What are the 3 most compelling topics of "The Heart of Yoga”

1.1. Teacher

Since starting my practice of yoga the idea of finding a teacher, someone who could help me to further my practices and truly enlighten me on the deeper aspects of yoga was high on my list of priorities. Time passed, and with encouragement from my local yoga class teacher I decided to do my 200-hour YTT to gain a greater understanding of yoga. I was happy that the teacher training program I took part in led me to I met some wonderful teachers not just those who were our designated teachers but also the other students to an extent who each had different levels of practice all of whom went out of their way to help everyone there gain a true understanding of yoga practice. On completion of my 200 hours I realized that I had unknowingly selected a teacher training that led me to find a multitude of fantastic teachers to guide and shape my yoga journey significantly and for the better.

In the “The Heart of Yoga” it’s noted that it is important to find oneself a teacher/s during ones yogic journey to give them a point of reference: “Having a point of reference is absolutely necessary. We all need somebody who is able to hold a mirror in front of us. Otherwise we can very quickly start to see ourselves as though we are perfect and that we know it all.” And it is therefore a great opportunity for one to have a teacher in life. Such opportunities are best to be valued as one would value a precious stone, especially in the current day and age, when the number of students far outweighs the number of true gurus. In the Heart of Yoga, Desikachar goes on to emphasise the importance of a finding a competent teacher; saying that the yoga techniques given to a student really should be guided by a teacher to ensure they are delivered in the proper manner.

From my reading of the Heart of Yoga, I feel that the most important part to mention though is that the “personal connection” gained by finding and learning from a teacher in person, simply “cannot be replaced by books or videos. There must be a relationship formed, a real relationship, one that is based on trust.” We all need relationships where we know we can trust the other people to tell us when we are doing the wrong thing or when we could improve.

Re-reading “The Heart of Yoga” I noted that even people such Desikachar have had such people, which inspired me and gave me the strength and support to go further knowing that I am not the only person who has been told that I could improve in various aspects of my practice. In the Heart of Yoga Desikachar shared a story from when he first began studying, where his father sometimes said right in front of all the other students: “What you are teaching at the moment is wrong.” And he goes on to reveal that: “it is actually considered to be good fortune for one to be given advice by the teacher.”​

1.2. Kuṇḍalini

After reading the Heart of Yoga, I feel that for me the whole concept of Kuṇḍalini is ultimately one of the most compelling topics and feel that in todays fast paced and every growing society there’re so many imprecise definitions of Kundalini being formed that confuse people greatly. Forcing them to create their own theories and ideas by which they should live their own life all of which have little to no connection to the real phenomenon. It is emphasised in “The Heart of Yoga” the even in the most quoted source for Hatha-Yoga practitioners “Haṭha Yoga Pradipika” presents “contradictory descriptions of it”, which leads people to think that there’re actually two different forms of energy co-existing side by side: Praṇa and Kuṇḍalini. This in a sense creates further confusion and mystery. This is why in “The Heart of Yoga” it is declared that “many of the ideas surrounding kundalini are based on superficial and inaccurate translations, or the simply the inability to explain unclear passages from certain texts.”

Hence, from Desikachar’s point of view the definition from Yoga Yājñavalkya is the best, the clearest, and the most coherent, by saying that “on the experience of the rising of prāṇa through suṣumṇā, the Yoga Yājñavalkya quite simply states: “How can I simply describe what a person becomes aware of?” There really is no shock such as the one described in the heart of yoga on Kundalini. When some-one sees the whole truth, the only shock then is to have to see what he or she was before this experience.” Ultimately, Kuṇḍalini is used to describe the rising energy force that leads each of us to the truth, even though we might feel that “it makes little sense to take it literally.”

There’s no mysterious force except Prana (Prāṇa). Here I feel that it is also important to mention another book that is David Frawleys’ “Yoga & Ayurveda” where it is mentioned that Kuṇḍalinī is the same as Tejas (Valour) – or the higher feminine energy (yoga Shakti), while Amrit (divine nectar) – the higher masculine energy (yoga Shiva), is quite literally the same as Ojas (Endurance). Hence they meet each other in the middle, that is where Prāṇa or vitality arises from the centre of ones Heart, from the seed of the individual Soul (Mahat). Through sacred symbolism it is often illustrated as an egg (the soul) with several surrounding rings (the snake of Kuṇḍalini), and as a cone - or Cosmic Egg that is used to symbolise the Pineal gland of the human brain​

Furthermore, sacred geometry has illustrated this cone in Sri Yantra, in a way where it appears as if the observer is looking on the cone (pineal) from above, seeing the seed of the Soul, which has been characterised by a red spot in the centre.

1.3. Patañjali and Saṃyama

Desikachar’s comments made in the Heart of Yoga on Sutras are very essential to gaining a better understanding of yoga for what it truly is. As today there’re lots of different interpretations, Desikachar being Krishnamacharya’s son and one of his most strict followers, is able to transfer for us the viewpoint of his father through this book. For me the topic of Saṃyama really is an insight into the abilities of people and the states of mind:

Sutra 3.19 states that one person can observe only the consequences of others’ mind states, and also such characteristics as rates of breathing that reveal turbulence, confusion, doubt, fear etc. Revealing in the next Sutra.

3.20 That we cannot see what the origin of the state of mind is. As the cause of the state of mind of one individual is far beyond the scope of observation by another. This is because different objects produce different responses in different individuals.

Through Desikachar’s thoughts on the Sutra’s it becomes obvious why it is that people shouldn’t judge each other. Growing up for me it was a key childhood teaching that one should not judge, before knowing. I knew it as a rule. But even so there have been times when my mind would stray, judging everything and everyone, even myself. This is due to the fact that “our field of observation is more often then not limited to the symptoms, and is unable to extend far enough to see or realise what the causes are.”

Indicating that we as human beings can't see all the reason (shallow and/or profound), even if we think that we know ourselves very well, we cannot see everything that makes up another person, that is outside the scope of our ability.​

Throughout my life, I have felt that I have been in a way to critical of others and judged them with little to know reason to support that judgement. I was even judgmental when it came to myself. But following my reading of the Heart of Yoga, I now understand that it was my ego encouraging me to judge and be judge, for it wanted attention. This reading has taught me if anything that judging is in no way of introspection, but rather meditation is as it is a method for getting to know the real self and connecting with the one.

Concepts that affected my personal practice of yoga and meditation

2.1. Human Imperfection

Throughout Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra’s discussed in depth in the Heart of Yoga, it has been noted that nothing can be destroyed in statements such as: “That which is replaced as part of the process of change remains in a dormant state.”

I have always been one to look a life in a perfectionist manner. Whatever I did or was involved in had to be done a certain way and to a certain standard. Even when practicing yoga I was overly strict on myself, and hated to deviate even slightly from the path as this caused me significant angst and anxiety leading me to a weakened mind and body – I couldn’t bare making mistakes. This left me feeling quite impatient. On reading Desikachars – Heart of Yoga, I realised that I criticized myself in a non-beneficial manner, that was ultimately leading me away from the ultimate goal of yoga. My own experiences, and the teachings here in this book about how no one is perfect have helped gain a better understanding of how each an everyone of us should treat not just ourselves but also everyone else.

Desikachar’s translation and explanation of Patanjali’s Yoga sutra really became a key to help us better understand the concept of human imperfection and how that the yoga path is the way to a better life even if not perfect. It teaches us that as a yogi one should realize their imperfections and come to accept them. This should be done as one must realise that individual practices aren’t going to be perfect, as they change under the influence of a multitude of many factors all of which can vary from practitioner to practitioner. Furthermore, there are a great many more exterior factors that can influence ones practice that are out of the control of the practicing yogi, such the sun, moon, weather, other people, and so on Patanjali’s Sutra in this instance I feel will help to make me more accepting, patient, peaceful, loving and conscious of myself and towards others around me.​

I feel that this is also something that should be taught in yoga-classes also, as many students, especially those of Vata- and Pita makeup are often too strict on themselves, which is a non-yogic practice that brings harm and disease as I have already mentioned to one’s mind and body. And me, as a Pitta-Vata type, I especially feel it is necessary that I practice yoga in a way that is actually caring for my body and mind instead of increasing the damage. Following my reading of the Heart of yoga it is initially my goal to work on overcoming a lot of difficulties, and to become more true to myself that is become more accepting, patient and sensitive. The heart of yoga also indicated that such poor “tendencies can be both maintained and sustained by misapprehensions, external stimuli, attachment to the fruits of actions, and the quality of mind that promotes hyperactivity.” Thus it was paramount that one focus on reducing such tendencies in their

Therefore stressing the importance of ensuring that during personal yoga practice one remains conscious of the need to remain present in the here and now. In doing so one may find success on the path of yoga easier. As without doing so potential fears, poor habits, and emotions may return to pull one away from the path.

2.2. Obstacles

In Sutra 1.30 Patanjali describes the obstacles one faces on the yogic path in a number of different ways. The obstacles discussed in the heart of yoga are as following:

  1. vyadhi - illness (disease),
  2. styana – procrastination (lethargy, inefficiency),
  3. samshaya - doubt (indecision),
  4. pramada - haste (impatience) or carelessness (negligence),
  5. alasya - resignation or fatigue (laziness in mind and body),
  6. avirati - distraction (failure to regulate the desire for worldly objects - cravings),
  7. bhranti-darshana - ignorance or arrogance (incorrect assumptions or thinking),
  8. alabdha-bhumikatva - inability to take a new step (failing to attain stages of the practice), and
  9. anavasthitatva – instability or loss of confidence (instability in maintaining a level of practice once attained).

The second obstacle also referred to as Styana (procrastination), which from my point of view on worldwide disease, is very debilitating. It is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking there is plenty of time to do something but you really don’t. For me Procrastination is a huge obstacle personally, I find things I feel are better to spend my time doing. For instance, it has taken me over 12 months to knuckle down and finish this piece of writing which is sad in a way because I let my time pass easily. On reading the Heart of Yoga a second time, it hit me hard that I was succumbing to the evils of this obstacle.

There are many methods for overcoming one’s tendancy to procrastinate, in the form of self-help books and support groups both of which are phenomenal however the heart of yoga and also my personal practice indicate to me that ones experience with yoga practice is really the best method for solving this obstacle. During long periods of practice it becomes harder to distinguish between both practice and non-practice time making it difficult to say when one is in the process of yoga and when he/she is not. In the heart of yoga it is taught that Styana arises not during the process of yoga practice, but in between each practice.

Another of the obstacles that I feel I can relate to is Anavasthitatva or lacking in confidence, feeling as though I am not good enough, this to me I feel following my reading of the heart of yoga stems from my tendency to procrastinate. The more I procrastinate, the more I feel as though I am not good enough and the less confidant I became. I am not sure if this is a result of fearing the unknown, which has the ability to make one feel unstable in what he/she desires to do.

Desikachar indicates that we should always remain confidant even though we are not all masters by stating that: “at no stage on the yogic path should we come to think we have become masters. Instead, we should know the feeling of being a little better today than we were yesterday exists, just as much as the hope that we will be a little better in the future as well. The heart of yoga in this instance teaches that the yogi is should be satisfied with what is present here and now more than anything else.

2.3. Weaknesses VS Strengths

Sutra 2.44 by Patañjali, from Desikachar’s perspective, teaches us all about self-study, which when “developed to the highest degree, has the ability to bring one close to higher forces that promote understanding of the most complex.”​

He then goes on stating that a tantric approach to Yoga when studying enables one to gain a better understanding of their weaknesses and strengths. Thus helping one to learn to quash his/her weaknesses and use their strengths to the max so as to reach the highest knowledge of themself.

My reading and understanding of the book leads me to believe that this is when you are able to do what you can’t do. This means that in yoga practice it’s essential for one to allow them to move from what they know and what is safe for them towards what is unknown. Step by step, with each yoga technique one is going to break through the barriers of mind, beyond the limits of their mind. This is ultimately why Yoga is so important to practice on a regular basis no matter how difficult it is to continue – this is for the fact that the body and mind are easily trapped by procrastination (styana) through which all other obstacles tend to arise.

Desikachar goes on then in the book to discuss the importance of understanding the reasons for old, negative saṃskāra (patterns of behaviour) as “only the powerful saṃskāra cause us problems, while the weaker reinforce the more influential.” Through reflection post reading the book, I would say that for me personally Styana is really the opening for all other saṃskāras, that are holding me back. For at times it feels as though I’m fighting an endless battle get the mind to go further, though this can also be attributed to the fact that as my ego (Ahamkara) tends to hold onto what it thinks is safe and comfortable – that is the world which is already known. Self-study however, tells us that nothing is known for real, this is due to the fact that life and everything in it is so complex.

Initially yoga begins through ones desire to better themself, it is the first step on the path of yoga, and a practitioner uses it for “recognition and conquest of Avidya and its effects” and as Patañjali Sutras indicate - this is “the only ladder by which we can climb upward”.

It’s interesting because in the Heart of Yoga from the viewpoint of Desikachar when a practitioner has already redirected themself toward something positive, trying to stop something that is harmful, “we do not have to do anything ourselves, but rather whatever it is simply fades out”. This is an essential part of personal yoga practice, as one should be very sensitive to their own needs and practices with Ahimsa, which sounds simple, but can actually be quite difficult in real life.

Concepts that changed the way I share yoga

3.1. Devotion in Practice

Patanjali indicates in his Sutras that in order for one to overcome obstacles in Yoga practice they should offer regular prayers to God with a feeling of submission to his power, which should help to enable the state of Yoga to be achieved. The following sūtra, is where Patañjali gives his definition of God.

1.24 God is a supreme being whose actions are never based on misapprehension.

For many it's quite easy to admit this description of God, in spite of / in the favour of that many people are not religious at all. However there are some who can easily visit churches of any religion. I for instance though not claiming to follow any specific belief feel comfortable in various religious temples. I do however feel that I relate somewhat more towards Tibetan Buddhism, where there really is no description of God, as he/she is treated as a substance that is beyond all interpretations. Though I like all of the different definitions of God from each religion, because they each have the ability to enrich my inner world and all work in a way that helps not only myself but also everyone else to understand other people. They are also there to help me to understand myself and discuss similar topics with others.

It's stated that technique without devotion can become sterile and artificial, thus yoga techniques should also be blended with knowledge and devotion for proceed and done in the form of service to oneself.

Ultimately, religion is very personal, and in its own right contemporary yoga is not an instrument for propaganda of any sort, so I think on reading the yoga sutras depicted in the Heart of Yoga that a teacher should ensure to remain detached from their students appreciations that is as a teacher one should not impose his or her own view or disgrace this sphere of a persons life, he/she should be able to admit religion as a way of living however.

For me personally there's no question when it comes to this on how I should practice yoga. However, when it comes to teaching in a class this is a difficult subject to deal with, because a teacher can't teach sterile techniques, can't as a result avoid speaking about God, so has to find a way to draw it into the class without impressing his own views upon students who might not necessarily share those views. Teachers should also encourage students to follow some key rules of yoga classes – such as chanting Om at the beginning and the end of the classes to help build routine.

Teachers must also be careful because both non-religious and religious students may at times feel uncomfortable or even nervous as though their teacher might be trying to recruit them into another religion. So as a teacher one should ensure that they remain very attentive to reactions of their students. Teachers need to be able to create a comfortable atmosphere for each and every one of their classes. As it is indicated in the the Heart of Yoga: "yoga practices should be designed to suit students, not the students to system".

3.2. Teaching Yoga

Patañjali’s Sutra 3.19. Saṃyama on the changes that arise in an individual’s mind and their consequences develops in one the ability to acutely observe the state of mind of others. On reading this, I have come to believe that this is a must for all yoga teachers. It is important for them to see the states of physical body and mind of others. This is so that he/she can learn to feel empathy for and understand what is needed in the here and now for a sole student or for the whole group. In The Heart of Yoga – it is indicated that yoga practice should be kept individual and that one practice cannot be suited to everyone. This is why it is very important for one to be very sensitive towards others, while staying detached and not getting too involved in the problems of one student, because that can result in inadequate teaching of the whole group. Hence why Vinyasa Krama techniques are so essential.

  1. Build your knowledge of physical body structure and how it functions so as to be able to teach each asana correctly. In a manner that takes into account all the differences of the students’ bodies to find out which postures will be most useful for the students and which students’ need guidance to help lead them towards greater self-discovery.
  2. Sukham (lightness) and Stirham (stillness), help generate both lightness and stillness of the mind and they work together to lead us with ease through asana practice and deepen our understanding of self, so that our practice becomes a tool for self-observance.
  3. Tantra, on the other hand is a principle for overcoming obstacles on ones journing toward. Self-remembrance through the use of contradicting aspects of the mind and all aspects of life to generate Tejas – or the sacred flame, which must be directed internally, to allow a revelation to be born and so that one can evolve further.

Lastly, it’s integral that we take note of Desikachar’s statement that we should make sure we do “not obstruct the progress on the path of yoga by setting a certain goal, as progress means different things to different people.” This is proved through Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras that state that everyone gets different things from the same teaching based on their own perspective.

Hence, individual yoga practice is not about giving information and forcing one towards the goal but rather it is about “inviting transformation unto self”, and it is the teacher’s job to support the students understanding in order to assist them with their transformations.

3.3. Yoga Class

In “The Heart of Yoga” – it is indicated that a good teacher should be one who helps a student to find out what postures are most useful to their journey, and where they need guidance. By doing so the teacher helps their student with getting to know him or herself and inspires them to work on self-discovery. In order to do this, it’s essential for a yoga teacher to understand how “āsana from the point of view of whole-body” works, so that a teacher can feel “the movement of prāṇa and as a result adopt classic āsanas to help the needs of each student”, rather than have the students adopt themselves to the asana.

That is why one of the main purposes of a yoga classes where there are lots of students is to understand the students’ needs and be able to direct each student in the right direction, as each student should be able to reap the benefits of “the principle that is an inherent part of each particular posture”.

A fact that is very difficult, which is proved by Krishnamacharya’s statement in the Heart of Yoga who said “we are not magicians, and it’s not easy for us to handle many people at a single time”, even though a group is a good support for people views

“The key to correct practice and the suitable variations of āsana is to create and maintain the link between both the subjects breath and body.” This is why teachers should ensure to direct their students attention toward their breath helping them to feel the effects of Pratyahara, as “consciously and knowingly following the breath is a form of meditation” where students have the ability to become one with the movement. Thus students should become focused on how their bodies respond to the breath, and how the breath responds to the movement of the body, learning to from their own breath.

It’s essential for students to understand the importance of maintaining the link between their breath and body especially when lengthening exhale (langhana) and pausing slightly after exhale. Furthermore, there is more significance to the purpose of yoga than simply being able to achieve an asana for ones own sake.

On reading the Heart of Yoga, I feel that it is important to make comment on Desikachar’s approach and his method of revealing complicated topics in laymans terms, indicating to readers that rather than struggling with the body in an asana, practitioners should learn to monitor the asana through the breath, “observing how the asana unfolds”, and how “the breath and body become one, moving together, which creates very powerful yoga”. This might sound remarkably simple, but for many it’s quite hard to understand this formula, but when understood a student starts making a huge step on their yogic journey.