Weak Body—Weak Mind.

Via David Garrigues
on Apr 10, 2012
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Photo contribution: David Garrigues

Sri K Pattabhi Jois frequently made the statement “weak body, weak mind”, and similarly he liked to quote the yoga scripture that says: the Self cannot be attained by the weak.

These statements are in keeping with his emphasis on the value of ashtanga’s third limb: asana practice. He taught that practicing asana makes you strong, not only physically but eventually in every way, and this includes learning to highly value and follow the ethical guidelines of the yama’s and niyama’s, limbs one and two.

Asana could be thought of as the root limb that forms the foundation for all the other limbs. This is because working with your body in the postures puts you right in the center of the gritty details of what’s inside of you in a ‘hands on’, physical and practical way that circumvents the static habit patterns of the mind. One time this little exchange took place between Guruji when I was saying good bye to him after practice:

Me: Oh today, my back stiff.
Guruji (with riveting eyes and slightly mock seriousness): Much thinking, too much thinking is there.

For success in yoga it is vitally important not to forget about the body in favor of thought, there can be a tendency to be ‘non physical’ when thinking, and to somehow think that being intellectual is superior to being physical. In truth creative thought emerges directly out of a receptive body. To isolate thought while neglecting the body can create unwanted distance between you and your perceptions and remove you from your visceral connection to your experience.

Shifting the limbs and putting asana before the ethics of the yama’s is an acknowledgement that I can’t exclusively think my way to letting go of my aggression, greed, jealousy, and my tendencies towards egotism, complacency and lethargy. I have to get physical. I have to build up my physical and mental power through asana, pranayama, and dhyana and then I can ‘take on’ my mind, I can take on correcting the diseased behaviors that follow from my inability to see through greed, anger and the host of aberrant desires and aversions that can impulsively take center stage.

The body is the home of my animal sense, my aliveness to the multiplicity of vivid, subtle, unique, real sensations that are taking place within me in each moment. Asana practice can teach me the necessity of allowing thought to be born out of bodily awareness, out of feeling, sensing, and perceiving in a very distinctly animal way.

An animal has to continually tune in to the outer environment, survival depends on his ability to fully inhabit his body in order to respond to this environment. Inhabiting the body means being fully awake in a deeply physical, multi sensual way—awakening to promptings of the eyes, ears, heart, voice, feet, hands, skeleton, brain, spine, limbs and all. There has to be a total, automatic trust in the body, and this requires true physical intimacy and inhabitation.

Great beauty and potent, powerful strength can result when you learn to see your practice as an endeavor to so totally trust your body. When you practice with direct immediacy, with devotion and love for what you are doing then a distinctly human expression of this animal trust can emerge. And it begins with a recognition that the body is the foundation, the ground, the home and the first basis for the self reflection and expansion of consciousness that psychological and spiritual growth require.

What I have written above has been true for me. Yoga has been slow, intensely physical process of waking up to what is most alive within me and following through to express what I have received from my efforts. At first my mind often hindered me in this process; instead of helping me my thinking would vex, frustrate and thwart me in my efforts to grow and understand things about my self. I find that asana has been the necessary starting point for the process realizing the potency and extent of my energy, and of learning how to harness and direct that energy. Practice continues to be the all important physical ‘doing’ of realization, of knowing my Self.

The world of asana is where I apply my self to the trade of learning how best to twist, to bend forward and backward and such. Because in order to do these things at a high level and with much more soul than mere competence, not only my physical power is required, but also my brain, nervous system, intelligence, my heart, and mental powers of concentration need to be thoroughly engaged.

I am then not only bending and twisting to strengthen, ‘stretch’ or for exercise, but also to hone in, to redirect my senses, to inhabit the body, to enjoy the ‘Large View’, the highly developed view of a connoisseur, the appreciative view that leads to the spectacular view of spirit.


Editor Tanya L. Markul

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About David Garrigues

David Garrigues is an international yoga teacher. He is recognized as one of a few teachers in the US certified to teach Ashtanga Yoga by the late world renown yoga master Sri K Pattabhi Jois. As an Ashtanga Ambassador he bases his teachings on the idea that 'Anyone can take practice', a core idea in the teachings of Sri K Pattabhi Jois. David's mission is to help others flourish within the living, contemporary lineage of Ashtanga Yoga. He aims to be part of an ever wider circle of people who are committed to applying the teachings of ashtanga yoga in ways that promote physical, psychological, and spiritual growth in themselves and others. David's website and highly popular youtube video channel, Asana Kitchen, has a wealth of free, expert yoga instructional materials to inspire progress in beginner through advanced practitioners. He is the author of three Ashtanga Yoga dvd's, A Guide to the Primary Series, A Guide to the Ashtanga Yoga Pranayama Sequence, and A Guide to the Second Series. His book Vayu Siddhi: A Guide to Free Breathing was written and inspired by yogic sacred texts on the science of asana and pranayama, the two favorite subjects of students of ashtanga yoga. He is the director of the Ashtanga Yoga School of Philadelphia and the Ashtanga Yoga School of Kovalam in India.


13 Responses to “Weak Body—Weak Mind.”

  1. Tanya Lee Markul says:

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  2. Thaddeus1 says:

    So many amazing nuggets of upon which to reflect in this piece…

    In particular, that the placement of asana before the yama and niyama is an affirmation that one must actually become involved with themselves in order to move beyond the ailments addressed by the yama and niyama. This, for me, displays the true awareness and realization that Guruji possessed about not just the practice of yoga, but even more importantly, the condition of those to whom he administered the prescription. He knew what and who he was dealing with and so tailored the system to address the situation perfectly.

    And when you write, "Then a distinctly human expression of this animal trust can emerge, and it begins with a recognition that the body is the foundation, the ground, the home and the first basis for the self reflection and expansion of consciousness that psychological and spiritual growth require," I can't help but have a deeper appreciation for why within the yogic scriptures it speaks so candidly about the importance of obtaining a human body. Like it or not, the human body is the vehicle most suited to the practice of self-realization and so in our process we must come to truly find ourselves therein.

    Thank you so much for this contribution.

    Posting to Elephant Ashtanga. Be sure to Like Elephant Ashtanga on Facebook.

  3. Andy says:

    BOOM – excellently written, and I couldn't agree more.

  4. Great post! Yes, indeed Pattabhi Jois did say 'Weak' to many people. First thing he told me was I had shoulder weakness…but flexible body! In class he would say, "no strength"….

    The entry point may be the asana practice but it grows downward and into the yamas and niyamas. Yes, to do the asanas it is not just physical on physical……that is I how learned and how I practice. It is how I teach…..which is an uphill battle…..but nonetheless that is the role of the teacher!

  5. __MikeG__ says:

    Weak body, weak mind? Complete and utter bullshit. Tell that to Stephen Hawking.

  6. Mashtanga says:

    I am also a dedicated practitioner of Hatha/Ashtanga, and 100% agree with MikeG… Iyengar also put forth the myth of "weak body, weak mind,"… While I appreciate Michael Garrigues perspective and practical experience of this teaching, it is true for him, not for everyone. Animal tendencies can be overcome with a strong mind. Many sick people are their death beds find God. "Tuesday's with Morrie" is a great example of what is possible through faith (not to be confused with 'belief'). The asana is extremely useful as a tool, but in the physical culture of Ashtanga (which I love as well), a strong bias often develops. We become so attached to asana, what if you're hit by a bus tomorrow and in a wheel chair for life, unable to do any asana, then the body gets weak. You still have your mind. A complete approach to yoga is tailored to the individual in this case. The point I am making is that there is so much depth to yoga, and strong body is not required for "self-realization" or "union", the real yoga.

  7. __MikeG__ says:

    I'm with you. I believe asana is an extremely useful tool. And I also believe that persons who have physical limitations are not only capable of strong mind but often the mental discipline of the sick or handicapped is much more powerful than persons of able body. I do not have the mental fortitude or strength of character required to make life a triumph is spite of severe physical limitations.

    To be fair to Iyengar, he backed off the "weak body weak mind" myth as he refined his method. He went from "weak body" to perfoming asana as a way to spread intelligence throughout the body.

  8. Thaddeus1 says:

    With all due respect to both you and Mike, I would like to offer that perhaps you have read a bit too much into the title of the article and missed some of the more subtle aspects of David's (not Michael) writing in the above.

    It seems to me that the above contribution is offered within the context of re-organizing the all too common debate within the western yoga community over the importance of asana. There is no doubt that asana occupies the center stage of western yoga practice and this, rightly or wrongly, leads many "critics" to write long articles in defense of yoga's other limbs. This is, of course, a very good thing. However, what I see David's above article trying to accomplish is an unsettling of this "either/or" mentality which can animate these debates and encouraging us to think about the real role of asana in the facilitation of a complete ashtanga yoga practice.

    The points that both of you raise are really geared towards arguing that there are other kinds of yoga practice besides hatha yoga; namely jnana, karma and bhakti. The existence and efficacy of these other paths of yoga in no way stand in conflict with the path of hatha, which like it or not, is a bodily based practice.

    Regarding Stephen Hawking…just because he is an intellectually brilliant individual, I think it's fair to say that none of us have the slightest knowledge regarding his desires or attachments. The control and reduction of these are what lie at the heart of a successful yoga practice and are notoriously difficult to judge from what people say or do in the world. I don't think that invoking him necessarily serves to disprove David's conclusions, nor prove yours.

  9. __MikeG__ says:

    Sorry Thaddeus, but you appear to have projected ideas into my argument that I did not actually include in the post.

    This article is too much body centric. There is no acknowledgement of persons with "strong minds" who do not subscribe to the the "strong body/mind" fallacy.

    I did not argue for any other type of yoga such as jnana, karma or bhakti.

    Good point about Mr. Hawking and us not knowing about his attachments. I would argue that it takes strong mind and strength of will for Mr. Hawking o exercise his brilliance as well as he does while suffering from debilitating illness.

    Also, I did claim that having or not having having "attachments" meant one has either strong or weak mind.

    My argument is that a strong body is not and never has been a necessity for a "strong mind".

  10. Thaddeus1 says:

    Well, it appears that you have done a bit of projecting yourself.

    My response is actually, perhaps sloppily, addressed to both you and Mashtanga, whose discussion actually raises issues that more closely accord with those other paths of yoga. However, my main point in bringing those up was simply to point out that there are other paths of yoga which do not rely on the "strong body" idea. Thus, in raising objections to David's article both of you are essentially questioning him on the basis of a somewhat flawed and simple understanding of yoga. You are essentially saying, "geez, this article doesn't mention the rain," when in fact it is about the sun.

    As for your other points…you haven't actually presented an argument for the "strength" of Mr. Hawking's mind at all. You've mentioned him several times in statements, but claims and statements do not amount to an argument.

    I agree that you did not mention the notion of attachments, I did, for this is what I believe David is speaking about in the above arguments. Within the article "a strong mind" has nothing to do with intellectual capacity, but more with the traditional evaluations of the "mind" within yoga, which pertain to things like desires and attachments.

    Finally, regarding your last statement, I would agree with you that a "strong" body is not a necessary condition for a "strong" mind within a larger context of yogic discussion, but again since David's article pertains to a hatha practice I think his points are outstanding and actually serve to disrupt the occasional binary that emerge in discussions of this nature between "mind" and "body." But again, arguments are composed of more than simple statements of opinion.

  11. __MikeG__ says:

    The strong mind/body equation is flawed and simple. And it forms the basis of this article.

    You do not know what my understanding of yoga is. So, to enlighten you here is my understanding of yoga.

    The more I practice yoga the less I know what yoga "is".

    Maybe the above statement proves that my understanding is flawed and simple. Err, I dunno.

    We seem to be the Projecting Twins. Like the Wonder Twins, but much less dynamic and interesting.

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