Today I deviated from the weekly sequence. Instead it was Surya namaskars, a couple of the standing poses, Supta Padangushtasana and Supta Baddakonasana. I may do it in the evening though. Yesterday, I just did a few restorative asanas, couldn’t bring myself to do anything else. My legs were in a fair bit of agony as I did something I have never done, running up and down stairs. They are still complaining.
There was trembling in my right leg through the day if it was under stress. It’s a good thing as the areas that need strength are making themselves felt. Training hard at times is necessary for running but also contradictory to a yoga practice. I’m sure it just agitates my nerves. Tremors are not good, they are associated with memories of a trying period for me. At the same time, I find running also keeps my spirits up and my will strong. Long distance running is an endurance activity and a good exercise in training the mind. It includes lots of failures, a few successes but mostly, it is just abhyasa. One foot in front of the other even when I think I cannot take another step.
I haven’t figured out why I am drawn to the sport even when I don’t feel like it at times. I’m not a sportsperson, neither am I fast or competitive. I don’t crave the rush of running races or collecting medals. It is not a social thing either although I do enjoy blogging about it and connecting with other runners in the invisible blogosphere. Over a long term period, it will create greater wear and tear but I am still attached to it. Why?
Recently the institute celebrated its 41st annual day. The program was conducted over 2 days, the first of which was a couple of talks and the second day was a few reminisces of students and cultural programs by students. There were some international students too who performed a dance and played music which was good fun. The children’s batch put up some wonderful performances and for a bit I was a little low thinking that I do not have any such talents to express myself. Then I figured, writing is my form of expression. It may not be art worthy but it’s a joy to put pen to paper or type.
I like to think of the cultural programs organised by the institute at different functions as a way of exploring all facets of a full human life. The joy of expression and the tapasya required in learning and performing classical dance and music.
One of Guriji’s long standing students gave a
talk on Samkhya philosophy and he used its principles to explain a few sutras. There’s a well organized post by a fellow blogger on the tattvas so I’m just going to link it here. I was wondering where to get started with putting my notes in a coherent manner and coincidentally saw this post. I suppose it is no coincidence really.
The two lines that stood out amongst many others were as below.
“How can there be love if you don’t know?
How can there be gratitude if you don’t know?”
The speaker was a student of Guruji for close to 40 years and his humility was touching. There is something in his eyes, just like in a lot of old students, a certain luminosity that makes you feel as though they see you. The lines he quoted made complete sense. Not that I know everything or even anything at all but in whatever little way yoga has touched my life, I can understand the feeling behind those two sentences.
Studying the Sutras and other literature and letting asana practice work with my mind has started to shift a few old patterns of behavior. I feel more love and gratitude and there is a certain level of vulnerability I can let myself feel. Maybe a glimpse of the one prana that flows through everyone. I feel upset when I separate myself and that’s where I have to remind myself of Maitri, Karuna, Mudita and Upeksha. Without experiencing the gifts of yoga, I was largely ignorant of the sense of bhakti and shraddha. I think they are but love and gratitude distilled.
Speaking of prana, lately I have been drawn to watching my breath at random times during the day. Not trying to change it or anything but just a spontaneous drawing from within to pay attention to it. It got me thinking about the practice of pranayama. I don’t do that yet since the logic of getting a base with asana makes sense. And the thought of eventually having to take some time out to fit that in makes me wonder how on earth I will manage all of the stuff. As of today, I am not able to do a full fledged asana practice at home everyday! But I am going beyond myself. That’s all much later. For now, its week 4 of the Preliminary course book.
Off to class in a bit. I wonder what we will learn today.
Almost every Wednesday, I listen to the yoga sutras and chant along as I drive to class. Today was no different except for the fact that my mind kept wandering. There’s a troublesome situation in my life right now and I have not had the opportunity to give myself a little time. A housefull of guests including tiny humans (absolutely adorable but also needing a lot of attention) and the usual load of work meant my regular routine going awry. I was in no frame of mind for class but also knew that being there would help bring me back to the present moment. Atleast that one hour in the week is one where I am fully engrossed.
Despite the diffused mind, the first Sutra of the second chapter jumped at me. Something I read in another book about the order of words being of significance in scriptural texts also came to mind and it has been my thought for rumination today. Yoga for me is also like that. Tapah followed by svadhyaya and all of it in a spirit of ishwara pranidhana. My practise and self study of asana, everyday behaviours and thought patterns are my offering to my teachers and her teachers.
Tapah for me is learning the hard way, the right way and not shirking from the discomfort. There is much to gain from the short term pain and frustration. In terms of asana, I find that in a matter of some 30 odd classes over 7 months, there has been a lot of change. Earlier Uttanasana meant flopping down to relax. Just stand and bend down. Now I find engaging my body and following all the cues relaxes me better.
Svadhyaya is a lot of stuff, reading, writing, taking an inventory of my thought patterns and behaviours. Sometimes I cannot practise my asanas but try to keep in touch with the spirit of it in my day to day activities. I see the lack of a lot of things and that keeps me on my toes.
Ishvara pranidhana is my offering up all of it to my teachers and those that went before her. Every time I chant the invocation on my mat, mentally I give the results of the time on the mat to my teachers. My asanas are a result of their teaching, it is not mine. I hope to remain only a student working hard and not attached to visible progress in the shape and form of the pose. I’d like the discovery to be an ongoing exercise.
Lately, I have been working with the back of my legs at home. Uttanasana, parsvottanasana, prasarita paddotanasana etc. and the difference is felt in Adho Mukha Svanasana. I can feel the length of the back of my leg all the way to the butt and a tallness even while looking down.
Today I mustered up enough courage to ask my teacher a question. After savasana today, we rolled to the right , then to the left then to the right again before getting up. We always get up from the right. I finally asked her why and she replied that it was because of the pure flow of energy on that side, it is auspicious. That got me thinking again about the prevalence of right handedness. Was it an inbuilt wiring for maintaining that flow? Then what about the left handed people? Today’s sirsasana learning was a lot of using both sides and I could see that surprisingly my left was easier. Perhaps it is my right side overdoing which doesn’t allow me the evenness. One answer leads to more questions but I find just asking them is enough. The answers appear somehow.
The body mind connection is so real. My shoulder has been acting up a bit and I have found myself slipping into a stoop in avoidance. In Sirsasana today, the left shoulder just couldn’t stay lifted. I see it as a direct symptom of the painful situation in my life currently. We did Setuband Sarvangasana on a brick today and it reminded me of my earlier class. Whenever an option was given between Sarvangasana, Viparita Karani and Setuband Sarvangasana, I used to choose the last one. Something about it gives me a little courage to go on when I think I can’t.
There is a certain lethargy to write about all the experiences, thoughts and feelings that are being churned. It’s not like there is any pain or trouble just a whole lot of stuff being churned. It’s like moving to school from kindergarten.
One of the things I have been questioning and trying to get a sense for was my dorsal area. While I understand what is required, the sensation just wasn’t there. I got a touch of that space when one of the teachers adjusted me in cross bolster Setuband Sarvangasana. It was an instantaneous ‘aha’.
Today’s trikonasana was one where I felt I could stay. It was an effortless effort for my current level of practice. The new area we explored today was the back of the thigh and that changed the trikonasana, tadasana feel. I found myself trying the same movement through the day at home too. It’s a little nerdy and I can’t seem to help myself as I find myself trying what I learnt in class while doing some chores, like bend down in ardha chandrasana to pick up something.
While writing the Sutras from the second pada today, I was drawn yet again to 2.38, “brahmacaryapratishtayam viryalabhaha” which is translated by Guruji in his book as ‘when the sadhaka is firmly established in continence, knowledge, vigour, valour and energy flow to him’.
Of all the yamas, something calls me to this one time and again. ‘Virya’ is a state that attracts my attention. Energy, vigour, potency, valour are some of the synonyms given to ‘virya’ in the ‘Light on Yoga Sutras’.
Brahmacharya is commonly understood in Hindi as celibacy but I understand it as a control over indulgence in any form. Perhaps the little aha moment in trikonasana was a tiny moment of brahmacharya if the sensation was anything to go by. A little under doing on my right and a little overdoing on the left to balance it. Control, moderation, balance.
My asanas are like a child’s early attempts at taming the alphabet. Over time and with practice, the writing improves. If there is an interest in learning how to write not just for the skill but for the art in it, then beautiful handwriting is created, constantly evolving. I hope to be graced with the same sense of wonder and curiosity as I explore how my body and mind can move.
Sometimes I wonder why do I want to know more, understand more, do more? It’s not like I want to be a teacher or anything although in my early days I was quite enamoured by the idea of being a yoga teacher. Imagine spending the entire day studying asanas, the texts and other bodies. But that was a short lived daydream. I don’t know why this calls to me so strongly. As of now, I am in the thick of family life and my yoga is what fits in within this framework. Some days I do not practise the asanas but they find me while sitting at work or doing the dishes. Sometimes it is at bedtime and at others when I practise the Sutras in my attempt to memorise them. Sometimes it is just being there for the family or friends.
There is change happening and I can’t put a finger on it. It is like getting quiet but with a lot of churning.
Guruji’s writings often mention his love and devotion to his wife, Ramamani. The couple of times I have heard Geetaji mention her mother have also been with immense respect and love. I don’t know anything about this lady who was so loved and revered by her family. It got me thinking about how she might have lived her life. There is much to be learnt from the matriarchs of old. She was a daughter, sister, wife and mother and would have had the same set of everyday joys and pains as any other woman. From what I gathered, she sang beautifully, could whip up delicious meals, cared for her family and extended family as well as the helpers and people in her neighborhood. She also taught yoga as and when time permitted and was an unstinting supporter of Guruji’s sadhana. She supported Geetaji in her decision to remain unmarried which would have been a very progressive way of thinking back in those days.
As a wife and mother, I have certain duties and responsibilities which are mine alone. Until a while ago, I was resentful a lot of times when I felt that I had to do more than what I thought was my fair share. I had expectations, from my husband and my children. An example would be agonising over what should be made for dinner until one day the yoga teacher I used to go earlier mentioned the same thing in a women’s class and said that it was no big deal really. We made it big in our minds. It got me to stop and see that I needed just 45 minutes to an hour to put a simple yet balanced meal on the table. I remember her talking about there being a whole ritual connected with cooking meals like doing it after a bath and without footwear after reciting some shlokas, I think the Annapurna stotra. It reminded me of Amma (my ma in law) making Prasad for special days. She would wash the entire deck and hob, make a little dough idol that was marked with a tilak and say a short prayer before making the Prasad. It would not be tasted until after it was offered in puja. It always tasted wonderful, had to be, it was made with love and devotion. That was what I lacked, an attitude of unconditional love. It flowed naturally for her and there was never a feeling of martyrdom with her. Everything was cheerfully done in a spirit of service.
Most of my life I fought against what I thought were unfair job divisions and behaviour expectations. As I grow older, I can see the wisdom behind those old ways of living. For example, if a woman was menstruating, she was not allowed to enter the kitchen or do any work. In fact, when I just got married, my mother in law would not allow me to enter the kitchen during those days. I managed to argue and weaken her old ways and found my way into doing everything as always. I was energetic and fully assured of being a modern day woman and pooh-poohed what I thought was regressive thinking. Now, many years later I can see why that practice was prevalent. It gave women much needed down time to rest their bodies and refresh their minds. I find my time of the month a very intuitive period. Sometimes it can be dull when I am fatigued but when I am rested, it is a time of sharp understanding. The times we live in do not acknowledge the changes of our bodies and as working women, it is difficult to take time off. Nuclear families mean no relief from chores as well. And we build more stress by maintaining the same frantic pace of everyday life. When I look back to the time I first got to know Amma, I see that she and other women of that era were healthier, stronger and resilient. Amma is nearly 80 but she looks much younger and has none of the ailments like diabetes, high blood pressure etc. Women like her were the real power that ran the homes while making the men of the household seem like they called the shots. They had time not just for their own but also the neighbours and extended family as well as to maintain their religious practices. Till date, Amma never misses her puja unless she is very ill. There is never any procrastination about puja like what I sometimes go through before I move to practise my asanas. It is a joyful extension of herself and as natural as breathing for her.
I had rejected the feminine in my younger days because I wanted the strength and power of the male. Breaking was better than bending or so I thought. I now see that the softer qualities of patience and forbearance are more difficult to cultivate and demand a lot of strength. Guruji’s wife would have been an extraordinary teacher simply by virtue of how she would have lived her life.
This week’s class was taken by a substitute teacher and as usual there was a lot to take home. We did a slightly different routine. More intense Uttanasana and adho mukha Svanasana before moving to the inversions followed by parsvottanasana, Parivritta trikonasana and Parivritta parsvkonasana. A few seated poses and some abdominal asanas completed the class before savasana. The intense stretch in Uttanasana was all the way from my buttocks. While in the pose, it was screamingly painful but it eased up as the class progressed. Maybe that preparation gave a better stretch in supta padangushtasana.
Sirsasana felt a little flushed while Sarvangasana was a tiny bit easier. Usually it is the other way for me. Normally, we go through the standing poses before getting into the headstand. This time, we did not go through the regular trikonasana, parsvkonasana etc.
Navasana was the new addition in class. The classes are getting more intense as the weeks pass. It’s a good thing I have just one class and to think I wanted two classes earlier.
Home practice was week 2 yesterday and today. It is tempting to take any week and follow the sequence but for now it seems like a good way to discipline myself by following the week wise progression. One of the thoughts is that I will lose my ability to do other asanas. But while on the mat yesterday, it struck me that spending as much time on the basics is very useful to replicate the same actions in other poses. I see how spending time in uthita hasta padasana and uthita parsva hastapadasana before getting into trikonasana helps with a better lateral extension.
One of the teachers in training suggested alternating halasana and Paschimottansana in rapid succession to help with Sarvangasana and I’ve been doing that with this week’s sequence. Was that responsible for a little ease in Sarvangasana in class?
Most of my actions appear well intentioned and good but scratch the surface and they are still based in self interest. Motives.
Traffic in my city is chaotic and the rules seem to be there just for the books. Most of the time, the red signal is blatantly ignored as vehicles zip through. Pedestrians, especially the senior citizens, have the worst of it as they wait to cross the street.
Almost always, I stop to let people pass and I’m frequently met with a look of incredulity and at times they stop in their attempts to cross. Sometimes it’s a gesture of acknowledgement and a thank you on their lips. It makes me feel good. At the same time, I hope that someone who watches this short scene takes back an example and repeats it. It is almost instinctive while I’m driving around to do this but at the bottom of all this is the motive. I feel good to be of help. It is not an action that has no thought attached to it. It is driven by motive, multiple ones.
At a surface level, it is to feel good. Somewhere, it makes me feel a little self-righteous to be doing something that a lot of other people don’t. I also like being thought of as a kind person. The action was good but I am attached to the goodness of it and as a consequence, the ‘goodness’ in me. It is a disconnecting sensation. It got me thinking of the traditional thoughts of collecting ‘punya’ but that seems as binding as increasing karmic debt.
Asana practice was week 1 sequence for a few days except yesterday and the day before. The day before was 15 minutes of Viparita Karani with support. Yesterday was nothing. I’ve been scared. The last class left me sore for quite a few days which was very unexpected. The maximum I have felt sore is a couple of days. This time it was till yesterday, 4 days. I also discovered bruising on my legs at different spots that had no place there. I don’t remember bumping into anything or getting hurt in any way. I’ve stayed off running too.
One of my biggest fears is to be sick. Since I live only with my little girl during the week, it is a scary thought to not be functioning at optimum capacity. In all likelihood, it is nothing but the monkeys in my mind that are ever present to catch a moment of weakness and make it seem bigger than it is. Pain is good, always has been. It has pushed me to dig deeper and go beyond my limited thinking.
Today’s practice was week 2 sequence and dandasana caught my attention. Sitting tall. Sometimes I wonder if I should just do whatever asanas come to mind but I stick to the sequences in the book for my focused practice. I figure it is a good way of training my mind to trust the process. The rate at which I keep going to basics, it feels as though I will be stuck there. On the other hand, it would also get my foundation strong. As the days pass, I see how there is increasing awareness of different areas in an asana. Suddenly there is an internal spotlight on my big toe or the collar bone.
Overall, it seems like another cycle of new learning is beginning yet again. The fears, discomfort, lack of coherence and questioning all point in that direction. It is a pattern I see repeatedly. A period of growing pains followed by a period of assimilating the changes and enjoying the new growth before it begins again.
My routine never got back on track post Christmas. I thought it would slide into a regular rhythm but lot of stuff came up unexpectedly. I still have to take time off work. It has been a continuous streak of more than a month and my efficiency has dropped. I hope I can take a couple of days off soon and recharge. It is beginning to affect all areas of my life in tiny ways.
In gratitude for pain- physical, mental and of the spirit.