6 cups of coffee in baddakonasana

There used to be a time I was proud of my ability to sit in a baddakonasana, padmasana etc.. I had pride too, in the ability to go to sleep in supta virasana. Those were the days I was running long distance and these asanas were part of my everyday. Naturally, the body adapted and the flexibility improved. But, I was also attached to what I thought was good looking poses. 🙂

Then (2016)

Now, a few years and more than a few knocks later, I am relearning these asanas, cautiously. The sweet spot lies somewhere between fear and aggression. Doing, observing, pushing through or retreating- all of these while questioning myself if the actions spring from attachment or detachment, from pride or a spirit of enquiry.

And Now

It took me a while to come back to the mat with the regularity I have now. It also took me a long time to come back to textual studies in a more regular manner. The pandemic has proved to be an opportunity as well in the tracts of time it has created with reduced travel. Personally while I have lost work, I have gained much with an asana practice and study. It has seen me remain mostly energetic and positive.

This morning during practice, I listened to one of Geetaji’s videos from an Italian convention on YouTube. (Here’s the link). As a coffee fiend, it made me chuckle when she suggested having 6 cups of coffee in baddakonasana even as I attempted the action she was suggesting. She has a wicked sense of humour but it is often restrained, so to see her enjoying her joke was rather delightful.

While reflecting about practice and my state of mind now, I find myself comparing it against last year. The desolation I experienced then is similar to what I see in many people now. My mind was in shambles then and trying to work with the mind didn’t help things too much. I would slide back into what seemed like an endless quicksand. Asanas worked on my mind through my body. Something changed at a very intrinsic level, maybe some chemistry in the brain, I do not know. All I know that the rewiring changed completely. Practising through the pandemic has nourished my mind and kept it reasonably clear. It also made it possible for me to get myself out of the way and serve others.

Asanas make me reflect, not just on body parts or actions but also on similarities of approach and withdrawal to situations in my life. If I had to summarize asana or situations in life, it might be to say be present, do the best you can and the pose will arrange itself. Life is unpredictable, there could be injury, loss, debilitation or a pandemic but through the practice of asana, there is a courage to meet its unpredictability. There comes an ability to receive all of it without resistance. Striving on the mat involves resistance but is never resisting. There are aha moments when after working with resistance, a region suddenly bursts open into consciousness. It is a received experience.

A few days ago, while exchanging emails with a dear friend, I was reminded of a ready reckoner of the texts that I was working on some years back. Some part of it was complete but there is much that is pending, so its back to old practices that I lost when I lost my way. I do feel a regular asana practice brings back good habits quite organically, almost effortlessly. It slowly increases your ability to do much more than what you think you can do.

These times are a time out in many ways. Much of the world has retreated into itself and so there is also less distraction. Might not be a bad idea to sit on the mat in baddakonasana with 6 cups of coffee. Maybe 6 is too much, I’ll take one. 🙂

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

“Yoga is experiencing innocence”

Yoga is experiencing innocence.” That’s the line for July and since a couple of days, it has been a thought flowing below the surface. I dip into it now and then, staying with the sound and shape of the word, the meaning as I understand it and how it might be interpreted. Being conscious of a thought like this also allows me to see how life expresses it in my day to day.

Innocence is commonly associated with children and quite appropriately so. I like to think of it as a state of freedom from fear, just the way children are fearless. They learn fear as they experience pain, shame, guilt and so on. So, in a way, I suppose one could consider it as the blank slate on which experience is layered. So, how is Yoga experiencing innocence? The first thought that comes to mind are a couple of lines in the Foreword from Light on Yoga.

“Whoever has had the privilege of receiving Mr. Iyengar’s attention, or of witnessing the precision, refinement and beauty of his art, is introduced to that vision of perfection and innocence which is man as first created- unarmed, unashamed, son of God, lord of creation- in the Garden of Eden.”

“Yoga, as practiced by Mr. Iyengar, is the dedicated votive offering of a man who brings himself to the altar, alone and clean in body and mind, focused in attention and will, offering in simplicity and innocence not a burnt sacrifice, but simply himself raised to his own highest potential.”

One of the qualities I notice in many of the teachers is a quality of child-likeness. It doesn’t imply that they are naive just that there is a sincerity and earnestness in expressing. No need for maintaining a separateness and it is clearly evident as they get on their mats during practice time along with the others. Innocence can also be a freedom from doubt, perhaps. It is visible in the curiosity in learning, I’ve seen it firsthand when Geetaji would speak or Prashantji speaks. The word could be considered a ‘not knowing’ as opposed to ignorance, I suppose and as such allows for an open mind.

In my enthusiasm, I signed for one too many classes and have been getting my backside whipped thoroughly. My progress in asana has been slow right from the start. It has taken me longer than what it takes others due to many reasons. I used to be harsh with myself for not gaining proficiency faster but a few injuries and a little more living has helped me see that the pace at which I learn will always be unique to the underlying conditions of my mind and body.

Today was standing poses and while the legs didn’t take much of a beating, my hands were troublesome. I suspect it is some soft tissue injury, it has been a niggling area since pre lockdown. I find relief in Ardha Sirsasana with blocks against my back. There’s also relief when I lie down with a brick against my upper back. Twists aggravate it. It’s better when there is expansion as well as a length in the torso.

No matter how much time I spend in the standing poses, I enjoy the fact that there is always something new to learn, some new way to challenge the mind and body. At the end of class, I realized that despite doing all the actions as instructed by the teacher, I missed many of the nuances, I was still on the gross movements. So, while externally, I followed instructions, my mind missed catching all the words, it picked up on the familiar ones and the movements were sort of on autopilot. How difficult it is to be truly present!

The beauty of the instructions we receive lies in its clarity and economy. Economy sounds contradictory considering that there is almost a barrage of instructions but the verbosity is mostly repetition. Many of us students are almost immobile and the repetition is to ensure everyone is on the same page. The key for me has been to listen beyond the set of actions to the analogies and see how they can be expressed in the body. Most of them are from every day, some from Guruji and Geetaji but they add a freshness to the experience of the pose. This makes every class a brand new one even though we work with almost the same set of poses. I guess that’s what gets most of us coming back time and again, the innocence of asanas.

Aparigraha in a pandemic

Guruji was born during an influenza epidemic and his life was a difficult one for many decades. Even his early yoga journey was fraught with pain and hardship. He lived through pre-Independence India, poverty, ill health, loss, fame and prosperity. The one constant through it all was yoga and his sadhana went on to make him a household name. Despite all the accolades, he remained a student of the subject till the very end. Yoga was him and he was yoga. Period. For the likes of me, it is not as complete an immersion but we try to the best of our life situations.

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This morning I spent time with Pada 2 of the sutras and came back to 2.39 on aparigraha. Reflecting on it, I saw that it was basically talking about de-conditioning.

Quoting from the commentary in Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali,

Aparigraha means not only non-possession and non-acceptance of gifts, but also freedom from rigidity of thought. Holding on to one’s thoughts is also a form of possessiveness, and thoughts, as well as material possessions should be shunned. Otherwise they leave strong impressions on the consciousness and become seeds to manifest in future lives.”

Aparigraha is the subtlest aspect of yama, and difficult to master. Yet, repeated attempts must be made to gain pure knowledge of ‘what I am’ and ‘what I am meant for’.”

Constant inquiry is an integral part of learning yoga at RIMYI, it’s always dynamic and evolving. Never static and despite the curriculum remaining the same, the approach and teaching incorporate new elements. In a more personal context, I am reminded of what my teacher said about ‘seeds of weeds’. By working beyond just the apparent relief of body and heart, there was a reset in established patterns of thought and behaviour, a rewiring. That the mind can be addressed through the body is now internalized knowledge and not just theoretical.

It’s easy to get caught in fixed ways of thinking and feeling both on and off the mat and this clinging on prevents one from a deeper understanding of any situation. I also see it in asana as I explore beyond the actions required to assume a pose. As long as I am just repeating the instructions I have learned, I limit myself. Of course, the initial repetition is essential to internalize the method but the unfolding is in the personalizing of its interpretation. A bit like improvisation in music. Once you learn the notes and practise the scales for a suitable length of time, you can break the rules to explore and then the subject begins to also teach you.

I still remain cautious in asana but there’s an experimental feel to it as I correlate lessons from class and home practice. This week both the classes worked actively with the groin area and today’s home practice was a passive exploration of the same region from my knee therapy routine. And it taught differently. It got me thinking about how right from day 1 of a beginner’s class, the body is systematically prepared to open to its fullest capacity, literally and figuratively. Strangely, I found the beginner’s class harder than the intermediate one and it made me glad that I chose to retain the former. I guess I’m probably always going to remain a chronic beginner.

Asanas take up a small part of my day and its lessons are not about the body’s ability or progress as much as it is about mental, emotional and spiritual stretching. It is about endurance, resilience, patience, fortitude, good humour, playfulness, compassion and a whole host of other traits that allow us to live through good times and rough times with the same steadiness. These times are despairing with both a pandemic and mindless human violence. But there also exists solidarity and kindness that unite people even in these uncertain days. It may seem unbearable at the moment but all periods of transformation are difficult, individually and collectively. Eventually, we see that old ways have to evolve and adapt to meet the changing needs of a present and it calls for aparigraha. Now more so than ever.

De-conditioning

Five years ago, I was a new student at RIMYI, excited and nervous. Prior to applying, I scoured the internet to understand more about what I could expect as a beginner and found that there was very little for a rookie. Most of the material was written by those who had been practicing for a long time, many of them senior teachers in the system. It was also interesting to note that there was more material by international practitioners than by Indian ones. Five years since then, I’ve been a regular student at the Institute and still feel the same excitement at the start of a new academic year. It seems a bit surreal to have a virtual session considering how much physical adjustments have been an essential part of learning and therapy. And uncannily, the thought for June from last year’s calendar is ‘Yoga is deconditioning’.

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RIMYI shut down early March and the break from a teacher led learning forced me to pay more attention to exploring rather than just practicing. Most days, there would be some kind of a general direction be it standing poses, or forward extensions etc. But lately, it became exploration of a class of bodily regions like the groins in say Supta Padangushtasana 2 and Ardha Chandrasana. The actions themselves have begun to be less forceful and aggressive and softer in the nature of a curious watching. In the bargain, I find that I move further in the pose with less effort. I spend less time overall but it feels more intense.

Up until last year, I felt like Eklavya (here’s an earlier post) on the fringes of class, never reaching out or being part of the community. I stayed deep inside my limited self, terribly tongue-tied and hesitant to ask for help or answers. That began to change slowly although I still tended to lurk in the shadows at the back. But my teachers drew me out and I started to learn to loosen up.

In the last five years, my body went through different phases of fitness, injury, rehabilitation and health. Along the way, I discovered pride, arrogance, impatience, fragility, willingness, resilience and a host of other traits, some useful, others not so desirable. I’m not a hardcore practitioner and there are days I skip because of a day going unruly or then plain procrastination but not for too long. However, there was a time I was incapable of getting on the mat for days. It’s no longer guilt over not practicing but a need to set right the mind that brings me back to work with the body. Yoga is forgiving that way. No matter how long one is away, there is always a renewal and muscle memory is quick to activate.

The sutras enumerate the 9 obstacles and 4 distractions and also provide a choice of techniques to address them. But I was too far gone at one point to help myself through their use provided in the subsequent sutras (1.34-1.39). All I did was surrender completely to my teachers and go where they sent me. In retrospect, it was a single deep rooted surrender to this age old science and art. I believed if anything could help me navigate the difficult spaces of my life, it would be yoga. It’s been more than half a year since then and I’m still just about discovering bits and pieces of what happened during those terribly painful sessions. I’ve been revisiting some of my notes from then and it seems like another life. I remember my rough days simply to remind myself to be gentle with others, especially in these times. And so it circles back to my favourite sutra, 1.33.

This morning’s class was such a different one, from the home of my teacher to the homes of all of us students. We worked with basic asanas but in Iyengar yoga fashion, explored them differently, some of them not really asanas as much as a variation of possible movements till a tipping point, literally and figuratively. The Zoom avatar of class is an internal one, devoid of any performative aspect that shows up in a hall full of people. It feels almost like an individual class with just the teacher’s video on screen. In a way, it is a guided self-practice than a class, more inward looking with fewer distractions.

In the confines of my room or out in the woods, I can shut the madly careening world out. There’s much distress out there. As I type, there’s a cyclone making its way to the west coast of this country, one of the worst afflicted as far as the pandemic is concerned. We’ve already had Cyclon Amphan wreak its wrath on the east coast and locusts in the northwest besides the terrible plight of migrant workers trudging home in the most punishing of seasons. Halfway around the world, ignorance and deep rooted biases destroy lives alongside a virus. And through all this Mother Nature continues to adjust and reset indifferent to the fears and anxieties of her human children.

Personally, some of my life plans have had to be indefinitely postponed but there is a calm acceptance of a changed reality. It has also helped me re-calibrate my life to retain what really matters. I remain incredibly grateful for the privilege of safe shelter, food on the table, a stable mind and the ability to provide for my family. Guruji’s words ‘Live happily, Die majestically’ are even more relevant than ever with the awareness of the fragility and uncertainty of life. And as my teacher said today we can’t defeat the virus, we can try to dodge it as best as we can. Simple food, good rest and good exercise is pretty much all that we need, the rest has been non-essential as a 10 week lockdown has shown us.

Synesthesia of learning?

I find that in self-study of any sort, not just asana, the process of learning is largely invisible and in small packets spread over a period of time and across different spaces of our lives. They remain scattered until the body and mind are prepared to synthesize all of it into an organic whole.

The month of May threw up small pieces that spoke of space and harmony. One of the first was an article in the Yoga Rahasya on Symmetry and Space (Vol. 24, No.4 , 2017). Another was the view from my balcony floor while lying down and looking at the sky. Yet another was the toiling that happened on my mat and the reading that would come after. A large chunk also lay in the outdoors with the trees, stones, birds, flowers and so on and an interesting bit was in a colouring sheet my daughter made me fill up.

Last evening, towards the end of my practice, I came to Karnapidasana and it was a whole different experience. I tend to be wary of the pose because of pressure on the neck. Last night though, the pose was effortless and I experienced a shutting down of the ears and an opening of my eyes. Not like the opening of the eyes in backbends but almost as though there was an inner set of eyes that opened. A seeing without seeing and time didn’t exist. Maybe that’s what made it feel like I could stay in the pose forever. Despite the compressed nature of the asana, it didn’t feel that way at all.

After practice, I looked the asana up in books and on the internet to see if there was anything other than the technique or benefits of the asana. Geetaji’s Gem For Women mentions that it makes one turn inward but beyond that I wasn’t able to find anything. But, the pose caught my attention for its association with the ear, the word ‘pida’ and the theme of space which was running through the days. And this morning, I worked with a slightly different set of asanas before attempting Karnapidasana again. This time there was resistance. I was trying to replicate yesterday’s lesson without being open to what today wanted to teach.

The sensation yesterday reminded me of an experience a few years ago when I saw sound, not the form of it. Synesthesia, a fleeting experience in savasana. I wonder what is the connection between the ears and eyes? Is there one or am I imagining it? Is it stubbornness to want to connect the dots that appear through moments in life and make sense? I don’t know. But the theme of space and all the words that tie in with space, be it sound or silence have been cropping everywhere. In asana, we are taught to create space in the body. The skies rest in space, the stars and the moon too. It has been contemplative sorts of days lately, one of being brutally honest with myself, breaking patterns, facing fears. This is different compared to earlier when the process worked from body to mind a few months ago.

Sharing a few lines from the same Yoga Rahasya mentioned earlier

With asanas come penetration

With penetration comes sensitivity

With sensitivity comes intelligence

With intelligence comes wisdom

With wisdom comes harmony

With harmony comes stillness.

Satyam, Tapas, Svadhyaya

I woke up in a rebellious state of mind, not wanting to practise. And then decided to continue reading the Taittiriya Upanishad. It was the best thing I could have done. What an uplifting read! It never fails to inspire, these ancient texts. Such conciseness, poetry and power, almost as though just the shapes and sounds of their syllables can change something inside. Although I’ve been reading just little portions, one section or theme at a time, today, I found myself reading more than usual.

One of the interesting things amongst many others in today’s reading was from Section 9 in the first chapter. A blue print for living as a continuum of study, practice and passing on. I found parallels in the study, practice and passing on of my understanding. In an earlier section, there is a fervent desire for material prosperity and the desire for students. I felt that the implied sense was that as long as material needs were met, the dissemination of knowledge to deserving students could occur. In the guru-shishya parampara, there were no fees, only a guru dakshina on the completion of one’s education. That has a lot of resonance in my beliefs too.

Since the passage was very beautiful and a reminder, I think I will write it down here too.

The practice of what is right and proper (ritam), as fixed by the scriptural texts, is to be done along with reading the texts oneself and propagating the truths of the same.

‘Truth’ (satyam), meaning practising in life what is understood to be right and proper, is to be pursued along with regular studies and preaching.

Penance (tapah), study (svadhyaya) and preaching (pravachane);

Control of the senses (dama), study and preaching;

tranquility (shama), study and preaching;

the ‘maintenance of fire (agneya)’, study and preaching;

offering of oblations in fire sacrifice (agnihotram), study and preaching of the Vedas;

serving the guest (athithayaha), study and preaching;

the performance of duties towards man (maanusham), study and preaching;

duties towards children (prajaha), study and preaching of the vedas;

procreation (prajanah), study and preaching;

propagation of the race (prajahitih), study and preaching;

all these things are to be practised sincerely.

Satyavaca, son of Rathitara, holds that truth (satyam) alone is to be strictly practised. Taponitys, son of Purusista declares that penance (tapas) alone is to be practised. Naka, son od Mudgaa, holds the view that the study and preaching of the Vedas (svadhyaya) alone is to be practised; that verily, is penance; aye that is penance.

The translations are a bit archaic but the Sanskrit is more inclusive and can accommodate the realities of the times that we live in. Study and preaching are svadhyaya and pravachane and can be also interpreted as self study and expression or interpretation. Seen in the context of the origin of the name of the Upanishad, Taittiriya, it is apt as the dissemination of experienced knowledge. What a beautiful guidebook for educationists! The image in the post is the story of how this Upanishad got its name.

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Image from the commentary on the Taittiriya Upanishad by Swami Chinmayananda

Some of the 12 steps could be interpreted differently in the changed contexts of human behaviour and lives today. Like procreation and propagation of the race. The choice to not have children etc. also can be seen in the light of the sheer need for a reduction in the burden on the planet. In the evolution of humankind, the reasons for procreation turned to be economical rather than evolutionary and hence this changed approach today is perhaps essential for balance. The 12 indications are good cues for contemplation in how they may be interpreted in our lives now.

This Upanishad was the very first one I read and attempted to study a few years back and it made a huge impression on me then. Subsequently, I have dipped into it off and on but this current revisiting is like reading it all over again with eyes wide open in wonder.

And also the next section which is such a song of joy and freedom!

‘I am the stimulator in the tree of universe. My fame (glory) is high as the peak of the mountains. High and pure am I like the essence in the sun; I am the power and the wealth, effulgent with intuition. Intelligent, imperishable and undecaying am I’- this is the sacred recitation of Trishanku after he realized the Truth.

And part of the commentary- Trishanku rightly declares that to know ourselves, to complete our rediscovery, to realize our divine nature, to live as God in ourselves, is the only harbour wherein the frail mind shall no more be exposed to the storms of contentions and the surging waves of desires for wealth or temptations for power.

Much of my writing is really an endeavour to ‘rediscover’ not ‘discover’, what is usually referred to as cleaning the mirror. This just may end up going up on my wall as a constant reminder on how to live a full life of service.

My heart feels lighter for having read this today and the encouragement to live exalted is just what this tired spirit needed.

Destruction

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you would’ve been privy to the months of a dark night of the soul. I was incapable of maintaining any but the bare minimum to get through my days. While I anticipated a rough ride, nothing could have prepared me for the enormity of grief. Mostly, it sprung from a deep sense of loss. Over time, we become attached to our habits, people, places until they become dead weight. But by then, we’ve invested too much time, effort and ourselves to be able to hit the reset button. So, we carry on, accumulating diseases of the body, mind and heart until it chokes us.

We are taught to create, grow, sustain but never how to destroy. And that too is an essential part of the cycle of life. Birth, growth, decay, death and rebirth. We see it in nature, in the way seasons die out to receive the next one, in the way day ends in night, in the way the hunted becomes food for the predator and so on. But we live our human lives averse to the creative potential of destruction. We embrace the joyful and exciting but not the pain and despair but that too is such an essential part of being human, the capacity to embrace pain as we do pleasure.

I see a mirror in the current pandemic, the laying waste of a way of life, flawed though it be. Much pain, horror, hardship, death and desolation cutting across geographies and people. These are difficult times, no doubt, but I also believe in the resilience of our species which will pick up the pieces and rebuild. In the course of volunteering as well as in my work, I hear experts talk about various future scenarios, usually through the lens of their specific domains. While there’s a great deal of information available and conversation that happens on current issues, truth is no one really knows and we have an inbuilt fear of uncertainty. In Light on Life, Guruji mentions, “learning to live with uncertainty is the great art of living” and that couldn’t be more apt in these times of anxiety and fear.

In such a world, how does yoga help? I can only speak for myself when I say it keeps my life in the right proportion. Yoga practice becomes the Serenity Prayer in action. On the mat, my presence remains confined to the time spent on it, working with acceptance, change and discrimination. As my body takes the forms of poses, I find a suspension of my roles and concerns of the world at large and the attempt to find integration of mind, body and breath.  Later, I think about how can one bring that same cohesion to our individual problems and collective ones? And I find myself drifting back to my favourite sutra, 1.33, as the healing a wounded species so desperately needs.

Yog Sutra 1.33 – “Through cultivation of friendliness, compassion, joy, and indifference to pleasure and pain, virtue and vice respectively, the consciousness becomes favourably disposed, serene and benevolent.” – Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by B K S Iyengar

 

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and in the midst of all else in the world, there is a riot of summer flowers…

Bridge over troubled times

2019 is long over but the calendar from last year still hangs where I see it up close. My eyes stray to it multiple times in the course of the day and as the month progresses, my viewing also gets adjusted. It inspires enquiry and experimentation. Often, more questions are raised than discovering of answers. I suppose that is the process of svadhyaya.

Somehow, seeing the asana everyday makes it seep into its practice too. I find myself cueing what I observe. It’s a different learning in the absence of a class. No oral instructions, just watching a still image and finding out for oneself. On one of my other blogs, someone mentioned the word tattolna and it probably explains this seeking. An exploration, a seeking , a searching for oneself.

Before Vipareeta Dandasana became my favourite pose, Setu Bandha Sarvangasana held that place. Of course, not very yogic in being attached to an asana but then I’m not a yogi :). It would be the one I chose when given an option between any of the cooling inversions. Almost always, propped. Besides the bolster, brick, bench versions, there was one with the bench and a large square cushion which was a completely different experience. I learned to fill my breath in that one with P. She would ask me to reach her palm with my sternum as I inhaled and eventually, my sunken despairing heart began to open.

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana is often called Bridge pose but Light on Yoga mentions it as construction of bridge pose. It implies a movement. Classically entered from Sarvangasana, it makes sense. It also goes by Uttana Mayurasana or stretched peacock. In either name, there is an implied movement of stretching. One of the insistent images is that of the bridge to Lanka in the Ramayana and Hanuman’s leap across the sea. Intense and stretched.

Today, I took a picture of myself in the pose to share with a friend who was trying it as well. Later, I placed it alongside Guruji’s image from the calendar and saw an entire universe of a difference. It’s a good way to see and correct when there is no teacher to walk one through the finer details.

The world outside spins in lockdown which will continue for the next two weeks. We’ve been in this state for long enough to have it become the new normal. Post lockdown, whenever that happens, I still see myself living this kind of a life for the foreseeable future. Except for the financial implications of work, this minimal way of life has been one of a rich inner landscape. I avoid the news and check on updates every couple of days. Instead, there is much watching the skies, doing whatever little I can at work and volunteering. Meals are simple and readings are varied books. There is also a lavishing of time on my craft and I try to put something as an offering as often as I can. While the current state of the planet is one of fear and isolation, there is acceptance and a continuation of doing whatever one can. And that helps keep my world on an even keel. Eventually, this too will be in the past and the bridge would be complete.

Last month’s thought was ‘Yoga is equanimity’ and it has been an endeavour to keep that idea through the month. May says, ‘Yoga is harmony’ to the accompaniment of Setu Bandha Sarvangasana so that is the meditation through this month. Last year Pavithra mentioned that she had done this as an exercise and I thought it was a beautiful way of keeping yoga alive through the day. So an attempt even if the calendar be one year old.

The song of the mountain

Tadasana is the first asana in the repertoire of yogasanas. Deceptively simple looking and often glossed over as an opening pose, the mountain pose does not have the glamour of backbends or the elegance of forward extensions. Yet, it has been a fascinating study for me since I began my journey in yoga. Every time, I spend a significant amount of time in the asana at a stretch, it reveals more of its wakefulness.

A couple of nights ago, I listened to a lovely concert, Songs of the Himalayas. It was inspired by the composer’s trek in the mountains and the stories he collected along the way, mostly of the simplicity and wisdom of its people. The musicians were brilliant and it was altogether a lovely immersive meditation of sorts. This morning my practice revolved around tadasana and I was reminded of the motif of the mountains. A mountain stands, it breathes, it is alive. Perhaps, not in the sense that we are taught to look at it as rock and soil but as part of a cosmos that we still don’t fully comprehend.

Our bodies are said to be a microcosm of the macrocosm and it makes sense from a yogic lens. The elemental nature of the body and mind mimics what is outside of us too. Mountains are usually elder structures, old ascensions into the heavens and have their unique shapes, structures and peculiarities. When stable, they remain standing without any change for years. Their shifts happen with a shift in energies of the earth. Perhaps the imagery of a volcano can represent the flow of energy of its structre, Of course, it is uncontrolled in an eruption but controlled in asana.

Geetaji talks about the adho mukhi and urdhva mukhi nature of energy flows, the downward and upward flow of energy. While I’ve experienced that in different asanas to different degrees, today I found myself studying it from the point of view of a mountain to understand how it works within the confines of my mind and body. While the essence of a mountain remains elevation, there is also the corresponding descent of its outer slopes. If the inner lift happens against gravity, the outer relaxation happens with it.

Tadasana instructions are usually staccato like in their delivery.

Feet together. Suck the knee caps up. Tuck the stomach in, buttocks in. Roll the shoulders behind and down, hand extending downwards. Become tall.

As one progresses in practice, there are nuances added and these can go really deep. The only thing that becomes apparent as I spend more time in this pose is that vast tracts of body and mind remain out of reach. On the outside the asanas are better looking but internally, there are deserts of silence. It’s a slow progression, or perhaps a progressing slowly as physical prowess gives way to a more detached viewing. One of curiosity and experimentation.

One of my teachers used to say if there is only one asana that you can perfect, let it be tadasana and I am beginning to see why. Often, the pose is used as an analogy for the sthirtha or steadiness required in any other asana. Over time, I have seen how arm work brings better leg stability and today was a learning in how the inner arm can bring the quietness of the outer leg. Result was strength and lightness in arms and a grounding so solid of the soles. Tadasana is really a whole body scan.

Home practice has been good but today, I missed my teacher and wished I could hear her clear voice and laughter. I missed helping out in the medical classes, I missed working in the library and I missed the fledgling sense of community I had begun to experience at the institute. While the lock down has been a period of acceptance with a fairly balanced head and heart, the prospect of an extended one has found me yearning for beloved RIMYI. Deeply.

Pictures taken before lock down – the windows in the first image are ones I’ve looked out of many times and the RIMYI library is a favourite place. It’s probably where I’d be headed out to first when we are allowed to move out.