We are all aware about Yogacharya T.Krishnamacharya being a pioneer in using yoga (specifically asana and pranayama) for therapy and well-being. But little did we know that he was a great scholar of our sacred knowledge and traditions. One of his long-standing students Raghu Ananthanarayanan has put together an interesting note about how can one use yoga as a tool for deeper fulfillment and meaning in life? He has used the device of an innocent conversation between a young, curious child, Chiku who is Gayatri Iyer, and an elderly teacher Rita, just like the dialogues that used to take place between student and teachers at ashrams. In my discussions with Raghu who is Rita in the writings, I learnt how symbols and rituals of our Hindu culture have been misinterpreted for long and once you know the real meaning, you can only marvel at the profundity of the entire meaning and how it is part of the larger divine order.
ChiKu: I am very confused Rita. I read a lot of posts about the health benefits of yoga. Some people are exhorting us to do some ‘power asanas’, I believe the power of yoga is still not tapped into and a lot of us are still stuck on deriving only the ‘physical’ benefits of the practice. But you seem to be saying that there is a yogic way of living that is meant to help a person lead a happy and deeply fulfilling life. What is the meaning of happiness? Does Patanjali define it?
Rita: Patanjali wrote the yoga sUtra to help mankind end duHkha. Asana and prANAyAma practice are just a small part of his teaching. Let us look at the definition of duHkha first, so that we can understand what happiness is. He defined it in two ways-:
- When one feels that ‘one is not in-charge of making his/her own choices and someone else is. Thus, a feeling of loss of independent choice making leads to duHka.
- A feeling of constraint in the inner space.
So ChiKu, Patanjali talks about 2 sides of the same coin, wherein in point 1, there is a lack of inner space due to which you are unable to make choices and in the second case the quality of the inner space is distorted. Thus, happiness is defined as one’s own ability to make choices freely and experience a sense of flow in one’s life. The more the choices are made freely, the more the flow one will experience and consequently one can fulfill one’s life purpose joyously.
Chiku: Could you elaborate more about this flow and choice making, especially in an everyday context?
Rita: In everyday living, while we do face challenges, the key is to have the inner space to make the choices and through that create a flow for ourselves. One needs the strength and ability to also withstand the evocations and provocations that force us to make choices against out convictions. With that said, don’t you often prefer to stay within your ‘comfort zone’, where you altogether avoid making choices? or you choose to engage with challenges that are too small to make any real difference to your life?
ChiKu: mmmm…yes, I do.
Rita: How does that make you feel?
ChiKu: Honestly, I experience no flow in my life and often remain stuck. So, how do we look at this challenge from a yogic point of view?
Rita: Patanjali very clearly points to 3 areas of ourselves that we must look at-:
- The mind (citta)
- The universe of relationships and communication (vAk)
- Physical health (sharIram)
My teacher, Yogacharya Krishnamacharya used to talk about the process of nitya karma or the daily yoga sAdhana that one ought to perform, he did not merely talk about doing the daily practice of Asana/prANAyAma! He urged us to pause during the passage of the day and ask certain pertinent questions like-:
- At dawn, before you start the day, ask “what am I trying to achieve today?” In terms of goals, relationships etc. and then commit to be the best that I can be today.
- At mid-day, you ask “In doing what I am doing what am I really doing?” “Can I review my actions and watch the inner space from where the action is stemming from?” Thus, also observing the consequences of one’s actions in terms of the quality of relationships etc.
- At dusk, as you wind down you again to review the entire day with the above questions and surrender the fruits of one’s action to one’s iShta devata (personal deity).
He was talking about the essence of the sandhyAvandanam practice that rests on this principle of sitting back and reflecting on one’s actions, the flow of prANa and committing to be the best that one can be. Of course, here we also invoke the blessings of Ishvara (Intelligence) to help. But this is what a yoga sAdhana is all about
ChiKu: But what about days of extraordinary challenges and transitions, they are very painful?
Rita: Thresholds are important meeting points of two time zones; Just like a sandhyAkAla when the sun changes course from dawn to dusk and dawn again. sandhi is the threshold between time past and time future. It is at these thresholds that all the issues that you have “made peace with” in order to create our comfort zone; the issues we have compromised with, intense feelings that we have buried in the unconscious comes up to the surface, sometimes even in an exaggerated form. One also imagines a hopeful and bright future too, therefore there is a conflict in the ‘now’ and what if all I wish does not happen to me, or what if the negatives happen? Transitions are also a great opportunity to understand our deepest aspirations and even fears for that matter. A sAdhana is the only way or practice through which you can watch these fears, hopes, dreams and subtler aspects of yourself from a place of shAntam. It allows you to watch your mind, body and breath, even if you are not acting outwardly. The mind is constantly throwing up scenarios and the body gets triggered by each of them. If one is not acting out those scenarios, these triggers become toxic for the body.
ChiKu: So, at these times I need to reflect deeply, and delve into myself so that I can find strength to make the right choice?
Rita: Yes, ChiKu, however, you need a constancy of practice so that these do not become unforeseen huge blocks to the flow of life. When these situations arise, you must give it the time and attention it calls for.
ChiKu: So where does the daily practice come in?
Rita: ChiKu, the energy that you need for the deep introspection will not be available if you have dissipated it. If you do not do a daily Asana/pranANAyAma practice, then you become restless, irritable or even lethargic. The storehouse of energy gets depleted. Thus, the capacity to withstand the pulls of a threshold reduce. A yoga sAdhana enables you to constantly cleanse your body of the toxins that collect and erode your coping ability. The daily reflections allow you to see the roots of these unresolved issues, fears and aspirations when they are small dissatisfactions. So, when the context is disturbing, yoga helps you find sthiram (firm anchorage) so that you can allow deep insights emerge, remind yourself about the larger purpose of my life? and so on. This is exactly what happiness is all about: you are in control of your choice making, your inner space is accessible to you and you experience flow. If yoga is not seen as a self-reflective practice, then the essence of it is lost.
ChiKu: How important is this place of quietness and shAntam in this whole process?
Rita: yoga does not condemn any emotion especially anger, sadness etc. In fact, Yogacharya Krishnamacharya used to say that a healthy person in one who can experience a navrasa and come out of it without any residue; yoga helps you do just that. Quietness means not only making the mind still but the body also quiet, because body and mind are not separate entities. ChiKu, have you seen that when you quieten your mind and body you can watch the flow of emotion and what it is doing to you and where is it coming from? Rather than get triggered and respond reactively. It allows you to stay un-entangled, objective and in equanimity. It helps you to be in the moment and allows the possibility of an insight to emerge.
ChiKu: What if I do not get an insight at all?
Rita: insights cannot be brought up on demand! It may or may not happen. You cannot chase moments of insight because insights appear beyond the conscious thinking and if the conscious thinking runs towards an external solution where is the space for an insight to emerge? So even if you feel anchored and in charge of the moment, it is good. You are giving your deeper intelligence a chance to respond.
ChiKu: Now I understand why Yogacharya Krishnamacharya used to say that one should do a practice 3 times a day?
Rita: Yes, he elucidated several benefits when we take out the time; even if it is 10 mins three times a day to simply breathe and quieten ourselves, after all he was aware of how busy we people are! When you do a practice before any of the three meals, you to eat consciously and digest better. In a disturbed state of mind our body produces a lot of toxins which does not allow us to concentrate on what we eat, we crave for ‘loud’ foods high in sugar and salt content. When you are calm, you are aware about all the subtle aspects of your bodies and senses, thus you can respect them. Even your weight stabilizes when you stop and just breathe consciously at times when you feel harried. Instead of looking for solace in caffeine or addictive foods you go inwards, to work with your mind and body to remove the stress, anxiety etc. Even the Buddhists suggest this practice to get oneself grounded in equanimity; by taking 3 deep breaths, 3 normal breaths and then 3 deep breaths again whenever one feels disturbed. Isn’t all this happiness in daily life?
ChiKu: I really resonate with what you just said about thresholds, yet what we see and hear about happiness seems very superficial no?
Rita: Television and media are merely inducing dissatisfaction and selling compensation in the name of happiness. The push to make you consume more and more is never going to make you feel content. The real dissatisfiers are inside oneself and no external crutches will help you come out of it. Dissatisfaction or challenges are meant to help you turn inwards to go to the roots of the question. This is yoga plain and simple.
ChiKu: If happiness was in our hands, I wonder what the happiness Gurus would do?
Rita: That depends on the core message. One cannot avoid the disappointments or the shadow sides of our selves, navrasa has rasas beyond shringAra or adbhutam, it has rOudram and bhyAnakam too. Very intense challenges can evoke krOdham (cruelty), or mOham (delusion). Unfortunately, one is taught how to suppress parts of us through techniques that may work in the short run. prakrti (Nature) will keep changing form, from priyam (sweetness) to apriyam (unsavory) or vishAdam (depressing). These states are natural realities and so are the shifts within a person. Rather than finding resolution through insight, superficial practices will only bury the so-called negatives in the unconscious. Often, the unresolved and disowned part will will only grow. yoga is not a guarantee or a shield against any the experience of reality as it unfolds, it enables you to confront it with honesty and with all your energy. You will not to get entangled or preoccupied and therefore convert the inevitable ups and downs of life into a duHka.
To understand more about how yoga can be a tool to help you in your life’s journey, reach out to us at Ritambhara (firstname.lastname@example.org) where we as a sangha consciously walking on the path of yoga.