Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Pune 2012 — Bobby Clennell

My youngest son Jake and I arrived in Pune on Wednesday 1st February at around 4 am. I attended a 9.30 am Women’s class taught by Guruji and Abhijata. It was a special “jet lag class”. We began with some supported inversions, some of which I had never seen done in quite the same way before. This is my 19th trip to Pune — the first was in 1976 — and I don’t know why I am surprised that they are still coming up with new material!

Viparita Karani/Sirsasana: Sit backwards on a chair with the knees bent over the back of the chair rest. Slide back off chair and place the crown of the head on a vertical bolster. Thread your arms through the chair and hold the back legs. There was much emphasis on lifting through the dorsal spine.

Viparita Dandasana: Sit backwards through the chair. Curve back around the chair seat. Support top of the back of your head on a vertical bolster, and your feet on blocks. Hold the back legs of the chair.

Viparita Karani/Sarvangasana: Proceed as for chair Sarvangasana, with your shoulders resting on a horizontal bolster and the back of the head on the floor, but rather than extending your legs out, bend them over the back of the chair rest. As for regular chair Sarvangasana, there was lots of lifting through the dorsal spine.

Setu Bandasana. Sit backward through the chair. Keeping your knees bent, slide back off the edge of the chair and place the back of your head on a vertical bolster (build up the height of the bolster as needed).

Then, just when you thought that this was going to be a restorative class, we went straight into some simple, but extremely vigorous standing poses (including lots of Adho Mukha Svanasana).

This class was just what was needed to throw off the fatigue and fuzzy-headedness of the journey.

Geetaji taught pranayama on Thursday and standing poses on Friday — fabulous classes both of course. Guruji and Abhyjata taught Saturday’s women’s class, and it reminded me of Guruji’s classes in the 70s. This was a “remembering–what–it’s–like–to–be–taught–by–a–master” sort of a class. There’s just no other way of putting it!

Maty Ezraty doing Pincha Myorasana in the practice session

Mary Reilly in the practice room

One evening a few of us attended a Sufi music festival. Parvathy Bauul from the Bauul sect was the last act. She chanted and danced, and twirled, causing her hem length dreadlocks to swing and flare out like a mandala. It was all meditation for her and a part of her practice. Here is a clip of her from You Tube, although you lose much of the electrifying affect that you get when she is right there in front of you.

Bauul is the equivalent of Sufi in India, particularly in Bengal, where Parvathy comes from. Her impressive beauty, her personality and the intensity of her devotional chanting and rotating dance, Dervish style, make her unique. I will never forget her, or that class with Guruji and Abhyjata.

Guruji then left with Abhyjata and a group of students and teachers for a yoga convention in Bangalore. It had been fascinating watching him in the practice room each morning, coaching his students for a yoga demonstration that they were putting on at the convention.

On Tuesday (almost one week into the course) Prashant taught a class “for the mind”. About half way through the class he directed us through some nostril breathing as we practiced standing poses. Sounds fairly ordinary I know, but taught by Prashantji, it was profound. It was after that class that I finally shook off my jet lag and slept through the night.

With Guruji gone (and also Geetaji, who had gone to Calcutta for another yoga convention), we were left in the good hands of three truly excellent Instiute teachers, Navaz Kamdin, Rajlaxmi, and Gulnaas, and later, when Guruji and his entourage returned, Abhijata Iyengar and Raya Ud also taught.

Last night Prashantji taught a challenging back bends class. The sequence included: Padmasana/Setu Bandasana over a block, and Padmasana/Viparita Dandasana on a chair, Ustrasana, and Viparita Dandasana from the ropes. The objective was to come out of the class feeling as cool and calm (Prashantji used the word “sanctified”) as we had after his forward bend class “for the mind”.

This morning, Guruji taught a truly profound and masterful class with Abhyjata. We came onto the points of the fingers whenever the hand was on the floor (Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana, a version of Virabadrasana III with hands on the floor in frount of us, and Bharadvajasana I: “tiger claws”!).

We are exactly at the halfway point of the month.

Richard Jonas

I love Sunday mornings on Model Colony. There is no traffic. Everything is quiet. I stroll down to the neighborhood café, Lalit Mahal, for breakfast: upma and real coffee. The owner was starting the day with a puja for his garlanded deity, and the fragrance of incense permeates the entire place.


Interior of the Lalite Mahal

Monday, February 13, 2012

Update from Pune, by Richard Jonas

Everyone Emails that New York -- and much of the U.S. -- is unnervingly warm, no winter yet, but Pune’s February is the coldest in a decade, 4 degrees Celsius this morning as I walk to Prashant-ji’s early morning class, the sky still midnight-dark, the white moon overhead as full and bright as when I walked home last night.

The Punites shiver and pile on track jackets, scarves and woolen caps, but by afternoon it is warm and sunny, even clear, it seems, though the pollution is as bad as ever (on our Sunday off, I work from the Lung series in the back of Light on Yoga), the traffic rather worse.

Guruji and Abhijata, Raya and a few others have left for the Health For All International Conference on Yoga, Naturopathy and Aromatherapy Expo in Bangalore. They spent their time in the Asana Hall our first week here readying for a demonstration lecture, which is said to be Guruji’s last public teaching. My first day here was his first back in the Asana Hall in shorts, his wracking cough of last month cleared up, and I am told later that his teaching in Bangalore is energetic and commanding. Geetaji, too, after giving us two brilliant classes, has left for a conference in Calcutta for two weeks, so we are figurative orphans here, left behind, but it is a good chance to study with the Indian assistants, the lesser-known members of the faculty at R.I.M.Y.I. I have taken class with them before, but many of the students know them only from their helpful suggestions during our daily practice sessions.

Geetaji teaches us Virabhadrasana I completely from the shoulder blades – so we do it completely without pushing in at the lumbar. Abhijata taught several times before she left, notably interpreting Guruji during the Ladies’ Classes. In his long, propped backbends and inversions, Guruji talks to her, and she, with all the time more confidence and clarity, as well as her own developing personality and style as a teacher, interprets his words for the students.

Do not do according to convenience, Abhijata instructs. Leave out old ideas – leave out old samskaras. How many of you are open to see that new samskara of Halasana? Use your body as a prop to culture your intelligence.

Nawaz, one of Guruji’s students and teachers for decades, teaches a few classes while the group is gone, quoting “our Guruji” with nearly every instruction; she combines a gentle, motherly manner with demanding, crystal-clear instructions. “Once we understand the proper skeletal-muscular movements of the body, we can never go wrong,” she says.

“Let the breath be the benefit, the benefactor and the beneficiary” in your work, Prashant tells us. If you donate to a generous person, many people benefit as the largesse is passed on; so it is with the breath.

Each in their own way, interpreting Guruji.

I have been working on the Institute Archives, filing slides of the original photos from Light on Yoga which Martin Brading then scans for preservation. I've seen pictures of Guruji doing incredible asanas, meeting with the famous like Pope John XXIII, visiting yoga centers and Institutes around the world, including ours in New York. At another desk, students file letters testifying to the great benefits of Guruji’s work.

There is a big New York contingent in Pune, including Faculty teachers Carrie Owerko, my housemate, Bobby Clennell, Carolyn Christie and me, plus Association teachers Marcia Monroe and Harshad Shah, who has Bobby, Martin, Association member from Woodstock, NY, and me over for a lavish Jain lunch. Also here: Association members Alisa Grifo and filmmaker Jake Clennell, Bobby and Lindsey’s son, who travels to Bangalore to film Guruji’s teaching.

The authorities are on an ‘anti-Encroachment’ drive on Ferguson College Road; a week ago, a big truck came by and sliced off the front porch of Roopali, where we go for upma and chai after 7 a.m. class. Evidently it was projecting into the public right-of-way, but by the next morning they had built it right back up and tables were set up again for breakfast

An election is underway here, as in the U.S., and we come home to handbills stuffed under the door; roving trucks move up and down the streets sending out highly-amplified political announcements in Marathi. -- Richard Jonas