Monday, July 12, 2010

Becoming an Expert

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are an authoritative text on the practice of Yoga. Ever since I was introduced to this ancient text, I've always liked and remembered some specific lines from it. Today I want to share one of them which has deep meaning for me in the practice of Yoga, Sudarshan Kriya, and meditation, but also in other aspects of my life.

sa tu dīrgha kāla nairantarya satkārā sevito dṛḍhabhūmiḥ

In the context of Yoga, Maharshi Patanjali says three things are needed to establish oneself and be firmly grounded in the practice of Yoga:

dīrgha kāla: For a long period of time.

nairantarya: Without a break.

satkārā sevito: With honor and respect.

Doing the practice for a long period of time, without a break, with honor and respect — that's what it takes to become firmly grounded in the practice of Yoga and all the benefits to the mind, body and spirit that it brings.

But wait, that applies to becoming an expert in anything, doesn't it? All around us we see people who are experts in their domain. More often than not, the above three steps outline how they got that expertise. Very few people are born as prodigies; expertise gets built up over time. And time alone is not enough; steady application of oneself unbroken in time is essential. And these two together do not make one an expert, if the attitude and approach to the task or craft are casual or irreverent. A sense of honor and respect is also essential.

Want to master a musical instrument? It takes years of unbroken practice. Want to become a pro golfer? You need to hit the links several times a week for years together. Want to be great at what you do? Keep at it... with honor and respect! Often we dabble in something and give it up after a while if we don't get results from it, and take up something else... without realizing that value gets built up more and more over time when we stick to one thing.

There are many more such simple and insightful lines I love from Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, including the definition of Yoga, which I will leave for another post. Hint: it's not just the practice of tying your body up into pretzel shapes. Thanks to Shriram Sarvotham and his amazing teaching of the Sri Sri Yoga course for awakening my interest in this text. Guruji has given a fantastic commentary on the Yoga Sutras in 11 talks; I highly recommend listening to the whole series.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

First AOS Course Experience

We just returned from our first Art of Silence(AOS) course from the ashram this weekend and felt like sharing this with you all.

We have taken our time to dive into the part2 and until 3 weeks ago had no plans to attend this one too. Then out of the blue, Mamta suggests to me that she wants us to do the AOS course together as her birthday (6/30) gift. She was riding HIGH after just finishing her first YES+ course with Anoop/Shraddha - I asked her once just to make sure and needless to say signed us up.

Due to a last minute instructor re-arrangement Philip Fraser taught the course instead of Jim. We had the pleasure of picking up Philip from San Antonio airport en route to the ashram - we had a nice conversation and got to know him a little bit. At the ashram, everyone said, "we were lucky to do this course with one of the very best teachers".

Both Mamta and I have to agree - Philip has such a calming, peaceful, graceful personality. No "Do's or Dont's" - hearing him play the flute was magical ... he even woke us up at 5:45 a.m. with sounds of flute.

Pakshi, Neelam aunty and the seva volunteers did a magnificent job of making us feel at home and food was so healthy and delicious.

Satsangs were fun especially the last night when the energy level was so high with everyone dancing away to the melodious voices of Yamuna, Neelam aunty, Birjoo and others.

For me, the course was an "eye opener" ... thoroughly enjoyed the silence, nature and saw the mind settling down. Though I did often experience deep meditation, I couldn't resist the urge to doze off at times missing out on the instructions. Couple of times, I wondered when this torture would end :)

Mamta was anxious the first night ... The course was everything that's not in her nature!

  • Wake up at 5:30 a.m. (oops. not a morning person)
  • No caffeine (can't function without bed tea)
  • Silence (she sleeps best with T.V on :)

She was 100% committed ... got to the hall 15 mins before and did not miss a single session. During one of Guruji's speech, she thought he was speaking to her and burst out laughing when he said "You may have doubts that this is not for me .... may be you opened your eyes and saw if you were the only misfit and saw everyone else deep in meditation!"

Philip had earlier told us that it is ok to have neutral or negative experiences at different times. Sometimes, we expect every time/everything to be positive and are disappointed or have doubts about ourselves when it is not so.

Those who know Mamta a little know that she is black and white - The first words that came out of her mouth when the course ended were "Thank God, It's over ... Ahh .... the sound of my voice, I am not repeating this again" :). As everyone shared their experience, they encouraged "first timers' to repeat (eying Mamta) ... she agreed then to repeat only if Philip came back to teach the course!.

What finally sealed the deal was our ride back to San Antonio airport with Philip. Mamta insisted that she drive the car with Philip in the front seat. Since we got to the airport early, we spent another hour with him. Even though we were still 'supposed' to be in silence, the conversations with him were just out of the world. He shared stories of his beginnings with Guruji when there were just 5-10 of them back in 1989, his stay in India from 1991-95, on 'spirituality' in general, how it is ok to have doubts, he himself along with others he mentioned were not sure when they first started. I think it was Guruj's plan to send Philip as a guide for us! :)

I'd like to end by sharing a miracle story. As everyone was getting ready to leave and head out to their cars, they noticed a lot red ants all over their front and rear seats. It had rained quite a bit and then the sun coming out monday, along-with possible food in the cars must have driven the ants towards them - it took them at least 30-45 mins spraying ant killer, RAID etc. to get rid of the ants.

Our car was parked in between with an empty fruit bowl that we had taken for Philip still lying in the front seat - when I opened the car to check ... NO ANTS ... Not a single one! The only explanation we have is Philip rode in it and we planned to take him back in it! His Grace!

Written by Akash Verma.