Headstand and all that
SIVANANDA YOGA CENTRE, GURGAON
“Health is wealth. Peace of mind is happiness. Yoga shows the way.”
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Everything is not an epic.
On the other hand, everything can be an epic, can be epic, and often, is.
It is a fairly black and white world, still, in New Delhi, back then, in October.
I have a motorcycle, a Bullet, a regal Royal, Enfield.
This is transport, in those days.
Eravikulam National Park, above Anaimudi, at 8000 feet above sea level, 8 degrees from the Equator, is place of timeless romance, never-ending surprises, rolling grasslands, a continuous roar of non-stop wind, and paths that no one has ever taken – best negotiated on an Enfield Bullet, with or without a camera and/or a photographer
I also, of course, ride on a well cultivated ego, a gigantic assumption of knowing it all, and a massive set of fairly useless and indifferent life skills sponged up along the way.
I have a bad back, crushed by a transition into adult life and responsibility. It pains all the time, reminding me of its existence and its refusal to carry me around.
It is October, and the leaves are falling in a heap from the trees for the second time in the year in New Delhi. Yes, as you know, we do get two “Falls” in a year, once in spring and once in autumn in north India. There is a fragrance in the air, an aroma that comes with a change of season.
I have just started something new, this week.
I do not know it now, but I will, as time passes, that I am on such low fuel, that I am about to run out of juice. And if it had not been for this new thing, this journal would not have happened.
This new thing, it is my father’s idea.
Nobody knows, not even my father, that I am about get adopted.
He saw a tiny advertisement in the newspaper, and he felt it may help his helpless, ever-so-lost, adult son, to find his way to health and wealth.
The advert was epic, and the fact that it caught my father’s attention was epic, my dad was and is epic, and what transpired, is that I listened to him (which in those days was surely epic), and started this new thing, which is the epic of epics.
I get off my bike, remove my helmet and climb the stairs.
I walk into this warm and friendly space, after my daily dose of bruising at corporate life. Suddenly, the disturbance, the constant noise, fades away.
It is balm for a hurting soul, it is calm for the restless mind, and it is refueling for the hungry spirit.
This is October at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Nataraja Centre, in East of Kailash in New Delhi. It is about one month since this place opened. The paint is fresh, the staff are fresh, and the uniforms the staff are wearing still have the tags on them, so new is everything. This is the new yoga centre on the tiny second floor of a building belonging to Uma Sharma, the famous Kathak dancer.
I am here for the yoga Beginners’ course, the first one announced by the brand new Centre.
As with everything new, the romance of newness is ever present.
This is October 1992.
I graduated to be a teacher, and it felt thrilling, to be able to make a difference in someone else’s life. The adventure of teaching yoga, is special, and is something that has never faded in its lustre all these years. Call me to teach a class, whenever, wherever, to whoever, and I am ready.
There is no Uber, no Google (no GPS either), or Apple TV, no cashless transactions, digital photography, or MacDonald’s. (We have Nirula’s, doubling up for KFC, Pizza Hut and Baskin Robbins all at the same time – if you tried Nirula’s famous 21 flavours of ice creams, then you will know what I mean.) We have no intercity expressways as yet, no video calls (only James Bond could do that) and no low cost Airlines. It is still a time when people write humble letters to each other, you can find a post box everywhere, and we have a planet which we did not have to save, yet.
Virat and Anushka are only 4 years old and Sachin has just made his debut in international cricket.
It is a fairly black and white world, back then.
Poorna Dhanurasana can be a challenge for many, if not most people. But human beings were meant to be flexible, strong, resilient and graceful, just like this in the picture – which is why the practice of yoga is so amazing – it can take us from nowhere to everywhere, and from nothing to everything! With the right amount of practice, you can get Poorna Dhanurasana as well!
Yet, stress, added to the good, the bad and the ugly habits of living, is just as rampant back then as it is now. There is a complete lack of formal training in living adult life.
This week, back then, is the start of an epic journey.
From the reassuring chug chug of the Royal Enfield Bullet, transporting me through the various adventures of my life, to having an invisible magic carpet, to carry me to destinations unknown, dreamy and mystical, my life is about to go on overdrive.
I am home, here, in this second floor of an old building, in more ways than I can explain.
There is a flavor of my roots, my home state of Kerala, in the yoga centre. Some of the staff, and some of the things are very Kerala, including the aroma of dinner cooking in a tiny kitchen. The teacher teaching the class today has a very Malayalee accent as well.
On the other hand, while I don’t know how a yoga centre should look and feel, it has a nice feeling like home – the smell of agarbatti, an altar and lamps, some home type of furniture, and a little space for a yoga session.
From the beginning of the Beginners’ course, the staff here seem to accept me as part of their family – they talk to me, welcome me and say bye to me, just like family.
There is something old and traditional about the place and the activities, even though, the centre is so new.
My class is over and it is 8.00 pm and it is time to go home to mom and dad, and dinner. But I don’t feel like going home, or anywhere. I feel at home here.
I am in October 2021, and October 1992 all at once, all at the same time.
Writing this, I realize (all over again) that the practice of yoga, is the practice of homecoming.
Every day, every hour, every minute, we drift far away from ourselves, our home, our true nature.
An asana is a steady pose – steady reflects the state of body, as well as the state of mind, emotions, intellect and the spirit. Asana practice develops equipoise, balance, coordination, mental and physical agility, strength and stamina. If there is a way to superfitness, then the ancients have given it to us.
When I practice yoga, I begin to relax. I begin to feel a sense of calm. I feel reassured. I feel that sense of unease, disappear.
In the yoga class, at the yoga centre, in the presence of other students and in the presence of the teachers, in the silence, and in the soft reel of instructions, I feel an invisible blanket of security, peace and wholeness. I feel alive, and I also feel rested, and in no state of emergency or rush. Yet things are moving swiftly in slow motion and in 3D. Even though I am in meditation, there is clarity, the confusions of the day are disappearing, and I am emerging, brighter, fresher, fitter, more energetic and bouncier than I was just a while ago.
Flash forward for a moment, it is now my 30th year with a romance called Yoga, and I still do not know how the magic carpet works, or how the magic is weaved. I mean, I have no idea how it all comes together, to give me this happiness and sense of well-being. But it does.
Yoga makes magic in my life, as it does in the life of every practitioner.
And the magic is that it takes me home. Yoga makes me go home. Yoga makes me come home. It makes me return to my old self, the child, the innocent, happy child in me. The practice of yoga is the practice of homecoming.
I can still feel that day, that week, that month of October in my bones, in my soul. The leaves were falling in a heap outside, the fragrance is of jasmine and raat ki raani, and I am home, at the yoga centre, in East of Kailash.
It is 1992, and I have just started a journey, back home to myself.
Kakasana strengthens the wrists, the arms, and the shoulders. It develops courage and concentration. Since it requires the function of balance, it is an asana that generates physical, mental and emotional balance.
The Ramayana and the story of an exiled prince who finally makes it back home is a Hindu epic. The journey back is the period from Dusherra to Diwali, when Rama returns home after a long exile in unchartered territory, many anxious moments and big battles and wars.
There is the time before October 1992 – a period of about 13 years – from the age of 16 to the age of 29, when I felt I was in exile. Teenage, and adult life felt as if I had been thrown into a jungle with very little ammunition to keep me safe and alive.
The discovery of yoga, and yoga’s adoption of me, its foster child, was the beginning of my journey, back home, to my kingdom, to my land, my people, my family and everything I hold dear.
Yoga made everything worthwhile, yoga made everything meaningful, yoga has given me a purpose, which allows me to live life powerfully.
Yoga infused colour and vibrancy in even the most ordinary of moments, it ignited flavor and taste and aroma, in the most mundane of events.
It is not out of place, to say, that yoga took me from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
Yoga gave me my life back.
Yes, yoga is about asana and pranayama and meditation and esoteric and mystical practices, it is about Patanjali’s yoga sutras, it is a tale of abstinence and discipline, yoga is about ethics and morals, yoga is mythology, ritual and spiritual training all rolled into one. Yoga is exercise and its many modern avatars ranging from weight loss to treatment of diseases. Yoga is also about seers, and saints, mystics and mysteries, saffron robes and plain living, renunciation, celibacy and everything ancient.
But for me, yoga has been a very simple path on which I am on an epic journey, day after day, returning home to life, freedom, peace and an overflowing happiness.
In yoga I discover silence, and harmony, abundance and joy, resilience and grounding, spontaneity and freedom, trust, faith and belief. In yoga I discover reason and purpose to live this life.
Being with yourself, is the goal of all spiritual practice, and all the more so, withthe practice of yoga. It is in meditation, Dhyana, that we discover silence, and stillness, we discover ourselves, and true, abiding peace.
Through yoga I discover all these qualities in me and in my life.
It is October 1992 and it is October 2021.
I begin my 30th year of yoga practice. Somewhere along the way, I became a teacher, and thousands of people became my students. Yet, what I did, was to hand over my foster parent, Yoga, to them. In time, they got fostered too, and prospered, just as I did. They got injected with the magic, they also got Yoga. My students are writing their epics, on their own magic carpets. They are all on their way home!
In a chaotic, confusing, crumbling, uncertain world full of dangers, risks, maladies and problems, yoga protects, guides, nurtures, steadies and cultivates a human being. Back then at the age of 29, in 1992, without formal training in the basic skills of living, health and potential, I struggled to see a way forward. I think of everyone around me, who are 29, or more or less, and how yoga can help. Yoga helps us to discover and become the best version of ourselves.
Yoga sculpted me, took me from the raw to the pure, yoga helped me to learn and change and improve myself.
Yoga shows the way.
Yoga takes us home, to ourselves.
Come, let us all be adopted by yoga.
(A deep gratitude for this inheritance, a tradition kept alive by generation after generation of yoga practitioners, and teachers, for the past 5000 years. I have covered just 30 of them! Yoga is a living, ever modern, ever-so-ancient system of life. It is a key to life’s treasures and how they are to be enjoyed and maximized. A silent thanks to those who have made it possible to have yoga available to all of us.)
Halasana introverts the mind, helping to remove deep-rooted fears, unease and anxieties. It is a deep stretch for the upper back, making it youthful and flexible. Halasana improves posture, as well as the functioning of the thyroid gland. It stimulates the digestive system, and helps relax the hamstring muscles.
Yoga shows the way