Prashant Iyengar on the difference between “doing yoga” and “practicing yog”

Issue Sixty One | August 2019

“As a fire blazes brightly when the covering of ash over it is scattered by the wind, the divine fire within the body shines in all its majesty when the ashes of desire are scattered by the practice of pranayama.”
–Geeta Iyengar


Alexandra Carilli

“If you don’t know about Prashant I’d like to say his gift is clear. He is a walking, talking anthology of ancient wisdom with a wonderfully witty sense of humor. He is our in-house philosopher. Understanding his teaching precepts takes time. His way of transmitting classical yoga seeps into you drop by drop. At first what is confusing later starts reforming your ideas. If his precepts touch you, they will carve and shape you from the inside with a profound, sanctified, rarified and unlimited breath. His classes are radically different.

“In the end, it was an absolute pleasure to do this interview. One Saturday afternoon in October 2018 I went to RIMYI with my friend Jennie Willford and we sat with Prashant and talked for about 90 minutes. He was serious and good-natured and, of course, made us laugh. I asked my questions and we enjoyed the ride. I hope you do too.”

–Alexandra Carilli

Prashant Interview October 13, 2018
By CIYT Alexandra Carilli
Third Question

AC: You often say there is a difference between doing Yoga and
practicing Yog. Can you talk about that?

PI: Doing yoga means you consider these as postures and try to work your body. If you have to work on body it will require a lot of discipline. You cannot be undisciplined and say I am trying to regulate my body, I’m going to improve my body, I’m going to develop complete potentials of the body. It requires a lot of discipline to work under the body matter… and then what happens is you need to work very rigorously; you need to work very intensely. How intensely can you work in your life span? Only during your prime age can you work intensively. A prime age is a span of maybe 25 years at the most, and then the span depends on other life endeavors. Sometimes its only 5 years; for wrestlers and gymnasts their prime is only for 5 or 6 years and that’s all. For the sportsmen and the Olympians, their prime is 5, 6, 7 years and that’s all. Thereafter they have nothing to do in life. So if you have to work on body you need to work very rigorously, very intensively and then it’s only for a limited period of time in life.

You can’t start working hard if you commence your yoga at the age of 65 or 70. So working hard is not the core advice in the subject of yoga. When you have started is more important. If you are already 65 or 70 when you start, the teacher cannot say you have to work very hard. Or you’ll pop off. The body requires a lot of hard work, and in yoga we tend to mistake that this has something to do with the corporeal body and attaining perfection of the body. The body can never be perfected. It is constantly getting muted/ mutilated every moment. See as you grow in age your body will be going toward torpidity. Sometimes your mind can become younger and younger; your mind can be pink even at the age of 70. The body won’t be pinkish at 70. The body rots very quickly. So we will be misleading ourselves and making a mistake if we start working hard on the body (at that age) and that’s what happens in yoga. You work hard on the body. Then your capacity will be tested all the time and then every time you will go for exhausting your body, exerting your body. There is no way to work on the body diligently without exerting. So if you exert you get exhausted. If you get exhausted, it takes a long time for you to recuperate. In yoga people are working too much on the corporeal body, perfecting the corporeal body, going for limits in stretches, contractions etc., by using body abilities and capacities-. They try to stretch the capacities every time. And, that ultimately is the antithesis of yoga because the mind will not be in a composed state when the body is made to work so hard.

Yog is coming together. Say for instance there is a stationary truck on the road and you push it. If you are all alone you can go all out and the truck may not move, not even a millimeter. But then if you collect 100 people, 100 people don’t have to go all out. They will perhaps do just 10% each and the truck will be moved. So this is the skill that brings together the forces that you have, intellectual caliber as well; connected forces have an advantage. When you all say that yoga is a very difficult endeavor what don’t you under-stand that it cannot be done by a singular entity. You have to collect the entities and bring them together as a team as if yoga is like pushing a stationary truck. So get your forces together: body, mind, breath, organs, psyche, consciousness; each cell of the body join in the team work. When you have trillions of cells in team work, the things are not that difficult. You have collective power, collective energy, and collective intelligence…and when they come together you don’t really have to work hard.

This doesn’t appeal to a person who is into popular yoga. They think you require discipline and that you need to work very hard, and that the body must be put to severe tests every time otherwise the body will rust very quickly. So you must go on working on the body very regularly. You go for work-out culture and work-out culture ends in a state where you are a dead duck. You will take a long time to recuperate and recover, and most of the energy is wasted and lost. Sometimes the loss is permanent. We don’t have rechargeable batteries post prime age. If you are in prime age, you can get exhausted and your batteries will be quickly recharged and recharged fully. But suppose you are 70 or 75 years of age, if you get tired your batteries will not again get fully charged. There is always a deficit of 5%-10%; you don’t have rechargeable batteries in old age. In your prime age you have them and perhaps we can have a better charged body if we train it in a young age. That’s why we tell youngsters to work hard at the age of 15, 20, 22 when they can work hard, and their batteries will be extra charged 120%, 130%. In old age it will be on the minus side; we don’t have rechargeable batteries. Lost means lost for a lifetime as in the case of braincells. If you have lost brain cells, if some of the brain cells are dead, there is no replacement. They are dead for a lifetime. That is the case in the brain. If you lose a few cells in the brain, they are lost for a lifetime.

If you lose a few cells in the body, it is not as if you have lost them for a lifetime; cells can come back again. You will get fresh cells, new cells, more so in prime age. That’s why fractures heal quickly for children, but for old people they don’t heal quickly, because the metabolic rate is low for old people. That’s why fractures don’t heal; cells are not “taking birth” so the death rate is high in old age. For a child the cell birth rate is high, so the child grows. That is the nature of the body. You have to understand, working hard is not life-long lifetime advice. Work hard when you can work hard: when you are in a prime age, when you are young. Thereafter you have to understand the conservation of energy, how to conserve the energies.

Each month, a new question will be presented here from the interview that Alexandra was so gracious to share.
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–Geeta Iyengar

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