Both my father and father-in-law passed away in July a few years ago. As per the Hindu calendar, my dad’s death anniversary falls on AshadhEkadashi, an auspicious day that marks the beginning of a 4 month period of increased sadhana. It’s also the period when Ram and his brother paused in their search for Sita and made the acquaintance of the vanaras.
Death is not a topic discussed freely, neither do we spend time contemplating it. Yet, savasana is where the magic happens after an honest practice. Savasana is where we surrender our flaws, our handicaps and become recipients of divine grace.
Savasana is where the elements begin to express themselves in the walls of the nostrils and the moist, warm breath. The visual imagery that it conjures is one of the heat of the cosmic energy transforming the water element to expel itself as air only to merge in the vast consciousness of the universe. All this through the earthlike equipment of the body. A poor description of a tiny and expansive sensation. Perhaps, it is an overactive imagination, perhaps it is real. All I know is that the thought sprang up and asked to be expressed. And then, there is that cue that came in the prashnayantra email, “In ancient Indian thought, there is great attention to language and grammar, and almost no distinction is drawn between the word and the object denoted – they are two manifestations of the same underlying concept, as it were. Secondly, a direct correlation isrecognised between language and mind-making. The given statement is an example of how delving deeper on language and grammar helps cultivate our understanding.” Anyways, that’s an ongoing exploration.
I’ve been fascinated with the elements for a while now but recently came across a signpost in Guruji’s interpretation of Sutra 2:25. And somehow it makes me sit up and relook at the direction of my enquiry. As I understand it today, exploring the elements and the gunas is just about scratching the surface of a first step! The more time that passes, the more ignorance comes up to the surface. A welcome reminder to remain ever a student.
I’ve gone through the Sutras in the order that they are written, the way they are linked and also randomly. Lately, I’ve started reading it backwards and alongside an other commentary. The striking difference is the experiential sense of Guruji’s interpretation versus the more scholarly version of Edwin Bryant. It is interesting to get a different perspective and reading both backwards is like seeing the world in Sirsasana, the drishti changes.
Much of yog is hidden in plain sight. It’s the mirror that needs cleaning.
As a teen, I was drawn to the elements and considered myself a pagan. It was an unconscious affinity towards the building blocks of the universe. Little did I know then that I just needed to follow those instincts. It took many turns and twists into confusion before retracing the journey to rediscovery.
There is much to experience and be. Increasingly, I find that asana and japa are tools to master, hone and refine the ability to experience. Most of the time, there is the sense of old knowledge that is lurking just below the surface. Underlying all this is the firm belief that more will be revealed. Until then, “tadasana in all asanas” as our teacher says.
The Puranas and epics are full of characters, divine and mortal who seem fantastic and larger than life. While I don’t know if any of it really happened, they are an accurate representation of human behaviour both as is and ideal.
Most Hindu households had elders who told stories from the epics to their grandchildren and thus passed on an oral tradition. My older girl had the privilege of having my mother in-law bringing the stories alive for her as a young child. The younger one has had to do with books. Life circumstances changed by the time she came into the world.
I like to consider characters from the epics as embodiments of certain qualities or traits. As the son of Vayu, Hanuman was blessed with great power but he remained humble and devoted to his Lord. His very existence was for the service of his Rama and he represented the three paths of bhakti, jnana and karma. He was said to be accomplished in speech and knowledge besides being a formidable warrior and sage counsel. As someone who had perfect control over his senses, he was the supreme brahmachari. Yogi par excellence.
He takes the existence of a vaanara, loosely translated a monkey but divinely human in nature. Why a monkey? Why the son of Vayu? Hidden within the stories are other stories, pretty much the modus operandi of most of the ancient volumes available. The story is complete in and of itself but the deeper layers continuously come to the surface every time I contemplate on it. This technique of staying with the same thoughts, words and letting their meanings emerge is a new way of making the field of my mind ready. Somehow it feels right.
Off to the Institute in a bit for today’s celebration.
While walking today, I saw one of the strays and mentally told him, “you and I are the same, barefoot”.
That momentary thought of oneness got me thinking about all creatures and their place in this amazing web of life.
Asanas are named after animals too.
It brought to mind part of an old song we learnt as children as well as a couplet from the Gita.
“All things bright and beautiful All creatures great and small All things things wise and wonderful The good Lord made them all”
‘Knowing that, you shall not, O Pandava, again get deluded like this; and by that, you shall see all beings in your Self, and also in Me.’ 4:35
Dreams… A figment of imagination or Hidden intelligence?
I barely dream. However, the few odd ones are fairly vivid when I awake although they fade away rapidly.
A few nights ago, I had a dream of Guruji. In my dream, he’s talking to a student and also signs a copy of the newest book for her and I was thinking to myself that maybe I could get him to sign my copy of ‘Light on Yoga’ which is in my bag but as usual I don’t dare. I touch his feet for blessings and get back to my desk in the far corner of the hall. I have a satchel and a computer which is near a staircase going down, like the one at the Institute. The hall looks different though. I don’t remember seeing any place like that.
One of his daughters was also there and it was nearing meal time. He wanted to know where Abhi was and when he got to know she would take 15 minutes to be back, he said that he would wait for her. And it sort of fades out.
The highlight of the entire dream was receiving Guruji’s blessings. His presence felt very real.
Perhaps this is a hyperactive imagination at play, perhaps it is just wishful thinking. At times, it seems as though these are markers, signposts indicating something. Am I creating them myself or are they really happening? It is far away from the sensibility of rational thought yet it feels right.
The overwhelming feeling is one of bhakti whether it is in the gratitude I feel for the blessings of yoga, the power of the Gayatri when I run or the quiet dark early mornings before the birds wake up.
If I let my thoughts take their own shape, dreams are also a state of being…
This week’s class was taken by a substitute teacher and as usual there was a lot to take home. We did a slightly different routine. More intense Uttanasana and adho mukha Svanasana before moving to the inversions followed by parsvottanasana, Parivritta trikonasana and Parivritta parsvkonasana. A few seated poses and some abdominal asanas completed the class before savasana. The intense stretch in Uttanasana was all the way from my buttocks. While in the pose, it was screamingly painful but it eased up as the class progressed. Maybe that preparation gave a better stretch in supta padangushtasana.
Sirsasana felt a little flushed while Sarvangasana was a tiny bit easier. Usually it is the other way for me. Normally, we go through the standing poses before getting into the headstand. This time, we did not go through the regular trikonasana, parsvkonasana etc.
Navasana was the new addition in class. The classes are getting more intense as the weeks pass. It’s a good thing I have just one class and to think I wanted two classes earlier.
Home practice was week 2 yesterday and today. It is tempting to take any week and follow the sequence but for now it seems like a good way to discipline myself by following the week wise progression. One of the thoughts is that I will lose my ability to do other asanas. But while on the mat yesterday, it struck me that spending as much time on the basics is very useful to replicate the same actions in other poses. I see how spending time in uthita hasta padasana and uthita parsva hastapadasana before getting into trikonasana helps with a better lateral extension.
One of the teachers in training suggested alternating halasana and Paschimottansana in rapid succession to help with Sarvangasana and I’ve been doing that with this week’s sequence. Was that responsible for a little ease in Sarvangasana in class?
Christmas time is always at my parents home and it felt good to be back. I had a tug of war inside about missing class and in the end decided the greater need was to be with my mother. Earlier this week, I felt the familiar little ache of missing my father. Ever since he passed away a few years back, the season never felt the same. There was a lethargy, a heaviness, a vacuum. He was the pivot around which the house came alive during the season and we all missed him quietly.
This year was different, there was a closure of sorts and it finally felt like we were moving on. I pulled out many old pictures and it was a happy time for my mother and brother as well. We spent a lot of time looking at pictures from years ago. Thanks to technology, my little sister also got to share in the moment through the exchange of images.
The first post on this blog was on Sutra 1.33 and at that time, it was an instinctive latching on to the sound and rhythm of the lines. It felt like an answer to some question that was not yet asked. It has been the simplest recipe to live in peace with myself and using the principles it talks about has opened my heart. The bigger lesson has been learning to apply it towards myself. It is far easier to be friendly, compassionate, happy and indifferent towards others but very tough to apply it towards my different behaviours and thoughts. In difficult situations, it has taken the fight out of the equation. It has brought a tiny pause where I choose a response rather than react in the same repetitive manner. This is very much a work in progress practice and sometimes I slide but those instances are useful in seeing the shaky spots within. It all boils down to fear and in my experience, the antidote to that is love. Unconditional love.
Asana practice has been irregular and except for a day it has been snatches as and when I got a little free time. I’ve been working through these days as well and despite everything on my plate, it has been easy and relaxed. I’ve not fretted or even thought of missing my regular routine. It will be there for me when I get back to my home.
One of my favourite passages is from Light on Life by BKS Iyengar.
“As animals, we walk the earth. As bearers of a divine essence, we are among the stars. As human beings, we are caught in the middle, seeking to reconcile the paradox of how to make our way upon earth while striving for something more permanent and more profound. So many seek this greater Truth in the heavens, but it lies much closer than the clouds. It is within us and can be found by anyone on the Inward journey.”