I could do a whole practice maybe even should considering the increased running. But there is fatigue in my body. All that it asks for is Viparita Karani. So that’s what it has been yesterday and today. Rest with support to energise quietly. And I learn.
Something is shifting inside.
“Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities”.
-Tradition 12 of The Twelve Step program
Despite a reticence to be in the spotlight, I do like being given credit for my thoughts. Whenever I have felt like my ideas have been taken up by others and made big, there was discomfort and resentment. I wanted to be known despite wanting to hide. My typical response then would be to withdraw and keep my thoughts to myself. I could not handle the thought that ‘I’ could be petty in my mind and heart.
Recently, there was a similar situation and there was a difference. I was glad to have shared something that found momentum through someone else’s voice on a larger platform. It didn’t matter that the thoughts were mine or that there was no mention of me. I was happy that the message was carried. And that was enough.
The wind and birds don’t think of growing a plant as they carry seeds. That’s the Vairagyam I need to cultivate. Practise, share and get on. It also opened my eyes to the fact that the thoughts were not really mine. They were lessons transmitted to me which I had experienced but they were not mine.
I haven’t done anything for this change. It happened. I like to think of it as grace freely given. Hope I can give as freely and without thought.
Scrubbing my feet clean, massaging oil into the soles and keeping them covered after for a while are a recent routine. Thanks to barefoot running, my feet have been squeaky clean and thoroughly pampered. While it is a bit of a bother to scrub down the soles after running, in a way, it is good. It forces me to care for these important Karmendriyas. They are the mirror in which I see my imbalances of body and mind.
Maybe there is something more than just seeking blessings in touching the feet of elders…
I was looking forward to class and also dreading it since I had been lax with my home practice. Surprisingly though, class was not too difficult. I could actually get some balance in ardha chandrasana which is a struggle always. I even managed to balance independently in sirsasana for a few moments. My hand could reach a little lower in trikonasana and there was a better lift in halasana. These were unexpected changes since I was a little out of regular practice and all I was thinking about was how I was so out of it that it would hurt. Perhaps off days are good just like in running.
Generally our teacher doesn’t get into the philosophy of yoga much and we had a 5 minute treat when she touched on a few things. The key concept was working on our fear through asana. The fear of pain being greater than the pain itself. I could identify with that one. When expecting my first child, I had imagined pain beyond any threshold but childbirth was not as bad as I had conjured in my head. She illustrated it using an example of how we would face any fear willingly if it meant the welfare of a beloved but not so while confronting the fear of pain in virbhadrasana 2.
She spoke of fearlessness and being in yoga through the turmoil of everyday living. She used Guruji’s example to tell us about working through constraints. He had a tiny space to practice and that didn’t stop his sadhana. No sticky mats, blankets or bricks and he just went on. We are taught in the classical way with minimal use of props. If there is injury, support is given, else it is avoided. It’s a brilliant way to learn as there is no safety net to fall into yet it is the safest way to practice. Step by step and with a strong emphasis on the basic actions. Those actions are replicated in different types of asanas and it is interesting to see how it all connects into one whole pose.
I felt how urdhva baddanguliyasana helps in sirsasana and one of the random thoughts was would water pass through the interlocked fingers. My fascination for the foot endures and in addition to that, the newest area to catch my attention is the sides of my trunk. ‘Become tall’ is a typical instruction in many poses and the sides are doing most of that work. It’s an interesting opposition of movement, the downward grounding and upward lifting. Even the lifting feels different when there is the pushing into the socket movement, as though live energy coursing through. I feel less fearful about injuring myself in Halasana and Sarvangasana now and when I lift a little, there is a warm sensation in the neck, as though the circulation has been activated in that area. There is a glaring mismatch between my left and right sides and I can see that a lot more work is required on the left and a little less on the right. But finding that balance is difficult. I was looking at the soles of my feet after a longish run and could see how different both were.
I had flat feet and the imprint of my feet would be of the whole sole, this has changed greatly and virasana and its variations have been responsible. Light on Yoga mentions it as a good pose for flat feet and states, “Due to stretching of the ankles and the feet, proper arches will be formed. This, however, takes daily practice of the pose for a few minutes for several months.” It has worked for me although seeing the difference in both feet, I have not been equal on both sides.
Running barefoot has been an explosion of sensory input and it feels right somehow. I can’t see beyond my present day sensations but it feels as though I have stumbled onto something.
We had an off last Wednesday as the institute was shut for Diwali. In the scramble to get the house scrubbed clean, finish work before I took a break and shop, my home practice took a beating. I got a few days of short practices and some stretches intermittently during the day but it is not the same as a focused time on the mat. I just feel rusty in the asanas. Try as I may to recollect my teacher’s instructions and repeat it, it just doesn’t feel the same. I don’t sense the movements in the same way and it just feels like I have lost my grounding. So it has been back to basics again. Tadasana and the standing asanas. I can’t wait for class.
In the meanwhile, I have started memorising the second pada of the sutras as I had stopped after learning the first pada. I intend to first memorise the Sutras and then study them. My mother in-law has been teaching the Gita shlokas to kids for many years now and while they don’t understand much, they can recite the stanzas beautifully. I hope to replicate the same pattern of learning.
Festive occasions are a disruptive time in a good way sometimes. I finally got enough time off to thoroughly clean up my house for Diwali. It was a happy feeling to light the many diyas, be with family and friends and partake of the joys of the season. It was a different manifestation of yoga in my day to day life. While asana is the very visible part of it in my life, my challenges lie in the limbs of yama and niyama.
The day before yesterday saw the last of the parties and yesterday was a slow getting back to a regular routine which got off to a shocking start. The news in the morning brought back memories of the terror attacks in Mumbai a few years ago. At that time, I was stuck to the television set, surfing news channels for the latest while in disbelief and horror at the carnage. It seemed unreal and all the media frenzy made for voyeuristic viewing. I couldn’t watch and couldn’t stop watching. It seemed so pointless and heartbreaking but after a while, life limped back to normal. The ones who lost loved ones learned to live with the gaping holes in their hearts and those who watched got a little more jaded. While I may feel horrified and sad, it is not a pinch on the grief of those who lost their dear ones. May they find the courage needed to carry on.
This morning while I was out on a run, I saw an elderly gentleman walking and he had the stooped shoulders common to older folks and I remembered Guruji’s strapping chest even at a ripe old age. I never tire of seeing his pictures at the institute. I hope to grow old like that, open to everything that life brings. Asanas brought me to a practice of more than poses and physical benefits and I wish more people could experience the health that is naturally ours. If so little could give me so much, I cannot imagine the richness of experience with a more aware and conscious practice. While it is nice to see progress in the way the asana looks as time passes, what has been more interesting is the connections between movements in different poses.
Regardless of whether it is Sirsasana or adho mukha virasana, every part of the body has a job in the pose. In yoga age, I’m a baby and just finding my feet in tadasana. There is so much to learn in just standing tall that I could probably spend a lifetime studying it.
Pretty much every class has a good amount of time devoted to the inversions. As beginners, we learn how to get into the poses against a wall as well as in the middle of the room with the help of the teachers. My teacher remarked how in the early days, when the classes were smaller, sirsasana was only taught in the middle of the hall with assistance. This Wednesday, we had to try and balance on our own after being helped into Sirsasana.
There is excitement associated with inversions because I thought I would never be able to do it. With every class, I realise how important the standing asanas are for a rookie like me. If I can’t use my legs correctly in the standing asanas, how are they going to hold up in the air? In inversions, I find my legs working hard, a different kind of hard.
There is a curiosity to keep trying and a lack of fear about falling down. I guess it is how we are taken step by step into the actions required in the basic asanas. It takes all the melodrama away and the sheer presence of the teacher keeps us fully present in that one hour.
The matter of fact and rigorous approach to learning in the classical way is free from the distractions of other things and keeps me grounded. Every time I stand in tadasana, it is quite humbling as I can sense the shifting balance and lack of equanimity. I guess I could stay with that one asana forever and never really master it.
We were introduced to Supta Padangushtasana 1 with the belt and it was an eye opener for me. It is an asana I use almost daily at home and I learnt a different way to get into the pose. My foot used to feel wrong in it and I learnt that I had to pull just the toes and not the entire foot. There is little sensitivity in the toes, particularly the little one and I am in awe of Guruji who had studied the minutest parts of the human anatomy and had control over it.
While I wish I could have another class during the week, some part also thinks once a week is good for now. Any more and I may burn out. The homework is what is important, learn in class and explore at home. Sticking to the Preliminary course sequence is a very safe way to practice and it has helped to keep it simple for me. My copy looks a bit like the Potions book of the half blood Prince from The Harry Potter book! Scribbled notes and questions in the blank spaces.
In gratitude to my teacher and her teachers