Your Hero's Journey: Supernatural Aide (Part 2)
I walk in to the small grey concrete shala after stepping somewhat ungracefully off the back of a motorbike. It’s hot. India hot. Like the sun wants to crawl inside your skull. I guess that’s why so many westerner’s come here to experience enlightenment.
Removing my sandals at the threshold, I enter a small simple, office, with a desk, a chair, a cabinet, and a padded bench. Behind the desk, I notice that the large cabinet is filled with trophies and medals, that despite the collection in it, is quite unassumingly set back. One of the quiet Indian men there politely offers me a seat, murmuring “The teacher will be here in a moment.”
I’m reviewing a piece of paper overviewing the yoga practice, called Prana Vashya, that I will be learning over the next month, when another man walks in.
When he greets me, I almost am not sure this is the teacher. He is young man, maybe only a little older than me. But that is not why. For some reason, I pictured an Indian yoga teacher as a formidable force, someone who may be strict and aloof, or float six inches above the ground. Intimidating.
The man who speaks to me does not strike me as that. He is warm and welcoming.
In my nervousness, I ask “What is your name?” even though I know damn well who he is.
He humbly answers, as any person on the street would, “I am Vinay Kumar.”
I feel instantaneously included and cared for by him as he gives me an overview of the month-intensive course and listens intently as I share my background with yoga and how my body is feeling. When I walk out of the office and back to my room at the guesthouse, I have a sure knowing that I have made a great choice of who to help me deepen my yogic studies.
I could not comprehend at that moment how much that man would change my life.
The first class kicked my ass. I had been traveling for a few months prior and had not been practicing regularly. Even though I had still been active, running and doing a practice a few times a week, it was a whole other level taking a led class with Vinay. The sequence flows smoothly, but quickly, with a certain breath pattern. During some movements we hold our breath and I know I was gasping at certain points. And that Indian heat was wicked.
Over the coming weeks, I experienced a whole gamut of thoughts, emotions, and physical experiences. There were days I would look at the clock in the hopes we were near the end. For a week I had to modify nearly every pose due to an intensely tightened muscle in my left leg. Some of my fellow students and I would greet each other mutely at the gate of the shala in the mornings, happy to be there and at the same time feeling a sense of foreboding about the next several hours of our lives.
I also had one of the most enlightening experiences of my life thus far.
During one back bending practice, I was feeling particularly down in the dumps. I cannot recall why I was in this state. I do vividly remember the feeling during our warm up twists that I just wanted to run out the door, cry endlessly, and not come back.
But through the practice, that intense emotion lessened its grip on me slightly. I just kept listening to what Vinay would tell me to do, did it, and went on to the next pose. Eventually, he told me to stand up and do back bends on my feet (leaning back as far as I could). Then, totally unexpected to me, he said, “OK, now drop back.”
I totally did not think I was ready. But he assisted me and I trusted him completely. When my hands touched the mat, I felt the most intense surge of empowerment I had felt in a long time. I left that class walking on air, so excited to come back for more.
Talk about complete and instant transformation.
I could go on and on about what I learned while practicing with Vinay and his qualities as a teacher and a human being. He was someone so humble, so inclusive, and so sweet, while at the same time so powerful, so tough, so wise, and so not going to let you get away with anything.
Really, there is one story that could sum up what kind of person this teacher is. One Prana Vashya practice, I was clipping along merrily, keeping up with the breath pretty well and moving well in and out of the poses.
At one point though, I went through a transitional pose and my mat wrinkled up in the back.
“Oh, well,” I thought, “I’ll fix it my next go round.”
But when I got to the next round, it was flat again.
Hmm, strange. But I didn’t give it much more thought. Guess it just fixed itself.
A few poses later, my foot caught my mat, and it rolled up again.
Vinay was walking around the room, counting the breath clearly and steadily, giving each student precise and pose transformative cues as he did every day. As he walked by my mat, without missing a beat in the teaching, he took his toes around the edge of my mat and flattened it for me.
A simple act that made me want to cry again; this time with tears of gratitude.
The simplest things are what allow for the most profound transformation.
And when we are in the thick of a transmuting (aka tough) experience, the most powerful tool can be a simple question.
All of our suffering comes from the stories we live in our minds. Our stories come from our thoughts. Our thoughts come from our conditioning – what we have learned over the course of our life and what our ancestors have passed down to us. You are on this planet with the purpose to heal. Not only heal yourself, but also to heal this old conditioning of the human species.
Four powerful questions can help us to open our hearts and go inside for the deeper answers.
Notice the thought you are thinking that is causing suffering.
First, ask: “Is it true?” (Yes or No. If No, move to 3).
Second, ask: “Can I absolutely know that it is true?” (Yes or No).
Third, ask: “How do I react, what happens, when I believe this thought?”
Fourth, ask: “Who would I be without this thought?”
These questions can give us access to another perspective. To a truer version of our own story.
These questions are based on The Work by Byron Katie. There are also several sub-questions that can provide additional turnarounds to the problem.
A turnaround is simply a mirror image of the original thought. For example, “I am not good enough” turns into “I am good enough.” Or “He doesn’t listen to me” could be “He does listen to me” or “I don’t listen to him.” When we examine examples of how all of these statements are true, we loosen our grip on the problem.
Then the reality of that story of suffering begins to crumble.
You go from wanting to run out the door to dropping backwards and catching yourself with your bare hands.
And the fold in your mat flattens out again.