I am home after a long journey and jet lagged. I returned to quiet, cold, but somewhat sunny day. From extreme heat to a relatively cold April. I live in the hills with many tall fir trees, nice views of a valley and some snow capped coastal mountains but nothing compares to the chirping of the birds at dawn and dusk in Pune. I am really missing it. It is so quiet here. I hardly see my neighbors - everyone shut in their McMansions. I am missing India, but I missed my girls more than anything so I am glad to be back.
On my journey back I re- read two books. The Holy Cow and Good Life and Good Death. They are excellent books. I plan to write about these books in the near future. While on the plane, I also put some thought into the idea of faith and balance in life and how it may relate to yoga and asana practice.
I find asana practice to be most challenging. It is not like walking or running or swimming. Asanas are far more complex than a breast stroke, or step forward of your foot to walk. Mr. Iyengar says “you have to align the physical with mental”. What does that really mean? My experience tells me that you have listen to the instruction and follow it to its absolute truth. By absolute truth I mean not just following the instruction, but observing the manifestation of that instruction in your body. With that action you gradually adjust till you can feel the asana and really follow the teacher. I have experienced it many times including performing Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana, a very challenging backbend. It requires another dimension of thought and action and following of a gradual process. It requires a sense of balance of the physical and mental manifestations that occur when you are performing the asana. You have to let go of your ego and fear as your slide all the way down the chair for the very first time. You have to do it in steps and gradually.
The physical manifestation maybe a stretch or pain and the mental manifestation maybe an urgency and desire to push yourself further. I call it running ahead of your body. Your mind simply wants to peform ahead of what your body can handle but at the same time fear and pain provides a resistance. It’s a trap and its called Ahamkara â€“ the ego. To get the most out of the asanas you have to perform them in a balance of your ego, your mind and what your body can handle physically. Once you learn how to balance them, you can enjoy a journey to your inner mind smoothly. It really is very meditative, however momentary it may be. Some teachers in Pune will tell you “Try to understand it”. I think what they really mean is try to achieve a balance so you can really feel the asana and how it helps you approach the inner mind. That’s probably the meditative state that Guruji talks about.
So where does faith come into all this? Faith is very critical in the journey to learn and perform asanas well. Many of us cannot practice as religiously as others because our lives our complex and full of distractions. Discipline is a relative word. Many a times I cannot attend regular classes for a variety of personal distractions that require more attention. You get in a slump and suddenly asanas that were so easy to perform become impossible. In my case it is very apparent in my ability to perform Adho Mukha Vrikasana. If there are distractions and stress in my life, my arms and shoulders sag and become weak. I lose the ability to lift on my own and keep myself inverted by pushing up with my arms. It can be a major hurt to my ego as well, I must admit.
Now here is where faith comes into action. Without it, I would lose momentum and suddenly yoga is going to be out of my life. It has happened to me so many times at the gym. There are personal moments in life where I seem to have lost faith. As a result I got results that I had never wanted in the first place. The negative emotions surrounding that lack of faith brings results you don't expect or want. I feel strongly that maintaining faith is an important characteristic of a true yogi. Faith brings a lot of positivity to your life but it can only exist when you can balance the negative in your life with the positives. You have to try hard to maintain balance or you will lose faith. Faith and Balance go hand in hand. You have to try hard to maintain your faith or you will lose balance. These are two forces co-exist in your life to help you move ahead towards your ultimate goal. Similar rule applies to your asana practice. You cannot truly achieve the benefits of asana unless you have faith and balance.