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 café 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.