A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. ~Oscar Wilde

Posts tagged ‘yoga journey’

The Golden Girl

I can see her through the kitchen window. She is flying higher and higher on her swing, chubby face split by an endless grin, flying hair bathed in a golden glow. The wind kisses her as she swings daringly higher each time, but her gurgling giggles fail to reach my ears. She has come to visit me, again, as she often does, soundless, and swathed in a golden light. I don’t really know her very well. I think I do, as she is me, at the age of three and a half, give or take. But she is really a phantom of those days, not the whole person that was me. Golden girl 1

I remember those halcyon days, and even later ones as I grew up. Every memory of those days has a warm golden glow to it. That little girl, growing up in that home, is always laughing, always running, with the shiny golden light setting her aglow. I know that my childhood, and youth, as every one else’s had moments of such bliss and moments not quite so blissful. But when I look out of windows, in my moments of peace, that is the girl I see.

This is the reason why, I am guessing, many wish to go back to those days. They wish to hold on to those moments of innocence, laughter and fear free joy. They say, in a voice languishing with memories and myths, “I wish I was a child again, I wish I was that free and innocent child, again, with no worries in the world, living that life, revisiting those events.” Yearning for that fleeting, probably (perish the thought) non existent, moment of perfection.

I look back at this girl with the golden smile, and I feel her freedom, and her carefree existence. I feel the sun again on my skin, and the certainty the world was just the way it should be, with a delicious dinner and a cosy bed at the end of the dreamy day. But does that mean that I wish to go back to those days? I don’t think so.

I think that what I miss is that girl’s outlook on life. Each moment of her existence is swathed in the present. She is playing, and laughing, in the moment. She does not have a care, not only because she is innocent, but because this moment is perfect, as it is. She may have fallen, or been chided for being “naughty”, or been made to drink warm smelly milk, but that is not in this moment. That is past, and the time for learning silly times tables or spellings is not yet, so this moment is free, golden and alight with laughter, and a bouncy sense of peace.

Perhaps that is what I yearn for. This strength to let the past be, and not worry about the future. My tendency to live in the moment survived for years, much later than some others around me. Then one day I realised that this characteristic in me was looked upon by people I respected, as being superficial. A child’s unconcern about the future or the past is loveable innocence, but to take this un-awareness into adulthood shows a lack of self analysis and self-awareness. I must have agreed with this view of life, so I trained myself to worry , and fret, and analyse my mistakes, and generally hold myself in low esteem because I was not perfect. I could never be perfect, so the constancy of my fretfulness was ensured. I trained myself to fret about things I could not change, and remember real and imagined downfalls for years, years and years. I learnt to fret about the future even if it was only 30 minutes away, and to worry that I had been wrong in the past, even if that past was five minutes ago. I learnt never to let go of the past, and never to be in the present. I learnt to try and change things, everything to fit a standard that now seems arbitrary. Since most things are not meant to be changed, I was caught in a constant vortex of mindful frustration.

Years later, even when I learned that those whom I had respected may have had their own imperfections to deal with, and demons to battle, I still continued on my harried and worried way. As a new age of awareness and acceptance slowly emerged and made itself felt worldwide, I began to see the sense of being in the present, though I still beat myself up about the not present at every opportunity. Even as I wised up to the fact that the little girl had probably been wiser than the big girl I now was, I still clung to my over analytic, hyper critical self. I had trained myself only too well.

But that little girl still lingers. She still pops in once in a while, and teaches me, that each moment is an adventure awash in golden light. That is all.

 

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Let the asana do the work for you

Imbued with the culture of doing, achieving, and pushing past the barrier, we end up on our yoga mats living the “no pain no gain” motto. Yet the mat is the one place where we can begin to learn that gain is not related to pain. Never. Not at all.

Along with the multifold (other) benefits of yoga, a double whammy of a benefit is, that, with regular practice, the asana does the work for you. All we need to do, with regular diligence, is to practice each asana to the point that our body allows us for that moment in time. Regularly, with patience, and correctness of posture. Did I mention diligence?

My early years of learning yoga under stringent circumstances, and long years of training in Indian Classical dancing, led me to an arrogant assumption, that, when I chose to learn again, I would be able to touch my toes. Easy. There. What did I say? I could do it.

Supported uttanasana

A chair does the trick as well.

The triumphant surge in my belly was short lived. My spine had to curve, and my shoulders had to stoop, in the exact ways that my book warned me not to, in my effort to prove to the most important person in the world, me, that I still had it in me. Today, I am not quite sure, what it was that was “in me”. I caught myself mirrored in the French window looking most inflexible and tortured. Red with mortification, and sweaty with humiliation, I turned away from that sight and reached for the blocks. I felt an unfamiliar sense of humility, coupled with a reluctant conviction that B. K. S. Iyengar must have known what he was writing about. I turned the blocks to their longest height, straightened, rooted my feet as evenly as possible, straightened my legs, raised my arms up, … you know the deal. When I then sneaked a look at the book, and back to my reflection, I realised I had to straighten my legs to a ninety degree angle from the floor, and soon I was able to breathe in a regular flow. Over a period of diligent, regular, time, I was able to lower the height of the block.

When I finally found a teacher I could adore, she gently pried the block away, and lo and behold, I was in my first, unsupported Uttanasana, since my childhood. I suddenly realised at that moment, that I had not put in an ounce of extra effort, ever, since that first time. Slowly, gradually, imperceptibly, over time, the muscles, legs, shoulders and spine had learnt to do whatever was necessary. Surely, and confidently, each time I practised, the asana had spoken to my body, and the two together had got my Uttanasana into place. As I proceeded through that lesson, I noticed the progress in each asana I had practised. Here was yoga. Here was a journey!

I am indebted to Yoga Adam for the title.

Image credit: http://dev.drfranklipman.com/uttanasana/

Peek a boo

japan_volcano1So, what are the non physical, not so immediate benefits of yoga? We hear a lot about yoga being “much more” than simple stretching and strengthening exercises. Authors and gurus discourse in length about the eight limbs of yoga practice, about the union of mind, body and spirit. There is much discussion about the chakras, and the other esoteric results from regular, disciplined and long term practice of yoga. It can get a little frightening, there is so much to understand, and so much seems to be that blink of an eye away from comprehension. It can be overwhelming, and lead one to feel that one will probably never, ever, quite “get it”.

There is good news. The esoteric results of yoga just seep in unheralded, and stay on to become part of oneself unrecognised. One need not understand a single couplet of Patanjali in order to realise that one has become a little more in tune with oneself. That a part of oneself that one never believed possible has come to the forefront.

I can only speak from personal experience. I am still a novice in the practice of yoga, and I have more to learn than I can imagine about all aspects of yoga, yet I do see a difference in my reality. I cannot say I have become a better person, yet I have certainly become more aware.

Here is a peek. Those who believe that I am a calm person have no idea about the turbulence I have within me – the shortness of temper, the doubts, the cynicism. Yet, they are right. I still have my quicksilver temper, but I am more in control of it. When I say that it seems that I somehow work on myself, exercise self control and make myself become less angry. What I think happens is this. I get very angry. VERY ANGRY. Then, even as I burst out in a volcanic mess, I notice how angry I am. Very soon after that, I find I cannot maintain that level of excitement anymore. The cause for the anger is still here, my sentiments about the situation are still valid, and yet….. that strong feeling subsides, and I am in a much better place to present my case, or walk away, as required for desired results. Effortless shifting of gear.

volcanic plainNow that is a cool thing, is it not?

PS: There are people who do know how temperamental I am, as well 😛

Image credit: volcano: http://totallycoolpix.com/2011/01/the-shinmoedake-volcanic-eruption/

volcanic plain: http://home.iprimus.com.au/foo7/volcmap.html

Loving Myself

…And even allowing myself to be indulged.

We love to indulge the people we love. An extra bit of butter on the toast of a child who is on the way to a particularly difficult exam. Swapping dishwashing night with a spouse who has had a tough day at work. Buying an overworked and troubled friend a spa day. We think that they all deserve these things. We believe that these indulgences are important in order to have a full life.

Yet, when we it comes to ourselves, and that butter melting on warm toast smells so inviting, we deny ourselves the right to that minor indulgence. We tell ourselves that, that (oftentimes unnecessary) vow to lose that last kilo is far more important than the momentary pleasure of a buttered toast. We drag ourselves to the sink martyring ourselves on the altar of dishwasher duty because we are too strong to ask for help on minor occasions. And gifting ourselves a spa day? Oh, dear me, no! Never! That would be just too sinful, in this climate of economic strife that has seeped in to every household. 

This morning during Yoga, as I folded forward in Uttanasana, reveling  in the winter sunlight streaming through the window, and in the fact that I can now place my palms on the floor, (well, almost), I noticed that my nails needed a manicure. Of course I could do it myself, but I know that it would be weeks or even months before I would. So much better to go to a salon, and get them attended to. As I sailed through my Sun Salutes and more, the train of thought never quite subsided. Even as I paid attention to my teacher’s admonishments to engage the shoulder blades, or pull the inner thigh in or tuck in the tail bone through the various poses, my mind swayed in an all too familiar dilemma. To mani-pedi or not to.

The Hedonist Archetype has always been strong in me, and it is only in the recent years that I have come to accept her presence with love. If not entirely so, at least to accept that she deserves as much love as any other Archetype that I have within me. This often means giving in too easily to the temptations of buying “beauty” items, that I don’t really need, or getting a beauty treatment with funds that could have been more sensibly used.

And so, during my yoga training today, in between postures that did not allow any wandering of the mind to other things, I caught myself coming back to the thought, “Don’t do it, all that will happen is, that you will feel guilty.” “The nail polish only lasts a short time, and then you will be back to wanting to go again, what’s the use?” Was it a dialogue I was having with my Higher Self? Does the Higher Self of me disdain a perfectly groomed and coifed me? Or was it my sense that right now, I need to keep my funds growing for other things that I need in my life? Things of less moral dubiousness. 

But I have accepted a Challenge: “40 days of self love”. It is day 6 today. My intention was to express my self love through writing and reading everyday, but I don’t really need to keep myself confined to that, do I ?

As I slipped into savasana, a light popped into my head. My teacher is holding a “Handstand Workshop” a posture that I am needing to conquer at the moment. Conquer? Let that pass. Miraculously, that Handstand workshop is the same price as the mani pedi I would be getting. 

The decision was made. As I slipped back into normal ness, and went through the post savasana routine, I felt calm. As I opened my eyes after the final “namastey” I noticed that my teacher was looking straight at me.

“You look enlightened”, she said quietly, as everyone began to roll up their mats.

“Do I? I feel good …. May I enroll in your Handstand Workshop?”

I came home feeling loved, and hopeful, that maybe I will also get a chance to get a mani-pedi. Both my Higher Self, and my Hedonist can be happy. It is an abundant Universe, after all.

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A Beginner’s Mind

I was first introduced to yoga by someone who taught herself. Let’s call her Sukhi. She had a book, which had a few pictures and many strictures. It seemed to emphasise on how difficult yoga is, more than how to learn it. Something that often comes up in Indian ways of teaching. Sukhi wanted to learn, and even though I was so much younger than her, I was there, and got roped in as her buddy. Her fervour, while it lasted, took us on a journey that led us into dark and deep forests and far away from any sort of union of mind, body and soul. The book did speak a lot about the union, not that I read it. I was ten, my job was to turn up on the mat. Figuratively speaking, that is, as there was no mat, just a concrete floor.

Sukhi expected herself, and me, to be perfect from the word “go”. So there was a lot of muttering to herself, and talking at me. Our postures were not perfect, nor did we have any idea how to get there.

Possibly from some idea of “No Pain No Gain”, we did headstands on the first day.  We did not use any props, the book did not recommend any, either. “Iyengar” was unheard of in that household; during those days he was probably far more revered in the West than in India. My ten-year old, classical dance trained body managed fairly well, but there were many gaps for Sukhi to correct. So reading aloud from the book, and interpreting them in the narrowest most harrowing way possible, she would push and pull me into postures that probably were not right for a pre teen to get into in the first place. She did not know any better. She practised with me, and fared little better than me. So each practice session was one of disappointment more than learning. Very soon, I learnt to hate yoga, and very thankfully wiped it all from my mind when Sukhi went on to other pursuits.

Some dregs of wisdom from those days, and that much thumbed little book, must have lingered, and many, many years later, I began a journey of my own to learn and practise yoga. With guidance from many teachers, and some research of my own, I softly and gently led myself into a wiser practice. It took a long time, but I gradually learnt not to strive for an A+ mark from my teacher. I learnt to ease myself into the postures, and the practice. I fed from the energy of each class, and slowly and surely ceased to compare. I felt immersed in my own journey. So good. So light.

Then today, as I reached for my block, strengthened and stretched my legs, taking care not to hyperextend, and breathed into my posture, the teacher said, “Come to the pose with a beginner’s mind”. My mind blew out so hard that I nearly stumbled.

There I was, turning up regularly on the mat (there is a mat now), with all my baggage. My big belly. My hurt toe. My awareness of how far I think I can stretch, or balance, and acceptance when I need a prop. Each day, I walk a little bit further along my journey, dancing on the reflections of my practice. I feel present and in tune. But, perhaps, in my acceptance of the limitations of my body,  I have closed my self to the endless possibilities I could experience? Should I instead, present myself on the mat, each day, with the intention of a fresh new start? I could just bring my beginner’s mind, and let muscle memory work its magic in the background? Maybe I am still comparing myself, now, to how I fared yesterday?

As I drove back home after the class, an image of a toddler frolicked in front of me. Giggling, swaying straight from a downward facing dog to happy baby, rocking up to tree on tippy toe, falling over and moving on. No wisdom. Just joyous abandonment.

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