India is the home of Krishna and Shiva and many other well known Hindu gods and warriors whose stories are known, told and lived by. India is the birthplace of Yoga, a comprehensive system of practices that give guidance on how to live in the world guided from within. When yoga is practiced with dedication and devotion over an uninterrupted time (Sutra 1.14), Mr. Iyengar states that the student “becomes physically, mentally and emotionally stable so that he can maintain equanimity in all circumstances.”
Every yoga student who first visits India feels their equanimity challenged and a sense of who they are redefined. Finding inner stability in the unfamiliar setting of a country like India can accelerate one’s journey of self -knowing, if one chooses to go with the rhythm and flow of this ancient and complex culture.
In the West, we live and move at a different pace. We are accustomed to instant everything–from food to remote controls, instant heat and cool air, computers and instant information on any topic. We are accustomed to efficiency, convenience and what makes us comfortable. Credit cards, computers, and fast and easy travel keep our country on the move driven by “time is money.” It is the contrast of these two cultures that gives us the opportunity to observe ourselves when what is familiar, predictable and wanted is not there. How do we respond when life is not on our terms? How does it affect us mentally, emotionally and even physically? Are we thrown off-balance when things feel out of our control? India’s gift is its rich intensity on all our senses, and the opportunity to observe ourselves as we meet the unfamiliar and new challenges we face.
Life doesn’t move as fast in India. Getting places takes longer, food service is rarely instant, purchases are often hand written and mentally tallied, streets are crowded with masses of people and transportation is slow and often unpredictable. Experiencing the chaotic maze of being in India is not unlike our over-busy minds—crowded with things to do, moving from one thing to the next.
There are benefits to slowing down. In the swirl of being too busy, it is easy to lose a connection to self, to lose our inner guidance. The Eight Limbs of Yoga, as defined in the Yoga Sutras, are a progression of practices that help us to slow down and be the observer of our inner perceptions. Most yoga students in the West start a yoga practice with asana. The deliberateness of asana practice focuses our attention inward to observe our mental states and habits of thought. In pranayama practice, the slow easy rhythm of the breath slows the vrtti (the mental activity of the mind), relaxes the body and soothes the nervous system. This quiets the outward reach of the senses, which is called pratyahara. For most students, pratyahara is first experienced in Savasana, which is a relaxation at the end of class with the eyes closed and the mind’s attention guided inward. In the space of a relaxed body and mental state, we more easily connect to our inner being, which the Sutras call drastar, our true nature. Guided from within, connected to our own rhythm, we are like Shiva Nataraja, poised on one leg, balanced and steady of mind and body to dance to the drumbeat of Life—whatever life brings to us.