Dolly Koghar inhales and exhales with gratitude.
The year was ’84, and after a gap of a whole eight years, the stork tracked me down yet again for the fourth time. The slow- healing C-section made it doubly difficult to go through the grind of nappies, breast- feeding, and dealing with colic and burping. My nights were already a damnation in the pre-mobile and pre-GPS era, waiting up for the other three, stretching-my-patience kids. The camel’s back was already strained, juggling multiple hats as wife, housekeeper, cook, driver, samosa bazaar, piano/guitar/ jazz dance/judo/volleyball/soccer-mum, and playing host to frequent visitors from Bangkok. There were also the celebrations and prayers to attend within our small and cosy, though totally diverse, community in Kobe of Gujaratis, Sindhis and Punjabis; we shared our joy and grief, as family.
Subsequently, sanity went for a toss and I looked up yoga. And that’s when I met Dorothy Blumm; she was yoga and yoga was her. She breathed yoga, lived yoga, and taught yoga till the end of her days. It’s to her legacy to which I’m forever indebted; it sustained me through the worst and the best of situations, including during the incomprehensible year and a half of COVID.
Roughly 20 years ago, yoga was integrated into the staid physical gymnastics market. The flavour of the east with a hint of mysticism helped it soar to unprecedented heights. Today, yoga has become a 25-billion-dollar wellness and fitness industry, spewing out countless DVDs, videos, apps, books, clothes, fashion items, mats, and other assorted accessories promoted by celebrities and big names.
Yoga easily lives up to its promises for a calmer, more lucid mind; an increased lung capacity; gentler heart rates; overall flexibility and balance; and the ultimate sales-pitch of weight-reduction. The practices improve circulation and blood distribution, automatically promoting skin and hair health, and dramatically slowing down signs of aging. The asanas or the postures, combined with the pranayamas, the breathing techniques, are non-competitive and can easily be learnt and practiced by anyone, regardless of their age or physical limitations. Even in a class of 100, yoga remains a personal journey to stretch and expand the sum of our bodies and awareness beyond the current existential stage to its greatest possibility.
That sums up today’s yoga, which has become totally body-yoga. Nevertheless, when it originated in Northern India in the Indus-Saraswati era more than 5,000 years ago, it was intended to be mind-yoga; meditative and spiritual. The many physical postures, or asanas, were designed to stimulate and release blockages, allowing for blood and the life force, prana, to flow freely to every limb and every organ. This brought the body to its individual optimum; capable of both preventing and curing itself of maladies, which is nothing but a disrupted balance. Similarly, the pranayama, or controlled breathing, subdued the sensual and impulsive tendencies of the ‘monkey’ mind and awakened it to its original super-conscious stage.
Originally, Yoga was conceived with a very lofty ideal. It was meant to be a technique to appease mankind’s age-old quest to ‘know thyself’. Yoga is a journey of the self, to the self, through the self. The practices were meant to ‘yoke’ together a healthy body, with an awakened mind, to complete the person, to make him/her ‘whole’ again. Then with guided meditation, the practitioner could transcend beyond the trappings of the puny individual consciousness and ‘yoke’ or merge with the Universal Consciousness, the Source of all Knowledge and Wisdom. That’s when the individual ‘knows itself’, as being beyond this perishable body; as having the same divine essence, as being a drop of the Pure and Eternal Being, and thereby, also eternal and unrestricted by time and space.
So, whenever there’s time to spare, sit upright, close your eyes, and sense with wonder and gratitude the gentle exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide through the nostrils. Besides nourishing the trillions of cells in the body, breathing is life itself. Breathing stops, we cease!