The first time I encountered what I now know to be part of a yogic way of life was when I was a little girl. I had woken up at dawn to revise my lessons for an exam, and found my grandfather sitting cross-legged, ramrod straight, with his eyes closed, his palms placed on his thighs, almost not breathing. Though I did not understand why he was sitting so still, instinct told me I was not to disturb him. Finally, when he opened his eyes, his face was a picture of serenity. Something seemed to have shifted within him. He exuded a calmness that enveloped everything around. It made me curious.
Much later, as the mother of a two-year-old, I enrolled in a yoga class that taught asanas. Assuming the challenging anatomical juxtapositions gave me hope that I could halt the march of my expanding middle, and regain some semblance of the anatomy I once knew to be mine. It worked. My digestion improved, my limbs became more flexible, and I walked around with the confidence that comes from gaining some amount of control over body and breath. The mind is a different ballgame altogether and the attempt to tackle that came much later. It wasn’t easy though to stick to a regimen at home, after the completion of the course, especially when the kid decided to test my spine playing horse rider, while I assumed the Dhanurasana posture. It did teach me patience. ‘Easy,’ I told myself, ‘breathe easy.’ Despite my best efforts my yogic practice had to surrender to my child’s jockeying, and soon it became imperative that I begin walking and save my spine. I did.
While walks released the endorphins in me, I yearned for the tranquillity I had once known through yoga. By now, I also knew that yoga was far more than just asanas. It was time to revisit it.
Years later, and with another child in tow, and a high-pressure job, I found myself on a roller-coaster. The one where you get tossed about fiercely, where you scream your lungs out and where there is no option of getting off. The day began. The day ended. On some, I had no idea whether I was coming or going. My breath was either rapid or shallow. Over the years, I had collected extra pounds, a lot of emotional baggage and substantial mental dross. Not to mention the hormonal upheavals that made me a sitting duck for lifestyle ailments to invade my body. I was feeling submerged and I knew I had to come up for air. While walks released the endorphins in me, I yearned for the tranquillity I had once known through yoga. By now, I also knew that yoga was far more than just asanas. It was time to revisit it.
The very first day I became conscious of how much my body had changed and how it refused to do my bidding. I also knew that in Ashtanga Yoga, one always begins with the body and then moves on to the mind – from the gross to the subtle. That is the journey. Also, you don’t compete. You don’t tax or force your body into doing what it resists. You work slowly, yathashakti (according to your capacity), gracefully, steadily, effortlessly (prayatnashaithilya) and with complete awareness, focusing on the breath and then arriving at physical fitness, deep peacefulness and inner equanimity. As your body begins responding and you learn to watch your breath, the practice soon encompasses your very existence.
I used to be quick to temper. That changed too, as I began to accept people and situations as they were, preferring to change my perspective. I found that I could focus better and was filled with enthusiasm.
Gradually, my feverishness about everything subsided. I began to watch what I was eating, choosing local, regional, seasonal food. Nature knows best. I learnt that total well being meant attaining a balance in Aahar (Food), Vihaar (exercise), Vichaar (thought), and Vishranti (rest). Moderation in thought and behaviour followed. No extremes. The middle path. Whenever I felt overwhelmed at work, I swivelled my chair, closed my eyes, took a few deep breaths, and as if by magic, I could tackle the task with composure. I used to be quick to temper. That changed too, as I began to accept people and situations as they were, preferring to change my perspective. I found that I could focus better and was filled with enthusiasm. I had far more energy at the end of the day, and my heart sang. I smiled at strangers, whether they reciprocated or not, and felt a sense of expansion. I completed writing my first novel, which had been on the back burner for years. I stopped being judgmental. I began to like the person I had become.
I weigh my words before I utter them (most of the time). I am more accepting of my flaws and kinder to myself and others. It gets better every time. I introspect more and feel more together.
Does this mean that I have become an enlightened ascetic? Do I have a halo around my head? Far from it. I have many faults and failings. There are times when I slip miserably. I binge. I cringe. I move away from the core, lose my way. I make bad choices. But, there is a difference now. I am more mindful and cognisant of my actions. I have the tools to pull myself back. I weigh my words before I utter them (most of the time). I am more accepting of my flaws and kinder to myself and others. It gets better every time. I introspect more and feel more together. Most of all, I am far more in communion with nature, and have rediscovered my place in the rhythm of life. Through yoga, I learn, I teach, I heal, I live. And yes, I do enjoy a spicy vada paav, now and then.
Archana Pai Kulkarni is a Journalist, Editor, Creative Writer and Blogger. Views expressed are the author's own.
Feature Image credit: Patrick-Hendry Unsplash