I would like to pass on an immense amount of wisdom that my Guru, Arvind has given us while we stayed in Jaipur, India. I looked for an AirBnB accommodation and found a Friend, a Guru and Yoga for Beginner classes that I will never ever forget in my life. Before I had Yoga lessons with Arvind, I did not really feel that I fully understood what Yoga was really all about. I hope after reading this series for ‘Yoga for Beginners’ you will feel encouraged to try it out yourself and understand what Yoga is and what it is not.
Meeting Arvin our Yoga Guru
When we checked into the Explorer’s Nest, Arvind told us a lot about himself. I sat there thinking how much I love to meet new people and how interesting it is to have a story unfold before you. A few minutes ago he was a stranger – now he is a retired army officer who collects antiques (so many that he actually runs a shop to sell them) who does Yoga on his rooftop, for the last ten years!
“Why do you do Yoga?” I ask.
“I had some health problems in the past and went to a natural homeopathic clinic in Jaipur as I felt medicines were making me more sick. When I started reading about what effect all these chemicals have on my body, I sought alternative ways. At the clinic, I learnt about the use of plants and how I can heal my body by learning how to combine them and brew my own concoctions at home.
The people at the clinic said that alongside the herbal treatment, I will have to do Yoga every day – so I did”.
“Has it changed things for you?”, I ask, already knowing the answer.
He looks at me with the look of someone who is convinced they have found the right recipe for life for them: “Oh yes!” he nods several times and frowns in a way that you do when you are persuaded and want to convince someone else.
“You see when you start eliminating the toxins from your body, there is no other way than to feel better.”
It’s common sense, his stance, is it not? And yet, so many of us – including myself- keep feeding our bodies poison in the belief it will make us feel better. I thought of my pneumonia a few weeks back. It would have been quite reckless, I suppose, to attempt to medicate this illness with herbs – but I was not pleased about having ingested so many pills.
The same day, Arvind brews up a concoction of cloves, garlic, pepper and cinnamon for Ben as he is fighting a cold. I’m liking him more and more by the minute.
What is Yo – Ga?
The next morning our alarm goes off at 6.15am and we eventually get out of bed at 6.45am to make ourselves ready for our first Yoga session. As we install ourselves on the rooftop, Arvind starts off with some warm-up movements and then swiftly starts us off with the palm tree pose. I am confused – usually, at the beginning of a class, I am used to sit down and start a yoga session with a greeting of Namaste.
‘Just be open to this, Tess – and let’s see what happens – let go of your expectations’, I murmur to myself.
After stretching our bodies, we kneel down to sit on our feet. At this point, Ben wiggles uncomfortably and decides to sit with his legs folded in front of him. Arvind says “don’t worry, do whatever is comfortable for you. The aim is not to be in pain. You do what you can”.
He now explains what Yoga is – and I realise how little I know about it. Whenever I went to a yoga class, instructors focused on doing the poses rather than explaining what Yoga was really all about. Even introductory yoga classes left me walking out of the premises with no knowledge. This was about to change in one morning with Arvind – a Indian AirBnB host!
I think Einstein once said that if you can’t explain something in a simple manner, you do not understand it. Arvind has the gift of explaining things in a simple way but his explanations also make you wonder why you did not come up with this by yourself as it is full of common sense.
“Yoga is about uniting the mind and the body. Sometimes our mind tells us one thing and the body something else. Your mind might say smoking is bad. But your body is craving it. Or your mind says drinking Coke is unhealthy. Yet your body wants some. We all know it. Sometimes body and mind are not in line.
So Yo-ga means ‘joining’. We want to ‘join’ body and mind. That is the first stage of Yoga.
The Four Stages of Life
Later, after you accomplished this, you enter the second stage, where you join mind and your soul. “An older wiser man explained this to me”, he says. And ge continues with an explanation of Indian beliefs:
“You know in India, according to ancient beliefs, there are four stages in life. Child – Youth – Adult – Elder. As a child you are free to play. In the Youth you need to learn and often times in the old days, the young would go to special places – something like a college- where Guru -this is where the word comes from- would teach them everything they need to know. They would make a man out of a boy. Then comes the next stage when you become an adult – this is when you have responsibility for your family and kids. And finally you reach the stage of an Elder. Now, this is the stage where you should renounce everything and free yourself from attachment, completely.”
“Sometimes, still today, you can see them walking around in their long robes and their rasta-like turbans. Some still do it. So you wander off – sometimes without explanation- and you don’t stay at a place for more than three days. The aim is to not become attached!”
At this point I think of Ben and myself who would find a place we feel comfortable with and keep returning to it over and over again, such as ‘Places’ Cafe in Kathmandu or the ‘Dabrakadas’ Restaurant in Jaipur. We get attached to places rather quickly…
“So, this elder once asked me: Arvind, if I cut off your hair. Are you still Arvind? Yes I am (nodding and pretending as if he is actually having this conversation with this elder once again). Arvind, if I cut off your arm, are you still Arvind? Yes I am (he nods again). Ok, so what are you?
I guess I am my ‘thinking’?
But see, you used to smoke – Arvind impersonating the elder sits more upright and frowns as if he is imitating a serious old man – now you don’t, which means you have changed your mind. And the mind can be influenced by the outside. If you keep watching the same advertisement about how good a product is, you will start to believe it.
If you hear talks about how bad some people are, you will believe it. So your mind can easily be influenced. So, you cannot be your mind either. No! Arvind shakes his head as if he is responding to the elder.
So Arvind, you are not your mind, you are your SOUL!!!”
Arvind continues with his explanation of the second stage in Yoga. “So, apart from joining mind and body – we also want to join the mind and the soul”, he continues, as if he had never just told us a plethora of wisdom.
The Effects of each Pose
Arvind explains each Yoga pose we are doing in great detail and says “every time you do one pose, you need to do the corresponding pose to open up what you have closed. So if you crunch your torso like in frog pose, you have to open up and do a pose where you bend your back to counteract what you have done before” he says, nodding and looking at us at the same time.
“Focus on feeling the effect each pose has on your body”. As he says this, I’m amazed, after frog pose which is quite a simple pose in theory, but one I have never done before, when I feel a tingling sensation all over my body which immediately relaxes me and draws my attention to my body.
I’m fully here and have forgotten about everything around me. I smile. How beautiful this feels…
And I can access this feeling by just clenching my thumbs, placing them on my tummy – sitting on my feet- and bending forwards? It’s that simple?! That simple to access this holy space yogis keep talking about? This space where you are completely still and just plain and simply happy? I glance at the frog stitched on my coral yoga mat and smile. This has just become my favourite pose – Manduk-asana.
I love how Arvind uses the Sanskrit name for each pose – a sign he reads a lot about Yogic science. But instead of placing the emphasis on ‘asana’ as we Westerners would, he doesn’t pronounce the ‘a’ at the end and it sounds more like ‘assann’.
“Now, lie on your back, palms facing upwards. This pose is called ‘Sav-assann’ Dead-man pose” – we lie there enjoying to rest on our backs for a while.
“Now, place your feet on the ground, lift up your upper body, place your hands behind you on the mat and lift your body up. Don’t touch your head on the floor”. Ben and I wiggle on our mats and try to adjust on the pose – he manages to lift himself up even if just for 10 seconds – whereas the best I can is to rest on the crown of my head before quickly releasing the pose again unable to do what is asked of me.
Arvind, gracefully in front of us, making the pose look so easy, speaks to us “Now release the pose and go back to Sav-assann”. I giggle as I realise how inflexible my body has become over the months of not stretching it. Backbends are almost impossible and I find myself standing straight thinking that I’m actually bending my back – when I look to the right to see what Ben is doing, he mirrors my standing upwards pose as we try to stretch more but is impossible to manage at this point.
Something as simple as sitting on the floor with my hands behind me stretched aches! Bow pose where you are supposed to lie on your naval and lift up both legs and upper body from the floor, looks more like a meagre attempt to not fall to one side from a rather rectangular looking pose not resembling a bow in the slightest, but more like a box!
And yet we keep going as Arvind encourages “don’t worry about what you can or cannot do! Whatever you feel at the moment is what is right for you! The whole point of Yoga is to become more flexible. You do not need to be flexible for it from the start…”
Keeping your Focus
As we sit cross-legged, Arvind lays his hands on his knees in a meditative fashion. We mimic his pose and close our eyes.
“Now we meditate. Focus on your breathing. Let your thoughts go – when they come – observe them but don’t dwell on them. Let them go. Focus on your breathing. Now, focus on the spot between your eyebrows. Imagine you are radiating rings out into the world. Focus on doing that”.
As we sit there I attempt to focus on little white rings being radiated from my head – it surprisingly keeps my focus intact and I only rarely wander off to think about something else – and whenever I do, I come back to where I was before. “Now imagine these rings are coming back to your head…”.
After another 5min, having mediated for about 20min this morning, Arvind says “Now whenever you are ready, slowly open your eyes”. I open my eyes in a daze and feel very relaxed. Arvind brushes his hands against each other in a quick motion and then touches his arms, his upper body, his legs.
“Brush the good energy all over you!” he grins.
Who taught you Yoga? Do you feel you understand it better now? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.