I have had a great relationship with a handstand. For months after my spinal injury, it was the one pose I most dreaded. I kept trying this asana every day for three months, as much as possible. I would fail each time I tried to kick up and felt my entire left leg was numb. I tried every day without fail, and I always had the same result. I spent so much time flailing around. I would toss the right leg up in the air, while the left acted as a dead weight pulling my torso back to the ground for yet another fall.
I worked endlessly. With each attempt, Amma’s words resonated stronger than thunder. Lightning flashed on those pearls of wisdom She gave me: “Amma loves yoga. Amma was concerned because my daughter fell down from the train (the story about my spinal injury). Amma loves that you practice and teach.”
Attuning myself to these words, I kept trying tirelessly to do Adho Mukha Vrksasana (handstand) at the wall. I would strengthen my arms and shoulders, stretch my hamstrings, and turn my hands out so my shoulders would open more. I tried looking down, looking forward – you name it – I wanted so desperately to spring up onto my palms, with my legs as light as a feather. I wanted my feet to lightly touch the wall as they rose above my head with grace, just like anyone else could in their practice. Why was I struggling so much to kick up into this pose?
My heart was throbbing to get this pose. Finally, one day I went to the wall with my mat and set up for the pose. I kicked up once and nothing happened. I kicked up again and that’s when I felt it – that feeling like ‘I almost did it!’ I was a breath away from getting both feet to the wall. I don’t know exactly what happened, but it was as if all this time I wasn’t using my left leg. At that moment my left leg came to life and sprung up to meet the other one. I was almost there! I felt brilliant!
I didn’t get into the handstand, but I got a clear glimpse of how I would do it in the very near future. It was like a high. I don’t think it necessarily had to do with something I did that day in practice. For sure, though, the focus on Amma’s words galvanized my journey – that all I needed was the right attitude and effort.
The next day, I rolled out my mat and did a few hamstring stretches. Then I went over to the wall. First kick and I was up! I could hardly believe it! I immediately did it again and again – I was able to come fully into the pose! There was no tiredness or any other feeling! I felt completely fine and could even hold the pose for around 30 seconds.
Every day is new. And every day I have a different outlook each time I practice. Though we all have learned so much when it comes to our practice, we are taken to a deep level of humility in order to stay and listen to what we don’t know and be grateful for what we do. Every pose, every time is new and fresh, with a deep inner vision and penetrating awareness. We need to give up the notion that ‘I know’ and instead be humble and listen to the inner voice, and renew this journey. This is ‘true yoga’. This is my experience through all these years with Amma at Amritapuri ashram in India.
The heart of yoga is practice. When yoga is practiced correctly and continuously over an extended period of time, with heart-centered intention and devotion, its secrets reveal themselves, supporting and enriching us. From the firmness of the posture to the steadiness of the mind, to a refined breath, yoga uplifts us day by day in the minutest ways of being and functioning.
There is a natural unfolding. This is my learning in practicing regularly for more than 36 years. It is important to remember that the mere repetition of the various daily practices is not enough. The quality of the practice depends on deep listening and responding to the breath in the body, the heart and the mind, and with a keen intention on what one wants to achieve.
The principles are deep listening and constant response through subtle adjustments. They are the very core of practice. Relaxing, intensifying the mind, focusing through intent, the root connection, and an awareness of the breath are not ideas or tools; they are a way of being, of functioning. Life is amazing with all the avenues we get to learn. It seems that all we have to master is still on the outside, but the real mastery comes from within. The presence of a Living Master on our journey speeds this process immeasurably.
Visit Amritapuri and try a day with Amrita Yoga.