It is true; the roots of yoga grow both wide and deep, perhaps this is why it provides such fruitful offerings. But, as modern day yogis, it is sometimes difficult to comprehend and adhere to some of the complexities passed down from our forefathers. We have studied sacred texts, in hope that yoga will provide an antidote to the stress of modern living, but still we get caught up! Diligently, we aim our practice, both on and off the mat, at enhancing the world we live in, but often we are stretched in more ways than one. Of course, because we understand the concept of ‘balance’, we are soon able to bounce back. But why is attaining yoga (union) such an ongoing challenge for us? I was recently invited to India, to stay with a Hindu family, in the hope of finding some answers. It was the sights, smells and sounds that triggered an insatiable appetite to write, but the simplicity in which they lived became most poignant.
Looking through the window of my sleeper carriage, at the lush countryside dotted with candy coloured homes my heart begins to thaw. As the iron wheels clatter rhythmically against the tracks, my body is gently cradled back and forth like that of a new born baby. My journey to this cauldron of spiritual soup where Muslims, Christians and Hindus live harmoniously side by side is well over due. After three years of trying to fathom out the status quo, I have returned to Kerala, ’Gods own country’. With the optimism of an Indian sales man, my work is to reignite that part of me which was woken during a previous visit.
I have the privilege of living with a very committed, but humble yoga master named Paramas. With Brahman (Hindu priest) blood running through his veins, a candle burns ever bright in his heart. Upon entering the traditional Kerala home, I am moved by its simplicity. With the calmness of a Buddhist temple, ornate wooden pillars support a lattice of hand carved beams, revealing the craftsmanship of a bygone age. Beneath a large shaft of pure daylight, in the centre of the living room, sits a Tulsi plant (Holy Basil) which is fully exposed to the elements. During the rainy season, a waterfall cascades through the centre of the home before draining away onto the surrounding land. Such architecture is called nal-u-ket-tu, based on the Hindu philosophy Vastuu. Vastuu uses astrology and the 5 elements (pancha-mahab-hutas) to better place buildings with their environment. Similar to the Japanese art of Feng Shui, it provides the dweller with a comfortable living space that is sympathetic to the flow of energy.
After being introduced to Param’s wife and 3 small children, I am acquainted with the bread winners of the family, a small herd of sacred cows. The garden, in which they reside, is an oasis of life. Filled with exotic fruits, herbs, and flowers, it provides more than enough temptation to the birds and butterflies that visit. With no actual boundary to this 6 acre site, it is hard to distinguish ‘owned’ by man and on loan from God. Occasionally, amongst the tapestry of greens, appears a brightly coloured sari, the wearer of which carries jug upon head, requesting milk. This white unpasteurised elixir tastes divine and when boiled soothes the body like medicine. Things, I take for granted, require incredible effort here and yet the emphasis on doing and getting things done seems to have no importance.
From behind the kitchen door, hums a grinding stone which is busy preparing our supper. The sound provides a gentle melody, to which the family sit down together and chant before we eat. The home is now alight with oil filled lamps and love. Shadows flicker, across statues of deities, whilst portraits of previous generations watch over us. There is a sense of wonderment in the air. I am safe, amongst people who have little care for possessions and yet possess everything…
The essence of yoga is prevalent in every breath they take.