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

Posts tagged ‘yoga’

Who does the Bhagavad Gita belong to?

DP and MG

It has taken me the better part of two years to complete my first reading of Devdatta Pattanaik’s “My Gita”. I am sure that I will go back to it time and time again, for it is a treatise on the Bhagavad Gita, that ultimate “lifestyle” manual. The current remarkable obsession with “self-exploration, self-examination, self-actualization”, and, apparently, “selfies”, may have had its beginnings in the “self-realization” discussed in the book, through the millenia spanning the composition of the “Bhagavad Gita”.

I have often picked up a “Gita” I purchased while still a fledgling in the thoughtful world, (I still am), but have not got beyond the first verses. It’s heavy Sanskrit text and lumbering translation kept the book on my bedside stack, always as a to-be-read.

Devdutta Pattanaiks’s “My Gita” is not a translation or transliteration of the Bhagavad Gita. Instead it is series of 18 essays on what Pattanaik considers to be the 18 themes of the Gita. It does not cover the Gita sequentially, as the themes he has identified are not isolated by chapter, but rather sprinkled within multiple discourses through the whole collection or “song”. It is important to remember this while reading the book, as it gives it a very different experience to reading the Gita.

To my mind, this book has been about understanding the value of the Gita in my 21st century hectic, and often seemingly rudderless existence. On days I have felt the buzzing of restlessness, the pages have soothed me. On days I felt calm, I have had moments of eye opening wonder.

I am delighted that I can come back to this book time and again in order to calm myself, and experience more moments of blinding understanding. I might even attempt the Sanskrit version again, one day. I just need to understand that I do not need to read either in a linear, consecutive manner. I can open them to any page, and attempt to absorb the wisdom they contain.

Ultimately, while this book is Pattanaik’s take on the Bhagavad Gita, the original, as seen in these essays belongs to all.

Hopefully the few editing oversights have been corrected in future editions of the book.

Arjuna_and_His_Charioteer_Krishna_Confront_Karna,_crop

pictures from the friendly World Wide Web –

  1. Scroll.In
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhagavad_Gita

 

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The safe life

angel light

The pursuers were no longer too close. I could still hear their cries and the sound of them crashing through the undergrowth. I could no longer hear their loud breathing. Even so, I knew that I could not slow down. Whatever had caused them to fall behind would not hold them back for too long, and soon they would be upon me again. Tired as I was, I had to speed up. I struggled to pick up my pace through the bush, hindered by the saplings and branches of trees swinging and snapping into me and the leaves brushing into my eyes. I was running a dangerous course with my eyes almost closed.

The terrain had been sloping upwards slightly, and even though I was not fully familiar with the land, I gauged that I was moving away from my destination and had to get back to flat land before I could get back home.

I ran though the bush, wincing but refraining with from crying out loud as the branches snapped into my face, and the sharp pebbled surface of the floor of the forest cut through my torn shoes. The ground dipped irregularly and I caught myself from stumbling a number of times, each time catching my breath and muttering a roughly termed prayer for my life. I hoped I was not near any cliff, and even as the thought escaped my mind into the dark moonless night, I tripped, fell, slid, rolled down the sudden steep slope downwards, catching at saplings and low branches of trees, desperately trying to stop my momentum. The thundering rush of blood to my heart drowned out the sound of any pursuers, and suddenly I found myself dangling from the edge of a cliff, a branch of a tree growing at the edge cutting into my palms as I clung on for dear life.

It was with tremendous effort that I caught the cry that rose from my throat, petrified of being heard by the hunters. I clung on to the over hanging branch. power rising from my desperation to live and fear of falling. Each limb trembling, I tried to find a foothold, but could only feel smooth rock. I could not heave myself up for fear of cracking the branch that held me to my life, and being found. I tried to quiet my breathing, softening the rasping by degrees. The crashing of the undergrowth brought news that they had come close, and would be at the cliff in moments. I flattened myself into the cliff as much as I could, clutching onto the branch with increasingly sweaty palms, praying that they did not have lights and would not think to look down the cliff side. I remembered that they had not had any lights before, and counted my blessing.

They were at the cliff top, hollering at each other, I was glad I was in deeper shadow under the tree. I dared not look up in case my movement caused the tree to move, and alerted them. I dared not look down terrified that the dark void reaching far to the bottom would overwhelm me. It shames me to admit it, but I am terrified of heights. I buried my face into the slight growth in the side of the cliff, closed my eyes and mingled desperate prayers with the effort to still my trembling. I had no idea how long I would be able to hang on, but I knew that I would have to, for maybe longer than I could.

After a long time, a very long time, my hunters suddenly stopped the yelling and stomping and milling around at the top of the cliff, and following a loud barked command stomped away through the forest. I listened to the noises fade away until at last the forest returned to its nightly quiet. I did not think it would be a good idea to try and climb back out to the hilltop and I was certain that letting go would precipitate me to a sharp and very painful death. Now seemed a good time as any to turn to prayer.

Tears scalding my cheeks I whispered, “Please God, please save me, please show me that miracle I have been waiting for all my life.” Beyond the breeze seeming to suddenly cool and fan my face lovingly, there was no response. My hear still thumped with fear, and my arms still screamed with intense pain reminding me that to let go meant certain death. I tried again, “ Please God!” but could go no further as I did not have any other words. Everything seemed inadequate. I felt like it was getting light, so I opened my eyes a slit wondering whether it was already turning into day, but it was not. All was still dark, it was just that there was a ball of light a little bigger than a humming bird hovering next to me. I thought I could make out wings flapping furiously as the light steadied itself close to my head.

I heard a soft whisper, “Just let go.”

Huh? That was my miracle? Just let go, and plummet to your death? I was not ready to die! I heard it again.

“Just let go.” Then, even more bizarrely, “You are safe”.

Sure. I am safe in the arms of God. I would just be gathered up. Dead! Nope! I was not letting go.

“You are safe. Let go of the branch”. The ball of light seemed to pulsate around me glowing in itself, but without imparting light to the surroundings. “Just let go.”

I heard my own voice speak in a fierce, low whisper: “NO” through shut teeth.

“Could you loosen the little finger of one hand? Just one little finger? You are safe”. Insistent little firefly!

I wondered whether God really wanted me to die, or was this beautiful, seemingly harmless light straight from the Devil? Even as the thought crossed my mind, I nearly laughed out loudly at my religious conundrum. Alright, one little finger could do no harm. Holding my breath, I let go of one finger. I gritted my teeth, but did not fall.

“You are safe” The little light fluttered around, weaving in and out of my field of vision. My head was still pushed hard into the cliff wall. I would not risk anything by moving my head too much.

“How about the other little finger?” The cheeky little flicker of my imagination seemed to know all the tricks. “You are safe”.

I hesitated. The light grew closer to me. “You are safe”.

Feeling a little braver now, I pried the other little finger off the branch. My state of dangling hopelessness seemed not to have changed. The cool breeze was certainly cooling off my heated brow, and making my shirt less sticky on my back.

“You are safe.” It said again. “You are safe”.

“Who are you?”

“I am your miracle. Go on, try another finger. Just let go”.

Now this was almost too much, but the soft light, cool breeze and drying sweat seemed to have calmed my nerves. I slowly unfurled one index finger. Wow. With seven fingers doing the work of ten, I was still hanging on securely, and the little piece of light had gone into a frenzy of celebration.

“You are safe. You are safe. You are safe”. It chanted softly as it danced around me, only slightly more tangible than a will o’ the wisp, though the whirring of the wings remained loud and clear.

Slowly through the night I was coaxed into letting go finger by finger.

“You are safe. You are safe. You are safe”.

As I marvelled at the ease with which I could hang on to the branch with a diminishing number of fingers, the little light danced around me.

“You are safe. You are safe. You are safe”.

At last, there I was, hanging on by one hand and three fingers, having let go of the last couple without much prompting from the now dizzily happy little bubble of light.

It floated so close to my eyes, I could not look away.

“You can let go of all three fingers together now. You are safe”. This whisper was urgent in its insistence. A climax seemed to have been reached.

Allowing my head to turn and look straight into the light, I took a deep breath, and so much more easily than I thought would be possible, I let go of the branch that had been holding me to the edge of the cliff. I might have heard some clapping as I slid down the cliff side and suddenly found myself on solid ground. I fell on to my knees, exhausted and triumphant, and slowly straightened up. Far in the East, there was a hint of light, the harbinger of sunrise. I looked up at the cliff. That little bubble of light had been right. I had just come down maybe a foot or two. I had been safe. All along.angel light

 

 

Photo credit: https://pixabay.com/en/angel-light-lichtgestalt-bible-645591/

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.

 

Chill. The centenarians are coming

As usual, scientists are excited and baffled, together and separately by the challenges of living longer, healthier.Social scientists, politicians, financial experts seem to be scratching their heads as well. In the interests of happiness, health and having your grandma around for longer, or great grandma around at all, the scientists are searching for the fountain of youth. Others are debating whether that fountain has the answers society needs. Or wants. Like all real life phenomena, the answer is not displayable in any one sequence of thoughts and experiments.

People age at different rates, this is observable evrywhere. We are envious of the person of fifty with the trim taut and terrific body, and the person of seventy with a spring in their step. Yet, at the moment, the perfectly healthy nonagenarian or centenarian is still an oddity. But mythology, as well as scientific understanding of the human body tells us that a bod can continue to be hot till much longer than is the current norm. So the scientists are searching, the naturopaths are extolling and the pressure on society to give up smoking and start running is enormous. Even though these last two pieces of advice do not seem to be backed by non controversial scientific data.

So what do we do? What do the rest of us do, those who do not live our lives out in a lab, those of us who run from fad to latest fad… as touted by Huffington Post, twenty something beauty YouTubers and YogaTubers? We live life as we can. as always.

The life of a yogi is not lived out solely on the mat, and the life of a beauty guru is not lived out solely in front of a vlog camera. There may be a lot we can apply on our skins to achieve the complexion of a twenty year old. There may also be many pretzel shapes that massage our inner organs to health and youth. We can embrace all of these. But perhaps, what works most, is to embrace these, and other ideas, with the chill of a toddler. With the joie de vivre that is so visible in those who have been recorded laughing and giggling at a hundred and twenty, or so.

Perhaps we take a regular moment to read, and watch, and then do what our common sense tells us. After due consideration. Perhaps, we should just keep laughing. Keep loving the best in ourselves. Do what seems right to us, inside of us. That part in there, untouched by others, is perhaps the perfect guide. In doing so, if we do reach to be a hundred and fifty, and be able to enjoy that life, let us share a huge belly laugh. If we are cut short before that magic date (set arbitrarily by me) we can still share a huge belly laugh as we leave.

Let the sands slip through……… Slipping sands

These thoughts inspired by: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/10/what-happens-when-we-all-live-to-100/379338/. A pretty un chill article. But seems to be able to provoke some chill thought.

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/

The Last Ten Minutes. Crucial.

Hello! Dear person, who stops during the fourth quarter of a yoga class, rolls up the mat and hot foots it out of the class, because you don’t have time to finish the class! Do you ever stop to think of what you could have missed? I am not talking about the twists, back bends and wind down postures that the rest of the class went through after you left, but the absolute last posture, the pose of the corpse, that you just skipped. Would you like to dwell on why you really, absolutely, shouldn’t have done that?

As a very concerned classmate, may I suggest, that if you are in a hurry, if you have an appointment you cannot avoid or postpone, and thus need to skip part of the yoga session, stop five to ten minutes before you need to leave, and drop down dead? Seriously. Just do five to ten minutes of savasana, and then leave. I promise you, you will be doing yourself a huge favour.

Savasana relaxes your body and after the tension of the various poses after the stretching, twisting, balancing, weight bearing you have jus gone through. A yoga practice session requires physical exertion, mental focus, exercise of will as well as immense concentration. Savasana creates a bridge from such intense concentration to the rest of your day. Even if you are doing a late evening session, you do need to benefit from savasana before you get up, wash up and go to bed. Just as your day will be much more enjoyable and productive if you do incorporate savasana, so will your sleep be much more, wel,l sleep, as well.

When correctly practised, savasana also balances out the mind and body after the intensity of the practice, eases the self into mindfulness and experience of an internal reality, that carries itself into the wakefulness and activity of the rest of the day. Savasana is, as far as I know the only asana that can be practised on its own, say, if you do not have time for a full practise. With all other asanas, a follow up with savasana is indicated.

Here is a discourse on the philosophy of savasana.too tired for savasana

Here is a practical guide to savasana.

Please consider!

Namaste.

image credit: http://muselan.typepad.com/studieswithlaura/savasana/

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

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