Looking, Watching and Seeing

On Sunday we celebrated my roommate’s birthday with a lovely lunch at the Royal Western India Turf Club – the racetrack! The beautiful facility had marble columns, plants and greenery, and a sprawling veranda overlooking a lush lawn and the track. It was not a race day, so the atmosphere was calm and casual. It was a pleasure to enjoy a lovely summer day with friends!

In the surrounding gardens, I was struck by this incredibly beautiful plant. I don’t know its name, but its shape, color and energy were wonderful to behold. It is a delight to experience a form of beauty that is unknown to us. There is a freshness in our perception that brings us into the present.

My experience here at RIMYI continues to be fantastic. The days are full and I have to make choices about what is enough and what is too much activity. There are always more classes to observe and it is tempting to overdo, but I feel I have found a good balance.

One of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of this month is the opportunity to assist in the remedial class. This is the class is for students who have various issues that could not be easily addressed in the regular classes. Students may have skeleto-muscular problems such as neck, shoulder, back or knee pain, or they may have more complicated complaints. Sometimes students with similar issues work together as a group, and sometimes each student does their own sequence. The Institute teachers are there to help and guide the students and their knowledge and compassion is inspiring! Foreign senior teachers also take responsibility for assisting the students. Teachers like myself who are newer to helping are given more basic jobs, and the RIMYI teachers are ever watchful to see that we are doing our work properly!

The Institute teachers have been extremely generous and helpful in training us in how to help the students. I may be asked to guide a student through a pose for shoulder and neck pain, for example. As I assist the student, a RIMYI teacher may come and correct me, so that my touch or prop use is more helpful to the student. Or it may be that I watch the RIMYI teacher work, and she then asks me to to the adjustment. We then ask the student, does it feel the same? I feel that the Institute teachers truly care that the visiting teachers are educated to better help those who come to us once we return home.

Depending on the ratio of students to Institute teachers in a given class, there may be more or less work for us as helpers to do. In that case, we fetch props when asked and we observe. This observation has been interesting, educational and rewarding. I notice that the RIMYI teachers first get the student into the basic shape of the pose, using a standard set up for their condition, perhaps with some modifications for their specific situation. Then they watch. Watching is different from looking. We look “at” something. We take a “quick look.” We look here and there. But watching takes place over time in a state of relaxed attentiveness. I have seen many examples this month of a teacher quietly watching a student. The instructor notices the student’s eyes, their skin color, their throat, their abdomen and and their breath. If something is hard or tense, the teacher either changes the props, or instructs the student with words and touch, or both. It is all based on seeing what the student is actually doing and experiencing, and not on a formula for what you give a student who has this or that condition. 

The quality of the attention that these teachers give their students is beautiful to behold. The subtlety of what they can see is an education. Little by little, class by class, I am able to perceive more. With a quietly attentive mind, watching can turn into seeing, which then hopefully leads to understanding. This attentive seeing is rather challenging, as the environment in the hall is very lively. RIMYI teachers call out for the next item they need. Helpers run to the props closet to get a required item. The whole room is busy, with constant movement of students, teachers and helpers, yet each student is being guided through a refined and progressive sequence. Behind the apparent chaos there is order. I find that this process of watching and seeing is helping me understand fundamental actions and directions of movement that would help any student, not just those with ailments.

Assisting in these classes is the most draining part of my week. I have to be attentive and ready to help at all times. I have to make ongoing judgements about when to step in and when to hang back. There is a lot of bending and holding and pressing and picking up and carrying. Adjusting students is strong physical work. Yet the RIMYI teachers are there again, to show us how to help the student without straining ourselves. It is fantastic to recognize how the healing work done by B.K.S. Iyengar and Geeta Iyengar has been transmitted to the RIMYI teachers, and how they are doing their best to transmit some some part of it to us. It is our job as teachers to catch as much as we can.

I take notes, discuss the classes with my colleagues and do my best to absorb the information. There is always much that I cannot grasp, but I am not feeling greedy. I feel satisfied each day that I have done what I can, learned what I can and absorbed what I can. My hope is that the new learning will be integrated in such a way that it continues to support my growth, and also allows me to grow in my ability to help others.

In love and light,
Karen

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3 Responses to Looking, Watching and Seeing

  1. Donna Pointer says:

    Excellent article. Your observation seems to be turning into true seeing.

  2. Thank you Donna! It is nice to hear from you.

  3. Janet O’Brien says:

    Hi Karen. Your article is so interesting ! It makes me aware of a contrast between quickness in demonstration and the pace required to actually watch students as they stay and their pose evolves. I find myself sometimes moving fast through my teaching to keep on track and get my plan finished but the idea of watching more and truly seeing is a worthwhile goal. Thanks again for your inspiration. I look forward to your return.

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