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

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