The first instruction children hear when learning to cross the street is “Stop, look both ways and wait until the road is clear.” However, if children in India listened to this advice they would grow old waiting to cross! There is an order to the endless flow of traffic (cars, scooters, rickshaws, bikes, cows, buffaloes, goats and people) that ensures safety. Once one has started to cross, one must keep going and crossing on the diagonal seems to work best! Indeed, there is a balance underlying the chaos.
My time in India continues to be filled with several hours of yoga each day – in class, one learns and thinks while during practise, one studies and feels. The yoga process is about evolving consciousness and here in India, learning to mitigate the contrast between my inner world and the outer world is a part of the learning experience. The quietude of the mind, the stilling of consciousness and the intense inward focus one strives to maintain during practise enables one to penetrate deeply inward and block external distractions in spite of the ongoing honking, birds or voices that came be heard through the open windows of the pavilion. Thankfully, yoga has taught me how to access my center so that I am better able to merge my inner world with the outer one without losing my balance or stability regardless of the intensity of the situation at hand. My center is like the fulcrum of the teeter-totter.
Studying here at the source of yoga, and with the source of Iyengar yoga is a double blessing. While assisting in daily Medical classes, Mr. Iyengar has had his eye on the woman that I have been working with this month. He has been designing sequences for her and I have been actively involved in implementing these sequences including his prop setups and verbal instructions. During Medical class, poses are fully supported with multiple props and many of the therapeutic postures are restorative ones. Although there is a bustle in the Hall filled with dozens of patients and teachers, there is also a sacred quiet focus. Stepping out onto the street afterwards, one experiences an immediate sensory overload of the never-ending cacophony and constant motion. The 6 p.m. rush hour after Medical class is such a contrast to the inner sanctum of the Institute. And again, yoga’s lessons on how to remain calm and contained even in these contrasting moments of extreme intensity are applied and appreciated! Yoga, or Yug, means unity. Without the valuable lessons of yoga which include being able to experience unity of mind and body, walking down the main street at this hour would likely result in a very jarring effect on the nervous system. This balance is the baseline upon which I walk.
When the desperately needed monsoons arrived ten days ago, a driving relentless rain persisted for four days straight! My daughter and I were walking through a local market called Lakshmi Road when the rains came and we were caught in it, unprepared. Finding a store to purchase a rain slicker for her we stood four layers deep with people doing the same thing. Unable to find a rickshaw to take us home later that evening and laughingly trekking through what seemed like small lakes instead of streets, we were caught up in the energy of the monsoons. Lying awake that first night listening to the rains, walking around with wet clothes and wet feet (and with a broken umbrella to which I have since become very attached), and hearing words of gratitude spoken by many local people for the arrival of the monsoons fully awakened me to how very precious water is for the billion people of India. It also served as a strong reminder to appreciate our blessing of the abundance of fresh water available in Canada. With the arrival of the monsoons, I again noted extremes, and the balance to the inhospitable dry hot climate that had prevailed for so long.
Over the past several years, I have casually studied the science of Ayurveda medicine. My friend Sonali, a very accomplished Ayurvedic doctor in Pune, gives me treatments when I am visiting. Ayurveda has been practiced in India for at least 5, 000 years and is a form of alternative medicine – it is the oldest surviving whole body system of healing and health. Ayurveda seeks to prevent and treat illness by maintaining balance in the body, mind and consciousness using a comprehensive holisitic approach that emphasizes diet, lifestyle, yoga, meditation, massage and herbal remedies. Because of the importance of balance and promoting positive health, the universal principals and practices of Ayurveda holds great appeal for me. It is also the other side of the yoga coin.
A few years ago I had a very interesting conversation with a family member who did not agree that balance was attainable. However, it is my belief that by embracing the Eight-fold Path of yoga and by implementing Ayurvedic practices, the possibility of successfully creating a state of balance on a day-to-day basis is within reach. During the past few years, I have had to navigate difficult challenges including various hospitalizations of three different family members, and a very disturbing experience with a professional association. But by practicing yoga and utilizing Ayurvedic principles, I was better equipped to access inner strength and maintain my stability while managing these life hurdles. Studying yoga in India, while it nurtures my passion, solidifies my commitment, and deepens my understanding, it also enables me to restore and rejuvenate my mind body and spirit. In my ongoing quest for integration and balance, I continue to learn how to trust in the universe and experience the interwoven fabric of reality.
Temporarily pausing normal routines and responsibilities requires support and resources and spending time studying in a foreign country is a veritable treat to be savored. Learning the valuable lessons of how to merge our inner world with the outer one, identifying personal imbalances and symptoms in order to take care of one’s needs and promote positive health, and recognizing the underlying balance to everything, need not only occur when visiting a foreign land. Attempting to maintain one’s awareness of the yug, or unity of all things is an ongoing process regardless of where one is. But travel is an exercise in mindfulness training and provides a way of shifting perspectives with open eyes and an open heart. With new eyes that are wide open we are able to find or rekindle a balanced way of moving through our days and of observing the unity that exists everywhere.
When I return home I will no longer be wearing my travel lens but I will continue my efforts to maintain the perspectives that India has helped me to have. Undoubtedly many things will arise that will require balancing, including my own state of being. Starting the day with a very mindful sip of coffee and returning over and over again throughout the day to this kind of quiet and appreciative focus and presence – be it on my mat, in my creative pursuits, or in my interactions with others – will continue to be very important. Engaging in the simple practise of being mindful during my daily activities and practices combined with maintaining my intention to evolve consciousness and health will help me to create and experience unity and balance in everyday life – yoga, both on and off the mat.
“Pilgrim, pilgrimage, and road – it was but myself toward my Self,
and your arrival was but myself at my own door.”