Celebration and Integration

IMG_0140The final week of my time here has begun. The last span of days has been so full of learning it is difficult to sum it up. The classes have been fantastic. Deep insights into inversions with Sunita, one of Mr. Iyengar’s daughters. Revealing pranayama with Rajlakshmi, a long time institute teacher. Clarity and precision in the rope work with Golnaz, another experienced RIMYI teacher. And invigorating backbends with Abhijata, Mr. Iyengar’s granddaughter. This is true wealth – the wealth of knowledge and experience. It is clear that I can only absorb a small portion of what is being given. At a feast, we cannot taste every dish or we become ill. So I am digesting what I can, knowing that through future practice, more will be revealed.
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Saturday night was BKS Iyengar’s second “punyatithi” meaning the anniversary of his death. The hall was decorated and the red carpet rolled out for this auspicious occasion. Images of BKS and Ramamani Iyengar and Patanjali were garlanded with flowers, and the hall was decorated with images of Guruji and more flowers. We were invited to put on our finery and  gather to pay homage to this great man.

We were delighted that Geeta Iyengar gave an interview, responding to questions submitted during the previous week. Geeta has been suffering from ill health, but she was in good spirits. Her mind was sharp and her memory clear as she shared yogic wisdom and stories of Guruji’s life.

IMG_0159After the interview, we had the opportunity to give our salutations and respect to Guruji, taking turns to bow to golden sculptural images of his feet, garlanded with yellow marigolds. This evening was also the book release for two new works, Light on Yoga in Marahti, the native language of this area, and a new book, Beloved Guruji, based on stories and recollections from his students. We then flowed downstairs to purchase our books, have them signed by Geetaji and Prashantji if we wished, and to enjoy some prasad. “Prasada” literally means a gracious gift. It denotes an edible food that is first offered to a deity or master and then distributed to be enjoyed. The prasada is considered to have blessing residing within it.

IMG_0141So that brings me back to digestion! How can we digest such a rich meal? How can we integrate teachings that are so profound and vast, while also being rooted in practicality and common sense? Only through our regular, attentive and devoted practice can we receive the nourishment that this yoga has to give us.

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Obstacles and New Beginnings

IMG_0093Monday August 15 was Indian Independence Day and a holiday from classes at the institute. It felt good to have a day off for rest and integration right in the middle of the month. My flat mate and I took the opportunity to visit Sarasbaug Ganesh Temple.

Ganesh is the elephant faced god who removes obstacles, especially obstacles to our spiritual growth. This deity may be invoked at the beginning of new endeavors. Ganesh is associated with the root chakra and the qualities of stability and security, while also revealing the potential for transformation.

 

IMG_0078The Sarasbaug Ganesh Temple was a wonderful place to visit on a sunny day in Pune. The area surrounding the temple was like a carnival, with rides for children, street food and vendors selling flowers, coconuts and sweets to be offered to Ganesh. Inside the temple gates, there were lush lawns, ponds with lotus flowers, and more vendors selling balloons, toys and novelties. It was lovely to see so many families enjoying their holiday in an area that combined the features of a park and a church.

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Inside the temple, we circumambulated (reverentially walked around the deity image) the main shrine and made our offerings. I had the chance to become quiet and focus on my intentions for obstacles I hope to have removed from my life. We then visited the amazing Ganesh museum that held literally hundreds of images of the elephant faced god, in many forms, sizes and materials.

Back at RIMYI today, I find that my practice continues to deepen. I notice that small, nagging injuries that I have had for some time are gradually melting away. Windows are opening to both new and familiar poses that challenge me. Being in the yoga hall brings a state of calm awareness that helps the practice penetrate in a new way.

One new aspect of this trip is that I am assisting in the medical class. This remedial class is for those with various injuries and ailments, as the Iyengars have developed protocols for numerous problems. As the students do their sequences on their own or in small groups, the Indian teachers and other senior teachers guide and adjust them with some support from teachers like myself. I was nervous about this part of my work here, and consulted several senior teachers at home about what to expect and how to behave. During the first week, there was a lot of watching. We were told to stand and that if our help was needed, we would be asked. During that first week, felt anxious to do something. I was there to learn and to be useful. Sometime during the second week, I realized that I was grasping – that I wanted to get something. I was trying to acquire knowledge and techniques like a collector. It struck me that my real purpose there was not to get something, but to serve the students. Once I made that crucial attitude adjustment, the work in the medical class changed its tone for me. From a more humble and student-oriented point of view, of course it is going much better!

IMG_0110 (1)Life here is stripped down in such a way that it is easier to observe myself and identify where I may be going wrong. I am hoping to keep in mind the basic tenet of knowing what is to be cultivated and what is to be discarded. Every day has its obstacles, and every day is also a new beginning.

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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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