Thursday, December 7, 2017
EXPLORING THE UNKNOWN, by Erin Shawgo
This December I am spending a month in deep study at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI) in Pune, India with two fellow teachers from Detroit, Michigan. While planning my trip to Pune, I knew it would open me up in ways I could not yet understand. I knew it would nourish me, physically, mentally, and spiritually. I have been craving this trip. Space to focus on my (r)evolution, to expand my sattvic state, to move closer and closer towards an understanding of my ātman(soul) while away from the distractions of daily life.
Travel here was long and enduring and tested my capacity for stillness and patience. In my day-to-day life I rarely sit still, in fact I’m known for my constant movement and need for tasks. There’s nothing like being trapped on an airplane for 7+ hours to challenge my old habits. Little did I know, even the trip here would feed my initial reflections spurred on in my first asana classes.
I arrived to my home for the month with my two travel companions after more than 3 days of travel and airport waiting. It was dawn, but the streets were crowded with traffic and pedestrians and the air filled with tropical birdcalls. Dawn provides a dreamy transition while travelling into a new time zone, a new place, and a new reality. After resting for a few hours we made our way to the Institute to register for classes and attend our first Prānāyāma (breath work) class. Much of that class was a blur in my jet-lagged state, but I left feeling filled with gratitude for being in a practice hall that I’ve seen pictures of and heard stories about for years. BKS Iyengar’s presence seemed to radiate from the walls lined with his photos.
The following day, I became reacquainted with Abhijata Sridhar, BKS Iyengar’s granddaughter, as she led us through an engaging class focused on exploring the unknown. She reflected to us that as we age we lose our ability to imagine, we place limits around what we are comfortable with. This is not the path towards transformation. She pushed us past these comfort zone barriers as we brought our hand under our feet in Parivrtta Trikonāsana (revolved triangle) and rocked back and forth with split legs in Śīrṣāsana (head balance). “What are you afraid of?” she asked in response to our hesitancy. “When I ask the children to reach their finger tips to the sky in Urdhva Hastāsana (upward reaching arms), they jump in their attempts to reach it.” We confronted old habits of complacency that we mask with caution as we explored the unknown and the fear that surrounds it through our asana.
Abhijataji shared a story of Guruji from when he was visiting China. He presented the audience with an empty water glass and a full water glass. One glass he shared was ready to be filled, while the other if filled any further would overflow. Her request to us, if we come to class clinging to our old habits, what we think we know, there is no room for new wisdom. Be the empty glass, ready and receptive to any incoming knowledge. Prashant Iyengar, son of BKS Iyengar, carried a similar theme throughout the course of his 7am class. Prashantji’s class was unlike any yoga class I have encountered, a mixture of musings, lecture, long asana holds, and space for deep inquiry. He encouraged us to contemplate the niyama (self-discipline) of śaucha (cleanliness) in regards to our consciousness. With humor he compared how śaucha in our physical bodies includes defecation, elimination as healthy process. But, with our minds, he commented, we are constipated. We take in more and more information, but rarely do we intentionally “defecate” or eliminate information from the mind. How, he asked, can we make elimination a sacred act? This is essential before working our way towards meditation (dhyāna), our 7th limb from Patañjali’s sutras. He chastised us, saying that for years, Guruji taught us what we wanted to know, not what we needed. Students visited and questioned him about mastering asana and how to structure national associations, when they could have been asking him about yoga. Instead we clung to these distractions. What do you need to eliminate to stay on the path of yoga and how can you do it through asana? he asked.
So, a week in and I am filled with questions. What is my unknown? Where do I fall into patterns that limit me or prevent my growth? What do I need to eliminate in order to move closer to transformation? I explore these questions in daily conversations with fellow students, in my personal asana and pranayama practice and study. I am so grateful to be here. I feel full of gratitude and awe at the teachings I take in each day and look forward to the days to come.