Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Genevive, I think the pranayama was the most inspiring of all for me. As fabulous as Geeta is at asana instruction she is another universe all together with pranayama. Context, content, technique, descriptions,inspiration, etc. Somehow in all of the form she was so insistent about I leave feeling so empowered to practice because of the way she taught us and the permission to explore and the tools of techniques ebing the means. So, yes, a class- why not? Plus those of you in the Immersion we will do a fair amount of pranayama throughout the year.
Thanks to everyone who commented and and stayed in touch this summer. It has been a real blast. Thanks to Venus for suggesting the blog, thanks to Ari for insisting...I think I will continue with some kind of blog for the immersions and perhaps for some of my travelling this year.
Monday, July 30, 2007
I cannot beleive we have our last calss tonight. My mind is a bit more on packing and going home than on being here at this point. The month has been full and so inspiring. I feel like all there really is left to say or do is "go home and practice".
Sunday, July 29, 2007
The atmosphere was great, the food was a welcome change to the food rut I have been in and the dessert, while not very tasty, was quite hilarious. I thought I was ordering a brownie sundae but their interpretation of brownie sundae was more like Tandoori Brownie. Imagine a fajita-type skillet steaming hot with a brownie set down on top of the smoking hot aluminum plate which was set in one of those wooden holders. There was a scoop of ice cream on top of the brownie. The plate was then set down in front of me and the waiter proceeded to drizzle fudge sauce on top which then hit the fajita plate with a gust of burning, sugary smoke that then cooked into a burnt chocolate mass on the plate yielding not so much chocolate flavor, as a smoke-infused burnt sugar flavor to the entire dessert. I cannot believe that dessert passed any test taste. The test panel certainly did not earn their keep on that one.
Anyway- Sunday is a day off from classes and so we practiced and then had lunch. (Cabbage subji- not thrilling, not bad. More in the neutral I -can- cope zone not in the I- am- bordering -on -despair -after- lunch zone. The subji was helped out by the leftover pasta I brought home from dinner.) We will probably watch a movie this afternoon and then clean up and head to The Institute for the Guru Purnima festivities. Rumor has it there will be a big feast there so that also took the edge of the cabbage subji.
Yes, it is time to go home. All esoteric considerations are lost to the less than profound contemplation of "what is for lunch?"
Anne and I gave deposits for The Institute in '09 and also for our flat so we are intending to return in two years. Kind of strange way to organize life, but there it is.
Okay- more tomorrow.
Saturday, July 28, 2007
Here is the link that Ari provided, if any of you had trouble pulling it up from the comments. That is our lovely J-Mo for sure. Also I just fuond out that she will now be teaching at Austin Yoga Kula so those of you missing that zesty blend of wit, wisdom and encouraging ass- kicking that is Jessica Montgomery, check her out there.
Okay folks- another brilliant pranayama class with Geeta this morning. I think we have to change a bit more money and then run an errand and then practice.
Tomorrow is the Hindu Holiday called Guru Purnima which is a day of celebration in honor of the guru. There will be a big shin dig at The Institute. I think we are going to the Hotel Meridien for a day at the pool and then to Ihe Institute tomorrow in the afternoon.
Friday, July 27, 2007
The back story: Early in my friendship with Jessica we were at an Iyengar workshop together in Dallas. She and Anne and I got in a delightfully sarcastic and funny "getting to know you" kind of discussion that wove its way through topics of clown college, life as a carnie and Jessica's refusal to wear bloomers, the Iyengar Yoga uniform.
So I wrote to her saying she really must plan to come to Pune with us in '09 but in order to really make use of the experience and fit in, she was going to have to deal with her aversion to bloomers. This is the letter I got back. Enjoy!
"Oooh! Bloomers! How awesome that you get to wear them EVERYDAY!!!! I know they offer great freedom of movement. I know they let you really get a good look at the unhidden leg, with all its perfections and imperfections. The real deal, right there.
I also know that they make everyone look like they pooped their pants are walking around in a doo-doo diaper. Form and function do not bind effortlessly and gracefully with those britches. That's the real reason I haven't gone to Pune. It isn't the money or the fear, it is the damn bloomers. I'll set my sights on 09, start working on my bloomer hatred now, and by then I will have the money to go, and the willingness to wear doo-doo pants bloomers. It is going to be great!
Have you seen anybody in those terrible batik bloomers? Folks kept coming back from their India trips with these terrible batik bloomers while I was in SF. They had little cartoon people doing asana, in batik, on bloomers. They were made out of fabric that was the same weight as a cotton bed sheet, so they had a bit of fluffiness to them. A bit of loft. Airy, breezy batik bloomers.
This brings up a question for me: Is making an ugly thing out of something that one typically associates with cuteness (in this case, colourful, breezy cloth) making a bad thing worse, or better? Can the jazzy fabric improve on the britches, or does it really just make everything worse? If a thing is horribly unflattering, should you just run with it and make that unflattering thing out of bright and cheerful fabric? Because really, it can't be much worse, right? Can bloomers be so bad they cycle all the way back around to good?- or even great? -fantastic, polka-dot, breezy, jazzy bloomers of perfection? Is there any sense of irony about the bloomers there at the Institute? Like, "Hey. They suck. I might as well go hog-wild, and just wear them in polka dots. What the hell?"
I am guessing people are very serious about their bloomers. Iyengar folks can nerd-out about just about anything. Have you overheard any discussions on the merits of various widths of elastic, or roominess? OR - since everybody there is wearing them, and maybe there is some seriousness about the bloomers and their many charming and utilitarian features, are there cliques and posses of folks who all wear their bloomers one way, and then cliques and posses who all have other bloomers? -like girls at schools that require uniforms? Can you spot who is friends with whom, by their bloomers? Are there bloomer fashion trends? I expect a full bloomer report on my desk in the morning.
(Note from Christina based on research in the field: Bloomers are also sometimes called Passion Killers, Bubble Shorts, Pune Panties and Shorts of Humility.... )
Pranayama last night was incredible. It was also a bit heartbreaking in a way. Geeta did this stellar explanation and exposition about pranayama and led us by the hand through some practice. She could not have been anymore clear, precise and generous in making it basic, accessible and clear. Then at the end, several people made some mistakes that indicated a severe lapse of attention on their parts. Geeta's response was just so heartbreaking. She seemed so genuinely confused and concerned by how it could happen, by how, after her careful deliberation on the subject people could still go so wrong. She asked, nearly in tears, "What am I to do?"
Anyway- there is a lot to write about on it and a lot of things to consider and I am not sure I can really draw it all out right now or do it justice. The point being that really, she could not do anything better. It was just a function of a lapse of attention. And yet she has the job of being a kind of "bottom line" with the education of Iyengar Yogi's and with the preservation and continuation of their tradition so she cannot really just skip it or let it go. The responsibility she has and feels is hard to fathom.
So, while I didn't make the mistake, the episode really got me thinking about the challenge it is to be a student worthy of these great teachings. How all the us come here month after month, year after year and profess love and gratitude and appreciation for all we "get" from her and that is true. But the biggest thanks would be to pay attention and to be students worthy or the opportunity it is to learn from her. And the enormity of that challenge is what has me a bit stopped in my tracks. And really, part of what you come here for is to have your shortcomings in this endeavor exposed to you so you can work to eradicate them. You come to be called to attention in the one moment you are asleep, not to be congratulated for the ninety-nine moments you were awake that came before. .
And as a side note, I have gotten to be friends this month with two of the girls who made the mistakes that night and it was just that - a mistake. The last thing they meant in anyway was to be insulting or a source of frustration or despair and so on. They are lovely, awesome people who just spaced out in pranayama class. We all do it. I think that the way that Geeta responded was so absent of anger and she was just so clearly vulnerable in her frustration as a teacher who wants us to benefit from the practice who wants us to experience the boons of the practice she has given her life to and for is what made it so potent and thought provoking.
Again, the studentship theme just won't disappear.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
We had a most excellent practice yesterday and this morning. Lunch today was an all-time low. Now it is not that i do not like okra. I mean batter fried and dipped in ranch dressing, it is a perfectly fine vegetable. Even stewed with some tomatoes I can eat it. But at least once a week our cook makes us "Super Okra." There is some strain of okra here on the Indian Subcontinent that is as long as about three cucumbers and whose slime is in direct proportion to its larger-than-average size.It is like okra on steroids.
So our very nice cook makes subji out of it with very little else to soften the blow of the slimy, not-so-great tasting vegetable. No onions, no tomatoes, no garlic or interesting spices...just this sort of bland, slimy, pumped-up okra to go with plain Basmati rice and dahl. Now it is not that I have a problem with dahl either but it is not in anyway interesting enough that it takes the edge off the 'roided out okra. And today was an all-time low because we did not even get the roti/chapati like usual. Instead we have thsee strange fritter things and leftover dahl from yesterday (which does not improve over night) and leftover sprouted mung beans, which not only did not improve, but certainly declined in their appetising value after their overnight stay in the fridge.
I know, complaining about the abundance of bad tasting, unappetizing food in a country where many people are starving is about as low as it gets, but there it is. Like Ari says, one must "keep it real" in blog-life. (Any Dave Chappelle fans out there ever see his skits on "When keeping it real goes wrong"? They are very funny and I cannot use that phrase without an immediate image of what my "Keeping it real going wrong skit" might look like. In this case, perhaps some small Indian woman would throw the uneaten mung beans at me and Anne and accuse of being imperialistic swine, ungrateful spoiled white girls or something equally instructive... any other ideas?....But I digress...)
Anyway- we then took a nap, are planning to try to return a defective DVD at Crossword after our blogging(I am not hopeful about that mission) and then pranayama class tonight with Geeta. We are planning to go to dinner tonight with some of the New York crew, which I am hoping will make up for my disappointing lunch. (yes, I know- I am very food driven. What can I say?)
Tomorrow I will post a most excellent inquiry on the nature of yoga bloomers from J-Mo, my friend and yogi extraordinaire. So that will be something for you to look forward to!
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Dwi pada viparita dandasana on chair- 10 minutes
10 minutes of Prashant Talking (PT) "Become unified and prepared in body, mind and breath. Use the breath to diagnose the body and the mind. Use the mind to diagnose the body and breath. Use the body to diagnose the breath and the mind."
Dwi pada viparita dandasana- 10 minutes
PT-5 minutes "...having diagnosed one must look for treatment and execution. One must understand what one is up against and use the poses to treat the mind and the breath, the breath to treat the body and the mind, the mind to treat the body and the breath and so on. You must understand your condition so you know how to proceed. For instance if you know that Guru Prashant is angry you will develop a strategy. But if you know and understand why Guru Prashant is angry you will develop a different strategy perhaps..."
Dwi Pada Viparita dandasana- 10 minutes
PT-10 minutes "...one must understand that to do yoga therapy it is very different than allopathic treatment or even Ayurveda treatment and so forth. In those systems the patient does not need to be aware or informed of what is wrong with them nor are they expected to be intelligent participants in the treatment. In fact, usually doctors find it quite difficult to treat other doctors. For something to really be yoga therapy, the patient must be adept. They must be a skillful participant in their healing or else the yoga therapy is really no different than physical therapy, occupational therapy or psychotherapy. It is just techniques applied to the body or techniques applied to the mind much in the way medicine is applied to an illness. this presents a difficult challenge in the "cash crop" of yoga therapy. You really cannot offer it in its true form to the uninitiated...."
dwi pada viparita dandasana- 10 minutes
PT-15 minutes "...This is not to say that positive effect will not happen from the techniques when they are applied. But that is not yoga therapy. Yoga therapy is comprehensive system that aims at all levels of being....one must understand that there is a state of mind beyond doing, knowing and understanding where the real transformation occurs. There is not even a word for it in English but it is close to reflection. You want to understand and experience but it is in the reflective state where the yoga therapy really happens...Think about the moon and its reflection in the water. What is the nature, the quality of the reflection vs. the quality of the actual moon in the sky....this quality is what we are after in the yoga. And about the moon. Think about how much the astrophysicists have told us about the moon- its size, the atmosphere, the composition, etc. But how many astrophysicists in their journals have inspired anyone to awe like all of the poets who have written about the moon?...
dwi pada viparita dandasana- 10 minutes
PT- 5 minutes- "And while changes will occur in these asanas and from these techniques understand that these are merely cosmetic changes. If you want to really alter the nature of your mind you must work at what level? (Silence- perhaps because we are clueless, perhaps because we are not sure whether this is a rhetorical question and it is best to play it safe in such circumstances!) You have no idea do you? To change the nature of your mind you must work at the level of tendency. It is at this level where you can affect the pranic system and the casual factors. Think about it. All of you come to class and have such pensive expressions. You are in the blissful state in savasana but by the time you are to the gate on your way out of here you are average again. You are actually sub- average for you return immediately to gossiping, anger, jealousy, etc. So understand that the changes from the yoga were merely cosmetic. They did not work on your tendencies and on the elements within you...."
rope sirsasana- 10 minutes
baradvajasana 2X each side
Adho mukha virasana
ardha halasana, supported
That was the flavor of it anyway. All in all, we did viparita dandasana for the better part of 90 minutes, interspersed with his talks. Crazy. (and some of you think I talk a lot!!!) And in a weird kind of way, I really liked the class. Plus there was very little of it that those of us in the Red Tent couldn't do so that was nice as well.
We had pranayama with Geeta this morning. That is kind of another story. She was quite confrontational with several people, which was interesting in a lot of ways. It didn't land on me today but there is a way that you can see that when she is going after someone, it could be you. It really isn't a personal thing. Certainly, at any moment we are spaced out, unaware, greedy, opinionated, not listening, egotistical and could easily serve as prop for her Teaching Points that have little to do with the how-to of asana or pranayama and have everything to do with practice and studentship. And though from the outside it is easy to see how people who are receiving said attention aren't making things better for themselves in their responses, it is pretty clear to me that very few of us would be able to act any differently if we were in that hotseat! Also, it is very clear that those people are kind of taking one for the team, so to speak.
(And those of you out there who are teachers and who are also my students- no, I do not think this is effective teaching nor do I want to emulate it in my classes nor do I think any of us should. I am just reporting on what happened and my musings about how to make use of it! In general, what I want us to do in classes is to manage ourselves as teachers in such a way that our students are inspired to go deeper and to become better, not scared into it. But that is another story.Oh, and while I am in a parentheses I do not suggest Prahsant's teaching model either!)
Anyway- the lessons in pranayama abounded- how restoratives help prepare us, how to explore the nuances.. I found that whole aspect quite inspiring, in fact. It was kind of like information about how to explore in your practice and even a sense of permission to make it your own.
On the domestic front- after two very hot, near sleepless nights in a 3rd story room with no fan, Anne and I moved our mattresses into the living room for a slumber party under the fan with the screened windows open last night. What heaven. No bad dreams, no waking up drenched in sweat... (ah, the pitta begins to reduce)....we watched a movie on her computer, fantasized about buttered popcorn, settled for peppermint/chamomile tea instead and had a grand ole' time..
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Like Anne wrote, we had a "day about town" on Sunday which was fun. We practiced Monday morning and then last night had another great class with Geeta. She taught back bends with some very challenging work in the chair version of eka pada viparita dandasana. She gave a reasonably long discourse on the nature of the mind and how we are using asana to get a hold of the mind, to be able to observe it and to recognize just how small and minute each moment actually is. She re-iterated many of the the themes I have already written about, especially about how feeling happy about our ability and feeling dejected about our perceived lack of ability are both "wrong thoughts".
She said the first thing we have to do is to understand what the teacher is saying. Then we have to understand what we are actually doing. Then we have to apply what the teacher is saying to what we are doing. And then use all of that to help us move more deeply into a state where we can understand and can pierce the nature of the mind and of the Self. And of course, she generously reminded us that it takes time and practice and is very difficult.
One thing that was great to watch was how fearless she was about asking people to try kicking up to handstand at the wall. At one point she said, "You must not give into the fear complex. Just kick. You may not make it but at least you must try." She had them work on kicking up repeatedly for over 10 minutes at one point and then try again later in class. Several people did get up. It is also really great to see that although she is not doing such things in her own practice currently, she more than understands what is necessary for someone else to do them, her skill at articulating what is required is incredible, her ability e to inspire the effort necessary is almost unparalleled and she in no way shrinks from the seat of the teacher because she is not doing these things in her own practice. Really, she is a force. I am so psyched to have gotten a chance to expereince her and her teaching in action.
I mean really, it occurred to me in practice that morning that so much about Geeta herself is a teaching. I think it is easy in America to pursue yoga asana as a way to "get better" (yoga for back relief, yoga for depression, yoga for a better but, yoga for inner peace, yoga for cute clothes, etc....) and in some ways she is this great teaching in action about how yoga is not so much a means of self-improvement as it is a means by which we might learn to respond dharmically to our circumstances, be they physical, emotional, financial, etc. It is not so much that you go, "Oh Geeta can do all of this great stuff, she is so super energetic, healthy and happy..." It is really not that at all. You can see she struggles. And yet she is so true to herself, so committed to her chosen and inherited path, so selfless in her service, so compassionate in her teaching and so deeply committed to her practice and her students. Anyway- like I said, I feel deeply grateful for the chance to meet her and experience some of her wisdom.
We have class with Prahsant tonight so I will sign off for now.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
adho mukha virasana
adho mukha svanasana
trikonasana 2X- after you have done every wise thing to align the pose that you know, then put the shoulders on your back, roll the upper arms from inside out and then open the armpit chest
parsvakonasana- same as in trikonasana
pinca mayurasana 2-4X- Look straight ahead, stretch up the wall, maintain the stretch adn the open armpits and then look at the floor
full arm balance 2-4X- same actions/order as pinca
ustrasana 3X- use the hands claspgin behind your back to lift the armpit chest and get the shoulders to moveinto the chest then go for the feet
urdhva mukha svanasana 3X
shalabasana 3X- reach the legs back one at a time, reach the arms forward at first to lengthen the flaoting ribs forward
urdhva danurasana 6X - keep the head on the floor on the way up to keep the brain soft
dwipada viparita dandasana 2X head down, 3X head up (legs stay bent)
Adho mukha swastikasana - alternate legs, support head
parsva adho mukha swastikasana- alternate legs
baradvajasana- 2X each side
pascimottanasan with legs wide
setu bandhasana on block- legs straight and wide
padanhastasana in setu bandhasana on block
chatrush padasana- 3X from block
ardha halasana on chair
Have at it you, sequence junkies- this one was a lot of fun.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Geeta has been gone since Wednesday. So Sunita taught the ladies class on Wednesday, Rajlaksmi taught the pranayama class last night and rumour has it that Chandra will teach tonight. I am sure whoever teaches will be great.
Last night's pranayama class was beautiful and simple. Here is a great teaching lesson for all of us-- A woman asked a question about how to hold her fingers for digital pranayama. (For the uninitiated, that is digital as in using the fingers to close off the nostrils, not digital as in some new technologically advanced means of manipulating one's breath.) Rajlaksmi asked her if she had read Light on Pranayama. The woman replied that she had not. Rajlaksmi told her that is was her duty to go home and read it and that if she did not understand after reading the book then she could come back next week and someone at The Institute would answer her questions.
So it seems to me that although we are always told there are no stupid questions, there are plenty of questions that displace our responsibility for learning onto our teachers. There are plenty of questions that we ask before we have searched books, resources, ourselves and our own experiences for the answer. So I think it is a great privilege to have the resource of a teacher, I really do. But I do wonder- having been on both sides of the teaching relationship many times, that quite often we ask as a first rather than last resort. (And, of course, sometimes asking first is appropriate.) It was just so great to see Rajlaksmi place the responsibility for that piece of information on the student first and still give the student an invitation to ask if she remained unclear. I know as a teacher, it is easy to just answer and "be the one who knows" rather than to really facilitate someone's learning process in a way might actually serve them more over the long haul.
Anyway learning and teaching is never dull. So while externally, life here in Pune hasn't necessarily been action-packed, the internal activity has more than made up for it. Plus, I think Anne and I have laughed more in these three weeks than I have all year. (And I laugh a lot.)
Okay- off to yoga class.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Sharon, I love your insights about your meditation and asana practice informing one another. I think your perceptions of Iyengar Yoga are very common and from what I can gather, there is a fair amount of disappointment here that this tradition has become reduced to something like what you describe. Prashant did this whole big thing one day about how "The Iyengar clan and all of its super star teachers are so good at points. They know where to push, where to lift, and they have a point for every ailment but what they fail to communicate is what is beyond all of those points."
I think a lot of it is just the consideration of stability and freedom as it relates to the study, practice and teaching of this thing we are calling yoga. I mean, the points are great. I am happy to have the structure of forms, recipes and so on for practice. Nothing like some good biomechanical points to help us focus and keep the body safe as we practice. But perhaps they are more of a means than we have been led to believe.
I have this friend named Ed who is a great guitar player. He plays these absolutely stellar solos that have the ability to really transport the listener to different realms. For a while he was a yoga student of mine. He had done yoga before but more in the "anything goes" methods. One day after class we were talking about the precision I was asking for in my classes. He said, " I didn't really get it at first but I think it is like music. People ask me all the time how I can play such great solos. To me the answer is simple- I know my scales." I replied that not only did he know his scales but he practiced them a lot as well. So like that.
I find it takes a kind of discipline to take what Prashant is saying or what Geeta is saying and apply it to levels that are deeper than the surface. Many times, on the surface layer, the comment is not true at all. For instance the whole "accusation" that we are not interested in learning. Of course I am interested in learning. But then, it becomes obvious that I was totally inattentive to some action in my pose and in that moment I absolutely was not an interested learner. Guilty as charged, so to speak. And it is a lot to really wrap myself around that even when we can manage attention on "three points", inevitably there is a fourth point or the culture of the pose and so on to which we will be called to pay attention. (Kind of like how I say in class all the time that we are rewarded for a job well done with something harder to do.)
Rhonda- there is a great group from New York. Mostly from the Iyengar Institute in Manhattan- they are all students of Mary Dunn. Haven't met anyone who is Dutch however. Sorry I will miss you in October but I am excited to hear that your art career is taking off in a big way. Those of you in Texas who have admired some of the pretty necklaces I wear, meet Rhonda- she made them.
And Hello, to Linda. Nice to know you are out there.
One cool thing from Sunita's class (other than it was fun, she was funny and quite knowledgeable.) Sunita is one of Mr. Iyengar's daughters and she was subbing for Geeta on Wednesday mroning in the Ladies Class. Not so much anything that she said but her studentship to Mr. Iyengar was really great. She was teaching and he was in the corner practicing and then he would tell her how we could improve or what was going wrong in the pose and then she would report what he said to us and it went on like that several times throughout the class. So as she was teaching us, he was teaching her and she was so completely grateful, non-defensive and in good cheer about his help. She didn't in anyway shrink from her seat as the teacher and she was absolutely utilizing his help with utter and complete humility and gratitude. (So the next time any of you have me in a as a teacher in a teacher training scenario for practicums, this is what I will expect! Just kidding.) It was just a great teaching in action of how we could be with our teachers.
All right then, enough for now.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Seriously it is such a thrill to get comments and to get the emails that many of you are sending privately while we are here. It is nice to know that people are reading, reflecting and sharing the journey.(And nice to know that my flailing can be a source of teaching inspiration for your classes, Leanne! I can imagine the story that it made. Please give everyone up in White Rock especially Chris, Maddy and Holden) my love.
We had class with Prashant last night which is kind of like part philosophy lecture, part asana practice, part - well I am not sure what to call it exactly.
Basically, this is some of what I remember him talking about:
We are trained intially to have a very dogmatic approach to asana- do this, do not do this, press here, lift there and so forth. But eventually that must create within us the ability to advance to a pragmatic approach. The only way to make that leap is to -you guessed it - be a student of our practice, observe, learn and respond. We need to understand that every pose has a culture, a mood or a fabric and we need to understand how the culture of the pose cultures us and how the culture of poses affect the other poses we practice in a given session and so on.
Now this is my musings: This line of teaching really struck me as part of what we are getting at with the heart qualities and themes in Ansuara Yoga. While in Iynegar Yoga it seems to me that the idea is that the poses themselves are archetypeal/iconographic and each asana has a distinct, objective culture, the postures are also relational-the character of the pose can be influenced by the order that it is practiced and by cultivating its archetypal culture as you practice. Prashant even suggested that when you taste the tranquility of forward bends, for example, you might practice bringing that tranquility to your standing poses and so on.
Now, that sounds like Ansuara Yoga. (in a certain way) While in Asnuara Yoga we recognize archetypal domain as well, I think for us we begin to consider that the poses are more like empty vessels into which we might pour the prana of intention and so forth. So while perhaps there is an objective ideal for the posture, our emphasis is a bit different.
I thought about what John would say if posed the question, "Do we consider the poses to be archetypal with a distinct mood and culture inherent in them or are they empty vessels?" In my imagination, I saw him grin and say "Both".
Anyway, Prashant continued: Intially when we begin our practice, we have the state of being that could be characterized as "I want to do." Then we move to the state of " I am doing." Beyond that, we need to go to the state where "It is being done to me." We need to "objectify the subject" so that we no longer feel that we are the subject of the practice. Remaining the subject gives us two basic options, neither of which is ideal. The first option is "I want to do, I could not do, I am done(and upset or dissappointed)." The second option is "I want to do, I am doing, I can do, I am done (and proud)." What we want to move toward is the process of "I want to do, I am doing, it is being done to me."
So we need to allow the intial enthusiasm for doing to be transformed through practice, attention, intention so that the willful enthusiasam is sublimated and begins to direct us to a cultured state beyond being the subject of the yoga.
Okay- there is more to say and more to consider about that but it is time for practice and "I want to do".
Thanks again for reading.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
That being said, I am not feeling overwhelmingly inspired to write today and since several people have wanted to see the sequences from class, (this one is for you, Devon) I thought I would post last nights class. The emphasis was on observing oneself and studying oneself in the doing. (This is obviously a huge theme here at The Institute.) Also, in terms of biomechanics the salient features of the class involved stretching the sides of the torso and keeping the arms and legs in the sockets and the middle buttocks in. When the back bends come all of that has to happen without taking the spine in too much ("Do not hit the spine") and without tensing the throat. These actions will protect the nervous system. (Please, no feedback on Sanskrit misspellings. )
Enjoy. I had fun with this one.
- Adho Mukha virasana
- Adho Mukha Svanasana
- prasarita padottanasana
- parsvottanasa with hands outstretched way in front of front leg in order to lengthen the sides and then bringing them back toward the back leg maintaining the length
- classic parsvottanasana, stopping half way down to establish the length of the sides, the release of the trapezius, taking the head down finally without collapsing the sternum.
- prasarita padottanasana 2
- prasarita padottanasana, with hands clasped behind back and lifting arms up to ceiling as they move more and more to the head side
- Adho Mukha Svanasana
- Sirasana, parsva sirsasana. Then repeat changing the interlace of the hands. Watch what happens. She had instructed us to monitor the difference of the lift in the shoulder depending on which hand was on top in the clasp and how that affected the rooting of the forearm and the lift of the shoulder and so on.
- Adho Mukha Virasana, placing the outer hand on the floor and lifting the wrist up, charging the elbows and firming the arms
- Adho Mukha Vrksasana, changing legs to observe the stability or lack there of on the way up and down
- Adho Mukha Vrksasana, hands turned out, observe
- sirasana 2/tadasana-- several times. Going up bent legs, going up straight legs, going up right leg, going up left leg, going up right, coming down left, etc. observe, observe, observe and respond. After each headstand we came to a strong tadasana to release the neck by stretching the arms fully and rolling the shoulders down the back.
- trikonasana-3X working on length on the bottom side, taking the hand all the way to the floor , not the ankle
- parsvakonasana Geeta then did a whole big long thing on how eve though trikonasana is usually taught first in the course and usually comes first in sequences many beginners will have a hard time in the pose and will have more success learning parsvakonasana first. She suggested that in trikonasasna you can use gravity to help stretch out the side but this is hard whens omen is tight. Then she said in parsvakonasana it is easier for someone to learn to stretch the underside of the torso and so if the can learn that action first then they can bring that to the gravity opportunity of trikonasana. I think that is what she was saying- I understand every other word or so. So then we practiced:
- parsvakonasana to trikonasana- first getting the underside long and then keeping the length in trikonasana
- urdhva danurasana 4 X
- urdva danusrasana -4X from a bolster to keep the spinal muscle spreading and to not hit the spine.
- charush padasana- 3X
- sarvangasana, using parsva halanasana to lengthen the sides and then crawl the hands further toward the shoulders, sarvangasana 2 to really pull the arms (like we did in chatush padasana) and then to niralama sarvangasana and then to halasana keeping the back side of the body lifting (like we did in nirlamaba sarvangasana)
okay kids, have at it. There are, of course, more details to but that was the gist. Class with Prashant tonight.
Oh and Liz, join the discussion! I would love your wisdom and perspectives. (How is the baby growing?) I miss you.
And, Dad- I liked your post. It made me think there are some things to share about self-effort and grace in how the yoga philosohies of different ptradions actiually describe that quite differently. The "working out of one's salvation" and how one acutally does that in the yoga traditions varies greatly. But today, I am not up to the task of that consideration. I will cogitate on it and save the musings for a future post.
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Saturday, July 14, 2007
After a long walk down the road we found the shop but it was closed which, obviously, was disappointing. We then realized we could use the time to update our blogs. So we walked back to the Internet cafe and the power was out so we went back home, after procuring some bottled water and what turned out to be delicious cookies.(My recent Ayurveda regime is a bit loose here....getting looser by the day, in fact.) We rested, read, ate cookies and then began the walk back to The Institute for practice. We heard the sound of bells ringing. As we looked to see where the sound was coming from we saw that one of the camels and his human was no in our neighborhood. I quickly take out my camera and take a shot and the opportunistic human who was attached to the camel brought the camera over to us and asked us if we wanted a ride.
"How much?" I say.
"200 Rupees," he answers.
"So much?" I exclaim, pretending to be shocked.
"Yes, it will be a very long ride madam."
"What about 100 rupees."
"No madam. 200 rupees."
I look at Anne who obviously thinks that approximately 5 dollars is worth it for the ride and nods at me. Meanwhile, the camel is bending down and coming to sit so that we can mount him and the local women are gathering around laughing at us. I dig through our money and since I only have 92 rupees, the guy agrees to let us ride the camel for 92 rupees. Not a bad deal.
Now, mounting a camel is one thing, but being mounted on said camel as said camel comes up to standing is a real experience. (Definitely not something you get to do everyday.) Oh, and by the way, this was a one- hump camel and we sat on either side of the hump. Anne in front of the hump, me behind her. The guy says to me repeatedly, "Hold on tight." And I was holding tightly on to Anne but he insisted that I hold onto the cage-like saddle apparatus that was making the whole riding- a -camel- thing even possible. And thank God I was holding on tight because first, the camel lurched forward to get his back legs out from the folded position underneath him. Then, he lurched back as he unfurled his front legs and then there were several smaller, yet not less exciting lurches as he came to his full upright stature.
By this time we were laughing so hard we were crying. The near-hysterical state didn't exactly help us meet the new and very real challenge of actually staying on the camel for the walk down the street. I was thinking that it would be a real shame to fall off a camel and have to report my injuries to Geeta on Monday in class. ("Well, Geeta, I am wondering if you know a special sequence to help me with the concussion I sufferred from falling off a camel on my way to practice on Saturday....)
Anyway-we have pictures of the camel but not one of us on it as we were both on it and since I was holding on for dear life I wasn't really free to photograph the moment. I probably could have asked one of the women who was standing nearby and laughing to take a picture of the silly white girls, but well, at that point it seemed a bit much. In retrospect, I think we had crossed the threshold of "too much" when we agreed to the ride and straddled the hump....
Friday, July 13, 2007
I wonder a lot about those themes myself. (Pretty much constantly, actually.) Being here there is certainly a lot of fuel for self-observation in these areas. First, I must say that it is great and challenging to see a completely different educational model at work and a completely different cultural model involved. Yoga, not just in India but at The Iyengar Yoga Institute, is a completely different ball game than it is in the average American yoga studio. I think the difference is partly cultural, partly because of the educational model, partly because of what the Indian student is expecting from the experience vs. what the American student is expecting.partly because of something I cannot name and would just call Context. It is hard to explain exactly but things are different in a lot of ways.
Now, having said that, please do not think for one moment I am at all discounting one or the other. There is a lot of American Yoga bashing here in India but you know and I know that we love our practice and that for many of us yoga is really the glue that holds our life together. So- to me that is not at question at all.
Okay, so one more thing that I want to be clear about is that any feelings I have about the way things are taught are more about the way this particular model challenges my particular psychology and learning style and preferences, not a commentary on the efficacy of their method or on the right and wrong of either model.
To continue- When I was in graduate school I studied education and we did this one segment on "brain-based learning." These researchers concluded that people learn best, that the brain is actually most able to integrate information and learn, in an atmosphere of "relaxed alertness."
Now, how different people are brought to this state varies, right? An overly "relaxed" person would need some fire and demand to come to the alert state. The very "alert" types will need help with the relaxation side of the formula. In general, I am more of the overly alert type and this atmosphere tends to exacerbate that tendency within me. It is hard for me to relax when I am on guard for a correction that will come with such force. But in a lot ways, that tendency is mostly neurosis and definitely worth overcoming.
And if I cannot overcome this tendency entirely then it is at least worth working with so that I can put a little distance between me and my habitual response to forceful corrections or criticism.Just because something is my tendency, does that mean it is a life sentence? After all, this is a practice of refining myself. And really, in terms of what happens in a yoga class, the stakes are not as high as my neurosis tells me they are. What is the worst that happens? I am embarrassed and feel stupid in front of a large group of people or my feelings get hurt. These are not horrible, insurmountable outcomes in the big picture.)
So, I am definitely finding that aspect difficult and yet worth working with. Definitely, I am growing more comfortable here and that helps- just getting a sense of protocols and so on. But also, it is so obvious to watch Geeta work with us that behind her force is the force of love and her very definite commitment to helping people grow and change and progress in their practices. And this has been such a delightful surprise. Over the years that I have been exposed to Iyengar Yoga I have heard stories about the harsh teaching style of the Iyengars and the forceful manner in which things are done here. What is so interesting is that very little has ever been said about this force of compassion she exudes. It is a tragedy that this is secondarily communicated (evidently even by me in this blog) or that it gets lost in the whirlwind of psychology and emotion that gets stirred up and talked about.
One thing that I am grateful for is that I have had so much help from John Friend and from my kula-mates in Anusara Yoga. I remarked to Anne that I do not think I would have made it this long practicing yoga without the encouragement he gave me and continues to give me. So much in this school is about what is going wrong and what is not happening and where the mistakes are. That is just their way. The insights are accurate and it is absolutely fascinating to explore the endless ways to refine a posture and to improve one's self in relationship to the posture. However, my practice became joyful when John showed me what was going right, what was working, how my efforts were sacred offerings and that the process itself was fun. So for me, I wouldn't have stayed on my mat without the fun part.
So here, class is not fun exactly but it is a super-duper charge of discipline and provides some excellent fuel to work hard and some fabulous inspiration about the many layers of the self we are working with in asana and so on. And the input is so helpful. I am happy to be learning here and even happy to be facing the learning challenges. Even times I have gone to workshops where I was criticized a lot, it made me better. It helped me clarify how I want to teach and how I want to practice and so on. So nothing is wasted.
Oh-also--One time I read something Mr. Iyengar wrote about teaching that is worth adding to the discussion on studentship. He said that as a yoga teacher you can teach people or you can teach the subject. In the beginning one must teach people. But once the student is mature and once the student-teacher relationship progresses, then the teacher is free to teach the subject. At this point the teacher is freed up to really transmit what he knows and the depth of the subject. So really, in this context, studentship involves making oneself ready to learn the subject however it is being taught and not demanding that the teacher teach for our idiosyncrasies, preferences and neurotic tendencies.
Certainly, a case can be made that a good teacher can reach a variety of students and that is also true but then that teacher is consumed with reaching the students when a good student is consumed with being fertile soil for the Teaching. Well, it is a big task, obviously. Thank goodness that according to the yoga traditions we have more than one lifetime to work on it.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
"Most of you here have a great inspiration to do. All of you have a great inspiration to teach. But very few of you have a great inspiration to learn..." (I defintely get his point but I was thinking, "I have travelled around the world for the sake of learning... Yes, a bit defensive, I suppose! Nothing new there. But like I said, I get his point becasue no matter how good/sincere of a student I am or any of us is, there are always new depths to plump, more skill to develop, more receptivity to cultivate, new levels to explore and so on. Okay, okay, I get it. I will stop whining now.)
"So many of you say, "I must have the best teacher in the world, I must go to the very best teacher," never once considering that you yourself are not the best student in the world."
He talked a lot about how teaching and doing and learning are related to one anohter. But he very generously said that even if we are not good learners, good students or good do-ers, we might actually be able to be great teachers. He said that one who has difficulty learning or doing often makes a great teacher because such people are intimately acquainted with the ways the endeavor can go wrong. One who has natural aptitude may not actually be such a great teacher because they will not understand the pitfalls and the problems that arise in the learning process. (IT hought this was quite generous. My mom always said the best person to learn math from was someone who had a lot of trouble learning math. Mommy-ji, with the great yogic wisdom way back when!)
He also said that whether or not we formally teach classes, each of us is our own teacher in yoga and we should cultivate that learning receptivity when we practice so that our practice is a learning endeavor not just a doing, or a performance-based endeavor.
This has actually been such a nice thing about being here for so long and the way the time here is structured. Every day except Sunday we have a 2-hour class and every day we have a designated time for practice. Having the the time and space in my life to learn in a class and also to practice what was taught so soon after the class has been awesome.So often I have gone to workshops where we have 15 hours of asana instruction in 2 1/2 days and while it is a fabulous download of information and inspiration, it is very difficult to really integrate it or process it in manageable chunks. I think the workshop format also creates a mentality of "acquisition mind"- we just want more and more info, new details and new tricks and we haven't really mined the things we already know for their gold.
Not to say that I have mined these classes yet either (I actually feel that there has been a year's worth of material already and we are still in week two) but today I did the fabulous forward bend sequence that Geeta taught on Monday for the second time in practice. So I did it in class and then twice now in practice and today I began to really experience what previously had just been words or descriptions or suggestions. Anyway, it is such a treat to have a month of my life carved out where there is very little to do but focus on matters of yoga and practice (And write a blog, of course!) It is not just time either, it is mental space and the environment we are in that is helping.
As far as gems from Geeta's class, what I remember most is that she spoke about the same themes of studentship. She said that as students we only seem able to do what she is saying if we have been taught it before. If it is not familiar to us we doubt her and do not just follow what she is saying. She says that nobody seems to understand the reasons behind the forms of Iyengar Yoga. and that Iyengar Yoga has just become, "everybody get a block, a strap and and a bloster" rather than teachers and students really understanding that the props are used for specific reasons for specific people and are not intended to yield a one-size fits all approach.(I am paraphrasing here.)
So it is kind of interesting as I am kind of an Iyengar Yoga imposter here and not really a true-believer although I have maintained Anusara Yoga anonymity and plan to) so I am not taking alot of that stuff personally. But really, I do know a fair amount about the Iyengar Yoga certification process and what is asked of the applicants. Also I am involved in a process of certifying people in Anusara Yoga and also in the YogaYoga teacher training program and the parallels and pitfalls are there in any system. It seems within this school that "the method" is running the risk of squashing the spirit of the tradition. (Kind of like that bumper sticker, Lord, save me from your followers.)
I don't really know that there is a real solution outside of a Real Solution, meaning that people must embody the teachings and have something Real to share or teaching yoga (in any tradition) will forever remain a scripted or parroted kind of thing. (She was complaining that everyone teaches Iyenagar Yoga like there is a script when nothing is further from the truth. I laughed thinking how as a teacher traniner I give a script all the time and how John gave me a script to learn with and how Iyengar teachers I studied also gave a script in teacher training!) But let's be very clear also that I mean no disrespect to this great tradition and its many talented teachers from whom I have learned a lot, in pondering these themes here. I mean, when BKS Iyengar is the bar of excellence, sure, most people efforts won't measure up. I think we all have teachers in a variety of disciplines that we feel that way about.(And incidently, the scripts really helped me!)
Teaching yoga is really a fabulously daunting task of representing something much bigger than we are and pointing people to It. So I wonder if, instead of asking are we as good as the master, can we ask, is there is a movement in my practice, in my teaching and in my students toward the spirit of the tradition? Is my teaching pointing people to the practice, to the source of the lineage I represent, to the Truth within themselves? And given that that is even harder than handing out apporpriate props and making adjustments, I wonder if we could be doing well and still not be doing well enough? Quite probably.
Philosophy professor Douglas Brooks once told me that as yogis we are aligning with something that is essentially expanding. He said to align with Grace is to align with something that is always expanding. Because of this, in sadhana, there is no standing still. According to Douglas, "You are either going forward or you are collecting dust bunnies." My teacher, Lee always says, "No top end."
So to me it really is just another "keep going" kind of thing. And hopefully our practices create within us checks and balances and means by which to confront our illusions and delusions so that we can be more reliably connected to, and acting from, the wisdom of this expanding force rather than simply adhering to the script of right and wrong. (on the mat, off the mat, as a teacher, as a student, lover, friend, mate, disciple and so on.)
Okay there is obviously more to say but that is it for now.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
last night we had class with prashant which was a back bending class like no other i have ever been in. i am not really even sure of what to say about other than it was pretty brutal. i think there is pretty much an unspoken rule here at the institute that you are supposed to say that every class was great and brilliant and so forth. anyway, i broke the rule when dean lerner came up to me after class and said, "that was so fun, wasn't it?"
i said, "not for me."
he said, "didn't you think those were fun poses?"
"he poses were fine but i really didn't feel prepared or open at all and so it was just excruciating."
dean asked me, "in what ways did you feel unprepared or not open?"
"my legs, my inner body was tight, my back was tight, my shoulders were not open, i couldn't get any freedom in my chest- just in general the whole preparation was so different from how i normally prepare for those bends that perhaps it was psychological but really, it was not fun at all for me."
anyway, it went on in a reasonably friendly manner but let me give you an idea of the sequence and so those of you who know the Sanskrit names can imagine whether or not you would have felt prepared for the practice.
10 minute of setu bandhasana with the hips elevated on a block.
10-15 minutes of dwi pada viparita dandasana over a chair with some variations.
5 minutes of work on the ropes
5 minutes of standing back arches in the middle of the room
8 minutes of drop backs to urdhva danurasana
kapotasana- holding for like 3 minutes
urdhva mukha svanasana- about 6 times
urdhva danurasana, 2 times, 2 minutes at least each time
more drop backs and standing back arches
eka pada raja kapotasana, 2 times each side, long holds
actually it does not sound as bad in witting as it did in the experience of it. i was very happy this morning when i could walk and my back didn't hurt. not being crippled was really fortunate because this morning we walked into class with geeta this morning for more back bends! these went much better for me today and i actually did have some fun in the midst of some very hard work. but the sequence she gave opened me a bit better. but the weird thing is that it is technically, a forward bending week here at the institute. they teach standing poses the first week of the month, forward bends the second week-theoretically-,back bends the third week and pranayama the fourth week. i think some of my block last night was mental as i was not in a back bending frame of mind. so i do think some of it was a lesson in expectation and how i was not joined in "body, mind and breath" as prashant would say! (not by a long shot, in fact.)
anyway there were some good jewels of wisdom in both classes and some excellent points to incorporate and things to ponder. i will try to do that tomorrow. now it is time to practice.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Later yesterday evening I went to make phone call at a nearby shop. The shop owner speaks very good English and was is very friendly, so I asked him about the parade and events that were going on yesterday. (The reason we even saw the festivities was because we walked down Fergusson College Road to the Reliance Phone Company to buy a phone card that I could use on the phone in our flat to call Kelly. The streets were all sectioned off, there was a big parade and there were booths blaring music and talks and big pictures of people who were either gurus or political leaders (we couldn't tell which), and lots of people decked out in religious-looking finery.
On a side note, I got to the store, managed to communicate what I wanted and then the clerk said I will have to come back tomorrow. I am thinking, Listen buddy, you do not know what I went through to come here today. I say, "Why can't I get this today?" Evidently the computers were down and so they couldn't do it. I was pretty bummed.
So we went next door to console ourselves with a snack at the Coffee Day cafe. It is kind of like a Starbucks, but then again, not really at all. I think Barista is actually the Indian Starbucks and Coffee Day, I am told, is kind of a step below that. One of our guidebooks about India said that one's need for privacy is to be abandoned here. It is just not their way. And the principle seems to apply across the board. There are crowds everywhere, the walls are thin, there is not really enough of anything to go around so there is a lot of sharing and so on. But is is particularly evident in the customer service domains. In America we kind of shop in private, decide and ponder in privacy, and then go make a purchase. It is just not like that here. Everything is set up so that the entire shopping process depends on at least two other people. Even at the smaller convenience stores you have to ask for what you want and they tell you whether or not they have it. It is hard for me to get used to.
So at Coffee Day we walked in and proceeded to the counter where we were then scolded, ushered to a seat, given a menu and then walked through the ordering process. While we were waiting I got to thinking that maybe some cookies would be good. So I walk over to the display counter to look at the cookie options where I am immediately told to go sit down and he would come show me the cookies! Anyway, after a very long wait, some very mediocre cookies, Anne enjoyed a yummy coffee frappe thing and I had some tea.
Which takes me back to my phone call at the very nice Indian man's shop. Although I do not know his name I do know that he is a Hindu, married a Muslim woman in a love marriage, not an arranged marriage, he has a daughter who is sixteen (very pretty, I saw the picture...She has her mother's mouth and eyes and coloring (I saw the mothers picture also) but she is tall like him, which he says will make the match very hard to make but probably by the time she is getting married he will not be allowed to interfere as such is the way these days even though he had a love marriage and is now a divorced person.) Also his mother is coming to visit him from Mumbai.
I asked him about the festivities on the street that we had seen. He said that it is a 300km procession across the region where some God (he told me the name but it did not ring a bell- he also told me the Hindu religion has 36,000 gods and he also finds it hard to keep them all straight) is processed across the region from city to city and each town has these festivals and people come to worship as a pilgrimage.
We had class with Geeta last night. The sequence was nothing short of brilliant. (And for those of you reading who are my students, I have lots to offer you to help open the groins So that is something you can look forward to! Some really grueling stuff, in fact. YOU WILL LOVE IT.) What was kind of neat was that right before class I was telling Anne that I felt like my S.I. joint was kind of out and that I was really feeling a tightness in my low back. The class was actually a made-to-order class- all about releasing and making space in the sacrum, lengthening the low back and opening the groins. Quite fabulous in that agony and ecstasy way that yoga can be.
Class with Prashant tonight. We practiced last night's sequence this morning, ate lunch (very yummy cauliflower) and then I fell asleep on the couch since it is my couch day. (I will have to explain "couch day" in a future post. I am running out of time.)
Sunday, July 8, 2007
Particularly important lessons from Dad-
1. From Romans- "There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ." (And on a side note, he would tell me this frequently when, as a teenager, I did not feel so lovable and was doing my very best to prove that I could indeed separate myself from Love in all forms.)
2. "You can act your way into a new way of thinking easier than you can think yourself into a new way of acting." Direct quote.
3. Follow your Bliss but be sure you know what it is.
4. Something can be True and not accurate; understand the difference.
5. Love your mate with your whole heart. (He never said this to me but he definitely lives this.He and my mom have been married for 47 years and they still crack each other up.Now that is inspiring.)
6.Refuse the glass ceiling.
7. Do not talk down to children. Speak to them like the intelligent people they are.
There is probably more but that is it off the top of my head.
Anne and I went shopping today which was a lot of fun. I think she is writing about it now so check out her blog. More on the yoga tomorow. We had the day off from The Institute today.
Saturday, July 7, 2007
Since people so graciously commented on my last entry about "vicarious" learning and so on, I have yet another lesson to share. This morning in class we were on the floor in supta baddha konasana. (Yes, Jessie, I know, you are going to be expecting a lot more lying down in addition to the increased time devoted to savasana and its many variations!) So we are lying down with the soles of our feet together and our knees bent out to the sides and Geeta says to turn the inner groins from the inside out. I grab my outer thighs to try to turn my thighs more outward. I am also looking around at the people next to me to see if I am doing it right and before I know it she is looming over me. "How are you going to find your inner thighs by looking at someone else? Do you not know where your inner thighs are?" She grabs a hold of her inner thighs and say, "These are the inner thighs. Didn't I say to grab your inner thighs and turn them out? Your thighs-grab them and turn. Don't look around at others for your answers! Do what I say. If your teacher has not showed you something then you do not know. You only know what you have been taught. You must listen and do as I say."
And, not surprisingly, the way she meant for the action to be done was a lot more effective than what I was doing! (And, incidentally, the person I was looking at was doing it wrong also) So the seemingly simple asana lesson, when taken off the mat translates into a lesson about self-confidence, self-trust and looking within for answers, and a lesson as well about how to improve my studentship, my adhikara, all of which is more intersting and useful than simply "how to deepen a stretch".
I love that about yoga. Truly, it is a revelatory process. If I pay attention- not just to what I do but to what I fail to do and even the way I do and fail to do, I can leanr so much about myself and the ways I can grow.
Another gem from this morning's class. Geeta adjusted a woman's shoulders and then came back around and she had "lost the adjustment".
Geeta: "Why are your shoulders lifting?"
Woman: "I didn't realize what happened."
Friday, July 6, 2007
Then we sat up for seated ujayi pranayama. as we were all getting settled into your posture and set-ups with the requisite props, she zeroed in on one woman's posture and asked her, "Do you always sit that way for pranayama?"
Geeta: Do you?
Geeta: Answer me.
Geeta: Who taught you to sit that way? Is that really how you sit?
Woman: Yes, it is comfortable as long as I support my thighs.
Geeta calls the woman up to the stage to demonstrate how she was sitting. The woman assumes her posture on the stage. (She was pretty slumped, certainly by pranayama standards, and her legs were crossed mid -shin with her knees up about as high as her lower rib cage.)
Geeta then launched into a teaching about how comfort has very little to do with seated pranayama. "What does comfort have to do with it? See how I am sitting now? I am sitting this way because it is comfortable for my legs which are paining me lately. No matter what I am doing my legs are paining me so when I conduct classes such as this I am sitting in this position for my comfort. But even when my legs are bad I do not sit like this for pranayama." She motions to the room, "Many of you have been watching me take my pranayama in a chair for the last few months- that is because my legs are not well."
She has someone bring her a chair and she instructs the woman on the stage how to sit in the chair and the effect on her posture is immediate. Then she modifies the chair posture even further and her position improves even more. Geeta then has the woman resume her previous position on the floor. The contrast is unmistakable. Point made- we all got it. (Personally I am so grateful for the teaching and the dignity with which the woman manged herself throughout the episode and gave us an opportunity to learn from her.)
She tells us, "You must understand this as compassion in action. As a teacher it is my duty to address these faults when I see them. I know by looking at this woman she is not experiencing the beauty of pranayama. She does it because she is supposed to and because people tell her to but it alludes her. I must help her. ..." At this point it was almost as if she just started picking up speed. She said,"This is what I was talking about with the legs back in savasana. Where is that man by the column. Let me see him. " (She show the way the Indian man's legs look in savasana and adjusts him. And then,"Where is that other woman by the other column? Let me see her." This is a western woman and she shows us the differences in her legs as compared to the Indian and how to adjust so that the legs and the groins and therefore the nerves can settle.
At this point, it is obvious and somewhat palpable in the room- she has seen everyone in the room and even though 75 people were packed into the hall and there was a feeling of invisibility in that, each of us was seen.There is no where to hide when she is teaching. And as she adjusts the woman she says, "If I keep going I will make her cry. Just like the first woman who started to cry when she had to return to her original posture. And none of you have an answer about why she would cry. She kept herself together but the tears came. Did you not see? Answer me, why would she cry? None of you have an answer, do you? (At this point I feel like crying and I do not have an answer for that either!) The tears come because you taste freedom. What do you suppose it is like to be in a prison for so long and then to suddenly be released, to experience freedom and then be told you must return to the prison? Would that not make you cry? And that is why the tears came when I told her to go back to her first posture. After you feel what your ribs can do, when you feel what your diaphragm is capable of, when you feel your groins release, you know a freedom. Is is not your duty to look for that when you practice?"
I am blown away. I think we all were. The compassion and understanding she is offering in her teaching is tangible. There is not a doubt in my mind that she understands the difficulties of what she is asking of us as practitioners and students, not one doubt that she can look right through me, but not one doubt in my mind that she has the highest Possibility in mind for each of us. I kept thinking that her willingness to face herself and her situation squarely must give her this kind of vision and clarity.
Anyway- she actually suggested the chair modification to me later in the class and it really helped me. (Shock of all shocks, my groins are tight! She said to me, "You are tight in this." I nod. She continues,"I did not ask you, I am telling you. You agree?" I nod again and say, "Yes, definitely." She says, "So use more height and if that does not do it use the chair."
And so I tried more height and it helped but then I started thinking, "Did this really "do it". I have a vision of her coming back over saying to me, "You think that this is it??? You fool! Who taught you to think this way? Everyone come look....) Anyway, I got the chair and I must say it was the first time my groins have ever felt soft in seated pranayama. Ever.
Of course there is more to say as always but enough said for now.
Thursday, July 5, 2007
He said the main thing to know at the Institute is what each area is used for. "For instance," he said, "stairs are for going up and down, not for standing still on. Hallways and doorways are for passage, not for standing.The dressing room is for changing so please do not change your clothes in the hall or in the practice area, even if it is just putting pants on over your yoga clothes. But the waiting area, it is for waiting and so that is where you should wait." He also said that it is a religious custom in the temples not to turn your back to the Guru or to the icons but that The Institute is not a temple and so it is no problem.
It really is a great principle and reminds me of an ongoing teaching that Lee gives.He has said many times that as a spiritual practitioners, or those who aspire to be such, one thing we are hoping to be able to do is to know in any given moment what is truly wanted and needed and then to respond accordingly. This is really what it means to serve- to provide what is wanted and needed. We do sadhana to unravel our projections and interpretations and biases so we can see what is Needed and Wanted not just what we prefer or wish. And then also our ongoing efforts of refining ourselves help us to "get out of our own way" in order to respond optimally even if we do not feel like it in the moment.
So the teaching is as esoteric as it is practical and life will always give us clues if we are paying attention. So once again, it comes back to that most precious commodity- attention.
I would write more but I am bit brain dead from facing my mortality repeatedly out on the streets of Pune this afternoon. Tonight we have a pranayama class. That should be excellent.
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
Slowly, methodically he took us through a process of using the breath to diagnose one's pose and then to unify the body with the mind and the breath in diagnosis, treatment and execution.
At a certain point I realized that he was not going to come in and really pick our poses apart, that is wasn't going to be that kind of class and so I just relaxed, folowed his instructions and looked around inside my pose as best I could. I found the process captivating and inspiring. This angle on the breath is new to me. I have never heard this described quite this way.He said at each stage of the breath we might look at one part of the pose- are the beginning of the inhale, during the inhale, at the end of the inhale and so with the exhale. And while he described the process linearly and technically, it became clear to me that essentailly this is not a linear process. That as one is "diagnosing" they are really shining the light of awareness on their pose- interiorly and exteriorly- and that which is observed cannot remain the same and so even in diagnosis you begin treatment.
So again, what he was pointing to is kind of big to get down in a paragraph. But really he was on fire with inviting us to move into a relationship with our asana beyond, "do this, do that, do not do this, do not do that," etc. He said that as beginners "learning all of the points" is necessary and fine but as experienced practitioners one should want more and cultivate something deeper.
We had the Ladies Class with Geeta this morning but I do not have time to write about that. Back to the Institute for practice.
Monday, July 2, 2007
After a cup of tea and a light Lara Bar breakfast we walked to the Institute. (The rain had actually stopped for the ten minutes it took us to walk there this morning.) People were gathering in the entryway/foyer and so we met some more people. Dean Lerner, a senior teacher that Anne has studied with over the years is here this month for classes and he gave us some tips on how not to embarrass ourselves, which was generous and much appreciated. As we were waiting to go upstairs for practice Mr. Iyengar walked through the door and proceeded into the main area. So there he was, in his yoga whites, with his wild mane of hair, his famous bushy eyebrows and his regal bearing and presence. It is customary upon seeing him in the morning (or Prashant or Geeta) to pranam and touch their feet if one is inclined or simply to greet them with one's hands in prayer and say, "Namaskar." (I learned that "Namaskar" is more reverential than "Namaste". Who knew?)
As we made our way upstairs to the practice hall, people were coming down the stairs saying, "Not yet." Turns out it was Prashant's birthday and there would be a brief celebration. Anne and I, in our attempt to get out of the way walked all the way into the foyer area which actually put us right in the front row as close up to Prashant as one could be. Chandru (who seems to be looking out for us since we are friends of Randy Just who he affectionately calls Arnold - referring to Randy's physique and presence being like Arnold Schwarzenegger) kept motioning for us to get closer up.
This is actually another line of consideration because the who do you know?, who do you study with? thing is very important here. This kind of relates back to my previous entry in thinking about relationship. Randy helps us with our taxi arrangements from Mumbai and helped us get our flat arranged. And we were graciously accommodated each time as "Randy's friends." In the interview process at The Institute we were enthusiastically welcomed after Pandu learned that we study with Mary and Eddy. Chandru seems to have taken an interest in us because of Randy again. And so it is clear at every turn that I am not here alone or because of anything I have personally done. I exist here as part of a community of support that has helped this opportunity happen for me. This is a lovely and yet humbling experience to be living in the middle of. Lee once talked about community as a soup. He said, "Think of a bay leaf. Alone, it is just a dried up leaf but when you put it in a soup the flavor it brings to the soup is quite remarkable. But really, the bay leaf has no purpose outside of the context of the soup."
Prashant said it was his day of embarrassment for it is embarrassing to him to have so much attention. Different people stood up to say thanks and give a few words of praise and honor. What stood out for me from the morning was his very natural sense of humility and dedication to turning people to the practice, to themselves and to the teachings, not to him- even on a day that was to honor him.
For instance one woman said, "every morning many of us start our day in Prashant's class and from that moment we are "Prashant-ified"... At the end of her talk he was very insistent that it is not nor ever has it been his desire that anyone ever be Prasahnt-ified. His desire, he explained, is that people become "Self-ified." He said, "I am not interested in a following, I am not interested in assembling a group around me, I am interested in turning you to the practice of yoga."
Another woman stood up and led a chant that was a chant about The Guru. Her voice was beautiful as was her intention and mood in her offering. After the chant was finished he said, "I want to be very clear about something. I am not qualified to be a guru... Never in this lifetime will I have that qualification. Nor are you qualified to be sishyas- disciples... It is important that we understand what each of us are and what our limitations are and what we can and cannot do together. What I am qualified to do is to be a teacher that can help you become a yoga vdyarti- a seeker of the wisdom of yoga. I am qualified to help turn you to the teachings of the subject of yoga so that you can understand this subject more fully and hopefully at some point, that understanding will prepare you to become a sishya. And once you are actually prepared to be a disciple, then you will be given a guru.The Guru is a function," he explained, "and so when we sing that chant it is praising a function called the Guru, not a person and certainly not me."
It was inspiring to see real humility and also to see that it must be a full time job to dismantle the projections that come along with his station and position.He then handed out some sweets, which were fabulous and then we went to the hall to practice.
Prashant's celebration really set a nice tone for the day. I am thinking a lot about the fact that I have come half way around the world (literally) to get help with my practice. And yet I watch the many ways it is hard to just remember that simple fact. My internal reality is more concerned with "not making mistakes" than it is with "getting help". This may sound like nothing but I think contextually these mindsets are worlds apart from one another. Prahsant's talk was a great reminder about why I have come this far to study. I am here- as is everyone else who has come- to get training in how to be one who is seeking the truth of yoga. We have travelled far, at great expense, to get help along the Way. The task is simply to avail myself of the help as it comes, in the many ways it may come and to use it to help me learn, grow and serve.
Being in the hall practicing was great. Mr. Iyengar was there and so was Geeta. How inspiring to see these luminaries of yoga simply roll out their sticky mats and practice. Really, what a teaching. For we are never exempt from that. At no point do we graduate from practice for that is what a seeker of the truth of yoga does- practice. Practice yields the ability to practice and so on like that.
I was going to post all of that yesterday but on my final scan, but the power went out and so it is actually the following day. We had class with Geeta last night which was awesome. Or at least the parts of the class I could understand were awesome. (Geeta has a very good command of English but a very strong accent.) What is kind of weird is how her class was so different from most Iyengar Yoga classes I have attended over the years. She did only two, very short demos (which she seemd reluctant to do at all and said she did not want to waste time)and there was very little start and stop. She was exacting, demanding, and yet it was very easy to feel her dedication and compassion. I got lots of new insights about some very basic poses and in general as great as it was, there was also an ordinariness to it as well. I found it a great relief to just fainlly be in class, doing what I love- learning and practicing yoga.
The Institute in many ways is quite ordinary. I do not mean that to disregard it in any way but it is very clearly a school of yoga. It is very humble, very simple and yet permeatated by such a strong legacy and intention that there is a transmission to be had simply by being there- that much is certain. But is is night and day from American yoga. There is no mood music, not one fancy thing, not one thing to indulge your comfort, not even one corner of quiet.
So certainly there is more to write on all of this but I want to get this posted before the power flickers and I have to wait another 24 hours! Oh- also keep reading Anne's blog for her insights and experiences on the trip. www.theyogaplacewaco.blogspot.com
Sunday, July 1, 2007
Once in Mumbai, we got to the hotel, drank lots of bottled water, did some asana to ground ourselves and help my feet not be so swollen (they looked like little sausages!) and then went to sleep. Our taxi came the next day and took us to Pune.
Normally, this is four hour drive but given that it is monsoon season and there were actually floods in Mumbai, it took closer to 5 hours. I have a good pic of the floods but suffice it to say that I was glad we were in a Hummer.
We checked into our hotel for the night and then walked to The Institute where we were able to register for class. It was a bit daunting- that whole process. When one walks into the compound there are two buildings. I thought that the one that looked like it had a formal entrance was the office and I say to Anne, "Maybe that is the office."
Luckily enough, I catch the eye of a man nearby who points me in the other direction. I say luckily, because I think what I thought was the office was actually the Iyengar's home! (Now that would not be how I would like to make my first appearance... walking in, uninvited to The Guru's house...) I did actually see his feet and the back of his head from the courtyard where we were. So that was my first darshan, so to speak.
So we actually go through the correct door... (this is beginning to sound like some weird game show- does the silly, white girl know which door to go through? One door leads to certain humiliation, one door leads to yogic knowledge...which one will she pick? one- she will be forever banned from the Insitute for a radical breach of prtocol, two she will get her heart's desire...anyway.) .. and there is a lineup of Indian men and women staring at us. We look around for a sign that might say "office this way" and see none and so we ask, "Is this where we register?" Someone leads us to the office and we get through the process reasonably unscathed.
There is some paperwork, the visa and passport copies, and so on and an interview- How long have you been practicing yoga? Who are your teachers? ( Pandu gave a big smile when we finally said "Mary Obendorfer and Eddie Marks") He gave us our class schedule. We are assigned 6 classes a week and 6 practice sessions each week. For the most part, we have practice every morning from 9-12 and class every evening from 6-8. Wednesdays are a bit different because the Ladies Class is in the morning so we have practice that afternoon.
We had a really yummy meal that night and went to bed only to wake up at 4 this morning as our circadian rhythms determined. After reading, talking and so on, Anne and I practiced asana and then around 8:00 we went down for tea and breakfast on the lobby. We met a lot of people who are in Pune to go to the Institute this morning. Pretty much any white person you see is here for the yoga. and even though momentary bits of shyness hit me where I feel awkward and so forth, most people seem very happy when you reach out a hand and introduce yourself. I think we are all just a tad bit freaked out and scared.
I called home today to let Kelly and my parents know that we are safe. It sure was good to hear their voices. (This may be a long month!) When we were walking around yesterday Anne said, "Well, the ordeal of getting here definitely makes me think that next time we should stay for longer." And I replied, "Yes, but we have no idea yet about the ordeal of being here!"
We found our way to our flat- which is soooo nice, got settled (It is going to cost about 20 dollars for us to have our meals cooked for us every day! How can this be?) and then went back to the place we had dinner for lunch. It is pouring rain- My pants are completely soaked from the walk to the Internet cafe where I am now writing.
In general, we have been pretty much dealing with the logistics of getting here and figuring out where the hell we are supposed to go and so on that I haven't had a lot of time for introspection or deep insight but here are a few things on my mind:
1. I am very happy to be here with my sister. (I realized at diner that for over 10 years now Anne and I have been going to yoga workshops and eating Indian food after class together as part of our sisterly activities. This is certainly an upscale from that but to see this trip within the context of all the trips we have made over the years to learn yoga, is kind of a wild thing to ponder.) In general, I think that one should always have a close friend along when travelling to a place like India. I would hate to be doing this alone.
2. Which leads me to the second thing that India seems to demand- relationship. One must get out of any shell that they have to be able to function here. Even if the shell is just an inner attitude, a resistance to vulnerability, a reticence to ask for help, a fear of looking stupid or uninformed, one simply cannot remain in isolation here and function. It is impossible to do anything without asking for help and when one allows others to help, the insanity of "the shell" and its many manifestations is instantly revealed. This is a good thing, I think. Not an easy thing, but good.
So classes start tomorrow. I will update when I can. Thanks for reading and posting some. It is fun to know that people are reading and to feel the support from the other side of the world.