On what should have been a lazy Sunday morning, I had scheduled my make-up yoga class from the one I missed on Friday. And what a class it was! My yoga teacher sent me an SMS to say he would be 30 minutes late. What he did not tell me was that since it was a Sunday, my usual one hour class would extend to two!
Here’s what he made me do:
50, yes that’s FIFTY, complete Surya Namaskars.
The animated GIF above will give the yoga neophyte a good idea of the complete set of asanas/postures for one Surya Namaskar. But note that some of the asanas are shown to be simpler than they are in reality. If I had mimicked this animation, it would not have counted towards my fifty. But, it’s close enough as a demo.
A couple of helpful hints that my teacher has given me about Surya Namaskar –
- Ideally, you should be able to complete one (the 12 postures kind) in 50 seconds. I am currently in the 50-60 second range.
- The other neat alteration is to hold each posture for a few seconds. This is very tough to do, but you need to keep in mind that when you complete one of these, you actually get the benefits of doing multiple Surya Namaskars. So, for example, if you did one Surya Namaskar where you held each posture for 30 seconds, then what you gain from that one toughie would be equivalent to that of doing 15 “basic” Surya Namaskars. Cool!
The Journey So Far
In order to understand what it means for me to do fifty of these whoppers, you need to understand where I am coming from. I am decidedly not a Size Zero Kareena Kapoor who supposedly does 100 Surya Namaskars regularly. Before breakfast. (I am also not within touching distance of Size Zero, although there have been times when there has been a zero in my size, in case that counts).
Indulge me, please.
I just passed the six month anniversary of my move to Mumbai. I am about to reach my sixth month (three times a week) of yoga training/practice. When I started (and for all my life until then), I had an extremely inflexible body. Yes, you could say that – in fact, if they were giving out awards for the most stiff and inflexible body in existence, I may not have got the gold, but I surely would have won the silver or bronze. I’m not exaggerating.
On a lark (or perhaps at the suggestion of a new Indian friend), I decided to take up yoga. After all, I was in the country where yoga was conceived and created several centuries ago. Why not take advantage of being here, I told myself. One of the best decisions I made!
During those first few classes, I could see my yoga teacher mentally asking himself whether I would ever be able to complete a yoga pose correctly. In spite of his and my doubts, he persisted and I persevered. Thank goodness!
Over the past six months, the flexibility of my body has gradually, but visibly, been developing. Unbelievably so. Who would have thought I could do 50 Surya Namaskars in one sitting! Not me. I simply must celebrate this milestone. Somehow.
The Right Teacher Can Make a Difference
It would be so unfair of me not to give due appreciation to and for my teacher. I totally lucked out with him! About a week or so after I had moved, I asked a friend if she knew any good instructors. She knew of one but had not been impressed. One day, she sent me a phone number she found on some random advertisement. I called them and they recommended a freelance yoga instructor. This person – the first I called – is my current yoga teacher. That’s what I mean when I say I lucked out. Totally.
In yoga, as with everything else in life, it’s so important who your teacher, or preacher, or just friend with good advice is.
I still remember Ms.Britto from fifth grade English. She had a reputation and a half! She was supposedly the toughest, most brutal and cruel teacher that existed. Guess what? She was the best one I had. I learned so much! But more than that, I owe much to her for my love of reading, writing and English. I still remember how she looked – with her stiff and straight backbone, how she taught (meticulous!) and how she would take no crap from her students (I think she would have flunked me for this bad sentence). Anyway, I was petrified, and therefore I worked my a** off (she would definitely flunk me now).
Okay, where was I going with this? Oh, yes. My yoga teacher – he’s superb. A young man who has been doing yoga since he was five and laments that he is from a family with no interest in the craft – he has certainly been a boon to me.
The difference is huge when you have a teacher who not only has depth in terms of knowing each yoga position, but can demonstrate each perfectly, explain what you are doing wrong, what muscles you should feel stretching as you are going through the postures, and how to incrementally enhance your movements. Not to mention, pushing you to the limits! So, I am very grateful to him for the incredible value he has provided. [If anyone from Mumbai is serious about learning yoga, I will be happy to forward your contact info to him if you drop me an email].
Now, undoubtedly, my next milestones will be about continually increasing the numbers. But I must also work on perfecting the postures. My teacher says I am about in the 90% range with achieving the correct Surya Namaskar. So, I need to continually improve each position until I get it absolutely right.
You see, when I started learning to do the Surya Namaskar, the 3rd & 10th posture (see picture to the left) where you bend and touch your forehead to your knees was a challenge. Of the jumbo variety. My stiff body would cooperate only up to a point – where my upper body would bend and there was still about 70 degrees to go before my head and knees could meet. That would be a distance of about two feet or more. With my teacher’s encouragement (“You can do it“, “I’m sure you can do it“, “Tomorrow you will do it”), I progressed until, wham, I was there!
You know what he did next? He said, “Now, your chin must touch your knee“. Then, he said, I want your nose to not be seen from the side – it needs to pass between your knees“.
Now, he says – “I must not see your face when I watch from the side; it must pass completely between your knees” followed by “Hold that position for 30 seconds…1, 2, 3, 4, 5….“.
These latter two describe my current Surya Namaskar “stage”. Mine!
The body is your temple
A great lesson that I have learned through this adventure is this – Never take your body (or your mind, for that matter) for granted.
The exalted Gautama Buddha is to have said –
To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.
What’s so fascinating about this is that, hey, it appears to be all up to us! Why do we keep forgetting this fact?
So, have I convinced you about the awesomeness of yoga? I would be delighted if I can motivate even one of you reading this to get on the yoga bandwagon with me.
Let’s assume that I succeed. Then, here are a few pointers for you, based on my experience –
- Find a good yoga teacher, one that comes with a well-recommended referral (or just luck out like I did!). Plan B should be to go to Amazon and get yourself a yoga DVD which has been reviewed as 4 stars or more.
- The journey is gradual; don’t expect overnight results. But, wow, when you start seeing and feeling the incremental results, they will amaze you.
- Do it for the journey, not the outcome. Ever read George Leonard’s Mastery? Love the Plateau – that’s what I am talking about.
- Your mind will benefit, not just your body. This move to India has not been stress-free for me (!). Yoga has added a great deal of value, given me a sense of joy and removed a whole lot of crap from my mind.
- Finally, to stick to the plan, it’s pretty much all in your mind, i.e. how determined are you to make this fabulous journey?
As for you young and cocky ones who think you have all the time in the world to get going, do you know what my one and only regret is? That I didn’t get started sooner. India may have given the world yoga, but for heaven’s sake, I didn’t need to move to India to get started!
After all, the world gave it legs; in the US alone, yoga is practiced by 1 in 10 Americans today, in this $6-7 billion (yes, that’s b) industry that is growing at the rate of over 20% a year!
So, I conclude with these final words. Bragging rights aside (I did earn them, no?), as I write this post a couple of hours after my grueling Sunday morning session, I can in all honesty say this: My mind and my achy, newly flexible body are – at this very moment – feeling simply sensational.
It’s all been so worth it. And I would love for you to experience this heady feeling, too. Not just once, but on an ongoing basis (it’s a journey, remember?).
Animated GIF “Suryanamaskar”: By Camino (269703) (Educasitio http://caminocosmico.com.ar/) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
Diamond Mountain, Arizona Photo: By Diamond Moutain [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Suryanamaskar #3/10 – By Marcocarvalho (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Lady doing Yoga photograph:By MyA (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons