Holiday Practice – Supta Virasana

An unexpectedly long day and so a leisurely practice was not possible. Instead it was a Supta sorta evening. Mostly Supta Virasana but cycled through Supta Swastikasana, Supta Badddakonasana, Supta Padangushtasanas as well. A quick 25 minute recharge to get through whatever was left of the day.

Supta Virasana used to be a favourite during my running days. I’ve often dozed off in the pose and woken up to numb limbs. But, I’d have the lightest legs after. It used to be such a relief especially on long run days. And then even Virasana was a struggle. Asanas are transient too. So the necessity for Abhyasa and Vairagya in each anga.

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.

Yoga is Action

Think action and the twin attitudes of Abhyasa and Vairagyam flow together. And that is the art of living as a science, philosophy and art.

If I were writing in sutras, I’d simply leave it at this.

Yoga is the art of living

The thought for October reads, Yoga is the art of living. As I mentioned in the last post, the more I stay with these monthly contemplations, it becomes increasingly evident how difficult the simple statements are. As the month commenced, it also struck me how thoughtfully the thoughts were arranged in a progression through the months. Before I looked at next month’s thought, I was musing over how the art of living is one of integration which is nothing but karma yoga. And as Krishna says, action without the expectations of its fruits, abhyasa and vairagya are the twin heartbeats of a seeker. I took the calendar down and listed down all the statements and I see how their sequencing is a bit like sequencing in asanas and the teaching of the same.

December   2018 – Yoga is being eternally contemporary

January 2019 – Yoga is awareness

February 2019 – Yoga is purity

March 2019 – Yoga is sensitivity

April 2019 – Yoga is equanimity

May 2019 – Yoga is harmony

June 2019 – Yoga is deconditioning

July 2019 – Yoga is experiencing innocence

August 2019 – Yoga is compassion

September 2019 – Yoga is integration

October 2019 – Yoga is the art of living

November 2019 – Yoga is action

December 2019 – Yoga is to surrender

Yoga as the art of living is really an invitation to be alive. It us an invitation to fully inhabit our embodiment. In the foreword to Light on Yoga, Menuhin talks about it being each and every time a living act. That little opening is a favourite and one I’ve read so many times that it comes unbidden. What does it mean to live? What does it mean to live as a human being? I suppose these are questions that are continuously answered every single moment as we range the spectrum of tendencies from divine to demonic. At day’s end, when I reflect on the activities, actions, words and thoughts, I often notice how things could be handled better. Increasingly, I also notice how I’ve learned to respond differently although it is easy to slip into the unthinking comfort of habit.

The last couple of practice sessions were frustrating and I realized that I had crept towards outcome and not effort. It’s also a gentle reminder that a post 40 body is different. As a woman, there are the monthly ebbs and flows of menstruation along with the ageing that begins to accelerate. Add existing injury or degeneration and the mix is one that needs a balanced handling. Not too little, not too much but always pushing the edge of possibility. I suppose when I think about the art of living, it is really the art of effortless effort, prayatna shaithilyatha. One of my teachers used a lovely analogy in Uttanasana. He asked us to imagine Thakur (from Sholay) doing the pose. (Thakur doesn’t have hands) Often, we tug and pull to reach the chin to the shin but the elegance of the body dropping in surrender to the ground is a beauty to watch as well as experience. There is no attachment, simply a surrender. As I type, I again see how the thoughts of the months have been so beautifully linked like a sutra.

Integration to the art of living to action to surrender.

The dance of life

A couple of years ago, if someone had to ask me to choose between being steeped in yoga and my normal life, I wouldn’t be able to choose the former. Yet, it was always a dream to fulfill once my responsibilities were over.

And then the last year unraveled in ways I hadn’t imagined. Life threw quite a few curveballs in quick succession and forced a complete destruction of all that I held normal. Every single thing. All the yoga classes over the last few months worked with erasing the vestiges of that limited self, forcing me to confront myself. It’s amazing how much we build around the idea of who we are instead of who we actually are. Deeply flawed and potentially divine.

Destruction happens. It’s always happening in nature when leaves turn yellow and fall, creatures die, lava incinerates and tsunamis wash away many lives. Yet, nature creates, not recreates. Even humans. We say rebuild but it’s actually creating from scratch because the old does not exist any longer. That is consumed by time. The Natraj statue in the library was a beautiful representation of that thought.

The angst has passed, some anxiety remains and I find saying No helps, deciding one way or the other helps. Unless I close the door and walk out into the sunshine, I will never be in the light. It is not the way of the world, to drop back and trust that the ground will receive you. But, it is the way of the sutras, of continuous, dedicated abhyasa and vairagyam.

It reminds me of something I learned early – be careful what you wish for, it just may come true. It certainly appears to be the case now and I’m humbled, grateful and a bit unbelieving of my good fortune to study yoga. Sometimes great things are born of terrible pain.

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

Lessons from the little finger

In every class there is something that stays in my head as a signpost, be it an action or a statement. Friday classes are a favourite with our teacher exhorting us to observe the effects of certain actions in one location in the body on other areas, on the breath and the mind.

In my initial days, there was a huge disconnect with my body and I would wonder what in the world did the teacher mean by pressurise the outer foot or push the front thigh back etc. It took time for some semblance of awareness to come to those regions. Added to the mix was stiffness in the body and fear in the mind which had to be addressed. Alignment was the key that unlocked the potential for being present. Our teacher said something vey interesting yesterday, “alignment is an instrument” and it just clicked. 

There is impatience when I sense the mismatch between my left and right sides and I can’t make it equal. It’s the frustration of a child as he/she struggles with learning to write. Then, I have to remind myself that it takes a lot of abhyasa and more than that, vairagyam. It ties in beautifully with what the Gita sings – bring the yajna spirit to our actions. 

Alignment is not just in asana, it begins with the yamas and niyamas. It begins with aligning our conduct with others, aligning self practices to prepare for studentship before moving to asana. And then, it is a continuous process within the shifting paradigms of what they mean at any point in time as one progresses or regresses in practice. In asana also, we do, adjust, observe, redo, understand, experiment, do and stay. Then the pose dissolves and something shifts. Information transforming into knowledge as our teacher says. 

The little finger in Urdhva Hastasana has much to teach. Am I listening?

hasta of a hasta nakshatra…


रहसि Rahasi 

योगी युञ्जीत सततमात्मानं रहसि स्थितः।

एकाकी यतचित्तात्मा निराशीरपरिग्रहः ।। १०।।

” Let the YOGI try constantly to keep the mind steady, remaining in solitude, alone, with the mind and body controlled, free from hope and greed.”

‘… the word solitude (Rahasi) suggests a meaning of secretiveness, indicating that religion should not be a broadcast of self-advertisement, but must be a set of true values of life, secretly practised within the heart, ordering our way of thinking and encouraging our pursuit of the nobler values in life.’

– Swami Chinmayananda in his commentary on The Holy Gita

Some words jump at me when I read or write. Today’s word for contemplation happens to be Rahasi. In Malayalam, rahasyam means secret too. In my opinion, mystic would probably be a more appropriate translation. The thoughts and insights of the Scriptures and sages are not secret, just protected from sacrilege. They are hidden in the open and make themselves available to those who seek. 

I found this shloka from the Gita (chapter 6) full of positive direction. There is abhyasa and vairagya and it is a very clear instruction on how to practise. At first appearance, it seems ascetic but just below the words is a relevance to an everyday seeking. As always, I am amazed at the brevity and depth of the shlokas, despite a novice’s mind. There is a deep sense of gratitude for the teachers and masters who have made this ancient wisdom relevant and available to these times.

There is change in how I share about my sadhana. I have an inkling now as to why there is so little available in terms of a personal experience. Sometimes I question my continuing desire to blog, but for now, it is a form of expression, a longing to sing my contentment and wonder. Sharing my journey feels like paying a debt of gratitude, of leaving whatever I have been graced with. 

Mornings are the perfect time to spend in reading and contemplating as the body and mind are fresh and alert. Japa sadhana in the early hours followed by reading is very conducive to a clearer mind. It has worked for me to understand a little better, more from the heart and less from the head. As a practice, it establishes a point of reference for the day as I plunge into my tasks. 

Today’s task begins with a new yoga class.

Hari Om

Shlokas and Sutras

image

Yesterday was a contemplative day. While sitting down to write, something pushed me to open my copy of The Commentary on The Gita by Swami Chinmayananda and the page opened up to Chapter 6, shlokas 34 and 35. As always, randomly opening a book brings me what I need to hear.
Vairagyam as a natural result of abhyasa.
I was off running for a bit and was beginning to think perhaps I should give it up. A long break from running actually made my body feel better and asana was lighter but it is not time yet. I still have much abhyasa in that part of my life before it finishes its run. As of now, running provides the balance to asana for me. And as the book says, I don’t need to give up anything, it will fall off by itself when the time is ready. I do understand that over a long term period, running long distances is not going to serve me much. I tend to lose too much weight and on an already lanky frame, that leaves nothing. I have to eat huge amounts just to keep what I have and maintain steady levels of energy.
While reading and rereading the shlokas and its commentary, it struck me that the Yog sutras were parallel to the Gita. The same message in both, the only difference, in my view, being the more secular view of the Sutras. The message stayed with me all day yesterday and I still find myself chewing on it. So many applications in my day to day moments. Abhyasa in yamas and niyamas at all times, that is the challenge. Being fully conscious of my present and responding in the right manner. It seems severe and austere but abhyasa makes it easier everytime I am able to take the harder path. I slip up many times in many ways but I get up again and try. Eventually, that is all I can do. Endeavour. And running taught me that. Endeavour and endure. Long distance running slowly made me resilient and taught me endurance. I can go on even when I think I cannot. Usually, I have atleast 40% if not more when I think I cannot go any further. I finally got out for a run today and it felt good. The foot has healed too I think, ran barefoot for about 500m and walked a km without my shoes.

In gratitude for the eternal teachings.

The Serenity Prayer

“God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can and Wisdom to know the difference.” This is part of a longer prayer but it has sufficed as thought for contemplation for many years.

Yesterday, it struck me that it was a perfect prayer to be in the moment. Abhyasa and Vairagyam at work, an easy reminder to bring myself to the present moment and let go.

As of today, asana practice is like this for me. There are many poses I cannot do and that is a reality. What I can do is practice sincerely which is the small change I can bring in my life. Between these two spaces there is a natural sensibility which is accessible to me if I let go.

In gratitude