Into the Darkness

About a month ago, Bangalore was embroiled in some extra-ordinary post-monsoon rains, and most of us were trying to adjust our lives to this new phenomena. Though most of us can’t do much when mother nature shows us her fury, we tend to introspect on what we  may have done better so this event may never have occurred. For instance we may re-look at certain things in our life that reduces our carbon foot print. But is there something more than this that we can do? I know I cannot make a change in a big way but maybe by just doing my duties to the best of my abilities I can contribute positively. So this is what I did. I made it to the shala every day of the downpour to make sure that I did my practice and the shala was open for people who practice there.

Over the years, I think I have given all possible reasons that one may think of to not get up and get to the shala to be on my mat. However, I have found that once I am over the initial hump, I am able to make it to the shala and feel content in the end.  Any habit if it has to become a behavior has to pass through to become a  part of our value system. The value system that Ashtanga practice has brought into my life is not just of discipline but of awareness – awareness of self and that of others. Thus, being aware of the way in which mind works to trick me with reasons to avoid my practice, I have been able to be at the shala before 4 am every day for my daily practice

About three weeks ago, when I reached shala for my practice, there was no power due to excessive rains. I never thought of not practicing even though there were no lights – honestly that thought never even occurred to me

Since starting the Ashtanga practice many years ago, I have practiced in many varied conditions indoors, outdoors, near the toilet in the main shala, next to stinking yogis (without judgement) and many a times only with a few hours of sleep. I remember once I was at a led practice in Mysore and I couldn’t sleep the night before. For most of the practice I could barely keep my eyes open. If I could do that, then how hard could this be.

The Ashtanga practice is the same each day yet different in every way. The day is new yet the body is old, the breath is new yet the asanas are old, the air is different yet the mat is old. This combination and familiarity is what makes things accessible and exciting each day. Even though I was wide awake and eyes open I couldn’t see a thing.

The first suryanamaskar was when it hit  me that this is going to be one of the most unique practices. There was no familiar voice doing the count “ekam inhale, dve exhale” voice – there was no sound of breath going up and down like a wave or my familiar friends next to me. I was alone in the dark. Some journeys have to be traveled alone and this was one of them. The third of the tristhanas – drishti – was missing. We get so accustomed to the usual that even if one thing goes haywire from the foundation, the entire entity is shaken. Though, there were occasional vehicle passing sounds on the road and some dogs barking in a distance, my only companion was my body that carried along with my breath. While somehow I managed to get through the Suryanamaskars and standing asanas. The next challenge lay when the sitting asanas were practiced. I didn’t realize how in-tune our mind becomes to the same of every day. While I was in the sitting postures – we focus our dristhti on our toes but there were no toes that day and while jumping back and through,  I hit my arm and mat with my toes a couple of times. That was an indication that I need to change, I need to slow down; be aware. When things are not the same – we need to adapt and so did I. The next big frontier came in the balancing postures – bhujpidasana – balancing itself is challenging for many –and in this case  I couldn’t see how low the mat was – when I tried touching my chin. Made me think of planes when they are landing – if they miss alignment by a few meters – they come crashing down. My body was also on a journey –landing and taking off in the dark. When you have these experiences new thoughts keep coming through – especially the ones that you don’t want. Why am I doing this – what’s the point of all this. Then I thought of a quote from Sh. Pattabhi Jois – “Practice and All is coming” – though I don’t know what “all” meant at that point of time, but the wisdom in those words abated the negativity. As the gong hit five o’clock, the familiar Azan at near by mosque joined the practice. Prior to that day I had never paid much attention to the Azan but that day the familiar was what I was looking for on my journey and the next familiar  was the Azan. From there on I some how got though the remaining postures for the day – making my way to back-bends and inversions. If you have seen anyone do drop backs – there is a lot that we depend on our breath and bandhas like any other posture. However, there is so much fate when we drop back – we just let go. And boy, did I let go that day or what!  As TKV Desikachar say, “Whatever happens happens”. Sometimes you just have to leave things to fate and so I did that day.

When in difficulty I take anything that provides a ray of hope to pull me up. That day it was anything “familiarity” that pulled me through; breath, fate, any familiar sound or anything else that helped me get through. That’s how the new became old that day. The practice was much slower than usual, each inhale and exhale was much longer – I adapted, I meandered and I enjoyed the practice like the way I do it every day. Once, I was done, I remember sending a message on our WhatsApp group about practicing without power, smiling on the inside,I was wondering how the experience would be for other practitioners once they come. Sad, by the time they came, dawn had already broken.

This experience reminded me of the incredible survival of the Uruguan Rugby team. Their plane crashed in the Andes in 1971 where players survived in snow-laden mountains for 71 days against all odds. With tranquility, grace and calmness if one approaches a problem, a solution will always show up. It may not be an ideal one but there is always one. There is always the experience that we can cherish in the end. That day I choose to enjoy that experience –  with grace and one breath at a time.

December 16, 2018

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