The thing about time is…

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I’ve realized the thing about time is that it always makes you eventually forget the true extent of your pain, so that when a *new* pain makes its appearance, you’re tricked into believing that “NO, this is worse then before”.

I could be talking about a major disappointment. Or about another hypothetical situation of a jilted lover. But it is (of course) my practice that I am referring to. The thing that I wake up at 5 in the morning and drive in the quiet, still driveways of Federal Highway at 6. Often wondering where all these other crazy early risers who are on the road with me are going to at such an ungodly hour. 

I had been dealing with a discomfort on my right ribcage that has been escalating into a full blown type of pain that I find myself clutching and rubbing my right torso every time I need to laugh because well you *feel* it. Earlier this week, I had to use the opposite hand to push open my car door. And yet, there is a part of me, stubborn or resilient, call it what you may (or maybe just plain stupid, that’s quite possible too) that saw me turning up at the shala, on my mat until Wednesday. 

On Monday, I stopped at the end of Primary series. Did my usual backbending routine from the floor, involuntarily grunting a little too loudly perhaps, and stood up waiting to be dropped back. Ganesh, who obviously sees everything in that room, with eyes possibly at the back of his head too, must have seen all that silent pained expression I have been pulling during practice.

He came up to me and said in his very matter-of-fact and slightly broken English, “why are you standing? No dropback with that pain. No need. You do from the floor enough” and motioned for me to just sit down already. 

I felt like a kid in primary school that just got reprimanded for misbehaving in class. In this case, for not having enough awareness/intelligence to know when to back down and modify my practice until the pain is resolved.

Facet dislocation, my jovial Chinese chiropractor told me. And that is pressing on the nerve running to my ribs. I know what the cause is (hello dropbacks!) yet I do not know what exactly I am doing wrong that has brought me here. 

On Tuesday, I attempted pasasana, the first posture of the Intermediate series. And again, this time from way across the room, he gestured with his hands and said “don’t need to do”

On Wednesday, while helping to assist after my own practice he asked “what happened?” And held his right ribs. I shrugged and answered with a question “opening maybe?” And mimicked an urdhva dhanurasana 

Truth is, I HAVE NO IDEA. I don’t know if this is the normal rite of passage that every person has to go through before they could drop back and come up gracefully, if this was my own pre-existing condition resulting from years of bad posture, if I am ok and will be ok, or if I would end up somewhat fucked if I continue on. 

I remembered thinking to myself, while going through a slightly uncomfortable posture and humorong myself “well, that shoulder injury was end of December last year. Ok what. On average then I injure myself once a year”

Of course injury is never OK. As Eddie Stern would say in one of his many interviews “There are 8 limbs of yoga and pain is not one of them”

My closest friends tell me it is unavoidable. Necessary almost. That every single practitioner in that room has a story to tell about their own experience with pain, injury and the ubiquitous backbending.

“You need to break first before you get to do it correctly” 

“I had the same too last year, and I took muscle relaxants and rested. Just don’t take too much or you might not end up feeling anything at all” to which was met with a wide eyed stare of disbelief from me.

“This is normal. I think pain in that area indicates an opening, so you can go deeper in your backbending” 

I would very much like to believe the latter. In fact lets just say I am hanging on to that belief, and that is about the only thing that is keeping me from freaking out by the fact that I literally have use my left hand to open and close my car door. 

I had been resting for 2 days. No practice. But teaching still continues. With acute awareness of what I can help to adjust and what postures I should probably leave alone. 

Laruga Glaser talks about the cycle of the practice that involves phases of building up and spiraling down. She’s been doing this for 18 years. I find a certain comfort in that. Even though it is entirely baseless (because heck, how do I even know if our bodies are built the same?) I remain with the faith that these phases of “spiraling down” is unavoidable, no matter how much awareness you bring onto the mat with you every morning . 

“you have to find a way to make ‘peace’ with the fear”

Yet I don’t remember feeling as scared and hopeless as I do now compared to last December. I had been reading and staring at anatomical deconstruction of the spine, nerves and ribs for the last 2 mornings, hoping for an answer to modifying my practice until I am healed, and a clear understanding of what I need to be doing correctly in the future. 

The thing with time is it makes you think that it moves forward linearly and that as you move forward into your practice, you are meant to know more about your own physiology and anatomy. You are meant to have that awareness. 

And yet, truth is, I do not know. 

Making Shapes

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Bending, moulding
Hands expertly guiding
Chiseling, manipulating

He steps back, admiring
Perhaps scrutinizing a little too much
Muscles on bones, joints too tight

Bones on skin, and joint to joint
Pulling, pushing, head cocked to one side
Intently observing

He does not create,
For what is, has been created
The vessel in its glorious perfection
Yet still in need of so much adjustments

The artist is as much the teacher
As the teacher is the artist that inspires
Neither inventing anything new
Only lighting up the road towards truth

The Great Brick Wall

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The great brick wall; resurrected
As with all other things that happens; unexpected
It might just have gone up overnight
But I stand to be corrected

Sadly, sadly there isn’t a door
To which I could walk myself through this wall
Madly, madly it fills the growing silence
That rears its head like a menace

There is paint on this wall, and it’s starting to dry
The layers underneath, in striking yellow, blue, green; so bright
But someone must have thought it was time
To paint it over again, in pure stark white

There is a monk with a paintbrush crying “do not fight it, do not fight!”
Splashing paint and erasing these memories by design
No moons, nor planets nor stars can ever be so aligned
As the hearts and the world that exists in our minds

Surrender

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You say with determination “This year,
Will be the year of surrender”
When good things appeared, scanty but bold;
All the arms of Love seems to behold 
Promises of reunion with this gracious soul
You accepted, surrendered as you were told 
Minds were sparked, doors thrown open
The veil that held us apart, no that was not the concern 
Because slowly, and surely this path that you have chosen 
Reveals a bigger promise, royally golden
And so two roads begins to run parallel together
Unlikely, unplanned, oh what does it matter? 
Chain us in balls and shackles, let us be fettered 
If it means growth to the Soul, would that not be for the better? 
It is easier to surrender 
When the gates of the Garden reveals itself to you, even only for a little 
While, and while you are swept in this current 
Know that whatever is given to you will eventually be taken 
Away, it seems like you have been there 
For moments longer than you would care
To count and be accounted for
You have walked through and stayed too long, yet still ask for more
The audacity! Such propensity of ungratefulness
Listen to that voice inside of you whisper in kindness 
“Surrender even when you are hurting;
What is; is, and therefore no struggling” 
Surrender, even when that which has arrived is leaving 
What is; is, the ending is also a new beginning 

30

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I look back at the last decade of my life in retrospection as I cross over to my next decade today. Of the many things that has taken place, beyond the detailed 1,3, 5 & 10 years plan I had written under that tree in Flagstaff Gardens when I was 20. I did not get many of the things that I wanted and had planned for. Instead, I was given many more things that was bigger, better and beyond my own 20 year old capacity to ever imagine and let alone dream of.

I wanted to work for United Nations and my pursuit for this was relentless in the first quarter of my twenties. I could only talk about League of Nations, Dag Hammarskjold, Kofi Annan and UN until I was known by a lot of my friends then as “Ms. UN”. 2 internships, an unforgettable business trip to Colombo and a Masters degree in Development Practice later, I can safely say I have moved beyond that desire, though noble it remains to be to “save the world”.
I wanted to work to fight for the cause of the disadvantaged and marginalized. I  interviewed sex workers, transvestites, mingled with prison wardens and taught high risk adolescents safe sex using bananas and lubes donated by the PT foundation not too far away from the youth center where I was based once a week. I was lucky to have been in that job. My lady boss told me once “life shouldn’t only be about getting somewhere. Imagine you are on your death bed, how would you want to feel at that moment just before you die? Then work yourself backwards to how you should live and make decisions for now”. It has stayed with me since and dare I say, it has been the foundational approach to all the major decisions I have made since then.
Halfway through, life from the outside was changing. Though minimal and barely noticeable in the grand scheme of things, my internal landscape broke down and I had to begin again. I rejoined the rat race and decided to give myself a few years to become a “heartless corporate bitch”.
At 25, I wanted to follow every single prescribed steps so that I could deserve the loving God that wraps me in His embrace safely everyday to shield me from all the trials and tribulations of a daily life. I wanted a rose tinted glass that was perpetually stuck to my face.
I never got any of those, and in perspective I was glad I was never given any of it at that age. I dived myself into a job that I wasn’t quite sure of, learned to love, hate and eventually made peace with before moving on from it. I can say now that I love every moment of it even in those moments spent sobbing quietly in my car or behind the locked doors of a bathroom stall. It taught me perseverance. It taught me the beauty of human connection and the honesty of a real rapport. It taught me the meaning of family, of real hard work, of perhaps hitting that point of finally “growing up” and accepting that every job, every career no matter how passionate you are about it, comes with its own set of ups and downs and challenges. Ultimately, it prepared me.
Everything that took place. Every conversation. Every heart break. Every tears and laughter. Every person I had met, as colleagues, friends or lovers was to prepare me for the next step of my life.
So I have learned, that perhaps there is nowhere to go and nothing to become. Accepting every moment of happiness or sadness as just another part of the deal we agreed on with God when we accepted this life as ours. That one event is just like another footstep forward on the road. A road to somewhere or nowhere, right now it doesn’t seem too big of a deal to me.
What matters more these days is the ability to stay present, to allow emotions and feelings to move me yet at the same time to move through me without ever really becoming a part of who I am. And to experience beauty without ever really trying to find it, because beauty resides in every moment and every experience. That there are no good nor bad experience, and beauty pervades in every single moment we have.

One day You will teach me to let go of my fears

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To stand with ease
In uncertainty
To accept the longing
Of comfort without security

To surrender completely
Into Your arms
Let time stand still in eternity

It does not matter
If the union of energy
Across the cosmos
Will cause an explosion of pleasure

It does not matter
If I am worshipped on a golden pedestal

It does not matter
If this life afford me nothing more than today

And if the fear of growing old;
In the company of no other but myself
Becomes unbearable
You will teach me to let go of my fears

To fall in to the unknown
Or bend backwards reaching out
Towards the ground that I cannot yet see
With strong feet and and an open heart
And a knowing that You will be there
To catch me

And all of this will eventually amount to nothing
Because it does not matter
For no man can transcend
The completion of Your embrace

Across the line

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It is week 2 in my 2.5 weeks of practice with Saraswathi at the end of this season. I had arrived on Friday, and managed to begin my practice with a strong led class with her 2 Sundays ago.
Today, I received my first Intermediate series postures from Saraswathi today. It was a quick blur of a practice today, perhaps remnants from the short moonday trip to Taj Mahal that I just got back from last night. With no dinner from the previous night, all I could think of by the time I reached Supta Padangustasana was “I am SO hungry right now”. Though practice was quick, I felt time moved slower than usual. I took extra breaths in between postures in my Downward Dog. I accidentally skipped one or two postures and had to pick up from where I should have continued from. It was an unusually challenging practice, not because the postures were painful or difficult, but because the energy level was precariously low as I battled moments where dark stars were swimming across my vision.
“Last year, what you do in Intermediate?”
I came down from my Urdhva Paschimottanasana and looked up to her from my mat. “None” I said, shaking my head with a small smile.
“Ok, today you try, Pasasana. After Setu, do Pasasana”
An immediate flashback to that fateful Mysore practice I had with DR in early February where he had questioned me on who my teacher might have been to have given those Intermediate postures when dropping back into Urdhva Dhanurasana still remained a complete mystery to me. I wondered a little how that situation would have turned out if I had answered his question with “Saraswathi”.
I nodded and proceeded to my final posture from the Primary series. My legs straightened just a little bit more in Setu, perhaps fuelled by the excitement of entering into Intermediate with direct blessing from Saraswathi herself. Pasasana came easy today, quelling the slight anxiety as I haven’t been practicing this posture in the weeks leading up to me arriving here. Just as I was getting ready to close of, she looked across the room and said “No, from Setu you jump through, Pasasana”
It must’ve appeared as a whisper when I said “I’ve done Pasasana” because she kept insisting “chatvari, jumpback”. She lead me up through Krounchasana after which I indicated an Urdhva Dharunasana and she nodded.
I have been practicing my drop back lately by hovering. I do it 3 times, first pressing on the sacrum and the other two, hovering as far back as my own bravery or fear (depending on how you see it) would allow me to. Today she stood a couple of students away, and said “go, just go. Go down”. And this is when I thought to myself “OK, shit just got real yo”
At some point in a drop back there is always the fear that kicks in when I am low enough. Perhaps sensing that I would not go back any further she placed one hand behind my back and I dropped back, a little too hard on my right wrist, but I did it nevertheless. And she brought me back up with one hand.
As I am typing this, I am still amazed at what that brief and ever so barely there touch of a single hand from her can give enough assurance that I won’t be breaking my neck or stumble forward uncontrollably. Sometimes that is all that is needed from a teacher, the moment when they give you enough space to explore the depths and borders of your own fears, pushes just enough to feel the boundaries, and supports you just barely to guide safely across the line.