Joy in Asana

Most mornings begin really early as I attend class at 6 am thrice a week. It’s a good start to the day and I find that despite the online format, they are still quite tough. Partly, because we spend a lot of time in the intermediate stages of the asanas, work with the body in pieces and also that Intermediate 1 and 2 batches are together. So, it’s a little more demanding that a regular Intermediate 1 class. Additionally, it’s less than a year of a normal class for me. Although there is better range in the knee and the leg feels stronger, I do have limitations. But it is significantly better than what it used to be. Overall, the body feels aligned and the thickness in the right quadriceps no longer appears even when the class is intense. Virasana has slowly started to make short appearances. Maybe, I’ve also learned how to adjust the effort in both limbs differently?

I look at my knees and see how they are better placed. During the days when I used to be belted up and in passive poses, it seemed like nothing would ever change. I would lie on the floor and just watch other bodies or the pictures of Guruji on the walls and wonder if the knees could really be fixed. The rods and bricks and belts would prick the body but I found comfort in their unrelenting hardness. They worked silently but surely. Now, when I see the legs, it is almost like I’ve been sculpted a new pair! They stand straighter and the dent in the outer knee has reduced. I expected to be pain free with yoga but wasn’t really expecting structural changes of this magnitude. I thought it was too late for my body to be realigned. But, this first-hand experience tells me that change is possible, perhaps at any age. The degree may vary but it is possible. The body truly is a remarkable piece of engineering and we don’t quite understand all its mysteries. I’m not sure how one might measure these changes in the manner of scientific experiments but experientially, one can feel it.

Thanks to stronger legs, I am once again able to walk long and far, enjoying the goodness of nature.

We’re back to another severe lock down in Pune as the cases have spiked. Thankfully, class continues online and it is good to be able to continue learning from our teachers. The remote nature of this kind of learning is good as it forces me to work differently. Pause when the body needs, modify as I have to as well as push when there is scope to move further. It is no less intense even though we work with fewer asanas and the more basic ones. I see the skillfulness of the teaching as instructions are adjusted to account for different spaces and provide ample opportunity to explore household items as props. But mostly, we work with the body, the very first prop as Guruji would say. As the days pass, it feels as though new regions in the body are getting awake. I learn to isolate smaller sections and feel life in them. It is hard work and some days the body is tired. But, once that touch of life happens, it becomes internalized.

I find myself asking how does the learning get internalized? Many of the actions have corrected themselves, they are not automatic but the pose is assumed with consideration without really having to think too hard. Almost as though the pose name fluidly positions the body parts. Like the angular back foot or rotation of the hip in parsvottanasana. It used to be a struggle to adjust that but now the leg assumes the position as though unconsciously but at the same time there is an awareness of the space and shape it occupies. The last week has been many such lessons, discovering largish areas like the trifecta of glutes, hips and hamstrings as well as more focused ones like the armpit region or the tailbone. It is a fabulous example of masterful teaching that the teachers can make us students experience the in-habitation of all these different locations.

For a while, I had lost the wonder in the experience of asana and I am glad that it is once again joyful in its toil, in its learning. If anyone reading this is in a spot where they find it difficult to practise in the current pandemic, all I can say is that it is alright if you are unable to do anything. Asana comes back. I lost everything for a long while but then yoga found me again. Stay in touch in whatever way possible, maybe it’s listening to a talk, maybe it is attending an online class or reading the literature or perhaps talking with a yoga friend. Sometimes, we just need to ride the storm and eventually the ground stabilizes under our feet.

In gratitude

Flying shoulder stands and some thoughts

Today’s penultimate pose was a sarvangasana, the lightest, tallest one I have ever inhabited. Our teacher said, fly with your trapezius and we flew. All the ‘shoulder surgery‘ we did in class today made for a sarvangasana that was as wide as it was tall, the trunk felt like an open book. The arms and shoulder promise to make their presence known later but that is sweet pain.

I feel a little out of my depth in the Intermediate class, many of the asanas are a challenge mostly because of the knee. The holds are longer in this class and I still have to attain some strength and endurance. I fall over sometimes and come up sooner. The old tendency to find fault is there but there is a little more patience. It is also fascinating to see how much the body can actually move. In one of the parsva salabhasana variations, my teacher came and pulled my arm so easily and had it cross my back. I struggled with moving it and she made it so long. We have far more in us than we think we have, like in running. This asana learning is an energizing one, continuous and fresh everyday. I attend 2 classes- beginners and intermediate. The experience is so different, one assures that there is some proficiency and the other reminds you that you’re a long ways off. It’s a continuum of being student.

Life off the mat has a different quality now. More clarity, more humour and more acceptance. The inevitable conclusion is joy. Sometimes I wonder if it is a phase, this almost euphoric sense of well-being despite the challenges of living. But, it doesn’t seem that way. Not for now atleast. My eyes are wide open and so is my heart. Setbacks are temporary and experienced in the present and then sent their way.

Yoga and running, both were never quite about the body or fitness for me. Even now, with the struggle of the body, it is really about facing myself, fears, flaws, strengths, potential and being able to see them and know that they have their place. It is about being able to fall flat on my face and being able to laugh about it. I used to take myself too seriously, still do but it’s easier to be around people now. I’ve made new friends and feel like part of the community at the institute.

Evening therapy class was interesting. Raya broke down assisting handstands and rope work. It was interesting to see how each person processed the lessons. Although Iyengar yoga appears to be regimented and rigid in sequencing, I’ve had firsthand experience of not following any of the conventional rules when my teachers would work on me. It is like classical Indian music, once there is a certain maturity, the rules can be bent to suit a conscious purpose. The lovely performances are often improvised but this is mastery level and beyond.

As for me, I found myself wondering what right do I have looking at this when I can’t yet do a handstand by myself. I’m probably the only one in all the helpers/ observers/ teachers who cannot do what I guess are basic requirements for someone to be assisting. Anyways, I listen and observe, knowing that I might not retain much but believe that all that wisdom will come back when I am ready. In the meanwhile, I help where required and that takes me out of my doubt and questioning for that period.

A continuum of service

Every Friday that I enter the hall, I wonder whether I have any business being there. I sit at the back not knowing what I should do when my name gets called. The next thing I know it is time to pack up. If the 100 odd minutes would fly earlier when I was at the receiving end of yoga therapy, now they are over in a blink.

It’s a different experience to help people with props, I’ve always been a recipient of that help and don’t know if I should do anything lest I do harm. But my teacher asks me to hold or pull or push and I do so a little self consciously. The actions though are those I have watched countless times just that seeing and doing are two different things.

The knee group needed assistance with rods and belts which that was both familiar and strange. My hands know with the shape of my knees and fixing the props for other knees allowed me an opportunity to get a sense of different textures of skin and structure. It’s almost as if skin reflects emotions.

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I worked with a few different people and the overwhelming sense I got was of emptiness. Most people, including myself, don’t inhabit their bodies. There is silence, a thick dark silence. By the end of a session or practice, there is a feeling of presence, as though one has been bathed in energy and the lights have been turned on. That’s a feeling I’ve experienced and I saw that in the face and bodies of others while being next to them. Therapy is more than just adjusting the body, it requires empathy and humour which the teachers bring.

At the end of that class, some of the people I helped came up to me and thanked me. While I was a little embarrassed, it was also a familiar emotion. I would feel the same way about those who helped me. We are a continuum in service.