Sushegaad is a Goan word I knew the meaning of from babyhood. Its very essence has slowness in it. It refers to a relaxed and contented attitude to life…
When I was asked out of the blue, if I would write a yoga blog for a website dedicated to the idea of slowing down, it immediately appealed to me. I am someone who was born into the slow pace of things. My family comes from Goa, both my parents were born and brought up there, only leaving to settle in Bombay after they were married, for the sake of my Dad’s job. I was born in Bombay, but we spoke Konkani at home, ate Goan food and I spent every single holiday in Goa with my grandparents.
The reason I am telling you this is because “sushegaad” is a Goan word I knew the meaning of from babyhood. Its very essence has slowness in it. It refers to a relaxed and contented attitude to life…the sort of contentment that doesn’t give rise to hurry, greed, or any grasping sort of behavior. An attitude which allows you to stop working in the middle of the day and have a siesta and wake up and still have time for a leisurely cup of tea before resuming work again. An attitude which lets you close down your shop by 7.30 or 8 pm even though you know that keeping it open a couple of hours more will bring in more money. It’s an attitude that allows you to just be.
I asked my family what the word sushegaad meant to them. For my niece it meant being calm and chilled out, to relax. For my uncle, a state where you don’t take on unnecessary tensions, thereby enjoying life to the fullest. An aunt said you have to be blessed to be sushegaad…implying that not everyone has this particular blessing. For another aunt, it meant no stress and no hurry. My cousin defined it as almost being in a state of savasana.
You feel frustrated! Why can’t I reach my toes if Shilpa Shetty and Baba Ramdev and my next door neighbor can? This feeling grates on you and troubles you in your practice. It gives you one more reason to put yourself down.
For me the really interesting thing in these responses is that they all directly or indirectly refer to the effect a regular practice of yoga has on the practitioner. The idea of being content with yourself and your life is also one of the key attitudes of a yogi. Santosha, contentment is one of the five niyamas, personal observances enumerated by Maharishi Patanjali in his seminal work, The Yoga Sutras, written several thousand years ago. He suggested that contentment is one of the attitudes needed by a person on the yogic path in order to move ahead in the journey. This contentment refers to oneself, where you accept and feel happy with yourself and your effort in the practice. It can also mean being satisfied with others and whatever your life brings.
Sometimes when we do yoga, we have a certain picture in our head of how to do each asana perfectly. For instance, in the sitting forward bend, Paschimottanasana, we feel it’s important to be able to reach our toes and hold them. For many people, and most beginners, this is quite impossible and the only way they can do this is if they bend their knees. But it’s actually more important to keep the legs straight in the forward bend, feeling the stretch along the back of the legs, and to hold the legs somewhere higher where you feel comfortable, somewhere that allows you to breathe and relax while being in the asana, even if that is not picture-perfect. For this you have to be willing to accept less-than-perfection. Make friends with it. To drop your innate competitiveness. An attitude of santosha helps tremendously here.
But it may not be so easy to just drop the high expectations you hold for your body. What if you don’t feel contented in your forward bend, you feel the opposite of contentment. You feel frustrated! Why can’t I reach my toes if Shilpa Shetty and Baba Ramdev and my next door neighbor can? This feeling grates on you and troubles you in your practice. It gives you one more reason to put yourself down.
When I made my acquaintance with the tortoise pose, I found myself imagining I was under the tortoise’s shell. A large enough shell that covered me, that felt safe and comfortable, like a well-lived in house…Being underneath the tortoise’s shell was also a way of going inside my own self, reaching deeper within as my body began to relax into the forward bend
And then one fine day, you come across Kurmasana or tortoise pose. This is also a sitting forward bend but guess what? You are meant to bend your knees outward and lean forward and yes, you may catch your toes if you want to. Breathing is naturally easier since it allows more space for your abdomen and chest. And you naturally get further forward in the tortoise than in the other sitting forward bend. You naturally feel more relaxed and good about yourself. The glimmerings of contentment start to well up. Suddenly you may find yourself in the state of sushegaad.
When I made my acquaintance with the tortoise pose, I found myself imagining I was under the tortoise’s shell. A large enough shell that covered me, that felt safe and comfortable, like a well-lived in house that is filled with books, teapots, plants and other familiar and interesting clutter. Being underneath the tortoise’s shell was also a way of going inside my own self, reaching deeper within as my body began to relax into the forward bend. As I held the asana, I could notice how I felt and could ponder over what was going in my life. Every now and then the asana would speak to me with a helpful message. Relaxing in the asana would spill over into being able to relax in other places off the mat too.
My friend Sheila, also a yoga teacher, lives with a tortoise. His name is Suppandi and he’s 11 years old. When he hears her chanting he comes near her to listen. He likes to climb on her when she is in savasana. As you can see in the photo, he quite likes her to do the tortoise pose!
There’s a lot we can learn from a tortoise. They are peaceful, contented creatures. They breathe slowly and live a hundred years and more. They’ve never had to think about turning slow. Slow is their pace in life.
So, when I was asked to name my yoga blog, it felt just right to connect it to a tortoise and the pose dedicated to this sweet and sushegaad creature.
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