relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process.
occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold
When I am bringing my students out of śavāsana, I usually ask them to curl onto their side in a foetal position, head resting on the lower arm. This brings the spine into its primary curve, just as we were when coiled into the womb space, quite literally surrounded by our mother.
I invite my students to rest in this shape for a few breaths, taking the time to just be in this in-between, liminal space, before we close our practice together and everyone moves off into their individual lives.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the nature of this space.
There is a word in Sanskrit – sandhya – that designates the space where two things meet. The place of transition, of potential… It is the suspension felt at the top of the inhalation, the void at the bottom of the exhalation. It is where dawn meets day, where dusk meets night.
It is the womb of the world from which all things are born.
In my previous blog reflection I spoke of my Bharatanatyam teacher in a video clip he shared with me. A small figure in an immensity of sky, river, and earth – he is seen walking away from the camera witness, becoming smaller. Then he stops.
For a moment frozen in time he raises his arms into the starting position for dance. He enters the liminal space. The space opening out from everything preceding this moment. The birthplace of everything that proceeds from this moment.
my Sanskrit and Vedic chanting guru: Marcia Solomon of Boulder, Colorado
my Bharatanatyam guru: Supratim Talukder of Kolkata, West Bengal.
I am so very blessed to have these souls in my life. Thank you both for all you give to me with your wonderful teaching. I can truly say that my life has been transformed, and continues to be transformed, by your compassionate and generous guidance which extends beyond technical training to helping me along the path of life.
Mid to late afternoon, after tea, after reading Tagore. I lie down on the couch and curl up like a comma. Not to sleep, but to go quietly inside and think things through.
Today, I am considering the collision of world-views.
A few blog posts back I considered this distance that separates in the air you breathe: the inevitability of the separation that results from being coiled into our cultural cocoons.
The divide is fractal, existing not only on the macro level of culture, but on the micro level of any two individuals. We are all blind, in varying degrees, to the ground upon which we stand. We look out into the world, thinking that we see objectively. But the really real is veiled by the innumerable beliefs we hold about it.
What to do, then? Just give up and sink into the false conviction that only my world-view is real?
It occurs to me that attempting to bridge the gap is why we’re here. Here, now, in apparent isolation from everything else. Our attempts to find connection may often be clumsy and miss the mark. But we can’t give up the project.
This conundrum reminds me of the title of one of Tagore’s novels: Yogayog. That is, yoga + ayoga. Yoga – connection, and its opposite – ayoga – separation. The former is the ultimate reality that underlies everything. The latter is the relative reality in which we spend most of our time.
May we support each other in the attempt to bridge the gap and find connection. The survival of everything depends upon this.
Samputa, in the exquisite gestural language of Bharatanatyam, is one of the double hand gestures. The right and left hands are cupped together to create a container. A little treasure box.
I find the image apt for many of the traditional Sanskrit names given to the poses in Yogāsana. For example, Vīrabhadrāsanaencodes the whole story of the death of Lord Śiva’s beloved wife Satī. Overcome with grief and rage, Śiva rips out one of His dreadlocks, throws it to the ground, and the fearsome Vīrabhadra arises, ready to avenge Satī’s death.
Investigation into the stories behind the names of the poses can take our practice of yogāsana to another level. Taking Vīrabhadrāsana – literally “Blessed Hero” – again as an example, how might this familiar pose transform if we allow ourselves to embody the dharmic or righteous rage of this avenger? What does it mean to take dharmic action in the world?
The sadhana of yogāsana is a treasure box freely bequeathed to us from the rich culture of India, its birthplace. Do we have the courage to open it up and investigate what lies within?
On this day, the 72nd celebration of the Republic of India, I offer my heartfelt thanks to the land of Bharat for the priceless treasure of yogāsana!
I have been studying some verses from the Taittiriya Upanishad with my teacher, Marcia Solomon. Each week we chant a few lines, call response, to verify pronunciation, and then look at the meaning. I was struck when we came to I.17 at the repetition of svādhyāyapravacane ca: it is repeated no less than 13 times!
This must be important.
Svādhyāyatranslates as “self-study” and might be interpreted as “independent study” or “a study of the self” – or both. Pravacane is “instructing / teaching”. (Ca = “and”)
In my retirement from the profession of teaching in the secondary school system I find myself with time to pursue independent study of topics related to the path of yoga: āsana, Sanskrit, vedic chanting, anatomy… and I have noted a tendency to become quite involved in these pursuits, to the point that I find myself sometimes in danger of forgetting to share the fruits of my investigations with others.
Teaching is the perfect complement to independent study. Teaching is not just an option – it is a responsibility. Teaching connects us with the world. We all play the roles of both student and teacher as the context in which we find ourselves shifts.
The sacred connection fostered in the exchange between teacher and student is what allows us to evolve and connect with our higher nature.