Trusty Tadasana

It was uncanny how today’s class was so close to my home practice yesterday. I went through the Week 1 sequence which focuses on tadasana and the basics. When in doubt, it is always trusty old tadasana. A gap in regular practice makes me feel like I have forgotten or lost whatever little I have learnt. At such times, the basic standing asanas have come to the rescue. I find it a good way to take stock.
Class also had the inversions and a brief glimpse into watching the breath. As usual I struggle when it comes to do the pose on the left and today I got helped to go a little beyond. Mental note: explore uthita parsvkonasana.
During the flare-ups of cervical spondylosis, it was almost always my left side and even now there is a little lump that can be seen. It got me thinking that probably that explains why the entire left side including the lower limb is so closed. About 20 years ago, I had surgery on my upper arm for a bone related issue, near the left shoulder and I guess ever since that side has been compromised. Will this side also get that click moment and then release?
Earlier I used to feel the legs working hard in the standing poses, now the inversions seem to work them hard. Actually even the buttocks work hard. Could it be the inversions that are helping the running? My legs definitely feel stronger than before.
Halasana and its variations are tiring on them and I wait for the instruction to come to paschimottansana. But that comes only after the Sarvangasana cycle. And then it’s ah! as the class settles into savasana.
I feel childlike happiness entering the institute, like how I would feel on library day at school. I missed class last week and 2 weeks without a teachers lesson is just too long. My steps in yoga are still very, very mridu, I need the inspiration of the weekly class to keep at it.

In gratitude to the teachers past and present

Christmas time and the Sutras

Christmas time is always at my parents home and it felt good to be back. I had a tug of war inside about missing class and in the end decided the greater need was to be with my mother. Earlier this week, I felt the familiar little ache of missing my father. Ever since he passed away a few years back, the season never felt the same. There was a lethargy, a heaviness, a vacuum. He was the pivot around which the house came alive during the season and we all missed him quietly.
This year was different, there was a closure of sorts and it finally felt like we were moving on. I pulled out many old pictures and it was a happy time for my mother and brother as well. We spent a lot of time looking at pictures from years ago. Thanks to technology, my little sister also got to share in the moment through the exchange of images.
The first post on this blog was on Sutra 1.33 and at that time, it was an instinctive latching on to the sound and rhythm of the lines. It felt like an answer to some question that was not yet asked. It has been the simplest recipe to live in peace with myself and using the principles it talks about has opened my heart. The bigger lesson has been learning to apply it towards myself. It is far easier to be friendly, compassionate, happy and indifferent towards others but very tough to apply it towards my different behaviours and thoughts. In difficult situations, it has taken the fight out of the equation. It has brought a tiny pause where I choose a response rather than react in the same repetitive manner. This is very much a work in progress practice and sometimes I slide but those instances are useful in seeing the shaky spots within. It all boils down to fear and in my experience, the antidote to that is love. Unconditional love.
Asana practice has been irregular and except for a day it has been snatches as and when I got a little free time. I’ve been working through these days as well and despite everything on my plate, it has been easy and relaxed. I’ve not fretted or even thought of missing my regular routine. It will be there for me when I get back to my home.

In gratitude for my family

Shlokas and Sutras


Yesterday was a contemplative day. While sitting down to write, something pushed me to open my copy of The Commentary on The Gita by Swami Chinmayananda and the page opened up to Chapter 6, shlokas 34 and 35. As always, randomly opening a book brings me what I need to hear.
Vairagyam as a natural result of abhyasa.
I was off running for a bit and was beginning to think perhaps I should give it up. A long break from running actually made my body feel better and asana was lighter but it is not time yet. I still have much abhyasa in that part of my life before it finishes its run. As of now, running provides the balance to asana for me. And as the book says, I don’t need to give up anything, it will fall off by itself when the time is ready. I do understand that over a long term period, running long distances is not going to serve me much. I tend to lose too much weight and on an already lanky frame, that leaves nothing. I have to eat huge amounts just to keep what I have and maintain steady levels of energy.
While reading and rereading the shlokas and its commentary, it struck me that the Yog sutras were parallel to the Gita. The same message in both, the only difference, in my view, being the more secular view of the Sutras. The message stayed with me all day yesterday and I still find myself chewing on it. So many applications in my day to day moments. Abhyasa in yamas and niyamas at all times, that is the challenge. Being fully conscious of my present and responding in the right manner. It seems severe and austere but abhyasa makes it easier everytime I am able to take the harder path. I slip up many times in many ways but I get up again and try. Eventually, that is all I can do. Endeavour. And running taught me that. Endeavour and endure. Long distance running slowly made me resilient and taught me endurance. I can go on even when I think I cannot. Usually, I have atleast 40% if not more when I think I cannot go any further. I finally got out for a run today and it felt good. The foot has healed too I think, ran barefoot for about 500m and walked a km without my shoes.

In gratitude for the eternal teachings.

Ladies in periods!

“Ladies in periods, don’t do this…” My class is a mixed one and everytime the teacher says this line, I grin inside. Until I had a child, I was terribly embarassed about all such things. Giving birth changed all that for me. And really, no one cares. Everyone is crunched up thinking about the next asana that will have them working hard again.
I decided to repeat yesterday’s sequence in my home practice today. The class went on to inversions as well but here is what I did.

Adho mukha Svanasana
3 Surya namaskar cycles without urdhva mukha Svanasana and Chaturanga dandasana
Ardha chandrasana
Virbhadrasana 3
Prasarita paddotanasana
Cross bolster Setuband Sarvangasana

I found trikonasana and ardha chandrasana easier after the longish adho mukha Svanasana hold in the Surya Namaskars. I don’t know if it is a result of the sequence or just getting better as a natural progress. It felt easier today too.
I felt space in my middle in the forward extensions today. A new sensation. Usually, I struggle to get the pose but today was just about sensing and moving. My focus in trikonasana, ardh chandrasana and virbhadrasana 3 were to get the motion and landing right just as we studied in class. I can hear the strong assured voice of my teacher when I practise at home as I go through the actions. Perhaps I am doing something right if my sweating pattern is anything to go by.
One of the things I struggle with is how to keep the right side a little less hard working and loosen my left. I feel it in all my asanas but it is most pronounced in the standing ones. The right side is like a loose hinge, it just rotates out and I feel a lack of stability on that side. Out of balance. It is not just the legs, the entire left side feels shorter. I feel it in my paschimanamaskarasana as well. In Setuband Sarvangasana I see the disparity again as I look at my sternum. It is interesting to discover new things about my body and see how to bring a stability in it. The best part is that there is no despair about how much there is to fix but a sense of adventure about how much there is to unravel. Lot of questions every time I am on the mat. Somehow the answers come as long as I question myself. One of the teachers in training told me to keep my right foot turned and not rotate it at all. And that was a better pose with less strain and I could feel the back leg working.
Off to work now and see if I can keep that space I felt inside.

In gratitude for the blessings of yoga

Bhakti, Yukti and Shakti

My head is filled with kaleidoscopic memories of Guruji’s students. The Iyengar family arranged a function to mark his birth anniversary yesterday. I almost didn’t go with all the additional work and chores I needed to get through but decided that everything else could wait.
A few of his old students shared their memories of this giant of a man and I listened and felt full. I don’t remember much of the words but I remember the sense of devotion, respect and great love. Prashantji’s words exhorting us to be worthy students of Guruji stayed on as a reminder to live the practice.
The other day in my reading I came across the words bhakti, yukti and shakti (Light on Life, page 189) and it got me thinking. The passage is a beautiful one and while that wisdom is perhaps something I may need many lifetimes to live, it is an inspiration. All my life, I lived in my head and felt disconnected with my heart and body. Yoga brought the much needed wholeness to my existence.
I never felt the sense of bhakti that I feel now when I offer my practice to my teachers and their teachers. I would often wonder how a sense of devotion would feel, especially when I would see Amma at her puja. Sometimes I used to feel a spot of envy for the absolute sureness of her shraddha. She didn’t need to think, over think or analyse anything. Her faith was her life.
Growing up, I didn’t have an easy or familiar relationship with God. I went along with the expectations of my family until I was old enough to rebel. And then I discarded everything to do with the religion of my birth. I called myself a pagan. After that, I dabbled in different philosophies without ever getting my feet wet. Time and again, I was drawn to ancient Indian thoughts and over a few years, it became a stronger and more assured way. It is an incredibly inclusive philosophy that provides for many ways to Yog.
My body was just something I never looked after. I took much for granted and abused it in many ways for many years. I didn’t feel connected with it since I floated in my head most of the time. Perhaps that explains why I have an invisible bubble around me when it comes to be physically expressive whether in dance or an embrace. Yoga taught me to feel again, sort of like a barren land coming to life slowly. I feel wonder and amazement now as I see the miracle of a healthy body. My asanas are warped and sometimes it bothers me but most of the time, I am able to trust the process and keep at it. There are days I slide and there are days when there is an aha moment. The greater challenge has been the yamas and the niyamas. Inevitably, I see how much of integrity is required. Yamas and kleshas. Kleshas and yamas. They are scattered all through my waking moments but the beauty is I only have to do as per my ability today.
I’ve been inclined to have monologues in my head and oftentimes would spend hours at a go without needing to talk. So it was a natural progression to spend time trying to understand and learn more and now I found a purpose greater than my limited self. It provokes me to go to those places that are uncomfortable without shame and guilt. These are first steps on a path that I believe has solid ground underneath. I feel secure enough to go forward even with the knowledge that I will encounter pain. The tiny transformations in my body, mind and heart with baby steps in yoga has made me a believer. This seems like such a lot of change already but it is just initial enthusiasm I suppose. I sometimes look back at my early running days and smile at how I felt it meditative. It is but as a rookie runner it felt so huge. I’m guessing I will see something like that here too and it will be interesting to see how it unfolds.

In gratitude for Guruji and his sadhana that allowed so many to have a glimpse of what it means to be truly human.

Looking on

I was looking forward to attending as many days of Athayoganushasanam as possible this week but life had other plans. The place I work is severely shortstaffed and it didn’t seem fair to leave everything and take off for the entire week. So, I feel very lucky to have managed a day off to spend at Balewadi and soak in the words of Geetaji and others and watch the participants move.
I took down almost everything during the asana session, a lot of the pranayama and little of the exposition on Guruji’s quotes.
The asanas focused on forward bends and the pranayama session on ujjayi and brahmri. The instructions were the same crisp ones we usually get in class and while watching the different bodies move, I realised how much time it takes to get those movements right. The participants needed atleast 3 years of practice to be eligible to attend and that period was really scratching the surface as far as I could see. It put my impatience in perspective. I understand on a head level but the body finally moves in its own time.

The sequence was as follows
Adho mukha virasana
Adho mukha Svanasana
Prasarita paddotanasana
Urdhva hasta dandasana
Janu sirsasana
Ardha Sirsasana
Parsva sirsasana
Variations in sirsasana such as
– legs in parsvottanasana
– legs apart
Urdhva dandasana
Adho mukha virasana
Ek pada Sarvangasana
Parsva halasana
Karna peedasana
Supta konasana
Ek pada Sarvangasana
Jumping to Setuband Sarvangasana and back

Except for the last jumping bit, this is a similar sequence in class, the difference being in that the focus was taken on all the actions required. Usually in our beginners class, while instructions are given on the main actions required, there is an underlying focus on one area.
One of the demonstrators on the stage had bow legs and I saw how the crisscross use of a belt by another person could help in getting the calves to go back. In her own words, “she felt more height which allowed her to go down in prasarita paddotanasana better”.
One of the comments Geetaji made was, “Exhaling is surrendering ” while the participants were in Paschimottansana for a long hold. She asked them to imagine weight on their spine and “surrender to the weight”.
Some other gems were “centre of your heart going down” and “open your heart to your legs”. I found these images very useful as a cue and she also remarked that, ” if thought differs from action, then it goes wrong”. As I understood it, this is a good way to keep focus while practising. Imagining that weight and keeping that complete image through all my senses would be a good way to get the right actions.
The pranayama session was very interesting since I do not practice it yet. I used to in my earlier class but have not since I started at RIMYI. Sometimes though I find my breath, especially in Viparita Karani, savasana or Supta virasana. A sort of calm and equal unruffled breath that naturally happens but for now, I stick to the basics.
Some of her guides in the session were
“As we begin to observe, in that observation, there is a process of looking”
“In the process of looking, there is some discipline which makes you aware of what is happening inside”
“If you are looking, sleep is not possible”
“Sternum is the guideline”
The afternoon session was an exposition on Guruji’s quotes by a few of his long time students and renowned teachers, Patchi, Birjoo, Zubin and Edwin.
They spoke beautifully and I just listened to their memories.
Patchi’s key message was how Guruji lived his belief of “all religions are valid ways of reaching God”
Birjoo spoke of the common threads in all religions and yoga, illustrating it with an example of the yamas as part of the Ten Commandments.
Zubin’s message was how all limbs of yoga were present not just in Guruji’s asana but also the way he lived his life. There was a little fact of how Guruji wore his watch and even that action of looking at the time was a chest opening action. Something I will do now.
This thought resonated with me as well. In my day to day movements and stillness I try to remember and keep the tallness of my spine. While running, I see how I can use what I have learnt in class and it has helped tremendously.
Edwin continued Zubin’s thought of Guruji’s practice being hi-tech and demonstrated how he used divine energy and not just his own power. He got someone to stand in urdhva hastasana and showed how the right action used energy more efficiently and that was hi-tech. A little energy to do larger work. My favourite line from that talk was, “gravity loves you”
This post does not capture the spirit or the energy of that stadium and I may not have understood correctly but I believe more will be revealed in time. Overall, I feel a sense of validation that my journey is on track as some of the observations in my practice, not just of asana, are along the lines of what the teachers speak. This is really just the beginning of the road and I hope I stay on it and not stray too far or too long.

In gratitude for everything.

Athayoganusasanam 2015

I’ve seen many videos on Iyengar yoga thanks to YouTube. A lot of senior teachers who have been teaching since many decades are inevitably in most of them and I saw many of them today! It was a moment of schoolgirlish awe to see these teachers milling around with the participants for the upcoming Iyengar yoga event, Athayoganusasanam at Pune.
I had a happy day volunteering at the Institute and wish I could spare more time to help out. I just love the place and everytime I walk in through the gates, I am filled with a sense of history that is still vibrantly alive. Maybe it is all in my head but I like to think of the walls as alive and imbued with all the energy of Guruji’s sadhana and that of all those who pass through those halls. I could ramble on.
Yesterday’s class was led by a substitute teacher and it was hard and good too. Mental note, do not do a very hard home practice the day before class. I was sore to start with and at the same time, if I just kept the form of the asana in class, it didn’t feel right. It felt more damaging not to engage completely. A new understanding of the “do not do a dull pose” instruction from my previous yoga class. No practice today except for a few stretches before and after a run. Actually, I don’t think of them as any practice at all since they are run centered, but I suppose they also are a means of having a little asana everyday.

In gratitude to Guruji and his living legacy