Yoga – Unearthing its True Essence

Yoga is a holistic way to health and well-being – a phrase that we keep hearing and using randomly but do we really comprehend its true meaning? I didn’t. Yet I never shied away from using the phrase liberally here and there and everywhere. Afterall, I have been practicing yoga (or, I thought I was) for 5 years now. I certainly knew what I was saying!

Last month I participated in a Yoga Teacher Training Course, just on a whim. My impulsive nature always catches me off-guard even though I have been deliberately trying to be more calculative. I NEVER harboured any ideas of being a Yoga teacher, yet I landed up with this course. I might have secretly wished, I guess, but I am really not sure. It could have been one of those fleeting thoughts that get no importance in one’s life. The entire experience feels surreal today. I just happened to chance upon the program the night before the course was starting. I have no idea why the thought of participating got planted in my mind. There was no time to research or even think about it. I had to take a decision that very moment.

Pic 1: A random picture from the ashram complex.

Doing a Yoga Teacher Training Course wasn’t something even remotely present in my mind. I had some time to spare and was toying with the idea of going on a trek to the Himalayas, something I haven’t done since the pandemic. While I debated between Sikkim or Nepal, I found myself at Bharat Yoga Vidya Kenda (BYVK) instead. Now, as a certified Yoga Instructor, I can say this has been one of the best impulsive decisions of my life. And, I can only express my gratitude to the power of the Universe that’s beyond the understanding of our limited human minds.

BYVK is an initiative of The Satsang Foundation and was founded by Sri M. It is recognized by the Government of India and Ministry of AYUSH. The 200-hour long course, which spans across one month, has been immensely fulfilling and enriching. So much knowledge gained and so many myths broken. [You can read about the myths I had HERE.] The curriculum is based on ancient yogic texts, like, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā. The course design follows the blended methodology of learning – 15 days virtual and 15 days residential. The crux of the experience naturally lies in the residential segment.

Pic 2: The Yogashala, also called as Patanjali Temple. This is was our classroom.

The residential segment was held at The Satsang Foundation ashram at Madanapalle, a small town in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh. (Madanapalle is a distinctive town for many reasons. One of them is that Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore had translated his Bengali poem ‘Jana Gana Mana’ into English as ‘Morning Song of India’ while he stayed at this place during his tour of South India. The tune of our National Anthem was also conceived here.) The calm and peaceful ashram ambience was a huge contributing factor towards all the knowledge we imbibed in the short span of time.

Pic 3: Graffiti at the ashram goshala (cowshed).

We had a packed schedule with our day starting at 5 AM and ending only between 9.30 and 10.00 PM. Asana classes that included pranayama and meditation techniques, theory classes, mantra chanting, silent walks, Karma Yoga, are some of the sessions spread through the day. We remained physically and mentally occupied all day long. The program design left no room for idling both in body and mind, which I think was done on purpose. A lot of content had to be covered in that short span of time. Surprisingly, there wasn’t a single iota of exhaustion. We were always in a cheerful and joyful state of being. Mindfulness and being present at all times was a natural state of the mind. Having trekked in the Himalayas multiple times, I was quick to draw parallels and equate the state of mind in both the situations.

In between the tight schedule, we had to carve out slots for personal study as well. We had two exams to appear at the end of the course. One internal, conducted by BYVK. The other external, conducted by Yoga Certification Board belonging to Ministry of Ayush (Govt. of India).

Pic 4: A picture from our first silent walk. PC: thesatsangfoundationofficial (Instagram handle)

As I already mentioned, I have been practicing Yoga asanas for 5 years now. More than half of this time, was in a studio which was my first training ground. But while practicing the same asanas in the training, I realized that I was doing many of them incorrectly. Since this was a teacher training course, a lot of time was spent on every asana leading to perfection in alignment and also in understanding the benefits and contraindications of each asana.

To add to the experience, I was blessed to be in the company of ten wonderful people, who were my classmates. Being bound by a common purpose, every one of us felt a great connection with each other. There was great team energy and the positivity was palpable. I need to mention the teachers too, who were not only knowledgeable but very kind and patient too.

Pic 5: All smiles on successful completion of the course.

This program has been a life-changing opportunity for me and I don’t want to take this for granted even once. It’s a blessing in the truest sense. Our ancient wisdom is so profound and insightful. It’s a pity that many of us know nothing of it and here I have just scratched the surface. The invaluable knowledge that I have gained is something I will carry for the rest of my life – the theoretical as well as the practical aspects of the Science of Yoga. I can now say with full understanding that Yoga is a holistic way to health and well-being.

Most importantly I learned that our bodies and minds are what we make them to be, and all it takes is the consciousness of our breath. Not only can we hold complex asanas for long durations or sit still with complete focus, we can reign in our emotions and show humility and respect towards fellow human beings or other beings that co-exist with us on this planet.

Pic 6: A picture from the goshala (cowshed), where the cows also appeared to be meditative. Her name is Hemavati.
Pic 7: As part of our Karma Yoga, we had to clean up the goshala, bathe the cows, feed them, make dung cakes. This activity was the best of all the Karma Yogas we had to do, which also included, campus cleaning, Yogashala cleaning, kitchen cleaning.

This experience has been so deep and intense that even the best of my travels doesn’t match up. I would highly recommend trying something like this at least once in your lifetime. Not to be a Yoga Teacher but for your self-development. It’s worthwhile to invest your time and energy in yourself by turning inwards rather than outwards. Self-reflection enables a harmonious balance between ourselves and the outside world, which then translates as wellbeing and happiness in everyday life.

Pic 8: I cannot end this post without mentioning the healthy and nutritious, yet mouth-watering ashram food. Just a little of this food and our mind and tummies would be completely satisfied. Our food intake was always comparatively less even after being so active for the whole day, which is another thing that amazed us. It surely has to do with the overall calm, peace, and contentment we experienced during those days.

International Yoga Day 2020

108 Surya Namaskars sounded enticing, but I wondered if I should go for it. I do practice Yoga regularly – three days a week, to be precise but the last time I participated in such marathon Surya Namaskars was more than two years ago. At that time, I used to practice Yoga under the guidance of trained and professional Yoga teachers. And, it is to them I owe my love and devotion for Yoga. The passion and dedication of my Yoga teachers easily rubbed off on me. That I confidently continue my practice to this day, on my own, is because of them.

Yoga is a holistic life philosophy that unites the body, mind, and spirit through Asanas (physical postures), Pranayamas (breathing exercises), and meditation. Yoga is as much about the mind and the spirit, as it is of the body. It is a powerful way to deal with everyday stress and anxiety. Consequently, Yoga does become a significant tool for the year 2020, where a healthy mind and body is of paramount importance.

Yoga Asanas involve specific breathing techniques and ideally should be practiced under the guidance of a qualified yoga teacher, especially at the beginning. Yoga Asanas, if done incorrectly can cause more harm than good. Though Internet provides hordes of articles, guides, and videos that one can learn from, nothing can replace the guidance of a real teacher. There are many subtle specifications that sometimes vary from individual to individual and often depends on one’s flexibility and body type. Such minute observations and corrections come through experience, which is only possible through individualized attention from a trained and qualified teacher.

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Pic Credit: http://www.modernagespirituality.com

When I had started Yoga five years back, I was extremely inflexible. Not that I am great today, but my teachers made sure I understood my body and correctly did the stretching, bending, twisting, and so on. Had it not been for them, I would have long given up. Yoga doesn’t bear fruit overnight. It’s not just a set of exercise. One needs to be patient. Today Yoga is part of my life, I cannot stay without it.

“Yoga is like music: the rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind, and the harmony of the soul create the symphony of life.” ~ B.K.S. Iyengar

Today, the 21st of June, is International Yoga Day. The theme for this year is “Yoga for Health – Yoga at Home”. My Yoga Teacher conducted a virtual session of 108 Surya Namaskars along with chanting and meditation. I was delighted to know about it but the number 108 made me hesitate. Will I be able to pull it off? A little deliberation and I just signed up.

The marathon Surya Namaskars turned out to be pretty smooth, and I did all of it with super ease. A confidence booster for sure, if not anything else!

Surya Namaskar also known as Surya Pranam or Sun Salutation is a set of 12 Yoga Asanas that are gracefully sequenced together. Six distinct Asanas are repeated twice during the sequence. The first set of six is dedicated to the right side of the body and the next set to the left side of the body. Surya Namaskar is done to express gratitude to the Sun for sustaining life on earth and has an immensely positive impact on the mind and body. It is a great cardiovascular workout too.

I have another post on 108 Surya Namaskars. You'll find it here.

Learn more about Surya Namaskars from this comprehensive post written by fellow blogger, Narayan Kaudinya.

Those Marathon 108 Surya Namaskars

I am a huge advocate of yoga and have been practicing the same for more than three years now. Yoga happened to me quite by chance and it wasn’t much of a planned thing.

I was on my way to a swimming school to enroll for swimming classes when I happened to cross Yogatree – a Yoga center nearby. I noticed the board without paying any heed to it. At the swimming school, I paid the fees and enrolled for lessons that were due to begin the following week. Just two days before the due date, the swimming school called up to cancel classes for the next two months due to an immediate maintenance work of the pool. Yogatree flashed in my mind at that moment for no particular reason. I looked them up on Google and found myself there the very next day.

That was the beginning of my introduction to the magical and fascinating world of Yoga. And, with the bunch of dedicated, passionate and enthusiastic teachers, the love that I imbibed for Yoga was quite natural. Today Yoga has become a way of life for me.

The location advantage of Yogatree suited me very well – just 2 Km. from my house meant less haggling with the infamous Bangalore traffic. In fact, I would walk my way down to class and back. The two great friends I made there were unexpected add-ons that further brightened up my Yoga experience. The three of us would look forward to those four days a week of catching up and practicing together.

Due to some personal situational difficulties I haven’t been going to class for the past three months. While I am religiously practicing the asanas at home, I miss my yoga class for various reasons. One of those is the 108 Surya Namanskars that we would practice every once in a while – usually on weekends.

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Pic Credit: www.modernagespirituality.com

Surya Namaskar also known as Surya Pranam or Sun Salutation, for the uninitiated, is a set of 12 yoga asanas that are gracefully sequenced together. Six distinct asanas are repeated twice during the sequence. The first set of six is dedicated to the right side of the body and the next set to the left side of the body. Surya Namaskar is done to express gratitude to the sun for sustaining life on earth and has an immensely positive impact on the mind and body.  It is a great cardiovascular workout too.

When I heard about 108 Surya Namaskars for the first time, which was just within a month of joining Yogatree, I thought this was crazy and undoable. However, on the insistence of my teacher I participated in my first session of 108 Surya Namaskars. The thought was daunting and I was absolutely sure I wouldn’t cross even 25 rounds. But to my surprise I was able to complete the entire session. We did it in sets of 9 and though I did miss a round or two here and there I sustained through to the end of the session.

I was immensely proud of myself and it gave a boost to my confidence as my flexibility was really bad then. Not that it’s great now, but I have hugely improved. After that, I always ensured that I made myself available for every 108 Surya Namaskar sessions.

However, for the last three months I have been missing those marathon Surya Namaskars as I have been practicing at home. I can mindfully do 10-12 Surya Namaskars at a time but 108 just doesn’t happen. I lose my focus and haven’t been successful yet.

Hoping that circumstances will change sooner than later and I can get back to class again.

An Addendum:

The number 108 has a special significance and is considered sacred. I googled to find some.

  • The numbers 1, 0, and 8 represent one thing, nothing, and everything (infinity). 108 thus represents the ultimate reality of the universe as being simultaneously one, emptiness, and infinite.
  • Vedic mathematicians considered 108 as a number of the wholeness of existence. 108 also connects the Sun, Moon, and Earth. The average distance of the Sun and the Moon to Earth is 108 times their respective diameters.
  • Prayers malas have 108 beads.
  • There are 108 pithas or sacred sites in India.
  • In Hindu tradition, there are 108 Mukhya Shivaganas or attendants of Shiva.
  • Lord Krishna had 108 gopis in Vrindavan.
  • The Sri Vaishnavite Tradition has 108 Divya Desams (temples of Vishnu)

For more read: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/108_(number)

Post in response to the theme for Bar-A-Thon: The Blogging Marathon