. We need practice vitamins, too. And the wonderful thing about what BKS Iyengar calls the yoga vitamins is that they are manufactured from within, by practice itself. Practice begets the vitamins themselves. We are fed and nourished, and lead, from within.