The messy truth in a post truth world.
I have a perfect Yoga practice. Every day, at the crack of dawn, I wake up, and get into my austerely elegant home studio, and to the richly resounding sounds of AUM, do a rigorous one hour of vinyasa, afterwards which I meditate for an hour and then wake up my children to get started with the day. Perfect life. Except it’s not. My practice, like most regular yogis I know, are snatches of stretches, bursts of flowing vinyasa when one can, and catching one’s breath with some pranayama before bedtime. That’s my truth on the mat.
I have started working towards my peak pose, Viswamitrasana. It’s a challenging pose, not quite an arm balance, approaching a split engaging the upper body, the core and the legs, aptly named after one of the most revered sages of India, Viswamitra, who according to legend, was a powerful warrior king, having gone through rigorous tapas, the author of many ancient scriptures including the Gayatri Mantra. This asana is aptly named as this pose requires physical strength and mental discipline. The sequence building upto the peak pose is accessible and I start thinking, I may be able to do this… finally!! But no. Not happening today, the leg doesn’t come off the mat, the butt doesn’t come off the mat, the only thing off the mat is me…. thinking an expletive laden I don’t believe I thought I could do that!
And it’s precisely this truth, the struggle between the can’t, and the can in your head, that one faces every time one steps on the yoga mat. One never enters this space exactly the same way, with the same body, with the same energy as the day before.
The messy truth in a post truth world. In the eight limbs of Yoga, Satya, Truth is probably the most challenging to practice in the highly visual, airbrushed, sound bytes are everything, post truth world. Can one seek one’s truth on the mat?
Yoga off the mat, has always been a personal Holy Grail, but first I had to ask the obvious question, is it even possible to take Yoga off the mat? Is a physical practice and some quiet moments of reflection and meditation enough to unravel truths about Life? How can one reconcile Instagram filters, instant Facebook feeds to an ancient philosophy that is about the union of the physical and the spiritual? How can one participate in, and showcase a spiritual practice in perfectly aligned, seemingly improbable yoga asanas depicted in bucolic settings, at sunset, at sunrise, in a farm, at the Met, at home? Can this translate to a rich and varied inner life?
If I were to take stock of my journey, I would say my practice is perhaps the anchor to which a lot of my inner life rests on. It’s on my mat that I have felt most empowered and yet humbled simultaneously, it’s on the mat my joy met my grief, its on the mat that there are everyday triumphs and many more “failures”, failures that inform, deepen understanding of the body and the psyche. The ego falls and exults during every practice. One cannot lie to oneself on the mat. Your breath tells you if you are. As one works on the mat, one understands the limitations and possibilities of one’s physical self more and this does translate to how one responds, behaves and lives in the world. One gets a deeper understanding of opposites within, and learns to accept imperfections, the striving towards non violence or ahimsa towards the flawed self, and similar flawed fellow beings.
Most yogis worth their Manduka mats know that it’s in the process of getting into and out of the pose that the transformation in the physical realm happens. We fall on our buns, we mentally or orally swear and say never again and yet get back on that mat with sheer dog headedness in pursuit of the Asana, it’s in this chase that one can access the mental and emotional realms. But this is where the truth gets messy, for while I show the asana and the outcome, the path that has been trodden to get there hasn’t been shown.
I started this journey vulnerable, raw from physical and emotional wounds, and was very familiar with the phrase…..I can’t!! I can’t get my chest down in chaturanga, I can’t get my palms flat during a forward fold, I can’t kick into a handstand….. I can’t!! The can’ts in my head have reduced, and transformed to maybe I can, I will definitely try! This mental transformation has been the most empowering experience I have had and it’s this that I am most inspired to share with those who want to start a similar journey. The messy truth lies in that we don’t show the messiness of the process, while showing the clean lines of the asana. While I resolve to do this more, accepting changes or helping someone accept the status quo in and of one’s body caused by indelible physical and emotional experiences is yet another layer of this amorphous landscape.
So I go back on the mat, and explore Viswamitrasana, and learn that one can take one’s physical practice and learn from it, if one wants to, if one is seeking meaning, if one is seeking truth in one’s actions. It’s a window, and one knows that there is more inside waiting to be explored fully. Knowing fully well that truth is messy, knowing fully well that no one else needs to know your truth but you do, knowing fully well that the mighty sage, Viswamitra was also a splendidly vulnerable human being. And so on it goes.