Practice

IMG_0011The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali contain many sutras on the subject of practice. At the halfway point in my month of study, I am reminded of sutra I:21.

The goal is near for those who are supremely vigorous and intense in practice.

One of the great gifts of being here at RIMYI is to have many hours every day to practice. Far from home, the duties and distractions of everyday life are minimized, and I am free to apply myself to my sadhana, practice. While it is clear that I am not “supremely vigorous and intense” in my practice, being here at the institute gives me a chance to go much deeper into the exploration of new possibilities. Of course, part of this is due simply to the fact that I have a huge amount of time each day to do nothing but yoga. But it is more than the time. The atmosphere here engenders attentiveness, thoughtfulness and tapas, enthusiastic effort.

The contrast to what my practice is like at home is striking. In my daily life, my mind is often scattered. Practice may be wedged in between household chores, running my business and myriad other activities. Some of these activities are duties, some are social, some are cultural or educational, and others are what I call idle amusement.

We all have duties. We must nurture our bodies, care for our homes, work to earn our living, and help and support our loved ones. Building strong social networks and lasting friendships takes time and energy. Arts and cultural experiences like theater, dance, music and literature are uplifting and evocative activities that connect us and reveal to us something about the human condition. These three categories of activity are all important and rather non-negotiable for me.

So the only place I can eek out more time for practice is by eliminating some of my idle amusements. How easily I spend time shopping on the internet, watching a movie I have seen repeatedly, or getting obsessed with some small detail of life that really does not matter too much. Having had a good taste of what it is like to be more focused, I hope that I can find not just more time to practice, but a clearer and more detached state of mind while I practice.

Here I am asked to do things I do not ordinarily do. In Prashant’s classes we do long holding times, far beyond what I usually ask of myself. He guides us to an experience that is quieter and more penetrating than my ordinary practice mind state. In the classes and in the practices, I am doing poses that I have never done before, or that I have neglected for a long time. I am doing well-known poses with new clarity, awareness and spaciousness. All this is serving to remind me that I can up the ante when I return to my normal life, with an approach that is more focused, committed and progressive.

I know that I am far from “supreme vigor and intensity.” But this yoga journey, in the large and hallowed hall of RIMYI, is revealing new possibilities that I hope will follow me back to my own small yoga room.

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Going Inward

IMG_0009The neighborhood of the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune is bustling with noise and activity from dawn until late into evening. Many sounds fill the air – the sounds of motors and honking horns, lively birds and chiming bells, voices ringing out, whether chanting or selling vegetables. Yet within this cacophony, there is peacefulness and focus within the practice hall at RIMYI. There we turn our minds inward to get a taste of yoga – integration, connectivity, and wholeness.

Walking through the gates of the institute, you are immediately greeted by busts of BKS Iyengar and his beloved wife Ramamani, for whom the institute is named. The building is surrounded by deity images, which are artistically beautiful and spiritually inspiring. These sacred icons help turn the mind toward sanctity, and help to leave the noisy world behind and enter the realm of the sacred journey inward.

I continue to feel deeply relaxed and calm within the busy rhythm of my days. Prashant Iyengar’s brilliant teaching is bringing me to a new experience of presence. One aspect of his teaching is the way he describes philosophical concepts through his engaging use analogy and metaphor.

In a recent class, Prashant explained that the senses can act like mirrors. When we get ready to go out, we first look in a mirror to see how we look. Then we want a cosmetic kit to enhance our appearance. Of course, cosmetic means superficial or on the surface. If we instead use the senses as mirrors to look inward, we will find that no cosmetic kit is needed. The unadorned beauty of our essential nature will shine with its own splendor.

Prashant has emphasized this week that philosophy is embedded within us. Philosophy lives inside us. Philosophy reveals reality. By turning inside ourselves, by becoming the object of our own awareness, we may taste the ocean of bliss that resides within our hearts.

With this type of teaching setting the tone for the day, I find that I am influenced to be calmer and more aware during practice time, while assisting in the medical class and even in everyday activities. I am so grateful.

I am thinking of my friends, teachers and students with so much affection. Blessings of peace and love to all of you!

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Blessings

IMG_0013To be blessed is to receive favor, protection or good fortune in a way that we don’t perceive as having been earned. A blessing is given freely by the Universe or the Divine and is beautifully named as Grace. I feel so deeply blessed to be here in India studying the profound subject of Iyengar Yoga at our home institute here in Pune. Despite a few mishaps in getting here, everything is now going extraordinarily well.

On my past trips to India, I have felt much more anxious. This time, I feel relaxed and more able to go deeply within myself. I am not sure why it feels so different. Perhaps it is just that I have more experience and greater familiarity with this place. Perhaps having gone through major illness, I no longer get as stressed about everyday things. It is also true that the atmosphere in the hall is very different without Guruji. His presence filled the space and added an element of intensity that is no longer there. Yet his grace and blessings linger to uplift and guide us. Geetaji is also not practicing in the hall due to her ill-health, so that also creates a big shift in how the space feels. Yet students are working with focus and sincerity, receiving the grace of being in this blessed place that Guruji created.

My practice time is going well, and assisting in the medical class is very new but also going fine. The classes have been fantastic. Prashant Iyengar teaches with an emphasis on philosophy and connectivity of body, breath and mind. His use of analogy and metaphor is amazing, and I have embraced his teaching in a completely new way during this first week. While we stay in the poses for long holds, he continually brings our attention to the present, whether we are working on the breath, the elements, or detailed awareness of the sensory organs. I feel his classes are bringing me to a new understanding of what it is to practice yoga.

It is amazing to meet and practice with students from all over the globe. My roommate has been to Pune many times, and she has been a wonderful support in all kinds of ways. The flat where I am staying is beautiful, light and airy, and close to the institute. The owner is a kind and gentle man and it is a pleasure to be staying in such a good place.

So I am definitely filled with gratitude and the feeling of being blessed. Thank you again to everyone – teachers, friends, colleagues and students – who helped get me here!

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It Begins

Guruji reliefSo much has happened in such a short period of time! My rerouted flight to Mumbai went smoothly. A night at the luxurious Leela Hotel was a refreshing way to rest and renew before the 3-hour car ride to Pune. After one night at a local hotel, I was able to move into my flat on Monday morning. Because I have stayed at this apartment before, coming here felt familiar and comforting. I have arranged my room and am feeling settled.

The first day of practice at the institute was both familiar and strange. Of course the hall feels extremely different without the presence of BKS Iyengar. Yet the space is filled with his essence, his memory and his teachings. I looked around and saw that like me, most students were doing reclining and forwarding bending asanas to recover from travel and to ease the nerves at the beginning of our period of intensive study. I smiled to see this expression of the wisdom Guruji passed on to us in knowing what to practice, when, and why.

Even after all the difficult hours of travel, I did not feel stiff or tense, but relaxed and happy to have finally arrived at the institute. The registration process was smooth and I even had all the correct documents with me on the first try! My Monday class with Abhijata was wonderful. Her class was full of rhythmic movement, with many prop variations on forward extensions, using benches, ropes, slanting planks and more. Her energy, knowledge and humor made the class a joy. The Tuesday class this morning with Prashant had a different energy, slow and deliberate, with long holds of the poses. As we stayed in the asanas, he guided us to understand how body, breath and mind can participate with each other more fully and more consciously.

I was thinking of a phrase that my good friend Nina shared with me that she heard from a senior Iyengar teacher – that our practice should be experiential and experimental. I was reflecting about what these words mean. To be experiential means that we are present to what we are actually, doing, sensing, thinking and feeling, rather than being stuck in past imprints or future plans. To be experimental means to be creative, spontaneous, inquisitive and willing to take risks. I wonder how much of either of these modes I normally apply to my yoga practice.

I hope that here under the guidance of these esteemed teachers, and in the company of a group of dedicated practitioners, I can be influenced to be present, awake and alive in what I do. To experience fully this wonderful learning opportunity, and to experiment with new possibilities for understanding and growth.

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