Friday, July 27, 2012
This Sunday in conference Sharath discussed the oft-neglected drishti. As Sharath explained it, in Ashtanga yoga we stand on a tripod to reach up towards a purer mental state. One leg is asana, the other is breath, and the the third is drishti, which is focus of the eyes. To each asana is assigned a drishti, some examples of which are the tip of the nose or the feet. When we fix our eyes on one thing, hopefully the mind will follow, creating a state known as ekagarata, or single-pointed concentration. Sharath said that it sometimes (probably often, for him) happens when he practices that he loses all sense of his body, time, and place. Now, here's the thing: this transcendent state can be achieved doing other stuff besides asana practice. We've all heard of runners' high. One of my students who danced all her life has told me she's felt it dancing. A colleague's boyfriend mentioned that he got there through the repeated practice it took to master a 360 degree dunk. So, then, what's the difference? Here we have three activities (asana practice, sport, and dance) which offer the same set of circumstances, yielding similar results: an improved physical body, achievement of goals, when well-executed they are beautiful to look at, and, in rare lucky cases, a state of mental transcendence. The difference between hatha yoga practice and sport and dance is one of prioritization. In sport and dance the mental transcendence is a pleasant by-product while the emphasis is on achievement either of victory, or mastery of a skill necessary to victory, or on cultivating perfection of technique or execution of a given choreography. Hatha yoga practice is the inverse: the acquisition of technique; of victory, if you will, over a given asana is a pleasant by-product of the search for the state of mental transcendence. Like all pleasure, the pleasure experienced in the respective by-products can be a pitfall, though. The athlete chasing mental transcendence exclusively will lose. The dancer doing likewise will fail. The hatha yoga practitioner who only chases victory over asana will never attain yoga.