Excepting a few books in the image, most of the others have been on my shelves for a few years, including a couple of the yoga books. I’ve read them, left them alone and come back to them again and again. The first reading would always be a mad devouring, wanting to greedily lap everything the pages held. Subsequent readings were usually piecemeal, sometimes a line or two, sometimes a page, sometimes 20. Every single time, the words have revealed something new, more a little uncovering rather than discovery.
I’ve been graced with a sense of deep gratitude as I practise living in accordance with the principles of Yog to the best of my ability. Perhaps this fervent belief has led to a different response to whatever I read. The response is less intellectual and more devotional, although it seems strange to use the word in connection with myself.
Sometimes a commentary on one of the Sutras prods me to pick up The Gita. This in turn pushes me to open the translation of the Upanishads. At times something reminds me of a line I read a while ago and I go searching for it. Yet other times, it is getting carried a way with the Puranas and the epics as they paint the gamut of human and divine life. There is literature available to satisfy every kind of reader. The sheer range is staggering.
The project to memorise the Yog Sutras resulted in a certain familiarity with Sanskrit words. It has brought in its wake a new slow savouring of the timeless texts in this studentship. Today’s trigger was a brainstorming session with a friend as we explored the concept of zero waste. It reminded me of the lines from ‘The Wasteland’ and what could I do but hear what the Thunder said…
‘This contemplation on the asanas means then that you are no longer a beginner.’
– Preliminary Course by Geeta S. Iyengar
It’s been almost a year and a half since I started learning yoga and all this while the focus was on how much of a beginner I am. True, the learning never ends and I will always be a student but perhaps a truer picture would be to acknowledge a certain progression. As Geetaji says, the learning begins now.
Maybe it is time to acknowledge my individual journey as I follow the path laid down by my teacher and those that have gone before her. I see how other practitioners of this system also pursue other disciplines and bring a certain finesse in their chosen areas through their practice.
I see each teacher express his/her unique interpretation while staying true to the teachings as they take a class. So perhaps I need to accept my inclinations whether it is in learning more about the philosophy of yoga or continuing to run. The discipline is such that I will only be learning as much as I am ready to learn. And maybe the label I attach to myself prevents me from getting out of my comfort zone and making mistakes if need be.
Home practice has been a mix of Week 6 and forward extensions. And it is rewarding as I sense each side differently. Sometimes I fret about the time I will need to go through the sequence but inevitably once I am on the mat, time disappears and the curiosity takes over. The why and how? I feel the same way after my home practice as I do after class.
As far as reading goes, the flowers in my balcony reminded me of a line in the Gita where Lord Krishna says that he is Spring amongst the seasons.
That got me to open chapter 10 and it read like the Song it is.
Among hymns also I am the ‘BRIHAT-SAMAN’; among metres ‘GAYATRI’ am I; among months I am parts of December-January (MARGA-SHIRSHA); among seasons I am the ‘flowery-spring’.
– Ch.10:35, The Holy Gita, Commentary by Swami Chinmayananda
‘Buttocks in’ is a common instruction in class and as soon as it is uttered, there is a collective change in stance.
Wednesday’s class saw us being introduced to backbends and it was kind of off limits to me. I got a little modification and didn’t push beyond the point when the pain would shoot. It would get aggravated if the tailbone was not tucked in. I’m actually grateful for the injury which showed me something new.
Another discovery was not being bothered about what I could not do now but seeing what was available. I’m convinced that doing even just the starting asana of the different categories is more than sufficient to fully engage myself. Some of the asanas I have been doing to ease the back are opportunities to notice and figure out the imbalances. Seated, it is less tiring but no less demanding.
While on holiday recently, my knees were very happy and the reason for that was very simple. I mostly sat cross-legged on the ground or while travelling in the car. Back at work for a few days again and I felt the difference between sitting on a chair and on the ground. Luckily, I work at a place where I can sit on the floor and ditch my footwear. My work requires me to study and understand fruits and vegetables. In the course of reading and research, I find ways to improve how I feed myself and my family. At the risk of sounding too hippy, I also find myself gravitating towards lighter living, needing less. Increasingly, I find that things in my life are intertwined and conducive to living simply.
Sutra reading was mostly restricted to the first two padas since there is a certain comfort with the familiar words. The third and the fourth padas seem way over my head and so I stayed away until a few days ago when the pages beckoned. And it was a startling discovery. Time to get started on memorising the remaining chapters and get familiar with the words. I saw a flyer on Prashantji’s book, ‘Discourses on Yog’ and have been contemplating whether I should get it or just stick to what I have. I keep thinking that I need a basic proficiency in asana before I am ‘qualified’ to explore the other facets of Yog but perhaps that is a fallacy. I see the wholeness of the petals of yoga as a continuum as well as a progression.
Recently, I wrote about what goes through my head when I run and much later it struck me that I had slowed down in my mind chatter enough to catch those fleeting thoughts. This is change in my books and it happened while I was not looking. The only thing I actually did was show up on my mat and practise whatever I learnt. The rest has been revealed as and when I was ready.
While on holiday, I managed just one day of a full sequence. The other days, I sat in swastikasana or virasana and a little bit of Supta Padangushtasana on the bed. I missed a regular practise but asana found me in different ways. In my reading, I was on a loop of Sutras 1.34- 1.39. My takeaway- the organic nature of the limbs of yoga.
Most of the time, I was simply there being in the moment, feeling the earth under my feet. We stayed in a guesthouse in the forest and it was very easy to fall into the rhythm of the place. There was a lot of walking, mostly barefoot, running (shoe shod) and listening with my senses. The paths were beautiful, red earth dotted with the scent of eucalyptus and the sounds of scurrying creatures (mongooses, squirrels), the constantly changing surface of the trails (packed earth, sandy stretches, stony and gravelly sections, wide paths and narrow tracks). The air was crisp and clean and carried the sounds of music and birds. I had the pleasure of running a half marathon there which did a loop of the entire settlement and it was a joyful experience. My husband got a few pictures and a couple of video clips while I was running and it was quite interesting to see myself. At the end of the run, with about 300m to go, my form was still pretty good and relaxed. Of course, there are a lot of things I still need to work on but it reinforced the value of working on the essentials rather than focusing on a result of timing or pace. It was flattering to get a, “you run really well” from a seasoned runner I shared a few miles with.
Usually, I would look forward to coming home after a break and getting back into my routine but this time I guess I have left a little bit of my heart in Auroville. I would like to live there, one with the earth, working with my hands and needing very little. My little girl was in her element too, it was like going back to her old school. She used to study in a school that was in a village when we moved to Pune. They would sit on the floor in class, walked and played barefoot and ate simple village meals for lunch. More than both of us, it is the husband who is considering moving there! But for now, our dharma kshetra is here and now.
I sat on my mat today.
Just exploring dandasana, swastikasana, Baddakonasana, upavishta konasana, half padmasana, virasana and gentle twists. Wound up with adho mukha virasana before lying down in savasana. Of all the poses, lying down in savasana was the one which touched the injury. While stretching the spine to lie down straight, the spot lit up with tenderness as it touched the ground. Supta Virasana or anything that has any backward movement twinges that area so all my go to poses are denied for now.
I figured the seated poses could not hurt since the spine has to be straight and sitting is something that I am doing anyway. The standing poses do not feel the rootedness I usually have in tadasana. I don’t feel too firm on my legs. Perhaps this injury is a good thing, it got me to sit down and start with the seated asanas. They are not a favourite since I find them difficult. All the more reason to practise. Actually, ‘asanam’ means seat in my mother tongue too.
Today’s practice was very different. I mentally chanted the beej mantras for the different areas in savasana and something different happened. Two of the areas found a hum, a vibration that was audible, it was not a silent chant. Yet I was not saying it aloud. After that my savasana was more like pranayama. By the end of it, my breath felt like an Ujjayi cycle. I wasn’t doing anything and neither did I have any intention of doing any conscious breathing, it just happened. I got a little flustered and quickly wound up. Usually, I find myself spacing out in savasana and wandering. This is unfamiliar territory, I am more at home struggling with balance in ardha chandrasana or working hard in inversions. And as a beginner yet to gain proficiency in asana, I am far away from pranayama and don’t wish to reach beyond myself.
Was doing just the seated poses responsible for allowing the mind to quieten? How did savasana end up so different? Was what I experienced something that is part of the process? Is it the same for other practitioners? Am I staying under the cover of being a beginner? I am a beginner and I hope I remain one all my life but perhaps now I need to step up?
Dreams… A figment of imagination or Hidden intelligence?
I barely dream. However, the few odd ones are fairly vivid when I awake although they fade away rapidly.
A few nights ago, I had a dream of Guruji. In my dream, he’s talking to a student and also signs a copy of the newest book for her and I was thinking to myself that maybe I could get him to sign my copy of ‘Light on Yoga’ which is in my bag but as usual I don’t dare. I touch his feet for blessings and get back to my desk in the far corner of the hall. I have a satchel and a computer which is near a staircase going down, like the one at the Institute. The hall looks different though. I don’t remember seeing any place like that.
One of his daughters was also there and it was nearing meal time. He wanted to know where Abhi was and when he got to know she would take 15 minutes to be back, he said that he would wait for her. And it sort of fades out.
The highlight of the entire dream was receiving Guruji’s blessings. His presence felt very real.
Perhaps this is a hyperactive imagination at play, perhaps it is just wishful thinking. At times, it seems as though these are markers, signposts indicating something. Am I creating them myself or are they really happening? It is far away from the sensibility of rational thought yet it feels right.
The overwhelming feeling is one of bhakti whether it is in the gratitude I feel for the blessings of yoga, the power of the Gayatri when I run or the quiet dark early mornings before the birds wake up.
If I let my thoughts take their own shape, dreams are also a state of being…
I woke up wanting to be quiet.
Yesterday I completed ‘Waking’ by Matthew Sanford.
I also watched ‘Interstellar’.
Today is Mauni Amavasya.
Am I reading too much into coincidences or is it a cue from life?
Traditionally it is a day of observing ‘maun vrat’ or a day of silence but what about the noise in my head?
The focus on Wednesday’s class was the dorsal region and there were brisk adjustments through the hall. I found it a little easier today since I find myself doing a lot of concave back Uttanasana and prasarita paddotanasana through odd times during the day to release the back. Ever since I got a sense of that area when a teacher adjusted me, I’ve tried to access that part of my back in my poses. The first time I sensed that region, it was an immediate infusion of a more expansive breath.
Our teacher mentioned how Guruji used to say that you have to cut your chest open for heart surgery but he did it through his back. I walked differently the whole day after class! Yogibattle talks about the asanas helping to absorb and filter out unpleasantness at the chakra level. My earlier yoga teacher would get us to mentally repeat the beej mantras associated with the chakras as we worked on different poses. At times, savasana would be a guided one where the entire body was scanned along with the corresponding sounds. During one of those sessions, I saw Om. It was inexplicable, I don’t mean seeing the symbol of the sound just seeing the sound, a cross sensory experience. It was an explosion of white and lasted for less than a fraction of a second but it was a full moment that felt timeless. It never happened again but there is no doubt about that experience. Later I found that there is a medical term for the phenomenon- synesthesia.
Reflecting on yogibattle’s post and looking at the changes in my thought and behaviour, I can see the ‘sneaky’ effects of an asana practice. A better ability to express myself, a more open heart, vigour, stamina and a happier disposition. Just standing straight in Tadasana taught me to stand tall and fearlessly and I see it in the mirror. I don’t need to really roll my shoulders behind anymore for the straight and wide line. A recent picture of my back in tadasana showed me the fall of the fabric and it was like a curtain, quite symmetrical on both sides. Not that I’ve mastered it but more a natural progression towards change. It is a pose I can endlessly study and one that constantly opens up new insights as I learn to access other areas while simply standing.
For someone who walked around with hunch and suffered chronic pain in the neck, shoulders and arms due to cervical spondylosis, this new openness in the shoulders is nothing short of the transformative power of yoga. I believe all illness and pain is symptomatic of deeper mental, emotional and spiritual imbalances. While I can blame an earlier desk job, long hours and an unhealthy lifestyle, the root of my problem probably lay in my inability to to express myself especially where my needs were concerned, an inability to filter out negative thoughts. Perhaps that explains why ‘ham’ is the first beej mantra that comes to mind and the throat when it comes to focusing on an area. Another one would be ‘Yam’ while dealing with a heavy heart and ‘Lam’ for tired legs, sometimes while running too. Even when chanting silently, these syllables had the power to energize.
I don’t know anything about the chakras and have consciously stayed away from learning anything about it at this time. I would like a solid and undistracted base in asana before I start exploring further. The little that I remember is from my time with the earlier yoga teacher. She used to play ragas before the class started and sometimes got one of the students to sing certain notes so that we could use the same frequency as we silently chanted it in our minds. I would make notes after class and that helped me to remember the sounds and corresponding areas in the body. I now have a ready reckoner to look at, a RIMYI tee!
The ceaseless flow of discriminative knowledge in thought, word and deed destroys ignorance, the source of pain.
-Light on Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by B.K.S. Iyengar
This is my thought for the day and the reason for it is sound, the sound of the word ‘aviplava’- described as undisturbed, unbroken, unfluctuating, unfailing…
It’s a word that has been rolling in my head since a few days and the image it paints for me is one of complete presence in the moment- unbroken, undisturbed being. An ideal to work towards. I like the completeness of the three aspects of thought, word and deed attached to the word. It’s such a short and complete explanation of how to do away with avidya, the foremost of the kleshas and the cause for all pain. The more I think about it, the more I see it’s simplicity yet it is such a difficult thing to do for even a moment, let alone maintain it for consequent moments.
My little girl shares my love for books and as a nine year old, her choice of books is largely determined by the number of pictures it has. She loves the written word too but any book has to have pictures in it to be interesting.
I have picture books too!
Earlier I spent more time reading the instructions and cursorily looked at the pictures of Guruji and Geetaji’s poses in ‘Light on Yoga’ and ‘Yoga- a Gem for Women’. Today while reading up on some of the asanas in Geetaji’s book, I spent more time looking at the images and noticing little things like the arches, toes and fingers. It was not just hands and legs and their general direction. A year down the line, they may present themselves even more differently. Today, they were fascinating to just look at.
It got me thinking about how children learn, they mimic. They don’t require complicated reasoning or explanations, they just watch and replicate perfectly. Amma would teach tiny tots (who still had to learn to read and write) the Geeta shlokas and they would recite it flawlessly. Perhaps it is their gift of being present wholly in the moment.
Some of the actions in the poses are slightly different from the instructions we receive in class. Adho Mukha Svanasana is a pose that looks different when the teachers demonstrate in class. Perhaps it is to make it accessible to us beginners or maybe the changes have happened over the years as a result of their combined practices. After all, those books were published many years ago. My practice is still very much in the realm of gross muscular movements, a sort of a slow waking up to my body.
While wriggling my toes a few months ago, I wondered if I could isolate movements in individual toes. No reason other than to see if I could train it. It was not a deliberate plan but whenever I remembered about that idea, I just concentrated my attention on a single toe. I have managed to isolate it to a certain extent. Now I can flex just the second toe at will. It seems frivolous as a pursuit but I found it enlightening to see how much of our body can be trained using the mind. The same principle is at work when the instructions are to lift the arches or move the back thigh behind. I have to take my attention to that location and over time, there is sensitivity generated in that area.
While reading some of the instructions, it struck me once again how much I have to learn. I struggle with the asanas most of the time and if I miss a regular practice due to any reason, the body springs back quickly into its stiffness. I missed a couple of days of the Week 4 sequence and so decided to continue with it for a day or two. There was a small incident with the brick while I was trying to release my hamstrings and I injured myself. The brick flipped and my spine jerked violently. Right then, I knew that I hurt the same spot that I had injured about a year and a half ago in the class I used to go to. Back then, I was given some twisting and forward bends so I just repeated those poses now. The concave back position in the forward extensions gives relief for a while. It is a bit better but looks like it will take its time. I guess it’s a long way before my spine becomes strong and supple enough to withstand all kinds of shocks.