For years, a little voice inside me urged me to search for a guide and a way of life that would provide total care for my body and mind.
I had always been drawn toward the sense of well-being that I’d felt with yoga, and when a series of coincidences presented me with the possibility of spending a month immersed in a sort of personal retreat, learning to create a basic yoga and meditation practice under an experienced guide in Mysore India, I found myself with no reason to not accept an opportunity so grand and promising.
I have to admit I was scared—more than anything else, I feared putting myself out there, my body and my mind, under the scrutiny of myself and my guide, bare and plain for me to confront.
It takes courage for one to accept this sort of challenge, one in which you know there will be few excuses for working with yourself entirely.
I’ll never forget how nervous I was about my 5:00 am alarm the first morning; when I finally made it to the yoga shala (a quick 10 minute walk from where I was staying), I’d forgotten my mat! This clearly was my first lesson in mindfulness. However, what ensued that day and the days to follow was a gradual strengthening in my understanding of my body and my mind.
I began to feel intrigued by this relationship of seeker and giver, guru and shishya. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of enchantment at the guidance of my guide, who so skillfully walked me through those early mornings where, under watchful eyes and valuable assistance, I confronted the mighty task of pushing my own limits.
I began to see what it takes to be a guide who leaves a student something learned, something concrete to take forward, something real to hold on to, something grand that helps us see ourselves and life in ways that bring greater clarity and peace, some way in which to understand our bodies and our minds.
On the mat only two things existed: my body and my mind.
The practice I was being taught helped me, with concentration and focus, reveal my dormant, natural human spirit—the agile body and the sharp mind. I remember my guide as a presence that stood close to my mat, not for a minute taking his eyes off my state of being, not for a moment allowing me to lose sight of where my mind and body needed to be at any given moment. He once said, “This, the work that you do on your mat, with your body and your mind, this is life…what you see outside is not life.”
The idea that inside all of us lies a spirit, waiting for itself to be revealed through work led me to see that the work of the guide is to help reveal this spirit. It is this work that I was here to learn, or if not learn entirely, to have a taste of. I was presented different flavors of what it meant to move toward strength. I felt different emotions arise in me: anger, exhaustion, bliss, fear, negativity, strength, contentment, peace. Sometimes these emotions were directed toward my guide.
With time, however, I realized that he remained constant, never faltering in his role as guide; revealing patience, love, passion, kindness, and compassion; firm where he had to be, always observant, always there when I needed him. He never lost his trust in my ability to reveal my dormant spirit through work, he inspired, he showed me how to laugh at myself.
He didn’t ever leave me alone and showed me how everything I had learned I had achieved through his instruction, but my own focus and concentration. He was gentle when I was harsh on myself and firm when I was distracted. His work was to always keep me on the path, until one day I would be on it alone, all by my own doing, with this exception: “You are never alone. A good teacher is always with you.”
Little details revealed to me that my guide was always working on creating the optimal space.
I would notice how through my practice, he would close and open the sliding window closest to me, sometimes just slightly to bring in that little draft of air, just when I needed that, or bring my attention on my pursed lips so as to relax them and my face while experiencing pain in an asana. While this sort of creation of the optimal environment was external, there was also the space that was created internally that he worked to nourish.
The moment he observed that there had been some sort of understanding, he was immediately present to confirm the same to me. This is the path, this is where you need to stay, and this is how you need to remain in this asana. Breathe.
This reconfirmation, at these very crucial moments, created in me an understanding of what it was that he was trying to reveal to me. The beauty of this revelation was not something external, like attaining the best result. Instead, I came to realize that there was harmony; there was the possibility of harmony of body and mind, when I pushed myself in a certain direction with focus.
The yoga method gave us something to dance with to achieve this harmony. The possibilities that lie within the method were revealed to me through the diligent work of my guide, and so the method breathed life.
Following the asana sequence and the pranayama method of meditation, were gifts in a sense that were given to me to play with, to experiment with, to use to explore skill, harmony, success, peace, wisdom, compassion, balance.
Looking back at my month in the yoga shala, I recall how my guide worked to increase my confidence while making me feel less negative about myself. He worked to create my will and trust in my own ability to walk a path that could bring goodness into my life. He was always present, with me and with himself.
I like to think that he lit a flame inside me.
“The greatest respect you can give me is to practice,” he once said. As I conclude my daily practice with folded hands every day, I give gratitude to my guide and to the light that burns inside me—dim and feeble on days, and bright and alive on others.
Author: Bulbul Hasan
Editor: Catherine Monkman