Hospital duty and abhyasa

Practice has been whatever I could manage in snatches. I’ve been in the hospital most of the day and all night for the past couple of days, caring for my ma-in-law. She’s back home with me now so things have eased up a little.

Routine was out since the priority was different yet I had to squeeze in a little asana practice to keep my energy up. One day a restorative 10-15 minutes , another day a few half handstands against the wall and a short standing routine on the last day. The point in all this was not about ticking off a day of practice but making time to make more time.

Last evening, we got my ma-in-law back home and it was a fairly hectic day. As I lay down to sleep, I slowed down enough to acknowledge that I had barely slept the nights before yet packed in long days with my energy levels at a decent level. I believe asana helped in keeping me able to go through my tasks cheerfully and gratefully. It helped me see the situation as an opportunity to be of service.

It was a stark contrast to a few years back when my husband had a heart attack and the whole hospital circus frazzled me. Back then, I was snappy and speeded up and in my ignorance did everything that aggravated my physical and mental state. The difference this time was making a little time and space to look after myself within the chaos so that I could be more present for Amma (that’s what we call her, it means mother)

Maitri, Karuna, Mudita, Upeksha – Sutra 1.33 is a pointer for me as far as connecting with the world outside goes and it has helped me greatly. In the recent hospital context, I saw it in the care my ma-in-law received. It helped me be present in my heart and that is a place of no fear. People can sense it and it felt as though we were all connected without any barriers.

My asanas may not be much to look at and I am a long way off before I get to any level of proficiency. However, even the flawed practice has given so much that I am forever grateful for the blessings of yoga.

Ask and you shall receive

Classes at RIMYI were off for a few days with the family being in Bellur for Guruji’s anniversary. There was a notice put up for compensatory sessions but I did not pay attention to the entire details. I was happy that I could go to learn but in my excitement did not notice that the make good class could be taken next Monday onwards. 

I live quite a distance from the institute and while getting there takes me 35-40 minutes, returning can take an hour at times. I reached the institute and saw the board and realized my blunder. So I walked out and the guard at the gate asked me what happened and I told him. He said why don’t you just ask the teacher and see if he will take you. 

Asking for a help, a favour or anything is a huge thing for me and I would much rather go without than ask. Even with the compensatory class, I battled inside until my desire to learn overcame my reluctance to take what was offered. I waited around and asked the teacher and told him I was completely ok even if he said no but he asked a couple of questions and said that I could join in.

The teacher was a soft spoken doctor and I had to strain to hear him during the prayers but as the class progressed, he was like just any other Iyengar teacher, firm and loud. They all remind me of warriors ready to inspire with a yell, a light hearted observation, a tug or just their presence. I think of Arjuna encouraging Uttara Kumar when the Kauravas attack Virata’s kingdom at the end of their exile.

A very interesting experience was how trikonasana was better after a parsvkonasana. I thought about it after we came up and he mentioned the same thing. That’s when I felt that maybe I do ask the right questions in my practice. This tradition is like a classical art form, it calls for dedicated practice and making it ones own. It has helped me work on my desire for approval. The teachers don’t give any and as students, the tone is set for self exploration. We are taught how to learn while learning the poses. 

I have been floundering a little with my home practice, work and family commitments have become
more than what they were.  My running load has also increased in terms of effort in my quest for speed. Sometimes it is just supta virasana and savasana on a bolster. But I missed a couple of days so I really wanted a class to bring that fire back.

I also did an unsupported Sarvangasana today but my armwork was nonexistent. I feel that in halasana too. The teacher lifted my feet up and I realised there’s so much lightness that needs to come. Somewhere I still have fear about injuring my neck and perhaps that makes it a little scary to work a little more in those asanas. All in all, I am very grateful that I could get a class today.

Glimpses into Guruji’s life

The Iyengar family organized a kind of memorial program on Guruji’s first punyathithi. All the students were invited and the venue was full of students, past and present, teachers, family and friends.
In the spirit of his life, the program opened with the invocation to Sage Patanjali and the Guru. Abhijata gave a speech straight from the heart, which was followed by a short one by Rajvi Mehta, an oldtimer. A gentleman named Hari (I assume he was one of the grandchildren of Guruji) followed with his memories and finally Geetaji shared her memories and lessons.

I never tire of reading or hearing about Guruji’s life and sadhana. This program had some snippets about him that were little gems as well as the legendary ones. If I had to pick on a single story or idea from each of the speakers, it would be Abhijata’s story of how Guruji taught her to teach Uttanasana, Rajvi’s presentation of Guruji as a yogacharya, healer, psychologist, author etc., Hari’s memory of Guruji as someone who lived the Sutras and Geetaji’s lesson of compassion from her father.

As always, I feel like a kindergarten student when I listen to all these teachers. While they speak simply, their thoughts flow clear like a river and I catch only a few drops in my palms. Inevitably I lose on a lot but I believe that all those thoughts will express themselves to me when I am ready to see them.

Abhijata loved her grandfather but it is the loss of her Guruji that shattered her. Talking about him evoked a lot of emotions as she remembered incidents from her time with him. I can’t even imagine how it must have been for her to not have the teacher/grandfather she adored. As a teacher, she is firm yet she manages to get us to smile when we grimace at the thought of another virbhadrasana 3. Every morning as she would make her way to the Institute, she would look out for Guruji’s dhoti on the grill and that would mean hurrying up or not. Sharing about these poignant reminders of his physical absence made me feel her aching loss.

Rajvi began by talking about Sage Patanjali and his treatises on grammar, medicine and yoga. It seems like an exaggerated claim that one man could be an adept at three different sciences. She then presented a multifaceted image of Guruji as yogacharya, healer, psychologist, author, artist and went on to say that a few hundred years from now, people will shake their heads and say, one man couldn’t possibly be all that. Being an old student of Guruji and associated closely with the institute, she was direct witness to his efficiency and talked about how he never had any pending work, his razor sharp memory. She remembered how he wanted a particular book from the library while writing one of his books. He asked her to get a small green book in Kannada on a particular shelf and then proceeded to get it himself because he wanted to finish the task then itself.
She spoke about his generosity  compassion and openness to new ideas.

Hari had a few personal recollections where he talked about Guruji’s patience and humility. He travelled widely and a lot of times there was discomfort but he never complained.

Geetaji recollected how as a child, she would sit on Guruji’s forehead while he would be on Sarvangasana. It was such a personal memory and it gave a glimpse into him as a father and her as a child. I am thoroughly awed by her knowledge and experience but even more so with the childlike ability to share freely just like anyone else. She shared about coming to terms with his passing away and how she got the strength to carry on. She talked about a dream she had about Guruji after he passed away and how that helped her to get on with life. It was a baring of her soul so simply and I felt like I was part of that experience as well.

There was a lot that was remembered about this great man and it comes in bits and spurts. Some of it comes back vividly with a thought or word read or spoken and experience. Guruji’s life and sadhana shows me a practical way to put theory into practice. Using my body as a playground, I work on my mind and heart. An hour on the mat gives enough food for thought to see how the principles from practice apply to the way I conduct my life.

In gratitude for the lessons of the master who lit the way so that others could find their road.

Finding my teacher

Yoga class on Wednesdays is the highlight of my week. This week we had a substitute teacher, one of the assistant teachers who generally assists in the class. My first thought was “oh no” and the second was “well she’s further along in practice than I am so she is my teacher”.

It was a little chaotic for me since the instructions were mostly in Marathi and while I understand the language, I get the left and right mixed up. So it was a bit muddled but I had two very interesting learnings.

My teacher for the day made us work with the foot against the wall for trikonasana, Parsvkonasana, Virbhadrasana and Parsvottanasana. The constant refrain was to press the outer foot and heel using the wall and lift the arches. It was quite strenuous but later at home I found myself standing and checking out the action.

The second learning was the lift of the spine in ekapada Sarvangasana, which I couldn’t quite get in halasana.

It’s a long way from last year when I couldn’t figure out what was meant by pressurise the outer foot. The classes at RIMYI are so systematically structured that the actions are easy to understand even if they are not accessible immediately. The foundation is solid and if I can maintain this sthirtha as I go on, I know I will be on the right path.

Almost always, I have found that if I have worked hard in class, I can get the sense of the action required when I work at home. It is amazing how practising an asana once or twice most days makes such a difference in a little while. It is just a matter of doing a little everyday and one day the magic happens. I’ve experienced it a few times and now it is a firm belief.

I never know what the mat will bring. I have received healing, a more open heart and a certain freshness to my life. Perhaps it is a renewed vigour and courage to embrace my life as it is and live it fully and with joy. Most days I look at my life as an opportunity to explore and I feel healthy, like a child. There is a pause before my responses where previously I reacted inwardly even if I could manage a stoic exterior. I see yoga in my everyday life as I go through the drama of life. Sometimes it feels like I am watching myself as I play my part.
“all the world’s a stage…”