Hybrid

​After almost 2 years, I was in the big hall again. This time with a few teachers as part of a pilot project on hybrid yoga classes. It was simply wonderful to be back in the hall, same and yet different. Zoom has become so much a part of the way yoga classes are conducted that most of us present also did the thumbs up to acknowledge comprehension. It was cute. There is some unlearning as well as some new learning in the way this moves forward.

All these days, classes were in a capsule, the energy that of the household or space where one practised. Zoom yoga is a very silent activity as there is only the teacher’s voice and the odd person asking for clarification. In the hall, there is movement and sounds of props, chatter as practitioners exchange thoughts or help each other. There is a larger space where you move to a wall or column or grill. At home, it is a tight dance around available space. Today, we chanted the invocation together loudly. At home, I often chant it silently with the teacher but it was good to feel my voice as part of the other voices. Another change, not the usual call and response but a chanting together in the interest of those attending remotely.

Although it was a class, it felt like practice. Perhaps, it was a remnant from the class the previous evening which was a silent one with no instructions but an opening that invited us to consider what it meant to be human, what it meant to be alive. My teacher touched briefly upon the yamas and the niyamas as well as our being and becomings. I chose to simply stay with the thought of the yamas as we went through the asanas. And simply considering the words- ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya and aparigraha through the cycle of poses led to a very reflective and quiet experience, one that spilled over into today too. The surrender in Uttanasana and Prasarita Padottanasana was very different.

While in the hall today, I found myself at home, at ease unlike before when I wondered what I was doing hanging around in the therapy class. Today as we helped each other learn certain actions, I found myself assisting teachers as we learned together. The previous me would have been horrified about how could I give teachers a hand. The thought didn’t cross my mind this morning. I still can’t do many asanas and am not driven enough to chase poses so probably have no business being there but I love the place and will simply keep showing up as long as they will have me. Another interesting observation was how I was able to consider and measure the extent of action that the teacher asked us to do. Often the repetition of cues would see me overdo because I wasn’t able to process enough to gauge what was the right extent.

The Iyengar yoga system can be compared to any of the old classical disciplines of Indian dance or music or martial arts. Tough, very little validation and a lot of pushing hard. As a beginner, I remember wanting to do the best pose and do everything perfectly. I was willing to push hard and wanted validation that my efforts were correct although I didn’t want to ask for it. So, I made a lot of mistakes but kept asking the questions of myself and over time, they got answered. Injury taught me patience and gave me time to observe. This kind of learning has been slow but quite rich as the lines between asana and life blurred until it simply became a whole system of living.

It is a changed world, this Covid one. In the past two years, the journey on the mat has been a wide one. In sheer asana proficiency, I progressed well till I could do some of the asanas much better than I could pre-pandemic but then had to scale down due to certain conditions. There were also unexpected finds such as asanas that I had never attempted coming very easily. And more recently a complete halt with Covid and a slow finding my way back to an active practice.

Covid Recovery

I had almost 2 weeks of no asana at all when I was recovering from the second bout of Covid. Post that it was a slow re-entry with plenty of supported forward bends gradually moving towards twists and reintroducing the other categories of asanas. During those days, the body simply didn’t want to even consider inversions or backbends or standing poses. They are now available albeit to a much smaller degree but the capacity is definitely increasing. Recovery is an interesting phenomenon whether of body, mind or emotion. I don’t fall sick easily and the odd time that I do, the bounce back is quick. This time around, I still feel like I’m convalescing. It is a different experience to be short of breath and not really trust your body to do certain things.  Each day is a mindful exercise in managing tasks around energy levels. But today, I am happy and thrilled at having been in beloved RIMYI and lying down on the cool floor of the big hall post class. Maybe that powered me through a long day.

Reflection on Yama

A conversation earlier in the day made me think of how the foremost precept in medicine or yoga is ‘Do no harm’. It also ties in with the first of the great vows.

I finished reading the yamas in the book (Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali) and have been reflecting on their mahavrata nature. It has been some time since I sat with different sets of contemplation, like vrittis or kleshas etc. Coming around to it now, it strikes me how different this reading has been. Repetition and a consciousness of these ideas have seeped through the mind over the years and let understanding evolve differently- almost as a gentle undercurrent, not seen but felt both deeper and wider. Moral dilemmas and ethical concerns now start to be examined with consideration and not in absolute terms. There is clarity at the existing level while also a consciousness of a subtler layer that would need a different application. 

Yamas are commonly regarded as restraints, injunctions or observances. But the sutra says these are ‘sarvabhauma mahavratam’, universal great vows. Implicit in its resounding sureness is its absolute nature, the highest standard. In the order of the sutras, yama and niyama are placed before asana and pranayama, yet we always begin at asana. We begin where we are, how we are. It doesn’t matter if one is returning after a long gap or is a complete novice. It has been one of the most beautiful aspects of yoga and Iyengar yoga in particular. It reminds me of artists who painstakingly create sand sculptures on a beach, fully aware that a wave will wash over it and there will be nothing left. What if we could be both artist and sculpture, fully devoted to making our lives as beautiful in a spirit of service with the full awareness of our transience? What if we could truly embrace aparigraha? This last one has caught my attention this time as the book invites considering why the phala of this particular yama is a knowledge of one’s past and future lives.

In one of his classes last week, Prashantji mentioned that “the embodiment is like a text book” and that like textbooks which are read repeatedly, one needs to learn to read one’s own embodiment. The yamas speak differently now, a little less rigidly despite their almost thunderous injunction of non-negotiability. If there is one thing this pandemic has taught us, it has been that we never know another completely and so do not have the context of their choices. 

These have been days of reflection, mulling over the question of how best do I apply the principles of ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya and aparigraha in my life. There are no easy answers for the likes of me, caught in the spin of everyday living. At best, it is a thin watered down version of what Sage Patanjali might have had in mind. The more I read, the more I realize how woefully insufficient it is to rely on translations alone. One needs to understand the language in which it was written, the health of our embodiments before considering yog. No wonder the need for the trifecta of treatises on grammar, medicine and yoga. No wonder the need to invoke samarthyam like Srineet mentioned in one of his classes. Ability and a worthiness, both of which the likes of us have to develop over a long, uninterrupted abhyas. Sometimes, it does feel like seeing through a kaleidoscope, the tumble of pieces throwing a different kind of connective pattern every single time.

Endless the possibilities.

Happy in Dandasana

I’ve been a bit reluctant to attend class lately since most of the asanas are not available to me. My head tells me that I could do my little bit at home instead of going to class. 

Friday was a treat for me despite doing a number of repeats of dandasana, parsva dandasana and paschimottanasana. A class within a class of sorts while the rest of the hall did twists and various other poses. By the end of class, my back felt good and I had a glimpse of tadasana in my buttocks. I left feeling happy.

Danda means punishment or staff and it’s an interesting word considering my current state of recovery from injury. Yama, the Lord of Death, is aptly shown holding the staff, a stiff reminder of the injunctions of ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, aparigraha. Pretty much in line with the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament. Both have death as a common thread, as a means to pay back karmic debt and as punishment for sin. 

What does all that have to do with my knee? Plenty. In retrospect, I violated all the yamas in my desire to run fast. One does not mess with the mighty vows and escape unscathed. How I got here is history, it cannot be changed. But, what I can do about it is what Sutra 2:33 says. As Guruji elaborates, “By raising the weak or dull to the level of the intelligent or strong, the sadhaka learns compassion in action.” Although, compassion is easier practised with other people than with oneself. 

I do miss the road and hope to get back once healed. Unfinished business, you could say, before I hang my running shoes (only I don’t own any😊). Hopefully, I will get back stronger and a little more humble. In the meanwhile, I remain happy in dandasana. After all, it is tadasana, just seated. 

Musings on Yama

Recently, I had the opportunity to put together some slides on yamas. It set off multiple trains of thought.

Yama is the name of the Lord of Death and the Lord of Dharma. He is the Lord of the South, the direction Lord Siva faces as Dakshinamurthy. He is divine father to Yudhishthira who is known for his restraint. 

In all the above musings, there is an element of holding back. The common feature in all the yamas is restraint, not giving free rein to indulgence.

The yamas as espoused by Sage Patanjali in the Yog Sutras are five- ahimsa (non violence), satya (truth), asteya (non stealing), brahmacharya (continence) and aparigraha (non greed). The hatha yoga pradipika lists ten yamas- ahimsa (non violence), satya (truth), asteya (non stealing), brahmacharya (chastity), kshama (forgiveness), dhrthi (fortitude), daya (compassion), aarjava (sincerity), mitaahaara (measured diet) and shaucha (cleanliness). The ten commandments in the book of Exodus share the same sentiments. 

Perhaps it is no coincidence that restraint has strain within it. Holding back from giving into instant gratification requires a great deal of power. There is a common image of Lord Krishna holding the reins of the horses as Arjuna’s sarathy (charioteer) which is a beautiful depiction of the skill and poise of control. 

in perfect restraint

Yamas are not easy to practise in everyday life, primarily because they are in relation with others as well as oneself. Just when there is familiarity with one facet of it, lack of it in another aspect brings discomfort. It is a silent practice, continuously shifting paradigms.

Ahimsa translates as non violence which calls for a high degree of restraint and discernment. What constitutes ahimsa? Is it simply overwhelming love or love that cares enough to be tough? The body is an excellent playground to explore ahimsa. It is a fine balance between overdoing and pushing just beyond my comfort zone. 

Ashtanga yoga begins with yama, although in these times, it starts with asanas before one begins to consider what lies below the surface. Until asana started weaving its healing on me, I wasn’t capable of giving deep thought to what the principles really meant. Sure, I had good intentions and generally tried to keep up to them. Very often, I went to extremes and then was not able to sustain what I started. Too much strain, too much force, too much load. And I would slide back into a dejected giving up. I was going about it the wrong way, using violence, while being completely unaware about it. Avidya. 

Running long distances helped me to understand the value of slowly becoming capable to go the distance. A little everday added up to a lot one day. Most of the runs were abhyasa and then there would be an effortless one just like in asana. Strive a little often enough and experience a tiny glimpse of full silence. And the cycle continues.

Restraint happens effortlessly when I am ready. Things that don’t serve me fall off by themselves and lose their attraction. It happens. I don’t do anything but watch. The pull towards instant gratification lessens by bringing a tiny pause before reacting. And little by little, it begins to become longer and natural.

One of my favourite Sutras is 1:33 which talks about friendliness, compassion, happiness and indifference for living in harmony with others and oneself. Initially, it was the sound of the words as they rolled off my tongue that attracted me it. Later, the four attitudes made perfect sense to deal with others and myself. It is so simple. It is possible to gain freedom from repetitive thought patterns and behaviours. The yamas develop courage to face life on its own terms.The tadasana of everyday living.

Hari Om

Aparigraha

अपरिग्रहस्थैर्ये जन्मकथंतासंबोधः ।३९।
Sutra 2:39- Knowledge of past and future lives unfold when one is free from greed for possessions.
Translation by B.K.S. Iyengar in ‘Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’

I miss my teacher already. There’s just one class left to go and the academic year will be over. It seems just like yesterday that I was nervous and excited about starting out. So much has changed in the last 11 months! There is an easy familiarity with the Institute now and a sense of comfort in the hall and premises. The folks who help out there are always happy to say hello and we exchange a few words every time we meet.
I have signed up for two classes a week beginning June and wonder who my teachers will be. I hope I get my teacher again but it is a want, an attachment, a greed. Much as my head tells me that I will get who I need, my mind wants different. It throws a silent tantrum, “I want my teacher”.
I didn’t get my preferred timings as those classes were sold out in no time, within half an hour, someone mentioned. So I took whatever I could get. It’s going to be a year of jugglery as I manage to squeeze work and home between 2 odd batch timings. The interesting thing is I got one women’s intermediate class so that should be a different experience. Will it be any easier? I doubt.
The last class was a welcome surprise, we did restorative asanas and began with a favourite, Supta Virasana. Some nights I do it before sleeping, on the bed itself and wake up with the lightest legs the next morning. I’ve fallen asleep in it too and woken up when the legs went to sleep.
It is a pose not easily accessible to a lot of people and we learnt how to use props for different problems. The ‘Royal’ Supta Virasana was reserved for an elderly gentleman in our class who had some trouble. He looked so relaxed propped on all those bolsters and pillows. We learnt the adjustments for the knees, ankles, back, head etc. and spent a fair bit of time in it. My current struggle in the pose is feeling the evenness in both the buttocks and a stiffness in the front of the left foot. The thigh also takes its while to settle into a calmness. It is very interesting how small areas are unlocked to work on and once there is a little familiarity with that part, another one needs attention. It’s like building the asana in parts and then one fine day putting it all together to make a fully integrated structure. These are just asana adjustments at the grossest level and it will be a while before it can penetrate the outermost kosha and gives me a glimpse of the depth available. I could study my entire lifetime and learn something new every time!
Japa practice is just sitting and chanting everyday but something is changing. I now read a  very short commentary on it before sitting in the morning and take up one or two words to ruminate. Commentaries are a helpful way of soaking in the ancient language and learning the way to study. While having a Guru would be ideal, it is very much possible to start with whatever is at hand. A good book is a good teacher indeed.
During japa, my mind wanders and I notice, it wanders again and I notice again and the cycles are completed. But now it is not frustration, it is learning to stay and call the mind back, like repeatedly telling my kids to tidy up. Another change is the ability to sit without dropping for a while. Repetition is abhyasa and being regular somehow makes things accessible. The mind can be made an ally but it needs the gentle discipline of regular, everyday action come what may.

image
One of the many statues at RIMYI

Tomorrow is Hanuman Jayanti and the Institute has organized a program. It is always something to look forward to, old timers sharing the memories about Guruji and what they have learnt.

Yamas of words

I like to think of yamas and niyamas as vigilant doorkeepers to my sadhana. They are constantly one step ahead of where I am currently, gently prodding me to strive.
Earlier, I would feel a pang of regret that I did not latch on to yoga when I was first introduced to it. In retrospect, I needed 2 decades of learning yamas and niyamas slowly to be able to move to the third limb of yoga. Even now, it is a struggle when I see how much is required to be a worthy student.

Words are fascinating. Their sounds, a medium as well as an energy. It got me thinking that practising the yamas where my utterances are concerned is something I could explore. Increasingly, it is not what I verbalise but what I think and the underlying mental make up that need close examination. The questions can go on uncovering layers upon layers of my motives and hopefully bring about the change that is required.

Am I practising Ahimsa not just in non-violent speech but also in thought?
Am I practising Satya by not just blurting the truth but seeing if it is non-harming too?
Am I practising Asteya in speaking just my truth?
Am I practising Brahmacharya in knowing when to hold my tongue?
Am I practising Aparigraha in measuring my words?

Ultimately all of what I understand is not mine but belongs to the infinite knowledge of life. The wisdom of the ancient ones points the way for me to investigate and experience for myself. A personal understanding gets validated when something I read mirrors my interpretation. At times however, I also find myself wondering if all this is just in my imagination. Am I reading too much into the thoughts that cross my mind? But then how do I explain this sense of unclouded vision?

2.38

There is a certain lethargy to write about all the experiences, thoughts and feelings that are being churned. It’s not like there is any pain or trouble just a whole lot of stuff being churned. It’s like moving to school from kindergarten.
One of the things I have been questioning and trying to get a sense for was my dorsal area. While I understand what is required, the sensation just wasn’t there. I got a touch of that space when one of the teachers adjusted me in cross bolster Setuband Sarvangasana. It was an instantaneous ‘aha’.
Today’s trikonasana was one where I felt I could stay. It was an effortless effort for my current level of practice. The new area we explored today was the back of the thigh and that changed the trikonasana, tadasana feel. I found myself trying the same movement through the day at home too. It’s a little nerdy and I can’t seem to help myself as I find myself trying what I learnt in class while doing some chores, like bend down in ardha chandrasana to pick up something.
While writing the Sutras from the second pada today, I was drawn yet again to 2.38, “brahmacaryapratishtayam viryalabhaha” which is translated by Guruji in his book as  ‘when the sadhaka is firmly established in continence, knowledge, vigour, valour and energy flow to him’.
Of all the yamas, something calls me to this one time and again. ‘Virya’ is a state that attracts my attention. Energy, vigour, potency, valour are some of the synonyms given to ‘virya’ in the ‘Light on Yoga Sutras’.
Brahmacharya is commonly understood in Hindi as celibacy but I understand it as a control over indulgence in any form. Perhaps the little aha moment in trikonasana was a tiny moment of brahmacharya if the sensation was anything to go by. A little under doing on my right and a little overdoing on the left to balance it. Control, moderation, balance.
My asanas are like a child’s early attempts at taming the alphabet. Over time and with practice, the writing improves. If there is an interest in learning how to write not just for the skill but for the art in it, then beautiful handwriting is created, constantly evolving. I hope to be graced with the same sense of wonder and curiosity as I explore how my body and mind can move.
Sometimes I wonder why do I want to know more, understand more, do more? It’s not like I want to be a teacher or anything although in my early days I was quite enamoured by the idea of being a yoga teacher. Imagine spending the entire day studying asanas, the texts and other bodies. But that was a short lived daydream. I don’t know why this calls to me so strongly. As of now, I am in the thick of family life and my yoga is what fits in within this framework. Some days I do not practise the asanas but they find me while sitting at work or doing the dishes. Sometimes it is at bedtime and at others when I practise the Sutras in my attempt to memorise them. Sometimes it is just being there for the family or friends.
There is change happening and I can’t put a finger on it. It is like getting quiet but with a lot of churning.

Anonymity – yama?

I could do a whole practice maybe even should considering the increased running. But there is fatigue in my body. All that it asks for is Viparita Karani. So that’s what it has been yesterday and today. Rest with support to energise quietly. And I learn.
Something is shifting inside.

“Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities”.
-Tradition 12  of The Twelve Step program

Despite a reticence to be in the spotlight, I do like being given credit for my thoughts. Whenever I have felt like my ideas have been taken up by others and made big, there was discomfort and resentment. I wanted to be known despite wanting to hide. My typical response then would be to withdraw and keep my thoughts to myself. I could not handle the thought that ‘I’ could be petty in my mind and heart.
Recently, there was a similar situation and there was a difference. I was glad to have shared something that found momentum through someone else’s voice on a larger platform. It didn’t matter that the thoughts were mine or that there was no mention of me. I was happy that the message was carried. And that was enough.
The wind and birds don’t think of growing a plant as they carry seeds. That’s the Vairagyam I need to cultivate. Practise, share and get on. It also opened my eyes to the fact that the thoughts were not really mine. They were lessons transmitted to me which I had experienced but they were not mine.
I haven’t done anything for this change. It happened. I like to think of it as grace freely given. Hope I can give as freely and without thought.

In gratitude

Breaking yama niyama

Diwali is just around the corner and it’s my favourite time of the year. I like scrubbing my walls and floors clean, throwing out things that have just been sitting around, making small hampers for my neighbours and friends and enjoying the pleasant evenings. I took a day off work to clean up and it got me back on track.
I find cleaning up very therapeutic. It helps me gather myself when I get scattered. The last couple of weeks were quite hectic and I had a slump in my home practice. It began with class a couple of weeks ago.
It was that time of the month and the class was hard work. After that I just didn’t want to exert myself. I did a few restorative asanas on my bed when I needed some relief but just didn’t get on the mat. Neither did I do any reading nor any journalling. Generally found myself sliding in all areas of my life, in short unmanageable and overwhelmed.
I finally shook the lethargy and got to practice a few days ago when I swatted a mosquito that was hovering around me. I felt terrible, snuffing out that life especially when I was practising. Generally, I don’t kill bugs but pick them up and put them away or shoo them. I think of how I would feel if a giant had to crush me. This was unthinking and it felt like a big violation. It probably sounds like a lot of hue and cry about a mosquito but that was a life.
This Wednesday, my teacher mentioned ahimsa using the nature of execution of asana as an example and it brought a lump to my throat when I thought of that tiny insect.
Yama niyama definitions keep changing for me, what was acceptable once does not work now. There is no choice but to continue and at times I wonder if I should continue to blog about my experiences. I feel it is an inside job and part of that means to stay with the pains and pleasures. At the same time, I also like to read experiences of others on the same journey as it gives me hope and a different perspective. It doesn’t seem fair to take and not give back in whatever way I can.
There is a sort of plateau and also an eagerness to continue exploring because after every plateau there is a climb. I’ve continued to stick to the basic sequences in the Preliminary course and it is manageable within the chaos of my daily life.

In gratitude

Yama-niyama

It is easy to slide back and lose sight of the yamas and niyamas without devoting a certain amount of time to study everyday.

Come weekends and the family needs my attention so I put away my reading, writing and studying. I enjoy the time spent with them and feel blessed to have what I do. At the same time, I also see how the mind starts to wander. Regular study maintains the discipline to stick to the path come what may.

My family thinks I am a yoga fanatic now. Yet they can see the small changes. My older girl remarked that she didn’t know when I started my cycle because I didn’t have one of the typical PMS crankiness that pops up every month without fail. The husband started going to a class a couple of months ago. Somewhere even they have experienced the changes that yoga brings for themselves.

I just have a huge sense of gratitude for the relief from pain that I used to experience. Even greater than that is the thankfulness I feel for finding the direction I was seeking. Reading my earlier notes, I see how my understanding is changing as I stick to the journey. Increasingly I find that a goal is not as necessary as much as the journey is.