Back to school

It has been a month since we started teaching at a wellness centre for the armed forces and their families but the change in the people who attend is perceptible. Many of them come with some conditions or ailments but in a matter of a few classes, there is a bounce in their step, more confidence in their presence. As my teacher says, it is asana technology. Truly how little we know about the magnificence that is this embodiment.

I was a little apprehensive about the assignment when my teacher told me about it but I had kept my reservations to myself as questioning would have been questioning her judgement. She wouldn’t have entrusted a task if she didn’t think we were up to it. Of all the concerns, the biggest one for me was that I might falter during the invocation. It seems silly but that was the most challenging part of the class. The call and response. I’m so used to either saying it by myself or then following the teacher that switching roles was a challenge. But, it is better now. My friend and colleague also experienced the same.

Stopped beneath this gulmohur to pick some fresh pineapple after class.

Now that June is just a day away, I’m looking forward to another year of learning and exploring, getting along with the archival work etc. A quick message to the volunteers who helped with the library work found that same enthusiasm in them too so it is exciting to have more hands on deck. For someone who is a lone ranger, it is a change coordinating with so many but it is really the greater purpose that makes it easy. June is typically the beginning of the academic year across schools in the country and it feels apt to get ready to go back after the summer holidays, meet old friends, exchange notes and generally settle into the swing of a routine. I’m eager to get started with one myself after a roller coaster May.

Last month showed me a whole new me. I managed a whole bunch of things that seemed insurmountable to accomplish on my own when I started. But, I finished all the tasks well in time and without losing any sleep over it. Truly, it all just happened but I needed to show up and stay. Dhridhatha. It is a gift of yoga. It seems simplistic to attribute mental resilience to asana but that is the playground where one learns to stand tall with a lifted and wide chest quite like the mountain after which tadasana is named. It is the same asana which brings the cheer and courage in all the faces I see at the centre. Sometimes I wish I could see the after effect in myself. I feel it but the stark difference that is visible outwardly is more evident to an outside eye.
The holiday practice took a very different shape this year, more mental and emotional rather than asana. It showed me parts of myself I hadn’t been acquainted with. Maybe someday I’ll get around to telling the story around it but for now, it is gratitude for a way of life.


For the longest time, yoga was a solitary pursuit. It still is but over the last year or so, there has been a steady sense of community, fellowship or sangha. It has different shapes whether in joint learning with our teachers, reading or practising together, exchanging life experiences, yoganusasanam and so on. My first taste of that sense of a common thread of connection was via this blog where I made the acquaintance of some wonderful people I think of as a virtual sangha. Some of them don’t write anymore, others not as often. I’m guilty of the same. Life can get busy but when I start to think that I remember Suzy who diligently posts everyday!. Yet another face of that connection has been through WhatsApp messages and calls with fellow practitioners across the world. If it were not for a wired world, I wouldn’t have been introduced to these lovely people. Occasionally, such connections spill into the real world and they are just as warm. Yoga unites. Maitri is both a practice and its fruit.

This morning, I had the pleasure of spending some time with one such friend. We walked around in the botanical gardens, saw an old temple, had some street food and chai, all simple delights. Another one of yoga’s gifts. It was also a very welcome break in a hectic month. I wasn’t able to go on my walks and getting a pocket of leisure was much needed. Sharing a few pictures from this morning. Now, it’s back to the grind for another few days before the routine of the academic year sets in.

Kanchan vel at the botanical garden. It’s a gorgeous Liana that is in bloom this time of the year.
Gulmohur in bloom in the Pataleshwar compound
This bell was a pretty gift and fit perfectly with a yoga wall.


As we were winding down for the academic year in April, I was looking forward to leisurely practice and perhaps even blogging about it like I did last year but life had some very different plans. I ended up teaching a few classes, practising with a couple of others a few times but the bigger chunk of my time was spent on home and hearth in unexpected ways. The highlight has been a separate pranayama practice. Fledgling. But quite fascinating. Always something different. 

May has been interesting to observe from an off the mat perspective. There have been layers and nuances of heaviness but the steadfastness of yoga kept things on an even keel. I’ve accomplished more… it seems odd to say I’ve accomplished when it has really been more of a coming together of things in the mysterious and effortless ways of the universe. My work was simply showing up which I did but all the rest just happened. 

I missed the break of a holiday month but also can’t wait for June and another academic year. The schedule will get a bit more packed but it is a gift to be able to spend so much time steeped in study and service. 

Reading has been mostly single chapters that are complete in themselves from Astadala Yogamala or then Yog Sarvansathi. My Marathi is getting better as I attempt some translation as well to make sense of the chapters. The class I teach needs me to instruct in Hindi as well as English and it makes for a lot of smiles at my funny sounding Hindi. The folks there are happy to provide translation for words I may not know. I remember Guruji had written or mentioned somewhere how difficult it was to find the right words in a language alien to him. It gave me pause at that time. Here was a young boy who spoke Kannada and Tamil and had to quickly get proficient in Marathi, English and Hindi. He went on to write so many books in an acquired language. It would be interesting to hear him speak in Kannada, teach in Kannada. The vernacular in India is rich and makes the rendering of so many things multihued. 

The language of one’s living changes the longer one spends in yoga and I don’t mean simply an asana practice. The shift is so gradual that one doesn’t realize when things are no longer the same. Daily living changes, fellowship happens, study takes on deeper involvement. I can now appreciate better the karma, jnana, bhakti progression that is a direct result of abhyasa. In some respects, it is strange, this sense of devotion I feel while not being religious. It is piggybacking on one man’s sadhana and that has been more than sufficient to keep this sadhaka going.


Haste Khelte

Often, in conversation, I am asked about the things I do. It seems like a fair bit to many people and looks like a load of work. My usual reply is ‘हँसते खेलते’ (haste, khelte). Loosely translated it means with a smile and in a spirit of play. What I mean is that I don’t really see things as work but something that is enjoyable, something fun. Underlying all the activities is a spirit of curiosity and exploration. A tinkering. Whether in asana or day to day work.

In a sense, it is a distilling of my favourite sutra. A lightness of being that is open and free. Another thing that comes to mind is a statement by Guruji, ‘Live happily, Die majestically‘. When I remember him, I remember his laughter and good humour more than his asanas. I listen to stories and recountings by older students and time and again, his incredible joie de vivre shines through. It is an attitude that allows one to be a river, ever flowing, ever fresh in the face of optimal conditions or obstacles. Like the gurgling of a nimble stream as it finds its way over rocks and stones. In outcome terms, one is simply on one’s own journey without any need to compare or compete, no sense of owning or being owned, just freedom in which things happen. As much a readiness to accept a dam as there is to flowing. Nothing to pull one down as one simply follows the current to meet the sea.

This year was a different one in many ways. An additional role, a changed practice, more study but the biggest gain has been in learning to see better, pause and respond better. The readings now have a richer quality as the layer just below the apparent starts to reveal itself. Thanks to my teachers, I am learning how to see with more sharpness and clarity.

The year also saw a good rhythm to the library and archival work. There are more volunteers now so there is a steady hum of activity and it feels good. Being of use, being of service is extremely fulfilling. It has also meant getting out of my cocoon of being a solo worker and engaging with more people. Not necessarily a natural inclination but I find that purpose requires it so again there is new learning, some unlearning and relearning there too. Recently, I spoke about the library at a function at the institute and it was very heartening to see the response of students, old and new. There is new life in that old library where much happened. I’m sure Guruji and Geetaji would be happy to see a new generation of students actively participating.

My heart is content, it is full with the shape of my life. Class, study and service. It is more than enough.

1.1 Atha Yoganusasanam

One of my earliest memories of the Yoga Sutras is of reading it in a bus full of people I didn’t know well. It was in 2005, I think and the book I was reading was my first copy of Light on the Yoga Sutras. Prior to that, I had read a very esoteric book which had rearranged the sutras. As I type, I think I should check that book once again.

About 20 years since being exposed to the Yoga Sutras but it is only now that I feel a readiness, an eligibility perhaps to really study it. It took me a long while to get prepared and the journey to the ‘atha‘ has been a meandering one. As I sit with the sutras, the deeper concepts within each as opened by commentators of yore begin to find a semblance of a seat, an asana if you please. And access to a brilliant library means that I get to play with exploring even more. Sometimes I wonder why the thirst to know? I suppose the clue to that answer lies in savasana as of now. It lies in the prelude to entering the doorway of prana.

The slow route to this point had many stages, phases right from the vague attempt to memorise the sutras to reading multiple commentaries to listening to talks and thinking about what I understood at various points in time. As I’ve often mentioned on this blog and elsewhere, my favourite Sutra is 1.33 but like a draw towards the first chapter in the Bhagavad Gita, the very first sutra is also one I find myself circling very often.

‘Atha yoganusasanam
Pithy, direct with an enormous context and yet it is accessible to every kind of practitioner. Besides the Vyasa Bhashya point of view which colours a lot of the commentaries, there is a more immediate entry into the world of the sutras. Something one of the teachers had mentioned in one of the classes stayed with me. She’d mentioned that Guruji had said that there could be no discipline without freedom. And that stayed.
Freedom is both the necessary prerequisite as well as the ultimate goal. So, in a sense it mimics the whole gamut of human seeking. How can one embark upon a journey of the self without discipline and how can that inner drive come without freedom to choose a path? No amount of force or compulsion can maintain such an endeavour although it may be used to commence. Anusasanam is an exercise of free will because it is now, the only point in space and time where we have true agency. What is past is gone, what is yet to come is not quite in our control but the present is ever present. And all that one needs in the now is bringing all of our being to being.

How elegant! How relevant to every era, every individual!

March already.

In a matter of a few weeks, the institute will close for its annual summer break. This academic year has been a coming together of practices that have been a constant over the years. I think of making an entry here just in the interest of documenting a moment in time but when I consider what to note, I am at a loss. There is simply so much! 

The learning at RIMYI is a living, pulsating and organic process here. Not so much a structured textbook approach but one that is very subjective and steeped in practice and exploration. It is a good place to be, sort of like having a vast open playground and all the time in the world to play.

One of the aspects of being an apprentice is the absorption by observing, listening and actual adjustment. Another facet is the different approach to study of the asana itself in its classical form and structure. There is much which is expected to be caught rather than taught. Now that it has been a few months, the early gaucheness is no longer there. The process is one of enquiry into the principles rather than looking at everything in a prescriptive fashion and I find myself soaking in the richness of this way of seeing.

My own practice has been greatly changed to accommodate the vagaries of a changing body. Unlike earlier, when I would push through, these days it is more of a surrender and an occupying of the asana to explore within the long and supported poses. It is a gift, this phenomenon of the transition of a woman’s body in the late 40s and early 50s. I find myself curious and also more sensitive to what works and doesn’t. I suppose it is a way to learn how to slow down and savour life rather than skid through on roller skates.

In terms of textual study, I find myself in a situation quite like the one I was in when I first started exploring the texts but the difference is there is a little more familiarity with the them now. While chatting with M the other day, she pointed out that there was structure in how I explained stuff although I never saw it that way. My approach has been more of a soaking in and staying with not knowing. Without realizing it, I was getting ready to really read them. Now things strike better. And I suppose that has allowed the structure to emerge. Between 3 sets of people, I am exploring the yoga sutras, asanas, and philosophy while my independent study has the benefit of all three. At day’s end, I am glad. Many things that are not essential have automatically been crowded out by the good stuff that has taken its place, very seamlessly.

“Learning is as much an art as teaching”

In the course of classes, assisting, library work etc. there is much teaching available. Senior teachers guide, books and videos educate and so on. Often in the classes for the advanced students, there is an exhortation to learn, to catch what is unsaid but available as experience. That is the heuristic process the teachers would like us to embark upon.

In the process of learning, the architect is really the student. The teacher, teachings rain their bounty but it could either soak and seep into one’s being or then run off. There needs to be preparation, there needs to be a strong why behind the desire to learn. Sometimes it is easy to slip into the metric of years of experience to determine readiness, but it is not a hard and fast criterion. The preparation is more a cultivation of the heart and is available to all.

It has been interesting to see how all that I dabbled in over the last few years has now begun to start coming together. Whether memorising, rereading, writing or blogging, they all have served richly. As M and I continue to read, I see that connections to texts I’ve read earlier arise spontaneously. And that in turn makes me look at related sutras. At the heart of yoga is the Yoga sutras of Patanjali. It circles back to the aphorisms every time. As a text, it is ever fresh.

The invocation to Sage Patanjali at the start of every single session is a powerful reminder of everything we need to remember as yoga practitioners. What is expected as preparation, what is to be explored, the pitfalls and the promise. The invocation we chant at the beginning is an act of devotion, a reminder to ourselves about the twin practices of abhyasa and vairagyam. It is a remembering of our teachers, Gurus and their Gurus all the way until the principle of Patanjali. There can be no true grace in learning without surrender.

Secular studies don’t ask this of its students. But, journeys of the spirit call for the courage to surrender to the unknown. Shraddha, Virya, Smriti and Samadhi Prajna form the base of one’s studentship. The second pada begins with the kriya of sadhana. Core of the yoga sutras has an entire chapter devoted to Sadhana Krama which opens the four aspects of this krama- sodhana, sosana, sobhana and samana. The journey of one’s sadhana is from the body to the Self even if it may not culminate there for most of us. It is the direction in which we proceed.

Abhyasa is primarily to remove the antarayas that afflict us. That requires the laser focus of practice devoted to a single principle. At the crux of it, abhyasa is a practice of purification. From sattva shuddhi comes the yogyata or eligibility. It is brilliant, the beautiful way in which the sutras factor in all aspects of human psychology while laying out a system for self realizatiion.

Sometimes I wonder if the initial purpose of this blog is served anymore. It started because I couldn’t find anything that I could relate to as a raw beginner. Asanas, yes but more than that, I sought to understand what I might expect along the way. I’m still a beginner but there has been a shift from that arambhavastha and the reflections here have mirrored that. But, this has also been a space to document my meander. I’ve decided to do something I did a couple of years back, stay with one thought from an old calendar. This month’s thought is, ‘Yoga is awareness’. Hopefully, I may wrap up the contemplation with a post.

Month’s end and year’s close

December was intense, packed to capacity. Yet it didn’t feel like a blur but just a full measure of itself. It was a month of a 2 week intensive over and above regular classes, volunteer work, a couple of out of town trips, some personal upheaval and a new experience of reading with someone. M and I have been reading Light on Life. Aloud. The last time something like this happened was in school when the teachers would make us read in turns. This has been a great exercise in more ways than one. The nature of these readings is different, slower, in smaller portions and in the light of lived experience, more nuanced. It is much richer for the exchange of experience, interpretation and questions that arise. Consequently, much of my earlier readings have surfaced in context to the experience of yoga today and I have been re-reading them. We read in person or online everyday and it is something I look forward to. The book is an all-time favourite and I am delighted when she finds joy in its words.

While it seems like all the work we do as yoga practitioners is physical, the bulk of yoga really is in the mess and muddle of living our day to day lives. This book is a beautiful exploration of yoga beyond the mat and I read it cover to cover at least once a year. It is also one which sees a generous dipping into whenever I need a shot in the arm. Open up any page and there is something that speaks to you.

As I assist in classes and therapy sessions or then sub for a teacher, I see myself in the struggles of other bodies. Outwardly, I seem all put together but on the mat, there is a dance of making space and pushing boundaries. The changing vagaries of a woman’s physiology make time on the mat a practice of surrender. I don’t know what the day will bring and have to listen to the body’s needs. That is a separate post in itself. It is good abhyasa to prepare for life as someone growing older and heading towards the next phase. Considering the intensive, practice was not possible with the classes we were doing but now there is a routine back in place. Practice in the hall has been good as there is so much to learn, from the teachers of course but also in being helped by and helping one’s peers.

Since it is the turn of the year, it is also habitual to reflect on the year that has passed and think about the one that is an yet to be born. Right at the start, Covid and unemployment hit. Workwise, it has been a lacklustre year although I managed to keep afloat. But, somewhere there was a firm faith that I would receive what I needed and that is exactly what happened. Asana practice was a mix of progress, slowing down, changing track. As someone with many problem areas, it is both a blessing and sometimes a mild frustration. Blessing because there is time spent in basic actions, working slowly and gaining a sensitivity that might not have been there otherwise. It also helps me when I have to help someone else. Mid year saw the reopening of RIMYI, offline classes and a gradual change of my role there. It took me time to inhabit this role. At year’s end, I belong. And I remain fascinated by how one man created such a tremendous wealth of wisdom in his lifetime. His children, grand children, teachers and students carry on the legacy and listening to them, learning from them is precious.

Yoga has always been there as the path to walk on but I didn’t think it would choose me. I kept looking over my shoulder thinking that it could not possibly be calling me. But, as everything else fell off by the way side and I stood alone, it was impossible to not see that it was really harking to me. I’m content and my heart feels filled to the brim with the shape of my life. Studentship and service is a good place to be. I would like to add another day of practice in the hall in the coming year and work with renewed vigour on the texts. Signing off with one of the aha moments from a recent pranayama class which really stayed with me, “Penetration happens from the back body”.


Subbed a class yesterday. While I was nervous to begin with, once I saw the little boxes with bent elbows and knees, my mind forgot to be nervous and it was simply a matter of transmitting the message of straightness that was required in the limbs during the asanas. The more time I spend in classes, whether as a participant or observer, I am mesmerized by how extensive and intensive the entire system is. What appears simple on the surface is actually fathoms deep. All we see are waves and like children, splash happily on the shore but the giants of the oceans live in its depths.

It is when one looks at asanas with alignment and those without the symmetry and elegance that one begins to see discipline in its external form. Internally, there is more cohesiveness in the entire embodiment. The body, breath and mind lose its scatteredness and come together. But it takes time and a lot of frustration in the early days. And there is really no alternative but to do. Repeatedly until the rigidity is transformed into something malleable through which energy can flow naturally. These were concepts that I comprehended cerebrally but experiencing them happened in its own time.

Over the years, this blog has traced a squiggly path that I’ve found myself on. It has been a witness to progress and setbacks, life altering changes and study. Most of the time, I’ve stopped and marked the passage in some fashion. There were phases when I withdrew and periods of prolificacy, also markers in themselves of the changes along the way. Last night, I was thinking about how my journey in yoga actually began much before I stepped into the class. About 12-13 years ago, there was a period of searching. I found myself reading the epics of this land which provided the stepping stone to picking up the Gita and later the Upanishads. I read and was mesmerized by their sheer poetry. I think my fascination was really the language and its power as the concepts they spoke about were complex even though the words were simple.

All I wished then was to have a Guru, a real one. I was told that I would find one in my late 30s. I did but it was not quite how I imagined. I found my Guru, the year he left his embodiment. His words reached me through his students and disciples, his books and most of all the subjective experience of his teachings. If I had to look at my studentship, it needs more but I’ve made my peace with my pace. There is no goal as such, simply the chipping away. Changes happen over time but what we all have is just what is right in front of us at any moment. It is only when I look back that I see what a wonderful gift it is. I suppose the first word of the first sutra says it best. Atha. No past, no future. Just the infinity of now. Asanas are a way to experience that.

On the shoulders of giants

Guruji was a force, whose presence breathed energy into those he came in contact with. He lived and taught in a time when yoga was not a multi billion dollar industry. Almost a century after his life, yoga is ubiquitous and there is more than enough information about asanas, anatomy and physiology, pranayama, philosophy etc. that is widely available. It is a mass product and packaged as such. In the context of these times, his teachings blaze even brighter through the legacy of those who lived and learned directly from him. Yoga beyond asana and pranayama, what Prashantji speaks of as essential yog or classical yog.

We are lucky to live in this millennium when such wisdom is also available for those who may be so inclined. I remember an event at the institute when he shared an incident from his life. As students of teachers who have been with Guruji over decades and especially in his last years, there is a rich, distilled ocean of wisdom and we benefit from that generosity. His sadhana was one of such rigour and tenacity that it paved an easier way for us. In the course of sifting through material, I look at pictures of Guruji in various moments of his life and am struck by his incredible joy, sheer elegance and artistry, softness and vitality. Truly a giant.