Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Gift of Time

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.

A street sign that as far as I can tell is ignored:

Photos are not allowed inside the practice hall.  These are from the web:

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Brilliant Again

After we rolled out of the last Savasana at last night's pranayama class, there was a such a calm energy in the room. All of us knew something amazing had taken place and the sense I had was that no one quite wanted to interject anything or disturb what had been created.  Lisa and I walked back to our apartment, warmed leftovers, and ate virtually in silence.  Only then did the words come, quite inadequately, to describe what Geetaji had taught.

My feeble explanation of the last part of the class is that Geetaji guided us to take our breath into shapes corresponding to alphabet letters: an inverted V, T, O, Y, S and H. But there was so much more. I mostly wanted to say that still this morning the effects within me remain profound.  Brilliant.

Friday, October 18, 2013


Geeta Iyengar is the daughter of B.K.S. Iyengar and a powerful teacher in her own right.  I have had the good fortune to study with her on several occasions during my previous India visits in 2000 and 2003 and at two of the U.S. National Iyengar Yoga Conventions in 2001 and 2010.  Geetaji is not teaching as much these days and I only expected to have her for the Friday night pranayama classes during this trip.  So far we have been privileged to also be in two asana classes that she taught.  Geetaji brilliantly sequences her classes and before you know it you have penetrated deeply into an advanced asana as you never have done before.

In one class the target pose was Eka Pada Sirsasana (LOY plate 370).  She prepared us with long holds in the classic version of Adho Mukha Virasana (knees together, feet apart) and Pasasana (legs only) heels down without support, no exceptions! As we squatted she had us pump up and down, away from and then toward the heels.  She said, "You give your students props for the heels and then they never change".  And wouldn't you know it many more heels were touching! We continued to work on flexibility in the ankles and toes doing what Geetaji called Adho Mukha Surya Namaskarasana. Gulnaz clarified for us the next day that this is the prostration one would do "in a temple before your god or guru". Squatting in Pasasana (with heels touching the floor ;-), rock forward over the toes, place forehead to ground and then reverse going back to Pasasana. As many of my students know, I have a repertoire of things I like to teach for the feet and ankles. Heads up! Now I have more. The class continued with a "forward bend version" of headstand (think Pasasana legs), Supta Kurmasana, Kurmasana, Malasana and then multiple repetitions of coaxing the foot to the forehead, to the top of the head, and the now real possibility of behind the head in Eka Pada Sirsasana.  

The second class was an invigorating session of inversions and backbends. We pumped our armpits in down dog, stood on our arms in full arm balance and lifted our heads off the floor in headstand.  Then using this technique of lifting the head from the floor, we dropped back from Salamba Sirsasana into Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana. It was slick and worked very well. Best thing for me was this class along with a delicious, restorative practice I did in the afternoon, fixed me from the "blahs" I woke with. I was afraid that I was heading for a cold. Instead, that night I slept so well and woke ready to go again.

One does not forget Geetaji's classes whether it be a specific action, the penetration into cellular memory, or an attitude.  During my first visit, Geetaji touched my side ribs to move them inward when I was twisting in Bharadvajasana. I still feel that touch whenever I do twists.  Due to her health, she mostly teaches seated on the platform now and doesn't move around within the class. But she sees everywhere. I will remember from this trip her eyes honing in on my wayward knee when prepping for Eka Pada Sirsasana.  She corrected me and when I did, her face softened and she said yes. The big, big lesson she imparted to us was to be humble. It is difficult not to be in her presence.  

I will end with these words paraphrased from Geetaji: If you make effort then it is OK to fail. But do not fail before making effort.

Photo from:

Monday, October 14, 2013

Obligatory Rites When Studying at the Institute

Geeta taught digital pranayama at Friday's class. There is a specific hand Mudra used to control the flow of breath between the nostrils. Our teachers stress that before coming to study at the Institute, we must know the technique. Geeta asked us by a show of hands who knew. Then she observed us doing and proclaimed that no, we did not know and scolded us.  As I was leaving class I laughed when one of the U.S. students said to me, "Well, we got the obligatory pranayama scolding from Geeta out of the way". It's true I heard the same reprimand on my previous trips.

But past that the class was wonderful. We were instructed to "release the brain toward your heart to become humble. Let go the ego. Let go your I-ness. Exhale to help the humbleness come."

There are a couple other obligatory traditions when one comes to the Institute. Having your picture taken in front of the sign as well as taking a photo of the OM on the front gate.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


Outside our window, a drum line is wailing away.  Lots of noise! It is the religious holiday in honor of the goddess Durga and the triumph of goodness over evil. I suppose the noise is driving the evil away?  In the two weeks we have been here, there have already been several holidays and they usually do involve noisemaking. We have been told the noisiest, fireworks and firecrackers, will soon be here. Diwali commemorates the victory of light over dark. It is a major holiday and there will be no classes at the Institute.  We have been advised to spend time outside the city and we can see the wisdom in that if the current level of noise is not up to the standard of Diwali. 

For the current holiday, people have festooned their homes, cars, rickshaws, and scooters with garlands of marigolds.

Our rickshaw driver, Nana.

The front gate at the Iyengar Yoga Insitute.

Gulnaz' Studio.

For sale.

YOU WILL NEVER FORGET THE AUTORICKSHAW what Prashant told us in Monday's class.  The experience of those rickshaw rides creates a strong memory.  The point he then made was that we have no memory in the asanas (postures) because we have not really experienced the asana,  He then guided us to first use the breath (inhale, take an "exceptional exhalation", retain and do uddiyana bandha) to experience the asana.  Then in a study of Utthita Trikonasana, still breathing as above in another pose (eg. Utthita Parsvakonasana) to awaken a specific area we went into Trikonasana.  We were to compare how that awakening carried over to Trikonasana.  He encouraged us to let the asana be done on you, rather than doing the asana.

Coincidentally, that afternoon we did some shopping errands which required us to bump around in a rickshaw.  So we strengthened our rickshaw memory by once again experiencing the weaving in and out among scooters, cars, trucks, dogs, people, cows; breathing the fumes and exhaust (face mask is absolutely required!); and marveling at the expertise of our driver to stop or swerve just in time to avoid a collision.  The saving grace is traffic speed is slow enough that this all can happen. Everyone is in close quarters.  During a stop at a traffic signal you could easily reach over to touch a rickshaw or scooter next to you.  Often you are face to face with smiling children who are wedged, on what I would consider a one-person scooter, between their parents. One day this week I saw a rickshaw drive past crammed full of boys in their school uniforms.  It reminded me of the contest at WVU when students try to pack as many people into the PRT car.  

Once back from our rickshaw journey, we were grimy and exhausted.  We vowed to avoid rickshaws for a few days and made it all the way to Sunday.  Fortunately, we are able to walk to the Institute (about a block) and buy our veggies and fruit from the pushcart vendor on the way back to our flat.  We have a cook who prepares our main meal after our morning class and/or practice and there are leftovers for dinner.  It's great to stay in the neighborhood!

Sunday, October 6, 2013


At class this morning, Gulnaz told us that Abhi's baby is named Sattvica.  Satva is the quality of luminosity, illumination.  A perfect name for this serene baby. Gulnaz said that Guruji worked with Abhi throughout the nine months of her pregnancy and they all feel this is probably why the baby has this calm, peaceful disposition. The gentleman who brings Sattvica up to the practice hall is the very proud grandfather. You can tell he adores his granddaughter.

Annie, I thought you would appreciate this :-)


We have one week of classes under our belts and all have been excellent. In fact if I had to leave right now the trip would still be worth it. There is plenty of information to go home to practice.  Some highlights:

Geeta is the master of pranayama instruction. While I probably have heard many of her instructions before, her words, questions and cadence of speaking last night pinpointed my attention to such a degree that after 90 minutes I was in bliss.  For those of you who practice seated Ujjayi, study the difference when palms are turned down versus turned up.  In the final Savasana, she had us open our legs wide to the edge of the mat and if there had been more room we would have opened our arms wider too as it is shown in Light on Yoga. She noticed so many in the room holding the feet so rigid that the relaxation was not coming. At the end of class she gave one of her compassionate exhortations to the teachers to teach Savasana this way to beginners.  First, the relaxation must come and with legs and arms wide it will happen better.

Prashant Iyengar's classes are philosophy filled as he tries to get us to go beyond the technical aspects of asana and to trust more in our own capacity to access the poses more internally. He has us repeat one pose many times using breath awareness (for example long exhalation, retention before inhalation) to see how the actions of entry or being in the pose will arise without the external instructions of the teacher. Then he gathers us around him while he lectures in his very unique manner and language.  Some of his pearls of wisdom:
Saturday's Women's Class was taught by Rajilaxmi, one of the senior teachers.  At one point she laughed and said we would be dreaming Prasarita Padottonasana that night.  Each standing pose was taught by entering from Prasarita Padottonasana. My Sunday morning students will probably shudder when I say it was very "FUN".  I look forward to teaching this to you :-)

A bonus class on Sunday morning was at Gulnaz' studio.  She is another senior teacher at the Institute. Gulnaz introduced us to a new pose that was developed when she was experiencing a shoulder problem.  Geeta liked and told her to name it...Parsva Salabhasana.  Geeta has included it in her new book, a second volume of Intermediate poses, to be published soon.  (I purchased the first volume and will be bringing copies for the Inner Life Yoga Studio teachers.) Then we used Parsva Salabhasana to enter into Parsva Dhanurasana.  What a difference it made in understanding the pose!

The high point (Oh! There were so many!) was Wednesday's Women's Class taught by Abhi, Guruji's granddaughter.  Guruji was doing his practice in a corner of the hall, holding supported backbends forever.  His eyes are all seeing and as Abhi teaches us Guruji is teaching her based on what he is seeing in the students.  I can't even begin to describe what is like to receive his pinpointed instructions and to experience the impact on the actions of the asanas.  In the standing poses we were taught about keeping the femurs back and keeping the pubis level and in the same plane.  Guruji labeled the top of the trunk/torso the "roof" and the bottom the "root". He said the tendency is to move the chest/roof first whereas the movement should be from the root.  Abhi then gave an exquisite demonstration of this when turning the trunk in Utthita Trikonasana.

A good week, indeed!  Photo from:

Saturday, October 5, 2013


There is some free time this afternoon before our first class with Geetaji, an evening Pranayama class. I am excited (not sure a correct word choice when speaking about this practice of breath control) for this class.  She shines with her Pranayama instruction.

I began a load of laundry in my wash bucket and as I left that to stew I found Lisa once again blogging and leaving me behind.  Those of you following her blog ( know she has already posted a photo of me washing clothes. As far as I know Lisa has not yet done her laundry. So she may have more blog postings but maybe I have more clean clothes?  Not even sure about that as I become drenched in sweat at practice today. The weather is far more humid than my previous trips during the month of February.  I have a nice picture of my "laundry stew" but my attempts to load into the blog failed. Maybe later...  I can't really complain when the most complicated part of my day is my computer hacking.  Hours and hours of yoga with few responsibilities...not a bad lifestyle!

Thursday, October 3, 2013


Online again!  There were problems with wifi availability at our apartment which took some time to sort out with the landlord.  Since I last wrote there have been several other restablished connections. I met up with my Kansas friend, Lisa.  It makes it special to be able to reexperience India with such a good friend.  Then to be back inside RIMYI to register for classes and finally start classes brought back many memories.  Best of all was seeing Mr. Iyengar come into the practice hall; the light in him still filling up the room. But somewhat bittersweet because he looks physically smaller from aging. The connectedness between Guruji and his granddaughter, Abhi, is such a tight bond.  And then to see him clucking to Abhi's 5 month old baby, his great granddaughter, was incredible.  If Abhi is in the practice hall or even teaching (as she did Wednesday), someone brings the baby up for a brief visit. Absouluty everyone oohs and aahs and the baby calmy engages with each and all.

The Institute seems poised for the younger generation to carry forward.  From the new assistant Pandu, the registrar, has to the very well trained teachers, especially the very confident Abhi. She has blossomed (even more) since I last saw her at the Portland Convention in 2013.  At the Women's Class on Wednesday, we experienced how Guruji teaches her as she teaches us.

All the sounds tell me I am in India:  the beep, beep of the rickshaws; the rooster crowing in the morning; the goats bleating outside our window; the chant of the pushcart vendors.  The sights too:  the chaos of traffic in the roads where the painted lines are merely suggestions; the cows ambling in and around the traffic; the brightly colored saris; and sadly the ramshackle shelters wedged anywhere.   I think everyone should experience at least once bouncing around in a rickshaw with the driver brilliantly negotiating traffic, near misses, and, for you West Virginians who might still be complaining about the new Mile Ground roundabout, going through those traffic circles with just the slightest use of a hand signal (on the left side of the road, mind you!).  Remember to wear a face mask as you are right down in the exhaust fumes and pollution.  My previous visits here were during the month of February, well past the monsoons, and the air quality was so bad.  There has been one day of rain so far and the air gets a little "wash" making breathing less "chunky".

I am excited to tell you about the classes we have had but will do that in my next entry.  The Internet connection seems to be wavering a bit so I will post this pronto!