Sunday, April 3, 2022

The Way Back To Happiness

 I recently read an article on Ricardo Munoz ‘s (former chief psychologist at San Francisco General Hospital and now distinguished professor of psychology at Pal Alto University) mission to prevent depression.  He began in the nineteen eighties when very little was known about this subject and depression was largely thought to be unpreventable.  

Munoz used simple techniques based on the premise that if people resumed pleasurable activities even though they didn’t feel like doing them, they felt better and were able to do more activities.  This significantly helped to cure people suffering from depression and led to Munoz wondering if it could actually prevent the onset of depression.  Years of work with a large number of patients (many from a low-income group, who didn’t speak any English) proved that it could.

Munoz then utilized the internet to reach out to many more people in different ways- he ran a very effective smoking cessation programme in the nineties and later founded a company to provide self help mental health information that he admits “won’t work for everybody, but nothing does.”  It has helped a large enough number of people though, especially during the pandemic when the number of U.S. adults who had symptoms of a depressive disorder or anxiety disorder rose from 11% to 40%.

Munoz recommends simple methods like calling a friend, getting enough sleep, being with nature, listening to music or having a special event to look forward to, to prevent people from spiralling down into anxiety or depression.

This simple commonsense approach that has apparently worked wonders struck a chord in me.  I had never given much thought to how troubling these problems can be until recently.  My study of Ayurveda had just informed me that health is the state of equilibrium between the mind, body and spirit.  I had read all about what happens when this equilibrium is shifted but never thought to apply it to myself.

I have been suffering from migraines for many years and sought various forms of remedies for these.  Nothing seemed to work very well, the triggers (largely hormonal) were too strong and were getting more frequent over time.  So last July I visited a few doctors.  One of them recommended a medicine called Sibelium that was very commonly taken to prevent the onset of migraines.  When I asked about side effects, he said, “Oh it will make you a bit sleepy and hungry.  But you are thin and can afford to eat.. Ha! Ha!”  It was said lightheartedly.  And so, in the same spirit it was that I began this medicine.

The first day that I began the medicine, everything seemed strange.  I could hardly keep awake and I was continuously eating whatever I could find.  This seemed dreadful.  I should have stopped right there.  Instead, I told the doctor and, on his recommendation, went on a lower dose that reduced these symptoms and kept me away from the pain killers I had been using.  I was able to function (and I really needed to function, with the pandemic lockdowns and my little son’s online school and assignments to be dealt with.  My husband was, and since, has been busy making Covid and other vaccines - he was in his lab right through this period).

A few months later I noticed something startling.  (My husband said that he had started noticing changes much earlier on- he felt I had lost my lightness of spirit- but he thought it might just be a small change with the medication and was probably reversible).  I began to get sudden panic attacks for no reason.  Fortunately, I connected it to the medicine (and when I read the list of possible side effects, this was one of the innumerable side effects listed as affecting a miniscule number of people).  I got in touch with another doctor, who knew me and who I trusted, and his words were, “Get off the medicine immediately.”

I did just that, but the panic didn’t subside.  It went on – a fierce churning in my abdomen and a terrible cloud of worry and gloom covering my mind, day, and night.  I couldn’t enjoy even a single moment.  I couldn’t sleep.  I somehow had to still stay functional, to deal with my family life and also, unfortunately, the very large tangle of paperwork and other responsibilities that my father’s death had left on my shoulders.  (My father passed away just at the onset of the pandemic quite suddenly, even before I had time to say goodbye to him, and this had also left me emotionally weak).  It all seemed overwhelming.  

Normally I would have dealt with everything one step at a time, but I was not functioning like my old self and, worse still, I didn’t know if I would get better.  When I asked people, there seemed to be no answer other than, “Hopefully, the effects of the medicine will pass.”

Quite serendipitously, the day I went off the medicine was the day I was to meet an Ayurvedic doctor.  I had set up the appointment some weeks ago, hoping to ease off the allopathic medicine.  When I went, I gave him my medical history.  He noted it down but said he just wanted to balance my elements from within and then gradually get me off all forms of medicine.  He didn’t mention the migraines, the panic or anything.  

I had not much hope but since I started the medicine, my migraines are very much under control.  So, I am keeping my fingers crossed that I don’t get any other kinds of side effects with this medicine, though the doctor has told me that it is quite a mild kind of medication that he has given.

This blog is not about my troubled times.  It is really about how I pulled myself through all this and how love and faith are really what can guide us in times of trouble.  

I made an effort to listen to my inner voice which seemed shaky and weak, but which pointed me in a certain direction.  I learnt that the direction which makes me feel better from inside is always the direction to take, no matter what anyone says.  I learnt not to ignore those little bits of contentment or peace which came unbidden.  And that peace leads to a trickle of joy sometimes, which may be easily forgotten.  But then another trickle of joy comes along and slowly, very slowly, I realized that there are many tiny trickles of joy to be found in my world.

People helped a lot too; I was lucky enough to find the right kind of people.  Too much talking does not help.  Some people are embarrassed or don’t seem to want to hear about your misfortunes.  Some give weird and wild advice which just unsettles you even more.  Some will just shrug it off or say, “Snap out of it,” which is exactly what you want to do but don’t know how to.

I was very fortunate that my husband stood firmly beside me at every step.  I woke him up a million times at night, called him endlessly at all hours while he was in lab and just repeated the same thing over and over, “I don’t feel good.  I want to be back to what I was.”

He always heard me out, always encouraged me, always stood firm in his belief that I was gradually getting better, and everything would be fine.

My sister-in-law Tanu supplied me with virtual hugs and physical lavender sachets, both of which I clung to at night.  Another sister-in-law, Kaveri, provided kind words over the phone.  My friend Nora who is a Five Element acupuncturist, sent me diagrams of points that I could press or needle to get back into equilibrium.

My music teacher, Soumitro, served as a great source of strength and focused my energy in the direction of music, which I found very therapeutic.  Though I began learning music less than a year ago (to help my son practice), never having learnt it before, I found myself drawn greatly to the sounds and notes that were introduced to me.  My head felt better, my mind felt soothed and I discovered that I enjoyed singing.  I called my teacher many times when I was low, and he always responded positively and joyfully, talking me through my troubles with examples of his views on how to feel good about life and reminding me that all was well in my world.  He introduced me to peaceful and happy ragas that I could hear and sometimes hum or just replay in my mind.  From being a music teacher, he moved onto being a friend to my son and myself.

And so, gradually, began the shift to positivity.  I began ignoring the pangs and they gradually receded.  I did not know how to actually feel happy again but my husband encouraged me to take time to do the things I had always enjoyed.  Swimming, cooking and music filled the hours when my son went back to physical school.  I stopped dwelling on all the paperwork that was piled up related to my father’s work.  I timidly began asking people for advice or help when I found there were financial and other tasks beyond me, and I discovered how much goodwill there was for me.  I may not have achieved any high-flying targets in recent years, but I care about people and people seem to remember and appreciate it.  I sensed that and it made me feel grateful.  This is how, gradually, the transition occurred.  

Initially, in the swimming pool, my mind would be full of troubled thoughts, “I’m just wasting my time here when I should be doing bank work.”  Now I enjoy the tranquility of the pool, the pale turquoise water with the glimmering sun beans slanting through.  I enjoy the feel of the water and the way my body feels at the end of the swim.  I enjoy the warm shower I take after that.

Earlier I would quake at the thought of making anything more complicated than rice, dal and a curry.  Now I’m back to khow suey, stir fried crabs, homemade pizza and more.  

Earlier, a walk outside would just be a short respite before I returned to my old worries.  Now, I feel the breeze, smell the damp earth, reach out to the ancient trees and the young, springy grass that grows alongside.  I thank Nature for showing me all its beauty each time I step outside.  

I make it a point now to stay in touch with people I care about.  Earlier I wondered what I could say to them as nothing much was happening in my life.  Now I realize it doesn’t matter.  Somehow, we connect, words flow, and people appreciate my gesture of reaching out to them.

Not that I no longer sense those clouds gathering.  They do come once in a while, but they don’t stay for long.  I try to remember the peaceful or happy moments of my days and remind myself that each day will be filled with some of these special times, which will stretch out for longer and longer periods.  And I will get back to my yoga and my writing soon.  

I no longer take natural beauty, bursts of joy, periods of peace and different forms of love or compassion for granted.  Each such moment has become very special for me- a gift to be grateful for and to be cherished.  I find that acknowledging and appreciating each beautiful moment inevitably leads to other moments of great positivity.

And as for banks and other impersonal institutions that I need to keep dealing with?  They can all wait.  My happiness can’t.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

My Cupboard Complains

 It all began with the packers.  Everything that goes wrong in our house, if not blamed on the monkeys, is always blamed on the packers.  But it WAS their fault.  For mixing things up in big boxes, leaving them unlabeled and strewn all over the house.  Boxes that were too big and heavy for me to move, boxes that were too jumbled up for me to guess what lay within each.  There is more order in volcanic eruptions than in my unpacked boxes.

"It's okay,"says my husband.  "We're not here to win a prize for neat and tidy homes."  (This means, "I'm not going to waste my time clearing up this mess when I can work on a Coronavirus vaccine."). Fair enough.  And, usually, it's okay.  The inherent lack of order combined with the disorder my son brings each day into our house is something we live cheerfully with. (Garbage is not garbage, according to my son.  It is a thing of wondrous possibilities, which he must explore).

We moved in just before the Coronavirus did.  At a busy time, a few days before Diwali.  "Don't worry about unpacking, immediately" said my husband (which meant, "I have to go to Africa on Diwali.  We'll deal with things when I return.").  And so I just skimmed the surface of what lay in the boxes and put them away.  Of course certain emergencies required immediate action (like my husband realising a few hours before his flight that he had no sweater.  Finally, after much upheaval, we located one (and only one) sweater -the rest were packed in a completely different box in the garage.

It has now been almost two years since we moved.  Gradually I have unpacked, leaving the lowest priority and most voluinous items for the end.  These were undoubtedly my clothes.  Living in three pairs of clothes for a year brought a certain sense of freedom.  No choices to be made.  No accessories to choose.  Just wear, wash and repeat the process.  This served me well through the first pandemic year.  Until my clothes developed holes that grew larger and larger.

It was then that I unpacked and put away the rest of my clothes.  My cupboard is old and exceedingly beautiful.  It has spotless glass and coloured tiles on it and is made of ancient, gleaming teak.  But its design is such that I cannot see half the contents because the doors do not open completely.  To access these, I have to pull everything our, sift through the clothes and push everything back again.  Not practical but I love my cupboard much too much to change this.  And my cupboard (when it is not in one of its moods, loves me immensely too).

So I carefully put away my things but had no use for most of them because life was still moving at maximum simplicity scale.  The priority was waking up early, going outdoors to play, rushing back, cooking breakfast, checking internet connections, making sure we were in time for the zoom calls, cooking the next meal and repeating this process over and over.

It was finally only today that I gathered the energy to wear a saree.  I got my first saree when I was sixteen and I have loved wearing them ever since.  In my parents' house I was oblivious as to the demands of sarees- they demand to be hand washed, starched, sun-dried, carefully ironed and put away in the right place, next to the matching blouses and petticoats.  It is understandable that I have not been able to summon the energy to wear a saree for the last two years.

But today things were different.  Today I was determined to wear one.  And so I went confidently to the cupboard and pulled out my favourite colour- off white.  I love all shades of white and this white and blue one was what I would wear today.

But life had Other Plans.  The saree was perfect, but - no blouse!  I searched high and low and finally located the blouses tucked away in a corner, camouflaged next to a bunch of dupattas.  Whew!  But the problem was far from solved.  My cupboard, which once overflowed with white petticoats suddenly shook its head when I asked it to produce just one.  "Not possible," it said with a little sigh.  "You didn't put them in here."

Didn't put them in here!  I was aghast.  Where HAD I put them?

"Well maybe you did.  But - ahem- you have so many white clothes and they look all the same folded up that I can't tell," my ancient cupboard groaned.  "Here- why don't you take this nice- grey one."

Grey!  I shuddered.  It is a colour I don't like.  "Okay, how about- bright yellow, dark mustard, navy blue.."

I shook my head.  "Oh!  You're so hard to please," creaked my cupboard.  "Well, take this- it's a very old green one."

Green- I rummaged around.  Yes, I had a saree.  I had a blouse (did it fit?- whew! yes it did..).  Okay I could manage that.  "Thank you," I whispered to the cupboard.  "Don't mention it- ever again," it sighed.  I wondered.  Had I been too demanding?

Finally, after I got into my saree, I felt it had all been worth it.  Yes, there are mounds of clothes scattered about which have to be rearranged and put back.  Yes, I need to find those white petticoats asap.  Yes, I will have to wash this saree (but I am not going to think that far ahead).  Today, I am going to enjoy wearing my green saree with this cheerful red blouse.  A small triumph of perseverance in the face of complete clothes-finding chaos.  Even my cupboard approves of that.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

It Rains!

 It rains, the Earth

Sighs in relief

 It has been parched

Beyond belief.

It rains, the trees sway

With the breeze

I watch the drops

Leap off the leaves.

It rains, the sky

Is all aglow

With fireflies'

Fluorescent flow.

It rains, I hear

The koel call

Nocturnal notes 

That rise and fall.

Faultless notes

That flit and dart

They echo deep

Within my heart.

It rains and brings

A peace so deep

My heart is full

I fall asleep.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

"But, Do You Like It?"

 The eye of the beholder is always subjective.  This is driven home to me each time I see the amazing rug collection of my friend Danny, who travels thousands of miles to search for tribal rugs from Central Asia, some of them over a hundred years old!

This thought also comes back to me with some force when I deal with my seven year old son, Nayan, who hasn't strayed from home since the pandemic began, but whose eye and mind work very differently from mine.

This was reinforced during Nayan's music class, when the teacher would ask him, "Do you like these songs?  Which song would you like to sing?  How do you feel?"

Initially I found these questions rather odd for a regular music class.  "Leaving these decisions to a child is asking for trouble," I thought.  "Nayan is just going to take advantage of this or impulsively say something that he will be stuck with, forever."

But that didn't happen.  Nayan relaxed, sometimes he didn't even reply (and that seemed to be fine with the teacher); sometimes he couldn't give his reasons very clearly.  But during this process, there developed between him and the teacher, a kind of trust and understanding.   Nayan understood and respected the fact that he would not be pushed into learning music and that he was an equal and active participant in the class.  

He began analysing the songs he was to sing, watching all possible versions of them and saying to me, "This one is too fast, this is sooo slow, this tune is not correct, this pronunciation is funny.."  All this helped him learn to listen.

It was a lesson for me on leaving certain decisions to children and trusting them to find their way through the maze of perplexing possibilities.

This struck home again last night when Nayan wandered into his bedroom to sleep on his Very Own Bed.  Within fifteen minutes, he was back by my side, snuggling close to me and saying he couldn't sleep on his bed even though his favourite bear Samatva was by his side.  "No, he was not scared.  No, he was not disturbed.  But he just couldn't sleep.."  

This has been a regular feature with Nayan but tonight something tugged at my memory.

"Nayan," I asked the next morning, "Do you like your room?"

"Hmmm.." he was not sure.  "I can't seem to sleep there."

Looking at the room, I realised that it had none of Nayan's possessions.  Not even his toys (because he usually plays in the living room).  His name (which he had proudly coloured and stuck) was on the door.    There was a picture of tigers high up, looking down at him (because I love tigers) but, apart from that, the walls were bare.  The room was usually just used for ironing clothes during the day so there were piles of clothes everywhere.

"Let's begin," I said, "By removing these clothes and putting all the things that YOU would like into this room.

Nayan pondered.  "We'll begin with the aeroplane cloud that Appa drew for me," he said.  "We can hang it above my name."

There was a very convenient little nail so we could do that quite quickly.

Now Nayan is busy thinking of the other things that he can put up.  While doing so, perhaps he will spend a little more time looking at and getting to know his little room.  And someday, he might even feel comfortable enough to lie on the bed there and happily fall asleep...

Friday, July 30, 2021

Don't Be Afraid Of Dragons

 They hiss, they spit, they bare their fangs and snap at us!  

They rise effortlessly above us and just as we hope they have flown away, they come swooping down to breathe fire once more..

I have always dreaded dragons.  There seemed so many of them- waiting to pounce on me when I was a child and they find their way still, when I am asleep - and sometimes (even worse) - when I'm wide awake.

They come in a bewildering array of forms (bringing that sinking feeling which is much more dreadful than the dragon itself) : nagging doubts, gnawing anxiety, dreaded deadlines, tugs of disappointment at things that didn't happen the way I wanted, unachieved 'targets', being the victim of dangerous road rages, vitriolic verbal outbursts, cold shoulders and more..

How, oh how do we deal with all these?  Merely shouting, "Dragons flee!" doesn't seem to help.  

One way forward, I think, is by taking it one moment (and one dragon) at a time and thinking of it as an opportunity for change and self discovery.  Once you make sense of one dragon, you realise they are all the same even if the shapes vary.  They all aim to distract you and disrupt your natural state of equilibrium.

When they succeed in doing so, everything looks bigger and harder to tackle.  So- hold on tight to your inner self, don't let it slip away and you will find your Very Own methods to deal with that particular Dragon in your life.

My seven year old son, brimming with curiosity, peers over my shoulder as I write this blog.

"I'm so happy you're telling people not to be afraid of dragons, Mummy," he says, hugging his special red and yellow dragon, Flamie Jamie.  

"Appa, are you afraid of dragons?  Don't be."

"I think I am," says his father.  "Dragons can be very scary sometimes."

"But that's not real!" exclaims my son.  "They look like they're breathing fire but that's only their mucous which comes in the winter or when they're sick.  That mucous doesn't burn you, it just stops you from seeing clearly.  And what they are asking for is just some medicine and a hanky."

Thought provoking words indeed.  Dragons lead us to despair and destruction.  To battles we wouldn't have chosen for ourselves.  But what lurks within a dragon?  A sense of loss and despair?   A world frozen so many times, it has lost the ability to appreciate warmth?  

Can we provide all that the dragon asks or secretly desires?  No (at least I cannot!). Handkerchiefs and medicinal brews are not so easy to come by (handkerchiefs in particular, in my house, seem to do the vanishing act each time I need them).

Perhaps we can begin by avoiding the usual pitfalls- those flashes of temper, gushes of dislike or cold contempt.  Let's not move away from our inner tranquility (that we have worked so hard to reach).  Hang on desperately to our place of refuge and shelter- our inner core and refuse to budge from there. Use our inner core to throw the dragons off balance as a Tai Chi master might have effortlessly done in days of yore.

The dragons may not disappear but we will feel better about ourselves.  And holding on to this feeling, we might deal with our opponents in ways better than when we were filled with hatred, rage or fear.  The dragons might even just recede,  filled with disgust at our lack of opposition, for perhaps all they wanted was a good old fight.  Perhaps we might even discover that dragons lack weapons with which to approach the deep stillness that lies within us.  The possibilities are endless..

As I think about these things, the words of Lao Tzu echo in my mind-

"...The Tao is empty, yet when applied is never filled up.

So deep it is, Ah! it seems to be the ancestor of all things.

Blunting sharp edges, resolving confusions,

Diffusing glare, uniting the world:

Such depth, Ah! something seems to exist there.

I do not know whose child it is.

It seems to have existed before the Ancestor..."

Perhaps we can use this emptiness to our advantage.  When we are empty, how will dragons find us?

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

A Little Love, A Lot of Work

 When my nephew told me last week that he had bought his own house, I was amazed at how much time had gone by.  My nephew spent several years with us when he arrived after school, from Kolkata, to attend college in Bangalore. 

This week he sent a message saying the house drains were blocked and he was having a difficult time getting them fixed.  My husband and I immediately thought,"Maybe we should have told him to check all these things before, we have had so many years of experience setting up houses.."  But we didn't want to appear to interfere.  There is a special joy that comes from settling into your first house and learning from your early mistakes.

This incident reminded me of our own last move to a lovely house on campus with exactly the same problems (tree roots had grown into the drains)- it was airy and spacious but old, unlived in and full of niggling problems.  As with all houses, this one too required a little love and a lot of work to set it right and show up its charm.

I began to think of all the houses we had changed over the years since I was married.  I first arrived in 1993, with ten bags, to join my husband in a tiny one bedroom apartment.  My husband looked at me and then at all the bags.  

"We only have space for two bags," he said.  "Send the rest back."  Then, looking at my despondent face, he relented and said, "We'll try to fit as much as we can in."

So out went our institute furniture- two metal chairs and a metal camp bed.  We put some shelves high on the wall and hauled the bags and their contents up there.  Some boxes doubled up as benches and tables and somehow we fit everything in.  This was nice because I had saved up all my student stipend to buy things for us- nothing fancy but very nice cookware, a pile of books, tons of CDs and cassettes and all else that my husband and I could happily share in our first home.

Our first home

We needed lots of light so I cut up old sarees to make curtains - they swung gently in the breeze and reminded me of my mother as they swished about our rooms.

We had a little garden and this space gave me my first lessons- on life and gardening.  I planted marigolds with gay abandon, which were torn to pieces by little children and monkeys.  We had a custard apple tree bearing the mot delicious fruit and a papaya tree which also gave the sweetest yellow papayas (nowadays a rarity).  The trouble was a Bengali neighbour living above us, who claimed right to all the papayas because they grew up close to her terrace, and she wanted all the green papayas she could get.  I was furious because I claimed ownership of the papaya tree since it grew down below, in my garden.  She claimed her right by means of seniority, I claimed mine by my fiery temper (which is now usually under control but in those days was unpredictable)..  This issue was never resolved and after a few months, she moved to a bigger house elsewhere.

Marigolds, papayas - and trouble!

Now my papayas were safe but we had problems of another nature.  The next neighbour complained bitterly of my husband's habit of inviting students home and playing music for them on the weekends.  This was hard to rectify, I think we just closed our door and windows and did our best to keep out of their way.

With students at home

Our next house was bigger, almost palatial, in comparison.  It had two bedrooms and a huge empty space on one side, overgrown with trees.  At this time, when my father visited, he bought us a plastic table and chairs (that we somehow transported home on the back of our ancient Fiat).  We placed these in our overgrown garden and had our morning meals under the trees.  There were plenty of snakes and rodents; many of them found their way into out house.  This experience really taught us the ways to animal proof our house.  My husband's hockey skills were much appreciated while chasing all these animals out.

My nephew and I organise a barbecue 

Then we moved to a first floor apartment; this was the first time we were off the ground.  I always feel very rooted to the earth and I wondered if I would ever settle into a house located somewhere in space.  But to my surprise, I loved it because every window looked into the top of a tree (filled with birds, squirrels and insects of all kinds) and there was much more sunlight.  Yes, my baby (who is very sensitive sound) would get startled and cry each time the koel sang and the most ferocious (Vespa) wasps would love to nest in out windows, sometimes stinging us- but my terrace garden flourished with the sunlight, and so did we.

Now we are in a larger house with a garden and a huge empty (overgrown!) space on one side.  I have spent months clearing the space of concrete debris from past inhabitants.  We have snakes, monkeys, rats but they are now firmly kept out of the house.  There is not much sunlight below and some mango trees keep raining mangoes on our driveway that smash into our car and that no one likes to eat.  An enormous jackfruit tree has shed its hefty fruit, completely crushing out roof outside.  But it is lovely to see so much greenery and hear so many birds.

Giant roof-crushing jackfruit

We all have our favoured nooks- my husband has set up an airy corner for his computer work that overlooks our garden with its outsize ginger lilies on which humming birds sit.  Bougainvillea sways in a corner and bulbuls love to play in between its thorny stems and he can watch all this while working.  

My son has his study table next to my husband's and his favourite teddy bear sits on a bench behind, watching every move.  

I like to sit on the terrace especially for my evening music practice, as long as I can, before the mosquitoes drive me in.  

Our bedroom overlooks the trees that grow tall and wild; in the monsoon season, the fireflies light up the darkness outside the windows.  Little birds perch on the windowsills, looking for beetles to eat and squirrels peep in hopefully trying to find an opening to enter and build their nests.  

Mangoes that no one likes to eat

We have this house for five years and next will have to move out of campus, to yet another house.  Until then, we enjoy this house, getting to know its creaks and leaks and sighs..

Friday, July 23, 2021

Thoughts, On Guru Poornima

It is Guru Poornima, the day when we remember and pay respect to our Guru- the word goes far beyond the meaning of Teacher or Master.  

A Guru is one who leads you from darkness to light (gu- darkness, ru- light).  One who shows you the way, not the end.

And so, tonight, as I use my last five minutes to type, I can only feel thankful that I met and studied with my Yoga Guru and that I can still be in touch with him though I am no longer directly practicing yoga with him.  As has often been said about Gurus, my Guru's house was a place of silent refuge for me each morning.  I would leave my worldly worries at the doorstep and focus entirely on yoga for the next three hours, feeling the calm and strength that the practice gives, slowly growing within me.

I have not much time to write, so I am pasting below a few thoughts from previous blogs of mine-

"Last week, in one of our class discussions, we wondered about the reams of writings on yoga - What is necessary? What is useful? What is desirable?- according to various accomplished yogis. This is a confusing area, strewn with subjectivity, many times topics are described in the absence of context or level of difficulty. 

Finally, our yoga teacher gave his own views, repeating several times that yoga is for those who have nothing. Nothing? Not exactly - but what he meant was that people who have already attained control over their minds, their physical selves don't really need most of these practices. 

But for the average person, physical health is necessary to carry out most of what one wants to achieve, and along with this a certain peace of mind and sense of satisfaction are desirable. For this person (which includes most of us), yoga is a simple step towards staying healthy and peaceful. 

There are many different approaches to yoga based on our specific temperaments and affinities. In a more physical sense too, all one really needs to practice yoga, is a bit of land or a part of a room, where one might be undisturbed. In addition, having a yoga mat is perhaps not asking for too much! And of course, a bit of time. But that is all it takes to begin. 

Somehow, the phrase 'for those who have nothing' stayed in my mind and I began thinking of the verses composed by Adi Shankaracharya (an eighth century spiritual preceptor) in his Atma Shatakam (the song of the self). According to the story about him, when he was eight years old, he was walking through the Himalayas in search of a guru. He met a sage (the teacher he was searching for)who asked him who he was. The young boy replied with this Sanskrit poem, of which I quote a few lines: 

"Mano Buddhi Ahankara Chitta Ninaham Nacha Shrotra Jihve Na Cha Ghrana Netre Nacha Vyoma Bhoomir Na Tejo Na Vayu Chidananda Rupa Shivoham Shivoham" 

(I am not mind, nor intellect, nor ego, nor the reflections of the inner self I am not the five senses. I am beyond that. I am not the ether, nor the earth, nor the fire, nor the wind (etc. - the five elements). I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, I am Shiva, I am Shiva).

" Na Punyam Na Papam Na Saukhyam Na Dukham Na Mantro Na Teertham Na Vedo Na Yajnaha Aham Bhojanam Naiva Bhojyam Na Bhokta Chidananda Rupa Shivoham Shivoham"

(I have neither merit, nor demerit. I do not commit sins or good deeds, nor have happiness or sorrow, pain or pleasure. I do not need mantras, holy places, scriptures, rituals or sacrifices. I am none of the triad of the observer or one who experiences, the process of observing or experiencing, or any object being observed or experienced. I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, I am Shiva, I am Shiva)..."

"Our Yoga class is slowly winding down, the teacher is moving to Mysore where a fresh batch of students await him. After studying with him for almost ten years (the first six involving three hour classes from Monday to Saturday, beginning at 6 a.m. sharp) there is a little tug of separation. Try as we might to emulate paths laid down by the yogis, feelings intervene at times. 

The class is almost empty now, just my husband and I and the teacher. We spend the last few days asking questions of all kinds, moving as always, towards understanding the asanas (postures) and pranayama (breath control) within our limitations. It is a time of change. 

The yoga teacher discusses teaching styles and ways to correct students. Having gone down this path for so long, we have decided to finally teach, but the details are still unclear.

We stretch, lift, inhale, relax - and occasionally collapse - some things don't seem to change! The yoga teacher is trying to convey the very essence of the practice to each of us, it seems to me. My husband is shown ways to correct difficult movements and I am reminded of the key components of the practice - focussing on the joints, breath and mind.

The mind is the hardest to deal with. To disregard its tendencies to flit about and to remain focussed on the breathing and movements is a big challenge for me. To be able to do this on my own each day - the thought is daunting but exciting as well. For this is the only way to go deeper into the practice.

But no matter what we do (or don't do), some essence of the practice always remains within us, ready to express itself at any moment we choose.."

And so today, I thank my Guru, and all true Gurus in the world, for helping their students find their individual paths and for guiding and supporting them during this process.
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