“Start by doing what is necessary; then do what’s possible;
and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” St. Francis of Assisi
They say everything must have a beginning. And on this journey too, there was a beginning. More aptly, many beginnings.
In the beginning, growing up in Bengaluru, India, (the best city in the world – yes, I am partial) I don’t recall hearing the word yoga. Then again, even if it was spoken all the time it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. But, that didn’t translate to lack of its essence; it actually made me wonder if something better was showered upon my being that steered me onto the path of yoga.
Among so many memories, this one seems apt. As a teenager, I loved music. Still do, although the choices are different now. While I learnt to play the veena, and had a few favorites, it seemed that the bathroom walls reverberated to the tunes from My Fair Lady and Sound of Music, or the Beatles (had a crush on John Lennon) and ABBA. Soulful bhajans by my uncle, Swami Harshananda kept me company when I was sick. However, what I do recall vividly were the chants emerging from my mother and grandmother, their sweet voices resonating in my ears. I believe that their heartfelt vocal vibrations wrapped me with blessings to set me on a path of devotion. What I didn’t know then is that this blessing, which is referred to as mantra yoga, might have been the yoga that guided me to other types of yoga. I couldn’t have asked for a better blessing.
Having used the word yoga so many times it might be the right place to explain a little more about the word itself without making it a tutorial.
In the beginning when I mentioned ‘yoga’, people would nod and share their own short-lived experience. Each year when I ran into the same people at social gatherings they would ask “are you still practicing yoga?”. Each year my answer was yes, even though I did not admit to them that I had come very close to “the end” many times (see below).
Anyways, “Do you practice yoga?” is the most frequently asked question these days especially if one is stressed or has recently been through an illness. Unconsciously the reference here is Asana, the practice of poses and movement. Do you agree?
Yoga, I found out in level one of my teacher training, is a word that comes from the Sanskrit root ‘yuj’ meaning to unite, yoke, to connect. And the other word, ‘asana” means a seat, a pose, or a posture. Knowing the meaning of each word is just semantics, while actually practicing it is where the essence of yoga can be experienced. Gurus and teachers have attempted to convey this essence through their own examples since the ancient times. And if you are wondering how I can actually convey what these words really mean, you are not alone.
In the beginning, I did not know much about these words – ‘yoga’ and ‘asana’. Now, there seems to be a little better understanding, or so say my mind and ego. But, the more I study the more I realize how much there is to “know” and how little I actually “know”. So here goes nothing.
Simply put, Asana, the pose, begins with the movement of the body-breath and concludes with stillness in the posture. The final position, wherever you are on the path of your practice – is ‘asana’. At the moment of this culmination the body stills, the emotions are quieted and the mind rests in a state of yoga, union. This state of union as the gurus and sages affirm has many names; Samadhi, Nirvana, Self-Realization, etc.; essentially a state of eternal joy and contentment; a state of pure love.
I’m sure this is a state ardently sought by the devout and desired by non-devout, the rich and the poor, the president and the citizen, and all classes of beings. Isn’t this the state desired by you and me as well? Well, it is possible that if I remain mindful while practicing asana I may experience being in this state of pure awareness or in the state of eternal joy no matter how fleeting. Is this fleeting moment the true state of yoga, union? Those who may have unconsciously experienced this moment in asana practice can relate, and would consciously want to make this more permanent. Wouldn’t you?
Here is another way of looking at the state of union. The ultimate ‘Yoga-Union’ that is implied by yogis is the merging of the individual or ego consciousness with the Divine or Universal consciousness. Sage Pathanjali refers to the Universal consciousness as Purusha or Ishvara in the yogic text, Yoga Sutra. When I first heard the word consciousness it felt like a dead end. My mind could not wrap itself around this intangible idea. Firstly, are consciousness and mind different? Secondly, how do I find and connect to my consciousness? Moreover, how do I recognize what I am feeling within my practice is in fact “my consciousness dwelling in eternal joy”? I am trying fervently to be present in the practice of asanas, poses in an attempt to grasp this elusive moment before it slips away. Then, I began to wonder how could I expect to connect “consciously” without the asana; meaning – be mindfully present in joy all the time, if I’m cannot connect consistently to my consciousness within the asana?
My musings took me to the time when I had to referee a fight between a 5 year old and a 4 year old on their play-date. Yes, you guessed right; the culprits – my daughter, Sanjna and her best friend, Christina. Sharing was difficult in those days and hence the frequent fighting. However, each bout ended almost as instantly as it would begin. I would see them settle down on the couch sharing a blanket with their favorite book between them giggling so deliciously. I watched them with a smile from afar and wondered how beautifully in sync they were at that moment; when, just a moment ago there was strife over a toy. Is this then that minuscule moment of yoga, union, where a 5 year old’s consciousness is in harmony with a 4 year old’s consciousness in pure, joyful friendship? An outpouring of love coursing down my veins brought the attention back to me – making me wonder that somehow their joy had seeped into my consciousness. Is this another fleeting moment of yogic union as well? If it was, I for one, never want it to end.
I’ve had many beginnings. In its infancy my practice had more hit or miss endings. I missed classes due to sickness in the family or lack of babysitters. A short break in the practice was enough for it to almost have an ending. Then there were weekend trips or vacations that had excuses of preparing for the trip and unpacking after the trip that my practice took another break. The major breaks came from the voyages to India. The time difference was difficult on the body and challenging on the mind. Returning from these trips put a real dent in the practice, in the beginning.
What could be considered a major break in the practice of yoga-asana; 2-4 days, perhaps? Now, from experience, absolutely. I’m not referring to the break resulting from important health issues, of course. Anything more than 2-4 days became truly “an end” where I had to reset the will power button to begin again and re-tune my intention to include “life” into the practice so I can continue to practice with awareness and without a conflict.
And how can I forget the whole process of moving? Moving within the state or elsewhere, can be stressful. I felt a sense of being uprooted from the comforts of my space (home and studio) and from my practice. I lost my yoga companionship. Then, there was getting used to new school, new schedule and being considerate to the whole family who were experiencing the move in their own way. I had to find new practice space, new practice times and a fresh attitude to restart my practice. It took me two years to settle from this last move to New Jersey. Yes, life is one constant change and like everyone else, I had to deal with it.
But there was, without a doubt, an upside to all this. All these breaks, second and third beginnings only strengthened my resolve and deepened my practice. I developed a sense of reverence to the practice, which translated into deep faith in the tools (8 steps of Raja Yoga) which encouraged, supported all the restarts and made the practice successful.
With all the ‘almost endings’, I learnt to look at each day as a new beginning. I learnt that awareness is a vital component to my practice. I learnt to anticipate each morning’s or evening’s practice with an open mind. I learnt to put forth my best effort each time I stepped on the mat. I have learnt that I have to be prepared for more of these “almost endings” in the future in order to sustain the practice. I learnt to absorb each experience however fleeting, as one step closer to that promise of fulfillment, the much anticipated and desired joyful yoga-union that is available to all who tread the path with sustained effort.
Each of those ‘almost endings’ resurrected a beginning. For that, I am forever grateful. If you are ready to make your journey to explore your consciousness, may you have a blessed beginning and may you persevere to the ultimate end, eternal joy in Yoga.