Sunday, November 17, 2013

During November...Yoga, Eat, Sleep

When I make my daily Skype call to my husband (Internet willing. Thursday is known around here as a "bad" Internet day without any explanation), My response to his question about what I did that day is invariably "Yoga, eat, sleep. Repeat." We have certainly settled into a routine, but my response belies how much we are really doing. This is truly an immersion of an intensity that requires time for assimilation, not to mention calories for refueling and zzzz's for recovery. It is difficult at this point to be articulate about all that has happened with the yoga. Processing time is required. One of the U.S. students who has been here with us since October, says it always takes her two years.

November started with a large influx of new students and a handful of us continuing on from October. Overall it is a much larger group than last month.  It was jarring at first as we had to adjust to less room in the practice hall (mat to mat) and having to wait for a favorite prop. My students have probably heard me say more than once when we are cramped for space at the rope wall, for instance, that it still does not compare to India. Overall, it seems the experience level of the students is more mixed this month. In the first Friday pranayama, Geetaji had to go way back to basics--how to sit in Swastikasana. There was frustration on her part (we have heard her say "You are killing me! I am coming to the end of my life. All the time I have to teach over again what you should know"). But she worked with a great deal of compassion with the students she was helping. The results were exquisite, so much space achieved in the chest so there was some chance that some breath could reach there in the pranayama. I have also seen Geetaji work with the Indian teachers on these occasions almost with a sense of urgency to get them trained with what she knows. She cares very much about them. 

As the time for my departure nears, I am both excited to return to my family and already nostalgic about my time here. Yes, I have been told about the snow that already came to Morgantown. For some reason my husband was not very sympathetic when I said it had gotten colder here too. I actually have to wear long sleeves for my morning walk to the Institute! Our shared experiences will always connect me to the wide variety of students from around the world that I have met here. It has become comical when Abhi inevitably shouts out during class "RUSSIA! Where are the Russian students?" She wants them to be near each other so they can help translate for each other since many do not understand English well. Sweden, Germany, China, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Australia, Israel, Canada, U.K., Scotland, Ireland, Indonesia, Italy, Colorado, South Carolina, New York, California, New Mexico, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Hawaii are all represented.There are also the many friendly "locals" that have enriched our stay; the smiling guard at the Institute gate who has learned our names, the also always smiling lady who sells vegetables to us and fed us in her home, the rickshaw driver who brings me the best yogurt I have ever tasted so I don't have to bounce in the rickshaw to the store, the happy children who wave and shout hello to this tall white woman on my walk to the Institute, the "coconut man" who prepares my refreshing post-yoga coconut milk (watch out for the machete!).

I have found the following from my teacher, Mary O, to be spot on about my time here, "It is so very rich, complex, scary, wonderful—all those things, all the time".

Sharing a coconut:

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Body, The Mind and The Breath

For those of you who have taken Iyengar Yoga classes, it's not too long before you become at least somewhat conversant about body parts. In Saturday's class, for example, we were told to move the tailbone toward the pubis and move the dorsal spine toward the sternum. We were also asked to observe how one action links to another; roll the back upper inner thighs out to broaden the back thighs. 

It gets more and more interesting when other faculties are called upon. During the class on Saturday, Abhi and Guruji had us putting "the mind into the sternum". From pose to pose and even from action to action within a posture, we were constantly asked "Is your mind in the sternum?" The answer was no, of course, as Mind had already wavered into the new task at hand. "Extend your arms all the way from your chest. Now is your mind in your sternum?" "Yes!" The legs weren't exempt. "Is your mind in the front thigh or the back thigh?" Generally, the front body is more known to us than the back body. "Put your mind into the back thighs!"

In Prashantaji's classes, he tells us that body and mind are rooted in tendencies that limit us while breath does not have limitations. The breath is the teacher within you; use breath to teach the body and mind. He says use the breath to condition the mind, to bring sedate qualities. Breath is the catalyst to bring unity within you. It has a leadership role. Breath is friendliness. It has an organizing nature to allow community within you to grow. Use the breath to get the mind unstuck. Use breath for the equal distribution of consciousness. He reminds us that the purpose of yoga is not for a better Trikonasana (triangle pose) but to live a better life. Use the breath for transformation. He says, "My class is not a restaurant where you get immediate satisfaction. It is like paying an insurance policy; distasteful when you write the check but you reap the benefits later".


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Patanjali Jayanthi and Diwali

Friday evening,November 1 we attended the celebration of Patanjali Jayanthi at the Institute. It was the birth anniversary of Patanjali, the sage who "penned the ancient Indian heritage of Yoga through his treatise, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. After we assembled on the floor of the practice hall, Guruji arrived in his flowing robes and was seated in a throne-like chair. Geetaji and Prashantaji were also in attendance. Abhi, Guruji's granddaughter, led the entire proceedings in a thoughtful and very personal manner.  One could feel the pride emanating from Guruji for his granddaughter. 

Abhi led us in the chant to Patanjali to invoke his blessings. We then chanted the 51 sutras in part one of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Abhi gave a heartfelt and inspiring talk about knowing the "essence" of yoga not just chanting or performing asanas by rote. Her anecdotes about her grandfather (this was the first time I heard her reference him this way rather than Guruji) were priceless.  She said once when they were working together she could feel those big, bushy eyebrows reaching across to her as if they were going to touch her. Once when she had the goal of holding Sirsasana (headstand) as long as possible she was quite proud of herself when she reached 20 minutes.  Until Guruji asked her "how were you in the pose". Not understanding she replied to him how long she held the pose. But he said she only knew the time but did not know "the why" (the essence) of being in the asana. On another occasion she said she was starting her practice slowly and was feeling rather stiff it being first thing in the morning. Guruji soon called for her to do Rajakapotasana, a challenging backbending pose. She said let me just finish a few more warming up poses but Guruji said no and he soon had her in the more difficult pose. The lesson was that the mind, not the body, is what limits us. 

As we left the Institute we were given prasad, in this instance a small sweet that had been offered first to a deity with the belief that the deity's blessing then resides in it.  When walking to our apartment the celebrating for the festival of Diwali was already evident. Diwali, the festival of lights, is a major holiday in India. Small clay lamps are lit to signify the triumph of good over evil. The lamps are kept burning during the night and one's house is cleaned, both done to make Lakshmi feel welcome.  Even in our apartment, all our curtains were taken down and clean ones put up. Lakshmi is the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity (both material and spiritual) and she is said to bring good luck. 

Perhaps the most noticeable part of the celebration for us, was the shooting of firecrackers. It is believed that the noise will drive away evil spirits. That Friday evening we went to bed with all the noise, sounding like a war outside (ear plugs help) and awoke on Saturday morning to worse than usual air quality with the smell of the gun powder. Thankfully, we were soon on our way out of town to our holiday retreat we booked at a resort at a higher elevation near the town of Lonavala to "be in nature" as the Indians say. (The higher elevation towns are known as "hill stations", a legacy from the British who sought out refuge from the summer heat.) The last stretch of the drive here was like West Virginia mountain roads, narrow and curvy and I was a bit car sick. But all worth it as this spot is beautiful, QUIET, and luxurious with clean air!  We are relaxing, restoring in preparation for the resumption of classes at the Institute on Wednesday. 

Last night, Sunday, was the main night for the Diwali celebration. Candles were lit throughout the resort and in front of our villa.  After we finished with our sumptuous dinner (we were eating well ahead of the Indian guests here as we are still on the early bedtime we maintain for our classes in Pune), we were asked if we wanted dessert.  We both declined, but soon one of the chefs brought over special Diwali sweets for us to try. The sharing of sweets is part of the Diwali celebration. So we ate and then soon were contentedly in our beds, heard just two booms of firecrackers and were soon asleep. Ah, life is good.

Guruji at the Patanjali Jayanthi celebration:


Patanjali statute:

Happy Diwali:

Homes decorated for Diwali:

The neighborhood boys in the spirit of Dewali:

The view from our villa in the mountains: