Today when I practiced yoga, I had a beautiful blue sky above me and a lovely expanse of tufty, uneven, slightly overgrown but very fresh, very living, very, very green grass below me. I am spending the weekend with my family at Jakson Inns, a hotel my brother Sandeep runs in Phaltan, Maharashtra. The area is rural and there are farms, fields and a river nearby. I had put my mat down on this patch of grass on the hotel’s Papaya Lawn, half expecting to be disturbed by people/flies/mosquitoes/ants/the sun and so on. But instead I got a chance to experience a kind of oneness with nature that is completely missing in my otherwise completely urban life.
The practice of yoga inherently places you within the circle of life and energy. When we are not on the mat, we tend to experience ourselves as being very separate from nature – from the sky, the earth, the wind, from other creatures and life around us. But when we practice yoga regularly, when we become certain animals and birds and beings in various poses – such as the fish, the eagle, the tree, the camel – and we breathe in specific ways and consciously energise ourselves – we begin to internally connect with the elements and with the natural world around us. I often find myself imagining the earth below me as I lie in savasana and I think wistfully of the sky which is blocked by the concrete expanse of ceiling.
In the last few months of life ruled by Covid, one of the lovely things has been to hear lots of birds singing. It can range from a symphony to a crazed cacophony but it is still music to my ears and a sound that goes well with yoga, especially when it is practiced indoors and cut off from nature in other ways.
But today I was right out there, amidst the bird song in a place that is frequented by a plethora of birds, including sunbirds, bee eaters, the yellow wattled lapwing, babblers, bulbuls, mynahs, owls, hawks etc. I could feel a gentle breeze and smell the fragrance of the grass, the champa and lilies. Around me were tulsi bushes, papaya, fig, mango and coffee trees. When I lay down on my yoga mat, the tufts of grass made an uneven but soft, supportive bed.
We spend so many thousands of rupees on scientifically designed mattresses with high end technology in them, and yet no fancy memory foam/gel/innerspring/adjustable base etc. mattress that I have had a chance to lie on has ever felt the way the grass below me felt today. It was soft and springy and my body just knew how to completely let go and relax into it. When I usually lie down on a hard surface, I can feel the gaps between the floor and the parts of my spine which curve away. But here, the grass was comfortably fitting against every bit of the back of my body from under my mat.
Initially I was a little wary of letting my arms stray outside the mat onto the grass, but then it was as though my body took over and my arms found themselves in the proper savasana position, about a foot away from me on either side, palms facing up. The top of the grass digging into my arms felt pokey at first. I found myself thinking it was like acupuncture without any actual puncture – more like acu-poking-pressure perhaps. But then the pokey feeling died down and I could relax fully.
I could occasionally feel miniscule creatures crawl on my hands and I resisted the immediate urge to brush them off – they were not being combative with me, I had not been bitten and attacked. I realised that I was actually the one intruding in their everyday home and they had just welcomed me into it without question, just treating me as part of the landscape – some kind of oddly-shaped, undulating formation which seemed to have suddenly taken root and was sometimes flat, sometimes looking like a pyramid, occasionally upside down and then making all sorts of funny shapes one by one. I was not like any other tree or bush in the garden and yet, I was part and parcel of their environment and they went about their business, quite nonchalantly crawling over and across me when I was in their way.
In inverted v position, I counted about seven medium size black ants walking on my mat. I wondered if they felt more comfortable walking on the smooth, gently textured surface of my mat. Every now and then some dried leaves and little twigs and blades of grass would stray onto my mat
When I was on my abdomen in between practicing the back bends, I began to look closely at the grass in front of my face and as I kept looking it came alive with teeny little insects of varying shapes and colours playing hide and seek in between the blades. I felt a little guilty that I had stomped all over them and then placed my mat on top of some of them and was also perhaps squashing them with my not insignificant body weight. I hoped that nobody was too badly hurt and that there was enough space for them to survive underneath me in the springy grass.
The softness of the grass was another wonderful aspect of the yoga experience. On the hard floor, my knee hurts when I bear down on it in some poses, and the top of my head really feels that hard surface underneath when I am in headstand. Of course, I am so used to it that I hardly notice that anymore, but today the softer surface was a pleasant change.
In between the asanas when I just relaxed, I would drift into a space of such utter comfort, combined with the awareness of the freshness of the air I was breathing, the wonderful smells of the grass and flowers, the sounds of birds and insects and also of the lady gardener in a sari and hat, going about her work. I felt so much a part of a living, breathing world and so alive within it.
I am very much looking forward to tomorrow’s yoga on the grass. I will probably make it there at a slightly different time and will have to pick my space on the grass depending on where the sun is in the sky. The little crawlies could be different ones, or some may even turn out to be the same and recognise me, and I hope welcome me into their space once again. And then the weekend will be over and I will return to my urban life. But I know that even when I put my mat on top of the hard tiles at home, I will feel some of the softness of the Phaltan grass below me and be able to connect with the vastness of the sky outside my window.
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