Expression

Amongst the various fine arts, sculpting fascinates me. Unlike paintings, where one creates on a blank canvas, sculpting is an unveiling, an uncovering. The stone is chipped off to reveal what is within already. Yoga is like that too, except that the sculptor and the sculpture are one. 

While waiting in line to sign up for the next academic year, I was looking at a happy idol outside Guruji’s house. Head at a slight tilt, open feet and easy arms all in one fluid stillness. It’s one of many sculptures that pepper the Institute and its premises. I’m not sure which deity or mythological character this one is. The figure sits atop a lotus set on top of a creature with tusks There are other figures below the pedestal but I’m not quite sure what they signify. I wonder who I could ask for a little more about its origin and details.


His foot caught my fancy. The left sole is open like a book, completely at ease. How many human bodies have that same graceful presence? The foot fascinates me endlessly and this sculpture has a beautiful presentation of the soles. One of the beautiful aspects of Indian art is the effortless weaving of religion to express. Sculptures to music and dance and even our clothing! Art is nothing but an expression of bhakti.

Pallu of a baluchari Saree from Bengal. This one was a gift from S and has a beautiful depiction of Krishna and Radha at leisure. Handwoven works like this still abound in our country where the humble weavers create masterpieces drawing inspiration from religious and cultural iconography.

Our bodies are like books, some parts an unwitting expression of our deepest desires and fears. Our backs are honest, beyond the field of our eyes, they rarely lie. Besides the feet, I’ve been an observer of the paschima of bodies. Sometimes on runs, I see people in front of me and their backs are interesting to observe. It reminds me of my slouched and hunched posture of not too long ago. My entire being was a reflection of the dullness and ache inside at that time. It is a lot different now and the whole emphasis of lifting and opening the chest in class has created a transformation in my mental and emotional posture too. 
As the academic year draws to an end, there is a little more confidence in being able to practice at home. The confusion of what, why, when and how has cleared a bit to allow a thought out approach to practice rather than just repetition. Thanks to my teachers who have taught us so well, there has been progress and a desire to keep practising. I have been lax in my studies of the texts though and that’s something that needs to change. 

Hari Om

Imprints

Last class started with adho mukha svanasana in the rope. We rarely do it considering the number of students. However, it is an everyday pose for me at home as I slip into the ropes for a quick release and recharge. While the rope cut in for most students, it was a familiar sensation associated with relief from pain for me. One of the students remarked how the imprint of it was felt even after. That deep impression was missing for me, perhaps it is the familiarity with the cutting action. Or maybe, just a tolerance for discomfort.

On the other hand, I did find a great deal of opening in my knees. As an asana, I’ve seen it as a bare minimum if I cannot practise everyday. But, most of the time, I think of keeping the legs straight and releasing the back. I’ve never considered it as something to address the knees. One of the things our teacher says is to use the pose for your problem areas, be it the knees, back, shoulder etc. It’s so easy to forget all the things I remember from class when I get on my mat at home.

Often, the imprints of practising in a certain manner carry on without my realising it. Just like the imprints of thought patterns, behaviour tendencies etc. Externally, I am working but it is not with awareness or intelligence. It’s just repetition and a little increase in range of motion. Going through the motions of life without really being aware with every thought, word and deed. Sure, repetition makes actions easier and change happens. But, transformation needs imprints of a different kind to channel his will, not mine. I think it is more of a removal of all imprints to allow the full expression of the Self. Definitely not in this lifetime. Vasanas give rise to desires which in turn are responsible for the agitations in the mind, as Swamiji says. 

I’ve found myself quite in the grip of these ‘tendencies‘ yet again. It’s so easy to slide back while the climb is painfully slow. So, I turn back to the texts. I find writing/ typing them therapeutic. (Phase 1 of my reference project is almost at an end.) As always, the brilliance of the Divine Song is beyond compare and calms my heart. It kindles hope. Arjuna’s doubts are my doubts; his despondency, mine. As are his curiosity, awe, and all other emotions. It never fails to make me stand up and fight, even if it be for just a moment. How can one not, when the charioteer blows his conch?

Image: part of the book cover of Jaya by Devdutt Patnaik
Hari Om

Look ma, no wall!

One of my wishes was to be able to do an unsupported Sirsasana by the end of the year. I didn’t have to wait that long, it happened. And then happened again. Simply because of trying out something a fellow student mentioned. I haven’t tried it in class yet. Maybe in the next one. Of course, looking at a picture made me cringe but I was elated for a while. Still am. The happiness of a child learning to write a complete word. Then, all she wants to do is repeat it until the novelty wears off. 

The academic year is almost at an end and it has been an interesting one. It began with a steep learning curve which slowed down to smaller, quieter steps forward. The knee injury was a good opportunity to pause and rearrange my life a bit. Of course, many old patterns came up alongwith it but overall, it has been a blessing in disguise. It has taught me to be more seeking in my practice rather than just waiting for my teachers to tell me. In the process, I realised it was more the mind I needed to fix than my body. The body heals itself, it is the mind that needs treatment through the body. Just like my teacher says…

In the meanwhile, I found pleasure in swimming while also discovering deep silences under water. The breath has started to become a friend as I let go and surrender to the flow. It is a different experience to be suspended in a medium which can either support or swallow you. As an element, it’s an interesting one to explore through its different aspects. Benign, malevolent, neutral. Three different states- ice, water and steam, all with different gunas. Water in the womb, water in our bodies and on our planet. Universally used by all that lives. Infact, the beginning of life itself. The purifier in all rituals from birth to death and beyond. There is much to learn from contemplating the building blocks of life. It is a theme common in the Upanishads as well. Our rishis of old had pretty much cracked the whole thing and expressed it so eloquently. Despite all the commercialism associated with the sacred art and science of yoga today, the pure truth endures, hidden in plain sight. Quite like the secrets of water under open skies. They invite you to dive deep and dissolve. After all, isn’t life really a preparation for dissolution? A bit like all asana being preparation for savasana…

Hari Om

Of backbends and children 

There’s something very exhilarating about backbends, like a bird spreading its wings to fly. I feel it for a pause before I start a run too. A sense of gathering myself from inside and spreading my wings to take off. Imagination plays a funny role, both in asana practice as well as running. I have this image of a graceful running stride or an aligned urdhva dhanurasana but reality is a different picture. 😊 It makes me smile at the huge disconnect between my perception and reality. Just a small instance of how our outsides reflect our insides. It’s the same with our usual mental and emotional posturing. Case in point, children. 

As a parent, I mean well and have the best interests of my kids. However, it is easy to get caught in the, “Mother knows best” syndrome. Do I really know best? Are my actions and words really from a detached perspective and not a reaction to everyday frustrations? Truthfully, not always. It is a different world now from the one I knew as a child. The paradigms that defined an older period no longer exist and the conflict is beacuse of the eternal loss in translation between an older generation and the current one. 

Two children, as different as chalk and cheese. One, a meticulous, highly organised and driven child and the other a free spirited artist. One who learns well with a structured format and the other who teaches herself what she wants to learn. One who doubts and the other who doesn’t. How did they end up choosing me? Perhaps it is as Khalil Gibran says in The Prophet.

Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. 

They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you. 

You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. 

You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. 

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. 

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. 

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. 

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. 

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

It is a great privilege to be a parent but how often do I see it as such. I just get caught up in the current of the day and getting them to do their stuff. Sometimes I would look at a tiny K and wonder aloud, “Where did you come from?” She’d have an impish smile and say from the sky. Actually, it’s not too far from the truth. After all, didn’t Yashoda see the entire universe in little Krishna?
Hari Om

Happy in Dandasana

I’ve been a bit reluctant to attend class lately since most of the asanas are not available to me. My head tells me that I could do my little bit at home instead of going to class. 

Friday was a treat for me despite doing a number of repeats of dandasana, parsva dandasana and paschimottanasana. A class within a class of sorts while the rest of the hall did twists and various other poses. By the end of class, my back felt good and I had a glimpse of tadasana in my buttocks. I left feeling happy.

Danda means punishment or staff and it’s an interesting word considering my current state of recovery from injury. Yama, the Lord of Death, is aptly shown holding the staff, a stiff reminder of the injunctions of ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, aparigraha. Pretty much in line with the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament. Both have death as a common thread, as a means to pay back karmic debt and as punishment for sin. 

What does all that have to do with my knee? Plenty. In retrospect, I violated all the yamas in my desire to run fast. One does not mess with the mighty vows and escape unscathed. How I got here is history, it cannot be changed. But, what I can do about it is what Sutra 2:33 says. As Guruji elaborates, “By raising the weak or dull to the level of the intelligent or strong, the sadhaka learns compassion in action.” Although, compassion is easier practised with other people than with oneself. 

I do miss the road and hope to get back once healed. Unfinished business, you could say, before I hang my running shoes (only I don’t own any😊). Hopefully, I will get back stronger and a little more humble. In the meanwhile, I remain happy in dandasana. After all, it is tadasana, just seated. 

Body talk?

Recently a dear friend said something about ‘the wisdom that my feet communicated with me’. It got me thinking about the feet and the tattvas- internal radio catching bits of static again. I sense an inside understanding of the interconnectedness of it all but can’t quite hear it clearly. 

Perhaps this period of more gentle movement is meant to start looking at the other more esoteric aspects of yoga. Or, is it being precocious? The little I picked up from my readings is enough to warn against uninformed and unguided exploration. Yet, there is a pull and I find it occupying space in the background. The sounds, the colours, the geometry, the symbolism of the deities etc. in freewheeling thought. No messing around, just keeping my ears and eyes open. 

Asanas are few and mostly supported at home and I’ve been using tadasana with a prop quite a bit. My issue cropped up because of poor biomechanics so going back to the basics seemed like a good idea. It seems to be working or perhaps it is a combination of rest, physio exercises, medication and swimming. I’m partial to the asana since I find instantaneous change for a while after removing the brick. The shape of the knee looks a bit different too. An unexpected bonus has been an effortless chaturanga dandasana! That’s a pose I struggle with and I suppose all the physio stuff has helped with core strength. Taking charge of solving my problems, whether they work or not, has brought some freshness to the limited poses. The others will wait for me when I get back. 

Chakra T shirt

Hari Om

स्वाध्यायादिष्टदेवतासंप्रयोग:।।४४।।

It is hard to let go, really let go. Running was a crutch in many ways. Sure, it made me feel good, it made me feel strong, it made me push beyond what I thought I was capable. Yet, at the core of it is deep seated ahamkara. Pride in one’s effort and the result. The extent of that is apparent when one of my wishes is to be a world class athlete in my next life! Of course, I want to be a devout yoga sadhaka as well but the first instinct is a desire for that which satisfies the ego.

The last few days have been difficult. Pain and its associated mental turmoil. Yesterday, I decided to just stop and let go. Last night as I lay down to sleep with a bolster beneath my knees, it struck me that all the Savasana prompts that kept cropping up lately were a prep for this period in time. My body and mind need the rejuvenation that this asana gives in such abundance. My mind had worked itself into a frenzy and predictably the body grew tense and the heart heavy. I could only see what was denied to me and not what is available. I forgot to bring a spirit of enquiry with me, forgot that pain is a teacher!

Sometimes I wish for the ease that people enjoy in congregational worship. It seems so natural when they get together to do puja, pray or sing. Recently, I was at a church for a wedding and the choir was heavenly. A mix of folks from different cultures across the country, all coming together in beautiful melody. It took me back to my days as a child when I used to be part of a choir. I’ve almost always been a loner, mostly by choice and at times because life would push me back to navigating on my own even when I would attempt being part of a group. This pattern goes way back in my history, around the  early teenage years. I suppose that’s why Eklavya appeals to me. There is something about that Nishada living wild with his guru firmly entrenched in his heart that resounds with me. Often, I think that Guruji in my heart is like how the clay likeness of Dronacharya was for the archer who was probably greater than Arjuna. Eklavya’s story is an anonymous one, hidden in the periphery of civilisation. There is much to learn from his character but that’s a separate reflection. There’s an old post sketching his story in the Mahabharata that I had written a while ago. (click to read

I think of going to a temple on certain days, like today, but then don’t because of the crowd. I prefer to go on quiet days when there is no one. I don’t know the order of worship, nor the offerings to be made. I just sit, seeing the idol until it feels like time to get up, sort of like how I come out of savasana. In my heart, I offer a full prostration but have nothing as an offering except myself. I go empty since nothing is mine. I drop in some money at the box and leave, accepting the prasad. Shivratri is one such day and I have the auspicious one in my heart. 

अचिन्त्यमव्यक्तमनन्तरूपं शिवं प्रशान्तममृतं ब्रह्मयोनिम। तथाऽऽदिमध्यान्तविहीनमेकं विभुं चिदानन्दमरूपमद्भुतम्।।६।। उमासहायं परमेश्वरं प्रभुं त्रिलोचनं नीलकण्ठं प्रशान्तम्। ध्यात्वा मुनिर्गच्छति भूतयोनिं समस्तसाक्षिं तमस: परस्तात् ।।७।। एतस्माज्जायते प्राणो मन: सर्वेन्द्रियाणि च। खं वायुर्ज्योतिराप: पृथिवी विश्वस्य धारिणी।।१५।।

 Translation from the commentary by Swami Chinmayananda

6. The unthinkable, the unmanifest, the One of endless forms, the ever auspicious, the peaceful, the immortal, the origin of the very Creator, the One without a beginning, a middle and an end, the only One, the all-pervading, the Knowledge-Bliss, the formless, and the wonderful.

7.By meditating upon Lord Parameśvara consorted by mother Umā, the highest Lord, the all-powerful, the three eyed, the blue necked and the ever tranquil, a true man of reflection reaches Him, who is the source of all the manifested world, the witness of all and the One who is beyond all darkness.

15. From Him are born the prāna (life), the mind (antahkarana), all the organs (indriyani), the sky (akāsa), the wind (vāyu), the fire (jyotih), the water (āpah) and the earth (prithivi). He is the supporter of everything.

Om Namah Shivaya