Of flow and restraint

It is time for the inevitable period of flux as things begin to shift yet again. Friday’s class felt vey silent inside despite all the lively comments by our teacher. We did mostly a backbend prep with salabhasana and a touch-and-go ustrasana. It was followed by a quiet supta virasana and baddakonasana before wrapping up in savasana. On Saturday, I had a fun home practice of Surya Namaskars with my little girl followed by a revision of Friday’s class. Sunday saw me spending time on the texts. 

Three days, three different moods, three different practices. Underlying all of them is my difficulty with japa sadhana. On an objective level, I see the play of an active rajoguna in all aspects of my life, starting with my morning breath. For the first time, I had an experential sense of how the breath controls the mind. Guruji’s quote, “Breath is the king of the mind” communicates this perfectly. 

As always I find the answers to my struggles readily available in the books of great masters. There are no superfluous words in the commentaries and each word speaks volumes.

From the Yog Sutras

व्युत्थाननिरोधसंस्कारयोरभिभदप्रादुर्भावौ निरोधक्षणचित्तान्वयो निरोधपरिणामः ।९।

Study of the silent moments between rising and restraining subliminal impressions is the transformation of consciousness towards restraint (nirodha parinamah)

Guruji explains, But at first, it is difficult to educate the consciousness to restrain each rising thought. It is against the thought current (pratipaksha) and hence creates restlessness, whereas the movement from restraint towards rising thought is with the current (paksha), and brings restfulness. The first method requires force of will and so is tinged with rajas. The second is slightly sattvic, but tinged with tamas. To transform the consciousness into a pure sattvic state of dynamic silence, we must learn by repeated effort to prolong the intermissions.

– Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by BKS Iyengar

From the Bhagwad Geeta

असंशयं महाबाहो मनो दुर्निग्रहं चलम्
अभ्यासेन तु कौन्तेय वैराग्येण च गृह्यते।।३५।।
The Blessed Lord said: Undoubtedly, O mighty-armed one, the mind is difficult to control and is restless; but, by practice, O Son of Kunti, and by dispassion, it is restrained.

Swamiji explains, Through practice and renunciation, the mind can be brought under control in the beginning, and ultimately to a perfect ‘halt’ – this is the confident, reassuring declaration of the Lord in the Geeta.

Thus viewed, practice (Abhyasa) srengthens renunciation (Sannyasa), which generates detachment (Vairagya), and which in turn deepens meditation (Abhyasa). Hand in hand, each strengthens the other. Thus the total progress is steadily maintained. 

From the moment we start trying to become aware of our own lives, we are in the realm of ‘practice'(Abhyasa). As a result of this, the detachment that comes automatically to us is the true and enduring ‘detachment’ (Vairagya).

When through right “practice” enduring “detachment” has come into our inner lives, then, the mind comes under our control.

– Commentary on The Holy Geeta by Swami Chinmayananda

It all boils down to abhyasa and vairagyam. One cannot exist without the other and unless there is balance between the two the scales are forever in vritti.  It makes me think of the parallels of guna in the two essentials of sadhana. Without Vairagyam, there is excessive rajas and without the right abhyasa, there is the dullness of tamas. In the equal marriage of the two, there is a predominance of sattva, where the magic happens.

This kind of a stuck phase is a familiar one when there is change happening in the background. I don’t know what kind of change is in progress when it appears as though there is stagnation but eventually, the butterfly emerges and flutters before plunging into another cycle of destruction and birth. 

Hari Om

Study material and references from

  1. Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by BKS Iyengar
  2. The Holy Geeta Commentary by Swami Chinmayananda

Marichi’s pose

Fewer work days means more time for practice and study. Although the hall was open for practice today, I chose to be at home. I worked with one of Geetaji’s videos and it was illuminating as usual. Everytime I watch it, I learn something new. More is revealed even though it is the same set of instructions. She is stern throughout the session but at the end, there is a smile and humility in her expression that fills my heart. So much compassion! Dare I hope to learn from her? 

marichyasana 2- a work in progress

This was the final pose for today and the moment I got into it and looked at my legs, I was amazed at the length in them. There is a lot of work required and the picture begins to point out small details where there is dimness. I got carried away by the padmasana leg! There is a long way to go before the rigour of practice truly sets in. I still need a teacher to keep that fire burning and push beyond. 

It is interesting how the seated asanas have their parallels in standing asanas. The Marichyasana legwork is a good way to work on my trikonasana and parsvakonasana, especially on the left side. Asanas seem to work like the study of shastras in its suggestiveness. As I watch my own body, it starts to communicate although it seems like a different language at times. 😊

The name of the pose got me to look up Sage Marichi and he finds mention in the Divine Song too. A thought to ponder over and contemplate. This shloka begins the description of Lord Krishna’s limitless forms. As always, the sheer grandeur of the verses sweeps me up in its magnificence.

“Among the (twelve) ADITYAS, I am Vishnu; among luminaries, the radiant Sun; I am Marichi among the MARUTS; among asterisms, the moon am I” . 10:21

Translation from the commentary on The Holy Geeta by Swami Chinmayananda

Hari Om

“Your legs should come to you”

Both the classes I attend are very different. Tuesdays are hard, very intense while Fridays are softer. Not less intense but softer. It is a women’s class and there is a lot of laughter as we all struggle. 

We’ve been working with the legs in the Friday class. I feel as though I am discovering my lower limbs all over again. Yesterday, we had to move our legs without the help of our hands in all the seated poses. No adjusting, just moving. By the end of the class, there was a little quickness of action. My runner legs can go on but all the connectives are shot. Groins, knees and ankles need a lot of work if I would like to grow old with all of them intact. 

Our teacher’s voice boomed as she instructed us almost at the beginning, “Your legs should come to you.” It was a good cue to keep in mind throughout the class. Although I feel as though I am floundering in class while it is on, later I can see that I am not doing too bad, considering all factors. 

Savasana time is longer in this class and it feels good to let go. Through the week, through the day, there is a lot of doing. I could do with a little more rest and the 20 minutes of restorative and savasana gives me that time to quieten. Sleeping awake…

How much the body needs to wake up! How much the mind needs to wake up!

Hari Om

An end and a beginning

The countdown to yoga day has started and there has never been a better time for the business. Yoga studios to media channels have their hot topic for the week to make some noise. A month from now, it will all fade away until next year. It is interesting to see how things have changed in terms of consumption of entertainment and information. Bite sized bytes, dizzying imagery and a need to be on top of news as it happens. Fast food for the mind. 

It is easy to lament the degradation of spiritual endeavour. It is also easy to join the bandwagon of those who make this opportunistic. But, when I stop to consider the scene, it really doesn’t matter. The times we live in must be similar to the times when knowledge got obscured. Yet, it survived and revived. The cycle of birth and death. Paradoxically, we now have more information accessible at the tip of our fingers. But how much do we really know? 

Today’s reading was a new definition of yoga from the Bhagwad Gita.

chapter 6:23
Swami Chinmayananda’s commentary on this shloka defines yoga as “a state of disunion from every union-with-pain”. The translation continues to emphasise, “This Yoga should be practised with determination and with a mind steady and undespairing”. The explanation of these  lines beautifully brings out the idea of Yoga as a goal and Yoga as the means. 

In the context of the hype surrounding International Yoga day, there is hope. Yoga began as a means for me too, a way out of pain. As I stumbled in my attempts to ‘practise’, it blessed me with a tiny glimpse into what was possible. Slowly but surely, the path started to lead me, one step at a time. It is thanks to my teachers and all those who have gone before me that I continue to seek within. If it were not for the legacy of the wisdom of great masters through their writings, I would still be groping in the dark. For that, I remain eternally grateful.

Hari Om

Soar and Sore!

Reading the sacred texts, especially in the wee hours of the morning, is very uplifting. The exquisite beauty of language and thought is best absorbed and contemplated when the world sleeps. As always, reading the eternal truths in such poetic language fills me up. The Upanishads are exquisite in their brevity and expansiveness as they open the heart to think. 

Prashantji’s book has been a treasure trove and reading it has been a validation. Most of my unknowing steps in study and practice find a place in his suggestions. Last night’s reading made sense in the context of today’s reading as well.

“Brahmacharya is not just observing celibacy. Thus, the practice of Brahmacharya is a way of life through which the sexual energy is drawn upwards — goes upwards, on account of sublimation and quietude and with no turmoil in the passion zone. It goes upwards and becomes what is called as intuitive creativity and that is why the Vedic seers had tremendous intuitive creativity through which they had foresight and insight.”

– Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali by Prashant S Iyengar

For a long time, I thought I needed to wait to be ready to study the texts. But perhaps, it is a natural inclination and that may be why I gravitated towards a method of study independently. It got me thinking about the practice of asana as well. My practice has changed, I don’t fret about following a fixed sequence. It is not about attaining mastery but about maintaining the body to sit quietly. Somedays I work with one action, somedays I do nothing and on others I follow a sequence. More often than not, I end up working with those asanas that are hard for me. These are very much the basic poses and at the Intermediate level the asana is opened up even more.

Today’s class was hard, very hard. We did urdhva hastasana, uttanasana and some seated forward bends. The focus was on the arms, I suspect it was prepping for some kind of arm balances in the near future. After class, I was thoroughly tired and sore. I wondered if I had more on my plate than I can handle right now. But the runner brain quickly piped up to say, you are an endurance runner. In all fairness, I did expect to find difficulty for a few months as I learn more and work on my asanas. 

I got in early and was observing some of the students and teachers practising in the hall and it was very interesting. On the outside, I see a pose, I see props. I see the beauty and symmetry of the human structure. I wonder about the asana of the mind. I saw my teacher from last year in a very interesting set up and it reminded me of some of Guruji’s pictures. A state of sublimity, so nearby. Am I imagining it or is it real? The head doubts while the heart believes.

Hari Om

Friday evening

Quite by accident, I got my first signed copy of a book. After class, I was browsing through the books and picked up Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali by Prashantji. The lady at the desk told me to get it signed from him and I said OK. And that is how I got my first ever copy of a book signed by its author.

I have been in awe of Prashantji since reading and listening to some of his works. In my head, I have a reverential distance towards him considering his years of experience and knowledge. In person, he has very kind eyes that see you clearly.

Class was fun and tough too. Our teacher really worked us hard. While she is full of laughter, she is also a hard taskmaster. I like this women’s class, the energy is very different. We were doing Anantasana today and she said one day I will teach you to hold your toes but today we just lift the legs. The confidence she rests in all of us is very positive. 

I struggled with bending forward in Upavishtakonasana, really tight runner groins. I guess I can expect some sore muscles. Although I ate early, the lightness of a morning practice was absent. It is also less easier to disconnect from the outside world. Savasana today saw me making a to-do list! 

The institute is quite busy in the evening with a medical class and I spent a little while chatting with some familiar faces. I drove back with music in my heart and a smile on my face.

In gratitude for a lovely evening

रहसि Rahasi 

योगी युञ्जीत सततमात्मानं रहसि स्थितः।

एकाकी यतचित्तात्मा निराशीरपरिग्रहः ।। १०।।

” Let the YOGI try constantly to keep the mind steady, remaining in solitude, alone, with the mind and body controlled, free from hope and greed.”

‘… the word solitude (Rahasi) suggests a meaning of secretiveness, indicating that religion should not be a broadcast of self-advertisement, but must be a set of true values of life, secretly practised within the heart, ordering our way of thinking and encouraging our pursuit of the nobler values in life.’

– Swami Chinmayananda in his commentary on The Holy Gita

Some words jump at me when I read or write. Today’s word for contemplation happens to be Rahasi. In Malayalam, rahasyam means secret too. In my opinion, mystic would probably be a more appropriate translation. The thoughts and insights of the Scriptures and sages are not secret, just protected from sacrilege. They are hidden in the open and make themselves available to those who seek. 

I found this shloka from the Gita (chapter 6) full of positive direction. There is abhyasa and vairagya and it is a very clear instruction on how to practise. At first appearance, it seems ascetic but just below the words is a relevance to an everyday seeking. As always, I am amazed at the brevity and depth of the shlokas, despite a novice’s mind. There is a deep sense of gratitude for the teachers and masters who have made this ancient wisdom relevant and available to these times.

There is change in how I share about my sadhana. I have an inkling now as to why there is so little available in terms of a personal experience. Sometimes I question my continuing desire to blog, but for now, it is a form of expression, a longing to sing my contentment and wonder. Sharing my journey feels like paying a debt of gratitude, of leaving whatever I have been graced with. 

Mornings are the perfect time to spend in reading and contemplating as the body and mind are fresh and alert. Japa sadhana in the early hours followed by reading is very conducive to a clearer mind. It has worked for me to understand a little better, more from the heart and less from the head. As a practice, it establishes a point of reference for the day as I plunge into my tasks. 

Today’s task begins with a new yoga class.

Hari Om

Back to school

I was very happy to go to the Institute today. It was as though the break never happened. 

Today’s class was an afternoon one and a ladies one too. Nearly everyone knew each other and there was an easy intimacy amongst them as well as the teacher. Our teacher is a curly haired, crinkly eyed lady who is a complete livewire. She is quite the old timer there and full of laughter, fire and compassion. Most of the women are older than I am and it was interesting to watch their asanas. I will be their age as well and a different approach to learning would be a useful way to have a relevant sadhana regardless of age or stage of life. 

Today was ‘prop free’ day and mostly movement based. Less about alignment and more about jogging the memory of asana actions. We went through the basics and I learnt a new variation of my favourite tadasana. Although I didn’t do the inversions today, I watched how to do ardha halasana. Something to explore later. 

I like going back to basics again and again because everytime it teaches me something new. Its my one step back for every two forward. Sort of learn, explore, go forward, come back, consolidate and explore again. It is something I do with running as well and while progress is slow, there is little to no injury besides a certain solidity of experience. Finer nuances reveal themselves with repetition. By no means is this new knowledge or unique information, just that it has come through practice and experential enquiry.

Both my class timings are inconvenient on many counts. While I need to change it from a practical point of view, I also want to see the year unfold with this batch. I wonder who will be my teacher for the other class. It is a bit like going to secondary school and leaving the comfort of a single teacher for the experience of many. 

In happiness

It is time

I missed class. Very much. I missed the fire of a teacher’s instructions. If I had to get melodramatic, I’d probably say, I felt motherless. 

Asana practice has been a mixed bag and I feel like I could have done more. Class begins in a couple of days and I am excited and also a little anxious about how I will cope. Hopefully, there should be more time to practise at home with a changed work schedule.

During this break from class, I explored the forward bends and extensions, practised sarvangasana and some seated poses. The more I get in and out of an asana, the more I realise how much I don’t know. While the poses take a better shape on the outside, I see how dull my awareness is. There are more questions on the actions required and I open ‘Light on Yoga’ to look at the pictures. The grainy black and white pictures are a far cry from the HD pictures we see today but despite that, they all convey poise. Sometimes it is good to not focus so much on all the cues and let the eyes work at seeing rather than using the brain. 

A brief exploration of backbends helped discover that my injury is almost gone and that got me thinking about how cure rests in injury. Recently, I was prescribed medication for a fortnight and I gave it up halfway and decided to let nature takes its course. The ‘cure’ gave me more pain in the form of blinding headaches, extreme drowsiness and dizziness. All this to treat a case of reflux! 

Japa practice has been challenging as my thoughts zoom all over the place and I find it difficult to be in the moment. It is a bit of a barren landscape inside and I find myself not wanting to sit down but I do. Dutifully and diligently, even if it is painful to watch the incessant chatter inside. 

The texts have thrown up answers to my questions even before I frame them. It is a slow sweet savouring of their wisdom as I let the words seep into my everyday living. There is a deep gratitude for the teachers who have shared their wisdom in their writings and translations. 

I am excited and nervous about getting back to class from Friday and also wonder how it will be. Who will be my teachers? Will I be able to cope? Starting next week, I will be working far fewer hours which should allow me the time and freedom to plunge into what I really want to do. Will I have the necessary discipline to follow through? I don’t know, it is unknown territory but as Rafiki tells Simba, “it is time.”

Hari Om