Karma Talk

It’s the season of wet skies and grey thoughts. The sun hides behind pregnant clouds waiting to deliver another downpour. It’s not my favourite season and after the initial showers that spell relief from the hot Indian summers, I long for the sun.

It’s fascinating that above the seemingly never ending grey, there is sunshine and blue. Every once in a while, it lights up and shows a silver lining. Hope. The green that springs alive during this season is testimony to the endless cycle of creation, growth and destruction. Nature provides much thought for the mind and heart, perhaps that’s why the rishis of old sang their wisdom in her language.

The only thing that seems to have slowed time is the 90 minutes of class twice a week. The remaining hours were a blur of cooking, cleaning, work, hospital trips with Amma, some community work and falling to bed exhausted. In all this, home practice took a beating. A bad one. I considered it a win if I could rest in a Supta Swastikasana or Supta Baddakonasana before bed. The odd Adho Mukha Svanasana snatched when near the ropes in my bedroom or a Tadasana with a brick between my knees as I cooked served as some form of asana. I missed the satisfaction of a hearty practice but sometimes you just take whatever you get. Like my teacher last year would say, do just Adho Mukha Svanasana and Uttanasana but practise something. Hopefully, the coming week should bring back the old routine.

Yet, there’s always the proverbial silver lining. Class lessons have been on repeat mode in my head as I visualise asanas and see their actions in my mind’s eye. Last year’s learning makes fresh sense as the asanas reveal a little more. The more I learn, the more I see how much I don’t get. It was amusing when a fellow student asked me why I wasn’t in Inter 2. Her point was you do it so well. But that’s exactly what it isn’t, doing. It is the being that I am working towards and that’s hard. The longer I spend studying, the more I see how much of a disconnect exists between body, mind and heart. Some brief moments, they come together and time seems infinite but that’s a fleeting flash of space.

It’s not all woe as I also see changes in asana presentation. It kind of sneaked up on me while I was busy looking at all the areas that needed work. Life as a householder can be trying but it’s also a great field for the kleshas and vrittis to play out their drama and make change possible. Some day. Till then, I bumble along, human frailties and resilience playing the seesaw. Falling some, picking up a little and so on. Much as I wish otherwise at times, it is a blessing in disguise. Kind of like how difficult training for a marathon can be. Speaking of which, I guess it is time to get back on the road. But, small steps to begin yet again.

It seemed apt that one of my recent readings was 4.17 of the Divine Song, “For verily (the true nature) of ‘right action’ should be known; also (that of) ‘forbidden (or unlawful) action’ and of ‘inaction’; imponderable is the nature (path) of action.” In his commentary, Swami Chinmayananda explores the concept of Karma and classifies it into three types- Nitya (constant duties), Naimittika (special duties on special occasions) and Kamya (purposeful or desire prompted duties). This month has seen different kinds of activities straddling all kinds of duties, some of which were done joyfully, some with a sense of burden and some indifferently. Could I have done it better? Yes. The days I managed even 15-20 minutes of asana practice were the days where I found more time. It reminds me of an analogy I often use about how in aircrafts, one is asked to fix one’s own oxygen supply before helping out even one’s kids and others. Asana practice is like that Oxygen mask.

Even the Blue God concedes that karma is ‘imponderable’ 🙂 He then goes on to describe a YOGI as ‘he who recognises inaction in action and action in inaction‘, echoing what we strive for as practitioners. As the good poet says, I have miles to go before I sleep.

Hari Om

 

 

Food & play

Iyengar yoga is known for its alignment, precision, long holds in asana. The second class was one of play as we moved repeatedly, waking up sleepy muscles of body and mind. It doesn’t happen often in class since the Institute follows a syllabus and it is geared towards systematically developing a practice for oneself. But, as our teacher said, “and sometimes you should play like children also“, as we moved back and forth in pawanmuktasana and did reps of halasana, paschimottanasana. It leaves a different taste after such a practice, lighter.

As my other teacher mentioned during our introduction, class is like a thaali (a multi course Indian meal), where many dishes are served till the point of bursting. There is no time to savour the rasa individually like we do with food prepared at home. It is a home practice which allows us to taste the flavours in each asana.

Back to lessons from the universe, coincidentally one of my readings was

भूरिति वै प्राण:। भुव इत्यपान:।सुवरिति व्यान:।

मह इत्यन्नम्। अन्नेन वाव सर्वे प्राणा महीयन्ते।।५।।

Bhuh is prana. Bhuvah is apana. Suvah is vyana. Mahah is food. Indeed, it is by food that the pranas thrive. (Translation by Swami Chinmayananda)

It is interesting to see and experience the role of food in our lives. The Annamaya kosha is the outermost sheath and nourished by food. What is food, though? There is a lot of ‘information’ available out there but the ‘knowledge’ about is pretty scarce. Much of it has faded from our lives alongwith the older generation. Ayurveda has it’s food rules and at one time, it was common knowledge as people turned to their kitchens for preventive and curative medicine. Food was prepared as an offering before being consumed. The traditional prepping methods released the benefits in a way that was most suitable. There was no complication of a ‘diet’. People ate what was native to their region, in season and prepared in the way of their ancestors. There was an order in which it was consumed for the best absorption and assimilation. Food was meant to nourish and sustain and it was in sync with the prakriti of a person. At the end of the day, it was a subjective exercise, like yoga. 

The general rules provides a framework but the magic is in self exploration. It’s an ongoing experience as I discover much about my misconceptions with food and begin to see my place in the circle of life, like in the movie, The Lion King.

It never fails to amaze me how astute the sages were. They codified everything as it is while we complicate matters with analysis and research. As Paul Coelho says in The Alchemist, it is the Language of the World. Or as Patanjali states, ‘Words, objects and ideas are superimposed, creating confusion; by samyama, one gains knowledge of the language of all beings.’ (Translation by BKS Iyengar)

In gratitude 

Language of the Eyes

I’m waiting at the Eye Clinic as Amma undergoes cataract surgery. The place is quite spartan, done entirely in white with green highlights in the form of plants. Some indoor and a little balcony which was more lush. The doctor’s cabin overlooks part of the lawn and has a stone Buddha sitting in padmasana. There is a standee in the waiting lounge that promises many benefits of the surgery, like being able to read the newspaper, watching television etc. Everyday activities for many people. Incidentally, I don’t read the newspaper nor do I watch television. I read a considerable bit on the screen and in a physical form as well besides typing on my screens. It got me wondering about what would I do/ feel if my vision failed me and I couldn’t indulge in reading or writing. Milton came to mind almost immediately. His magnum opus was composed as a blind man. So, what do we really use to see and what is it that we see?

Recently, my younger daughter and I were at a park for an art workshop and the participants were encouraged to draw on the theme of nature. The first exercise was to sketch and colour the leaves of the plants that appealed to them. This second one was their own interpretation. Little K chose an eye and it was interesting for me. Her reasoning was simple, without eyes how can I appreciate nature.

As an organ of perception, it is associated with the fire element. Form without substance. When we die, the light is extinguished. The phrase is very expressive and points to an early understanding of who and what we really are. I find it fascinating how the elements exit the body on death. The last breath signifies the completion of it’s departure. Where does the last exhalation take place? As long as there is life, the panchabhutas are present in the workings of the body and mind. The last breath, the last sight, the last swallow – where does it all dissolve? Perhaps, the secrets lie in savasana…
Most people find thinking or speaking about death, morbid. I find contemplating it makes me more alive, present to the marvel that life is. How can one not appreciate the brilliance in design of the human body and mind? 

Hari Om

Jodaakshar

The fruits of sadhana are always available. The irony is that it cannot be sought out as a goal, it’s a gift of grace. Abhyasa-Vairagyam at play.

The first class of this year was a good reminder of my responsibilities as a student. Homework. Our teacher began with a little introduction to the difference between a beginner class and an intermediate one. He used a beautiful analogy of jodaakshar. There is no English equivalent for the term. The closest would be conjunct consonants. Those familiar with Sanskrit will know how two or three letters can be combined to produce a single syllable. For example, the ‘sya‘ bit in tasya. It is represented as one unit unlike in English. Two letters combined in a certain order. He likened the beginner practice to working on the gross actions and the intermediate one to that of using these jodaakshar. Combining multiple actions and using our consciousness.

It got me thinking about language and it’s ability in conveying what is not explicitly articulated. Oftentimes, the nuances implicit in the teachings are the hidden gems in a class. The symbolism, the underlying basic building blocks couched in alignment instructions. As students beginning to learn how to use these conjunct consonants of asana, the possibilities are endless. In school, we would be required to write the conjuncts down repeatedly until it became an unconscious habit. Repetition and memorisation has always been a key part of the Indian way of learning. I can see the benefit of that practice more clearly now. Just like in asana. The internal checkpoints as I get into an asana and adjust, readjust and examine can be possible only with repetition. Over many instances, sometimes there is a glimpse of more than the physicality. That usually marks a shift in internalising the pose followed by long periods of practising the new normal until there is another breakthrough. 

I don’t feel that it is about the final classic expression of the asana but more of the internal landscape. That’s why sometimes a pose feels like I can hold it forever and there is no sense of time. Akin to what my friend, Michael wrote about in a recent post, the bhava. It’s an internal posturing.

Post class, I was running some errands and had to walk a bit in an older part of the city. I came across a house named Purshottam House. It set of a chain of thoughts about the name Purshottam. That’s an address Arjuna gives Krishna in the Geeta. It is also an Indian name. How far back did we start giving ourselves names and family names? A child is named with lot of love by his/her parents and there is some symbolism connected with it. But, over the years and generations, it loses its reference and becomes just a name. In our puranas and ithihas, names of the characters are rich in their symbolism. The name was bestowed or earned through tapas/ benediction. Although still practised, the tradition of finding suitable syllables for a name is a dwindling one. Most babies are now named for how unique the names sound etc. The astrological context is removed. It is hard to sift through all the repackaged traditions to find authentic ones. They are usually the ones without any media chatter and need for validation. 

Maybe sounds and language are my tools to learn. It feels good to find them back in my life, I was lost without their guidance. The texts speak to me once again and my heart is filled. In gratitude.

Hari Om

 

Back to school

Last night, I sat entering the errant notes from last year into my notebook. I had them on my phone but had not completed the transfer into my book.  I would quickly type down sequences or certain phrases that the teachers would have mentioned on my screen so that I wouldn’t forget but it kind of piled up. There was a period where I deliberately stopped the practice to let my body remember. I found that asana actions were better learned that way while the nuggets of philosophy were lost with the passing of time. So, I shall continue to make notes this year.

It was nice to read pithy instructions and pointers like “open the carpet of your palms”, “a lamp on the threshold lights up both sides” etc. They seem disjointed but are perfect to jog my memory. I remember the classes and how I felt then. I remember the link of ideas that connected to those words. 

I have half the book left so I’ll just continue writing in the same one. I’m eager to start class tomorrow, just like how I would feel before school reopened after summer holidays. My book is covered and I’ve got a date index ready too! Geeky but then I suppose most Iyengar yoga students are that way. 🤓

In gratitude for fresh beginnings

Hari Om