Time in Yoga

The other day, I was prone in class and from where I lay I could see different setups and a whole lot of focused faces. In a flash, there was a thought of time being measured, not in minutes or seconds but experience. It gallops in pleasure and drags its feet in times of sorrow. In the experience of asana, there is no room for sequential time, only experiential time. It’s the ‘atha‘ from the first sutra, the state of preparedness which opens the possibility of freedom from the limitations of time, space and causality.

The medical class is always fascinating to watch. Bodies of all ages and various levels of ability are helped, often quite vigorously. I watch backs mostly and see how all of our therapy revolves around the spine. Personally, I’ve found relief after a change in sequence and a marked difference in the body between two sessions.

It is extremely hard to surrender the desire for an active practice and experience the quietness of a long passive and recuperative one. There is no other way. Outside of class, the body holds its stresses in different parts and I’m learning to let go as soon as awareness appears. Sometimes all that is required is to step out of my own way.

All bodies age and I see senior practitioners with their struggles too. The change in the body’s topography and the disturbances of life’s circumstances erode its physical expression. I see it in my existence too, the need for reading glasses and a slowing down. The body is a decaying instrument and will lose its capacity over time. I suppose one can only do the necessary sadhana to look after it to keep the heart and mind in fit condition for yog. That agility and endurance calls for a different practice.

Does a lack of complicated poses or a rigorous sequence make it any less of sadhana? My head says no but the heart is only just about accepting its truth. Asana is one petal, the others are oceans in themselves.

My recent exploration has been the Isavasya Upanishad and as always, I remain enthralled by the sheer poetry and simplicity of age old words. All of the Upanishads leave me with a sense of upliftment despite not really understanding it. Just the words bring much joy and I cannot begin to imagine how much more unpacking its essence would bring. But then again I suppose then it wouldn’t matter, there would be no sense of separation. It is a matter of many lifetimes before any of that becomes even remotely possible. For now, I listen to its music, enthralled.

One of the things that jumped out was the need for balance, an echo of abhyasa and vairagyam. It is an ongoing experimentation for me to learn to temper a tendency for solitude with a healthy sense of community. It is part of the fabric of being in the householders stage and any tilt towards one extremity is self defeating. Easier said than done but try, I must.

In gratitude to all my teachers, mortal and eternal

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

 

Food & play

Iyengar yoga is known for its alignment, precision, long holds in asana. The second class was one of play as we moved repeatedly, waking up sleepy muscles of body and mind. It doesn’t happen often in class since the Institute follows a syllabus and it is geared towards systematically developing a practice for oneself. But, as our teacher said, “and sometimes you should play like children also“, as we moved back and forth in pawanmuktasana and did reps of halasana, paschimottanasana. It leaves a different taste after such a practice, lighter.

As my other teacher mentioned during our introduction, class is like a thaali (a multi course Indian meal), where many dishes are served till the point of bursting. There is no time to savour the rasa individually like we do with food prepared at home. It is a home practice which allows us to taste the flavours in each asana.

Back to lessons from the universe, coincidentally one of my readings was

भूरिति वै प्राण:। भुव इत्यपान:।सुवरिति व्यान:।

मह इत्यन्नम्। अन्नेन वाव सर्वे प्राणा महीयन्ते।।५।।

Bhuh is prana. Bhuvah is apana. Suvah is vyana. Mahah is food. Indeed, it is by food that the pranas thrive. (Translation by Swami Chinmayananda)

It is interesting to see and experience the role of food in our lives. The Annamaya kosha is the outermost sheath and nourished by food. What is food, though? There is a lot of ‘information’ available out there but the ‘knowledge’ about is pretty scarce. Much of it has faded from our lives alongwith the older generation. Ayurveda has it’s food rules and at one time, it was common knowledge as people turned to their kitchens for preventive and curative medicine. Food was prepared as an offering before being consumed. The traditional prepping methods released the benefits in a way that was most suitable. There was no complication of a ‘diet’. People ate what was native to their region, in season and prepared in the way of their ancestors. There was an order in which it was consumed for the best absorption and assimilation. Food was meant to nourish and sustain and it was in sync with the prakriti of a person. At the end of the day, it was a subjective exercise, like yoga. 

The general rules provides a framework but the magic is in self exploration. It’s an ongoing experience as I discover much about my misconceptions with food and begin to see my place in the circle of life, like in the movie, The Lion King.

It never fails to amaze me how astute the sages were. They codified everything as it is while we complicate matters with analysis and research. As Paul Coelho says in The Alchemist, it is the Language of the World. Or as Patanjali states, ‘Words, objects and ideas are superimposed, creating confusion; by samyama, one gains knowledge of the language of all beings.’ (Translation by BKS Iyengar)

In gratitude 

स्वाध्यायादिष्टदेवतासंप्रयोग:।।४४।।

It is hard to let go, really let go. Running was a crutch in many ways. Sure, it made me feel good, it made me feel strong, it made me push beyond what I thought I was capable. Yet, at the core of it is deep seated ahamkara. Pride in one’s effort and the result. The extent of that is apparent when one of my wishes is to be a world class athlete in my next life! Of course, I want to be a devout yoga sadhaka as well but the first instinct is a desire for that which satisfies the ego.

The last few days have been difficult. Pain and its associated mental turmoil. Yesterday, I decided to just stop and let go. Last night as I lay down to sleep with a bolster beneath my knees, it struck me that all the Savasana prompts that kept cropping up lately were a prep for this period in time. My body and mind need the rejuvenation that this asana gives in such abundance. My mind had worked itself into a frenzy and predictably the body grew tense and the heart heavy. I could only see what was denied to me and not what is available. I forgot to bring a spirit of enquiry with me, forgot that pain is a teacher!

Sometimes I wish for the ease that people enjoy in congregational worship. It seems so natural when they get together to do puja, pray or sing. Recently, I was at a church for a wedding and the choir was heavenly. A mix of folks from different cultures across the country, all coming together in beautiful melody. It took me back to my days as a child when I used to be part of a choir. I’ve almost always been a loner, mostly by choice and at times because life would push me back to navigating on my own even when I would attempt being part of a group. This pattern goes way back in my history, around the  early teenage years. I suppose that’s why Eklavya appeals to me. There is something about that Nishada living wild with his guru firmly entrenched in his heart that resounds with me. Often, I think that Guruji in my heart is like how the clay likeness of Dronacharya was for the archer who was probably greater than Arjuna. Eklavya’s story is an anonymous one, hidden in the periphery of civilisation. There is much to learn from his character but that’s a separate reflection. There’s an old post sketching his story in the Mahabharata that I had written a while ago. (click to read

I think of going to a temple on certain days, like today, but then don’t because of the crowd. I prefer to go on quiet days when there is no one. I don’t know the order of worship, nor the offerings to be made. I just sit, seeing the idol until it feels like time to get up, sort of like how I come out of savasana. In my heart, I offer a full prostration but have nothing as an offering except myself. I go empty since nothing is mine. I drop in some money at the box and leave, accepting the prasad. Shivratri is one such day and I have the auspicious one in my heart. 

अचिन्त्यमव्यक्तमनन्तरूपं शिवं प्रशान्तममृतं ब्रह्मयोनिम। तथाऽऽदिमध्यान्तविहीनमेकं विभुं चिदानन्दमरूपमद्भुतम्।।६।। उमासहायं परमेश्वरं प्रभुं त्रिलोचनं नीलकण्ठं प्रशान्तम्। ध्यात्वा मुनिर्गच्छति भूतयोनिं समस्तसाक्षिं तमस: परस्तात् ।।७।। एतस्माज्जायते प्राणो मन: सर्वेन्द्रियाणि च। खं वायुर्ज्योतिराप: पृथिवी विश्वस्य धारिणी।।१५।।

 Translation from the commentary by Swami Chinmayananda

6. The unthinkable, the unmanifest, the One of endless forms, the ever auspicious, the peaceful, the immortal, the origin of the very Creator, the One without a beginning, a middle and an end, the only One, the all-pervading, the Knowledge-Bliss, the formless, and the wonderful.

7.By meditating upon Lord Parameśvara consorted by mother Umā, the highest Lord, the all-powerful, the three eyed, the blue necked and the ever tranquil, a true man of reflection reaches Him, who is the source of all the manifested world, the witness of all and the One who is beyond all darkness.

15. From Him are born the prāna (life), the mind (antahkarana), all the organs (indriyani), the sky (akāsa), the wind (vāyu), the fire (jyotih), the water (āpah) and the earth (prithivi). He is the supporter of everything.

Om Namah Shivaya

Light

Sometimes it feels unreal, coming out of savasana. I roll the mat, get out of the room and am swept into the current of the day. The mat, though, is a different experience. Within its boundaries, there is space and time. Today’s thought stayed with me for most of the day.


ज्योतिषामपि तज्ज्योतिस्तमस: परमुच्यते।

ज्ञानं ज्ञेयं ज्ञानगम्यं हृदि सर्वस्य विष्ठितम् ।।१८।।

That (BRAHMAN), the Light-of-all lights, is said to be beyond darkness; (It is) Knowledge, the Object-of-Knowledge, seated in the hearts of all, to be reached by Knowledge.

Translation by Swami Chinmayananda 

Swamiji begins his commentary on this shloka by saying- “Brahman, the illuminator in all, is the One Consciousness by which everything is known intellectually, realized intuitively, and experienced spiritually.” The different touch points in this short verse paint the entire cosmos within and without. As always, the clarity and beauty of the words of masters never fails to fill me with awe.

The Gayatri mantra is an invocation to the same illuminator who resides within. In his commentary, Sri Shankaracharya speaks about meditating on the source of illumination of the Sun. His brief explanation provides many facets for contemplation on the one light that lights all. It is no coincidence that we speak of the realized ones as enlightened or illumined. Guruji’s books also use Light in their titles…

All light is one

न तत्र सूर्यो भाति न चन्द्रतारकं नेमा विध्युतो भान्ति कुतोऽयमग्नि:।

तमेव भान्तमनुभाति सर्वं तस्य भासा सर्वमिदं विभाति ।।१४।।

The sacred texts and commentaries take their time to seep in- Intellectually, Intuitively and Spiritually. Yogasana is also like that. The head and the heart, culminating in the union of both to transcend. 

Hari Om

 

Stopping by a stop-watch

There is a large glass cupboard in the institute which has a few items that belonged to Guruji. The legendary stop-watch caught my attention today as I stood waiting for a friend. A piece of time ticking away for a man who defined time and space through asana. 

I knew him not but rest in the promise of the Śvetāśvatara Upanishad…

यस्य देवे परा भक्ति: यथा देवे तथा गुरौ । 

तस्यैते कथिता ह्यर्था: प्रकाशन्ते महात्मन: ।।२३।।

प्रकाशन्ते महात्मन इति ।

He who has the same supreme devotion for the Guru as for God, indeed to the great person the spoken meanings of the Upanishads become revealed.

-Translation from the book by Swami Tejomayanand

Book by Swami Tejomayananda

Tasmai Shri Guruve Namaha

Straight from the Heart

Two trips to the Institute yesterday. One for class, one for the Guru Pournima celebrations. Back bends and prostrations. Both filled my heart. 

The program began with the traditional invocation to Sage Patanjali and the Guru Brahma chant. It was followed by a beautiful dramatization of a series of conversations between 2 practitioners. Abhijata and Raya enacted the roles or rather spoke from the heart. The script was probably not necessary for them if their voices were anything to go by, almost as though everything they narrated, happened to them. Through their dialogue interspersed with some asana demonstration and video clippings, we were treated to some pearls of Guruji’s wisdom. Some things made me go “yes, I’ve felt that” and then I question if it is possible since I am so young in yoga. I too have felt the timelessness spoken about in paschimottanasana or janu sirsasana for the tiniest moments but then I am still very raw, so is it real? It doesn’t matter.

There was a quote by Guruji in the presentation that has stayed in my head since yesterday, “Does the flower fall from the tree of its own free will or does the tree abandon it?” 

Little K’s sketch on the program. I love the stick people doing asanas…

Geetaji released the latest Yoga Rahasya and spoke a few words at the end, reminding us all to preserve what Guruji has given us.

commemorating 50 years of Light on Yoga

The format of a dialogue between 2 practitioners was very interesting and got me thinking about my peers. Perhaps it would be nice to discuss the subject to find a different perspective. However, that is very limited since I wait for someone else to initiate a conversation. It’s nice when it happens but I’m equally content staying in silence. Perhaps, it is because I get my sense of community and fellowship through this blog. I receive encouragement and experience, unconditionally shared, that nudges me to explore in ways I don’t usually do. Online pilgrims on the same journey…

I wonder who did Guruji share with? Of course, millions of people through his books and teachings but that happened much later in his life. As a beginner, who did he share with? Today’s reading from Gaudapada’s Karika on the Mandukya Upanishad (commentary by Swami Chinmayananda) had a very beautiful line and I found my answer.

अस्पर्शयोगो वै नाम सर्वसत्त्वसुखो हितः।

अविवादो ऽ विरुद्वश्च देशितस्तं नमाम्यहम् ।।२।।

“I salute that yoga of detachment which is called asparsha, (lit. no touch, in other words, having no relationship with anything, at any time), which is taught through scriptures, which promotes the happiness of all, which is conducive to the well-being of all, which is beyond all disputes and which is at once free from strife and contradiction.”

The commentary by Swamiji states- In the case of Asparsha yoga, it being mainly the inward development of the individual, accomplished in the secret caves of the heart, it is never painful to others and it is ever good for the individual concerned.

The beauty of Guruji’s sadhana is the hope it gave and continues to give. Yoga as taught by him emphasised on correct alignment and is seen as rigid and harsh by some. But at the core of it is compassion. The language of the heart. 

Guruji was not a man, he was a phenomenon. Same with Swami Chinmayananda who made the great scriptures accessible to the modern day seeker.

Offering my humblest pranaams to Guruji and Swamiji who guide my path.

Hari Om

What does the breath have to do with my knees?

Finally managed to switch the evening class with a morning one. Every new teacher brings a different experience to the 90 minutes. While the class is about asana, the experience is about being here, now. 

Sometimes I wonder what is it about asana that I like. I don’t have any goals of being able to do an independent handstand although it would be nice to do that. I don’t have any fitness or body building aspirations even though I run. Both asana and running make me feel alive. I suppose it is bringing balance and stillness to my body and mind that I seek. The irony is stillness comes through movement, is it the predominance of vata? Perhaps that is why tadasana is always fresh. It is a pose I find myself in everyday even if only for a brief while. I’m grateful for the limitations that push me to study and practise. If not for them, I may have been insufferable.

This class is conducted by an old timer and he is the only teacher who did not demonstrate any pose. Just short, crisp instructions that seemed to adjust our bodies by the power of their utterance. The first thing I noticed was his knees and the class revolved around knees. Earlier my problem child was the feet but they seem to have found a way to learn how to work. The knees give me trouble in some of the bent leg asanas and I have been asked to prop it. I don’t think it is something with the knees but it just shows up there. Surprisingly, in yesterday’s class, janu sirsasana was painfree without any support! The last two classes I didn’t want to come up from the pose. It just felt quiet and as though I could stay forever. Same with paschimottanasana

The class was peppered with hints about practice and the pen in my head scribbled furiously for sometime before I let go. Too many to remember and I can only hope they have been stored in some corner and will make themselves experential reality in time. It sounds a little fantastic but a thought that popped in during class was that the teacher seemed to be channeling Guruji. 

“Where does the inhalation end? Where does the exhalation end?” This prompt from the teacher in savasana is an interesting thought to ponder. Lately, I have taken to identifying the breath as soon as I wake up and at random times during the day. There is a sense of almost unbridled energy when the breath moves without obstruction through both the nostrils. Perhaps that is why it occurs for a short duration and at intervals. 

This whole thing with the breath is almost as though an internal radio is adjusting the frequency and I’m catching bits of a station alongwith static. I’m not tuning it neither am I shutting it down. Let’s see where it goes.

In my reading yesterday, there was a very interesting point made about the rarity of a true sadhaka. How many lifetimes before my sadhana can be undivided… Vedanta and yogasana dance together in my feeble attempts to be a good student. More often than not, a thought from the Upanishads finds reference in Guruji’s works. It just makes the idea clear in a practical way. There is much to read between the lines…

poster at the institute for guru pournima celebrations

Offering my sadhana, flawed though it be, at the feet of the guru.
Hari Om

Study and practice

Classes have been exhilarating this week with little, unexpected improvements in asana. I’ve always struggled with the balance poses and it was a surprise to be able to get into a steady veerbhadrasana 3 and uthita Padangushtasana. It happened while I was not looking and because of my teacher. I didn’t expect to even touch the pose when she first demonstrated it. How do I keep everything straight and hold the big toe? I’d be hopping on one foot! The systematic way of leading to the pose made it possible to reach the asana. But the real beauty lies in the integrity required to reach there. Something I learnt early on is to focus on how to work rather than aim to reach a pose. The asana happens by itself. One of the things I love about the system is the correlation between different families of asanas. Supta padangushtasana and veerbhadrasana 3 are twins! 

There is a renewed curiosity and playfulness about asana as I go about my chores. Sometimes there is a spontaneous veerbhadrasana 3 just to see if it still happens. And it does! Doing dishes is tadasana time for the legs while folding clothes is an easy time for virasana. I’m still reluctant to do baddakonasana or upavishtakonasana although I need that more. 

Today’s reading was just one line and its commentary from Gaudapāda’s Kārikā. 

आत्मसत्यानुबोधेन न सङ्कल्पयते यदा ।

अमनस्तां तदा याति ग्राह्याभावे तदग्रहम् ।।३२।।

When the mind does not bring forth any more of these imaginations because of the knowledge of Truth, which is Ātman (pure Consciousness), then it ceases to be mind and that (mind) becomes free from the idea if cognition for want of objects of cognition.

Swami Chinmayananda puts it very simply by telling it is sufficient for us to understand that the mind is nothing other than the ‘focal point’ of the five organs of knowledge. 

It echoed a recent question from prashnayantra for me. Thank you Michael for pointing out this fascinating resource. Although it is way beyond my current level of practice, I believe the questions will simmer somewhere in the background and prompt a deeper enquiry when I am ready. A seed sown that will sprout in the readiness of time. In the meanwhile, I endeavour with all my shortcomings and flaws to the best of my ability.

Hari Om

Soar and Sore!

Reading the sacred texts, especially in the wee hours of the morning, is very uplifting. The exquisite beauty of language and thought is best absorbed and contemplated when the world sleeps. As always, reading the eternal truths in such poetic language fills me up. The Upanishads are exquisite in their brevity and expansiveness as they open the heart to think. 

Prashantji’s book has been a treasure trove and reading it has been a validation. Most of my unknowing steps in study and practice find a place in his suggestions. Last night’s reading made sense in the context of today’s reading as well.

“Brahmacharya is not just observing celibacy. Thus, the practice of Brahmacharya is a way of life through which the sexual energy is drawn upwards — goes upwards, on account of sublimation and quietude and with no turmoil in the passion zone. It goes upwards and becomes what is called as intuitive creativity and that is why the Vedic seers had tremendous intuitive creativity through which they had foresight and insight.”

– Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali by Prashant S Iyengar

For a long time, I thought I needed to wait to be ready to study the texts. But perhaps, it is a natural inclination and that may be why I gravitated towards a method of study independently. It got me thinking about the practice of asana as well. My practice has changed, I don’t fret about following a fixed sequence. It is not about attaining mastery but about maintaining the body to sit quietly. Somedays I work with one action, somedays I do nothing and on others I follow a sequence. More often than not, I end up working with those asanas that are hard for me. These are very much the basic poses and at the Intermediate level the asana is opened up even more.

Today’s class was hard, very hard. We did urdhva hastasana, uttanasana and some seated forward bends. The focus was on the arms, I suspect it was prepping for some kind of arm balances in the near future. After class, I was thoroughly tired and sore. I wondered if I had more on my plate than I can handle right now. But the runner brain quickly piped up to say, you are an endurance runner. In all fairness, I did expect to find difficulty for a few months as I learn more and work on my asanas. 

I got in early and was observing some of the students and teachers practising in the hall and it was very interesting. On the outside, I see a pose, I see props. I see the beauty and symmetry of the human structure. I wonder about the asana of the mind. I saw my teacher from last year in a very interesting set up and it reminded me of some of Guruji’s pictures. A state of sublimity, so nearby. Am I imagining it or is it real? The head doubts while the heart believes.

Hari Om