Trying trikonasana

Today’s home practice was trikonasana and ardha chandrasana. Independent, propped and back to independent asana. While ardha chandrasana was the pose I wished to practice, trikonasana posed the primary challenge and so became the focus. Truly, trying trikonasana. 😊 

In all the attempts, I could only see what was not happening until my wandering mind came to rest on the breath in the abdomen after many attempts. And just like that, trying trikonasana became a teacher, pointing to a new location in the pose. 

Iyengar yoga places great emphasis on alignment and may seem rigid from the outside. On the inside, it is a different story. There is a quietness that even someone like me can sense at times. I do believe those moments can be consciously attained as awareness of my body increases. The teaching is sound and like an ever widening base of a pyramid. The same asanas are taught, broken down and taught again and slowly one learns how to learn. Even inexperienced student eyes can see the shift in the skin as the alignment changes. I love to watch people practice in the hall while waiting for class. Some of the old students have very quiet poses even though they practise advanced asanas. Sattva at work. 
While asana practice keeps me healthy and energetic, the greater benefit has been an opening of my mind and intelligence for self-study. One of the very visible shifts has been the kind of intuitive understanding as opposed to an intellectual one in studying the texts. There is an ease in taking them one at a time instead of running through them in a marathon session. What is interesting is that I pick a random shloka which turns out to be exactly what I need to hear. The second interesting observation has been a unifying or recurrent linking with the same thought for  a period of time. This has led to a project on the side of an easily searchable index of the Gita shlokas with my notes. (will share it once it is finished) Lately, the theme has been guru but that is a the subject for a whole different post. 

Trikonasana as an expression of Sutra 2:47

The practice of Yoga induces a primary sense of measure and proportion. Reduced to our own body, our first instrument, we learn to play it, drawing from it maximum resonance and harmony. With unflagging patience we refine and animate every cell as we return daily to the attack, unlocking and liberating capacities otherwise condemned to frustration and death.

– Foreword by Yehudi Menuhin

Image courtesy: Wish I knew who to thank. Found it on the internet on multiple sites.

Stopping by a stop-watch

There is a large glass cupboard in the institute which has a few items that belonged to Guruji. The legendary stop-watch caught my attention today as I stood waiting for a friend. A piece of time ticking away for a man who defined time and space through asana. 

I knew him not but rest in the promise of the Śvetāśvatara Upanishad…

यस्य देवे परा भक्ति: यथा देवे तथा गुरौ । 

तस्यैते कथिता ह्यर्था: प्रकाशन्ते महात्मन: ।।२३।।

प्रकाशन्ते महात्मन इति ।

He who has the same supreme devotion for the Guru as for God, indeed to the great person the spoken meanings of the Upanishads become revealed.

-Translation from the book by Swami Tejomayanand

Book by Swami Tejomayananda

Tasmai Shri Guruve Namaha

Invoke

Beautifully decorated sculpture of Sage Patanjali at RIMYI

Let us bow before the noblest of sages, Patanjali, who gave yoga for serenity and sanctity of mind, grammar for clarity and purity of speech, and medicine for perfection of health.

Let us prostrate before Patanjali, an incarnation of Adisesa, whose upper body has a human form, whose arms hold a conch and a disc, and who is crowned by a thousand-headed cobra.

– Translation from Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by B.KS. Iyengar

Every class begins with the traditional invocation to Sage Patanjali. I find that the cues to adjust the body to prepare for chanting often indicate the locus of the teaching for that day. Sometimes the arms, sometimes the back or the shoulders but always the chest, without fail. The heart and soul of our practice.

There is a transcript of Geetaji’s explanation on the invocation and the reason behind the tradition. She beautifully explains the symbolism behind the individual aspects. Most of the mantras, shlokas, chants etc. are rich in imagery and paint multi sensory forms of the divine. Usually sung as praises, it is bhakti bubbling over in inspired poetry. The form or appearance of the deity becomes a beacon in one’s sadhana. Recitation with shraddha makes the divine form one’s ishta devata.

Adisesa, in his avatar as Sage Patanjali bears the conch and discus. Both these objects are associated with Lord Krishna and commonly used in the texts. The conch as a clarion call to wake up from the delusion of the limited self is nothing but the Lord’s grace. The discus is the sharp edge of sadhana that cuts and refines. It is the instrument used to call his devoted bhaktas who have forgotten their true selves. Perhaps, these powerful symbols gain potency as their syllables roll off one’s tongue. In the translation above, “yoga for serenity and sanctity of mind, grammar for clarity and purity of speech” suggests the universally accepted truth of thoughts becoming words which express themselves in action.

The invocation brings the image of the beautiful sculptures of Sage Patanjali before me as I recite it. It inspires a burning desire to learn and offer everything back to my teachers. It gets me out of my way.  There is much to reflect in the short prayer besides how lovely it sounds. The syllables roll off the tongue with an easy familiarity and yet seem fresh and new each time they are articulated. An offering of all that I am, flawed though it be, in unconditional surrender.

Pranami Patanjalim

Lessons from the little finger

In every class there is something that stays in my head as a signpost, be it an action or a statement. Friday classes are a favourite with our teacher exhorting us to observe the effects of certain actions in one location in the body on other areas, on the breath and the mind.

In my initial days, there was a huge disconnect with my body and I would wonder what in the world did the teacher mean by pressurise the outer foot or push the front thigh back etc. It took time for some semblance of awareness to come to those regions. Added to the mix was stiffness in the body and fear in the mind which had to be addressed. Alignment was the key that unlocked the potential for being present. Our teacher said something vey interesting yesterday, “alignment is an instrument” and it just clicked. 

There is impatience when I sense the mismatch between my left and right sides and I can’t make it equal. It’s the frustration of a child as he/she struggles with learning to write. Then, I have to remind myself that it takes a lot of abhyasa and more than that, vairagyam. It ties in beautifully with what the Gita sings – bring the yajna spirit to our actions. 

Alignment is not just in asana, it begins with the yamas and niyamas. It begins with aligning our conduct with others, aligning self practices to prepare for studentship before moving to asana. And then, it is a continuous process within the shifting paradigms of what they mean at any point in time as one progresses or regresses in practice. In asana also, we do, adjust, observe, redo, understand, experiment, do and stay. Then the pose dissolves and something shifts. Information transforming into knowledge as our teacher says. 

The little finger in Urdhva Hastasana has much to teach. Am I listening?

hasta of a hasta nakshatra…


Tapas

September marks 2 years of my yoga practice. Much has changed within and without during this period. Trikonasana is not a hated pose anymore. However, the thirst to learn remains the same.

As a novice, I took my body to class and slowly my mind also attended. I stumbled through the poses as the rest of the students  would move into the next asana. Class would often leave me sore as the body started to wake up. It never seemed possible that I could ever find any stability or symmetry. Yet, at the end of every class, I felt invigorated and as though I was inhabiting my body. It’s only now that asanas are beginning to be something to stay in. This became possible only because of a home practice. Initially, I had no clue about what to practice, how to practice and no idea of what I was doing. I just started mimicking whatever I remembered from class. Since, there were too many asanas to remember, making notes was the next step. Then came using the books and now my body often expresses what it needs. I still use class sequences sometimes or the ones in the book but there is a little exploration and experimentation that happens as well. The longer I study, the more I realise I have not even begun to study! 

Yesterday, I wound up with a longish Supta Virasana at home and cramped a couple of times while in the pose. I stayed with the discomfort both times and it passed. The staying and passing away was a new experience of passive alertness. Just watching the breath and state of mind, being a witness. A tiny shift from an unthinking response to pain transformed into an opportunity to endure and create a new cell memory. 

Tapas is not about pushing and exerting, sometimes it is about staying too. It requires a different kind of will. Burning zeal, penance, rigorous adherence to one’s discipline etc. are the typical descriptors that arise in context to the word. In the ordering of the niyamas, it is placed after santosha and I like to think that it corresponds to Agni and its location in our field of play. Perhaps, there is significance in that sequence as well, I do not know but intuitively, it feels like there is a connection. If I had to interpret tapas as I understand it today, I’d say

  • Tapas is solitary. 
  • Tapas is burning love.
  • Tapas is the willingness to destroy.
  • Tapas is surrender.
  • Tapas is brilliance.
  • Tapas is humility.
  • Tapas is brutal honesty.
  • Tapas is out of sight.
  • Tapas is for the sake of tapas.

Guruji’s sadhana  was a stellar example of tapas in the bustling world of ordinary people. An inspiration for those of us who often scatter about like a rent cloud…

Hari Om

The body as a Mirror

The soles fascinates me endlessly. I know not its anatomy. I know not the names of its intricate structures. Yet, it speaks to me. It reflects how I feel and think. Some times it is sure and steady while at others there is a flightiness. Some times it is doubt and at others it is shaky. Rarely, if ever, is it evenly balanced. There are times my entire practice revolves around tadasana and I still don’t scratch the surface of this foundational pose.

forever in tadasana

Today’s class had our teacher prodding us to see how different parts of the body could be a mirror for actions in other parts. He articulated it in a beautiful way, “The bottom of your foot is a mirror!”.  Perhaps it is barefoot running that has heightened my sense of the soles. They speak quite loudly. There is a kind of auto-correct that happens when running barefoot, it is difficult to run sloppily without shoes. The entire body is alert and it is a light and compact experience. There is communication that happens between the soles and rest of the body as I move. I never felt like that in shoes. Barefoot, there is a lot of respect for the field of experience, it is the ground beneath the feet that commands. Quite similar to our lives when one thinks about it. 

Our situations and capabilities mark the field where we struggle, explore and transform our life patterns. I can’t fight the field but if I work within its limitations, there is the possibility of freedom. 

Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage

Exploring the theme of mirrors, the body reflects the mind and vice versa. As a student, it is a little easier to work with the body and see the changes reflect in the mind rather than the other way around. Moving the legs are more accessible than shifting my thought patterns defined and coloured by Prakriti.

I’ve been drawn to the Tattvas repeatedly of late and it is interesting to see how this system accounts for the universe at large and the individual embodiment. The sheer scale of subjective understanding of the ancient ones is mind boggling and all this was intuitively experienced! That makes me believe it is possible for us to be what we truly are.

Man awakened to the Self’s Glory is God; God forgetful of His own glory is the deluded man!

-Swami Chinmayananda

Hari Om