Destruction

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you would’ve been privy to the months of a dark night of the soul. I was incapable of maintaining any but the bare minimum to get through my days. While I anticipated a rough ride, nothing could have prepared me for the enormity of grief. Mostly, it sprung from a deep sense of loss. Over time, we become attached to our habits, people, places until they become dead weight. But by then, we’ve invested too much time, effort and ourselves to be able to hit the reset button. So, we carry on, accumulating diseases of the body, mind and heart until it chokes us.

We are taught to create, grow, sustain but never how to destroy. And that too is an essential part of the cycle of life. Birth, growth, decay, death and rebirth. We see it in nature, in the way seasons die out to receive the next one, in the way day ends in night, in the way the hunted becomes food for the predator and so on. But we live our human lives averse to the creative potential of destruction. We embrace the joyful and exciting but not the pain and despair but that too is such an essential part of being human, the capacity to embrace pain as we do pleasure.

I see a mirror in the current pandemic, the laying waste of a way of life, flawed though it be. Much pain, horror, hardship, death and desolation cutting across geographies and people. These are difficult times, no doubt, but I also believe in the resilience of our species which will pick up the pieces and rebuild. In the course of volunteering as well as in my work, I hear experts talk about various future scenarios, usually through the lens of their specific domains. While there’s a great deal of information available and conversation that happens on current issues, truth is no one really knows and we have an inbuilt fear of uncertainty. In Light on Life, Guruji mentions, “learning to live with uncertainty is the great art of living” and that couldn’t be more apt in these times of anxiety and fear.

In such a world, how does yoga help? I can only speak for myself when I say it keeps my life in the right proportion. Yoga practice becomes the Serenity Prayer in action. On the mat, my presence remains confined to the time spent on it, working with acceptance, change and discrimination. As my body takes the forms of poses, I find a suspension of my roles and concerns of the world at large and the attempt to find integration of mind, body and breath.  Later, I think about how can one bring that same cohesion to our individual problems and collective ones? And I find myself drifting back to my favourite sutra, 1.33, as the healing a wounded species so desperately needs.

Yog Sutra 1.33 – “Through cultivation of friendliness, compassion, joy, and indifference to pleasure and pain, virtue and vice respectively, the consciousness becomes favourably disposed, serene and benevolent.” – Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by B K S Iyengar

 

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and in the midst of all else in the world, there is a riot of summer flowers…

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.

After the showers

I felt lightness after class last evening. It’s been a long time since that kind of a sensation. As I walked out of the institute, there was a tiny spring in my step and my senses felt more alive than they have in a while.

Getting to class is a mix of fear and surrender. Fear of constricting and having tides of tears and surrender when I show up knowing that I’ll be the only one having these spells. I let go into the hands of my teachers and they look after me. I keep wanting to get over this soon so they don’t have to sort me out every other day but I suppose it’s really not in my hands.

The 90 odd minutes I spend in the large hall are 90 minutes of discovery. It’s an active practice despite being propped and helped. None of the passive, watching from my corner kind of practice. Here I am naked, fully stripped of whatever image I held of myself as a collected and calm person. There is nothing save my body and heart and they’re raw. My mortal fear was losing control in public and that has happened so many times here in the middle of so many people. There is nothing left to hide so I avert my eyes.

I shared with my sister about my frequent breakdowns in class and she pointed out that I never cried when different kinds of difficult situations cropped up. That included deaths, illnesses, massive accidents and abuse. Seen in that context, this tearing up is very little considering that this expulsion is about 30 odd years of bottling everything in.

The pragmatist in me would push aside having to deal with difficult feelings and focus on fixing the situation. In fact, in a previous session when the tears flew fast while in a swinging sirsasana, I felt helplessness like the one I experienced as a little girl. I always avoided experiencing the stronger and difficult emotions and focused on the positive. In the bargain, I didn’t learn to walk through feelings that were painful. They were shut in a box and pushed out of memory.

All these days, anything that had to do with opening the chest area just dislodged heaves of sorrow. It still comes but yesterday was less difficult. In one of the poses, my legs started to tremble for no apparent reason. Through the duration of that pose, I felt ironlike stubbornness of unshed tears and the rigidity of control. Pockets of tightness in different places that had been solidified by years of pride in being resilient and self-sufficient. The high point of the session was after cycles of being helped in and out of sirsasana – vipareeta dandasana repeatedly. It felt good. I didn’t know my body had the capacity to do that. Maybe one has to lose everything to start finding oneself.

There were moments of tears, tightness and tremors. But, there were also moments of something else. Newness, maybe? Considering the rains and lush green all around, I’m thinking green shoots after heavy showers.

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New shoot of a Calla Lily in my balcony after the rains

In gratitude

Grief and Yoga

I thought long and hard about posting here and finally decided to do so. As a novice student, there was scanty material from a beginner’s perspective available on the wide internet and so it felt like a good idea to document my learnings and failings for another like me.

I’ve consistently been a mess when in class and finally mustered the courage to speak to my teacher about my inability to hold back tears. That was a very big step as I find it incredibly hard to ask for help and generally tend to pretend to be invisible. It’s strange, this grief for no apparent reason. I don’t know where it springs from and why it happens only in class. Outside, I am strong, confident and play my roles as mother, friend, professional etc. with energy. In my everyday, things are slowly but steadily progressing but in class, I don’t recognize the person on the mat.

I find myself apologizing for the choking creature I become and cannot look anyone in the eye. My body is not my own as hands pull and push it. After each asana, I feel the fatigue of an old woman.

I’m mostly an incorrigible optimist and dealing with sadness like this in little bits is exhausting. Lately, I find it crops up even in other situations when I am alone, like brushing my teeth. I suppose it is the winding ways of sorrow. And that is different for everyone.

The teachers have been incredibly compassionate even as I cry through the poses. It comes in waves, sometimes strong and sometimes a little milder. My breath gets staggered and limbs shake. I wish it gone even as I understand that this has to run its own course. The intellect recognizes but the mind refuses to accept this state of the body.

I was hesitant to go to class yesterday because I was scared of another weepy session. But I went anyway and ended up in an even bigger puddle than I imagined. My heart never felt this raw and exposed. As my teacher swung me in Sirsasana, the sobs grew more intense. This sorrow comes in waves. My head tells me all the loss of the past is in the past but the body screams otherwise. Come to think of it, the tears are probably just the ones I repressed every time I put on a stoic face and stood strong. Now that I don’t need to protect myself, it is possible to let it out.

At the end of a couple of hours, I leave wondering if I have it in me to go back to class again. My body feels as though its been through a wringer and my heart feels raw, as though there’s exposed skin and new skin is just beginning to grow.

I’m deeply indebted to my teachers who have been so supportive and gentle. I didn’t think it was possible for me to be able to receive so much gentleness. Perhaps, some day I can smile and tell them in person about how much it meant to be taken care of.