Back in 01 when I started doing yoga – I was often asked by curious people what it was all about and I found myself fumbling for answers because I didn’t know much about yoga than the little we practiced in class; I didn’t know what the yogic texts were, why there were different schools, if it was separate from religion, where it fit in the scheme of things – questions you get asked in the regular course of conversation. This was before yoga became the catchword that it is now. And much before the time a ‘yoga’ search would bring up a 1000,000 results on Google. Yoga evangelists had yet to hit television screens and Bikram’s attempt to patent ‘Hatha Yoga’ was yet to create international furore. I was 19, fresh out of high-school and had grudgingly agreed to join a nearby yoga institute with a couple of college friends.
In the hazy periphery of my mind yoga had been linked with our grandparents generation. My memories of doing yoga as a kid had to do with being bored and resenting being forced to practice while my siblings were either sleeping or playing.
Despite my initial reservations I found myself enjoying the class and engaging with the idea. The teacher managed to retain our interest and we liked her a whole bunch despite her natty floral pants.
Apart from having to account to other people the how’s and why’s of what we did, I wasn’t all that interested in studying the philosophy
but people were super-curious and I felt foolish not knowing so I read our instruction manual from cover to cover.
I read through the names of the poses in Sanskrit, their correct pronunciation, why they were done in the order they were, benefits and a bit of the history of our school; I imagine I would have been pretty set to handle a lot of questions.
Its been ten years and I’ve had cause to define and re-define my definition of yoga many times. I’ve read a few books, many articles, attended talks and studied with some fabulous yoga teachers; this is my fourth year teaching yoga and I’ve realised that the philosophy is great but it amounts to very little if you don’t practice for yourself. The understanding that you get from practice and then committing to practice, day-in and day-out, is different from the understanding you have from reading.
The magic of yoga comes from trying it out on your own. It’s like “sleeping”. The rest comes from sleep not from reading about it.
This is something we were told on our first day at the institute and it is published on the brochures at the institute and it was what inspired a Swami Vishnu. (then a young recruit in the army) to go seek the illumined sage that said “an ounce of practice is worth tonnes of theory “.
Practicing yoga changes my life, not hugely that I’m an enlightened being but in small ways that make a difference to my life and to my everyday. The first benefit I had was of “awareness”. In cities, our senses are continually bombarded and in turn seek stimulus and titillation. Think about having the gift of awareness when driving in Delhi's ghastly traffic. Quite soon, I stopped dreaming of letting loose with guns and wanting to shoot people for driving like "idiots" in our congested streets. The traffic is still hectic but I'm less likely to explode – which matters to me if not to anyone else.
I return full-circle to what I knew at 19 couldn't articulate – Yoga is about practice and how it makes you feel.
Inverting my head and chanting Sanskrit shlokas – makes me feel good. And I stick with it because it makes me feel closer to the earthgrounded and calmer and I like that I want to shoot people less.