A Deeper, Less Flexible, Practice

India will shake you up. It will turn you upside down, swing you side to side, place you back down again and ask you why your hair looks all funny. It will ask you what you want and then give you something else. It will take your painstakingly-written agenda, and turn it into an origami swan, and float it down the river Ganges. You may have made plans for the day, but it turns out those plans were just the lead-up to a punch-line.

At least, that’s what India can feel like to a Westerner who is used to having complete control over schedules, services, and dietary requirements. This can be frustrating, but it is also a gift – you learn how to be without all your usual comforts and still find a way to be content (trust me, just let go of your hygiene standards, you’ll have a much better time!)

Recently though, India has been shaking me up more than usual. Life hasn’t been flowing, it’s been tick-tacking along, speed bumps aplenty. I had also thought, this being my second time in India, that my immune system would’ve grown accustomed to the food. Apparently not.

My stomach has been fighting with me for about a week now. It began suddenly and violently, forcing me into two days of no food and mostly sleep. I began to recover, but it turned out to only be the eye of the storm, and wound up sick again fairly quickly. I’m currently on a diet of plain rice, yogurt, and extreme caution.

My yoga practice this past week has been less about downward dog and more about knitting (and staying very, very still). The idea of bringing my awareness anywhere near my abdomen isn’t very tempting right now.

Just before getting sick the second time round, I managed to do a few gentle sun salutations. It was like using a different body! My muscles were tighter and weaker than they have been in a long time. Any other day this could have been frustrating, but in the state I was, I didn’t even have the energy to be bothered by it. I could only laugh at myself. There I was doing something I do almost every day, and suddenly barely able to do it!

This is what yoga is, though, isn’t it? Being present. Accepting your body, your energy, your limits. Without judgement. (Thanks for the reminder, India, although I wish you hadn’t reminded me via my stomach.)

Being sick is also a gift, in a way. It forces me to be more aware and present than usual – feeling exactly how far I can go in a pose, how long I can stay there, in a way finds that perfect yogic balance between challenge and ease. All my asanas are a discovery, every limit a surprise. I need to let go of my expectations of what is usually easy for me and just experiment, with grace and humour.

Tomorrow, I’m off to Rishikesh. Apparently it’s the world centre of yoga. There are shalas on every corner and more classes than you can shake a yoga strap at. And I don’t even know how much asana I’ll be fit to do.

I may just have to drink a lot of chai and watch the Ganges flow by. But that’s alright. There’s more than one route to Samadhi, I hear.


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