First Week at the Yoga Institute Mumbai
It is Sunday morning and the air is surprisingly brisk, compelling me to wear sleeves for the first time since arriving in India. Every living thing seems to be shaking sleep and gently coming back into movement. At this time of year the sun rises shortly after 7am and retreats behind the curve of the west nearly 12 hours later. Every morning, moments before you open your eyes, you can hear a subtle wisp as the groundskeeper begins his day with sweeping. Everything is swept, stairs, walks, patios and even the gardens. The consistency in the sound shows an acute focus of attention. After sweeping, the groundskeeper begins the task of watering everything. I've been in India eleven days now and haven't noticed a single cloud.
One of the core principles taught here at the Institute is 'Duty', and the principle is laced through everyone's actions. Each day this past week had been quite eventful. I find myself waking between 3:30-4:30am (we often go to sleep between 9-10pm). I quietly bring movement to my body and raise myself to a seated position to meditate. After a while I lie in savasana (corpse pose for relaxation) and when ready, I spring from bed and prepare for my next duty. Everyone is asleep as I leave my room and make it outside, passing guards as I make my way to the driveway entrance, which is in one of the back corners of the Institute. Here it is dimly lit, perfect for my karate practice. I spend about an hour running through the basics and 'forms'. When satisfied I tend to hygiene (including Jalneti, a new daily practice) and prepare for the days classes.
At 7:20 am most days, we meet in the Madhavadasaji Hall, named after Shri Yogendra's teacher (Shri Yogendra being the founder of the Institute). Here Dr. Jayadeva and his wife Hansaji speak on a topic and allow for comments and questions. Afterward I proceed to one of the classrooms. 7:30-8:30am is the 21 Day Camp. The idea is that if you do something for 21 days, it becomes a habit. Once this class is over it's time for breakfast. We meet in the dining hall and silently and mindfully fuel our bodies. Once fueled, we have about an hour break, at which time this past week I have occupied myself with taking photographs and preparing for the one month T.T.C. (teacher training course). The T.T.C. is 10-4pm Mon-Fri. I have another hour and a half break before sitting in on the 7 Month Comprehensive T.T.C. which is 5:30-8pm. At 8pm the guards begin to lock up and the space within the Institute walls grows quiet except for the birds. Beyond the walls the sounds escalate as everyone comes out for the evening, honking horns, shouting children and barking dogs.
Yoga is Awareness. Our awareness is habitually narrow. We are inherently forgetful, often neglectful and in many cases resentful. In many ways, most of us are aimless. The first Yoga retreat I attended with Dr. Butera (former Yoga Institute student, founder of the YogaLife Institute) was themed with bringing to mind why we do what we do. How are we living, what is our purpose, what is our duty? Again, it's easy to fall into those ruts laid before us and 'happily' traverse these paths as our forefathers have. (Sometimes we confuse happiness with fitting in and sharing suffering.) But when you look at the state of mind our cultures, societies and civilizations are in... in my cases we 'the people' are quite disturbed, unfulfilled and depressed.
When I first arrived in India, I experienced a hint of depression. You could call it jetlag, you could call it adjusting to new surroundings or missing home. I couldn't believe the feeling to be caused by some external force, it was much deeper, something internal.
You see, it's easy to blame others, to blame things and events for our unhappiness or lack of success. What is it that we are supposed to do with our lives? Go to school, go to college, meet a partner, get a career, get married, get a house, a retirement plan... then what? We run out of things 'to get', we run out of steps. Many people accomplish these things by 40 years of age and find they are lost and often still unsatisfied. So instead of looking within, we look outward and begin to stir up the game board, switching partners, jobs, insurance companies, cars and towns to no avail. We wonder 'How could this happen, I did what I was supposed to do?" But do we really know what we are supposed to do?
We live our lives like we are stuck at an international airport looking for our luggage. At one moment we recognize everyone standing around us, we feel comfort because they were on the flight too. Then crowds come in, and everything gets confusing. The guards are speaking a foreign language and you don't understand them. They point and direct you so you assume they are pointing you in the right direction. You see everyone you recognize following their instruction, so you do too. But do these guards really know what your needs are? Have you spoken with them? One leader tells the others to direct the crowd away from the baggage claim to make room for the new arrivals. One guard is confused and directs everyone outside. But you trust him, he is authoritative and all the people around you are familiar. You figure, they are in it too, if this isn't right at least I'm not alone, so you go with the flow. That is how we live, following orders and lifestyles of people who are often as aimless as we are.
So, four days after arriving at the Institute I realized the source of my minor brush with depression. I was aimless. I had a whole bunch of things 'to do', prepare for classes, find provisions etc, but I was disconnected. I was just doing things that I thought had to be done. Then sitting quietly I asked myself "why am I here?" and everything came back into perspective. I realized that my duty was to empty my mind and again become the student. I am here not because I was told to be here, not because others expect anything of me. Everything was self imposed. I see it as my responsibility to myself.
And that is where most of us go wrong. We get jobs just because they pay well, regardless if we actually enjoy them. We rush into marriage because all our friends are married and it's 'our turn'. And at the end of the day, we are still starving.
Yoga is Awareness. This statement is profound. I believe this to be our first duty, our first responsibility. How can you love someone unless you love yourself first? How can you help someone unless you yourself are stable and strong? After we take care of ourselves, we can then consider our duties toward our loved ones and society. It is our responsibility to cultivate happiness within.
The more we understand our bodies, our thoughts, our emotions and gain control of them, the more we will become not only aware of ourselves, but also aware of all of Nature.