Saturday, June 20, 2015

International Yoga Day & The Inclusiveness of Yoga

"IDAY Logo". Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikipedia -

On 11th December 2014, the United Nations general Assembly passed a resolution declaring 21st June as "International Yoga Day." This declaration was made after the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his speech at the UN on 27 Sept 2014 in New York, called for the same, wherein he stated - 

"Yoga is an invaluable gift of India's ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfilment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness within you, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help us deal with climate change. Let us work towards adopting an International Yoga Day."

This call was backed by countless nations all over the world, and in less than 90 days, it was declared as a World Yoga Day. A truly apt call by the Indian head of state, who himself is a staunch practitioner of the 10000+ year old tradition.

What exactly is Yoga? 

A form of exercise? 
A form of prayer? 
A cult? A religion? An addiction?


Yoga, the Sanskrit word for "union," has its roots in the east, in the Indian subcontinent, and is a part of the Vedic philosophies. A union of the body with the mind, mind with the soul. (And if you don't believe in the soul, that's perfectly okay; Yoga still means the union of the body and mind.)

The human body has a left side and a right side (physically); a masculine side and a feminine side.
A sun (energetic) side and a moon (calming) side.
An Ida side and a Pingala side.
A yin side and a yang side.

Yoga is the union of, the harmonizing, balancing of these polarities within ourselves. You can choose to believe any one of the above you like.You see, the Yogic philosophy is pretty chilled out about your thought process that way, so long as your ultimate goal and your path to get there is fair enough.

Or maybe think about yoga as balancing your love for a pumpkin crème Brule with a love for hitting the yoga mat/gym/spinning class/jogging at the park at the break of each dawn.

Yoga is knowing that you're spending on a pair of Lulu lemon yoga pants because you want it and not because it's the latest fad.

It is also about knowing how much yoga is too much for you. It is about knowing when to stop yourself from going further in an Uttanasana. It is about knowing when to push yourself harder in that Adho Mukha Svanasana. About realizing that maybe today is not a good day to do any standing poses.

Yoga is the teacher not teaching a headstand in a Vinyasa class at 7.30 pm even though her brain is twitching to (instead leaving it for an early morning class). Yoga is replacing a Matysendrasana with a Maricyasana to make the class inclusive for a big yogi.

Yoga is about attuning yourself with that tiny little sound in your head, with that gut feeling inside your stomach. Truly listening to it and doing what is right for you, rather than just following the herd.

Yoga is about learning how to use your breath, your "Prana" to guide you in every asana on your mat, and in every step of your life off the mat. It is about knowing when you are ready for a new responsibility at work. Knowing that it is time to let go of a relationship that no longer serves you.

Yoga is thus union of the self (yourself) with the higher Self. This higher Self is referred to as true wisdom, intuitive knowledge, or simply union with God. Who cares what you want to call it, they all mean the same any way!

Yoga is unity. The bringing together of a one flexible girl who can bend backwards into Chakrasana with an 85 year old doing a modified Surya Namaskar in his wheelchair. Bringing a mischievous 6 year old to stand still for 2 seconds in a Vrkshasana (Tree pose) and at the same time bringing an autistic child to move his arms and legs in the same flow as his teacher.

Yoga is life. Yoga is a way of life.

Why then, is Yoga being called a cult, a religion by many?

America, which is inarguably the present-day world's largest marketer of yoga in the form of its $27 billion industry, has its share of misdemeanors and controversies. Yoga being taught to school kids is being challenged in courts; there are dope yoga classes even!
Back in its home, the 1st ever #YogaDay is being celebrated all across India and the day is supported by 177 nations across the globe, from Fiji to Taiwan, from Pakistan (yes!) to Argentina. But a bunch of let's say, "groups," are opposing this move, calling it against their faith. 

Alas! Can't we all get together and just breathe? Why does everything have to be about dividing one another? Are we so insecure and fragile in our faiths that we feel one Warrior or one Surya Namaskar (without a Sanskrit chant to go with it) will unman us of our beliefs?

Yoga, with its adaptability, and more importantly, inclusivity, is meant to supplement our beliefs, to take us further on our chosen path of enlightenment. There is truly nothing wrong that can happen if we 7 billion plus people decided to just get together and breathe. In harmony with each other's breath. That is unity. That is Yoga.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Power of Groundedness

Vrksasana or the "tree pose". This pose helps to build groundedness and balance at the same time. There are many such grounding poses in Yoga which we can benefit from.

How does one construct a sturdy, rock solid building? By using good quality materials, employing efficient and sustainable architectural techniques, keeping the local weather in mind (using construction materials and architecture which can withstand any known vagaries of nature in that part of the world), considering the needs and abilities of the potential residents, maybe some latest trends in the building industry, and so on.

But most importantly, a sound foundation is essential. Irrespective of what you build on top of it, if you want a lasting building, you need a solid foundation, a stable, unshakeable ground to stand on.

Likewise in life, emotionally and physically, we all have to have solid ground beneath our feet. That feeling of grounding is what allows us to not worry about survival and instead focus on things that matter, on things that would help us have a better life.

Powerful winds of change, fear of the unknown, too many things happening at the same time, and such bring in a feeling of anxiety, and a sense of “Where am I supposed to go?” “Is my life secure?” thus, a fight or flight feeling – survival mode kicks in. If there is nothing to hold on to, or no one to answer and clear the air, then even feelings of resentment, dissatisfaction, and frustration may seep in. These feelings light up a desire to do something drastic out of the ultimate urge to find a place of solace, a place where the ground is not as shaky.

And yes, sometimes, it does help to make a drastic movement. A seemingly harsh decision or a major upheaval is probably what is truly needed. For some of us, that tough decision is what gives us back our solid ground.

And sometimes, it doesn’t. In fact, that major upheaval may end up doing exactly the opposite of what we desired – we might end up landing on more shaky ground. Or we might end up losing whatever little (albeit shaky) ground we had.

So, is it just the world around us that is colliding, is it just the ground beneath us that is shaking, or is it us who are losing perception of what is around us, and if so, why?

The truth is, we are always “shifting” – always changing – sometimes aspects of us shift and then the other aspects catch up. Sometimes, there are perceptions that don’t seem to match what we think our reality is. The “outer world” is shifting as well; therefore, sometimes our perception of it causes disturbances or clouds our mind. This usually causes feelings of separation and confusion and agitation.

So, what do we do when our intuition is on an overdrive, everything around us is changing faster than we can handle, we feel frustrated but can't figure about what, and all of this makes us lose focus even with the things we're good at?

We always need a solid ground even to be able to fly, like an airplane that covers a huge runway before taking off into the boundless blue skies.

Introspection is a powerful & useful tool which most of us we seldom employ. Even if we do, many of us use it for ourselves in isolation and without keeping context of our surrounding. But we forget that, are we all (tiny but) significant parts of the larger universe!

It is our being a part of this world that makes us capable and able. We all (well, most of us) are householders, and therefore we cannot shy away from our duties in this material world. Just as day follows night, night follows day, one season follows another, in the same way, our lives keep changing. We are governed by both the natural and man made changes triggered in our surroundings. A world without change is unthinkable and impossible. The desire for change is what triggers invention, and invention begets progress. Mankind thrives on this progress. If there were no change, there would be no need to create or innovate, and our magical ability to think would go to waste... and like how unused machines rust, soon our minds too will.

The truth is, change is the only constant in life. The sooner we accept, the better it is – for us and for those around us. And when these changes happen, it is essential to find that stable ground beneath our feet.

Find your groundedness – maybe in the form of a family who you can open your heart to. Or in the form of a great job where you can achieve big things.

Maybe in the form of a favorite hobby that you can indulge in. 

Maybe by just anchoring into your breath.

A solid anchor to the ship of our sanity. To create stable ground beneath our feet. So that we can fly toward the vast blue sky full of beautiful, boundless possibilities...