Thursday, February 18, 2010

Update from Richard in Pune

Having watched tens of thousands of dazed, dusty people pass under my windows as they walked uptown from the wreckage of the Towers, hearing still that uncanny silence of 9/11, I don’t think I’ll ever be touched as nearly by terrorism, but the bombing of the German Bakery hits very close to what is for many a second, or third, home here. This sort of thing is not supposed to happen in Pune. Pune is “safe”, “normal”, a haven where in between being taught and practicing and absorbing yoga, one is privileged to observe the rich Indian family life, eat Indian food, be part of the orderly disorder and disorderly order of India, where it seems that nothing will work yet everything does.

I didn’t know about the attack until the next morning; some others I know heard or felt the blast; a surgeon from New York had been in the bakery not long before. Someone knows a friend of an Italian woman, studying meditation at Osho, one of the nine dead.

Things are changed, at least a little and as must be. The Monday morning after, we gathered around Guruji – a reassuring presence – in the Institute lobby. A student from Singapore brought him flowers for the Year of the Tiger; Stephanie Quirk talked about the pair of saving-from-extinction tigers Guruji has adopted. At evening class, Chandru announced students are not to gather outside the gate, by the cocoanut water man and the vegetable woman, least R.I.M.Y.I. become one of those danger magnets where foreigners congregate, “soft targets” as the Times of India calls them. A guard may search your bag at the gate now, but with a smile and a friendly sidewise nod of the head.

What’s important, of course, is the teaching, and that is unchanged, perhaps even more intense, more compelling for being more compelled. In each class Geetaji mentions her coming retirement, and implores, demands, wills us to absorb her lifetime accumulation of knowledge and skill.

We’ve moved into rajas with backbend week, and the weather is appropriately hot and clear-sunny. Geetaji made of the placement of the foot, our presence in our heels, a teaching of Dharana. Do with the body, she said, let the brain be quiet. Backbends are hard work, but the truly difficult action is not just to push, Geeta says, to do; instead, we have to remain inside, senses drawn within to observe. Be with yourself, she says, be with your soul. A long string of Urdhva Dhanurasanas is taught almost entirely from the feet: heels which do not leave the floor, a strong platform of the big toe mound, inner ankle bones lifted, outer edges of the foot cutting knifelike into the floor: Dharana. Afterwards, in Paschimottanasana, legs wide apart, back muscles spreading from center to the side, the frontal armpit chest drawing us forward, Geeta -- teaching purely in terms of the body -- creates a profound quiet in the mind.

In the Ladies’ Class Geeta has students cue up to work at the tall and small stools, the stump and the roller and the Viparita Karini plank. That afternoon Horst from Germany, Hendrik from Poland, Jerry from the U.K. and I replay the setups, adjusting one another.

Last Friday, in one of her truly magical Pranayama classes, Geetaji has us find space at the base of the neck, where it joins the dorsal spine, and at the top, at the base of the skull. The very physical instructions become a bridge to combining Sama (balance) and Sthira (firmness) in our sitting, and a bridge to the Bhagavad Gita, VI:13, when Lord Krishna instructs Arjuna in meditation. Look for stillness first, Geeta says, then within that, find freedom. With this alignment of the neck, the brain becomes quiet, doesn’t wander, she says. We practice an adjustment which brings us deeper into Pratyhara.

Gloria Goldberg is here, arranging for tickets for Geetaji and the assistants to fly to Portland for the May convention for Certified Iyengar Yoga teachers. Often in the morning, Guruji works an important politician, deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal, who’s accompanied by a dozen Pune police offers and security men. Pune has done what New York has not, banning plastic bags; you have to carry a cloth or jute bag to the vegetable seller.

Geeta talks, in nearly every class, about making us understand, passing on the knowledge she holds so surely. She is retiring, she says; sometimes she tells the assistants, No, don’t make them do, don’t help them – I have told them for years, if they haven’t got it now … More often, though, she reaches deeper inside, makes her instructions even more precise, brings more fervor. “That is why I shout!” she says. The Iyengars will be away next week, for a family wedding, and we all talk about that. The idea that Geetaji might not be teaching the next time we return to Pune, though, is more difficult to grasp. A teacher friend tells me, Even if Geeta isn’t teaching, I will always come back, to see Guruji. And somehow that, at least, seems eternal.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Women's class

It turns out that the person Guruji is working on is deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujal, not someone in the police force as I had mentioned in my last blog. This interesting story can be found in DNA, an Asian on-line news service:

Wonderful women’s class with Geetaji yesterday. We are still in backbend week. One of the things we did was to curve back away from the rope wall, tailbone over the stump, legs extended to rope wall. The stump was placed between two sets of ropes which we held. The taller people held the tall ropes, with another set of ropes slipped through the ends. We curved back and placed our head on a bolster. There were many interesting setups, and I am looking forward to teaching them when I get back!
Bobby Clennell

Monday, February 15, 2010

Back bend week

Monday in Pune
February 15, 2010 by bobbyclennell
Day one of back bend week. We pretty well went straight into Urdhva Dhanurasana. We started with Adho Mukha Virasana, Adho Mukha Svanasana, Prassarita Paddotanasana and Sirsasana, then pushed up into Urdhva Dhanurasana. We did lots of them. Emphasis on turning the toes in and lifting them. Pressing the outer heels down and keeping the heels pressed down as we came up, first onto the crown and then completely up. To bring the hands and feet closer together, we walked the hands in. We were not to disturb the feet! In order not to drop the outer body, we compressed the outer hips in and broadened the back hips and buttocks.

After class Chandru announced to the class that we were no longer to congregate outside of the main gates to the Institute, or even inside. Groups of foreigners are soft targets. It’s very bad news for the coconut man and the vegatable lady who’s livlihoods depend on the Iyengar students.
Bobby Clennell

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Terrible news from Pune

Got home last night to hear the terrible news that the German bakery had been blown up. Quite a few students had narrow escapes and were very shaken up. One had seen the blast and quite a few others had heard it. All our hearts go out to the kids that were over there last night, the foreigners, the locals and the people who worked there.

It's strange, because there was a conciderable police presence in and around RIYMI last week. Guruji was working on someone high up in the police force who has two very seriously frozen shoulders to the point where he could hardly use his hands. (We have since discovererd that he had heart problems). He had the undivided attention of the great Master himself, B.K.S. Iyengar, plus many assistants getting props etc.

You feel nothing but friendliness here from the local population.

Peace and blessings.
Bobby Clennell

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Geeta is, as always, teaching with amazing vigor, clarity and insight. She repeats many times that she is eager for us to understand the lessons because she is retiring, she also repeats that everything she is asking us to do she has done herself and that she continues to practice daily. She has told us not to just "manage" in the poses but seek out intelligent ways to practice - don't just say "I can't do".
I have found that she references the jnanendriyas a lot. She has spent much time setting us up during the prayers to look from different parts of the eyes - straight forward but from the lower eye lid, slightly above the line of the horizon etc. The effects are quite different. She then carried this into the invocation - having us look just above the line of the horizon from behind the closed eyes. Then in the asana she had our eyes follow the energy or direction of the pose; go with the front leg in Trikonasana, don't be looking back.
Also, in the pranayama practice we did some very profound (although I need to practice it a lot more to get the full effect I am sure) work with the ears. We plugged our ears with our index finger as we brought the head down to jalandhara bandha. The effect of which is a manual pratyahara.
We are working hard but she never lets us forget the meaning of practice or blast through the suttle teachings. Geeta is, from what I have been fortunate enough to observe, a truely inspired teacher.
I give thanks.
Tamar Kelly

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Letter from Pune

February 6, 2010 by bobbyclennell
The practice sessions at RIYMI are from 9 – 12 am. Most of the visiting students attend, and there are also some local students. Also in attendance are the teachers who assist in the classes. Guruji and Geetaji practice in these sessions, along with Abhyjata, Guruji’s granddaughter. One morning, Guruli was teaching Abhyjata how to jump from Uttanasana to Adhomukha Svanasana and back again. When Guruji works with someone (often, its Abhyjata), many of us gather around to watch and learn.
When jumping back into Adhomukha Svanasana from Uttanasana, compress the outer hips in. Jump forward from the inner thighs: Lift them and move them into the inner thigh bones. There should be a stronger sound as the feet land back into Adho Mukha, and hardly any sound as the feet land in Uttanasana.
After the mini “master class”, we all drift back to our places and resume our practice, some to practice what we have just learned. Guruji continues with his practice, very often comprising of deep supported back bends.
In the afternoons the strong go shopping. Yesterday, myself, Richard Jonas and Sue Salanic (teacher from An-Arbor) explored one of the jewelry districts. We found M/s Bharatkumar Jewelers (established for over 100 years the owner told us) specializing in traditional silver jewelry which is popular with Iyengar students.
The jewelers has gone into the Pune Guide, which I have been updating since I arrived here. It is now with Fran Carlen a professional proof reader and student at the Institute. After that it will go to two other students who have volunteered their services: Robert Cory, who is going to make a table of content — it’s 60 pages long now, and Daphna Ascoli, who will clean up the type and work on the graphics. Then it will replace the 2008 version, currently on the IYNAUS web site.
Bobby Clennell

Monday, February 8, 2010

Richard Jonas

Each morning in the Asana Hall Guruji works with his granddaughter Abhi, imparting insights and wisdom to another generation – and to those of us who gather around to watch and listen. He has Abhi and a student stand side by side, then asks Ray, a medical doctor from New York, to observe as the two do Samasthiti, then Utkatasana Whose legs are long in the front, Guruji asks, whose long in the back? Is the skin on their thighs moving up or moving down? And can any of the doctor’s sophisticated instruments measure this? No, the doctor admits. Guruji smiles.

Next he tells us that one of the assistants, Raya, is also a musician. At Guruji’s direction, Raya does Trikonasana. Now feel the vibration in your front leg, Guruji tells him. Raya nods. Is it the same as the vibration in your back leg? No, Raya says. Guruji has Raya take his back leg further back, then re-establish the pose. Now how is the vibration? he asks. Raya nods. It is in tune. Guruji laughs. Raya makes music with an instrument, he says, but I use the body as the instrument, and I bring it into tune.

Guruji has Raya take Utthita Parsvakonasana, as more students gather. Is there vibration in this leg? Guruji asks, touching the back one. Yes, Raya says. But not in this leg, the front? he asks. No. That’s because the back leg is longer, Guruji says, having Raya move deeper into the bend, coming lower. Now is there a vibration in the front leg too? especially the outer thigh? Yes, Raya says, noticeably straining after his long time in the posture. That is how I make music with the body, Guruji says.

In Wednesday’s Ladies Class, which I observe, Geetaji talks, movingly and profoundly, about aging. When one is young, she says, one can do; when she was young, she easily did this or that asana or part of the asana – for example, taking the mid-buttock deeply in, in standing postures and backbends, as she is teaching today. Then it came without thinking, she says. It is not that she has just discovered these points that she is teaching now; it is that, with an older body, one has to work differently, with more awareness and intelligence. This is how she does her asanas now, she says, and this is the answer to the questions we ask her: How can I do? What should I do when This bothers me, or That pains me?

In another class we spend a long time preparing the arms for Virabhadrasana I and III. Afterwards we stand again, arms in Urdhva Namaskarasana. Take the arms back, Geeta says, back behind the ears! Elbows straight! Shoulders and trapezius back! Armpit chest open! Back ribs in! Make the arms a window for the head!

Now, where is the opening? Where does the breath go? she asks, as mine floods the sides of my chest. I have given you these external points so you can find the openness inside, she tells us.

Prashant talks about learning to be a student. We can – many people do – do yoga to perform, to show off, to be fit, to have a “lens perfect” pose, he says. Or we can develop a learner’s culture, studying the body, the mind, the breath, the effect they have on one another. In these subtle, inward dynamics we will find yoga, he says, and only there.

A sizeable New York contingent is here, Bobby Clennell, Michelle LaRue, Tamar Kelly and myself from the Iyengar Institute staff, plus Nikki Costello, Sheila Bunnell, Cheryl Malter, Barbara Boris and Martin Brading. Senior Teacher Mary Reilly taught a workshop at the Institute just before coming to Pune; Senior Teachers Judy Brick Freedman, Chris Saudek, who taught at last year’s Mary Dunn Weekend, and Anna Delury, who joined us for Mary’s memorial service, are here too.

You see them and others in the practice hall, at lunch and dinner, walking around, but not, this year, at the internet cafĂ© near the Ambience Hotel. That is closed. More people have wifi in their apartments now; others find somewhere else from which to write home and hear news of blizzards and record cold in New York. Pune is clear-sunny and warm, not too hot yet. The pollution seems no worse but traffic is a chaos of bicycles, rickshaws, motorcycles, more and more cars, especially on the FC and JM roads, newly made one-way. It will be months, the Times of India says, before the city installs pedestrian crossings. Big banners at Pune Central, the giant shopping complex almost across the street from the Institute, offer “51 Percent Off Happiness.”

My friend Eric, who lives in Pune, picks me up on his new motorcycle, and we ride to the 8th-century rock-cut temple of Pataleshwar Caves, to a park, to the river, to street stands for ice cream, spooning out tastes for the little boys who stand pulling at our sleeves, motioning piteously to their mouths, holding up their little bowls.

From the first, practice at R.I.M.Y.I. seems involving, grounded, soaring. After the sustained hard work of the standing poses in Geeta’s class, it is wonderfully quiet and restful to be in Sirsasana, one tall tree among a forest, undisturbed by the slight stir of the ceiling fan.

The sky is black when I leave in the morning, still dark when I arrive early for the 7:00 class. A dozen people are lying down or working at the ropes. The Asana Hall is not yet lit, but at the window, from across the small courtyard, comes a light from Guruji’s room, where he sits at his desk. Another day in Pune begins.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Just sharing this little interchange between myself and Stephanie Quirk on face book earlier today. Hope it makes sense to those who read it:

Bobby Clennell: Woke up this morning to discover I had calf muscles. Awesome class with Geetaji last night -- lots of Virabhadrasana I and III.

Stephanie Quirk . . . Probably was the sankatasana at the beginning of the class, and the virabhadrasana 4's.

Bobby Clennell. Virabhadrasana 4 was with the arms straight back and arms to side, right?

Stephanie Quirk. nope virabhadrasana 4 (1st version) was like parigasana but extended arms parallel to to the extended leg, (2nd version) had 1x leg like parigasana and the other like mulabandasana.
Virabhadrasana 3 with arms out to sides was given reference to vimanasana.

Bobby Clennell. Thanks Stephanie! Walking through the park to class this morning with Rita. She told me which pose was called Sankatasana: Kneeling with toes turned under, palms on floor under shoulders. Then lift knees, so shins parellel to floor. Yup! That's the one I can still feel in my upper calves.
Bobby Clennell

Geetaji's class

The asana room was electric last night. We were all held on the edge of the moment with Geetaji’s powerful teaching. Among other things, we did lots of Virabhadrasana I and III. Long holdings in Vira I. We did Vira III with three arm positions: 1) Straight ahead in the classical manner (triceps drawn onto the upper arm bones). 2) Vira IV: Straight back and out to the sides, like an airoplane.

The variation in arm positions give those who cannot easily (such as breast cancer surivors with scar tissue that they are working on) or should not (hypertension) take their arms above the head. And for the rest of us, it’s good to work in a different way sometimes.


Bobby Clennell