Tremorless Yoga

I’ve come to my favourite chapter in the Bhagawad Gita, the one that always gives me goosebumps, perhaps a reflection of my true inclinations.

Verse 7 jumped out at me with its commentary and it made me look up other translations. Nothing matched the piercing sharpness of this one which found echoes in the usual definitions of yoga.

“He, who in truth knows these manifold manifestations of My being (Macrocosm), and (this) YOGA-power of Mine (Microcosm), becomes established in the ‘tremorless-YOGA’; there is no doubt about it.”

None spoke of tremorless yoga, they spoke about peace or yoga but not this particular rendition of ‘tremorless’ yoga. The footnote mentions the usual two shlokas defining yoga as well as third not commonly heard. They are

2:48- Samatwam Yoga Uchyate

2:50- Yogah Karmasu Kaushalam

6:23- Dukha-samyoga-viyogam Yogasamjnitam

In the meanwhile, I’m going to stay and play with the word vikampena, tremorless. A little lingering on the word conjures up a couple of images, the first of which is an earthquake and the second nervous debility. Both occurrences leave devastation in their wake and cannot be anything but unsteady and uncomfortable. In both cases, there needs a settling first of the instability before repair and reconstruction is possible.

Isn’t the disturbance of the mind nothing short than a seismic occurrence and in the case of chronic nervous dysfunction, a series of rumblings. How can one build on a shaky ground? It needs levelling, settling, making foundations that resist and a structure that absorbs without crumbling down. A lot like the basics of asana. I’m looking forward to a beginners class in addition to the therapy class, come June. A couple of fellow students didn’t understand why I didn’t ask for my earlier Intermediate class but this is what I want. To start again. All over again, an experience of rebuilding from ground zero.

The previous verses open the symbolism of the Seven Seers and Four Ancients as the material and efficient causes of the macrocosmic and microcosmic worlds. The personification of many deities, sages and other beings obscured the depth of their mystic significances and they remain hidden in plain sight until we are graced with the Guru’s blessings.

I’ve been struggling in my practice, no longer a sadhana since it is not sharp and unwavering. This too is a phase of learning, despair, doubt and the stoicism all part of a lesson beyond the initial excitement of the journey. I was lucky to have a good, long run of discovery. I reckon right about now is probably time for the first Sutra😊

In the meanwhile, the Gayatri has revealed the peace of ‘Om’, the pranava and it’s a far more fuller experience than before. It reminded me of a story I read somewhere. The devas went to Brahma and asked him to enlighten them and he gave them the Vedas, they thought it was too hard. He then gave them the Gayatri Manyra which also was too much. So he told them to meditate on the vyahritis but they found that was also very difficult. He then initiated them into Om and that was enough. I don’t recollect where I read it or perhaps it was a talk. I’ll edit this post when I find out.

The world around me continues to spin in much agony and I found myself incapable of the necessary detachment. I sought answers in the divine song and the culminating verses of the previous chapter provided solace.

As always, I remain grateful for Gurus who are present through their words, long after they have passed on. They are the devas I offer pranams to in my heart.

Hari Om

Note- Translations quoted are from the Commentary by Swami Chinmayananda on the Holy Geeta.

Presence

I walked with a hunch, slouched when I sat and generally had terrible posture for most of my life. It started to bother me once I started running, simply because it would tire me out. Poor posture equals poor running form. This could not be corrected while running as I soon found out. The only way to do it was to be conscious throughout the day and straighten up. All it took was a little attention everyday. I’d just straighten up when I would remember and over a period of time it happened more frequently. Now, I feel really tall even while sitting. There are days after class when I feel I am walking 2 inches above the ground!

It is the same with asana. At work or home, while sitting or doing something around the place, it is a fun thing to play with alignment. I find props like the back of my dining table chair which is great for a tadasana chest or the coffee table which seems to prop my inner knees in upavishta konasana. Perhaps all this fooling around is responsible for a loosening up of the tight areas in my body. There was a little shift in yesterday’s  home practice of trikonasana and ardha chandrasana, with different actions and prep poses. The asana felt different, more length on the left inner leg and a tiny opening in the rotation of the knee. I don’t know the science or anatomy behind the body but I reckon it is a combination of a propped upavishta konasana and the movement of the breath. 

As an experiment, I have been lying down in a supported savasana before japa. The breath seems to open up almost instantaneously as it flows through both nostrils. I also found a difference in the state of my mind, less agitation even in the face of wandering thoughts during japa. The body is a good teacher if I can get my thinking out of the way. In all this asana practice, it is less about the appearance and more about the presence. As one of my teachers mentioned in class last week, it is intense attention that is required more than intense action. 

देशबन्धश्चित्तस्य धारणा … Something to ponder, although the third pada seems more apt for those further along in their sadhana.

Hari Om





Sitting down

Lately, I have been exploring the seated asanas, particularly dandasana, upavishtakonasana and baddakonasana. The legs seem to have a mind of their own and are reluctant to go where I want them to. Stubborn and dull. So, I patiently stay until their resistance wears away and they become amenable to settling down. It is a different way of practising compared to the earlier exerted way of pushing to move. Most of the time, I need to push to learn the correct movements and alignment for better endurance. However, these slower explorations are no less intense.

These poses are helping to ease my knees and get a little freedom from tight runner groins. The standing asanas also seem to have benefited from the seated ones. Today, I got out for a run after a long time and noticed better knee alignment while in motion. There was symmetry and barely any sensation of overuse of one leg. 

Last week of the month classes are a prep to pranayama and it is usually difficult for me to get my mind to slow down. But yesterday’s class was a different experience. It was so silent inside, quietness so quiet that it felt as though my breath had stopped! I still don’t think I am ready to try it on my own yet. A good asana practice itself is not possible everyday!

Japa sadhana is troublesome as my mind wanders and I want to quit. But I sit and complete it even as I see my powerlessness over the thoughts that rise. Somedays, it is easier to observe and gather attention but most days it is like watching a child run riot and being helpless to do anything. Frustrating. But, eventually the child tires and has to settle down. Perhaps the mind will also tire itself out and be still. 

I question myself about my reasons to sit down and all I can come up with is to become a capable sadhaka. A fit instrument. The earlier days were fresh and it seemed light and as though I was on track. Now it is a hard and barren landscape, a struggle to keep going. It’s been just a paltry few months but my mind wants instant gratification. Come to think of it, this tendency defeats the very purpose of the whole exercise. One good thing is that I have sustained a daily practice despite the resistance. Perhaps if I do it often enough, it will become refined by itself.

Sometimes it seems like there is a constant endeavour and dissatisfaction but I have never been as content and at ease in my life. Often, it feels like a dream, a rich private world that draws me and the one outside where I still have to play my roles.

Hari Om

It is time

I missed class. Very much. I missed the fire of a teacher’s instructions. If I had to get melodramatic, I’d probably say, I felt motherless. 

Asana practice has been a mixed bag and I feel like I could have done more. Class begins in a couple of days and I am excited and also a little anxious about how I will cope. Hopefully, there should be more time to practise at home with a changed work schedule.

During this break from class, I explored the forward bends and extensions, practised sarvangasana and some seated poses. The more I get in and out of an asana, the more I realise how much I don’t know. While the poses take a better shape on the outside, I see how dull my awareness is. There are more questions on the actions required and I open ‘Light on Yoga’ to look at the pictures. The grainy black and white pictures are a far cry from the HD pictures we see today but despite that, they all convey poise. Sometimes it is good to not focus so much on all the cues and let the eyes work at seeing rather than using the brain. 

A brief exploration of backbends helped discover that my injury is almost gone and that got me thinking about how cure rests in injury. Recently, I was prescribed medication for a fortnight and I gave it up halfway and decided to let nature takes its course. The ‘cure’ gave me more pain in the form of blinding headaches, extreme drowsiness and dizziness. All this to treat a case of reflux! 

Japa practice has been challenging as my thoughts zoom all over the place and I find it difficult to be in the moment. It is a bit of a barren landscape inside and I find myself not wanting to sit down but I do. Dutifully and diligently, even if it is painful to watch the incessant chatter inside. 

The texts have thrown up answers to my questions even before I frame them. It is a slow sweet savouring of their wisdom as I let the words seep into my everyday living. There is a deep gratitude for the teachers who have shared their wisdom in their writings and translations. 

I am excited and nervous about getting back to class from Friday and also wonder how it will be. Who will be my teachers? Will I be able to cope? Starting next week, I will be working far fewer hours which should allow me the time and freedom to plunge into what I really want to do. Will I have the necessary discipline to follow through? I don’t know, it is unknown territory but as Rafiki tells Simba, “it is time.”

Hari Om

Experiencing…

After much dilly dallying, I got ropes fitted at home, finally. I used to get neck tractions in class a couple of years ago and that’s when I first thought of fixing a set at home. But it felt presumptuous so I let it sort of simmer on the back burner. Last year, I decided to stick to what was taught in class and that was mostly without props, except a brick or bolster at most. I see the good sense in learning asanas the classical way. It is harder but makes me less lazy. Now I wish to explore and experiment, find out for myself. I did have a moment of doubt if I was being too ambitious in my sadhana but the teachings are strong and as long as I remain a student, I will be guided. Of that, I am sure.

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Yesterday, I found myself trying out Adho Mukha Svanasana using the rope at varying distances of the leg and it was different. Since I was short on time, I just noticed the sensation but that is something I can experiment with. Mental note – keep a notebook handy.
The year at RIMYI is over and the dismay of no class for 4 weeks has reduced. Now it is thinking of what and how to build a regular practice in the break so that I go back prepared. It was easier when there was a weekly dose of inspiration from class. While independent sequences are a good way to keep it interesting, I find myself sticking to one category and neglecting the others or not working on all equally. So, one option is to go through the sequence for the weeks and apply it to the days. Alternatively, fix on one category for each day of the week. And one basic pose to explore every week like tadasana, dandasana etc.
While on a walk early this morning, I found myself thinking about knowledge and it’s availability. The Internet has made us lazy about learning since there is an overload of information on anything under the sun. A short while on wikipedia can make one an expert on the subject. In contrast to classical learning where knowledge was experiential. The texts were memorised, meanings of the words and their construction subjective and the underlying essence subtle. The shlokas and Sutras are deceptively simple looking and frequently dip into nature to state an idea.  Sort of hidden in the open so that it’s mysteries are not casually or irreverently thrown about.
The Gayatri mantra is one that I stop to think about everyday before japa and on the surface it seems an invocation to the Sun but as I read the literal meanings of each of the words and a commentary on it attributed to Adi Shankaracharya, it is increasingly becoming evident that this is a very potent and subtle mantra. And my understanding is very crude and rudimentary. The sheer finesse and elegance of thought and expression of the ancient seers gives me goosebumps. Some sections are bursting with joy and the text carries me in the spirit of that bliss. If just reading at a very superficial level makes me feel like this, I cannot even begin to imagine what the experience would be. There are a lot of small changes that I notice but I don’t know if I am imagining it. It seems impossible to my mind, to my rational self so I let it be. But, perhaps it may really be as I sense it. Then, yet again, how can it be? My journey is but a few steps in the making, I have barely begun.

Hari Om

Karma Yog

2:45- The VEDAS deal with the three attributes; be you above these three attributes (GUNAS), O Arjuna, free yourself from the pairs-of-opposites, and ever remain in the SATTWA (goodness), freed from all thoughts of acquisition and preservation, and be established in the Self.

2:46- To the BRAHMANA who has known the Self, all the VEDAS are of so much use, as is a reservoir of water in a place where there is flood everywhere.

2:47- Thy right is to work only, never to its fruits; let not the fruit-of-action be thy motive, nor let thy attachment be to inaction.

A real Karma Yogin is one who understands: (a) that his concern is with action alone; (b) that he has no concern with results; (c) that he should not entertain the motive of gaining a fixed fruit for a given action; and (d) that these ideas do not mean that he should sit back courting inaction.

– Swami Chinmayananda in his commentary on The Gita

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Bhagavad Gita 2:45-47

Writing a few shlokas everyday is a good exercise in bringing my mind to focus. These lines were today’s exercise and I stopped mid-way as the commentary was a clarion call. These three shlokas insist, illuminate and inspire. As I read the explanation for the first of the three, I felt there was an important message to listen to. The subsequent verses reinforced the intuition and I stopped for the day. There is more than enough to ruminate for ever.

Since the last couple of weeks, I have been living two lives. By day I work very hard to get things in order at the place I am working so that I can work fewer hours from June. By night and early morning, I am a hermit, reading, writing, contemplating, practising. My daughter is on a holiday and I have company only on the weekends when my husband visits. It is almost like being on a retreat. I sit for japa and it feels like I am in a forest with just birdsong. I will have a few more weeks of this life and it feels like a blessing to be relieved of my regular household duties for a while.
The shlokas I read today, especially the last one connected very strongly to my japa sadhana. There is change in the practice. For one, I do 24 repetitions now and the more notable one is an ability to stay with the words/meaning as I chant. Reading the commentary before beginning japa has helped to create a mental environment to bring a focus, an attention to the present. Somewhere I suppose I have stopped expecting anything to be visible and am settled into just seeing, observing, witnessing. Everyday there is a reinforcement of the literal meaning and a tentative exploration into the superimposed ideas.
The other day, I was chatting with a fellow practitioner and he mentioned that he wanted to first study the Sutras, then the Gita and so on. My study has been multiple texts, a little at a time and very often I find parallels in them. This helps in understanding some of the thoughts although I still feel it is very much on an intellectual level. But as the book says, my right is only to labour. If I stop to think about it, just the study itself provides immense satisfaction in the heart.

Hari Om

Coincidence/ Clairvoyance?

There have been multiple occasions when my home practice is similar to what happens in class a couple of days later. Latest in case is today’s session. We learnt how to practise inversions at home.
These days, it has been mostly forward bends at home considering the draining summer heat. I missed tadasana so one day was dedicated to the standing asanas. I ended up sore in my arms, shoulders and trunk the next day! Mental note – always practise the basics. A couple of days ago, I got back to my inversion practice after the mandatory few days off in the month and was able to stay in Sirsasana for far longer than I expected to. Naturally, the rest of the cooling inversions were correspondingly longer. End result, sore legs and shoulders the next day. But previous experience has taught me that it gets better subsequently. Today’s class on inversions was relatively easy in comparison. I learnt how to use a three fold blanket for Sirsasana and it was a much better lift.
Our teacher explained why inversions were important and I have also read the notes on that section in the books. However the bigger validation has been the experience of it in my life.
A simple immediate change has been my menstrual cycle. The last couple of months, I haven’t had soreness,/tenderness or excessive bloating. The cramping was reduced and the mental irritation was absent. I was almost taken by surprise the last time because I didn’t have the telltale symptoms of mind and body. The more I study and practise, the more wonder and amazement I feel. And this is not even scratching the surface. I still work very much on a gross muscular level. I cannot begin to imagine how rich an experience ongoing sadhana would be. I pray that I always remain a student.
Inversions were an aspiration at one time because I couldn’t do it. Now they are welcome because I see how they translate into a steadier me, a more discerning me. There were a couple of situations at work where I responded very differently from what I normally would have done. My tendency to see both sides of the story can make it difficult for me to do what is needed. I suspect, nay, believe that a regular inversion practice has allowed me to be more discerning and understand the ethical dilemma of the situation more clearly and act accordingly.
Japa practice is being a beginner all over again. I sit everyday, do my repetitions while the mind flies away. It is something I do not fight but do regardless of the flightiness. If so much has shifted, I believe someday I will also be able to be in the japa. And in the meanwhile, it will just be a means to purify and be prepared for when that change happens.
Sometimes I think my thoughts, especially the random ones that come are being picked off an unknown universal frequency. Sort of like tuning into a radio station just meant for me. It’s always been there but in the recent past, it has been happening often enough to make me question what is responsible for this surge in coincidences?

‘Gayantam Trayaete Iti Gayatri’

Perhaps it would be easier if the earlier gurukul system still existed. One guru under whom one could learn all the shastras.
My in-laws come from a pure Brahmin lineage and have been deeply steeped in tradition and religion. However, the years in the city chipped away at a lot of the old knowledge and slowly most of the practices stopped. It didn’t help that they didn’t know the reasons behind some of the rituals. Most of the wise old friends of the family passed away and with them a treasure trove of the experience of age.
As far as asana goes, there is guidance in class and through books. Japa sadhana is a whole new exercise. It is very much an inside job. I’ve persisted in an early morning repetition of the Gayatri mantra since it was the first one I ever learnt. Swami Chinmayananda talks about it at length in a couple of essays and one thing that struck was
‘Gayantam Trayaete Iti Gayatri’
Translated it means, That Mantra which protects him who chants it.
I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have it as my mantra.
Initially I was aghast at the velocity of my mind which refused to stay with the words of the mantra. Wrestling with it didn’t seem to work and for now I am just sitting down with 12 repetitions everyday. There are times when I think maybe it is not time yet. Perhaps I should just let it go but the stubborn runner inside says NO. So I sit and stay. There is not a single moment where I am present with the mantra.
Perhaps this frustration is also due to not seeing quick results. In asana, there is an immediacy to the effects. I forget the same principles of abhyasa and vairagyam work in all areas of my life. I only have the right to labour, not the fruits.
There is a continuous pattern of a phase of growing pains followed by a short ‘aha’ moment in all that I do. So this also will settle into a rhythm if it is meant to be. So far, the good thing has been sitting down everyday in the quiet hours of the morning and chanting, sometimes silently. A kind of setting the tone for the day.

Ground Up

Being barefoot for almost the entire day over the last couple of weeks has seen a shift in asana practice. Better grip on the floor, better balance and a certain sinewy strength in my legs. Movements originate more from the proximal joints and there is more space through the legs. There is a slow but definite increase in padding on my soles although it is more visible on the right foot. My toes are better spread out and the soles are open. I feel my feet better and more fully when standing.
Somehow barefoot running doesn’t feel contradictory to an asana practice and the mental conflict about the same is absent. Perhaps it could be that I am just walking barefoot now and so the load is minimal. I guess even when I start to run, it would be very difficult to go against the body’s wisdom for too long. I was lucky to make that mistake early on.
Today’s class was very interesting as our teacher taught us how to begin a home practice. Last Wednesday she had asked us to get notebooks and most of us had our pens and books at the ready. We wrote in upavishta konasana, prasarita padottanasana and a few other asanas which was fun. She gave a few ideas on sequences to practise. As beginners, we just had to stick to the standing poses and practise sirsasana and Sarvangasana. If time was a constraint, we could reduce the variety of standing poses but do the inversions without fail. It’s a good way for me to practise when the weekly sequence seems overwhelming.
The two key takeouts from her suggestions were to
– Find one mistake in each pose and correct that fault.
– Try and increase the range of movement
Body fatigue is one thing which is unusual unless I am running a lot but it’s the mental rebelliousness and flightiness that I find hard to deal with. I missed a few days of asana practice by the book and it didn’t feel good. The few poses I did were not enriching as they were done as stretches. I did not chant the invocation and had no direction. It was more a fear that I did not want to miss doing something. It trickled into my everyday life and I found myself snappier and overwhelmed. The degree of unmanageability has lessened and perhaps it is not visible outside but I know it inside. Lesson learnt. Quality over quantity.
About a year back, I was chatting with my husband and mentioned that maybe over time my voice would improve if I continued practising. Recently, while reciting the invocation to Sage Patanjali, I could feel the change in my Omkara, a distinctive change in the quality of the syllable, more a steady vibration than the voice really. Perhaps it is the inversions, maybe it is the power of the Omkar, maybe it is grounding into the earth (a wild premise but I did notice it after the barefoot experiment, prithvi to akasha?), I do not know. My mind still wanders and I get caught up in the next line to recite and forget to be in the syllable being verbalised. Despite all my shortcomings, there is a different expanded sense of time during that brief chanting.
I’ve been contemplating a regular japa practise for sometime but haven’t been able to commit myself to it on an everyday basis. As of now, it is whenever I feel like it but that is not a practice and for change to take root, it needs the regularity of discipline. The Gayatri and Shiva mantras are familiar. There was a period in my life when I chanted the Mahamritunjaya mantra regularly. Some say it is a corollary to the Gayatri.

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Rudraksha Japa Mala

As a deity, Lord Shiva appeals to me with all his symbolism. Householder and ascetic. Terrible and Innocent. Supreme Yogi. Auspiciousness. Perhaps this Shivratri can be a day I commence my japa practice? It is an auspicious day for all spiritual sadhana and maybe just the little push to take that first step? If it be His will…

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Adi Guru

Om Namah Shivaya