pc: Joel Koechlin
Until today I had been lucky to avoid getting drenched in Pune’s sudden downpours. Today I went out for lunch with another and on our walk home the pleasant drizzle steadily and surely grew into a monstrous torrent. Too much for my little umbrella to handle. My capris were all wet as I pulled the umbrella low over my head and waded through the veritable rivers that the streets had become. As I walked I noticed the cobbler who was calmly trying to prevent his entire business being washed away in the rain. I noticed the fruit and vegetable wallahs covering their carts with waterproof sheets. I noticed the coconut bhaiyya had shut shop. I crossed the road and got on the sidewalk of the Agriculture college.
When I have the 7 am class I walk across someone sleeping on this sidewalk. This person is always wrapped head to toe in a blanket. I’ve never seen him stirring in his sleep. The early morning traffic doesn’t seem to bother him. When it rains he props an umbrella up and hopefully it keeps (at least) his torso dry. Once when I was walking to class (in the middle of the day) a yellow snake slithered out from the bushes and, perhaps realizing that it had lost it’s way, slithered back into the bushes. Slimy serpents don’t seem to bother this person. I’ve seen him there after a night of nonstop torrential rain, after a hot and humid night, after the Ganpati celebrations, on a Monday morning, on a Saturday morning…
To renounce everything and find peace in a remote cave in the Himalayas is easy. To stay ethical and honourable in the absence of temptation is no big deal. If we want to quieten the chitta, we must accept the noise that is creating the vrittis. If we want some rest, we must get it despite the traffic, fear of snakes, the rain or the heat. If we need to find peace, we must do so in the midst of chaos. Wrapped in a threadbare blanket under a tattered umbrella. Because that’s where we need it the most.
Our goals form the blue print for our lives. As kids we think of growing up and becoming so and so. Once we become so and so our goals change to the kind of cars or houses we want. The kind of person we want to be with. More common goals are to lose 10 kgs before year end, learn how to swim, run a marathon, travel the world, complete a reading challenge.
My first ever goal in life was to be Nancy Drew when I grew up. As I grew up I became more laid back and wanted to spend all my time reading and writing. My only goal in life was to spend as much time as possible reading as many books as possible. I also wanted to write books for a living. I finally ended up writing code for a living and that period of my life is conspicuous by a total lack of goals to aspire to. Everyone else wanted promotions, raises, onsite trips. People were flaunting cars, homes and eligible marital prospects. One day I realized that if I didn’t start working out I would have nothing to wear since I had steadily outgrown many things in my closet. That led me to the gym and then to yoga class.
As with most yoga students my first goal was to touch my toes. I remember that I was elated when I first did that. Even more when I touched my forehead to my knee. Today I cringe at how bad my form was then. Lots of people want to do the headstand and handstand. Studying at RIMYI has made a lot of my goals accessible to me (Kurmasana for one).
As an Intermediate 2 practitioner you are expected to be comfortable in many variations of sirsasana. You’re upside down in all classes (unless you’re menstruating), so headbalancing is crucial for an Iyengar practitioner. There are bound to be many who topple over or come down for a little break. When this happens you hear everything from ‘Shouldn’t have had so many modaks’ to ‘You call yourself teachers!!!’ to ‘In Intermediate 2 for so long and still not able to sustain?!’ Usually accompanied by a barrage of Marathi.
When I was here last year I used to fantasize about holding the headstand for 10 minutes. I knew that was a prerequisite for the next level. I’d heard of classes where students have been upside down for 20 minutes at a stretch. All of last month I’ve worked on steadily increasing the amount of time I stay up. I started with 5 minutes and then held it for 8 minutes for a while. Then this morning I decided to be a little more adventurous and see if I could hold on for 10 minutes. And I did!!!
Needless to say, it felt amazing!!! Achieving these goals only prove that with only a little bit of discipline and smart work you are closer to your goals than you think. Even goals that are mere fantasies for you right now.
Aga Khan Palace
I love the basics. Even though advanced yoga poses can be exciting, there is still something lovely about the simplicity of the basics. Basic asanas are like the comfort food of yoga.
My schedule has changed a little bit for this month, so I now have Devki’s class on Wednesdays from 7.45-9 am.
In today’s class we focused on the groin. I’ve been here for a month and so far I haven’t done a blog on any class I’ve attended, but today’s class was different from any so far. We focused on the spine and the root of the spine (moola). We were supposed to grip the spine and the root throughout the sequence. We started with the Swastikasana and went on to the Baddhakonasana.
The class had a pleasant tempo. It didn’t feel like I was struggling in the asanas and pushing my limits. Yet, as the class progressed I could clearly feel that I was settling into the asanas rather than fighting my way into them. As though my limbs were moulding and unfolding effortlessly. I feel I was discovering what the body can do when the mind is quiet and the ego recedes. By the time we got to the Trikonasana I felt light and lithe and it was the best Trikonasana I’ve done while here in Pune.
I always learn something new in Devki’s class. And it’s always something fascinating. The Vrkshasana/Tree Pose is perhaps the first balancing posture that we learn in yoga class. Over the years I’ve heard a lot about the symbolism associated with this pose. The more common ones are to be rooted and strong and to find balance despite what is happening around you. But today Devki said be like a tree and provide shade and protection to all that come to you. A tree doesn’t judge a good person or bad, an animal or a human. It provides shade, protection and relief to one and all.
Although as human beings we are constantly evolving and growing (as we should), we can also be like the tree and ensure that external factors don’t diminish our light or detract us from the work that we are meant to do. We should be compassionate towards all who we come in contact with and see the larger picture even in the midst of the most sticky situations. The tree that provides protection is larger than those that come to it for relief and has a greater purpose. Think about this when practicing your Vrkshasana next time.
Towards the end of the class we went into Baddhakonasana once again and performed it like the Savasana – with the intent of relaxing the body. I couldn’t help but smile when I realized my spine, the root (moola) of the spine and the posture had all come together effortlessly in the Baddhakonasana.
Swamy Kuvalyananda and his disciples.
A couple of days ago I decided to visit Kaivalyadham. I first heard about the institute when I started to explore yoga courses. This was many years ago and at the time Kaivalyadham seemed inaccessible. I read that it was one of the oldest yoga schools in the world. They’ve done a lot of research on Yoga, Ayurveda, Naturopathy etc. and have helped people world wide manage and treat ailments and illnesses. I read up on Swamy Kuvalyananda. References to him came up in ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ and a few commentaries in the first volume of the Yogamala Ashtadala. It was fitting then that I got in touch with an old friend of mine from Bangalore who happened to be in her last week of internship there and invited me over to see her campus. Things fell in place – I had a day off, was only about 60 km away from Lonavala and the weather was beautiful.
The last 34 aphorisms of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are grouped under a chapter called the Kaivalya Pada (pada = chapter/part). Here Patanjali describes the many ways in which the practitioner can attain the state of Kaivalya. Kaivalya is the state wherein the practitioner is emancipated from the cycles of birth and rebirth. It is an indivisible absolute state of aloneness. ‘Kaivalyadham’ then means the place of Kaivalya.
The drive from Pune to Kaivalyadham is amazing. Mist covered the hills and trees and I couldn’t take my eyes off the scenery. Sadly I forgot to take pictures. By the time we reached Kaivalyadham it was pouring cats and dogs and we had to wade through deep puddles to reach the main building.
It’s always great to meet old friends. We strolled around the campus as we talked. Mamata took us to the gowshala where she spends a lot of time. Kaivalyadham has a large Ayurvedic hospital and I even managed to get a quick consultation! Like most residential yoga institutes, Kaivalyadham serves only sattvic food and we loved the lunch there.
They also teach cleansing kriyas as a part of their courses. I was delighted to finally find clay neti pots in their gift shop and picked up a few for my friends as well. Bangalore friends – now you know what I’m bringing back for you.