Holiday Practice – Propped

Every once in a long while, I get the rods out and play around with poses I would do during the therapy classes. Back then it was an elaborate setup with 4 steel rods tied with 4 small belts, 4 wooden ones tied with 2 belts and 4 others to keep the legs fused as one. The first asana was always urdhva prasarita padasana. In the big hall, I would be tied to a column but at home, it was simply legs up the wall.

Today I used the steel rods and proceeded to do whatever standing poses and inversions that I could do with straight legs. One of the culminating poses was Niralamba Sarvangasana and it was a whole lot steadier for having the rods. As I type, I think it may be useful to go back and explore a little more. All this while, I only saw it as a prescription for the knees and treated it as such. But that is missing the forest for the trees.

The holidays have settled into a nice rhythm of walks/reading in the morning and practice in the evening. There’s also a re-read of the Kathopanishad happening in the background. The opening valli is a delightful one with the stage being set for the rest of the Upanishad to follow. As an obedient son, Nachiketa finds himself in the presence of the Lord Yama, (Lord of Dharma/ Death). And it got me thinking about the trait of obedience. It used to be a much desired trait in the young people or students/ seekers. These days, not so much. And I see how each era needs its own interpretation of old texts to remain relevant.

The evening routine is one I look forward to and these entries too. Actually, there is a yoga practitioner to thank for getting roused out of my blogging hiatus. If it were not for their enthusiasm, I would have remained in hibernation. Somewhere I forgot the reason why I started this web notebook. It is both a linear journey as well as a circular one. There is a starting point on the linear one but at some point there is movement along the circumference of living where there is no end or beginning.

Yoga in times of Corona

It’s been a while since I posted here and much has changed in the world. In the little corner of the world I call home, school children remain out of school, streets are deserted and life is at a standstill. Yesterday was a day-long curfew and all we heard was birdsong. It might seem like an idyllic summer holiday but times are scary. While the official numbers seem tiny, reality is that we are a country of over a billion people and there is nothing to do but brace for impact. The aftermath is something one doesn’t even want to consider.

Classes came to a halt, work too and even the solitary volunteer work in an empty building had to be abandoned. Through all this, there has been an increased sense of urgency to find my practice. The silver lining in all the uncertainty has been leisurely hours on the mat, sometimes twice a day to play, study, work and watch. It’s still very much grunt work considering that it’s only been a few months since a regular class. And the quirks of a not so young body mean listening to it and modifying as one goes. Do I miss class? Yes. But there’s a difference now, the dependence on the place is not there.

Yoga has given me the confidence and wings to be able to continue learning even in the absence of the beloved institute and teachers. I feel like a bird that has been pushed out of the nest and discovered that it knows to fly. And that is a freedom. I’ll always be a student but now I also feel like I’ve moved grades. Today, my teacher texted me something about myself and the reply I got was, “glad with your response”. In the reticent world of Iyengar yoga especially at the institute, it is unusual to receive such. While it feels good, I also accept it without having to give it the place of validation. I’m glad for the detachment of the teachers that keeps one striving.

In textual study, I’ve been on Chapter 15 of the Gita and I’m still circling the first 4 verses with its imagery of the ASHWATTHA tree, reminiscent of the Kathopanishad mantra (Section 6, Mantra 1). Somehow, as always, whenever attention has been drawn to a shloka, relevant pieces appear along the way. In this case, a recent read by an environmentalist (Hinduism and Nature by Nanditha Krishna) who has provided some references to the same tree. I also encountered a sapling planted on the trails I would frequent. An old couple that walks their gorgeous dogs nurture that young plant.

Part of the commentary by Swami Chinmayananda brings alive the imagery beautifully.

The subtle Principle of Life manifests through us, in different planes and in a variety of forms – as perceptions of the body; as emotions and feelings of the mind, as ideals and thoughts of the intellect; and as mere non-apprehension of the causal-body All these vehicles and their experiences, manifesting in the Infinite Life, in their totality, constitute the Ashwattha tree spreading out into all quarters.

In the context of our times, our entire planet is like one giant Ashwattha tree and the detachment the Blue God calls for may only be the way through.