Me- The Pseudo Yogi and My Thoughts on Yoga


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While on the topic of pseudo yogis in my previous post, I tought how could I leave myself out! For now it is just the physical yoga, Hatha Yoga as it is called, that I am talking about here. Rest of it( Raja Yoga etc etc), let us leave that for another time.

I have been dabbling in yoga off and on since quite a few years. And the one thing that I have realised is that yoga is deceptively simple, made more so by our casual and “I-know-it-all” approach. Every other person you meet claims to know yoga without any kind of a formal or organised training. We do our own weird stretches, contortions and breathing in the name of yoga; look for instantaneous results while devoting the minimum time possible to it; and since it is a part of our National heritage, we find it appalling that we have to pay and attend yoga class/training. To make matters worse, there is a plethora of DVDs in the market, many by failed Bollywood starlets, with their own rendition of yoga attributing their great bodies and skin to the benefits of yoga. So here I am with my own pearls of wisdom on yoga that I have accumulated over the past 5-6 years-

  1. First things first, as I said above- Yoga is deceptively simple– if you want to do it sincerely that is. If it is just few stretches and forced hoo-haa breathing that you are looking at, there is nothing to learn. But if you want to be a sincere practitioner seeking to reap its benefits in totality, it is one of the toughest forms of physical exercise demanding more perseverance, focus, strength and stamina than we are likely to believe. It was not for any other reason that the yogis of the past spent years practising it. Logically it follows then that because of its seeming simplicity, the chances of injury go up as well. Working with a 20kg weight while doing squats you are going to be very cautious; doing a “simple” Bhujang asana (Cobra Pose), you are quite likely to not be as careful and be working with dead fish feet and arms instead. Hence the risk of injury.
  2.  The risk of injury also increases because of our mindset-“ I can’t do anything else, so I’ll do yoga” and the advice one often gets from doctors, specially Orthopaedic doctors, forbidding everything else except yoga. Yes yoga, specially certain forms of it such as Iyengar yoga, has tremendous scope for rehabilitation of those suffering from disc prolapse, (I myself have a L4-L5 prolapse) but only under expert guidance. Ignore this basic caution and the fact that you need to “learn” it, and you put yourself at much greater risk of injury than recovery. The need to find the right teacher, who is able to deliver what you are looking for, is much higher than a good trainer at the gym.
  3. When you approach the mat, you need to do so with much greater commitment and patience than most of us in today’s world of instantaneous gratifications are likely to exhibit. A month of regular gym workout and you can probably do a good 100 squats with weights. A month of yoga and you are still just exploring – trying to work with your body, grapple with the subtle nuances of breath, opening, alignment and correct pose. Add to it the preset notions we come with as to how an asana should be done or what it should look like or how long one is to hold it, and lesser our patience with ourselves and our body.
  4. It goes without saying that the fitness level you come with will be instrumental in deciding the speed at which you progress. Someone who is already fit, due to maybe years of any workout, will progress faster than a newbie. Again, however, one needs to remember that yoga is not simply about doing an asana or holding it for long. It is as much as about your mind as about your body. Ability to do fancy looking poses like Chakra Asana or Sarvanga Asana alone is no measure for your success on the mat. If you are approaching yoga just as a physical discipline, you will reap benefits partially at least no doubt, but you are pretty much missing the point of it.
  5. Yoga at the end of the day is not about an hour spent on the mat but a way of life at the core of which lies control of mind and the ability to live in the moment. As a physical discipline it aims at preparing the body for life’s higher purpose of meditation and spiritual union with the Divine. It aims to approach one’s outlook and attitude towards life through the body. Can you accept your body ( and your life) with its limitations and work within those limitations to explore the maximum it is capable of? Long ago I read Rodney Yee’s book The Yoga : Poetry of the body” and it pretty much made no sense to me. He talked about “Falling into Yoga” and all that it meant to me was falling out of every asana! Today after dabbling off and on for 6 years in the discipline, it is somewhat beginning to make sense to me. Yes, I still hanker after the “glamorous” poses and some day hope to get there as well, but as of now, I’m glad falling into a particular moment, a particular asana and my life at a particular point- wherever that be!

The Pseudo Indian Yogi and his Bhagvad Gita

We are a nation of yogis. Or maybe I should say pseudo Yogis. We are spiritually enlightened and evolved; we quote from The Bhagvad Gita at the drop of a hat; Ramdev or no Ramdev , we know “yoga” very well,; we worship animals and plants as manifestations of the Divine; we have a plethora of gurus, saints and sadhus. Name what you desire in the name of god, religion or spirituality and you will find it hidden in some corner of the country. It has often been said that you can take an Indian away from God but cannot take God away from an Indian. Even the most atheistic of us has god lingering somewhere in the periphery of his or her existence- maybe in the form of a devout spouse or parent or the ever so welcome public holiday.

However,we have our own interpretation of religion, spirituality and Bhagvad Gita that changes as per our needs. At the core of our existence and existential dilemma lies the body-spirit duality. Dwelling in the spiritual realm as we do, we look down upon the body- anything physical in fact. So it’s perfectly okay to just sit around and bloat up rather than exert and get into shape. The body, we say, is not worth fretting over. Not that there are many fitness enthusiasts, but a few who do take physical fitness seriously are frowned down upon as being vain. They are deemed to be too caught up with corporeal affairs to pursue our higher spiritual goals seriously. When did being physically unfit translate into being spiritual, I fail to see. All that we do in the name of physical exercise is a sham of a walk and a bigger sham of yoga. Walk means a community get together of men or women strolling along discussing their household or national problems. Yoga, one of the best gifts you can give yourself, has somehow become synonymous with furious stomach pumping and graceless poses struck at all odd angles. Visit any community park in the morning and you will know what I’m talking about. Ramdev may have popularised yoga, pranayam more specifically, but the way this ancient practice is being carried on leaves a lot to be desired.

Strangely, the body that we deride throughout our lives, gains paramount importance when someone dies. Yes, the death of a beloved is a great loss and I don’t mean to belittle that loss. My point is simply that, when someone dies and a body departs, we don’t take a second to burst into collective outpouring of grief, forgetting that the soul is immortal. The same body that was not worth caring for is now of paramount importance. The knowledge about the soul being immortal and the body being mere garments as espoused in the Bhagvad Gita, is reserved only while being lazy, ignoring the body’s legitimate demands of being cared for or for consoling others. The whole relationship and dynamics of the body-soul seem rather nebulous and open to interpretation.

Closely related to this Yogic quest for even mindedness in the face of adversity is the reality of our existence wherein we daily fail in this search. The first trial of the day, a traffic snarl or a recalcitrant child, and there goes the equanimity. If anyone dares to point out this shortcoming, we are quick to retort with one of the many anecdotes from Hindu mythology- say of Lord Shiva Himself losing His cool on losing His wife, Sati. When Lord Almighty failed, what can be expected of us lesser mortals? Yes, life is full of trials and tribulations, some of far greater gravity and intensity than our daily tin pot tragedies. Repeated attempts at maintaining and regaining this ever elusive equanimity alone will get us somewhere on the path- professing it out loud and making excuses when you fail, will not. Again, the line between even mindedness and smug complacency is so fine that most of us err on the side of the latter.

“Karma” and destiny are other concepts that never fail to beguile me. As I see it, the former basically translates into something as simple as “As you sow, so shall you reap”. Yet I have heard it in all its avatars- a threat when someone else commits a wrong (“your karmas will come to haunt you”); refusing to assume the responsibility for a wrong action and instead attributing the result to a past karma. Combine it with our lopsided understanding of “destiny” and you have the deadliest of all combinations. Refuse to be proactive, blame destiny; face to face with the repercussions of a foolish decision, blame both karma and destiny; refuse to introspect and learn from your past – blame destiny, karma and the stars above instead. So many more such permutations and combinations are afloat that it is truly bewildering.

As we blunder through our daily lives, we the denizens of this land of snake charmers and sadhus, seem to have forgotten the very basic tenet of The Bhagavad Gita- Surrender unto me.

sarva-dharmān parityajya

mām ekaḿ śaraṇaḿ vraja

ahaḿ tvāḿ sarva-pāpebhyo

mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ

Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear. (Chapter 18, Verse 66)

Or maybe we haven’t. Only that this surrender too we have interpreted superficially to suit ourselves- blame the Lord above and continue in your foolish ways while taking His name once in a while. And so lives on the Great Indian Pseudo Yogi!

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Crazy Friends, LUSH loot and LUSH Caca Rouge

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There are good friends. Then there are crazy friends. But if you are lucky like me, you just don’t have good or crazy friends but fabulous friends who are nevertheless raving mad. So it’s kind of a package deal- ask for a good one, you get a crazy one hidden somewhere within and I’ve been blessed to have some such masterpieces in my life. Since this kind, crazy soul was going to be visiting me, I asked her to pick up some stuff from LUSH, there being no LUSH in Chandigarh and LUSH India was pretty much out of stock. I sent her my list, nothing too exhaustive. But when she landed here, what I think she had carried with her was pretty much the entire LUSH store. Where I had asked for a single piece of an item, I got two or three, depending on her mood; where I had committed the mistake of asking for two, I got four and where I had asked for the smalles packaging possible, I got the biggest one instead. And a host of products that I had not even asked for. This qualifies not as a LUSH Haul but clear loot. I’m sure the LUSH SAs are yet to recover from her whirlwind of a shopping spree. Looking at the picture, I think you will agree with me. This is the same crazy chick, who in her infinite wisdom had committed the mistake of introducing me to LUSH about 8-9 years ago. Ever since, both my love for LUSH and her craziness continue to grow unabated.

Talking of craziness, after spending a year colouring my hair with LUSH Caca Noir for a black colour, I decide that I wanted a red tinge to my jet black hair. With henna you can’t get a red colour on hair as black as mine. The best one can get is a red/reddish tinge. Hence I decided to try LUSH Caca Rouge. I had asked this lady for two blocks; she carried four..sigh!!

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For aspiring redheads who want to stop traffic with unparalleled shine and color. That’s not too much to ask from a solid block of henna is it? Not if you make it like we do. Caca Rouge is the reddest of our henna dyes and it’s sure to get you noticed. We use the finest Persian henna; the leaves are dried and ground into a powder and mixed with conditioning cocoa butter, which forms the basis of our Cacas. Organic lemon juice helps to bring out the redness and gives hair shine and lustre. You’re left with stunningshiny and healthy-looking hair .DSC07976 C

How to Use

1. Break henna up into large pieces and put in a heatproof bowl.

2. Add hot water and let steep. Mix to a batter-like consistency.

3. Put on gloves and apply from back to front, coating hair thoroughly.

4. Cover in cling wrap for a more vibrant red. Leave on for two to four hours.

 5. Rinse, shampoo, and condition hair.

Tips: Always do a strand test first. Use face cream (or Ultra Bland) around your hairline and ears to protect skin. Wrap hair in cling film for a redder color.

LUSH’s instructions are easy to follow. In any case, mixing and applying henna isn’t exactly rocket science specially for those of us in India who have dabbled with it at some point or the other. Messy yes, impossible, no. I cut and mixed it just as I did LUSH Caca Noir ( only that I added some cheap red wine that is supposed to enhance the red colour. For my hair length, I use three chunks from a single block. I left it on for a good 6 to 8 hours all the three times that I have so far applied it. Thereafter I washed and conditioned as usual. So do I have gorgeous red tint? Sadly no. Even after 3 applications within 10 days, my stubborn black hair refused to take on the sexy red tint that I was lusting after. My hair has come out soft, shiny and absolutely conditioned no doubt but the red tint? Not happening. The picture below is the best I could get in name of a red tint. But the few greys that I do have got a red colour, not the awful orange of traditional henna but a nice reddish colour. I still have two and a half more blocks to go ( thanks to my crazy cat’s loot) and I will use it over the next few months. Maybe I do get some hint of a red tinge!

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