Hybrid

​After almost 2 years, I was in the big hall again. This time with a few teachers as part of a pilot project on hybrid yoga classes. It was simply wonderful to be back in the hall, same and yet different. Zoom has become so much a part of the way yoga classes are conducted that most of us present also did the thumbs up to acknowledge comprehension. It was cute. There is some unlearning as well as some new learning in the way this moves forward.

All these days, classes were in a capsule, the energy that of the household or space where one practised. Zoom yoga is a very silent activity as there is only the teacher’s voice and the odd person asking for clarification. In the hall, there is movement and sounds of props, chatter as practitioners exchange thoughts or help each other. There is a larger space where you move to a wall or column or grill. At home, it is a tight dance around available space. Today, we chanted the invocation together loudly. At home, I often chant it silently with the teacher but it was good to feel my voice as part of the other voices. Another change, not the usual call and response but a chanting together in the interest of those attending remotely.

Although it was a class, it felt like practice. Perhaps, it was a remnant from the class the previous evening which was a silent one with no instructions but an opening that invited us to consider what it meant to be human, what it meant to be alive. My teacher touched briefly upon the yamas and the niyamas as well as our being and becomings. I chose to simply stay with the thought of the yamas as we went through the asanas. And simply considering the words- ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya and aparigraha through the cycle of poses led to a very reflective and quiet experience, one that spilled over into today too. The surrender in Uttanasana and Prasarita Padottanasana was very different.

While in the hall today, I found myself at home, at ease unlike before when I wondered what I was doing hanging around in the therapy class. Today as we helped each other learn certain actions, I found myself assisting teachers as we learned together. The previous me would have been horrified about how could I give teachers a hand. The thought didn’t cross my mind this morning. I still can’t do many asanas and am not driven enough to chase poses so probably have no business being there but I love the place and will simply keep showing up as long as they will have me. Another interesting observation was how I was able to consider and measure the extent of action that the teacher asked us to do. Often the repetition of cues would see me overdo because I wasn’t able to process enough to gauge what was the right extent.

The Iyengar yoga system can be compared to any of the old classical disciplines of Indian dance or music or martial arts. Tough, very little validation and a lot of pushing hard. As a beginner, I remember wanting to do the best pose and do everything perfectly. I was willing to push hard and wanted validation that my efforts were correct although I didn’t want to ask for it. So, I made a lot of mistakes but kept asking the questions of myself and over time, they got answered. Injury taught me patience and gave me time to observe. This kind of learning has been slow but quite rich as the lines between asana and life blurred until it simply became a whole system of living.

It is a changed world, this Covid one. In the past two years, the journey on the mat has been a wide one. In sheer asana proficiency, I progressed well till I could do some of the asanas much better than I could pre-pandemic but then had to scale down due to certain conditions. There were also unexpected finds such as asanas that I had never attempted coming very easily. And more recently a complete halt with Covid and a slow finding my way back to an active practice.

Covid Recovery

I had almost 2 weeks of no asana at all when I was recovering from the second bout of Covid. Post that it was a slow re-entry with plenty of supported forward bends gradually moving towards twists and reintroducing the other categories of asanas. During those days, the body simply didn’t want to even consider inversions or backbends or standing poses. They are now available albeit to a much smaller degree but the capacity is definitely increasing. Recovery is an interesting phenomenon whether of body, mind or emotion. I don’t fall sick easily and the odd time that I do, the bounce back is quick. This time around, I still feel like I’m convalescing. It is a different experience to be short of breath and not really trust your body to do certain things.  Each day is a mindful exercise in managing tasks around energy levels. But today, I am happy and thrilled at having been in beloved RIMYI and lying down on the cool floor of the big hall post class. Maybe that powered me through a long day.

Word of the year

It has been long since I wrote a blog post. Correction. I wrote many but shifted it into my notes instead. Perhaps, it was a sense of sharing that happened within a physically virtual world rather than reflections broadcast to an invisible world. But when I go back to the reasons for beginning this web notebook, I feel the need to document the ongoing unfolding.

Every year, I have a word. 2021’s word was Guruji. At the beginning of the year, I read a lot about his life, experiences of other people etc. and it was evident that most of them had covered his life from sickly teenager to yogacharya extensively. I thought I could make my own notes and as the year progressed found myself pivoting time and time again to what Prashantji mentions, ‘Iyengar’s yoga’. At year’s end, I see how that word shaped a lot of my everyday living. The word ‘Guruji’ became my reference point of responses to life situations.

2021 continued to be a pandemic year and one of many unexpected changes in my personal life. There was travel, closures and new beginnings and an overall ease even in stressful situations. If there has to be one significant discovery, it was that I found how to make time elastic. I have my teachers to thank for this change. Asanas are wonderful props to make acquaintance with oneself. I learned to stay in uncomfortable situations and watch thoughts and emotions rise and respond with ease. There was space for decisions to be made without reacting. This was possible as the ‘softness and firmness’ one of my teachers speaks about seeped into my day off the mat. And that translated to being able to make time.

One of the lovely things that happened to me through the year was the opportunity to demonstrate for one of the teachers in the online classes for beginners. These twice-a-week sessions have been such an immersion. Without fail, I log in 20 minutes before to set up and chat with P. She is a generous teacher, loved to bits by all her students. The regulars show up class after class and in the odd moments that I see them do their asanas, I see how there is joy, vigour and eagerness. I’ve loved beginner classes all along and participating in one like this has been a gift.

It was a full year of online classes and through the course of the months, I found myself at ease in asanas I had never attempted before while I lost some asanas to physical conditions. Both were simply observations. This freedom happened as I learned to soften the belly and brain. I got glimpses of the vast spaces inside as well as the darkness that exists in much of my body and mind. I was able to experience the energy that my teachers spoke about. I received glimpses of the touch of breath in pranayama. It remains very much a rudimentary learning of the alphabet. But, it is progress nevertheless and endlessly fascinating.

One of the unexpected gifts of 2021- Niño who came into our lives one November evening.

Over the years, I see how it appears that this system is all about sequence, asanas as solutions to problems, precision etc. but that is missing the forest for the trees. As the pandemic continues, I see how Iyengar yoga is many fruits, many fruitings according to the inherent tendencies of its practitioners and teachers. As for me, I remain a devoted student of the subject but find that perhaps calling it Iyengar yoga is limiting. It is yog, as Guruji says. Staying with his thought and reading about him, his works, listening to his family and students through the year that passed taught me patience. In situations of distress or doubt, it was easier to pause and consider how he may have made his choices. More often than not, the answer sprung from Sutra 1.33, one of my favourites.

Despite the pandemic making life more virtual, mine became less so. The first year of pandemic saw a lot of connection via technology while the second one saw more time spent in the company of trees and a few people. I am grateful to have this space to share and receive even if it has been an erratic presence. It’s been about 7 years since the beginning of this blog and in some sense, it is probably no longer a space that answers some of the questions that I had as a beginner. But, it remains a space to put markers like a reminder that the word for this year is ‘slow’.

The Joy of Practice

Months with 5 weeks have an extra serving of inversions and this evening’s class was an Adho Mukha Vrikshasana spread! There are many videos and instructions on handstands available online but the solidity of a live session is something else. As I kept doing multiple attempts, it felt like I was back in the big hall. At the end of class, my clothes were drenched and my heart was joyful. My teacher corrected quite a few mistakes and now I have some areas to work with. She has seen me from my very first year and being in her gaze makes a big difference. It is satisfying to push through habits/ conditionings.

Adho Mukha Vrikshasana is a good mirror to see oneself. While there is the physicality of the pose, what is also inherent is one’s approach to the asana. As I reflect on my journey into the pose, I see how my fears came from different areas. There was the knee, the arms, wrists etc. which needed time to be able to come this far. Jumpings were not possible with a bad knee but they are a part of my practice now. I’m able to do them without pain and there is confidence in landing. My arms are skinny and every time I stood on my hands, I would imagine them breaking like dry twigs. That visual image is no longer there. The arms still look like sticks 🙂 but I’m stronger. 

An older picture but this is still where I am, using a passageway to get into the pose.

It is not quite about the pose but the journey towards it that is fascinating for me. It is all the little bits and pieces of experience that one gathers along the way that shape the arrival at one’s destination. Like the LEGO blocks my younger one would play with. Make, break, remake, reimagine, make. This year, I’ve gone into poses I’ve never attempted before with ease simply because of a stubbornness in honing the actions in basic asanas. But sometimes, classes like this are a joy. The sheer exuberance of sweat and effort and will. Sweat cleanses in more ways than one. Effort keeps one grounded in one’s chosen field of study. It strips one of everything but the bare essentials. It shows up one’s own capacities and limitations, allows for respecting and challenging them respectively. But the tempering of discrimination is the key. And will is the backbone.

Life has a good rhythm with yoga being the fulcrum of my days. When I look back at my journey with RIMYI right from the first year of being an eager beaver to feeling out of my depth in intermediate classes to medical sessions for nearly two years followed by the most painful and transformational 3 months, I see a meandering road. Those days were followed by helping around in medical classes and getting back to regular beginner and intermediate classes before a pandemic struck. The online format last year allowed multiple classes and I also began learning pranayama. This academic year, there have been 2 additional sessions as a demonstrator which feels a little more intense than the others since I feel conscious of having to stay steady in the pose. I hope to continue with this sense of stability and contentment. Sthira Sukham Asanam is not only on the mat.

Bricked

The last six weeks have been intense with classes five days a week. It’s been a soaking in and while the greedy student in me wants to continue, I think it’s best to scale down from next month. I’d like to accumulate less learning and experience and explore more instead. It feels a bit lazy to depend so much on online classes rather than struggle a bit on my own. Of course, I need and want my teachers but I could do with more self practice.

Bricked!
Today’s class had multiple repetitions of brick setuband sarvangasana and variations. By the end of the 90 minutes, there was a fire lit in the sacral region, not in a sore way but in an alive sense. Sirsasana and sarvangasana that came towards the end of class was beautiful in its steadiness thanks to that imprint of the brick. The bio mechanics of asanas also means freedom in the corresponding frontal body and I was left with a feeling of fearless vulnerability. The eyes too experienced something different today unlike the usual 1000 watt going off in the head. It is difficult to articulate the sensations, a cradling of the lower part of the eyes would be somewhat close.

The brick was a wonderful teacher, it’s constant pricking never letting me forget what our teacher wanted us to experience. Like she said, one part is about doing the asana and the other is feeling the asana. Range, endurance, flexibility all of that comes slowly or fast. It may come and go depending on illness, injury or other conditions but the feeling of the asana can be replicated using props. In this online format and with fewer props, we often substitute the usual ones with items at home like pressure cookers, stools, pillows, dupattas, sarees, sheets, steel dabbas, dining tables, chairs, sofas, beds, walls etc. It reminds me of Guruji’s early days and how his curiosity made him play with easily available materials to teach himself.

He was a brilliant student, curious and tenacious. As a student, there is much to learn from the way he learned. He listened, he observed, he experimented. There wasn’t any sense of an end goal to be achieved, rather it was more an immersion in the endlessness of yoga. I doubt I’d ever have even a fraction of that zeal and commitment, at best I could possibly expect to plod along in fits and starts. As I reflect on today’s class, I find myself asking yet again- why do I practise yoga, what is the fascination with asana that makes me go back time and time again? There is the mental clarity, emotional stability, physical well-being but I suppose it is also a being alive in this embodiment fully and without limitations. Somehow yoga has never been about getting something in return for time on the mat, the fulfillment has been in the endeavours.