Baking naan in a Tandur oven.

Baking naan in a Tandur oven.

“You are not your body, senses, and mind; body, senses, and mind, are expressions of your timeless awareness.” Jean Klein

The practice of non-attachment (aparigraha) creates equanimity in our lives leading ultimately to greater harmony and peace.

My diet in India was largely different iterations of the same thing: white rice with curry on top.  The curry would change, but the white rice was the same.  I don’t eat gluten, which ruled out naan.  I would occasionally have dosa or chapathi (breads made of rice flour), but I was still eating different iterations of white rice.  It eventually tasted bland or made me ill.  I felt as if my body was rejecting the food and I would be full after a few bites.  Most of this I’ll own as my unknowing or ignorance.  I’m sure I could have found the right nutritional diversity if I was empowered enough to seek what was around me, but at the time, I didn’t particularly see it as a problem.  Also, I was told by many travel guides to stick to the food offered in the hotel, because it was safer and more sanitary.  Not that it mattered, because my rice diet ultimately coincided with what I’ve determined to be a record setting marathon of not one, not two, not three, but four bouts of dysentery during my seven week pilgrimage.  In short, I was unable to replace the calories to compensate for the rate at which I was losing them.

Did I mention India is hot during the summer? Like really, really hot? It doesn’t take long before you stop checking the temperature, because you know it will be blistering no matter what.  One of the last times I checked the weather app on my phone it was 110F.  Given the heat and my diet, I threw out the idea of my routine high intensity interval training.  My asana practice shifted to gentler and more introspective poses.  One fabulous, and unexpected dimension, of these long holds in softer poses  is that I am more flexible than I’ve ever been, able to do poses I could never do before.

I knew I lost weight, and I knew I would lose weight before I even left for India.  What I did not know was how much, and how shocking my physical appearance would be for some when I returned to the states.  “You lost weight,” I would hear.  

Politely, I would respond, “Yes, I lost a few pounds.  But I am slowly gaining it back.”

“No, but, like, a lot of weight.”

“The diet was different, and I got sick a few times.”

“You look completely different. Are you getting enough to eat?”

The same conversation happened over and over again.  Friends with feet in their mouth, and me sheepishly trying to shift the conversation as quickly as possible.  I lost something.  I lost my body, my shape, my corporal identity.  Kali, the goddess of benevolent destruction, took away something on which I relied a little too much.  I had to remember that she was not destroying me, but destroying something dangerous to me.  She is like a mother punishing her child for misbehaving.  In the short term, the child views the mother as cruel, but ultimately learns that she is shaping him to be a more complete person.

She reminded me that knowing the text isn’t the same as living the text.  Of course I know attachment breeds suffering, but I will occasionally buy that face cream that I want but don’t need.  When my body is 29 years-old and in peak physical form, it is easy to talk about aparigraha.  When your body has betrayed you after giardia exposure and you can’t get a break from diarrhea or vomiting, that is when the real learning begins.  Giardia isn’t an ideal teacher, but it's effective.  That is typical of the goddess Kali:  Swift, brutal, and effective.

She also reminded me that so little of yoga is about the body.  I’ve questioned Ashtanga teachers about this before.  I’ve questioned Mark Whitwell about this before.  Asana is great - but what if you are confined to bed, unable to move, debilitated by extreme pain from spinal cancer, as my father was for many months before he, to quote BKS Iyengar, “changed his clothes” ?  Mark Whitwell said my pops should move his arms and breath as if he was in a vinyasa class - but that didn’t satisfy me, it was still too much about the body.   I’m more inclined to agree with Tara Fraser, who, like Whitwell, is a student of Desikachar, posits that, “Yoga is essentially a practice for your soul, working through the medium of your body.”

I was liberated from my preoccupation from the size of my biceps, the altitude of my glutes, of would people would think of me, of what I would think of myself.   It mattered less than ever, because for the first time, I realized I didn’t have control over it.  In fact, I never did.  You can manage your diet and supplement with protein shakes, you can balance cardio with strength training, but no matter what, you’re always one bike accident away from being paraplegic, one stomach flu away from losing your figure, one cancer diagnosis away from separating from your physical body completely.   I was freed from the idea that yoga, while dimensional and meaningful, begins with the body.  The body can be an illuminating and rewarding aspect of a yoga practice, but is neither the doorway to, nor a mandatory component of, yoga.

It was not directly from losing my physical mass, but rather my attachment to it, my spiritual body grew to be so much stronger.  Suddenly, there was more room for the things I value the most - kindness, authenticity, and joy.  Even though I look different in a swimsuit, there is less distance between my conscious mind and my inner guru; my heart feels more vibrant than ever.  

For me, this was a new path of yoga.