Asana as fact finding mission
In the yoga sutras of Patanjali, yoga is defined as the cessation of the movements in the consciousness. There are five classifications of the movements in the consciousness, they are: correct knowledge, delusion, illusion, sleep and memory. At any time your consciousness can be fluctuating in one of these classes. We hope though to get out of the latter classifications and get back to correct knowledge. The latter classifications, especially delusion and illusion, can cause increased movements in the consciousness–the opposite of the goal in yoga.
But what is correct knowledge? The yoga sutras state that correct knowledge is direct, inferred or proven as factual. So, correct knowledge is knowing something and knowing that it is factual. I can know a fact if I experience it directly, if I infer it through reason or if I ask an authoritative source, such as a teacher.
In his commentary of sutra 1.7 B.K.S. Iyengar says that the fact finding process necessary for establishing correct knowledge cultivates enlightened intelligence (buddhi in Sanskrit). And that enlightened intelligence moves you out of the sensory perceptions of the mind, closer to the consciousness and then closer to the core of your being.
This is not an intellectual intelligence, not how quickly I can do the New York Times crossword puzzle. But how well I can know something to be a fact. Can I notice that the sky is blue and know it to blue? Can I notice that the air frantic or still and know it to be true?
In Iyengar Yoga we explore this fact finding in the Asana practice. When the teacher instructs you how to create an action in the pose, such as pressing the foot to lift the thigh, we go to the pose and see if we are actually doing it. If I am creating the actions (to the best of my ability) then I am able to meditate on that for awhile. If I determine I am not then I have to make a decision about what to change so that the thigh lifting becomes the fact. It’s not always possible to know 100% that the thigh is lifting that day. But it’s the effort to try to know that changes the fluctuations of consciousness–away from delusion, illusion, sleep and memory and back to correct knowledge.
Instead of thinking of yoga as just doing a series poses we could instead think of the Asana practice as a fact finding mission. We create our questions and then find our own answers. In the beginning the questions are more simple: What poses should I practice? Where should I practice? And for how long? After some experience the questions become slightly more sophisticated: I can’t remember, in this pose is the front leg bent or straightened? After years of an established practice the questions and answers become much more individualized and profound–that’s when it becomes clearer that the fluctuations impact the physical body and vice versa.
The beauty of Iyengar Yoga is that through the experience of the Asanas the beginner can feel profundity in their body even though they are not yet seeking the answers to their own profound questions. Even at the beginning you can tell that something is happening.