Yoga Magic

Something shifted very viscerally last weekend and as the week progressed, it felt like a more solid change. The last couple of months have been mostly about tears and shakiness but this week was of a change in perspective. Almost all the asanas I have been given over the last few weeks have been either sirsasana, backbends on all kinds of props and free standing and some cooling inversions at the end. In all these asanas, the world view is changed, a different outlook when compared to standing on one’s feet.

Last Saturday, I was devastated. My world crumbled so totally that I was an animal in pain. Deep, guttural pain. The preceding week, I took off for a few days, incapable of going to class or even doing anything. I was trapped then in fear and the situation was an almost impossible one. The only recourse seemed a time out. I came back to find my world upended. Even as I felt my being completely ripped, something clicked inside. I decided that I would bleed my heart that day only and no more, except if it came out in class.

Sunday was spent in cleaning the house inside out until it was night and I was exhausted.

Monday was tentative and before my asanas, I spoke with my teacher for a long while. It was good to speak with someone as I was in silence for a few days. It was mostly supported and gentler backbends. As I drove back from class, a thought came to my mind that was a radical change from my usual thought. A different perspective, if you will.

Tuesday was a tottering day in the company of colleagues who chattered no end while I kept to myself. But, the shift in perspective that I experienced after class on Monday got stronger.

Wednesday was supported deep backbends, poses where it felt like I was ironed back into lettting go. The body started to feel different and it felt as though I could stand.

Yesterday I could practise by myself and felt a tiny sense of studentship after so very long.

Today’s backbends made me feel atleast 6 inches longer, so much so my teacher remarked, “who is this person?”

Some of the poses that I went through this week were similar to those I had seen in pictures, like these of Guruji.

Heavily propped and full of lightness, they were longish stays. Sometimes I wish I could see pictures of my body in those shapes, just to understand how it looks on the outside. Most of my asanas now are touch, I only know them through their feel. Often, the set up behind my back is partly constructed after I have bent backwards and I can only exit by removing something. But, the touch of that asana, I remember.

Besides my teachers, there are numerous other hands that have helped me. One of the constants has been a lovely woman, B, who has seen me right from my broken wings days. Another has been P, conscientious and ready to help. J has been a help and apparently I’m the only one who got his name right. And the list goes on. I remain grateful to all who have poured of themselves to help.

It feels as though the heaviest and darkest clouds of sorrow have passed. Maybe this is what acceptance looks like, a washed sky after the rains. Maybe the season of grief is receding, like the monsoons in my part of the world which will soon withdraw and release the most beautiful autumn sunsets. Mostly I think it is magic. Yoga magic that happened while standing on my head or bending so far back that I could see no more. And finally those corners of the eyes opened.

Images: all courtesy the internet.

Biochemistry of asanas

Today was a stark contrast to class the day before. There was lightness and space in the body and breath. None of the cringing into collapse but instead an openness and curiosity to explore the asanas prescribed. Truly, the body is an incredible instrument, it holds memory both short-term and long-term. I had the leeway to play with a few asanas by myself and it felt possible to go back to being a student.

Last class saw me beaten and at an extremely low point. Somehow telling my teacher that it was fear that was surfacing helped me walk through it. I was in a situation where I relived terrors I wouldn’t let myself feel years ago and was feeling trapped yet again. She made me confront that repeatedly, dropping into the unknown with the promise of holding me or else falling with me and laughing about it. It is strenuous work for the teachers, the weight of not just the bodies of the students but also their inner heaviness.

Something shifted inside in that last class, not just in the heart but in the head too, breaking an old pattern. I could find my voice and be vulnerable in the face of that fear. An old response pattern was broken in the world outside the mat. Perhaps the asanas changed the biochemistry of my psyche, rewiring and rewriting old narratives making it possible to change the course of the future.

Between my two teachers, I am pulled and pushed into spaces I can’t reach. I don’t understand any of it but trust blindly. At times, my senses experience the various movements and even rest. Today, a savasana happened spontaneously after a very long while.

Perhaps someday I can spend my days soaked in yoga at the institute. Maybe I can give back in some little way for all that I have been so freely and unconditionally given.

In gratitude

Dissolving in backbends

I sat for a while in my car after class, listening to the loud silence, in itself a sound. The noise of the street was muffled by the car windows and the silence was insistent. It was the kind that asks to be respected and so I just sat in there and watched the rain on my windshield.

There was a spell of classes where the tears were absent and I had more energy and then this spiral into sadness. Abhijata said something beautiful, “the weeds have gone, now the seeds have to go too“. The earlier breaking down was a raw, unidentified sort of pain while the more recent episodes have a clear trigger. Death in the family, seeing a family on the street, actions of a person which brought to surface old terrors. And my response now is what should probably have been the response then. Acknowledgement of the feeling. Back then, I couldn’t let myself feel any of it else I would not have been able to move forward. Compartmentalization can come back to bite you in painful ways as I am beginning to discover. It’s better to deal with feelings as they arise and set them free once and for all. I see the pattern spilling over to my work and personal life in not procrastinating over everyday things.

My teachers want me to open and raise the sternum and my body wants to sink as old feelings resurface. Instead of flight or fight, I want to hide. I think of the space behind the props at many moments in class but don’t do anything. This is not me and it is terrible being this wobbly person who leaks painful tears. Tears that begin in different locations in my body. I don’t recognize this mess I have become and want it to be behind me already but walking through stale fears and sadness has its own trajectory.

Backbending was always about light and exuberance for me but it’s been throwing up so much of buried stuff. My asanas are heavily propped and maybe that’s what is dislodging all the debris. It’s easier to do independently as the edge of the pose stops before it’s fullest expression. The hard wooden surfaces don’t let you hide behind the body’s fear. Yesterday was about acknowledging the terrors I had shut down in the past.

In retrospect, I see that a lot of what the teachers make me do, I never did before like dropping back into an urdhva dhanurasana. In an earlier avatar, I would have been excited but yesterday I didn’t even want to try and only the teacher’s strength and lightness allowed me to go where she sent me. At a different level unencumbered by emotions, I see progress but at an experiential level, I see only struggle.

Out of all the backbends I do, Vipareeta Dandasana on the bench and variations throw up the maximum. It’s also become a pose I can stay in for a while without too much physical discomfort. Most of the mess seems stuck in the space between my abdomen and chest.

Image courtesy:

I came back home after a long drive back and had a difficult time with the child and through our tears, we shared. She climbed into my lap like she used to as a small girl and we sat on the rocking chair, our tears and hearts in one warm embrace. Both of us in our private hells and each trying to protect delicate hearts. By sharing with her, maybe I let her see her mother as a person rather than just her mom. Listening to her, I heard a tiny heart that was struggling with great sorrow too. Maybe we do our children a disservice by not sharing our vulnerabilities and letting them know pain in inevitable but suffering need not be.

I am grateful for this extraordinary blessing of yoga and the strength and compassion of my teachers and all who assist. One of the visiting teachers who was helping me gave me a hug as she was leaving and it only struck me much later how inadequate I feel around any touch that is tender.

Vipareeta Dandasana

In the last few weeks, the sequences I have been given have been different in every class. One constant though has been beginning the session with Vipareeta Dandasana on a bench. Some days, I can stay while on others, my breathing is distressed. Today was somewhere in between and I spent a lot of time looking at Guruji’s Vipareeta Dandasana.

It’s not a Light on Yoga picture but one taken much later and he is in satiny green shorts. In that picture, his back makes a perfect right angle and the curvature of his beautifully filled chest could just as easily fit the arch his back made with his legs. His body could very well be geometry diagrams. Back home, I opened my copy to see his earlier picture and it is not as magnificent as the silver haired version.

As to my Vipareeta Dandasana, it is an unpredictable asana. Somedays I can stay feeling elongated while on others, I want to slide down and fold into my skin. Wanting to hide is still the first instinct when tears threaten but I stay and do what is told. I’m told to breathe and it is hard because I hold it all in. Last class left me shaken with unexpected tears and today was a wary one too. It’s a little tiring to clean all the emotional debris and I find myself wondering how long it will take. The upside is feeling the breath in my body in places I never felt before. Sometimes, it seems like a crash course in pranayama, this filling up of the chest as though it is an empty barrel.

Rain washed lily and a breath washed heart

In between all the heaviness of the body, I guess I’ve also been learning. I feel change in the ardha chandrasana experience and a quietening of the throat in a sarvangasana variation with a prop. Twistings took a whole different meaning of squeeze and left me with sharper and quicker reflexes. So perhaps all is not lost. As I lie on the floor or platform, my eyes stray to the image and it lingers there, amazed at the literal large heartedness of beloved Guruji. And I hunger to understand what lies beyond the benefits to body and mind.

In gratitude