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.

The dance of life

A couple of years ago, if someone had to ask me to choose between being steeped in yoga and my normal life, I wouldn’t be able to choose the former. Yet, it was always a dream to fulfill once my responsibilities were over.

And then the last year unraveled in ways I hadn’t imagined. Life threw quite a few curveballs in quick succession and forced a complete destruction of all that I held normal. Every single thing. All the yoga classes over the last few months worked with erasing the vestiges of that limited self, forcing me to confront myself. It’s amazing how much we build around the idea of who we are instead of who we actually are. Deeply flawed and potentially divine.

Destruction happens. It’s always happening in nature when leaves turn yellow and fall, creatures die, lava incinerates and tsunamis wash away many lives. Yet, nature creates, not recreates. Even humans. We say rebuild but it’s actually creating from scratch because the old does not exist any longer. That is consumed by time. The Natraj statue in the library was a beautiful representation of that thought.

The angst has passed, some anxiety remains and I find saying No helps, deciding one way or the other helps. Unless I close the door and walk out into the sunshine, I will never be in the light. It is not the way of the world, to drop back and trust that the ground will receive you. But, it is the way of the sutras, of continuous, dedicated abhyasa and vairagyam.

It reminds me of something I learned early – be careful what you wish for, it just may come true. It certainly appears to be the case now and I’m humbled, grateful and a bit unbelieving of my good fortune to study yoga. Sometimes great things are born of terrible pain.

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.

After the showers

I felt lightness after class last evening. It’s been a long time since that kind of a sensation. As I walked out of the institute, there was a tiny spring in my step and my senses felt more alive than they have in a while.

Getting to class is a mix of fear and surrender. Fear of constricting and having tides of tears and surrender when I show up knowing that I’ll be the only one having these spells. I let go into the hands of my teachers and they look after me. I keep wanting to get over this soon so they don’t have to sort me out every other day but I suppose it’s really not in my hands.

The 90 odd minutes I spend in the large hall are 90 minutes of discovery. It’s an active practice despite being propped and helped. None of the passive, watching from my corner kind of practice. Here I am naked, fully stripped of whatever image I held of myself as a collected and calm person. There is nothing save my body and heart and they’re raw. My mortal fear was losing control in public and that has happened so many times here in the middle of so many people. There is nothing left to hide so I avert my eyes.

I shared with my sister about my frequent breakdowns in class and she pointed out that I never cried when different kinds of difficult situations cropped up. That included deaths, illnesses, massive accidents and abuse. Seen in that context, this tearing up is very little considering that this expulsion is about 30 odd years of bottling everything in.

The pragmatist in me would push aside having to deal with difficult feelings and focus on fixing the situation. In fact, in a previous session when the tears flew fast while in a swinging sirsasana, I felt helplessness like the one I experienced as a little girl. I always avoided experiencing the stronger and difficult emotions and focused on the positive. In the bargain, I didn’t learn to walk through feelings that were painful. They were shut in a box and pushed out of memory.

All these days, anything that had to do with opening the chest area just dislodged heaves of sorrow. It still comes but yesterday was less difficult. In one of the poses, my legs started to tremble for no apparent reason. Through the duration of that pose, I felt ironlike stubbornness of unshed tears and the rigidity of control. Pockets of tightness in different places that had been solidified by years of pride in being resilient and self-sufficient. The high point of the session was after cycles of being helped in and out of sirsasana – vipareeta dandasana repeatedly. It felt good. I didn’t know my body had the capacity to do that. Maybe one has to lose everything to start finding oneself.

There were moments of tears, tightness and tremors. But, there were also moments of something else. Newness, maybe? Considering the rains and lush green all around, I’m thinking green shoots after heavy showers.

IMG_1557
New shoot of a Calla Lily in my balcony after the rains

In gratitude

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.