An unwritten letter

I was on my mat this morning when I received a call that Geetaji had passed away. It seemed unreal and fitting at the same time, she went in a blaze of brilliance after seeing the Centennial celebrations. But, I mourn selfishly for my regrets. I mourn for not reaching out to learn. I mourn for forever losing the chance to experience her as a direct teacher.

Ever since I became a student at the Institute, I wanted to share my briefest of brief moments in Guruji’s presence. Many years ago, I stood in line among others to seek his blessings at the end of a commemorative program. I was carrying my younger child and today I realize his presence and the gift of yoga blessed her far more than I can begin to imagine. I wanted her to know it but was too much in awe to share it. I thought I was an unworthy student and didn’t deserve to say it in person. So, I fiddled with the thought of writing her a letter and was stuck at the thought what would happen if she decided she wanted to know who is this person in Pune who would rather write a letter than meet. And so, I did not act for all these years.

My first act after I got off the mat was to write that letter. I reached the Institute and sat down next to an elderly lady and when she patted my lap, couldn’t help but share my regret about not reaching out. She consoled me and much later, as I left the crematorium, she told me to be bold. And so, at another ending, there is a new beginning. Just like Guruji’s words.

I wonder if it is ok to feel so much grief for someone I never directly knew. But, my heart is raw and the tears threaten to choke my heart. I swallow their hot pain and look upwards to send them back but they remain brimming. Many memories have been bubbling inside.

I would practise to her DVD and took back a different learning everytime. Her voice is imprinted in my brain. Even through an inanimate and indirect class, her energy would be palpable. I would feel as though I was at the Institute. Sometimes, I would linger on my way down after class to hear her voice back when she was still taking the ladies class. Lately, I would yearn for her guidance in the medical class but didn’t have the nerve to ask. I thought my knee issue wasn’t bad enough to ask for her help, or anyone else’s for that matter. I remember her talks, her earnestness in being true to the principles of yoga and her immense devotion to Guruji.

I remembered that I do have a small piece of her touch in my copy of Beloved Guruji

I cannot begin to imagine the sorrow of her family and those who have lived and loved her directly. The family was strong and supported those who were inconsolable. But, we stayed grieving only for our loss. Somewhere, the teachings from the Gita echoed as I heard the chatter of Guruji’s tiny great grandchildren and the noises of life outside. We don’t die. We just become part of the cosmos. We dissolve into that single unbroken stream of consciousness until the conditions are met for another creative expression. As the women of the family chanted Narayanaya, I remembered my reading of the morning

यच्चापि सर्वभूतानां बीजं तदहमर्जुन।

न तदस्ति विना यत्स्यान्मया भूतं चराचरम।।३९।।

She was a worthy disciple and daughter. I am reminded of the dream she had after Guruji’s passing away and which she so generously shared. In my heart’s eye, I remember her smile, the half smile of satisfaction at the end of a session. A childlike innocence. That’s how she will remain in my heart.

Humble pranams from an undeserving student.

10 months later…

It’s taken me nearly 10 months to go through the Gita this time, a slow study of a few shlokas a day with some short stretches of breaks from reading. I turned the last page at about 4:30 this morning and as I sat thinking about the journey through these pages, it was interesting to see how much change was happening in my life during the course of my study. An extremely uncertain and challenging phase which fugued into an even more displaced time.

While my copy of the book is marked with words that spoke directly, it feels like I’ve barely begun to dip into its nectar. 701 verses concluding with Sanjaya’s conviction, “Wherever is Krishna, the Lord of Yoga, wherever is Partha, the archer, there are prosperity, victory, happiness and firm (steady or sound) policy; this is my conviction.”

यत्र योगेश्वर: कृष्णो यत्र पार्थो धनुर्धर:।

तत्र श्रीर्विजयो भूतिर्ध्रुवा नीतिर्मतिर्मम ।।७८।।

There are a couple of interesting points in this shloka. The first being, the presence of both the Lord of Yoga and the archer as a necessary condition. The second is the fruit of their joint presence.

Swami Chinmayananda speaks about Krishna as the ‘marriage between the secular and the sacred’ and the natural progression of such a union being prosperity, victory/ success, happiness and firm policy.

Shree, Vijaya, Bhuti, Dhruva neeti are the sanskrit words and it intrigued me enough to spend some time wondering on the promise they held. While the common translations seem adequate, I cannot help shake a sense of something that goes beyond the word meaning to the root meaning. Unanswered for now but there is a churn inside that throws up flashes like exalted earthly existence, sthiratha and sukham of the Sutras etc. Perhaps, I’m barking up the wrong tree, perhaps not. We’ll see in time.

The last shloka is Sanjaya’s conclusion of the Divine Song and appropriate to one in the thick of a battle for dharma in the context of the Mahabharata. Goals of victory, prosperity and a stable rule. Outside of that context, in the modern day scenario, the battlefield is our internal mindscape. No less intense and the promise is a prosperity of radiant thoughts, small victories over the fears conquered, steadiness of contentment and the permanence of the purpose of our lives, like the pole star.

Finishing this slow plod through the book has only made me feel how much of an Arjuna I remain in between armies, suspended in time and space.

A wooden inlay panel that I love looking at in my home.

Living Water

There’s much to share and it seems too vast and interconnected to begin at a single point. The shloka or two that I read in the morning simmer through the day and spills into subsequent readings over the next few days. While it is not a linear and systematic method of learning, I find it useful in allowing intuition to do its job. New connections make themselves apparent without thirsty seeking. A different kind of abhyasa, one of being rather than doing. It feels like another cycle of learning has started yet again. 

The fascination with the panchamahabhutas continues along with watching the play of gunas within myself and around me. It takes the drama out of everyday excitement and irritation and provides a clear framework for self-study. 

Recently, I came across a rather obscure book at a friend’s home and the title was intriguing. So, I borrowed it and it has been a fascinating read so far. A smattering of some of the gems from that tiny little copy are below.

Actually, the mysteries of water are similar to those of the blood in the human body. In nature, normal functions are fulfilled by water just as blood provides many important functions for mankind.

Water in its natural state shows us how it wishes to flow, so we should follow its wishes.

Naturally moving water augments itself. It improves in quality and matures considerably. 

Water which sinks into the earth from the atmosphere will pick up salts and minerals and other substances which restore its vitality; it is enlivened by isolation from light and air. But there is also a certain  journey in both time and distance that the water must make before it becomes internally mature.

Living Water by Olof Alexandersson

It reads like the mystic shlokas and sutras and I cannot help but think of the parallels in yogic concepts. And that opens a whole new vista. 

Living Water by Olof Alexandersson

Accordingly, my practices are changing and it is a natural shift towards watching rather than just doing. It raises questions and also teaches to stay with them. Something  Schauberger says about inheritance is similar to what the Gita and the Sutras speak.

Schauberger’s Heritage

Hari Om

Lessons from the little finger

In every class there is something that stays in my head as a signpost, be it an action or a statement. Friday classes are a favourite with our teacher exhorting us to observe the effects of certain actions in one location in the body on other areas, on the breath and the mind.

In my initial days, there was a huge disconnect with my body and I would wonder what in the world did the teacher mean by pressurise the outer foot or push the front thigh back etc. It took time for some semblance of awareness to come to those regions. Added to the mix was stiffness in the body and fear in the mind which had to be addressed. Alignment was the key that unlocked the potential for being present. Our teacher said something vey interesting yesterday, “alignment is an instrument” and it just clicked. 

There is impatience when I sense the mismatch between my left and right sides and I can’t make it equal. It’s the frustration of a child as he/she struggles with learning to write. Then, I have to remind myself that it takes a lot of abhyasa and more than that, vairagyam. It ties in beautifully with what the Gita sings – bring the yajna spirit to our actions. 

Alignment is not just in asana, it begins with the yamas and niyamas. It begins with aligning our conduct with others, aligning self practices to prepare for studentship before moving to asana. And then, it is a continuous process within the shifting paradigms of what they mean at any point in time as one progresses or regresses in practice. In asana also, we do, adjust, observe, redo, understand, experiment, do and stay. Then the pose dissolves and something shifts. Information transforming into knowledge as our teacher says. 

The little finger in Urdhva Hastasana has much to teach. Am I listening?

hasta of a hasta nakshatra…


All God’s creatures

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

No longer a beginner

‘This contemplation on the asanas means then that you are no longer a beginner.’
– Preliminary Course by Geeta S. Iyengar

It’s been almost a year and a half since I started learning yoga and all this while the focus was on how much of a beginner I am. True, the learning never ends and I will always be a student but perhaps a truer picture would be to acknowledge a certain progression. As Geetaji says, the learning begins now.
Maybe it is time to acknowledge my individual journey as I follow the path laid down by my teacher and those that have gone before her. I see how other practitioners of this system also pursue other disciplines and bring a certain finesse in their chosen areas through their practice.
I see each teacher express his/her unique interpretation while staying true to the teachings as they take a class. So perhaps I need to accept my inclinations whether it is in learning more about the philosophy of yoga or continuing to run. The discipline is such that I will only be learning as much as I am ready to learn. And maybe the label I attach to myself prevents me from getting out of my comfort zone and making mistakes if need be.
Home practice has been a mix of Week 6 and forward extensions. And it is rewarding as I sense each side differently. Sometimes I fret about the time I will need to go through the sequence but inevitably once I am on the mat, time disappears and the curiosity takes over. The why and how? I feel the same way after my home practice as I do after class.
As far as reading goes, the flowers in my balcony reminded me of a line in the Gita where Lord Krishna says that he is Spring amongst the seasons.

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Dahlia from my garden

That got me to open chapter 10 and it read like the Song it is.

Among hymns also I am the ‘BRIHAT-SAMAN’; among metres ‘GAYATRI’ am I; among months I am parts of December-January (MARGA-SHIRSHA); among seasons I am the ‘flowery-spring’.
– Ch.10:35, The Holy Gita, Commentary by Swami Chinmayananda

Hari Om

Dharma kshetre kurukshetre..

While on holiday, I managed just one day of a full sequence. The other days, I sat in swastikasana or virasana and a little bit of Supta Padangushtasana on the bed. I missed a regular practise but asana found me in different ways. In my reading, I was on a loop of Sutras 1.34- 1.39. My takeaway- the organic nature of the limbs of yoga.
Most of the time, I was simply there being in the moment, feeling the earth under my feet. We stayed in a guesthouse in the forest and it was very easy to fall into the rhythm of the place. There was a lot of walking, mostly barefoot, running (shoe shod) and listening with my senses. The paths were beautiful, red earth dotted with the scent of eucalyptus and the sounds of scurrying creatures (mongooses, squirrels), the constantly changing surface of the trails (packed earth, sandy stretches, stony and gravelly sections, wide paths and narrow tracks). The air was crisp and clean and carried the sounds of music and birds. I had the pleasure of running a half marathon there which did a loop of the entire settlement and it was a joyful experience. My husband got a few pictures and a couple of video clips while I was running and it was quite interesting to see myself. At the end of the run, with about 300m to go, my form was still pretty good and relaxed. Of course, there are a lot of things I still need to work on but it reinforced the value of working on the essentials rather than focusing on a result of timing or pace. It was flattering to get a, “you run really well” from a seasoned runner I shared a few miles with.

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Running solo

Usually, I would look forward to coming home after a break and getting back into my routine but this time I guess I have left a little bit of my heart in Auroville. I would like to live there, one with the earth, working with my hands and needing very little. My little girl was in her element too, it was like going back to her old school. She used to study in a school that was in a village when we moved to Pune. They would sit on the floor in class, walked and played barefoot and ate simple village meals for lunch. More than both of us, it is the husband who is considering moving there! But for now, our dharma kshetra is here and now.

 

Shlokas and Sutras

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Yesterday was a contemplative day. While sitting down to write, something pushed me to open my copy of The Commentary on The Gita by Swami Chinmayananda and the page opened up to Chapter 6, shlokas 34 and 35. As always, randomly opening a book brings me what I need to hear.
Vairagyam as a natural result of abhyasa.
I was off running for a bit and was beginning to think perhaps I should give it up. A long break from running actually made my body feel better and asana was lighter but it is not time yet. I still have much abhyasa in that part of my life before it finishes its run. As of now, running provides the balance to asana for me. And as the book says, I don’t need to give up anything, it will fall off by itself when the time is ready. I do understand that over a long term period, running long distances is not going to serve me much. I tend to lose too much weight and on an already lanky frame, that leaves nothing. I have to eat huge amounts just to keep what I have and maintain steady levels of energy.
While reading and rereading the shlokas and its commentary, it struck me that the Yog sutras were parallel to the Gita. The same message in both, the only difference, in my view, being the more secular view of the Sutras. The message stayed with me all day yesterday and I still find myself chewing on it. So many applications in my day to day moments. Abhyasa in yamas and niyamas at all times, that is the challenge. Being fully conscious of my present and responding in the right manner. It seems severe and austere but abhyasa makes it easier everytime I am able to take the harder path. I slip up many times in many ways but I get up again and try. Eventually, that is all I can do. Endeavour. And running taught me that. Endeavour and endure. Long distance running slowly made me resilient and taught me endurance. I can go on even when I think I cannot. Usually, I have atleast 40% if not more when I think I cannot go any further. I finally got out for a run today and it felt good. The foot has healed too I think, ran barefoot for about 500m and walked a km without my shoes.

In gratitude for the eternal teachings.

Inner samasthithi

That firm man to whom, surely, these afflict not, O chief among men, to whom pleasure and pain are the same, is fit for realizing the Immortality of the Self. 2:15

Having made – pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat – the same, engage in battle for the sake of battle; thus you shall not incur sin. 2:38

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Image and shlokas from
The Holy Geeta
Commentary by Swami Chinmayananda

This week showed me how much I needed to find my inner samasthithi.

The moment of understanding actually happened when I received news that my daughter had secured admission into school when just the day before they had asked me to check elsewhere. That 24 hour period saw me disappointed, stoic, frustrated, dejected, sad, accepting and ecstatic. The moment I got a call asking me to get to the school was when I experienced joy and the realization that in happiness too, I need to find the calmness.

The samasthithi that is firm and unshakable in every situation. Just like the mountain it is named after. Learning to stand in tadasana has a big parallel in my life to standing strong and tall in my own life.

In the mad scramble to get life organized around admissions and work, all I managed was 10 minutes of asana for a few days. I felt lazy about unrolling my mat for practice thinking I would be stiff but somehow managed to shake off that lethargy and get moving. Standing asanas and wound up with Setuband Sarvangasana. At the end, I experienced the same sense of lightness that I felt in class a few months ago. Just before I saw sound.
I later learnt from my friend that there is a medical term for the phenomenon which is called synesthesia. Intuition says there is something there but for now I am content to focus on alignment since there is a long way before I achieve proficiency in asana.

In the meanwhile, I can use the two shlokas from the eternal song to help me find my grounding.