As a teacher, it’s easy to feel uninspired at certain points along the way, especially if we’ve been primarily zooming while living through a pandemic. Perhaps our teaching has become repetitive or mindless. Maybe our practice has become something to check off our to-do list. In any case, when I am feeling uninspired or want more guidance for my teaching, I turn to scripture. Spending just a few minutes a day contemplating a scripture that speaks of the wisdom of yoga, like the Yoga Sutra, reminds me of the deeper benefits of yoga that I can then share with my students.
My favorite go-to book on the Yoga Sutra is Pandit Rajmani Tigunait’s The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada. In his commentary on sutra 2:46, he explains that asana—a stable and comfortable posture—reconnects us with and awakens the intrinsic wealth of our body. This wealth, or inner intelligence, is expressed as four gifts: beauty, tastefulness, vitality, and inner healing power. We’ve become disconnected from these gifts, partly due to the physical and emotional stresses we experience in today’s world.
How can asana help us and our students reconnect with our inner wealth? When we consciously make our posture stable, steady, and comfortable—without stress, strain, or pain—the life force, prana shakti, flows through the body more smoothly, with fewer obstructions, thus allowing the four gifts to awaken and blossom. Each gift is an aspect of prana or grace. This knowledge has inspired me to go a little deeper into asana to access prana shakti, which helps me to be more aware of and to activate these four inherent gifts.
The Four Gifts Inherent in Our Body
The first of the four gifts is rupa, beauty. Often we don’t recognize the beauty of our own life, of our own body, and the way we create beauty around us. When we increase prana shakti, we increase the flow of beauty in and around us.
The second gift is lavanya, the quality of tastefulness. Tastefulness brings forward our inner charm and inspires us to create more than what we need for simple physical existence. It motivates us to be inventive and also to create communities that support us—it is the way we develop and deepen the relationships in our family, in our neighborhood, and in our yoga community.
We need greater vitality right now, greater resilience.
The third gift is bala, vitality (sometimes called virya). This gift is really important right now, especially for our students who have been affected by world events, who have become despondent or gloomy or grief-stricken or inert. We want them to understand that there is a depth of vitality in us, a depth of life in us that is meant to walk us through even the most difficult times. If we can inspire our students to look within for that vitality, then they can increase it in themselves and contribute it to the world. We need greater vitality right now, greater resilience.
The fourth gift is vajra–samhananatva, inner healing power. Often we forget that right next to whatever it is that we are dealing with—our grief, our loneliness, or our depleted health—there is a river of healing power running right alongside it that can help us overcome our weakness, illness, despair, or despondency, and that wakes up our inner intelligence so we know where to seek help in healing.
These four gifts are inherent in our body. They come with our body. And oftentimes, through our habits, our unknowingness, we begin to dull our relationship with these four gifts. We forget to look inside ourselves for the wealth that is already there. And that is what asana is really about—to wake up for ourselves and for our students the wealth that is already within us and to be able to act in the world with a strong pranic flow moving through us, so that we do experience beauty and the quality of tastefulness, we do know we are resilient and strong, and we do know how to access our own healing.
Increasing the Flow of Prana Shakti with Asana
Through the fruits of our own practice and study, we can teach our students to use asana practice to increase the flow of prana shakti in the body. This will help them to discover and reclaim these gifts, which are expressions of prana shakti. As prana shakti increases, we become more aware of the presence of wealth in the body. We gain a stable conviction that these inherent treasures are real and that they are part of the ever-flowing grace of being in a body.
Among specific practices that support an increase of prana shakti, agni sara is key. Agni means “fire, light, or knowledge.” It is that light, that intelligence, that fire that is inside of us, that passion for life, that beauty that is life. Sara means “essence.” It is the essence of that fire within us. So it is how we begin to see ourselves from a more essential point of view and how we awaken that essence of ourselves. By using the practice of agni sara to enhance prana—activating the pranic hub in the abdomen—we increase our ability to access and lay claim to these four kinds of inner wealth. And, on a simple physical level, it also increases our digestive fire, allowing us to digest not only food, but also life experiences, more easily. Our students have had a lot to stomach lately—emotionally, energetically, and physically—that may cause some sort of indigestion, interfering with the flow of the four gifts. Agni sara is a practice that supports us on many levels.
As prana shakti increases, we become more aware of the presence of wealth in the body.
There are a few other, simple poses that we can use to help assess and activate prana in the abdomen and pelvis, like cat-cow pose and bird dog pose. We can add these to our practice to restore the natural brilliance and radiance of being in our body, to allow ourselves to be more cheerful even during difficult times. For example, with cat-cow pose, we can work with the practice of compression (akunchana) and expansion (prasarana) by adding an abdominal squeeze to help clear out the toxins and obstacles that block our flow of beauty and cause us to see beauty only as something outside us rather than within us. We want to stir up the stagnation first on the physical level, and then on the subtle level, to remove whatever blocks our ability to experience the gifts in our own body, so we can be more resilient and vital.
Coupling asana with the breath through breath awareness—coordinating movement and breath—is a major way to increase the flow of prana shakti and our experience of inner wealth. When we combine breath awareness with simple poses done mindfully, we can take this into any pose—triangle warrior, chair—and be more alive in each pose. Practicing asana this way helps to remove restrictions and tightness that compromise the flow of prana, thus giving us increased access to prana and the experience of pranic flow. This kind of practice will also inspire us and our students not to be bored with the pose or the rhetoric of doing the pose correctly. Rather, we can ask students to understand: What does stability in the body mean to me? What does it mean to be comfortable in my body? Can moving with the breath facilitate these? How does it expand the experience of prana shakti?
By practicing agni sara, cat-cow, and other poses that activate our pranic hub, and by uniting movement with the breath, we support the flow of prana shakti and begin to reclaim an awareness of our own beauty and our own tastefulness—the ability to extend relationship into our family and community and the world. We start to bring back our vitality that has been marginalized or set aside, and we can strengthen that inner healing power that flows right next to, and is an antidote to, the forces that work to weaken our health and wellbeing, including, the grief, sorrow, anger, or even hatred, that we may be feeling or suffering from.
Teach from Your Own Experience
Use what someone teaches you to first experience it yourself and then teach it from your own experience. This is the important part for you as a teacher. Your teaching has to come from your own experience. Then you will be able to share with your students in a much more real way. What do you feel that is real for you when you do the poses? Do you feel more alive? Do you feel more grace flowing through your body? Is your heart beating faster?
Use what someone teaches you to first experience it yourself and then teach it from your own experience.
What prana shakti—life force, vitality—do you feel within you? That life force indicates that you have a greater flow of your own wealth. When we can experience this for ourselves, we can then more fully inspire our students to experience a greater force of life inside of themselves. Then whatever wealth we all bring up within ourselves is our gift to the world. As we awaken more of ourselves as teachers, we become more comfortable in ourselves, we become more stable in who we are, we become more confident not only in our teaching but in our ability to live life more fully—as will our students.
Connecting to the World
It is also important as a teacher to stay awake to the general condition of the world that we now live in. It clues us in to what our students might be needing. Right now, the world is pretty topsy-turvy. As a teacher, activating the pranic hub—increasing vitality and the presence of grace—can be richly rewarding for ourselves and our students. Sitting inactive too long and drawing inward with each new disaster, whether it’s personal or collective, depletes us. Our breath shallows, our body becomes sluggish, our mind becomes disturbed, distracted, or dull. We lose our vitality. We forget our inner beauty, the possibilities for our life to expand tastefully, the power we have to heal ourselves, and by extension the gifts we have to offer the world.
Returning to the timeless wisdom of the Yoga Sutra and our own mats in a new way, we can inspire ourselves and in turn inspire our students to expand their potential, to return to the ever-present grace within. We can inspire and teach ourselves and our students how to go through this pandemic, this climate change, this loss, this grief, whatever is upon us, with greater faith, more resources, and the wisdom awakening from within to guide us in this ever-changing world. By awakening a richness that is already ours, we can then help to awaken it in our students and teach them to reconnect to their own inner wealth—to increase the flow of the four gifts within them: beauty, tastefulness, vitality, and inner healing power. With these gifts expressing themselves in us and in our students, the world becomes richer, more stable, and more comfortable. Our practice matters. Our teachings matter.