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.

IMG_20191025_153156.jpg

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.

Yoga Help(er)

It’s been a couple of Fridays now that I am not a student at the medical/therapy class but I am still present. ‘Change of roles today?‘, ‘You used to be a student, so nice to see you as a helper‘ and a host of other encouraging remarks and smiles make me feel shy. I’m not quite willing to accept that I may be a ‘helper’, it seems unreal. So much so that I didn’t want to post it here but it is also a part of my journey. When my teacher suggested that I come to help, I was just grateful to be able to keep coming to the big hall. I would have been content just to pass props or tidy up and just watch but I also get to be there for someone.

Today, I was with one student. Mostly, just observing and assisting as instructed. We spent some time together and in close proximity, I realized we both were the same, riddled with fear. Her fears were predominantly about falling and hurting herself all over again. (She was wheelchair bound a few years ago.) Mine were about facing myself. Listening to her talk, I could see how fear leaks into our perceptions about ourselves and what we can or cannot do. At the start of the session, her body was in a lopsided way and by the end of the class, there was a symmetry and calmness in her face. She had done what she thought she couldn’t. I would feel that way after class but could never see it for myself until I saw it in her.

The only way out for me was to trust my teachers when I didn’t have faith in anything. Their belief was enough. When I think back about it now, there was some incredible amount of surrender that was at work for yoga to work its magic. For almost a year before I worked up the courage to speak to my teacher, I was in a slump. There wasn’t enough yoga balance to see me through one of the most difficult years of my life. Despite knowing what I needed, I couldn’t do anything to get myself out of deep despair. I needed to ask for help and then be willing to receive it. It is an incredible privilege to have the option to do so.

These days, I’m happy. Not relatively happy. Just happy. Every day comes without the weight of yesterday or tomorrow. Much of my life is uncertain and I have no firm ground under my feet but there is faith. In yoga. The same yoga that allowed me to rebuild again and teach that no matter what, one can always start again. It feels good to be able to practice regularly like I used to. And as always, surprising to see how much is remembered by the body and heart.

I find it a little easier to trust myself and allow others in. The other day after class, there were so many hellos and how are yous that it felt like, maybe I am with my people.

 

 

 

 

No human is limited

Watching Kipchoge breeze over the finish line was a moment of goosebumps. I watched the videos many times and was thrilled each time. What struck me most was his simple, powerful belief of limitlessness and the keen awareness of his tremendous sadhana. Running is very humbling, like asana. Most of the work is just practice, usually not good enough but then some days there is flight. Like in yoga.

I miss running, the sweat against cool mornings and the regular spade work to chip away at time or distance. It’s nearing 3 years since I had to give it up and sometimes I fantasize about running again. I still remember the touch of the road on my bare feet and the sense of clarity in the zone. Kipchoge says we’re limitless so maybe…

Anyways, maybe it was all the excitement about running that made me wear my marathon tee to practice. I rarely put it on now that I don’t run but Kipchoge reminded me that limitless is possible and asana is that. It was a conversation starter and as I spoke, I realized that that was also me, a hardworking runner who had it in her to train consistently.

I’ve felt ignorant as far as asanas go and thought that practising in the hall might be a bit impostor like for my stage. It’s an irrational thought but one that prevented me from doing many things as part of a group. I ran alone, I practised alone, I studied alone. There’s a saying in the running world, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I didn’t seek speed as much as I sought distance yet I went alone. It’s the same with yoga. I seek depth more than breadth so maybe it is time to be a participant too?

I’ve started to go to the institute for practice on the recommendation of my teacher and it’s a big deal for me. The first couple of times, I ended up practising for an hour before hurrying away. Yesterday, I was present for over an hour and a half, repeating what I had done the previous day. And just like that, practice in a hall full of people felt normal. It reminded me of my early days in the medical class when I did my own routine except that this session is silent save for the sound of props as and when used. At the end of it, I was soaked in sweat and content with the effort. Beginner’s toil.

Friday was twists and I decided to repeat the same in practice. Standing twists tend to irritate my knee a bit but keeping the leg a little bent prevents it from hyper extending. The seated twists are ok with elevation and shorter holds.

It’s always challenging, this class of asanas with their assymetry. The twist happens but the symmetry and length don’t come easy. How does one maintain space and stability of an undisturbed centre even when wringing it? I suppose it must be like the eye of the storm. Twisting poses have enticing benefits of losing inches but that doesn’t interest me as much as the effects on the mind.

As a day, Saturday was an eye opener. I spent time with a health worker in one of the slums and realized what a huge world of difference exists between my world and theirs. I found myself hoping that they too could find the blessings of yoga to cope with their difficult lives. There is much good work happening with primary health care but to make limitless happen, the shifts required are of the heart and mind. Perhaps one day we can see yoga as a way of life right from childhood.

Beginning again

Beginner’s class is an evergreen class. We did a lot of parivritta and some parsva variations of standing poses and inversions. Some asanas with the bent legs is a challlenge for the knee but with a little adjustment or replacement, the class is manageable.

What is the inner shape of an asana? After class, the imprint of the asanas was felt as a receptacle shape in the lower abdominal region. A new experience of an old asana. I don’t know what to make of it so it’s just noted until further experience. Twists are tricky. Often I think I turn but the body hasn’t really moved all that much. An adjustment shows how much more space can be created. I find myself holding back and one of the assistants who helped me a lot in the therapy classes provided the necessary confidence to move further.

It feels like I am quenching thirst in these classes. Struggling with basic asanas, listening to the same instructions but in the context of a changed body and mind and watching other bodies is being a beginner in a much richer way. Years ago, I started my journey at RIMYI in this very class and it seems very fitting to recommence here.

The Art of Yoga

The empty hall is like a stage and the practitioners take their positions and props through that space to different rhythms. Yoga as an art is as evocative as classical Indian dance in its grace, poise and strength. It’s something I have come to appreciate as a practitioner and spectator, the art in this science. It reminds me of the a sentence in the foreword by Yehudi Menuhin, one of my favourite passages.

“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.”

I’ve spent the better part of two years looking at Light on Yoga images on the walls especially the contrast between the grainy black and white pictures and later coloured images. In his later years, Guruji looks still like undisturbed water as against the dynamism of his younger days. The other day, I was in the empty practice hall and thought of the one breath of life that connects all life, past, present and future. How many inhalations and exhalations had this space seen as they emerged and returned to source?

The space I gravitate towards remains the area near the trestle at the prop end, away from the hustle of a full hall. It’s quiet. There is comfort in the solid wood, cold floor and piles of props, all meant to serve bodies and minds that seek to learn, recover and heal. It’s a spartan space, as bare as it was when first constructed and part of the appeal lies in that asceticism. The window looks out to a large creeper that has wound itself around a tree trunk. Sometimes, when it rains, the sound of the water makes for a soothing backdrop. Life finds a way to adapt, survive and thrive.

One of my friends accuses me of being too square, a purist and I think, how can one not be when you see the richness and depth of an unadulterated pursuit? Every art demands obedience for a long, dedicated period before being ready to break rules, to create work which has enduring appeal. Yoga as practised by Guruji has that timeless quality and it continues in the living legacy of his students and their students.

Biochemistry of asanas

Today was a stark contrast to class the day before. There was lightness and space in the body and breath. None of the cringing into collapse but instead an openness and curiosity to explore the asanas prescribed. Truly, the body is an incredible instrument, it holds memory both short-term and long-term. I had the leeway to play with a few asanas by myself and it felt possible to go back to being a student.

Last class saw me beaten and at an extremely low point. Somehow telling my teacher that it was fear that was surfacing helped me walk through it. I was in a situation where I relived terrors I wouldn’t let myself feel years ago and was feeling trapped yet again. She made me confront that repeatedly, dropping into the unknown with the promise of holding me or else falling with me and laughing about it. It is strenuous work for the teachers, the weight of not just the bodies of the students but also their inner heaviness.

Something shifted inside in that last class, not just in the heart but in the head too, breaking an old pattern. I could find my voice and be vulnerable in the face of that fear. An old response pattern was broken in the world outside the mat. Perhaps the asanas changed the biochemistry of my psyche, rewiring and rewriting old narratives making it possible to change the course of the future.

Between my two teachers, I am pulled and pushed into spaces I can’t reach. I don’t understand any of it but trust blindly. At times, my senses experience the various movements and even rest. Today, a savasana happened spontaneously after a very long while.

Perhaps someday I can spend my days soaked in yoga at the institute. Maybe I can give back in some little way for all that I have been so freely and unconditionally given.

In gratitude

Detours

Two classes in a row without crying. That’s definitely a step forward. Every class I am stretched and pulled beyond what I think is possible. Sometimes the mind and body feels like one stubborn, hardened rubber band. But, subsequently there is a little more freedom.

Quite a few international students/teachers ask me what treatment I have come for and I don’t know what to say. For someone whose profession involves talking and presenting, I am tongue tied when it comes to expressing what I experience. I still feel like a burden on my teachers as they give so much of their time and energy to ensure I am alright. All I have is implicit trust and faith that they will not let me fall. Standing back arches, swinging sirsasanas and variations that I’ve never done before happen with their bodies as props. By the time, the 90 odd minutes are up, I am sore but content. It feels as though each vertebra has been pulled and stretched and put back together. It’s hard work as usual but I follow the instructions as best as I can. I still cannot hear the song of my body but last class I found myself humming a tune as I put the props back.

From the various spots in the room, I can see Guruji’s pictures and can’t help but notice the lines his body occupies. Seen straight up, upside down or sideways, the angles are unmistakable and make for beautiful visual poetry. The pictures have a calming effect on me but I’m still not sure about the invocation yet.

While returning from class, I took a few detours and had some beautiful views of lush green. The incessant rains have given rise to traffic snarls and the detours were a welcome relief. The snarls reminded me of my body and the detours, all the different ways my teachers took me from brokenness to healing.

From a sobbing wreck to someone able to go through a class without tears seemed an impossibility not too long ago. It’s still shaky ground and I don’t know what might come up. But as my teacher said in the last class, you have to accept the good things also.

In gratitude