Creative destruction

Today’s pose was kāla bhairavāsana, the one that I gravitated towards before the invocation. This latching on to an image started rather unconsciously but I’m enjoying discovering the names of various asanas. I didn’t know the name of this one that caught my attention until I looked it up in the Light on Yoga copy at home. As an asana, it seems wildly improbable that I would get around to that level of proficiency.

Kāla Bhairava conjures an image of a large cosmic force that ruthlessly destroys everything, like the fires that lay waste a land. After the embers die down and the rain showers its blessings, new beginnings manifest. Destruction as part of creation although it seems separate. The wheel, commonly used to denote the imagery of time captures its velocity beautifully. The quick descent towards the nadir and the slow plod to the zenith. It’s also interesting how the fearsome also finds a place in the devotee’s heart. There is no fear but worship, even if it is only to propitiate the deity.

Today I was taught how to modify standing poses to actively work on the knee. It was quite revealing as to how I am so attached to the cues of a pose. Since, the asanas were targeted towards a specific area, I was told to let go of others but it was hard to do that. A baby step but being able to work with trikonasana and ardha chandrasana like that for some time was exhilarating even if it was rather sweaty. The variety of props and the ways they were used today was at once simple and ingenious. Much pushing and turning happened until I could feel an evenness for a brief bit on the inner and outer legs. It made me think of Sage Ashtavakra who was born crooked, there’s an asana named after him too. He is commonly depicted as flat footed, knock kneed, bow legged with a hump. His arms also appear crooked in some images. Excepting the hump and the now not so visible hunch, that could be me. Perhaps not so exaggerated as the pictures but really the same. That sage was an enlightened master, this crooked student still needs the carpentry of bricks and belts.

In gratitude


Even fish get enlightened…

Guruji’s picture of Matsyendrasana was my anchor before invocation in the previous class and I sought it again this Friday. It reminded me of the cover picture of the Mundakopanishad as well as a painting in my house.

In the pose, Guruji’s eyes look beyond like the bird that is established in the Self. It’s an asymmetrical pose, twisted and intense yet there is a certain samatvam, I can see a central axis. It is a pose for a shoot and yet there is a calm that the grainy picture exudes. And then I think about his mind as his body radiates stillness. Fifty years ago, what were his thoughts as he practised. Those images show an extremely fit and agile body but what thoughts ran through his mind, did he have the same doubts as I?

This Friday, my mind was not the same and the experience necessarily different. While waiting for the prayers to start, I was musing over how woefully inadequate my asanas are. Nevertheless, I show up and do my little thing. Except for some assistance in placing a stool in ek pada sirsasana, I can manage on my own. It’s a solitary practice in a hall full of people. And, I found myself wishing I was part of one of the groups just so that I could follow instructions. It is harder to be my own silent teacher as I remember the cues I was taught.

A foreign student/teacher mentioned that the trikonasana I was in against the trestle was beautiful. I’ve noticed that a lot of the visiting students say encouraging words and so didn’t really think too much as I thanked her. Post the class, I went down to the office and a lady who helped me with a prop remarked, “We were watching you practice and it was beautiful.” Her companion piped up, “We learned a lot from you today.”

It was ironical that my outsides looked good to someone while my insides were a question mark to myself. It’s a little disconcerting when I hear something good about what I do because then I feel that I’ll just mess it up. Nevertheless, it was a brief moment of pleasure that I must have been working in the right direction.

Yesterday’s home practice was pretty much the same routine as the one in class except for a little playing around in the ending. At home, I end up in setuband sarvangasana as opposed to ardha halasana simply because of the lack of a proper stool and the necessity for a certain level of activity I would need for the rest of the day. The latter asana makes me very reflective and quiet. I treat setuband sarvangasana as savasana and more often than not, get new sensations, for the lack of a better word. As I scanned the body from my feet to the top of my head, I could sense blockages, sometimes on the left and at times on the right side. The only place where there seems to be a little evenness is the chest area. I thought of the nadis and it seems uncanny that I should read what I read when I looked up Matsyendrasana in the Light on Yoga later. One part of me watches these unfoldings resting in the sureness of experience while the mind leaps like a monkey trying to make rational sense. While I may not have enlightened masters in the flesh and blood, I can have them in my heart, like Eklavya. In the absence of a Guru’s light, how can there be freedom?

Hari Om

Beloved Tadasana

Class was overflowing today with new students for therapy. It’s very interesting to see how the hall divides after the opening prayers and first asana. There are groups of people with similar conditions and then the oddballs who have a different sequence. I fall in the latter category.

The knee has been feeling better, enough to ask for something besides the asanas I do. I don’t think it’s ready for any bending yet but building some strength, yes. I finally got into a trikonasana, ardha chandrasana and a few other standing asanas. Of course given an open instruction to do standing poses, I reached out to my beloved tadasana, albeit propped. The props made it such a wide open experience. It was a moment of elation at doing the simplest of asanas and finding my feet, literally. The rods continued to keep me company until it was time to let go in ardha halasana. Of course, the voice inside is waiting to see everything that needs to be ‘aligned’ but that’s a while from now.

Finally, there seems to be the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. It would be interesting to go back to the basics with a little memory of how it used to feel. I look at my legs and can see the wasting of the muscles but that can’t be helped. It will still need to wait for a bit before they can be strong again. In the meanwhile, I’m considering an Ayurvedic massage treatment in Kerala. My parents have been under the treatment of a vaidyan there and he is highly recommended. I’m still on the fence when I think of leaving the household during school months.

As I type this, the leg feels like alive. It is spring and this improvement feels like new shoots of green. Cautiously optimistic is still what I remind myself as nature does her thing. I have started to visit a nearby trail once or twice a week for a 10-15 minute slow walk but it’s really just to be barefoot in the open and to watch the birds and feel the sun. I missed feeling the sand and mud, stones and gravel all these days. How do I even begin to say how much it feels like slaking my thirst? This time around I don’t wish to know what works or doesn’t, I’m just grateful for the healing however it happens.

At the risk of sounding like I’m imagining things, I did feel Guruji’s presence very strongly during the Invocation today. It was in my breath and in the steadiness of my closed eyes. Perhaps, staring at his pictures in the hall might have led to the steady and quiet sense as we chanted the few lines.

On a different note, I was at a ceremony yesterday and mentioned to my friend that one of the men there had strong, healthy feet. He also looked very familiar and I kept associating him to RIMYI for some reason and it turned out that he was a student of Iyengar yoga for over 30 years! Small world. He and his colleague were reciting the shlokas beautifully and I was lucky that life gave an opportunity to ask where I could learn the same. Their answer was easy, youtube. 😁There’s no escaping technology and the way we learn and entertain ourselves. Thanks to the digital explosion, I can listen to talks by recent masters. It also allows me to share my thoughts and experiences as I wander on unknown journeys. This is pretty much a space for soliloquy and I write in the hope that someone searching for answers as a beginner finds my journal to have a glimpse of how the journey meanders. It’s a little fellowship of some known and mostly unknown travellers on a solitary road. Thank you all very much for being part of my wanderings.

In gratitude


Old scribbles and eternal promises

It’s quite nice seeing my old notes and markings in the book as I slowly come back to simultaneously familiar and brand new passages. I remember the feeling of exhilaration when I read this verse the last time. Enough to make me write PROMISE in the margin.

This picture is from Swami Chinmayananda’s commentary on the Gita and I remember feeling comforted by the inherent promise in the statement. Elsewhere in the commentary on this verse, Swamiji goes on to knot the three ‘margas‘ or paths of karma, bhakti and jnana leading to the one common goal.

There are many parallels with Guruji’s sayings. He said yoga is for all and here Krishna proclaims that many have attained the Supreme goal through the techniques he systematically puts forth. Another is the use of the word ‘path’ instead of ‘yoga’ for the three approaches of karma, bhakti and jnana. Guruji always believed in one yoga too. His approach may have been different for the erudite and the lay person but yog was always one.

The chapter is titled, ‘The Yoga of Renunciation of Action in Knowledge’ and is interesting as a method. Action in a spirit of yajna leading to a purification in the fire of knowledge. Fire is where the transformation happens, where the gross begins to lose its finite nature. Until then, you move repeatedly whether lumbering or free flowing…

Hari Om


Finding Guru

The slow re-read of the Bhagwad Gita has been a different experience. It’s been a couple of months since I started and I’ve just arrived at Chapter 4. The opening lines were familiar as I was given these to include in a presentation on yoga about a year ago. In that context, it was about the origin and evolution of yoga. Today, it was interesting to see it in the context of the unbroken lineage from guru to shishya. It implies transfer of the light of experiential wisdom from guru to devoted student.

It is interesting to see how the Sun is the first recipient of this timeless wisdom and continues to fulfill it’s dharma, perhaps that explains the potency of the Gayatri mantra. His son, Manu is given this knowledge and he passes it on to the Raja Rishis, Kings who were also Seers. It percolated to the Sages and in keeping with the cycle of evolution and devolution, wound up being lost. Lord Krishna then goes on to say that he would reveal the same ancient secret to his friend and devotee, Arjuna. I found a mirror in the terms ‘friend’ and ‘devotee’ when Geetaji addresses functions at the Institute. Invariably she says, friends and fellow practitioners of yoga. There’s love and compassion, not the sickly sweet variety but the simple love of a mother who may appear stern. Offerings of Guruji’s teachings in the spirit of yajna, the technique of Karma yoga, Lord Krishna speaks about in the previous chapter.

And coincidence or not, something I read later in the day was from an obscure book I found, a translation of inspired poetry by Sri Muruganar as an offering to his guru, Ramana Maharishi.

I find it hard to ask things to anyone and often feel like a quizzical question mark. So, I read and let the words simmer. Sometimes, connections pop up but I wonder if it’s just an overactive imagination. At other times, I feel I’m on track and it gets validated when I hear or read something that reiterated what seemed to be just my interpretation.

Swami Chinmayananda says, “Therefore, a study of the scriptures by one’s own self is apt to create misunderstanding in the mind of the student rather than a right appreciation of it.”

I ask, where does one find a guru today? We seek in the words the masters left behind but the light can only come from their lotus feet…

Hari Om


Flames of wonder

The seven flickering tongues of flames are kāli (the black one), karālī (the terrific one), manojavā ( the swift -as-mind one), sulohitā (the deep red one), sudhūmra-varna (the smoke coloured one), sphulinginī (the sparkling) and viśvaruchi, (the bright, all shining- variegated one).

⁃ Translation by Swami Chinmayananda

Image from the commentary by Swami Chinmayananda on Mundakopanishad

The translation above is of the 4th mantra in the 2nd section of the Mundakopanishad. Since I read it in the morning, I have been mesmerized by the sounds of the Sanskrit names. Imagine the level of penetration to classify flames into distinctive categories and this is not even getting into the esoteric symbolism implicit in the lines. It is tantalizing in its assured cadences which say no more. I see flashes of mind states and senses, time and space, secret laws that propel the existence of the universe and so on. It’s been an awe inspiring verse and I am grateful that we have access to these words even if they are beyond our understanding.

Hari Om


Blurring lines

I’ve been spewing words on my phone, on the laptop and in my notebook. They’re leaking like rooftops being battered by our tropical monsoons. Somedays, it’s overwhelming, this urge to pour out all that’s flashing by and somehow they slow down enough to pick out a few pictures. It usually happens after a period of drought, the little blackhole called writer’s block. Eventually I come out on the other side, changed and yet the same, like time and space moved and I remained.

Even cities have their places of magic...

It’s beyond late and the words still spill out as I write different pieces concurrently. These have no deadlines to meet, no audience to expose themselves to, they just demand to see themselves on paper or a screen. And, I wonder how terribly unyogic this uncontrolled urge is but then as a recent reading of the Divine Song rhetorically said, even Brahma was bound by the urge to create. I find a blurring of the different compartments of my life and somehow everything becomes inextricably linked. I have multiple blogs that kept everything in it’s own little island and now I find myself wondering what goes where. Everything seems to have coalesced into this stream of my life.

I had a long spell of illness soon after my travels which meant no practice and then finally, made it to class. It was bad with my back giving way too. Just the aftermath of the illness and a general breakdown of the system. I started practice at home slowly as the body found a little energy and that’s when I saw a spark of magic. My knees have started to change shape and the gap between the ankles is beginning to reduce. Of course, I did get a little enthusiastic about a regular practice and did a little I shouldn’t have but got right back to where I am at now. Sticks and belts. The cartilage will need lots of time. In the meanwhile, there is enough to work with, like making the sirsasana with sticks a little less laborious or finding a tall navasana.

In class, I find myself waiting for the last pose, a supported ardha halasana where I could stay forever. That’s my savasana where I disappear even in the midst of all the bustle of a remedial class.

In gratitude