Discovering the fullness of yoga in The Tree of Yoga: The Definitive Guide to Yoga in Everyday Life reminds me that to practice, and indeed to be, yoga, is a lifelong process of living with a beginner's mind. For all those interested in learning more about yoga as a whole, especially beyond the postures, this book is a great start.
This past year has no doubt seen sadness and unforeseen turns (insert all 2020 memes here!), and each person has their own story. And yet, it’s also seen resilience, optimism, creativity and powerful protest for progress. For me, it’s been a chance to try to meet each day with openness and flexibility, and also to take the time to consider my priorities, who I want to be as a person, and where I can best serve in my community and society. And, since one of my goals these past few years has been to practice and learn yoga more deeply, it’s been a great chance to do so!
I started practicing yoga largely for the physical benefits, and for how calm and aware it made me feel. But over time, its fuller purpose has become clearer to me and I’ve been searching for a deeper understanding of the practice through courses and books. After some research on where to begin (there are so many books!), I chose The Tree of Yoga: The Definitive Guide to Yoga in Everyday Life by B.K.S Iyengar. Iyengar is well-known around the world for his teaching, the creation of the Iyengar style of yoga and his widely-read book Light on Yoga, among others.
The Tree of Yoga was not written intentionally as a book from the outset, but rather is a collection of Iyengar’s speeches and talks made in various parts of the world, supplemented by additional thoughts and edits. Arranged into five sections looking at different themes around yoga—its connection to stages in life, the elements of yoga as seen through a tree and its parts, health, the self, and yoga in the world—the book offers a brief but integrated understanding of yoga through looking at its history and philosophy, but also its role in everyday life.
This book is a wonderful read, both for its introduction to many yogic principles beyond the physical, but also for its reflections on how the values and philosophies of yoga can be found in every aspects of our lives, not just in the moments we practice on the mat.
Iyengar weaves the intricate history and philosophy of yoga throughout the chapters, as well as what he’s learned through his own experiences from decades of practicing, all while looking at what this means as we go through daily experiences, from our individual health and wellbeing, to friendship, family, community and society.
The short chapters make it easy to study, reflect on and return to, and this is especially useful in the areas where he explores the eight aspects of yoga, the commonly known asanas (postures) being only one of them. These eight aspects inspired the book’s title, as he likens them to the different parts of a tree, beginning from the earth and roots to the eventual leaves and flowers rising to meet the light.
Iyengar also looks at the three tiers of yoga: the physical, mental and spiritual, and how through practice we are able to unite these three parts of being. This particularly resonated with me as I continue to experience the results of yoga beyond the physical, where the mind, body and spirit come together. It can be a bit daunting at first to understand what this spiritual state means, but I really think it’s a personal choice. For me, it’s so far meant simply living in awareness and acting with kindness. Through being aware of myself and my environment, and understanding my place in society and how my actions are connected to others, I can make mindful and intentional choices for myself and those around me, from friends and family to the wider community. By taking the patience, effort, perseverance and joy I experience from the mat into the world, I can be myself and have confidence in the things I’m meant to do and be in life.
For all those interested in learning more about yoga in a deeper way, especially beyond the postures, this book is a great start. I’ve benefited from reading it after practicing for a while, and will definitely come back to it as a reference, as there are quite a lot of elements that I wish to to understand fully.
For me, the biggest takeaway was Iyengar’s call to have a beginner’s mind in yoga and in life. To take time and to stay committed to a bit of learning each day, so that we can learn, un-learn, experience and build upon what we knew and who we were yesterday. I think I’ll start today!