The house of trikonasana

Despite the intensity and frequency of the classes I’ve been attending, there was a plateau of sorts. It was a continuous labouring while the magic was missing. These phases are common in learning and have always led to some brilliant aha moments. This time around they were aha days beginning with a class last week. Subsequent days have been like a breakthrough with different actions coming together.

It began with a brick in one of the classes that awakened the mind and body to bring all the actions that were being taught into one unit as a whole. From the crown of the head to the toes, each area was jogged into wakefulness separately over the days and somehow they started to sort of work together simultaneously too. Of course, it remains a very, very preliminary coming together but the sense of the cogs working in unison is there. Much of the awareness be it limb or spine has been thanks to simple props like the brick, belt or wall. Amongst the props, I prefer the hard wooden blocks and benches for their ability to give clarity. I enjoy the imprint they leave long after the practice is over. The wall while seemingly a support is a tough teacher.

Image courtesy: the internet

Today’s practice, actually play, was completely spontaneous and not a repetition of anything I’ve learned in class. Just a freewheeling with bricks and the wall. End result was a (what I thought) good looking trikonasana. Post practice, I looked at Guruji’s image in the pose, watched the 26 minutes trikonasana teaching by Geetaji and read from The Alpha and Omega of Trikonasana.

I’m reasonably satisfied with the presentation today but even before comparing my picture to see the improvements required, I noticed areas that were not fully engaged. Studying the asana against Guruji’s image sharpened that understanding while Geetaji’s instructions reminded me of some of the actions that needed to be kept in mind. Finally, the book put the pose in perspective by helping me see the rungs of the ladders in studying an asana. Staying with the imagery of bricks and working with bricks brought to mind the traditional methods and tools of masons. There’s a centrality, evenness and wholeness in a well executed structure, just like what is sought in asana.

Why bother with such attention to detail? Why bother with such rigour when it is essentially just a pose held for a brief time? How does working towards perfecting Trikonasana make a difference in my life or that of anyone else? Every once in a while, I ask myself the why of what I do in the different spaces of my life. The base answer usually remains the same but I do discover aspects of myself as new layers get uncovered. In the case of asana, one answer would be that I want a good savasana experience, that’s where I experience fruition of asana. Another would be that I would like to improve my staying capacity and alignment in sirsasana. The answer that doesn’t usually crop up is that I work hard to develop persistence, courage, equanimity, resilience, compassion, joy, good humour etc. but that is the real why. Those attitudes are the building blocks of living well, keeping the house of one’s life standing firm, come stillness or storm.

I’m keenly aware that sometimes the tempests of illness, injury, loss etc. can be terrifying and houses collapse, people crumple. I too have experienced that bewilderment of loss, literally and metaphorically. It seems impossible to get on the mat or sift through the debris. But brick by brick, a house comes to stand again, doors open, sunshine enters through its windows. Space is created, in the body and the heart.

How many Trikonasanas?

This morning, I wanted to go to the hall to practice but decided to practise at home instead. I live a fair distance away from the institute and travel to and fro easily takes 2 hours. Hopefully, I can go tomorrow. Anyways, I didn’t quite have a plan until a few minutes on the mat.

It was a different approach to basic standing poses, unknowingly entered into. Arm work to sensitize the back which in turn fed the arms and resulted in a long Trikonasana, long Ardha Chandrasana and long forward bends. Sometimes I record myself to see how it looks from the outside and today it surprised me. Internally, all I am focused on is the effort while externally it is about the outcome. And a few years of practice does have outcomes. I was reasonably satisfied with the expression of the pose.

This awareness of having a little knowledge has been a surprise not just in asana but also in other aspects. Recently, I went on a tree walk and a birding session and in both instances, figured out that I was probably not a novice. Amateur yes, but not completely raw. This identity is a new one to inhabit. It reiterated what my teacher said about all of us always learning. That doesn’t mean that we haven’t learnt anything yet. It’s probably not such an issue for most people and I wonder at how easily people accept their proficiency. I doubt. A lot. But perhaps, this is a better way to keep the mind open to continue to learn.

Back to the asanas, since there wasn’t too much of a focus except the arm and back to aid the pose, I played with increasing the difficulty of the pose by taking a brick for the upper hand, reducing the turn of the back leg and so on while keeping the attention on the back. Basically, exploring the capacity of the body to obey, extend and push to the brink just to the point where a new baseline will be set. One of my challenges is to reduce the turn of the back leg in parsvottanasana, virabhadrasana 1 etc. Today, there was joy in getting the hand to the floor while maintaining the integrity of Trikonasana, as well as achieving a small reduction in the turn of that back leg. Like that song, how many Trikonasanas must a sadhaka practise before it is an effortless one?🙂

Edit: Post typing the above section, I ended up picking The Tree of Yoga to read and the page opened to the chapter on Effort, Awareness and Joy. The Guru always appears.


In gratitude

Even fish get enlightened…

Guruji’s picture of Matsyendrasana was my anchor before invocation in the previous class and I sought it again this Friday. It reminded me of the cover picture of the Mundakopanishad as well as a painting in my house.

In the pose, Guruji’s eyes look beyond like the bird that is established in the Self. It’s an asymmetrical pose, twisted and intense yet there is a certain samatvam, I can see a central axis. It is a pose for a shoot and yet there is a calm that the grainy picture exudes. And then I think about his mind as his body radiates stillness. Fifty years ago, what were his thoughts as he practised. Those images show an extremely fit and agile body but what thoughts ran through his mind, did he have the same doubts as I?

This Friday, my mind was not the same and the experience necessarily different. While waiting for the prayers to start, I was musing over how woefully inadequate my asanas are. Nevertheless, I show up and do my little thing. Except for some assistance in placing a stool in ek pada sirsasana, I can manage on my own. It’s a solitary practice in a hall full of people. And, I found myself wishing I was part of one of the groups just so that I could follow instructions. It is harder to be my own silent teacher as I remember the cues I was taught.

A foreign student/teacher mentioned that the trikonasana I was in against the trestle was beautiful. I’ve noticed that a lot of the visiting students say encouraging words and so didn’t really think too much as I thanked her. Post the class, I went down to the office and a lady who helped me with a prop remarked, “We were watching you practice and it was beautiful.” Her companion piped up, “We learned a lot from you today.”

It was ironical that my outsides looked good to someone while my insides were a question mark to myself. It’s a little disconcerting when I hear something good about what I do because then I feel that I’ll just mess it up. Nevertheless, it was a brief moment of pleasure that I must have been working in the right direction.

Yesterday’s home practice was pretty much the same routine as the one in class except for a little playing around in the ending. At home, I end up in setuband sarvangasana as opposed to ardha halasana simply because of the lack of a proper stool and the necessity for a certain level of activity I would need for the rest of the day. The latter asana makes me very reflective and quiet. I treat setuband sarvangasana as savasana and more often than not, get new sensations, for the lack of a better word. As I scanned the body from my feet to the top of my head, I could sense blockages, sometimes on the left and at times on the right side. The only place where there seems to be a little evenness is the chest area. I thought of the nadis and it seems uncanny that I should read what I read when I looked up Matsyendrasana in the Light on Yoga later. One part of me watches these unfoldings resting in the sureness of experience while the mind leaps like a monkey trying to make rational sense. While I may not have enlightened masters in the flesh and blood, I can have them in my heart, like Eklavya. In the absence of a Guru’s light, how can there be freedom?

Hari Om

Trying trikonasana

Today’s home practice was trikonasana and ardha chandrasana. Independent, propped and back to independent asana. While ardha chandrasana was the pose I wished to practice, trikonasana posed the primary challenge and so became the focus. Truly, trying trikonasana. 😊 

In all the attempts, I could only see what was not happening until my wandering mind came to rest on the breath in the abdomen after many attempts. And just like that, trying trikonasana became a teacher, pointing to a new location in the pose. 

Iyengar yoga places great emphasis on alignment and may seem rigid from the outside. On the inside, it is a different story. There is a quietness that even someone like me can sense at times. I do believe those moments can be consciously attained as awareness of my body increases. The teaching is sound and like an ever widening base of a pyramid. The same asanas are taught, broken down and taught again and slowly one learns how to learn. Even inexperienced student eyes can see the shift in the skin as the alignment changes. I love to watch people practice in the hall while waiting for class. Some of the old students have very quiet poses even though they practise advanced asanas. Sattva at work. 
While asana practice keeps me healthy and energetic, the greater benefit has been an opening of my mind and intelligence for self-study. One of the very visible shifts has been the kind of intuitive understanding as opposed to an intellectual one in studying the texts. There is an ease in taking them one at a time instead of running through them in a marathon session. What is interesting is that I pick a random shloka which turns out to be exactly what I need to hear. The second interesting observation has been a unifying or recurrent linking with the same thought for  a period of time. This has led to a project on the side of an easily searchable index of the Gita shlokas with my notes. (will share it once it is finished) Lately, the theme has been guru but that is a the subject for a whole different post. 

Trikonasana as an expression of Sutra 2:47

The practice of Yoga induces a primary sense of measure and proportion. Reduced to our own body, our first instrument, we learn to play it, drawing from it maximum resonance and harmony. With unflagging patience we refine and animate every cell as we return daily to the attack, unlocking and liberating capacities otherwise condemned to frustration and death.

– Foreword by Yehudi Menuhin

Image courtesy: Wish I knew who to thank. Found it on the internet on multiple sites.

Ask and you shall receive

Classes at RIMYI were off for a few days with the family being in Bellur for Guruji’s anniversary. There was a notice put up for compensatory sessions but I did not pay attention to the entire details. I was happy that I could go to learn but in my excitement did not notice that the make good class could be taken next Monday onwards. 

I live quite a distance from the institute and while getting there takes me 35-40 minutes, returning can take an hour at times. I reached the institute and saw the board and realized my blunder. So I walked out and the guard at the gate asked me what happened and I told him. He said why don’t you just ask the teacher and see if he will take you. 

Asking for a help, a favour or anything is a huge thing for me and I would much rather go without than ask. Even with the compensatory class, I battled inside until my desire to learn overcame my reluctance to take what was offered. I waited around and asked the teacher and told him I was completely ok even if he said no but he asked a couple of questions and said that I could join in.

The teacher was a soft spoken doctor and I had to strain to hear him during the prayers but as the class progressed, he was like just any other Iyengar teacher, firm and loud. They all remind me of warriors ready to inspire with a yell, a light hearted observation, a tug or just their presence. I think of Arjuna encouraging Uttara Kumar when the Kauravas attack Virata’s kingdom at the end of their exile.

A very interesting experience was how trikonasana was better after a parsvkonasana. I thought about it after we came up and he mentioned the same thing. That’s when I felt that maybe I do ask the right questions in my practice. This tradition is like a classical art form, it calls for dedicated practice and making it ones own. It has helped me work on my desire for approval. The teachers don’t give any and as students, the tone is set for self exploration. We are taught how to learn while learning the poses. 

I have been floundering a little with my home practice, work and family commitments have become
more than what they were.  My running load has also increased in terms of effort in my quest for speed. Sometimes it is just supta virasana and savasana on a bolster. But I missed a couple of days so I really wanted a class to bring that fire back.

I also did an unsupported Sarvangasana today but my armwork was nonexistent. I feel that in halasana too. The teacher lifted my feet up and I realised there’s so much lightness that needs to come. Somewhere I still have fear about injuring my neck and perhaps that makes it a little scary to work a little more in those asanas. All in all, I am very grateful that I could get a class today.

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…”

Losing the beginners mind and finding it

Initially, I hung on to every word of the invocation, feeling the sounds on my tongue and trying to mind the meaning as I chanted it before class or practice. With time, it has become a little mechanical. The mental offering of my practice is there but the mindfulness on the vibrations of the sounds is not always present.

While repeating the invocation in class today, I went through a range of fluctuations. There was the fluttering to calm down. Then the Om settled it a bit and made space for the mind to quieten. As the invocation started, I dutifully repeated it but found my mind wandering and caught myself doing it. The whole chanting would have hardly taken any time but it felt long. At the end, I offered a mental apology and surrendered all that I have to the teachers, mortal and eternal.

Trikonasana is a challenging pose for me. I feel something holds me back from letting go. Looking at it objectively, I should have a greater range of movement downwards but I stop somewhere. This springs from a fear of toppling. I just want to keep it all together, a fragile binding and not have to go beyond my comfort zone. Perhaps what I need to do is break it down and build it up repeatedly. Until the fear goes and there is only joy in that process. Something to work on.

Today’s trikonasana work was on the arms, stretching the inner arm and keeping the tallness before extending downwards. The left hip and groin are tight so I don’t get a complete rotation on that side. Hopefully, that will also happen one day.

Baby steps

Trikonasana is getting a little more easier every time I practice. Not in terms of the alignment or symmetry just in the movement. Until tadasana is stable, I don’t see trikonasana getting anywhere in a hurry. On a separate note, the instructions in the book, Yoga: a Gem for Women by Geeta Iyengar, are starting to make some sense.

I started writing the sutras down as a means of studying them and now the project is almost coming to an end. This first round of going through the sutras has been a sort of familiarising process and I plan to get on with another round to start taking them one by one. Sort of like the Steps. At the same time I am also learning to chant the sutras to get a feel for the sounds. Experiencing the sutras with all my senses. Synesthesia again.