Light on Life by BKS Iyengar – Chapter 1: The Inward Journey

Extracts from Chapter 1: The Inward Journey:

Most of us think of our “body” as simply our physical form—our skin, bones, muscles, and internal organs. For yoga, however, this is only the outermost layer of our body or annamaya kosa. It is this anatomical body that encompasses the other four subtle bodies, or kosas.

The demarcation of the different sheaths is essentially hypothetical. We are unique and integral. Nevertheless, in order to achieve the integrity and wholeness we desire, there must be communication from the inner to the outer and the outer to the inner as each sheath blends with the next. Only then are we bound together as one functional human being. If not, we experience dissolution and fragmentation, which make life uncomfortable and confusing.

[If] you too live and practice yoga in the right way and with the right attitude, far greater benefits and more radical changes will take place than mere physical flexibility.

We too are part of Nature, therefore constantly changing, so we are always looking at Nature from a different viewpoint. We are a little piece of continual change looking at an infinite quantity of continual change. Small wonder that it gets quite exciting. The most important thing we can learn about Nature is the inherent and innate laws by which it functions.

It is through the alignment of my body that I discovered the alignment of my mind, self, and intelligence.

I have purposely avoided until now using the usual translation for the non-physical reality as its mention usually stops people thinking for themselves. In Sanskrit, the word is Purusa. In English we can call it Cosmic or Universal Soul. The word Soul usually has such strong religious connotations that people either accept or dismiss it without reflection. They forget that it is simply our word for an abiding reality. It is logical but remains conceptual to our minds until we experience its realization within ourselves.

Everything that exists in the macrocosm is to be found existing in the microcosm or individual.

[The] demonstration of one’s spiritual realization lies in none other than how one walks among and interacts with one’s fellow human beings.

[We] discover ever more self-control, sensitivity, and awareness that permit us to live the life we aspire to, one of decency; clean, honest human relations; goodwill and fellowship; trust; self-reliance; joy in the fortune of others; and equanimity in the face of our own misfortune.

Self-cultivation through asana is the broad gateway leading to the inner enclosures we need to explore. In other words, we are going to try to use asana to sculpt the mind.

Breath is the vehicle of consciousness and so, by its slow, measured observation and distribution, we learn to tug our attention away from external desires (vasana) toward a judicious, intelligent awareness (prajna).

We may say that we want to reach the domain of the soul, but there remains a great tug-of-war. We neither go in nor out, and that saps the energy.

This process of relaxing the brain is achieved through asana. We generally think of mind as being in our head. In asana our consciousness spreads throughout the body, eventually diffusing in every cell, creating a complete awareness.

How to keep the brain cells in a relaxed, receptive, and concentrated state is the art that yoga teaches.

[We] all have access to a space, an inner space, where there is an end to duality, an end to conflict. This is what meditation teaches us, the cessation of the impersonating ego and the dawn of the true, unified Self, beyond which there is no other.

[A] word or action done to another is ultimately done equally to oneself.

Spirituality, as I have tried to make clear, is not ethereal and outside nature but accessible and palpable in our very own bodies. Indeed the very idea of a spiritual path is a misnomer. After all, how can you move toward something that, like Divinity, is already by definition everywhere?

Light on Life by BKS Iyengar

I am reading Light on Life by Iyengar, slowly and somewhat surely, as is my way. I thought I’d share some extracts and quotes as I read and practice. Whereas Light on Yoga looks in detail at the practice of asana, this book shows how yoga and life are one.


When you and I meet together, we forget ourselves – our cultures and classes. There are no divisions, and we talk mind to mind, soul to soul. We are no different in our deepest needs. We are all human

Yoga is the rule book for playing the game of life, but in this game no one needs to loose.

When I say that yoga saved my life, I am not exaggerating. It was yoga that gave me a new birth with health from illness and firmness from infirmity.

Yogasana brought tremendous brought tremendous physical benefits and helped me to grow from a sickly child into a reasonably fit and agile young man. My own body was the laboratory, in which I saw the health benefits of yoga, but I could already see that yoga would have as many benefits for my head and heart as it did for my body.

You do not need to seek freedom in some distant land, for it exists within your own body, heart, mind, and soul.

Bukowski Letter on Censorship


Dear Hans van den Broek:

Thank you for your letter telling me of the removal of one of my books from the Nijmegen library. And that it is accused of discrimination against black people, homosexuals and women. And that it is sadism because of the sadism.

The thing that I fear discriminating against is humor and truth.

If I write badly about blacks, homosexuals and women it is because of these who I met were that. There are many “bads”–bad dogs, bad censorship; there are even “bad” white males. Only when you write about “bad” white males they don’t complain about it. And need I say that there are “good” blacks, “good” homosexuals and “good” women?

In my work, as a writer, I only photograph, in words, what I see. If I write of “sadism” it is because it exists, I didn’t invent it, and if some terrible act occurs in my work it is because such things happen in our lives. I am not on the side of evil, if such a thing as evil abounds. In my writing I do not always agree with what occurs, nor do I linger in the mud for the sheer sake of it. Also, it is curious that the people who rail against my work seem to overlook the sections of it which entail joy and love and hope, and there are such sections. My days, my years, my life has seen up and downs, lights and darknesses. If I wrote only and continually of the “light” and never mentioned the other, then as an artist I would be a liar.

Censorship is the tool of those who have the need to hide actualities from themselves and from others. Their fear is only their inability to face what is real, and I can’t vent any anger against them. I only feel this appalling sadness. Somewhere, in their upbringing, they were shielded against the total facts of our existence. They were only taught to look one way when many ways exist.

I am not dismayed that one of my books has been hunted down and dislodged from the shelves of a local library. In a sense, I am honored that I have written something that has awakened these from their non-ponderous depths. But I am hurt, yes, when somebody else’s book is censored, for that book, usually is a great book and there are few of those, and throughout the ages that type of book has often generated into a classic, and what was once thought shocking and immoral is now required reading at many of our universities.

I am not saying that my book is one of those, but I am saying that in our time, at this moment when any moment may be the last for many of us, it’s damned galling and impossibly sad that we still have among us the small, bitter people, the witch-hunters and the declaimers against reality. Yet, these too belong with us, they are part of the whole, and if I haven’t written about them, I should, maybe have here, and that’s enough.

may we all get better together,

Charles Bukowski

American Veda by Philip Goldberg

In the last month I have finished reading two books! So what? Well, I very rarely finish reading books. My shelf is full of uncompleted ‘interesting’ reads that somehow I gave up on, a bookmark marking the high or low water mark. I do aim to finish them all… someday. The two books I finished recently were The Fry Chronicles by Lord Fry, and American Veda by Philip Goldberg. It’s a good read – a comprehensive history of Indian Vedanta-yoga’s influence on Western thought and culture, or as the subtitle has it: ‘From Emerson and the Beatles, to yoga and meditation – how Indian Spirituality changed the West.’

It came to me through the archives due to its many references to Krishnamurti. Here are some extracts and highlights from the book, with related media from the www:

Emerson accused Christianity of “noxious exaggeration about the person of Jesus,” imploring ministers to cast behind them all conformity and acquaint man first-hand with Diety.

“Let me admonish you, first of all, to go alone; to refuse the good models, even those which are sacred in the imagination of men, and dare to love God without mediator or veil.”

~ Emerson

Vivekananda on yoga:

“It is wrong to believe blindly. You must exercise your own reason and judgment; you must practise, and see whether these things happen or not. Just as you would take up any other science, exactly in the same manner you should take up this science for study. There is neither mystery nor danger in it. … Any attempt to mystify these things is productive of great danger.”

Aldous Huxley said that ‘the unit of world peace is individual peace, that a forest is only green as the individual trees in the forest are green. He thought material objects were, like the shadows in Plato’s cave, the visible expression of an underlying nonmaterial essence.’

Star Wars was structured from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the archetypal hero’s journey.

We all know about the Beatles hooking up with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Harrison and McCartney continued a TM practice. In 1969, George Harrison produced an album Radha-Krishna Temple, from which Govinda was the second single:

Stevie Wonder was also influenced by the Mahamantra. John Coltrane said his goal was to point out to people the divine in a musical language that transcends words. His widow, Alice, became Swamini Turiyasangitananda – her name meaning ‘the bliss of God’s divine music’. Philip Glass is heavily influenced by Yoga-Vedanta.

An example of a less successful import:

Satchidananda’s message to the 60s flower children was: you can’t take a pill to become enlightened any more than you can take one to be a doctor. He prompted many to switch from drugs to meditation and asana. Peter Max followed suit.

Swami Rama’s office sign read: Swami Rama: Inquire Within. During 1970 and 1971 scientists recorded his ability voluntarily change his skin temperature, raise and lower his heart rate, alter his brain wave patterns, and ceasing his heart. This enabled Western medicine to increase its understanding of the mind-body relationship.

BKS Iyengar cured himself of influenza, malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid, through asana and pranayama. He went on to be the single most influential yoga teacher in the world. Students included J. Krishnamurti and Yehudi Menuhin, with Iyengar yoga being perhaps the most well known variety of postural yoga.

The influence of India in the work of Yeats and Eliot is explicit. After discovering Vedanta aged 30, he said that it “confirmed by vague speculations and seemed at once logical and boundless.” He wrote: The mystical life is the centre of all that I do and all that I think and all that I write. Among many others directly influenced were Huxley, Isherwood, Maugham, Salinger and Hesse.

In Cosmos (the most successful PBS program in history) by the great Carl Sagan (the less evil Agent Smith!) he visits a South Indian temple and explains that Hinduism is the only religion whose proposed time-scale for the universe matches the billions of years documented by science.

Harry Oldmeadow said he was, “at once so deeply Christian and so deeply Hindu, at a depth where Christian and Hindu in their social and mental structures are blown to pieces, and are yet found again ineffably at the heart of the other.”

‘Thomas Merton’s admiration for Eastern Mysticism came as a revelation to Catholics, many of whom took it as permission to explore those pathways themselves.’

The Gospel According to Thomas discovered in 1945 ‘reads like an Upanishad’:

“When you make the two one, and when you make the inside as the outside, and the outside as the inside, and the upper side as the lower; and when you make the male and the female into a single one … then shall you enter the Kingdom”

Eckhart Tolle’s work is ‘so suffused with Vedantic principles as to infuriate Hindus who would like him to pay proper homage.’

Says Goldberg at the end of the book:

“We need cosmically conscious minds and cosmically compassionate hearts. Vedanta itself says that its own eternal truths are virtually useless unless grounded in the direct experience of ultimate reality.”

I’ll leave you with my current favourite American Vedanitst musician, MC Yogi, who blends two of my loves: hip-hop and yoga. His album’s been in the Top 20 world music charts for over two years.


Stephen Fry on the fate of the Cambridge graduate

I have just finished the revealing and enjoyable ‘The Fry Chronicles’. An extract:

Revising finalists under chestnut trees, books and notes spread out on the grass as they smoke, drink, chatter, flirt, kiss and read. Garden parties on every lawn in every college for the first two weeks in June that are perversely designated May Week. Dining clubs and societies, dons, clubs and rich individuals serving punch and Pimm’s, beer and sangria, cocktails and champagne. Blazers and flannels, self-conscious little snobberies and affectations, flushed youth, pampered youth, privileged youth, happy youth. Don’t be too hard on them. Suppress the thought that they are all ghastly tosspots who don’t know they’re born, insufferable posers in need of a kick and a slap. Have some pity and understanding. They will get that kick and that slap soon enough. After all, look at them now. They are all in their fifties. Some of them are on their third, fourth or fifth marriage. Their children despise them. They are alcoholics or recovering alcoholics. Drug addicts or recovering drug addicts. Their wrinkled, grey, bald, furrowed and fallen faces look back every morning from the mirror, those folds of dying flesh bearing not a trace of the high, joyful and elastic smiles that once lit them. Their lives have been a ruin and a waste. All that bright promise never quite matured into anything that can be looked back on with pride or pleasure. They took that job in the City, that job with the merchant bank, stockbroker, law firm, accountancy firm, chemical company, drama company, publishing company, any company. The light and energy, the passion, fun and faith were soon snuffed out one by one. In the grind of the demanding world their foolish hopeful dreams evaporated like mist in the cruel glare of the morning sun. Sometimes the dreams return to them at night and they are so ashamed, angry and disappointed that they want to kill themselves. Once they laughed and seduced or laughed and were seduced, on ancient lawns, under ancient stones and now they hate the young and their music, they snort with contempt at everything strange and new and they have to catch their breath at the top of the stairs. … Not everyone’s life ends in misery, loneliness and failure. Of course, I know that. You’re right. But many do. The entropy and decay of age is dreadfully apparent when set next to the lyrical dream of a Cambridge May Week.

Look after yourself, Cambridge graduate or not.


Reading ‘The Runaways’, a book I read either at school, or during that time, about a boy run away from reform school and a cheetah escaped from Longleat Wildlife Park. About freedom. Maybe we did read it at school because it is set close by to where we grew up, on Salisbury plain. It’s very very 1960s England. Having unknowingly spent the night together in the same barn, the boy sees the cat trying to get out of the barn door below his hay loft bed:

For a moment or two he watched, his mouth open in amazement. Then – with a swift, panic reaction – he slammed the trap door and shot across the holding bolt. He dropped back to a sitting position on the hay, clapped a hand to his forehead, and said out loud, ‘Blimey O’Reilly!’

Watched ‘The Fighter’. Liked it a lot. Crazy family! Too many sisters! Crack! Punching! Amy Adams! London! Prison! Training! Marky Mark! Christian Bale being all thin and weird!

Good news on the YouTube account front. Regular readers will know my account was cancelled due to three strikes of copyright infringement, for posting short clips from films and TV. YouTube say you must file a counter notification to the copyright holder, meaning they have to take you to court to remove the footage. Yet each notification I filed was returned because of some error on the form submission, same with email submission. Then I read somewhere that if the copyright holder notifies YouTube directly, the video will be restored and the strike revoked. So I wrote to Mon Onlce Films and MPI Media Group (the third, Lionsgate, I couldn’t find a contact email for), explaining my situation. The next day, someone from MPI said he would reinstate the video for me. Yes! Not sure how long that will take. As soon as I get the account back, I’ll remove everything apart from the walking videos. And download those I don’t have locally. Phew! I have also switched to Vimeo, who I may stick with. Mainly my concern was losing my first 15 walking videos for ever.

Steps stepped: Oh, around 100 maybe.

Wise Blood – Flannery O'Connor

As far as Enoch was concerned, this piece [washstand] had always been the centre of the room and the one that most connected him with what he didn’t know. More than once after a big supper, he had dreamed of unlocking the cabinet and getting in it and then proceeding to certain rites and mysteries that he had a very vague idea about in the morning.

I am reading this after seeing Jacob reading one of hers in LOST and not knowing who she was. It’s full of great writing, surprising descriptions, an unusual flavour.

The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot

I just finished reading The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot, an interesting book exploring a different way of looking at the universe and some of the happenings that can’t be explained so well by the current outlook of the universe and world. The basic notion is that all is connected, and that the material world we think of as solid and stable isn’t. He explores the work of Pibram and Bohm, physicists not content with the ‘so what?’ attitude that the Copenhagen Interpretation often leads to regarding quantum physics, and offers a ‘holographic’ way of looking. He explores Out of Body Experiences, Near Death Experiences, miracles, time travel, etc, etc.

My favourite part of the book was the way that people who have Near Death Experiences change so radically. He cites the story of a labourer who had no interest in science, reading or academic pursuits. During his NDE he had a vision of ‘total knowledge’ but could not recall this afterwards. However, various physics terms would pop into his head. One morning he blurted the word, ‘Quantum!’ Later he announced, ‘Max Planck – you’ll be hearing about him in the near future,’ but didn’t understand what he was saying. Equations and maths symbols would surface in his thoughts. He didn’t even know what quantum meant, or who Max Planck was, so he looked it up. Discovering he wasn’t talking bollocks, he began to read books on physics, parapsychology, metaphysics, higher consciousness, and enrolled in college to study physics.

This book explores the notion that there are things going on that we just can’t explain, not only the stranger experiences of NDEs and UFOs but even the way our minds and memory work. It leaves you with the feeling that no one really knows what the hell is going on down here…

Most of everything is nothing

The nucleus of an atom is very small. The electrons whizz round it very fast, but not near it. It is like the electrons are wasps buzzing round the walls of Waterloo Station and the nucleus is a plum in the middle. I.e. most of the atom is space. Therefore most of everything is nothing! The Empire State Building, if compacted completely, would fit on the head of a pin (but still weight the same!)

Spiritual Warfare

“Heaven, salvation, compassion, mindfulness, self-awareness, inner tranquillity, peace on earth, goodwill to all men,; these are all safe, no mess, no fuss, spiritual objectives, undemanding, low impact, easy on the pocketbook. … They don’t conflict with our current conditions and can be easily integrated into our busy lives. …. Our spiritual itch is adequately scratched. No one gets hurt or does anything crazy; certainly  no one unplugs themselves from the great hive and wanders off on their own.” Jed McKenna