I'm so blessed to take classes from teachers in India. These teachers, who have spent so many years under the tutelage of the Iyengars are our portals to the teachings that can be quite challenging to understand. We might get it on a surface level but the deep understanding requires these teachers to guide us across the cultural and philosophical oceans.
Zubin Zarthoshtimanesh Is one of those teachers. I have never had the pleasure of taking class with him in person but I did meet him in Bellur, India where we walked around the village visiting sculptors and enjoying a delicious meal In Bangalore (the best Dahi vada in my life!).
The online format is not easy for someone like Zubin who operates on a different plane and yet still his message comes through. I tried to encapsulate what he said as best as my notes and memory allow.
Yoga (asana) practice helps you find a new 'access to yourself.'
As a beginner to yoga, it is correct to first learn the body parts, addresses stress relief, solve nagging physical problems but ultimately the practice of yoga (in the context of asanas) is a reference to understanding 'the map of yourself.' And once you have an understanding of your own inner map, you know what you need to do that day.
Each practice is like launching into new territory, even if it seems like the same shapes or movements. Do you have the same mind as yesterday? Is the weather the same today as it was yesterday? How do you explore a new city? Are you someone who likes to venture out on your own or with a buddy? Have you looked around where you live with the fresh eyes of an explorer?
The teacher might be teaching something hard to grasp. But it’s not that moment of 'getting it' that is the point but to experiment in your practice 'to find out how you can manifest the condition' that the teacher is describing. This is the self-exploration or study, svadhyha of the practice. Without this reflection or experimentation, it’s like 'taking the food but not swallowing it.'
We do these asanas to 'understand our nature' to develop concentration 'Dharana' by placing our attention on one thing
देशबन्धः चित्तस्य धारणा ॥१॥
deśa-bandhaḥ cittasya dhāraṇā ॥1॥
We can give direction and shape to our energy, “develop so many qualities and become sensitive...Sensitive to racism, climate change, inequities in the world and sensitive our inner map,” because just like the current map that is not 'fixed', it will change.
I’m always so grateful for these magical portals into the depth of this practice. It can get disheartening to see what is happening to most people’s understanding of yoga.
But it is how we as humans get interested in things- a solution to our problems or a promise of a better body. Marketing yoga or any spiritual practice as a quick solution is false advertising. It’s a life-long path for the courageous.
But as much as I complain, I should understand. I came to yoga originally because my shoulder hurt from a repetitive injury. I had NO interest in anything spiritual, I wanted to fix my pain. As a matter of fact, when I went with my mom to her ashram in the Bahamas I balked at entering the temple to chant. I had no interest in being in any more temples. My mom wisely said, take what works for you. Well, I will tell you that by the end of the week, I was first in line to enter to chant.
I was lucky. Even though I didn’t want to know about the whole story of yoga. And I was happy with the little tail I was holding onto, I was exposed to the entire elephant. My mom wasn’t forceful or judgmental and she was respectful. It may have taken me years to recognize the elephant but I learned at that moment that it existed and it was there when my interest opened.
With what I see on social media or inquires that come my way, I wonder if people even know there is an elephant. There might be some that would prefer a stuffed animal instead of an elephant.
This is why I soldier on to create a community of practitioners who have an interest in knowing the elephant even if part by part and it takes years.