In the year fifteen fifty seven, a man named Thomas Tusser put together a collection of writings which he called A Hundred Good Points of Husbandry. The April husbandry section included a short rhyme that stated “Sweet April showers do spring May flowers.” This short poem is a common thing to say around springtime even to this day, but it can also act as a template for optimism and patience. It is an almost timeless statement based on the concept that although the torrential rains of April may sometimes be less than pleasant, the payback is a very large quantity of flowers in May. A later variation on this theme is “March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers.” This is a classic example of “This too shall pass” and “Every dark cloud has a silver lining.” These catchy sayings bring equanimity to most of the difficult or challenging situations that we face in our everyday lives. Equanimity is calm composure when things are difficult to deal with. The word derives from the Latin root aequanimitas, from aequus ‘equal’ + animus ‘mind’. Balance and clarity emerge from the equal mind of equanimity.
In Ireland, Scotland, and the UK, the term April shower refers to a shift in the position of the jet stream that occurs in early spring as it migrates northward which brings heavy winds from the ocean. In these areas, large depressions in the land can allow the weather to change to severe extremes. As the environmental conditions fluctuate drastically between spring and winter, random sleet, snow, rain, and sunshine bounce back and forth in a stressful, chaotic mishmash of weather conditions. When the weather bounces around it becomes a stressor for your body, and stressors often compromise the immune system which is why we often get sick during seasonal changes. A similar proverb reads “Although rain in April is annoying, it starts the flowers growing". The April rainy season taught us that some unpleasant occurrences bring about better things.
Flowers and trees are photosynthetic organisms that require water and light to grow; they also contain chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is like the green gooey blood of the plant. In fact, there is only one genome difference between chlorophyll and hemoglobin. Chlorophyll is the green pigment responsible for the absorption of light by plants to provide energy for photosynthesis. Hemoglobin is the iron-rich red protein responsible for transporting oxygen in the blood of vertebrates. Plants grow toward the light, and Yogis grow in wisdom and spirituality toward enlightenment. Both move away from the darkness and toward the light. Out of the ignorance and into intelligence.
As Yoga practitioners (Sadhakas), we seek enlightenment via an ancient text known as the Yoga Sutras. The word Yoga from Sanskrit means union, and the word sutra means thread (like a suture for stitches). This ancient text is a series of aphorisms strung together to make up the ground rules for being a true yoga master. The text contains both internal and external codes of conduct, ethics, morals, and techniques for the practicing Yogi. The author of the Yoga Sutras was a great sage named Patanjali. He described the eight aspects of yoga as Ashtanga. The word ashta translated from Sanskrit means eight, the word anga means limb. The analogy that Patanjali is leading to is that the tree of Yoga has eight limbs or branches. These branches represent external codes of ethical and moral conduct (Yama), internal disciplines of conducting oneself (Niyama), practice of physical alignment and posture (Asana), Breath control and techniques (Pranayama),sensory withdrawal (Pratyahara), deep concentration (Dharana), meditation (Dhyana) and finally a state of complete absorption into joy and bliss as you realize the pure essence of all that exists in its true nature (Samadhi). Since most aspirants seeking this ultimate goal cannot even begin to conceptualize mastery over the internal and external code of conduct aspects of the eight limbs, the tendency is to skip the Yamas and Niyamas branches and go straight to Asana then Pranayama. Normally when climbing a tree with the goal of getting to the top, you would not deliberately skip the two branches closest to you on the ground and start with the third would you? Why is it that this tendency to start with the physical aspects of Yoga is so much greater than to start with the spiritual? The answer lies in the personal experiences of one of the greatest Yoga teachers of our time, B.K.S. Iyengar.
As a youth, Iyengar was born sickly and stayed that way. Even though he was not even expected to survive, he did. Along the way, he contracted typhoid, malaria, and tuberculosis before he found Yoga and the physically therapeutic aspects of Yoga Asana. Iyengar cured himself with Yoga, and without distraction from illness, spiritually was finally within his reach. Iyengar realized that the wall that he hit was the same as the obstacle in his path. The yoga community argued that starting Yoga with the physical asana negates the non-physical majority of the practice and thus somehow renders it obsolete. Iyengar’s point is that you cannot focus on or attain a spiritual experience if you are distracted by poor health. Practice the physical practice first (Asana as the first limb) then move on to breath control (second limb), get healthy, focused, and then you can work on the other limbs of Yoga. Iyengar received much criticism for this philosophy, and as a result gained a reputation as the non-spiritual, exclusively physical, prop oriented Yoga teacher. Iyengar went on to write the definitive “Light on Yoga” which is considered to be the Asana Yoga 'Holy Book' of descriptions of poses. Honestly, it’s a great book filled with accurate details on just about every yoga pose you can imagine. As an authority, master Yogi Iyengar took a very bold step and reworded or updated the sacred ancient yoga text of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali to state that Ashtanga is not so much like a tree in a forest of trees of styles of yoga reaching for enlightenment yearning for sunlight, but like a meadow of flowers blooming from the spring showers and each branch is not so much a limb but more like flower petals in a less linear but more circular pattern. In other words Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi, Yama and Niyama can coexist in that new specific order. Like petals on a flower any point in a circle can be the beginning. Personally my love of yoga started with Asana before Yama and Niyama. By the way, what in the world is a Yama and Niyama anyway?
The Yamas and Niyamas are kinda like the ten commandments. These ethical precepts are what real Yogis practice. Yamas consist of the external practice of non-violence (Ahimsa), truthfulness (Satya), non-stealing (Asteya), moderation or regulation of sensuality (Brahmacharya), non-hoarding or non-covetousness (Aparigraha). The Niyamas are observances whose qualities include internal and external cleanliness or purity (Saucha), contentment (Santosha), self discipline austerities (Tapas), self study and sacred text study (Swadhyaya), and a surrender to the fates or God's will (Isvara Pranidhanani). These are the first two branches that you will encounter as you climb the great tree of Yoga. Or the fourth and fifth depending on your preferred philosophy. It doesn’t really matter as long as it gets you to the practice. See you in class.
Studio BLUE - we offer classes in many styles, from Ashtanga to Yin! There's a class for everyone here at Studio BLUE. We're here to support you in your yoga journey, whether you've been on the path for years, or are just starting out. See you on the mat!
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