Why do you practise yoga?

I found myself in the library reading transcripts of one of Geetaji’s talks from nearly two decades ago. As always, many gems in there and I wrote down some of them in my book. One of the thoughts that stayed was a question. Why do you practise yoga? If I had to answer for myself, I would say mental clarity, emotional intelligence and perhaps more longingly a chance to experience a spell of being boundless.

It is amazing how much progress has happened with the knee in the last three weeks. All it took was letting the teachers know what I felt. For a long time, I felt that the root of my knee condition lay in the groins and sure enough, I’ve seen a huge turnaround since that day.

It’s a different experience to practise passively, mostly just relaxation and with a lot of assistance. Surrender at multiple levels, to the body’s intelligence, to a teacher’s touch and of the mind’s desire to be doing. Yoga looks very different from a prone position. I suppose when you’re on the ground, you can’t go any lower. Perhaps the last year was about grinding down until I lay face down and stripped the layers of fear. Learning to own up to my life and let that song be heard. It is difficult when you are used to singing alone.

The face of my yoga practice has changed from feeling a lack of availability to acknowledging what is present. The sensitivity of the body is much greater than what it was during days of active asana but I doubted it. How could it be possible for someone so young in yoga to feel that way? I still remain skeptical but there is a tiny voice that tells me that perhaps it is what it is. The ability to experience need not necessarily be related to the length of practice.

Update:

Today’s sutra class was on 1:18 and explored that same boundlessness. It’s unnerving and exhilarating at the same time to find that the experience ‘i’ sought is one that is spoken of in these studies. And as the sutra speaks, transcending even the balance of potential sanskaras, the restraining ones. I can’t help but feel immense gratitude for the opportunity to listen and soak in Prashantji’s words.

Sometimes I wonder if I should write here, and if it isn’t self inflating but then I remember why I started. Perhaps another who begins their journey can see my stumbles and know that it is a journey that is worth it. An offering of gratitude. As Prashantji says, the sadhana is through Shastrasangha, satsangha etc.

This lovely card is a physical expression of an invisible sangha

“Yoga is the word which stands for the whole process and the whole philosophy” – Geeta Iyengar

It’s been a few weeks since Geetaji passed away and I miss her presence in the hall. My eyes roam to the end where she used to sit but that space is taken up by props and the people they support. The energy in there is urgent now, a fire that is constantly stoked to keep the teachings alive. All the teachers pour themselves into the discipline and I can’t help but see how dynamic and organic the process of teaching and learning is. And as I leave, I see the huge picture of Guruji looking into that hall and think all is well.

Hari Om

Yoga class in a dentist’s chair

I spent two hours in a dentist’s chair today. Painful? No. Terrifying? Yes. But after a point, it became one of curious interest in the dentist’s absorption in his work.

An unassuming man, he is as much a student as an established doctor and I was reminded of Guruji. A young man, he had numerous accolades to his credit and also teaches and speaks at many events. Unlike many others in his profession, his renovated clinic is modest and his clients mostly come to him via word-of-mouth reference.

At varying stages in the procedure, he took pictures and I pictured him stacking them up to teach a point or two. Another thing that struck me was his fearlessness. Not an arrogant bravado but the ability to persist and not fear the patient’s fear. It was an interesting yoga lesson for me at a few levels.

The overwhelming sense of asmita which is responsible for raga and dvesha colours all thoughts and actions. The order of the kleshas are progressive beginning with avidya and their subtlest manifestation is abhinivesha. The life instinct. The sutras are like a surgeon’s knife, they cut clean to the chase. Economic, efficient and stand the test of time.

The whole prospect of treatment was frightening and I could cope with humour. It was interesting to see how laughter and joking worked as a means of practising ‘pratipaksha bhavanam‘. Quite by accident, I must add. It took the bite out of the fear of pain and allowed me to witness art and science in another person.

There was a fleeting thought that I should probably ask someone to go with me and then I questioned the purpose. End of the day, no one can share pain, physical or otherwise. No one can experience your light no matter how much you want them to be bathed in it. And then I ask, why did consciousness break into so many billion souls?

I have no answers but an image comes to mind from my running days. An early morning when I was the run and saw myself as a atomic piece of the universe in all its multitude. And all is as it is meant to be.

Coincidentally, the dental x-ray clinic was located in a building which had a decorative totem pillar. One of the figures had all his teeth showing.😁

I’ll leave with a silly bit of fun before I finish.

Me: Dang, The tooth fairy isn’t going to visit me. Ask me why?

Because the dentist kept the tooth.

Maitri, Karuna, Mudita, Upeksha

I’ve been loathe to write here for a couple of reasons, one of them being a big shift in life and the other a hesitation to jump to hasty conclusions. Suffice to say, my readings have taken on a more practical colour as I seem to receive messages that are congruent. It is easy to latch on to what I perceive as signs so I just observe and record.

One of my anchors through my yoga journey has been Sutra 1:33 and I’ve always looked at just the four attitudes of maitri, karuna, mudita and upeksha. I didn’t quite spend time on the remaining part of the Sutra. I didn’t look at the phala of the attitudes or the occasions to practise the habits.

It seemed like a good idea to explore the different interpretations of this aphorism and I pulled out all the commentaries I had with me. Each of them threw the spotlight on a different portion of the sutra.

Chitta prasadanam as opposed to chitta vikshepa from Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by B.K.S. Iyengar

Bhavanata versus Abhyasata from Light on Vyasa Bhashya by Prashant Iyengar

Upeksha as equanimity in meaning versus the common translation as indifference from The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Edwin F. Bryant

The four attitudes as a representation of parinama chitta and kutastha chitta from Core of the Yoga Sutras by B.K.S. Iyengar

All in all, a very illuminating morning of study. In the commentaries by Guruji and Prashantji, I found the approach is more lateral and explorative while the one by Edwin Bryant is more direct and translative. I took back something from both and know that I will come back for more. It remains my favourite sutra and perhaps the one I would retain if I could choose but one. As an ordinary woman, it offers me the potential to soar even as it shows me how to be in this world but not of it.

Closer to my experience, I discovered that even while I thought I was failing, there was the solidity of practice (not so much asana as the study of the texts and their contemplation). It gave me the strength I needed to go through a very difficult patch and maintain a sense of steadiness even as there was upheaval, mental and emotional. I received courage to stand in tadasana in my life even as the ground below me trembled.

I remain indebted to the teachings of the ancient ones as well as the Gurus in my heart and all those who have shared their journeys generously.

Hari Om

Of flow and restraint

It is time for the inevitable period of flux as things begin to shift yet again. Friday’s class felt vey silent inside despite all the lively comments by our teacher. We did mostly a backbend prep with salabhasana and a touch-and-go ustrasana. It was followed by a quiet supta virasana and baddakonasana before wrapping up in savasana. On Saturday, I had a fun home practice of Surya Namaskars with my little girl followed by a revision of Friday’s class. Sunday saw me spending time on the texts. 

Three days, three different moods, three different practices. Underlying all of them is my difficulty with japa sadhana. On an objective level, I see the play of an active rajoguna in all aspects of my life, starting with my morning breath. For the first time, I had an experential sense of how the breath controls the mind. Guruji’s quote, “Breath is the king of the mind” communicates this perfectly. 

As always I find the answers to my struggles readily available in the books of great masters. There are no superfluous words in the commentaries and each word speaks volumes.

From the Yog Sutras

व्युत्थाननिरोधसंस्कारयोरभिभदप्रादुर्भावौ निरोधक्षणचित्तान्वयो निरोधपरिणामः ।९।

Study of the silent moments between rising and restraining subliminal impressions is the transformation of consciousness towards restraint (nirodha parinamah)

Guruji explains, But at first, it is difficult to educate the consciousness to restrain each rising thought. It is against the thought current (pratipaksha) and hence creates restlessness, whereas the movement from restraint towards rising thought is with the current (paksha), and brings restfulness. The first method requires force of will and so is tinged with rajas. The second is slightly sattvic, but tinged with tamas. To transform the consciousness into a pure sattvic state of dynamic silence, we must learn by repeated effort to prolong the intermissions.

– Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by BKS Iyengar

From the Bhagwad Geeta

श्रीभगवानुवाच
असंशयं महाबाहो मनो दुर्निग्रहं चलम्
अभ्यासेन तु कौन्तेय वैराग्येण च गृह्यते।।३५।।
The Blessed Lord said: Undoubtedly, O mighty-armed one, the mind is difficult to control and is restless; but, by practice, O Son of Kunti, and by dispassion, it is restrained.

Swamiji explains, Through practice and renunciation, the mind can be brought under control in the beginning, and ultimately to a perfect ‘halt’ – this is the confident, reassuring declaration of the Lord in the Geeta.

Thus viewed, practice (Abhyasa) srengthens renunciation (Sannyasa), which generates detachment (Vairagya), and which in turn deepens meditation (Abhyasa). Hand in hand, each strengthens the other. Thus the total progress is steadily maintained. 

From the moment we start trying to become aware of our own lives, we are in the realm of ‘practice'(Abhyasa). As a result of this, the detachment that comes automatically to us is the true and enduring ‘detachment’ (Vairagya).

When through right “practice” enduring “detachment” has come into our inner lives, then, the mind comes under our control.

– Commentary on The Holy Geeta by Swami Chinmayananda

It all boils down to abhyasa and vairagyam. One cannot exist without the other and unless there is balance between the two the scales are forever in vritti.  It makes me think of the parallels of guna in the two essentials of sadhana. Without Vairagyam, there is excessive rajas and without the right abhyasa, there is the dullness of tamas. In the equal marriage of the two, there is a predominance of sattva, where the magic happens.

This kind of a stuck phase is a familiar one when there is change happening in the background. I don’t know what kind of change is in progress when it appears as though there is stagnation but eventually, the butterfly emerges and flutters before plunging into another cycle of destruction and birth. 

Hari Om

Study material and references from

  1. Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by BKS Iyengar
  2. The Holy Geeta Commentary by Swami Chinmayananda