October 9, 2013

How 108 Sun Salutations Transformed my Life. ~ Heather Easley-Kasinsky

I’m still not sure how I managed to do 108 Sun Salutations. 

I think I lost count at number 33. While steadily maintaining five hours of sleep and regularly consuming soft rice and okra green sauce with side mountains of carrots and cashews, I was dizzy. I went through the motions, inside wondering if I was feeling the effects of malnourishment or sleep deprivation (or both) and wondering as well if I had been completely indoctrinated into a new sort of belief system.

My head swirled with images of myself at immigration where I inadvertently and accidentally selected ‘religious pilgrimage’ as well as ‘tourism’ for the reason for my visit to south India. By the time we reached the 33rd salutation, the pace had quickened and the instructor’s voice now possessed a certain military rhythm.

“Inhale, exhale one, Inhale two, Exhale three…”

I was seething with an intense anger as I tried to persevere through my physical pain and fatigue. My grandmother used to always say that repression breeds resistance in some individuals. By the end of my first week of yoga teacher training in an ashram environment, I was resisting the world.

There were about 200 yogis in training enrolled in the month long program which took place at an ashram in the southern Indian state of Kerala. It seemed as though everyone was pushed beyond their physical, emotional and mental limits on a daily basis. The rigidity of our schedule even left me longing for the comparative ease of my stock market job, where for sometimes 10-12 hours a day I would sit drenched in stress in front of a computer with two monitors in an ergonomically correct chair.

By the end of the first week, some potential yogis had already exited the program.

Our days typically began with a wake up bell at 5:20 am and a Satsang and meditation session at 6:00am. Twice a week, our Satsang session would involve silent meditation walks. I looked forward to these walks for two reasons.

1. I could barely sit cross legged on the floor for more than two minutes because my muscles were so sore.

2. After sizing up the landscape, I—along with a small group of like-minded yogis—realized that we could silently sneak off from the group and buy things from vendors along the route. Soon after the sun welcomed the new day, we would silently and happily return to our lives within the ashram walls with our yoga mat bags filled with packages of Horlicks biscuits and chocolate and cashew cookies.

Sometimes during these silent meditation walks, we would meet at a lake where the group would sit for several minutes in silence before chanting songs in Sanskrit. Although the entire group would sit on the ledge facing the lake, I often found myself sitting in the opposite direction facing the sky, the road and the rolling hills of the surrounding fields. I convinced myself that my reverse seating wasn’t a reflection of resistance, but rather a need to face the stars. I was easily mesmerized and amazed by the clear night sky, the silhouettes of swaying palms, and the constellation of lights that quietly shimmered from above.

Fridays were our day off from the training and I spent each and every free day with my small group of like-minded yogis. For us, every Friday took on the meaning of a new found freedom and often held the potential to end in debauchery. While we usually maintained vegetarian diets on our free day, our stomachs were often filled with everything from chocolate banana pancakes to tropical coconut coffee shakes. We did however take the time on our free days to revise for our exam and to practice the Sanskrit chants that we learned in our classes. I will always hold fond the memory of floating in a long boat down the narrow stretches of river near Poovar, all of us softly singing “Krishna Govinda Govinda”

Our second to last asana class consisted of two hours of advanced pranayama techniques, or various breathing exercises. I was lying on my back in Savasana at the end of the session when a warm pool of tears began to gently gather beneath my closed eyelids. As I sat up, my normal breathing slowly transformed into a sob. Soon I was sobbing uncontrollably as I physically re-experienced the grief and my anger with God over losing the grandmother who raised me. Unfolding between my sobs was the physical trauma of a child constantly hospitalized with severe respiratory complications. As the tides of warm tears streamed down my face, I slowly felt myself begin to let go.

From that moment, I knew that I would never be the same.

I realized that the physical and emotional discomfort of the training experience had really opened up the possibility for transformation in positive directions. I came to understand that this trip was indeed very much a pilgrimage of a spiritual sort.

In my nomadic ventures, I’ve found blazing a new trail to be most efficient when I don’t have to check any bags, when everything I’m carrying fits comfortably in the seat in front of me. As I incorporate the lessons and techniques into my daily yoga practice in preparation to teach others, the load that I carry now continues to lighten.

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Assistant Ed: Gabriela Magana/Ed: Sara Crolick

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Heather Easley-Kasinsky