“and I said to my body, softly. ‘I want to be your friend.‘ it took a long breath and replied, ‘I have been waiting my whole life for this‘” – Nayyirah Waheed.
After chancing upon the weekly yoga class (Denise Chew) at the gym I was at, a relationship began to form between my mind and my body. In time, I began to feel my body speaking to me. Perhaps it wasn’t quite as poetic in the way Nayyirah Waheed describes it, but there was an unmistakable feeling of doing something positive and nurturing for myself, as well as a definite sense of gratitude and serenity from my physical body resonating in reply.
As a person who enjoys physical activities, I have always had a regular habit of exercising, including running, interval training, racket and ball games – all of which I found enjoyable, but none of which gave me a calm, centered, and serene disposition the way yoga did. Curious, I began to question why.
At this point in time, my life took a turn in the direction of Chiang Mai, and I began practicing at various yoga shalas there (Yoga Tree and Wild Rose). It was in Chiang Mai that I was fortunate enough to come across who I consider to be my first teacher – a British man called Rupert J, who was once a successful businessman, but gave up most of his material possessions to travel through India and thereafter Thailand. His classes were markedly different from any class I had attended in Singapore. He spoke about compassion, cultivating an attitude of gratitude, surrendering to Mother Earth, and said that the ultimate goal of yoga was to attain liberation from the suffering mind and worldly desires (kaivalya). My interest piqued, and after a pranayama session with him, asked him point blank: “What really is this yoga thing?”
He sat down with me and gave me a brief introduction on Raja Yoga, talking about the 8 limbs, starting with the yamas and the niyamas. Thereafter, he pointed me towards the introduction in “Light on Yoga”, the Yoga Sutras, and guided me through my first seated meditation. My journey with yoga slowly began. At this point, the first clue as why the practice of asana calms the mind was revealed to me in verses 2:46 – 2:48 of the Sutras.
Fast forwarding a couple of years, I’m still learning about yoga, the chakras, the nadis, kundalini tantra, as well as actively developing my meditation practice. I also have had the privilege of studying under great teachers from the Krishnamacharya lineage like Yogacharya Bharath Shetty (disciple of B.K.S Iyengar), Master Paalu Ramasamy and Master Satya Chong Wei Long (disciples of B.N.S. Iyengar). On the swadhyaya front, my first readings of the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita honestly raised more questions than provided answers – but I’ve learnt to accept and embrace this while not judging myself on this account. In so doing, I’m beginning to learn to trust the process and not be too attached to the outcome. All this wouldn’t be possible without the first instance of trying out yoga asana at the gym.
My point is, the way we can reach out to the masses, and in so doing, spread the joy of yoga, is to be well versed and trained in the practice of asana.
After people feel the benefits of the physical practice, it would be natural for them to inquire further. Then, they will be able to experience the healing powers that yoga can exert on our emotional and mental planes, and appreciate the sense of serenity it brings to the mind – hopefully, they will start to seek, and eventually embark upon the practice of ceasing the fluctuations of the mind (yogash chitta vritti nirodah) – beginning to see the world not through the lens that modern society at large has programmed us into, but to see the world as it is – without our ego colouring and distorting the picture (thereby ridding of the illusion which falsely identifies our bodies as the seer, when it is merely the instrument of seeing – Sutras 2:6).
Asana is the first vehicle that we can use to touch a great number of people’s lives. The journey inward into our subtle bodies begins with the physical body in its gross form. After all, B.K.S. Iyengar has said (in an interview in Aligning to the Source), in the context of the widespread proliferation of yoga in the modern world, that “…after touching the gross, probably they may see the subtle and the subtlest as time goes by….”
Wishing you peace and contentment,