Dum Lagake Haisha ( Give it all your energy ) !!!
nability to do the head stand.
The screeching wakeup call of the birds pierce into my ears while the rising sun’s light floods right through my closed eyelids creating myriad forms in various shades of orange and grey. I have closed my eyes to focus and enjoy the moment. That moment, I do not know how long it has been. It might have been a few seconds or may be a few minutes. I am not counting time today. Just enjoying and prolonging the moment for as long as I can. I am supposed to empty my mind.
Empty my mind of all thoughts from the past and present, bitter or pleasant. The harder I try, the more it oscillates. So I just let go. My memories take me to those days, and I relive the heartache and the struggle. My struggle to hold myself up (actually down), my fears about falling flat on my face and my belief that at my age, I was too old to learn.
As I look back my heart is filled with gratitude and awe for my teacher Shaju, who with his infinite patience saw me through my struggles. Struggles, that in hindsight I realize had less to do with the body and the age as much as they had to do with the mind and the baggage.
Today, I am doing the headstand and enjoying it. The Shirasasana, as it is known in the world of Hatha Yoga.
Although I had been taught other asanas (postures) during my childhood when I started learning yogic postures in school, Shirasasana or the headstand was something I never learnt to master.
I was in class 8th and Kalyani Miss, our physical education teacher had been tasked to put up a team that displayed the various yoga postures for a display at the annual inter school sports meet. The Yoga class group was supposed to have been taught all the asanas. That is what the early morning yoga classes were for. It was a class consisting of about 30 teenagers. All flexible, agile and going through the early pangs of teenage angst. Despite our agile flexible young bodies, most of us had a problem mastering the headstand. It is supposed to be the king of all asanas among the yogic postures and required focus and concentration that came fleetingly to a teenager. It was the posture that would be at the center of the entire display at the inter school annual sports meet.
When it came to the head stand the first few times I attempted them I fell flat on my face. I was determined to be the one at the center and diligently practiced for the D-day. When it was time for the intense practice sessions preceding the preparations for the annual sports day, there were only two of us who were fairly good at the headstand. We needed to practice a lot because the display would involve holding oneself up for a full three minutes at the center. Two days before the annual sports day, when Kalyani miss was choreographing our asana display, I lost focus and fell flat on my face when doing the headstand. It was a split second decision for her. I was handed out my part to play for the sports meet. I was delegated to do the backward bend the chakrasana on the left side of the formation and another girl would do the backward bend chakrasana at the right side. Between the two of us was the prime spot of head stand that went to Jwalakumari, taller and prettier than most of us and supposedly the favorite of Kalyani Miss. I wanted that spot desperately because I wanted my parents to watch me at the center and not at an obscure position on the left or the right of the main attraction on the sports day.
That year I tore away the invite for the sports day that I was supposed to take home so that my parents would not come to see me performing at the annual sports meet.
By then it had been drilled deep into my psyche that whatever I aspired for, I would always end up playing the second fiddle. Limelight, laurels and success were never destined to be mine. I stayed away from competition of any kind and took my place behind the screens or by playing the secondary roles. Kalyani Miss must have been oblivious to the damage she had done to me and probably to many others.
How vulnerable an age it was!!!
Who would have thought a Teacher’s split second decision could have such a profound impact on her student’s self-esteem for many years to come!!!
Unfortunately our education system breeds teachers like that whose sole job is to prepare us to survive in a crassly competitive world where the winner takes it all and losers end up being the minions that keep running the system.
I took to serious yoga when I turned forty. At forty, I was (and I still am) what you would in these times call voluptuous if not overweight, with strands of grey hair sprouting at the temples and going through a mid life crisis.
Reduce weight by 6 kilograms by April was my specific, measurable and time bound goal as a part of new year’s resolution for that year ( and every year before that) . It was already the month of August and the needle on the weighing scale stubbornly rested where it had always rested. Snide remarks from close relatives and distant strangers were always followed up with some unwarranted holier- than- thou advice at every social occasion. Unbeknownst to me each one of them contributed their little bit in chipping away my sense of self esteem.
A two week Yoga vacation at the Sivananda yoga Ashram seemed like a good idea to temporarily break away from the rut that I was stuck in. At the Yoga retreat there were people from all walks of life from all over the world. Soon I realized that I was not the only one nor was my situation unique.
A punishing schedule at the Ashram disciplined me. I looked forward to the two hour yoga sessions in the mornings and in the evenings. As much as I enjoyed them, when it was time for the Head stand – the Shirasasana I would chicken out and watch others get into the posture. Some would do it effortlessly and others would struggle. I was content to sit down watching others do the asana.
My teacher Shaju would nudge me, and I would recoil into my shell. Memories of Kalyani Miss would haunt me. The crude insensitive remarks about being overweight from all those obese aunties would tear me apart. As much as I wanted to get into the posture I would hold myself back. During one of those practice sessions I hypnotized myself to rewind life to the point before Kalyani Miss chose Jwala over me. I knew I was almost there. I knew I had almost mastered the headstand. I was not as tall as Jwala and afterall Kalyani miss chose her because only one person could be at the center and it had to be the one who was taller. That did not have anything to do with me and my i
I imagined myself being thirteen again. It was not easy. Practicing the head stand is not for the faint hearted. You could lose your balance and fall down injuring your spine, your neck but as it had been in my case your spirit.
In Shaju I found a teacher who believed that everyone could master the Shirasasana if they put their heart and soul into it. Age, gender and weight had nothing to do with it.
He taught me with just as much dedication as he taught others who were at various stages of the practice. I certainly was not his favorite. Nobody else was his favorite either. He went about teaching yoga with a dedication and devotion that was inspiring to say the least. He was selfless. He encouraged you when you needed it the most and never ever discouraged you. He knew when the student was about to give up and he knew exactly how much more each of his student had to persist but never gave it away.
I did not master the head stand in the fifteen days that I was at the Ashram. In fact, in the last few days of my stay at the ashram I practiced and practiced like a possessed soul, hell bent on learning the posture before I went back and got sucked up into the grind of the life outside the ashram. I realized that the Head stand was not something you could learn in a crash course.
May be Kalyani Miss was right. I was a slow learner. May be all those aunties were right. I was too overweight to attempt anything, leave alone standing upside down.
Surprisingly none of them surfaced in my thoughts for the month after I got out of the ashram. I practiced diligently and the only force that got me through was Shaju’s faith and encouragement, that with practice nothing ever eludes anybody. He parting lines to me when I was leaving were something in the lines of ‘every flower takes its own time to blossom, and each one of them emits a unique scent when its time comes. You never know what your’s may be like, until you persist’.
When I look back in hindsight, I realize that what I was trying to learn was not just the head stand. What I was trying to shed was not just my body weight. The learning came with a lot of spin offs. As I peeled one layer after another of my self esteem problems, I shed not my weight (it remains the same) but my toxic relationships.
Every day of practice unfolds new dimensions of underlying fears and limitations that I discover in my body and in my mind. It is a continuous process and I know I am nowhere near perfection. But I am know I am on the right path.
- On Teacher’s day this post is dedicated to all the wonderful teachers whose selfless devotion has made a difference to the world.
- This post has been submitted for timesfestivals short story contest on Teacher's day
- This post is inspired by the character of Sandhya played by Bhumi Pednekar in the movie Dum lagake Haisha J