Holiday Practice – Bridge over Trikonasana

Yesterday was mostly Adho Mukha Svanasana and a few standing poses. I wanted to check how the wrist was tolerating stress and it is not yet quite there. Finally, ended up in Setuband Sarvangasana, formation or construction of bridge pose as described in LOY. It is commonly referred to as Bridge pose but there is merit in considering the bandha part of the asana’s name.

While the actions were all in the limbs, the phala, if I may say so, appeared to be in the final pose. It was a shanmukhi mudra sort of experience. And that is where the ‘construction’ part of the name struck a chord. Yoga is union, yuj and we need something to connect until such time where there is no division. And so the need for vehicles/ media for body and breath, breath and mind, body and mind to make acquaintance at least. By the end of practice/ class, there is a certain cohesion of all three which is sometimes keenly experienced in a savasana.

Construction also makes a lot of sense when considering how much precision and alignment is necessary in the building of a bridge. Purpose, structure, safety, durability, load bearing etc. are the same factors in asana or a bridge. And there comes the necessity of precision and alignment, hallmarks of this system of yogasana. Initially, I just saw it as a structural or aesthetic endeavour but as the breath began to be a more active participant in the asana process, I started to experience the energy flow in the pose. There is a certain circuitry in its formation and staying in a pose for a period of time makes it apparent. But, that took me quite a while until I learned to ‘keep the brain quiet’ as my teachers would say.

Precision and alignment in asana inherently have measurement built in, a geometry that is visible. There are many images that show the direction, lines and triangles formed by various asanas. Just for fun, I measured the image of my pose to see how it stacked up. And it is useful to see it externally as the internal measurement is not tuned enough. There is a broad sense of it but the inner access is still not available. As I type, I remember a trikonasana from a class a few years ago. It was the final pose for the day and had the feel of savasana. I felt I could have stayed in it forever.

Trikonasana is a wonderful asana to stay in. As one of the first poses we learn, there is a familiarity and comfort in its shape. At the same time, it is a world in itself. Prashantji’s ‘ Alpha and Omega of Trikonasana’ is a good example of the universe that the asana is. It is a slim volume but packs a powerful punch. It is quite esoteric at first read but over trikonasanas, there is a little more understanding. Still light years off from all that he talks about but that is also the beauty. There is no deadline in the practice of yoga.

A Gem of a Woman

Geetaji’s birth anniversary today.

I remember her voice. I remember her presence in the large hall. I remember her smile, her earnestness, her simplicity. And I miss never having had the good fortune of being under her direct gaze.

I never learned from her but her videos and books teach me, her students teach me. This morning, I attended the usual two classes, an asana one followed by a pranayama session. Later this evening, Abhijata taught a class in her honour. 3000 people from around the world signed in to remember a brilliant teacher. Despite the isolated nature of the webinar, there was a sense of being part of a community united in its love and respect for a gem of a teacher. It was a repeat of a class Geetaji taught in November 2006 and at the end of it, it was amazing how even in a rendition, her words was still so powerful. Not a moment of wavering attention, that’s how strongly she forced you to inhabit the moment in the asana from even beyond the dead.

I remember how devastated I felt when she passed away, it was a loss that felt very personal despite never having directly interacted with her. Two years down the line, the sense of loss is no longer there. She lives in the words of my teachers who faithfully transmit what they learned from her. She herself was the staunchest torch bearer of the Iyengar Yoga tradition.

Lately, I’ve been in a sort of retreat while being in the world. Digitally disconnected in terms of news, social media and even blogging and I got time in swathes. My days have been a fulfilling mix of a little work, yoga, walks and reading. The connectivity provided by the internet while useful has also sucked much out of life and the past few weeks of fullness has had me thinking that I could easily make this my default setting. The woods I frequent have been a wonderful learning ground this past year. I’ve spent many hours walking, absorbing not just the pleasures of fresh air and quiet but also lessons about time, love, silence, joy and what it means to live fully. There is contentment in its simplicity and I find it has seeped into my life too.

This month’s thought says Yoga is to surrender. It is so beautifully linked to last month’s thought of Yoga is Action. Abhyasa and Vairagyam. Asanas and Savasana. Inhale And Exhale. Increasingly I find that maybe there is no need for more words, whether to read or write. All that I need to know is already known.

Savasana reflection post class

Savasana was a longish stay today and after an almost leisurely class, the stay in it felt like I did not exist, save for a section of the torso that had the movement of breath. I did not have a sense of the rest of my body, it was like there was nothing there, no limbs. Soon after, my teacher parts class with “Go beyond the structure of savasana” and that explained my experience.

I see another transitioning, from ebullience in backbending to dynamic stillness in it. The immediate image that comes to mind is one of Guruji in an urdhva dhanurasana against the platform. Eventually, I suppose it would become even quieter where one might be able to go beyond the structure of the asana.

Notes from practice, classes etc are pointless against the actual experiencing. The last 2 or 3 months, I’ve stayed away from making notes and instead let the body make its own.

“Savasan today?”

“Savasan today?”, smiled my teacher as I rose from the pose and all I could say was “Thank you”.

It’s been about three weeks since I began a beginner’s class again and about three months since a savasana at the end of a session. A small transformation experience, shared between teacher and student.

Five years ago, I found my way yet again to a yoga class in my neighbourhood. That’s when my yoga journey really began. Subsequently, I became a student at RIMYI and progressed through the years until a couple of years back when I had to move to a medical class. And in the last three months, it was more of a therapy session for my heart and head as they struggled beneath the weight of the little self. All the asanas that were prescribed in those weeks worked on grinding through the little ego that suffered. That little ego lived in a never ending loop of memory. Guruji says it very simply and beautifully in Light on Life.

We are in our minds, in our memories, in our senses, in the future, eating so that we are in our stomachs, and thinking so that we are in our heads. We are always in one bit or another, but we never occupy all our inheritance. To experience the totality of being is to be in every room of the mansion at once with light streaming out of every window.

My mansion was a dark tunnel and there seemed no way out. All I knew is that if anything could help, it would be yoga. There was a faint sense of embarking on a painful journey but nothing would have prepared me for how difficult it is to confront oneself. Now that some time has elapsed, I can look back and see that in the larger scheme of existence, three months barely shows up, not even a blip. But, in the reference of human time as experienced by the body and mind, it seems unending. It’s been a short while since the shifting began and perhaps it is safe to say that the wheel is turning. There is a fledgling home practice, more reading and a little more light. Every time memory threatens, I remind myself – forward, not behind. Fear and grief belong to memory. Living demands presence in the present, like in asana. Attention to the here and now.

Standing poses today and it was a different experience to work within the limitations of a sensitive knee. Our reference was the pelvic girdle and it was easier to approach the standing poses from that point, kinder on the knee too. Earlier, I did not know where and when to stop. Now, I’m exploring how far to go and when to press pause. It calls for a revision of all asanic memory and finding their space within the context of a changed mind and body. At the end of class, there was fire ignited in the pelvic region, as though there was a revitalization.

Today’s savasana for me was an exploration of pushing beyond memory and allowing space for pause. A baby step in relearning savasana. Not an easy pose but one that I could stay until the end without being overwhelmed by the weight of dead memory. Every time, I shut my eyes in savasana, I would find myself in a mini panic mode and my eyes would fly open. It didn’t happen today.

Reminding myself again of what Guruji says,

A cleansed memory is one that does not contain undigested emotions from the unconscious but that deals with feelings in the present as they arise.

In gratitude

Savasana and a Shraddhanjali

Practice began with savasana today after my morning reading. It led to thinking about seeking versus searching. Seeking implies a quest for an unknown answer while searching inherently assumes that the object is known and one cannot find it. What is it we seek? Life.

On that note, I lay down in the pose of the corpse. Somehow, there seemed to be an urgency to quieten the mind. The body slowly surrendered to the ground and the mind opened into the universe. It exists, in savasana, the entire universe exists in all its infinity. I had a glimpse of its endless movement and stillness, a perpetual cycle of creation and destruction being played on an unchanging screen. The irony of waking up to life in savasana was not lost.

It was a different kind of practice, unusual and prodded by a growing sense that perhaps what is needed is an extended period of restorative poses. And savasana has been calling, softly but insistently. I’ve been poring over the pages in the books on the asana. Life really is nothing but a preparation for death…

Update: I came back from the Shraddhanjali for Geetaji this evening feeling that all is as it should be. The grief is receding and a renewed vigour has been ignited.

Prashantji spoke about Geetaji’s lifetime being one single situation, Abhijata spoke about her one continuous thread of yoga, Iyengar yoga and Guruji. Her commitment, sacrifice, implicit faith in Guruji’s words, her love, devotion and reverence for her father were some of the facets that all those who spoke about shared. For me, I think of her as being ‘childlike’. It’s a quality I associate with Guruji too, a nakedness without shame. Perhaps that is the honesty that Abhijata highlighted.

We are lucky to have volumes of her work to fall back on. Thanks to the age in which we live, we can listen to her voice and see her.

As for her, I like to imagine that she climbed those steps in her dream to be with her beloved Guruji.

a pause…

This year has hurtled at breakneck speed with many interesting experiences. It feels like an important period which will reveal it’s secrets only at some later time. Whilst in the middle of dealing with life, all I can see is painful or pleasurable instances. In many ways, I lost all that I had worked towards and in others, I gained a whole lot of new. I lost running and have been steadily losing asana to the knee while I gained a new lease on a childhood dream. And yet, as I type this post, I wonder…

It feels a little strange to type on my laptop after using my little hand phone for almost all of my communication. Except for large excel files and films, I rarely opened up the big screen. The note feature on my phone was probably the most used as I put down class notes, random ramblings besides posts for Instagram. Somehow that tiny screen allowed my thoughts to flow in a way a large screen never permitted. Now that the phone has died on me, I’ve been enjoying the luxury of time and the freedom to be in hermit mode. I would have to get myself a new one but I’m beginning to wonder if I should…

The knee is a chronic condition now and after a few rounds of the doctor and physiotherapists, I decided to do as I thought right. In all my interactions with the medical folks, they had thoughts and diagnoses and it struck me that even they figure out stuff by trial and error. In all this, I trust yoga since there is firsthand experience of relief from cervical spondylosis. Ultimately, it is nature who heals. I’m grateful to a fellow student who nudged me to speak to my teacher about a solution for my problem rather than just working around with modifications. I’m looking forward to a solution to this bump in the road. I really miss the rejuvenation of a well earned savasana. Somehow, it doesn’t feel the same without a solid asana practice.

A complete break of a week actually saw the knee feeling happier so maybe complete rest is what it requires but the practice is really for my mind and heart. It clears my head and opens my heart in a way nothing else does. I did play around with different kinds of sequences and found that backbends did well for the knee too. It got me thinking about going to the root of a problem. Inevitably, everything in our physical existence is tied to the spine and that is where the answers lie. I feel more than a little out of practice and a bit fallen out of grace as far as the mat is concerned. Perhaps the upcoming sabbatical will prove to be a time to regenerate.

Today’s muse was the third section from the Shiksha valli of the Taittriya Upanishad and it was again a reinforcement of the importance of the purusharthas of our human existence. Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. There is no fast forwarding to moksha and the logic of dividing life into these phases is impeccable, like the systematic development of learning asanas. A householder’s life need not be one of bondage, it is an opportunity to be of service in many ways as I am beginning to see. I find immense joy in passing on what I have learned as well as giving freely and fully which was not possible in my twenties or thirties. Hopefully by the time, my responsibilities are fulfilled, I may be able to embrace the next ashramas with grace and happiness.

Hari Om


Death and all his friends…

Both my father and father-in-law passed away in July a few years ago. As per the Hindu calendar, my dad’s death anniversary falls on Ashadh Ekadashi, an auspicious day that marks the beginning of a 4 month period of increased sadhana. It’s also the period when Ram and his brother paused in their search for Sita and made the acquaintance of the vanaras. 

Death is not a topic discussed freely, neither do we spend time contemplating it. Yet, savasana is where the magic happens after an honest practice. Savasana is where we surrender our flaws, our handicaps and become recipients of divine grace. 

Savasana is where the elements begin to express themselves in the walls of the nostrils and the moist, warm breath. The visual imagery that it conjures is one of the heat of the cosmic energy transforming the water element to expel itself as air only to merge in the vast consciousness of the universe. All this through the earthlike equipment of the body. A poor description of a tiny and expansive sensation. Perhaps, it is an overactive imagination, perhaps it is real. All I know is that the thought sprang up and asked to be expressed. And then, there is that cue that came in the prashnayantra email, “In ancient Indian thought, there is great attention to language and grammar, and almost no distinction is drawn between the word and the object denoted – they are two manifestations of the same underlying concept, as it were. Secondly, a direct correlation is recognised between language and mind-making. The given statement is an example of how delving deeper on language and grammar helps cultivate our understanding.” Anyways, that’s an ongoing exploration. 

I’ve been fascinated with the elements for a while now but recently came across a signpost in Guruji’s interpretation of Sutra 2:25. And somehow it makes me sit up and relook at the direction of my enquiry. As I understand it today, exploring the elements and the gunas is just about scratching the surface of a first step! The more time that passes, the more ignorance comes up to the surface. A welcome reminder to remain ever a student.

I’ve gone through the Sutras in the order that they are written, the way they are linked and also randomly. Lately, I’ve started reading it backwards and alongside an other commentary. The striking difference is the experiential sense of Guruji’s interpretation versus the more scholarly version of Edwin Bryant. It is interesting to get a different perspective and reading both backwards is like seeing the world in Sirsasana, the drishti changes.

Hari Om

“Your legs should come to you”

Both the classes I attend are very different. Tuesdays are hard, very intense while Fridays are softer. Not less intense but softer. It is a women’s class and there is a lot of laughter as we all struggle. 

We’ve been working with the legs in the Friday class. I feel as though I am discovering my lower limbs all over again. Yesterday, we had to move our legs without the help of our hands in all the seated poses. No adjusting, just moving. By the end of the class, there was a little quickness of action. My runner legs can go on but all the connectives are shot. Groins, knees and ankles need a lot of work if I would like to grow old with all of them intact. 

Our teacher’s voice boomed as she instructed us almost at the beginning, “Your legs should come to you.” It was a good cue to keep in mind throughout the class. Although I feel as though I am floundering in class while it is on, later I can see that I am not doing too bad, considering all factors. 

Savasana time is longer in this class and it feels good to let go. Through the week, through the day, there is a lot of doing. I could do with a little more rest and the 20 minutes of restorative and savasana gives me that time to quieten. Sleeping awake…

How much the body needs to wake up! How much the mind needs to wake up!

Hari Om

Finding shava

Savasana is by far the most challenging of all asanas. It is so much more difficult to be than to do. As the name suggests, it is the pose of the corpse or shava. Another word from my mother tongue here… Shavam means corpse in Malayalam.
The minute life leaves the body, there is no person but a dead body, we say the person has gone. Language can be very expressive if we listen carefully.
I had a short morning practice today and wound up in Setuband Sarvangasana as my Savasana. For a brief while, I was a shava. My body was just that, a body, a container. It was interesting to note that the sensation did not disappear as soon as I grew aware of it but I could watch it for a brief bit. Perhaps japa practice is responsible for this new ability to bring gentle attention. There was a distinct sensation or rather a lack of it in the repose. I found my breath was different, a natural retention. I don’t know if this is how it is meant to be but it was what it was. As always, it is a pose which leaves me a certain energy and calm dynamism.
A couple of girls at work have been asking me to teach them some asanas. I’ve been loathe to ‘teach’ anyone since there is so much I do not know and so much that is lacking in my own practice. A bigger fear is hurting or harming someone because of my ignorance. However, they have been asking quite a while and I agreed to show them what I know. They came in early to work today and we had a small session together. One of them even got a change of clothes to practise! The 30 odd minutes felt natural and I think they liked it too. Nothing fancy, just the way I was taught with a few tadasana variations, a couple of seated poses and Savasana. Before the day was out, they took down the names of the asanas to look it up and practise at home. They definitely seemed quite enthusiastic and it felt good to share.
Watching them in Savasana, I could see myself in the way they held themselves, the restlessness of the mind escaping through the body. Letting go is not easy yet in a few minutes the body quietens enough to begin to relax. The skin changes. When my children were little, their skin would soften when they slept or just woke up. In fact, it would turn a few shades lighter and ‘baby soft’ describes that tenderness perfectly. It happens in Savasana too, the softening and relaxing. The adjustment cues help in allowing the body to find its natural repose.

Tadasana and Savasana. Waking and Sleeping. Dharmakshetra in between…

Hari Om