Thursday, March 29, 2012

March in Pune, by Marcia Monroe

March 5, 2012:
This week forty students from China have arrived at the Institute to be trained under the guidance of the Iyengars. The first class taught by Prashant was very interesting. The hall was packed, and a translator followed Prashant's steps while the students quietly followed the directions. Prashant was very patient and used several analogies to Buddha and Lao-Tze, establishing a warm welcoming feeling throughout the room. Following the class Pandu came in and held an informal orientation meeting. Meanwhile Guruji arrived and greeted them warmly. He then proceeded to his daily practice and teachings to Abhijata and a few lucky bodies.

In the evening Geeta came in and divided the group, having the old students on one side and the Chinese on the other. She also instructed the translator to sit next to her. She was very methodical as some of the students are raw beginners. It was basically a level 1 class, but with Geetaji being very demanding on all levels. One member of the Chinese group was wearing a Shiva T-shirt. Geeta kept calling him Shiva and making remarks such as you should not make the mistake of wearing Shiva's shirt. She was very amusing and very patient throughout the evening. She taught the action of Adho Mukha Upavista Konasana to one of them who was overly flexible (her chest was flat on the ground, but the legs were rolling in). An assistant had her hands on the back of the outer thighs to provide resistance, as the trunk extended forward to adho mukha upavista konasana.
March 7, 2012:
Today the women's class was taught by Abijhata alone as Guruji was in Mumbai to attend a celebration event on behalf of one of the old yoga schools. As in Geetaji's class, the class was tailored to level one, consisting of the standing postures being methodically taught and held. There was no sirsasana, only sarvangasana and setubandha on a bench for the special needs. In the end of sarvangasana some of them were complaining about neck pain and she promptly had them sitting in svastikasana, turning the head from right to the left and vice versa, followed by adho mukha svastikasana,and parivrtta svastikasana. She then asked: Is the pain gone? And most nodded yes. The teaching was excellent, sharp, precise, and clear with not too many words.

*There will be no personal practice on Mondays and Wednesdays throughout the month as the hall will be used to train the Chinese group.

March 11, 2012:
Today is Sunday and as part of the ritual over the years, I observed the children's class. The auspicious surprise was when Geeta came in the beginning of it addressing corrections, basically taking over the teachings. The whole atmosphere was transformed, even the little ones were following the clear directions and were able to stand still with the full extension of the limbs in Tadasana, urdhva hastasana and several turns of adho mukha svanasana, and virabhadrasana 3.

Some highlights of it:

Urdhva Hastasana to Urdhva Prasarita Ekapadasana, arms in urdhva hastasana are straight and legs in urdhva prasaritta ekapadasana are straight. If the arms are not straight in Urdhva Hastasana, the leg will not go up. The whole body has to work. The arms are up and straight, the leg is up and straight. Do this 3 times with the same leg(motion) then change legs. Synchronize the action.


Virabhadrasana 3: From the arm pit the arms and elbows are straight. The arms in virabhadrasana 3 are like in urdhva hastasana, arms and elbows straight.
Why do you clinch your teeth? Don't do that.

Repeat Virabhadrasana 3.
Those who fell to straighten the arm pit, they lost their balance. The balance is related to the arm pit extension.

Tadasana: Chest forward and shoulders back. In Yoga you have to be strong. The shouders are back, and the chest is forward.

Repeat Virabhadrasana 3. Synchronize the actions, shoulders back,chest forward, hands forward, trunk forward, all have to synchronize.

There were not so much motion as usual, but a few basic asanas emphasizing the extension of the limbs and lift of the chest. The class ended at 9:00am and was followed by the senior students' bash ( some of them are to become teachers).
A few highlights of the senior class consisted of: adho mukha svanasana, uttitha hasta padangusthasna 1(holding the foot) and 3 with the instructions to become tall. The trunk and the lifted leg straight are synchronized. The buttocks are sharp and the chest is up. Followed by ubaia padangusthasana with the instruction of the back lift synchronizing with the abdominal grip, and the balance on the buttocks. Krounchasana with the femur into the socket and the back of the thighs opened. The lower back should not fall. Open the back of the knees and thighs so hamstrings will not break.
Twists ending in marichyasana IV, the heel of the padmasana foot are in line with the navel and the toes are sharp on the root of the thighs. Use a blanket under the marychiasana leg for the padmasna leg to go lower . For stiffness, from dandasana sit straight with both shoulders back and open first the padmasana leg to the side, turn the padmasana leg out (decentralize it). This goes for arkana dhanurasana the knee and thigh have to go back. Followed by Kapilasana(bolster for the back), yoga nidrasana, and ending in supta padangusthasana.

March 12, 2012:
Women's class conducted by Abijatha under the guidance of Guruji. The standing postures being emphasized and taught methodically.
As there was no personal practice, just a few of us teachers and a couple of senior teachers were there. We all witnessed the fascinating class being guided by Guruji. In the end we helped with a few adjustments in sirsasana and setting up the special need group for bench setubandha.

March 14, 2012:
Women's class with the Chinese group class taught by Raia via Guruji.
The westerners moved to the Patanjali's side and Chinese by the props so Guruji could address the corrections.
Standing postures

March 16, 2012: Geetaji's Class
The entire class was devoted to how to use the ropes in their proper sequence. Geeta methodically introduced the various stages from rope 1, building to subsequent, more advanced stages. Because the restrictions of the ropes and the large group, we spend the entire class learning the ropes. We finished in brick setubandha.

March 17, 2012:
Class taught by Abijatha through Guruji. Revision from the previous classes
The sequence consisted of standing postures, twists, followed by sirsasana. In sirsasana, Guruji corrected several times the action of interlocking the fingers. Guruji says that the thumbs do not cross, that is for old people, also he told everyone to bring the legs away from the wall and attempt the balance. After that a sequence of back extension urdhva mukha svanasana,salabasana, dhanurasana, ustrasana, and urdhva dhanurasana on a setubandha bench with a bolster and 2 people sharing the bench. The bolster was used to give a horizontal support for middle of the back (not pelvis).
Sarvangasana with 4 mats, followed by uttanasana and supported paschimottanasana (sited on the sarvangasana mats). End of the class.

March 18, 2012: q/a from the Chinese to Guruji only. This has been video by Jay. In the evening there was the monthly lecture on the Bhagavad-Gita chapter 13 conducted by Geeta.

March 19, 2012: Class conducted by Abijatha and Guruji.

March 21, 2012: Class conducted by Abijatha and Guruji

March 22, 2012: Geeta's pranayama. The class consited of unsupported savasana, ujjayi, viloma, and gentle antara/bahya kumbhaka. Throughout the class there were long interruptions with a masterful teaching on how to see the subtle imbalances and choosing a couple of the students to correct. How to observe and break old habits such as the habitual way to cross the legs, and positioning the feet. She emphasized the importance to learn the asanas before pranayama to understand the gross alignment before addressing the subtle alignment of both sides and their correspondent nadhis(ida and pingala). She then had a brief q/a from the group.

March 23, 2012: Today is a celebration of Gudi Padva to mark the Marathi New Year in India. The New Year is celebrated only in the Maharashtra region. The institute is closed but there will be a celebration and an award for Guruji on behalf of his overall contribution to humanity. The event will take place at 5pm by the Aditya Pratishthan. Although most of the evening was spoken in marathi, Guruji eloquently spoke in English, giving us a taste of his life in Pune, and the depth of his system based on the embodiment of Patanjali Yoga Sutras. This has been filmed and hopefully will be shown.

It has been an auspicious experience to be part of this schedule and valuable learning being passed from the generations. It seems that a new generation is following the natural order of evolution, yet maintaining the roots and essence of the tradition as transmitted from Guruji. To be under his fiery teachings has been pure bliss and blessings.

Marcia Monroe

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Blog On, by Richard Jonas

On the day I arrived in Pune the constructions gang began tearing up the road at the Toyota Chowk, then snaking their was along Lakaki Road, right-angling into our apartment parking lot and directly under our windows. The first step involved pick-axing, the next, jackhammers; the small but upright and strong-looking women seemed to do most of the work, including hoisting big disc-like metal containers full of rocks up and onto their heads to be carried away. The men helped a bit, and whole families, including very little children, would watch the work, which was signposted as the installation of a new natural gas pipeline, to reduce pollution in Pune (at once a worthy cause and a long shot). Throughout the length of our road there were piles of small, jagged rocks, and the already heavily-trafficked street became that much narrower, with two lanes of bicycles, scooters, rickshaws and cars jostling against pedestrians, pushed in off the sidewalks. With an odd feeling of completion and full-circle, the building caste members were back at work at the Chowk today, setting right what they’d begun tearing up a month ago.

The beginning of February brought a record-setting cold snap, but this week’s afternoons set new statistics for heat. Guruji is on fire too, sending students in the Ladies’ Class up into 14 long Urdhva Dhanurasanas, all the lift from the deltoids, the hip sockets, the skin of the thighs. Guruji’s eyes flash fire. Don’t let them come down until you say so, he tells his granddaughter Abhijata, who does most of the actual talking, acting as intermediary between the students and Guruji. He observes her, and them, from his perch, upside down on the trestler, and sometimes she holds the microphone up to him. “Don’t do your old pose!” he insists, “create a new sanskara.” Replaying the class myself when I practice that afternoon in my flat, I do the 14 backbends, trying to rekindle Guruji’s fiery intensity; others say they counted 25; everyone is happy and shaky-legged after the class.

Geetaji, back from Calcutta, teaches magnificent backbends herself on Monday night; I end up in the front row, my head to the platform, near her feet and warmed by her presence. Her directions are so precise, so just-right, that I do some of my best work ever.

Abhi, marshaling the last bit of their strength for backbends, reminded the Ladies’ Class students that next day Pranayama was to begin so they should give it their all, and indeed the Pranayama is, as always, the nectar of our time here. Prashant teaches a morning class beautiful for its thoughtful, thought-provoking nature. The ears, he reminds us, are the highest of the senses; knowledge passed through them, the highest form of knowledge; and we work to sanctify our own. The “tender exhalations” with which we finish are deeply quiet and beautiful.

Geetaji talks about the end of life; she used to leave the stage, walk around, move everyone’s body, showing them the correct way to do the asanas, she says; now she can’t do it anymore, and we must learn to “set right” ourselves.

Raya, the favored assistant, runs at full speed the length of the Asana Hall, holding a heavy teak Viparita Dandasana Bench high above his head, arms straight -- elbows locked. He leaps over the bodies of prone Westerners like Hanuman, making his leap from Ceylon to India.

Jake Clennell shows us a clip from his upcoming film, Guruji. Much of it was filmed last year, but in the Asana Hall here, and during Guruji’s teaching at the conference in Bangalore, Jake has added new footage to refine and amplify the story, not just a biography of B. K. S. Iyengar, but an exploration of his impact on many students, an exploration of the nature of yoga itself.

The rickshaw drivers go on strike from noon to 5 on Saturday, a particularly busy time as R.I.M.Y.I. students leave Ladies’ Class heading to Roopauli or Vaishali for lunch. Don’t go far, a friendly rick driver tells us, or you may get stuck there; don’t take a ride from a “scab” driver, or you may be the target of violence.

People have begun to leave, our month in Pune having, unbelievably, sped away; some are already gone, and the competition for space in classes is less pressing. Some of the best, though, comes last.

Geetaji teaches a beautiful Pranayama, having us lift our center chest up and hold it there with a back-to-front action; the top chest becomes a mountain, the slightly receded navel, a valley. In lifting our chests, we were lifting up our consciences – higher than consciousness, she said, the highest part of us, what separates us from the animals. And if one holds it up and steady, no thoughts will come.

I am fortunate to be in a small group talking to Prashant, who is generous, eloquent, charming. The asanas are an academy for mind-making,” he told us. “When you are connected in that embodiment you have different potentials.” He was asked about meditation. “To be in a sublime thought process: that is meditation. If you are absorbed in natural beauty, you experience this – and are steady.” One should choose to meditate on nature, on a noble ideal or on a religious ideal, he said. “You have to create an ambience or atmosphere so the mind will be quiet. Don’t try to meditate, and then try to quiet the mind.”