LEARNING WITH THE DANDA
Danda. The image of a stick or a staff conjures up many meanings for those of us who grew up in India. Of ancient sages who have renounced the world, and wander around with nothing but a piece of clothing and a large, rough edged stick as a walking aid to climb through tough, or muddy terrain. Of Gandhi, who marched to Dandi, with hordes of Indians as a defiant gesture against the ruling British. Of teachers in classrooms who reigned over their terrified students with a disciplining hand. The Danda has diverse connotations for many of us, mainly centering around concepts of self reliance, and perhaps an external force.
Dandasana, an asana that equates the heathy spine to an erect stick is one deceptively simple and yet very meaningful asana that one uses to strengthen deep back muscles, to engage abdominal and pelvic muscles and lengthen the legs. It is simple to execute and yet powerful in the way it builds an internal awareness of the spinal axis. One of my favorite cues for the pose, is to close the eyes and imagine the spine in space, how is one sitting down with legs stretched out, perpendicular to the spine? It can give us very useful information on our posture, our breathing, even our state of mind. Are we restless when we sit and breathe with nothing else to “do”? Are we aware of how our shoulders may round up as a protective gesture? Is our center stable and strong? Even when outwardly static, inwardly a lot of muscles are being used to make this pose happen. And thats what makes it cool and interesting. This apparent dichotomy giving rise to a layered simplicity.
A friend asked me what lessons I have learned on the mat since I talked about how my practice has enriched my life other than merely shaping my body. If I were to use this pose, the Dandasana, as a symbol of all that I am learning on my mat, what would my lessons be as a practitioner of Yoga? Here are three things I am learning, as opposed to I have learned, for the process never ends, and thats what is exciting about practicing yoga:
To sit. To show up. To simplify.
I am learning to sit. Isn’t that beautiful? To sit with what is, all the good there is, with all the chaos within and out, with anger, with sadness, with my weakness, and vulnerability. To sit with an awareness that there is more inside, and not knowing all the answers. To sit with past pain and grief, to sit with hope for tomorrow. To sit in the present, the elusive present. To sit knowing I have messed up, I have wronged a few, to sit with understanding others have wronged me, to sit with knowing that life is never fair and yet one wants to love and live and learn. To sit with the notion that one cannot change a few things at all. Never.
I am learning to show up. To show up more of myself as a teacher and as a human being. To show up on the mat again and again with very little progress sometimes days on end builds a certain amount of inner resolve and yet self-compassion. When practiced off the mat, is one of the most powerful lessons I have learned and am learning. Just like Dandasana, the shoulders relaxed and chest open, the heart is open. I am learning to show up and be real, to be unafraid to ask the tough questions of myself, to churn, to change, to transform and yet be kind to myself and another, and bear witness, and give space to another’s churn and transformation.
I am learning to simplify. Dandasana is not sexy, it's not really an asana that will get the maximum Instagram likes, and yet one that is perhaps one of the most informative poses there is for one cannot hide in this pose if one has hips or hamstrings that are tight, it shows up and it reveals itself. To do away with what is not needed, with what is unnecessary, to eliminate what impedes, so what is necessary is strengthened. But first, one needs to know what is it that needs the awareness and attention, and hence simplifying is crucial for evolution. To be simple is the hardest thing to do. The older I get, simplicity gets sexier and harder to achieve.
To sit. To show up and to simplify. Three lessons I am learning and will continue to do so perhaps all my life.
Thanks for reading.