Thank you

I’ve mostly been self taught since my late teens and it settled into a comfortable habit, this slow stubborn plod through whatever subject I was interested in. Much later, I ran alone, practised alone and stayed on the fringes of groups. Studies of the texts have also been mostly alone. In all this, I did have direction and guidance in the form of books, excellent ones. That’s one of the advantages of self study, one quickly learns to separate the good from the average. 

Blogging has been my connection with others and over the years, I have enjoyed, learned and been inspired by fellow bloggers. Listing them below in no particular order, each one a precious home on the web. For the sake of brevity, these are blogs related to yoga and in one case ayurveda. 

One of the pitfalls of access to information is the explosion of content and it is difficult to find original and authentic thought and experience. These blogs have rung true for me and I remain grateful for the chance to see life through the lens of their authors. A heartfelt thank you to some wonderful fellow travellers who have shared freely of their experiences. 

 

 

Out in the open

Friday evenings, I remain at the back of the hall not sure what I should do. Yesterday, one of my teachers called me out on this lurking in the shadows. I am so raw, so much a beginner that I wonder what can I do to be of use in a therapy class. But, apparently there is something I can do. Yesterday, I was put with a student who had a similar kind sequence to mine when I was broken. And I got to see how my face might have changed as I saw her skin and eyes lighten. “Open the corners of your eyes” used to be a common refrain then and I found myself mouthing the same.

In one Urdhva Dhanurasana, her body just changed shape and all it took was the teacher’s instruction on one or two actions. That movement was much more than the one with hands helping her become tall. The teacher mentioned that that’s why Guruji would call that asana the art of living. Skilfulness in teaching, that’s what I love about the teachers here. Knowing when to support and when to let the student find out. As also, knowing how much a student can take. In retrospect, I was put through the wringer. I think of it as yoga magic but another teacher pointed out that it was blood and tears. That’s true too. But, one still needs to be touched by grace – of teachers and a Power greater than oneself. I’m grateful to have received that in abundance.

These days, I don’t end up looking back and my heart and head feel like a clear stream with no leftovers from yesterday. It feels as though all the sludge is gone and all that is left is a clean river bed for water to gurgle over. I laugh more and am less self conscious, like a child. The tightness in my neck and throat is no longer there and I can lie in savasana. I am awake and alive. This morning, I went on a tree walk and the guide mentioned how it took some 30-40 years before the barks acquire some character. Human beings are like that too.

A White Shirish tree with its distinctive bark that I had the pleasure of meeting this morning.

Teacher’s Day

In contemporary India, 5th September is marked as Teacher’s Day. A day when schools and colleges set aside regular work to acknowledge and appreciate those who mould minds and further a spirit of enquiry. It was instituted in 1962 on Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan’s birthday. The man was the second president of a free India and a lifelong teacher whose life was grounded in the principles of Advaita Vedanta.

Traditionally, we have always had an auspicious day in honour of the guru, guru pournima, but that’s usually celebrated in the classical disciplines of art, yoga, ayurveda etc. The young people in schools and colleges know of this one better.

A guru is a good fortune that few are privileged to receive. Good and great teachers are thankfully more accessible to us. They are also a rare breed but thankfully at the institute, we have many gifted teachers who share of themselves generously. One thing they all have in common is the spirit of studentship and exploration, never a stasis of knowing it all. Another is the deep satisfaction when a student had that moment of understanding and each teacher has a unique way of expressing that joy. It is a deep personal connect that unites the teacher and taught in a moment of union.

Yesterday was an interesting class, mostly practice alone and it felt like a return to normalcy. That shift is real for this stage of my yoga journey. I feel it in the way breath spreads in my upper torso, like rain. It spreads far more wider and every part feels watered. I look at Guruji’s pictures from the different locations I occupy in the large hall at RIMYI and see how his chest appears in all the photographs. Fearless. Stable. Unshakeable. And I am happy to be in the presence of his living legacy that extends beyond his physical life. One breath that unites across time and space.

The large hall at RIMYI which has been a sanctuary

Perhaps there is progress. My teacher has said we could try a beginner’s class and a therapy one instead of the multiple therapy ones. I don’t know how that will pan out but right now I am grateful for the possibility. It’s almost like I was in exile for two years from a regular class. The last three months felt incredibly long and gut wrenching in the amount of emotional and mental debris it threw up. Is it all out? Hard to say but there is acceptance to stay with it and experience despite the resistance. It’s hard to convey the breakthrough but I’m sure yoga has given this to many before me and will continue to bless more people after me too. It was possible because of my teachers and their teachers in an unbroken line of experential wisdom. The mark of their beauty is their abhyasa and vairagyam. I suspect they’d be uncomfortable with the gratitude but grateful I am, deeply. This is but a small tribute to their generosity and compassion.

My pranams from the heart.

Grief and Yoga

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.

A day of learning

I had a last minute trip that came up this morning. A cab had been arranged and I had a lovely 45 minute ride listening to one of the wisest persons I have met in recent times.

An unassuming man, he has been a driver for 42 years, doing almost daily runs on the Mumbai-Pune highway, first as a trucker and then a taxi driver. The road was his teacher. His words, not mine. “Even people who don’t talk teach me much.”

Once a month, he and his wife go someplace, usually to a temple somewhere out of town and come back recharged. He has a guru in his village who he holds in high respect. He reminded me of Nisargadatta Maharaj, a common man who was an enlightened soul. This man is a warkari, he used to do the annual pilgrimage for many years and listened to stories from fellow travellers. Stories about ancient sages and enlightened masters. One of the things he was told as a young man was to undertake pilgrimages while health still permitted so that he wouldn’t need to burden another.

We spoke through the rear view mirror, his deep set eyes a pool of calm radiance. He’s driven many business leaders, politicians and had much knowledge about human nature, different kinds of businesses and nothing to lose. A karma yogi of the finest mettle. A completely irrelevant tidbit but fascinating piece of information was that the colourful tutti-frutti was made of papaya!

One of the interesting things I have observed in my life is how reflective mornings fade into an intellectual workday. I saw it happening with him as well as we moved from a dialogue on matters related to the spirit to a conversation on sundry life matters. His mastery was his car, personally cared for and maintained. Through the years, his knowledge and expertise deepened with the exposure to different vehicles. As he rightly observed, no one can be a master of all. You need to really be with the subject you have chosen. His happiness with his role in life was a deep contentment, reflected in the excellent condition of his vehicle and driving skills.

We spoke on a wide range of topics from the recent political events to family and work, business and learning. He made some astute observations and was up to speed in terms of infrastructure development all by virtue of his job. I was happy to just ask questions and he obliged easily.

The sense I received from his absolute assuredness was a detachment of the sort I haven’t encountered in person. He played the roles he had been given with no expectations and clarity of purpose. An active life of service without attachment. I found myself humbled and privileged to have made his acquaintance.

Hari Om is how he greets anyone so much so that many call him by that name. I’m just grateful to have had the wisdom of his words.

The day opened into another interesting exploration about menstruation with two unlikely people, a retired brilliant business head for a worldwide brand and a younger second generation engineer. Both men, with none of the usual avoidance of anything to do with periods and a great deal of openness to understand what it means to be female and bleeding.

In a matter of 12 hours, I had a yoga lesson from an unlikely teacher, lessons in business and a heart fill of love in the presence of my firstborn. I couldn’t have asked for more.

One of the beautiful juxtapositions of religion and business. A temple in a tree in the compound of an old business complex.

Beloved Tadasana

Class was overflowing today with new students for therapy. It’s very interesting to see how the hall divides after the opening prayers and first asana. There are groups of people with similar conditions and then the oddballs who have a different sequence. I fall in the latter category.

The knee has been feeling better, enough to ask for something besides the asanas I do. I don’t think it’s ready for any bending yet but building some strength, yes. I finally got into a trikonasana, ardha chandrasana and a few other standing asanas. Of course given an open instruction to do standing poses, I reached out to my beloved tadasana, albeit propped. The props made it such a wide open experience. It was a moment of elation at doing the simplest of asanas and finding my feet, literally. The rods continued to keep me company until it was time to let go in ardha halasana. Of course, the voice inside is waiting to see everything that needs to be ‘aligned’ but that’s a while from now.

Finally, there seems to be the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. It would be interesting to go back to the basics with a little memory of how it used to feel. I look at my legs and can see the wasting of the muscles but that can’t be helped. It will still need to wait for a bit before they can be strong again. In the meanwhile, I’m considering an Ayurvedic massage treatment in Kerala. My parents have been under the treatment of a vaidyan there and he is highly recommended. I’m still on the fence when I think of leaving the household during school months.

As I type this, the leg feels like alive. It is spring and this improvement feels like new shoots of green. Cautiously optimistic is still what I remind myself as nature does her thing. I have started to visit a nearby trail once or twice a week for a 10-15 minute slow walk but it’s really just to be barefoot in the open and to watch the birds and feel the sun. I missed feeling the sand and mud, stones and gravel all these days. How do I even begin to say how much it feels like slaking my thirst? This time around I don’t wish to know what works or doesn’t, I’m just grateful for the healing however it happens.

At the risk of sounding like I’m imagining things, I did feel Guruji’s presence very strongly during the Invocation today. It was in my breath and in the steadiness of my closed eyes. Perhaps, staring at his pictures in the hall might have led to the steady and quiet sense as we chanted the few lines.

On a different note, I was at a ceremony yesterday and mentioned to my friend that one of the men there had strong, healthy feet. He also looked very familiar and I kept associating him to RIMYI for some reason and it turned out that he was a student of Iyengar yoga for over 30 years! Small world. He and his colleague were reciting the shlokas beautifully and I was lucky that life gave an opportunity to ask where I could learn the same. Their answer was easy, youtube. 😁There’s no escaping technology and the way we learn and entertain ourselves. Thanks to the digital explosion, I can listen to talks by recent masters. It also allows me to share my thoughts and experiences as I wander on unknown journeys. This is pretty much a space for soliloquy and I write in the hope that someone searching for answers as a beginner finds my journal to have a glimpse of how the journey meanders. It’s a little fellowship of some known and mostly unknown travellers on a solitary road. Thank you all very much for being part of my wanderings.

In gratitude

Engineering 

  • 2 extra large belts
  • 6 regular sized belts
  • 4 small belts
  • 4 small steel rods
  • 4 slightly longer wooden rods
  • 3 foam bricks 
  • 1 thick mat
  • 1 blanket

It took all this skilfully rigged up by a kind teacher to allow me a sense of stability in my leg for a while. It’s been very long since I felt the energy course through my legs the way it did in remedial class last evening. Not to mention, the relief in my back too. The class ended and I could walk without the usual unstable feeling in the knee. It got shot again, a long drive back undid all the good but at least there is a course correction roadmap becoming clear. 

Ironically, I started this class wanting to dissolve into hopelessness and despairing of any real change happening. But, that cautious optimism I felt last week may be justified. There is a lot of hitherto unknown directions of explorations opening up and perhaps there is cure possible. I don’t need to be stoic and resigned. 

The teacher who fixed me up was someone I always thought of as very strict and she turned out to be compassion personified. I spent the bulk of my time in urdhva prasarita padasana tied up well and good against a column. She called the setup ‘engineering’ and it truly was so. The shape of my knees and shins took a different appearance and nature. And all this with just props, I did nothing. It’s very different to be passive in an asana after being used to being engaged all the time but healing requires surrender. It’s clear that if I would want a complete recovery, I would need to rest, rest and rest. The time for active work would come later. I guess it was the loss of a certain level of proficiency in asana that didn’t allow me to let time do it’s magic. It’s just very hard to relax, still.😊 How do you tell your legs to be still when the mind is whirring with thoughts and ideas? 

I remain awed when I see the brilliance of Guruji’s system and the healing power of asana without actually performing an asana. We’re truly lucky to have had such a giant who blazed a way for countless suffering souls.

In gratitude 

Abhyasa of svadhyaya

There is no substitute for hard work, abhyasa. While there was willingness to work, there wasn’t enough mental resilience to persist. In retrospect, it was not having a base of physical health and well being that made the mind crumble at the first sign of resistance.

My road to yoga came through pain and it is only through pain that healing was able to commence. The neck tractions would be agonizing while I was having them but it gave relief after. I could not rotate my shoulders behind without being in tremendous pain. But I practiced until one evening at home, there was a loud and painful click which made me stop where I was and just stay. After a couple of minutes, I found that my shoulders were pain free and I could rotate them without any discomfort. It felt magical and was a nudge to show me that the point was to practice sincerely. The physical benefits were a foregone conclusion, the real benefit was building mental strength.

Through regular practice, I gained the benefits of a sense of wellbeing and health. This allowed for a certain level of calmness to start noticing patterns- physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. In my mother tongue, there is a word called “nanni” which translates into grateful thanks. That was my overwhelming feeling at the end of class.

Some days the enthusiasm flags and the effort required to keep the practice fresh is tiring. That usually happens when my study work is slacking. So I get back to the tools of reading and writing which usually gets me back on track. Sometimes it is too much seriousness and then I need to find the lightness to laugh at myself. Sometimes it is letting go of a rigid attitude towards practice. A daily inventory helps me see the adjustments I need to make in my mental posture.

Yama-niyama

It is easy to slide back and lose sight of the yamas and niyamas without devoting a certain amount of time to study everyday.

Come weekends and the family needs my attention so I put away my reading, writing and studying. I enjoy the time spent with them and feel blessed to have what I do. At the same time, I also see how the mind starts to wander. Regular study maintains the discipline to stick to the path come what may.

My family thinks I am a yoga fanatic now. Yet they can see the small changes. My older girl remarked that she didn’t know when I started my cycle because I didn’t have one of the typical PMS crankiness that pops up every month without fail. The husband started going to a class a couple of months ago. Somewhere even they have experienced the changes that yoga brings for themselves.

I just have a huge sense of gratitude for the relief from pain that I used to experience. Even greater than that is the thankfulness I feel for finding the direction I was seeking. Reading my earlier notes, I see how my understanding is changing as I stick to the journey. Increasingly I find that a goal is not as necessary as much as the journey is.