I have vague memories of this saying (from a nursery rhyme maybe?) from when I was little. It was something like “little boys are made of snips and snails and puppy dog tails and little girls are made of sugar, spice and everything nice”. I have no idea what a snip is, but it’s kinda fun to reflect on that simpler time when so many things were possible — like thinking of ourselves as made of something more than flesh and bone.
Yoga practice can be thought of as a process of un-doing. Backtracking many of the patterns we’ve habitually set in our body and mind. To experience yoga the ancient texts give us new ways to remember and understand what we’re made of — what we’re bringing to the mat — in a sense taking us back closer to those early childhood years when our minds were more open.
First up, the gunas – primordial forces of stability and light (sattva), activity/dynamism (rajas), and inertia/grounding (tamas), that keep the material world (prakriti) in motion and underpin it’s relative existence. Then there are the bhutas — the 5 elements that make up all material things — including us. These are earth, fire, water, air, and space. And it’s a bit easier to think of ourselves this way using the bodily framework of the koshas which suggest we have five bodies, not just one. These five bodies or sheaths are the food/physical body (annamaya kosha), the energetic body (pranamaya kosha), the emotional body (manomaya kosha), the intellectual body (ajnamaya kosha) and the spritual body (anandamaya kosha). And then there are the indriyas — what we use to gather information — our senses. All of these systems work together in various ways to create a body capable of experiencing yoga — oneness with all beings and the earth.
Yoga Sutra 2.18 says, “prakasha kriya sthiti shilam bhuta indriya atmakam
bhoga apavarga artham drishyam”.
Drśya – the seeable – has the characteristics of prakaśa (sattva guna – brightness), kriya (rajas guna – activity), and sthiti (tamas guna – inertia). It is embodied in the bhuta (5 elements) and the indriya (sense organs), and exists for the dual purpose of experience and emancipation!
Asanas give us this incredible, crazy opportunity to go in and look for these elements, to use our senses to explore the sheaths, the elements and even the primordial forces at work within us. The earth – the grounding, the tapas – fire in the belly, the water – sweat! and fluidity within us, the breath – air – prana, and the space – the bandha lightness that’s possible to tap into when we gain awareness within. This all exists for the dual purpose of experience and emancipation!
Emancipation, liberation — that’s what it’s all about. A release from suffering. Practice presents a way out of the repeating cycles of action that lead to continual experiences of dissatisfaction and disappointment. Instead guiding us toward a more balanced, centered, middle-way state that isn’t so bounced around by the comings and goings of this constantly changing experience we call life. By tapping into this system of understanding we can experience the world in a different, extraordinary, way and use that to bring about transformation – a new perspective — living liberated – rediscovering the open sense of wonder we held as a child. And who knows, they next time you go to lift up and jump back, maybe you’ll tap into that light feeling of air and space ignited by fire rather than the heaviness of water and earth. Anything is possible….