Food & play

Iyengar yoga is known for its alignment, precision, long holds in asana. The second class was one of play as we moved repeatedly, waking up sleepy muscles of body and mind. It doesn’t happen often in class since the Institute follows a syllabus and it is geared towards systematically developing a practice for oneself. But, as our teacher said, “and sometimes you should play like children also“, as we moved back and forth in pawanmuktasana and did reps of halasana, paschimottanasana. It leaves a different taste after such a practice, lighter.

As my other teacher mentioned during our introduction, class is like a thaali (a multi course Indian meal), where many dishes are served till the point of bursting. There is no time to savour the rasa individually like we do with food prepared at home. It is a home practice which allows us to taste the flavours in each asana.

Back to lessons from the universe, coincidentally one of my readings was

भूरिति वै प्राण:। भुव इत्यपान:।सुवरिति व्यान:।

मह इत्यन्नम्। अन्नेन वाव सर्वे प्राणा महीयन्ते।।५।।

Bhuh is prana. Bhuvah is apana. Suvah is vyana. Mahah is food. Indeed, it is by food that the pranas thrive. (Translation by Swami Chinmayananda)

It is interesting to see and experience the role of food in our lives. The Annamaya kosha is the outermost sheath and nourished by food. What is food, though? There is a lot of ‘information’ available out there but the ‘knowledge’ about is pretty scarce. Much of it has faded from our lives alongwith the older generation. Ayurveda has it’s food rules and at one time, it was common knowledge as people turned to their kitchens for preventive and curative medicine. Food was prepared as an offering before being consumed. The traditional prepping methods released the benefits in a way that was most suitable. There was no complication of a ‘diet’. People ate what was native to their region, in season and prepared in the way of their ancestors. There was an order in which it was consumed for the best absorption and assimilation. Food was meant to nourish and sustain and it was in sync with the prakriti of a person. At the end of the day, it was a subjective exercise, like yoga. 

The general rules provides a framework but the magic is in self exploration. It’s an ongoing experience as I discover much about my misconceptions with food and begin to see my place in the circle of life, like in the movie, The Lion King.

It never fails to amaze me how astute the sages were. They codified everything as it is while we complicate matters with analysis and research. As Paul Coelho says in The Alchemist, it is the Language of the World. Or as Patanjali states, ‘Words, objects and ideas are superimposed, creating confusion; by samyama, one gains knowledge of the language of all beings.’ (Translation by BKS Iyengar)

In gratitude 

Language of the Eyes

I’m waiting at the Eye Clinic as Amma undergoes cataract surgery. The place is quite spartan, done entirely in white with green highlights in the form of plants. Some indoor and a little balcony which was more lush. The doctor’s cabin overlooks part of the lawn and has a stone Buddha sitting in padmasana. There is a standee in the waiting lounge that promises many benefits of the surgery, like being able to read the newspaper, watching television etc. Everyday activities for many people. Incidentally, I don’t read the newspaper nor do I watch television. I read a considerable bit on the screen and in a physical form as well besides typing on my screens. It got me wondering about what would I do/ feel if my vision failed me and I couldn’t indulge in reading or writing. Milton came to mind almost immediately. His magnum opus was composed as a blind man. So, what do we really use to see and what is it that we see?

Recently, my younger daughter and I were at a park for an art workshop and the participants were encouraged to draw on the theme of nature. The first exercise was to sketch and colour the leaves of the plants that appealed to them. This second one was their own interpretation. Little K chose an eye and it was interesting for me. Her reasoning was simple, without eyes how can I appreciate nature.

As an organ of perception, it is associated with the fire element. Form without substance. When we die, the light is extinguished. The phrase is very expressive and points to an early understanding of who and what we really are. I find it fascinating how the elements exit the body on death. The last breath signifies the completion of it’s departure. Where does the last exhalation take place? As long as there is life, the panchabhutas are present in the workings of the body and mind. The last breath, the last sight, the last swallow – where does it all dissolve? Perhaps, the secrets lie in savasana…
Most people find thinking or speaking about death, morbid. I find contemplating it makes me more alive, present to the marvel that life is. How can one not appreciate the brilliance in design of the human body and mind? 

Hari Om

Jodaakshar

The fruits of sadhana are always available. The irony is that it cannot be sought out as a goal, it’s a gift of grace. Abhyasa-Vairagyam at play.

The first class of this year was a good reminder of my responsibilities as a student. Homework. Our teacher began with a little introduction to the difference between a beginner class and an intermediate one. He used a beautiful analogy of jodaakshar. There is no English equivalent for the term. The closest would be conjunct consonants. Those familiar with Sanskrit will know how two or three letters can be combined to produce a single syllable. For example, the ‘sya‘ bit in tasya. It is represented as one unit unlike in English. Two letters combined in a certain order. He likened the beginner practice to working on the gross actions and the intermediate one to that of using these jodaakshar. Combining multiple actions and using our consciousness.

It got me thinking about language and it’s ability in conveying what is not explicitly articulated. Oftentimes, the nuances implicit in the teachings are the hidden gems in a class. The symbolism, the underlying basic building blocks couched in alignment instructions. As students beginning to learn how to use these conjunct consonants of asana, the possibilities are endless. In school, we would be required to write the conjuncts down repeatedly until it became an unconscious habit. Repetition and memorisation has always been a key part of the Indian way of learning. I can see the benefit of that practice more clearly now. Just like in asana. The internal checkpoints as I get into an asana and adjust, readjust and examine can be possible only with repetition. Over many instances, sometimes there is a glimpse of more than the physicality. That usually marks a shift in internalising the pose followed by long periods of practising the new normal until there is another breakthrough. 

I don’t feel that it is about the final classic expression of the asana but more of the internal landscape. That’s why sometimes a pose feels like I can hold it forever and there is no sense of time. Akin to what my friend, Michael wrote about in a recent post, the bhava. It’s an internal posturing.

Post class, I was running some errands and had to walk a bit in an older part of the city. I came across a house named Purshottam House. It set of a chain of thoughts about the name Purshottam. That’s an address Arjuna gives Krishna in the Geeta. It is also an Indian name. How far back did we start giving ourselves names and family names? A child is named with lot of love by his/her parents and there is some symbolism connected with it. But, over the years and generations, it loses its reference and becomes just a name. In our puranas and ithihas, names of the characters are rich in their symbolism. The name was bestowed or earned through tapas/ benediction. Although still practised, the tradition of finding suitable syllables for a name is a dwindling one. Most babies are now named for how unique the names sound etc. The astrological context is removed. It is hard to sift through all the repackaged traditions to find authentic ones. They are usually the ones without any media chatter and need for validation. 

Maybe sounds and language are my tools to learn. It feels good to find them back in my life, I was lost without their guidance. The texts speak to me once again and my heart is filled. In gratitude.

Hari Om

 

Back to school

Last night, I sat entering the errant notes from last year into my notebook. I had them on my phone but had not completed the transfer into my book.  I would quickly type down sequences or certain phrases that the teachers would have mentioned on my screen so that I wouldn’t forget but it kind of piled up. There was a period where I deliberately stopped the practice to let my body remember. I found that asana actions were better learned that way while the nuggets of philosophy were lost with the passing of time. So, I shall continue to make notes this year.

It was nice to read pithy instructions and pointers like “open the carpet of your palms”, “a lamp on the threshold lights up both sides” etc. They seem disjointed but are perfect to jog my memory. I remember the classes and how I felt then. I remember the link of ideas that connected to those words. 

I have half the book left so I’ll just continue writing in the same one. I’m eager to start class tomorrow, just like how I would feel before school reopened after summer holidays. My book is covered and I’ve got a date index ready too! Geeky but then I suppose most Iyengar yoga students are that way. 🤓

In gratitude for fresh beginnings

Hari Om

Green shoots

Maybe it’s the monsoons that will touch our skies soon, maybe it’s the pregnant shoots waiting to break through parched earth that quickens my heart. It’s been too long since I fell from grace into a barren landscape of the heart and spirit. And really, all I had to do was go back to the very first sutra that caught my attention. 1.33. 

I’m glad that this period of apathy, angst and powerlessness happened. It has been a good lesson to go back to the basics. Progress, evolution and going inwards is not complicated, it is the very opposite. It’s the simplicity of a child’s heart. 

I had a relapse of the spirit, where almost all of the little actions that were cultivated and nurtured over time dropped off one by one, until a few shreds remained. Daily practices like japa, reading, writing and even regular blogging slipped into erratic and irregular occurrences. It became difficult to start all over again and I tried and failed. Many times. I felt sad and sorry for myself, at being a failure. Fallen from grace- grace of the Guru and a Power greater than myself. Yet, the mat gave me it’s blessings the few times I unrolled it. Despite my earlier studies and little understanding from my readings of the masters, I didn’t see the play of the gunas. Veiled in dust, smoke… In retrospect, I smile. I am grateful for the fall. I forgot that the earth is always there to embrace me and that she brings life to seemingly dead things with the advent of the rains. The elements continue to fascinate with their endless symbolism.

As a little exploration, I went back to a couple of sutras before my favourite one. 

व्याधिस्त्यानसंशयप्रमादालस्यविरतिभ्रान्तिदर्शनालब्धभूमिकत्वानवस्थितत्वानि चित्तविक्षेपास्तेऽन्तराया: ।३०।

दु:खदौर्मनस्याङ्गमेजयत्वश्वासप्रश्वासा विक्षेपसहभुव: ।३१।

These two sutras ennumerate a laundry list of obstacles and I’ve experienced each one of them painfully. It is definitely not the first instance and I’m pretty sure it’s not the last. But in hindsight, I can see that the same experience wouldn’t have felt so terrible a few years back. As time passes, what passed off once does not do so now. The list of obstructions include disease, lack of interest or sluggishness, lingering doubt, pride or carelessness, idleness, sense gratification, living in a world of delusion, lack of perseverance, inability to maintain the progress attained due to pride or stagnation in practices. Sorrow, despair, unsteadiness of the body and irregular breathing complete the list. (from Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Guruji)

After stating the way to prevent these obstacles, the next sutras outline many ways to remove and prevent them. That’s the set from 1:33 to 1:39. 

Time to start making little scribbles in this copy…

Somewhere, I sense the festering sores of my spirit are beginning to heal. My heart feels lighter and open to receive again. I may be wrong but now I feel my knee will be healed completely soon and I will be able to run free again. Back to kissing the earth with my bare feet and feeling the wind in my hair. Speaking of the wind, perhaps I am a child of the air. Too long in the water or tied down and I am lost. 

A special thanks to K8 for brightening my dark road with her kind words. Life also gives what we need. It’s a blessing to have Amma with me currently as she gets her cataracts sorted. Having to care for her is the best way to start climbing out of the hole I dug for myself. 🙂 It’s ironic that the sun has started to shine for me now that it is time for him to hide behind the clouds. 

There is much to be happy. My beloved institute will be open soon and I can go back to start all over again. And blogging feels like it is out of its slump. In gratitude.

Hari Om

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