Before arriving to study at the Atmavikasa Center of Yogic Sciences, I tried not to limit the potential of my future experience and did my best to cultivate no particular expectations surrounding what might happen once I began to study here under the guidance of expert teachers, Acharya Venkatesha and Acharye Hema. I am happy to say that every possible imagination or expectation I might have had despite my intention to remain free of expectations has been completely surpassed. I have only experienced two and a half weeks of practice under the guidance of the teachers at Atmavikasa and yet I am struggling to find the correct words to express the depth of experience I have been privileged enough to find here in Mysore.
I have loved my asana practice, my yoga practice as a whole for years and yet did not realize the vast potential that the practice could hold once I began to truly quiet my mind – during posture practice in particular. I am in awe of where I might end up following years of practice with this degree of vigor, strength and quietude in the mind. For many years I have struggled during various postures, particularly those asanas requiring significant strength rather than flexibility. Here at Atmavikasa, I am slowly, surely learning how to bring my wandering mind back to my breath, back to stillness, despite its repetitive tendency to wander to a multitude of various thoughts.
The patterns of my mind are becoming more and more apparent to me with each passing day. The emotions that repeatedly rise, the thoughts that come with consistency are surely becoming my greatest teachers. I sincerely desire the ability to find control over my mind during asana practice and have only begun the process of cultivating the skills necessary to find the quiet I seek. It is incredible how far and wide the mind will digress in an attempt to avoid sensation occurring in the body. I am amazed by how the long holds in asana practice have the potential to show us all of our behavioural tendencies, our mental habits, one by one – our psychological patterns become more and more apparent. Some of my habits serve me, but many do not. So many of my mental tendencies simply and repeatedly create more suffering, more pain over time. I am beyond grateful for my teachers at Atmavikasa and their ability to see my potential – even when I struggle to see it for myself.
Often, during asana practice, I find my mind focusing on how challenging the work appears to be in that moment, rather than on my breath. Every time I return my focus from the fluctuations of my mind to my inhalations and exhalations, the posture in question immediately becomes more easeful. Effort always remains, but more and more I am beginning to realize that I can move my focus from the fluctuations (whether they manifest in thoughts or emotional state) to the breathing. When my mind stays on the breath, my sense of effort and ease within that particular asana becomes more balanced. It is fascinating how quickly my mind can digress and struggle – squirming like the proverbial worm when asked to hold a posture longer than I think I can – longer than I have previously asked myself to hold such a posture. I am finding that my mind has many tendencies, tricks if you will that lead me to limiting my potential, limiting my mental (and physical) strength and concentration. When I limit myself in asana practice, those limitations spill over into the rest of life; however, when I control the fluctuations, the unnecessary movements of my body, suddenly my ability to control my mind in all aspects of life becomes much more feasible.
Considerations and alterations in my lifestyle whilst studying here in Mysore at Atmavikasa have also led to more change than I ever would have thought possible in such a limited period of time. Eating much more fruit than I am accustomed to consuming has yielded an immeasurable impact on my energy and irradicated my old habit of craving processed sugars. Bananas, coconuts and papayas a plenty have changed my perspective on food more than I would have thought possible. Simply imbibing more significant quantities of water, particularly directly following asana practices has also had an incredible influence on my body, not to mention my mental capacity. For example, my mind has a tendency to often become frenetic, even frantic or panicked during some asanas or kriyas – and I am rather shocked by what a difference significant water consumption has already had on my ability to calm my mind even in the face of various stressful stimuli. Whether or not I will react to a given stimulus is becoming more of a choice, rather than an automatic response – for which I could not be more grateful.
Another lifestyle prescription that has provided immeasurable benefit thus far is the suggestion to take daily barefoot walks in nature. Following afternoon back bending practice, my routine now includes walking in local parks and sometimes time allowing, around local bodies of water. Walking without shoes has always been something I relegated to the warm days of spring and summer back home, and despite the weather being decidedly warm here in Mysore – I am finding myself ready to heed my teacher’s advice to walk barefoot in all temperatures, for as long as is possible. Making such walks a priority has been very pacifiying for my mind and has made a significant impact in the strength of my lower back as well. I have always had an exceedingly flexible spine; this has been especially the case in my lumbar spine, which in part has led to a fair amount of fear in standing back bending postures for example. With the addition of daily barefoot walks, my lumbar spine feels stronger and more stable than ever before – gifting me more confidence to explore increasing depths in my asana practice. Walking silently and with a mindful attitude, taking in my surroundings, the plants, the creatures (insects, birds, cows, dogs, humans and all others) continues to help me cultivate a sense of focus, furthering the skills necessary to control my mind and its movements.
Another surprising change has occurred as well. My largest organ, my skin, could not look or feel more different than it did upon arrival in India. I have learned that many of us, myself included, are chronically dehydrated, which causes a great deal of unnecessary stress on the entire body, including all of the internal organs. I am now keenly aware of my water intake and immediately notice upon waking in the morning whether my consumption was sufficient the previous day or not. I have been told by family that I look very different and my skin appears clearer and brighter than it ever has before. I have been amazed to observe that several eczema patches on my body have completely disappeared, which I suspect is a direct result of the lifestyle changes I have made, particularly due to the increase in water consumption. The thing that most shocks me is that those patches of eczema had been multiplying and getting increasily larger over time since I was a teenager – now they no longer exist at all. The power of a daily yogic practice and coupled with adoption of a yogic lifestyle is clearly apparent to me now. Back home, I practiced asanas and pranayama almost everyday, however the vigor was nothing like it is here and my lifestyle lacked the discipline necessary to truly and consistently heal my body from the inside out.
The way that I eat has also changed significantly due to the lifestyle recommendations provided by my teachers. At first, I was following guidelines and honestly did not have a lot of faith that a vegan/vegetarian diet could sustain my body during a period of particularly vigorous practice. However, I have found the opposite to be true. I do not miss consuming animal products in the least and have developed an aversion that I did not expect initially. The physical practice that I have been undertaking here in Mysore is more challenging than any asana practice I have previously undertaken, and yet my body appears to need less and less to work harder than ever. I am fascinated by the rapid changes in my body and how I relate to my body during practice and the rest of my daily life. Although, yoga practice has been a love of mine for many years – I feel that this experience continues to deepen that love with a fuller sense of dedication, commitment and respect for the work necessary to cultivate strength of character and a strong daily practice that will bring more and more change each day, each week, each month, each year of my life.
I highly recommend the Atmavikasa Center of Yogic Sciences – should you want to know more please visit: