August’s thought was one that I was conscious about every single day. This one was a tough one to stay with, it threw up many false notions about myself. The degree of compassion often only extends to where my ideas and beliefs are not at odds.
Compassion means being able to pause, reflect and respond.
Compassion means listening completely, including silences.
Compassion means a deep sense of oneness, it cannot exist in separateness.
Compassion means being of service, not being attached.
Compassion is easier with people outside of your immediate family where the opportunity for friction is less.
Just a placeholder post while I let this thought linger.
December is always a special month in the Iyengar community with Guruji and Geetaji’s birth anniversaries and now her death anniversary as well. It is a time of memories, sweet, aching, happy and above all loving.
Yesterday, many students and teachers shared their memories of Geetaji, her father’s daughter and a gem amongst women. Listening to some of the sharings, I teared up as the compassion they talked about was also one I experienced first hand from the brilliant teachers she mentored. I found myself going back to this day last year and remembering the utter devastation I felt on hearing of her passing away. In a strange way, I felt motherless and was grief stricken. This despite never knowing her personally.
One striking characteristic of everyone in the Iyengar family is childlike innocence and playfulness. It seems in direct contrast to their fierceness but I’ve only seen compassion shining through when they have been tough. The medical classes are perhaps the best place to see Iyengar yoga in all its generosity of spirit. Thanks to the times we live in, we can hear them and see them again and again.
One of the teachers at the institute shared her memories about Geetaji through a heart choked with emotion and in her words I found echoes of my struggle with practice. The same doubts and sense of ‘never being able to do some stuff’. My journey too has been one of fits and starts and seeming stagnation but I still show up with all my shortcomings simply because I believe that this is the way for me. Most of the senior practitioners who seem unflappable and so strong have also had their share of terrible pain and tragedy. I suppose in a way, Iyengar yoga is for those who have suffered greatly and found no solace elsewhere. It is not an easy path to journey and there are no half measures. As Geetaji was know to say, you have to be willing to die.
On Guruji’s birth anniversary, Abhi took one of his sayings and went on to explore what it meant. “When I practise, I am a philosopher. When I teach, I am a scientist. When I demonstrate, I am an artist.” Seemingly different but when you settle into the ideas expressed, it makes perfect sense. They are not separate but facets of the same practice. I like to think of it as parallel to Satyam, Shivam and Sundaram as well as jnana, karma and bhakti margas respectively. Art as understood in the Indian tradition was always about exalting the divine. A classical musician or dancer spends years of sweat and toil learning the basics and techniques under a guru. The maturing of the artiste makes it possible to then move beyond the science and philosophy of the form to create art. Even Brahma needed to create, it is a natural instinct for self expression and in Guruji’s case, it was an expression of the Self.
My head and heart are full with the words and thoughts left by all those who spoke about their experiences. The beautifully choreographed demonstration by some of the practitioners was a delight to watch and if Geetaji were alive, she would have been happy to see the devotion to Guruji that continues to grow. After his passing, she never lost an opportunity to remind us to be true to his legacy and beyond death, her life continues to inspire thousands to be true to the art, science and philosophy of Ashtanga yog. As Pavithra shared, one cannot really separate Geetaji and Guruji. To speak of one is to remember the other too.
There was much that was spoken and it will take a while to let some of those words seep in, especially Prashantji’s almost insistent words about clues left by Guruji on the brain and heart but I still have to attain readiness to even begin to understand it.
I thought long and hard about posting here and finally decided to do so. As a novice student, there was scanty material from a beginner’s perspective available on the wide internet and so it felt like a good idea to document my learnings and failings for another like me.
I’ve consistently been a mess when in class and finally mustered the courage to speak to my teacher about my inability to hold back tears. That was a very big step as I find it incredibly hard to ask for help and generally tend to pretend to be invisible. It’s strange, this grief for no apparent reason. I don’t know where it springs from and why it happens only in class. Outside, I am strong, confident and play my roles as mother, friend, professional etc. with energy. In my everyday, things are slowly but steadily progressing but in class, I don’t recognize the person on the mat.
I find myself apologizing for the choking creature I become and cannot look anyone in the eye. My body is not my own as hands pull and push it. After each asana, I feel the fatigue of an old woman.
I’m mostly an incorrigible optimist and dealing with sadness like this in little bits is exhausting. Lately, I find it crops up even in other situations when I am alone, like brushing my teeth. I suppose it is the winding ways of sorrow. And that is different for everyone.
The teachers have been incredibly compassionate even as I cry through the poses. It comes in waves, sometimes strong and sometimes a little milder. My breath gets staggered and limbs shake. I wish it gone even as I understand that this has to run its own course. The intellect recognizes but the mind refuses to accept this state of the body.
I was hesitant to go to class yesterday because I was scared of another weepy session. But I went anyway and ended up in an even bigger puddle than I imagined. My heart never felt this raw and exposed. As my teacher swung me in Sirsasana, the sobs grew more intense. This sorrow comes in waves. My head tells me all the loss of the past is in the past but the body screams otherwise. Come to think of it, the tears are probably just the ones I repressed every time I put on a stoic face and stood strong. Now that I don’t need to protect myself, it is possible to let it out.
At the end of a couple of hours, I leave wondering if I have it in me to go back to class again. My body feels as though its been through a wringer and my heart feels raw, as though there’s exposed skin and new skin is just beginning to grow.
I’m deeply indebted to my teachers who have been so supportive and gentle. I didn’t think it was possible for me to be able to receive so much gentleness. Perhaps, some day I can smile and tell them in person about how much it meant to be taken care of.
I recorded my practice today and watched myself to see where I was going off.
To my inexperienced eye, my spine was the biggest eye opener. I thought my back was concave but it was most definitely not. In retrospect, I think I need to work on my shoulder blades and extend my sides to get that action. In class, the teacher’s instructions are pointed and the collective energy makes a whole lot of movement easier to access. At home, I lose those adjustments while thinking I am on track. Avidya and asmita at play.
A while ago, I would either be in despair or frustrated with my seeming lack of progress. Today, I can get up again and again. There is a sentence from Light on Life by Guruji that keeps me inspired to keep going.
“The presence of truth can make us feel naked, but compassion takes all our shame away.”
Yoga has helped to take away a lot of my inhibitions and self judgements to be able to keep striving. This attitude has also spilled into my life away from the mat. Every time I strip down to my bloomers, it is getting naked and baring my flaws. Some days I am not able to get out of my head and then it doesn’t feel complete. At other times, the surrender is total and I am led by the practice. Those moments are light but it happens so infrequently that I wonder if it is real.