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Day 1 with Abhijata Iyengar

Liza Skaria of Calgary AB shares her thoughts on the first day of the online intensive with Abhijata Iyengar…

I woke up this morning with a sense of happiness and excitement although I had slept for less than 6 hours. The day was perfect- one of those very rare days in Calgary where you can walk out at 5am without a sweater. My car which is normally parked in the underground parkade had to be moved out for the annual spring cleaning of the basement. I parked my car on a nice shaded street and walked back home thinking about how long it had been since I even took an asana class. Since we started isolation and physical distancing in late March, I have been living a pretty solitary life in my apartment. And have spent a lot of hours in my own company. Like most people during this time, my life has been shaken by lots of changes – big and small on a weekly basis. We have all had to make adjustments to accommodate the new “normal”. And as lucky as I know I am , in terms of how little I’ve been impacted – my elderly parents are close by and doing well , my sisters and their families have been very supportive and I have my job with work that I enjoy doing – it has still been a very stressful time in many ways. Big situations such as these bring out different reactions in different people. And as much as I am an independent woman, we are all still connected and affected by each other’s choices.  Sacrificing some of the aspects of my life such as hanging out with my parents, being hugged by my little nephews and niece and feeling a lack of connection with friends and work mates has been tough. I suppose a large part of the solution to my troubles can really only come from me. And I’ve struggled to do that even with all the amazing tools that yoga provides through the philosophy, pranayama and asana practice. My asana practice has probably suffered the most as I have delved into yogic philosophy and pranayama during this time. It has been lovely to taste more in those areas that I don’t often focus on, but my asana practice has always helped keep in check that tendency for me to avoid discomfort and brings out the determined and focused side of me. I won’t lie – I was glad to have no camera on me today so that my perceived imperfections and “issues” would be mine to observe alone. At the best of times I do not like the attention of a crowd, much less when I feel I am anything less than very good or perfect. With all these thoughts in mind I logged into class.

We were greeted by Abhijatha’s  expressive and beautiful smiling face. She has such a certainty, wisdom and poise about her, that I don’t see the fact that she is probably much younger compared to most in the class. It feels natural to want to listen to her words of encouragement , advice and admonishment. She really set the tone for the class by fully acknowledging the present situation. Being in Maharashtra, she is witnessing one of the worst impacts of the Covid situation and therefore personally well understands the stress that the world is facing. I really put my worries and self judgement at ease after she shared the point of using the practice as an aid to helping us cope and move forward in life. How wonderful to have this teacher with us!

I could focus on the sequencing of the class in my write up, but I sense that it is not the most relevant information to share. Rather her use of the asanas in expanding our consciousness and teaching us to observe ourselves through them is what has stayed with me.  We started class in Adho Mukha Virasana with a bolster supporting our front body and another bolster placed in a T fashion to the first was used to support our arms. With that briefly held pose that helped us move inward, we then explored freedom in our body through uttansana. By getting the legs together first, we observed the freedom or lack of freedom in our bodies. For me it was the lower left hip that was hurting. I know the long hours of desk sitting and slouching forward have done bad things to my spine and hips. So, I kept watching that. But the second time we did uttanasana with legs spread I felt instantly way more freedom. And then we widened the legs further apart for the third time and observed how much easier the breath could move and the pelvis worked.

Even now, sitting at my desk,  as I reflect back on the class, I straighten myself as I am reminded of her constant instruction – Sharpen the sides of the body. Lift the trunk right from its base (junction of thighs with groins). Feel the lightness there. Let no part of your trunk fall downward including the pelvis and side armpits. Now , getting my hips to be sharp and compact is not an easy task. I am blessed with flexibility but with that comes a certain loseness that is not conducive to being firm in my base. As simple as all the poses were, I did have to work hard as various tight spots in my body cried out and eventually released.

We did a series of standing poses, with that same focus on lifting upward from the hips. She even had us tie a belt around our hips to encourage that lift. The standing poses were utkatsana, virabhadrasana 1 and parsvotanasana – but the focus in all poses was to lift the trunk all the way from the pelvis. The knee was barely bent in these poses to allow for the upward lift. I often had to interlace my thumbs to get that lift. And it was eye opening to observe the dullness and lack of connection on my left hip and leg compared to the right. But in her words – don’t judge yourself so much. Life gets much easier then. Easier said than done!!

We then proceeded to seated postures – dandasana, janu sirsasana, baddha konasana, marichyasna 1 -4 (for those who could do them all) , upavistha konasana and observed in each one how we could continue to keep that lift through the trunk. A key point was the rolling of the inner thighs down to the floor and flattening the top of the thighs to get that base down. At a certain moment, after I was struggling with self judgement and discomfort , she said “ Observe where the struggle is. Breathe into it and expand from there”. Immediately I felt a sense of release and ease throughout. We ended the seated posture series with paschimottanasana. She did ask some of the participants if the pose felt very free after all the practice. I don’t know about “very” free but no lower left hip ache!

Sarvangasana was our last pose before savasana. Again here, she mentioned observing ourselves to see if we needed to come out of the pose if it wasn’t the right thing for us today or learn to work our way through discomfort if it is a mental block. In my case, it was widening the legs apart that helped to ease aching back muscles.  liked how she said that in life we constantly run in between happiness and dislike. We avoid those things that we dislike and want more of those that bring us happiness. But we need to intelligently observe what is required of us at that time and react accordingly. The right reaction at a given moment can only be judged by our true self.  We closed sarvangasna with paschmottanasana as a reliever for the back. She also mentioned how important it is for junior students to do this everytime as it is a back release.

A beautiful savasna followed where I could feel each pore of me beginning to let go and relax with such trust and faith in the pose. What a pleasure to be able to truly let go and trust! If there’s one thing to take away from today for me it is to observe myself without judgement and then make my choice not based on what “feels” good but what feels “right” which could differ everyday depending on what I need. Having this tool that allows observation of each part of me is wonderful. I look forward to having this sacred time set aside for us over the remaining 4 mornings!



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