This simple line from a non-yogi friend of mine instantly put an end to my whining and moaning that, after 8months of regular yoga practice, I still was nowhere. When I started my regular practice last September, I was not expecting to fly into a handstand ever, forget anywhere in the near future. But, as I’m realising now, despite my compromised back (disc prolapse) and self talk that I was just looking at healing my back and not contorting my body into different shapes and sizes, at some level, I was hoping for all this- at least some part of it.
In retrospect, I’m realising that what I brought into my yoga class was not only my injured back, tight hamstrings but also a fragile self esteem. All the aphorisms about calming the mind with yoga, yoga being more about discovering the self than touching your toes sound fantastic. I am in no doubt that I am seeking more a reformation of my inner self than my physical body’s flexibility and strength, but the latter don’t hurt either. In any case, in a yoga class, asanas are all that there is to see and gauge your progress with.
That yoga is deceptively simple I have learnt, much to my cost, and written about the same earlier. But even more deceptive is the inner journey yoga is supposed to be. Calming the mind; learning about oneself; inward journey; living in the moment– sounds great, doesn’t it? But how does one get there? Oh ok- yoga is not about destination but about the journey but HOW? How am I to still my mind when my entire focus is on defying gravity and getting my ass up in a shoulder stand? Or on consoling myself when the law of gravity still holds true for me and my ass while all others defy it?
All this and much more unsettles me. Simply going into a downward dog or cobra does not automatically offer some great insights into the self. Somehow, inexplicably, asanas do throw up amazing physical benefits and calm the mind. The “inner journey” of yoga? That is a different question altogether. How is the outer manifestation of yoga , asanas, related with the inner, spiritual journeyof say Bhakti yoga, Raja yoga? Yes, a physically fit body is required to sit for long hours in meditation but does a body that is fit enough for a handstand mean that the soul too is undertaking the spiritual journey? I doubt it.
What is it that makes yoga, in its true essence, different from any other physical workout? People, who have never done yoga but are otherwise physically fit, can perform advanced “asanas”. But are they “yogis”? Or even those of us who go to a yoga class but are oblivious of the inner, spiritual aspect, can we lay claim to the heavy title of a “yogi”?
As much as I might hanker after gravity defying, glamorous looking asanas, let me face it that I’ll probably never get there. In a yoga class I’ll perhaps always be the silent one tucked in a corner, nursing a stiff back and struggling with “sukh asana” ( cross legged pose). If an asana is to be the yardstick for judging my success in yoga, I’ll not even get passing marks. But if there is indeed more to yoga than a headstand, I have hope for at least I seek. This seeking, however, cannot be answered in a class, cannot be gauged by any external, physical parameters. If there is indeed more to yoga than a headstand, I have to learn that myself- no class, no asana, no teacher can get me there. This inner journey in fact begins where the outward circus ends. Whether one is willing to take the plunge is the question.
The success of Yoga does not lie in the ability to perform postures but in how it positively changes the way we live our life and our relationships.”― Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya