Your body exists in the past and your mind exists in the future. In yoga, they come together in the present. – BKS Iyengar
The other day one of my students mentioned (rightly so) that in my class he spends a lot of time in Adhomukha Svanasana. Other classes he’s attended didn’t repeat asanas as much our class.
Why the repetition?
The thing is, we might be doing the same asana over and over again, but we’re not actually repeating it. Emotionally, physically and mentally, the asana is different every single time we redo it. Each time we execute it, we go deeper. We look at nuances, uncover hidden depths. It’s a new asana every time. In Trikonasana, for instance, I can focus on the alignment of my ankles, or on my shoulder blades, or the rotation of my spine, my drishti, or the alignment of the femur and shin, or even the extension of the metatarsals and soles. To maintain awareness simultaneously on all the factors that build the Trikonasana is hard, and we practice to achieve that. And, if for a moment we attain that state, we meditate upon what it taught us, what we learned.
I frequently come across posts on social media about ‘flipping your perspective’ or ‘get a new perspective’ and usually such posts are usually accompanied by pictures of Sirsasana (headstand) or Adhomukha Vrikshasana (handstand). In an Iyengar yoga class, you will gain new perspective and flip existing ones while doing basic asanas repetitively, constantly, consistently and persistently. To gain new perspective, we don’t really need to look beyond what we already have. Perhaps all we need is to be more attentive.
Take the Trikonasana above for instance. We can always focus on bending to the side and making contact with the toes/foot/ankle/ground. Or we can focus on bringing out the various triangles in the posture more distinctly and intensely.
Your focus will determine the quality and maturity of your practice and your life.
A couple of weeks ago I read ‘The Art of Stillness’ by Pico Iyer and thought it was a cute little read. As a yoga teacher I’ve given and received spiels about the topic innumerable times. I understand the importance of being still, that’s why we have Savasana at the end of every class.
The thing is, you may understand something theoretically, but it’s only when you experience it that you actually know it. And this weekend I actually got to know stillness. My sister in town and we decided to spend time at the Navadarshanam farms, situated right outside Bangalore (actually in Tamil Nadu).
Wilderness surrounds the entire acreage of the farm. It’s a no fan zone. It’s a pleasure to walk barefoot on the red oxide floor of the huts. I saw a charcoal rice cooker for the first time. The tea was amazing. The air was clean. The sky was clear. We watched the evening rain from the coolness of our veranda. Bougainvillea grew in abundance and after the rains there was lavender all over the ground.
The most striking thing, though, is that there is absolutely no agenda. There are walks, but no fixed time for the walks. Food is served on time, but you eat in calm silence. Every once in a while they bake bread. So we spent our time gazing out at the trees and reading our books. We lay on our beds and chatted and read a little more. We snoozed a bit. All our questions ceased. We started to just be.
I’ve recognized stillness because on good days, I experience it during my practice. The happy glow that radiates even through my WhatsApp messages when I’ve had a great practice is not because I nailed an advanced asana. It’s because, for an instant, I managed to transcend the mere physicality of the movements to find stillness.
“Sitting still is a way of falling in love with the world and everything in it;” writes Pico Iyer in The Art of Stillness. Finding stillness in your yoga practice is a way of falling in love with yourself and everything around you.
Striking a pose, as usual.
Everything lavender post the rains.
The herbal tea is truly delicious.
Small temples dot the road to the farm.