BARPS, for me, is a form of attention, it is a way to make a practice out of attending. It is a decisive stance (adhyavasaya), both physical and mental, that allows me to ‘see’ the act of seeing itself. Like yoga, BARPS is also situated movement, it is a movement ‘in-place’, like a spider’s web, or crabs on the beach. It helps me locate myself, ground myself. But unlike yoga, it reconfigures the meaning of ground or location. Traditionally, the ground is understood in terms of permanence, unchangeability and supportiveness. Here, the ground is not just the ground of the mat, BARPS helps me find a ground prior to the physical ground because of which the act of grounding becomes possible. Besides, a reciprocity is introduced in my relationship with the ground, such that I can, at once be grounded and be the ground. Both the ground and my body folds, bends, grinds, stretches. As such, the ground becomes precarious. But precarity is not something imposed from outside, victimizing the body. Precarity is a choice, it is a decision. Precarity can make me stand as much as it can make me fall.
BARPS, for me, is experimenting with breath in all possible ways – in its speed, its elasticity, its posture, its origin, and its end. It is about discovering new zones of breath inside my body. It is breath, and its relationship to the spine that is monumental to BARPS practice. I was inspired by my fellow practitioner Dhruv, to see BARPS as an experiment to find the point of buoyancy (satva) between rajas and tamas.
BARPS promises transferability. When I first joined the TTC program, I introduced myself as a writer and researcher. BARPS did not create a diversion but in fact, has satisfied my deep urge to articulate myself- this time through the body. BARPS is a humble practice, it never imposed itself upon my life, it is like breath itself: necessary and unnoticed at the same time.
Something has started but I only see it mid-way. BARPS makes me available to this vagueness before clarity, to the mist before the fall. It promises a clearing, the experience of sukha. But it also demands a corporeal courage where courage is not just an attitude but also an act.
In one of the sessions, Navtej asked us to press our palms softly against our chests as we inhaled, almost as if cradling a baby. At first, I was not able to evoke that tenderness within me. Or so I thought, because I did not feel the necessity of the ‘sparsh’ right away. Not until I moved my hand away as I exhaled. And then I felt a craving inside: it was only through a loss of the ‘sparsh’ that I was retrospectively able to feel it. The separation made me painfully alive to my own tenderness. The insight which I could garner from this experience was that there are times when I experience sensation through loss. Sometimes, loss is necessary for the feeling to be realised. If I allow myself to experience loss, I am, in fact, allowing myself to experience experience itself. Loss is potent because it creates an impermanent space in my body, entirely non-functional space- and hence, gives me the choice to decide what I want to do with this space. I can get rid of it or I can inhabit it, even for a while. It is a decision that I make.
I realized through practice that in certain postures, I am able to activate a dormant capacity within me. It is a residual space left, when the feeling is gone. For example, after harbouring pain inside my body, there was a simultaneous generation of a capacity to bear that pain. Eventually, as the sensation of pain left the body, the capacity to feel it remained behind. And since there was no sensation of pain, there was no realization of this capacity. Until I did some postures in a session on ‘Surrender’. I was surprised by the tenacity of my body to hold on to some postures, the vigour and energy that surfaced as I moved on the mat. Before this, the general understanding was one only senses a feeling, but in these sessions, I understood that one can also sense the capacity to feel, even while the feeling is not yet fully developed, and even though the capacity is derived from a completely different feeling, once felt, but now subsided. Through these two insights, it became evident to me that the feeling and the capacity to feel are distinct from each other. Not only this, just like a feeling can activate a capacity, a capacity can activate a feeling and one capacity has the potential to become home to a range of feelings. Similarly, one feeling can be activated through a range of capacities. In this way, a capacity is essentially hollow and is looking for something to fill it. I always thought that space can only be experienced as an external form, but through practice, I have understood that it is possible to evoke space as an internal capacity- it is like I have a key to a secret room, I am both the key and the room.
What’s in a stance?
Today, I have the sensitivity in me to separate the act from the attitude. For a long time, I had conflated the act of keeping things from someone as the act of hiding, but only now I understand that the former is an act in material terms, but hiding is not an act, it’s a stance. Just like a posture of the body, it’s an attitude that I had deliberately developed about the things I don’t reveal. One can keep things from others without an attitude of hiding.
I see myself as an over-sharer. I confused full disclosure with vulnerability. But through BARPS, I found a way to practice being personal. I wanted to be intimate to myself. I wanted to give space to myself to be intimate to me. Say things to myself without feeling the need to protect them overcautiously. Say things to myself like one says things to a stranger in a tea stall. Say things to myself without attaching importance to either things or myself. Through a mediation on posture and stance, as both physical and mental, I learnt to distinguish the act from the attitude and it opened up a way, for me, to practice intimacy as a stance.
And it is through a focus on posture and stance that I began to notice the subtle, delicate difference between relaxing and collapsing. This difference informed not just the way I breathe, but also my relationship with myself and others.
I feel a deep longing to be indifferent- but an indifference that is a stance: beautifully indifferent, gracefully, humbly, tenaciously, rigorously indifferent. Not adamantly, not fiercely, not inadvertently, not cautiously, not audaciously, not carelessly. But casually, delicately, slowly, sensibly indifferent.
Language is central to BARPS practice. Not the discursivity of language as much as the poetics of it. Language becomes something to work with, it becomes as malleable as the body itself. It is very freeing to realize that language can be treated, tempered and molded just like a sculpture. Sometimes, it is like hearing a word for the first time, there is a satisfaction to carving words out of experience.
In one of the meditation sessions, my being felt like a gum-plastered surface and language felt like flies hovering too close to this surface, close enough that some of them stick to it: some words, some phrases, some sounds, like how Navtej says ‘Aham’ during Mangalacharan. There is a posturing of words, a reciprocity between the body and the sound of words- sometimes it is the body that takes the shape and sound of some words- for example, the uchchaaran of ‘tathast’ at once makes my body pause. I ask myself: how can I embody this word, which longs to be embodied? There is an appetite in the word just like the appetite in my body. A stickiness between the two, pleasurable stickiness. And it doesn’t happen by chance, it is almost a necessity that some words stick, that something sticks.
This breath that is not mine…
Through guided meditations on breath, I began to see my body as separate from breath. I do not own this breath but it inhabits me. And there is a certain way my body wants the breath to inhabit me. There is a pleasure to it. And there can be more than one way, just like there can be several different kinds of pleasures.
The moment of the separation between the breath and the body was also the moment of realization that this body that I see in the mirror everyday is not all, there is something more to my body- and this something more is the breath that is within me and which surrounds me. “Chalevaate Chalam Chittam” from the text-Hatha Yoga Pradipika stayed with me. It was a revelation to know that just like my breath that is elastic, my mind and my whole being is elastic too. Breath creates a layering within me. I am becoming-within me. But this becoming is not an expansion, it is elasticity.
If elasticity is to be understood in terms of a reciprocity between breath and time- what if this means that time too is elastic? What if time doesn’t progress but stretches, doesn’t expand but swells and curves around us. What if all of us have the same amount of time, but differently elastic. The more I work in improving the quality of my time, the more elastic the time becomes, giving an impression of having become longer when in fact it is still the same amount. When the body stretches to its full capacity, we appear taller because our muscles are stretched and we have reached the peak of our body’s elasticity. Can I also reach the peak of this time’s elasticity?
Balancing between this realm and that…
In one of the sessions, Navtej was talking about letting yourself be absent minded, while going into the realm of consciousness but in the beginning, I was scared to let myself go into that realm. It is through the act of bracing myself fully in the here and now that I understood this fear. So, I try to ground myself in reality again and again and keywords like bracing, availability help me do that.
The relationship between the upper body and the lower body is similar to the relationship between this realm and the realm of consciousness. It is only when the lower body is firmly braced that the upper body can swing back and forth. As my lower body became more grounded, the attitude of grounded-ness started to spill into other areas of my life- I felt something softening inside of me. I was able to accept that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, that there is no basis to compare my progress with anyone else, that it is a betrayal to myself to do so. And once I stop comparing and focus more on bracing myself firmly where I currently stand, it feels so light! The more I brace myself in MY practice, the more it becomes MINE. It’s a mix of availability, reciprocity, rigour, surrender.
And I DECIDE to brace myself. Every moment is a tussle between falling and standing. Bracing is balancing. Bracing is not devoid of tension. But the tension, the fear of falling, the shame of being looked at while fallen, the anger at not being able to get up- I tried but I cannot get away from it, I can only walk at the edge of this tension, this fear, this shame, this anger to realize that my capacity to feel these things CAN inform my practice.
Harshita Bathwal is a writer, researcher and BARPS practitioner, currently based in New Delhi. She is part of the TTC program at Studio Abhyas.