Master class with Geetaji

In this new world order of physical distancing, a home practice brings more than just a sense of physical well being, it gifts the philosophy of yog as a guide to navigate a new normal. At the moment, the world is practicing social distancing, a self-imposed isolation to check and slow the spread of a pandemic. Time on the mat is also like that, a retreat into the body and mind to check and slow the fluctuations of the vrittis.

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Just my trusty old mat and me

Practice at home has mostly been the usual set of asanas with plenty of propping but today was a master class with Geetaji that did not use any props. Seated asanas, seated twists, standing poses and standing twists wrapped up with a Setuband Sarvangasana (this one was propped, 2 bricks for me). It was working with just the foundational Dandasana, Tadasana and Uthita Hasta Padasana but with detailed actions across the entire body. I haven’t used this video in at least a couple of years or more since the knee injury.

The tasting of this lesson was different at many levels. On one hand, there was better understanding of how to interpret and adjust instructions to safeguard my knee and work with my alignment issues. On the other, there was greater access to hitherto inaccessible areas. Perhaps it is greater mobility and strength in the spine thanks to deep backbends that conditioned it. It was also interesting to see how she taught, both in an instructional manner as well as in the form of an invitation to learn independently. Often, one gets instructions not teaching.

As a novice student, I struggled when a neighbourhood teacher would say, bring your front thighs back. Fast forward a few years and one finds that there is a natural progression to working less aggressively and with more compassion. Actions are subtler and have a quality of integration across the planes of the body. Asanas that seemed wildly impossible have effortlessly made their way into a regular practice. Of course, it still is a struggle with Trikonasana but the nature of the struggle has changed. The me from 5 years ago would have imagined today’s Trikonasana to be impossible while today’s me can see how much is still thick and dull. Always a work in progress. If you’re struggling as a new practitioner, I’d only say, show up and do whatever you can, eventually the tree takes root. Like one of my teachers would say, if you can’t do a full practice, just do one Adho Mukha Svanasana for 1 minute everyday.

The highlight today was beloved Tadasana and the incredible lift of the arches and that imprint stayed long after I got off the mat. Some gems that exploded into awareness today were the experience of standing on the metatarsals, the crown of the big toes and the power of the hips to bring steady balance in the Parivritta movements. The nemesis pose was Supta Tadasana, the floor does not lie about unevenness. 🙂

Thanks to technology, Geetaji’s keen knowledge and experience resound much beyond her life and allow us to have a glimpse of the ocean that is yog.

Yoga in times of Corona

It’s been a while since I posted here and much has changed in the world. In the little corner of the world I call home, school children remain out of school, streets are deserted and life is at a standstill. Yesterday was a day-long curfew and all we heard was birdsong. It might seem like an idyllic summer holiday but times are scary. While the official numbers seem tiny, reality is that we are a country of over a billion people and there is nothing to do but brace for impact. The aftermath is something one doesn’t even want to consider.

Classes came to a halt, work too and even the solitary volunteer work in an empty building had to be abandoned. Through all this, there has been an increased sense of urgency to find my practice. The silver lining in all the uncertainty has been leisurely hours on the mat, sometimes twice a day to play, study, work and watch. It’s still very much grunt work considering that it’s only been a few months since a regular class. And the quirks of a not so young body mean listening to it and modifying as one goes. Do I miss class? Yes. But there’s a difference now, the dependence on the place is not there.

Yoga has given me the confidence and wings to be able to continue learning even in the absence of the beloved institute and teachers. I feel like a bird that has been pushed out of the nest and discovered that it knows to fly. And that is a freedom. I’ll always be a student but now I also feel like I’ve moved grades. Today, my teacher texted me something about myself and the reply I got was, “glad with your response”. In the reticent world of Iyengar yoga especially at the institute, it is unusual to receive such. While it feels good, I also accept it without having to give it the place of validation. I’m glad for the detachment of the teachers that keeps one striving.

In textual study, I’ve been on Chapter 15 of the Gita and I’m still circling the first 4 verses with its imagery of the ASHWATTHA tree, reminiscent of the Kathopanishad mantra (Section 6, Mantra 1). Somehow, as always, whenever attention has been drawn to a shloka, relevant pieces appear along the way. In this case, a recent read by an environmentalist (Hinduism and Nature by Nanditha Krishna) who has provided some references to the same tree. I also encountered a sapling planted on the trails I would frequent. An old couple that walks their gorgeous dogs nurture that young plant.

Part of the commentary by Swami Chinmayananda brings alive the imagery beautifully.

The subtle Principle of Life manifests through us, in different planes and in a variety of forms – as perceptions of the body; as emotions and feelings of the mind, as ideals and thoughts of the intellect; and as mere non-apprehension of the causal-body All these vehicles and their experiences, manifesting in the Infinite Life, in their totality, constitute the Ashwattha tree spreading out into all quarters.

In the context of our times, our entire planet is like one giant Ashwattha tree and the detachment the Blue God calls for may only be the way through.