Yoga for beginners

by Harsh Thakkar

When we grow up, as humans we start taking things for granted. Small miracles which power our everyday life are still happening with the same frequency and un-mindfulness at which they used to happen when one is born. For instance, you still are involuntarily breathing – without really thinking about it or giving it a second thought. You still eat food, and in a few hours, it provides you with ample energy to engage in activities you love and strengthens your overall body, or simply put “it becomes your body”. Yes, there is a scientific explanation to all this, but nobody thinks about it while doing it. Nobody has the time.

Actions and milestones which used to be groundbreaking when you were 1 year old – the first eye contact, the first step, the first solid meal, the first word that comes out of your mouth, all these happen daily now in your adult life, but they have stopped being miraculous. When I convinced myself to sign up for a yoga teaching course, I didn’t know why I did it. The teacher asked everyone in one of the first few classes – do you want to become a teacher? My answer was maybe, at certain point in my life if I get good at it (still far from it).

I am now in that phase of my yoga journey when I’ve become physically capable of doing most asanas (I must add not perfect yet) but still wondering “What is Yoga really? ”

Recently I started teaching basic yoga to some of my friends and family – they were the only ones who were brave enough to take the risk. And during these sessions I found myself explaining to them – “Yoga is not an exercise regime, it’s about wellness. A way of life.” Essentially the word means “Union”, the union of mind, body and soul – some would say. Or the “Union of oneself with the nature”. Easier said than done, one of my friends chimed. I couldn’t find myself to deny that and just smiled in response.

I read somewhere on the Internet of all things that Yoga is “a Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practiced for health and relaxation.” Well that sounds amazing, apart from the fact that the religion of Hinduism has nothing to do with it! Yes, it was written about and established by saints at the time when Hindu religion was going strong in India. But that would be the equivalent of saying that Pilates is a “Nazi system of exercises using special apparatus, designed to improve physical strength, flexibility, and posture, and enhance mental awareness.” Although Pilates was developed during the first world war, Nazism was not even coined at the time even though Hitler was serving in the German army, he had not yet taken control of Germany. Pilates has nothing to do with Nazism, just like Yoga has no religious link – plain and simple.

Living in the moment has become hip these days, but how many people are doing it? If you actively start doing it, that would mean just enjoying the present and not thinking about the future. You earn 3000$ a month, you spend it all, have a great time and live from month to month. Not sure if that’s a good idea. But does it have to be financial all the time?

Living in the moment could also mean, enjoying small mercies in life, that great cup of coffee; the sweet taste of fresh fruit in your mouth; spending time with your loved ones. And then the more basic stuff – you’re still alive and kicking; still able to breath and enjoy the sunrise and sunset, able to walk and get around.

If I were to quote Sadhguru, founder of Isha foundation his definition of Yoga is “that which brings you to reality. Literally, it means “union.” Union means it brings you to the ultimate reality, where individual manifestations of life are surface bubbles in the process of creation. Right now, a coconut tree and a mango tree have popped up from the same earth. From the same earth, the human body and so many creatures have popped up. It is all the same earth.”

When one is practicing Yoga, your mind is focusing on getting that asana right, getting the breathing right, that pain in your thighs during Utkatasana, the rhythm of movement during Suryanamaskara. You’re at that time living in the moment 🙂 So one could say that Yoga teaches you and trains your mind to live in the moment.

Smile-asana

I started yoga in my late 20s simply as a fitness regime. I hated the high-energy gym classes where personal trainers yelled at their students to “motivate” them, and was immediately drawn to the soothing energy in a yoga class. Even so, for the first year of my yoga experience, my focus was simply on achieving the ideal pose in class. I would often compare my progress with other students around me – feeling frustration and envy when other students were stronger and more flexible than I was; and pride when I could achieve a pose that others couldn’t.

 

Yoga, at that time, was no different than anything else in my life. My education, my career, even my social life – they were all focused on how it looked on the outside and how it compared to others. Every time I succeeded in something, it meant I was better than someone else. And that feeling of superiority fed me and kept my ego happily bloated. Ironically, the determination to be better than everyone else kept me going to my yoga classes.

 

I was fortunate to have great yoga teachers around me, teachers that would constantly remind students like myself to divert our focus inwards. Gradually, I started becoming aware of the sense of both inferiority and superiority deep within me. Every time I felt frustration or envy, I was depriving myself from love – repeatedly setting irrational standards and thus never allowing myself the opportunity to be happy or content. And every time I felt pride, I was depriving myself the ability to whole-heartedly love – to see another being as they are, without comparison and judgment. I’ve always considered myself to be a kind-hearted person, so this awareness jolted me, waking me up from a deep slumber I never knew I was in.

 

One of my teacher used to say that the most advanced yogi is not one that does the most advanced poses, but one that can smile through a pose. This stuck with me deeply. And through my yoga asana practice, every time the awareness of inferiority or superiority surfaced, I would seek the inward warmth of my heart and try to project that out as a smile. No drama – no judgment towards the feelings that surface and no disappointment for failing to control them – just a genuine smile from the heart. It sounds simple enough, but just like everything that stems from the ego, we have a tendency of justifying these thoughts and emotions. So letting go of the attachment that comes with the emotion isn’t as easy as it sounds. But just like in the physical yoga poses, every thing comes with consistent conscious practice. And so began my internal yoga journey…

 

My practice over the years has taken me to many uncomfortable and unpleasant places, both on and off the yoga mat. And when I find myself indulging in negative non-constructive thoughts, I go back to that space in my heart and try to do the most advanced of all yoga poses in that moment: smile-asana.

 

Sunitha Prasobhan (@miss_sunitha), 200hr Yoga TTC Sept 2017