“It is through the body that you realize you are a spark of divinity.” — BKS Iyengar
This quote frequently shows up on Facebook and in various blogs. I’ve looked around to find some context for it—what he meant when he said it—but so far context has eluded. So perhaps like all good sutras, it is meant to be interpreted through each student’s own lens, a lens that is not only differently tinted for each person, but changes its color as we move through life.
When I first read Iyengar’s quote many years ago I interpreted this way: It is through our practice of asana, at those times when we lose the struggle and become the asana, that we see into our true nature, the undefined spaciousness that connects us all. This still rings true for me. Asana, if we practice with complete commitment to being fully in each moment, can offer a glimpse into the the free and settled mind that is intrinsic to all of us.
Why Body Awareness is Key
As I was preparing to teach a segment on the Buddha’s Four Foundations of Mindfulness for the Avenues Yoga Teacher Training a few days ago I began contemplating anew the connection between mind and body and discovered another way in which this quote rings true.
The first of the four foundations is mindfulness of the body. Those of us who have delved deep into meditation can sometimes begin to see all things related to the body as subservient to the freedom of the mind. But as the years have passed, I’ve come to realize that awareness of the body is the key to the freedom of the mind.
The body is not just a gross vehicle that transports our minds from one place to another. The body is the window to everything we experience—everything. We perceive the world around us through our bodies, through sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. Everything we encounter, whether or not we’re conscious of it—registers as a sensation in our bodies. If we are ever to be mindful, we must drop below the level of thinking about our experience to being directly present with our actual experience. In order to do this, we must direct our bare attention to our bodies.
Here’s another point: Our bodies are always in the present. They can not be otherwise. If you want to be present, tune into your body.
It’s incredibly simple, but I will never claim that it’s easy. Most of us have practiced thinking, either consciously or unconsciously, our entire lives. As anyone who has sat down to meditate knows, our minds are constantly flitting from one thought to another like the Buddha’s proverbial metaphor, a wild monkey leaping from tree to tree.
Even thinking can be linked to sensations in our bodies. We can tune into these sensations and propel ourselves right back into the present, even when the thought tapes are running at full volume. So when you notice you’re lost in thought, try this: Don’t try to banish the thoughts. Just let them be. Instead, shift your awareness away from the tale your thoughts are weaving to whatever arises in your body while your mind is running wild.
If You’ve Got a Body, You Can Be Present
Through our sense experiences, we connect directly to each moment. In each moment that we fully connect, we are temporarily free of the thoughts and beliefs that disconnect us from the measureless infinity that we are. All this because we live in these bodies. And the best thing about this is that we all have one; living in a body is not just for the privileged few. It doesn’t matter whether we’re old, young, small, large, healthy or unhealthy.
In his classic book, Being Peace, Thich Nhat Hanh suggests a body awareness meditation based on these phrases:
Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is a wonderful moment.
Here’s a link to more info about this wonderful practice. Reflect on how fortunate you are to live in this body. It does take you from one place to another. It gives you access to everything that is without and everything that is within. And through it, you just might realize you are a spark of divinity.