Holiday Practice – Twisted

Twists are neutralizing. As a category, I find them easy and they feature in practice as release asanas. So, it is is not often that they get exclusive attention. Somehow, today I felt the need for them and so it was dorsal work in standing and seated twists. Sirsasana and Sarvangasana were lighter as a result.

Parsva to Parivritta or then parsva and parivritta. We progress from a simple twist to a revolved action. And it is interesting at many planes. Often, as part of the learning process, we compromise one part or action to gain access to another and in this manner stack up to strike the pose in its entirety. Parivritta poses are a case in point. They require not just a turn but also a crossing over. There is merit in viewing them as a way to train the mind to ‘cross over’ from a rigid or fixed view. How do you see beyond your own limited understanding? Twists make you inhabit a different place and necessarily the gaze changes. It opens up possibilities, potentialities while showing more than what is visible. The mechanics of the asana are also interesting with its inbuilt brakes and levers giving it a sharpness.

Usually, I’ve found agility of reflexes post twists but today was more of a sense of quiet. I started with lying down on a brick and proceeded with simple seated twists, standing parivritta poses (trikonasana, parsvakonasana, ardha chandrasana) followed by Bharadwajasana 1, 2, Marichyasana 3, Adho Mukha Svanasana, Sirsasana, Sarvangasana Setuband Sarvangasana (nice lifted one from sarvangasana) and Savasana.

The holiday month is almost over and I think I will pause these daily (attempt at daily) posts. They began as a way to anchor myself in a slack period, workwise. It would have been easy to get dejected otherwise and this exercise has been most useful in maintaining a semblance of routine. But, now there are other commitments that need my attention.

The institute is abuzz with admissions and it is nice to meet familiar faces. I’m just happy to be back in a space I love and am looking forward to classes in the big hall. This month has shown me that I’m rusty for not having had the benefit of a teacher’s touch. It has been over 2 years and I do feel there has been a level of holding back compared to when I was attending in person.

Many things have changed in these pandemic months. Bodies have aged, minds are tired and hearts are heavy. There is much angst in the world with anxiety, violence, climate crisis, war and uncertainty. I suppose in a digital world, we are simply more keenly informed but not as connected. Touch. Is there any greater connection than that? Circling back to twistings, they are wonderful connectors as they complete the circuit of touch.

Holiday Practice – Bridge over Trikonasana

Yesterday was mostly Adho Mukha Svanasana and a few standing poses. I wanted to check how the wrist was tolerating stress and it is not yet quite there. Finally, ended up in Setuband Sarvangasana, formation or construction of bridge pose as described in LOY. It is commonly referred to as Bridge pose but there is merit in considering the bandha part of the asana’s name.

While the actions were all in the limbs, the phala, if I may say so, appeared to be in the final pose. It was a shanmukhi mudra sort of experience. And that is where the ‘construction’ part of the name struck a chord. Yoga is union, yuj and we need something to connect until such time where there is no division. And so the need for vehicles/ media for body and breath, breath and mind, body and mind to make acquaintance at least. By the end of practice/ class, there is a certain cohesion of all three which is sometimes keenly experienced in a savasana.

Construction also makes a lot of sense when considering how much precision and alignment is necessary in the building of a bridge. Purpose, structure, safety, durability, load bearing etc. are the same factors in asana or a bridge. And there comes the necessity of precision and alignment, hallmarks of this system of yogasana. Initially, I just saw it as a structural or aesthetic endeavour but as the breath began to be a more active participant in the asana process, I started to experience the energy flow in the pose. There is a certain circuitry in its formation and staying in a pose for a period of time makes it apparent. But, that took me quite a while until I learned to ‘keep the brain quiet’ as my teachers would say.

Precision and alignment in asana inherently have measurement built in, a geometry that is visible. There are many images that show the direction, lines and triangles formed by various asanas. Just for fun, I measured the image of my pose to see how it stacked up. And it is useful to see it externally as the internal measurement is not tuned enough. There is a broad sense of it but the inner access is still not available. As I type, I remember a trikonasana from a class a few years ago. It was the final pose for the day and had the feel of savasana. I felt I could have stayed in it forever.

Trikonasana is a wonderful asana to stay in. As one of the first poses we learn, there is a familiarity and comfort in its shape. At the same time, it is a world in itself. Prashantji’s ‘ Alpha and Omega of Trikonasana’ is a good example of the universe that the asana is. It is a slim volume but packs a powerful punch. It is quite esoteric at first read but over trikonasanas, there is a little more understanding. Still light years off from all that he talks about but that is also the beauty. There is no deadline in the practice of yoga.

Holiday Practice- Hanging out

Late evening on the ropes. Rope Sirsasana and I go back a long way. Many years ago, while pregnant with my second child, I used to attend the classes at Yogashray in Bombay. Back then, I did a lot of rope Sirsasana. All the way till the end. Subsequently, I had an easy pregnancy and childbirth but unfortunately yoga got dropped as I was swept in the chaos of two young children and a full time job. Years later, it was rope Sirsasana again due to cervical spondylosis. Much later it was a swinging sirsasana on ceiling ropes. It is a great alternative to an independent pose but I don’t do enough of it. Today felt like a day to stay in sirsasana without having to put in much effort and so the ropes.

I’ve been interacting with many old students of the institute over the last few days. Many of them have been coming to RIMYI since 30 – 40 years. One gentleman in particular mentioned that his doctor told him that he now had degenerative changes in his spine and that he should avoid sirsasana. But he doesn’t really, thanks to the option of ropes as Uma Tai mentioned. All the benefits and none of the strain. Watching and listening to many students in their 70s and a few in their 80s (who look much younger), I see how yoga has been a mainstay in their lives. I’ve seen some of them in the hall and there is a quietness in their asanas. Very different from the vigour of intermediate or beginner classes.

I feel the fragility of the body when I hold my mother or Amma. It is something like that of an infant, just more delicate. With the very young, there is a future where they will grow into robust youth but the weakening of old age is a decaying one. And I am reminded of Guruji’s words in Light on Life, “By accepting nature’s challenge and joining the game, we find ourselves on a windswept and exciting journey that will pay benefits commensurate to the time and effort we put in—the lowest being our ability to tie our own shoelaces when we are eighty and the highest being the opportunity to taste the essence of life itself.”

Holiday Practice – Urdhva Dhanurasana

Yesterday’s practice fed today’s time on the mat. A large morning since there were chores to do and meals to cook. Began with a supported Vipareeta Dandasana on rolled mattresses. As I stayed in the pose, I thought of the bench in the hall and my days on that backbender.

Worked on the dorsal region and elbows while watching the breath shapes in various asanas. Finally did a few reps of urdhva dhanurasana and vipareeta dandasana. Rusty there too.

Day’s end and I’m done! Evening was admissions duty at the institute and a long drive back home. One thing that stayed with me today was my daughter asking me how would I work on my elbow on my own when she was helping me with one of the early Vipareeta Dandasanas today.

Holiday Practice – Inversions

Everytime I think there will be a routine, things change. The last few days were a whirlwind with travel, some work at the institute and a guest. Evening practice took a backseat and now it is back to morning practice with some institute duty.

A long tiring day but had to make a note here today for a special day. Admissions opened today and it was lovely to be back at RIMYI and meet so many old faces. I met a fellow student today and we reminisced about being in therapy class together. Another yoga friend mentioned that it was nice to see me as an active part of the institute. I hadn’t realized how my involvement with the place has grown, it has been slow and very natural. I am forever grateful to RIMYI and my teachers and Guruji for the gift of yoga.

The ground floor has been redesigned and it looks much brighter and more open now. The halls are the same with a fresh coat of paint. Over 2 years since the place closed down and finally we will be back in the hall. It is all rather exciting.

As for practice, it was completely inversions with variations of Sirsasana and Sarvangasana. It was interesting to note how there is more access with the legs not feeling the effort and the dorsal back yielding better. The neck is still a problem area but it is also a study area. I am reminded of something one of my teachers said, Sirsasana is done by the shoulders and Sarvangasana is done by the back of the head. Niralamba Sarvangasana was better today while Karnapeedasana told me it was missed.


Half a day on the road

A long day cruising highways and chugging in city snarls, miles away from home. But I met loved ones, shared coffee and was full in my heart. As my mothers shrink in old age, I find myself wanting to hold them like they’re my young. As for my young, they’ve taken flight and it is a pleasure to see them fly.

Practice was not possible today. At day’s end, all I wanted was a bath and a bed. And what a pleasure to sink into both.

Many highlights but will share the first one of the day, the grand baobab buzzing with bees as I headed out.

Holiday Practice – Context

Do Supta Padangushtasana as a supine asana.” One of my teachers mentioned it in a class before we broke for the holidays. And so, I did.

Supta Padangushtasana is a go to pose when figuring out an approach. I went a slightly different route today though by beginning with a supported vipareeta dandasana. Later, it was Supta Padangushtasana 2, Ardha Chandrasana and Uthita Hasta Padangushtasana 2. All supported.

Similar shapes, different planes. A study in context.

Holiday Practice – Menstruation

As women, the menstrual cycle provides a pretty reliable reading of the body and mind. To some degree, there is an internal sense of where one is on the cycle simply by virtue of how the body feels. And if one is a practitioner, asanas speak it loudly. Post Covid or mid 40s, I can’t be sure which one or if it is both, my cycles have been mildly irregular and there have been changes. It is a little disconcerting for someone who has been regular as clockwork. Long story short, Day 1 of cycle and it was early but that explained the practice experience yesterday and the day before.

Supine poses, supported forward bends and supported Setuband Sarvangasana was on the menu this evening. Morning saw some supine asanas to relieve discomfort. It also felt appropriate to read through a much-thumbed copy of an essay by Geetaji on the practice of women.

During practice, I also listened to a talk about props by Abhijata from Yoganusasanam 2015. Earlier, I would feel a bit of a missing out when I was menstruating but now it is a welcome relief to stay in supported asanas. I also notice a recalibration of my cycles to the lunar phases every 6 months. I don’t know if there is anything significant about this change but there is a change in creative output every time it is synced to the full moon.

About 7-8 years ago, I got introduced to the idea of practising/ training as per one’s cycle by my then yoga teacher. I used the concept while training for my first half marathon and it became a sort of personal blueprint. I mapped it for a couple of years alongside food intake, sleep and also dominant thought patterns. It was useful to get acquainted with my own being in a methodical way. I no longer maintain the log but the lessons from that endeavour has allowed me to take care of myself as I needed through these years.

I also worked in the space of sustainable menstruation for a few years which opened up a whole universe of challenges. On one hand there was a section of the population that struggled with basic needs of hygiene and sanitation while another grappled with deep rooted gender related anxieties. Across both groups, there were menstrual imbalances. A significant chunk of it could possibly be rectified by simple changes to food and exercise but there was reluctance to change lifestyle habits. While there is a great deal of awareness about the physiological process and the science behind it, we have lost much of traditional sensibility in dealing with a natural phenomenon. There are a few people who ride against the tide but polarization in a digital world is so strong that it is an uphill task to have a reasonable discussion without one side tearing the other down. Like Abhi says, we need to first learn to connect then to communicate, only then can we integrate and there can be union.

Q& A time

Sunday evening listening to Geetaji answering questions in her inimitable style. Settled into seated asanas to watch brilliance at work.

Witnessing. Such an essential process of learning both for student and teacher. There is a lot of resonance with the current reading of the Kathopanishad. The initial sections make me think about the qualities of studentship. While we all want the best teachers, how many of us want to be deserving students?

Holiday Practice – Backbend preps

Somehow through these days, the asanas that have come up have been inspired by fauna. But maybe that could also be because of the sheer number of asanas that take shapes of various animals, birds and insects.

Backbends sort of took a backseat with the heatwave conditions we’ve been having the last few weeks. But, the monsoons will soon be here, there are stirrings of those winds. Most mornings I am woken rather early  by the common hawk cuckoo or koels frantically calling. Almost as though they want to hurry up their summer passions before it is time to withdraw. I digress.

Back to backbends, today was prep work with shoulder and sternum opening followed by Salabhasana, Bhujangasana, Dhanurasana and Ek pada Rajkapotasana prep. It was rusty from the word go but the joints and spine feel good. Perhaps, I’ll continue with some supported backbends tomorrow.