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December 14, 2011

Yoga is Like a Good Masala. ~ Chetana Panwar

I woke up this morning thinking of yoga as masala. Cinnamon gives sweetness to masala, nutmeg and cloves an earthy savory, ginger a bit of spice. Together they are a nurturing, balancing blend of various tastes. When we reduce yoga to asana, it falls flat. The various aspects of yoga provide balance to one another, and also spice things up: mantra, visualization, relaxation, asana, pranayama, savoring through the senses, mindful nature walks, walking meditation, seated meditation et cetera. There is a veritable cornucopia of ways to practice yoga in the sense of active practice.

Then there is the aspect of yoga that is based in contemplation or mindfulness. Mindfulness is something that is ‘practiced’ throughout the regular day, as it is. In other words, we don’t have to stop our lives to practice yoga – rather, yogic mindfulness is a part of our lives as they are. It is a way of encouraging being-ness.

[a moment ago, I just typed mind-fun-ness by mistake. This is actually something I want to say – yoga and mindfulness is fun! Bearing witness to our lives and communities through being more mindful of each moment, each interaction, makes these interactions more meaningful, and therefore more pleasurable no matter what they are.]

In the past, I moved away of some of my other creative pursuits and hobbies to have more time to practice yoga and meditation. I think this is part of an organic process. As I surrendered to where the yogic process was taking me, I noticed over the years, that I had come back to many of my creative pursuits: creative writing, cooking, reading fiction, exploring dance, going to the theatre, et cetera. I realized that I did not need to reduce or suppress these parts of my life; now I experience creativity, nature appreciation and relationship as yoga.

With the masala analogy in mind, we could say that even to look at yoga as something that we stop our lives to practice, is reductionist. When we bring all of the spices, all of the practices together, they create also a whole. That whole has another existence – not as the combination of parts, but as the blended whole. In yoga, I would call this blended, unselfconscious whole, simple being-ness.

We see this type of discussion in Tantra, which is non-dualist. We don’t need to escape the body to become the spirit. Spirit and body (purusha and prakriti) are one. The mundane is the sacred, and the sacred is the mundane. There is nothing to become, we simply drop into (surrender into) witnessing what is.

Virginia Woolf’s narration is cyclical, looping between past and present, in and out of the minds of various characters. It is feminine in its enveloping nature.

Reject nothing. This Tantric maxim comes alive for me in this way. Perhaps in Tantra the worship of the goddess, the Divine Feminine, of the Mother, exists to honour that ability to channel everything and anything into the quest for wholeness. A masculine approach may be more focused, direct and intense, but launches toward a perceived goal and later falters when the trickiness of ‘no path, no goal’ dawns. The archetypal feminine is more at home in multiplicity, with perceived incoherence, and can get beyond the duality of light and dark that axes off so much of our lived experience.

The path is not progressive, a knight’s tale of triumph over evil. It is a soothing expansion in all directions, that claims everything as its very own.

Preserving that wholeness of practice, life and self is the masala of yoga!

Chétana is passionate about integrating Jnana and Bhakti yoga: philosophical contemplation and devotional practices.“Yoga is unity in diversity, and allows us to recognize that the apparent duality between mind and heart is illusory”. This merging of mind and heart is apparent in her workshops and in her writing: poetry, short stories, yoga magazine articles and now a yoga blog. Blending insights from her Master’s degree in adult education, and her training in yoga, she developed the curriculum and manual for World Conscious Yoga Family’s YTT courses. Chétana teaches philosophy, teaching methodology and transformational experiences for the YTT programs. She is enthusiastic about helping yoga teachers learn to design and offer interactive, experiential workshops. Along with her husband, Yogi Vishvketu, she co-founded Anand Prakash Yoga Ashram in Rishikesh (India) where they live part of the year with their children.

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