Bounty of life

An unexpected rest day that was full of things I love. Saturdays are no class days barring some housekeeping for a couple of online ones early in the morning. The rest of it is quite unstructured in general. But today was a little different. I had two commitments, one was a recce meeting and the other a mentoring one. The recce was outdoors for a tree walk I’d be leading next weekend and the mentoring one was an online monthly one with an enthusiastic and earnest group of 3 young women who run an NGO. The morning meet was supposed to be for an hour but while working out my route, I was engrossed in the wonderful world outside.

A gorgeous white siris

In the afternoon, I headed to the trail for a walk but had to abort midway as it was simply too slippery. But since I was out, it was easy to follow my feet and I wandered into a green compound. A long amble and while walking, bits and pieces of Prashantji’s classes kept coming up to the surface. He talks about education in yoga and listening to him addressing students and teachers on the same theme is like a 360⁰ view and immersion at the same time.
He emphasizes exploration in our study. It got me thinking about how we learn as children, as adults.

My beloved trail

As an amateur naturalist, I observe and am curious. There is no baggage of science when I discover something unknown to me. That comes later. And it struck me that it is a child’s process that I employ. It is fun and there are no expectations. There is a constant rearranging of information that is gathered over the years in the face of something new and my head tries to make accomodate it. It is the same in asana too. Learning and relearning.

Ylang ylang vine

Despite the gravity of the subject, Yoga brings sense of child-like wonder and joy. Practice can be playful as well. I’ve never done asanas outdoors but seeing a big metal barrel in the field this evening, I was reminded of Guruji and draped myself over it. The experience was so different. My hands on the wet mud, the vast world upside down and a sense of ease in that bending into the unknown. Quietly exhilarating. Although if it weren’t for the complete isolation of that space, I probably wouldn’t have attempted it. This week was backbends and we did some heavy duty work in class so a supported urdhva Dhanurasana felt good.

Roll Over Urdhva Dhanurasana

At day’s end, I’m glad to have partaken of the marvelous bounty that is life.

Samatvam

Technically, I am doing only one offline class. In the others, I am a student but from an assisting perspective. They are vastly different. I am comfortable in following instructions and adapting to my physical conditions, getting in and out of poses, using props, supporting areas that need help etc. but when it comes to other bodies, the reading from a helper’s perspective is a new one. As an observer, it is easy to simply note but while adjusting, there is technique, skill and agility required. It is a different kind of learning. In the medical class, the method is one of improvisation so there is a whole lot of gear shifting. And then there are online classes, three that I attend besides 2 as a demonstrator. Those are different in the quietness of my home.

I make notes else there is no way to keep track of the progression of classes, the way the theme of one class links to another. They are short ones that I go through before a class to remind myself. I also find myself watching and practising to videos, reading and writing. In short, it is like being in school or college. And I’m loving it. So much so, that other things seem like disturbances. If it weren’t for the need to pay bills and the unavoidable familial and social commitments, I probably would just want to study forever.

Yesterday evening, I was playing the helper’s role in an evening class and as the teacher exhorted the students to “do maximum”, I found myself smiling, remembering how it would feel impossible when she would say that and all that I could hear in my head would be, ‘when will she say, ok come down’ and the relief that would rush through the muscles. I could see that in the students. But at the end, there would be a sense of accomplishment and a spring in my step while leaving. I see that light in others. It is very interesting to observe bodies, they speak quite eloquently. While assisting, some of them resist while others welcome the help. These days, I find myself slowly assuming my place in that hall and providing what is needed, listening and doing. All I have to do is simply listen to the teacher and see if her instructions are being implemented.

While it was a mix of last week and 5th week kind of asanas, if I had to pick a theme, it would be samatvam, evenness. In one of the recent yoga sutra sessions or perhaps it was one of his classes, Srineet mentioned how ‘samatvam yoga uchyate‘ which is used commonly as a definition does not really say it all, Samatvam is more in the nature of a result or effect of yoga. It makes sense to see it both ways. After all, cause and effect are the same, just different manifestations.

Thoughts on Learning

Learning through the week is eclectic with classes ranging from beginners to advanced. Instructions as well as philosophy nuggets also stride this bridge and it is a bit unwieldy as I try to synthesize them. Each class opens the subject so differently! Until last year, it was easier to make sense of a week as there was usually the lens of the weekly format of asana categories. But, now I find it quite unruly for my untrained brain. Imagine a student attending the same subject as an undergrad, post grad or PhD candidate. It requires a shifting of gears as well as consolidation and a judicial application of what one has learned and assimilated. It is a wonderful opportunity though, to observe how the mind pivots to adapt.

Assisting in class has additionally changed how learning happens. There is more sharpness in executing instructions rather than simply doing what I know. It is quite different from being a student and yet one is very keenly a student too. While helping a few people in bolster Setuband Sarvangasana last evening, I was reminded of the same asana in my first year when someone adjusted me. There was an aha moment when the edge of the prop was in the right spot and changed the dynamic of the asana. I saw that same light in the eyes of those who got the right location. Lessons come back to us in different ways.

Learning yogasanas can be achieved in a studio/ class format or in the Guru-shishya Parampara, the latter is much rarer these days. I guess for that system to thrive, there is a level of surrender required of the students that most of us may not be able to muster. Back when it was the norm, the student lived with the teacher in the ashram as part of the household, involved in assisting with the chores and attending to study matters. There is a certain purification in that process, a shedding of layers that prevent receptivity. Guruji learned from Krishnamacharya in that fashion. I don’t know if the likes of me can cope with the rigour in that kind of learning.

Guru-Shishya Parampara has been a theme I’ve been ruminating over especially as one of the books I’m currently reading is based on a student’s rendering and reminiscing of his Guru’s teachings. (Aghora Trilogy). He talks about a teacher who didn’t hesitate to give his students a tough lesson. If one can step away from the viewing the relationship as one of power play, there is actually immense compassion, provided the Guru is authentic. Since a little before Guru Purnima and after, I’ve been thinking about the 24 gurus of Dattatreya and examining my own teachers and Gurus. All the teachers he talks about are part of nature’s expression and he is attentive to the lessons they can teach.

“… I have taken shelter of twenty-four gurus, who are the following: the earth, air, sky, water, fire, moon, sun, pigeon and python; the sea, moth, honeybee, elephant and honey thief; the deer, the fish, the dancing girl Pingala, the kurari bird and the child; the young girl, arrow maker, serpent, spider and wasp…”.  

If I had to think of a key learning from the week, it would be ‘desha‘ as explored through preparing the body for Pranayama. In the opening sutra of the 3rd pada, Patanjali says, “Desa Bandhah Cittasya Dharana” and later proceeds to lay out the different locations for samyama and their effects. At a yogasana level, how do we begin to start looking?

Dwi Hasta Bhujasana

Externally, my appearance is deceptive. It seems like everything is in working order and all is smooth. Reality is a different story. Old injuries and surgeries, structural imbalances and degenerative losses as a result of the natural progression of life mean that from ankles (shredded ligaments) to knees (grade 4 chondromalacia) to humerus surgery (thrice) to cervical spondylosis, there is little that has managed to escape the ravages of life. I’m not going to list age related fading but that too adds up. And yet, the miracle of an embodied existence is that healing occurs, changes happen, range, strength and energy are vitalized.

This morning, I decided to do a recorded lesson although I wasn’t sure how much I might be able to follow with a troubled knee. But, there are modifications and common sense is usually sufficient to know when to stop. It turned out to be a balancings class and I learned how to do Dwi Hasta Bhujasana. It was a first, attempting this asana and it was playful. Enter, fall, enter again, fall again until it happened and then happened repeatedly. Eventually, I could hold the pose for a few breaths. And it was a reminder of how basic asanas are so essential to easy, safe and effortless entry into challenging asanas. And somehow Chaturanga Dandasana also seems to have improved although moving into Urdhva Mukha Svanasana without dropping is still not possible.

As always, a new asana means spending time looking at pictures and reading the books. LOY has a different entry into the pose compared to how we entered it today. Many things have become refined since that seminal volume but the book is a wonderful reference. The images are great to see where to go, how to strike a pose. Asana names are fascinating for me and they make me stay with their sounds and feelings. They make me seek to understand what lies beyond the shape and structure, benefits etc. Indra is the deity said to be residing in the hands and I think perhaps, this is a way to explore by steeping into possibilities of the tattvas until they become apparent. Way back before I joined RIMYI, there was a teacher in the neighbourhood who had introduced some esoteric concepts in the classes I was attending. I was intrigued then but didn’t pursue it, somehow there was a sense of caution that these are strong energy practices that should not be attempted without guidance. But, now I find I want to understand and explore actively.

In all asanas, there is tadasana and savasana like Guruji would say. But, it is quite a journey from standing upright to surrendering to the earth.

Unfolding

I was in Prashantji’s online class today and it was a revelation how he managed to make pawanamuktasana such a powerful asana. I don’t think I will ever see it simply as a release pose or a preparatory one for Supta Padangushtasana.

Post class as I sat to gather my thoughts and reflect on what he spoke about, I thought back about one of his earlier classes which revolved around saucha. Today, there was an exploration on satya as well as the prithvi tattva. His classes are an invitation to explore. They are not to be treated as an asana class in the traditional sense as he opens up multiple interlinked points through the 2 hours. And the thing is, each of them are worth an entire practice hour or two over a long period of time.

RIMYI has been a unfolding for me. Sometimes students argue about wanting to go to the ‘next’ level and I feel they miss the point completely. The more time one spends in those initial years, the more ease there is in the later ones. A certain ripening. I see how my body, mind and breath cooperate better now and often surprise me with an effortless entry into never before attempted poses. Today, I experienced a glimpse of what might have been referred to as breath condition, mind condition and body condition in rope sirsasana. It is a comfortable enough asana to be in as there is no physical effort required. And yet there are shifts in the mind and breath. The fluctuations or vrittis have a visceral expression.

Not really related but when he smiles, he reminds me of Geetaji.

“Learning deeply means learning slowly”

June is hurtling full speed. So many changes and turnings. Volunteering, hectic work schedules and everyday household chores have meant packed days. My teacher asked how I managed to do so much and my immediate reply was that I start fairly early in the day. But later as I thought about it, I realized that I pack in a fair bit simply because I only do things that I like, things that make me happy. Simple things that feed my heart and head, like yoga, walks, trees, pottering around in my little balcony garden, reading etc. While the trade off has been a more frugal living, I have had a largesse of contentment and energy.

Offline classes began last week and it has been both familiar and strange. Familiar because of the same teachers and space but strange with the reduced intake of students. There is a pivoting and finding balance in offline and hybrid modes. In some ways, adapting to the pandemic was easier than adapting to reverting to a pre Covid routine. In some way, the increased convenience of online has meant people choosing to stick to it exclusively as well. There is practical merit since one avoids traffic and parking woes, time taken for the commute etc. but I also see it as increasingly isolating. With the increasing dependence on technology and screens, our sensory experience of the world also gets reduced as the years pass. We’re creatures of nature, meant to fully inhabit our embodiment but that is fast fading. I wonder what we will evolve into. But, that lies in the realm of imaginings and I’ll let it be.

Classes have been good, practice is decent. My struggles with balancing and Sirsasana continue so have taken a different route with focus on Sarvangasana. And I’m reasonably happy with the progress. I’ve been playing around with Niralamba Sarvangasana from a stable shoulder stand. I thought my problem with those poses was more of the mind but actually they are to do with the existing conditions and old injuries of the neck, shoulder and arm besides extreme hyper extension of my joints. As a school child, my PT teacher would get exasperated when my arms would refuse to straighten while marching. There has been some reduction in the angle of hyperextension over the years thanks to asana adjustments.

Earlier today, I was observing the participants as I was watching the class and saw myself in many of them. The same difficulty in lifting the back and buttocks, thighs and knees in Halasana and it all makes so much sense now. The uncompromising attention to limbs and trunk. And once again I am struck by the systematic and logical structuring of asana actions for beginners. I love beginner classes. There is a certain vigour, freshness and energy to it which changes the alchemy of the body and mind. I love the other classes too as they get more subtle and work on the breath and mind but much of it is way above my paygrade. I’m happy to simply absorb by osmosis. I know it will make sense when there is readiness and ripeness. Till then, we tinker. Recently, I was rereading a book (Range By David Epstein) I quite enjoyed and was struck once again by a line in it, “Learning deeply means learning slowly.” Iyengar yoga is an invitation to learn deeply. Not just of asana, but of oneself.

Sequencing is an art

Practised to a sequence from one of the classes last year. At the time, the effort required overshadowed all the other tastes in the asana. It is only with the passing of time that we see progress. On an everyday basis, all I see is what I cannot do, not what comes easier. From this distance, I was simply struck by the creative genius of the sequence he employed that day. As a teacher, he has been more a devotee of the subject and his Guru. It comes through very clearly in his delivery. He knows LOY inside out and has a fantastic memory with respect to the photos in the hall.

While I know and appreciate the importance of sequencing, in my notes, the sequence would be secondary to the tidbits about Guruji or the Sutras or analogies or a focus action. The bodily effort is simply a way to prepare one to explore one’s own true self. But, today I was struck with the threading of a sequence as an art. The principles of sequencing are not complex, they are based in common sense and are not rigid. Often, one mistakes the list of asanas as a standard over the counter delivery for certain issues. Some things are established and we don’t mess around with it but else, there is a lot of freedom to experiment.

At my level, it is still body driven with rudimentary awareness of breath and mind. I observe but do not have the knowledge or maturity needed for experimenting with it. But, sometimes there is a brief experience of that cohesion, like in savasana today.

In RIMYI news, the institute gets more lively by the day with things getting ready for the fresh academic year. It is a different era now with both offline and online classes. As for me, I am simply happy to be back. It has been a constant through these last years even when it was shut. If I had to articulate what draws me there, I wouldn’t have one answer. RIMYI is many things. It is the generosity of a man who gave all of himself to the world, it is the devotion and dedication of the teachers who carry on his legacy, it is the space itself- a pulsating one that has remained a place of study, endeavour and transformation for so many. I could go on but it probably would not make much sense if one hasn’t experienced it for themselves. Sharing a few pictures here for you Suzy. The last image is of the space allocated for the book store and is adjacent to the new entrance.

Uthita Sthithi

Standing Asanas. Everytime, my mind takes off at rocket speed, I know I need standing poses. There is something about the firmness in the legs that anchors body and mind. I’ve been feeling flighty lately with extremely packed days. So, prescribed a week 1 kind of practice and threw in an abhyanga for good measure.

Practice took a beating this last week with 12-14 hour working days. All I could manage was some releases to ease creaky pains for a short bit early in the day. But today I was up super early and got a solid practice in. I’ll probably ache later in the evening or tomorrow but it will be a sweet reminder of the coursing energy that tells me I am alive. 

Last evening, while I was watching the Obi-Wan series, I thought about how our true selves are hidden from us. How little do we know of the vastness that lies below our waking selves. It is something the texts talk about but every once in a while, there is a sudden dawning, if only momentarily, of those truths. And then they sink under like a big, blue whale. 

I am reminded of how Jambavan needed to remind Hanuman that he was the son of the Wind and had great power within him. Hanuman is a wonderful symbol to explore the various concepts like Yukti, Shakti, Bhakti. They are a progression as well as a base. As a student, it shows as both a continuum and a blossoming. Cyclical. 

A good start to dive into another maddeningly busy day. 

Wall Adho Mukha Vrikashasana and half, Column Pincha Mayurasana and half, Uttanasana, Dandasana, Trikonasana, Parvakonasana, Ardha Chandrasana, Uttanasana, Upavishtakonasana, Supta Padangustasana 1 and 2, Prone Tadasana, Sirsasana, Ek pada Sirsasana, Halasana, Sarvangasana, Niralamba Sarvangasana, Savasana

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.