These days I have been back in my childhood home in Mumbai where one side of the house looks out over the Arabian Sea. It is a treat to have this expanse of sea and sky to gaze at, at any time of day or night. There are shifting shades of blue, grey, orange, pink, white and black depending on the time. There’s the setting moon and setting sun. The boats passing by during the day become gleaming points of light on the black sea at night. Eagles and kites keep swooping majestically past the window, sometimes flying so close I fear a hit but they know just how far to push their luck and glide by flawlessly. Families of parakeets fly in formation and then settle on the parapet for noisy chats. After some time they are replaced by crows and then pigeons and one magnificent kite couple conversing in high-pitched trilling sounds. So, the vast canvas outside my window has changing scenes, rather like a digital photo frame with a dizzying array of pictures.
Just inside this view is a lovely large verandah which my mother filled with many plants over the years. A money plant creeps its way all the way over the entrance to this space where I am surrounded by big and little plants and look out at an enormous sea. I like to put my yoga mat down here in what we have always called Ma’s garden. She’s no longer here and yet is so present because of all this green life surrounding me and like these plants, I too owe my life to her. In yoga we are repeatedly reminded of all that is not permanent.
As I practice I am continually distracted by the view and all its changes. Today when I started my sun salutations, there was a boat painted in a mango-ice cream shade of yellow, just large enough to hold two men and their catch of the day. It was fairly close to the shore but I’m much too far to see whether they have had any success and what resides in their net. I continue doing sun salutations and by the time I am on my fourth round, the yellow boat is sailing past the edge of my sea view where it is cut off by a neighbouring high-rise which has the luck of standing even closer to the sea. But then I see a series of tiny white boats sail into the view. I suppose they are not actually tiny, but for me they are like the boats we drew as kids – unevenly placed on a painted blue ocean and surrounded by colourful fish.
When I practice in the morning, it’s high tide and the water comes close to the coconut trees, the slums and the park nearby. When I look at the same view in my evening practice, I see lovely arrangements of rocks, stretching out to the places where the boats had been merrily floating in the morning tide, on top of the sunken rock patterns.
Each day as I face this heaving, moving vista and practice, I am aware of my body and its own changes. Each breath is like a wave in the ocean of my body which I know happens to be about 70% water – perhaps somewhat like the sea when the tide is beginning to turn into a low tide. Are the waves of my breath breaking on my lips as the breath comes out through my nostrils; or are they breaking at the bottom of my lungs and over my diaphragm when I inhale, I wonder.
Sometimes as I practice, my mind is still and calm like the deep sea where there is no movement of waves. But often enough I am agitated and my thoughts are as restless as the waves breaking continuously on the shore. On some days my body feels light and supple and on other days I am stiff and heavy and every movement is an effort. Sometimes both my nostrils are open and free and my breathing practice flows. Then there are times when one nostril is partially blocked and makes a weird wheezy sound when I practice alternate nostril breathing. The Sivananda practice is a set one – we always practice the same sequence of asanas. This may feel like a permanent anchor in an otherwise shifting reality and yet it isn’t so. Because every practice is different even if I am doing the same asanas. Yesterday in my headstand I was aware of a slight discomfort around my neck and shoulders and I didn’t hold it for too long. Today I was up for a long time, and being on my head felt natural and light.
I’ve had phases of knee or back or shoulder pain when I could barely get through the sequence and I did lots of lying in savasana interspersed with gentle asanas which gave comfort and relief to the painful spots. These days I am fairly free of pain but I am careful and caring in my practice – grateful that the pain has lifted and I can do so much more with my body, and yet with the knowledge that this could change at any time and once more my shoulder stand can become more bent and my sitting forward bend more straight.
Change is inevitable and learning to be comfortable with the idea of change is the constant, tricky challenge we face. On the outside we may feel challenged by the changes thrown at us by or body or our surroundings, yet, internally our bodies are happily changing all the time and constantly reinventing themselves which means us. Cells in different parts of the body get completely renewed in a few hours or days or months depending on their location in the body, or in the case of bones or fat, every ten years or so.
Whether we have the body of a baby, a teenager or a fully grown adult – whether we are painfully thin as a teenager or pleasantly plump in middle age, the body seems to take these changes in its stride – still managing to cover all our parts equally with skin and flesh. But in terms of our mind and feelings we do not accept our physical and other changes with quite as much ease.
Our previously sharply-defined chins may expand into a double chin, glossy black hair become stringy-grey, our sight may be imperfect and the number on the scale or the back of our jeans increase dramatically. Some of these changes may have a negative impact on our health and sense of well-being and so we need to work on consciously changing ourselves and our habits to remain healthy.
But underlying all of this, it is still necessary to come to a place of acceptance of who we are at the present moment, even though we may prefer a previous or different version of ourselves. We need to give some love and attention to ourselves and I find that the best time for me to do this is when I am lying on the mat and mentally going through my body to relax it. Here as I connect with each body part, I tell it things I need to and convey my affection for it. I encourage some parts to heal and I thank others for supporting me. I may also work on letting go of things that are weighing heavily on my mind or heart – hurtful things said or done.
In a way it’s like I’m watering myself like I once learned to water the plants around me as a child with my mom, helping her in her garden. It doesn’t make the discomfort arising from a changing world magically disappear, but it does help me be more relaxed with whatever is going on in my life.
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