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.

Christmas, Interrupted

Every Christmas, I go to church with my mother. It means much to her and doesn’t take much except a couple of hours of my time. I listen to the sermon for a hook, something to ruminate on. It’s a habit now, this soaking in of words and letting the message surface whether in a book or when listening to someone.

This year, the priest was talking about Christmas being a celebration of interruptions. And I found my hook. While the season is one of celebrating family and loved ones, the first Christmas disrupted the trajectory of many lives. Mary was told she would be the mother of God, Joseph was asked to accept her and the unborn son. Many mothers lost their children to the purging of a fearful king Herod. Shepherds and the wise Magi were filled with joy. Jesus himself was born in a manger, a displaced birth from the norm. Tidal waves that forced a turn in all those lives.

A crib in my mom’s neighbourhood

Interruptions have a negative tint in their etymology as it implies a break. Mostly they tend to be a rude jolt to one’s plans and become a focal point of displeasure. Aversion. Sometimes there are pleasant ones but those usually get labelled more benevolently as ‘surprise’.

2018 was one of interruptions at many levels and in many ways. It seemed like a big mess for a large part of the year. On the outside, there have been some drastic changes but the insides saw a tectonic shift. And like all those movements of the planet, it takes a while for a new normal. The continents went through their upheavals before they rearranged themselves as we know it today and the change still rumbles unseen.

My lowest point came the day after Geetaji’s passing away. It saw me crumpled and crumbled watching a repeat of all that I finally broke away from. Perhaps, that was a necessary catharsis, that piteous, animal howling of sorrow for another’s pain through which I could find expression. Eventually, that moment passed and endurance kicked in. One which allowed the pain to coexist even as the body worked and memory woke up.

I remember Geetaji everyday, fragments of her instructions through her books and talks serve as an encouragement. Yet, I grieve, a strange grief. Perhaps, this mourning is an acceptable one for another grief that cannot be acknowledged. It was a Christmas, interrupted.

“Art of Yoga is difficult, not impossible” – B.K.S. Iyengar

Guruji’s punya thithi is always marked with a program by the Institute, this year was no different. The first couple of years were still a little shaky as his old students struggled to find their anchor. These days, the sense of his presence is unshakeable when they speak of him. Except Prashantji, I suppose. He’s always been the stoic one, exhorting us to learn what Guruji was always trying to teach. Not Iyengar yoga, but yog.

A backbencher’s perspective

There will never be another B.K.S. Iyengar or a Swami Vivekananda or any of the other great teachers. Simply because, they were the full realization of themselves. And that’s really the call for us too, to realize ourselves.

One of the things that stood out for me was a reminiscing by Raya about Guruji’s response to his youthful frustration at the impossibility of being able to replicate his asana. The reply came later as an autographed line in the Art of Yoga, “The art of yoga is difficult but not impossible.” With love, B.K.S. Iyengar

In fact Raya actually suggested that we could write the exact words and it would hold true for us too. And he is right. It echoes the thought in the Gita about the promise of emancipation for all. Of the entire bit, ‘with love’ was the defining phrase for me. A child-like generosity unencumbered by ego. Not just Guruji but Geetaji and Prashantji also have that same simplicity of unfettered love.

It feels good to get back to a routine of practice and class. I thought of an inability for a regular practice as a loss of asana proficiency but it really doesn’t matter. Yoga is right where I am, how I am.

In my studies, I have come to the last chapter in the Geeta for this reading and I found myself going through the introduction of all the previous chapters as suggested in the footnotes. I ended up underlining many portions in those sections. Suffice to say, this exercise will need to be repeated again. In the meanwhile, it is time for another round of study of the yog sutras.

Hari Om

Finding my teacher

Yoga class on Wednesdays is the highlight of my week. This week we had a substitute teacher, one of the assistant teachers who generally assists in the class. My first thought was “oh no” and the second was “well she’s further along in practice than I am so she is my teacher”.

It was a little chaotic for me since the instructions were mostly in Marathi and while I understand the language, I get the left and right mixed up. So it was a bit muddled but I had two very interesting learnings.

My teacher for the day made us work with the foot against the wall for trikonasana, Parsvkonasana, Virbhadrasana and Parsvottanasana. The constant refrain was to press the outer foot and heel using the wall and lift the arches. It was quite strenuous but later at home I found myself standing and checking out the action.

The second learning was the lift of the spine in ekapada Sarvangasana, which I couldn’t quite get in halasana.

It’s a long way from last year when I couldn’t figure out what was meant by pressurise the outer foot. The classes at RIMYI are so systematically structured that the actions are easy to understand even if they are not accessible immediately. The foundation is solid and if I can maintain this sthirtha as I go on, I know I will be on the right path.

Almost always, I have found that if I have worked hard in class, I can get the sense of the action required when I work at home. It is amazing how practising an asana once or twice most days makes such a difference in a little while. It is just a matter of doing a little everyday and one day the magic happens. I’ve experienced it a few times and now it is a firm belief.

I never know what the mat will bring. I have received healing, a more open heart and a certain freshness to my life. Perhaps it is a renewed vigour and courage to embrace my life as it is and live it fully and with joy. Most days I look at my life as an opportunity to explore and I feel healthy, like a child. There is a pause before my responses where previously I reacted inwardly even if I could manage a stoic exterior. I see yoga in my everyday life as I go through the drama of life. Sometimes it feels like I am watching myself as I play my part.
“all the world’s a stage…”

A teacher’s touch

Sometimes, a teacher touches a certain spot and that opens up a new awareness.

Today’s class was about completing the circuit of the outer thigh, inner knee and outer knee. The usual standing asanas and an introduction to urdhvamukhasvanasana. While I know the names and appearance of these asanas, having them broken down into segments helps to pay attention to the parts and see how they come together. Inevitably, one action comes and the other is lost.

I struggle with my left side. I think I may have found the problem area but don’t know how to correct it and am too tongue tied to ask. Today, we had to move the turned leg outwards and that action helped me to sense the root of the thigh and the outer thigh. A touch from the teacher actually lit up that action and hopefully that is an imprint I can access again.

Today our poses seemed to last longer. Veerbhadrasana 2 was better today and I tried the slightly elevated arms as mentioned by yogibattle in his recent post and it was indeed a far less tiring experience.

On a completely unrelated note, I met someone at a workshop/seminar who turned out to be a yoga teacher and student at RIMYI although in a different class. Also found out that one of the assistant teachers is also a runner. It is uncanny how the universe connects people on the same road.