Balancing Inner and Outer – Iyengar Yoga Teacher Dona Holleman on the Benefits of Centered Yoga

Our daily life is for the majority spent in the outgoing mode, which can make us aggressive and harried. There is that other mode of being that is available to everyone, and that is of vital health to the mind and heart to be able to revert to it at will, whenever needed, writes special contributor and long-term Iyengar Yoga teacher Dona Holleman in this article. ‘Centered Yoga’ involves the capacity to be in either mode at will, depending on the circumstances; to be able to balance easily between the two.

What is “Centered Yoga”?

What is “Centered Yoga?” Centered Yoga is the search for balance between the two polarities of the human being, the outgoing, extrovert, active side and the ingoing, introvert, receptive side, in which there is no “leakage” of energy, and no holding back.

It is the understanding and application of the old yin-yang symbol, where the two polarities form one circle. With most of us we manifest one predominant personality. For instance, one person is more of an outgoing personality, while another one is quieter. Of course this is not always 100%, and not at all times, hence the “dots” within the yin-yang circle.

The Yin and Yang of Centered Yoga

The outgoing, yang side of us is the one that acts positively upon the world. It tries to “change” the outer world according to a personal inner vision. This includes judging, classifying and labeling the outer world according to one’s personal conditioning. The song of a bird is “nice;” the sound of an airplane is “not-nice.” Thus the two sounds are “changed” by being labeled and classified, put into two different categories. In this we forget that a sound is only a sound, a vibration of the air, and that any adjective we apply to it is a purely human and, in addition a purely personal one. For another bird the bird song may not be “nice” at all, but may mean an aggressive assertion of “this-is-my-tree-stay-away,” and for an airplane lover the sound of the plane may be “music to the ears.” The yang side corresponds to our thinking and acting side.

The ingoing, yin side is the one that receives, that allows the world to act upon us, instead of us acting upon the world and trying to change it. It allows the world to act upon up us and in doing so, to change us in ways that more often than not are not subject to verbalization. Thus, instead of labeling the birdsong as “nice,” if we take time to just listen to it without throwing anything back in the form of judgment of labeling, we may find that something happens inside us as a result, something that cannot be defined, but is there nevertheless. This listening corresponds to the capacity—present in each human being but with most people not as developed as the thinking side—to pay “total attention.” Total attention is opening the channel from the outer world toward the inner world, allowing the outer world to “come in” and “do” to us whatever it has to do.

Learning to Change Channels in and out of Yoga

Our daily life is for the majority spent in the outgoing mode, the “changing-the-world” mode. This can make us aggressive. In total attention the person who “pays total attention” is not there, as the two are mutually exclusive. To think, there has to be a person who thinks. To pay attention, there cannot be a person behind it; there is only the act of observation, of attention.

Obviously we need to spend time in this mode, as most of us have to earn a living and act, but we should at least be aware that there is that other mode of being that is it available to everyone, and that it is of vital health to the mind and heart to be able to revert to it at will, whenever needed. This is the meaning of Centered Yoga: the capacity to be in either mode at will, depending on the circumstances; to be able to balance easily between the two.

In the application of yoga I have developed a series of guidelines for practice, which will help you to understand this other mode of being while practicing yoga and other activities, the one in which total attention is the rule, not just acting. Attention to the body, to the mind itself, to other people. In this I am greatly indebted to my superb masters, my horses, who taught me, and continue to teach me, their masterful skill in being attentive to everything around them. Being the prey animals they are, that is their only survival tool. As human beings we have forgotten that we too are prey animals, and that we too need to pay attention in order to survive in a world where aggression has become the rule.

Printed with permission from and

Dona HollemanWith more than 50 years of study and teaching, Dona Holleman is one of the most respected senior practitioners and teachers in the world today. Her studies include not only yoga, but also many other subjects, which have helped her form a wider view of yoga. Dona’s early years included exposure to Buddhism, Roman Catholicism, Quakerism and Taoism. 
Dona became a student of J. Krishnamurti in the 1950s. At the same time, Dona also encountered yoga, which became immediately her main path for the practice and expression of the body. She met B.K.S. Iyengar in the mid-1960s, and became a committed student of his, founding Iyengar schools in the Netherlands and in Italy.
She resides and teaches currently at the Epona Studio in Soiano del Lago, Northern Italy.
Dona brings to her teaching her own unique synthesis of yoga and philosophy, which has grown out of her practice and experiences.
Dona is the author of several books, amongst other the best selling Dancing the Body of Light, Eyes of Innocence, Centering Down and The Centered Yoga Manual, currently all out of print. She also made a movie, called A Fish in Search of Water. Recently she brought out the book Dancing the Flame of Life, available from Amazon and Yogamatters.


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