After much dilly dallying, I got ropes fitted at home, finally. I used to get neck tractions in class a couple of years ago and that’s when I first thought of fixing a set at home. But it felt presumptuous so I let it sort of simmer on the back burner. Last year, I decided to stick to what was taught in class and that was mostly without props, except a brick or bolster at most. I see the good sense in learning asanas the classical way. It is harder but makes me less lazy. Now I wish to explore and experiment, find out for myself. I did have a moment of doubt if I was being too ambitious in my sadhana but the teachings are strong and as long as I remain a student, I will be guided. Of that, I am sure.


Yesterday, I found myself trying out Adho Mukha Svanasana using the rope at varying distances of the leg and it was different. Since I was short on time, I just noticed the sensation but that is something I can experiment with. Mental note – keep a notebook handy.
The year at RIMYI is over and the dismay of no class for 4 weeks has reduced. Now it is thinking of what and how to build a regular practice in the break so that I go back prepared. It was easier when there was a weekly dose of inspiration from class. While independent sequences are a good way to keep it interesting, I find myself sticking to one category and neglecting the others or not working on all equally. So, one option is to go through the sequence for the weeks and apply it to the days. Alternatively, fix on one category for each day of the week. And one basic pose to explore every week like tadasana, dandasana etc.
While on a walk early this morning, I found myself thinking about knowledge and it’s availability. The Internet has made us lazy about learning since there is an overload of information on anything under the sun. A short while on wikipedia can make one an expert on the subject. In contrast to classical learning where knowledge was experiential. The texts were memorised, meanings of the words and their construction subjective and the underlying essence subtle. The shlokas and Sutras are deceptively simple looking and frequently dip into nature to state an idea.  Sort of hidden in the open so that it’s mysteries are not casually or irreverently thrown about.
The Gayatri mantra is one that I stop to think about everyday before japa and on the surface it seems an invocation to the Sun but as I read the literal meanings of each of the words and a commentary on it attributed to Adi Shankaracharya, it is increasingly becoming evident that this is a very potent and subtle mantra. And my understanding is very crude and rudimentary. The sheer finesse and elegance of thought and expression of the ancient seers gives me goosebumps. Some sections are bursting with joy and the text carries me in the spirit of that bliss. If just reading at a very superficial level makes me feel like this, I cannot even begin to imagine what the experience would be. There are a lot of small changes that I notice but I don’t know if I am imagining it. It seems impossible to my mind, to my rational self so I let it be. But, perhaps it may really be as I sense it. Then, yet again, how can it be? My journey is but a few steps in the making, I have barely begun.

Hari Om

Sanskrit word of the day

सुकृतम्- self made or well made

Brahmānanda- vallī, Section 7
Taittrīya Upanishad

असद्वा इदमग्र आसीत्। ततो वै सदजायत।
तदात्मानग्ं स्वयमकुरुत।
तस्मात्तत्सुकृतमुच्यत इति।।१।।

In the beginning was verily this non-existence. From that the existent was born. That created Itself by Itself. Therefore, It is called the self-made or the well-made.

“The world is sukrtam: well made, divinely planned and perfectly executed.”

– Commentary by Swami Chinmayananda

These are the concluding lines in the explanation provided for the section. I can’t but help think of Guruji’s asana as the same… Continuing in the the same vein, it is possible for each one of us to find our well made, divinely planned and perfectly executed. I think that has been his message through his sadhana.

Hari Om

Karma Yog

2:45- The VEDAS deal with the three attributes; be you above these three attributes (GUNAS), O Arjuna, free yourself from the pairs-of-opposites, and ever remain in the SATTWA (goodness), freed from all thoughts of acquisition and preservation, and be established in the Self.

2:46- To the BRAHMANA who has known the Self, all the VEDAS are of so much use, as is a reservoir of water in a place where there is flood everywhere.

2:47- Thy right is to work only, never to its fruits; let not the fruit-of-action be thy motive, nor let thy attachment be to inaction.

A real Karma Yogin is one who understands: (a) that his concern is with action alone; (b) that he has no concern with results; (c) that he should not entertain the motive of gaining a fixed fruit for a given action; and (d) that these ideas do not mean that he should sit back courting inaction.

– Swami Chinmayananda in his commentary on The Gita

Bhagavad Gita 2:45-47

Writing a few shlokas everyday is a good exercise in bringing my mind to focus. These lines were today’s exercise and I stopped mid-way as the commentary was a clarion call. These three shlokas insist, illuminate and inspire. As I read the explanation for the first of the three, I felt there was an important message to listen to. The subsequent verses reinforced the intuition and I stopped for the day. There is more than enough to ruminate for ever.

Since the last couple of weeks, I have been living two lives. By day I work very hard to get things in order at the place I am working so that I can work fewer hours from June. By night and early morning, I am a hermit, reading, writing, contemplating, practising. My daughter is on a holiday and I have company only on the weekends when my husband visits. It is almost like being on a retreat. I sit for japa and it feels like I am in a forest with just birdsong. I will have a few more weeks of this life and it feels like a blessing to be relieved of my regular household duties for a while.
The shlokas I read today, especially the last one connected very strongly to my japa sadhana. There is change in the practice. For one, I do 24 repetitions now and the more notable one is an ability to stay with the words/meaning as I chant. Reading the commentary before beginning japa has helped to create a mental environment to bring a focus, an attention to the present. Somewhere I suppose I have stopped expecting anything to be visible and am settled into just seeing, observing, witnessing. Everyday there is a reinforcement of the literal meaning and a tentative exploration into the superimposed ideas.
The other day, I was chatting with a fellow practitioner and he mentioned that he wanted to first study the Sutras, then the Gita and so on. My study has been multiple texts, a little at a time and very often I find parallels in them. This helps in understanding some of the thoughts although I still feel it is very much on an intellectual level. But as the book says, my right is only to labour. If I stop to think about it, just the study itself provides immense satisfaction in the heart.

Hari Om

Weekend yoga

Every weekend I turn in-house teacher to my husband. He attends a couple of classes in Mumbai but insists on having me instruct him for a weekend practice. So, we go through the usual cues and practise together. This has been going on for a while and he now has a regular home practice back in Mumbai. We do just the basics and it is a good opportunity for me to remind myself of the actions required. It also makes me pause and see what are the immediate effects of certain actions. Somewhere the body’s natural logic is making itself felt as instinct/ intuition kick in to help with problem areas.

Seeing him struggle, I see myself, how I used to be, a few months ago. The same disobedient body, the same frustration of losing balance repeatedly and the despair that the whole endeavour was pointless. Yet getting back on the mat again and again started to work its magic. And slowly there began a shaping of the mind and body as the two began to communicate. It is heartening to see his progress although he probably doesn’t see it as such. His woe is not being able to clasp his hands in gomukhasana or touch the ground in uttanasana. I see the changes in how he does not give up attempting an asana against his aversion to it. I see it in how he adjusts his chest to an internal cue, how he stays in the pose even when the unused muscles groan. Earlier, he would just say I can’t do it, it is too painful. Watching him is really watching myself.
We started out hesitantly with me refusing until he sort of threatened to stop attending class unless I taught him. He spent more time standing around and avoiding most of the asanas there. Every class left him feeling depressed that he couldn’t get anything right. Now he attempts the asanas although his standard reply when I ask him ‘what did you do in class today’ is ‘pincha mayurasana’ and we laugh.

Yoga is hope.

Being Hanuman

Amar Chitra Katha series

The Puranas and epics are full of characters, divine and mortal who seem fantastic and larger than life. While I don’t know if any of it really happened, they are an accurate representation of human behaviour both as is and ideal.
Most Hindu households had elders who told stories from the epics to their grandchildren and thus passed on an oral tradition. My older girl had the privilege of having my mother in-law bringing the stories alive for her as a young child. The younger one has had to do with books. Life circumstances changed by the time she came into the world.
I like to consider characters from the epics as embodiments of certain qualities or traits. As the son of Vayu, Hanuman was blessed with great power but he remained humble and devoted to his Lord. His very existence was for the service of his Rama and he represented the three paths of bhakti, jnana and karma. He was said to be accomplished in speech and knowledge besides being a formidable warrior and sage counsel. As someone who had perfect control over his senses, he was the supreme brahmachari. Yogi par excellence.
He takes the existence of a vaanara, loosely translated a monkey but divinely human in nature. Why a monkey? Why the son of Vayu? Hidden within the stories are other stories, pretty much the modus operandi of most of the ancient volumes available. The story is complete in and of itself but the deeper layers continuously come to the surface every time I contemplate on it. This technique of staying with the same thoughts, words and letting their meanings emerge is a new way of making the field of my mind ready. Somehow it feels right.
Off to the Institute in a bit for today’s celebration.

Jai Hanuman!


अपरिग्रहस्थैर्ये जन्मकथंतासंबोधः ।३९।
Sutra 2:39- Knowledge of past and future lives unfold when one is free from greed for possessions.
Translation by B.K.S. Iyengar in ‘Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’

I miss my teacher already. There’s just one class left to go and the academic year will be over. It seems just like yesterday that I was nervous and excited about starting out. So much has changed in the last 11 months! There is an easy familiarity with the Institute now and a sense of comfort in the hall and premises. The folks who help out there are always happy to say hello and we exchange a few words every time we meet.
I have signed up for two classes a week beginning June and wonder who my teachers will be. I hope I get my teacher again but it is a want, an attachment, a greed. Much as my head tells me that I will get who I need, my mind wants different. It throws a silent tantrum, “I want my teacher”.
I didn’t get my preferred timings as those classes were sold out in no time, within half an hour, someone mentioned. So I took whatever I could get. It’s going to be a year of jugglery as I manage to squeeze work and home between 2 odd batch timings. The interesting thing is I got one women’s intermediate class so that should be a different experience. Will it be any easier? I doubt.
The last class was a welcome surprise, we did restorative asanas and began with a favourite, Supta Virasana. Some nights I do it before sleeping, on the bed itself and wake up with the lightest legs the next morning. I’ve fallen asleep in it too and woken up when the legs went to sleep.
It is a pose not easily accessible to a lot of people and we learnt how to use props for different problems. The ‘Royal’ Supta Virasana was reserved for an elderly gentleman in our class who had some trouble. He looked so relaxed propped on all those bolsters and pillows. We learnt the adjustments for the knees, ankles, back, head etc. and spent a fair bit of time in it. My current struggle in the pose is feeling the evenness in both the buttocks and a stiffness in the front of the left foot. The thigh also takes its while to settle into a calmness. It is very interesting how small areas are unlocked to work on and once there is a little familiarity with that part, another one needs attention. It’s like building the asana in parts and then one fine day putting it all together to make a fully integrated structure. These are just asana adjustments at the grossest level and it will be a while before it can penetrate the outermost kosha and gives me a glimpse of the depth available. I could study my entire lifetime and learn something new every time!
Japa practice is just sitting and chanting everyday but something is changing. I now read a  very short commentary on it before sitting in the morning and take up one or two words to ruminate. Commentaries are a helpful way of soaking in the ancient language and learning the way to study. While having a Guru would be ideal, it is very much possible to start with whatever is at hand. A good book is a good teacher indeed.
During japa, my mind wanders and I notice, it wanders again and I notice again and the cycles are completed. But now it is not frustration, it is learning to stay and call the mind back, like repeatedly telling my kids to tidy up. Another change is the ability to sit without dropping for a while. Repetition is abhyasa and being regular somehow makes things accessible. The mind can be made an ally but it needs the gentle discipline of regular, everyday action come what may.

One of the many statues at RIMYI

Tomorrow is Hanuman Jayanti and the Institute has organized a program. It is always something to look forward to, old timers sharing the memories about Guruji and what they have learnt.

Adi Kavya

This is a lovely illustrated children's book.

Sage Valmiki is said to have penned the Ramayana. There is a story about how he hears about Hanuman’s Ramayan and goes to check it out. He reads it and realizes that his version is not as moving as Hanuman’s and feels sad. Hanuman then shreds his version so that Valmiki’s Ramayan will be the only one known.
Hanuman’s poem was so that he could remember Ram while the sage’s massive tome was for the world to remember Ram.
I get my answer to an old question., ‘why do I write?’
It is to remember.

Today is Ram Navami and I finished rereading the Adi Kavya over the last few days.
-6 books
-5 cantos
-24,000 verses

It is a work of sheer genius in composition and to think Luv and Kush memorised the entire epic…

Jai Shri Ram

Beginning at the end

I write a little Sanskrit most days and it is a useful exercise in slowing down enough to read and reflect. Quite recently, I started a journal (like the ones we had in school) and started to make my own copy of the texts. There is plenty to write and no deadline so I am slowly working through different texts.

360 pages - a page a day for a year

The first chapter of the Gita has been completed and I was contemplating its importance in the book. At first glance it appears like a lot of background and subsequently Arjuna’s grief. Why begin with despondency? Why not get into the second chapter straight?
From a literary perspective, continuity as it is part of the great epic but I guess it also creates the necessary background for the teachings.
If I stop and consider, I have been Arjuna-like in my dejection. All of us are warriors of the spirit but we lose sight of it and sink into listless inaction. It is only when the pain of not changing is greater than the resistance to change that transformation can begin. In this  case, it was Arjuna’s mental turmoil and pain that made him ripe to receive. That’s pretty much how I was drawn to Vedanta too. Pain of watching my father-in-law die slowly of Parkinson’s disease, pain of an emptiness despite having everything, pain of my father’s passing away. That was a year of tumult, within and without. I needed  something to make sense of the storm raging in my mind.
The shloka mentioned in the image is from the last part of Chapter 18.
Thus, the ‘Wisdom’ which is a greater secret than all secrets, has been declared to you by Me; having reflected upon it fully, you now act as you choose.
Translation by Swami Chinmayananda

Contemplation is at the heart of the shastras. Perhaps that is why they are so concise. They are an invitation to explore and experience for oneself and not just believe blindly, although I suppose that may also work. In the context of my inclinations, it helps me soak in the words, sounds and texture as they become familiar. Taking them one or two at a time and letting it stew for a few days is also a mental exercise, developing endurance to stay with a sadhana. Am I hurtling down the road? It doesn’t feel like it. I still go through my everyday life quite contentedly. It feels as though I were a  dormant seed that has suddenly sprouted and is in its initial shooting out of the ground. All the months and years that have passed seem to have been to get the conditions right for it to take root. May I ever remain a student.

Hari Om

Coincidence/ Clairvoyance?

There have been multiple occasions when my home practice is similar to what happens in class a couple of days later. Latest in case is today’s session. We learnt how to practise inversions at home.
These days, it has been mostly forward bends at home considering the draining summer heat. I missed tadasana so one day was dedicated to the standing asanas. I ended up sore in my arms, shoulders and trunk the next day! Mental note – always practise the basics. A couple of days ago, I got back to my inversion practice after the mandatory few days off in the month and was able to stay in Sirsasana for far longer than I expected to. Naturally, the rest of the cooling inversions were correspondingly longer. End result, sore legs and shoulders the next day. But previous experience has taught me that it gets better subsequently. Today’s class on inversions was relatively easy in comparison. I learnt how to use a three fold blanket for Sirsasana and it was a much better lift.
Our teacher explained why inversions were important and I have also read the notes on that section in the books. However the bigger validation has been the experience of it in my life.
A simple immediate change has been my menstrual cycle. The last couple of months, I haven’t had soreness,/tenderness or excessive bloating. The cramping was reduced and the mental irritation was absent. I was almost taken by surprise the last time because I didn’t have the telltale symptoms of mind and body. The more I study and practise, the more wonder and amazement I feel. And this is not even scratching the surface. I still work very much on a gross muscular level. I cannot begin to imagine how rich an experience ongoing sadhana would be. I pray that I always remain a student.
Inversions were an aspiration at one time because I couldn’t do it. Now they are welcome because I see how they translate into a steadier me, a more discerning me. There were a couple of situations at work where I responded very differently from what I normally would have done. My tendency to see both sides of the story can make it difficult for me to do what is needed. I suspect, nay, believe that a regular inversion practice has allowed me to be more discerning and understand the ethical dilemma of the situation more clearly and act accordingly.
Japa practice is being a beginner all over again. I sit everyday, do my repetitions while the mind flies away. It is something I do not fight but do regardless of the flightiness. If so much has shifted, I believe someday I will also be able to be in the japa. And in the meanwhile, it will just be a means to purify and be prepared for when that change happens.
Sometimes I think my thoughts, especially the random ones that come are being picked off an unknown universal frequency. Sort of like tuning into a radio station just meant for me. It’s always been there but in the recent past, it has been happening often enough to make me question what is responsible for this surge in coincidences?

Svadhyaya- a study of sound

Just yesterday, I was helping out someone with a few concepts for an English paper and we were exploring semantics and pragmatics. The shastras are a rich example of pragmatics at play. Much of the lyrical shlokas are simple at first glance but nuanced with layers of meaning, subjective and objective.
Svadhyaya as a niyama is placed after sauca, santosha and tapah in that order. It makes logical sense to start with a clean page, a content frame of mind to engage in a fully present practice. That allows for reflection and study. Svadhyaya for me includes reading, writing, listening and reflection. It is uncanny how coincidences crop up when exploring some thought. It is almost as though there is an internal compass which attracts attention towards related concepts.
I’d love to study the Shastras the traditional way but it doesn’t look very possible at present. Yet I can’t seem to pry myself away from delving into the ancient texts. I’ve read them earlier but that was a semantic experience, now they seem like the beginning of study. In the absence of a formal structure, it is still possible to endeavour thanks to the easy availability of good books and commentaries. The interpretations of great masters help to open the wealth of the compact utterances. It provides pointers on how to reflect on what is implicit.

‘ऊॅ शीक्षां व्याख्यास्यामः | वर्णः स्वरः।
मात्रा बलम् । साम सन्तानः । इत्युक्तः शीक्षाध्यायः ।।१।।

‘We shall now explain the science of pronunciation. It consists of the sounds, accent or the pitch, quality or measure, the effort put in articulation, uniformity and continuity in pronouncing the letters. Thus has been explained the lesson on pronunciation.’
– Taittriya Upanishad, a commentary by Swami Chinmayananda

Taittrīya Upanishad

This deft word picture paints the study of phonetics. Unlike English which has its quirks like silent letters, Sanskrit and the few Indian languages that I know are read as they are written, the pronunciation is uniform. Perhaps the oral tradition and emphasis on memorisation before delving into a study was part of the technique of teaching and studying a language. There is great importance attached to the articulation of the words during chanting. All the aspects mentioned above are taken into account while reciting shlokas. It boils down to sound, yet again. Somehow, words and sound and study all seem to be intersecting repeatedly.
Coincidence again… I don’t think so anymore.