The Path To Bodhichitta

You start where you are, the practice will meet you there.

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Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Sunday, July 16, 2006

A Safe Place

Last Friday, Yoga 2 Health invited Manoj Kaimal of Manasa Yoga to teach a special class at 6am. When I heard about this, my mind swung like a pendulum - to go or not to go.

I had heard many people sing Manoj’s praises. Even Parveen, who attends his class, recommended seeking out Manoj when I'm ready to sample another teacher’s style. Yet I had never found the time to drop by his studio. Now here he was, coming, literally, to my doorstep.

Verdict: I wanted to go.

After a class earlier in the week, my back muscles punished me by plunging into violent spasms. My chiropractor’s diagnose: a possible tear in a spinal disc. His remedy: a possible MRI scan and less yoga. I left, a boiling cauldron of rage and frustration. Furious with my body for not getting its act together and frustrated at being put on a leash where my practice was concerned. How could I attend a class, being led by his renowned teacher, when my movements were so limited?

Verdict: I didn’t want to go.

When I vented to PP, she said, “Just go. What’s important is not what you can do in the class but that you were present.” And so I ended up going.

The studio was relatively empty when I arrived and I unrolled my mat at a spot in the last row with relief. Perhaps my ‘disabilities’ would go unnoticed here. Then Parveen walked in and asked me to move to the front row so any latecomers wouldn’t disrupt the class. Swallowing my dismay, I slowly moved up front.

Our eyes were closed when Manoj entered the class and all I knew about him as we began pranayama was that he his voice held a little more than a touch of kindness. My nervousness began dissipating and by the end of he first sun salutation, it was a distant memory. Coupled with the early morning stillness, his voice worked like a muscle relaxant and I could feel my body gradually unfurling. For the next 90 minutes, Manoj guided, encouraged and made us aware of parts of our body we weren’t even thinking about. For instance, in Paschimottanasana or seated forward bend (one of my least favourite asana!), he said that if we were thinking about the distance between our forehead and our knees then we were merely stretching our muscles. But if we were focusing on our calves pressing into the floor, our shoulders rolled back and our feet flexed, then we were doing yoga.

Most of all, he allowed us to be imperfect. With each asana, he reminded us that where we were at that point was right for us for that time. No need to push and pull to get into the full posture. And with that simple assurance, I felt safe. Safe enough to do only as much as I could, safe enough to send my ego out of the room and safe enough to be honest in my practice. I left the class feeling like someone had injected me with a syringe full of gratitude and Happy Air.

To me, good teachers are those who know help their students work around their limitations. But great teachers are those who make students feel that it’s all right to have limitations. These teachers turn their studios into a temporary retreat, a safe haven for their students. A sacred space where crooked spines, bad knees and arthritic joints are invited to come out of hiding, so they too may have a chance of blossoming to the best of their abilities. As Parveen always says, it’s the intention that’s important. If your mind is fully present in the asana, then what your body is doing is secondary.

I’ve been sounding like a broken tape recorder in my own class, telling my students to only go as far as they can and to never push their bodies too far. Now I’m more determined to continue repeating myself!


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