This is from a class taught at the Summer Intensive with Jess at Clear Yoga.
Who would have thought that “Who am I?” would be the theme for a weekend Yoga Intensive!! It makes sense when we realize that within each asana are tools to allow us to investigate the different parts of our body. They let us begin to uncover pieces of the picture that lead to a greater understanding of “Who I am”. We started on Friday night with the separation and lift of the side chest and the release of the neck and shoulders. On Saturday we moved on to the discovery of the second and third metatarsals in the feet and the ramifications that they can have in our body… But to get a clear picture of the parts that contribute to the whole we need to be able to separate those parts and bring our attention and focus to them. Patanjali tells us that between us and understanding lie the klesas- the afflictions that cloud and limit our perception. The first two Avidya and Asmita are particularly relevant to our investigations.
The first – Avidya means not knowing, an absence of knowledge regarding something that we have not noticed. Through practice, we cultivate vidya – knowledge. By separating pieces, we start to notice parts we didn’t notice before, or how we habitually do, or avoid doing something. Without noticing, we cannot come to know. Prashant Iyengar speaks of yoga as being an “open minded investigation”. We start to notice what we are doing, and begin to cultivate knowledge of the different parts of the body and within that, approach the question “who am I?”
The second klesa is Asmita – the ego self. In the age of google it is easy to forget that a piece of information out of context can lead to misunderstood or wrong conclusions. We live in the age of high level Asmita. Our ego, can be deluded very easily into thinking that acquiring more information means that we have all or most of the answers. In Istvan Banyai book “Zoom” – the first page shows a picture – you wonder what it is and say – yup – I got this, I know exactly what this is. Then you turn the page, and the lens has been drawn back a bit and you see what this image belongs to – perhaps it was what you thought it was, perhaps not, but now you say – yup – I got it correct this time – I know for sure it’s this. Then you turn the page again, and it’s not what you think because it changes your perspective and makes you look at the picture differently. Every page pulls the lens up a little higher and every page, the image turns out to be not what you thought. Life is like this, and certainly our practice is like this. Asmita can be what keeps us from turning the page and being open to a different perspective.
The essence of practice is to try new ways of doing, investigate new ways of seeing, be open to new ways of understanding or more useful perspectives. We can let our ego (asmita) get in the way of clear knowing (vidya). BKS Iyengar writes that avidya and asmita result in – “ the insanity of individualism, when it should be the joy of singularity”. Our culture drives us into individualism “we judge by externals and worthless comparisons. We lose joy in the existence of others. We expect others to perform according to our desires and expectations. We lose the ability to play the ball where it lies.” (Light on LIfe).
During Saturday’s class, we practiced finding the second and third metatarsals of the feet – in standing poses, back bends, inversions, and seated poses. Discoveries were made – hips and lower backs were eased, knees felt better, a lightness in body awareness was experienced by everyone. It was a remarkable and profound exploration. One student commented – “my big toe metatarsal won’t stop pressing. The second and third don’t even have a chance.”
BKS Iyengar described the big toe as being in a state of asmita – the ego, the second toe in a state of viparyaya (misunderstanding), the third in vikalpa (imagination), the fourth in smrti (memory – it can only copy what the other toes are doing), and the fifth in a state of nidra (sleep). It is the nature of the big toe to be in this individualistic state – a little pushy and dominating. But, without the big toe we could not walk properly. We know people in our lives who are like the big toe – this is their nature. We know parts of our personality that are like the big toe. But the big toe cannot go it alone. When we pay attention to the second and third metatarsals, we can experience the “joy of singularity”. These other parts are important, and have a part to play even though they look and behave differently.
The “joy of singularity’ shows that every piece of us matters, no matter how big, or small, or arrogant, or afraid, even if it feels as if it doesn’t stand a chance against the more individualistic parts of us. Our yoga is to pay attention to all of it and notice it with compassion, understanding and open-mindedness. The “joy of singularity” teaches us to accept that there are differences in the nature of our toes, our limbs, ourselves, our community, and our world. When we take ourselves out of the “insanity of individualism” and raise the lens of perspective a little higher, we begin to appreciate the “joy of singularity” and move farther along in the quest to understand “who am I?”.