6 cups of coffee in baddakonasana

There used to be a time I was proud of my ability to sit in a baddakonasana, padmasana etc.. I had pride too, in the ability to go to sleep in supta virasana. Those were the days I was running long distance and these asanas were part of my everyday. Naturally, the body adapted and the flexibility improved. But, I was also attached to what I thought was good looking poses. 🙂

Then (2016)

Now, a few years and more than a few knocks later, I am relearning these asanas, cautiously. The sweet spot lies somewhere between fear and aggression. Doing, observing, pushing through or retreating- all of these while questioning myself if the actions spring from attachment or detachment, from pride or a spirit of enquiry.

And Now

It took me a while to come back to the mat with the regularity I have now. It also took me a long time to come back to textual studies in a more regular manner. The pandemic has proved to be an opportunity as well in the tracts of time it has created with reduced travel. Personally while I have lost work, I have gained much with an asana practice and study. It has seen me remain mostly energetic and positive.

This morning during practice, I listened to one of Geetaji’s videos from an Italian convention on YouTube. (Here’s the link). As a coffee fiend, it made me chuckle when she suggested having 6 cups of coffee in baddakonasana even as I attempted the action she was suggesting. She has a wicked sense of humour but it is often restrained, so to see her enjoying her joke was rather delightful.

While reflecting about practice and my state of mind now, I find myself comparing it against last year. The desolation I experienced then is similar to what I see in many people now. My mind was in shambles then and trying to work with the mind didn’t help things too much. I would slide back into what seemed like an endless quicksand. Asanas worked on my mind through my body. Something changed at a very intrinsic level, maybe some chemistry in the brain, I do not know. All I know that the rewiring changed completely. Practising through the pandemic has nourished my mind and kept it reasonably clear. It also made it possible for me to get myself out of the way and serve others.

Asanas make me reflect, not just on body parts or actions but also on similarities of approach and withdrawal to situations in my life. If I had to summarize asana or situations in life, it might be to say be present, do the best you can and the pose will arrange itself. Life is unpredictable, there could be injury, loss, debilitation or a pandemic but through the practice of asana, there is a courage to meet its unpredictability. There comes an ability to receive all of it without resistance. Striving on the mat involves resistance but is never resisting. There are aha moments when after working with resistance, a region suddenly bursts open into consciousness. It is a received experience.

A few days ago, while exchanging emails with a dear friend, I was reminded of a ready reckoner of the texts that I was working on some years back. Some part of it was complete but there is much that is pending, so its back to old practices that I lost when I lost my way. I do feel a regular asana practice brings back good habits quite organically, almost effortlessly. It slowly increases your ability to do much more than what you think you can do.

These times are a time out in many ways. Much of the world has retreated into itself and so there is also less distraction. Might not be a bad idea to sit on the mat in baddakonasana with 6 cups of coffee. Maybe 6 is too much, I’ll take one. 🙂

Joy in Asana

Most mornings begin really early as I attend class at 6 am thrice a week. It’s a good start to the day and I find that despite the online format, they are still quite tough. Partly, because we spend a lot of time in the intermediate stages of the asanas, work with the body in pieces and also that Intermediate 1 and 2 batches are together. So, it’s a little more demanding that a regular Intermediate 1 class. Additionally, it’s less than a year of a normal class for me. Although there is better range in the knee and the leg feels stronger, I do have limitations. But it is significantly better than what it used to be. Overall, the body feels aligned and the thickness in the right quadriceps no longer appears even when the class is intense. Virasana has slowly started to make short appearances. Maybe, I’ve also learned how to adjust the effort in both limbs differently?

I look at my knees and see how they are better placed. During the days when I used to be belted up and in passive poses, it seemed like nothing would ever change. I would lie on the floor and just watch other bodies or the pictures of Guruji on the walls and wonder if the knees could really be fixed. The rods and bricks and belts would prick the body but I found comfort in their unrelenting hardness. They worked silently but surely. Now, when I see the legs, it is almost like I’ve been sculpted a new pair! They stand straighter and the dent in the outer knee has reduced. I expected to be pain free with yoga but wasn’t really expecting structural changes of this magnitude. I thought it was too late for my body to be realigned. But, this first-hand experience tells me that change is possible, perhaps at any age. The degree may vary but it is possible. The body truly is a remarkable piece of engineering and we don’t quite understand all its mysteries. I’m not sure how one might measure these changes in the manner of scientific experiments but experientially, one can feel it.

Thanks to stronger legs, I am once again able to walk long and far, enjoying the goodness of nature.

We’re back to another severe lock down in Pune as the cases have spiked. Thankfully, class continues online and it is good to be able to continue learning from our teachers. The remote nature of this kind of learning is good as it forces me to work differently. Pause when the body needs, modify as I have to as well as push when there is scope to move further. It is no less intense even though we work with fewer asanas and the more basic ones. I see the skillfulness of the teaching as instructions are adjusted to account for different spaces and provide ample opportunity to explore household items as props. But mostly, we work with the body, the very first prop as Guruji would say. As the days pass, it feels as though new regions in the body are getting awake. I learn to isolate smaller sections and feel life in them. It is hard work and some days the body is tired. But, once that touch of life happens, it becomes internalized.

I find myself asking how does the learning get internalized? Many of the actions have corrected themselves, they are not automatic but the pose is assumed with consideration without really having to think too hard. Almost as though the pose name fluidly positions the body parts. Like the angular back foot or rotation of the hip in parsvottanasana. It used to be a struggle to adjust that but now the leg assumes the position as though unconsciously but at the same time there is an awareness of the space and shape it occupies. The last week has been many such lessons, discovering largish areas like the trifecta of glutes, hips and hamstrings as well as more focused ones like the armpit region or the tailbone. It is a fabulous example of masterful teaching that the teachers can make us students experience the in-habitation of all these different locations.

For a while, I had lost the wonder in the experience of asana and I am glad that it is once again joyful in its toil, in its learning. If anyone reading this is in a spot where they find it difficult to practise in the current pandemic, all I can say is that it is alright if you are unable to do anything. Asana comes back. I lost everything for a long while but then yoga found me again. Stay in touch in whatever way possible, maybe it’s listening to a talk, maybe it is attending an online class or reading the literature or perhaps talking with a yoga friend. Sometimes, we just need to ride the storm and eventually the ground stabilizes under our feet.

In gratitude

We are because he was

It’s Guru Pournima today, the day we honour our gurus. In a pre-pandemic world, there would have been a 90-120 minutes programme that would include a talk or two as well as the release of the quarterly magazine and other books. The large hall would fill up quickly with both local and international students and one of the teachers would urge us to shift further in and towards the front to accommodate everyone. These occasions would see old students from out of town as well, a time for communal gratitude. That degree of bodily proximity though is a scary thought in today’s scenario. This year, the hall will remain empty while a talk by Prashant Iyengar will be beamed out via the internet.

I’m not familiar with Hindu rituals and traditions and hence have no understanding of what is done and the little that I have gathered is from seeing, listening and reading about it. I do find meaning in symbolism though, it is useful as an aid to staying with a thought, cooking it and letting it release its essence. There is a story in the Bhagwata Purana where King Yadu is told about the 24 gurus: earth, air, sky, water, fire, moon, sun, pigeon, python, sea, moth, honeybee, elephant and honey thief, deer, fish, the prostitute Pingala, the kurara bird, the child, young girl, arrow maker, serpent, spider and wasp. In classic Purana style, each of these is used to convey a moral and an exhortation for the seeker. Traditionally, one was supposed to memorize everything before the guru would begin to explain. In a sense, memorization would be preparing the field. I’ve found that as a method or technique, repetition can be a good teacher. It starts to reveal nuances much before one actually commences study. Perhaps it is the energy of sound that seeps in as a kind of intuitive sensing.

Guruji touched millions of lives, directly and indirectly through his life, his books and his teachers. I never had the privilege of studying from him but the teachers who teach me did and I receive his wisdom through their devotion to him. He lived a householder’s life while remaining a detached yogi, in itself unusual. He experienced the struggles of living in the world of familial responsibilities and ill health, discrimination and poverty. He knew human frailties first hand and through it continued with his sadhana and blazed a path for those coming after him. He lived through all the stages of life without shunning anything.

Guruji’s props make the gifts of yoga accessible to all

Personally, I feel Guru is a grace bestowed, one has to be deserving. I struggle with the concept of bhakti. There was a time when it happened but I lost it somewhere during a most difficult time and that overflowing hasn’t come back. There is a slow return to the practices that had built up over time and I hope that eventually I will be graced with that same sense of surety. Yesterday, the page opened to the chapter 9 in the Gita and my first instinct was to change it but decided to stay with the thought instead. I like to think of these random instances as being a way of life to nudge us towards what I most need to learn.

If you are unable to fix your mind upon Me, then by the ‘YOGA of constant practice,’ seek to reach Me, O Dhananjaya.

(BG – 12.9)

It has echoes in the Yoga Sutra, 1.14 and the use of Dhananjaya to address Arjuna is also significant in the implied fruits of such a constant practice. Like the divine charioteer was to Arjuna, Guruji is to his students, past, present and future.

We are because he was.

“Yoga is experiencing innocence”

Yoga is experiencing innocence.” That’s the line for July and since a couple of days, it has been a thought flowing below the surface. I dip into it now and then, staying with the sound and shape of the word, the meaning as I understand it and how it might be interpreted. Being conscious of a thought like this also allows me to see how life expresses it in my day to day.

Innocence is commonly associated with children and quite appropriately so. I like to think of it as a state of freedom from fear, just the way children are fearless. They learn fear as they experience pain, shame, guilt and so on. So, in a way, I suppose one could consider it as the blank slate on which experience is layered. So, how is Yoga experiencing innocence? The first thought that comes to mind are a couple of lines in the Foreword from Light on Yoga.

“Whoever has had the privilege of receiving Mr. Iyengar’s attention, or of witnessing the precision, refinement and beauty of his art, is introduced to that vision of perfection and innocence which is man as first created- unarmed, unashamed, son of God, lord of creation- in the Garden of Eden.”

“Yoga, as practiced by Mr. Iyengar, is the dedicated votive offering of a man who brings himself to the altar, alone and clean in body and mind, focused in attention and will, offering in simplicity and innocence not a burnt sacrifice, but simply himself raised to his own highest potential.”

One of the qualities I notice in many of the teachers is a quality of child-likeness. It doesn’t imply that they are naive just that there is a sincerity and earnestness in expressing. No need for maintaining a separateness and it is clearly evident as they get on their mats during practice time along with the others. Innocence can also be a freedom from doubt, perhaps. It is visible in the curiosity in learning, I’ve seen it firsthand when Geetaji would speak or Prashantji speaks. The word could be considered a ‘not knowing’ as opposed to ignorance, I suppose and as such allows for an open mind.

In my enthusiasm, I signed for one too many classes and have been getting my backside whipped thoroughly. My progress in asana has been slow right from the start. It has taken me longer than what it takes others due to many reasons. I used to be harsh with myself for not gaining proficiency faster but a few injuries and a little more living has helped me see that the pace at which I learn will always be unique to the underlying conditions of my mind and body.

Today was standing poses and while the legs didn’t take much of a beating, my hands were troublesome. I suspect it is some soft tissue injury, it has been a niggling area since pre lockdown. I find relief in Ardha Sirsasana with blocks against my back. There’s also relief when I lie down with a brick against my upper back. Twists aggravate it. It’s better when there is expansion as well as a length in the torso.

No matter how much time I spend in the standing poses, I enjoy the fact that there is always something new to learn, some new way to challenge the mind and body. At the end of class, I realized that despite doing all the actions as instructed by the teacher, I missed many of the nuances, I was still on the gross movements. So, while externally, I followed instructions, my mind missed catching all the words, it picked up on the familiar ones and the movements were sort of on autopilot. How difficult it is to be truly present!

The beauty of the instructions we receive lies in its clarity and economy. Economy sounds contradictory considering that there is almost a barrage of instructions but the verbosity is mostly repetition. Many of us students are almost immobile and the repetition is to ensure everyone is on the same page. The key for me has been to listen beyond the set of actions to the analogies and see how they can be expressed in the body. Most of them are from every day, some from Guruji and Geetaji but they add a freshness to the experience of the pose. This makes every class a brand new one even though we work with almost the same set of poses. I guess that’s what gets most of us coming back time and again, the innocence of asanas.

Practitioner vs. Sadhaka

It’s been a month since I’ve been attending virtual classes and they’ve settled into a nice rhythm, providing an anchor to the week. It has the rigour of a physical class but with a little extra caution since each of us students have to be responsible for our own safety in the confines of our homes. I’m glad this avenue exists to continue learning but I also miss many things about a regular class.

I miss the hard wooden props like the Vipareeta Dandasana bench, the trestle as well as the ceiling ropes, grills and the like. I miss the callouses on my palms from the ropes. I miss the call and response of the invocation, there is an energy to the whole class reciting together which is absent in this format. I miss the silence and air in the large hall during practice, the noise of props being moved during therapy class and most of all the hands on assistance that would often teach in leaps. Perhaps, not very yoga worthy to miss things but it is how I feel. RIMYI is home.

Studying like this has been a more introspective and slower way of practice for me. I find myself working with breaking down asana actions into regions, currently it is the upper back. There is hesitation in some of the inversions and back bends, the easy familiarity with them has become distant with a summer practice of less energetic poses. This morning, it was like playing lego with lots of books and a few bricks to find that upper back action and some back bends. It’s so easy to slide but the body also remembers and comes back with a little nudging. Despite the rustiness, I see a natural progression.

Last week one of the classes had some prep work for pranayama and I found heaviness and resistance. I asked my teacher about it later and he recommended using the support of a prop. So, I played with bricks, bolsters, a combination of bolsters and blankets and found that bricks work best for me now, maybe something else will later. It was the same earlier too, the hard wooden props reassure me more than the softness of bolsters. Maybe it is a preference for the edge of a little discomfort?

Lately, I’ve been re-reading the Core of the Yoga Sutras, it’s a beautifully nuanced rendering of the Yoga Sutras in an interlinked manner. Yesterday, I was reading the chapter on Sadhana Krama – Method of Practice.

The second sentence, ‘Sadhaka must be a skilled and accomplished practitioner of sadhana’, made me pause and think about the name of this blog, anonymous sadhaka and how it is not entirely appropriate if I had to follow the definition! Practitioner would be more like it.

Guruji speaks about four aspects of Sadhanaśodhana, śosana, śobhana, śamana and ties it in with Sadhana Kriya of Tapas, Svadhyaya and Ishwara Pranidhana culminating in bhakti.

Sadhana demands an investigating and examining mind if the action is to purify (śodhana). Dessication and absorption (śosana) are needed to remove the body’s defects and for an auspicious presentation (śobhana). When the effortful efforts transform into an effortlessness state then one experiences the calm and soothing state of śamana.

These are juxtaposed with the kosas and nature of sadhana as bahiranga, antaranga and antaratman. Therein I find the beauty of these texts, layers upon layers, at once a progression and a composite. Finally, he ties up the chapter by enumerating the pillars of sadhana – Sraddha, Virya, Smrti, Samadhi Prajna in Sutra 1.20 – Practice must be pursued with trust, confidence, vigour, keen memory and power of absorption to break this spiritual complacency.

Last week, I was invited to be part of an event that was celebrating the achievements of that organization. It got me thinking about how different it is from asana practice. there are no annual celebrations or milestone markers. Sometimes there is thrill of getting into a pose that was unattainable earlier but it is momentary and there is no specific outcome save the process. Again, I found myself asking myself, why do I practice? It is for the sake of practice, I never know what the mat brings me, both while on it and after.

Having limited work has meant more time for asana practice and plenty of outdoors, especially long ambles in the woods. The world outside continues to burn in more ways than one- environmental disasters, natural calamities and human cruelty alongside a pandemic that continues to run its course. Life is uncertain, always has been just that this time around it has been a collective experiencing of the same. At some point, this page will turn and it may be for the better or worse, it is hard to say considering how much we’ve battered ourselves as a species as well as the planet we call home. All that we have is the number of breaths we will take here and maybe that can be in the spirit of an offering.

In gratitude for the blessings of yoga

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Asana practice is a bit like playing with lego. Build, unbuild, rebuild. Repeat.

Aparigraha in a pandemic

Guruji was born during an influenza epidemic and his life was a difficult one for many decades. Even his early yoga journey was fraught with pain and hardship. He lived through pre-Independence India, poverty, ill health, loss, fame and prosperity. The one constant through it all was yoga and his sadhana went on to make him a household name. Despite all the accolades, he remained a student of the subject till the very end. Yoga was him and he was yoga. Period. For the likes of me, it is not as complete an immersion but we try to the best of our life situations.

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This morning I spent time with Pada 2 of the sutras and came back to 2.39 on aparigraha. Reflecting on it, I saw that it was basically talking about de-conditioning.

Quoting from the commentary in Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali,

Aparigraha means not only non-possession and non-acceptance of gifts, but also freedom from rigidity of thought. Holding on to one’s thoughts is also a form of possessiveness, and thoughts, as well as material possessions should be shunned. Otherwise they leave strong impressions on the consciousness and become seeds to manifest in future lives.”

Aparigraha is the subtlest aspect of yama, and difficult to master. Yet, repeated attempts must be made to gain pure knowledge of ‘what I am’ and ‘what I am meant for’.”

Constant inquiry is an integral part of learning yoga at RIMYI, it’s always dynamic and evolving. Never static and despite the curriculum remaining the same, the approach and teaching incorporate new elements. In a more personal context, I am reminded of what my teacher said about ‘seeds of weeds’. By working beyond just the apparent relief of body and heart, there was a reset in established patterns of thought and behaviour, a rewiring. That the mind can be addressed through the body is now internalized knowledge and not just theoretical.

It’s easy to get caught in fixed ways of thinking and feeling both on and off the mat and this clinging on prevents one from a deeper understanding of any situation. I also see it in asana as I explore beyond the actions required to assume a pose. As long as I am just repeating the instructions I have learned, I limit myself. Of course, the initial repetition is essential to internalize the method but the unfolding is in the personalizing of its interpretation. A bit like improvisation in music. Once you learn the notes and practise the scales for a suitable length of time, you can break the rules to explore and then the subject begins to also teach you.

I still remain cautious in asana but there’s an experimental feel to it as I correlate lessons from class and home practice. This week both the classes worked actively with the groin area and today’s home practice was a passive exploration of the same region from my knee therapy routine. And it taught differently. It got me thinking about how right from day 1 of a beginner’s class, the body is systematically prepared to open to its fullest capacity, literally and figuratively. Strangely, I found the beginner’s class harder than the intermediate one and it made me glad that I chose to retain the former. I guess I’m probably always going to remain a chronic beginner.

Asanas take up a small part of my day and its lessons are not about the body’s ability or progress as much as it is about mental, emotional and spiritual stretching. It is about endurance, resilience, patience, fortitude, good humour, playfulness, compassion and a whole host of other traits that allow us to live through good times and rough times with the same steadiness. These times are despairing with both a pandemic and mindless human violence. But there also exists solidarity and kindness that unite people even in these uncertain days. It may seem unbearable at the moment but all periods of transformation are difficult, individually and collectively. Eventually, we see that old ways have to evolve and adapt to meet the changing needs of a present and it calls for aparigraha. Now more so than ever.

De-conditioning

Five years ago, I was a new student at RIMYI, excited and nervous. Prior to applying, I scoured the internet to understand more about what I could expect as a beginner and found that there was very little for a rookie. Most of the material was written by those who had been practicing for a long time, many of them senior teachers in the system. It was also interesting to note that there was more material by international practitioners than by Indian ones. Five years since then, I’ve been a regular student at the Institute and still feel the same excitement at the start of a new academic year. It seems a bit surreal to have a virtual session considering how much physical adjustments have been an essential part of learning and therapy. And uncannily, the thought for June from last year’s calendar is ‘Yoga is deconditioning’.

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RIMYI shut down early March and the break from a teacher led learning forced me to pay more attention to exploring rather than just practicing. Most days, there would be some kind of a general direction be it standing poses, or forward extensions etc. But lately, it became exploration of a class of bodily regions like the groins in say Supta Padangushtasana 2 and Ardha Chandrasana. The actions themselves have begun to be less forceful and aggressive and softer in the nature of a curious watching. In the bargain, I find that I move further in the pose with less effort. I spend less time overall but it feels more intense.

Up until last year, I felt like Eklavya (here’s an earlier post) on the fringes of class, never reaching out or being part of the community. I stayed deep inside my limited self, terribly tongue-tied and hesitant to ask for help or answers. That began to change slowly although I still tended to lurk in the shadows at the back. But my teachers drew me out and I started to learn to loosen up.

In the last five years, my body went through different phases of fitness, injury, rehabilitation and health. Along the way, I discovered pride, arrogance, impatience, fragility, willingness, resilience and a host of other traits, some useful, others not so desirable. I’m not a hardcore practitioner and there are days I skip because of a day going unruly or then plain procrastination but not for too long. However, there was a time I was incapable of getting on the mat for days. It’s no longer guilt over not practicing but a need to set right the mind that brings me back to work with the body. Yoga is forgiving that way. No matter how long one is away, there is always a renewal and muscle memory is quick to activate.

The sutras enumerate the 9 obstacles and 4 distractions and also provide a choice of techniques to address them. But I was too far gone at one point to help myself through their use provided in the subsequent sutras (1.34-1.39). All I did was surrender completely to my teachers and go where they sent me. In retrospect, it was a single deep rooted surrender to this age old science and art. I believed if anything could help me navigate the difficult spaces of my life, it would be yoga. It’s been more than half a year since then and I’m still just about discovering bits and pieces of what happened during those terribly painful sessions. I’ve been revisiting some of my notes from then and it seems like another life. I remember my rough days simply to remind myself to be gentle with others, especially in these times. And so it circles back to my favourite sutra, 1.33.

This morning’s class was such a different one, from the home of my teacher to the homes of all of us students. We worked with basic asanas but in Iyengar yoga fashion, explored them differently, some of them not really asanas as much as a variation of possible movements till a tipping point, literally and figuratively. The Zoom avatar of class is an internal one, devoid of any performative aspect that shows up in a hall full of people. It feels almost like an individual class with just the teacher’s video on screen. In a way, it is a guided self-practice than a class, more inward looking with fewer distractions.

In the confines of my room or out in the woods, I can shut the madly careening world out. There’s much distress out there. As I type, there’s a cyclone making its way to the west coast of this country, one of the worst afflicted as far as the pandemic is concerned. We’ve already had Cyclon Amphan wreak its wrath on the east coast and locusts in the northwest besides the terrible plight of migrant workers trudging home in the most punishing of seasons. Halfway around the world, ignorance and deep rooted biases destroy lives alongside a virus. And through all this Mother Nature continues to adjust and reset indifferent to the fears and anxieties of her human children.

Personally, some of my life plans have had to be indefinitely postponed but there is a calm acceptance of a changed reality. It has also helped me re-calibrate my life to retain what really matters. I remain incredibly grateful for the privilege of safe shelter, food on the table, a stable mind and the ability to provide for my family. Guruji’s words ‘Live happily, Die majestically’ are even more relevant than ever with the awareness of the fragility and uncertainty of life. And as my teacher said today we can’t defeat the virus, we can try to dodge it as best as we can. Simple food, good rest and good exercise is pretty much all that we need, the rest has been non-essential as a 10 week lockdown has shown us.

Synesthesia of learning?

I find that in self-study of any sort, not just asana, the process of learning is largely invisible and in small packets spread over a period of time and across different spaces of our lives. They remain scattered until the body and mind are prepared to synthesize all of it into an organic whole.

The month of May threw up small pieces that spoke of space and harmony. One of the first was an article in the Yoga Rahasya on Symmetry and Space (Vol. 24, No.4 , 2017). Another was the view from my balcony floor while lying down and looking at the sky. Yet another was the toiling that happened on my mat and the reading that would come after. A large chunk also lay in the outdoors with the trees, stones, birds, flowers and so on and an interesting bit was in a colouring sheet my daughter made me fill up.

Last evening, towards the end of my practice, I came to Karnapidasana and it was a whole different experience. I tend to be wary of the pose because of pressure on the neck. Last night though, the pose was effortless and I experienced a shutting down of the ears and an opening of my eyes. Not like the opening of the eyes in backbends but almost as though there was an inner set of eyes that opened. A seeing without seeing and time didn’t exist. Maybe that’s what made it feel like I could stay in the pose forever. Despite the compressed nature of the asana, it didn’t feel that way at all.

After practice, I looked the asana up in books and on the internet to see if there was anything other than the technique or benefits of the asana. Geetaji’s Gem For Women mentions that it makes one turn inward but beyond that I wasn’t able to find anything. But, the pose caught my attention for its association with the ear, the word ‘pida’ and the theme of space which was running through the days. And this morning, I worked with a slightly different set of asanas before attempting Karnapidasana again. This time there was resistance. I was trying to replicate yesterday’s lesson without being open to what today wanted to teach.

The sensation yesterday reminded me of an experience a few years ago when I saw sound, not the form of it. Synesthesia, a fleeting experience in savasana. I wonder what is the connection between the ears and eyes? Is there one or am I imagining it? Is it stubbornness to want to connect the dots that appear through moments in life and make sense? I don’t know. But the theme of space and all the words that tie in with space, be it sound or silence have been cropping everywhere. In asana, we are taught to create space in the body. The skies rest in space, the stars and the moon too. It has been contemplative sorts of days lately, one of being brutally honest with myself, breaking patterns, facing fears. This is different compared to earlier when the process worked from body to mind a few months ago.

Sharing a few lines from the same Yoga Rahasya mentioned earlier

With asanas come penetration

With penetration comes sensitivity

With sensitivity comes intelligence

With intelligence comes wisdom

With wisdom comes harmony

With harmony comes stillness.

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…

Paschimottanasana Study

The prashnayantra prompt today suggested paschimottanasana and that became my exploration for practice. It’s been a mildly restless few days of the head and heart and the pose seemed just right to bring calm and energy. So, it progressed to be a meditation on the mat for the next hour or so. Thanks to youtube, I listened to Geetaji’s instructions as well as Guruji’s and it was a much quieter pose than usual. Less tug of war between the body and mind. As a practice session, I was looking at learning and so, it was about finding actions that happened automatically and how to bring restraint in them. Many repeats. Some propping with a rope and belt. And staying for a little more than usual.

Later, I looked up the pose in Light on Yoga and Yoga – A Gem for Women as also some notes I had saved to refresh my memory. The physical benefits were to do with resting the heart and improving blood supply to the organs in the abdominal and pelvic regions. It is said to bring vitality and a balanced outlook towards sex. The asana also goes by the names Brahmacharyasana and Ugrasana, connoting self-restraint and power. I find that names of asanas are a good way to carry forward contemplating their qualities beyond the mat.

Guruji says, “A good stay in this pose massages the heart, the spinal column and the abdominal organs which feel refreshed and the mind is rested.” It is interesting how this pose covers the triad of emotional, intellectual and digestive aspects of the body which are responsible for good health and vigour and as a result confers a rested mind and refreshed body.

Geetaji’s book recalls the Hatha Yoga Pradipika 1.29, “Paschimottanasana is the foremost of all asanas. Its effect is that the life force flows through the very intricate channels called nadis, gastric fire is kindled and the stomach becomes free of all diseases.”

She goes on to say that the effect of this asana on the mind is magical: an upset, irritated, and restless mind becomes tranquil, and angry, passionate moods etc. are calmed down. It sharpens memory and brings clarity of thought. The latter qualities are essential for studentship and found resonance with my morning reading* which explored the qualities of a student – self-control in outward life and calmness in inner living.

During the course of the day, I watched a short film on a prolific Indian photographer, Raghu Rai. His pictures are incredibly evocative and have the same quality of stillness and dynamism of Guruji’s poses. The overriding sense I got was his pictures were really a drawing in of his lens into himself before releasing it. A complete presence. In the photographer’s words, ‘dekhna is darshana’ (to see is to have darshan) and I saw yoga in his living craft. I suppose when one brings that spirit of enquiry to one’s subject of study, there is also a certain prolificacy.

The day has come to an end and I find that I wasn’t restless today and my mind was calm. Overall, there was a very quiet sense of detachment in its hours, a lightness of being.

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Paschimottanasana WIP

*Taittiriya Upanishad Ch 1, Section 4