India 2015: The Journey Begins

I’m only just boarding the plane to Mumbai and it’s starting already:  The sea of stares. Hundreds of inscrutable eyes are on me. For me, that’s daily life in India. Can I blame them? Not really. Staring is culturally relative, and anyway I am the only western woman on this plane. Right now I don't mind. I am on my way to India! All I can think of is how happy I am to be coming back. By now – my fourth time – India feels like a kind of homecoming. Like its ubiquitous incense and birdsong, India itself has traversed my senses and lodged itself in my heart.

Being in India is challenging in ways that I’ll relay in future posts, but overall, I love it.  I love the solitude, the time away from my routines and responsibilities. I love the swaths of empty time I can fill up like the blank pages I fill with words. Yoga and words, sphinxlike stares and many smiles – that is my life here, interspersed with smoggy rickshaw rides, piquant foods and lots of rest. 

In India, I steep like a tea bag in the masala spice and flavor of it all. I attempt to penetrate into deeper layers of understanding. Geeta Iyengar’s teachings are heavenly for this. Somehow she is the very best at bringing my wavering attention ever further inward. Especially during prānāyāma (the yoga breathing practice), her wisdom shines like a diamond. Her teachings coax me into the intricacies of body and breath.  She effectively draws me toward the boundless silence within, the state of yoga, yogaḥ cittavṛtti nirodhaḥ, in which all thoughts cease save for absorption in the moment of observing, doing and being. It’s grahītṛ grahaṇa grāhyeṣu, the poetic-sounding moment when “the yogi realizes that the knower, the instrument of knowing and the known are one, himself [or herself], the seer. Like a pure transparent jewel, [s]he reflects an unsullied purity.” (Sutra I.41, B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali.) The quietness of the mind opens up the possibility for direct understanding of the soul’s resplendence – the yoga gold, if you will. :-)  I live for these moments.

This trip to India already feels different from my previous three. I’ve advanced in my teaching, both through experience and external markers. I am much more of a teacher now than I have ever been. I am here to uplevel not only my personal practice, but also my service. I serve myself for myself, and also so that my Self may serve others by guiding them on their own journey of transformation. Geeta’s teachings travel through me, taking on the tint of my expression while (I hope) retaining the essence. I take her lessons in and in and in, so I can absorb and express them in ways from which (again, I hope) my students will derive benefit.

This feels like an honor and a responsibility at the same time, and indeed it is, highfalutin though it may sound to describe yoga teaching this way. And when my ego swells – when I begin to feel proud or feel like “I have done something” – I think of the Iyengars, Guruji, Geetaji and Prashantji (“ji” is an epithet that denotes honor. Guruji is the late B.K.S. Iyengar; Geeta and Prashant are his two children who also teach). All three of them have lived lives of dedication to yoga, devotion to God, and service to their students. All three are eloquent writers of international renown. But they have not let name or fame change them. They remain steady in their practices, steadfast in their commitments, simple in their ways of living, and somehow apart from – but not above – the turmoils of this world. They have compassion for all of its inhabitants, yet they retain the sense of equanimity that can only come from a devoted spiritual practice. I admire those qualities. I too want to live like that. And so I guide myself to remember that it is not about me or my journey. It is about the yoga itself:  How can I improve my practice? My learning? My teaching? How can I improve not just for my own benefit, but for the benefit of all who would learn yoga from me…and even for the benefit of all beings that come into contact with me?

And that, dear reader, is what this journey is all about. I look forward to sharing the insights as they come.