Week wrapped backwards

Backbends week and it was some heavy lifting. Not difficult, just intense. When I think of the crazy backbends I was put into a few years ago, these seem mild and I think perhaps I could push a little. But, it is a tricky category. It requires determination and courage but it would also be foolhardy to rush into it. And in the interim, I feel my changed body as well. Outwardly, it looks the same or perhaps a little leaner but inside, there is heaviness. A woman’s body has its weather and then there’s the climatic conditions too. And like Shakira croons, ‘hips don’t lie’. They feel their age.

Vipareeta Dandasana Morning and Evening expressions

The week’s practice was a lot of baddakonasana and some backbends. Just nudging the body to work with resistance, to bring restraint in action. Tinkering, coaxing until it becomes amenable to change. It takes time and patience in good measure but the body does yield, the mind does yield.
Someone sent me a clip of an industrialist sharing his experience with Guruji and yoga and there was such a nugget of wisdom there. Basically, fix the functioning and the structure will eventually fall into place. Sharing it here should you like a watch. I guess one could draw parallels with karma yoga here. Do without expectation of the fruits of your labour.

Then there is Prashantji’s class which is in a different realm. Dizzying in its nuanced complexities and one can only wonder at his vast knowledge. His education series talks are very illuminating. They keep me company on my commute to and fro the institute. In one of his earlier classes he had mentioned developing one’s own schema in the study of this subject. And I find that anchoring in one text is a good way to explore.

Assisting is becoming a little more natural. I realised I would instinctively tense when I was called to do something because I wasn’t sure I would know how and thought I should have known But, once I became aware of it, the experience has been one of natural curiosity and openness. And in the process, learning has been more organic. Therapy sessions are about agility and precision but that comes with slowness. Breaking down the steps into a series of logical progressions that are accessible.

The institute will see its first in-person event on Patanjali Jayanti and I’m looking forward to it. Prior to the pandemic, the hall would be spilling over with people and there would be arrangements for people to watch on a screen in the lobby area. Considering a hybrid way of life, it would be interesting to see how it pans out. Through the year, everyone is in bloomers and tees so the dressed up selves are quite a lovely change.

Diwali is just around the bend and there will be a welcome break from the routine. It is a pretty time of the year but this year the monsoon has refused to depart and may play spoilsport.

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.

Backbending in July

Recently, I remembered how, as a beginner, I wished that I could study with Prashantji someday and then it struck me that I was in his class now. And that sort of summarizes my RIMYI journey. Slow, meandering, unexpected but completely organic. The more I attend classes of varying levels, I see the incredible value of the foundational actions in asanas. Keeping at the basics has actually been a faster progression.

The last 2 weeks have been hectic with multiple overlapping deadlines but classes were a constant and they were instrumental in some breakthrough in personal practice. I injured the problem knee over the weekend and so couldn’t do many asanas in the classes. So a switch to the therapy sequence from a few years ago. But this time, I explored some of the kriyas Prashantji talks about and it was illuminating. There is such a marked difference in sensitivity and consequently, access. Like yesterday we were in some quiet Urdhva Dhanurasanas and then were asked to do the regular one without much attention and the violence to the nerves in the latter was so stark. It was like sensing in HD.

Yesterday, Urdhva Dhanurasana was also a learning period as the teachers and assistants worked on each other with hands-on adjusting. It was quite interesting to work with different kinds of bodies, see how the adjustments worked etc. In the bargain, I think I must have done 30 odd Urdhva Dhanurasanas but it was not tiring. I’ve not been practising it much lately and anticipated soreness today but there was minimal discomfort. I suppose there is more skill and less muscular effort in the execution of these poses now.

Speaking of backbends, Sunday’s class was a Chair Vipareeta Dandasana marathon with nearly 90 minutes of the asana, with breaks of course. But, that was again another first for me. Prashantji spoke about yoga as ‘happenings’ rather than ‘doings’ and happenings need ‘stayings’. And somehow that long hour and a half exploration of Vipareeta Dandasana provided the ‘staying’ necessary to move far beyond normal capacity with no distress.

Much of the teachings of yoga are esoteric, hidden in plain sight but the likes of me cannot decode it. It is an extremely slow revealing as one listens to teachers, listens to them carefully, repeatedly and slowly things become apparent, like clouds drifting apart to let the sun appear. At these junctures, there is usually a coming together of different influences speaking of the very same principles. Some of my reading and listening these past weeks have been a case in point.

Most days, I first lie on the Vipareeta Dandasana bridge before the beginning of class. It is the prop that held me through inexplicable heaviness of the heart but now it is a feeling of surrender that I experience. In some sense, it is a prayer, an entering into a sanctuary. The feel of the hard wood on my back and the release of the body as it yields to the support are always a quiet gathering. At day’s end, I’m simply glad for the opportunity to study in person with my teachers, feel the comfort of the call and response of the invocation and experience the gift of one man’s incredible sadhana.

Holiday Practice – Backbend preps

Somehow through these days, the asanas that have come up have been inspired by fauna. But maybe that could also be because of the sheer number of asanas that take shapes of various animals, birds and insects.

Backbends sort of took a backseat with the heatwave conditions we’ve been having the last few weeks. But, the monsoons will soon be here, there are stirrings of those winds. Most mornings I am woken rather early  by the common hawk cuckoo or koels frantically calling. Almost as though they want to hurry up their summer passions before it is time to withdraw. I digress.

Back to backbends, today was prep work with shoulder and sternum opening followed by Salabhasana, Bhujangasana, Dhanurasana and Ek pada Rajkapotasana prep. It was rusty from the word go but the joints and spine feel good. Perhaps, I’ll continue with some supported backbends tomorrow.  

Bending over backwards

Medical class is for 105 minutes. Yesterday, I was in intense backbends for over an hour, amply assisted by teachers. I sweated buckets and tired but the teachers didn’t let up and we had a few laughs about the attention I was getting. Many vipareeta dandasana variations, urdhva dhanurasana, chakra bandasana, setubandhasana etc. and many repeats until I could barely walk.

But, the beauty is the recovery, a swinging sirsasana on the ropes. It was happy. Except for a fleeting thought about fast flowing tears and terrible fear in the same asana a couple of months ago, there was nothing but the air against my face and a sense of joy.

Often, I get asked what my ailment is. I wouldn’t know what to say but now I feel, my ailment is avidya. Ignorance, the foremost of the kleshas, containing the remaining four. So, I go and do what my teacher says even if I wonder how in the world I am going to bend over backwards like in the pictures I am shown. It simply looks impossible. But, I trust her, implicitly and go wherever she sends me. Perhaps, this is also about learning to trust myself again.

I came back home and have been mildly obsessed to find out all about viapreeta dandasana. There is much available about the pose, its execution, its benefits and contraindications. I seek something else but it is hidden from me. Perhaps, someone reading this can share? Yesterday, I came across the words Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram in another context and feel it is a clue to what I seek. Translated, it means truth, auspiciousness and beauty – all of which exists in the backbends.

If I have to explore a little about the three, Satyam would be the inescapable confrontation with one’s own self, black, white and grey. Shivam might be the potential for self- realization and Sundaram would be joy, all of which happen in backbends. That class of asanas has been about moving to the light, walking through darkness and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. It has been walking through the gutters of my mind and finally getting out. I am reminded of The Shawshank Redemption where Tim Robbins walks a similar journey.

Am I free? I don’t know. Chances are I will fail again and hopefully rise again. All I do know is that, yoga has the tools and it is possible to endure.

P.S. I seek to learn and would be grateful for ay experiences that you may share.

Back to Basics

It’s been physically and mentally exhausting shuttling cities lately but I didn’t want to miss attending a regular class. Therapy class was about naked emotions and with no where to hide. Yesterday, I drove over 3 hours to make it to my first beginner’s class in nearly two years.

The drive was painful and full of unbidden memories, ghosts of past terrors and present wounds. Every time I felt a wave rising, I had to remind myself to let the body relax and have the wave wash over and exhaust itself. Sometimes, it meant releasing it in animal sounds of pain that reared up from deep inside.

I made it to the institute with about 40 minutes to spare so I sat and watched a class wind up. I also encountered yoga friends from the earlier classes and it was hard. During the last few months, I stayed away from familiar acquaintances as I didn’t want to talk about myself. And I found myself feeling the tightness again when they asked innocent questions after my health and home.

I didn’t trust myself to be ok in a regular class and the invocation time was one of angst. So I sat with my eyes open pushing back tears that threatened to flow. The class though was a beautiful reminder about the basics and I found myself reminded of “The body is the first prop.” After being heavily propped for the last couple of years, I was shaky in the independent poses. It’s ironic that the slightly more difficult asanas are easier now. On the way back from class, I could cry in the privacy of the car. Maybe I’m finally learning to feel and express sadness the way people normally do.

So much has shifted in the last year, right from my home to my inner world. It’s still in a flux but I feel lucky for the destruction of my life as I knew it. That allowed me to walk on a yoga road very different from what I had known till then. Less about books and philosophy and soaked in treating the kleshas.

Notes from about 3 years ago. Still as true.

I’m hesitant to acknowledge a home practice lest it go away. It is there in the way it feels like experiment and study, a little rusty like it felt five years ago. But, there.
I had a small aha moment today with my breath. I wanted to work with the dorsal region and so practised twists, sirsasana and variations, some backbends. Finally, in setuband sarvangasana and savasana, I felt the breath centered in cycles around my sternum in a controlled region. It was a different experience altogether, like pranayama. I remember how difficult pranayama classes would be, the breath just would not stay confined to where the teacher would tell us. Today, it happened.

Yoga journey could be compared to a gangly adolescent’s growth. It has spurts, uneven and disproportionate extensions and one fine day, you realize that the full adult size is reached. I suppose this is what it means to be a practitioner, forever an adolescent.

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.

Biochemistry of asanas

Today was a stark contrast to class the day before. There was lightness and space in the body and breath. None of the cringing into collapse but instead an openness and curiosity to explore the asanas prescribed. Truly, the body is an incredible instrument, it holds memory both short-term and long-term. I had the leeway to play with a few asanas by myself and it felt possible to go back to being a student.

Last class saw me beaten and at an extremely low point. Somehow telling my teacher that it was fear that was surfacing helped me walk through it. I was in a situation where I relived terrors I wouldn’t let myself feel years ago and was feeling trapped yet again. She made me confront that repeatedly, dropping into the unknown with the promise of holding me or else falling with me and laughing about it. It is strenuous work for the teachers, the weight of not just the bodies of the students but also their inner heaviness.

Something shifted inside in that last class, not just in the heart but in the head too, breaking an old pattern. I could find my voice and be vulnerable in the face of that fear. An old response pattern was broken in the world outside the mat. Perhaps the asanas changed the biochemistry of my psyche, rewiring and rewriting old narratives making it possible to change the course of the future.

Between my two teachers, I am pulled and pushed into spaces I can’t reach. I don’t understand any of it but trust blindly. At times, my senses experience the various movements and even rest. Today, a savasana happened spontaneously after a very long while.

Perhaps someday I can spend my days soaked in yoga at the institute. Maybe I can give back in some little way for all that I have been so freely and unconditionally given.

In gratitude

Of backbends and children 

There’s something very exhilarating about backbends, like a bird spreading its wings to fly. I feel it for a pause before I start a run too. A sense of gathering myself from inside and spreading my wings to take off. Imagination plays a funny role, both in asana practice as well as running. I have this image of a graceful running stride or an aligned urdhva dhanurasana but reality is a different picture. 😊 It makes me smile at the huge disconnect between my perception and reality. Just a small instance of how our outsides reflect our insides. It’s the same with our usual mental and emotional posturing. Case in point, children. 

As a parent, I mean well and have the best interests of my kids. However, it is easy to get caught in the, “Mother knows best” syndrome. Do I really know best? Are my actions and words really from a detached perspective and not a reaction to everyday frustrations? Truthfully, not always. It is a different world now from the one I knew as a child. The paradigms that defined an older period no longer exist and the conflict is beacuse of the eternal loss in translation between an older generation and the current one. 

Two children, as different as chalk and cheese. One, a meticulous, highly organised and driven child and the other a free spirited artist. One who learns well with a structured format and the other who teaches herself what she wants to learn. One who doubts and the other who doesn’t. How did they end up choosing me? Perhaps it is as Khalil Gibran says in The Prophet.

Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. 

They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you. 

You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. 

You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. 

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. 

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. 

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. 

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. 

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

It is a great privilege to be a parent but how often do I see it as such. I just get caught up in the current of the day and getting them to do their stuff. Sometimes I would look at a tiny K and wonder aloud, “Where did you come from?” She’d have an impish smile and say from the sky. Actually, it’s not too far from the truth. After all, didn’t Yashoda see the entire universe in little Krishna?
Hari Om

Backbending without backbends

I wonder if I would ever be as intense in my practice as the teachers at the institute. It is impossible to keep a single asana fresh every time without active study. 

Today was backbends day and we did not do a single backbending pose. Yet, we bent over backwards. That’s a phrase we use unthinkingly most of the time. Usually, with a tinge of a whine or disappointment. Yet, what is backbending really? 

At this time and space, it is expanse and light for me. Surrender and Freedom. Today’s asanas did not progress from the usual urdhva mukha svanasana. Instead, twists and inversions provided the effects of opening the anterior body. Backbends light up my temples for some reason and I have more clarity in vision. Why the temples? 

The language of symbolism is powerful as I am beginning to discover. They are like breadcrumbs, pointers to delve deeper. Recently, my little girl hurt her tailbone and that raised sacrum to the surface of my thoughts. It’s a word that has been bobbing up and down ever since and perhaps there is a connection between the two. Sacrum, temple, sanctum?

Tambdi Surla- an old temple in the heart of Goa