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

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Designed spaces

The main hall at RIMYI has four pillars which neatly divides it into 5 parts and I can’t help but muse if it wasn’t a deliberate esoteric design meant to make the students pause. The platform and the ceiling mirror this principle of five. I wonder if it is a way to subconsciously cue the Pancha kosha, pancha bhuta, pancha prana and so on.

A bag to hold place until the session starts

The pinnacle of the building has a shrine to the eternal Hanuman and the numerous sculptures that occupy different spaces throughout the building and compound invite contemplation. Oftentimes, I reach the hall early when it is mostly empty and look around soaking in the different elements present. Slowly, the room fills in with people, some with euphoric expressions of practice, many with a serious demeanour, a few chatty in company and still others who sit alone. No prizes for guessing which category I fall into. 😊

Soon, there will be an intense exploration of the sutras that demand 100% attention. Until then, I sit and see.

Hari Om

Subsumed in Smriti

A couple of weeks ago, we explored ‘smriti‘ as part of the sutra study at RIMYI. Just a day before that I was talking with someone about memory and since then ‘smriti‘ has been a continuous whisper.

Prashantji mentioned how the other vrittis were ‘subsumed by smriti‘ and that phrase has taken root. Smriti again. Memory is a loose translation for smriti as the latter indicates knowledge recollected as well as the recollection of the process of knowing . The technical delving into the vrittis is a fascinating exercise and one that is deeply rich at the Institute. Between Prashantji and Srineet, there is a lovely balance of structure and flow. I remember thinking how the teachings of the family are like a river, continuously flowing. No matter at what point one enters it, one is bathed. The generosity of their sharing reminds me of something I read once about how sharing even the little we know is important since that could possibly help someone else to get more out of that small piece of knowledge.

Back to smriti, the concept was deeply immediate to my current situation. How does one use smriti in its aklishta form? How do you examine all the vrittis that come remain encapsuled by it? How much can you trust the mind and the senses? Regret for the past and worry about the future also lie in its realm. The current embodiment is a result of smritis of previous lifetimes. How does one work through the weight of all that past?

The sutra leads on to the twin rivers of Abhyasa and Vairagya, one flowing outward and the other to the source. ‘Chitta Nadi’. It is the solution Lord Krishna gives Arjuna as well. Oftentimes when I open the Bhagwad Gita, the page that appears is the shloka (6:35) that provides the same solution. The treatment of the solution in the Sutras and the Gita is the same but its expression is beautiful in both. Terseness in one and personal in the other to suit the capacity of the sadhaka. Krishna taps into the innate warriorhood of the Pandava prince by addressing him as ‘mighty armed’ and brings an empathetic understanding of the difficulty in restraining the restless mind before laying out the prescription.

Abhyasa uses smriti. In asana practice or study of the texts, the mind employs smriti to go further leading to more smriti. And what is the limit of the mind’s capacity? What is the limit of the capacity of the cosmos of which we are not even a drop?

Our lives are part of that uninterrupted recording and we are mostly without any real control since our thoughts and feelings based in the past drive our present. Instinct must come from that recollection of millenia. I imagine (vritti again😊) Vairagya would be the ropes of smriti falling off by itself. No burden of past impressions or future anxieties.

This student is deeply grateful for the experience of listening to the learnings of teachers who have thought deeply on the subject of yog. These ruminations are but a tiny interpretation of what was understood of a few things that they shared. Perhaps in time, something else will be revealed from all that was heard until now.

Hari Om

A wandering student

My evenings have a new routine. Most days, I spend an hour at a park watching the tableau of life play out. Children playing, birds picking their branches for the night, adults walking, older people watching over grandchildren, lovers snatching a cozy conversation and so on. Sometimes I write or read but mostly I just watch the sun as it dips behind tree tops.

Underneath a tamarind tree

I miss watching the sunrise from my new place and the sparrows still haven’t found the bird feeder yet. There are a couple of stray kittens that have stolen my heart and it feels good to shower love with such abandon. The roses continue to bloom as do the jasmines with their heady night scents. The season is beautiful with cool winds and a touch of music as the heart meets the head.

We call him muttbaby 1

In the Iyengar yoga world, there is much excitement with the centenary celebrations and I do hope to make it for atleast one of the days. But, mostly, my offering has been quiet study and fledgling practice. The surprising thing has been the powerful recall of cell memory as I get on the mat.

The Gita continues to be a trusted companion and in the lines I have read many times, I rediscover their beauty all over again albeit with a different flavour. Our interpretations are always coloured by life experiences, always a cumulative of all moments until now.

An alternate set of circumstances has shown a different translation of the same meanings. A year of painful transition or perhaps transformation, only time will tell. For now, it’s a slow beginning once more with nothing the same and everything just so.

I’ve been drawn to the imagery of Patanjali as half man and it has been a focus of contemplation. What does it mean to be human? The bodily representation. of Patanjali as man consists of the trunk resting on the coils of his serpentine half. An ascension of energies possible in a physical structure. A lightness of being in the denseness of existence.

I remain a wandering student destined for self-study and it’s just beginning to dawn on me that maybe it’s liberating. Of course, it also means a lot of wrong turns and a longer time to learn but the journey is worth it. But, it wouldn’t be possible without the wisdom and generosity of knowledge of the giants who came before me. I remain indebted to my many teachers.

Hari Om

10 months later…

It’s taken me nearly 10 months to go through the Gita this time, a slow study of a few shlokas a day with some short stretches of breaks from reading. I turned the last page at about 4:30 this morning and as I sat thinking about the journey through these pages, it was interesting to see how much change was happening in my life during the course of my study. An extremely uncertain and challenging phase which fugued into an even more displaced time.

While my copy of the book is marked with words that spoke directly, it feels like I’ve barely begun to dip into its nectar. 701 verses concluding with Sanjaya’s conviction, “Wherever is Krishna, the Lord of Yoga, wherever is Partha, the archer, there are prosperity, victory, happiness and firm (steady or sound) policy; this is my conviction.”

यत्र योगेश्वर: कृष्णो यत्र पार्थो धनुर्धर:।

तत्र श्रीर्विजयो भूतिर्ध्रुवा नीतिर्मतिर्मम ।।७८।।

There are a couple of interesting points in this shloka. The first being, the presence of both the Lord of Yoga and the archer as a necessary condition. The second is the fruit of their joint presence.

Swami Chinmayananda speaks about Krishna as the ‘marriage between the secular and the sacred’ and the natural progression of such a union being prosperity, victory/ success, happiness and firm policy.

Shree, Vijaya, Bhuti, Dhruva neeti are the sanskrit words and it intrigued me enough to spend some time wondering on the promise they held. While the common translations seem adequate, I cannot help shake a sense of something that goes beyond the word meaning to the root meaning. Unanswered for now but there is a churn inside that throws up flashes like exalted earthly existence, sthiratha and sukham of the Sutras etc. Perhaps, I’m barking up the wrong tree, perhaps not. We’ll see in time.

The last shloka is Sanjaya’s conclusion of the Divine Song and appropriate to one in the thick of a battle for dharma in the context of the Mahabharata. Goals of victory, prosperity and a stable rule. Outside of that context, in the modern day scenario, the battlefield is our internal mindscape. No less intense and the promise is a prosperity of radiant thoughts, small victories over the fears conquered, steadiness of contentment and the permanence of the purpose of our lives, like the pole star.

Finishing this slow plod through the book has only made me feel how much of an Arjuna I remain in between armies, suspended in time and space.

A wooden inlay panel that I love looking at in my home.

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.

“Art of Yoga is difficult, not impossible” – B.K.S. Iyengar

Guruji’s punya thithi is always marked with a program by the Institute, this year was no different. The first couple of years were still a little shaky as his old students struggled to find their anchor. These days, the sense of his presence is unshakeable when they speak of him. Except Prashantji, I suppose. He’s always been the stoic one, exhorting us to learn what Guruji was always trying to teach. Not Iyengar yoga, but yog.

A backbencher’s perspective

There will never be another B.K.S. Iyengar or a Swami Vivekananda or any of the other great teachers. Simply because, they were the full realization of themselves. And that’s really the call for us too, to realize ourselves.

One of the things that stood out for me was a reminiscing by Raya about Guruji’s response to his youthful frustration at the impossibility of being able to replicate his asana. The reply came later as an autographed line in the Art of Yoga, “The art of yoga is difficult but not impossible.” With love, B.K.S. Iyengar

In fact Raya actually suggested that we could write the exact words and it would hold true for us too. And he is right. It echoes the thought in the Gita about the promise of emancipation for all. Of the entire bit, ‘with love’ was the defining phrase for me. A child-like generosity unencumbered by ego. Not just Guruji but Geetaji and Prashantji also have that same simplicity of unfettered love.

It feels good to get back to a routine of practice and class. I thought of an inability for a regular practice as a loss of asana proficiency but it really doesn’t matter. Yoga is right where I am, how I am.

In my studies, I have come to the last chapter in the Geeta for this reading and I found myself going through the introduction of all the previous chapters as suggested in the footnotes. I ended up underlining many portions in those sections. Suffice to say, this exercise will need to be repeated again. In the meanwhile, it is time for another round of study of the yog sutras.

Hari Om