~ Excerpt from From Dior to Dharma by Shruti Bakshi. Available on Amazon.
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I was already having trouble understanding the teacher’s German accented French, now I was supposed to understand her German accented Sanskrit!
“Sit cross legged,” Michaela leaned over and whispered to me, translating the name of the pose we were expected to adopt.
We were sitting (now cross-legged) in a yoga class that she had dragged me to. I had been very reluctant to come, going by my past experience of yoga. I had only ever been to two yoga classes before in my life. One had turned out to be so slow and boring that I was convinced that the same benefits could be achieved by staying in bed an additional hour. The other had been exactly the opposite – so fast-paced and complex that I had decided that running on the treadmill would achieve the same burn while, as a bonus, saving me the humiliation of flailing on the floor like a fool in public. I had tried to calmly explain to Michaela that attempting yoga with my level of patience could be dangerous, but she had been recklessly persistent and so here I was, trying to come to come to terms with my inability to sit cross-legged.
Suddenly, as if on some secret cue, the whole class started chanting in Sanskrit. My slight amusement at their incorrect pronunciations was soon overcome by embarrassment at not being able to understand what was being chanted. Being Indian, I expected myself to know. The French were always trying to confuse me linguistically!
After the chanting, the teacher pulled out an iPad and showed us a picture of a cuddly white dog.
“Would you eat this dog?” she asked the class.
I looked around the class gingerly, hoping to find some reassurance. Seeing equally puzzled faces around me, I heaved a sigh of relief.
Finding no takers, the teacher continued “Why do we think it’s OK to eat some animals and not others?”
While it wasn’t the way I would have gone about it, in her own way, the teacher did end up making a good point about the virtues of vegetarianism and a general policy of non-violence or ahimsa. But what really struck a chord with me was when she said that we must also be careful not to commit ahimsa against ourselves. I suddenly realised that this is what I had been doing with my thoughts – committing violence against myself. Doubt, anxiety, frustration, worry, were all a form of non-violence against myself. A little chill went through me at the realisation.
The class proceeded into twisting and turning routines but it felt different to my previous experience with yoga postures. I was actually enjoying the slow, conscious movements and deliberate, deep breathing. But then we got to the balancing poses and that’s where the yoga class turned into a more familiar exercise in frustration.
We were asked to hold the ‘tree pose’ which involves standing on one leg with the other leg lifted and placed on the inner side of the standing leg. What a torturous contortion! I would have protested that what was being demanded was not humanly possible if it were not for the fact that the others in the class had all transformed themselves into human trees. I couldn’t even balance for two seconds straight.
Balance, balance, balance. Don’t fall, don’t fall, don’t! ….. Gosh this is hopeless. Am I really that behind on the path of spiritual evolution? Great, that’s one more thing that sucks about my life. Oh no wait, I’m not supposed to commit ahimsa against myself. Whoaaaa! OK, try once more. Think good thoughts. What shall I have for dinner? Oh damn, I needed to take the laundry out of the machine. Now it’s all going to smell, yuck!
I felt a soft hand on my right shoulder.
“Stop thinking,” the teacher whispered close to my ear.
And I stopped. Just like that.
My body relaxed. And the next thing I knew, I was standing like a tree.
It felt amazing. For about five seconds, but still, I was amazed at the power of those two simple words. ‘Stop thinking’. Magic words. I resolved to remember them for future use. I could see their much wider application in my life beyond yoga poses. In fact an hourly repetition seemed like a must.
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