During my 20s, I experienced a particularly peculiar low point in my life; one that I had hoped was just a dream but turned out to be my reality. Moments like these elicit a profound response, which, in my case, drove me to desperately seek a remedy from the person I had become. It was then that I realised the only way out was to unravel the knots I had unknowingly tied myself into. Some of these knots were products of my upbringing and the culture I was surrounded by, while others were the result of my own choices, beliefs, ideas, ambitions, perspectives, self-fulfilling prophecies, and escapist tendencies. I had to re-examine and re-evaluate the narratives I had bought into.
Self-awareness became my sole salvation, and the process began with self-observation—seeing things as they truly were. I discovered a certain power in this act, as I noticed that merely observing something had the potential to transform it, allowing me to understand it and ultimately release its hold over me. However, this pursuit eventually led me to dead ends. The act of observation became fragmented and separate from the rest of my being, creating a division within myself. My attention wavered, and I struggled to sustain the energy required to delve deeper. It was at this point that I strongly felt the need to approach this from a different perspective – that of the body.
It was during the very first session of Navtej’s “Rest of Struggle” that a profound resonance stirred within me. Although I couldn’t quite pinpoint it at the time, by the end of the 16 sessions, I felt a distinct vibration in my body and rediscovered a vitality that I had long forgotten. Navtej announced a TTC (Teacher Training Course) for the following year, and I instinctively knew that I had to explore it further.
The BARPS model of yoga, with its keyword model, aims to bring awareness to the practitioner’s own experience of their body and if one were to look closer, the mind too. This is achieved in multiple ways, as the body is a complex mechanism with many variables operating simultaneously. The keyword model offers an entry point for the practitioner to explore their own body through these different variables.
During the exploration of one’s interior self, the one constant is the seeing or the seer. Throughout the practice, the seer observes the current condition of the body as it is. This condition may be influenced by factors such as desensitisation, lethargy, or a lack of drive or an overdrive. However, as a non-judgmental observer, the seer begins the exploration from the point where the body’s condition is ‘as is.’
BARPS has multiple keywords such as breadth, bracing, balance, rotation, alignment, Poise, Purusha and more. These keywords can be mapped on a spectrum ranging from gross to subtle. Keywords like breath, bracing, balance, and rotation, which are tangible aspects of the body, can be located at the grosser end of the spectrum. Whereas, keywords like Purusha, surrender, and space can be mapped to the more subtle end of the spectrum.
Starting with breath, one of the key components of breadth within the BARPS framework is the Ujjayi breath. The Ujjayi breath breaks down the breath into a slow inhale and a slow exhale (and perhaps an inbetween state), giving ample room to make sure that the body and breath move in tandem. Once we have established this coordinated movement of breath and body, we move on to other foundational aspects of asana such as Bracing.
Bracing is a fundamental aspect of asana that affects the body at multiple levels. The body is comprised of levels, starting from the feet all the way up to the nape of the spine on which the head rests. When the feet are properly braced, they support the knees, which in turn support the hips. The spine is fused onto the hips and rises up, supporting the posture of our upper bodies, necks, and head, with each level bracing against the others. Well-braced feet have a cascading effect on multiple levels of the body, leading to improved posture and a sense of buoyancy in the upper body.
Moving on to balance, the mechanism for balance is already wired into our body. We are wired to protect ourselves in case of an accident or a fall. It’s interesting how this wiring and this reflexology kick in and how many actions we do on a day-to-day basis are guided and protected by these reflex mechanisms embedded within the biology of our bodies.
In asana practice, paying attention to rotation can help us understand the complex network of interconnected bones in our body. Even simple actions like drinking water involve multiple parts of the body rotating seamlessly. On the other hand, practicing without proper alignment can be unsafe. For instance, in a forward bend, aligning the knees, legs, and shoulders to the movement prevents pushing too far and allows us to feel the elasticity of our body in the moment.
In addition to the physical practice of asana, other aspects such as agency, permission, rigor, poise, and reciprocity reflect the attitude with which it is practiced. An internal shift in attitude is reflected in the quality of the outward movement. The focus shifts from the superficial aspects of movement to the overall mental makeup of the practitioner. This shift brings attention to conditioning, tendencies, inclinations, beliefs, and past patterns that surface during practice.
Coordination of the breath, body, and mind allows for seamless movement, which opens up the possibility for subtler aspects of the body to emerge. As emphasized in class, true yoga occurs only when these elements, along with something more, move in unison. One such aspect is the Purusha, which can reveal itself when the body has been well-prepared through practice. In this state, we may experience a profound sense of self, feeling like mere spectators as our internal experience seems to move independently of our percieved control. It raises the question of what we truly have control over. Watching this unfold can be awe-inspiring.
Seer and the seen:
As previously mentioned, the seer maintains a constant watchful presence throughout the process. As one progresses, the quality of this attention becomes more refined. It is interesting to note that when we focus our attention on something, it unfolds, revealing insights about ourselves. This process initiates a conversation between the observer and the observed. This process cannot be rushed, but through mindful awareness, insights naturally arise.
Asana practice is an effective means of tempering the body in various ways while maintaining a watchful presence. As a result, our attention becomes more finely tuned and refined. We become more attuned to the subtler aspects of our body, such as its internal movements and murmurings, which are sensed and revealed to the observer.
Consistent practice coupled with mindful awareness of daily life can establish a sense of grounding within oneself – fostering a quality of sthira that permeates both our physical and mental being. This heightened sensitivity to our inner world enables us to approach daily experiences with greater awareness, uncovering deeply ingrained patterns and conditioning. The act of observing itself becomes an act of doing, leading to a natural and diligent attitude towards life. Inevitably, a light veil of blissfulness or sukha may intermittently wash over us, allowing us to effortlessly and joyfully engage with the world.
Praveen Yarramilli is an artist and a designer based in Goa. He completed his teacher training in BARPS Method of Asana Practice under Navtej Johar at Studio Abhyas.