It is such an opportunity to be able to immerse myself in yoga for so many hours a day. My weekly schedule at the Institute includes 3 early morning classes with Prashant (2 hours each) followed by an open practice (2.75 hours), 2 Women's classes (2 hours each) taught by either Geeta or another senior teacher mentored by either Geeta or Guruji with an open practice in late afternoon (2 hours), an evening pranayama class (Geeta; 1.5 hours) with a morning open practice that day (2.75 hours). I also observe the 2 hour Remedial (formerly Medical) class that my friend, Lisa, attends 2 days a week for help with a neck/back injury. That adds up to a lot of hours!
The practice hours are some of my favorite. The hall takes on a quieter ambiance as we individually go to work. Mostly we are not talking and if necessary we do in a whisper. The background noises from the street coming in the open windows have a familiar, almost reassuring, quality by now. There is the caw of birds, the rumble of cars, motor-scooters, trucks, and rickshaws, the beep of horns (used much more prevalently then at home, and somewhat mysteriously; why is it necessary after I have finished crossing the street and my feet are safely aground to beep at me??). It seems there is always an unhappy baby crying from the child care center across the street. It is so regular I wonder if it is the same infant each day? My favorite sound is the occasional clip-clop of hooves and jingle of bells on the harness of the oxen pulling a wooden wagon with large wheels. The oxen's horns are painted red and these large beasts are all about their business of hauling that wagon through the mishmash of traffic. If I am near a window, I stop what I am doing to look out. I always smile at the juxtaposition of old and new.
During these practice sessions, I start with work on my shoulders, an area for me in constant need of attention. Lois Steinberg, the senior teacher from Illinois, calls for these problem areas to be attended to with "your everyday poses". With my gift of time, I actually am doing everyday. I think you might even be hearing halfway around the world, the seismic shifts as changes are happening. I am also regularly practicing some poses from the sequence given to Lisa for her neck and back injury. Lisa and I have decided between the two of us, we might form one "whole" person. Her neck/back issues are on the right side, while mine are on the left. I have found the propping with blankets behind the knee and at the groin along with the pressing of the foot to the column in Supta Padangustasana (bent knee version) is working wonders on my creaky sacrum/lumbar. I am also trying to imprint in my body my understanding of how Guruji instructed Lisa to ground the femurs but begin twisting from the buttocks not just the torso. Then I fill out the remaining time, which amazingly I seem to run out of, practicing sequences we have done in the classes or if my energy is low restoring myself in supported poses. Always I do as much time as possible in inversions.
It is very interesting to observe what others are practicing and how they modify or prop poses. Sometimes someone will come over and ask for direction about why you are doing a specific pose and could you show them how it's done. It has been a very congenial group this month. Many have started to leave as the month nears its end. But more will join us in November.
Those days that Guruji is in the practice hall, you know that his eyes see you. Of course, we watch him as he holds for long periods his supported backbends and inversions. One of the teachers, usually Raya, escorts him into the hall with a protective arm behind him but not touching him. Then Raya assists him getting into and out of the postures and places a timer in his sight line. It is not uncommon to see the assistant racing quickly to help Guruji out of a pose. Guruji is doing remarkable things for a man his age (almost 95) but his mortality is evident. His vitality is still evident when he sits in Padmasana and puts his granddaughter, Abhi, through the paces giving her instruction and taking her deeper and deeper. Abhi works hard, whimpers some, but always says OK. The torch is being passed to the next generation.
Smiles break out all throughout the hall when Granddad brings Abhi's baby, Satvica, in for a visit. Her big, soulful eyes take in everything. I have seen her held over Guruji's still huge chest when he is upside down in Viparita Karani and her little feet slide down toward his face. She is held in a sitting position before his face and she reaches for his nose and those big bushy eyebrows. Guruji coos and clucks and there is absolute joy on his face. When Granddad is exiting with Satvica, he takes her in front of the Patanjali (compiler of the Yoga Sutras) statue and blesses her. The final stop is before a large art piece depicting the symbol for OM. For several days, I have heard him saying OM to her. Then one day I heard a tiny little OM, and not being in sight of them I thought I must have imagined it. But Lisa came over to me and asked me if I heard Satvica saying OM! This from the baby who never makes a peep when she is in the practice hall. So it appears that the Iyengar Yoga lineage will carry to the future.