India is Shining

Smuggled in by a British Airways jet under the cover of darkness, I couldn't help but be impressed and excited by the full volume of Indian life later that morning when I went down to breakfast. Vibrant colours for tired eyes, interesting (sometimes fierce) scents for a jaded nose, and for the ears, of course, the relentless shouting, beeping, banging, thumping, cawing, clanging, yowling soundtrack that invades every moment of Indian life. One of the first thoughts I had was whether any other nation in the world would permit, even encourage, taxi's with reversing tunes that play 'Lambada' at 3 o'clock in the morning?

But I wasn't there just to take in the scenery, even if it calmly refused to be ignored. I was there for yoga.

And four weeks later I'd had my yoga. A surprise still waited round every corner, but the song of India had faded into the background. The beautiful sari's and flower kolam on the doorsteps were just as bright and beautiful, but not so eye-catching as before. The pleasant smells were known quantities, only the not-so-pleasant smells still catching the mind and warning of something bad in the neighbourhood.

Yet, for all I had seen and done, I felt disappointed. I had expected India to change me, to challenge my every fibre, to chew me up and spit me out as something completely different. I had struggled with some issues, but they were old issues that I'd long been aware of, just confirming their existence by rearing up for me to deal with. But where were the new ones, the ones I would work through to become a better man? There I was, just the same old me, nothing new.

I reasoned that the problem was expectations. For eighteen months I planned and dreamed, hoped and schemed about India. How it would transform me, how yoga would finally seep into my bones and, like the Phoenix, I would rise from the ashes with my mind purified and my body cleansed. Like so many people in this world, especially those who come to yoga, what I had been looking for was that "magic pill", that single dose of something that would solve all problems. What I got instead was also what everyone who comes to yoga will get - a whole lot of hard work, a clearer vision of how much hard(er) work lies ahead, and a small chunk of hope to lure me further forward. Of course there had been many, "A-ha!" moments, as the proverbial two-plus-two suddenly made four. Not just in intellectual terms, but in the practices too, some glimpses into what seemed like a dark void had turned into a star-filled sky. And while they stayed there, resting in the back of my mind, the return to Scotland showed that it was business as usual at Castle Greyskull. Or so it seemed.

Same people, same places, same desk, same chair, same pile of paperwork covering the desk. It was only when the "same Scott" sat back at his desk that some inkling of change started to arise. Oh, it was just the same in many ways - same boredom, same longing to be somewhere else, doing something else. But now I could see that longing clearly, as if it were the keyboard at the end of my fingertips. It was real.

But what is it, and what to do with it? The days come and go, and nothing moves on. Until one weekend morning I wake up and go to practice. Looking for inspiration, I leaf through my notes from India, and find a meditative practice that I feel like doing. I move through the simple asana with ease, my breath flowing easily. The pranayama lets me lengthen my breath further, and then I look to the topic for meditation - "Destiny or choice? Do we have any control?"

My mind flits back to Sri Sridharan's yoga philosophy class when this topic first arose from a student's question - how does the concept of karma lie alongside the idea that we can choose our fate? Not exactly a yogic question in itself, but as usual he did not dismiss it off-hand. And as usual, he leaves us to ponder it at the end of our evening practice.

And that evening too I was clear in my thoughts written immediately after meditation.

Do we have any control? Yes.

Our future choices are all likely to be based on current habits and past experiences. Although we cannot do anything now to change the past, it is those experiences (along with some genetics) that shape our current habits at all levels. If we study ourselves (our Self?) we can identify which habits which are beneficial, and which are not. Further, we can study if our habits relate to something over which we actually have any control or not. This is when choice presents itself - as we consciously decide to enhance our beneficial habits and reduce the negative, using our discernment to identify which require action and which require surrender. This is us setting our intentions, making our choices.

But what of the idea of destiny? Even if our paths are predetermined by some higher power, we can choose to consciously move towards this destiny. When this happens, that longing, that yearning for "something else", will disappear. The uneasiness fades away as what we are doing and what we are "meant to do" are one and the same - destiny and choice merge together into a flowing stream of life.

But how do we know in which direction we should move? It is the luckiest of students who can uncover this for himself, but this is where the greatest tool of yoga, the relationship between student and teacher, comes to the fore. The true teacher (sadguru) has the experience to lead us towards our destiny.

A month later, after the same practice, I find myself reading those words again. As I contemplate this subject the ideas come to me so clear that I am forced to interrupt my meditation and snatch for a pen to write them down. The role of destiny in our lives can be compared to being plunged into a raging torrent. The direction of destiny is an irresistible force, always moving us towards our fate. If we swim against the current we become tired, defenceless, agitated, unsettled, maybe even causing ourselves physical harm, drowning as a result of false effort.

How different if we surrender to the current! We are pushed swiftly downstream, our efforts now concentrated on the important task of staying afloat, avoiding the obstacles in our path, keeping our heads above water. If we relax into the flow (accepting our destiny), we may even become comfortable with the environment that first seemed so impossible to even survive.

We realise that, within the confines of our downstream motion, we actually have choices. We can move from side to side, choose which path we take around any obstacles, even rest for a while on these rocks and small islands. Our skill at choosing a path towards our destiny reduces its negative effect upon us. Perhaps, as we go downstream where the current is slower and there are fewer boulders, we eventually manage to find a way to reach the side of the river. Again we have choices - which bank to reach out for, which way to get there, which landing site to beach upon.

So destiny does not prohibit choice. It is caused by the fixed influences on our lives, those manifold influences such as genetics, personality and environment. We can deny these boulders in the stream and dash against them, or we can accept them safe in the knowledge that they will not always be there as an obstacle - a few seconds downstream and they are behind us (as obstacles).

The secret to choice, then, is to learn when to surrender and when to try to control the situation. If we spend all of our time fighting the current, we may miss the branch of the river that will take us to the easier-flowing section, and even may end up heading towards the rapids or even a waterfall. It then occurred to me that this life model is in fact one of the key points of the Yoga Sutra's of Patanjali. At the very start of the second chapter he tells us about the three parts of Kriya Yoga, which equate to developing the ability to discern (Svadhyaya) when to surrender (Ishvara Pranidhana) and when to apply control (Tapas).

But what does that mean for me, sitting at my desk with that longing for "something else". Of that, I'm not quite sure, but I do intend to find out!

Written by Scott Rennie

This article was written in March 2005 after Scott returned from a month-long course at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in Chennai, India. He reckons he may now have found part of that "something else" as he no longer sits at that desk in his former role as a detective with Strathclyde Police. Scott now teaches general "Yoga for Wellbeing" classes and specialist "Yoga for Pregnancy" classes throughout Ayrshire and Glasgow. He is affiliated as a teacher to the Krishnamacharya Healing and Yoga Foundation (, and is also available for one-to-one sessions to help you develop a regular home practice, deepen your existing practice or to tackle specific issues that cannot be addressed in group classes. You can find further details or contact him through his website at