France has extended the lockdown period by another two weeks until Easter. Which means, another two weeks of creative ways to spend days interned at home. We also have a new restriction of being allowed only within 1 km of our residence for an hour for all outdoor activities. This seems to be the perfect time to deepen our at-home yoga practice. And if you have not started this, what a great time to begin. What? you might say…and you will be right. If you never had an encounter with yoga, I invite you to give it a go, try it out. Perhaps, you tried and had an injury and somewhere you just stopped. Or you lost interest. Or you never really understood the whys and hows. That’s okay, because today I will tell you about my yoga story and maybe that will encourage you to think about yoga in a different way, and hey, who knows, maybe also try it out!
There are a thousand books and journals that address the topic of yoga. And many are good, and many are not. There are discourses, seminars, teachers and studios in every city, village, town. In the 70’s when Bikram went to California to teach yoga to the rich and exhausted stars, he jacked up the heating to replicate the hot and humid Indian climate. Around the same time, the Iyengar style of yoga by maintaining strict precision and alignment started gaining popularity too. Ashtanga meanwhile had the postures that were to be followed in a pre-set order, calling these series. Then there was Jivamukti, that connected a vinyasa flow with humanitarian and spiritual practices. All of these, and many more, have their roots in the classical hatha yoga practices of ancient India. Hatha practices are merely the preparatory steps one needs to do when on the yogic path. These postures or asanascomprise of breathing and holding that posture to also allow the physical and energetic body to align with the cosmic energy. The ultimate goal, here, as in all yoga, and in fact, even in the word yoga, which means union, is to eradicate the boundaries of self. And just as all journeys should begin with the basic, so in Hatha Yoga we start with the physical body. So much for a little background. And now, to my story.
We had yoga as a part of physical education class in school for a short while. We were simply practicing going into our postures and holding it, and as such I found that yoga only served those who were supple with their bodies. There were no explanations, no methods, it was very military-like, in fact, our teacher, a straight-backed severe lady, even had a whistle hanging around her neck on a cord. She used the whistle when we were to begin, when we were to stop, to signify anger, displeasure, almost everything. So, rightly or wrongly, I did not bother with these strange yoga asanas after school. At home, I knew my brother received some breathing techniques to fight his very painful asthma attacks from a yoga teacher. Then, I left to study. Whilst in College and even later at University, yoga was the last thing I worried about. I was a family person by then, we had small kids and our worlds were revolving around kids, education, job. Then, as all kids do, our daughter used to stand on her head using the wall, at that point we laughed and took photographs. A visitor who came to visit us, did a head-stand in our flat, when conversation got around exercise. My father decided on one of his visits, to demonstrate a yoga posture, which I am quite sure does not exist, and we were left trying to hide our laughter and of course, take photos of this very strange posture with legs and arms spread in the air which he termed yoga. And then the wave of yoga swept over from the West and hit the East Coast of America. I still was not a regular practitioner then and was still only occasionally doing the Surya Namaskar, as I knew it, simply jerking myself from one posture to the next, all the time wondering why..
In Germany, I signed up for a yoga class in our village. It was nice, until I figured out it was more a place to get the latest gossip and then use a blanket to cover up the body after a little exercise, which was termed hatha yoga. One of our acquaintances, who turned from a corporate magnate to a self-styled yogi stopped by to talk about his transformation from a puny sized, head-ache and back-ache ridden, very rich, needless to say, managing director to a well-muscled, eye-glass-less yogi, travelling the world, but mostly to South-East Asia, yoga teacher. He coined the phrase cuddle-yoga, when I told him about my class in the village. I found that horribly offensive, but as a true host, I laughed with him. After that, I stopped going for my weekly yoga sessions in the village. Which was in a way sad, because in spite of all the ridicule I was hurling at it, I did feel some muscles turn on, which I had forgotten existed. But it was still only a physical exercise.
Then I met my teacher. He was the first yoga teacher who absolutely refused to relegate yoga only to the physical body and always talked about the energetic body. I would travel to the city early morning before work, just to sit in his class. That is when I began to make a connection between the body and the breath that I used to reach my energetic self. I only had to listen to what he said, of how to get into a posture and how to get out. He explained what one needed to concentrate on while holding a posture. When in Virabadrasana 2or the second warrior pose, he would guide us into the posture:
Stand with your feet wide apart, left leg bend at a right-angle, turning the right foot a little inward, left foot points to the front edge of the mat, draw energy up from the soles of your feet and the inner thighs, stack the tailbone up over the neck, the spine straight, see that energy rise from the soles to the crown of your head. Hands parallel to the ground, spread the fingers, energy spreading into those fingertips and beyond. Even in this posture feel your entire body active and sink even lower on your left leg, breath…
Years later, after I stopped going to his classes, I still practiced with his voice in my head. For by that time, I was beginning to understand the whys and hows. But there was still something missing. Then we moved to France. Now the problem was to find a studio and a teacher who would pick up where my previous teacher left. Now, this is a really remote area, it is beautiful no doubt, but this is not New York, or Frankfurt or Paris. The only yoga studio here is in the closest city and from what I have seen on their website, fast moving yoga is termed Vinayasa, yoga in a hot room is termed, well, Hot Yoga and anything slow, Hatha. I may be doing them wrong, for all I know. But that is not what I was looking for. I wanted to delve more into the energy part of yoga and felt that I was on the right path before circumstances changed. So what now?
At-home yoga to the rescue. And I cannot even begin by thanking the gods of the internet enough, capricious as they may be, for bringing this possibility right into my home. And I discovered every possible varieties of yoga one can imagine, until I found my next teacher all the way in Austin, Texas. It is with her, that today I practice almost every day, it is with her that I can again make that connection between yoga asanas and the energetic body. It is with her that I have learned to use the breath as the thread, the glue, if you will that joins the body with the mind, spirit and soul.
I see that I have rambled on for a goodish while now, so I will sign off. But I would really like to share my yoga experiences with you, so we will continue tomorrow, shall we?