Yoganatomy

Indian Express - January 15, 2012

You might not understand it, but 'sabar' yoga might be a most useful life lesson.

At the swanky T3 terminal of Delhi airport, I had a "we are like that only" moment. There was a large-ish crowd hanging around a huge mental sculpture, an upward sloping elliptical frame with larger than life human figures fixed on to it. They were going around it, aiming their cellphones, and furiously taking pictures. I used to be amused with Japanese tourists and their cameras, but we Indians have stolen a march over them when it comes to no-frills pragmatic consumption of even something as aesthetic as photography. It took a while to figure out that the sculpture was depicting the surya namaskar sequence and attracting more of middle-class India's attention than shops selling foreign brands. Maybe we should just chill a bit on the FDI and death-of-the-kirana panic attack. Yoga has made a comeback and is both cool and hot! Do not interpret it as the sexual liberation of India if you happen to overhear party conversations about positions and praise for the "chap who showed me how to do it properly". It's the yoga teacher being discussed.

Mine walked in through the front door, recommended by a friend who forgot to tell me that nowadays yoga teachers don't come only in the pyjama-kurta-jhola variant. He was wearing jeans and a T-shirt and called himself a yoga trainer. I soon discovered that they taught one kind of anatomy in medical college and one to yoga teachers. "Breathe in from your nose to the top of your head, and then breather out," he would say. As I complied, I wondered about the lungs, but guess what? It felt pretty good to bypass them and breathe! Other instructions followed, which included asking me to "look" at the spot in the middle of my eyebrows, with every part of my body - "even from the soles of your feet". I am not sure I managed, but I did do better with making my eyes wander down the back of my head and spine while I focused on it.

In addition to theories about how skin pores had to be a certain way for weight loss, he also had theories on circ-oo-lay-sun that left my doctor aghast. Friends said that losing weight wouldn't happen unless you put less food in your mouth and slogged it out in the gym. In contrast, my yoga teacher said it was wall about belly buttons being where they were supposed to be, and digestion being good, which needed abdominal muscles to be strong, and about being calm.

Now after new research about games that brains play in response to dieting, I have a sneaking suspicion that he may just be right, though I am terrified to ask him just where, anatomically speaking, he thought digestion occurred. However, the results he produced were definitely paisa vasool. I started fitting back into my clothes and feeling a whole lot better about more inches going than kilos, but that there were different kinds of kilos - the good and the bad ones, etc.

I told him my doctor would never approve of any of this, and about how Body Mass Index is calculated. He dismissed my doctor with the some disdain that my doctor dismissed him, and sniggered, "Go take a test for you cholesterol and thyroid." He does seem to know things, though I wish there could be a decoding device, which would translate what he says into a language that my doctor would understand.

Now with the different school of yoga, many people ask, "What kind of yoga does he teach you?" Honestly, I don't know, except that it is yoga that works; but since it requires me to be patient and suspend my conventional wisdom, we both have agreed to call it sabar yoga. It includes class where I come in huffing and puffing, angry with the world, and ask "so what are we doing today?"; and he says "today, we just sit". Just sit? At so much money per class? But he is quick to reply that it is the toughest thing that I have probably done in my life. See how you sweet in two minutes, just sitting, not moving at all that's called working out. I do sit for half an hour, haplessly and helplessly doing sabar yoga, and, yes, after that I feel ready to face the world - even visit my mother or go to a contentious board meeting - with a smile!

My Labrador puppy Zak is my new role model - he is the champion of contorted body postures, of stretching with abandon, and of just sitting. Recently, I was feeling unwell and a management professor friend recommended that I go see his Vaidji, who only checks you pulse and knows exactly what is wrong with you. No, thank you, I am not emotionally ready for one more thing that I cannot explain to my doctor. So I will just take a deep breath from my nose to the top of my head and breathe out from my toes, and contemplate why "just sitting" for half an hour is so hard.